SODA CRACKER JESUS – Single Review: “Kaleidoscope”

Soda Cracker Jesus is the solo music project of the wildly imaginative and enormously talented singer-songwriter and producer Regan Lane, who’s also become a regular of this blog. The Tacoma, Washington-based musician has been actively involved in the Pacific Northwest music scene for nearly 40 years, with his hands in many projects, including serving as front man and ringmaster for psychedelic punk-rock band Strangely Alright, whose music I’ve written about numerous times. Earlier this year, he created Soda Cracker Jesus to express his more punky power pop side, calling the project “the spiritual and creative personal space that he goes to just be his musical self, a space where no matter which creative juices flow, whatever sonic creations are born, he knows that they come from an honest and personal place.”

Regan’s also been honest and candid on his social media about his former struggles with alcohol and substance abuse, and the happiness and joy that sobriety now brings him. With an undying sense of optimism, he creates music that looks to the future, but also understands the power of the past, and that duality helps shape his unique and signature sound. Since April 1st, he’s released four singles, beginning with the foot-stomping power pop banger “My Anthem”, followed by “Drug My Soul”, “Kill it Tomorrow”, and now his latest single “Kaleidoscope“. I reviewed the first two singles, which you can read by clicking on the links under “Related” at the end of this post. He released “Kaleidoscope”, along with a lyric video, exclusively on Bandcamp, on October 27, but the song will be officially released on all music streaming platforms November 2nd.

The song has been beautifully described by Mark Platt of online radio station Radio Candy as “Lennon-meets-Bowie-meets-Peter Gabriel in a dark alley“, which I cannot argue with, as I definitely hear the ghosts of John Lennon and David Bowie. Regan states that the song was influenced by “late-era Beatles psychedelia and Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett years”, which is strongly evident in the beautiful, though somewhat spacey, atmospheric soundscapes. The soothing, ballad-like feel of the song is a departure from the harder-driving punk and power pop sound of Soda Cracker Jesus’ previous singles, and I like it! I love the lush, shimmery synths and gorgeous keyboards, which were played by Lee Gregory, as well as Regan’s chiming guitar notes. The subtle bass was played by Ray Hartman, and backing choruses were sung by fellow Strangely Alright bandmember Sean Van Dommelen. Regan produced the track, which was mastered by his longtime collaborator Todd Ensminger.

Regan wrote “Kaleidoscope” after his father passed away. He told me “My dad and I had a complicated relationship, but before he passed we were good. This song is about the emotions and feelings that come with that. I think anyone at any age can relate to dealing with loss. I don’t usually bare my soul but this is as close as it comes.” The lyrics are filled with meaning, but written with enough ambiguity so that each listener can interpret them as they see fit. In spots, the lyrics display a youthful innocence that seems to come from a child’s perspective: “I sure love my bicycle. It takes me where I need to go. And all the raindrops let me know the wind is at my back.” But later in the song, the wisdom that (hopefully) comes with age is apparent: “Father’s ghost has let me know I’m okay, we all get broken. What we get is just a token of what we give away. Kaleidoscope inside my head. Reflections of the hope I have. I look back but now is where I stand.”

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New Song of the Week – SODA CRACKER JESUS: “Drug My Soul”

Soda Cracker Jesus is the brainchild of the wildly imaginative and enormously talented singer-songwriter and producer Regan Lane. The Tacoma-based musician has been involved in the Pacific Northwest music scene for nearly 40 years. Previously a member of Tacoma punk band Baby Knockors and 80s rock band Strypes, he’s currently front man and ringmaster for psychedelic punk-rock band Strangely Alright, who I’ve featured numerous times on this blog. More recently, he helped produce the wonderful debut album Butterfly Hand Grenade for young up-and-coming rockers Stargazy Pie (which I reviewed), and is an active mentor in the successful Ted Brown Music Program, where he helps aspiring northwest musicians hone their craft. 

Lane created Soda Cracker Jesus to express his “more punky power pop side”, with music influenced by acts like the Beatles, Kinks, Robyn Hitchcock, Julian Cope, XTC and more. He’s also been honest and candid on his social media about his former struggles with alcohol and substance abuse, and the happiness and joy that sobriety now brings him. The seasoned artist makes music that looks to the future, but also understands the power of the past and that duality helps shape his unique and signature sound. On April 1st, he released his Soda Cracker Jesus debut single “My Anthem” (which I also reviewed), and today he returns with his follow-up single “Drug My Soul“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. The timely song explores the addictive nature of social media, and the alternate realities we can become immersed in if we’re not careful.

