FUTURE THEORY – Single Review: “Hang Your Hat”

I’ve featured hundreds of bands on this blog since I began writing reviews in early 2016, and have to say that some of the best hail from the United Kingdom. And among all those great British bands, one that impressed me from the start is alternative psychedelic group Future Theory. Blending elements of alternative and progressive rock, psychedelia, grunge, shoegaze and funk, they write especially compelling songs characterized by lavish, complex instrumentation, intelligent lyrics and mesmerizing vocals. Like many bands, the Lincolnshire-based foursome has undergone some lineup changes over time, and now consists of Max Sander on rhythm guitar and vocals, Chris Moore on lead guitar, Jacob Brookes on bass and Tom Paton on drums, although for the recording of their latest single “Hang Your Hat“, former band members Rex Helley played bass and Rohan Parrett played drums.

I first wrote about them in April 2017 when I reviewed their fantastic 2016 debut EP Fool’s Dream, then twice in 2018 when I reviewed their excellent singles “Fractured Nation” and “Peace of Mind”. (You can read those reviews by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the end of this post.) Now the Lincolnshire-based foursome are back with “Hang Your Hat”, their first new single in more than three years. The lead single from their forthcoming self-titled debut album, the song is a biting kiss-off to a romantic partner who’s been unfaithful, and broken the bonds of trust in the relationship. The track was recorded at 2fly Studios by Alan Smith (Arctic Monkeys, Reverend & The Makers, 65daysofstatic), mixed and produced by Koncide (aka Chris Hengmith), Max and Chris, and mastered by Yves Altana and Chris Ree.

Musically, “Hang Your Hat” is a marvelous feast for the ears, with some of the more dramatic and varied guitar work I’ve heard packed into one song in a long while. The song opens with a fairly intense instrumental flourish like you’d normally hear in a bridge or chorus, with a barrage of fuzz-coated psychedelic guitars and lots of crashing cymbals. At around 25 seconds, the music calms to a languid bass-driven groove, accompanied by strummed guitar and light drums as Max begins to sing in his distinctive sultry croon. Those gnarly guitars and aggressive rhythms ramp back up in the chorus, then transition back and forth in another verse and chorus, punctuated with beautiful chiming guitar notes and highlighted by a killer reverb-soaked guitar solo in the bridge.

I love Max’s vocal style that’s equal parts sensuous and raw, and enhanced by echo and reverb that render them particularly effective here in conveying the bitterness and pain expressed in the lyrics: “I don’t want to do this anymore. Where did you go last night? I said I’d lose my mind, where did you go last night? Got to be, where did you hang you’re hat? You’re gonna need that some day, pick it up wrap it up, just for today.” In the calmer moments, he almost sounds a bit like Anthony Keidis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, not a bad thing at all.

With “Hang Your Hat”, Future Theory return in fine form, proving they haven’t lost their stride one bit during their hiatus. It’s a very strong track, and I’m confident we’ll be hearing more gems from them in their forthcoming album.

Connect with Future Theory:  Facebook /  Twitter /  Instagram
Stream their music:  SpotifyApple Music / Soundcloud /  YouTube
Purchase on:  iTunes /  Bandcamp

SOLAR EYES – Single Review: “Naked Monkey on a Spaceship”

Solar Eyes is a fairly new psychedelic pop/rock band from Birmingham, England. Curiously, they have no presence whatsoever on social media, so I don’t know a whole lot about them. What I do know is they’re a trio comprised of Glenn Smyth, Tom Ford and Sebastian Maynard-Francis, that their sound is influenced by such bands as the Beatles, Pink Floyd, Chemical Brothers and Death in Vegas (though I hear traces of The Cure, U2 and Oasis as well), and that their arresting brand of pop/rock is bathed in psychedelic grooves and dreamy cinematic synths.

In May, they released their excellent debut double single “Acid Test” and “Nothing’s For Free”, and now return with the infectious earworm “Naked Monkey on a Spaceship“, released on August 6th via AWAL/Sleeping Sun Recordings. The release is a sort of mini EP, as it’s accompanied by two additional tracks, “It’s Gone Forever” and “The Lotus and the Robot”. Glenn was inspired to write the song after hearing a friend proclaim that “life is like being a naked monkey on a spaceship, with no control.” Finding the line brilliant, Glenn felt compelled to write a song around it, only to later find out that his friend had actually first heard it on a Joe Rogan podcast. But no matter, it’s still a great lyric and song title.

