MELISANDRE’S BEAVER – Double-Single Review: “Brother/Never Be That Cool 2019”

Melisandre's Beaver

Just from their name alone, it’s clear that any music coming from a band who call themselves Melisandre’s Beaver is guaranteed to take listeners on a wild ride. Influenced by some of their favorite bands like Green Day, Blink-182, AC/DC, Weezer, Reel Big Fish and Tenacious D, they play a rowdy style of music they refer to as ‘spicy punk’, which pretty much nails their frenetic, head-banging sound. Formed in 2016, the Dover, England-based band now consists of Daniel Drew (guitar, lead vocals), Sam ‘Mac’ MacNamara (bass, backing vocals) and James ‘Nesbo’ Nesbitt (drums, backing vocals). As for their provocative name, they explain it was chosen “after a lengthy ‘you had to be there at the time’ joke from our mate Tom.  Melisandre’s Beaver are three mates who decided that our friendships were so good, we needed to start a band to calm things down.”

Melisandre's Beaver single art

They released a terrific debut EP No Offence Meant, Plenty Taken in 2017, and followed a year later with their fireball of an album If Only We Were Serious, featuring 13 mind-blowing bundles of sonic dynamite. In late September, they returned with an outrageous new single “Brother” and its B-side “Never Be That Cool 2019”. “Brother” is a hilarious ode to Hulk Hogan, the retired pro wrestler and TV personality.

According to a great write-up about the band on The Sweet Distortion Blog, the idea of writing a song about Hogan was born from a trip to Oxford that Drew and MacNamara took with a few friends. They spent five days on a small boat, dressed as pro wrestlers who “beat the shit out of each other. Drew was dressed up as Mankind/Cactus Jack and MacNamara was dressed up as Hulk Hogan.” When they got home, they began watching Hulk Hogan videos online and laughing at how ridiculous his act was. “A massive orange leathery balding beefcake. He’s like a cartoon character. All show, Doesn’t give a fuck, he’s all about the people and the showmanshipThe song explores his nature of being a badass, unstoppable, torrent of showmanship along with some of his ridiculous well-known phrases thrown in.”

The track opens with a voiceover snippet from one of Hogan’s shows, then explodes with a bombastic onslaught of raging guitars, driving bass and smashing drums that never lets up for a second. Drew’s fiery riffs slice through the airwaves like a machete-wielding banshee, and Mac’s intricate bass line is a thing of wonder. The interplay between them is fucking incredible, and combined with Nesbo’s relentless, pummeling drumbeats, “Brother” delivers all the heavy punk rock goodness one could possibly hope for. Drew’s powerful vocals are aggressive and raw as he all but screams the lyrics, matching the music’s intensity note for note.

The bold, in-your-face lyrics, written by Mac, perfectly capture Hogan’s wildly exaggerated bravado and bluster:

Well let me tell you something
Brother I built myself from nothing
With the meanest as my witness
Its time we got right down to business

I fought with giants and the warriors in the glory days
Ill wipe that smile off your face
With a thirst for violence and a hunger for the winning ways
I’ll put you right back in your place

What ya gonna do?
What ya gonna do when I’m running wild, all over you?
What are you going to do?

Well let me tell you something
I straight up started out with nothing
Natural bravado
Force feed you if it’s tough to swallow

I stripped the flesh right off the dirtiest player in the game
Fought wars with savages and braves
I’ve broken hearts and smashed through boulders that were in my way
I’m an all you can eat showmanship buffet 

The zany video for “Brother” was shot by Mac’s sister Emily and edited by him, and showcases the band’s playful, high-energy live performances. Filmed in a car paint spray booth owned by Mac’s dad, which the guys filled with soft play equipment to create the feel of a wrestling ring, they dressed up in tight spandex, wigs, sunglasses and walrus mustaches to parody Hulk Hogan. The Sweet Distortion Blog article stated that after filming the video, the band “experienced what those in the removals business call ‘The Gray Lung’. The car spraying booth being covered in dust left the band hacking up their lungs afterwards.” Didn’t someone once write about suffering for the sake of one’s art, or something to that effect?

Never Be That Cool 2019” is a remake of a track that first appeared on their EP No Offence Meant, Plenty Taken. This version is 37 seconds shorter, which is achieved by a much faster tempo than the original, which to my ears had a Weezer/Blink-182 vibe. Thanks to the sped-up tempo and harder-driving music, the new version has a more of a punk rock feel, sounding like a song Green Day could have recorded. Also, Drew’s gruff vocals remind me a bit of Mick Jagger, giving the track an edgier feel. I like the original, but I like this remake even more.

