MORGENDUST – Album Review: “14”

Morgendust is a Dutch alt-rock band based in Zwolle, Netherlands. Formed in 2018, the engaging quintet is comprised of Marco de Haan (lead vocals, guitars), Ron van Kruistum (guitars, backing vocals), Iwan Blokzijl (keyboards, backing vocals), Dario Pozderski (bass, backing vocals) and Andre Swinkels (drums & percussion). All are talented and accomplished musicians with years of collective experience playing in other bands and as session musicians, giving their music a maturity and worldliness that comes from having lived on this earth for a while. Through intelligent, thoughtful lyrics, they tell stories that everyone can relate to, and package them with exquisite rock melodies and beautiful instrumentation.

They released their stunning debut EP Storm Will Come in September 2019, and since then have dropped a string of excellent singles, several of which I’ve featured on this blog. You can read those reviews, as well as the one I wrote of their EP, by clicking on the links under “Related” at the end of this post. Now they’re back with an ambitious and unique new album 14, in which they reimagine eight iconic songs from the 70s, 80s, and early 90s that had a major impact on each of the band members when they were 14 years old. The band elaborates on their inspiration for making this album:

Fourteen. The age at which you discover, learn, fall and get up again. The period in your life when you experiment, do your homework, get pimples, fall in love and are really moved by music for the first time. During the various lockdowns, we were thrown back to our own environment. And just like you during this period, we rummaged through our memories in attics and cellars. That gave us the idea to pay tribute to the music we played when we were 14. No 1 on 1 covers… but mashups of our own music with our sources of inspiration. We call it a re-dis-cover.

We grew up in the 80s. The time of the Cold War, squatters, roller skates, on land, at sea and in the air and the first computers. And after years of vinyl and cassette tapes: the CD. The 80s brought bad and of course also very good music, the music from our youth. Recent research shows that the age at which you are musically formed is, you guessed it, 14. ’14’ is about songs that were very dear to us and still influence the music we make today.”

The eight songs they’ve chosen to reimagine for 14 (all of which I love too) are “Spirits in the Material World” by The Police, “This is Not America” by David Bowie & Pat Metheny, “Alive and Kicking” by Simple Minds, “Don’t Give Up” by Peter Gabriel & Kate Bush, “Walk On the Wild Side” by Lou Reed, “Big Love” by Fleetwood Mac, “Land of Confusion” by Genesis, and “Enjoy the Silence” by Depeche Mode. For the recording of the songs, they had help from two female vocalists, Cindy Oudshoorn and Judith Elders. Cindy sang co-lead vocals with Marco on “Don’t Give Up” and “Big Love”, and Judith sang lead on “Land of Confusion”. Both ladies sing back-up on most other songs.

I’m not going to go into the specifics of their interpretations of each track, but suffice it to say I think they do great justice to them all. The songs are flawlessly produced and masterfully arranged, with lush instrumental treatments, resulting in really wonderful interpretations that are distinctly their own, while still respectful of the original recordings. Marco’s warm, resonant vocals, as well as those of Cindy and Judith, are marvelous. That said, I think my favorites are “Spirits in the Material World”, “This is Not America”, “Alive and Kicking”, “Don’t Give Up” and “Enjoy the Silence”. Here are two great videos Morgendust produced for “Spirits in the Material World” and “Don’t Give Up”, which I think is the best and most powerful of the eight performances, thanks to it’s stunning arrangement and Marco and Cindy’s gorgeous vocals.

It’s also interesting that some of the songs, most notably “Spirits in the Material World”, “This is Not America”, “Land of Confusion” and “Don’t Give Up”, speak to issues that are sadly still relevant 35-40 years later.

Here’s a 14-minute long video of the band members discussing their own musical awakenings and why they chose the songs they wanted to include on 14.

Connect with Morgendust:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music / YouTube
Purchase: Bandcamp / Amazon

THE MILLION REASONS – Album Review: “Haven”

One of the perks (and there are a few downsides as well) of being a blogger who writes music reviews is getting to know a lot of musicians and bands from all over the world, some of them on a personal level. High on my list of favorites, both as musicians and humans, is Chicago-based rock band The Million Reasons. Though I’ve never met them in person, I seriously love these guys and consider them friends who honestly care about me as a person, rather than simply a blogger who can be of use to them. A few of them actually check in from time to time to ask how I’m doing, which means a lot to me. It also makes me an intensely loyal fan.   

The Million Reasons originally formed in 2016 as a trio comprised of Scott Nadeau on lead vocals, and Ken Ugel and Mike Nichols on guitars. They were joined a year later by drummer Colin Dill, then bassist Jason Cillo in 2018. I first learned about them when they followed me on Twitter in July 2018, around the time they released their magnificent single “Dizzy”. It was love at first listen, and I quickly became a big fan of theirs. Without question one of the most beautiful rock songs I’ve ever heard, I was happy to write a review of “Dizzy”. I loved it so much that it went all the way to #1 on my Weekly Top 30, and ultimately ranked #69 on my 100 best songs of the decade list.

The guys went on to release a few more singles, then in August 2019, Scott decided to leave the band. Fortunately, they quickly found a phenomenal replacement in singer-songwriter Taylor Brennan, a close friend of Colin’s, and the band lineup was complete again. Taylor brought not only his impressive vocal talents, but also great songwriting skills and years of experience, which have expanded The Million Reasons’ musical horizons quite nicely. Whereas their music had primarily been classic rock/rock’n’roll oriented, some of their new songs venture more into progressive rock territory.

Photo by Lexi Nichols

All five band members are highly accomplished musicians, several of whom are also involved with other projects. Taylor is vocalist for alternative-progressive rock band Polarizer (who’s brilliant album Love From the Underground I reviewed last November). Ken is guitarist for rock bands Guardrail and Wild Gravity, and Colin and Jason are members of covers band Dad’s Night Out. Having five members, including two guitarists, their sound is dynamic, heavy and melodic, consistently delivered with incredible riffs, tight rhythms and powerful vocals – everything we lovers of rock want to hear.

With their new lineup, the band set to work writing new songs, as well as re-working a few song ideas from their previous iteration that had never been fully-developed. This culminated in the release of their EP If Not For the Fire in February 2020, which I also reviewed. The title single “If Not For the Fire” also climbed to the top of my Weekly Top 30 chart, and ended up at #20 on my Top 100 Songs of 2020 list.

Unfortunately, the Covid pandemic cast its ugly pall soon after the EP’s release, hindering the relatively new lineup from touring or performing live to promote it. Also prevented from gathering together to record more songs, the guys soldiered on remotely, often struggling in the process. In the hopes of getting their music out to a wider audience, they signed with Pavement Entertainment in summer 2020, and once Covid restrictions were lifted, got back into the studio to continue recording songs for what would become their debut full-length album Haven, which finally dropped April 15th. It’s a beautiful work that was definitely worth all the blood, sweat and tears it took them to finally get it done and released.

The word ‘haven’, defined as a place of safety or refuge, is the perfect title for The Million Reasons’ new album, as it encapsulates all that got them to this point. The album features 11 tracks, including the four previously released on the EP, which have been re-engineered and mastered with a bigger and fuller sound. Though I did not conduct an interview, each band member beautifully articulated their own thoughts about the album, some of which I’d now like to share in order to provide some context.

