ROADKEEPER – Single Review: “Take the L”

From the moment I first heard their single “Old Man’s War” back in the spring of 2019, I’ve been a big fan of Texas alt-rock quartet Roadkeeper. Blending dreamy shoegaze and dramatic psychedelic rock with complex melodic structures, they craft lush soundscapes that are a perfect backdrop for their intelligent, socially conscious, sometimes political, and always thought-provoking lyrics. Formed in 2018, the band consists of songwriter/producer John Hetherington (vocals, synths, rhythm guitar), Trevor Tull (lead guitar), Nick Cogdill (drums) and Daniel Griffith (bass). All long-time friends, Roadkeeper is completely independent and self-produced, doing their recording, producing and mixing in John’s studio, and releasing their songs on their own label Equal Temperament

I last featured Roadkeeper in January when I reviewed their magnificent single “Enemy Mine” (which spent more than four months on my Weekly Top 30). The song is a scathing attack on far-right white nationalist professional pundits who radicalize vulnerable young people by feeding them propaganda on social media and YouTube. Continuing in a similar vein, on June 24th, they dropped their 8th single “Take the L“, which addresses the ongoing immigrant and refugee crisis along the US/Mexico border, which has had an especially profound impact on Texas.

Written during the Trump administration and recorded in the Biden administration, the song shines a light on the fact this issue hasn’t gone away with the change in the White House. In an article in the webzine Clash, John explained “The song serves as an important reminder that the two major political parties in the US are just punting this issue back and forth to one another, so when is real change going to happen?

Roadkeeper never fails to amaze me, and with “Take the L”, they once again deliver an exceptional single. The layered mix of psychedelic and shimmery guitars are gorgeous, backed by sparkling atmospheric synths and thumping rhythms, all creating a melodic and captivating backdrop for the powerful lyrics. John has a wonderful and mellifluous singing voice, and here his smooth vocals remind me at times of Mark Foster (of Foster the People) as he laments “Just take the L and go, so we both get our way. We’ll burn at both ends and say ‘Who started it anyway?’. All these stolen kids who die in their sleep don’t mean anything.”

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Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
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THE METAL BYRDS – EP Review: “Life in 20”

Like Tough On Fridays, who I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, The Metal Byrds are a female-fronted rock band from Texas. Based in the music city of Austin, the band formed in 2018 after a chance meeting between London-born singer-songwriter Suzanne Birdie and guitarist Sly Rye Dovey. Both were in other bands at the time, and one night, at the urging of a mutual friend, Suzanne sat in on Sly Rye’s rehearsal with his band. He asked Suzanne to sing any song she wanted and she began singing “Sweet Child O’ Mine”. That was all it took, and she soon joined his band and began performing with them. His band was having internal issues however, which ultimately led he and Suzanne to create their own project together as The Metal Byrds. They were later joined by bassist Kevin Kurts and drummer Alex Romanov to complete their lineup.

The Metal Byrds play a dynamic style of rock infused with healthy doses of rock’n’roll and power pop, along with enough metal in the mix to give their songs a dark, edgy quality. They released their debut EP The Song Byrd in April 2019, then quickly followed two months later with a second EP Byrds on a Wyre. On October 2nd, they dropped their latest EP Life in 20, and listening to all three works, it’s clear that their songwriting and musicianship have gotten stronger with each release.

As the title would suggest, the opening track “The Ganges” starts off with Suzanne singing what sounds like an Indian chant, accompanied by jangly Indian instruments lasting around 15 seconds. Suddenly, the song blasts open with a juggernaut of Metallica-esque riffs, gnarly bass and pummeling drums that takes the song deep into hard rock territory. Sly Rye’s guitar work is truly impressive as he shreds the hell out of his six-string, laying waste to the airwaves with rapid-fire noodling and wailing distortion. Suzanne’s aggressively fervent vocals demand our full attention as she sings of feeling overwhelmed as if drowning, while making references to maharajas, brahmins and ghats.

