New Song of the Week – SODA CRACKER JESUS: “Drug My Soul”

Soda Cracker Jesus is the brainchild of the wildly imaginative and enormously talented singer-songwriter and producer Regan Lane. The Tacoma-based musician has been involved in the Pacific Northwest music scene for nearly 40 years. Previously a member of Tacoma punk band Baby Knockors and 80s rock band Strypes, he’s currently front man and ringmaster for psychedelic punk-rock band Strangely Alright, who I’ve featured numerous times on this blog. More recently, he helped produce the wonderful debut album Butterfly Hand Grenade for young up-and-coming rockers Stargazy Pie (which I reviewed), and is an active mentor in the successful Ted Brown Music Program, where he helps aspiring northwest musicians hone their craft. 

Lane created Soda Cracker Jesus to express his “more punky power pop side”, with music influenced by acts like the Beatles, Kinks, Robyn Hitchcock, Julian Cope, XTC and more. He’s also been honest and candid on his social media about his former struggles with alcohol and substance abuse, and the happiness and joy that sobriety now brings him. The seasoned artist makes music that looks to the future, but also understands the power of the past and that duality helps shape his unique and signature sound. On April 1st, he released his Soda Cracker Jesus debut single “My Anthem” (which I also reviewed), and today he returns with his follow-up single “Drug My Soul“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. The timely song explores the addictive nature of social media, and the alternate realities we can become immersed in if we’re not careful.

Lane further elaborates: “‘Drug My Soul’ is my perception of social media, at least for me. And it can be very seductive. I have a 12-year-old daughter who is very engaged in it, and I’ve seen it be a very good tool for information and exchanging ideas for her, but at times it exerts a pull that is similar to whatever one’s drug of choice is. (That’s based on my personal experience as a drug addict who’s been in recovery for a while.) And I’m no different. I can get lost in that shit if I’m not careful. And the fact that one can create a narrative of a reality that does not exist is weird and fascinating at the same time. I believe when all is said and done we are judged by our actions in the real physical world. As for the recording of the song, I again did all instruments, voices and production. I’m just trying to get better. Another cool thing for me was to play some slide guitar on this track. I played it a lot as a youngster and this was the first time in many moons that I’ve done that.”

As with “My Anthem”, once again Lane serves up a rousing post-punk banger, replete with a crushing mix of gnarly guitars layered over an assertive bassline and the kind of explosive, foot-stomping percussion that really gets the blood pumping. His instrumentation, arrangement and production values are all first-rate. The song opens with an ominous drumbeat and a teenage boy’s voiceover saying “I made a new friend“, followed by a woman (who could be his mother) asking “Real or imaginary?“, to which he replies “Imaginary.” Lane’s colorfully expressive vocals enter the proceedings as the music ramps up to an electrifying, almost menacing soundscape that continues for the remainder of the song. Things end rather abruptly with graphic sounds of a speeding car violently crashing into something. Wow!

All my friends are just pretend
Nothing more than spreadsheets
All my friends won’t let me send
A different point of view
Stumbling down the rabbit hole
Chasing the feeling and all I want is more

Yeah Yeah
Drug My Soul
Yeah Yeah
Fill In the Hole

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Stream/purchase “My Anthem” on BandcampSpotify

PARIS ALEXANDER – Single Review: “Lost in the City”

Paris Alexander is a singer, songwriter, composer and electronic music producer based in Brighton, England. He recently dropped a mesmerizing new single “Lost in the City“, which I like so much that I have to share it with my readers. Co-produced by fellow Brighton singer-songwriter and producer Eirene at Alexander’s Blue Door Music Productions, the track is the third single from his forthcoming album Renaissance, due out later this year.

The talented musician has been a long time collaborator with Eirene, as well as Norwegian coldwave/post-punk artist Antipole, with whom he co-wrote, sung on and produced three albums together (one of which, the 2017 release Northern Flux I reviewed). Alexander and Antipole have also worked together on projects with other artists, remixing songs for such acts as Clan of Xymox and She Past Away. Additionally, Alexander has worked with London electro-psych band Leg Puppy on some of his music.

Starting with an assertive stomping drumbeat, Alexander layers a hypnotic bassline, moody swirling synths and bold jangly guitars that immediately make me think of The Cure. Some of the guitar work was played by Simon Meek, with added drums by Martin Meadows. Alexander’s deep baritone vocals have an ominous haunting quality, nicely conveying a rather dystopian vibe befitting the dark lyrics about the cold and anonymous aspects of urban life – how despite living amongst lots of people, we can sometimes feel very isolated and alone. The combination of living in a densely built environment with little or no natural spaces, and feeling overwhelmed by technology, only serves to exacerbate one’s sense of isolation and disconnection, of feeling ‘lost in the city’.

We’re lost in the city
Going nowhere so fast
We’re lost in the city
Little do we care
We’re lost in the City
Techno, nostalgia, round cars, designed beer
We’re lost in the city

Our brains are gone
Lost to receivers, transformers, flat screens
We’re lost in the city
Strobe light flashing away
Inner world far from here
A world of rich hue

Get lost in yesterday
In the city or in our minds
Hang on to the thread of hope
We’re desperate to find……(repeat)

We’re lost in the city….(repeat)
Lost in the city

The darkly beautiful video was filmed in black and white by Eirene along, and in the vicinity of, the Thames River in historic South East London. The black and white tones and brooding skies beautifully enhance the darkwave elements of the music. Particularly interesting is that the scenes are all nearly devoid of people, adding to the overall sense of coldness and isolation expressed in the lyrics.

Follow Paris:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream/purchase his music:  SpotifyApple MusicBandcamp

Bundy featuring Subtle Smiles – Single Review: “Crush”

Bundy is a four-piece band from Long Beach, California who play a unique, eclectic and innovative style of post-punk rock with progressive overtones. I had the pleasure of seeing one of their shows a few years ago, and the high energy of their music translates well into their exciting on-stage performances. The band consists of front man Nani Serna (Lead Vocals, Guitar), Johnny Lim (Guitar, Keys), Mike Meza (Drums) and JB Vasquez (Bass). In January 2018, they released their magnificent debut album Bastard Performer, which in my review I described as “a kaleidoscopic soundscape of breathtaking melodies, complex musical structures and deeply meaningful lyrics that elicit strong emotional responses for the listener.”

From their beginnings in 2016, they’ve always shown a willingness to venture outside their comfort zone in the creation of music that pushes boundaries and grabs our attention in positive ways that both entertain and inform us. Since Bastard Performer, they’ve released a number of excellent singles, the latest of which is “Crush“, featuring the wizardry of Subtle Smiles, an electronic music duo consisting of producer Brian Frederick and singer-songwriter Marley Rae, who are also based in Long Beach. They make some terrific music too, so do check them out using one of the links I’ve provided at the end of this post.

Bundy recorded “Crush” almost two years ago, but felt like something was missing from the song, that it just wasn’t ready for release. They eventually turned to Subtle Smiles producer Frederick for help, who worked his magic to give the song a more epic feel befitting its powerful lyrics addressing self destruction and growth. Serna confides: “I wrote ‘Crush’ at a time when I was soaking in the chaotic. I had lived with relationship trauma that haunted me for 10 years. It sent me down a spiral of triggers. I wasn’t the person I wanted to be. Now we’re all better but the pain will keep resurfacing. I’m now living my best life, with love and joy. I have people who legitimately understand my issues. and I hope that if you are feeling down and crappy about yourself, let me tell you: with open hearts, REALLY looking at yourself, and taking steps to improve – things will get better and you can fix the cycle.

Musically, Bundy and Subtle Smiles deliver a thrilling sonic eargasm bathed in cinematic psychedelic grooves. I love the dominant pulsating bass line, eerie synths, roiling guitars and thunderous percussion, all working together brilliantly to create a dark, menacing vibe. The intricate guitar riff in the bridge, accompanied by powerful galloping drumbeats, further heightens the tension. Serna has a beautiful voice that skillfully expresses strong emotions as he laments “Sooner or later you’ll find out all about me and how I was set off on a path to my own self destruction. Now we’re all better but the pain it keeps resurfacing when moments are remembered, the feelings are triggered. Another love to crush.”

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Follow Subtle Smiles:  FacebookInstagram

Stream/purchase their music: SpotifySoundcloudApple MusicBandcamp

CALLING ALL ASTRONAUTS – Single Review: “Divided States of America”

British electronic goth punk rock band Calling All Astronauts have never shied away from writing provocative lyrics about the dark underbelly of politics, culture and society, and calling out authoritarians, fascists and racists as often and as loudly as possible. Drawing from an eclectic mix of genres and influences ranging from electro, alternative rock, goth, punk, metal, rap and dub step, the London-based trio create music that’s exhilarating, melodic, compelling and often in-your-face. Making this musical mayhem are vocalist/songwriter/programmer and producer David Bury, guitarist J Browning and bassist/keyboardist Paul McCrudden.

Since forming nearly a decade ago, Calling All Astronauts have released numerous singles and EPs, as well as three excellent albums – Post Modern Conspiracy in 2013, Anti-Social Network in 2016, and #Resist, which dropped this past June. (It’s hard to believe that nearly four years have passed since I reviewed their single “Life As We Know It”!) They’re now set to release one of the tracks from #Resist – “Divided States of America” – as their 19th single on September 18th. The single, being released via Supersonic Media, is a scathing attack on the current political situation in the U.S. As someone who loathes President Donald Trump and what’s become of the Republican Party that’s enabled him (not to mention the millions of delusional Americans who still support him), this song strongly resonates with me.

Musically, the song features a powerful punk-style dance beat that gets our blood pumping and emotions appropriately riled up. Paul McCrudden’s throbbing bass line is deliciously heavy and deep, pummeling our senses as he drives the rhythm forward like a battering ram, while J Browning lays down a swirling deluge of grungy guitars, punctuated by some nicely-placed stabbing chords. With his characteristically gruff vocals, David snarls the blistering lyrics with a venom that reflects my own sense of outrage and despair.

Society falling in a downward cycle
We checked it’s pulse, it’s signs ain’t vital
Decay. Decline. Sodom and Gomorrah
No matter what they tell you, there’s no tomorrow

Divided States of America
Didn’t know what they were voting for
Divided States Of America
Shut down, locked down, close the door

Two percent looking down at the rest
And the guy in the store wears a bulletproof vest
White folks offended by “Black Lives Matter”
But it ain’t their kids, whose blood is getting splattered

Divided States of America
Didn’t know what they were voting for
Divided States Of America
Shut down, locked down, close the door

Men in suits, above the law
Another refugee pushed against the wall
“The country’s fantastic, we’re doing great”
The President declares a De facto State

Divided States of America
Didn’t know what they were voting for
Divided States Of America
Shut down, locked down, close the door

For the single version used in the video, David’s three-year-old daughter Daisy is heard talking at the end. Engineer Alan Branch (NIN, Depeche Mode, U2) was mixing the track and asked David to record a straight version of the chorus for the end. As Daisy heard her daddy doing the lines over and over, she proceeded to run round the studio singing the chorus, whereupon a mic was quickly handed to her and she happily contributed a few words.

Here’s the slightly longer album version of the song:

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Purchase: BandcampGoogle PlayAmazon

THE TRIMS – Single Review: “Bending Time”

The Trims

San Jose, California-based indie post-punk band The Trims have been making great music for ten years now, and were one of the first bands to follow me on Twitter back in 2015 when I was an unknown blogger with only a handful of followers. Accordingly, they were one of the first bands I featured on this blog, and I’ve written about them a few more times since then, most recently in February 2018 when I reviewed their outstanding album Julian Street. This past December (2019), they released their latest single “Bending Time“, which I’m finally getting around to reviewing.

The Trims were founded by singer-songwriter and guitarist Gabe Maciel, who sought to “trim” out all the bad music he was hearing on the local music scene by writing good songs with catchy, groove-laden melodies, exciting instrumentation and relatable lyrics. Their sound draws influences from the likes of Joy Division, The Cure, The Doors, The Strokes and The Killers, but is uniquely their own. Like many bands, The Trims has seen several changes in lineup over the years, and now includes Maciel on vocals & guitar, Billy Brady on drums, Jerry Lozano on guitar, and Frank Hernandez on bass. Through their on-stage charisma and high-energy performances, they’ve built a loyal fanbase in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond.

The influence of Joy Division and The Cure are immediately evident on this track, with a brooding bass-driven melody, thumping drumbeats and mesmerizing guitar runs. The Trims sound better than ever, with an impressive command of their respective instruments. Hernandez’ nimble bass line and Brady’s assertive drumming establish a solid rhythmic foundation, over which Maciel and Lozano layer a tasty mix of guitar textures, including a terrific surf guitar that adds tremendous color and depth to the song. I love Maciel’s clear, resonant vocals as he croons the lyrics that speak of a relationship that’s falling apart. He sings of being unable to reason with or break through to his partner as he tries to salvage their relationship, describing it as impossible to accomplish as ‘bending time’ itself:

You tell me it’s over, well that’s your point of view
Foolish and lonely, I wait around for you
I lie and lie and lie awake praying for your call
Foolish and lonely with nowhere left to fall
It’s like bending time

“Bending Time” is a great song, and yet another in an unbroken string of solid tunes from The Trims, who continue to deliver on their mission of crafting high-quality music. Those fortunate to be in the San Francisco Bay Area can catch them at one of these upcoming shows:

2/15/20 – The Branham Lounge, San Jose
3/13/20 –  Jam Cellars, Napa

Connect with The Trims: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music: Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
“Bending Time” may be downloaded for free on their website

ASHRR – Single Review: “Sacrifice”

ashrr-sacrifice-final

Though a relatively new band formed just last year (2018), Los Angeles-based ASHRR collectively have a long and impressive music pedigree. Comprised of singer-songwriter Steven Davis and artists/producers Ethan Allen and Josh Charles, the accomplished trio have a seasoned and eclectic musical background, combining their wide-ranging experience and diverse stylistic influences. Davis has headlined at the famed Rainbow Room, sharing the stage with Diana Krall and Tony Bennett, co-written songs with pop legend John Oates, and had his music featured on several TV shows and films, including Criminal Minds. He’s released numerous albums, including his jazzy, easy-listening What Happened to Romance and This is Christmas in 2015, a collection of great standards The Way You Look Tonight in 2016, and his tribute to 80s pop-rock classics Departure in 2018.

