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.

Connect with Draft Evader on Twitter / Instagram
Stream/purchase his music on Spotify and Bandcamp

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

STRANGELY ALRIGHT – EP Review: “Stuff”

Strangely Alright Stuff

As all of us who use it know, social media can sometimes be a major source of aggravation, but it also has its rewards, one of which – for me at least – has been to connect with scores of musicians and bands from around the world. With some of them, that connection has run deeper and become more personal for a myriad of reasons, but most often due to the warmth and magnanimity of the artists themselves. One such band is a five-piece from Seattle, Washington with a delightfully quirky name – Strangely Alright. Not only do they play great rock music, they also project a strong message of love and acceptance in their songs, while clearly having a lot of fun in the process.

The band is headed by Regan Lane, who does most of the songwriting and sings lead vocals, Sean Van Dommelen (lead guitar, vocals), Ken Schaff (bass), Raymond Hayden (keyboards, vocals) and Jason Bair (drums). Their wildly-entertaining style of punk-infused rock is inspired by various generations of British iconoclasts such as David Bowie, T.Rex, the Jam, Suede, the Buzzcocks and Supergrass.

They’ve released a number of recordings over the past several years, including their terrific album The Time Machine is Broken in 2013, and a compilation album of singles All of Us Are Strange (The Singles) earlier this year.  On September 20, they dropped a fantastic new EP simply titled Stuff. The band describes the EP as “six songs about love, working together, setting boundaries, the digital age and the change that’s coming.” The tracks were written in the wake of the 2016 presidential election, and speak to “walking the tightrope of acceptance and resistance, of not giving in to the overwhelming forces of hatred and turmoil.” I could sure use some pointers on that subject.

The opening title track “Stuff” speaks out against our materialistic ways, namely, our thinking that acquiring more things will bring us happiness when, at the end of the day, it’s the love and support we extend to others that will bring our lives meaning and a real sense of contentment: “And I have learned through the trials and the times. That I need to look inside if I want to stay alive. All of the things that I gather are things I will leave when I am gone. It’s all just Stuff. It ain’t enough. Without the love in my heart it’s all just Stuff.

I love the silly opening with ukelele and a bit of jibberish, and how it then erupts into an explosion of gnarly and screaming guitars, set to Jason’s infectious hard-driving rock beat that grabs us by the hips and gets our asses moving! The guitar work is so good and, combined with the gritty synths, throbbing bass and Regan’s feisty vocals, “Stuff” is one hell of an awesome rock song!

Building Bridges” is an admonishment for us to work together to build things up rather than fighting to tear things apart. The track starts off with a portion of the famous and moving speech given by Bobby Kennedy at the time of Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination: “What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country.” It then launches into a thunderous volley of gritty riffs, assertive keyboards and pounding drums that form a lively soundscape for Regan’s fervent, at times distorted, vocals.

The kiss-off song “Wave Goodbye” starts off with Regan saying in an almost smarmy voice-over “Dinner is served,” then organ synths and fuzzy guitars take over as he sneers: “I thought you were my friend but I can see you’ve been pretending from the snide remarks that drip from you tongue.  Walking with a shovel, you’re surprised that you’re in trouble while you’re piling dirt on people you love./  Even when you say you can change. hey, we don’t trust you. Maybe you should just float away./ Wave goodbye.

Strangely Alright takes on misinformation and fake news on “Information Game.” The track has a wonderful T.Rex glam rock vibe, with psychedelic synths and layers of distorted and wailing guitars. Regan’s vocals actually sound a bit Bolan-esque as he snarls: “Liars thieves and pretty faces. TV stars that run the nation. Maybe there’s a quiz at the end. Same old show a different station. Fairy tales and race relations. Cherry pick the good and the bad. The more I see the less I know. The less I know the more I see. It’s clogging up my brain.

Whatcha Gonna Do?” is straight-up rock’n’roll with an irresistible head-boppin’ beat, and one of my favorite tracks on the EP. Keeping with their penchant for quirky intros, the track opens with what sounds like a merry-go-round , symbolizing the circus-like atmosphere we now seem to be living in. Sean’s guitar work is fantastic, as are Raymond’s jazzy keyboards, Ken’s bass and Jason’s drums. And Regan seems to channel early David Bowie on this track as he croons: “Well I vote in the elections and I feel no real connections with the humans that we trust with our lives. Baby baby It just feels like lies lies lies lies. Who hoo hoo hoo. Whatcha gonna do? when it all just breaks in two.