The lyrics speak to feeling like a bit of a boring loser, who will never be cool enough:

Watchin MTV2 when I get home from school
Darling I’m obsessed with my cesspool
I’m probably not the greatest , I’m sure I’ll never make it
and I’ll definitely never be that cool

Connect with Melisandre’s Beaver: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music: Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase: Bandcamp / Google Play

New Song of the Week: A VOID – “No Rest”

It may be 2019, but the enduring legacies of grunge – especially that of Nirvana – and punk continue to have a significant influence on music. I’ve reviewed a lot of artists and bands who’ve drawn their influences from those two groundbreaking genres, and am pleased to feature another today – a young band called A VOID. With members from both France and the UK, and currently based in London, the attractive female-fronted trio refer to their wild, unorthodox sound as “sonic grunge.”

They claim as their inspiration a decidedly eclectic mix of artists and bands, including the aforementioned Nirvana, as well as Sonic Youth, Smashing Pumpkins, Hole, Kaaris, Babes In Toyland, Patrick Sébastien, Deftones, Silverchair, Björk, Tokio Hotel, Lady Gaga, Céline Dion and even Charles Aznavour! Making the music are Camille Alexander (guitar, lead vocals), Aaron Hartmann (bass) and Marie Niemec (drums, backing vocals).

A VOID2

A VOID released their debut EP Roses As Insides in 2016, when they consisted of Camille and two previous band members. The current lineup released an excellent full-length album Awkward And Devastated in 2018. One of the tracks on that album is “No Rest“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week, as the band just dropped a hilarious and wildly entertaining new video for the song.

Camille’s a terrific guitarist, dazzling us with intricate, melodic riffs of jangly and grimy guitars. Early in the track, her riff calls to mind Nirvana’s “All Apologies” as well as Silversun Pickups’ “Lazy Eye”, but picks up the pace later on when her playing turns more aggressive. Aaron and Marie keep a tight rhythm with their resonant bassline and snappy drumbeats, respectively. Camille’s vocals are really wonderful, with a deep vibrancy that’s youthful, yet worldly, and I love how her French accent shines through. She shrieks “No rest” quite nicely in the frantic punk rock-like final chorus, matching the wailing guitars note for note.

The lyrics speak to the stress and anxieties that stem from relationships, being in a band, and the myriad responsibilities of young adulthood:

Bullshit over bullshit
I’ve lost my drive again
I’m all over the place… ace
Addicted to your sweet words and your belonging
I can’t replace

No Rest
No Rest
No Rest for me x2

Utterly broken
Keeping fading away
Completely wasted
I can’t believe myself

Unstable and insecure I try
Creating like the only way to survive
Holding on to everything as if you died today
All these lines I didn’t write
Now they come chasing me

No Rest
No Rest
No Rest for me x2

The music was so loud
So loud that I can’t hear the thoughts inside my head
The whispering voices
Silence violated

Can’t risk to deny
Responsibilities lie for you to take
Caught up into choices
It’s not my place to make

I wish I was more like you
Disregard and pass on through
I wish I had a clue
Of what I’d get myself into

No Rest
No Rest
No Rest for me

Connect with A VOID:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Google Play

New Song of the Week: RUSTY SHIPP – Breaking Waves”

Rusty Shipp BW Single

I’ve been following Nashville rock band Rusty Shipp for two years, since the release of their highly-acclaimed monumental album Mortal Ghost in June 2017. Over the year following the album’s debut, the band produced a series of superb and fascinating videos for several tracks off the album, two of which (“Treading Water” and “SS Naronic”) I featured on this blog. (You can read those reviews by clicking on the links under “Related” at the bottom of this page.) They now return with a fantastic new single “Breaking Waves“, the first release from their forthcoming album Liquid Exorcist, a concept work about sea mine terrorism due out later this year.

Rusty Shipp calls itself a “Nautical Rock’n’Roll” band, with a sound influenced by the melodic chord progressions of The Beatles, the surf guitar of Dick Dale, the grunge rock of Nirvana, and the heavy metal of Led Zeppelin, among others. Their music is highlighted by a dark, immersive sound, heavy riffs and haunting vocals. Like many bands, they’ve undergone some changes in lineup since forming in 2014, and now consist of singer/songwriter and front man Russ T. Shipp (literally his birth name) on guitar and vocals, Elijah Apperson on lead guitar, AJ Newton on drums and Andrew “Speedy” Speed on bass.

Rusty Shipp2

“Breaking Waves” is a grunge-surf-rock song in keeping with the band’s nautical theme and, as explained by front man Russ T. Shipp, “was meticulously crafted to get stuck in a human being’s brain. The song sounds like Nirvana trying to play a Beach Boys song right after hearing ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’. Shipp adds “‘Breaking Waves’ is the catchiest song we’ve ever made. Lyrically, it’s more philosophical and describes the battle between technology and nature in a tortoise-and-the-hare-like metaphor where mankind’s mightiest technology won’t stand a chance in the long run against the simple, steady erosion of the ocean’s immortal waves (i.e, nature) breaking it down. I think that’s for the best, and humanity is better off not waiting for centuries of erosion before it’s returned to what’s immaterial and most important – its soul.

The powerful track features the band’s signature heavily-textured guitar work, with layered riffs of gnarly and distorted guitars, all combining to produce an intense, dynamic soundscape for Shipp’s resonant vocals. Newton and Speedy keep a solid rhythm with pounding drumbeats and a humming bassline, while Apperson and Shipp deliver scorching-hot riffage. He was right about crafting a catchy melody, as this one remained stuck in my head long after hearing the song. It’s a great song, and is accompanied by a wonderful music video shot on an actual submarine. The video was produced by Ashley Henry, directed by Aaron Scott, filmed by Jason Hassell, and edited by Jonathan Terry. It features scenes of the band performing the song, interspersed with scenes of them trying to stem water leaks that imperil their safety.

Breakers on the sea, advancing steadily
Little by little taking territory
The armies will erode till Pangaea’s covered over
And the Earth is once again formless and void

Breaking waves crashing on your accolades
Break you down, water torture down the drain
One by one till your soul is what remains
Break you out, breaking from the breaking waves
Break it down and wash it away
Breaking from the breaking waves

Simple H2O crushing your machines
Ships and submarines breaking down to smithereens
The breakers won’t desist clinging to your wrist like exorcists
Feeling for the pulse of a human being

Connect with Rusty Shipp: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music: Spotify / Soundcloud / Reverbnation / YouTube
Purchase: iTunes / cdbaby / Bandcamp

DOCTOR GONZO – EP Review: “PhD”

Doctor Gonzo Phd

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

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

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

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

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

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

THIRD TIME LUCKIE – EP Review: “Face the Beast”

Third Time Luckie EP art

A month ago I featured British alternative pop/punk band Third Time Luckie on this blog when I reviewed their beautiful single “Love and Violence”. They’ve now dropped a new EP Face the Beast, which I have the pleasure of reviewing today. Originally formed in 2006, the band had early success, releasing two EPs and an album, but eventually disbanded in 2014. Fortunately for us, founding members Chris Horner (guitar & vocals) and Carl Swietlik (drums) decided to give it another go, and Third Time Luckie was reborn an older and wiser trio in late 2016 with a new bassist Andy Clare. Based in the southern England resort town of Bognor Regis, Sussex, the band’s high-energy style of melodic pop/punk rock is strongly influenced by some of their favorite bands like Blink-182, Green Day, Alkaline Trio and Sum 41.

Face the Beast features five stellar tracks, including “Love and Violence” and some other previously released songs. Green Day’s influence can clearly be heard on the first cut “The Grind“, with a frantic riff that’s strikingly similar to the main riff in “American Idiot”. The guys follow through with more electrifying guitar solos of their own, along with a driving bass line and thunderous drums that make for an exhilarating song. The lyrics speak to escaping a soul-crushing rut in a boring town, and making a change for the better: “And so, we all stick to the grind. And so, something gets left behind. Go do what you like, cause my mind’s made up now. And so, fuck you, I’m leaving this town.”

That Day” is a reworking of a song the band originally recorded back in 2008. The upbeat song is a rousing pop/punk ode to a woman he loves, recalling the day he met her: “I remember that day so clearly. It’s stuck down in my head. I get the warmest feeling lying next to you in bed. The grass is always greener when you are around.” The anthemic “Never Alone” is a song of encouragement to someone suffering from depression. Chris does some fine shredding on his six-string as he fervently sings: “You found your way, your way back to our lives. You found your way, your way back to our hearts. All the while you were lost in the smoke. We were there too, and you were never alone. / You can push back and fight it. Or face the beast and ignite it.” Andy and Carl keep the rhythm with a solid bass line and a cascade of tumultuous percussion.

The poignant “Love and Violence” is a plea from one partner in a fraying relationship to another, urging her to stay with him and try to work out their problems. The words “love and violence” represent the highs and lows – the good times and bad – of a relationship. “Stay with me now cause I know we’re forever. And evermore it’s you and I in love and violence.” The guitar work is fantastic, and Chris’s pleasing vocals sound great whether he’s earnestly crooning the calmer verses or passionately wailing the dramatic choruses. The guys’ backing vocal harmonies are wonderful too.