Allen is a record producer, mixer, engineer, writer, and multi-instrumentalist musician originally hailing from Austin and New Orleans. His credits include Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Ben Harper, The 88, Tricky, Luscious Jackson, The Cult, Gram Rabbit, Sheryl Crow, Tim Finn, Brant Bjork, Donita Sparks, Meg Myers, Patty Griffin and Better Than Ezra, as well as many licensing placements in film and television.

Charles is a critically acclaimed piano prodigy, guitarist, singer, producer and songwriter, mentored by the legendary Dr. John. He has recorded for Columbia Records/Sony Music Entertainment, Island Records and Elektra Records/Warner Music Group, and has produced/co-produced and written/co-written seven albums, including his own Love, Work & Money (2010) and 1974. He’s also produced exclusive sound content for Native Instruments and Splice, and has had many of his songs played on radio, film and TV, including several cuts with the aforementioned John Oates.

ASHRR2

ASHRR joined forces after meeting through mutual musician friends, seeking to collaborate to create the kind of music they all wanted to make. Charles explains “Our collective love of analog synth pop, classic new wave melodies and songwriting, and taking modern production to the limits, defines us. We all come from different backgrounds, which is what can be heard inside the music.” Their sound is strongly influenced by Joy Division, Depeche Mode, Talking Heads and LCD Soundsystem, among others.

In October 2018 they released their first single, the captivating “Don’t Wait Too Long”, which premiered at NPR.org and garnered regular airplay on famed Los Angeles alt-rock radio station KROQ. They dropped their self-titled EP ASHRR a few months later, then followed this past May with their debut full-length album Oscillator, which contained all the tracks from their EP, plus five new tracks. In October (2019) they released a stellar new single “Sacrifice“, which I’m reviewing today. The song was co-written by all band members, vocals were sung by Davis, and instruments played by Allen and Charles, except for Blair Sinta on drums and Grant Curry on electric bass. Allen and Charles produced the track, which was then mixed by Allen and mastered by Dave Collins.

The uplifting song seems to me to be about looking back on one’s life, realizing that all the hurdles we faced, all the pain we may have experienced, were worth going through to get where we are now, to be the better person we’ve become. Davis’ rich, beautiful baritone vocals are backed by a dreamy soundscape of sweeping orchestral synths. Sinta and Curry provide a mesmerizing rhythm accompaniment with their jubilant percussion and resonant bass lines, respectively. It’s a gorgeous song.

The rain it will come
And the wind it will blow
You wanna stay true
Don’t forget what you know

Haunted with memories
Blinded by noise
Too much to take
A crack in the voice
You lost the hope in your eyes
Was it worth the sacrifice

Preachers preach
Poets rhyme
The years tick slowly out of time
Angels watch while devils stare
We took the poison without care
The ferryman will name his price
We all know the sacrifice

Innocence is all you have when you are young
Darker days have come to pass
And we are stronger
looking back now
on all those dreams denied
It was worth the sacrifice

Connect with ASHRR:  WebsiteFacebookTwitterInstagram
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Purchase:  iTunesGoogle Play

A MILLION RICH DAUGHTERS – Album Review: “Hidden Parents”

A Million Rich Daughters

Today I’m happy to introduce my readers to a terrific band with an equally terrific name: a million rich daughters. Hailing from Chicago, they play an interesting and totally unique style of, in their own words – “garage/industrial/horror inspired alternative post-punk – music that transcends the typical boundaries of the observable universe.” That sounds about right. The band was founded by brothers Brett and Jake Grant, with Brett on vocals, guitars and synths, and Jake on drums. They were later joined by Matt Clepper, Rene Gutierrez and Taylor Ford, and just released their new EP Hidden Parents, which dropped November 15. After recording the album, Gutierrez and Ford left the band, and were replaced by bassist Josh Victor. Brett also has a solo project under the moniker brett.grant.5, and released his own EP disqui.etude this past June (which I reviewed).

The first track “Hitting Backspace” is a reworking of a song that was originally featured on disqui.etude. This time the mesmerizing track has been expanded by more than a minute, and gets a heavier full-band treatment. Starting off with moody, throbbing synths and shadowy bass chords, the music gradually builds into a spine-tingling crescendo of swirling jangly and psychedelic guitars, accompanied by harsh industrial synths and a deep, thumping percussive beat. Brett has a quirky, distinctive singing voice, and here he sings in a kind of plaintive monotone that grows more dramatic as the music intensifies. His vocals perfectly express the desperate feelings of being buried alive by the staggering weight of one’s problems:  “It wasn’t like I anticipated facing all this in the time since yesterday. Sands keep falling. Feels like I’m slipping away, and trapped hitting backspace./ It wasn’t like I could keep up pacing, keep up pacing through the sands of yesterday.”