The song is darkly beautiful and mesmerizing, with a wonderful pulsating bass groove overlain with lush, eerie synths, propulsive drums and swirling riffs of psychedelic guitars, all creating a gorgeous otherworldly soundscape befitting a space traveling monkey. I love Glenn’s echoed vocals that to my ears sound like a glorious mash-up of Bono Hewson and Liam Gallagher.

The cool animated video for the song was created by Birmingham-based videographer, lighting and visual design producer Matt Watkins, who’s also created videos and produced visual design & lighting for live performances by numerous acts, most notably Gorillaz.

The other two songs are great too. “It’s Gone Forever” has a brooding vibe, with a hypnotic beat and some nifty psychedelic guitar work, while “The Lotus and the Robot” is appropriately spacey, with eerie industrial synths, shrill psychedelic guitars and a droning vocal chorus. Solar Eyes are fine musicians, and I like every one of their songs a lot.

Stream their music on SpotifyApple MusicYouTube

ROADKEEPER – Single Review: “Take the L”

From the moment I first heard their single “Old Man’s War” back in the spring of 2019, I’ve been a big fan of Texas alt-rock quartet Roadkeeper. Blending dreamy shoegaze and dramatic psychedelic rock with complex melodic structures, they craft lush soundscapes that are a perfect backdrop for their intelligent, socially conscious, sometimes political, and always thought-provoking lyrics. Formed in 2018, the band consists of songwriter/producer John Hetherington (vocals, synths, rhythm guitar), Trevor Tull (lead guitar), Nick Cogdill (drums) and Daniel Griffith (bass). All long-time friends, Roadkeeper is completely independent and self-produced, doing their recording, producing and mixing in John’s studio, and releasing their songs on their own label Equal Temperament

I last featured Roadkeeper in January when I reviewed their magnificent single “Enemy Mine” (which spent more than four months on my Weekly Top 30). The song is a scathing attack on far-right white nationalist professional pundits who radicalize vulnerable young people by feeding them propaganda on social media and YouTube. Continuing in a similar vein, on June 24th, they dropped their 8th single “Take the L“, which addresses the ongoing immigrant and refugee crisis along the US/Mexico border, which has had an especially profound impact on Texas.

Written during the Trump administration and recorded in the Biden administration, the song shines a light on the fact this issue hasn’t gone away with the change in the White House. In an article in the webzine Clash, John explained “The song serves as an important reminder that the two major political parties in the US are just punting this issue back and forth to one another, so when is real change going to happen?

Roadkeeper never fails to amaze me, and with “Take the L”, they once again deliver an exceptional single. The layered mix of psychedelic and shimmery guitars are gorgeous, backed by sparkling atmospheric synths and thumping rhythms, all creating a melodic and captivating backdrop for the powerful lyrics. John has a wonderful and mellifluous singing voice, and here his smooth vocals remind me at times of Mark Foster (of Foster the People) as he laments “Just take the L and go, so we both get our way. We’ll burn at both ends and say ‘Who started it anyway?’. All these stolen kids who die in their sleep don’t mean anything.”

Connect with Roadkeeper:  Facebook / Twitter  / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

STRANGELY ALRIGHT – Single Review: “Alien Lover”

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

To learn more about Strangely Alright, check out their website
Connect with them on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

New Song of the Week – ROADKEEPER: “Enemy Mine”

One of my favorite American indie bands is alt-rock quartet Roadkeeper, who since forming in 2018 have released a string of exceptional singles. Based in the eastern Texas city of Tyler, the band consists of songwriter/producer John Hetherington (vocals, synths, rhythm guitar), Trevor Tull (lead guitar), Nick Cogdill (drums) and Daniel Griffith (bass), all long-time friends. Roadkeeper is completely independent and self-produced, doing their recording, producing and mixing in John’s studio, and releasing their songs on their own label Equal Temperament. Blending dreamy shoegaze and dramatic psychedelic rock with complex melodic structures, they craft lush soundscapes that are a perfect backdrop for their intelligent, socially conscious, sometimes political, and always topically relevant lyrics that give us something to think about.

