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:

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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.

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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!

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DENSE – EP Review: “Abjection”

DENSE is a remarkably talented young psychedelic garage rock band from Leeds, England I’ve been following pretty much since their beginnings nearly four years ago. As their name suggests, they combine thick, fuzz-coated grooves with intricate, often explosive riffs and complex melodies to create music that’s exhilarating and intense. To best describe their distinctive sound, I’ve come up with the phrase ‘industrial surf-metal psychedelic garage rock’.  Making this incredible and innovative music are Charlie Fossick (Guitar/Vocals), Dylan Metcalf (Bass) and Sam Heffer (Drums), three intelligent guys who take their music seriously, yet are still fully in touch with their playful side.

A favorite of this blog, I’ve featured DENSE numerous times over the past three and a half years, most recently last December when I reviewed their dark and gritty single “Fever Dream” (you can read some of my previous reviews by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the end of this post). Now the guys return with their debut EP Abjection, featuring four combustible little sticks of dynamite packed into 14 explosive minutes. The guys have gained a reputation for their electrifying live performances, and in the creation of the EP, they wanted to capture that energy and translate it into their songs. Abjection was written and recorded by DENSE, produced and mixed by Adam Bairstow, and mastered by James Grover.

It’s been gratifying to follow these guys on their musical journey, and as they’ve matured, so too has their sound, songwriting and performance, with each release sounding better and better. Abjection is their best work yet, with the band further experimenting with progressive rock elements. In a recent interview with British webzine DRAB, the band explained “The instrumentals are incidentally written to sort of be ‘progressive’ with changing moods and vibes through each song to almost tell their own story. To pair with this, Charlie usually writes taking influence from writers such as H.P. Lovecraft (i.e. cramming a horror story into a single song), and this led to us landing on the main theme of the EP being a small collection of songs that are all essentially short stories about different forms of suffering, hence the title of the EP. Looking back on that, it makes us come across a lot more bleak and depressing than we like to think we are as people!

Opening track “Calcium” really showcases how well the three guys play as a tight unit, their respective instruments in perfect sync as they deliver a thunderous wall of psychedelic sound. Starting with Dylan’s deep, pulse-pounding bass line that serves as the song’s rapidly beating heart, Charlie layers scorching reverb-soaked riffs that rip through the airwaves while Sam aggressively smashes his drum kit. I can’t make out all the lyrics Charlie’s singing, but he screams with a ferocity that’s downright chilling. A little more than halfway through the song, we hear what sounds like jets flying as Sam starts shattering his drums with crushing beats that echo off the walls. At 2:45, Charlie lets loose with a savage volley of raging distortion, while Dylan’s relentless throbbing bass can be both heard and felt. It’s an exhilarating ride from start to finish.

As it’s title suggests, “Dread” is a dark and ominous track, with a heavy start-stop beat driven by a menacing bass line. Two thirds into the song, Charlie blows us away with an explosion of screaming distortion while Sam smashes his drums to bits. Charlie wails the lyrics that speak of depression and hopelessness: “Dark shadows surround me. So patient. So worthless. So nothing.” In that DRAB interview, he commented on his vocals: “I think as far as my vocal tone on the EP goes, I was trying to be more confident in my voice and not hide too much behind walls of reverb and delay which is a lot more comfortable for me. I never think of myself as a ‘singer’ or anyone of any significant talent vocal/lyric-wise so I wasn’t very comfortable in having my words sound clear and at the forefront. This time around I’ve decided to be a bit more vulnerable with what I wrote and how I’m performing it.”

Electric Chair” has a rousing punk rock vibe, with gnarly reverb-soaked guitars that border on surf at times. As always, Dylan and Sam blast out a hard-driving rhythm with their intricate heavy bass line and pummeling drum beats.

The final track “Cleanse/Repair” is a reworking of their song “Irreversible Knot” that they’d previously recorded a few years ago. After changing a few lyrics and elements that make it a sharper and more polished-sounding track, they felt it needed a new name. The song begins with Dylan’s deeply-strummed bass, then we’re hit by a thunderous barrage of fuzzy distorted guitars and wildly crashing cymbals. Charlie’s echoed vocals go from sultry drones to savage wails, while he shreds his guitar nearly to bits. Halfway through the track, things calm down so that we hear only Dylan’s bass, then with a scream from Charlie, a cacophony of reverb-soaked distortion comes crashing back like a rogue wave. A second lull occurs three quarters of the way through, with a final return of tumultuous discordant musical mayhem closing out this monumental track.

