I’ve been following British psychedelic garage/punk band DENSE pretty much since their beginnings nearly five years ago, and it’s been gratifying to watch them grow and mature as artists. Based in Leeds, the wickedly talented trio – comprised of Charlie Fossick (Guitar/Vocals), Dylan Metcalf (Bass) and Sam Heffer (Drums) – live up to their moniker by combining thick, fuzz-coated grooves with progressive elements and fierce instrumentation to create music that’s electrifying, innovative and intense.
I’ve written about them numerous times over the past four and a half years, most recently in August 2020 when I reviewed their debut EP Abjection, which I described as “four combustible sticks of dynamite packed into 14 explosive minutes” (you can read some of my previous reviews by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the end of this post). Now the guys are back with a new single “Reckoning“, which they refer to as “a desperately needed release of energy“. After listening to the track, I’d say that’s almost an understatement, as it’s a furious eruption of wailing distortion and sonic mayhem.
The guys have gained a reputation for their electrifying live performances, and they’ve somehow managed to capture that energy and inject it into their songs. As MC (who goes by @LeedsGigs_ on Twitter and writes about shows in and around Leeds) commented on my review of Abjection, “Seeing them live is a visceral experience and their music demands your attention. Charlie contorting primeval sounds from both mic and guitar through his pedal board, Dylan prowling the stage with adrenaline-fueled rockstar stances, riffing on a parody of every bedroom axeman, and Sam, limbs akimbo, thrashing his drumkit into quivering submission.”
According to their press release, “‘Reckoning’ is an abstract journey through anguish, capturing the frustrations of modern day life through utilisation of melodic dissonance alongside a focus on rhythm and groove-led songwriting, conveying what the lyrics represent. The track boasts a mix from Ross Orton, who has worked with the likes of Arctic Monkeys, Drenge, God Damn, Pulled Apart by Horses and Working Men’s Club. This was the first track we wrote together in 12 months post-lockdown, and it feels like the track absorbed and channeled a lot of our pent-up energy and frustration that the three of us individually experienced during isolation.”
That pent-up energy and frustration is manifested in an explosive barrage of super-gnarly guitars, grinding bass and bombastic percussion. Dylan drives the chaotic rhythm forward with a deep, chest-thumping bassline while Sam smashes his drumkit like a man possessed, the two of them somehow bringing order to the madness. Charlie unleashes the full fury of his double-barreled arsenal of gritty guitars and savage vocals, thrashing the airwaves with frantic, reverb-drenched psychedelic riffs, punctuated here and there by flourishes of screaming distortion, while sending shivers up and down our spines with his signature demonic wails and screams. The song is so intense, I’m left in a quivering heap by the end. It’s good to hear that DENSE have not lost one bit of their fearsome edge in the 12 months they’ve been quiet.
The guys pull no punches with their bitter lyrics that speak to a sense of hopelessness and despair, a reckoning with the terrible state of things:
When I get inside I never feel dry the rain it constantly pours and I’ll ask for more
I feel a nervous pulse men riding on horse been dropped in the tank shot, point blank
residing I’m torn providing I’m born declining I’m torn reclining I’m born
I’m formed we’re scorned No future And no past
and it sails, to the core sailing down to the core, to the core, to the core
Reliving Past lives and I’m always Terrified
The ends are looking frayed Cause it tore me Fired under No cause
residing I’m torn providing I’m born declining I’m torn reclining I’m born
Reckon now? Reckon now? Re, Reckoning, Reckoning
I’m formed we’re scorned No future And no past
and it sails, to the core sailing down to the core, to the core, to the core
DENSE will be launching “Reckoning” at a show tonight at the Castle Hotel in Manchester. They’ll perform again on the 13th at Royal Park Cellars in Leeds.
While Chicago-based rockers Guardrail don’t take themselves too seriously – they describe themselves as “the world’s first Diet Punk band, just a combination of ‘pop’ and ‘punk’ that uses Splenda instead of real sugar, and because of that, until you get used to us, we’re going to leave a bad taste in your mouth” – they’re quite serious about making the best music possible. Their hard-hitting, high-energy style of rock is a happy blend of punk, pop and metal, which on some songs reminds me of such acts as Green Day, Blink-182, Sum 41 and even the Beastie Boys. Formed in 2014, the band has undergone several changes in lineup, and now consists of Kevin Andrew (lead vocals), Ken Ugel (guitar, vocals), Alyssa Laessig (bass, vocals) and Doug Brand (drums). (Ken is also guitarist for Chicago bands The Million Reasons, who I’ve featured numerous times on this blog, and Wild Gravity.)
They released their debut EP Wordswords in 2015, which they followed two years later with Par at Best. Since cementing their current lineup in 2018, they’ve released several singles and in September 2020, dropped their third EP Yikes. Now they’re back with a new single “Social Meteor“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. True to form, Guardrail delivers a relentless barrage of jagged riffs, chugging bass and explosive drums to drive home their timely message of our cultural addiction to social media, and its pernicious effect on our sense of identity and self-worth.
Kevin and Alyssa sing the biting lyrics with forceful intensity, powerfully expressing their exasperation with things and feelings of helplessness to do anything about it: “There’s real human contact beyond my fingertips, but I couldn’t give a shit. There’s an object unidentified approaching me (Oh wait!), it’s just my self-doubt and uncertainty. Why can’t I come back down? I’m stuck in the stratosphere. My lack of satisfaction left me stranded out here. How should I know what they expect from me? I’ll just write another paragraph and run away from my fear.”
“Social Meteor” is a rousing banger of a tune, and I think it’s one of Guardrail’s best songs yet. The fun video shows snippets of each bandmembers individually performing the song, as well as serving as judges of a low-budget talent show.
