New Song of the Week – DUNES: “This Must Be the Plague”

Dunes is a British stoner rock band based in Newcastle upon Tyne. Formed in late 2016, the trio consists of John Davies (guitar, vocals), Ade Huggins (bass, vocals) and Nikky Watson (drums). Influenced by some of their favorite bands like Queens of the Stone Age, Torche, Death From Above 1979 and Clutch, they play an aggressive style of what they call “desert-riff-blues-tinted-disco-tinged-rock.” During their first 18 months as a band, they recorded and released two 5-track EPs, followed by their wonderfully-titled debut album Take Me to the Nasties, which they released in September 2019 (you can read my review here). Now the guys are back with their first new single in 16 months, “This Must Be the Plague“. Released through Sapien Records Ltd., it’s four minutes of hard-driving stoner rock goodness, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week.

The song blasts through the gate with an explosive barrage of grungy riffs slicing through the airwaves like a rogue buzzsaw, driven by a powerful chugging bass line and thunderous drums. The guys are all strong musicians who play as a tight unit, and despite the time gap between the release of their album and this single, not to mention the fact they’ve not been able to perform live, it’s clear they’ve not lost their groove one bit. Davies’ nimble guitar work is superb, and Huggins and Watson do a masterful job keeping the pulse-pounding rhythms at full throttle.

About the song’s meaning, I guessed it to be a commentary about how the Covid pandemic is our modern version of The Plague, with the line “We’re the disease, and that’s the cure” suggesting that people are both the cause and the solution. When I asked Davies about it, he said I was basically correct, but elaborated: “The track was originally written early 2020 pre-pandemic world. It’s a reflection on the feeling that we’re staring down the complete downfall of society with people becoming more and more polarised and divided day by day. It didn’t feel like there was a way back. Then a pandemic happened. We’re not hopeful, but we’ll at least make some noise and have a drink while the ship goes down.”

It appears the pandemic made “This Must Be the Plague” all the more relevant and timely. And though it may not be a solution, I’m certainly always down for some good music accompanied by an adult beverage!

Connect with Dunes:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase:  Bandcamp 

EXPRESS OFFICE PORTICO – Single Review: “I Like it Weird”

Given all the political, social and economic upheaval of the last couple of years, greatly amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s no surprise that so many artists and bands are writing songs addressing some of the anxiety and stress impacting their – and our – collective mental health. I’ve featured a fair amount of those kinds of songs over the past many months, and my latest is the wonderful debut single “I Like it Weird” by British synth-pop band Express Office Portico, which dropped January 29th. The Nottingham, England based five-piece, who named themselves after the entrance to an old newspaper distribution office in the center of town, consists of Tara Freeman (lead vocals, keyboards), Billy Townsend (lead vocals, keyboards), Reuben Tobolewski (guitar), Ben Phipps (bass) and Olly Walton (drums).

The song was inspired by band member Billy Townsend’s struggle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), combined with emotions of love and jealousy about previous lovers. The band told webzine IndieCentralMusic.com, “Once Billy was able to realise that OCD massively exaggerates events, which in most cases may not have even happened, he was able to detach the OCD and the intrusive thoughts that came with that from his emotions, resulting in the inspiration for the song.” The band coupled their hopeful lyrics with a dreamy, upbeat vibe to drive home their message and reassure us that overcoming our personal demons and challenges is possible.

“I Like it Weird” is really quite marvelous, opening with a terrific little bass riff that serves as a strong rhythmic foundation for the song. Soon, our ears are bathed in a lush soundscape of sparkling synths, subtle guitar notes and crisp percussion, all melding together beautifully to create a captivating backdrop for Tara and Billy’s gorgeous harmonies. I’m a big fan of dreamy synth-pop, and this song hits me in all the feels, both musically and vocally. Express Office Portico have struck sonic gold with their debut single, and I cannot wait to hear more from this very promising group.

Follow Express Office Portico:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream I Like it Weird on SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud

Purchase on Amazon

ZEN BASEBALLBAT – Album Review: “Rations”

I’ve touched on this a number of times on previous posts, but one of the advantages of being a music blogger is becoming exposed to all kinds of music I otherwise might not have ever heard. So it was a nice surprise to receive a message from British ska collective Zen Baseballbat – is that a fantastic name for a band, or what! – asking whether I’d be interested in reviewing their new album Rations. Let me state up-front that I dislike writing album reviews, as they’re a lot of work, plus my Attention Deficit Disorder makes it difficult for me to focus my thoughts on a large number of songs, further compounding my stress levels.

