THUNDER FOX – Album Review: “Sanctuary”

One of the most uniquely wonderful bands on the planet is Thunder Fox, a wickedly funny, intensely creative, and outrageously talented five-piece based in Sydney, Australia. Drawing on elements of funk, soul, jazz, blues rock, hip hop, reggae and pop, they skillfully channel the sexy funk of Prince, the soulful croons of 70s-era R&B artists like Al Green, Ronald Isley and Teddy Pendergrass, and the brassy exuberance of Earth, Wind & Fire into their delectable music stew. And while their sometimes bawdy lyrics and playful antics would seem to indicate a juvenile zaniness – not to mention the fact they could all still pass for teenagers – their music has a stylish, jazzy sophistication, thanks to their exceptional songwriting and musicianship, as well as having both a saxophone and trumpet player in their lineup. Finally, though they’re all straight men, they’re not afraid to be playful and affectionate with one another, as well as tear down gender barriers by sometimes showing a more feminine side. As a gay man, it makes me admire, love and respect them all the more.

Thunder Fox has been making and releasing music since 2015, but I first learned about them in 2019 when they reached out to me about their hilarious single “Been Busy”, one of the tracks on their wonderful debut full-length album Love at First Sniff. It was most definitely love at first sniff for me, and I loved the album so much I wrote a review about it. Over the past two years, they’ve experienced a few lineup changes, and now consist of the dangerously charismatic Sam Dawes (Lead Vocals/Guitar), Travers Keirle (Sax/Vocals/Rhymes), Jesse Tachibana (Trumpet/Vocals/Synths), Max Vallentine (Drums), and Casey Allan (Bass). They followed with several more singles, a few of which I also reviewed (that you can read by clicking on the ‘Related’ links at the end of this post). Now they’re back with a second album Sanctuary, which dropped November 18th, and it’s every bit as delightful as Love at First Sniff.

Sam has written a marvelous background piece about their inspiration and creative process behind the album, and rather than try to paraphrase, I thought I’d simply share his eloquent words verbatim:

“‘Sanctuary’ is our second full length album, which marks the dawning of a new era for Thunder Fox in many ways. After having a couple of members leave the band and experiencing a few other obvious set backs during 2020/21, we needed a second wind. As an artist it’s really easy to lose motivation and focus when faced with challenges that draw you away from your art such as band member turnaround and, say, a global pandemic. As such, I think we all really felt the need to pick up where we’d left off somehow and find some momentum by creating again. With the addition of Casey the Bass Ace to the crew, it was a great chance to dig into some new and improved sounds and try to reshape our art in a way we had yet to explore.

We had the idea to stay in a far-off Air BnB during one of lockdown’s rare lulls, and managed to snag a spot at a beachside bungalow in Nambucca Heads in order to get away from the bullshit and just create. It was a week of literal bliss, at least for me, where we could all engage in art fully and be immersed in the creation of a project again. In all honesty, we didn’t have much of a plan for the album’s concept or soundscapes; we’ve always got so many ideas spinning from all the unique inspirations of the different members that half the battle is just taming the flaming bird’s nest of ideas into a nice, silky coif. What we did have, though, was a bunch of time on our hands, a cathedral-esque living room with high, echoing ceilings and a glistening sun to spill across the verandah as we sat and flicked through old recordings of rehearsal jams.

Now and then, we’d land on a groove that tasted sweet enough to revive and try to mould into a full blown banger. Once the songs started shaping up and I began to feverishly type lyrics into my notes app, the mood of the record began to take shape. Turns out I was feeling all kinds of put out by the doomsday that was the year past and my lyrics would tumble out of my brain like multi-coloured, cynical snowballs, building in size and scope as they rolled. If I were to describe the sentiment of the record in one word it would be “cynical”. More broadly, though, I think I’ve always weaponised cynicism as a way of attempting to understand the world around me. I felt cynical about the political climate, about love, about my day job and how I felt I’d never leave. It felt good to write it out.”

The album opens with sounds of a plane flying overhead, then the guys break into a gospel choir on the joyously upbeat “Head in the Clouds” as they sing “Something pulling me up out of my seat. Rather be anywhere than where I’ve just been. Smile but stay silent. Don’t want no one to see. Head in the clouds. It’s a glorious thing.” And a glorious thing it is, chock full of funky grooves, sunny instrumentation and uplifting harmonies, highlighted by Sam’s gorgeous silky vocals which often rise to an angelic falsetto.

He’s provided wonderful background notes for each song that are more colorful and interesting than anything I could possibly write, so I’m just gonna share them all. It’ll likely make this review too damn long, but fuck it, it’s my blog and I’m going to include them! Here’s what he has to say about this track: “If Thunder Fox are known for anything, it’s being able to avoid taking things too seriously. ‘Head in the Clouds’ came to me in a blue dream on one of those hot nights where your brain feels sticky. We wanted to open the album with some fun and familiarity before shit got real.