When I last visited British ska-punk collective Zen Baseballbat this past January, I wrote about their brilliant album Rations, which I described as wild, zany, fun, and as thoroughly eclectic as any record could possibly be (you can read my review here). Now they’re back with a delightful new album, which they’ve cheekily titled Better Ways To Love & Offend, calling it “a slap in the face, a wake-up call to rip us from the stasis we’ve ghosted into since recession and Brexit took hold. Can’t go forward, can’t go back, so we might as well just sit and watch the bombs fall.” They deliver their message with hilarious yet biting lyrics and a delicious blend of ska (itself an eclectic mash-up of Caribbean mento and calypso, American jazz and R&B), electro, punk, new wave, reggae, zydeco and dub.
Based in Widnes, England, a mid-sized city bookended by Liverpool and Manchester, Zen Baseballbat was originally formed in the early 1990s by twin brothers Gary and Carl Gleavey, along with several other musicians. Over the next 10 years or so, they released an EP and two albums, but eventually disbanded in the late 2000s. Fast forward another 10 years, the Gleavey twins reformed the band with a new lineup and a newfound burst of creativity. Zen Baseballbat now includes Gary G. on guitar & vocals, Carl G. on bass & backing vocals, Jordan Donaldson on keyboards & backing vocals, Mike Wilkinson on drums, Jonathan ‘Jogga’ Parker on guitar & backing vocals, as well as Anoushka Wittram-Gleavey and Colin Mackay, who produced Better Ways To Love & Offend. Additionally, several other vocalists and musicians contributed to the album, including Jane Anderson, Ayshea Elfer, Jessica Wilkinson, Isabelle Wilkinson and Tony Nipper.
All 14 tracks are solid, but I’ll touch on my favorites, as well as those I feel are integral to the album’s overall narrative. The album opens with a man speaking the words “We don’t want to do anything to scare your children. We don’t want to scare anybody“, but then the band quickly informs us “There’s gonna be trouble“, which they repeatedly affirm throughout the bouncy reggae tune simply titled “Trouble“. Now that we’re suitably alarmed, they launch into “Retaliation” a terrific ska number with bits of punk, psychedelic and new wave, giving it a sort of lively B-52s vibe. The lyrics speak to standing up, speaking out, and fighting back against oppression and injustice: “This ain’t no place for sweet-tempered voices. Don’t hold back, don’t go with the punches. After a good old kick in the feelings, my heart still beats like a militant drum. Give a little bit of retaliation.”
Zen Baseballbat’s skill for using all sorts of fascinating instruments, textures and sounds is showcased on the cool, psychedelia-tinged gem “Over The Wall“. I love the skittering beat, exotic Caribbean sounds and delightful female vocal trills, punctuated with some marvelous guitar work. The lyrics seem to address income inequality: “Parties of the rich over the wall. The world won’t give me back my ball. Unsympathetic wealth is stinging. Despite Rock’n’roll right-wingers are singing.”
They also have a penchant for combining fun, upbeat melodies with darker lyrics. On “A Place Like This“, they rattle off a litany of bad behavioral choices to a lively zydeco soundtrack. And on “You Won’t Get Paid“, the bouncy ska groove contrasts with the caustic lyrics addressing the drudgery of dead-end jobs with little pay: “I’ve been shovelling shit for far too long. My body aches but my head is strong. I haven’t got a pot to piss in, yet you want me for next to nothing. You won’t get paid no, you won’t get paid.”
“Rumble” is a fascinating reggae track with soulful and jazzy cinematic overtones, thanks to a colorful mix of brassy horns, flutes, organ, and funky bass. In spots, the melody sounds like a slowed-down version of the 70s disco hit “T.S.O.P.” by MFSB, which also happens to be one of my all-time favorite songs. The song’s only lyric, which is sporadically repeated throughout the track, is “I zigged when I shoulda zagged.” The delicious ska tune “Quivering On A Rope” seems to touch on the soul-crushing aspects of casual sex and one-night stands: “Rummaging for love on a Tuesday night. On the shirttails of bachelors putting up a fight. Fannies flashing like neon signs, a stained glass view of their behinds. Quivering on a rope between the beginning and the end. Forgive me my lost soul rendition. My heart sings at any proposition. Are there better ways to love and offend? Basic desires start to bend.“
On “Reasons” the band takes on the political establishment and incompetent leaders who dither while the public suffers: “We have reason to believe that you have been living. We have several pictures to prove it. The mistakes you made were beautiful. Disguising your man for the television. We know who you are. We know where you’ve been.” “Don’t Oppress Me, Love” is a cheeky punk song about the perils of being romantically involved with a woman employed as an ‘adult’ entertainer – i.e. a stripper.
A stylistic departure for Zen Baseballbat, the atmospheric and contemplative “Elsa Dorfman” is a kind of ode to the American portrait photographer, who passed away in 2020 at the age of 83. The lyrics speak of seeking solace from life’s unpleasantries through her camera lens: “Tomorrow I’ll stick the job up its arse. A working-class kid will fly to Mars. Place me in front of the open lens Of Elsa Dorfman.” The album comes full circle with “Double Trouble“, a brief reprise of the opening track, this time sung by Jessica and Isabelle, daughters of band drummer Mike Wilkinson. The song’s whimsical feel gently reassures us that things really aren’t all that horrible after all.
Better Ways To Love & Offend is another fine and immensely enjoyable offering by Zen Baseballbat. Anyone who likes reggae and ska music, combined with humorous, witty and thought-provoking lyricism, will enjoy this album.