That said, the moment I pressed play, I was delighted by this album. It’s wild, it’s zany, it’s fun, and as thoroughly eclectic as any record could possibly be. Besides ska, which itself is an eclectic mash-up of Caribbean mento and calypso, American jazz and R&B, the songs feature generous helpings of electro, punk, new wave, reggae and dub, as well as an unexpected touch of bluegrass just to keep us on our toes – all served up courtesy of nearly every conceivable instrument known to man, along with seemingly silly lyrics that brilliantly reflect deeper meanings.

I’d never heard of Zen Baseballbat previously, however, from what I can tell they were formed some time during the first half of the 1990s by twin brothers Gary and Carl Gleavey, along with several other musicians. Their earliest recording I could find was the 1994 EP Kneel Down To The Mothers Of The Slums, released via Toebunger Records. They later released two albums under the Moon Ska Records label – I Am The Champion Concrete Mixer in 2000, followed by For Refund Insert Baby in 2004. They disbanded in the late 2000s, but reformed a decade later with a new lineup and a newfound burst of creativity.

Based in Widnes, England, a mid-size city located between Liverpool and Manchester, Zen Baseballbat now includes Gleavey twins Gary on guitar & vocals, and Carl on bass & backing vocals, Jordan Donaldson on keyboards & backing vocals, Mike Wilkinson on drums, Jonathan ‘Jogga’ Parker on guitar & backing vocals, as well as Anoushka Wittram-Gleavey and Colin Mackay, who produced the album. In 2020, they released an EP You Won’t Get Paid and two singles “Place Like This” and “Take the Skinheads Bowling”. On New Years Day, they released Rations, which features reimagined versions of 11 songs that previously appeared on I Am The Champion Concrete Mixer and For Refund Insert Baby.

About the album, the band explains: “Rations conjures up images of need, neglect, desire and food banks in the modern world. It definitely shouldn’t sound this positive and joyful. ‘Rations’ is the sound of misery turned on its head. This CD is a radar pulse crossing borders and political divides and says firmly, we are internationalists. These are songs of love, loss, hurt and a knee to the neck from every cunt who wants to keep you in your place. Words have space to breath and weave, voices sound measured with biting intent, bass lines jerk and slide under polyrhythmic prose, whilst organs bounce from corner to corner. This body of work has emerged clear eyed and victorious, handled to a T by producer Colin McKay.

They kick things off with “Whipping the Lash“, which opens with a woman chanting German numbers translating to “seven eight zero seven nine nine” to a synth beat. Things quickly expand into a bouncy retro new wave dance groove that sounds like it could have been produced by Missing Persons or Thomas Dolby. Though the track is heavy on synths, that driving bass line and those jangly guitars are fabulous. The song seems to be a love song told through clever car-oriented lyrics describing feelings of lust: “I just love the way you move your fingers up and down the wheel, Into such mechanical force. It’s the way that you want me to feel.”

Next up is the delightful “Captain Midnight“, a ska song at heart, but given a dramatic synthwave treatment that nicely plays off the lyrics: “Nobody knows who I really am. Nobody knows. Under my vest I’m a Superman. Well I’m a perfect stranger. They even baptized me danger.” On the hilarious “Masochistic Motown“, which to my ears has a bit of a Talking Heads vibe, they touch on a situation where there’s simply no pleasing the man, no matter how hard she tries: “He gets porn at his fingertips, but snubs her new knickers. She’s gone from mouse to blonde, but he never noticed it. She wants him back, she wants him back. She wants him back, she wants him.”

The tables are turned on “Year of the Dog (That Bit Me)“, as this time she’s left him, and he’s feeling like a loser: “Here I am at a municipal dock pond. Oh my god love hurts. She upped and left me in mid sausage, punctuating end with burps.” The song opens with a man’s voice saying “I wish you good luck, but you wouldn’t know what to do with it if you got it“, and ends with that refrain, followed by another man exclaiming that he is in fact a loser: “You lose! Good day sir! It’s all there in black and white, clear as crystal. You lose!” The song’s jaunty vibe, replete with an upbeat ska rhythm, exuberant horns and lively organ, belies the rather morose lyrics.