The EP ends on a upbeat note with the psychedelic-rock “Don’t U Know.” The lyrics speak to the optimism of youth, and that change for the better is coming, even though those of us who are older may feel cynical and pessimistic about it: “Well my children tell me that a change is gonna come. Hiding in the sunlight is the truth that we are one. Open doors of freedom. Doors of dialogue. Freight train and I feel it’s coming coming coming.

I have to say that the more I’ve listened to their music, the more I’ve come to love Strangely Alright – not only for their uniquely quirky sound and impressive songwriting and musicianship, but also for their humanity and kindness. Stuff perfectly exemplifies all those admirable qualities that make them a very special band indeed.

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

DRAFT EVADER – EP Review: “Heel Turn”

Heel Turn

As a blogger, I’ve gotten to know a great many indie artists and bands, a number of whom I’ve featured on this blog. It’s a real pleasure to follow them on their musical journeys, keeping up with new music they produce over time. And it’s especially heartening for me to watch the younger artists and bands get better and better as they mature and gain more experience. One such young artist is Draft Evader, an earnest singer/songwriter and guitarist based in Chicago who plays rock music with rock’n’roll and punk overtones. Draft Evader is the artistic name for the music project of Ryan Loree, who writes the songs, plays guitar and sings all vocals, with assistance by his good friend Joe Scaletta on bass and drums.

Draft Evader

Following up on his last single “The Devil’s Disguise,” which he released in October 2017 and I reviewed, he’s just released a new EP Heel Turn. “The Devil’s Disguise” is a fine, well-crafted single, but he really ups his game on Heel Turn. His song melodies are more fully developed, the instrumentals more expansive and complex, and the production values tighter. But the biggest improvement is in his vocals, which sound really great on the EP.

Heel Turn contains four new tracks that deal with darker themes like insecurity, depression and problematic relationships. He told me “I don’t write love songs, I write hate songs.” And what a songwriter he is, penning such relevant lyrics that perfectly express the pain and anguish he – and many of us – have felt at one time or another. The first track is “Warpath,” a powerful song about not wasting any more time dealing with duplicitous backstabbers who drive you crazy, and making the decision to just let them go. “…to speak my mind is a waste of time. Light up one more cigarette. We’ll walk the hall of hypocrites. And I will bite my nails to the skin. Burn all my fingertips. / A heel turn’s the only way.” The gritty riffs, thunderous bass and pounding drums powerfully convey the raw emotion expressed in the biting lyrics and vocals. I like the little piano riff that appears late in the track, and the strummed electric guitar in the outro that seems to symbolize the sense of sad resignation.

Complaints” is a terrific hard-driving song that was released as a single in March. The track’s arrangement and production are pretty close to perfection, and Ryan’s guitar work and vocals sound fantastic, as is Joe’s drumming. The lyrics speak of being an overly negative person, unable to see the good in anyone or anything and always complaining (something I’m sorry to admit I’ve been guilty of a few times myself):

Tell me all your secrets
Now I know too much
Don’t know what I’m thinkin’
or what I’ve become
I’ve got nothing better to say
Just constant complaints

Hell bent on a mission
Objective self-destruct
I’ve got nothing better to say
Just constant complaints

On “Stutter” he addresses insecurities that cause him to stutter in just about every life situation, except when he’s alone with himself or singing:

Well I stutter when I’m nervous
Well I stutter when I’m stoned
Well I stutter giving bad news
I don’t stutter when I’m alone

Well I stutter when I’m happy
And I stutter when I’m weak
Well I stutter in good company
I don’t stutter when I sing

The poignant rock ballad “Petty” is my favorite of the four tracks. Not only are the instrumentals stunning from start to finish, but Draft Evader’s heartfelt vocals are wonderful, with a raw vulnerability that makes the painful lyrics seem all the more powerful. It’s a gorgeous song. The lyrics are from the point of view of a person saying a final goodbye to someone who just doesn’t want to be with them any longer:

You are so different these days
I hope that the old you remains
Mistaken for friends, means to an end
I know things cannot stay the same
Petty that’s how you make me feel
Mending my wounds, need time to heal
Petty can’t hide, here’s something real
I’m ready, now serve my final meal

Though brief, with only four tracks, Heel Turn is monumental in scope. All four tracks are outstanding, powerful and flawlessly executed on every level. I’m so proud of Draft Evader, and look forward to hearing more awesome music from him!

