THE MARIGOLDS – Single Review: “Smash and Grab”

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.

Band photo by Joseph Conlon.

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Stream their songs: SpotifyApple Music / Soundclouddeezer

ZEN BASEBALLBAT – Album Review: “Rations”

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.

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Stream their music:  SpotifySoundcloudApple Music

Purchase on Bandcamp 

New Song of the Week – “Undone” by Tough on Fridays

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 special
 I really wish you were special
 No one was miserable like you
 No, no one had it as bad as you
 Oh lately
 You’ll always be temporary
 
 So point blank and in your face
 Maybe you’ll learn someday
 Make sure I’m not a necessity
 Right before you dispose of me
 Hate yourself and that’s ok
 I want out of your fucked-up game
 
 You’re in misery
 Stay far from me
 I want out of your fucked-up game
 
 You never had anyone
 You never liked to have fun
 I wasn’t just anyone
 Made me come all undone
 I was never really done
 Lie to me,
 Use me
 Stay far away
 Can’t use me up anymore

Follow Tough on Fridays:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream:  Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud / Reverbnation

Purchase:  Bandcamp / Amazon

ERIN INCOHERENT – Album Review: “Déjà Vu”

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.

Follow Erin on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream her music on Spotify / Apple MusicSoundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

JOHNNY KOWALSKI AND THE SEXY WEIRDOS – Album Review: “Until The Day”

Johnny Kowalski & Sexy Wizards album

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.

Connect with the band:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase on BandcampGoogle Play

BLUE VINES – EP Review: “Fever Dreamy”

Blue Vines

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.

Follow Blue Vines:  Twitter
Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple Music / Tidal
Purchase:  Bandcamp / iTunes / Amazon / Google Play

WILD HORSE – Album Review: “DANCE!! Like An Animal”

Wild Horse album art

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.

Wild Horse2

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!

Connect with Wild Horse:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music / Reverbnation
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Google Play / Amazon

ERIN INCOHERENT – Album Review: “Medusa”

Erin Incoherent LP

Erin Incoherent is a unique artist with a great name and a colossal talent to match. The self-described ‘singer, musician, poet, writer, mental health advocate, model, artist, makeup junkie, loudmouth and strong woman’ is a force to be reckoned with. Ever since her publicist Radio Ready PR contacted me about a possible review of her latest album Medusa, my initial intrigue about Erin and her music has grown into full-blown admiration as I’ve learned more about her. Through her honest, provocative lyrics, her writings for the webzine The Punk Lounge, and her involvement with the Trigger Warning program in Philadelphia, I’ve found her to be an unflinching and outspoken champion for mental health and issues like domestic violence and sexual abuse. She’s also a great vocalist and pretty damned skilled on the guitar and ukelele.

Born Erin Cookman, the young singer-songwriter got her start in Fort Collins, Colorado, writing folk songs and making a name for herself on the local music scene. In 2013, she released her debut album Ha Ha Ha, a collection of eight terrific folk-rock songs featuring only her acoustic guitar and strong vocals. She followed up in 2015 with a second album Miss Shitskey, which included four of the tracks from Ha Ha Ha, and later that year, released a 3-song collaborative EP she recorded with artist CinderBlock, simply titled CinderBlock and Erin Cookman. In December 2017, Erin moved to Philadelphia and in April 2018 dropped her third album Medusa, an 11-song manifesto on anxiety, trauma and pain.

Erin Incoherent

Erin’s music style tends mostly toward folk/indie rock, with punk sensibilities. She played guitar, ukelele, xylophone and sang most vocals on Medusa (with the exception of three songs she co-wrote with CinderBlock, who also sang with her on those tracks).  Tenaya Heredia played bass and Chris Beeble, who also recorded and mixed the album, played drums. The album opens with the title track “Medusa“, a catchy but rather harsh song about drug addiction, with Medusa symbolizing the monster of addiction. Erin’s aggressively strummed guitar and fervent vocals convey the powerful and conflicting emotions expressed in the lyrics:

I’ll take a, laid back, panic attack 
some Xanax mixed with, a tonic and Jack 
two and one makes three, keep your eyes on me 
20mg of Sertraline 

I’ll take one for the anger and one for fatigue, 
one for the restlessness, and one just to sleep, 
and if after half the bottle, your symptoms increase, 
don’t you worry too much, just call me. 

Medusa! Destroy me, my love forevermore 
the most beautiful thing I will see, 
Medusa turn me to stone
oh Medusa, leave me alone!