Dreamin’” is a full-on rock’n’roll banger, with furious riffs and explosive rhythms that really showcase what The Metal Byrds are all about. Suzanne emphatically implores a love interest to give her a little consideration: “Can’t you see I’m standing right here in front of you / But you don’t even notice.” Keeping with that theme, “Tell Me” is about coming to terms with the fact that, no matter how hard you’ve tried, the person you pinned all your hopes on just doesn’t feel the same toward you. Suzanne’s emotion-filled vocals convey the sad resignation expressed in the lyrics “Tell me I’m wrong, you’re not the one. I don’t need convincing.” Musically, the song starts off as a folk ballad but gradually transitions into a terrific Southern rocker, with lots of great twangy and distorted guitars. It’s my favorite track on the EP.

The rousing title track “Life in 20” has a Pat Benatar vibe, with a frantic driving beat and more of Sly Rye’s fantastic riffing. In fact, the song reminds me a bit of Benatar’s “Heartbreaker”. In their notes, the band states the song “is a generalization of what the year 2020 has been like. A diary of events and feelings, of sorts. The guitars wail, along with lead singer, Suzanne Birdie’s voice, to evoke feelings of struggle and inequities that we have experienced during the past year.” Suzanne mournfully laments “Everything could end, you don’t know. One step from letting go.”

Impossible” is another excellent hard-rocking tune, with the kind of powerful driving beat that I love. Kevin and Alex deliver aggressive thumping rhythms guaranteed to get your blood pumping and hips moving, and Sly Rye layers a lively mix of staccato riffs and screaming distortion that would satisfy even the hardest metal head. Suzanne gives her lover an emphatic kiss-off: “I’m leaving tonight to get on this flight like a thief in the dark to protect my own heart / You’re impossible to love, and still too blind to see.”

Life in 20 is a great little EP that gets better with each listen. The Metal Byrds sure know how to rock, and I think this is their finest work yet. As I noted earlier, the quality of their songwriting, production and musicianship have gotten stronger on each release, and I’m confident they’ll continue on this upward trajectory.

Note: The version of the EP on Bandcamp features five tracks, however, the one on Spotify and Apple Music also includes a sixth track, a radio edit of “The Ganges” without the 15 seconds of Indian chanting at the beginning.

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TOUGH ON FRIDAYS – Album Review: “A Fantastic Way To Kill Some Time”

Tough On Fridays is a female-fronted grunge-pop rock band based in Georgetown, Texas, a mid-sized city 30 miles north of Austin. Since forming in 2017, they’ve built an ever-growing fan base through their infectious music, relatable lyrics and high-energy live shows. Blending the best of indie, alt-rock, pop and grunge, they create their own unique style of edgy rock ‘n roll . Making the music are Caleigh on vocals & guitar, Carly on bass & vocals, and Chris on drums.

Since 2017, they’ve released numerous singles and EPs, and beginning this past March, they dropped a series of three double-singles – “Simplicity I”, “Simplicity II” and “Simplicity III” – every two months. On September 4th, they released their long-awaited debut album A Fantastic Way to Kill Some Time, featuring the six previously-released singles along with two new tracks. Showcasing their most mature and refined sound yet, the album was recorded at Empire Sound in Carrollton, TX under the direction of Matt Kennedy, who engineered and mixed the tracks. The album was produced by Eric Nielsen, and mastered by Justin Perkins at Mystery Room Mastering in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The album touches on the myriad challenges of young adulthood like self-identity, mental health, and the perilous minefield of relationships and dating. Opening track “Party Scene” sets the tone from both a musical and lyrical standpoint, with urgent riffs of grungy guitars, driving bass and pummeling drums creating an angst-filled vibe for the lyrics decrying the downsides of the party scene. Caleigh bemoans of her general distaste for parties, and how going to them makes her feel more lonely than when she’s alone: “I don’t know why I go all on my own where no one really knows you. Everyone acts drunk too. I just wanna go home all alone / The Party Scene it’s so obscene. The Party Scene it’s not for me.”

Pleased to Meet You” speaks to the anxieties that often occur when meeting new people, that perhaps they won’t like us. At the listening party for the album, Caleigh said “Pleased to Meet You” is a callback to their previous song “Summer” about being a burden, and is a sort of warning to people you meet that they may not want to know you because of your faults and shortcomings: “Maybe I’m different. Maybe I’ve changed. Maybe I’m just a little sad and deranged.” The gnarly guitars on this track are really good.