The next track “Love Me After” is a feast for the ears, and possibly my favorite on the album. It begins with an enticing mix of plucked guitar strings, delicate snare and a delicious little bass riff that really does it for me. Then a thumping drumbeat ensues, punctuated by jarring jolts of what sound to me like intensely amplified guitar chords. As Brett’s vocals enter the proceedings, the music explodes with equal measures of heavier guitars, synths and percussion. Brett passionately laments of a relationship heavily damaged by a long history of hurt and verbal abuse, yet still holding out hope that perhaps it can be salvaged: “Just like you said, I’m as good as dead, yet you call my words slander. One day we’ll break these goddamn mistakes. Maybe you’ll love me after?” The wailing guitar solo after the final chorus is wonderful.

Melancholia” is a bit of a musical tour-de-force, as it takes us on a delightful four minute long sonic journey. The first part of the song features a frantic punk rock tempo, with rapid-fire riffs and pummeling drumbeats, all anchored by a killer bass line. At around 2:30, the song transitions to a languid, synth-driven melody, with crisp percussion and that lovely bass taking center stage. Eventually, the frantic punk vibe returns in the final chorus for a great, head-banging finish. The lyrics seem to be about not allowing yourself to be defeated by depression or the oppressive forces imposed upon us by others, and to instead speak up and fight for one’s rights: “If you feel like you’re captive in a boat with no captain, speak up! Well I can’t just forget it, and I’ll always regret it, come on. Melancholia’s passion is a pit of distraction, come on. Now we’ve lost all our assets and we can’t pay for access, speak up!

Truth Be Told” is another track from disqui.etude that’s given a fuller instrumental treatment here, with spooky synths, muscular thumping drumbeats and intricate layered guitars. The stabbing guitar chords add a dramatic touch to the mix to great effect. I think this remake nicely enhances the impact of the haunting lyrics that speak to feelings of misery and guilt over the death of a loved one. Brett’s heartfelt vocals are really moving as he sings “Truth be told, I never thought that you’d be dead. Truth be told, I just can’t get you out my head. Truth be told, I’ve been obsessing for so long, I’d give anything to write a different song. Truth be told, I should’ve been the one to go. Truth be told, this burden’s getting hard to hold.

A million rich daughters dial the energy back up with “Possibly a Problem“, delivering furious riffs of jangly guitars and hard-driving rhythms. My take on the song’s meaning is that it’s about how as more aspects of ourselves and our past are revealed in the early stages of a new relationship, we fear the other may lose interest in us, given our shortcomings. In this case, alcoholism appears to be the possible problem: “Lost so many to elixir, don’t you disappear. I just want to make sure, if I’m sick again, be my cure. Possibly a small problem, but I just want to be your man.

The title track “Hidden Parents” has a wonderful electro-psych rock groove, and I love the haunting lead melody. Once again, there’s a lot going on here musically speaking, with numerous tempo and melodic change-ups. At times the song has an 80s new wave vibe, only to later veer headlong into frenetic punk rock beats. Backed by dark, sweeping synths and aggressive rhythms, the intricate, multi-textured guitar work is fantastic. Brett’s distant, echoed vocals convey a vulnerable sense of desperation as he seems to be asking for forgiveness for the wrongs he’s done: “Oh things, have changed, the damage done. Oh look, at what, I have, become. Now I, am lame and most probably not sane. There is, no me, no in-between. There’s still, one thing, I want, to do. And what, I want is to get a little closer to you. Oh it’s always for you.”

I must admit that this was one of the most challenging reviews for me to write in my four years of doing this. Despite having only six tracks, there’s a whole lot to unpack in each song. Not being a musician, and having no music ability nor training of any kind, I sometimes have a difficult time articulating what I’m hearing. Hidden Parents is an experimental work, teeming with unconventional, ever-changing melodies, deep, often abstract lyrics, and loads of innovative, complex instrumentation that give it a compelling and fascinating sound. Indeed, Brett himself told me the album “is fucking weird; there’s a lot going on technique-wise in the music theory, as well as a lot of layers.” That’s for sure, and while it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, I think it’s brilliant.

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Stream their music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
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SABOTEURS – Album Review: “Dance With the Hunted”

Saboteurs album art

Saboteurs is a rock band from Lincoln, England who (in their own words) “play trans-genre songs about badgers, constellations and other things which creep into our lives during the night.” Fusing elements of alt-rock, grunge, post-punk, metal and folk, they create hard-hitting music that thrills and surprises our ears and minds.  Like many a band, they’ve experienced some personnel changes since forming, and now consist of Ben Ellis (lead vocals/guitar), Rick Whitehead (lead guitar/vocals), Kirsty Marlog (backing vocals), Geoff Standeven (bass), and Pete Botterill (drums), although for the album Dance With the Hunted, drums and percussion were performed by Hamish Dickinson, who also handled production, mixing and mastering.