Brown Cows of Elocution” is a lovely serving of dub reggae delight, and I dare anyone to keep still while hearing it. The cheeky lyrics poke fun at high society’s penchant for verbal diarrhea: “In a compost heap where a language grew, us duffers in the meat yard never had a clue. Our vowels were strangled by the cattle gas. / Sure it’s a laugh sure it’s a gas.

The great tunes keep coming on strong as the album continues. “The Injection of Love is Wearing Off” features more of those lovely horns and organ, and speaks to a relationship in which love is fading” “The injection of love is wearing off. My heart’s wide open. There goes the heat. The magic carpet pulled from under my feet. She made me feel like an out of season seaside.” And have I mentioned that I love Gary’s distinctive singing voice, in which his charming accent is quite pronounced? On “Signed Off R. Mutt“, Zen Baseballbat delivers a surprising injection of rousing hillbilly-flavored bluegrass to lament about the soul-killing downside of most jobs: “I left the job club torture room with little applause. They broke up my horizons over them there town hall walls. I offered them the services of a Marcel Duchamp. They gave me the post of a lavatory attendant. / We know exactly where we are, going under together in a gas filled car.

Bananas” is a fascinating and darkly humorous track with a macabre vibe, thanks to an abundance of spooky synths and eerie guitar notes. The lyrics seem to address a downtrodden social milieu, sort of a Les Misérables meets Sweeney Todd, told through rather repulsive food and restaurant metaphors: “Where’s the crapper? They’re ready to order, ready to murder a braison elephant paddling in batter, two galloping gonads, and the next man’s earlobes. Mine’s a grated brick. And a ballbuster special seasoned with a banana skin. My gastronomic exit. Fly, there’s not enough waiters in my soup!” And on “Matching Houses“, they contrast a breezy reggae melody with pointed lyrics about the banality of suburban life: “Making the most of our matching houses in the middle of nowhere special./ Polluting the back of our nostalgic settee with lies and social security. Painting brown carpets with sunshine. Moving for the last time.”

Continuing on that theme of socio-economic ennui, “The Returner Prize” speaks to the frustrations of being stuck in a dead-end job with no hope of upward mobility, and expected to be thankful for the crumbs you’re thrown by the high and mighty: “Meet your average working stiff, pushing a button in a light bulb factory. Meet your average working stiff, I never touch my salmon paste sandwiches. When Her Majesty came to our dumb town we had a whazz in her brew. Down Stewards Avenue when Her Majesty came to our dumb town, we had to clear up the streets after the mess that she had left.” The closing track “Whipping the Drop” is a mostly instrumental dub reggae song with a strong techno vibe, and seems to be a sort of conclusion to opening track “Whipping the Lash”. The spooky yet stylish industrial synths, throbbing rhythms and whispered vocals repeatedly chanting “Sieben acht null sieben neun neun” give the track a sultry otherworldly vibe.

To expand on some of what I alluded to at the beginning of this review, Rations is a truly delightful album, filled with lyrical and instrumental brilliance that surprised me at every turn. There’s so much going on in every track that, even on my sixth listen, I still discovered another instrument or little nuance I hadn’t previously noticed. I did listen to Zen Baseballbat’s earlier recordings of some of the songs featured on Rations, with their more pure ska stylings, and they were also quite good. But with their reimagined treatments, I think they’ve taken these songs to the next level, giving them a whole new life.

Follow Zen Baseballbat:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream their music:  SpotifySoundcloudApple Music

Purchase on Bandcamp 

New Song of the Week – “Shame” by Saboteurs

Saboteurs is a terrific rock band from Lincoln, England who I first featured on this blog in June 2019 when I reviewed their superb debut album Dance With the Hunted. Now they’re back with a dark and hard-hitting new single “Shame“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. Consisting of Ben Ellis (lead vocals/guitar), Rick Whitehead (lead guitar/vocals), Geoff Standeven (bass), and Pete Botterill (drums), they combine elements of alt-rock, grunge, post-punk, metal and folk with driving rhythms, intricate melodies, powerful instrumentation and intelligent lyrics to create music that excites and surprises us at every turn.  