Mike, Taylor, Colin, Ken and Jason

Taylor: “It’s an intensely personal album for me. But I/we always hope that our songs connect with people, whether it’s an individual or a crowd. I like to think there are enough overarching themes to speak to someone else going through the emotions represented by the songs; the highs, the lows, or especially if it’s both. It’s about one’s journey through highs and lows, no matter the obstacles, no matter the duration of the tumult. One of my favourite lyrics on this album is ‘It’s not over til it’s better’. It updates on the ’til its over’ aspect because to me the original phrase implies a potentially negative finality. The point being, I now believe there is always “better”. Even if the body shots keep coming, even if it feels like death by a thousand shots, even if “better” is achieved incrementally…if you keep going…if you work on yourself and surround yourself with love and support…it will get better. To me, that culminates in ‘Haven’. Haven is the place where you finally feel safe. The place where you finally feel home. The place where you finally feel better. The place where you finally feel like ‘you’.

To me, the album represents that natural chemistry cannot be denied. That’s obviously a theme of the lyrics, but the band also lived that. We have a great time together when we get together. Musically, we gel. I think we had the rocky start that could have ended some projects before they had a chance to get going. But we made it through and now we know what we are capable of. I love the record, I am as proud of it as anything I have done. When you have to work hard to get through adversity, the end result is that much sweeter. We’ve done that, and we like each other and this band more now than we did when we first met, I feel. So while this feels like our peak right now, like a penultimate record, I think it also represents that we’re in this together and we have what it takes to see this through indefinitely. We are a band, and a fucking good one. And we’re just getting started.”

Colin: “‘Haven’ is the culmination of 5 years of songwriting, practice, shows, line-up changes and hard work, all finally pieced together to create the true foundation and spirit of The Million Reasons as a band. The spirit being defined by keeping Rock N’ Roll alive and well and having a damn good time doing it. COVID impacted our timeline and motivation greatly. It was extremely challenging to find time to finalize writing and recording each piece whether at the studio or on our own. There were absolutely discouraging times that we would never quite get there, but we persevered and are absolutely ecstatic at the end product. I’m very proud of this album and release. I love the guys in the band like family and it’s so exciting to have this release finally happening. “If Not For The Fire” and the passion of the group, there would be no album!

Jason: “This really is a culmination of all the band’s work. Some of these songs were written during the first iteration of the group (Mike & Ken being the only remaining members) and then re-done with new vocals. I personally joined the band where the music was already mostly outlined for about half the album and the other half was written together. We write the music completely separate from the lyrics and let Taylor write on top of what we came up with. A lot of these songs came from jams or specific writing sessions in Ken’s apartment. Ken and I paired off a lot to write in a more rigid, methodical way, while Mike and Colin would go into the rehearsal space and jam with something recording them and then we’d converge on those ideas. I hope that [the album] gets in front of people who will enjoy it. I’ve never felt better about music that I’ve worked on and I know it’s good, it’s just a matter of showing the world that. Truthfully, I just want people to enjoy it and for the band to play some more shows to see that in-person.”

Ken: “‘Haven’ is our defining moment as a group and the place where we’ve established our sound. This is our base, and acts as the beginning of something special. The journey to find our ‘Haven’ over years of songwriting, lineup changes, and a pandemic; has led us here: our safe place, where we are coming into our own. The metaphorical and physical start of this new chapter of TMR. I truly believe if these songs were played to a wider audience and given the attention it deserves, we’d break out of the ‘only friends and family’ listening parties. I’d hope to start opening up for some bigger acts and get in front of new people over the next year. ‘Haven’ showcases everything the band is about and just to boost my self-esteem up a bit: I think it’s a damn good album!

Mike: “‘Haven’ is about overcoming adversity, from being at your lowest point and attaching your focus from one silver lining to the next in order to escape your rut. It’s an emotional story from Taylor’s point of view, but to me it can also represent the journey the band has gone through over the last few years. There’s darkness, but there’s light to bring us out of it. Lyrically, ‘Haven’ delves into love, loss, and self-doubt, followed by hope, confidence, and triumph over hardship. Musically, the album explores the spectrum of rock music we grew up listening to, from the poppy sensibilities of “1985” and “Alone With You”, to the high energy of “Oh, Tranquilizer” and “If Not For The Fire”, to the anger of of “All You Can’t Afford” and “Only Human”. “No North Star” might be a standout track on the album, easily distinguished by being melancholic and acoustic, but it also reads as a flashback, setting the scene for how we’ve arrived at the emotional state that came to influence the rest of the record. Track by track, there’s something for everybody. Everything about this album is overdue, it’s about time the world gets its ears on The Million Reasons. I want people to hear the album and love it. I want to play on stage for those people. I want this album to inspire people to create. ‘Haven’ is the catalyst that turns our dreams into reality.”

Well, I’ve heard the album loud and clear, and I love it more with each listen! Haven kicks off with “Oh, Tranquilizer!“, a rousing blast of atomic energy that both Ken and Mike name as one of their favorite tracks to play. And no wonder, as they deliver an onslaught of scorching riffs, fortified by Jason’s pummeling bassline and Colin’s explosive drumbeats. Taylor has a commanding tenor voice, dazzling our earbuds as he sings about our failing to clearly see what’s important amid all the noise: “Oh tranquilizer, this will be our year. You soothe the symptoms of this mania. We’ve got a lot to lose. Pay attention to the signs around. You’ve got a lot of nerve, to hear the noise but miss out on the sound.”

On the fiery (no pun intended) title track “If Not for the Fire”, the guys unleash their inner beasts, letting loose with an electrifying barrage of thunderous musical mayhem. The song is a rock masterpiece, and a highlight of the album. Taylor says the message behind the song is simple: “Do not settle. We get one go at this. Whatever makes you happiest, whatever makes you feel most alive, whatever lights you up, go fucking get it.” And once again, he raises goosebumps as he passionately wails of his need for an intense, almost obsessive kind of love that thrills and excites: “I came for the curse of, I came for the kiss of, A love divine that paralyzes. What did you come for, if not for the fire to light you up this way.”

The powerful video, filmed and directed by Philip Goode, shows Taylor seated at a table and struggling to write, juxtaposed with scenes of the band performing the song and working their magic with their respective instruments. Their energy and charisma are clearly evident.

Perhaps the most upbeat track on the album is “1985“, a bittersweet love song with an infectious and pleasing pop-rock sensibility that sets it apart from the others. I love the bouncy, guitar-driven melody, soaring harmonic choruses, and especially Colin’s spirited drumbeats. Taylor plaintively reminisces about lost time he could have enjoyed with a loved one: “Take me to 1985. I’d do it all again with you. I learned too late, the only priceless thing is time. Bring me back to 1985.

The guys get back to business churning out hard-rocking bangers on the next several tracks, starting with “Coup De Grâce“, a blistering song about a toxic and abusive relationship featuring lyrics with boxing metaphors: “Back in the ring again, absorbing the body shots. Jab to a cross then uppercut, sends me back to my corner.” I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but wow, these guys know how to deliver the rock goods, nearly blowing out the speakers with rampaging riffs and explosive, stomping rhythms. And it goes without saying that Taylor rises to the occasion with his jaw-dropping vocal gymnastics.

Shine On” has a bit of a Meat Loaf vibe, with it’s frantic galloping beat and aggressive guitar work, but especially in that Taylor’s vocals sound at times like those of the late, great singer. “Alone With You” is a proper rock tune with a catchy melody, intricate guitars, and thumping rhythms. Essentially a love song, Taylor sings of the joys of being with the woman he loves: “Anything to be alone with you. Where you go, I’m locked beside you babe. I don’t think I can get enough of you. And we are only getting started.” “Ride Or Die” starts off with a grunge vibe, highlighted by Jason’s gnarly bassline, but eventually explodes into a full-blown rocker with blazing riffs and heavy chugging rhythms every bit as good as some of the iconic rock songs of the late 70s and 80s. And on the poignant “Only Human“, Taylor pleads with a friend to not surrender to the pain that threatens to overwhelm them: “We’re far from done. But please hold on. You’re going to make it. Remember, it’s not over ‘til its better.”

Pretty Ones” is a brilliant track, with a complex melodic structure and intricate, yet powerful  instrumentation that give it a monumental prog-rock feel. Mike and Ken’s dual guitars are really spectacular here, and Colin’s drums are perfection. Taylor’s vocals are filled with intense passion as he sings the lyrics touching on restlessness and the internal struggle between putting down roots in one place or with one person vs. the desire for freedom, believing the grass is greener somewhere else or with someone else, but also fearing that perhaps we’re just running away from ourselves: “Ever after chasing down the pretty ones / Right back to the place where I am running from / In motion, stuck in motion / I fear it’s just my nature.

Without question the most beautiful song on Haven is “No North Star”, a powerful and melancholy ballad about a man ready to give up all vestiges of hope. The song opens with a mournful cello played by Alyssa Laessig, accompanied by a lovely acoustic guitar as Taylor forlornly laments about mistakes he’s made: “Four on the floor / As the shower head pours heat on me / Praying to the god of sorry / I’m sure she has questions for me.” The music gradually grows more expansive until reaching a dramatic crescendo at the end, at which point he passionately implores: “Stare in the sunken-in eyes of a ghost of a shell of a half of a half of a man / Saying what good can I be if I couldn’t be better for you / I couldn’t lie when you asked me to lie / But I’ll die if you ask me tonight / I’m going to die anyway / I might as well do it for you.” Along with “If Not For the Fire”, it’s my favorite song on the album.

The final track “All You Can Afford” is a dark and heavy kiss-off to a lover who’s pushed the relationship beyond the breaking point. The guys deliver a torrent of blistering psychedelic riffs and crushing rhythms during the first three minutes of the track while Taylor rails “I’m taking the keys to my heart and your car. I’ll leave you behind, hoping you’ll find all that you can’t afford, my love, anymore.” The music then transitions to a gritty, almost cinematic instrumental for the remainder of the song, punctuated by a rather ominous, barely intelligible male voiceover and a mix of sirens and other harsh sounds.

What more can I say that I haven’t already gushed about, other than to proclaim that Haven is a spectacular album and a glorious feast for the ears. The five talented lads of The Million Reasons have outdone themselves, and should be quite proud of what they’ve created here. This band deserves to be successful, and I hope this review will encourage my readers to give this album a listen. And if they like it even half as much as I love it, my efforts will have been worthwhile.

Connect with The Million Reasons:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud / YouTube
Purchase:  Bandcamp / iTunes / Amazon

Fresh New Tracks, Vol 11: Amongst Liars, FloodHounds & Mount Famine

As some of my regular readers and Twitter followers know, my recent bout of serious burnout caused me to decide, for the second time in six months, to quit writing music reviews. The fact that I actually do not enjoy writing, combined with a relentless and often overwhelming flood of submissions and requests for reviews from artists and PR firms, have time and again caused me tremendous anxiety and stress. On the other hand, I do enjoy lending support to indie artists and bands who follow me on social media in whatever small ways I can. Obviously, giving them a bit of press is an important part of that support. I’d like to continue doing so, but the challenge is finding a way to accomplish that without burning myself out again.

In order to continue featuring new music, I’ve decided to resurrect my ‘Fresh New Tracks’ series, which has been on a hiatus since I last wrote one in October 2021. For the series, I feature three or four new songs by various artists, with a few paragraphs about each one, rather than a full-blown review. Though they were generally well-received, I got the sense that some artists were not happy sharing the limelight with other artists or bands. But as more than a few musicians have told me, artists and bands should be grateful for any press, especially when I’m giving it to them for free.

Also, many of my reviews tend to be rather wordy and long, and being a slow, meticulous writer, they take me quite a while to get done. This seems to be a counter-productive approach in this day and age, where most people have the attention spans of a gnat. Although most artists and bands love when I write extensive and detailed reviews of their music, I’m guessing that few people actually read those long reviews in their entirety. Therefore, a short, concise description of each song would seem to be more appealing to a lot of readers who are pressed for time. With that in mind, I will make a valiant attempt to write a Fresh New Tracks post each week going forward. Today I’m featuring songs by three outstanding rock bands with great names from the UK, two of whom, Amongst Liars and FloodHounds, I’ve previously written about, as well as one that’s new to me, Mount Famine.

AMONGST LIARS – “Cut It”

Photo by Duncan Tyler

Hailing from Brighton & Eastbourne, Amongst Liars play a fiercely aggressive style of melodic hard rock, forged from a powerful trifecta of alternative rock, grunge and punk. Comprised of Ian George (lead vocals, guitar), Leo Burdett (guitar, backing vocals), Ross Towner (bass, backing vocals) and Adam Oarton (drums), they formed in September 2019 from the ashes of two successful previous bands – Saint Apache and Katalina Kicks. Not only are they all highly accomplished and talented musicians, they’re nice guys too. Ian in particular has been very supportive of me and my blog, which of course makes me a loyal fan who’s more than happy to support them as much as I can.

I first learned about them in early 2020, and was immediately blown away by their explosive debut single “Over and Over”. In the two succeeding years, they’ve followed with six more outstanding singles, many of which I’ve reviewed on this blog. Their latest is “Cut It“, a clarion call for people to stand up to abuse in all its forms. While they don’t consider themselves a ‘political’ band, Amongst Liars are not afraid to tackle some of the biggest socio-political issues of the day, including war mongering for financial gain, poverty, greed, fake news, deceitful politicians, election fraud, human rights abuses and climate change, and they’ve been outspoken advocates for social justice on several of their songs. About “Cut It”, the band explains: “These are difficult times behind many closed doors – words and actions can cause a lifetime of damage. Speak up for those being abused and bullied, and be kind – always.

The song is a ripper, overflowing with the signature searing riffs and pummeling rhythms we’ve come to love and expect from Amongst Liars. Then there’s that droning bass riff by Ross, creating a menacing vibe that chills us to the core. Ian has a beautiful singing voice that turns deadly when he needs to get his point across: “This violence bleeds silence, bleeds silence / Pray, lead us astray! Pray, just cut it!” I love the dark video, which shows the band performing the song surrounded by curtains of sheer fabric, creating powerful feelings of suffocating claustrophobia. “Cut It” will be included on their forthcoming self-titled debut album, due for release July 8th.