The final track “Wide Eyed Thinking” was the first single the reconstituted band released in 2017, and it’s a real banger. The guys let loose here, unleashing a furious barrage of gnarly riffs, wildly crashing cymbals, and chugging bass. The song’s only two and a half minutes long, but it’s a beast. The lyrics speak to finally coming to terms with the reality of a toxic relationship that’s beyond repair: “Nothing I did was ever good enough for her. Wide eyed thinking, how can I get away? This ship is sinking, and I’ve been led astray from you. Now I sing a different tune.”

Face the Beast is a terrific little EP that showcases the strong songwriting and musicianship of Third Time Luckie. I’m impressed by these guys’ resilience, as well as their dedication to excellence, and I hope they continue making more great music for our listening enjoyment.

Connect with Third Time Luckie:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Reverbnation
Purchase on iTunes

SPIRAL ROCKS – Single Review: “Know Your Weapon”

Spiral Rocks Know Your Weapon

Spiral Rocks is a terrific rock band based in Widnes, England, situated on the River Mersey between the vibrant music cities of Liverpool and Manchester. Their fun, high-energy music is retro, yet fresh, drawing from classic rock, punk, rock’n’roll, blues and even folk influences. Formed in 2000, the band consists of Antony Shone (vocals/guitar), Dave Baker (guitar), Stephen “Rowy” Rowe (bass) & Danny Hall (drums). They’ve known each other for years and even played together for a while as teenagers, but took a hiatus for several years to tend to the demands of life (jobs, marriages and children).

Wanting to get back to doing what they love, they resurrected Spiral Rocks in summer 2018 and have been recording and releasing lots of new songs like madmen, as if trying to make up for lost time. Many of these tunes are certified bangers, and I strongly urge my readers to check them out on Spotify or YouTube. One of the best of the bunch is “Know Your Weapon“, which the band requested that I review.

It’s a great, hard-driving track, with a barrage of fuzzy reverb-soaked guitars, deep, throbbing bass and pummeling drumbeats, augmented by an abundance of crashing cymbals. Antony and Dave are skilled guitarists, delivering some really sensational blistering riffs in the choruses that give the track a gnarly psychedelic vibe. Antony has an intense and spirited vocal style that reminds me at times of Mick Jagger’s, though I can’t quite make out very many of the lyrics that he practically shouts on this song. But who cares, really, when the music sounds this good.

Connect with Spiral Rocks:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Purchase their music on iTunes / Amazon

DRAFT EVADER – EP Review: “Cashed”

Draft Evader Cashed

Draft Evader is an earnest and talented young musician from Chicago who I’ve been following for a while, and it’s been gratifying to watch him grow and mature as an artist. An interesting name for the music project of singer/songwriter and guitarist Ryan Loree, Draft Evader aptly describes his independent and rebellious nature. I first featured him on this blog in December 2017 when I reviewed his single “The Devil’s Disguise”, and at the time he explained “the name ‘Draft Evader’ is kind of a middle finger to the whole system, like ‘you can’t tell me what to do.’ So in a sense it means freedom. Freedom to be who you are and do what you love, no matter what anyone says.

Draft Evader plays a dynamic and accessible style of what he calls “pessimistic punk rock”, with rock’n’roll and grunge overtones. He writes all his songs, plays guitar and sings all vocals, and his good friend Joe Scaletta plays bass and drums, as well as mixes and masters the tracks. His deeply personal lyrics are brutally honest and always relatable; he openly addresses his struggles with depression and self-doubt, something a fair number of musicians and others involved in the arts also experience (as does yours truly).

He released a great little EP Hound Dog in the fall of 2018, featuring four stellar tracks – one of which, “In My Mind” was particularly outstanding. I loved the song so much it went all the way to #1 on my Weekly Top 30 last December. On February 12, he dropped a new two-song EP Cashed – a double-sided single of sorts. Interestingly, both tracks are 2:36 minutes long. Cashed was inspired by Ryan’s involvement in a car accident: “Ever get into a car accident during an existential crisis only to lose your job right after? Me too, and I wrote a couple songs about it.”

On the hard-rocking title track “Cashed“, he candidly speaks of depression and self-destructive behavior that often leads to additional problems, contributing to a cycle of ever deeper depression. Yet he also yearns for comfort and reassurance from a older and wiser voice. Ryan’s an impressive guitarist, and he delivers an onslaught of gnarly riffs from the get-go, driving home the seriousness of the subject matter. His scorching little guitar solo in the bridge was written by fellow musician Martijn Frazer, and I love his soaring vocals in the chorus. In fact, Ryan’s vocals have really improved with time and experience, and here he beautifully conveys the frustration and anger expressed in the biting lyrics:

Cashed my check to fill my tank up
Slow down over one more speed bump
Blowing stop signs with no license
Crash my car then stepped in dog shit
Covered in shitty ink
What would my grandma think
Kill for an old-school opinion
Pickin’ up missing teeth until my knuckles bleed
Falling deeper into a depression

On “Sunnyside“, he addresses the self-doubt about his music that sometimes plagues him. He released an EP Heel Turn in April 2018 (a very respectable effort that I also reviewed) but being a perfectionist, Ryan wasn’t satisfied with the songs or EP artwork. He incorporates the EP and song titles in the opening verse of “Sunnyside”, describing his struggle with self-confidence and feelings of not belonging:

Heel turn, I’m on a warpath
If I stutter more, I’ll complain less
All I have are some petty songs
Trying to write out all my wrongs

And I think I died in the old world
Because here I just don’t belong
And I left my soul in the old world
Behind yellow bars and heineken

Once again, he lays down chugging riffs of gritty guitar, while Joe handles the rhythm section with skilled precision. Both tracks are excellent, with catchy melodies that immediately hook us in, and driving riffs to keep us in thrall while we enjoy the ride. It’s a testament to Draft Evader’s continuing growth and ability to put out terrific rock music. I admire this young man and am happy to help promote him and his music however I can.

 

ATOM DRIVER – EP Review: “Here They Come, the Hornets”

Atom Driver2

Atom Driver (not to be confused with actor Adam Driver) is a band I’ve been following for quite a while, and it’s high time I featured them on this blog. The Brunswick, New Jersey-based trio play post-hardcore noise rock that’s loud, frantic and fun, and I defy anyone to keep still while listening to their music. Formed in 2016, the band consists of Mark Segal on guitar and vocals, Justin Ingstrup on bass, and Mike Polilli on drums. All three are seasoned musicians, having previously played with a number of New Jersey bands. In their own words, Atom Driver was “culled from the wreckage of three local faves: Buzzkill, Boss Jim Gettys and Good Clean Fun.”

They like to produce EPs with five tracks, and released two in 2017 – Slackjaw and In the West – both of which are absolute bangers. Two weeks ago (late January 2019) they returned with another kick-ass EP Here They Come, the Hornets, serving up 13 minutes of noise rock mayhem for our listening pleasure. They get right down to business with the hard-rocking “Give Up the Ghost“. Segal delivers thrashing riffs that rip through the airwaves, while Ingstrup lays down a solid foundation with his crushing bass lines and Polilli pounds the crap out of his drum kit. Segal practically screams the refrain “Waiting to exhale. It’s time that you give up the ghost!”

We’re scarcely able to catch our breath before they’re back at us with chugging riffs of gnarly guitars, buzzing bass and an avalanche of crashing cymbals on “Vultures“. These guys are beasts on their respective instruments, giving new meaning to the term ‘noise rock’ as they launch into “Damn Mr. Pluto“, a grungy punk rock-ish head banger. Segal’s furious riffs are jaw-dropping as he shreds his guitar nearly to the breaking point – this man can play guitar! Ingstrup’s funky bass riffs are hot as hell, and Polilli beats his drums like a wild man. I can’t quite make out the lyrics Segal is singing, but who cares really, as it all sounds fantastic.

It seems the guys are gonna slow things down a bit with the fourth track “We Are Whalers“. It starts off with a quiet little acoustic guitar riff, leading us to guess that perhaps we’re in for a gentle ballad, but at 0:14 seconds, the song explodes into a barrage of raging guitars and speaker-blowing percussion that continue for the rest of the track. It’s a delicious slice of exhilarating rock’n’roll confection, with strong punk elements. They close the EP on a tumultuous note with the bombastic “A Bunch of 5’s“, providing ample proof these guys are here to rock!

Here They Come, the Hornets is a terrific little EP that packs a helluva punch in its 13 minutes. If you’re a fan of guitar-driven and high-energy rock, you will like this EP. As for me, I love Atom Driver’s music, and hope they keep making more of it for us to rock out to.

Those of you in the New Jersey area can catch them at this upcoming show:

Thursday, Feb 28    Roxy And Dukes   Dunellen, NJ

Connect with Atom Driver on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify Google Play
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

SPAZTIC ROBOT – Interview & Album Review: “Spaztic Robot & the Epileptic Moth”

Spaztic Robot album art2

As we bid farewell to 2018 and welcome in the new year, many of us make resolutions to accomplish this or that goal in the hope we’ll be a better person. I’ve just about given up on any chance of regaining the physique I had at 40, so will instead make a greater effort to expand my musical horizons. Though I’m proud of my song choices that make up my Top 100 of 2018, it was eye-opening to read the year-end lists of other music bloggers. Quite a few lists contained songs I’d never heard of, and as I listened to many of those songs, I realized my tastes, though eclectic, are still rather mainstream.

With that in mind, I’m thrilled to feature an artist who is most definitely non-mainstream. In fact, his music is highly unusual, profoundly unorthodox, and even a tad deranged, befitting his wickedly awesome moniker Spaztic Robot. In the words of the creative man behind the curtain, singer/songwriter/musician Robbie Sparks, “Spaztic Robot is a mongrel. It’s a mixed breed. It’s the bastard son of a thousand albums, hundreds of novels, and the little devil that hides within the darkest crevice of one’s mind.” After listening to his music, I’d say that’s a pretty fitting description.

Robbie Sparks

Based in Birmingham, England, Robbie Sparks was formerly with punk band Rebel City Radio, but after they broke up he started his own solo project Spaztic Robot. In 2016 he released his debut album Skip Rope Rhymes, which Vive Le Rock Magazine called ‘pleasantly unpleasant‘, The Ringmaster described as ‘invasive yet solemnly beauteous darkness‘, and Slap Magazine stated was ‘an album for those unafraid to embrace the unknown‘. On Halloween, 2018, he dropped his second album Spaztic Robot & The Epileptic Moth, released on independent label Killer Shark Records. Robbie reached out to me about a review, and I was so intrigued by his music that I wanted to also get some of his thoughts about his creative process and the album, to which he graciously agreed.

EML: Thank you for agreeing to discuss your music with me Robbie. I’ve listened to both of your albums several times and have to say your music is some of the most intriguing and distinctive I’ve heard. I hear similarities to such bands as Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson, and even traces of Frank Zappa, but your music is certainly unique. Where do you draw inspiration from?

Robbie Sparks: Firstly, thank you for your generous words and for taking the time to absorb the songs, and for inviting me to be part of this interview.

I think my main inspiration comes from a desire to remain relatively sane. I find the writing process crucial for digesting ‘life’ and making sense of the whole damn thing. Scraps of loose paper litter my home, all full of scribbled nonsense. Really, they’re everywhere! Musically speaking I just enjoy absorbing new sounds. That’s not to say I discard what I listened to previously, not at all. I treasure it all. I guess you could say that each record I enjoy is another brick in an ever-rising wall that builds around me, and like in the old Atari game Pong, I’m just some mad dot inside that bounces back and forth pulling inspiration randomly with each hit.

EML: The themes and lyrics for many of your songs are very provocative, calling out politicians, societal hypocrisy, sexual deviancy and such. Are you wanting to provoke with your music, merely venting, or both?

RS: More than “provoke” I think it’s important to reflect…no matter how ugly the result may be. I’m conscious not to be overly negative, which if I’m honest I’ve always had a tendency to be, and I hope that the songs are seen merely as reflections and not statements. There’s a sense of closure about a statement, and if there is a fragment of hope to be found I try to keep it in the mix. It’s what we’re all clinging to after all.

EML: Your songs and melodies are very complex, incorporating multiple genres and lots of textures and layers that make for an incredibly compelling and interesting listen. Tell me a bit about your creative process for writing songs and developing their structures.

RS:  Most of my songwriting begins with a simple melody or chord change. Once I have that, the lyrics take over and drive the song. The rhythm will change and the layers will flutter as and when the words dictate. You could say the lyrics take on the form of the conductor, and the textures of music rise and fall on its demand. It fascinates me that for us to understand ourselves, even at our most primitive, we rely on words. Like computer coding, our vocabulary offers our emotions and thoughts a body in which to exist, without which our minds would be nothing more than swamps’ farting gas. So it was important, right from the start, for the songs to develop in this way.

EML:  Your instrumentals are really fantastic. Do you play and/or program all the music on your songs by yourself?

RS:  Yes, everything I do is done in my home studio. Well, it’s more of a ‘space’ than a studio to be honest, in which a skeleton studio set up has been vaguely imitated. All the beats and most of the bass is programmed. Guitars, keys, and vocals are recorded live, although they do get manipulated as the parts start to intertwine.

EML:  You include quite a few spoken vocals from other sources in some of your songs. How do you go about finding and selecting them?

RS:  Most of the time I know roughly what I’m after, be it a quote from a writer, a sample from a philosopher, or a scene from an 80’s slasher movie, so I’m able to locate it relatively easily. I do however designate set evenings each week to the ‘creative process’. These evenings regularly drift into the early hours, and often little songwriting gets done, but these evenings take on a different form of productivity. It’s during these sessions that I will find myself reading manuscripts of obscure lectures or watching unworldly subtitled animations, and have no definitive recollection of the path I took to discover them, just a page in my notebook with loosely connected scribbles hinting that the journey has taken more than one detour.

EML:  Have you performed your music live? If not, do you have any plans to do so, or even tour?

