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

I first learned about British psychedelic pop/rock collective Solar Eyes in the summer of 2021 when they initially released their fantastic single “Naked Monkey on a Spaceship”. I loved it at first listen, happily featuring the song on this blog. They subsequently dropped an even better single “I See the Sun”, which I loved so much, it went all the way to #1 on my Weekly Top 30, and ended up ranking #18 on my 100 Best Songs of 2022 list.

The Birmingham-based trio is comprised of singer-songwriter, musician and producer Glenn Smyth, drummer Sebastian Maynard-Francis and guitarist Tom Ford (who still records with the band, but moved away so no longer performs live with them). Their music is an arresting style of pop/rock awash in dramatic psychedelic grooves, twangy Western-style surf guitars and dreamy cinematic synths, giving them a distinctly unique sound. Their music has been featured in numerous televised sporting events, including Sky Sports, BT Sport, BBC Match Of The Day and Birmingham City Football Club, as well as traditional alt-rock radio channels such as BBC Introducing Hereford, BBC 6 Music and The Guardian.

In February 2022, Solar Eyes signed to Fierce Panda Records, and as is common with many labels and management companies, they had the band take down, then gradually re-release, their previously released material under the new label. Solar Eyes released their debut EP Dreaming of the Moon in April 2022, which I also reviewed. They re-released “I See the Sun” that September, then followed in October with a second EP Alcatraz, which featured “I See the Sun” along with five new tracks. Now they’re back with their third EP Naked Monkey on a Spaceship, featuring four new songs plus the title track that first introduced me to the band. 

Glenn was inspired to write “Naked Monkey on a Spaceship” after hearing a friend proclaim “life is like being a naked monkey on a spaceship, with no control.” The song is darkly beautiful and mesmerizing, with a Depeche Mode-esque vibe, highlighted by a pulsating bass groove, and featuring lush, eerie synths, propulsive drums and swirling riffs of psychedelic guitars. I love Glenn’s gentle droning vocals that have an almost sensual, otherworldly quality.

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.

Their signature twangy Western-style guitars make an appearance on “Lucifer’s Child” a dark cinematic gem about a devil woman who spreads evil and darkness wherever she goes. Glenn calls out her evil nature: “They schooled you well in the art of deceit. It’s second nature to your evil dreams. She sends the light, the light away“, then warns “But don’t you mess with me again.” The track ends in a discordant flurry of fading distortion in the outro.

Next up is the hauntingly beautiful “Someone Else“, a departure from their usual harder-driven style, and an instant favorite of mine. The multi-textured guitars and dreamy synths are gorgeous, as are Glenn’s melancholic but lovely vocals. About the song, he explained “I’ve been tinkering around with ‘Someone Else’ for years. Initially I wrote it after reading the book ‘Marching Powder’ – I’m sure Brad Pitt bought the rights to it and was going to do a film about it, so I was ready to jump in with it if needed, haha. But as time went on it sort of took on a life of its own, with that feeling that you’re turning into someone else, someone you’re not… going down a dark path. The path of least resistance. Blaming others and then a realisation it’s all on you.”

After the relative calm of “Someone Else”, we’re launched headlong into “Roll The Dice“, which the band calls a “tub-thumping call to arms in the midst of these troubled, rubbled times, top loaded with that Chemical Brothers/Primal Scream mashed-up sound, with the drive and swagger of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club as well as a sly nod to the sonic mysteries of Messrs Morricone and Pizzorno.” The video, created by Tom Wagstaff, features surreal black and white kaleidoscopic images interspersed with scenes of a young woman dancing in a bucolic park setting.

The final track “Rabbit Hole” is a psychedelic trip of ominous swirling synths, distorted guitars and spacey sound effects layered over an almost sinister stomping beat. Glenn’s echoed vocals have a menacing, otherworldly feel, perfectly complementing the songs overall spooky vibe as he drones “I’m going down rabbit holes. Looking for what, I don’t know. To know the answers. I’ll keep on searching, I’ll find a cure. I’ll find a lover, won’t that be cool./ I’m on a trip to a different world.

When I first wrote about their music more than a year and a half ago, Glenn told me he’d written lots of songs he was eager to get out into the world. With Naked Monkey on a Spaceship, Solar Eyes now has a total of 16 songs to their credit, all of them superb. I can’t wait to hear what they still have up their musical sleeves!