Ulcer” speaks to the pain and desolation from a failed relationship where love has died. Once again, Erin uses a metaphor, this time a broken home to symbolize her emotional state, and her lyrics paint a stark picture: “and the carpet was torn up to serve as a shortcut for people who’d rather have an easy way out / and the faucets are all rusted, don’t try them, just trust me / the last living occupants died from the drought.” The track opens and closes with a beautiful folk-sounding strummed acoustic guitar, but for the main part of the song, Erin’s more aggressive guitar riffs have a bit of a Spanish vibe.

Erin reunites with the singer/songwriter CinderBlock on three tracks, the first of which “How to Cope” speaks to struggling to keep it together and not let life’s problems from the past bring you back down: “I just need to stay off of that street at least until I’m strong enough to not sink to my knees. But every heartbreak song, like the falling leaves, are drifting through the branches of the very same trees of this rotten town, this rotten old temple.” “Lose Myself” is about weighing the consequences of surrendering yourself to romantic and emotional desires for another, and “Stronger Man” addresses the inability to get over an old flame: “I wrote ‘I miss you’ in your notebook, cause most days I do. And I don’t wanna see you, but it’s all I’m looking forward to. I remember drinking whiskey, making love, and making plans. I guess I’ll never be the stronger man.” Erin and CinderBlock’s vocals complement each other beautifully, melding together into sublime harmonies on all three tracks.

On “Destroy“, Erin sings of the damage she’s caused to a relationship, and wanting forgiveness yet knowing it may already be too late for that:  “I wish you’d forgive me. Cause I fucking hate this. The end of the rope, yeah, we’ve tied both the nooses unless you’ll have mercy AND JUST FUCKING SHOOT US! Give me a sign that’s conducive to Spring. Unless it’s too late and I’ve destroyed everything.” Her guitar work on this track is exceptionally good. “Fallen” seems to be about not allowing others’ expectations and possible disappointments in you keep you mired in guilt, and preventing you from moving forward on your own path: “Now I’m left with these scars that will not heal. The pain it devastates, but tell me, is it real? Sworn to a creed, their tired old motif. But this is not my cross to bear.”

One of my favorite tracks is “Echoes“, a dark song about a relationship that’s broken beyond repair. Erin’s skill at writing biting and meaningful lyrics is impressive, and I offer as evidence this line that so poetically expresses how two people who once loved each other could become enemies: “A smoke screen was raised, we could not smudge one another with no time to waste, how easy are foes found in lovers.” Her ukelele on this track is hauntingly beautiful, as are her emotionally raw vocals. And I love the excellent video that shows her singing the song in a graffiti-covered abandoned building that’s as bleak as the lyrics.

Splinter” speaks to the loss of self-esteem inflicted in large part by someone you once held up on a pedestal: “Oh girl, he’s just a splinter, his eyes whisper just a glimmer of the story you once told of gold in him” and the desire to feel good about yourself again: “Please, tell me I can be enough for anybody else. Please, cause I was so much happier when I could love myself.” Self-esteem takes a nosedive on the grim “Cheerleaders Smoke Crack“, another song about the struggles of addictive behaviors, with some brutally frank lyrics:

I watched myself burn out on the wrong side of the tracks,
I hitched a ride back, then watched myself fall off the wagon
It’s no use, I’ve tried, to hide in plain sight
This weight in my heart makes me try
a suicide attempt 26 stitches wide

Punk rockers, they never survive
They either burn out young or they change their mind
Not a safe place to be, for you or me
And junkies, they never grow old,
They either clean up their act or they overdose
And I guess, as long as they’re happy, I don’t mind

Alcoholics, truth be told, 
They only see their future in a bottle of Skol 
And I don’t wanna know those fools no more, 
I don’t wanna be that fool no more

And you scared me nearly half to death, 
You don’t look the same since you’ve been smoking meth, 
But we all have different ways that we lose sleep. 
We all have different ways that we lose…

The final track “Disturbia Suburbia” is also pretty unsettling. Erin plays ukelele, guitar and xylophone on this track, accompanied by a bouncy melody that sharply contrasts with the troubling lyrics about how suburbia is not all sunshine and green lawns: “An old friend killed himself before the start of Spring, I wonder if he left the weight of the world or if the weight of the world just left him hanging. / Leave it to me to get strung out, and freak everybody out then say, ‘I won’t do that again’. These days there’s nobody here, it feels surreal, so many years spent with kids I don’t even think I know, do they know me?  Disturbia Suburbia, and I hope we all get out, and I hope we all feel free.

Erin Incoherent covers a lot of heavy subject matter on Medusa, but it’s all deeply relatable and compelling, and sounds fantastic too. She’s an incredible songwriter and lyricist, and her guitar and ukelele playing are first-rate. I also like her strong, clear vocal style, which makes listening to her songs a real pleasure. All in all, I give a big enthusiastic thumbs up on this album.

Follow Erin on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream her music on Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes