Soda Cracker Jesus is the solo music project of the wildly imaginative, enormously talented and flamboyant singer-songwriter and producer Regan Lane. Based in Tacoma, Washington, Regan has been actively involved in the Pacific Northwest music scene for 40 years, with his hands in many projects, including serving as front man and ringmaster for psychedelic punk-rock band Strangely Alright. He created Soda Cracker Jesus in early 2021 as a way of expressing his punkier power pop side, releasing his first single “My Anthem” that April. Since then, he’s followed with five more singles, his latest of which is “Space Boy“, which dropped May 15th.
Regan’s been honest and candid on social media about his former struggles with alcohol and substance abuse, and the happiness and joy that sobriety now brings him. With an unwavering sense of optimism, he creates music that looks to the future, but also understands the power of the past, and that duality helps shape his unique and signature sound. I’ve featured both Strangely Alright and Soda Cracker Jesus on this blog numerous times over the past four years, most recently in April of last year when I reviewed his upbeat banger “Hoping For The Best”.
“Space Boy” – which Regan describes as “a little Velvet Underground and a little Bowie in the bass-driven spoken word verses and driving punky choruses, with a lesson from the universe to slow the fuck down” – was inspired by a near miss with a semi on his way home one day. He elaborates: “A near head-on collision on my way home ended up being a message from the universe. In my mind, anyway…lol. I’d been pushing myself pretty hard and it caught up to me. I’d been listening to Billy Nomates and really dug the simplicity of her arrangements and how the bass was incorporated in each song. So after dodging the semi-truck that I had almost hit running a red light, I blew one of my tires and ended up at a gas station. Freaked out but alive, I had a conversation with a friendly guy from a homeless camp who helped me out, and what he said to me really spoke to me. Life can be cool that way.“
In addition to writing the words and music and singing vocals, Regan played all instruments and produced the track, which was mastered by his longtime collaborator Todd Ensminger. The song starts off with a great little bass riff, backed by a faint wobbly synth, which are soon joined by a strong thumping drumbeat as Regan begins to sing in his colorful vocal style: “I was driving home from work, a little spaced out. You know, my busy fucking life. I ran a red, the semi didn’t care. Speeding up to let me know that life ain’t really fair.” Eventually, the song turns into a fist-pumping punk rock anthem in the choruses, with an explosion of stomping drumbeats, swirling spacy synths and grinding riffs – “Space Boy, you better slow down. Going to explode before you hit the ground.” It’s a terrific banger, and another stellar single from this brilliant artist.
As much as Twitter drives me crazy at times, one of the things I do like about it has been the thousands of musicians and bands I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know over the past seven-plus years I’ve been active on that platform. A great many of those musicians and bands are enormously talented, and some are also genuinely gracious and kind, and one act who checks both boxes is Morning Fuzz, an outstanding rock band from Long Island, NY. Formed in 2009 by singer/songwriter & guitarist Frank Fussa and bassist Chris Johanidesz after the breakup of their previous band Ultra High Frequency, Morning Fuzz was a short while later joined by longtime friend and guitarist Michael Cullari, then went through several changes in drummers (something that’s plagued many a band I’ve written about). Between 2009 and 2013, they released two EPs and an album Chasing Ghosts, then went quiet for a few years, I’m guessing largely due to work and family obligations.
They returned to making music in 2016, and since then have been releasing singles in fits and starts. They followed me on Twitter in early 2017, and shortly thereafter released their single “Silent Sun”, a fantastic song I reviewed and liked so much, it ended up ranking #69 on my 100 Best Songs of 2017 list. They followed up with a Christmas single “Magical Christmas Time”, and another single “Fellow Creep”, then went quiet again after yet another drummer left. They appear to have finally struck gold in 2018 when drummer Dan Leonardi came on board, and their lineup has remained intact since then. In 2019, they released a terrific single “I’ll Be Around”, which I also reviewed, and which also charted on my Weekly Top 30, ending up at #71 on my 100 Best Songs of 2019 list. They dropped another single “Field of Frowns” later that year, then in February 2020 returned to the studio to record their second album Wherever We Go, and we all know what happened next. Halfway into the recording process, Covid hit and everything came to a halt.
Once restrictions were lifted, they went back to working on the album on weekends or whenever the studio was free, finally finishing with recording in late 2020. Frank then set to work mixing the album himself. He recalled “I would come home from work everyday and just start mixing until all hours of the night. Then we sent the album out to The Lodge to get mastered. It took another year just to get that done and the vinyl copies produced. In the meantime we released three singles from the album and filmed a video for ‘Don’t Wait Up’. Then we did a live video for ‘Love To Hate You’ from our band studio, then shot another video for ‘Vigo’ (which they released this past December). After releasing only singles since our debut album, we wanted to make a full album that was meant to be heard as a whole, even though that seems to be dying out these days. We wanted to make a no skipper album with every song solid and engaging. Hopefully we lived up to the task. I think we did.”