On “Out of the Blue (The Deep End)“, Tough on Fridays addresses body dysmorphia, a mental condition in which a person obsesses about a perceived flaw or defect in their appearance that’s either non-existent or so minor that others can’t see it. In a late night phone call, the singer expresses her insecurities to a friend: “Dear friend, are you up tonight? I just don’t feel quite alright. I know it’s out of the blue, but I got another shit tattoo. Haven’t slept since god knows when, and I think I’m going off the deep end. / You know it’s hard to stay beautiful.”

Problematic relationships are the subject of several tracks on the album, starting with “My Favorite Mistake“. The song was written and sung by the band’s previous bassist Kelly, who was a senior in high school at the time. (She has since graduated and is now in college at Belmont in Nashville.) To a rousing beat and heavily-strummed grungy guitars, she wistfully sings to a former boyfriend of her conflicted feelings: “You were my favorite mistake. You were the feeling that I love and that I hate. Still think about you, but I still feel you in these walls.”

On “Last Chance to Lose Your Keys“, Caleigh gives her undependable boyfriend the kiss-off: “I shoulda seen it all along. It’s guys like you that make me think I’m better off home on a Saturday night with all my doors locked up tight. I won’t be thinkin’ about you, baby.” The song was originally written by the now defunct band Brand New; Tough on Fridays bought the rights to the song so they could record it and Caleigh spun the lyrics. And on “Patches“, she laments of a boy she’s crazy about, but doesn’t think he feels the same toward her: “All he seems to be, a fucking mystery. Do I mean anything? ‘Cause to me you are everything. / You know you have me. You’ll always be my mystery You look so good to me.” The gentle jangly guitar gives this song more of a folk-rock feel.

Lonely Eyes/Pines” is a low-key grunge song with reverb-soaked fuzzy guitars and restrained percussion that create a somber backdrop for Caleigh’s melancholy vocals. The poignant lyrics speak of regrets over past mistakes and wanting to find a little peace of mind, yet knowing that she’ll keep fucking up: “The sins I repent I will commit all over again. And these pines I will frame. I know it’s seen better days.” “Bad Memories and Wishful Thinking” is a grungy little tune that perfectly encapsulates those times when you feel like everything sucks and you just want to wallow in your misery and self-pity: “If it would rain all day I would be happy just for one day. And I will change my name. For one day if only it’ll rain.”

A Fantastic Way To Kill Some Time is a fine debut album from this hard-working and earnest young band. I like the honesty that shines through in both their relatable lyrics and down-to-earth style of grunge. Plus, it’s always gratifying to see women making great rock music.

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CEREBRAL DESECRATION – Single Review: “Peel of the Rotten”

Cerebral Desecration is an amazing death/thrash metal band based in San Marcos, Texas.  Founded in 2010 by guitarists David Machado and Javier Zamora, the band also includes Kobey Lange on vocals, Joe Muniz on bass, and Collyn Rios on drums. Their brutal sound is heavily influenced by bands such as Testament, Obituary, Hatebreed, Sepultura, Pantera, Whitechapel and Lamb of God, to name a few. They released a debut EP Immortals in 2013, and now return with a face-melting new single “Peel of the Rotten.”

The guys waste no time getting right down to business, unleashing from the get-go a juggernaut of raging buzz-saw guitars, crushing basslines and gut-punching drums. Having two lead guitarists gives their sound extra heft, and Machado and Zamora nicely deliver an unrelenting barrage of furious jackhammer riffs that will satisfy any metal head. Zamora plays a beautiful little melodic riff in the bridge that momentarily draws our attention from the relentless onslaught. Muniz nearly blows the speakers with his supermassive bass, while Rios pummels his drums with awe-inspiring fury.

My ears are bleeding, and I haven’t even gotten to the vocals yet! Lange is quite honestly one of the best death metal vocalists I’ve heard in a long while. He sings with a ferocity that boggles the mind, like a rampaging beast stomping through the streets, laying waste to everything in its path. He seems to effortlessly transition from guttural growls to savage screams and back again without skipping a beat.

It’s a fairly long track, clocking in at 5:16 minutes, but there’s not a single throwaway moment or note. It’s a magnificent death metal song from a totally badass band! Take a listen and see for yourself:

Fun fact: I love that the track was recorded at the Dead Room Recording Studio.

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