The album includes four brief interludes that serve as intros or connectors, the first of which, “A Party“, leads us into the funky gem “Good Time“. Sam sets the stage: “Early twenties, share house, undesirable shindigs with desirable chemicals. This night I wasn’t so much pissed off as I was hammered and concussed after having hit my head on the pavement following a few libations too many at the bar. I returned home to my lovable city dirt shed to find hundreds of people swarming. As I stumbled through the crowd, blood still tacky on my forehead, I thought to myself, ‘this is a great idea for a song.’ Luckily when we got to nutting it out at our makeshift writing space up the coast, Max had the perfect drum groove he’d been wanting to try for ages. It came together in a flash.

Each of the guys shine on this track. Sam starts things off with a funky little guitar riff as Sam and Casey lay down a soulful rhythm on drums and bass. Amid flourishes of Jesse’s jazzy trumpet notes and Traver’s cool sax, Sam cheekily complains “Why is no one acting like I’m the man of the house? No one at this party seems to know my name, and that ain’t right. Yeah, I’m pissed off coz I got here, and nobody offered me a good time.” Good times indeed!

The guys dial up the energy on “Not For Sale“, a bouncy, funk-infused take on the old adage that money can’t buy you love: “I know you got more money than me, but money is just temporary. Cash ain’t what it’s cracked up to be, when money can’t buy my heart, heart, heart.” The song has an irresistible Earth, Wind & Fire vibe, highlighted by the band’s signature horn section and Casey’s funky bass groove. Sam explains: “Casey, being a relatively new addition to the band at the time, brought with him a synth bass and a set of fingers carved by the gods. Man, he had such a groove on that pile of plastic, the rest of us were floored. We wanted to write something dark, but funky (duh) and bad boy Casey had just the stuff. I know I’m not the only one who had it etched into my brain early on by social media among other sources that success and happiness is defined by finance, followers and fame. Damn we were wrong. Sometimes we lose ourselves so immensely to the pursuit of materialistic ends, we forget how ridiculous it all is. I know I did.

The second interlude “A Circus“, featuring carnival music, unnatural-sounding neighing horses, and Travers’ quirky vocals, leads us into “Fruitcake“, a delightfully silly song with nonsensical lyrics like: “Moose ate my tooth paste. Said his tooth aches. Ate a few too many half baked fruit cakes, more than he could take. Now he’s a on a diet, trying to shift the weight lifting rakes by the lake.” Sam elaborates: “I don’t even know if Travers knows what this song is about – more millennial existentialism, I’d say – but it’s gotta be one of the most fun, hilarious and groovy tracks on the record. Full Travers, as we say. We came up with the groove and guitar vamp at a soundcheck in Townsville. We were just fucking around at the time but it resurfaced months later at the Sanctuary shack. We jam packed it full to the brim with Thunder Fox-isms and fuckery ‘til it made us laugh our asses off and we knew it was a banger.  Fruitcake was one of the many opportunities we all got to try and flex our production chops and collaborate using DAWs and samples, you know, like modern shit.

The guys tap into their R&B side on “Love You 2“, a sultry, heartfelt song about apologizing to a loved one for having fallen short, and reaffirming that you still love and cherish them. Sam explains: “Drawing from the same existential angst of the previous tracks, there came a time in the months following the writing of ‘Sanctuary’ that I noticed I’d let my material pursuits get in the way of the most important thing imaginable – delicious, unadulterated, full throttle, hyper-vulnerable romance, baby. ‘Love You 2’ is an apology, in a way. Apologising for allowing myself to become so distracted by desire, work and anxiety that I almost forgot to tell someone how much I fucking love their sweet ass. Heed my advice, friends, tell whoever it is you love them. Every. Chance. You. Get.” Accompanied by a languid, soulful and jazzy groove, Sam softly croons “Trying to sort out my life. I know we’ve been here like one million times. I love you too by the way. I’m sorry it took so long to say.

The 55 second-long instrumental track “A Dream” has more of an alt-rock feel than most of their songs, and serves as a fascinating lead-in to the reggae/ska/goth rock beauty “Blue Light Blindness“. Deliciously dark and melodically complex, the song calls out our mobile phone addiction. Sam elaborates: “‘Blue Light Blindness’ has a serious ring to it if you ask me. You know, us millennials and our god damn phones, right?! Seriously though, I couldn’t name a more potent drug than a smartphone packed with social media apps. We know it’s bad, it distracts us from the importance of self-worth among other things but, we can’t stop. I was listening to Kanye’s ‘Black Skinhead’ and Marilyn (fuck you) Manson’s ‘The Beautiful People’ and I wanted that hardcore triplet groove so bad, I wanted the darkness. Luckily everyone was on the same page with that one. This one started as another off-the-cuff jam we happened to have recorded on one of our iphones (good for something after all) and it was pieced together intensely on the first day of writing. When we added in the horns we realised we had some James Bond shit on our hands.”

There’s so much going on musically, from a bouncy reggae beat one minute, to a psychedelic gospel-like interlude the next, only to be broken by an explosion of goth rock distortion and mayhem before circling back to the reggae/ska groove. God damn, I love this song!

