This past September, I featured Argentine-born and now Los Angeles-based artist Vicious Rooster on this blog when I reviewed his darkly beautiful single “The Moon is Dancing”. The music project of singer-songwriter, musician and producer Juan Abella, Vicious Rooster draws inspiration from some of his favorite bands like The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Black Crowes, Guns’n’Roses and Alice in Chains to create his own unique style that’s a wonderful melding of classic and Southern rock, folk and grunge. Both his guitar playing style and vocals sound like he’s from Nashville or Austin, rather than Argentina. On November 25th, he released his follow-up single “Something Goin’ On“, delivering three raucous minutes of bluesy Southern rock goodness for our listening pleasure. The song was mixed by Mikal Reid, who’s worked with renowned artists such as Mick Jagger, Alice Cooper, Ben Harper, and Kenny Wayne Sheperd.
“Something Goin’ On” has a harder rock edge than “The Moon is Dancing” and I like it! Abella is a fine guitarist, and he lets er rip, slicing through the airwaves with an onslaught of layered gritty and bluesy guitars, punctuated by tasty little flourishes of distortion and highlighted by a scorching solo in the bridge. A throbbing bass line and explosive percussion keep the driving rhythm firmly on track. His fervent vocals keep pace with the intensity of the instrumentals as he exclaims to his love interest of the powerful effect she’s having on him: “Let me tell you baby, you’re breaking me in two. But there’s something goin’ on between me and you.”
If Vicious Rooster keeps putting out excellent records like these two singles and his previous album The Darkest Light, I’m confident he’ll have a long and successful career.
To learn more about Vicious Rooster, check out his website
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
This past April, I wrote a feature article about Brooklyn-based artist Jonny Polonsky, along with a review of his marvelous album Kingdom of Sleep, which you can read here. An accomplished singer-songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist, he’s been actively involved in the music industry for over a quarter century, both as a solo artist and as a session musician and/or member of a number of bands, including Big Nose (with Audioslave/Rage Against the Machine drummer Brad Wilk and bassist Tim Commerford) and Puscifer. On November 13, Jonny returned with his eighth album Power and Greed and Money and Sex and Death, featuring eight songs touching on the good, the bad and the ugly of this thing called life. He wrote, arranged, recorded, produced and engineered the album at home during the pandemic lockdown in Spring and Summer 2020. Mixing was done by Mike Tholen and mastering by Dave Collins.
The album kicks off with “Electric Tears“, a foot-stomping psychedelic rocker that seems to touch on the vow “til death do us part”. With lyrics like “To the sound of thunder we’re torn asunder / O, Dulcinea! So sweet the vulture / The main offender, the plane descender / We fall together and live forever!“, I’m guessing the two lovers are about to perish in a plane crash, confirming their love for each other. On the timely and topical “In Between Worlds“, Jonny lobs a scathing attack on racism and bigotry, and those afraid or unable to accept that America continues to evolve, both socially and demographically: “I think your thinking is deranged / I see the sadness in your soul /Morbid, bent /And strange how you still fail to see that these changing times are not your enemy.” In the terrific video, he plays both a TV newsman reporting the news and a musician performing the song on a television show stage, accompanied by footage of street protests and a defeated-looking Trump. Musically, the song has an urgent, piano-driven melody, with gnarly guitars, organ and dark synths. The piano work is especially good here.
“Imitation Life” is a lively power pop gem, with a strong driving beat and wonderful jangly guitars that give the song a retro 60s sound. Jonny admonishes another to let go of phoniness and superficiality, and live her truth: “Sad eyes, you shouldn’t waste your time / Realize, this is no imitation life. You’re alive.” One of my favorite tracks on the album is “Summer Soldiers“, a melodic tune featuring lovely vocals by singer-songwriter and former member of the Go-Go’s Jane Wiedlin. The song’s uplifting lyrics seem to be telling us not to let others define us, nor keep us from living our full potential: “Don’t let ’em lay you down and roll you out / And when you’re alone and don’t know who to trust / Tempted to self destruct / Discarded and left to rust.” The song starts off with a brief snippet of Little Richard’s hysterical laughter, then settles into a pleasing mid-tempo beat, with enchanting spacy synths, shimmery keyboards and crisp percussion. I really like how Jonny and Jane’s vocals are in perfect harmony.
On the brooding “Under Your Spell“, Jonny uses sweeping industrial synths and beautiful distorted guitars to create a haunting cinematic soundscape that gives the song a bit of a David Bowie vibe. He has an unusual vocal style that’s both raspy and breathy, which he uses to great effect on this track. The lyrics speak to him having fallen for someone who seems to be emotionally unavailable, insecure and afraid of revealing their true self: “How’d you end up on the inside? How do you know me so well? With your eyes on fire and your coat made of eagle, now I’m under your spell.” Another standout track for me is “Completely Surrounded by Love“, with its gorgeous blend of twangy and jangly guitars that give the song a folk-rock feel. The song seems to be a thank you to someone who helped him overcome his personal demons through their love and devotion: “I was afraid, so afraid of my own mind / I believed in you / I couldn’t think for my own self / But I know I am completely surrounded by love.“
Jonny saves the best for last with the stunning and bittersweet “Where the Sunset Sets“. Starting with an achingly beautiful melody, he layers shimmery keyboards, chiming guitars and airy synths to create a breathtaking atmospheric soundscape. His vocals are deeply heartfelt as he sings to someone who seems to be slipping away, possibly from dementia or even on the verge of their death: “And everything that had binded me to you, just leaves you sad and confounded / What once had been a folie a deux, is just a memory you detest. Your name, it doesn’t matter / Your face, you will soon forget / Our eyes, beaming into one another / Leave a trace in anyone you’ve ever met .” The seven-minute-long song has an epic and cinematic quality, and is my favorite track on the album.
Power and Greed and Money and Sex and Death is a wonderful album that gets better with each listen. I like how Jonny keeps things sounding fresh and varied by using different music styles, tempos and sounds on each track, and as always, the production values and arrangements are first-rate.
Jonny will be releasing a deluxe 12-inch vinyl version of the album, pressed on transparent red vinyl, with a full color cover and lyric insert with photos, and including a 16.5″x23″ fold out poster and free digital download card. Purchase of this deluxe album includes unlimited streaming of Power and Greed and Money and Sex and Death via the free Bandcamp app, plus high-quality download in MP3, FLAC and more. Shipping is anticipated on or around February 1, 2021.
Saboteurs is a terrific rock band from Lincoln, England who I first featured on this blog in June 2019 when I reviewed their superb debut album Dance With the Hunted. Now they’re back with a dark and hard-hitting new single “Shame“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. Consisting of Ben Ellis (lead vocals/guitar), Rick Whitehead (lead guitar/vocals), Geoff Standeven (bass), and Pete Botterill (drums), they combine elements of alt-rock, grunge, post-punk, metal and folk with driving rhythms, intricate melodies, powerful instrumentation and intelligent lyrics to create music that excites and surprises us at every turn.
As with Dance With the Hunted, “Shame” was produced, mixed and mastered by Hamish Dickinson at Phoenix Sound Studio, Notts UK. Angered by the failed libertarian response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and inspired by influences of bands like New Model Army, Biffy Clyro and Thrice, Saboteurs has created their most intense and brooding track yet. The song has a harder rock feel, with more pronounced elements of nu-metal and grunge than their previous songs. The band explains that the song “comments on the struggle within liberal democracies to reconcile the tension between civil liberties and the protection of society. And asks whether in fact, we are facing a Malthusian catastrophe as nature fights back against human population growth.”
The guys drive home their withering message with a furious onslaught of grungy riffs, crushing bass and thunderous percussion. The song opens ominously with spooky synths and distorted guitar chords, then we’re hit with a blast of buzz saw riffs and smashing drumbeats as Ellis angrily snarls “You sit around and say it’s a shame but you’re not us and we’re not them.” The dual raging guitars of Ellis and Whitehead set the airwaves aflame while Standeven’s powerful bass line drives the relentless rhythm forward, accompanied by Botterill’s speaker-blowing attack on his drum kit. By song’s end, I’m breathless. “Shame” is a blockbuster rock song, and it’s good to see Saboteurs back and in fine form.
Ever since I first learned about the wickedly talented and undeniably charismatic electro-rock band Heist At Five, they’ve been one of my favorite indie acts. Based in London, the band has an international pedigree: front man and lead vocalist Oskar Abrahamsson is from Sweden, guitarist Jozef Veselsky is from Slovakia, bassist Marco Paone hails from Italy, and drummer Josh Needham is from England. Together, they play an aggressive, innovative style of alternative rock that borders on experimental, with complex melodies, intricate chord progressions, spine-tingling electronic and guitar-heavy instrumentation, and electrifying vocals.