Connect with Draft Evader:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music on Spotify and Apple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp or itunes

RUSTY SHIPP Release New Video for “SS Naronic”

Nashville rock band Rusty Shipp released their monumental album Mortal Ghost in 2017 to wide acclaim. Over the past several months they’ve been producing videos for different tracks off the album, and last November they released a terrific animated video for “Treading Water,” which I reviewed. They’ve now released an amazing new video for another track “SS Naronic,” a dramatic song about a ship that sank on February 19, 1893. The band chose today for the release to commemorate that fateful event.

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 characterized by a dark, underwater sound, haunting vocals, and heavy riffs. The band consists 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 Michael Craft on bass.

Rusty Shipp2

The SS Naronic was a steamship built in Belfast for the White Star Line. Eight days after leaving Liverpool for New York on February 11, 1893, the ship was lost at sea, along with all 74 people on board. According to Wikipedia, the exact cause of the ship’s sinking was never determined. However, messages found later that had been written by passengers and placed in bottles once they realized their ship was sinking seemed to indicate that it hit an iceberg. Rusty Shipp based their lyrics for the song on some of those actual messages. A particularly poignant line is “Oh god please tell me there is more than this, that this cold abyss is not the end.” Another is “Cattle and charcoal jettisoned to save the boat. But we won’t stay afloat.”

The hard-hitting song features intense, gritty guitars, heavy bass and lots of crashing cymbals, perfectly conveying the horror of the awful tragedy. The superb illustrated animation video was created by Hein Zaayman of Vohnic Music LLC, the same artist who illustrated the Mortal Ghost album cover. The brilliant use of sepia tones gives the video an historical feel.

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

BRAIN APE – Album Review: “Auslander”

Auslander Cover Artwork

As I’ve stated in previous posts, being the EclecticMusicLover, I like when artists and bands incorporate lots of different influences to create genre-bending music. One such band is Brain Ape, a London-based outfit who skillfully fuse punk, stoner rock, grunge, noise rock and shoegaze to create their unique sound they call “scratch rock.” In August 2017, they dropped their second album Auslander, which was released through Schlimbum Records. It’s an ambitious work, containing 12 brilliant tracks with some of the best titles I’ve heard, and running nearly 55 minutes in length.

Brain Ape consists of Minky Très-vain, who plays guitar and sings lead vocals, and Sol Albret who plays bass and sings backing vocals. Jacob Powell played drums and sang backing vocals on Auslander, but is no longer with the band due to other commitments. In an interview with Rebecca Singer for her blog Read Between the Lines (which you can read here), Minky explained the strong influence of Nirvana on Brain Ape’s sound:

“It’s incredibly cliché, but the album that changed my life musically was “Nevermind.” After hearing that album, I knew exactly what type of music I wanted to make. I think one of the most interesting things about [Nirvana] is the legacy that they’ve left behind having only made a handful of albums.”

And regarding their unusual name, Minky explained:

“I really like the name because everyone seems to have their own ideas where it comes from and what it means. For me, there are about three contradicting ideas bouncing against each other, all within two words. I like how abrasive it sounds, yet to me sounds rather beautiful too. But the core idea for me, when we were coming up with a name for the band, was that what we do is very instinctual: neither Sol nor I are classically trained musicians. We’re not even particularly good at what we do. It just so happens that when you put the two of us in a room together with instruments we seem to think along the same wave lengths. Genetically we’re all apes, and when you remove any conscious thought you end up just creating from instinct. That’s why our logo is a chromosome. I guess we feel like the music we make comes from our very own genetic makeup.”

Brain Ape [6]_preview
Photo by Gregory Hesse-Wagner

Brain Ape gets right down to business with the outstanding album opener “Give Me My P45,” a rousing punk-infused number with grungy guitars, a dominant buzzing bass line and loads of crashing cymbals. Minky’s echoed and distorted vocals add to the song’s gritty texture.

Next up is “Watercolour,” a grungy track that shifts back and forth from hard-hitting verses with gritty guitars and hammering drums to softer interludes with delicate chiming guitar, a characteristic of many of Brain Ape’s songs. Minky’s plaintive vocals rise and fall with the intensity of the music, wailing “I don’t know why I still breathe” during the heavier verses. Nirvana’s influence can clearly be heard on the six minute and 22 seconds long “Graphomania.” Quiet, melodic verses with gently strummed guitar alternate with intense, shredded guitar riffs, heavy bass and powerful drums. Minky emphatically sings “He doesn’t know what he should be.”