I love “The Weekend” too, on which Thunder Fox give us their delightful take on the drudgery of soul-sucking dead-end jobs that leave us in a continual state of living for the weekends. Sam opines on the subject: “More angst, more day job, more bullshit. Until it stops being the norm, I won’t stop writing about it. I mean, can any of us really imagine a bearable life that entails 5 days of working our asses off to afford 2 days of drinking away the stress? Not me. But, it be like that sometimes. We thought it was pretty funny to put the little kids voices (not real kids, just us, we’re not made of money) in there because it became apparent that this way of being was built into our psyches from the youngest possible age. Work, party, work, party, die. No thanks! The irony is, we made this song a party anyway, the screaming, the South American street festival dirty sax interlude is one of the best moments on the album hands down.”

The song is another melodically complex track, starting off with swirling guitar notes and quirky otherworldly childlike sounds, followed by a few seconds of children’s – that is, the band’s – sing-song voices. The song quickly transitions to a lovely melody with Sam’s beautiful smooth vocals, which are abruptly broken when he wails “I don’t wanna wait for the weekend! No!” The song returns to it’s melodic groove, as Sam laments “I feel like crying when I clock in. Feel my soul dying for a few cents. A hundred hours to cover rent. All this shit just makes me sick. The clock it ticks from nine til six. I don’t wanna wait for the weekend! No!” Man, can I relate! At around 2:20, we’re treated to a jazzy trumpet and sax-fueled burst of energy as the melody briefly turns into an exhilarating Latin-esque dance beat. These guys just keep blowing me away with their inventiveness and musicality.

A Lapse” is a minute and a half long instrumental featuring super-gnarly, funky grooves that would make Grandmaster Flash proud. This lead us to “All the Stars“, a sexy and soulful song that sort of continues with the theme introduced on “The Weekend”, namely, what is the point of all this disorder and uncertainty in life? Sam elaborates: “Ah, sweet entropy, the cause of, and solution to all of life’s entropy. I wrote this as a poem in another one of my moments of existential disaster, still reeling from a day of working a call-centre job of all things. Believe me when I tell you there’s no stronger vacuum to suck the soul right out of the holes in your face than a fucking call-centre job. Anyway, ‘All the Stars’ is the epiphany that this happens to all of us at some point in our lives, maybe even forever. We’re all stars really, but we sure as hell don’t act like it. We run in circles trying to make sense of this chaos. All of us. One of my favourite elements of this one is the longing, weeping horns after the chorus. When Jesse and Travers get together to dream up a perfect horn line, they never miss.”

The first part of the song is gorgeous, with shimmery guitars, glittery synths, and those weeping horns layered over Casey’s sensuous bassline and Max’s restrained percussion, creating a dreamy, enchanting soundscape for Sam’s resonant falsetto. Two-thirds of the way in, the song abruptly shifts into high gear to become a rousing punk-rock banger, with blaring horns and frantic rhythms. It’s simply perfect!

The album closes with “The Stew“, a wild and funky ride with more grooves than a box full of vinyl records. I love the soulful James Brown-like vibe, driven by a funky bassline and stuttering drumbeats, and highlighted by fluttering horns and Sam’s rapid-fire vocals. Sam sez “This track is a band favourite from way back. We wrote it in 2017 and played it at a few shows but it never really saw the light of day and faded away eventually. When it came to putting together a track listing for ‘Sanctuary’, we listened to an old live recording of “The Stew” and all agreed we’d be crazy not to show this off. To me, ‘The Stew’ is Thunder Fox’s anthem. It perfectly sums up our chaotic mixture of anything and everything that brings us joy. It’s more than the sum of its parts, to say the least. When I wrote the lyrics, I was riding high on a wave of rockstar ego that feels so real when it hits but, when you wake up to jackhammers in your brain, you remember you’re so full of shit and you’re going to work hung over. I really wanted to just take the piss out of myself in a song, try bring myself back down to the ground. Here, I get in touch with my sarcastic, self-depreciating British roots. When all is said and done, I’m fully aware that I’m not God’s gift… Thunder Fox is.”

I wholeheartedly second that, as I adore this band, and adore this brilliant album. With Sanctuary, Thunder Fox has one of the best albums of the year on their hands, and it should also be in yours.

Follow Thunder Fox:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music: Spotify / Soundcloud / YouTube / Deezer
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Amazon / iTunes

G. SAMEDI – Single Review: “Icarus”

There’s so much great musical talent out there that it sometimes makes my head spin. I’ve recently written about quite a few exceptional artists and bands, and today I’m pleased to introduce another – silky-voiced Australian singer-songwriter Sam Dawes, who goes by the artistic moniker G. Samedi. Sam’s actually no stranger to this blog, as he’s also the lead vocalist and songwriter for Sydney band Thunder Fox, who I adore and have featured numerous times. While still actively involved with Thunder Fox, who will be releasing their second album later this year, Sam decided at the beginning of 2020 to record and produce some of his songs as a solo artist. In little more than a year, he’s already released seven singles (the first was actually a double single), all of which are fantastic. His latest is “Icarus“, which dropped April 30th.