As with Dance With the Hunted, “Shame” was produced, mixed and mastered by Hamish Dickinson at Phoenix Sound Studio, Notts UK. Angered by the failed libertarian response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and inspired by influences of bands like New Model Army, Biffy Clyro and Thrice, Saboteurs has created their most intense and brooding track yet. The song has a harder rock feel, with more pronounced elements of nu-metal and grunge than their previous songs. The band explains that the song “comments on the struggle within liberal democracies to reconcile the tension between civil liberties and the protection of society. And asks whether in fact, we are facing a Malthusian catastrophe as nature fights back against human population growth.”

The guys drive home their withering message with a furious onslaught of grungy riffs, crushing bass and thunderous percussion. The song opens ominously with spooky synths and distorted guitar chords, then we’re hit with a blast of buzz saw riffs and smashing drumbeats as Ellis angrily snarls “You sit around and say it’s a shame but you’re not us and we’re not them.” The dual raging guitars of Ellis and Whitehead set the airwaves aflame while Standeven’s powerful bass line drives the relentless rhythm forward, accompanied by Botterill’s speaker-blowing attack on his drum kit. By song’s end, I’m breathless. “Shame” is a blockbuster rock song, and it’s good to see Saboteurs back and in fine form.

Follow Saboteurs:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud / YouTube
Purchase on Bandcamp / Apple Music

The Winachi Tribe – Single Review: “Time For Love (David Tolan Remix)”

British electropop/funk band The Winachi Tribe make some of the most deliciously catchy and cool music of any artists around today, and I love them! Formed in 2015 and based in and around Manchester and Leeds, the group is comprised of Liam Croker (vocals), Antony Egerton (keyboards, programming), Inder Goldfinger (percussion), Jamie McGregor (lead guitar),  Ritchie Rich (bass) and Mr. Whommit (drums). Drawing from an array of legendary influences such as Parliament-Funkadelic, Sly & The Family Stone, Primal Scream, Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, Massive Attack, The Stone Roses, Talking Heads, D’angelo, Prince and Daft Punk, they create their own infectious style of funk-infused electro/dance pop.

I first featured them in 2018 when I reviewed their fantastic dance song “Transition”, and then again this past March when I reviewed their single “Funky But Chic“, a delightful song released as a marketing collaboration with iconic Italian fashion brand Pantofola d’Oro. (You can read those reviews by clicking on the links under “Related” at the end of this post.) Now, to celebrate the 5th year anniversary of their debut single “Time For Love”, they’ve released a new remix by Grammy nominated producer David Tolan, who’s produced records for Tears For Fears and Primal Scream, among others. The single is being released today, December 4th, via British independent label A1MRecords.

The original song has a wonderful, hip-swaying Kool & the Gang-Chic vibe, but on the new remix, David Tolan dials up the energy with a heavier dance groove, lots of swirling spacey synths, and more pronounced Nile Rodgers-style guitar riffs that take the song to the next level. Liam’s raspy vocals are low key, yet overflowing with a sexy swagger that’s just too damn irresistible. I also like that the backing female vocals and jazzy trumpet flourishes are still prominent on the remix. It’s a superb track all the way around, and guaranteed to get even the most stubborn wallflower onto the dance floor.

The great cover artwork for the single was created by Pete Phythian.

Follow The Winachi Tribe:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase:  iTunes / Amazon

New Song of the Week – HEIST AT FIVE: “Faceless”

Ever since I first learned about the wickedly talented and undeniably charismatic electro-rock band Heist At Five, they’ve been one of my favorite indie acts. Based in London, the band has an international pedigree: front man and lead vocalist Oskar Abrahamsson is from Sweden, guitarist Jozef Veselsky is from Slovakia, bassist Marco Paone hails from Italy, and drummer Josh Needham is from England. Together, they play an aggressive, innovative style of alternative rock that borders on experimental, with complex melodies, intricate chord progressions, spine-tingling electronic and guitar-heavy instrumentation, and electrifying vocals.

I’ve featured Heist At Five a number of times on this blog, most recently this past August when I reviewed their single “Friday Night”. (You can read some of those reviews by clicking the links under “Related” at the end of this post.) With its jubilant Latin-flavored dance-pop vibe, the song is a bit of a departure from their typical edgy and harder rock sound, though it still features many of the stylistic elements and complex instrumentation that make their music so brilliant. The terrific song has spent the past 10 weeks on my Weekly Top 30. Now the guys return with an dark and explosive new single “Faceless“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week.