Glenn and Sebastian are currently in Austin, Texas, where they’ll be performing their songs at the legendary South By Southwest music festival.

Connect with Solar Eyes: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Find their music on Spotify / Apple MusicSoundcloudYouTube

WE KILLED THE LION – Album Review: “Boogie Shoe Blues”

We Killed the Lion is an alternative hard rock band from Chicago I recently learned about when their keyboardist Stan Tencza reached out to me about reviewing their new album Boogie Shoe Blues. Along with Tencza, who also plays keyboards for Chicago alternative/progressive rock band Polarizer (whose album Love from the Underground I reviewed last November), the other band members are Brian Lorenc on guitar & vocals, Joe Gunia on bass & vocals, and Leonard Warren on drums. Formed in 2011, their heavy sound is infused with elements of stoner rock, grunge, psychedelic blues and even a bit of doom to darken things up a bit.

They released their self-titled debut album We Killed the Lion in 2012, then followed two years later with an EP One Way Ride, then a second album Circle of Stars in 2017. After a four-year hiatus, they began work on Boogie Shoe Blues, and dropped the first single “Final Stand” this past April, followed by “Southern Death Trip” in August. Today (Halloween), along with the album’s release, they also release a new video for “Snake Bite”. Though Boogie Shoe Blues contains only eight tracks, three of them are more than six minutes long, making the album feel more substantial than eight tracks would suggest.

Let me state up front that I don’t normally gravitate toward this type of grungy hard rock, however, I listened to the album several times with open ears and an open mind, and found lots to like about it. Opening track “Final Stand” is a fine representation of their signature brawny, dark and dirty sound. The guys get right down to business, grabbing us by the throat with a barrage of grinding buzzsaw riffs, bolstered by a deep, chugging bassline and explosive, pummeling drums that never let up for a second. Lorenc and Gunia’s dual echoed vocals sound ominous as they belt out the violent lyrics speaking of going into battle with an entity that was once an ally but now a bitter enemy: “All out of patience, love turned into vengeance. Run away in fear. Spilling out the blood, spitting out the bones, scratching out the eyes. Pray for your last breath, we’re making our final stand.”

The video for the song shows the band breaking into what appears to be an underground club, whereupon they perform “Final Stand”.

While several of the album’s tracks deal with darker topics, a few others touch on pleasures of the flesh with playful lyrics. On “Come on Get Down“, they sing of showing a hot woman a good time: “Little girl I want to take you downtown. Wanna go for a ride? Get in my backseat and spread your mind. I’m gonna show you a good time.” The song’s a sultry banger, with fantastic gnarly guitars that frequently break into a bone-chilling wail, accompanied by Gunia’s throbbing bassline, Tencza’s aggressive keyboards and Warren’s thunderous percussion. And on the sexy “Peach“, they tell a woman exactly what they have in mind: “I wanna sit on your front porch. I want a sip of your ice tea. I want to gaze at your orchid, yeah. I want to taste your peach meat.” I love the song’s deep, bluesy bassline and sludgy guitars.

Dirty Bones” is a speaker-blowing feast for the ears, with more of those fearsome buzzsaw guitars, and ditto for “Southern Death Trip“, with some of the dirtiest riffs I’ve heard in a long while. The album’s title comes from the song’s lyric “Got the boogie shoe blues.” And just when I think the guys have thrown everything in their sonic arsenal our way, they continue to amaze with the psychedelic monster “Rocket“. The song opens with an onslaught of screaming distortion, followed by a thick, lumbering bassline as the guys begin to sing. Things eventually settle into a tumultuous mix of wailing and grungy riffs, pummeling drums and heavy keyboards, that lumbering bassline still keeping the menacing groove.

I think We Killed the Lion would be a great band to see live, and I really like that their videos show them performing their songs, rather than attempting to act out the narrative of the lyrics (which sometimes works well, but more than often falls flat). The cool video for “Southern Death Trip” shows them performing the song wearing fluorescent body paint.

The last two tracks, “Pick Me Up” and the epic “Snake Bite“, have somewhat of a progressive feel, and feature their signature reverb-soaked psychedelic guitars, thick bass and booming percussion. The latter track is spectacular, highlighted by spine-tingling piercing guitars and some really terrific keyboard organ work by Tencza.

To sort of expand on what I stated earlier, this album grew on me with repeated listens, and I’m truly impressed by We Killed the Lion’s strong songwriting and musicianship. If you like your rock music on the heavier side, with elements of psychedelic, grunge, blues and doom, you will enjoy Boogie Shoe Blues.