Curious about the name G. Samedi, I asked Sam how he came up with that moniker. He told me it’s “just a silly amalgamation of my real name, Samuel George Dawes. People would call me Sammy D at school, I liked the character ‘Baron Samedi’ from James Bond, and it just came together nicely.” Well, I think G. Samedi is an ideal name, as it suggests an air of sophistication and sexual mystery, both of which are characteristics of his wonderfully unique sound.

Drawing from R&B, soul, trip hop, electronic and alternative rock elements, Sam creates moody and sensuous soundscapes for the expression of his bold lyrics addressing the darker and more introspective aspects of love and relationships. Then he delivers them with his distinctive soulful vocals that go from smooth, sultry croons to plaintive falsetto. He writes all his own music and lyrics, records and programs all instruments, sings all vocals, and produces and mixes all tracks. The only think he outsources is the mastering.

“Icarus” is a stunning and fascinating track, featuring a complex, almost progressive arrangement and a colorful array of instruments and synths. The song opens with stirring synths and an almost gospel-like organ, accompanied with tinkling piano keys. I love Sam’s expressive vocals, which sound especially vulnerable as he laments about falling out of love for his partner and the resulting pain he caused her and the damage he did to their relationship, while admitting he still has strong feelings for her: “I still needed her after all / I fell away, wings like Icarus melting on my bleeding lust. I knew I’d fly too close for us.” As the organ recedes, the melody settles into a languid R&B groove, highlighted by a mix of shimmery and gritty guitars and a thumping drumbeat. His layered vocal harmonies are really beautiful too, turning more plaintive and heartfelt as he implores her to reconsider: “I just love you, isn’t that enough?” The song ends with sounds of a droning synth and pounding drum.

“Icarus” is wonderful, and another in an unbroken string of really stellar singles by this talented artist. If you like it, do take a little time to listen to some of his other songs as well on one of the music platforms below.

Follow G. Samedi: FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream his music: SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloudYouTube

Purchase: BandcampAmazon

THUNDER FOX – Single Review: “Sunday”

Thunder Fox is a wickedly funny and intensely creative band of guys hailing from Sydney, Australia who artfully blend generous helpings of funk, soul, blues rock, hip hop, jazz and pop into their delectable music stew. While their often bawdy lyrics and playful antics would seem to indicate a juvenile zaniness – not to mention the fact they all still look like teenagers – their music has a stylish and jazzy sophistication, thanks to their great songwriting and musicianship, including having both a saxophone and trumpet player in their lineup.

They’ve been making and releasing music since 2015, but I first learned about them in 2019 when they reached out to me about their hilarious single “Been Busy”, one of the tracks on their devilishly entertaining debut album Love at First Sniff. I became an instant fan and loved the album so much I wrote a review. Since the release of that album, the band experienced a few lineup changes, and now consists of the very talented Sam Dawes (Lead Vocals/Guitar), Travers Keirle (Smooth Sax/Vocals/Rhymes), Jesse Tachibana (Trumpet/Vocals/Synths), Max Vallentine (Drums), and Casey Allan (Bass).

Thunder Fox has been working on a new album, and have dropped three singles thus far – “Communicate” and “Smokin’ on Loosies” (which I also reviewed) in 2020 – and their latest “Sunday” on March 4th. It’s a sweet song of love and devotion to someone who makes you happy to be alive. Lead vocalist and songwriter Sam Dawes explained: “I was inspired to write the song on one of those sunny Sunday mornings when you wake up next to someone you love and the birds seem to sing even sweeter than ever before. It’s about having the whole day to spend with the one you love, doing whatever you want.” The song features many of the band’s signature music touches we’ve come to love – a deliciously sultry vibe, funky laid-back grooves, and bold flourishes of jazzy brass, all coming together to create a warm, sexy backdrop for Sam’s silky and seductive vocals that hover between a come-hither croon and saucy falsetto. I love the song and I love this band!

The sweet video, which was produced by band member Jesse Tachibana, who also directed it along with Lewis Clark, stars Sam as a man walking the streets and alleys of Sydney, gradually removing articles of clothing as he sings. A young woman, played by Natalia Hutchen, starts to follow him, eventually picking up and putting on his discarded white shirt, at which point she walks alongside him as he offers her one of his earbuds.

Follow Thunder Fox:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music: Spotify / Soundcloud / YouTube / Deezer
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Amazon / iTunes

CRYSTAL CITIES – Single Review: “”Jenny, How Were We to Know?”

Ever since first hearing their stunning and critically-acclaimed debut EP Who’s Gonna Save Us Now in early 2017, I’ve been a huge fan of Sydney, Australia-based dream rock band Crystal Cities. With a lush, melodic sound they describe as “like Death Cab For Cutie had a War On Drugs with The Beatles” – all bands I love – it’s no wonder I would love their beautiful music too. The supremely talented and strikingly handsome trio consists of Geoff Rana (vocals, guitars, keyboard), Jared King (bass, backing vocals) and Daniel Conte (drums, percussion). I’ve previously featured them three times on this blog, and ranked their gorgeous single “Under the Cold Light of the Moon” at #10 on my Top 100 Songs of 2019. Their outstanding debut album of the same name, recorded at the legendary Abbey Road Studios, also received widespread acclaim.