About the song, the band explains: “‘Faceless’ deals with an individual who struggles to form an identity, and tries to do so by piecing together scraps
of different characters. To capture the essence of this inner conflict, we invited people of different backgrounds and upbringings to collaborate, and create several layers of vocal overdubs that interpret the lyrics with contrasting emotions. The claustrophobic cluster of voices ultimately explodes in a bombastic chorus, which blends rock and metal with elements of industrial, hip hop and dubstep
.”

“Faceless” is the band’s most experimental and intense song yet, incorporating the aforementioned elements of rock, metal, industrial, hip hop and dubstep to create a volcanic eruption of sound. The song blasts open with Jozef’s distorted guitar, punctuated by an explosive torrent of staccato riffs, firing through the airwaves like a rogue machine gun. Marco lays down a pummeling bass line while Josh smashes his drums with all the power he can muster, driving the relentless crushing rhythm forward. All of this is accompanied by a swirling maelstrom of tortured and spooky industrial synths, adding even greater drama to the sonic mayhem unfolding before our ears. The exquisite production, mixing and mastering of the track was done by Simon Jackman.

I always love Oskar’s highly emotive vocals, and he nicely delivers here with a mix of menacing drones and impassioned wails that are downright chilling. Additional vocals contributed by Oskar’s sister Elin Abrahamsson, SERENA, ANGIE, Sean Frost and Peter Gentry serve to heighten the levels of tension and uncertainty.

“Faceless” is a brilliant song, and a testament to Heist At Five’s ongoing growth and maturity as a band. They continue to push the envelope through their fearlessness, superior songwriting and outstanding musicianship, and I eagerly await their next musical creations.

Follow Heist at Five: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase on iTunes / Bandcamp / Amazon

BLACK BEAR KISS – Single Review: “When I Break”

Since the release of their terrific debut single “Hooks” in the spring of 2018, British alternative garage-rock band Black Bear Kiss have consistently put out a series of stellar singles – all of which I’ve written about on this blog. (You can read some of those reviews by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the end of this post.) With their exciting guitar-driven sound, strong charisma and rowdy live performances, the talented five-piece have built a loyal following in their home base of the West Midlands/Shropshire region of England and beyond. Making this great music are Chris Leech on lead vocals, Colin Haden on lead guitar, Rob Jones on rhythm guitar, Rich Sach on bass, and Chris Bagnall on drums.

Following up on their last single “Reach Up Higher”, an excellent song decrying the dominance of mainstream media and its often negative influence on the public, Black Bear Kiss are back with their latest single “When I Break“, which dropped October 30th. The song is a stylistic departure from their usual harder rocking sound, with a mellower, more introspective vibe, though the band once again serve up a memorable melody and the outstanding instrumentation we’ve come to expect from them. Highlights for me are the bluesy guitars and those beautiful keyboards that come in late in the song.

And then there are Chris’s warm, distinctive vocals that are particularly stunning on this track. He told me the lyrics are somewhat reflective, but he seems to question his relationship and his lover’s commitment toward it: “So we get somewhere we wanted / When does this feeling of fulfillment begin? Are we there, you know I’m counting on you, but this funny little feeling goes / So when I break darling, everything you take will wash over me.

With “When I Break”, Black Bear Kiss keep their perfect score for producing great singles intact.

Follow Black Bear Kiss:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their songs on  Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase on  iTunes / Amazon

CALLING ALL ASTRONAUTS – Single Review: “Divided States of America”

British electronic goth punk rock band Calling All Astronauts have never shied away from writing provocative lyrics about the dark underbelly of politics, culture and society, and calling out authoritarians, fascists and racists as often and as loudly as possible. Drawing from an eclectic mix of genres and influences ranging from electro, alternative rock, goth, punk, metal, rap and dub step, the London-based trio create music that’s exhilarating, melodic, compelling and often in-your-face. Making this musical mayhem are vocalist/songwriter/programmer and producer David Bury, guitarist J Browning and bassist/keyboardist Paul McCrudden.