Connect with We Killed the Lion:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream their music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloudYouTube

Purchase on Bandcamp

HOLY COVES – Album Review: “Druids and Bards”

One of my favorite music finds of 2022 has been Welsh alternative psychedelic rock collective Holy Coves, who I discovered this past February as a guest moderator for Fresh On The Net, an independent music blog launched in 2009 by renowned BBC Radio 6 Music presenter Tom Robinson. As a guest moderator, my task was to listen to all 170 songs submitted that particular week, and choose my top five favorites of the bunch, along with any others I particularly liked. One of my five picks was the Holy Coves single “The Hurt Within”. The darkly beautiful song made me an instant fan of theirs, and I liked it so much that it spent 11 weeks on my Top 30 chart.  

They quickly followed “The Hurt Within” with their brooding stomper “Desert Storm” in late April (which I reviewed), then “Grey” in June, another gorgeous single that recently finished a 10-week run on my Top 30 chart. Now they’re back with their long-awaited third album Druids and Bards, released on October 14th by Yr Wyddfa Records. The album features nine tracks, including the three above-named songs. 

I provided quite a bit of background on Holy Coves in my “Desert Storm” review, but will reiterate a few important details about them here. The brain child of singer-songwriter Scott Marsden, a long-time and respected figure in the Welsh music scene, Holy Coves is based in Holy Island, which is itself situated just off Anglesey Island in northwest Wales. Since forming in 2005, the band has consisted of an ever-changing roster of musicians, as Marsden brings in who he wants to work with for each project. Holy Coves released their debut album The Lizzies Ynys Môn in early 2008, then followed in 2011 with an EP and two singles, which were later included on their second album Peruvian Mistake, released in 2012.

After a nearly 10-year hiatus, brought on in part by the death of his best friend and manager, as well as his personal struggles with addiction and subsequent recovery, Marsden assembled a new group of esteemed musicians – John Lawrence on guitar, Owain Ginsberg on guitar & synths, Jason Hughes on bass and Spike T Smith on drums – to help with the recording of Druids and Bards. Marsden wrote and sang all songs, and co-produced the album with Lawrence, who also engineered it. Mixing and mastering was done by Austin, Texas-based music producer Erik Wofford. The two men shown flanking Marsden in the photo below are musician friends he’s brought in for live performances, who will also play on his next record.

Photo by Dai Eastwood

Hallmarks of Holy Coves’ dynamic sound are their striking melodies, powerful, driving rhythms, lush, cinematic synths, exquisite layered guitars, and Marsden’s beautiful and sensuous vocals that remind me at times of U2 front man Bono. Druids and Bards features all these attributes and quite a bit more, with songs addressing such topics as love, relationships, struggles with addiction and finding happiness in this often painful and difficult world.

The rousing opening track, “Away We Go“, seems to be about addiction, both to drugs and also the need for a love that cannot last: “I’m talking to myself again. Her web is spun. She’s taking aim. I can see it coming. She wakes me from my lonely haze. Her fire is hot. I feel a crave. The endless days are coming. All I see is you and me. Come on get in, take two my friend. Sail away we go./ She’s gonna break my heart again. I’m a fool for love. What can I say.” I love the song’s rapid, galloping beat and colorful mix of strummed and grungy shredded guitars.

With its powerful stomping groove, courtesy of Hughes’ thumping bassline and Smith’s pummeling drumbeats, the previously-noted “The Hurt Within” is one of my favorite tracks on the album. The layered jangly and psychedelic guitar work is superb, nicely accompanied by brooding industrial synths. The lyrics are directed at a woman who broke his heart: “Here’s another song for you to sing today. About all the pain you caused when you went away. How you made me cold and left a hole inside. I wear those scars with pride. Can’t feel the world outside. How I thought I’d healed my skin. Her love is cruel. The hurt within.”

Grey” is another favorite, with it’s exuberant melody, swirling synths and gorgeous jangly and shimmery guitars. The lyrics speak to allowing yourself to wallow in your pain from time to time, but also being open to the healing powers of love and support from others: “Let go and feel again, cos everything is hopeless when you’re grey. Hurt will find you. Love will guide you home.”