I’ve featured them three times on this blog over the past two years (you can read my reviews under ‘Related’ at the bottom of this article). I love all their songs, but two that stand out for me personally are “Old Man’s War”, a beautiful track about anxiety and worry over things, both real and imagined, and “Downs”, stunning song about impostor syndrome and not finding one’s place within the cultural and sociopolitical milieu. “Downs” went to #1 on my Weekly Top 30, and ranked #15 on my Top 100 Songs of 2020 list. Now they’re back with their 7th single “Enemy Mine“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. While still featuring their dream rock elements we’ve come to love from Roadkeeper, the song is darker and more sonically intense than their previous singles, befitting the politically-charged lyrics.

The band doesn’t shy away from making their progressive-leaning views known, and states that the song “is about the far right radicalization of vulnerable young people in the U.S. by white nationalist professional pundits who are fed viewers and readers by algorithms on social media and YouTube. There is an organized effort to convert impressionable young people into radical white supremacists and encourage them to undertake radical action against marginalized people and progressive political movements. ‘Enemy Mine’ is about the dissonance between the perceived realities of radical white supremacists and that of everyone else.”

The track opens with ominous cinematic synths that build for nearly a minute, then pounding drumbeats ensue along with wailing guitars, only to calm back down as John begins to sings the verses in his beautiful falsetto. John and Trevor’s blend of jangly and psychedelic guitars are enveloped by shimmery synths, while Daniel and Nick drive the rhythm forward with their thumping bass line and aggressive drums. Everything erupts into an electrifying crescendo of wailing guitars, screaming synths and explosive percussion in the bridge, continuing through to the end of the track for a powerful climax to a gorgeous rock song.

 Even words we never say 
 Turn their heads from soft to something strange 
 Waiting on some kids to sign on 
 Twisting up their roots to point their sharp to Zion 
  
 Their undeveloped brain’s distastes 
 For things they’ve never seen are set in place 
 It’s such a shame 
  
 Bitter little loners 
 Look to those who look like them to find themselves 
 Born without a purpose 
 Led to think they’re worthless until now
 Feed their doubt 
  
 Give them some kind of god to worship 
 Weapons always find their way to 
 Enemies’ front lines 
 Spreading lies, blacking flags 
  
 Even if they hesitate there’s 
 No way that they’re ever coming back 
 Safe behind the soft glow waiting 
 Self appointed sergeants have their backs 
  
 Faceless basement 
 Terrorist replacements 
 Holy war, hiding places 
 The worst of them will steal our words  

The dramatic video, produced by Robert Woodward, shows digitally-altered footage of recent political protests juxtaposed with old footage of 50’s films, atomic blasts, space exploration and scenes of the band performing the song.

Connect with Roadkeeper:  Facebook / Twitter  / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / SoundcloudApple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

STRANGELY ALRIGHT – Single Review: “Maybe If”

Strangely Alright is a wonderful and wildly-entertaining psychedelic-punk rock band based in Seattle-Tacoma, Washington. Referring to themselves as an “Eclectic Traveling Minstrel Magic Music Medicine Show”, they’ve built a loyal following not only through their great music, but also for the positive messages of humanity, love, kindness and acceptance in their songs. Their quirky and unique style of punk-infused rock is inspired by such iconic British artists as David Bowie, T.Rex, Pink Floyd, the Jam, Suede, the Buzzcocks and Supergrass. The band is fronted by 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, including their debut album The Time Machine is Broken in 2013, as well as a compilation album All of Us Are Strange (The Singles) and an EP Stuff, both of which were released in 2018. Since then, they’ve dropped a number of terrific singles, one of them the brilliant and trippy “Psych Film”, which has been streamed nearly 75,000 times on Spotify. The song has also spent the past four months on my Weekly Top 30 list, peaking at #4. (You can read my reviews of Stuff and “Psych Film” by clicking on the links under “Related” at the end of this post.)

Now Strangely Alright returns with their marvelous new single “Maybe If“, a beautiful song of hope, love and gratitude. About the song’s message, the band states “In a world of pointing fingers, we have decided to look inside for the answers. And let’s be kind! It matters in ways we often never see.” Running nearly eight minutes long, the song has an epic, otherworldly feel reminiscent of some of Pink Floyd’s music. The intricate guitar work is fantastic, alternating between jangly, chiming and grungy textures, and accompanied by sparkling piano keys, measured percussion, and a colorful mix of spacey and sweeping orchestral synths. It all comes together beautifully to create a dreamy cinematic backdrop for Regan’s wonderful Bowie-esque vocals.