Well, after listening to Wherever We Go several times, I certainly think they’ve succeeded, as all 11 tracks are superb. In preparation for writing this review, I went back and re-listened to their entire back music catalog, and was reminded of how good this band is. It’s also remarkable how long – with the exception of their drummer – this band has been together. In addition, they’ve written and recorded at least 37 songs over the years, which I think is a heck of a lot for a band that’s gone through a few periods of inactivity.
The album blasts open with the aforementioned “Vigo” a rousing rocker that sets the tone for the album, both musically and thematically. Frank told me the album is essentially about time, both in terms of how it seems to be moving way too fast, but also the need to try and make the most of it while we’re here. It also addresses his constant struggle to be more positive. All those subjects resonate strongly with me, and these lyrics really hit the mark: “We were young and we had high hopes. Where did all of the time go? Fazed out amongst the people. Left out, wherever we go. We’re chasing moving cars, forgetting who we are.Sold out the lucid dreame. The grass is never greener.” I love the hard-driving rhythms, fortified by Dan’s smashing drumbeats, Chris’s aggressive bassline, and Frank and Michael’s blazing guitars. I also like that all members of the band sing, with Chris, Michael and Dan’s backing harmonies beautifully complementing Frank’s raw, impassioned vocals. Finally, several aspects of the song, at least to my ears, call to mind some of the music of the Foo Fighters and Thirty Seconds to Mars.
Next up is “Don’t Wait Up“, which Frank says is “about the ever changing world with fads, styles, opinions, and everyone trying so hard to fit in or be a part of something because they feel like they have to. The message is, be yourself, do what you love, and don’t be pressured to try to fit in.” The song opens with Chris’s tasty little bass riff, then explodes with raging guitars and crashing percussion as Frank alternately croons and wails the lyrics: “It’s hard to sit through all of this noise. Everyone’s in love with their own voice. They jump the line and can’t sit still. Run along now, go get your fill. Don’t wait up.” I like that their videos feature mostly footage of them performing their songs, rather than trying to act out some some silly plot line, and this one nicely showcases their energy and charisma.
“Love To Hate You” is another terrific banger, with a stomping groove overlain with gnarly and jangly guitars and more of Dan’s explosive drums. Frank’s vocals are more emphatic than ever here, as he wails the lyrics about a person who’s deeply devoted to and wrapped up in something or someone, but that no matter how how they try, they cannot reach their goal or gain acceptance from that other person. Despite repeated attempts that go unnoticed or keep getting beaten down, the frustrated individual just can’t give up or let go, no matter what, often feeling caught between conflicting feelings of adoration and loathing. “It’s hard to face you. But we are going to make it after all. Because I love to hate you. I’ve hit a hundred walls, but I’ll climb a hundred million more cause I was made to.”
I think my favorite track on the album is “Sailing In“, a beautiful rock song with gorgeous chiming guitars and vocal harmonies. The song speaks to that rapid passage of time addressed earlier, and also how people come in and out of our lives, leaving their imprints on our souls and psyches: “Foot steps, reverse, come back, it all just starts to blend. Old memories or deja vu that comes again. I feel the wind, I feel like I’m just sailing in to find myself stuck in that same old bar of sand. Who knows where we are? Fools gold in our hearts, no time to play pretend. These faces come and go.”
This theme is further explored on “Calling All Cars“, in which Frank emphatically admonishes another to stop wasting their precious time: “I hear, you hear all those same words but in different tones. You see, I see the same world in a different light. You choosing your fights. Our minds, we’re losing our minds. Your time, you’re wasting you’re time and your life!Cars, calling all cars! Your time is precious, follow your heart.” I really like the stark contrast between the lilting harmonies and aggressive wails in the bridge.
Another favorite is “Last Night, Today’s Dust“, a lively, melodic rocker about sticking together through good times and bad: “We were caught in the rain. We will get through these days. We can’t force all the stars to align, but I’ll always be by your side. We will live in the now. We’ll erase all the doubts. No ifs, no buts, no other way.” This song has a strong Foo Fighters vibe, and Frank’s vocals even sound a bit like Dave Grohl’s in spots.
One of the most powerful tracks on the album is “Give Me Electric“, which articulates some of Frank’s songwriting challenges: “[it] probably comes from the most negative state of mind out of all of the songs. Struggling to feel inspiration, every day felt like groundhogs day. Creativity was not flowing. But life gets like that and it always jumps back.After hearing the song recorded, I felt fucking great!” The lyrics speak of wanting to feel those sparks – whether they be creative, romantic, or whatever – that inspire us to do better and feel alive: “Give me electric. Shock me up so I can feel alive, because I fear that I’m fading away. Because I feel that I’m fading away.”
“Test Fire” is a poignant song acknowledging the pain caused to another, and asking for forgiveness: “I bottomed out, I let you down. For all the grief I’m sorry. Turn the page, don’t turn away. If I should shout please drown me out.” As it’s title suggests, “Manic Dramatic” features a frantic beat and lyrics touching on the risks of always living life on the edge: “We can be so erratic. We’re manic, dramatic./ As we pick a vice, we pay the price, oh do we. Somewhere down the line, our fate is blind, we’ll see. Worry all of our lives. Will we be alright?“
Wherever We Go closes with “Strange Nights“, a beautiful, bittersweet rock song that’s also the longest track on the album. The song starts off gently, with a brief spacey synth that’s soon replaced by a delicate acoustic guitar and Frank’s plaintive vocal. Eventually the music ramps up as he laments about a relationship broken beyond repair, adding that he never intended to hurt his partner: “Right way, wrong way. Too tough to balance out. My way, your way, it doesn’t matter now to me./ There we were with all we had. Holding on to something that was wrong. And here I am, with all I have. I never meant to cause you any harm.“
Morning Fuzz have come roaring back with Wherever We Go, a stellar work that further solidifies their already impressive rock credentials. They’re a great band, and I’m so proud of them for putting out such a strong, expertly crafted work as this.
The topic for Day 2 of my 30 Day Song Challenge is “A song with a number in the title”. There are so many great songs with numbers in their title, such as “One” by U2, “Two Hearts” by Phil Collins, “Eight Days a Week” by the Beatles and “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” by Paul Simon, to name a few that quickly come to mind. But I’ve chosen a song with a title made up almost entirely of numbers, the great power pop classic “867-5309/Jenny” by California pop-rock band Tommy Tutone. Released in November 1981, the song was a huge hit, reaching #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and #1 on the Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart in the Spring of 1982. The song’s incredibly catchy, with an infectious hard-driving groove overlain with fantastic jangly guitar riffs and terrific vocals backed by equally great harmonies.
Tommy Tutone was originally formed in 1978 as Tommy and the Twin Tones in Northern California by Tommy Heath and Jim Keller, along with Terry Nails, with Heath as lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist, Keller on lead guitar and backing vocals, and Nails on bass and backing vocals. Like many bands, they underwent numerous personnel changes, and it was Jon Lyons who actually played bass on “867-5309”. (Lyons was soon replaced by Greg Sutton, later Pete Costello, and more recently Jimmy James.)
The song was co-written by Keller and Alex Call, who’d been a member of the San Francisco Bay Area country rock band Clover, which was active from 1967 to 1978 and best known for its member Huey Lewis and for backing Elvis Costello on his debut album My Aim is True. There have been numerous stories and myths over the years about the song, particularly the phone number and the identity of “Jenny”, some of which were created by Keller and Heath to seemingly add to the song’s lore. But in a 2004 interview with Songfacts, Call explained his version of the song’s real origins:
“Despite all the mythology to the contrary, I actually came up with ‘Jenny,’ and the telephone number and the music and all that just sitting in my backyard. There was no Jenny. I don’t know where the number came from, I was just trying to write a 4-chord rock song and it just kind of came out. I had the guitar lick, I had the name and number, but I didn’t know what the song was about. My buddy Jim Keller, who’s the co-writer and lead guitar player in Tommy Tutone, stopped by that afternoon and he said, ‘Al, it’s a girl’s number on a bathroom wall,’ and we had a good laugh. I said, ‘That’s exactly right, that’s exactly what it is.’
Tommy Tutone’s been using the story for years that there was a Jenny and she ran a recording studio and so forth. It makes a better story but it’s not true. That sounds a lot better than I made it up under a plum tree in my backyard. When Jim showed up, we wrote the verses in 15 or 20 minutes, they were just obvious. It was just a fun thing, we never thought it would get cut. In fact, even after Tommy Tutone made the record and ‘867-5309’ got on the air, it really didn’t have a lot of promotion to begin with, but it was one of those songs that got a lot of requests and stayed on the charts. It was on the charts for 40 weeks.
A lot of women have told me they use the name and number as a brush off, which I think is really great. A guy wakes up with a hangover, he’s been obnoxious to some girl in a bar last night, he opens up a folded piece of paper and it’s ‘Jenny – 867-5309’. I’ve also met a few Jennys who’ve said, ‘Oh, you’re the guy who ruined my high school years’. But for the most part, Jennys are happy to have the song. A guy came up to me at one of my gigs – his family is from Florida and they had the number. They loved it, and as they’ve all grown up, everyone in the extended family has the number 5309 on their cell phones, no matter what the prefix is, so all you need to know is what cousin Bob’s prefix is. There’s a number here in town, it’s a used car lot – he’s got a big sign. It’s funny that that song has such legs and keeps going. But a lot of people who had it were really pissed off about it.”
Numerous homes around the country with the number 867-5309 were besieged with prank phone calls or come-ons from horny men looking for a ‘Jenny’. In 1982, Brewton, Alabama resident Lorene Burns told the press “When we’d first get calls at 2 or 3 in the morning, my husband would answer the phone. He can’t hear too well. They’d ask for Jenny, and he’d say ‘Jimmy doesn’t live here anymore.’ Tommy Tutone was the one who had the record. I’d like to get a hold of his neck and choke him.”