Follow Amongst Liars:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

FLOODHOUNDS – “Panic Stations”

Photo by Eleanor Freeman

FloodHounds are a terrific rock band from Sheffield who play a high-energy style of guitar-driven alternative rock, drenched in blues, punk and grunge influences. Formed in 2013, the band consists of Jack Flynn on guitar and vocals, Lauren Greaves on drums, and Anna Melidone, who replaced Joel Hughes on bass in summer of 2021. I’ve been following them for nearly six years, and they’re among the earliest bands I wrote about when my blog was still in its infancy, way back in October 2016 when I reviewed their excellent EP Look What You’ve Started.

In the years since, they’ve released numerous singles and a second EP Always in Sight, in 2019, and have toured extensively throughout the UK, including performances at the Isle of Wight and Liverpool Sound City festivals in 2019, as well as twice in Paris. FloodHounds remained active during the repeated lockdowns, putting out live streams and sessions for platforms such as Jagermeister, God Is In The TV Zine and Wentworth Festival, as well as self-producing a 10-track acoustic album. They also made the final shortlist of Record Store Day’s national video competition, and their innovative video for their single “Take It Too Far” garnered high placement at the London Music Video Festival 2020. Also in 2020, they released a brilliant single “Something Primeval“, a hard-hitting song about tapping into our inner resolve to survive in this world, which I also reviewed.

Now FloodHounds are back with “Panic Stations“, a stomping banger fueled by Jack’s jagged fuzz-soaked riffs, Anna’s grinding bassline and Lauren’s fearsome drumbeats. The biting lyrics call out those who spread lies and misinformation to sow fear and divisiveness, urging them to instead put their energy into trying to bring people together for a common good. “Panic Stations touches on the air of uncertainty we’ve all been labouring under“, explains Jack. “I wanted to write a song that echoed us roaring out of lockdown, and back into real life. The takeaway is that sticking together will serve us better than alienation and blind panic. It’s great fun to play live, it’s heavy but catchy, so people seem to really get on board with it.” In his arresting vocals, Jack emphatically implores “Give me something with meaning. And I will show you something to believe in. But if you just try and deceive me with all the lies that you hear blaring out your TV. It is your mission to heal division, so go and rally all the people who will listen.” It’s a great song.

Jack is also a photographer and graphic artist, and created the artwork for the single.

Follow FloodHounds:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

MOUNT FAMINE – “Distance”

Mount Famine are a rather enigmatic post punk/synth infused indie rock’n’roll project based in Derby. From what I can tell, they formed in 2019, and according to their bio, their sound is inspired by 80s bands such as The Cure, The Psychedelic Furs and Pet Shop Boys (all of whom I personally love too), and 90s bands like Manic Street Preachers, Pulp & Suede, along with “the same desire to tell stories that produce the adrenaline-fueled highs of indie disco dancefloors.” They have no photos of themselves on any of their social media, and I was told by band member Martin Stanier that they’ve steered away from photos, wanting the focus to instead be on their music. They’ve released four outstanding singles thus far, beginning in January 2020 with “Faith”, followed that July with “Pulse”, then “Lost” in February 2021, and now “Distance“, which dropped March 11th.

Martin reached out to me about “Distance” after seeing posts of my recent Top 30 song lists on Instagram, thinking it would be to my liking. Well, he was correct, as it’s right up my alley. With it’s rousing, guitar-driven melody, swirling cinematic synths and exuberant dance groove, all creating a glorious 80s-influenced wall of sound, it’s exactly the kind of sound I love. The band says the song was written and recorded on an old Roland synthesizer and beaten-up drumkit, which gives it that wonderful vintage 80s feel. The lyrics speak to the speed of life, and how it passes by with the blink of an eye, a sentiment they beautifully capture in the frenetic video.

Follow Mount Famine:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

ALEXIS GERRED – Double Single Review: “Unbreakable” feat. MiG Ayesa & “Mary Go Round”

Alexis Gerred is an engaging and multi-faceted artist based in London, England. He began his career on stage, performing in productions of American IdiotOur House, Dreamboats and Petticoats, The West End Men, and Rooms, but his true passion is for music and singing. I last featured him on this blog in November 2018, when I reviewed his wonderful debut album Alexis (which you can read here). Now, I’m pleased to share his new double single “Unbreakable“, featuring vocals by MiG Ayesa, along with “Mary Go Round“, a cover of the song originally recorded by The Struts. 

“Unbreakable” was written by Gerred and produced by TylaJoe Connett, and is the lead single from his forthcoming EP, due for release later this year. The song features guest vocals by MiG Ayesa, the acclaimed Australian-Filipino singer and actor who’s performed on Broadway and London’s West End in such mega hits as Rock of Ages, Thriller Live, Annie, and We Will Rock You. It was Ayesa who’s responsible for inspiring Gerred to become an entertainer himself.

When Gerred saw his very first musical We Will Rock You, based on the career and music of Queen, in London’s West End and starring Ayesa, it was a revelation. He recalls: “I watched MiG Ayesa take to the stage and his delivery, passion and charisma flipped a switch inside me. Although I had never even attempted singing a note before, I knew I wanted to emulate him and follow a path that would one day see me up on that stage, too. I’ve followed his career and plucked inspiration from so many things he’s done. One that stands out in particular was his time on ‘Rockstar: INXS’ where I loved his rock ‘n roll style of showmanship.”

Having Ayesa record a song with him was a dream come true for Gerred, as not many artists get the opportunity to collaborate with the star who inspired them to make music to begin with. And let me state that the combination of these two talented and charismatic vocalists results in sonic fireworks. “Unbreakable” is the hardest rocking song Gerred’s ever done, and he really summons his inner beast to great effect, his raw vocals nicely contrasting and complementing Ayesa’s somewhat smoother vocal delivery. Musically, the song has an aggressive stomping groove and deliciously funky vibe reminiscent of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I love the thunderous, driving rhythms and blistering guitars that hit full throttle in the bridge, highlighted by a screaming guitar solo that’s matched by note for note by the guys’ explosive vocal alchemy. Wow!

Collaborating on “Unbreakable” with Ayesa is even more meaningful given the personal nature of the song, which is based on a negative experience with a former acting agent. The song is about staying driven and focused on one’s dreams, an important message for many of us in today’s challenging, uncertain world. Gerred elaborates “This song is about resilience and determination. If I can inspire someone to take charge of their own lives and bounce back from adversity, that’s my goal.”

On his beautiful cover of the Struts song “Mary Go Round”, Gerred does great justice to the original, while making it his own. His vocals are a powerful combination of vulnerable and raw, beautifully conveying the feelings of pain and heartache of a broken relationship expressed in the poignant lyrics. “How long before my little pill starts kicking in. How long before your broken heart starts giving in? Here we go up, here we go down. Mary go round and round and round.”

It’s great to see Alexis Gerred back and sounding better than ever. Both “Unbreakable” and “Mary Go Round” are superb, and if the rest of the tracks on his upcoming EP are even half this good, it’s going to be a winner.

To learn more about Alexis, check out his website
Connect with him on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music on Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase on iTunes

UNQUIET NIGHTS – Single Review: “In Spite of It All”

Unquiet Nights is an outstanding rock band with a somewhat unusual career trajectory. Originally started in Belfast, Northern Ireland as a solo project by singer-songwriter and guitarist Luke Mathers in 2006, he began recording tracks with help by Rodger Firmin on drums for what would become the first Unquiet Nights album 21st Century Redemption Songs. In 2010, Luke relocated to Italy, where he eventually finished and released the album.