RS:  Spaztic Robot has never been on the live circuit, and I don’t think it ever will be. There certainly aren’t any plans for it to happen. It’s not that there’s a lack of desire from myself to perform, in fact there have been times since my previous band Rebel City Radio broke-up that I’ve yearned for the adrenaline kick one gets from performing live.  It’s simply that, logistically, I don’t have the time, personnel, or resources to make it happen AND do the songs justice at the same time.

EML:  Completely understandable. Any plans for more music or album #3?

RS:  I continue to write, and there have been no offers to tempt me away from Spaztic Robot, so another release is likely. A handful of songs are spawning anyway.

EML:  Anything I forgot to ask that you’d like my readers and your fans to know?

RS:  I’d just like to thank them for reading. If they’ve got this far they must be at least mildly intrigued…and that’s all I can ask for.

EML:  And that’s all I can ask for too! Thanks so much for taking the time to so eloquently respond to my questions Robbie.

Robbie Sparks2

So let’s get to the album Spaztic Robot & the Epileptic Moth, definitely one of the best-titled releases of 2018. Robbie wastes no time in creeping us out with “Assholes“, a scathing attack on politicians and a brilliant track from a musical standpoint. Starting off with his echoed sing-song moaning, he lets out a devilish chuckle as the music expands with razor-sharp industrial synths that slice through the airwaves, accompanied by a sinister throbbing drumbeat. He ghoulishly sneers “Hey Mister, do I have your attention? See those two dogs sniffing each others’ assholes! “Lick it, lick it, lick it Mr. Fuckin’ Politician, whoo! /Word out on the street is you’d suck it for a couple of balloons.” As the song proceeds, Robbie adds tasty little sound effects like howling wolves, disquieting whispered vocals and snippets of sci-fi movie samples that serve to reinforce the creep factor as he continues to moan and/or wail. It all builds to an explosive climax at the end with a fusillade of screeching guitars and tortured screaming synths.

There’s no catching our breath as the punkish title track “Spaztic Robot” ensues with a barrage of staccato beats, frenzied psychedelic synths and furiously crashing cymbals that rain down like thunderbolts on steroids. Robbie cleverly weaves samples of vocals from horror films with his own fiendish utterances to create a vibe that’s wickedly fun, and befitting of the lyrics about a discarded tin can that transforms into a crazed robot. The delightful video is hilarious and campy, like some of the 50s sci-fi films it seems to parody.

We CU!” plays like a nightmarish nursery rhyme, opening with a mysterious xylophone-driven melody as Robbie softly croons “Walk around the pond and spit at the fishes. If you hit a frog you can make a wish.” His vocals take on a fiendish air as he sings in a rapid cadence, broken by occasional chants of “we see you hide” in a menacing tone. Ghostly layered synths abound until a child’s voice repeatedly chants “Everyone gets a chance to die” before the song abruptly transitions to an upbeat, bouncy tune at the end.

Robbie takes a softer approach on the languid “Blasphemous Rumours,” though the subject matter remains rather bleak. It starts off with an eerie synth, then beautiful chiming guitars enter the mix as Robbie sings in hushed vocals about a woman who attempted suicide by slashing her wrists. The music continues to swell as he gently croons “I don’t want to start blasphemous rumours but I think that god’s got a sick sense of humour.

Pond Scum” is one of the most disturbing, but interesting tracks on the album. It opens on a fairly pleasant note with a vintage movie soundtrack sample, but then takes a sharp turn with an sonic assault of hellish synths. Like a violent crime scene set to music, it’s repellent but we can’t seem to turn away. Robbie’s vocals sound downright diabolical as he snarls the lyrics that speak to sexual depravity: “The hungry little fuckers are horny little fuckers. They’re feral little mouths and nothing left to stop them. They’re horny and they’re fucking, and they’re fucking and they’re horny.

Many of his songs take sharp twists and turns, and the melodically complex “Shark Attack” is a perfect example of this. Magical synths convey an aura of fantasy like a Harry Potter movie, then gradually evolve to a mysterious deep bass-driven melody with Robbie chanting “shark attack” along with repetitive drawn-out psshh sounds. Though it has a bit of a creepy vibe, the song has an otherworldly beauty. “Back to Inferior Ways” hits us with barrages of bleak industrial noise that alternate with a rather lovely and sweeping beat-driven melody.  Robbie’s vocals are sinister as he snarls the lyrics that are interspersed with sampled vocals.

As each track unfolds, I’m increasingly impressed by Robbie’s creativity, originality and musicianship. He surprises us with the hauntingly beautiful piano-driven composition “Blisters.” Built around a brooding piano riff, the song slowly builds with added organ and horn synths into a deeply moving soundscape, before ending with just a tinkling piano riff. “Windmill” features a haunting guitar-driven melody, punctuated by unsettling staccato beats, mysterious synths and sampled children’s voices.