Small and Nothing” has a bit of an Oasis sound to my ears, and seems to be about not wanting more than you already have in life: “There’s nothing in this world that I can’t live without. There’s nothing in this world that I can’t dream about. Staying young is all I care about. Cause now, small and nothing I am.” On the other hand, the dramatic “Another Day” calls to mind some of the anthemic songs of U2. It begins slowly, but gradually builds into a cinematic masterpiece. The lyrics speak of working to overcome drug addiction as an answer to numbing life’s pain: “Ticking over day by day. Heavy medicated to heal the pain. What do you feel, what do you crave? Take it slowly, and feel again. And try to remember it’s just another day./ Leave that bottle closed, we can make it if we try.

On the mesmerizing “Desert Storm“, Holy Coves start with another stomping groove, then layers mysterious psychedelic synths, assertive percussion and an arresting blend of droning and gently distorted guitars to create a moody soundscape with a hint of optimism. Marsden’s echoed vocals have a haunting ethereal quality as he details his struggles of keeping a troubled relationship together while suffering from drug addiction.

With its hauntingly beautiful melody, gorgeous strummed guitars and folk-rock vibe, “Welcome to the Real World” reminds me a bit of Michael Kiwanuka’s song “Hero”. The lyrics speak of the futility of tilting at windmills and beating your head against the wall: “They had you now, your time is up. Welcome to the real world. It hurts. It hurts. She had you now, your time is up. Welcome to the real world, and you’re gone. You’re gone.” And on the catchy and melodic love song “Until I Fall“, the vibrant chiming guitars are a thing of wonder!

The final track “Taste the Wine” is a monumental tour-de-force, and an aural feast for the senses, with breathtaking guitar work amidst a soaring cinematic soundscape. Despite its 7:15-minute run time, it’s so gorgeous I don’t even notice how long it is. The song is about letting go of slights and painful experiences that can keep you feeling bitter and resentful, unable to move forward and enjoy your life in the here and now: “It doesn’t hurt to try. It wasn’t worth the fight. Two wrongs don’t make a right, so be strong. Hold on til it’s over. Take it slowly, and taste the wine. Sit back, let it flow dear, open your eyes. Chances are you will lose your mind. Might as well enjoy it, it’s your time.”

Druids and Bards is a superb, flawlessly-crafted album, as close to perfect as any I’ve heard this year. Every track is outstanding, making for a joyful listening experience from start to finish. Holy Coves are back, and then some!

Connect with Holy Coves:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud

Purchase on Bandcamp

THE EMBER GLOWS – EP Review: “Where Spirits Play”

I recently learned about Canadian rock band The Ember Glows when they followed me on Twitter. Based in Montreal, the four-piece consists of Richard Bunze (lead guitar), Kevin Hills (bass), Martin Saint (vocals, guitar and keyboards) and Dan Stefik (drums). Friends since their teens, all are seasoned and accomplished musicians who were previously members of Montreal bands Room Control, Repo, Scene Noir & Citylake. With a shared love of 60s psychedelic rock, late 70s post-punk, 80s new wave and 90s British indie, what started as a side-project for each of them eventually became everyone’s music priority, and The Ember Grows was officially born in 2019.

Photos by Bryan Gagnon

Influenced by an eclectic array of artists ranging from Echo and the Bunnymen, Simple Minds, Nick Cave, The Cult, The Verve and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club to The Mission, Interpol and The War On Drugs, their dynamic sound is characterized by strong hooks, richly-textured intertwining guitars, muscular driving rhythms and resonant vocals. They released their debut five-track EP Passerby in March 2021, then followed this past June with their outstanding single “SILENT LOVE”. On September 23rd, they dropped their second EP Where Spirits Play, which I’m reviewing today.

The EP features four songs, including “SILENT LOVE”, with lyrics written by vocalist Martin Saint, and music collectively written by the entire band. It was recorded at Closet Studios in Montreal by Daniel Karrasch and John Gurnsey, and produced by Karrasch. The beautiful photography and cover artwork was done by lead guitarist Richard Bunze.

Where Spirits Play opens with “TOMORROW’S THE DAY” a song about someone who recognizes they need to change some of their behaviors that are holding them back in life, but lack the will or drive to follow through, keeping them on an endless self-destructive cycle: “Tomorrow’s the day things turn around. You’re haunted by the words out of your inner voice. You might fool the gallery, but you always had a choice./ Tomorrow’s the day things turn around. Just like you said the day before. When you swore no more, no more, no.” The song blasts open with a barrage of super-grungy riffs, which are soon joined by jangly guitars, gritty bass and thunderous drums that don’t let up for the song’s four-minute duration. Though a bit flat in spots, Martin’s commanding and clear baritone vocals remind me of the late Scott Walker of The Walker Brothers.