The Marigolds are an alt-rock group based in Liverpool, a city rich in music history and the birthplace of many a band. I’ve featured more artists and bands from Liverpool than I can recall, and The Marigolds are the latest. They formed in 2018 when bassist/vocalist Joe Green and guitarist Joe Morgan met at the University of Liverpool, and bonded over their love of such acts as Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Mudhoney, Weather Report, Stevie Wonder and Tame Impala. Drummer Lucas Pidgen was soon added to the mix, and they began writing songs together and playing gigs in and around Liverpool. Their rather bucolic sounding name stands in contrast with their music, which is an intense, high-energy blend of punk, funk and psychedelic elements, delivered with blistering riffs, crushing bass and fierce vocals.
The guys released their terrific debut single “Magnetic” in May, which was well-received by fans and music publications alike. Now they’ve returned with an explosive new single “Smash and Grab“, which dropped July 12th. The song’s title is a fitting description, as the song literally blasts through the speakers, laying waste to the airwaves and sending shivers up and down our spines. Wow, these guys really know how to rock! The song opens with Green’s deep, gnarly bassline, then erupts into a hard-driving, fast-paced onslaught of Morgan’s scorching, fuzz-coated riffs and Pidgen’s smashing drumbeats that never let up for a single moment.
Green’s vocals are downright fearsome as he wails and screams the lyrics touching on themes of insecurity, loneliness and poor self-esteem, viciously railing against those who are making him feel this way: “It’s a smash and grab at my feelings! Eat me, cause I feel numb. Just tear into my flesh cause I’m so done. Consume me, and swallow me whole. Keep me inside you in that deep, deep fucking hole!” Two and a half minutes into the song, the tempo abruptly shifts to a frantic punk groove that’s even more intense than before. Now Green screams with such ferocity, it’s a wonder he has any vocal chords left! I’ve written about some pretty hard-hitting music lately, but this song blows them all out of the water, and I love it!
Now that restrictions against live performances have lifted in the UK, the guys are excited about returning to the stage and sharing their new songs at their first scheduled gig on the 7th of August at Jimmy’s Liverpool.
I’ve touched on this a number of times on previous posts, but one of the advantages of being a music blogger is becoming exposed to all kinds of music I otherwise might not have ever heard. So it was a nice surprise to receive a message from British ska collective Zen Baseballbat – is that a fantastic name for a band, or what! – asking whether I’d be interested in reviewing their new album Rations. Let me state up-front that I dislike writing album reviews, as they’re a lot of work, plus my Attention Deficit Disorder makes it difficult for me to focus my thoughts on a large number of songs, further compounding my stress levels.
That said, the moment I pressed play, I was delighted by this album. It’s wild, it’s zany, it’s fun, and as thoroughly eclectic as any record could possibly be. Besides ska, which itself is an eclectic mash-up of Caribbean mento and calypso, American jazz and R&B, the songs feature generous helpings of electro, punk, new wave, reggae and dub, as well as an unexpected touch of bluegrass just to keep us on our toes – all served up courtesy of nearly every conceivable instrument known to man, along with seemingly silly lyrics that brilliantly reflect deeper meanings.
I’d never heard of Zen Baseballbat previously, however, from what I can tell they were formed some time during the first half of the 1990s by twin brothers Gary and Carl Gleavey, along with several other musicians. Their earliest recording I could find was the 1994 EP Kneel Down To The Mothers Of The Slums, released via Toebunger Records. They later released two albums under the Moon Ska Records label – I Am The Champion Concrete Mixer in 2000, followed by For Refund Insert Baby in 2004. They disbanded in the late 2000s, but reformed a decade later with a new lineup and a newfound burst of creativity.
Based in Widnes, England, a mid-size city located between Liverpool and Manchester, Zen Baseballbat now includes Gleavey twins Gary on guitar & vocals, and Carl on bass & backing vocals, Jordan Donaldson on keyboards & backing vocals, Mike Wilkinson on drums, Jonathan ‘Jogga’ Parker on guitar & backing vocals, as well as Anoushka Wittram-Gleavey and Colin Mackay, who produced the album. In 2020, they released an EP You Won’t Get Paid and two singles “Place Like This” and “Take the Skinheads Bowling”. On New Years Day, they released Rations, which features reimagined versions of 11 songs that previously appeared on I Am The Champion Concrete Mixer and For Refund Insert Baby.
About the album, the band explains: “Rations conjures up images of need, neglect, desire and food banks in the modern world. It definitely shouldn’t sound this positive and joyful. ‘Rations’ is the sound of misery turned on its head. This CD is a radar pulse crossing borders and political divides and says firmly, we are internationalists. These are songs of love, loss, hurt and a knee to the neck from every cunt who wants to keep you in your place. Words have space to breath and weave, voices sound measured with biting intent, bass lines jerk and slide under polyrhythmic prose, whilst organs bounce from corner to corner. This body of work has emerged clear eyed and victorious, handled to a T by producer Colin McKay.“
They kick things off with “Whipping the Lash“, which opens with a woman chanting German numbers translating to “seven eight zero seven nine nine” to a synth beat. Things quickly expand into a bouncy retro new wave dance groove that sounds like it could have been produced by Missing Persons or Thomas Dolby. Though the track is heavy on synths, that driving bass line and those jangly guitars are fabulous. The song seems to be a love song told through clever car-oriented lyrics describing feelings of lust: “I just love the way you move your fingers up and down the wheel, Into such mechanical force. It’s the way that you want me to feel.”