The band released their self-titled debut EP Saboteurs in 2018, immediately attracting a growing base of fans and recognition by BBC Introducing, as well as being named Richer Sound’s Artist of the Week and finalists in Radio Wigwam’s Rock Act of the Year. But shoulder surgery for lead guitarist Whitehead led to unrest in the band and, ultimately, a violent split with the rhythm section. This caused the band’s songwriters Ellis and Whitehead to sink into a dark place, which actually provided them with needed impetus for an explosion of new material that would become their first full album Dance With the Hunted, which dropped on May 4th.

The opening track “Splintered” reveals the intensity of their feelings while writing the songs for the album. The biting lyrics speak to a bitter breakup of a relationship, delivered by Ellis’ fiery vocals: “The pain – I dedicate our loss to you. The shame will never end but I’m coping on my own. The ones I left behind – they just fade out. If I fall down, I won’t stay down. If you fall down, you will stay down.” The roiling riffs of grungy guitars, pulsating bass and thunderous drums are fantastic.

Next up is “Over and Doubt“, a moody but gorgeous track that leaves no doubt that these guys know a thing or two about crafting superb songs with the power to inspire and move the listener. And I’ll state right here how much I love Ellis’ vocals, which in addition to his and Whitehead’s spectacular guitar work, are one of the strong points of Saboteurs’ overall sound. He’s one of the best rock vocalists around today, in my opinion, with an incredible tone and range that give him the ability to comfort us one moment, then chill us to the bone the next. When he plaintively wails “Please stay with me, over and over again!“, we really believe him. On this track he sounds a lot like Steve Kilbey of The Church. Musically, the song features a complex, ever-changing melody that keeps us enthralled from start to finish, and the guitar work is outstanding. It’s one of my favorite tracks on the album.

The dark and moody vibe continues with “Believe Nothing Hurts“, but presented here with an exhilarating fast-paced rhythm and chugging riffs of gnarly guitars. Ellis angrily snarls the searing lyrics condemning someone for their duplicity: “This time, believe nothing hurts. Oh, your lies. As they come in they’re drowning now in your own sweet precious melody of lies.” “Break Down” is a lovely, incredibly melodic song with a 1990s vibe that, to my ears, calls to mind songs by the Goo Goo Dolls, Gin Blossoms and Deep Blue Something. The strummed guitar is a great addition, providing a wonderful added texture of sound. The backing vocal choruses by Miles Kent and Kirsty Marlog are especially nice.

Marooned” is a big, arena-worthy track, with lush, layered guitars and a torrent of bombastic percussion. But it’s the deep, pulsating bass that plays a starring role here, giving the song a massive U2 vibe. In fact, Ellis’ vocals sound a bit like Bono on this and a few other tracks. He passionately sings of emotional hurt that can never be undone: “Broken red skies are endless. The reason I guess why you left me here. They look like the old wounds you can’t suture. They are the scars of time.” On the poignant, hard-rocking “I Think My Face Hates Me“, Ellis sings of his feelings of hopelessness: “I’ve been lying on the floor just eating time. Pretending there’s no light behind my eyes. I’m going home or I’m going down. Every day I am reborn in the skin I’ve had before.

The guys keep delivering compelling lyrics and killer riffs with “One Track Mind“. The protagonist acknowledges his need to change his ways: “What would it take to be the better man? To say, ‘Yes, I can – I’ll never let you down’. Constant mistakes – pathetic apologies. Want to effect a change and make it alright.” But then he bitterly resigns himself to the fact that while he’s the one who must change “I kill the doubt inside and learn to play your game.“, others will not: “You all stay the same.

The title track “Dance With the Hunted” is about a rock star whose fame has not brought the happiness and contentment he’d hoped for. Instead, he lives a miserable, self-destructive life: “The spotlight I always craved keeps pulling me back but there’s no light behind these eyes./  Is art ever worth the pain? To watch you die on centre stage for fifteen minutes of shame.The disappointment never ends.

Traces” is one the darkest tracks on the album, with trace elements (no pun intended) of metal, giving it a heavier vibe. The song opens with a mesmerizing guitar riff, then expands with a powerful melange of intricate guitars, throbbing bass and hammering drums. The lyrics speak of someone tortured by their past and possible mental illness, desperate to escape their surroundings in the hope of starting over fresh: “There are traces of the old times. Like battle scars in my mind. Only the world to me. Turn the lights out – leave this home. Wherever the white lines take us.” Backing metalcore growls by guest vocalist Jamie Armstrong add an extra layer of gritty texture to Ellis’ raw vocals, to great effect.

The final track “Willows” closes out the album on a gloomy note, speaking of a couple whose relationship is so damaged by hurt and pain, it may be beyond salvation. In vocals that really seem to channel Bono, Ellis passionately wails “Skin so thin, so thin it bleeds right through you. And we blame ourselves, don’t you blame yourself too? Walking wounded – in a black wind. Take me to the place where the willows grow. Write down everything that hurt us so. Everything we never said.” As always, the instrumentals are hard-hitting, with furious riffs, crushing bass and tumultuous drums.

