Fresh New Tracks, Vol. 18 – Black Bear Kiss, The Metal Byrds, Tough on Fridays

Given my hiatus from writing reviews (notwithstanding my recent 30-day song challenge), it’s been over three months since I’ve written a Fresh New Tracks post. Now that I’m feeling more rested, I’ve decided to dip my toes back into the turgid waters of review-writing, steadfast with determination going foward to not allow myself to become overwhelmed or burned out. With that in mind, today I’m featuring new songs by three great bands I’ve previously written about on this blog – British rockers Black Bear Kiss, and two female-fronted rock bands from Texas, The Metal Byrds and Tough on Fridays.

BLACK BEAR KISS – “Chasing All I Know”

Black Bear Kiss have been a favorite of this blog for over four years, since June 2018 when I reviewed their terrific debut single “Hooks”. Over the succeeding four years, they’ve released a number of fine singles, most of which I’ve also reviewed. With their exhilarating, guitar-driven rock sound, strong charisma and rowdy live performances, they’ve built a loyal following in their home base of the West Midlands/Shropshire region of England and beyond. In June of last year, the band was shaken by the tragic and sudden passing of one of their guitarists Rob Jones from a previously undisclosed heart ailment. Now soldiering on as a four-piece, Black Bear Kiss consists of Chris Leech on lead vocals, Colin Haden on guitar, Rich Sach on bass, and Chris Bagnall on drums.

To honor Rob, as well as to help raise funds for Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY), a charity aimed at raising funds for cardiac screening, research and the support of families affected, the band released a single “The First Time” this past February. Now they return with their latest single “Chasing All I Know“, which was one of Rob’s favourite songs. The track was recorded at the iconic Foal Studio in Wales, with Rob’s cousin Mike playing rhythm guitar using Rob’s own Gibson Les Paul. About the song, band vocalist Chris Leech explains: “We all have different pressures in our lives. This track is about feeling like you’re at the centre of everything and trying to get back to a place or feeling that you know – it’s also got some grunt which is what we are all about!” Black Bear Kiss delivers their signature driving rhythms we’ve come to love and expect, overlain with roiling riffs of grungy guitars and thumping drumbeats. Leech’s expressive vocals sound better than ever as he fervently sings “There’s all these people standing by my side. I just want you to tell me it’s alright. I’m at the center of it, I’m chasing, I’m chasing all I know now, whoa.”

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THE METAL BYRDS – “Vicious Circle”

The Metal Byrds are a female-fronted rock band based in Austin, Texas, who play a hard-hitting 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. Formed in 2018, the band has undergone a few personnel changes, and now consists of founding members London-born singer-songwriter Suzanne Birdie and guitarist Sly Rye, along with bassist Mac Jacob and drummer Charlie Breeze. Over the past three-plus years, they’ve released three EPs – The Song Byrd in April 2019, Byrds on a Wyre in June 2020, and Life in 20 in October 2020 (which I reviewed) – and an album simply titled 4, in September 2021. On July 15th, they released “Vicious Circle“, the lead single from their forthcoming album BIRDIE LANE, due for release later this year. 

The song is an exhilarating banger, driven by a hard-charging rhythm, courtesy of Mac’s brilliant chugging bassline and Charlie’s pummeling drums. Sly lays down an aggressive onslaught of gnarly riffs, highlighted by a blazing guitar solo in the bridge. And Suzanne’s powerful, resonant vocals are in fine form as she fervently wails the lyrics describing the torture of insomnia, keeping her awake with worries and anxiety that she’ll never be able to sleep: “Here we go again, a vicious circle. Can’t get it started. Round and around again.” It’s a fantastic song, and I think it’s one of their best yet. The wonderful video shows Suzanne suffering the agonies of insomnia, interspersed with rather humorous scenes of her bandmates performing the song while on her bed, adding to her sleepless misery.

Follow The Metal Byrds: Facebook / Twitter

TOUGH ON FRIDAYS – “Growing Pains”

Hailing from Georgetown, Texas, not far from Austin, grunge pop-rock trio Tough on Fridays have been on an upward trajectory since forming in 2017. Now consisting of Caleigh Oceguera on vocals & guitar, Carly Fairchild on bass & vocals, and Chris Schreck on drums, they’ve garnered an enormous base of loyal fans through their memorable music, relatable lyrics and high-energy live shows. Blending elements of indie, alt-rock, pop and grunge, they create their own unique style of edgy rock ‘n roll. Since 2017, they’ve released numerous singles and EPs, which culminated in the release of their outstanding debut album A Fantastic Way to Kill Some Time, in September 2020 (my review has been viewed more than 1,100 times, making it the fourth most-viewed album review I’ve written.)

In the two years since, they’ve released several singles, the latest of which is “Growing Pains“, which dropped August 15th. The song has a pleasing folk-rock vibe, highlighted by Caleigh’s lovely strummed guitar work, while Carly and Chris keep the lively rhythm on their bass and drums. The subtle piano keys are a nice touch, adding to the song’s melodic sound. Caleigh’s slightly echoed vocals have a vulnerable quality, providing a rather melancholy undercurrent to the track as she plaintively sings the lyrics directed to a former loved one that she’s moving on from the relationship: “Growing pains. Sick of hearing how I’ve changed. Cause I’ve outgrown you, I don’t need you. Cause I’m pulling all your weight. Done cleaning up the mess you’ve made. You always made./ Am I bitter? Just feeling better.” It’s a wonderful, beautifully-crafted and masterfully-arranged track that nicely showcases Tough on Fridays’ continued growth and musical maturity.