I’ve featured Heist At Five a number of times on this blog, most recently this past August when I reviewed their single “Friday Night”. (You can read some of those reviews by clicking the links under “Related” at the end of this post.) With its jubilant Latin-flavored dance-pop vibe, the song is a bit of a departure from their typical edgy and harder rock sound, though it still features many of the stylistic elements and complex instrumentation that make their music so brilliant. The terrific song has spent the past 10 weeks on my Weekly Top 30. Now the guys return with an dark and explosive new single “Faceless“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week.
About the song, the band explains: “‘Faceless’ deals with an individual who struggles to form an identity, and tries to do so by piecing together scraps of different characters. To capture the essence of this inner conflict, we invited people of different backgrounds and upbringings to collaborate, and create several layers of vocal overdubs that interpret the lyrics with contrasting emotions. The claustrophobic cluster of voices ultimately explodes in a bombastic chorus, which blends rock and metal with elements of industrial, hip hop and dubstep.”
“Faceless” is the band’s most experimental and intense song yet, incorporating the aforementioned elements of rock, metal, industrial, hip hop and dubstep to create a volcanic eruption of sound. The song blasts open with Jozef’s distorted guitar, punctuated by an explosive torrent of staccato riffs, firing through the airwaves like a rogue machine gun. Marco lays down a pummeling bass line while Josh smashes his drums with all the power he can muster, driving the relentless crushing rhythm forward. All of this is accompanied by a swirling maelstrom of tortured and spooky industrial synths, adding even greater drama to the sonic mayhem unfolding before our ears. The exquisite production, mixing and mastering of the track was done by Simon Jackman.
I always love Oskar’s highly emotive vocals, and he nicely delivers here with a mix of menacing drones and impassioned wails that are downright chilling. Additional vocals contributed by Oskar’s sister Elin Abrahamsson, SERENA, ANGIE, Sean Frost and Peter Gentry serve to heighten the levels of tension and uncertainty.
“Faceless” is a brilliant song, and a testament to Heist At Five’s ongoing growth and maturity as a band. They continue to push the envelope through their fearlessness, superior songwriting and outstanding musicianship, and I eagerly await their next musical creations.
Since the release of their terrific debut single “Hooks” in the spring of 2018, British alternative garage-rock band Black Bear Kiss have consistently put out a series of stellar singles – all of which I’ve written about on this blog. (You can read some of those reviews by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the end of this post.) With their exciting guitar-driven sound, strong charisma and rowdy live performances, the talented five-piece have built a loyal following in their home base of the West Midlands/Shropshire region of England and beyond. Making this great music are Chris Leech on lead vocals, Colin Haden on lead guitar, Rob Jones on rhythm guitar, Rich Sach on bass, and Chris Bagnall on drums.
Following up on their last single “Reach Up Higher”, an excellent song decrying the dominance of mainstream media and its often negative influence on the public, Black Bear Kiss are back with their latest single “When I Break“, which dropped October 30th. The song is a stylistic departure from their usual harder rocking sound, with a mellower, more introspective vibe, though the band once again serve up a memorable melody and the outstanding instrumentation we’ve come to expect from them. Highlights for me are the bluesy guitars and those beautiful keyboards that come in late in the song.
And then there are Chris’s warm, distinctive vocals that are particularly stunning on this track. He told me the lyrics are somewhat reflective, but he seems to question his relationship and his lover’s commitment toward it: “So we get somewhere we wanted / When does this feeling of fulfillment begin? Are we there, you know I’m counting on you, but this funny little feeling goes / So when I break darling, everything you take will wash over me.“
With “When I Break”, Black Bear Kiss keep their perfect score for producing great singles intact.
The song at #52 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “Renegades” by Ithaca, New York-based rock band X Ambassadors. The beautiful song of inspiration was already in the process of being written by the band when their label Interscope Records was approached by Jeep, who wanted a song to promote their new Jeep Renegade SUV. The band and label delivered the song within a few days, and it was simultaneously released as a single in March 2015.
The uplifting lyrics speak to courage and perseverance in living one’s life to the fullest, no matter the obstacles placed in our paths. This not only satisfied Jeep’s goal of having a song that would appeal to young people’s sense of freedom and exploration, but also had personal meaning for the band, as one of its members Casey Harris was blind since birth. The video that was later produced for the song shows several people with disabilities working to overcome their challenges. Musically, the song starts off with a lovely strummed acoustic guitar riff that slowly builds, then a thumping drumbeat ensues along with a deep bass line and swirling keyboard synths to create a stirring soundscape. Lead vocalist Sam Harris fervently sings “Long live the pioneers, rebels and mutineers, go forth and have no fear, come close and lend an ear. And I say hey, hey hey hey Living like we’re renegades.”
