THUNDER FOX – Album Review: “Love at First Sniff”

Thunder Fox album art

Thunder Fox is a wickedly funny and talented group of guys from Sydney, Australia who’ve just put out a devilishly entertaining new album Love at First Sniff. It’s the most fun I’ve had listening to a record in a very long while, and the title is apropos, as it was definitely ‘love at first sniff’ for me! As EclecticMusicLover, I always enjoy when artists and bands mix things up genre-wise, and this band does it better than almost anyone, tossing in 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.” Indeed they do! Their music is fun and bawdy, yet with a sexy sophistication that makes it incredibly appealing. It’s like Sly & the Family Stone, James Brown, Earth, Wind & Fire, Prince, Nick Jonas and Anderson .Paak all joined forces in one gigantic, over-the-top jam session!

Thunder Fox

Making all this saucy music mayhem are Sam “Sewad” Dawes (Lead Vocals/Guitar), Sam “Gnars” Frank (Lead Guitar/Vocals), Connor “Ronnoc” McCool (Bass), Max “Mecks” Vallentine (Drums), Travers “Full Travers” Keirle (Smooth Sax/Vocals/Rhymes) and Jesse “Jizze” Tachibana (Trumpet/Vocals/Synths). They’ve been prolific in their music output, releasing quite a lot of it over the past five years. From what I can tell, the first music they released was their very respectable six-track EP Cosmic Pudding in early 2015. They followed up with a few singles and dropped their second EP Mother Machine in December 2016, a great collection of songs including the brilliant “Vanilla Chinchilla”. More singles followed in 2018 and 2019, culminating in the release of their first full-length album Love at First Sniff on Halloween, which I have the distinct pleasure of reviewing today.

About the album, the band states: “The record muses on subject matter with a discernible sense of growth and progression while stretching across a canyon of mixed emotion surrounding love, existentialism and everything in between.” Lead singer Sam Dawes adds: “In our fast-paced, modernity-obsessed society, it has become apparent that some cornerstones of humanity, such as love, can alter on their surface yet remain unshaken at their core. ‘Love At First Sniff’ (and ‘Been Busy’ from it) is an elegy to and an observation of human connection and love in a world shaped by excess.”

Thunder Fox 2

Excess is the byword here, and more is most definitely better! The album opens with the title track “Love at First Sniff“, a rather sultry-sounding intro piece with ominously spoken lyrics and sparse, almost spooky instrumentals. The track ends with sounds of someone sniffing, our first clue that this isn’t going to be just any old conventional record. Thunder Fox then launches headlong into “WTF is This“, and we’re off on a phantasmagorical sonic adventure. Tachibana’s exuberant blaring trumpet is the highlight here, driving the track forward while a stop-start guitar riff provides the melodic substructure. Dawes’ colorful, silky vocals are an absolute delight to my ears as he croons “Be careful what you put in your mouth though. But that’s not just style, now is it sweetie pie? Oh yeah, I said it, and you didn’t think I would. But you did it, and you lied, and I didn’t think you could. /What the fuck is this? You got some nerve! But when you block my ears with those legs, it’s the warmest sound, yes I’ve ever heard.

As the song progresses, Dawes breaks into some brief high-speed rapping, then halfway through, the tempo changes to a languid, sultry groove. Horns and sax still blaring, our ears are now bathed by intricate funky guitars, wobbly bass and psychedelic synths as Dawes’ vocals turn seductive. It’s like the song has two completely different parts, with so much going on musically that I find it difficult to fully articulate all that I’m hearing. It’s really a phenomenal song, and I’m already blown away by this band’s astonishing musicianship.

Next up is “Been Busy” the second single from the album, and my first introduction to Thunder Fox. The song is a catchy as fuck earworm, with an upbeat, head-bopping tempo and more of those wonderful exuberant horns. Once again, the guys employ several melodic change-ups throughout the song, keeping us in a continual state of surprise. An interesting aspect of the song is that it starts off with the chorus “Ooh, I’ve been busy, not helping my health, but helping myself.” Dawes croons about having as much sex as possible to get over his pain: “When your heart is broken, only one thing left to do. Open up your kitchen, start taking those orders baby.”

As great as the song is, the hilarious video’s even better! Thunder Fox are definitely not afraid to put themselves out there. Wearing very suggestive wrestling singlets and white crew socks, the guys dance around against a number of spacey backdrops. Eventually, they spar with, and are ultimately vanquished by, the opposing team dressed in red singlets. How can you not love these guys?