Respect Your Icons” is a fast-paced punk rock gem with frantic riffs of shredded guitars and pounding drums. Halfway through the tempo slows to a thumping drumbeat and psychedelic reverb-heavy guitars. The guys deliver more psychedelic goodness with “The Quick Brown Dog Jumps Over the Lazy Fox.” And what an awesome song title is that!  The track has a mesmerizing melody with awesome guitar work and a buzzing bass line so heavy you feel it in your core.

The sublime “I Could Use Some Food” opens with gentle strummed guitar and Minky’s quiet, almost whispered vocals, then explodes into a crescendo during the last minute of the track before quieting back down at the outro. It’s one of my favorites on the album. “Stop Sulking” is another track having a definite Nirvana vibe, with sharp, clipped verses, gnarly guitars and heavy bass. Minky repeatedly wails “I don’t want to play.

Punk makes a return appearance on “Das Krokodil Will Barfuß Sein,” with shredded guitars and fuzzy bass over a frenetic drumbeat, and “Extra-Tourette’strial,” a psychedelic head banger punctuated by Minky’s screaming vocals and distorted, reverb-heavy guitars. Brain Ape offers up some heavy metal on “Blood Blister,” with crushing bass and shredded guitars over an aggressive, hypnotic drumbeat. With his echoed, distorted vocals, Minky shouts “It wasn’t me, you got it all wrong.”

Oh, David” is an ominous sounding track with throbbing, speaker-blowing bass and fantastic guitars that go from jangly to gritty and back again. Album closer “Hunger”  is a complex, retro-sounding track that seems at times to channel 60’s bands The Yardbirds or The Doors. The track features psychedelic-sounding echoed vocals and more of Brain Ape’s signature guitars that alternate between jangly and shredded, with an extended reverb-heavy outro. It’s a dramatic finish to an exceptional album.

Connect with Brain Ape:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream Auslander on Soundcloud or purchase on Bandcamp

JOHNNY KOWALSKI AND THE SEXY WEIRDOS – Album Review: “European English”

European English

Being the EclecticMusicLover, I enjoy a wide variety of music genres, and have a special appreciation for artists and bands that meld lots of different influences in the creation of their music. Well, Johnny Kowalski and the Sexy Weirdos – a self-described “body-snatching carnival punk band” from Birmingham, UK – are eclectic on steroids! And, honestly, who could possibly resist a band called ‘The Sexy Weirdos?!’ Fusing Celtic, Balkan and Gypsy folk melodies with reggae, ska, mariachi, punk and rock’n’roll, they create a uniquely eccentric sound that’s totally original and deliriously entertaining.

Like many bands, they’ve undergone some changes in membership over the years since forming in 2009. The current lineup consists of frontman Johnny Kowalski (Vocals, Lead Guitar), Chris Yates (Bass), Ilias Lintzos (Percussion), John-Joe Murray (Violin), Matthew Osborne (Drums) and Katie Stevens (Clarinet, Tenor Sax). They released their debut album Victory for the Monsters in 2012, and followed two years later with Kill the Beast. In October, they dropped their third album European English, an extraordinary work that reflects their experiences touring across Europe, as well as time spent amongst Romani gypsies and artists in Josefov, Czech Republic, where many of the album’s songs were written.

Sexy Weirdos2

Things get off to a rousing start with “Megahorse,” a lively tune that conjures up images of a Yiddish folk dance, and sets the overall tone for the album. A careful listen reveals a rich diversity of instruments at play, most notably guitar, violin, and a chirping clarinet, anchored by thumping bass and a frantic drumbeat. In his distinctive spirited vocal style, Kowalski sounds like he’s singing at a Jewish wedding as he wails “If everyone thinks it, it must be right, ’cause everyone can’t be wrong. The lies that we fight to feel safe at night, are the lies that help keep us strong.”

The band’s sense of playful silliness and love of camp is charmingly evident on the zany video, as they take turns dancing to the song (with varying amounts of success).

A seductive Latin-infused bass line introduces us to “Relative Rudeboy,” then a playful violin and drumbeat ensue, accentuated by Stevens’ jaunty sax and a bit of cowbell thrown in for good measure. It all makes for a fun romp that’ll have even the biggest wallflower on their feet. The hips keep swaying with the infectious “Serbian Rumba.” Murray’s sultry violin takes a starring role, and Kowalski’s low, smoldering vocals are a delight as he sings: “Why should I be thinking of you right now? Not in this place and not in this time. And now he will preach at me for a long eternity. And I will be forced to agree, that I’m an asshole yes I see.”