The song was a sizable hit, peaking at #17 on the Billboard Hot 100, and #1 on the Rock Airplay, Adult Top 40 and Alternative charts, where it spent many weeks at the top spot.
From the picturesque Isle of Anglesey in northwest Wales hails alt-rock band Dying Habit, who in mid-October released their debut album Until the Air Runs Out. Officially formed in 2016 after a few years of informally playing together, the band now consists of brothers Nathan (vocals & bass) and Mark Jones (drums), and Alan Hart (guitar). Influenced by some of their favorite bands such as Dead Letter Circus, Katatonia, Biffy Clyro, Therapy?, The Wildhearts and Karnivool, they play an intense and grungy style of melodic alternative rock with progressive undertones.
I’ve previously written about Dying Habit a few times on this blog, first in July 2018 when I reviewed their magnificent single “Unrealities”, then again this past May when I reviewed their single “Solutions”, one of the tracks featured on Until the Air Runs Out. (You can read those reviews by clicking on the links under “Related” at the end of this post.) About the album, which dropped October 16th, band front man Nathan Jones explains: “Almost a year in the making, this album portrays our passion for music, grunge, and a 90s feel which has been given a contemporary makeover. It also exploresthe difficulties of how our world changed in 2020, as well as mental health, loneliness and how even in the darkest of times there is always hope.”
It’s an ambitious work, featuring 13 tracks and running a total of 46 minutes. There are quite a few gems here, and I’ll touch on the ones that most resonated with me. Kicking things off on an ominous note is “The Prey“, a dark track with heavy stab-like riffs of grungy guitars, spooky synths and a grinding, wobbly bass line, all of which succeed quite nicely in creating a menacing vibe. I really like the instrumentals a lot, and my only criticism is that Nathan’s vocals are sometimes overpowered by the music, making it difficult for me to understand much of what he’s singing.
“Lost On You” is a great example of Dying Habit’s superb songwriting and musicianship. I love the meandering melody that goes from a moody, Nirvana-esque groove to a dramatic crescendo, highlighted by a torrent of fiery buzz-saw riffs. I cannot gush enough over Alan’s phenomenal guitar work, and Nathan does a great job on both bass and vocals here as he sings of his frustration to a partner who doesn’t value or appreciate him: “I will never burn these bridges / What are we hurting for? All my reasons, all my conscience, must be lost on you.” The beautiful track “Solutions” speaks to feelings of regret over past mistakes and hurts inflicted toward others, and yearning to make things right but not fully knowing how: “Whatever my mistakes were / Whichever lies I told / The heat is overwhelming but my skin’s remaining cold / This serenity engulfs me yet the world keeps passing by / I long to find solutions.”
I like when bands leave unintended sounds at the beginning or end of their songs, so the belch heard at the beginning “The World’s Too Big For Us” is perfectly fine by me. That said, it’s a terrific progressive grunge rock song, with a chugging start-stop groove, highlighted by a cacophonous mix of super-gnarly and distorted guitars, heavy throbbing bass and spacey synths. Along that same vein, “Red Lines” delivers a wonderful fantasia of grungy as hell riffs, accompanied by pummeling bass, Mark’s crashing percussion and wild psychedelic synths that make for a dramatic and fascinating track.
One of my favorite tracks on the album is “Out of My Hands“, an enchanting song where the band shows their softer side. The chiming guitars are simply gorgeous, and accompanied by a subtle bass line and just the right amount of percussion that allow the guitars to shine. Once again, it’s hard to make out many of the lyrics Nathan sings, but the exquisite instrumentals more than make up for it.
The title track “Until the Air Runs Out” is another great track that’s heavy on progressive grunge vibes. The song starts off with dark, ominous sounds that conjure up images of an impending battle in a sci-fi movie, then a driving, bass-heavy rhythm ensues along with wailing buzz-saw riffs as Nathan begins to sing. As the song progresses, Alan introduces an upbeat melodic riff that ends things on slightly more optimistic note. “Scared of the People We Love” is a moody six-minute-long tour de force, with an extended instrumental segment that nicely showcases Dying Habit’s outstanding musicianship and skill at playing as a tight unit. And the mesmerizing melody, stunning guitar work, and hypnotic drum beats on album closer “Nowhere to Run” are fantastic.
I must admit that I’m generally more a fan of melodic and dream rock than heavier grunge or progressive-style rock. Nevertheless, I still have a great deal of respect and appreciation for those genres, and do enjoy a fair amount of it. Dying Habit have packed quite a lot of complexity and nuance into their songs, and it took a couple of listens for me to fully get into Until the Air Runs Out. But once I did, I fell head over heels in love with this excellent album. I’ve been following this band pretty much since their beginning and I’m so proud of them. I know they worked hard on this album, and their skill and dedication for producing quality music really shows.
Nathan is also a talented visual artist, with a number of remarkable paintings to his credit. Inspired by their lyrics, album, lockdowns, and anxiety, he created this wonderful abstract oil painting titled ‘Until The Air Runs Out’:
Predictions that rock is a dying genre have been made for years, and despite the fact that not much of it seems to appear on the Billboard Hot 100 chart anymore, there’s still a lot of really great rock music being produced by musicians in America and around the world. One act doing their part to keep rock alive and well is Nashville, Tennessee band The Ivins. Consisting of brothers Jim and Jack Ivins (with Jim on guitars & vocals and Jack on drums), Hatton Taylor on lead guitar, and Regan Akers on bass & vocals, they make a hard-hitting, guitar-heavy style of rock they refer to as “Loud Alternative”. I’ve featured them twice on this blog, first in June 2017 when I reviewed their phenomenal debut album The Code Duello, then again in April 2019 with the review of their single “Certain”. (You can read those reviews by clicking on the links under “Related” at the end of this post.)
Earlier this year, they released a beautiful cover of Halsey’s song “Graveyard”, then followed in July with “Composure”, a song addressing personal serenity and overcoming anxiety that was written and recorded remotely during the COVID-19 quarantine. Now they’re back with “Bloom“, the second in a series of singles they plan to release every two months for the foreseeable future, and which will be featured on their forthcoming second album Conditions. 2020 also saw The Ivins earn a nomination for Best Alt Rock band at this year’s Nashville Industry Music Awards, and Jim Ivins spearheaded a Nashville-centric collaborative album called Quarantunes, which featured more than 50 Nashville musicians, including members of Florida Georgia Line, 3 Doors Down, Daughtry, Tonic, Relient K, CKY, Accept and The Dear Hunter.
“Bloom” is another rousing banger, with an onslaught of jangly and reverb-soaked gnarly riffs delivered by Jim and Hatton’s dual intertwining guitars. Regan drives the powerful rhythm forward with his pummeling bass line while Jack smashes his drum kit with his signature brute force. The blistering guitar solo in the bridge is terrific, as are Jim’s fervent vocals as he sings of his love and devotion to someone who makes him a better person: “That you are with me is just all I need to know. You are the water that makes all my dead leaves grow and cleansed them from poison to thrive in bloom.” He told me that the song was inspired “from personal experience in being a very lost person kind of floating through life, and how it really only takes one person and one connection to turn everything around.
Four Thousand Miles is a unique rock band with an international pedigree, in that each of its four members are from a different country, hence their name ‘Four Thousand Miles’. They started out as a collaboration over the internet, and grew to become a music project after finding that each of their own unique styles blended well together. The four band members are Alex Fearn from Liverpool, England on vocals and rhythm guitar, Lionel Pacreau from Bordeaux, France on lead guitar, Alex May from Atlanta, Georgia, USA on drums, and Liam Sibbald from Prestatyn, Wales on bass.
They’ve gathered together on a number of occasions in Liverpool to record music and film videos, and released their excellent debut single “Lonely” this past Valentine’s Day. The followed up in April with “Reflections”, which I reviewed, and are back with their third single “Demon on the Run” which dropped on Halloween. Like their previous singles, the song was mixed and mastered by Simon Jackman at Outhouse Studios in Reading, Berkshire, and delivers more of their outstanding hard-hitting melodic rock.
The guys are all terrific musicians, and really up their game with “Demon on the Run”. It’s a beautiful rock song, with stellar dual guitar work by Pacreau and Fearn, highlighted by gorgeous chiming guitars in the verses alternating with bone-crushing riffs in the choruses. Sibbald drives the powerful rhythm forward with a deep, pulsating bass line while May smashes his drum kit with impressive force.
The heartfelt lyrics are a plea for help from someone experiencing an emotional breakdown, feeling isolated and alone in their struggle to try and overcome their demons. Fearn’s powerful vocals rise to the occasion as he passionately wails “Do you know, do you know at all, what it feels like to lose control? Do you know, do you know at all, what it was like when I needed a miracle, to help myself. There was nobody, nobody else. I was lost and scared, but never running away. A miracle. Nobody else was saving me from myself.“