It’s an understatement that 2020 presented significant challenges to musicians around the world, and like many artists and bands, Crystal Cities have had to make the most of a difficult situation by being creative in terms of how they record and release new music. Accordingly, they made the bold decision to self-produce, record and engineer their second album Hold Me Close Hold Me Tight, as well as release it as ten individual singles, one at a time. Bassist Jared King explains their thinking behind this move: “I think content and momentum are two very important things to be aware of in the streaming-age. Releasing multiple songs all at once is wasted potential in my eyes. We’ve worked so hard on each and every track on this album so why not let each one have it’s time in the spotlight rather than getting lost in the noise of an entire album release all at once.”

Last August, they released their first single “Don’t Speak Too Soon” (you can read my review here), and followed up over the next few months with “Got My Back to the Wind” and “Shadow of a Doubt”. On January 1st, they dropped the fourth single “Jenny, How Were We to Know?“, and it’s another beautiful gem in an unbroken string of superb singles. The song has a somewhat dreamier vibe than the previous three singles, more in the vein of their earlier songs. But as to be expected, the beautiful melody, swirling guitar work, subtle bass and thumping drums are flawless, and I love Geoff Rana’s warm, pleasing vocals.

The song seems to speak about desire and the uncertainties of love, but the lyrics are intentionally ambiguous. Rana elaborates: “The meaning behind this song is something I’ve chosen to remain a mystery. Being a music artist in 2021, we’re encouraged to share every little detail about our lives with our audience. While this has opened up many opportunities for artists to have unique and personal interactions with fans – something which we encourage and take full advantage of in Crystal Cities – there are some things that perhaps should be kept to ourselves in order to set boundaries and protect and respect the privacy of other people… In this instance, I want the context of this song to be left up to the listener’s own interpretation.”⁣

Have a listen to this captivating song:

Connect with Crystal Cities:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / SoundcloudApple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes 

New Song of the Week – THUNDER FOX: “Smokin’ on Loosies”

Thunder Fox is a wickedly funny and intensely creative group of guys hailing from Sydney, Australia who skillfully blend generous helpings of funk, blues rock, soul, hip hop, jazz and pop into their delectable music stew. In their own words, they serve “gooey hot horntastic shreddage, the best sauce for your ears ‘n eyes, causing sonic copulation worldwide“, which pretty much describes their devilishly entertaining sound. While their sometimes bawdy lyrics and playful antics would seem to indicate a juvenile zaniness, their music has a stylish and jazzy sophistication that reveals what skilled songwriters and musicians these guys really are.

They’ve been making music since around 2015, but I first learned about Thunder Fox when they reached out to me exactly one year ago today with their hilarious single “Been Busy”. They released their album Love at First Sniff a week later on Halloween and I loved it so much I wrote a review. The title was certainly apropos, as it was ‘love at first sniff’ for me! Since the release of that album, the band has undergone some changes in lineup, and now consists of Sam Dawes (Lead Vocals/Guitar), Travers Keirle (Smooth Sax/Vocals/Rhymes), Jesse Tachibana (Trumpet/Vocals/Synths), Max Vallentine (Drums), and newest member Casey Allan (Bass).

They followed up this past August with their single “Communicate”, and now return with yet another brilliant single “Smokin’ on Loosies“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. The track was self-produced by Thunder Fox, mixed by long time mixing partner Daniel Willington, (Battlesnake, Good Lekker, Florian) and mastered by Steve Smart (Ocean Alley, Midnight Oil, Alex the Astronaut) at Studios 301 in Sydney. With their signature soulful and bluesy funk-infused grooves, the band delivers a powerful condemnation of greed and misinformation.  

Lead vocalist Sam Dawes elaborates on the song’s meaning and intent: “‘Smokin’ on Loosies’ represents a shared disgust at western society’s unaddressed flaws that are leading to widening class division, planetary destruction and a failure to address the ongoing systemic persecution of marginalised groups within our communities. Mostly, the song is about being able to see clear as day what is causing these issues – be it the greedy elite, susceptible conspiracists or casual, misinformed hatred – and feeling powerless against it because it just keeps happening, all the time. It’s not exactly a happy song – it’s not supposed to be – but it’s full of honest grit and angry words that help me deal with some of the more fucked up problems that our world faces on a day-to-day basis.”

Over Casey’s deliciously funky bass line, the band layers a colorful mix of grimy guitars, tinkling piano keys, and crisp percussion, highlighted by Jesse’s soulful trumpet blasts that really make this a great song. I love Sam’s silky vocals that go from sultry croon one moment to cheeky falsetto the next as he sings “Money, power, keeping us blind / Everybody steppin’ in line / I think about it all the time / The cash cow that you worship got a shriveled-up teat / Pass the wealth through generations, but forgot to pass the heart.” The song seems to end at around 2:50, then starts back up with a terrific 30-second-long bluesy guitar solo that fades out with distorted reverb. I love it!

Follow Thunder Fox:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music: Spotify / Soundcloud / YouTube / Deezer
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Amazon / iTunes

BEATING HEARTS CLUB – Album Review: “Freedom & Rebellion”

One of the benefits (and challenges) of being a music blogger is discovering lots of music by an ever-expanding number of indie and up and coming artists, more than I could possibly ever write about, let alone listen to it all! There’s a surprising amount of real talent out there, and I’ve had the pleasure of writing about quite a few artists and bands who are making some truly great music. And every now and then, one comes along that stands out among the crowd, such as Australian folk-rock band Beating Hearts Club. Since learning about them this past April, they’ve become one of my favorite indie bands. I’ve already featured them twice on this blog earlier this year, when I reviewed their singles “Black & White Love” and “Round the Bend” (you can read those reviews by clicking on the links under “Related” at the end of this post). I’m now pleased to review their stunning debut album Freedom & Rebellion, which drops today, September 18th.

Based in Sydney, Beating Hearts Club is comprised of Duncan Welsh (lead vocals/rhythm guitar), Ciaran Loughran (lead guitar/backing vocals), Lukas Thurner (bass) and Trent Miller (drums), who joined the band a few months ago after their previous drummer left. With their shared love of rock, folk, country and blues, the talented foursome create exceptional music characterized by beautiful melodies, stellar arrangements and intelligent lyrics, and delivered with superb instrumentation and Duncan’s sublime vocals.

As suggested by the title, the album’s theme seems to be about the ups and downs of love and relationships, and the eternal struggle between wanting freedom and wanting to belong to someone. The album opens with “Heroin“, the very first single the band released back in April 2019. It starts off as a gentle ballad, with Duncan’s earnest vocals accompanied by strummed and chiming electric guitars as he sings to a loved one who’s saving him from falling into a downward spiral: “You are my heroin, a shot to the veins / You’re my therapy, you’re the cure.” Then the song expands into a full-blown rocker, with rapid-fire riffs of reverb-soaked guitars, humming bass and thumping drums. Duncan’s vocals rise to the occasion, become more impassioned in their urgency, and Ciaran’s blistering guitar solo in the bridge is fantastic.

Next up is “Black & White Love“, a gorgeous love song that instantly became one of my favorites of the year. I love it so much it’s spent the past four months on my Weekly Top 30, recently going all the way to #1. The instrumentals are stunning, with some of the most achingly beautiful guitar work I’ve heard in a long while. Duncan’s plaintive vocals are lovely and heartfelt, and when the music builds to an anthemic crescendo in the final chorus, I’m covered with goosebumps. The moving lyrics speak of how finding true love in the right person can be a force for healing in our sometimes broken lives: “Could you be the reason? You know I need you, Seen my last chance die but I’m still breathing / Do you feel what I’m feeling? You know I need you shook me upside down and I saw meaning.”

When I didn’t think the guys could top “Black & White Love”, along comes “Crying Wolf” and I’m quickly blown away. What a magnificent song this is, with lush, intricate guitar work and beautiful layered vocals. I also love the mournful organ riff in the outro that gives the song a country rock vibe. The lyrics are about being stuck in a dysfunctional relationship with a partner who constantly complains and threatens to leave, but never does: “Thought I’ve heard, heard it all before / You got me shook, shaking to the core / Why am I the subject, why am I the cries? / Well everybody knows you’re the one who made you cry.

Beating Hearts Club are adept at making both hard-rocking bangers and gentle ballads. A great example of the former is “First Sight of the Rain“, a dark rock’n’roll song about a romantic partner who’s afraid of commitment and wants to bolt from the relationship at the slightest hint of a problem: “You’re running from yourself, it’s you who won’t make a change and no one else / You gave it all to me, then turned and ran away.” The exuberant, hard-driving rhythms and fuzz-coated guitars that break into a scorching solo in the bridge are sensational. Likewise, “Homemade” and “Round the Bend” are rousing folk-rock tunes with resonant jangly guitars and galloping drum beats, punctuated by terrific guitar solos, pummeling drumbeats and ample flourishes of wildly crashing cymbals that make for a lively and highly satisfying listen.

Turning to the ballads, one of my favorite tracks is “Freedom Pt. 2“, a lovely Americana song with strummed acoustic guitar, beautiful piano and strings, and is that a didgeridoo I hear in the background? I may be way off, but the lyrics seem to speak of a man who’s been released from prison, and facing his newly-found freedom with some apprehension: “Heaven knows that I’ve paid my dues / Bring back a feeling, I forgot to use / And from here we’re going wherever I might choose / I know, it’s gonna take a lifetime.” “Olivia” is an equally beautiful song of love and devotion, highlighted by gorgeous strummed guitars and sparkling piano keys.

As the album continues to unfold, it’s clear these guys can do no wrong, as every track is perfect. I’m sounding like a broken record, but on “The Reaper“, the intricate guitar work is spectacular, and when combined with the organ at the beginning and the mournful piano later in the song, the results are breathtaking. Special mention must also be given to Lukas for his wonderful bass line that gives the song such incredible depth. Album closer “Stockholm” is a hard-rocking song about being in an unhealthy, co-dependent relationship similar to Stockholm Syndrome. I love the frantic riffs of grimy guitars and strong, driving beats that nicely convey a sense of tension expressed in the lyrics: “Stockholm Syndrome’s got a hold of me / She takes me down and she won’t let me breathe / I don’t believe in anything I see.”