Lane further elaborates: “‘Drug My Soul’ is my perception of social media, at least for me. And it can be very seductive. I have a 12-year-old daughter who is very engaged in it, and I’ve seen it be a very good tool for information and exchanging ideas for her, but at times it exerts a pull that is similar to whatever one’s drug of choice is. (That’s based on my personal experience as a drug addict who’s been in recovery for a while.) And I’m no different. I can get lost in that shit if I’m not careful. And the fact that one can create a narrative of a reality that does not exist is weird and fascinating at the same time. I believe when all is said and done we are judged by our actions in the real physical world. As for the recording of the song, I again did all instruments, voices and production. I’m just trying to get better. Another cool thing for me was to play some slide guitar on this track. I played it a lot as a youngster and this was the first time in many moons that I’ve done that.”

As with “My Anthem”, once again Lane serves up a rousing post-punk banger, replete with a crushing mix of gnarly guitars layered over an assertive bassline and the kind of explosive, foot-stomping percussion that really gets the blood pumping. His instrumentation, arrangement and production values are all first-rate. The song opens with an ominous drumbeat and a teenage boy’s voiceover saying “I made a new friend“, followed by a woman (who could be his mother) asking “Real or imaginary?“, to which he replies “Imaginary.” Lane’s colorfully expressive vocals enter the proceedings as the music ramps up to an electrifying, almost menacing soundscape that continues for the remainder of the song. Things end rather abruptly with graphic sounds of a speeding car violently crashing into something. Wow!

All my friends are just pretend
Nothing more than spreadsheets
All my friends won’t let me send
A different point of view
Stumbling down the rabbit hole
Chasing the feeling and all I want is more

Yeah Yeah
Drug My Soul
Yeah Yeah
Fill In the Hole

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STARGAZY PIE – Album Review: “Butterfly Hand Grenade”

As someone who has zero musical aptitude or talent, I’m always impressed by those who do, and even more so when they’re as young as the guys in the band Stargazy Pie. Formed in 2019, the Tacoma, Washington-based foursome are all still in their teens, ranging in age from 15-19, but their music and lyrics have a level of quality and maturity well beyond their tender years. In January, they released their debut album Butterfly Hand Grenade, and I must say that it’s quite good! I also love that they named their band after a traditional Cornish fish pie. Traditionally, stargazy pie is filled with potatoes, eggs and whole pilchards (sardines) – yuk! – and baked with the fish heads poking though the pastry crust so that they appear to be gazing at the stars. Hence the band’s logo:

Making the great music are Jack Stoker (rhythm guitar, lead vocals), Logan Chernoske (lead guitar, bass, backing vocals), Logan Neville-Neil (bass, piano, backing vocals) and Sulli Olson-Rexroat (drums). The album was produced and engineered by Regan Lane and Sean Van Dommelen of the band Strangely Alright, whose music I’ve also featured a number of times on this blog. The beautiful album art was created by band guitarist, Logan Chernoske, who edited together two NASA photographs of butterfly nebulas with a shadowy image of the lead singer Jack.

The album kicks off with “Kinda Lame“, a rousing tune that takes me back to the 90s with a groove that reminds me a bit of songs by the Gin Blossoms or early Jimmy Eat World. The upbeat, driving rhythms contrast with the more serious lyrics that speak to the disappointment of unrequited love and coming to terms with the fact that the one you love just doesn’t feel the same about you. The instrumentals are all top-notch, and Jack’s vocals are in fine form, transitioning from smooth croons to soaring entreaties with ease as he laments “I think you’re making a big mistake. But I know that we can’t control these things. And baby if you just don’t feel the same, I think that’s kinda lame.”

Paranoid” is a terrific hard rock song, with marvelous chugging riffs of gnarly and distorted guitars, accompanied by galloping rhythms that create a heavier, more urgent sound for the bitter lyrics giving someone who’s betrayed you the big kiss-off: “So don’t come crawling back in shame. Cause I just can’t be friends with someone who wants to see me in pain. But now I’m Paranoid, Cause I know what you’ve done. If I can’t trust you then I can’t trust no one.” Once again, Jack’s vocals are outstanding.

The wonderfully-titled head banger “why’dyouleave(girl).wav” really channels Jimmy Eat World, with frantic rhythms and rapid-fire riffs a la “The Middle”, only faster and with lots more distortion. Jack’s vocal dexterity is impressive as he feverishly spits out the lyrics in perfect sync with the frenzied pace of the instrumentals as he implores ” Why’d you have to walk away? All I need is one more day. So much more I had to say. Things will never be the same. It didn’t have to end this way, oh I just want you to stay.”

The next three tracks address the guys’ anxieties and experiences as a young band, and once again I have to say that I’m both impressed and touched by their intelligent and introspective songwriting, especially given their young ages. The buoyant “Constellations” speaks to the healing powers of making and performing music: “I can’t erase these things that I’ve done. I’m on the run, oh I’m on the run. And I just won’t face what I’ve become. None of it’s fun, oh none of it’s fun. But I’ll go to waste if I don’t move on. I’ll make a name, I’ll be someone. Oh I know a place where we belong. We will be constellations. And we will sing to the nations.