All three members of DENSE are supremely talented guys who continue to blow me away with their incredible musicianship. Charlie’s guitar work is exceptional, and I think Dylan is one of the finest bassists around today. And Sam’s a literal beast on the drums. Abjection is a fantastic little EP that makes quite an impact in its 14 minute run time, and if you like music that’s complex, thrilling and dark, you will enjoy it as much as I do.

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New Song of the Week – AMONGST LIARS: “Burn the Vision”

Since forming a year ago from the breakup of the bands Saint Apache and Katalina Kicks, Amongst Liars have become one of the most exciting indie acts on the British rock music scene today. Incorporating a dynamic mix of alternative rock, grunge and punk, they play a melodic and fierce style of aggressive hard rock that’s earned them a loyal and passionate following, me included. Last February, they released their spectacular debut single “Over and Over”, then followed in May with their appropriately-titled beast of a track “Wolf Machine”. (You can read my reviews by clicking on the links under “Related” at the end of his post.) Now they return with their third single “Burn the Vision“, an explosive banger which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week.

Based in the Brighton/Eastbourne area along the southern English coast, Amongst Liars consists of four highly accomplished musicians Ian George (lead vocals, guitar), Leo Burdett (guitar, backing vocals), Ross Towner (bass, backing vocals) and Adam Oarton (drums). While they don’t consider themselves a ‘political band’, they certainly don’t shy away from expressing their opinions and anxieties about what’s happening in the world. Band vocalist Ian George explains. “We’re not preaching at anyone or trying to change the world. We’re just saying these are the things that affect and concern us.”

In response to the ongoing political divisiveness over the past few years, which has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 global pandemic, a number of artists and bands have been inspired to write songs addressing those thorny issues, and Amongst Liars have been among the most outspoken. On their previous single “Wolf Machine”, Amongst Liars called out inept and ineffectual governments led by power hungry politicians. “Burn the Vision” shines a spotlight on those who have sought to profit from the misfortune of others by distorting the media with fake news to spread their own narratives and lies. The band explains: “‘Burn the Vision’ is basically about all things messed up in the world at the moment – people acting for personal gain and media distortion – no matter what side of the spectrum you are on. We all burn a vision in our heads through consumption of targeted fake news.

Well, the guys unleash their arsenal of sonic weaponry to deliver a furious onslaught of thunderous riffs and crushing rhythms befitting the searing lyrics. Amongst Liars are all great musicians, adept at pushing their respective instruments to the limit to create an explosive wall of sound, and here they excel quite nicely. Working in tandem as a force to be reckoned with, Leo and Ian shred the airwaves with jagged riffs and fuzz-coated distortion, while Ross and Adam drive the powerful rhythm forward with an intense bass line and pummeling drumbeats. It’s a thrilling, pulse-pounding ride from start to finish!

Ian summons his inner beast on vocals, nearly spitting the lyrics as he rails against a despicable leader I assume to mean Donald Trump, continuously feeding us lies: “We bow to the lies of a president / We fall to the word of the free / All down to the voice of a millionaire / That’s not so clear to see.” Ian continues with his verbal assault, fervently pleading for people to stop believing the lies and start thinking for themselves: “Burn the Vision, don’t turn / Let us decide, all for the right, stop all the lies / Not for the memory / Burn the Vision.” Regular readers of my blog know I detest President Trump, so these lyrics strongly resonate with me.

With the assistance of Josh R Lewis and Robert Ruardy, the guys have produced a powerful video to bring the song to life. “We wanted a strong visual for this, so the video plays on this idea and is tongue in cheek, featuring a man stuffing himself with junk food and fake news – the idea that people become pariahs of their own consumption.” The video shows the aforementioned couch potato sitting in a darkened room, gorging on food and watching TV while the band performs the song nearby. Ian is also shown portraying a TV news anchorman and reporter. No matter how hard he tries, the man is unable to turn off his TV or change the channel, indicating that he’s become a prisoner of both the TV and fake news.

Watch this brilliant video:

Like for all their singles, the terrific surreal artwork for “Burn the Vision” was created by the inventive artist Pierre Engelbrecht.

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HEIST AT FIVE – Single Review: “Friday Night”

Heist at Five Friday Night

London-based electro-rock band Heist At Five is a wickedly talented and undeniably charismatic foursome with an international pedigree. Band front man and lead vocalist Oskar Abrahamsson is from Sweden, guitarist Jozef Veselsky is from Slovakia, bassist Marco “Fuzz” 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. And the icing on the cake is that every one of them is as gracious and kind as they are handsome.