Soda Cracker Jesus is the solo music project of the wildly imaginative and enormously talented singer-songwriter and producer Regan Lane, who’s also become a regular of this blog. The Tacoma, Washington-based musician has been actively involved in the Pacific Northwest music scene for nearly 40 years, with his hands in many projects, including serving as front man and ringmaster for psychedelic punk-rock band Strangely Alright, whose music I’ve written about numerous times. Earlier this year, he created Soda Cracker Jesus to express his more punky power pop side, calling the project “the spiritual and creative personal space that he goes to just be his musical self, a space where no matter which creative juices flow, whatever sonic creations are born, he knows that they come from an honest and personal place.”
Regan’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. With an undying sense of optimism, he creates music that looks to the future, but also understands the power of the past, and that duality helps shape his unique and signature sound. Since April 1st, he’s released four singles, beginning with the foot-stomping power pop banger “My Anthem”, followed by “Drug My Soul”, “Kill it Tomorrow”, and now his latest single “Kaleidoscope“. I reviewed the first two singles, which you can read by clicking on the links under “Related” at the end of this post. He released “Kaleidoscope”, along with a lyric video, exclusively on Bandcamp, on October 27, but the song will be officially released on all music streaming platforms November 2nd.
The song has been beautifully described by Mark Platt of online radio station Radio Candy as “Lennon-meets-Bowie-meets-Peter Gabriel in a dark alley“, which I cannot argue with, as I definitely hear the ghosts of John Lennon and David Bowie. Regan states that the song was influenced by “late-era Beatles psychedelia and Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett years”, which is strongly evident in the beautiful, though somewhat spacey, atmospheric soundscapes. The soothing, ballad-like feel of the song is a departure from the harder-driving punk and power pop sound of Soda Cracker Jesus’ previous singles, and I like it! I love the lush, shimmery synths and gorgeous keyboards, which were played by Lee Gregory, as well as Regan’s chiming guitar notes. The subtle bass was played by Ray Hartman, and backing choruses were sung by fellow Strangely Alright bandmember Sean Van Dommelen. Regan produced the track, which was mastered by his longtime collaborator Todd Ensminger.
Regan wrote “Kaleidoscope” after his father passed away. He told me “My dad and I had a complicated relationship, but before he passed we were good. This song is about the emotions and feelings that come with that. I think anyone at any age can relate to dealing with loss. I don’t usually bare my soul but this is as close as it comes.” The lyrics are filled with meaning, but written with enough ambiguity so that each listener can interpret them as they see fit. In spots, the lyrics display a youthful innocence that seems to come from a child’s perspective: “I sure love my bicycle. It takes me where I need to go. And all the raindrops let me know the wind is at my back.” But later in the song, the wisdom that (hopefully) comes with age is apparent: “Father’s ghost has let me knowI’m okay, we all get broken. What we get is just a token of what we give away. Kaleidoscope inside my head. Reflections of the hope I have. I look back but now is where I stand.”
One of the more uniquely fascinating acts I’ve written about in my nearly six years of blogging is Rubber Clown Car (I love their name!) Based in the far western Chicagoland suburbs, the band is the brainchild of singer/songwriter and ace guitarist Dirk Prysby, a wildly imaginative, creative, and all-around nice guy. His songs often feature zany titles, but with deeper lyrics touching on the minefields of love, relationships and this crazy thing called life. As I’ve previously noted, his quirky, off-kilter vocal style wouldn’t get him very far on The Voice or American Idol, but it’s incredibly endearing and well-suited to his eccentric songs. Besides Dirk, Rubber Clown Car includes Fred Beasley (drums, backing vocals, guitar) and Tony Pantalones (bass, keyboards and everything else). Their eclectic alt-rock sound has been compared to such acts as XTC, Bob Mould, the Damned, the Who, GBV, the Replacements, and Matthew Sweet, with one reviewer describing them as “the Beatles on Quaaludes”.
Formed in the mid-2000s, Rubber Clown Car started out making fairly straightforward music drawing from rock, grunge and punk elements. Their first release was the excellent 2006 album Make the Noise, featuring one of my favorite of their songs “Home in the Suburbs”, a no-holds-barred commentary on the American Dream. They subsequently began incorporating more psychedelic and alternative elements into their music, which can be heard on their follow-up 2008 release Music “They” Don’t Want You To Hear, with songs like “The Boy With the Plexiglas Head” and “Gene Pool Party”. Since then, they’ve been quite prolific in their output, releasing ten more albums and EPs, featuring clever titles like Jesus is not a Weapon, Cake Solves Heartaches, Let’s Go Bowling and Slave to the Algorithm.
In May 2019, I reviewed their brilliant eighth album Horse Logic, an ambitious and trippy tour de force featuring 18 tracks ranging from rock to psychedelic to blues to ballads, and everything in between. Two years later they’ve returned with their latest album Go.Do., which dropped on May 28th, and I’m finally getting around to reviewing it. The delightful album features 11 tracks, including seven original songs and four covers – the Goo Goo Dolls’ “Long Way Down”, the Association’s “Never My Love”, the Gin Blossoms’ “Found Out About You” and the Beatles’ “Ticket to Ride”.