Next up is the delightful “Captain Midnight“, a ska song at heart, but given a dramatic synthwave treatment that nicely plays off the lyrics: “Nobody knows who I really am. Nobody knows. Under my vest I’m a Superman. Well I’m a perfect stranger. They even baptized me danger.” On the hilarious “Masochistic Motown“, which to my ears has a bit of a Talking Heads vibe, they touch on a situation where there’s simply no pleasing the man, no matter how hard she tries: “He gets porn at his fingertips, but snubs her new knickers. She’s gone from mouse to blonde, but he never noticed it. She wants him back, she wants him back. She wants him back, she wants him.”
The tables are turned on “Year of the Dog (That Bit Me)“, as this time she’s left him, and he’s feeling like a loser: “Here I am at a municipal dock pond. Oh my god love hurts. She upped and left me in mid sausage, punctuating end with burps.” The song opens with a man’s voice saying “I wish you good luck, but you wouldn’t know what to do with it if you got it“, and ends with that refrain, followed by another man exclaiming that he is in fact a loser: “You lose! Good day sir! It’s all there in black and white, clear as crystal. You lose!” The song’s jaunty vibe, replete with an upbeat ska rhythm, exuberant horns and lively organ, belies the rather morose lyrics.
“Brown Cows of Elocution” is a lovely serving of dub reggae delight, and I dare anyone to keep still while hearing it. The cheeky lyrics poke fun at high society’s penchant for verbal diarrhea: “In a compost heap where a language grew, us duffers in the meat yard never had a clue. Our vowels were strangled by the cattle gas. / Sure it’s a laugh sure it’s a gas.”
The great tunes keep coming on strong as the album continues. “The Injection of Love is Wearing Off” features more of those lovely horns and organ, and speaks to a relationship in which love is fading” “The injection of love is wearing off. My heart’s wide open. There goes the heat. The magic carpet pulled from under my feet. She made me feel like an out of season seaside.” And have I mentioned that I love Gary’s distinctive singing voice, in which his charming accent is quite pronounced? On “Signed Off R. Mutt“, Zen Baseballbat delivers a surprising injection of rousing hillbilly-flavored bluegrass to lament about the soul-killing downside of most jobs: “I left the job club torture room with little applause. They broke up my horizons over them there town hall walls. I offered them the services of a Marcel Duchamp. They gave me the post of a lavatory attendant. / We know exactly where we are, going under together in a gas filled car.“
“Bananas” is a fascinating and darkly humorous track with a macabre vibe, thanks to an abundance of spooky synths and eerie guitar notes. The lyrics seem to address a downtrodden social milieu, sort of a Les Misérables meets Sweeney Todd, told through rather repulsive food and restaurant metaphors: “Where’s the crapper? They’re ready to order, ready to murder a braison elephant paddling in batter, two galloping gonads, and the next man’s earlobes. Mine’s a grated brick. And a ballbuster special seasoned with a banana skin. My gastronomic exit. Fly, there’s not enough waiters in my soup!” And on “Matching Houses“, they contrast a breezy reggae melody with pointed lyrics about the banality of suburban life: “Making the most of our matching houses in the middle of nowhere special./ Polluting the back of our nostalgic settee with lies and social security. Painting brown carpets with sunshine. Moving for the last time.”
Continuing on that theme of socio-economic ennui, “The Returner Prize” speaks to the frustrations of being stuck in a dead-end job with no hope of upward mobility, and expected to be thankful for the crumbs you’re thrown by the high and mighty: “Meet your average working stiff, pushing a button in a light bulb factory. Meet your average working stiff, I never touch my salmon paste sandwiches. When Her Majesty came to our dumb town we had a whazz in her brew. Down Stewards Avenue when Her Majesty came to our dumb town, we had to clear up the streets after the mess that she had left.” The closing track “Whipping the Drop” is a mostly instrumental dub reggae song with a strong techno vibe, and seems to be a sort of conclusion to opening track “Whipping the Lash”. The spooky yet stylish industrial synths, throbbing rhythms and whispered vocals repeatedly chanting “Sieben acht null sieben neun neun” give the track a sultry otherworldly vibe.
To expand on some of what I alluded to at the beginning of this review, Rations is a truly delightful album, filled with lyrical and instrumental brilliance that surprised me at every turn. There’s so much going on in every track that, even on my sixth listen, I still discovered another instrument or little nuance I hadn’t previously noticed. I did listen to Zen Baseballbat’s earlier recordings of some of the songs featured on Rations, with their more pure ska stylings, and they were also quite good. But with their reimagined treatments, I think they’ve taken these songs to the next level, giving them a whole new life.
In early October, I wrote a review of the outstanding debut album A Fantastic Way to Kill Some Time by Texas grunge pop-rock band Tough on Fridays. I knew the talented female-fronted band had a loyal and growing fan base, but I had no idea just how large and passionate it was. In just two and a half months, the review has received nearly 1,000 views, the most of any post I’ve written in 2020! Now the trio, consisting of Caleigh on vocals & guitar, Carly on bass & vocals, and Chris on drums, are back with a great new single “Undone“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week.
The song opens strong with Carly’s intricate moody bass riff and Caleigh’s cold, matter-of-fact vocals that perfectly convey the sadness and pain expressed in the biting lyrics addressing a selfish and miserable friend of her disappointment with them: “I wish you were special / I really wish you were special / No one was miserable like you.” Suddenly, we’re hit with a blast of her raging gnarly guitars and Chris’s smashing drumbeats as the song ramps up to a fast-paced punk-like tempo. Caleigh’s vocals turn more impassioned as she bitterly informs her friend that their relationship is broken beyond repair and finally come ‘undone’. It’s a banger, and I think it’s their best song yet.