Demons” is a trippy song built around a hypnotic dubstep beat, with pulsating industrial synths. We immediately hear a young girl asking “Could you please help me find my dolly? I lost her, and really want her back.” It’s difficult to make out many of the lyrics Robbie is singing, but his eerie moans and wails lend a strong sense of unease. He throws in all kinds of samples, including a bit of Claude Rains’ dialogue from Casablanca, and a line from The Crazy World of Arthur Brown’s 1968 hit song “Fire”. Later on, a man’s voice says “Satan is all around you. Remember, one third of his angels were cast out of heaven into the earth. They’re here with us.” It sure helps explain the abundance of evil that exists in the world. Robbie closes the album with his psychedelic re-imagining of the Nirvana classic “Heart Shaped Box.” Using spacey industrial synths, deep bass, reverb-heavy guitar and only the sparest of vocals, he creates a mesmerizing and powerful instrumental track.

Spaztic Robot & the Epileptic Moth is a brilliant work of such incredible nuance and complexity, I found that it got better with each listen as I heard something new I’d missed previously. Robbie’s songwriting, arrangement and production skills are impressive, along with his outstanding musicianship. I love this album, and highly recommend it to anyone who likes music that’s outside the mainstream.

Connect with Spaztic Robot: Facebook / Twitter
Stream his music on SpotifySoundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on iTunes 

LAZY QUEEN – Single Review: “Apocalipstick”

I’m back in Norway (having just featured the band Vöödöö) to now shine my spotlight on alternative rock band Lazy Queen. Three months ago I reviewed their brilliant single “Turn From Void,” and am now thrilled to present their provocative new single “Apocalipstick.” The genre and gender-bending band pushes boundaries with their identity and music, and is “for the disenfranchised, the outcasts, the queers, the allies, the feminists, for the pissed off, for the isolated and lonely, the weirdos and the freaks.” Their music is boisterous mix of noise rock, grunge and punk – the sonic equivalent of a car crash, as another writer so eloquently put it.

Lazy Queen was formed in 2013 by Henrik Søberg, who’s Norwegian with Colombian roots and gender fluid, while living in Brooklyn, New York. The band then consisted of Søberg and three American musicians, and they released four singles and the excellent EP Drift to critical praise from both national and international press. Søberg had hoped to settle in New York, but a bureaucratic snafu at the Norwegian embassy forced a return to Norway. Once back in Oslo, Søberg reformed Lazy Queen with Norwegian musicians Jonas Røyeng, Jon Bernhard Hunskaar, Peter Mortensen and Petter Anderdal.

Lazy Queen
Photographs by Anine Desire

“Apocalipstick” is the second single off their forthcoming EP A Sigh So Deep, and details Søberg’s experiences as an non-binary person. They explain: “Even through society is slowly becoming more aware of the challenges of trans and non-binary people there’s still a long way to go. ‘Apocalipstick’ is a nail polish painted middle finger to any and all transphobes and a big, bearded kiss from a pair of lipstick covered lips to all non-binary and trans folx who fight every day for the right to exist without the threat of murder, violence and discrimination all over the world.”

The song blasts through the gates, instantly slamming us against the wall with a thunderous assault of shredded and distorted guitars, crushing bass and speaker-blowing drums. Søberg fervently sings of both self-empowerment and anger over being negatively judged:

I wear my mother’s lipstick ’cause it makes me feel pretty!
I can’t talk to you cause it makes me feel shitty
Now you wonder, oh you wonder am I still you’re son?
Oh believe me, oh believe me no you’re not the only one

Oh I wear my girlfriend’s dress because it makes me feel fucking hot
Like I belong in this world and it’s never ever gonna stop
I feel like I, feel like I, feel like I’m floating
And your side-eyed stare doesn’t do me nothing

The relentless aural onslaught continues unabated, slashing the airwaves with jagged riffs of ear-splitting distortion and hammering percussion. Søberg ‘s screams can occasionally be heard amidst the cacophony, and despite the intensity of the music, it’s still incredibly melodic. They ultimately express their exasperation over the transphobia they’ve had to endure, defiantly shouting: “You make me feel fucking broken! You think it’s just a fad. I really don’t care. I really don’t!” The band unleashes all the sonic fury they can muster in the last 30 seconds as the track comes to an explosive and dramatic finish, leaving me spent. What a fucking fantastic song!

Take a listen and see if you don’t agree – and be sure to turn the volume all the way up!

Connect with Lazy Queen:  Website / Facebook / Instagram
Stream their music on Soundcloud / Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase on  iTunes and Drift may also be purchased on Bandcamp