He was later joined by Italian musicians Francesco Piciucchi on bass and keyboards, and drummer Matteo Bussotti for live shows, though Rodger still played drums on their recordings. In 2015 they released their beautiful and compelling second album Postcards in Real Time. One of the tracks from that album, “George Best City”, which was never released as a single but was used in the Federico Buffa Racconta documentary series, landed them several live national appearances on Italian TV stations. Their best known and most successful song, it’s now garnered more than 355,000 streams on Spotify. Luke moved back to Belfast in 2016, where he continues to record and release music with Rodger and Francesco as Unquiet Nights.

Rodger and Luke working their magic

I first learned about them in early 2018 when Luke reached out to me about their superb single “Promise of You”, which I reviewed. They quickly followed with “Young Believers”, then a year later they released another stellar single “Four Winds“, which I also reviewed. I enjoyed that song so much it ended up ranking #76 on my Top 100 Songs of 2019 list.

Now Unquiet Nights are back with a new single “In Spite of It All“, which they’ve released in conjunction with their third album First Ten (2012-2022). A sort of ‘greatest hits so far’, the album commemorates the ten year anniversary of their debut album 21st Century Redemption Songs, in recognition of their impressive body of work over the past decade. The album features ten songs they feel are an important part of their musical journey up to this point, including two songs from 21st Century Redemption Songs, three from Postcards in Real Time, the three standalone singles listed above, and the new one written especially for this collection, “In Spite of It All”. As depicted in the art work for the album, all ten songs are gems, written and produced by Luke, and flawlessly mixed and mastered by Neal Calderwood. 

Though not quite as hard-hitting as their last three singles, “In Spite of It All” is a beautiful rock song nonetheless, with a somewhat gentler, more melodic sound. As always, Luke’s guitars are gorgeous as he lays down an intertwining mix of urgent riffs and chiming notes over a hypnotic driving rhythm, courtesy of Francesco’s beautiful humming bassline and Rodger’s propulsive drumbeats. Francesco’s sparkling synths are the added jewel in the crown, beautifully complementing Luke’s swirling guitar to create an enchanting and exciting backdrop for his clear, plaintive vocals.

The lyrics seem to address the fact that the journey of life can be difficult and full of obstacles, and to make it, you shouldn’t follow the crowd, but instead forge your own path forward, learning from your mistakes and staying true to yourself: “You don’t have to jump just ’cause they tell you to jump. You don’t have to dance just ’cause they call you up. You don’t learn to walk before you learn to crawl. But you keep moving forward still in spite of it all.”

And here’s the full album, available for purchase on Bandcamp at a very reasonable price. I just bought mine!

Connect with Unquiet Nights:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on  Spotify / Apple MusicSoundcloud 
Purchase on Bandcamp / Unquiet Nights Online Store

THE IVINS – Album Review: “Conditions”

I’ve been following Nashville alt-rock band The Ivins for nearly five years, and have had the pleasure of featuring them several times on this blog. I first wrote about them back in June 2017 when I reviewed their excellent debut album The Code Duello, then again in April 2019 with a review of their single “Certain”, followed a year and a half later, in November 2020, when I reviewed their single “Bloom” (You can read those reviews by clicking on the links under “Related” at the end of this post.) This past November, the talented four-piece dropped their second album Conditions, and like The Code Duello, it’s an ambitious work, featuring 13 stellar tracks.

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, the engaging four-piece plays a hard-hitting, guitar-heavy style of melodic rock. Their intelligent, thought-provoking lyrics are delivered with Jim and Regan’s earnest and raw, yet pleasing, vocals, backed by intricate riffs, sturdy basslines and aggressive percussion (courtesy of Jack’s athletic agility on his drum kit). On Conditions, the guys really pushed themselves further than they ever had before, and the result is an exciting, melodically complex and beautiful rock album. They were assisted by Michael Zuehsow on engineering and production, Robert Venable and Zach Scott on mixing, and Duncan Ferguson on mastering. Additional last-minute mixing and mastering were done by Caleb Sherman and Andreas Magnusson.

Before I get to my review, I want to share some heartfelt words Jim wrote about the album on his Facebook page: “I have never tinkered, worked harder on or been more emotionally invested in a record than this one. And it certainly beat the hell out of me. From that first day, it’s been a slog full of intense writer’s block, songs changing in editing, songs changing in mixing, re-writing lyrics, re-playing guitar parts long after they were “finished”. I had to go to a damn one-room cabin in the middle of the Tennessee wilderness alone for several days just to get the lyrics out (and that would prove to be just the first draft). And all of this drama is only fitting given the content. Going back to the beginning, this record started with a panic attack. A truly frightening, paralyzing episode the likes of which I had never before experienced and where I legitimately thought I was going to die. The ensuing mania that defined the next several months had me convinced that my girlfriend was about to go running for the hills. Sooooo that’s kinda what this record is about…..OK, maybe not entirely. But it’s basically a snapshot of my life from when I was turning 30, and all of the anxiety and fear that I had never experienced is the nucleus of it all. But it’s not all doom and gloom. There are legitimately HAPPY songs on here! A few! I wrote a true love song for the first time in a decade after I had literally forgotten how to do it (I thank Matt Nathanson for showing me the way, writing for his last album that his goal was to write something sincere about his wife without sounding like a Hallmark card).

This record is also significant because it may be the only real “band” album that I have ever made. While Jack and I made the last one, this one was made by the FOUR of us – Jim, Jack, Hatton & Regan. ‘Conditions’ shines because of that and I am so so proud of it. I’ve been making records since I was 15 and have made something like ten or so and this very well may be the best one I’ve ever made. I’m not sure yet. I’ve lived in it way too long to see the forest from the trees and objectively make that determination. But if you are looking for a really interesting 46 minutes that takes you on a journey, I implore you: give this album a listen. I really think it’s great and that you will enjoy it.

Well, I gave it a listen all the way through from beginning to end, and let me say I was dutifully impressed, which doesn’t happen very often when I first listen to an album. All 13 tracks are strong, with no filler or toss-offs, and I’ll touch on most of them in my review. Things kick off with “Better Days“, a rousing rocker that serves not only as the opening track, but also as an introduction to the album’s overall theme. The lyrics speak to feelings of inadequacy and that your efforts don’t matter in the scheme of things, but hoping that will all change: “I long for better days. Days that haven’t happened yet. A future’s past worth remembering./ Because the only thing worse than worry is indifference.” The song features an abundance of time and melody changes that make for an arresting listen, and I love the shimmery guitars and atmospheric vibe in the bridge, during which Jim softly croons the line that makes me think the song is about him wanting to be valued as a musician – “Waiting for you to understand that rock’n’roll ain’t dead yet” – before everything erupts into a raging crescendo in the final chorus. It’s a great song.

On the hard-driving “All I Want“, Jim issues a plea for a return of the love he thought was his: “All I want is to feel the love you laid aground“, while the catchy ear worm “Begin Again” finds him ruminating about his feelings that his life is an endless cycle of disappointment: “Love only gives what you deal out, but you can’t leave out yourself. You can’t, you can’t begin again, when you find your middle never had an end.” The jangly guitars and and swirling synths gives the song an 80s feel.