Follow Tough on Fridays:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Fresh New Tracks Vol. VII – brett.grant.5, Marc Schuster, The Metal Byrds

It’s been a while since I’ve done a Fresh New Tracks post, and today I’m featuring three recently-released songs by three totally different acts I’m particularly fond of on a personal level: Chicago alternative electronic rock artist brett.grant.5, indie singer-songwriter Marc Schuster, and Texas hard rock’n’roll band The Metal Byrds.

“Reanimate” by brett.grant.5 featuring Emma Young

brett.grant.5 is the artistic name of Chicago-based singer-songwriter and composer Brett Grant, who’s been active in the Chicago music scene for many years, both as a member of several bands and as a solo artist. Drawing from a wide and eclectic range of musical sources and genres, ranging from 1920’s jazz and classical to electronic and experimental progressive rock, his sound is bold, unorthodox and always fascinating. Over the past couple of years, I’ve written about both his solo music as well as that of his band A Million Rich Daughters. Last June, I reviewed his single “Burning Fire”, a biting song repudiating the religious dogma that keeps people enslaved on so many different levels – mentally, socially, culturally and physically. He recently returned with a new single “Reanimate“, which features guest vocals by singer-songwriter, actor, model and producer Emma Young, who Brett got to know while they were students at Columbia College Chicago. They’d also played together in the band Sleep For Dinner, who released a self-titled EP in 2019.

“Reanimate” is a deliciously dark electronic track with a throbbing, super-gnarly bass groove overlain by an eerie mix of spacey, wobbly, and tortured psychedelic industrial synths, all working together brilliantly to create a dramatic and unsettling soundscape befitting the subject matter, which seems to me to be about how mankind keeps repeating the same destructive behavior over and over again, never learning from past mistakes. Brett has a distinctive singing voice, with the ability to sound vulnerable as well as diabolical, which he does here to great effect as he rails “Pretend you forgive, pretend you forget, pretend that it’s just another thought to repress.” Emma, on the other hand, has a lilting vocal style which provides a nice contrast as she hauntingly chants the chorus “I’m not trying to invalidate. I know they could soon eradicate. I can hear them start to salivate. Breathe in the undead, reanimate.”

The beautiful artwork for the single was created by Brett’s wife Ashlee.

Follow Brett: Twitter / Facebook / Instagram

Follow Emma:  FacebookInstagram

“Before the Boys” by Marc Schuster

Marc Schuster is a talented and creative renaissance man who I got to know through blogging (he has a WordPress blog called Abominations, which you can check out here). In addition to teaching English at Montgomery County Community College in Pennsylvania, Marc has written several books, written scripts for two short films, writes songs and records music as both a solo artist and with music projects Plush Gordon, The Ministry of Plausible Rumours and experimental electronic music project Android Invasion. On April 6th, he released his latest single “Before the Boys“, a song that speaks to, in his own words, “the tyranny of gender identity, wrapped in a bubblegum pop sensibility reminiscent of the Monkees. The song is about a free-spirited eleven-year-old girl who becomes self-conscious when someone pulls her aside and tells her to be more reserved and feminine because ‘boys are watching’. It’s told from the point-of-view of the eight-year-old boy who is crushed when the girl gives up her tomboy ways.”

It’s a sweet song, with a simple but catchy piano-driven melody, punctuated in the choruses with quirky synth sounds that create an endearing vibe. Marc’s low-key vocals are smooth and pleasing as he croons the lyrics from the perspective of an eight-year-old boy now disappointed that the eleven-year-old tomboy he had fun with has changed, and not for the better in his opinion:

Muddy knees and a bloody lip the day she turned self-sabotaging, 
A well-meaning grandmother pulled her aside and said, “Girl, don’t you know boys are watching?”
She was tough and she was cool,
And she wasn’t afraid to make noise.
Before the makeup, before the hair,
Before the laborious ploys.
Before, before, before the boys.

“Before the Boys” will be available on all streaming services by the end of the month.

Follow Marc:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

“Spitfire Pete” by The Metal Byrds

The Metal Byrds are a female-fronted rock band based in Austin, Texas, who play a hard-hitting 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. Formed in 2018, the band consists of London-born singer-songwriter Suzanne Birdie, as well as guitarist Sly Rye, bassist Kevin Kurts and drummer Alex Romanov. Over the past two years, they’ve released three EPs – The Song Byrd in April 2019, Byrds on a Wyre in June 2020, followed by Life in 20 in October, which I reviewed. On April 4th, they dropped “Spitfire Pete“, the first single from their forthcoming album 4, due for release later this year. The song is dedicated to an autistic boy from Lincolnshire, England named Pete, who’s a big fan of the band and rock’n’roll. 

With blazing riffs and driving rhythms that would make AC/DC proud, The Metal Byrds fully engage their sonic weaponry to create a rousing rock song befitting the vintage film footage of British fighter pilots flying their Supermarine Spitfire aircraft during World War II and waging air fights against the Germans at the Battle of Britain. Sly Rye shreds the airwaves with fiery riffs and wailing distortion, while Kevin and Alex keep the pummeling rhythms moving forward at full throttle. Suzanne’s powerhouse aggressive vocals rise to the occasion as she fervently wails “All guns blazing, all night long. Pulling the trigger. Pulling the trigger and dropping the bomb. Spitfire Pete, whoa-oh. Never retreat, he’ll make a stand.” It’s a kickass banger!

Follow The Metal Byrds: Facebook / Twitter 

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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Stream/purchase their music:  SpotifyApple Music / BandcampAmazon