Since forming nearly a decade ago, Calling All Astronauts have released numerous singles and EPs, as well as three excellent albums – Post Modern Conspiracy in 2013, Anti-Social Network in 2016, and #Resist, which dropped this past June. (It’s hard to believe that nearly four years have passed since I reviewed their single “Life As We Know It”!) They’re now set to release one of the tracks from #Resist – “Divided States of America” – as their 19th single on September 18th. The single, being released via Supersonic Media, is a scathing attack on the current political situation in the U.S. As someone who loathes President Donald Trump and what’s become of the Republican Party that’s enabled him (not to mention the millions of delusional Americans who still support him), this song strongly resonates with me.

Musically, the song features a powerful punk-style dance beat that gets our blood pumping and emotions appropriately riled up. Paul McCrudden’s throbbing bass line is deliciously heavy and deep, pummeling our senses as he drives the rhythm forward like a battering ram, while J Browning lays down a swirling deluge of grungy guitars, punctuated by some nicely-placed stabbing chords. With his characteristically gruff vocals, David snarls the blistering lyrics with a venom that reflects my own sense of outrage and despair.

Society falling in a downward cycle
We checked it’s pulse, it’s signs ain’t vital
Decay. Decline. Sodom and Gomorrah
No matter what they tell you, there’s no tomorrow

Divided States of America
Didn’t know what they were voting for
Divided States Of America
Shut down, locked down, close the door

Two percent looking down at the rest
And the guy in the store wears a bulletproof vest
White folks offended by “Black Lives Matter”
But it ain’t their kids, whose blood is getting splattered

Divided States of America
Didn’t know what they were voting for
Divided States Of America
Shut down, locked down, close the door

Men in suits, above the law
Another refugee pushed against the wall
“The country’s fantastic, we’re doing great”
The President declares a De facto State

Divided States of America
Didn’t know what they were voting for
Divided States Of America
Shut down, locked down, close the door

For the single version used in the video, David’s three-year-old daughter Daisy is heard talking at the end. Engineer Alan Branch (NIN, Depeche Mode, U2) was mixing the track and asked David to record a straight version of the chorus for the end. As Daisy heard her daddy doing the lines over and over, she proceeded to run round the studio singing the chorus, whereupon a mic was quickly handed to her and she happily contributed a few words.

Here’s the slightly longer album version of the song:

Follow Calling All Astronauts:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream their music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud

Purchase: BandcampGoogle PlayAmazon

BLACK BEAR KISS – Single Review: “Reach Up Higher”

I think pretty much everyone would agree that 2020 has been a terrible year on many levels, particularly for the music industry. Artists and bands have been unable to tour or perform live for over six months, and it’s unlikely that will change any time soon. That said, many have used this down time to channel their creative energies into writing and recording new music, some of it reflecting the social, cultural and political upheaval we’re experiencing in many countries around the world. I’ve recently reviewed a fair amount of music touching on these issues, and my latest entry is the new single “Reach Up Higher” by British alternative garage-rock band Black Bear Kiss, which dropped August 28th.

A favorite of this blog, I’ve featured Black Bear Kiss numerous times over the past few years, beginning in April 2018 when I reviewed their terrific debut single “Hooks”. (You can read some of my previous reviews by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the bottom of this post.) With their exhilarating, guitar-driven sound, strong charisma and rowdy live performances, the talented five-piece have built a loyal following in their home base of the West Midlands/Shropshire region of England and beyond. Comprising the band are Chris Leech on lead vocals, Colin Haden on lead guitar, Rob Jones on rhythm guitar, Rich Sach on bass, and Chris Bagnall on drums.

Their first new single in a year, “Reach Up Higher” marks a change for the band, who recorded the song at a new studio and with a new producer; Gavin Monaghan at Magic Garden Studios has worked with artists such as Robert Plant, Editors, The Twang and The Sherlocks. The result is a tighter, more polished sound while still delivering the band’s signature high-energy grooves and driving rhythms. Haden and Jones intertwining guitars are electrifying as they rip through the airwaves with their fast-paced roiling riffs. Sach keeps the driving rhythm on solid footing with a strong thumping bass line while Bagnall pounds out the head-bopping beat with an aggressive – and impressive – pummeling of his drum kit. “Reach Up Higher” is a real banger, and I think it’s their best work yet.