MIRROR” is an intense and stunning song, with biting lyrics that seem to speak to the never-ending death and destruction mankind has rained upon one another and the planet, unable or unwilling to stop: “Suburbs crawl where rivers once ran. A nation’s sins live on streets across the land. Our lost romance, as warriors sweat and dance, and break the mirror. And we crack… No country right or wrong. Clear your conscience in a protest song. Plant your flags upside down, where a stolen child’s ghost haunts the ground.” Richard and Martin’s intricately layered grungy, distorted and chiming guitars are spectacular, while Kevin and Dan’s flawless bass and drums keep the propulsive rhythm rampaging forward.

On “SILENT LOVE“, the guys combine a powerful driving Simple Minds-esque groove with lush instrumentation a la The War on Drugs to create a robust cinematic soundscape that’s truly exhilarating. Once again, the complex, intertwining guitar work and production qualities are impressive, and Martin’s impassioned vocals sound their best here. Essentially a love song, the lyrics are directed to a loved one who’s going through personal turmoil, assuring them he’ll be patient and supportive, and give them as much space and time as they need to heal: “Whenever you close your eyes, whether near of far, I will let you be. But I will stand guard when you wake up in tears. After dreams crossed your defenses I’ll be here to give you space and silence. Now there’s nothing left to do except wait for you. Now there’s nothing left to give except silent love. As you sit and gaze at the stars above.”

The longest track on the EP, “HIGH FEVER” is a guitar-lover’s delight, overflowing with a jaw-dropping maelstrom of jangly, grungy and wailing psychedelic guitars. Of course, the throbbing bassline, tumultuous percussion and screaming industrial synths are all pretty amazing too, adding to the song’s overall explosive impact. The song seems to be about being besotted with a woman, wondering whether you’re in love or just deeply infatuated with her beauty and sensuality: “Her eyes light every dream she rules, like two sparkling jewels. I’ll dive in her mystery and feel real arms around me. Is this love or is your fever running high, running high?

To sum up, Where Spirits Play is a great little EP that packs quite a powerful punch in just four tracks. The members of The Ember Glows are all outstanding musicians, with the collective skills and experience to successfully coax the best possible sounds from their respective instruments. I love their music, and hope we’ll be hearing more from this talented band soon!

Connect with The Ember Glows:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream/purchase their music on Apple MusicSoundcloud / Bandcamp 

HOLY COVES – Single Review: “Desert Storm”

Hailing from beautiful Holy Island, situated just off Anglesey Island in northwest Wales roughly halfway between Dublin and Liverpool, alternative psychedelic rock outfit Holy Coves is the brain child of singer-songwriter Scott Marsden. Since its formation in 2005, the band has consisted of an ever-changing group of musicians, as Marsden brings in who he wants to work with for each project. Holy Coves released their debut album The Lizzies Ynys Môn on New Years Day 2008, then followed in 2011 with an EP and two singles, which were later included on their second album Peruvian Mistake, released in 2012.

After a nearly 10-year hiatus, brought on in part by the death of his best friend and manager, as well as his personal struggles with addiction and subsequent recovery, Marsden assembled a new group of esteemed musicians to record his third album Druids and Bards, due for release this coming August via his label Yr Wyddfa Records. These musicians are (with previous acts they’ve played with in parentheses) John Lawrence on guitar (Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci), Owain Ginsberg on guitar & synths (WE//ARE//ANIMAL, Hippies Vs Ghosts, The Heights), Jason Hughes on bass (The Painkillers), and Spike T Smith on drums (Morrissey, The Damned, New York Dolls). Marsden told me “It was a honour to work with them. I’ve wanted to work with all of them since I was a teenager. I’m very lucky. They are all geniuses.” He wrote and sang all songs, and co-produced the album with Lawrence, who also engineered the album. The two men shown flanking Marsden in the header photo are friends he’s brought in for live performances, who will also play on his next record.