I wish you were specialI really wish you were specialNo one was miserable like youNo, no one had it as bad as youOh latelyYou’ll always be temporarySo point blank and in your faceMaybe you’ll learn somedayMake sure I’m not a necessityRight before you dispose of meHate yourself and that’s okI want out of your fucked-up gameYou’re in miseryStay far from meI want out of your fucked-up gameYou never had anyoneYou never liked to have funI wasn’t just anyoneMade me come all undoneI was never really doneLie to me,Use meStay far awayCan’t use me up anymore
I’ve featured scores of artists on this blog over the past five years, and one of the more interesting and unique among them is singer-songwriter Erin Cookman, who goes by the wonderful artistic moniker Erin Incoherent. Originally from Fort Collins, Colorado and now based in Philadelphia since late 2017, the self-described “singer, musician, poet, writer, mental health advocate, model, artist, makeup junkie, loudmouth and strong woman” is a hyper-talented songwriter, vocalist and guitarist. She’s also a fiercely passionate and outspoken champion for mental health and issues like domestic violence and sexual abuse, topics that often appear in her powerful songs. Erin’s music style tends mostly toward folk/indie rock with strong punk and grunge elements.
I last wrote about Erin two years ago, in December 2018, when I reviewed her album Medusa, a brilliant 11-song manifesto addressing anxiety, trauma and pain. Now she returns with her new album Déjà Vu, which dropped November 30th. The album was co-produced by Erin and Bill Nobes, and recorded and mixed by Nobes at The House of Robot studio in Wrightstown, New Jersey with assistance from Vincent Troyani. Erin sang all vocals and played guitar and bass, with help from a number of musicians, including Chris Olsen on drums and additional percussion, Nikki Nailbomb on cello for “Of Roaches & Roommates” and bass on “25” and “The Fog”, Skelly on upright bass for “Harvestman”, and Joe Falcey on drums for “Of Roaches & Roomates”. The album was mastered by Jason Livermore at The Blasting Room in Fort Collins. Bill Nobes also did the photography and cover art for the album.
With Déjà Vu, Erin continues to explore themes of disillusionment and pain stemming from emotional trauma, the loss of loved ones, and relationships gone bad. She’s a very fine singer and acoustic guitarist, but it’s her unflinching and profound lyrics that impress me the most. Each song is laid out like a deeply personal story told though a lengthy poem, and her lyrics are so good I’d like to quote them all for every song, but will control myself. The opening title track “Déjà Vu“ is a shining example of how she skillfully uses tempo and melodic changeups to reflect the different moods expressed by her lyrics. The song starts off with Erin’s gently-strummed acoustic guitar and soft breathy vocals, then both turn more aggressive and harsh as she coldly proclaims that she’s done with the relationship: “I never wanted all of this / Neglect is cold as snow / And now I don’t care where you went because I’d rather be alone.”
On the bluesy “The Fog“, Erin bitterly laments to a lover whose drug addiction has destroyed their relationship. I like how she uses the words ‘heroine’ and ‘heroin’ in the song to great effect. In one stanza, she sings “And I will never be your heroine / Not for my lack of, lack of trying / You left me, I was broken / No longer, your trophy / Why would I wanna be the habit you’re always kicking?“, then in another almost identical stanza, she sings “And I will never be your heroin…” “The Storm” is a great kiss-off song, with Erin telling the man who broke her heart that he’ll be facing dark times ahead: “And I hope that when the rain comes for you, you’re a little too late, just a little too late to find your way back home / And away you are swept with the hurt, and the pain, and the grief, and the shame that you left me.“
“25“, with it’s chugging guitar-driven melody and Erin’s gentle, heartfelt vocals, has a haunting Americana vibe. The introspective lyrics seem to speak of being overwhelmed by anxiety and self-doubt: “I think I’ve bitten off more than I can chew / I’m scared of dying but I’m scared of living too / I’ve never really felt like I belonged / I don’t feel like people listen, or ever really wanna talk / So now I’m always dreaming of a life that feels like home / Somehow I must make it on my own.” She drastically changes the mood with “Aculeus (The Sting)” a provocative and sensual song that speaks to pansexual desires. First she seductively croons ” Hey, oh yeah, alright boy you’re looking like you want it. Cause I like it hot, I like it cold. Unpredictable and bold / And I think that part of who I am is part of what’s driving you mad.” But then she later sings “…alright girl you know I fucking want you. Cause I like it hot, I like it cold. Unpredictable and bold / My favorite part of who I am.“
Perhaps the most poignant track on the album is “Of Roaches & Roommates“, a heartfelt tribute originally written for her friend Bonnie who died of a drug overdose, but now dedicated to friends Erin has lost to addiction-related struggles, as well as those fighting to remain clean in recovery. “So now we’re smoking in the basement drinking Old Crow / And we tuned up the Ibanez so we could sing every song we know / Cause Bonnie didn’t have to die man but she shot up / Slug said he didn’t have the narcan but we can’t trust that fuck no, we can’t trust him.” With the help of videographer Shad Rhoades, Erin has produced a deeply moving video featuring interviews of people who’ve lost friends or loved ones to drugs, interspersed with footage of her and her fellow musicians Joe Falcey and Nikki Nailbomb performing the song.