Feeling like an alien
Who fell and landed here
Maybe if I face my pride
The answers will be clear
Maybe if I ride a cloud
Into the sun my darkness disappears

Everything I never had
I’d give it all away
If I have to steal a smile
I’ll wear it for the day
If I have to tell where I have been
I have to sell there’s nothing left to win

Maybe If I look inside
I’ll see the things I’ve always tried to hide

Maybe everything I have
Is everything I need
And I can’t control the world outside
And I hate who I can be
If I lose control will I disappear
And will I fade away to the nothing
In the mirror

Galaxies of brokenness that fabricate what I have missed
Peculiar thoughts I died when I was young
Can’t escape what might have been
The atmosphere is getting thin
I’m out of gas
Maybe If

Maybe If my gratitude is greater than my faith
If I see myself in everyone will I share a little grace
And I want to trust all the things I see
And I want to feel just a little peace
There’s a million no’s deep inside of me
If I let em go
I just might end up free

Strangely Alright hit the ball out of the park yet again with “Maybe If”, further cementing their reputation for putting out stellar tunes with the power to both dazzle our senses and stir our souls.

To learn more about Strangely Alright, check out their website
Connect with them on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes / Google Play

DENSE – EP Review: “Abjection”

DENSE is a remarkably talented young psychedelic garage rock band from Leeds, England I’ve been following pretty much since their beginnings nearly four years ago. As their name suggests, they combine thick, fuzz-coated grooves with intricate, often explosive riffs and complex melodies to create music that’s exhilarating and intense. To best describe their distinctive sound, I’ve come up with the phrase ‘industrial surf-metal psychedelic garage rock’.  Making this incredible and innovative music are Charlie Fossick (Guitar/Vocals), Dylan Metcalf (Bass) and Sam Heffer (Drums), three intelligent guys who take their music seriously, yet are still fully in touch with their playful side.

A favorite of this blog, I’ve featured DENSE numerous times over the past three and a half years, most recently last December when I reviewed their dark and gritty single “Fever Dream” (you can read some of my previous reviews by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the end of this post). Now the guys return with their debut EP Abjection, featuring four combustible little sticks of dynamite packed into 14 explosive minutes. The guys have gained a reputation for their electrifying live performances, and in the creation of the EP, they wanted to capture that energy and translate it into their songs. Abjection was written and recorded by DENSE, produced and mixed by Adam Bairstow, and mastered by James Grover.

It’s been gratifying to follow these guys on their musical journey, and as they’ve matured, so too has their sound, songwriting and performance, with each release sounding better and better. Abjection is their best work yet, with the band further experimenting with progressive rock elements. In a recent interview with British webzine DRAB, the band explained “The instrumentals are incidentally written to sort of be ‘progressive’ with changing moods and vibes through each song to almost tell their own story. To pair with this, Charlie usually writes taking influence from writers such as H.P. Lovecraft (i.e. cramming a horror story into a single song), and this led to us landing on the main theme of the EP being a small collection of songs that are all essentially short stories about different forms of suffering, hence the title of the EP. Looking back on that, it makes us come across a lot more bleak and depressing than we like to think we are as people!

Opening track “Calcium” really showcases how well the three guys play as a tight unit, their respective instruments in perfect sync as they deliver a thunderous wall of psychedelic sound. Starting with Dylan’s deep, pulse-pounding bass line that serves as the song’s rapidly beating heart, Charlie layers scorching reverb-soaked riffs that rip through the airwaves while Sam aggressively smashes his drum kit. I can’t make out all the lyrics Charlie’s singing, but he screams with a ferocity that’s downright chilling. A little more than halfway through the song, we hear what sounds like jets flying as Sam starts shattering his drums with crushing beats that echo off the walls. At 2:45, Charlie lets loose with a savage volley of raging distortion, while Dylan’s relentless throbbing bass can be both heard and felt. It’s an exhilarating ride from start to finish.