In late March, Holy Coves released their first single from Druids and Bards, the brilliant “The Hurt Within”, which is currently enjoying a run on my Weekly Top 30. Now, only a month later, they return with the second single “Desert Storm“, and it’s another brooding cinematic stunner. Over a stomping, mesmerizing groove, they layer mysterious, psychedelic synths, crisp percussion and an arresting blend of droning and jangly guitars to create a dark and moody soundscape, but with a hint of optimism. Marsden has a clear and pleasing singing voice, and his slightly echoed vocals have a somewhat ethereal quality here as he earnestly details his struggles of keeping a troubled relationship together while suffering from severe drug addiction.

What you see is what you get
What you needs irrelevant
It's time we need to heal my friend
Let's go until we reach the end
Look how far we've come
We've only just begun
You're holding onto me
But I'm so far gone

Were coming up don't fight the feeling
Let's ride the storm
Were coming up don't fight the feeling
It's the desert storm
Were coming up don't fight the feeling
Let's ride the storm
Were coming up don't fight the feeling
It's the desert storm

I come to feel her love again
And take away all the pain
It seems like everyday I fight her now
It's tearing us apart
Right now I'm falling hard
Let's go back to the start
I'm falling off again
She's got me hook line babe

“Desert Storm” is a marvelous track, and if it and “The Hurt Within” are any indication, Druids and Bards is guaranteed to be a spectacular album.

To coincide with their album release, Holy Coves will kick off their 24 date Druids And Bards UK Tour on August 19th in Wrexham.

Connect with Holy Coves:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream their music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud

Purchase on Bandcamp

SOLAR EYES – EP Review: “Dreaming of the Moon”

One of my best new finds in 2021 was British psychedelic pop/rock collective Solar Eyes. Based in Birmingham and formed little more than a year ago, the trio is comprised of singer-songwriter, musician and producer Glenn Smyth, Tom Ford and Sebastian Maynard-Francis, who together play an arresting style of pop/rock awash in colorful psychedelic grooves, twangy surf guitars and dreamy cinematic synths. The moment I heard their music I became a fan, and happily reviewed their fantastic singles “Naked Monkey on a Spaceship” and “I See the Sun” (you can read those reviews by clicking on the ‘Related’ links at the end of this post), both of which included B-side tracks. I loved them all, and “I See the Sun” recently spent four months on my Weekly Top 30, two of them at #1. In February, Solar Eyes signed to Fierce Panda Records, through which they’re now releasing their debut EP Dreaming of the Moon, which drops today.

The EP features five tracks addressing a variety of topics, including love, loss, betrayal and the cost of fame. It opens with the title track “Dreaming of the Moon“, a haunting song with some of those gorgeous and cinematic Spaghetti Western vibes I love so much in “I See the Sun”, only slowed down and with greater emotional intensity. A mix of twangy and grungy guitars are layered over a galloping rhythmic beat and a backdrop of moody psychedelic synths, creating a sense of urgency and longing. Glenn has a pleasing voice, and here his vocals have an almost ethereal quality, which he uses to great effect to share his dreams with a loved one for a better life away from the world: “I been dreaming of the moon, I’m gonna get there soon and build a house for us two loons. I’m gonna drive us there, in my own spaceship, and let the world know that I got out. I been dreaming of the moon, how am I gonna make you see that I, really love you?

Here’s a cool 360° video of the band performing the song:

Nothing’s for Free” is a rousing stomper that seems to touch on the perils of being a rock star: “Make some money, girls will find you funny. The bright lights–they make you see, ahhh – nothing’s for free.” I love the song’s exuberant New Order-esque sound, with its lush, cinematic synths, swirling guitars and buoyant driving rhythms. On “Russian Roulette“, Glenn laments of a woman who stole his love and soul, leaving him alone and miserable: “In so much pain, but I’m not to blame. Can you put me out of my misery. The end is here, it’s all coming clear, my sense of freedom has gone.” The music is appropriately dark, with more of those wonderful twangy guitars and moody synths. But the highlight for me are the gorgeous notes from what sounds like a mandolin or balalaika, which combined with the mournful vocal chorus, give the song an almost funereal Russian feel.

Nobody Knows” is a full-blown rocker, with screaming psychedelic riffs, driving bass and thunderous drums that really get our blood pumping. The biting lyrics take issue with self-appointed people who make decisions that have a major impact on society, but are they right or do they even know what they’re doing? “Ooh burn the witches, ooh they’re just bitches. What did it solve? Nobody cares. / Ooh they’re the rulers, ooh they’re the soldiers, who is in charge? Nobody knows.” The music calms to a lovely interlude as it slowly fades out in the final 40 seconds or so.

The final track “Sitting Here on My own Again” reminds me of the music of another band, but I can’t quite put my finger on who it is. At any rate, it’s a wonderful, upbeat-sounding song, but with bittersweet lyrics about preferring to be alone and unhappy: “I gotta let you go, cos this was too far good. I don’t wanna be happy. I wanna sit on my own and play my guitar to myself and no one can hear what I sing, cos I am on my own. / Crying myself to sleep, and that is just my dream, and don’t you be so sad. It’sjust what we had la, la, la, la, la.” I really like the bouncy melody, and the chiming guitars are particularly enchanting.

Dreaming of the Moon is a fine little EP that nicely showcases Solar Eyes’ impressive creativity, imagination and musicianship. As noted by a fellow music blogger, each song sounds completely different, a good indication of the variety in their sound. I hope they’ll continue making great music together for a very long time.

To coincide with the release of their EP, they’re also giving their first ever live performance as a band tonight at a sold out show at Muthers Studio in Birmingham.

Connect with Solar Eyes: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple Music / YouTube

New Song of the Week – “One and the Same” by FUTURE THEORY

A little over a month ago, I featured British alternative psychedelic rock band Future Theory when I reviewed their marvelous single “Hang Your Hat”. I’ve been following this talented group since early 2017, and their incredible musicianship has never failed to blow me away on every one of their releases. I’ve written about them numerous times over the years (you can read some of my reviews by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the end of this post), and am happy to feature them yet again so soon, as I love their latest single “One and the Same“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week.

Blending elements of alternative and progressive rock, psychedelia, grunge, shoegaze and funk, Future Theory creates music characterized by lavish, complex instrumentation, intelligent lyrics and mesmerizing vocals. Like many bands, the Lincolnshire-based foursome has experienced some changes in lineup 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 as with “Hang Your Hat”, former band members Rex Helley played bass and Rohan Parrett played drums on “One and the Same”. The track was recorded at 2fly Studios by Alan Smith, mixed and produced by Koncide (aka Chris Hengmith), Max and Chris, and mastered by Yves Altana and Chris Ree.

“One and the Same” is magnificent, and quite possibly one of their best songs yet. It starts off slowly and rather introspectively with shimmery strummed guitars, accompanied by gentle bass and crisp drumbeats as Max sings in his distinctive sultry croon that I love so much. Around 45 seconds, the music erupts in the first chorus into a glorious cinematic soundscape, highlighted by a glittery cascade of chiming guitars and fiercely crashing cymbals, instantly covering me with goosebumps. The music calms back down for the second verse, only to return to an even more dramatic crescendo in the final chorus, with Max’s vocals now more impassioned than ever, before the song ends in a trail of reverby distortion.

The official video, produced by Lewis Carter of 3Link Media, is as breathtaking as the song, with beautiful footage of marine life and outer space, combined with images of the band performing, overlain by kaleidoscopic explosions of color.

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

DENSE – Single Review: “Reckoning”

I’ve been following British psychedelic garage/punk band DENSE pretty much since their beginnings nearly five years ago, and it’s been gratifying to watch them grow and mature as artists. Based in Leeds, the wickedly talented trio – comprised of Charlie Fossick (Guitar/Vocals), Dylan Metcalf (Bass) and Sam Heffer (Drums) – live up to their moniker by combining thick, fuzz-coated grooves with progressive elements and fierce instrumentation to create music that’s electrifying, innovative and intense.

I’ve written about them numerous times over the past four and a half years, most recently in August 2020 when I reviewed their debut EP Abjection, which I described as “four combustible sticks of dynamite packed into 14 explosive minutes” (you can read some of my previous reviews by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the end of this post). Now the guys are back with a new single “Reckoning“, which they refer to as “a desperately needed release of energy“. After listening to the track, I’d say that’s almost an understatement, as it’s a furious eruption of wailing distortion and sonic mayhem.

The guys have gained a reputation for their electrifying live performances, and they’ve somehow managed to capture that energy and inject it into their songs. As MC (who goes by @LeedsGigs_ on Twitter and writes about shows in and around Leeds) commented on my review of Abjection, “Seeing them live is a visceral experience and their music demands your attention. Charlie contorting primeval sounds from both mic and guitar through his pedal board, Dylan prowling the stage with adrenaline-fueled rockstar stances, riffing on a parody of every bedroom axeman, and Sam, limbs akimbo, thrashing his drumkit into quivering submission.”