What more can I possibly say to gush any further about this beautiful work of musical art? Freedom & Rebellion is easily one of the best albums I’ve heard this year, and I love every one of its tracks – something that doesn’t happen very often. It’s an impressive debut from this extremely talented band, and they should be very proud of their magnificent accomplishment.

Follow Beating Hearts Club: Facebook / Instagram
Stream their music: Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase: Google Play / Amazon

New Song of the Week – CRYSTAL CITIES: “Don’t Speak Too Soon”

Ever since first hearing their stunning and critically-acclaimed debut EP Who’s Gonna Save Us Now in early 2017, I’ve been head over heels in love with the music of Sydney, Australia-based dream rock band Crystal Cities. With a sound they describe as “like Death Cab For Cutie had a War On Drugs with The Beatles” – all three bands I love – it’s no wonder I would love their beautiful music too. The supremely talented trio consists of Geoff Rana (vocals, guitars, keyboard), Jared King (bass, backing vocals) and Daniel Conte (drums, percussion).

In 2019, the guys had the opportunity to record their gorgeous debut album Under the Cold Light of the Moon at the famed Abbey Road Studios. The album featured eight stellar dream rock gems, most with lush orchestral arrangements and instrumentation. The dramatic title track “Under the Cold Light of the Moon” was inspired by the story of young North Korean girl Yeonmi Park. who bravely escaped North Korea in search of freedom. I reviewed the song, and loved it so much that it went to #1 on my Weekly Top 30, and ranked #10 on my Top 100 Songs of 2019 list. The album helped further cement their reputation as an outstanding group of exceptional songwriters and musicians. In recent weeks, they’ve posted back stories with lyrics for each of the album’s tracks on their Instagram page.

Now, Crystal Cities return with their latest single “Don’t Speak Too Soon“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. The song, which drops today, August 21st, is the lead single from their forthcoming second album Hold Me Close Hold Me Tight. Both single and album see the band taking a different approach this time around, foregoing the fancy studio and producer and instead choosing to produce the album themselves.

With that in mind, at the beginning of this year, lead singer/guitarist and primary songwriter Geoff Rana decided to learn all the ins and outs of recording. With the help of free educational resources such as YouTube, he began putting his new-found knowledge to work as he tracked “Don’t Speak Too Soon” at his house in Sydney. It was definitely a trial and error experience, and the added responsibility and steep learning curve nearly overwhelmed him. “‘Don’t Speak Too Soon’ is my first attempt at being an engineer and producer. It was a lot more involved than just showing up to the studio to record my parts! I think more hours were spent reading and watching tutorials than actually recording. One of the biggest mental and technical hurdles I had to overcome was losing all my vocal takes and having to re-record them all over again.”

Well, I’d say that Rana did a masterful job, as “Don’t Speak Too Soon” turned out splendid. With the help of renowned L.A.-based mix engineer Paul Lani (David Bowie, Prince), the band has produced another winning single that retains their signature dream rock elements while delivering a more hard-hitting and edgier vibe. The frantic, guitar-driven melody is downright electrifying, and I think it’s the most exciting song Crystal Cities has done yet. Rana sets the airwaves ablaze with blistering riffs of jangly and gnarly guitars. I always thought he was a great guitarist, but here he blows me away with the sheer ferocity of his performance.

Jared King and Daniel Conte keep the powerful rhythm rampaging forward with their hard-driving bassline and smashing drumbeats. I especially love how Conte pounds out a single thumping blow to his drums at various breakpoints in the song to great effect. Then there’s Rana’s hauntingly beautiful vocals that are another highlight for me, as I love his singing voice. With a sense of sad resignation, he passionately laments that perhaps he overplayed his hand in love: “And it burns my eyes down through the bone. Why did I listen to love? Did I speak now too soon?

I’ve loved every single one of Crystal Cities’ songs, and happily add “Don’t Speak Too Soon” to the list. Spectacular job guys!

The cool vintage-looking lyric video was produced by bassist Jared King.

Connect with Crystal Cities:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes / Google Play

FIREGLOW – Single Review: “Won’t Forget You”

Fireglow

Fireglow is a rock and roll band based in Sydney, Australia. Through their fun, upbeat style of 60s and 70s-inspired music and lively on-stage performances, they’ve built quite a local following since forming in the spring of 2018. Making the music are Chris (guitar/vocals), Sean (guitar/vocals), Bruno (bass), Catherine (keyboards) and Frankie (drums). Starting with the release of their first single “Back of Her Blue Eyes” in June 2019, they’ve been on a creative tear, dropping three more singles over the next six months. This past April (2020), they released their debut EP Fireglow II, featuring four new tracks. One of those tracks is “Won’t Forget You“,  which they released as a single on June 12, along with a video.