As it’s title suggests, “Dread” is a dark and ominous track, with a heavy start-stop beat driven by a menacing bass line. Two thirds into the song, Charlie blows us away with an explosion of screaming distortion while Sam smashes his drums to bits. Charlie wails the lyrics that speak of depression and hopelessness: “Dark shadows surround me. So patient. So worthless. So nothing.” In that DRAB interview, he commented on his vocals: “I think as far as my vocal tone on the EP goes, I was trying to be more confident in my voice and not hide too much behind walls of reverb and delay which is a lot more comfortable for me. I never think of myself as a ‘singer’ or anyone of any significant talent vocal/lyric-wise so I wasn’t very comfortable in having my words sound clear and at the forefront. This time around I’ve decided to be a bit more vulnerable with what I wrote and how I’m performing it.”

Electric Chair” has a rousing punk rock vibe, with gnarly reverb-soaked guitars that border on surf at times. As always, Dylan and Sam blast out a hard-driving rhythm with their intricate heavy bass line and pummeling drum beats.

The final track “Cleanse/Despair” is a reworking of their song “Irreversible Knot” that they’d previously recorded a few years ago. After changing a few lyrics and elements that make it a sharper and more polished-sounding track, they felt it needed a new name. The song begins with Dylan’s deeply-strummed bass, then we’re hit by a thunderous barrage of fuzzy distorted guitars and wildly crashing cymbals. Charlie’s echoed vocals go from sultry drones to savage wails, while he shreds his guitar nearly to bits. Halfway through the track, things calm down so that we hear only Dylan’s bass, then with a scream from Charlie, a cacophony of reverb-soaked distortion comes crashing back like a rogue wave. A second lull occurs three quarters of the way through, with a final return of tumultuous discordant musical mayhem closing out this monumental track.

All three members of DENSE are supremely talented guys who continue to blow me away with their incredible musicianship. Charlie’s guitar work is exceptional, and I think Dylan is one of the finest bassists around today. And Sam’s a literal beast on the drums. Abjection is a fantastic little EP that makes quite an impact in its 14 minute run time, and if you like music that’s complex, thrilling and dark, you will enjoy it as much as I do.

Connect with DENSE:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on iTunes / Bandcamp / Google Play

EML’s Favorite Albums – JEFFERSON AIRPLANE: “Surrealistic Pillow”

surrealistic-pillow-1024x1024

Surrealistic Pillow by Jefferson Airplane was one of the earliest albums I remember buying as a teenager growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, where the band was based. I’d loved their two hit songs “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love”, but when I heard the album in its entirety at a friend’s house when it was played by her older sister, I was immediately smitten. I loved every song on the album, and had to have my own copy.  To this day, it remains one of my top 10 all-time favorite albums, and I still cherish my copy, now more than 50 years old. I also think it’s one of the best album covers ever!

Originally formed in 1965, Jefferson Airplane became one of the pioneering bands of psychedelic rock, and came to define what was then called the ‘San Francisco Sound’. They released their debut album Jefferson Airplane Takes Off in 1966 to critical acclaim and decent sales, eventually enough to have it certified gold. It’s a very good album, with songs that were more folk-rock oriented, and inspired by the music of bands like the Beatles, the Byrds and the Lovin’ Spoonful. A turning point in the band’s sound came after the departure of their original female vocalist Signe Anderson in October 1966, who wanted to devote more time to raising her baby daughter. She was replaced by Grace Slick, who’d previously been with the band The Great Society. In addition, founding drummer Skip Spence had earlier been replaced by Spencer Dryden. This new Jefferson Airplane lineup, which would last until early 1970, now consisted of Marty Balin (vocals), Grace Slick (vocals), Paul Kantner (guitar, vocals), Jorma Kaukonen (lead guitar, vocals), Jack Casady (bass) and Spencer Dryden (drums).

Slick’s joining the band proved pivotal to the Airplane’s commercial breakthrough, as her wonderful resonant contralto voice nicely complemented Balin’s beautiful tenor voice, and was well-suited to the band’s increasingly amplified psychedelic sound. In addition, being a former model, her good looks and on-stage charisma greatly enhanced the band’s live performances. She also contributed two of what would become the band’s signature songs – “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love”, both of which she originally recorded while with The Great Society (Slick wrote “White Rabbit” and her brother-in-law Darby Slick wrote “Somebody to Love”).

Surrealistic Pillow was recorded in Los Angeles under the guidance of producer Rick Jarrard in only 13 days, at a cost of $8,000. According to Wikipedia, the title “Surrealistic Pillow” was suggested by the album’s “shadow producer” Jerry Garcia, when he commented that the album sounded “as surrealistic as a pillow is soft.” Although the band’s label RCA would not acknowledge Garcia’s considerable contributions to the album’s production, he is listed in the album’s credits as “spiritual advisor.” The album was released in February 1967, and remained on the Billboard 200 album chart for more than a year, peaking at No. 3. Rolling Stone Magazine has ranked the album at #146 on their list of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”.

OK, enough with the background information. Let’s get to the album. It kicks off with the rousing “She Drives Funny Cars”, and what a great opening track it is. The first sounds we hear are Dryden’s aggressive galloping drumbeats, which are soon joined by Kaukonen’s and Kantner’s dual guitars, and we’re off to the races. Their intertwining psychedelic riffs are incredible, and so is Casady’s powerful bass line. Balin sings lead vocals here, with Slick nicely crooning in the background. Before we can catch our breath, we’re hit with Slick’s verbal assault of “When the truth is found to be lies”, and for the next two minutes and 55 seconds the masterpiece “Somebody to Love” unfolds, pulling us willingly into its maelstrom of explosive psychedelic greatness. The guitar work on this track is positively wicked! The song became Jefferson Airplane’s highest-charting single.

“My Best Friend” was written by former drummer Spence, and is a pleasing folk-rock song with a Lovin’ Spoonful vibe that would have been at home on their first album. Balin and Slick’s vocal harmonies are particularly nice. Next up is the haunting Balin-Kantner penned love ballad “Today”, with gorgeous jangly and chiming guitars and featuring Balin’s fervent vocals, enveloped by a dramatic percussion-heavy wall of sound that would make Phil Spector proud. “Comin’ Back to Me” is a beautiful mellow ballad with strummed acoustic and electric guitars, some of which were reportedly played by Jerry Garcia. Highlights of the song are the haunting flute and Balin’s stunning heartfelt vocals.

As we continue with the album, it’s clear that every single track is outstanding, and that the band had an incredibly diverse and wide-ranging sound. The hard-driving psychedelic guitars on “3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds” are fantastic and gnarly as hell, showcasing the band’s ability to deliver down and dirty blues rock. They seem to channel the Byrds on the breezy gem “D.C.B.A.-25”, with glorious jangly guitars and more of Balin and Slick’s gorgeous vocal harmonies. The song has a different feel from most of the others on the album, but is one of my favorites. “How Do You Feel” is a nod to the Mamas and Papas, with its pleasing melody, beautiful harmonies and more of those beguiling flutes. And then we have the stunning instrumental “Embryonic Journey”, featuring a tour de force acoustic guitar solo performance by Kaukonen of a song he wrote.

Next up is my personal favorite Jefferson Airplane song “White Rabbit”. Slick has stated she wrote the song as a slap to parents who read their children novels like Alice in Wonderland, then wonder why their children later used drugs. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, she mentioned that besides Alice in Wonderland, her other inspiration for the song was “the bolero used by Miles Davis and Gil Evans on their 1960 album Sketches of Spain,” which was itself inspired by the famous classical composition “Bolero” by Maurice Ravel. It’s the buildup to the crescendo that makes both “Bolero” and “White Rabbit” so wonderful. Here’s a performance of the song on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1967.

The album closes with the bluesy “Plastic Fantastic Lover”, with more of those wonderful psychedelic guitars, accompanied by the kind of powerful head-bopping beat I love. It’s a fantastic finish to an album I consider a masterpiece. Although Jefferson Airplane would go on to release several more albums before splitting up in 1972 and going their separate ways with other music projects, none would match the phenomenal success of Surrealistic Pillow.

The album was later re-released with five bonus tracks not on the original 1967 release.

 

New Song of the Week – ROADKEEPER: “Downs”

Roadkeeper

There are a lot of really talented indie bands around today making great music, and I enjoy giving at least some of them a bit of press to hopefully introduce them to a wider audience. One of my favorites is Texas alt-rock band Roadkeeper, who since forming in 2018 have consistently put out a string of exceptional singles. I featured them twice on this blog last year (you can read my reviews under ‘Related’ at the bottom of this article), and especially loved their single “Old Man’s War”, a stunning track about anxiety and worry over things, both real and imagined. It spent 18 weeks on my Weekly Top 30, and ended up at #51 on my Top 100 Songs of 2019 list. They’ve just released their sixth and latest single “Downs“, a beautiful song that I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week.