The band evokes the Scottish Highlands with a bit of a gypsy vibe on the exuberant instrumental “Sicilian Stallion.” I love the festive violin, flute and electric guitar work, all propelled forward by a peppy drumbeat. They keep the energy flowing with the “Minor Calamity” and bouncy “Didn’t Find the Money.”

Raggadub (Manifesto in Three Parts)” is an interesting and complex track, with added dubstep and hip-hop elements, courtesy of guest artists Anne-Marie Allen, Smut Rakhra and Jugganaut. The first part beckons us to feel a connection with each other and the earth through music and dance: “Mother earth and sister of soul. Feel that connection and let your body roll.” Part two speaks to social injustice and corruption: “Idled masses yearn to breathe free. Fat on bread for 26p. A trace of fruit, sugar and bleach. Fluoride toothpaste from the pharmacy. Rotisserie chicken is pumped with fat. The sanctity of life is on a wire rack.” The vocals in the frenetic third part are sung so fast I couldn’t understand them, but it’s certainly a climactic end to an amazing track!

The lively instrumental track “Matthew, Matthew” brings an explosion of fluttering clarinet, violin, guitar and crashing cymbals. Kowalski seems to channel the late Joe Strummer on the boisterous “Flight of the Juniper,” which to my ears sounds like a song that could have been done by The Clash. The guitar work on this short but powerful track is wonderful.

Closing out the album is the captivating, psychedelic-tinged “Chinese Icicles,” a real tour-de-force and one of the standout tracks. The violin in all its forms takes center stage, with electric guitar in a strong co-starring role. The band employs all sorts of exotic instruments to lend a mysterious Asian vibe to an essentially hard rock track. The song is so compelling it seems shorter than its five and a half minute length. It’s a dramatic finish to a remarkable album, which you can listen to here:

Connect with the band:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream their music on Spotify and purchase on Bandcamp

DRAFT EVADER – Single Review: “The Devil’s Disguise”

One of my objectives in writing this blog is giving exposure to indie artists and bands, many of whom are struggling to get their music heard by a wider audience. Today I feature the young singer/songwriter Ryan Loree, who goes by the artistic name Draft Evader. Following up on his debut single “Blue Lies,” which he released in June 2017, he dropped a new single “The Devil’s Disguise” in October.
Draft Evader

Based in Chicago, Draft Evader plays straight-up rock’n’roll with a hint of punk. When I asked him about his moniker, he explained the he was not happy about our current President (neither am I) and “the name ‘Draft Evader’ was kind of like a middle finger to the whole system, kind of 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.

He writes his songs and records them with his good friend Joe Scaletta. He explained their process in developing songs: “I write all the songs by myself at home, so I’ll come into the studio with lyrics and rhythm guitars done and from that we’ll lay down the base of the song. Then we start working on the drums together (there’s a shortage of drummers around here so unfortunately we write them together using the computer). Next we’ll take care of the bass, and Joe happens to be a bassist so I let him take the reigns on that unless I know exactly what I want the bass to do. After that we’ll add some guitar leads or maybe I’ll improvise a solo in the bridge of the song. Then I’ll jump in the vocal booth and try to sing/scream to the best of my ability. Very simple stuff until I get a full band going.

“The Devil’s Disguise” is a hard-hitting rock song with biting lyrics about suffering from personal turmoil and demons that have caused him to commit violence, and wanting an escape from the environment he inhabits, hoping it might help him change:

I’m turning my back on sweet home Chicago
Packed up too fast and blew out my ankle
I’m letting go of all the get to know
I’m stuck in place staring out the window
There’s blood on the streets of downtown Chicago
There’s death in the air and holes in the windows
There’s ghosts in my head digging a deep hole
There’s demons inside slowing my blood blow

The devil’s disguise hiding in plain site
Seein’ through evil eyes
Live my life in disguise
Pushin’ through trying times
Shedding my disguise

Musically, the track is well-crafted, with some excellent riffs of shredded guitars, anchored by a solid buzzing bass line and crisp percussion. Draft Evader’s vocals are earnest, with a hint of melancholia that befits the dark lyrics. All in all, a fine effort from a young artist who I believe has a lot of promise. He writes thoughtful and compelling lyrics, has a good grasp on song structure and production, and plays a mean guitar.

Connect with Draft Evader:  Twitter / Instagram

His songs may be streamed on Spotify and purchased on Bandcamp or itunes