The next several songs deal with emotional pain and the struggle to heal and feel ‘normal’. On “The Plan“, Erin resolves to learn to love herself, warts and all: “One day I’m gonna wake up in my someday / Cause if I don’t, I’d rather not wake up at all / The hardest thing that I’ve learned is to love me even though it hurts / Cause not being able to love me just seems worse.” Continuing on a similar vein, the rousing “The End of the World (again)” sees her feeling overwhelmed by self-doubt and wallowing in her emotional pain: “I can’t seem to live my life with consistency, no matter how hard I try, and I don’t know which is worse – Feeling like ‘I shouldn’t hurt’ or living so comfortably with pain, that it’s all I feel, and all I look for.” But then she resolves to not let it defeat her: “No, it’s my turn, give me time / Piss off, I’m gonna be fine Yeah, it’s my turn.” And on the hopeful and comforting “The Edge of September“, she vows to emerge from her mental breakdown as a stronger person: “I’m pinning my hope on the edge of September and praying the payoff’s not too far away / I’m trying to focus and change for the better / Breakdown’s cause breakthroughs, I’m reminded each day.”
“The Coal” seems to speak to the pain each partner in a dysfunctional relationship is going through, with each of them trying to heal without also hurting the other in the process. Erin sings “Maybe it’s your time. Time to fight, time to feel. To do not just what’s right, but what will help you heal / Cause now that the storm has lifted, it’s left you with this view / What the hell will you do?” But then she points out that their actions are detrimental to her own well-being: “And I think you try to make your words hurt. Yeah, I think you like knocking me down. You’re daft if you think that it’s working. You’re not an anchor, I’m not gonna drown. No, nobody ever held me back.”
The track “Harvestman” is a bit of an outlier on the album, both musically and lyrically. The song has more of an ethnic folk vibe, with a jaunty Latin guitar-driven melody and lyrics in both English and Spanish. I’m not certain as to the meaning of the spiritual lyrics, but I’m guessing that the harvestmen is a metaphor for death: “The harvestman comes now for me, as fire greets the stars / And I could not grieve, for silently, I knew just where we’d go.” The forest sounds and chirping birds at the beginning and end of the song are a nice touch. The album closes with “Déjà Vu (Reprise)“, a brief track featuring Erin’s lilting and rather haunting a cappella vocals pondering what it all means: “No, you’ll never get it back / Where you’ve been keeps what you’ve lost / Yeah, there is no real conclusion Are we memories, or thought?” To me, it serves to end things on a somewhat upbeat and optimistic tone, while acknowledging there’s not necessarily a ‘happily ever after’.
I’ll admit that it took me a couple of listens to fully grasp and appreciate this rather intense album, as the melodies aren’t immediately catchy, nor are the lyrics the kind you can quickly sing along to. But once I delved more deeply into those meaningful lyrics, as well as discovered the many nuances contained in the music and Erin’s emotive, wide-ranging vocals, I’ve come to realize that Déjà Vu is another brilliant work of musical art by this amazing storyteller.
One of the quirkiest and most enjoyable bands I’ve had the pleasure of featuring on this blog is Johnny Kowalski and the Sexy Weirdos. Based in Birmingham, England, the self-described “body-snatching carnival punk band” fuse Celtic, Balkan and Gypsy folk melodies with reggae, ska, mariachi, punk and rock’n’roll to create a uniquely eccentric sound that’s totally original, eclectic, and deliriously entertaining. In 2017, I reviewed their wonderfully marvelous album European English, and am now pleased to feature their latest release Until The Day, which dropped March 19.
Like many bands, they’ve experienced changes in personnel over the years since forming in 2009. Their current lineup consists of frontman Johnny Kowalski (Vocals, Lead Guitar), Chris Yates (Bass), Ilias Lintzos (Percussion), Matthew Osborne (Drums) and Katherine McWilliam (Violin). McWilliam is also violinist and vocalist for the Celtic rock band Quill, and her image is featured in the wonderful artwork for Until The Day, which was designed by Kat Bennett.
Until the Day is the fourth album by Johnny Kowalski and the Sexy Weirdos, and continues their tradition for making fun, generally upbeat songs while also touching on political and cultural issues of the day. Kowalski told me that while the album “doesn’t ignore the multitude of horrors being inflicted upon the world right now“, it’s also about “finding some hope and something to live for despite all that, even if that’s something as simple as celebrating the people around you.”
Things kick off with the title track “Until The Day“, a lively song that nicely encapsulates the album’s overall theme. McWilliam’s spirited violin takes center stage here, accompanied by gnarly guitars, exuberant drumbeats and a bit of funky bass to round out the proceedings. With his distinctive smoky vocals and delightful Brummie accent, Kowalski croons to his beloved about soldiering on together through good times and bad: “Let go of your secrets they’ll be safe with me / From the floor of this bedsit into eternity / We could live like pirates, each day standing tall / Fuck and fight for freedom until the day we fall.”
The mood abruptly changes with “Flowers For Antifa“, a dark and aggressive song of protest against fascism. The raucous, punk-infused melody and harsh instrumentals are the perfect backdrop for Kowalski’s raspy, emotionally-charged vocals that sound a lot like The Clash’s Joe Strummer as he rails against those who fall prey to the hateful and divisive rhetoric of would-be fascist politicians and media talking heads. A verse in the lyrics express support for the militant anti-fascist movement Antifa: “I gave my money to buy flowers for Antifa / And to get the chance to shoot you I would trade in my guitar / When the war is over we will dance in sweet release / Feasting on the bones of all your sycophants and chiefs / Fall in fall out of line…” The song ramps up to a near-frenzy at the end, with Kowalski angrily shrieking “Good night alt right!” I wholeheartedly agree!
“Smug Song” is a classic Sexy Weirdos tune, featuring a rousing gypsy folk vibe delivered with a colorful mix of instruments, highlighted by Lintzos’ electrifying percussive beats and McWilliams plucky violin notes. She lets loose with a terrific violin solo in the bridge that continues through to the end of the track. Next up is “Batch Music“, the first of two instrumental tracks on the album. The blending of fuzz-coated heavy electric guitar and bouyant violin give the song a strong Celtic rock feel.