$25 Guitar” is a sweet and poignant ode to the singer’s very first guitar that got him where he is today musically, and though it makes him sad, it’s now time for him to move up to a better model: “My twenty-five dollar guitar. Oh I knew you were a star. And it must be so very hard to hear, but my twenty-five dollar guitar, you just weren’t up to par. So leaving you shouldn’t leave me in tears.” In keeping with the sentimental subject, the song’s arrangement is more laid-back, with charming strummed guitars, however, the rhythm section is still rather spirited, though it doesn’t detract from the track’s mellower feel.

And on the boisterous garage rocker “Going Under“, they touch on the perils of falling prey to acting like a ‘rock star’, being full of yourself and disrespecting others and, ultimately yourself. “Lars Ulrich, he’s a prick. Ain’t got no talent on him. I think he’s full of it. But maybe that’s my problem. I can say you’re not great but you can say the same thing. Why do we wanna hate when we can just walk away? Making me wonder am I going under? / It’s not about what you decide to do with your life. It’s more how you treat stuff and if you do what is right. Don’t hate me, if you’re angry. Cause that’s exactly what I do. I hate that I’m angry and I keep disrespecting you.” Jack and Logan C. set the airwaves afire with face-melting riffs, while Logan N. and Sulli deliver non-stop pummeling rhythms.

The guys slow it back down on the title track “Butterfly Hand Grenade“, a lovely, bittersweet song about missing someone special. “Butterfly hand grenade. Got me feeling this way. Never know what to say cause I get lost when you smile. / Falling deep in denial. And it feels so wrong cause my heart still longs. And you’re not here.” The instrumentals are quite gentle, consisting mainly of strummed guitar and warm keyboards. When the song seems to end at around 2:48, the music returns with added percussion as Jack sadly ponders “So oh, I gotta know. Was this all real? Or was it for show? Oh, I gotta know. Was this all real? Or was it for show?

Everything comes full circle on the closing track “Pretty Great“, a call-back to the opening track “Kinda Lame”. Jack now concludes that he’s okay with the way things ended in the relationship after all, and that he’ll be alright: “Don’t worry about me, I’ll find someone who’ll be, oh all that I’ve dreamed. I once had this feeling, but now that I’m healing I’m finally set free. And that’s not to slight you. I still adore you, just not in that way. And now, everything is pretty great.”

Pretty great is an apt description for this delightful album. Butterfly Hand Grenade is a solid work, and a very impressive debut for this remarkably talented young band. Of course, some credit must be given to producers Regan Lane and Sean Van Dommelen. Still, it’s heartwarming to see a young act put out such a well-crafted work as this, and I hope we’ll be hearing more great music from them.

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Soda Cracker Jesus – Single Review: “My Anthem”

I love the quirky and colorful names that musicians often come up with for their music projects, and one of the best I’ve seen lately is Soda Cracker Jesus, the new brainchild of longtime Tacoma-based singer-songwriter and producer Regan Lane. Lane is also front man and ringmaster of psychedelic punk-rock band Strangely Alright, who I’ve featured numerous times on this blog. The wildly imaginative, talented and seasoned artist has been a mainstay in the Northwest music scene for years. Besides Strangely Alright, he was previously a member of Tacoma punk band Baby Knockors and 80s rock band Strypes. More recently, he helped produce the new album Butterfly Hand Grenade for up-and-coming rockers Stargazy Pie, and is an active mentor in the successful Ted Brown Music Program, where he helps aspiring northwest musicians hone their craft. 

Lane created Soda Cracker Jesus to express his “more punky power pop side”, with music influenced by acts like the Beatles, Kinks, Robyn Hitchcock, Julian Cope, XTC and more. He’s also been honest and candid on his social media about his former struggles with alcohol and substance abuse, and the happiness and joy that sobriety now brings him. He recently confided on Facebook, “I’ve come to the point in my life where I know for me that happiness comes from the inside. It’s not about being the greatest or the best, but about having gratitude for what I have, appreciating the people and love in my life and continuing to try to treat people like I’d like to be treated. And all those things help me feel creative and free to share who I really am.” It’s in this spirit that he wrote “My Anthem“, which he’s released today, April 1st, as his debut single.

The aptly-titled song is a euphoric power pop anthem and foot-stomping banger, with a joyously upbeat old school punk-infused vibe that nicely conveys Lane’s hopeful message. In addition to singing vocals, he played all instruments, mixed, and produced the track, and Todd Ensminger did the mastering. I love his chugging riffs of gnarly guitars and aggressive pounding drumbeats, and his always colorful vocals are emphatic and animated, perfectly complementing the song’s powerful driving rhythms. The lyrics speak to having an optimistic, open-minded and courageous philosophy for living your best life possible, and with gratitude, which Lane sings with such conviction and joy that we can’t help but be swept up alongside him: “I can hope and I can dream. I can fight and I can scream. Look to the light I won’t disappear. Never have to run away from anything I got no fear. Clear and Real and Free. Ya ya ya ya ya This Is My Anthem.

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Stream/purchase “My Anthem” on Bandcamp