On “Hot Tub“, the guys really channel their inner James Brown and Prince, with more soulful, funked-up grooves than should be allowed in one song. Have I mentioned how much I love this band? Their guitar work is fantastic, and the bass, synths, horns, sax and percussion are all perfection, creating a dynamic, funk-drenched backdrop for Dawes’ gorgeous vocals. Their lyricism is wonderful, and here’s an example why I think that: “My brain is a trickle-down economy, temptation’s so damn bitch. Yeah, so many issues but tissues won’t fix it. There’s a cream for every itch./ My baby’s boiling, she should sit down. There’s a line she don’t need to cross. It’s me here sitting in a hot tub…

Squeedup Vol. 2” is a twisted one-minute-long answer to their 2018 single “Squeedup”, and the first of three transitional interludes featured on the album. It quickly segues into the sexy and soulful love song “Look at U“, for which the guys have produced one of the funniest videos I’ve ever seen. It stars the two Sams (Dawes & Frank) as characters hooking up on a dinner-date, with other band members making cameo appearances, These guys are crazy! Dawes’ sultry vocals remind me of Nick Jonas, and no more so than on this track.

The guys keep delivering the funky grooves with the jazz-infused “Every Single Day“, and I’m starting to run out of superlatives to describe them and their music. Once again, I’m loving Tachibana’s trumpet and Keirle’s sax, and Vallentine’s drumming is particularly awesome here. And it goes without saying that Dawes’ always impressive vocal gymnastics really shine on this track. “#fuck” is a dark instrumental interlude consisting of a reverb-heavy guitar riff, industrial synths and a pummeling drumbeat. It’s an interesting segue into the dark and sultry “I’m Your Man“. This song also has a jazzy vibe, with vibrant horns and sax, and a slowly building tempo. Dawes’ vocals sound increasingly diabolical as he warns “I’m your mutherfuckin’ man, so don’t you make no other plans.”

Baby, I’m Famous” opens with one of the guys saying “We’re running out of tape“, then another yells “Shut the fuck up and play! Bitch“, at which point McCool’s very funky bass enters the picture, and soon joined by the rest of the band jamming their respective instruments. The song has a strong Prince vibe, with some terrific guitar licks and psychedelic-tinged synths. I love Keirle’s tasty sax riff in the bridge that pays homage to the Average White Band’s classic “Pick Up the Pieces”. “360p” is the third interlude track, starting off with what sounds like someone searching for a radio station, finally settling on one where Thunder Fox is jamming hard.

The album closes with the eight and a half minute-long gem “Feels So Good“, a slow and sexy love song. It’s a beautiful track, reminiscent of some of the great soul songs of the 70s by acts like Earth, Wind and Fire and The Originals. The guys play as an incredibly tight unit, delivering soulful grooves that transport us to a state where we ‘feel so good’. The song has a dramatic extended run that reminds me of the Isaac Hayes masterpieces “Walk on By” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”, and of course, Dawes’ silky smooth vocals are perfection.

It’s a fitting end to a terrific album, which I cannot gush about nearly enough. I’m now a massive fan of Thunder Fox, and in a funk that I’m half a world away in Southern California, because I would love to see them perform live. Those of you fortunate enough to be living in eastern Australia can catch them at one of their upcoming shows:

Thunder Fox 2019 Tour Dates

Fri 22 Nov – The Basement, Canberra
Sat 23 Nov – Yah Yah’s, Melbourne
Sat 7 Dec – Cambridge Warehouse, Newcastle
Sun 8 Dec – North Gong Hotel, Wollongong (free entry)
Thu 12 Dec – Beach Hotel, Byron Bay (free entry)
Fri 13 Dec – Black Bear Lodge, Brisbane
Sat 14 Dec – Imperial Hotel, Sunshine Coast
Sat 21 Dec – Oxford Art Factory, Sydney

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

CRYSTAL CITIES – Single Review: “Under the Cold Light of the Moon”

Crystal Cities Single Pic

‘Dream Rock that sounds like Death Cab For Cutie had a War On Drugs with The Beatles.’ That’s how Australian band Crystal Cities describe their enchanting sound, and it’s spot-on. Their wonderful songs feature thoughtful lyrics and stunning melodies delivered by superb instrumentation and vocals. In March 2017, the Sydney-based three-piece released their outstanding and critically acclaimed debut EP Who’s Gonna Save Us Now. The gorgeous title track and lead single “Who’s Gonna Save Us Now”, which I featured on this blog that April, reached #1 on the Unearthed Overall Charts within a few days of its release, and ended up on my 100 Best Songs of 2017 list. Now they’re back with a stunning new track “Under the Cold Light of the Moon“, the lead single from their forthcoming album of the same name, set for release on 31 May.

Crystal Cities is comprised of the very talented Geoff Rana (Vocals, Guitars), Jared King (JK) (Bass, Backing Vocals) and Daniel Conte (Drums). Since the release of their EP, the guys have had a productive two years and have come a long way, from a garage in Sydney to Abbey Road Studios in London. First, they signed a record and publishing deal with global music company Audio Network (one of a group of companies owned by Toronto, Canada-based multinational mass media and entertainment company eOne). Second, through that partnership, the band had the opportunity to record their debut album Under the Cold Light of the Moon at the prestigious Abbey Road Studios.