With the song, Black Bear Kiss seeks to shine a spotlight on the dominance of mainstream media and its influence on people. Band vocalist Chris Leech explains: “The song addresses some of the big issues, both home and abroad. The press and public figures in positions of power need to understand the influence they have – their opinions should not be treated as gospel. ‘Reach Up Higher’ is about trying to do better and not believing everything you read, especially on social media”. I love Leech’s warm, smooth vocals as he fervently implores: “Times change / People move incompletely out of their mouths / You won’t prove you pick up the press and now want to read it again / Don’t reach up higher. Reach up higher. Don’t hold me back, yeah don’t divide / Way out a line, way out a line now we’re stepping.”

Black Bear Kiss always put out terrific videos, and the one for “Reach Up Higher” is no exception. The video was produced and edited by Jack Walker Media and stars Joshua Griffiths as a man obsessed with and stressed out by media, and doing what he can to avoid reading it, including getting drunk, furiously working out, burning his newspaper, smashing his mobile phone and escaping into the countryside.

Follow Black Bear Kiss:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their songs on  Spotify / Apple MusicSoundcloud
Purchase on  iTunes / Google Play

POLYHYMNS – EP Review: “Hybrid Sunday”

Polyhymns is an experimental/alternative folk act based in Sheffield, England, having one of the more uniquely eclectic sounds of any artists I’ve heard in a while. Formed a year ago, the trio consist of Andrew Bolam, Gavin Harris and Sam Smith, all of whom previously worked together in folktronica group Little Glitches. With their shared love for such disparate artists as Burt Bacharach and Aphex Twin, they meld experimental electronic elements with psychedelia and folk to create exquisite music that transcends genres and demands our attention.

This past April, they released their debut single “Down with the Kids”, a lovely and poignant folk-pop song about parenthood and isolation in the digital age. They followed in July with the more experimental and trippy “How Ya Doin'”, and now return with their debut four-track EP Hybrid Sunday, which drops today, September 4th. The EP is also being released as a Limited Edition 10” Lathe Cut Vinyl with Sheffield’s Do It Thissen Record Label.

The EP’s title was inspired by the fact that the band writes and records their music on Sunday mornings in Sheffield’s Hybrid 3 Studio. Because the guys found they were often competing with noise from other bands rehearsing and recording in the studio’s other room, they decided Sunday mornings were the best time to ensure the peace and quiet necessary for optimum recording of their own music. During the recording of Hybrid Sunday, they also received guidance from local electronic music wizard Rob Gordon (founder of Warp Records), who lent them his Korg synthesiser and mastered the EP. 

The first track “JK” is a pleasing alt-folk tune, opening with strummed acoustic guitar and gentle handclaps. Soon, an insistent drumbeat enters along with vocals as the music rises with a flourish of synths and wildly crashing cymbals, giving the song a greater sense of urgency. I’m not certain as to the meaning of the lyrics “Again and again I try / Worry how far the others are / Dragging my heels again / Means nothing to me“, but the band states they celebrate diversity in learning.

Polyhymns goes off into a completely different direction with “Unboxers“, a languid atmospheric track lasting nearly six minutes. Over a throbbing dub bass-driven groove, the guys layer spacey industrial synths, crisp percussion and reverb-soaked guitar to create a dreamy, ethereal soundscape. Their soaring vocal harmonies in the first half of the track are sublime.

The enchanting “Toes” is probably my favorite track, with its beautiful skittering synths, razor-sharp percussion, deep bass and those intriguing bleep sounds. And once again, we’re treated to the guys’ soothing vocal croons: “If you try so hard you can get so far off a memory. If you think you’ve failed, then start it again, let’s begin.” The final track “Glyn” is a captivating instrumental composition highlighted by a fantastic psychedelic organ riff. The song starts off with a funky bass loop and crisp hi-hat beats that lend a jazzy vibe, but once the organ enters the proceedings, the song really takes off into the sonic stratosphere.

Hybrid Sunday is an amazing little EP, with four totally unique tracks that couldn’t sound more different from each other. I also find the song titles, which seem to have little to do with the subject matter, quite interesting. I’m really impressed by the creativity and talent of these three musicians, and cannot wait to hear what they come up with next!

Follow Polyhymns:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream their music:  SpotifySoundcloudApple Music

Purchase:  BandcampGoogle PlayAmazon