According to their press release, “‘Reckoning’ is an abstract journey through anguish, capturing the frustrations of modern day life through utilisation of melodic dissonance alongside a focus on rhythm and groove-led songwriting, conveying what the lyrics represent. The track boasts a mix from Ross Orton, who has worked with the likes of Arctic Monkeys, Drenge, God Damn, Pulled
Apart by Horses and Working Men’s Club. This was the first track we wrote together in 12 months post-lockdown, and it feels like the track absorbed and channeled a lot of our pent-up energy and frustration that the three of us individually experienced during isolation

That pent-up energy and frustration is manifested in an explosive barrage of super-gnarly guitars, grinding bass and bombastic percussion. Dylan drives the chaotic rhythm forward with a deep, chest-thumping bassline while Sam smashes his drumkit like a man possessed, the two of them somehow bringing order to the madness. Charlie unleashes the full fury of his double-barreled arsenal of gritty guitars and savage vocals, thrashing the airwaves with frantic, reverb-drenched psychedelic riffs, punctuated here and there by flourishes of screaming distortion, while sending shivers up and down our spines with his signature demonic wails and screams. The song is so intense, I’m left in a quivering heap by the end. It’s good to hear that DENSE have not lost one bit of their fearsome edge in the 12 months they’ve been quiet.

The guys pull no punches with their bitter lyrics that speak to a sense of hopelessness and despair, a reckoning with the terrible state of things:

When I get inside
I never feel dry
the rain it constantly pours
and I’ll ask for more

I feel a nervous pulse
men riding on horse
been dropped in the tank
shot, point blank

I’m torn
I’m born
I’m torn
I’m born

I’m formed
we’re scorned
No future
And no past

and it sails,
to the core
sailing down to the core, to the core, to the core

Past lives
and I’m always

The ends are looking frayed
Cause it tore me
Fired under
No cause

I’m torn
I’m born
I’m torn
I’m born

Reckon now?
Reckon now?
Re, Reckoning, Reckoning

I’m formed
we’re scorned
No future
And no past

and it sails,
to the core
sailing down to the core, to the core, to the core

DENSE will be launching “Reckoning” at a show tonight at the Castle Hotel in Manchester. They’ll perform again on the 13th at Royal Park Cellars in Leeds.

Connect with DENSE:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on  Spotify / Apple MusicSoundcloud
Purchase on iTunes / Bandcamp 

SOLAR EYES – Single Review: “I See the Sun”

This past August, I featured the marvelously trippy single “Naked Monkey on a Spaceship” by British psychedelic pop/rock band Solar Eyes, which you can read here. Now the Birmingham trio, who are comprised of Glenn Smyth, Tom Ford and Sebastian Maynard-Francis, are back with a fantastic new single “I See the Sun“. “I See the Sun” is their third release in six months, with many more to come.

“I See the Sun” was born from a conversation Glenn had with the band’s mixing engineer Jeff Knowler. After Glenn mentioned to Jeff that he’d written a cool ’60s-sounding Tarantino-esque track on his newly acquired 12 string guitar, Jeff suggested that he watch Tarantino’s film Once Upon A Time In Hollywood before recording the track. Glenn took Jeff’s advice, and went up to his sweltering attic studio, where he found inspiration in the resounding reverb and echo chambers of late 60s music. He presented his recording to Jeff, who then put Once Upon A Time In Hollywood on loop in the background while he mixed Glenn’s track. The result is a gorgeous, cinematic song, highlighted by twangy western-style guitars that would make Ennio Morricone proud.

Everything about this song is perfect, beginning with that jolting opening guitar note to the infectious, galloping drumbeat, the swirling cinematic synths, castanet-like percussive sounds, soaring harmonies and, most of all, those fabulous spaghetti-western guitars. Then there are Glenn’s beautiful, reverb-drenched vocals as he sings of his eternal love for another: “I see the sun. The light shines on you and me. And that’s the way it’s meant to be, for eternity.” What a great song this is, and I’m loving this band.

As with their previous videos, the colorful animated video for “I See the Sun” was created by Matt Watkins, a videographer, lighting and visual design producer who’s a frequent collaborator with Gorillaz.

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Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple Music / YouTube

SODA CRACKER JESUS – Single Review: “Kaleidoscope”

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 know I’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.”

Connect with Soda Cracker Jesus:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream/purchase his music on Bandcamp / SpotifyApple MusicYouTube