One of my favorite tracks is “Love Tonight“, thanks to its infectious dance groove, Regan’s wonderfully sultry bassline, Jim and Hatton’s scorching riffs and Jack’s thumping drumbeats. Another standout is “Hide & Lie“, inspired by Jim’s difficulties with making small talk, and how he’s used alcohol to loosen up, as he elaborated to Gerard Longo for Nashville webzine Underground Music Collective: “When I was single, I was never the guy who could effectively do bar banter. Finding, talking and picking up girls from a large group of people? Not my thing, no matter how much I wanted it to be. Same goes for regular interpersonal relationships — never very good at networking, never very good at getting past that initial 30-60 second ‘how’ve you been?’ phase of conversations. So, simply put, alcohol was, is, my security blanket.”

The entertaining and humorous video for “Hide & Lie”, filmed at the Old Glory bar in Nashville, shows the band playing an audition performance at a bar where they’re having a hard time impressing the owner. To help them play better, they indulge in a bit of liquid courage served up by a sexy bartender played by Monique Staffile of Nashville rock band HER.

The great tunes keep coming. “Growing Pains” is a beautiful, melodically complex song highlighted by a flourish of wobbly distortion that would make Jimi Hendrix proud. The anthemic and pleasing “Patient” features some really pretty guitar work, nicely accompanied by Jack’s assertive drumbeats that give the song considerable heft. “Canyons” is a hauntingly beautiful rock song about missing a loved one who’s gone: “So what if I stayed in a dream? Would it make me closer to you, or would I just sleep. Because I know if I open my eyes, I’ll lose you again.” As always, the guitar work is fantastic, highlighted by gorgeous chiming notes. The grungy, anthemic “Scream” speaks to not allowing fear and complacency to rule your life: “It’s hard to let go, when comfort is controlled.”

The album closes on a powerful note with “Chameleon“, one of the darkest, most intense songs The Ivins have ever done, and I love it. The guys pull out all the stops on this song, unleashing a barrage of gritty, reverb-soaked riffs, pummeling rhythms and soaring choruses. The guys’ intricate, textured guitar work is really spectacular, and I love the spooky industrial synths throughout the track. My only criticism is that the instrumentals are so big and bombastic, they overpower the vocals, making them difficult to understand. But my guess is that they’re about politicians – or anyone without conviction really – who talk out of both sides of their mouths, trying to please everyone with their doublespeak, but pleasing no one in the end.

Conditions is an outstanding, beautifully-crafted album that nicely showcases The Ivins’ growth and maturity as both songwriters and musicians. They’re a talented, underrated band who deserve to be more popular and successful. Hopefully, this review will bring them at least a few more fans, which is what I aim for at the end of the day.

Connect with The Ivins:  Website /  Facebook /  Twitter /  Instagram
Stream their music:  YouTube /  Spotify /  Apple Music
Purchase it:  iTunes /  Amazon

SECRET POSTAL SOCIETY – 2021 Year-End Recap

Six months ago (in July 2021) I wrote a feature article about Secret Postal Society, the music project of Welsh singer-songwriter, composer and multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire Craig Mapstone, in which I focused on his intent to write and record a new song every week throughout 2021 (read my article here). At the time, he had successfully reached the halfway point in his very ambitious goal, with 27 songs under his belt. Well, I’m happy to report that Craig fully achieved his objective of faithfully releasing a new song every week, and by year’s end, he’d put out a total of 53 songs, including two Christmas-related tracks. He’s now asked his followers to let him know what our five favorites of his many songs are, and I’ve decided to write this post to tell him! 

Secret Postal Society - Craig Mapstone

Before I get to my picks, I want to say a few things: First off, Craig is one of the kindest, most gracious and humble musicians I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know as a music blogger, and I’ve become quite fond of him both professionally and personally. He’s also incredibly talented, creative, and hard-working, and his discipline and ability to remain laser-focused on his goal puts many others – including me – to shame. Which leads to my second point, that I’m absolutely dumbfounded by his impressive output. The ability to write, record and release a new song – along with an accompanying video – week in and week out for an entire year is amazing in itself, but to achieve such a high level of quality in nearly every track is nothing short of astonishing.

Though his sound can generally be described as singer/songwriter-oriented pop and soft-rock, infused with touches of indie folk, his music is actually fairly eclectic. Some of his songs feature elements of grunge, progressive, post-punk and alternative rock, so there’s something for just about everyone in his discography (other than for fans of R&B or hip hop). It was extremely difficult winnowing down my list of favorite Secret Postal Society songs to only five, but herewith are my top five picks, followed by six honorable mentions that could all have easily been among my top five. Worth noting is that most of my favorites were written and recorded in the latter half of the year, an indication that Craig’s songwriting and musicianship grew better and stronger the more songs he wrote. 

1. Fly

Though Craig doesn’t have an especially powerful voice, its comforting warmth is well-suited to his generally laid-back musical style, and no more so than on “Fly“, my favorite of all his songs. His 21st song, released last May, it’s his longest track, running over six minutes, and also his most beautiful. Craig’s twangy strummed guitar notes, accompanied by lovely strings, xylophone, and what sounds like a mellotron, create a hauntingly beautiful soundscape. His gentle vocals exude a deeply heartfelt sense of sadness as he sings the bittersweet lyrics expressing pain and regret over a relationship that’s ended, but remembering glimmers of what brought you both together in the beginning: “The ones we love are the ones we hurt the most. We fly so close. We fly so close. I kissed you once, and it took my breath away.”

The accompanying video is courtesy of The Internet Archives, and features footage from the classic 1923 silent film Safety Last!, directed by Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor and starring Harold Lloyd.

2. A Thousand Times

Released in July as his 31st song, “A Thousand Times” is a perfect pop tune, with a breezy vibe reminiscent of songs by such bands as Fleetwood Mac, The Outfield and the Gin Blossoms. Craig’s jangly guitars and sunny synths are delightful, and the song is just so catchy and feel-good that it makes me happy. The lyrics seem to speak of a budding romance between two people who’ve been playing emotional footsie with each other for a while: “We both have secret smiles and glances. We play games young lovers still play. I believe we deserve second chances. I’ll wait a thousand times for you love.

3. Alive

While it might not be one of Secret Postal Society’s most interesting songs from a musical standpoint, “Alive” is nevertheless one of my favorites because of Craig’s thoughtful lyrics, not to mention that it was released on my birthday in August as his 35th song. Many of his songs speak not only of romantic love, but love for humankind and each other, and this one’s a fine example of that. He acknowledges that while he may not be all that important in the scheme of things, he’s glad to be alive, and urges us live our lives with love and understanding for one another: “So we fight to survive through the lows and the highs ’cause we’ve got to keep going. So I look in your eyes. You know it’s OK to cry. I’m just grateful that you are alive.” It’s a warm and pleasing track, and the guitars and keyboards in the bridge are really lovely.

4. I Will Follow You

Released in October as his 40th song, “I Will Follow You” has a strong R.E.M. feel, which is why it appeals to me so much. Craig’s a fine guitarist, and his work is especially good on this track. The lyrics are spoken to a loved one, assuring them that they’ll always have your love and support: “Time and again I was always with you as a friend. But I guess that I never told you. I know that life’s hard. No one said it was easy at all. But we’ll be fine, and I will follow you.” The beautiful video was produced by Yaroslav Shuraev (Pexels). 