The album opens with “Everything to Everyone“, a terrific guitar-driven banger, fortified by a fast-paced punkish groove punctuated with gnarly psychedelic guitars. The lyrics speak to the futility of always trying to please everyone: “You bend over backwards with your head up your ass. Nothing in the world kills attraction so fast. You give and give and give and ask not in return. And wonder why you’re alone, won’t you ever learn?“
Among the album highlights for me are “The Math in Her Head“, with it’s slow, infectious guitar-driven melody and Tom Petty vibe. The lyrics address a woman who’s reassessing her feelings about the relationship, and not for the better: “She’s doing the math in her head. I’m starting to wonder, is it something I said? She won’t talk to me. She won’t talk to me. She won’t talk to me anymore.” Another song that seemingly channels Tom Petty, with a bit of the Beatles and Jayhawks thrown in for good measure, is the hopeful “What If“, with lyrics written by Natalie Rose, who also provides backing vocals. “What if I said ‘I loved you’? Would you say that you loved me too? What if I said I need you? Would you say that you need me too?“
Dirk’s skill for writing cheeky lyrics and hard-driving bangers is nicely showcased on the rousing “Out of State Plates“, my favorite track on the album. The song touches on the joys and perils of playing the field, and how it sometimes gets you into trouble: “Out of state plates keep me coming back for more. Out of state plates keep me coming back for years. Out of state plates got me running out the door. Out of state plates probably make me lose my mind. She’s coming round in a wedding dress. I probably should have been a little clearer I guess.” I love the song’s frantic punk-like beat, thunderous percussion and intricate, mind-blowing riffs that set the airwaves aflame! The way the guitars fade out in a wave of distortion and reverb is fantastic.
Rubber Clown Car does a fine job on the four covers, but my absolute favorite is “Found Out About You“. Their interpretation is slower and more introspective than the original by the Gin Blossoms, with Dirk’s lovely acoustic guitar and plaintive melancholy vocals providing the only sounds we hear. The result is a beautiful and deeply moving song that really captures the heartbreak and disappointment expressed in the lyrics in a way the Gin Blossoms’ version did not (though I do love their original too).
Another standout is “Great Guns“, a grungy, psychedelia-tinged tune about a woman’s fears and paranoias that led her to buy a gun for protection. Dirk serves up dark and heavy riffs dripping with gnarly distortion, brilliantly conveying the disconnect between the woman’s fears and her false sense of security that owning a gun brings: “She bought a gun. She liked the way it fit her fingers, and she’s #1. She’ll never feel this way again cause Great Guns are coming round./ She found a way out of her problem situation.”
Album closer “Mannequin Casino” starts off with tribal drum beats, then launches into a reverb-soaked barrage of grungy psychedelic guitars and trippy vibes. My take on the song’s meaning is that it’s about being abandoned by a lover at the Mannequin Casino, which seems to be a metaphor for a dead, lonely house without love or even the presence of an honest human being. Dirk laments “Something was wrong, you couldn’t find a way to say it. You couldn’t make me understand. All alone at night at a Mannequin Casino. What goes at night at a Mannequin Casino? Something just ain’t right at this Mannequin Casino.“
Go.Do. is a very fine album, and while I don’t think it’s quite as strong or innovative as Horse Logic, Rubber Clown Car nevertheless delivers more of the offbeat alternative rock we’ve come to love and expect from them. The outstanding guitar work, catchy melodies and relatable lyrics all make for a fun and thoroughly enjoyable listen.
The wonderful album artwork was created by Logospilgrim, a talented and lovely writer, artist, singer and fellow blogger from Canada who’s a friend of both mine and the band. Check out her blog at https://logospilgrim.com/
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 Knockorsand 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
As someone who has zero musical aptitude or talent, I’m always impressed by those who do, and even more so when they’re as young as the guys in the band Stargazy Pie. Formed in 2019, the Tacoma, Washington-based foursome are all still in their teens, ranging in age from 15-19, but their music and lyrics have a level of quality and maturity well beyond their tender years. In January, they released their debut album Butterfly Hand Grenade, and I must say that it’s quite good! I also love that they named their band after a traditional Cornish fish pie. Traditionally, stargazy pie is filled with potatoes, eggs and whole pilchards (sardines) – yuk! – and baked with the fish heads poking though the pastry crust so that they appear to be gazing at the stars. Hence the band’s logo:
Making the great music are Jack Stoker (rhythm guitar, lead vocals), Logan Chernoske (lead guitar, bass, backing vocals), Logan Neville-Neil (bass, piano, backing vocals) and Sulli Olson-Rexroat (drums). The album was produced and engineered by Regan Lane and Sean Van Dommelen of the band Strangely Alright, whose music I’ve also featured a number of times on this blog. The beautiful album art was created by band guitarist, Logan Chernoske, who edited together two NASA photographs of butterfly nebulas with a shadowy image of the lead singer Jack.