The band shows their playful side on “Next Year“, which sounds to me like an old drinking song. The lyrics speak to letting loose and opening oneself up to any and all experiences and debaucheries that come along, and to hell with the consequences. We’ll worry about that shit tomorrow. “Pull down the ceiling again / Contact all your crazy friends / Wasted in weird foreign streets / Making memories we will not repeat / The circus is coming to town / Pretty girls bury your frowns / Weird women and men / They might not come again / Ah, fuck it, they’ll be back next year.” The delightful video shows Kowalski and a lovely, scantily clad woman taking turns on a stripper pole in the middle of a rather stylish room, while the other sits in a chair with their back to the person dancing.
“Anarchist Barbeque (Egg For McGregor)” is the second instrumental, and once again, the combination of electric guitars, strong percussion and spirited violin give the song a wonderful Celtic folk-rock feel. The final track “The Dead Yard” continues the Celtic-gypsy vibe, with a bouncy violin-driven melody, gnarly electric guitars, a pulsating bass line and a frantic mix of exuberant percussion and snappy drums. I’m not certain about the song’s meaning, but my guess is that it’s about how on a certain level, our own truths are the ones that really matter to us in the end: “Deceivers will naysay but we’ll still be here / Believe us as we slay / The things you hold dear are gone / I’ll see you in the dead yard once again.” But whatever the meaning, it’s a fantastic song from a musical standpoint, and a fine finish to a terrific and highly satisfying album.
Blue Vines is a young indie rock duo from New York City, comprised of singer-songwriter Nick Gonzalez on vocals, guitar and drums, and Andrea De Renzis on bass. A new act who only formed earlier this year, they released their debut EP Fever Dreamy this past August. It was recorded at Cobra Sun Studio in Staten Island, N.Y., engineered and produced by Gary Nieves Jr., and mastered by Josh Kaufman at Local Legend Recording in Grand Rapids, MI.
Fever Dreamy is rather short, running just under nine minutes total, but its five tracks are so musically intriguing and packed with deep meaning they made quite an impression on me. With their vibrant indie pop-punk sound, Blue Vines’ songs seem to touch on themes of youthful angst, romance and self-doubt. The titles of all five tracks are interesting in that none of them are actually included in their song lyrics, which themselves are somewhat ambiguous, requiring a bit of imagination and concentration on my part to decipher as to their meanings.
The EP opens with the 43-second-long title track “Fever Dreamy“, a sweet tune consisting of just a simple acoustic guitar melody and Nick’s lovely vocals as he searches for meaning in his life after a period of painful unrest and awakening: “Ill equipped inquisitor descending over everything I do. Shine your light upon a year laid bare, and salt the wounds.”
Next up is “Lanch Party“, which seems to speak to the fears and anxieties one feels when becoming romantically involved with someone, worrying about whether they’ll still like you as they get to know the ‘real’ you: “Do you still regard the statue as a work of art, once you’ve spotted all the cracks? Maybe a work in progress? I’d settle for that.” The track has a bass-driven, kick-drum beat with flourishes of gnarly guitars, accompanied by Nick’s urgent vocals.
“Great Kid! Don’t Get Cocky!” is a bouncy rock tune that seems to be about struggling to keep it together in an increasingly bewildering world: “Breaking, climbing up the walls, start shaking. Skin begins to crawl. A tin can phone between our padded rooms. I’ll forever call for you.” Nick’s layered guitar work and emotion-charged vocals are great. I’m guessing “I’m A Whole Damn Town” is about the healing power of love: “Call it whatever. Things of the heart could put back together and mend what was pulling apart.” To a frantic punk-rock beat, Nick lays down intricate riffs of swirling and jagged guitar while Andrea keeps a steady rhythm with a smooth bass line.
The final track “Big Knife” is a terrific post punk tune, with a rapid guitar-driven beat that gives it a bit of a Green Day vibe. The lyrics seems to express the crippling self-doubt many of us have experienced while growing up (or even later in life like I have): “Despite a focused regimen of mental calisthenics, I could never hope to comprehend what it’s like to feel settled”, but gaining comfort through the presence of a loved one at your side: “I’m always on the edge of hyperventilating. It’s your hand on my hand that helps me breathe easy again.” Nick pours the full force of his emotions into his vocals here as he goes from a heartfelt vulnerability to plaintive wails.
Fever Dreamy is an amazing little EP that packs a lot into its 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Every track is relatively brief, yet each one of them makes an indelible impact in their economical running time. We’re left wanting more as each song ends before launching into the next lively track. Nick and Andrea are fine musicians, and Nick is quite the poetic wordsmith and vocalist. I’m anxious to hear more from this talented duo.
The lovely artwork for the EP was created by Nick’s cousin Ryan Gonzalez.
Today I’m pleased to present the exciting young British rock band Wild Horse. Formed in 2013 while in their early teens, the talented Heathfield, East Sussex trio consists of brothers Henry and Jack Baldwin (both of whom play guitar and sing vocals), and their school friend Ed “Barking” Barnes on drums. While presenting a fun, lighthearted image with their high-energy, punk-infused style of blues rock, the guys take their music seriously with dedication, thoughtful lyricism, and a mature approach towards the music business.