5. Something From Nothing/Points of Light 

Released in November as song #47, “Something From Nothing/Points of Light” is sort of a couplet, like having two songs for the price of one. With its urgent, intricate riffs and driving melody, “Something From Nothing” has a Foo Fighters vibe, but unlike the Foos’ similarly-titled song that ends in an explosive crescendo, Secret Postal Society’s ends on a calm, lovely and contemplative note with “Points of Light”. I like that Craig’s young son Reuben sings these optimistic closing lyrics along with him: “Don’t you let your sun go out. And never let the others dim the shine of hope you have inside. I see in you the light eternal.” 

Very Honorable Mention:

Numb – A terrific alt-rock song with swirling synths and a great guitar riff reminiscent of “Lazy Eye” by Silversun Pickups

Hurt – A darkly beautiful, grungy track with industrial-sounding synths and fantastic reverby guitars.

Halfway There – A lovely guitar-driven track featuring shimmery keyboards and Craig’s soothing vocals, with optimistic lyrics addressing both his half-year milestone, but also a struggling relationship halfway toward its fulfillment.

A Song For Leaving You – A great kiss-off song with a captivating hip-swaying beat, spacey synths and some really gorgeous guitar work.

What’s Up Dude? – A languid and cool alt-rock song co-written and sung by Craig and his young son Reuben, with lyrics directed at slackers, encouraging them to get busy: “This is not a game of chance, you have to do the work, SO DO IT!

It’s Not a Christmas Song (Unless the Sleigh Bells Are Ringing) – A thoroughly delightful contemporary Christmas song that’s as good as many I’ve heard from major artists. And once again, we’re treated to Reuben’s sweet vocals.

Craig is now enjoying a well-deserved rest from his exhaustive songwriting and recording schedule, and isn’t quite sure where he’ll take Secret Postal Society going forward. But I for one hope he’ll continue putting out more great songs, albeit at a more reasonable pace.

Follow Secret Postal Society:  Facebook / Instagram 

Stream his music:  Spotify / Apple Music / YouTube

CARBONSTONE – Album Review: “Dark Matter”

Carbonstone is an industrial alternative metal band from Baltimore, Maryland that I learned about a few weeks ago when their front man, songwriter and vocalist Corey James reached out to me about their latest album Dark Matter. Influenced by such acts as the Rolling Stones, Korn, Nine Inch Nails, Static-X, Linkin Park and Starset, among others, Carbonstone creates hard-hitting, yet incredibly melodic music fueled by powerful driving rhythms, explosive riffs and lush industrial soundscapes, and fortified by James’ exceptional vocals.

James originally formed the band in 2005 under the name ‘Unspoken’, but later briefly changed their name to ‘Carved in Stone’, until someone misheard him, thinking he said ‘Carbonstone’. In a conversation with bandmate Neely Johns I watched on YouTube, James humorously recalled the exchange he had with someone at a party: “Somebody asked me ‘So what’s the new band name?’, and I said ‘It’s Carved in Stone’. When you have about 15 beers in your system and try to say Carved in Stone, it slurs out a little bit. He repeated Carbonstone back to me, and I said ‘Holy shit, that’s now the band name!’

Carbonstone released three albums, Behind Closed Doors, Process of Elimination and What You’ve Become, as well as two EPs Unspoken and Strength in Silence, before life demands, the pressures of touring and burnout ultimately led the band to call it quits in 2014. Everyone went their separate ways, and James came very close to giving up on music altogether. But he could never fully let it go, and after a hiatus lasting more than five years, James once again felt the pull of music. In 2019, he decided to resurrect Carbonstone with former bandmate Neely Johns on guitar, along with new members Daniel Ryan on bass, Tony Correlli on synths and production, and TJ Darpino, who handles the extra live guitars and produces the band’s videos. Armed with three previously-written songs and several new ones he wrote during the first three months of 2021, James got together with his bandmates in April, and spent the next six months recording Dark Matter.

Released in late October 2021, Dark Matter is a gorgeous work, featuring 11 outstanding tracks plus a brief instrumental intro. The album was masterfully arranged and produced by band member and engineer Tony Correlli. As implied by its title, it’s a dark concept album inspired by some of the personal traumas James experienced in the years after Carbonstone’s breakup in 2014. He says the album contains some of the most personal songs he’s ever written, which take us on a journey from initial injury, as depicted on the opening instrumental track “Laceration” and following track “AM Trauma”, through the process of addressing personal demons and beginning the recovery from emotional trauma, as described by “Mend” midway through the album, to a state of well-being on the closing track, “Heal”.

The opening instrumental track “Laceration” establishes a moody tone with ominous atmospheric industrial synths, highlighted by darkly beautiful piano keys, before launching into the full-frontal assault that is “AM Trauma“. The guys layer an intense barrage of gnarly riffs over a chugging bassline and pounding drums, all of which explode into a raging torrent in the choruses. James has a beautiful, arresting vocal style that’s perfect for hard rock. His voice reminds me at times of Trent Reznor or Adam Gontier, effortlessly transitioning from seductive breathy croons to bone-chilling impassioned wails as he sings “Have you recovered. You won’t admit you never knew me, and you’ll pay for the way you deceived me. AM trauma, look at what you’ve done!/What have I become? All eyes on me, I am a catastrophe!

Hush” is a dramatic and melodically beautiful rock song with intricate guitars that run the gamut from shimmery to shredded, accompanied by swirling industrial synths and galloping percussion. The lyrics speak of being unable or unwilling to face one’s demons, choosing instead to suppress them in the mistaken belief they’ll just go away: “Ever feel like you’re always faking. It’s all in how you hold secrets left untold. You’d never know I’m suffocating.”

Bookended by rather spooky dulcet tones one would hear on a music box, “Phantoms” is a melodically complex tug of war between the calm of a lovely rock ballad and the explosive aggression of industrial metal. James plaintively laments of the demons – i.e. phantoms – that torment him: “I am forever haunted. These phantoms live beneath my skin. If I descend to madness, just look away and pray for me.” And on the heavy and dark “Mend“, he fears he’ll never experience happiness again: “I can never feel that way again. It’s so unreal the way I bend. Push and pull me closer to the edge. These open wounds will never mend.”

One of my favorite tracks on the album is “My Own Summer (Shove It)“, an excellent cover of the Deftones classic. Carbonstone does the song great justice, capturing the intense, eerie vibe of the original while making it their own, and James’ jaw-dropping vocal gymnastics are every bit as good as Deftones lead singer Chino Moreno’s. The title track “Dark Matter” is a powerful and stunning song with elements of Depeche Mode and Muse, only much more intense. James rails about the burdens he’s carried his entire life: “Cause I’ve carried the weight of the world, from the very day that I was born. Been buried underneath again, forever walking with the dead.”