Based in the eastern Texas city of Tyler, Roadkeeper consists of songwriter/producer John Hetherington (vocals, synths, rhythm guitar), Trevor Tull (lead guitar), Nick Cogdill (drums) and Daniel Griffith (bass), all long-time friends. Roadkeeper is completely independent and self-produced, doing their recording, producing and mixing in John’s studio – dubbed ‘Yacht Country’ – and releasing their songs on their own label Equal Temperament. Blending dreamy shoegaze and dramatic psychedelic rock with complex melodic structures, they craft lush soundscapes that are a perfect backdrop for their intelligent and topically relevant lyrics that give us something to think about.

With that in mind, the band states that “Downs” “is a personal contemplation of impostor syndrome and not finding one’s place within the cultural and sociopolitical zeitgeist.” The lyrics speak to feeling disconnected with one’s surroundings and the people we interact with: “I feel so disconnected from the qualities of people. My sense of self is out of style. I dread to leave my house and the comfort of this down. I just wanna stick around. I just need a better life.”

Musically, Roadkeeper starts with a simple two-chord progression and layer a lush palette of glittery analog synths and beautifully-strummed acoustic guitars to create a dreamy soundscape. The track opens with an enchanting minute-long introduction of atmospheric synths, then a toe-tapping beat kicks in, along with the aforementioned acoustic guitars and a sublime piano riff that are really gorgeous. John has a smooth and pleasing vocal style that’s well-suited to the band’s sound, and his slightly echoed vocals are especially wonderful here. “Downs” is a superb song, and one of Roadkeeper’s best yet.

Connect with Roadkeeper:  Facebook / Twitter  / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes / Google Play

New Song of the Week – STRANGELY ALRIGHT: “Psych Film”

Strangely Alright Psyche Film

Strangely Alright is a five-piece band from Seattle, Washington who refer to themselves as an “Eclectic Traveling Minstrel Magic Music Medicine Show”. They’ve built a huge following not only because of their entertaining and quirky style of punk-infused psychedelic rock, but also for the strong messages of humanity, love, kindness and acceptance in their songs. The band is fronted by Regan Lane, who does much of the songwriting and sings lead vocals, Sean Van Dommelen (lead guitar, vocals), Ken Schaff (bass), Raymond Hayden (keyboards, vocals) and Jason Bair (drums). They’ve released a number of recordings over the past several years, including their terrific album The Time Machine is Broken in 2013, as well as a compilation album All of Us Are Strange (The Singles) and an EP Stuff, both of which were released in 2018. You can read my review of Stuff here.

On the heels of their epic and mesmerizing Pink Floyd-esque single “Inside a Place”, Strangely Alright are back with a fantastic new single “Psych Film“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. The song is about connection, trust, and valuing someone for who they are, warts and all. About their creative process, the band explains: “Part of being in a band, or relationship for that matter, is trust. Regan and Sean’s songwriting chemistry and trust are based on mutual respect and similar journeys from that darkness into the light that work for them. ‘Psych Film’ is a perfect example of one of the ways they create. [It’s] like having two painters painting on the same canvas at different times in order to create one cohesive piece of art.”

The track is melodic and trippy, with a bit of a 70s era David Bowie vibe thanks to lush psychedelic guitars and wonderfully spooky synths. The drums and percussion are flawless, and I love the deep, throbbing bass and heavy, buzzing reverb that continues throughout the song. Regan’s pleasing vocals are comforting as he croons the optimistic lyrics:

In the best of us you’re gonna find a good thing
In the worst of us you’re gonna find a bad thing
A different job
A different life
A different God
A different wife
In the best of us you’re gonna find a good thing

I don’t have to be alone no more
Connection
I don’t have to change
Who I am today
I am here and that’s enough to make it all ok
Connection
In a movie where the hero isn’t handsome
He got a job but he cannot afford the ransom
A different skin
A beating heart
A different dream
A tiny spark
In a movie where the hero isn’t handsome
I don’t have to be afraid of me
Connection
There’s a tiny thread
That I cannot see
But I feel it when I touch it with an open mind
Connection

Ooooo
A sinner today a saint tomorrow
A sinner today

To learn more about Strangely Alright, check out their website
Connect with them on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Apple Music / Reverbnation / Soundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunesGoogle Play