Wild Horse quickly began earning recognition, first being nominated for the “Rock the House” competition in 2014, then later becoming finalists in 2016. The Baldwin brothers are also prolific songwriters, and in 2015 the band signed with a New York record company who released some of their original tracks on mixed EPs, leading to the release of their first album It’s Begun in January 2016. Now working independently, they recorded and released three EPs between late 2017 and early 2018 containing a total of 16 tracks. They followed up in June 2018 with their second album Songs About Last Night, and this past April (2019) dropped their third album DANCE!! Like An Animal – is that a great album title or what!
The album addresses themes related to transitioning from horny, angst-ridden teenagers to the sobering realities of adulthood. It was recorded at Cobham Sound Studios, and produced, mixed and mastered by Niall Squire. Stephen Baldwin (Jack and Henry’s dad) played bass, Hilary Squire played saxophone and percussion, and along with Ella Squire, sang backing vocals.
DANCE!! Like An Animal begins with the abrupt sounds of Jack’s distinctive vocals accompanied by a pleasing little guitar riff as he sings the opening lyrics to “Blame“. His unusual vocal style is hard to describe, but has an endearing quirkiness as he plaintively croons in his strong British accent: “Sometimes I feel like I’m on my own. Wandering around with a gun in my hand. I swear if it happens again I’ll start a band, and I’ll write a song about all of my troubles and what’s going on in my other life. The one you haven’t seen.” After the line “Don’t want you to feel as fucked up as I do“, the music ramps up with a volley of shredded guitars and raging percussion, and I’m now hooked on the guys’ exuberant punk rock grooves that set a joyful tone for the album.
They next launch into “Frustrations“, a rousing banger about sexual tension. This time Henry sings lead, channeling equal measures of Michael Hutchence and a young Mick Jagger both in sound and swagger as he seductively teases “Can’t you see I’m into you. I suppose you’re into me. Can’t you see it’s got to be. Frustrations taking over us. Dance like an animal. Dance like an animal for me!” Jack provides his charming backing vocals that contrast nicely with Henry’s as they both let loose with some tasty riffs while Ed hammers out the sexy beat. I really dig this song.
Those sexual tensions reach the breaking point on the provocative “LISTEN! Stop Messing Around“, where Jack laments about how his sexual desires continue to go unmet by an unhappy set of circumstances: “I wanna take you out but I’ve got no money to spend. So let me take you closer, closer to my bed./ That time you nearly gave me head. Oh I was feeling blessed. Then your phone started to ring. You walked out the door and you left me wanting more./ Got fucking on my mind but it never ends that way. Oh girl can’t you see what it’s doing to me. I can barely stand up and I’m begging for you please.” The song has an infectious bouncy melody with some fine gnarly riffs.
The guys touch on the perils of excessive drinking and how it wastes both time and brain cells on “9:10“. Jack moans of his inability to stop, despite his best intentions: “And I swear to god I’ll stop at ten past nine. But another brings me wine. And all I see are blurred visions of the night, and stories about how I totally died.” “Why Do We Pretend?” speaks to the coming of age experience of discovering that perhaps a relationship you thought was great is just not meant to be. “Maybe I was wrong. Maybe we don’t get along. And we say it will all work out in the end. But we know it’s wrong. And when you don’t answer your phone, and I’ve just had enough of you. And I’m sure you have too.” The guys’ bluesy guitars, combined with Hilary Squire’s soulful saxophone and her and Ella Squire’s impassioned backing vocals, make this one of the standout tracks.
The guys keep the punk grooves rolling with “Hypnotise“, a fun, upbeat track that has Henry singing about being under the spell of a girl. But they then take a more serious turn on “The Kids Are on Drugs“, one of my favorite tracks on the album. The song starts off with Henry singing in a somber voice, accompanied by a simple strummed guitar: “The kids are all on drugs just to keep them sane. Oh the kids are all in pain, and they want to escape. But they can’t, because the world won’t let them.” The music suddenly erupts into a frantic punk song with raging guitars and furious drumbeats as the guys rail about the myriad anxieties facing today’s youth. I especially like these pointed lyrics about the toxic need for acceptance and validation on social media that I can relate to: “Lying on the street on a tab of ecstasy ’cause you only got 74 likes on your Instagram./ Social media makes them sad.”
Things lighten back up on “Seduction“, a sexy tune about the power of erotic attraction. I love the spicy little flourish of Latin guitar at the beginning, as well as the great piano keys and sultry bass line. Hilary’s soulful sax makes a welcome reappearance in the chorus. “(Can’t Believe How Much) The Night Has Changed You” is a song to a friend who remains unsettled and unable to connect with their true self: “I would say I wanna be you. But privately everyone is blue. So I’ll settle down. Settle down with who I am. And you should settle down with you.” The track has a lively, bass-driven beat with fantastic guitar work and Ed’s impeccable drumming. Henry’s vocals really sound like Mick Jagger on this track, and despite the huge contrast in their singing voices, he & Jack harmonize quite nicely.
“Impossible Words” is a bluesy number with a Country-rock vibe, courtesy of some marvelous twangy guitars and harmonica. The tongue-in-cheek song seems to wrap up the album, not only literally but figuratively, by pulling in some of the titles of other songs: “I have frustrations, and you’re the one to blame. All you do is hypnotise me baby, at ten past nine./ Why do we pretend? Cause I can’t believe how much the night has changed you.” I love it! Following this track are three ‘clean’ radio edit versions of “Blame”, “LISTEN! Stop Messing Around” and “The Kids Are on Drugs”.
DANCE!! Like An Animal is a wonderful album that I enjoy more with each listen. Henry, Jack and Ed are immensely talented songwriters and musicians, and with an already impressive catalog of music to their credit, I’m confident they will only continue to grow as artists. They’re currently in the process of writing and recording new music for another album, and I can’t wait to hear it!