The album kicks off with “Kinda Lame“, a rousing tune that takes me back to the 90s with a groove that reminds me a bit of songs by the Gin Blossoms or early Jimmy Eat World. The upbeat, driving rhythms contrast with the more serious lyrics that speak to the disappointment of unrequited love and coming to terms with the fact that the one you love just doesn’t feel the same about you. The instrumentals are all top-notch, and Jack’s vocals are in fine form, transitioning from smooth croons to soaring entreaties with ease as he laments “I think you’re making a big mistake. But I know that we can’t control these things. And baby if you just don’t feel the same, I think that’s kinda lame.”
“Paranoid” is a terrific hard rock song, with marvelous chugging riffs of gnarly and distorted guitars, accompanied by galloping rhythms that create a heavier, more urgent sound for the bitter lyrics giving someone who’s betrayed you the big kiss-off: “So don’t come crawling back in shame. Cause I just can’t be friends with someone who wants to see me in pain. But now I’m Paranoid, Cause I know what you’ve done. If I can’t trust you then I can’t trust no one.” Once again, Jack’s vocals are outstanding.
The wonderfully-titled head banger “why’dyouleave(girl).wav” really channels Jimmy Eat World, with frantic rhythms and rapid-fire riffs a la “The Middle”, only faster and with lots more distortion. Jack’s vocal dexterity is impressive as he feverishly spits out the lyrics in perfect sync with the frenzied pace of the instrumentals as he implores ” Why’d you have to walk away? All I need is one more day. So much more I had to say. Things will never be the same. It didn’t have to end this way, oh I just want you to stay.”
The next three tracks address the guys’ anxieties and experiences as a young band, and once again I have to say that I’m both impressed and touched by their intelligent and introspective songwriting, especially given their young ages. The buoyant “Constellations” speaks to the healing powers of making and performing music: “I can’t erase these things that I’ve done. I’m on the run, oh I’m on the run. And I just won’t face what I’ve become. None of it’s fun, oh none of it’s fun. But I’ll go to waste if I don’t move on. I’ll make a name, I’ll be someone. Oh I know a place where we belong. We will be constellations. And we will sing to the nations.”
“$25 Guitar” is a sweet and poignant ode to the singer’s very first guitar that got him where he is today musically, and though it makes him sad, it’s now time for him to move up to a better model: “My twenty-five dollar guitar. Oh I knew you were a star. And it must be so very hard to hear, but my twenty-five dollar guitar, you just weren’t up to par. So leaving you shouldn’t leave me in tears.” In keeping with the sentimental subject, the song’s arrangement is more laid-back, with charming strummed guitars, however, the rhythm section is still rather spirited, though it doesn’t detract from the track’s mellower feel.
And on the boisterous garage rocker “Going Under“, they touch on the perils of falling prey to acting like a ‘rock star’, being full of yourself and disrespecting others and, ultimately yourself. “Lars Ulrich, he’s a prick. Ain’t got no talent on him. I think he’s full of it. But maybe that’s my problem. I can say you’re not great but you can say the same thing. Why do we wanna hate when we can just walk away? Making me wonder am I going under?/ It’s not about what you decide to do with your life. It’s more how you treat stuff and if you do what is right. Don’t hate me, if you’re angry. Cause that’s exactly what I do. I hate that I’m angry and I keep disrespecting you.” Jack and Logan C. set the airwaves afire with face-melting riffs, while Logan N. and Sulli deliver non-stop pummeling rhythms.
The guys slow it back down on the title track “Butterfly Hand Grenade“, a lovely, bittersweet song about missing someone special. “Butterfly hand grenade. Got me feeling this way. Never know what to say cause I get lost when you smile. / Falling deep in denial. And it feels so wrong cause my heart still longs. And you’re not here.” The instrumentals are quite gentle, consisting mainly of strummed guitar and warm keyboards. When the song seems to end at around 2:48, the music returns with added percussion as Jack sadly ponders “So oh, I gotta know. Was this all real? Or was it for show? Oh, I gotta know. Was this all real? Or was it for show?”
Everything comes full circle on the closing track “Pretty Great“, a call-back to the opening track “Kinda Lame”. Jack now concludes that he’s okay with the way things ended in the relationship after all, and that he’ll be alright: “Don’t worry about me, I’ll find someone who’ll be, oh all that I’ve dreamed. I once had this feeling, but now that I’m healing I’m finally set free. And that’s not to slight you. I still adore you, just not in that way. And now, everything is pretty great.”
Pretty great is an apt description for this delightful album. Butterfly Hand Grenade is a solid work, and a very impressive debut for this remarkably talented young band. Of course, some credit must be given to producers Regan Lane and Sean Van Dommelen. Still, it’s heartwarming to see a young act put out such a well-crafted work as this, and I hope we’ll be hearing more great music from them.
I love the quirky and colorful names that musicians often come up with for their music projects, and one of the best I’ve seen lately is Soda Cracker Jesus, the new brainchild of longtime Tacoma-based singer-songwriter and producer Regan Lane. Lane is also front man and ringmaster of psychedelic punk-rock band Strangely Alright, who I’ve featured numerous times on this blog. The wildly imaginative, talented and seasoned artist has been a mainstay in the Northwest music scene for years. Besides Strangely Alright, he was previously a member of Tacoma punk band Baby Knockorsand 80s rock band Strypes. More recently, he helped produce the new album Butterfly Hand Grenade for up-and-coming rockers Stargazy Pie, 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. He recently confided on Facebook, “I’ve come to the point in my life where I know for me that happiness comes from the inside. It’s not about being the greatest or the best, but about having gratitude for what I have, appreciating the people and love in my life and continuing to try to treat people like I’d like to be treated. And all those things help me feel creative and free to share who I really am.” It’s in this spirit that he wrote “My Anthem“, which he’s released today, April 1st, as his debut single.
The aptly-titled song is a euphoric power pop anthem and foot-stomping banger, with a joyously upbeat old school punk-infused vibe that nicely conveys Lane’s hopeful message. In addition to singing vocals, he played all instruments, mixed, and produced the track, and Todd Ensminger did the mastering. I love his chugging riffs of gnarly guitars and aggressive pounding drumbeats, and his always colorful vocals are emphatic and animated, perfectly complementing the song’s powerful driving rhythms. The lyrics speak to having an optimistic, open-minded and courageous philosophy for living your best life possible, and with gratitude, which Lane sings with such conviction and joy that we can’t help but be swept up alongside him: “I can hope and I can dream. I can fight and I can scream. Look to the light I won’t disappear. Never have to run away from anything I got no fear. Clear and Real and Free. Ya ya ya ya ya This Is My Anthem.“
Strangely Alright is a delightfully quirky and wonderful psychedelic-punk rock band based in and around Seattle-Tacoma, Washington. I’ve been following them for approximately three years, and have become especially fond of them, both because of their terrific music and also for their strong sense of humanity. Accordingly, I’ve featured them several times on this blog (you can read my reviews by clicking on the links under “Related” at the end of this post).
Referring to themselves as an “Eclectic Traveling Minstrel Magic Music Medicine Show”, their unique and entertaining style of punk-infused alternative rock is heavily influenced by such iconic British acts as David Bowie, T.Rex, Pink Floyd, later-period Beatles, Suede, the Buzzcocks and Supergrass. Through their music, they strive to spread positive messages of love, kindness and acceptance, with a guiding philosophy of “Be kind. It matters. Love always wins, so don’t be a dick.”
The band is comprised of front man and ringmaster Regan Lane, who does much of the songwriting and sings lead vocals, Sean Van Dommelen (lead guitar, backing vocals), Ken Schaff (bass), Raymond Hayden (keyboards, backing vocals) and Jason Bair (drums). They’ve released a number of recordings over the past several years, beginning in 2013 with their debut album The Time Machine is Broken, a compilation album All of Us Are Strange (The Singles) and an EP Stuff, both released in 2018, and too many singles to mention along the way. One of my favorites is the brilliant and trippy single “Psych Film”, which spent over four months on my Weekly Top 30, and ranked #42 on my Top 100 Songs of 2020 list.
On March 5th, they dropped their latest single “Alien Lover“, a song Regan describes as “that space between a dream and waking up. We wanted to do something that sounded and looked like the world inside our heads… Where answers lead to questions like the light leads to the dark and back.” Like some of their other recent singles, “Alien Lover” is a long one, clocking in at eight minutes. With it’s meandering cinematic arrangement, trippy otherworldly synths, sweeping orchestral flourishes and bold, psychedelic guitars, the song has a marvelous and epic Pink Floyd-esque vibe. The spacey psychedelic touches and distorted guitar notes perfectly conjure up images of both that blurred state between dreaming and being half-awake, and of an ethereal alien lover inhabiting our dreams. Regan has a terrific and highly emotive vocal style, and his rather mischievous-sounding croons nicely complement the otherworldly music, as well as imparting a sense of an unconventional love described in the lyrics. It all makes for a wonderful trip we’re more than happy to take!
I’m so glad you’re here so I don’t have to disappear into the shame Nothing really matters when I’m feeling like a shadow that can’t change I was wrong and you were right and I am sad without your light we need I just want to fly up in the sky so we’ll be free
Alien Lover What’s your name? Alien Lover We can change Alien Lover lover I don’t know where to go I am here to see the life you sacrificed for me to be here now The gift I have is you and all your love it tells the truth it never shouts Where we are and what we do and all the things that we can choose to be Time is on our side we’re both alive to play the game Alien Lover What’s your name? Alien Lover We can change Alien Lover What’s your name? Alien Lover lover I don’t know where to go Who we are What we do Who we are it always shows What we give What we lose Who we are it always shows Love gonna change what it needs to change Love gonna go where it goes Oh Oh Oh oh Oh Oh Oh Oh Alien Lover Alien Lover What’s your name? Alien Lover We can change We can change, we can change Alien Lover lover I don’t know where to go I don’t know where to go
This past April, I wrote a feature article about Brooklyn-based artist Jonny Polonsky, along with a review of his marvelous album Kingdom of Sleep, which you can read here. An accomplished singer-songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist, he’s been actively involved in the music industry for over a quarter century, both as a solo artist and as a session musician and/or member of a number of bands, including Big Nose (with Audioslave/Rage Against the Machine drummer Brad Wilk and bassist Tim Commerford) and Puscifer. On November 13, Jonny returned with his eighth album Power and Greed and Money and Sex and Death, featuring eight songs touching on the good, the bad and the ugly of this thing called life. He wrote, arranged, recorded, produced and engineered the album at home during the pandemic lockdown in Spring and Summer 2020. Mixing was done by Mike Tholen and mastering by Dave Collins.
The album kicks off with “Electric Tears“, a foot-stomping psychedelic rocker that seems to touch on the vow “til death do us part”. With lyrics like “To the sound of thunder we’re torn asunder / O, Dulcinea! So sweet the vulture / The main offender, the plane descender / We fall together and live forever!“, I’m guessing the two lovers are about to perish in a plane crash, confirming their love for each other. On the timely and topical “In Between Worlds“, Jonny lobs a scathing attack on racism and bigotry, and those afraid or unable to accept that America continues to evolve, both socially and demographically: “I think your thinking is deranged / I see the sadness in your soul /Morbid, bent /And strange how you still fail to see that these changing times are not your enemy.” In the terrific video, he plays both a TV newsman reporting the news and a musician performing the song on a television show stage, accompanied by footage of street protests and a defeated-looking Trump. Musically, the song has an urgent, piano-driven melody, with gnarly guitars, organ and dark synths. The piano work is especially good here.
“Imitation Life” is a lively power pop gem, with a strong driving beat and wonderful jangly guitars that give the song a retro 60s sound. Jonny admonishes another to let go of phoniness and superficiality, and live her truth: “Sad eyes, you shouldn’t waste your time / Realize, this is no imitation life. You’re alive.” One of my favorite tracks on the album is “Summer Soldiers“, a melodic tune featuring lovely vocals by singer-songwriter and former member of the Go-Go’s Jane Wiedlin. The song’s uplifting lyrics seem to be telling us not to let others define us, nor keep us from living our full potential: “Don’t let ’em lay you down and roll you out / And when you’re alone and don’t know who to trust / Tempted to self destruct / Discarded and left to rust.” The song starts off with a brief snippet of Little Richard’s hysterical laughter, then settles into a pleasing mid-tempo beat, with enchanting spacy synths, shimmery keyboards and crisp percussion. I really like how Jonny and Jane’s vocals are in perfect harmony.
On the brooding “Under Your Spell“, Jonny uses sweeping industrial synths and beautiful distorted guitars to create a haunting cinematic soundscape that gives the song a bit of a David Bowie vibe. He has an unusual vocal style that’s both raspy and breathy, which he uses to great effect on this track. The lyrics speak to him having fallen for someone who seems to be emotionally unavailable, insecure and afraid of revealing their true self: “How’d you end up on the inside? How do you know me so well? With your eyes on fire and your coat made of eagle, now I’m under your spell.” Another standout track for me is “Completely Surrounded by Love“, with its gorgeous blend of twangy and jangly guitars that give the song a folk-rock feel. The song seems to be a thank you to someone who helped him overcome his personal demons through their love and devotion: “I was afraid, so afraid of my own mind / I believed in you / I couldn’t think for my own self / But I know I am completely surrounded by love.“
Jonny saves the best for last with the stunning and bittersweet “Where the Sunset Sets“. Starting with an achingly beautiful melody, he layers shimmery keyboards, chiming guitars and airy synths to create a breathtaking atmospheric soundscape. His vocals are deeply heartfelt as he sings to someone who seems to be slipping away, possibly from dementia or even on the verge of their death: “And everything that had binded me to you, just leaves you sad and confounded / What once had been a folie a deux, is just a memory you detest. Your name, it doesn’t matter / Your face, you will soon forget / Our eyes, beaming into one another / Leave a trace in anyone you’ve ever met .” The seven-minute-long song has an epic and cinematic quality, and is my favorite track on the album.
Power and Greed and Money and Sex and Death is a wonderful album that gets better with each listen. I like how Jonny keeps things sounding fresh and varied by using different music styles, tempos and sounds on each track, and as always, the production values and arrangements are first-rate.
Jonny will be releasing a deluxe 12-inch vinyl version of the album, pressed on transparent red vinyl, with a full color cover and lyric insert with photos, and including a 16.5″x23″ fold out poster and free digital download card. Purchase of this deluxe album includes unlimited streaming of Power and Greed and Money and Sex and Death via the free Bandcamp app, plus high-quality download in MP3, FLAC and more. Shipping is anticipated on or around February 1, 2021.