Even though it was released at the beginning of winter season in Australia, “Won’t Forget You” has a sunny vibe that makes it the perfect song for summer. Opening with the lines “She was fresh out of school, and she blew my mind like a virgin stone blowing down the sands of time / Summer sun wasn’t kind, it blistered our skin”, it’s a lighthearted song about the ups and downs of a summer romance. Over a toe-tapping groove courtesy of Bruno’s warm bass line and Frankie’s snappy drums, Chris and Sean layer a colorful mix of rhythm and jangly electric guitars, while Catherine’s ukelele and swirling organ riff adds a nice touch to the proceedings. Chris and Sean’s vocal harmonies are really wonderful too. It’s an incredibly pleasing tune that seems to channel the music of 60s bands like The Lovin’ Spoonful and The Turtles, as well late 70s Tom Petty.

The sweet video shows the band’s playful nature as they perform the song and frolic outdoors in the woods or by the seashore, waves crashing at their feet. It’s clear they like to deliver a little fun with their music.

Follow Fireglow:  Facebook / Instagram
Stream their music:  SpotifyApple Music
Purchase:  Google PlayAmazon

BEATING HEARTS CLUB – Single Review: “Round the Bend”

I first learned about Sydney, Australia-based indie rock band Beating Hearts Club two months ago when they reached out to me about their gorgeous single “Black & White Love“. Comprising the band are Duncan Welsh (vocals/rhythm guitar), Ciaran Loughran (lead guitar/backing vocals), Peter Holt (drums) and Lukas Thurner (bass).  Even though they’ve released only two songs, I was impressed by their beautiful sound, intelligent songwriting and outstanding musicianship, and became an instant fan. “Black & White Love” is a stunning love ballad (you can read my review here) that’s currently enjoying a long residency on my Weekly Top 30.

Now Beating Hearts Club return with their third single “Round the Bend“, which along with “Heroin” and “Black & White Love”, will be included on their forthcoming debut album, due out later this year. With its rousing melody and catchy, toe-tapping beat, the song has more of a folk-rock feel than their two previous songs. The fuzz-coated jangly guitars are terrific, and I really like the subtle organ work that gives the track a bit of a folk vibe. Thurner’s solid bass line and Holt’s pounding drumbeats keep the driving rhythm, ensuring that the song stays firmly in rock territory, and the guitar solo in the bridge is so good. As always, Welsh’s vibrant vocals are wonderful as he plaintively sings the lyrics that seem to me to be about difficulties with commitment “Chase me round the bend. Thought I’d never see the end.”

“Round the Bend” is a great song, keeping Beating Hearts Club’s perfect score for delivering superb singles fully intact. I love every one of their singles, and look forward to hearing more from this exceptional band.

Follow Beating Hearts Club: Facebook / Instagram
Stream their music: Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase: Google Play / Amazon

New Song of the Week – BEATING HEARTS CLUB: “Black & White Love”

Beating Hearts Club

Beating Hearts Club is an indie folk-rock four-piece originally from the UK, and now based in Sydney, Australia. I learned about them when they reached out to me about their new single “Black & White Love“, and I’m glad they did, because I love their music. Comprising the band are Duncan Welsh (vocals/rhythm guitar), Ciaran Loughran (lead guitar/backing vocals), Peter Holt (drums) and Lukas Thurner (bass). Exactly one year ago, they released their beautiful debut single “Heroin”, an uplifting song about regaining hope through love. “Black & White Love”, which dropped today, April 24th, is the second single from their forthcoming album due out later this year, and I’ve chosen it as my New Song of the Week.

It starts off as a gentle ballad, with delicately strummed chiming guitars and somber but beautiful piano keys. The music gradually expands with the addition of subtle bass and just the right amount of drums, accompanied by some of the most achingly beautiful guitar work I’ve heard in a long while. Welsh’s plaintive vocals are lovely and heartfelt, and as the music builds to an anthemic crescendo in the final chorus, the guys’ soaring vocal harmonies are breathtaking, bringing chills to my body and a lump in my throat.

The moving lyrics continue to explore the theme expressed in “Heroin” – that finding true love in the right person can be a force for healing in our sometimes broken lives.

Bright eyes and pretty face
Will you meet me in the morning?
Since I have found my place
I can’t look back
I’m standing on the rocks where I’d once fallen
I sleep and call your name
Reach out, it’s you I’m holding
Since I have found my place
I’m on my feet I stare into your soul and I am home

Could you be the reason?
You know I need you
Seen my last chance die
But I’m still breathing
Do you feel what I’m feeling?
You know I need you
Shook me upside down
And I saw meaning

Your black & white love
My one adventurer
Well, when temptation comes
It’s clear to see that you’re the only one I’m thinking of

Could you be the reason?
You know I need you
Seen my last chance die
But I’m still breathing
Do you feel what I’m feeling?
You know I need you
Shook me upside down
And I saw meaning

Bright eyes and pretty face
Will you meet me in the morning?

“Black & White Love” is a real stunner of a track, and in my opinion one of the best songs of 2020 so far. It will surely make an appearance on my Weekly Top 30 soon!

Follow Beating Hearts Club: FacebookInstagram
Stream their music: SpotifySoundcloudApple Music
Purchase: Google PlayAmazon