According to Rana, the new single “was inspired by the plight of young North Korean girl Yeonmi Park who escaped North Korea in search of freedom.” After seeing her moving speech at the One Young World Summit 2014 in Dublin, Ireland, where she told the audience “When I was crossing the Gobi desert, scared of dying, I thought nobody in this world cared. It seemed that only the stars were with me. But you have listened to my story. You have cared. Thank you very much”, Rana felt compelled to interpret her story through a song.

Crystal Cities Yeonmi Park

And what a beautiful, uplifting song it is! Starting off with a faint whisper of synths and delicate tapping of cymbals, a chugging riff of jangly guitar, set to a thumping drumbeat, soon enter the mix along with Rana’s raspy, yet lovely vocals. The music gradually builds as layers of guitar and percussion are added, backed by lush orchestral strings that create a stirring, cinematic soundscape for the hopeful lyrics:

Made my way out through the desert
Made my way across the sand
Under cover of the night I’m face to face
I’ve been thinking of a place
I’ve been making my escape
Under the cold light of the moon

Rana’s intricate guitar work is gorgeous, while King and Conte keep a tight rhythm with their defty-played bass line and drums. The song, along with the rest of the album, was flawlessly mastered by Paul Stefanidis at Viking Lounge Mastering, engineered by Adam Alexander and John Romeo (assisted by Tayla Gibbs), and mixed by L.A.-based engineer Paul Lani (David Bowie, Prince, Megadeath). Regarding the provocative photo for the single and album which shows the guys blindfolded, Rana explained: “This album will have plenty of lyrical references to themes of escape, resistance, and limited/restricted views. Having us positioned in a sort of prisoner-like scenario with blindfolds on seemed a great way to represent these themes.” The photos are courtesy of Amy Benjamin Photography.

The beautiful animated video for the song tells the adventure of Yeonmi Park’s harrowing nighttime escape. It was created by Jordyn-Rae Morrison (The-F0X).

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

GOODNIGHT JAPAN – Single Review: “Rush”

Goodnight Japan single

Goodnight Japan is a three-piece band from Sydney, Australia with a distinctive sound they colorfully describe as “Shoegazy bedroom-pop dreamscapes to punchy post-punk laced with dirty whisky blues.” Formed in 2016 by singer/songwriter/guitarist Abel Ibañez and bassist Gemma Conroy, drummer Joel van Gastel joined the band a year later to complete the lineup. All three of these talented individuals are involved in other projects as well – Abel is founder and co-editor of ERRR Magazine, Gemma is also known as the international model Meluxine, as well as a science journalist, and Joel is also drummer for Australian rock band Jenny Broke the Window.

When I asked Abel about the band’s unusual name, he explained that he used to have a band with his brother in Mexico City, where they were born and raised, and his brother came up with the name. “It was a bit of a joke at the beginning, because we would fantasize (of course) playing to big audiences in big arenas or stadiums and starting the concerts with a “Goodnight America” or “Goodnight Russia” and then “Goodnight Japan.” And then he decided that Goodnight Japan was going to be the name of our band. And we played a couple of gigs in Mexico under that name. I later formed another band –also in Mexico– and used that same name but in Spanish and a bit modified: we were Adiós Japón (Goodbye Japan).  Some years later, when I came to Australia and started playing with Gemma, I told her the story about the name and she just loved Goodnight Japan, so we took it back.”

They’ve just released a lovely new single “Rush,” a touching song with a pleasing mix of fuzzy guitar, humming bass and gentle percussion, all set to a toe-tapping beat. Abel’s heartfelt vocals have an earnest vulnerability as he sings the poignant lyrics that speak to someone who keeps resisting committing to a relationship, pleading with them to get off the endless cycle of indecision and just let love in:

You say you don’t want to rush 
You say you don’t want to break 
You say you don’t really care 
No you don’t give a damn 
People keep losing their minds 
Going ’round and around on this ride 

But this time let go 
‘Cause this time I’ve got you 
But this time let go 
‘Cause this time I’ve got you 

They’re currently recording more songs to be included on their upcoming EP, and I’m eager to hear them. In the meantime, you can catch them at one of these upcoming shows in New South Wales:

June 15   The Townie, Newtown, 9 PM w/Deep Space Supergroop & Trouble Cruise

June 29  Botany View Hotel, Newtown, 9 PM w/Jonas Nicholls & Deep Space Supergroop

July 28  The Record Crate, Glebe, 7 PM w/E for Echo x DARBY

Connect with Goodnight Japan on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream “Rush” on Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes