THE IVINS – Album Review: “Conditions”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE IVINS – Single Review: “Bloom”

Predictions that rock is a dying genre have been made for years, and despite the fact that not much of it seems to appear on the Billboard Hot 100 chart anymore, there’s still a lot of really great rock music being produced by musicians in America and around the world. One act doing their part to keep rock alive and well is Nashville, Tennessee band The Ivins. Consisting of brothers Jim and Jack Ivins (with Jim on guitars & vocals and Jack on drums), Hatton Taylor on lead guitar, and Regan Akers on bass & vocals, they make a hard-hitting, guitar-heavy style of rock they refer to as “Loud Alternative”. I’ve featured them twice on this blog, first in June 2017 when I reviewed their phenomenal debut album The Code Duello, then again in April 2019 with the review of their single “Certain”. (You can read those reviews by clicking on the links under “Related” at the end of this post.)

Earlier this year, they released a beautiful cover of Halsey’s song “Graveyard”, then followed in July with “Composure”, a song addressing personal serenity and overcoming anxiety that was written and recorded remotely during the COVID-19 quarantine. Now they’re back with “Bloom“, the second in a series of singles they plan to release every two months for the foreseeable future, and which will be featured on their forthcoming second album Conditions. 2020 also saw The Ivins earn a nomination for Best Alt Rock band at this year’s Nashville Industry Music Awards, and Jim Ivins spearheaded a Nashville-centric collaborative album called Quarantunes, which featured more than 50 Nashville musicians, including members of Florida Georgia Line, 3 Doors Down, Daughtry, Tonic, Relient K, CKY, Accept and The Dear Hunter. 

“Bloom” is another rousing banger, with an onslaught of jangly and reverb-soaked gnarly riffs delivered by Jim and Hatton’s dual intertwining guitars. Regan drives the powerful rhythm forward with his pummeling bass line while Jack smashes his drum kit with his signature brute force. The blistering guitar solo in the bridge is terrific, as are Jim’s fervent vocals as he sings of his love and devotion to someone who makes him a better person: “That you are with me is just all I need to know. You are the water that makes all my dead leaves grow and cleansed them from poison to thrive in bloom.” He told me that the song was inspired “from personal experience in being a very lost person kind of floating through life, and how it really only takes one person and one connection to turn everything around.

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

THE IVINS – Single Review: “Certain”

Certain (Cover Art)

Two years ago, Nashville, Tennessee alternative rock band The Ivins blew me away with their monumental debut album The Code Duello, which I had the pleasure of reviewing. Now they return with a hard-hitting new single “Certain“, which I’m certain will further advance their star within the Nashville music scene and beyond. The Ivins is comprised of the handsome Ivins brothers Jim and Jack (with Jim on guitars & vocals and Jack on drums), Hatton Taylor on lead guitar, and Regan Akers on bass & vocals.

The Ivins Promo 2

“Certain” was recorded in Nashville with producer Matt Leigh at the legendary Tracking Room (U2, Beach Boys, Bon Jovi). Jim told me that, musically, the track is a re-imagining of an ancient Lebanese folk song. For the video’s premiere on the website Pure Grain Audio, he further explained “The song’s creation actually stems from an audition we had for a cultural emissary program with the U.S. State Department, where we were asked to update an old international folk song. We chose ‘Bektob Esmak,’ a folk song from Lebanon, and off we went. The audition never panned out, but [we] knew we had a great skeleton of a song.”

Also in the Pure Grain Audio article, Jim described the song’s meaning: “’Certain’ is a commentary on the world of infinite options in which we live in 2019. Whether its jobs, relationships, music, what-have-you, at our fingertips all times, we have an unending sea of options for whatever we want out of life. Some people really take to this, and relish in never committing to anything, hence the lyric in the song, ‘Connection calls for arson, potential hangs a noose.’ Me, on the other hand, I crave certainty. I need it. It is my safety blanket. But certainty is scary, and sometimes it can bring you down a path you never thought you’d travel. For me, the lifestyle of unlimited options is the one that is claustrophobic and that’s why the hook of the song is, ’my one wish is to be certain’.”