The parade of excellent songs continues with “Pins & Needles“, featuring the dual vocal harmonies of James and his wife Chrystal, who’s the lead singer of metal rock band ANOXIA (of which James is also a member). Her beautiful vocals remind me a bit of Evanescence lead singer Amy Lee. The lyrics are a plea for help to escape from emotional torment: “I’m locked alone inside my head, it’s like a carnival. Somewhere between alive and dead, I’m just a tragedy. Rescue me from myself, the enemy.” “Vertigo” is a hard-driving banger addressing the negative impacts the cruel, hard ways of the world have on our souls: “It’s not your fault, the way you are. This fucked up world will leave you scarred. It tears you up and lets you down. This vertigo drives us underground.”

Another favorite of mine is “Kill the Dark (Astray)“, a stunning piano-driven ballad that’s the most melodic and beautiful song on the album. James’ breathy vocals are captivating as he sings of coming out of the dark and moving toward recovery: “Inside you scream, until it bleeds. Let’s kill the dark in you and me. Feel it all break, shattering away. Every move we make leads us more astray.” “Heal” closes the album on a high, albeit intense note, with a strong Nine Inch Nails vibe. James’ menacing vocals even sound like Trent Reznor’s as he passionately sings “The hardest part is letting go. It’s diving into the unknown. An empty space that you can feel. Sometimes the fall is how we heal. Do you feel better now?

Dark Matter is a phenomenal, beautifully-crafted album brimming with impactful songs dealing with emotional trauma and the self-realization required for eventual healing. Carbonstone should be very proud of what they’ve created here, and this album needs to be heard by as many ears as possible. They’ve got a fan in me, and I hope my readers will love this album as much as I do.

Connect with Carbonstone:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream their music:  SpotifyApple MusicAmazon Music / YouTube

NEVER APART – Single Review: “Sick of It”

I have a special fondness for female-fronted bands, and British group Never Apart fit the bill quite nicely. Consisting of the talented Alice (Al) Clarke (lead vocals), Rhys Scott (rhythm guitar), Ben Ollis (lead guitar), Nathan Gummery (bass) and Louis Baille (on drums, who recently left the band), the Coventry-based group plays a hard-hitting style of edgy melodic rock, with compelling lyrics addressing such issues as relationships and emotional well-being that many of us can relate to. They released their debut single “Damaged” in late 2019, then followed in May 2020 with “Hold On Hope“, which I reviewed. Now they return with a terrific new single, “Sick of It“, which dropped January 7th.

Never Apart wastes no time getting down to business, blasting through the speakers with a torrent of raging guitars before things settle down to a throbbing bass-fueled groove, overlain with chugging riffs of gnarly guitars and heavy thumping drumbeats. The music ebbs and flows with each verse and chorus, punctuated by a beautiful interlude of shimmery guitars, sparkling synths and delicate piano keys in the bridge, only to explode into a dramatic barrage of shredded guitars and pummeling rhythms in the final chorus. The band’s musicianship is impressive, and gets better with each new release.

Alice has a commanding vocal style that’s well-suited to the band’s heavy rock sound, and on this track her clear, highly emotive vocals are quite effective in conveying a strong sense of exasperation and anger as she belts out the searing lyrics in which she gives her former lover the big kiss-off.

You’ve got some nerve boy 
you're playing me like a toy 
with all that I ever do 
it seems its always too much for you 
But now you won't see me 
I'm running away from you 
pleasure is pain now baby 
more fool on you 
  
You broke the wall around me 
built up the lie I believed 
you burned it all now 
I'm so sick of it  
you dragged me down to the ground 
so lost but thought I was found 
you burned it all now 
I'm so sick of it 
 
I gave you everything 
now you’ll never see me again 
with all of your games in my head 
I’ll never forget. 
But now you won’t see me 
I'm running away from you 
Your pleasure is pain now baby 
more fool on you 
 
Why am I so hard to please 
cried my eyes to start to freeze 
 
You burn it all

Connect with Never Apart:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream/Purchase their music:  Spotify / Apple MusicYouTube

TARRASKA – Single Review: “Prose”

I’m still in southern coastal England, as I’m now writing about my third consecutive British act in the form of Tarraska, a talented rock duo based in Bournemouth. Formed in 2014, Tarraska consists of lifelong friends Jack Lande and Ben Parker, who’ve had music in their blood since early childhood, as evidenced in this sweet photo of themselves they recently shared on Twitter.

Tarraska started out as a mostly acoustic cover band, but within a few years the guys began writing their own songs, and incorporating more electric guitars and heavier bass into their dynamic blend of classic and modern hard rock. Influenced by some of their favorite acts like Myles Kennedy, Tremonti, John Mayer, Slash, Aerosmith, Van Halen, Whitesnake, Iron Maiden, Five Finger Death Punch, Alter Bridge and Foo Fighters, their music took on a harder rock edge, characterized by heavy riffs, hard-driving rhythms and aggressive vocals. Jack plays rhythm and acoustic guitar and sings vocals, Ben plays lead, rhythm and bass guitar.

The guys released their debut single “Trailblazer” in May 2020, and followed that December with “Renegade”, which I featured on a Fresh New Tracks post this past February. Now they’re back with their third single “Prose“, which dropped December 3rd. All three singles will be included on their forthcoming self-titled album, due out in early 2022. A beautiful rock ballad that’s a departure from their typical harder rock sound, “Prose” became a fan favorite after Tarraska played it in their live shows. In response to the song’s positive reception, including even frequent requests for its lyrics, the guys felt it was the obvious choice for their next single release. They decided to record “Prose” with their full rock sound, and the result is a magnificent, deeply moving track that I think is their best release to date.

Jack reflects on his inspiration for writing the song: “The lyrics for ‘Prose’ were written to honour the many, many influences, artistic and familial, that have helped shape both my lifelong love for my art and who I am as a person. Of course, for me personally the lyrics refer to music, story and poetry as these are the mediums I resonate most strongly with, though for others it may be dance, painting or any number of other pursuits. I therefore see ‘Prose’, as I hope others will too, as a love song not for any one person, but for the ideas and emotions that so many have been able to express only through their dedication to, and love for, their craft.”

The track was recorded and mixed at Absolute Studios in Bournemouth by Gareth Matthews of GMMix, and mastered by Grammy-winning Brad Blackwood at Euphonic Masters in Memphis, Tennessee. Fellow musician Allan Varnfield played drums on “Prose”, as well as many of the songs on their forthcoming album, and will hopefully be joining the guys for live shows in 2022. About the recording process, Ben elaborates: “We knew the arrangement of ‘Prose’ was going to command our utmost attention; it was a delicate balance between a waltz and a rock ballad. Through its metamorphosis in the studio, the song unfolds from its acoustic roots to a powerful, yet melodic, ballad that hopefully captures you within its numerous dynamic shifts.”

As Ben alluded, “Prose” starts off with a beautifully-strummed acoustic guitar, as Jack tenderly sings “The songs and the stories of childhood, made me who I am today. And if I could thank you then I would, for lighting the path that I take. Expression committed to page…” As the song progresses, more guitars, bass and percussion enter, flowing and ebbing with each chorus and verse, becoming more intense in the choruses when Jack passionately sings “Your numinous prose, the verse and the line. The depths of your mind, slowly composed for you at the time. But the meaning implied, spoke to my soul, and taught me to hope, to love and to hold.” It all builds to a dramatic crescendo in the final chorus, highlighted by Ben’s gorgeous guitar solo and Jack’s fervent vocals at their emotional peak, after which the song fades out in a trail of serene strummed guitar notes.

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