Dance With the Hunted is a heavy, emotionally-wrought album to be sure – there are no upbeat love songs here! But it’s a beautifully-crafted work, with deeply compelling, heartfelt lyrics, gorgeous rock melodies, and magnificent instrumentals. Every track is superb, with no filler or throwaways. If you like some of the aforementioned bands I discussed, you will enjoy the music of Saboteurs.

The beautiful original album artwork was designed by Anita Inverarity.

Catch Saboteurs at one of these upcoming shows:

Saboteurs concerts

Follow Saboteurs:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud / YouTube
Purchase on Bandcamp / Google Play

SECOND PLAYER SCORE – Album Review: “Glorified”

Second Player Score Glorified

Second Player Score is a terrific rock band based in Vancouver, Washington (located across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon), and nice guys too. They play hard-driving, melodic music they humorously refer to as nerd punk, influenced by two of their favorite bands Green Day and Bad Religion. Making the music are Brian Tashima (guitar, lead vocals), Daniel Downs (bass, backing vocals) and Kyle Gilbert (drums/backing vocals). The guys released a fine debut album Fortress Storm Attack in late 2014, and followed up two years later with the monumental Nobody’s Hero (which I reviewed in July 2017). They’re now set to release their third album Glorifed on June 21st via No Pants Records.

Like Nobody’s Hero, Glorified is another concept album. Band drummer Gilbert explains, “The heroine of the story is a woman named Gloria. She was raised to be the best soldier of her generation, and ends up fleeing her oppressive hometown and reluctantly helping people as she traverses a post-apocalyptic wasteland in search of answers about her past. The story is similar to other stories like the latest Mad Max and Alita Battle Angel.”

Eye of the Needle” kicks off the album in a big way with an onslaught of chugging, gnarly riffs. crushing bass and tumultuous percussion. As Tashima shreds his guitar nearly to bits, he fervently sings the lyrics spoken from Gloria’s perspective, in which she comes to the realization that she can’t take any more of the oppressive bullshit she’s been living under: “I’m always such a good little soldier, following your every command./ But I don’t need this anymore./ Cause now I see just how sweet it is to be living free of all your drama and your sorrow. I don’t know why it took so long to go. But I’m finally looking forward to tomorrow.” He then lays down a scorching-hot riff while Gilbert beats the crap out of his drum kit. These guys know how to rock!

Next up is the hard-driving “Ragged Town“, which sees Gloria bitterly decrying her town and the people who live in it: “One day you’ll see reality lies somewhere out beyond this ragged town./I hate you now, I always will. You’re like the ones I love to kill. But tonight you’ll be my clown. Something’s wrong, something’s amiss. I don’t know why I feel like this, but burning scars have worn me down.” The guys deliver more of their signature furious riffs and aggressive rhythms, providing a thunderous backdrop for Tashima’s impassioned tirade.

They slow things down a bit on “Broken Ecstasy“, though it’s still a great rock track. We now find Gloria addressing her broken spirit, not knowing exactly what’s next for her, nor where she’ll go: “Don’t ask where I’m going to go. I said that I do not know. Don’t analyze or fantasize. Just relax and enjoy the show./ Be sure that you comprehend there is no goal, I have no soul. On that you can depend. I don’t want to see your face. We’re all just a big disgrace.

The guys dial it back up to full throttle on “Liberty’s End“, with chugging riffs of fuzzy guitars, heavy bass and speaker-blowing drums. Gloria laments about her shitty world and wanting to escape both it and herself: “Don’t you know the world cannot be saved. With good deeds the road to hell is paved. I just want to live my life for me, and wallow in my pit of apathy. Hello, I’m running from liberty’s end.” Brian makes great use of the talk box in the bridge, providing another texture of sound to the track. The amusing video shows the guys’ playful side, as they act zany in scenes of them running a race, interspersed with them performing the song in a garage.

Gilbert’s fantastic pummeling drums are a highlight on “The Last Trigger“. Wow, this man is a beast on his drum kit, giving new meaning to the term “power drummer”! Tashima’s scorching guitar and Downs’ powerful bass are pretty damn amazing too, as are their vocal harmonies. “Shiny Rebellion” sees Gloria confronting her oppressors and vowing to lead the fight to defeat them: “See I know that underneath your fancy crown, is a skull that’s full of nothing but decay. So I go, cause I can’t take this lying down. I’m a leader in the war against your way.”

The guys continue on their sonic rampage with the hard-driving “Into the Ruins“, in which Gloria assesses the wasteland before her: “Welcome to the ruins of a paradise gone wrong”, and the dark”Desolation“, with its tortured riffs, grinding bass and blasting drumbeats. Tashima snarls the bitter lyrics spoken from Gloria’s point of view: “And I don’t care how much you might stare now. It doesn’t matter anymore. No. Cause I don’t care now!” “More Than I Can Give” starts off like a heavy metal ballad, then explodes into a storm of frantic riffs and rapid-fire drumbeats, with a melody that reminds me a bit of Green Day’s “Bang Bang”.

On “Long Road Home” Tashima really shows us what he can do with his guitar, delivering killer riffs that set the airwaves afire, while Downs aptly lays down a bass line so heavy we feel it in our cores. And it goes without saying that Gilbert nearly blows our speakers with his frenzied drumming. The lyrics speak to Gloria’s determination to stand up and fight in her lonely mission to defeat the evil forces: “When this all started I fled and I ran. Now I must finish what they all began. I understand your master plan. Nothing can stop me when I’m all alone. I’m going home to claim your throne.” “Death and Glory” is a continuation of Gloria’s plan to vanquish her oppressors once and for all: “Now this time you’ve gone too far. It doesn’t matter where you are. I’ll be coming after you. You won’t even have a clue./Cause I am here to end your story. Drown your fear in death and glory. Close your eyes, this might get gory tonight!

They close the saga and album with “Some Of Us Were Meant To Be Alone“, an eight and a half minute long epic that ties things up without an actual resolution or happy ending. To a somber, gritty guitar riff, Tashima sadly wails: “There’s nothing left to say. I don’t know why it has to be this way. There’s nowhere left to go. I didn’t think that time would fly so slow. I hate to say the answer’s still unknown. Why some of us were meant to be alone. I’m giving up it’s true. Sometimes that’s all I ever want to do. I know it isn’t fair. I wish I could forget I even care.” At around 3:40, Tashima begins shredding his guitar and Gilbert pummels his drums at full blast to the same forlorn, start-stop melody as before.  Then, at 5:39, the song erupts into a fury of shredded and distorted guitars, pulsating bass and hammering drums that continue to the end. It’s a breathtaking finale to another monumental album from this badass band!

Track listing:
Eye of the Needle
Ragged Town
Broken Ecstasy
Liberty’s End
The Last Trigger
Shiny Rebellion
Into The Ruins
Desolation
More Than I Can Give
Long Road Home
Death And Glory
Some Of Us Were Meant To Be Alone

Here is a link to the email list sign up that will provide a free download to the full Glorified album:

https://t.co/dqu9CcdeGF?amp=1

Connect with Second Player Score: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Steam their music: Spotify / Soundcloud / Reverbnation
Purchase: Bandcamp / iTunes

DOCTOR GONZO – EP Review: “PhD”

Doctor Gonzo Phd

Doctor Gonzo is a four-piece punk ska band from the Brighton area of Sussex, UK. They’re all about having fun and not taking themselves too seriously, but are very serious when it comes to making straight-up badass rock! Formed only a year ago, Doctor Gonzo consists of Ash Miles on vocals, Andy “Gibbo” Gibson on guitars and backing vocals, Tony “Tig” Tugnutt on bass and Louis Maxwell on drums. In late April, they dropped their debut EP PhD, featuring four boisterous bangers guaranteed to kick your ass!

The EP blasts open with “Poisonous”, a blistering-hot tune with heavy, chugging riffs of gnarly guitar, crushing bass and hammering drums. Ash’s urgent vocals ooze bitterness as he snarls the lyrics addressing someone who’s toxic to his existence: “In my veins, sucking the life out of me. Filled with pain until there’s nothing left. Pulsing through me with your liquid venom. You won’t stop ’til I take my last breath! Oh!

Before we can even come up for air, the guys are back pummelling our eardrums with “Something’s Gotta Give”. Man, can these guys rock, once again delivering frantic riffs of fuzzy guitars and throbbing bass, while Louis beats the living fuck out of his drum kit! Next up is the rousing “Mary Jane”, the fantastic lead single from the EP.  It’s a delightful love song to a woman named Mary Jane, set to a hard-driving beat and the band’s signature barrage of thunderous instrumental mayhem. The lyrics are fairly simple but charming: “Mary Jane I let you take my breath away. Remember that time I took you on an aeroplane? Oh Mary Jane, I think you’re driving me insane. But when shit hits the fan I know you’ll make me feel better.” The whimsical and fun video for the song was written, directed and edited by Nick Burdett.

The final track “Royalty” serves up more hard-hitting post-punk goodness. Gibbo does some fine shredding on his six-string while Tig lays down a deep, strutting bass line and Louis pounds out the driving beat. The lyrics speak to feeling like a loser in a rut, going nowhere: “I tell myself to stop complaining. Learn to read between the lines. I wanna be somebody, instead of just a casualty. I’ll go against the grain. You’ll probably know my name. I wanna live like royalty.”

Despite it’s short run time of only 12 1/2 minutes, PhD packs a mighty punch. These guys know how to rock and set the airwaves afire with their respective instruments. I found myself loving these songs more with each listen, and am now a huge fan of Doctor Gonzo. I also love their playful sense of humor, which is strongly evident in this hilarious video of outtake bloopers from the making of the “Mary Jane” video:

Connect with Doctor Gonzo:  Facebook / Instagram
Purchase on iTunes / Google Play