The song storms through the gates with an explosion of blistering guitars, rumbling bass and thunderous drums, letting us know from the get-go that we’re in for a real ripper of a tune. After 30 seconds, the tempo calms as Jim starts to sing “Paralyzed, paralyzed by choice.” From there, the music alternately swells to a raging storm in the choruses, only to slow back down in the verses, keeping us on the edge of our seats as the track unfolds. The guys’ impressive musicianship is on full display here as they deliver a flawless performance, their respective instruments totally in sync to create an exhilarating and powerful track that raises goosebumps. During the song’s most dramatic moments, Hatton rips his guitar until it wails, while Jack is a literal beast on his drum kit. This photo perfectly captures the ferocity of Jack’s power drumming, which is also clearly evident in the video of their electrifying performance.

Jack Ivins drums

The Ivins will be performing at their home base of The Basement Nashville to rock New Faces Nite on Tuesday April 9. They also have a show at The Back Corner in Nashville on April 24.

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

THE IVINS – Album Review: “The Code Duello”

Nashville rockers The Ivins have been making music for quite a while – both together and separately – and after years of challenges, roadblocks and frustration, they finally realized their dream of producing an album of songs that they could share with the world. In late April they released their debut album The Code Duello, and it’s quite an undertaking, with 13 tracks. The various tracks were recorded between September 2013 and January 2017 in New York, Virginia and Nashville, with the assistance of a number of important producers in the music industry, including Michael Rosen (AFI, Papa Roach), Mark Needham (Imagine Dragons, The Killers), Bill Leverty (Firehouse), Beau Hill (Alice Cooper, RATT) and Anthony “Rocky” Gallo  (John Legend, Carrie Underwood).

The Ivins 2017 Promo Photo 2

The Ivins are brothers Jim and Jack Ivins. They share songwriting duties, and Jim plays guitar and sings lead vocals (and also bass and keyboards on the album), and Jack plays drums (as well as guitar, mellotron and backing vocals on the album). More recently, they’ve been joined by Hatton Taylor on lead guitar and Regan Akers on bass and backing vocals to complete the band’s stellar line-up.

In describing The Code Duello, Jim stated “stylistically, I call this a ‘3:00 A.M. album,’ [with] the vibe of the music as the sound of walking through the Lower East Side of Manhattan at 3:00 A.M., inebriated and wearing sunglasses.” When I asked him about the meaning and inspiration behind the album title and theme, he explained:

“A Code Duello is a set of rules for a duel. A fight, if you will. The title couldn’t be more appropriate because this album is about a fight. A fight to get the album made. A fight between us and the music industry. A fight to make rock music viable to an audience increasingly disinterested in the medium. A fight with society’s expectations about what we “should” be doing with our lives. A fight to be heard. A fight for a connection. Much of the album’s lyrical content deals with those themes and our struggles with the music industry.”

The Ivins 2017 Promo Photo 1

Hallmarks of The Ivins’ music are complex melodies, brilliant, multi-textured guitar riffs, and aggressive percussion (courtesy of Jack’s athletic agility with his drum kit) that create a rich and dynamic soundscape. Their unflinching, intelligent lyrics about love, relationship and career struggles are delivered by Jim’s skillful vocals that go from tender and heartfelt to raw and impassioned.

The album kicks off with a siren announcing the arrival of “Freefall,” a powerful song about coming to terms with a partner who’s no longer emotionally invested in a relationship that’s failing. Jim bitterly sings “Your sloth a hurdle in my way. Your passion is clearly concealing apathy. My back’s broken from your weight.” The layered shredded and swirling guitars are outstanding, and Jack’s hammering drums (he’s jackhammer!) and crashing cymbals add heft to this blistering track.

Heartbreakers” erupts with explosive percussion and guitars, and Jim’s vocals are fervent one moment, then a screeching crescendo the next. This hard-driving track is about being interested only in casual sex, not wanting to get emotionally involved but feeling empty afterward: “Didn’t realize they were the same. Didn’t know that they were playing the same game. Didn’t realize nobody cared. Was surprised when they didn’t get hurt. Was surprised when it didn’t work. If this is what I wanted it to be? Then why’d I wake up feeling empty?” Along a similar theme, “Lay Me Down” speaks to looking for an emotional connection in casual encounters, but never finding it: “If you lay me down, thought I’d see God. But all I see’s a nameless face staring at me.

The guys’ awesome guitar work really shines on “Stockholm Syndrome,” where they throw down a cascade of razor-sharp riffs that snarl and chime. Jack pounds the hell out of his drum kit, while Jim’s electronically-altered vocals implore: “Building me up to tear me down. You say I’m not what you crave, and yet now here you are, but I’m screaming stop. You may be gone but you’re living a lie ’cause you could never fully give up and let this die. Standing on shoulders just to say that you’ve grown, but I won’t be your Stockholm syndrome.

A catchy, upbeat melody belies the bittersweet lyrics in “Masquerade.” The track features lovely, intricate guitar work and the guys’ wonderful harmonizing vocals that contrast with its story line about realizing your partner doesn’t really love you and has just been going through the motions. The lyric “If love is blind, then I’m wasting my time with eyes” is especially poignant.

A standout track is “Roam the World,” with instrumentals so terrific they honestly send shivers down my spine. Upon hearing the opening jangly, reverb-heavy guitar riff, it’s clear this song is going to be something special. There’s a lot going on musically, with amazing multi-layered guitars, heavy buzzing bass and power drums, along with some well-placed synths. Jim’s captivating vocals match the music’s power note for note as he sings: “And I can’t stop running away. But even if I die I know I’m home with you. If I die I’ll roam the world with you.”

The band just released a fantastic video for “Roam the World.” Directed by Kylie Rebecca and filmed in black and white, the video stars Ivy Rhodes & Jordan Fitzsimmons as a couple with a complicated relationship, juxtaposed with footage of the band performing the song in an airplane hanger.

One of my personal favorites is “The Seeker,” a stunning rock song with one of the most beautiful guitar hooks I’ve heard in a while. The track opens with dreamy synths, followed by haunting chiming and jangly guitars and heavy doses of strong percussion. Jim plaintively sings:  “Come follow me into the dark. Come and be the second heartbeat for this vagrant life, that which I chose.” I love this song.

The guys ramp things up with frantic riffs and rapid-fire drums on “Nothing Left to Say,” then segue into the melodically complex “Mountains.” I continue to be blown away by the Ivins brothers’ musicality, as the guitar work on this powerful track is impressive. The lyrics speak to persevering in the face of obstacles and self-doubt: “We’ve come too far. We fell so hard. We’ve come too far to pay for a loss of who we are.

Another standout track is “Tell Me,” perhaps the heaviest and darkest of them all. The story line has the singer on an airplane that may crash, thinking about his past transgressions and regretting things he never got the chance to do. Wanting to atone, he asks for God’s forgiveness. “And life flashes before our eyes. But all I could see was all I hadn’t done. I couldn’t tell the wife I never had goodbye. Love was always what I wanted most, but kept from me through lies.” The song features the guys’ signature intricate, guitar-driven melodies and strong percussion.

Closing out the album is the heartfelt “Bring Life,” about finding the strength to go on after the death of a loved one by holding onto memories of them. “Even though your grave lies in the shade, I know the grass still grows, and brings life to this place of the dead. You bring life to this place of the dead and ease my mind, ’cause even in death you bring me life.

The Code Duello is outstanding from start to finish, and even with 13 tracks, none seem like filler as is sometimes the case with other albums of this length.  The Ivins have a great album on their hands, and it should also be in yours.

Track list:

  1. Freefall
  2. Heartbreakers
  3. Lay Me Down
  4. Out Of Air
  5. Stockholm Syndrome
  6. Made Up Mind
  7. Masquerade
  8. Roam The World
  9. The Seeker
  10. Nothing Left To Say
  11. Mountains
  12. Tell Me
  13. Bring Life

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Purchase it:  iTunes /  Amazon