Since first learning about them in early 2018, they’ve become one of my favorite British bands, and I’ve featured them a number of times on this blog, most recently in May 2019 when I reviewed their magnificent single “Falling With Style”. I loved it so much that it went all the way to #1 on my Weekly Top 30 and ranked #20 on my Top 100 Songs of 2019 list. Now, after keeping their fans eagerly awaiting new music from them for more than a year, Heist At Five are back with their new single “Friday Night“. Having been prevented from touring or performing live over the past six months due to the pandemic, the band has instead focused their creative energies into recording new music. They plan to release two more singles in the coming months, and hope to return to performing live again in 2021.

“Friday Night” is a bit of a departure from their typical edgy and harder experimental rock sound. Here, the band introduces an intoxicating Latin-flavored dance-pop element to their usual blend of guitar and electronic arrangements, along with the sultry croons of guest vocalist Francesca Confortini, to create a jubilant feel good summer anthem. Despite its more accessible, radio-friendly vibe, the song still features many of the stylistic elements and complex instrumentation that make their music so brilliant. I love the interplay between Jozef’s intricate and funky guitar riffs and that gorgeous swirling melodic synth that just grabs hold and sticks in our mind. Then there’s Marco’s distinctive bassline and Josh’s galloping drumbeats keeping the song’s sexy rhythmic grooves.

The song’s lyrics speak to celebrating good times and better days, and not wanting them to end. The band states that “the song focuses on the concept of not wanting to return to a state of normality when you are at your highest and everything is going your way.” Oskar is a great singer, and I love how his Swedish accent shines through in his fervent vocals as he sings about a women who lifts him up: “Dressed in gold/ She don’t need luck, she’s bringing her own/ When the light is gone look into my eyes and tell me I’m wrong/ When you’re aflame/ The morning sky is never the same/ We’ll bring you back to another fabulous Friday Night.” Francesca seductively croons her reassuring response: “Reset the sunset, let us start again/ To live a life that never ends/ Like gold in the black/ Gold in the black (like a Friday Night).

The song is so damn infectious, and I love it more with each listen!

The colorful psychedelic and surreal video was produced, directed and edited by Oskar. It features him and I’m guessing his sister Elin represented as dancing gold figures, as well as his mouth colored gold and blue singing the song (similar to the famous Rocky Horror Picture Show scene for the song “Science Fiction Double Feature”) set against a background of instruments and a kaleidoscope of patters and colors. It’s fantastic, so do watch and listen:

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BLIGHT TOWN – Single Review: “Argument Bargument”

Blight Town

Blight Town are a relatively new five piece alternative/math rock band based in Nottingham, England. Formed just a little more than a year ago, the band consists of brothers Jake (vocals) and Sam Hough (guitar), Will Emmerson (guitar), Scott Taylor (bass) and Joseph Smith (drums). Together, they combine elements of progressive, math, pop and metal rock with powerful instrumentation, complex time signatures and a dramatic mix of screamo and melodic vocals to create their unique and wildly explosive sound.

Last September (2019) they released their terrific debut single “Jejunum”, and on August 8th they returned with “Argument Bargument“, the cheekily-titled second single from their forthcoming self-titled EP, due out later this year. The band states that the song is “A wistful retrospective on the transient nature of modern relationships and the lengths we will go to in order to rationalise our lived experience.”

The song opens with an enchanting strummed electric guitar that gradually becomes enveloped in wobbly reverb, piquing our interest as to what’s about to ensue. Suddenly, our ears are hit with a burst of chaotic gnarly riffs, throbbing bass and aggressive drumbeats as the song evolves into a rousing, melodically complex and discordant banger. Amid some lovely guitar noodling that punctuates the otherwise tumultuous proceedings, Jake’s vocals gymnastics are a thing of wonder as he either sweetly croons or scarily screams the lyrics. At first listen, I found his screamo vocals a bit off-putting, but after a few listens they grew on me to the point where I cannot imagine the song sung any other way. The contrast between his smooth and harsh vocals nicely complements the sense of tension and discord expressed in both the electrifying music and lyrics.

“Argument Bargument” is a brilliant song, and if it and “Jejunum” are any indication, their EP is sure to be  a winner.

Yeah, been throwing pennies down a wishing well
“Oh, what the hell?” I thought
I always knew that I would wish you well
You never wanted an argument, well now you’ve got it
And that’s why they call me the cynicist

Yeah, it’s so quiet
When you go to sleep
But we retire
We get busy, getting busier

Were not leaving, didn’t expect you would show
(Sore eyes, dead brain)
I’ve been reading, I think I’m losing control
(Sore eyes, dead brain)

You know I’d appreciate
Being kept in the loop
Yeah, you know I’d appreciate if somebody could tell me
Why what I did was so wrong

Don’t try to ghost me
‘Cause you don’t see through me
It’s beautiful
It ends too soon

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FLOODHOUNDS – Single Review: “Something Primeval”

Floodhounds2

FloodHounds are a massively talented and charismatic rock band based in Sheffield, England. Formed in 2013, they’ve built quite a reputation and following with their exciting guitar-driven alternative rock, infused with ample amounts of blues and punk. The band consists of Jack Flynn on guitar and vocals, Joel Hughes on bass and Lauren Greaves on drums. I first featured them on this blog way back in October 2016 when I reviewed their fantastic EP Look What You’ve Started. In the years since, they’ve released numerous singles and have toured extensively throughout the UK, including performances at the Isle of Wight and Liverpool Sound City festivals in 2019, as well as a show in Paris last November.

In May, they dropped their latest single “Something Primeval“, a hard-hitting song about tapping into our inner resolve to survive in this world. I’d somehow missed its release, but finally learned about it on July 30th, when they released a terrific video for the song. I instantly liked it, and as it had been far too long since I’d last written about them, I decided to remedy that situation with a review of this song. With “Something Primeval”, FloodHounds deliver yet another in an unbroken string of outstanding songs with their signature high energy indie rock. All three members are great musicians, and in fine form here. Flynn lays down chugging riffs of fuzz-coated jangly guitars, while Hughes and Greaves drive the rhythm forward with a strong, thumping bass line and assertive drumbeats. Flynn has a clear and commanding singing voice, and I like the way his British accent shines through. His fervent vocals sound particularly good on this track.

The lyrics include references to an array of wild animals to serve as metaphors for both the external pressures and demons that work toward weakening our resolve and making us crazy, and our inner ‘beast’ or strength that we muster to keep our sanity and persevere through life’s challenges.

Is there something Primeval
Buried deep in our core
Give me the wings of an eagle
You’ve got the lions roar

And now you’re getting hungry
You feel the call of the wild
The jungle takes no prisoners
It’s just a matter of time

Cause soon the vultures are circling
The snake is stretching his bite
The buffalo are stampeding
Into the dark of the night

Have you ever felt hunted
Or easily corrupted
Be like the creatures, from tigers, to leeches
They wouldn’t stand for it no

You could be my saviour
But I won’t change my behaviour
Cause in Nature’s Cathedral,
We’re wild, Primeval
So eyes, on the prize,
if you hope to survive at all

Now if you can take refuge
From the driving rain
swim your way through the deluge
Harness the animal brain

Come together, come together
Come together, it’s all primeval now
Come together, come together
Come together, it’s all or nothing now

The video for the song that was filmed in the “Bear Pit” at the Sheffield Botanical Gardens. Directed by Tom Flynn, with assistance by Jeremy Eggar, it shows the band performing the song in the pit, with some cool “eyes in the darkness” scenes.

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EML’s Favorite Albums – COLDPLAY: “A Rush of Blood to the Head”

Coldplay A Rush of Blood to the Head

I distinctly remember the first time I heard British band Coldplay’s magnificent song “Clocks” on the radio in the spring of 2003. Though they’d already released a number of singles over the previous three years or so, I had not yet heard any of them because I listened to crappy radio stations in St. Louis, where I lived at the time. I was blown away by the song and immediately fell in love with it’s haunting piano melody. Given my love for “Clocks”, I rushed out (pun intended) and purchased their CD A Rush of Blood to the Head. It was their second studio album, and is my personal favorite of all their albums. I also became a big fan of Coldplay, who to this day rank among my top ten favorite bands of all time (the Beatles, Stones and Fleetwood Mac will forever be my top three, but I digress). The band is comprised of four underrated musicians: front man and lead vocalist Chris Martin, guitarist Jonny Buckland, bassist Guy Berryman, and drummer Will Champion.

After the popularity and success of their first album Parachutes, the band was under tremendous pressure to deliver an album at least as good – something all artists and bands with successful debut albums have experienced. I’ve heard many say they liked Coldplay’s early music (“Yellow” from Parachutes is one of their most beloved songs), but don’t much care for their later stuff, which they claim sounds too polished, too over-produced, too sappy or too ‘pop’. A Rush of Blood to the Head, with its piano and guitar-driven sound, is generally considered more acceptable to those earlier fans.

The album was released on August 26, 2002 in the UK, debuting at #1, and a day later on August 27 (my birthday) in the U.S. Besides topping the chart in the UK (where it would become the 10th best-selling album of the 21st Century), the album also reached #1 in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Norway and Switzerland. It won three Grammy Awards (one of them for “Clocks”, for 2003 Record of the Year), and the 2003 BRIT Award for Best British album.

Though every song on the album is excellent, there are a number of standouts, the two greatest being “Clocks” and “The Scientist”. With its repetitive piano progression, including a descending scale in the chord progression that creates such a hauntingly beautiful sound, “Clocks” is considered one of Coldplay’s finest achievements. That breathtaking piano melody is accompanied by a somewhat minimalist atmospheric soundscape of synths, guitar, bass and drums, yet the whole thing sounds incredibly powerful and compelling. The lyrics are rather ambiguous, but seem to address the conflicts of being in a relationship that causes pain, yet you cannot or do not want to escape it. Martin begins by singing about his situation: “The lights go out and I can’t be saved / Tides that I tried to swim against / You’ve put me down upon my knees / Oh, I beg, I beg and plead.” Then he ponders “Am I a part of the cure? Or am I part of the disease?“, finally concluding “And nothing else compares / You are home, home, where I wanted to go.”

I think it’s a masterpiece, and one of the greatest songs ever recorded, and it boggles my mind that it wasn’t a bigger hit (it only peaked at #29 on the Billboard Hot 100, though it did reach #1 on the Adult Alternative chart). It’s my favorite song of the 2000s, and my fourth favorite song of all time. Surprisingly, “Clocks” was originally not intended for inclusion on A Rush of Blood to the Head. The band planned to use it on their third album, however, their manager Phil Harvey strongly pushed for its inclusion.

“The Scientist” is a gorgeous love song of apology, and another of Coldplay’s most beloved songs. The track starts off with just a melancholy piano riff and Martin’s sad vocals, then eventually a strummed acoustic guitar enters, followed by drums, bass and finally Buckland’s electric guitar. In an interview with VH1, Martin stated: “The song was a turning point. I don’t think we’ll ever top it. It was inspired by George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass. We really wanted to do a piano ballad with loud guitars at the end, because we didn’t think many people had tried that, so Jon put this really distorted guitar on the end of it.” Well, I think it’s another masterpiece, and most definitely one of the band’s finest songs.

Though Coldplay has never been known for writing many political songs, they were inspired to write “Politik” a few days after the 9/11 attacks. The song touches on the then-current state of the world, where whole countries and religions were being vilified over the horrific actions of a relative few. Martin implores people to seek the truth and see the bigger picture: “Give me real, don’t give me fake / Give me strength, reserve, control / Give me heart and give me soul / Open up your eyes.” They decided to make “Politik” the first track on the album, and its bombastic opening consisting of an aggressive, banging piano riff and crashing cymbals all but demand that we pay attention.

The beautiful “In My Place” was the first song they wrote after finishing Parachutes, and the first single released from A Rush of Blood to the Head. Buckland’s gorgeous chiming guitar is a highlight of the song. Another favorite of mine is “A Whisper”, with its dramatic chord progressions, glittery synths and spectacular guitar work, especially the shimmery chiming guitar run in the final chorus. The title track “A Rush of Blood to the Head” is a darkly beautiful song about wanting to undo all one’s wrongs and start over anew: “He said I’m gonna buy this place and watch it fall / Stand here beside me baby in the crumbling walls / Said I’m gonna buy a gun and start a war / If you can tell me something worth fighting for / Blame it upon a rush of blood to the head.”

Some songs on the album have a pleasing guitar-driven folk-rock feel, namely “God Put a Smile on Your Face”, “Green Eyes” and “Warning Sign”. Closing out the album is the lovely and introspective piano ballad “Amsterdam”. Like a few of their other songs, the instrumentals build as the track progresses into a dramatic crescendo in the final chorus, before fading out at the end, a right proper finish to a phenomenal album.

I finally saw Coldplay perform live on their Head Full of Dreams Tour in August 2016, at the historic Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. Though it was a huge venue, with over 70,000 people in attendance, they still managed to make it feel intimate.

THE COMMON VIEW – Single Review: “Cigarettes and Regrets”

The Common View Cigarettes & Regrets

It seems a lot of new music was released on June 26, and so far I’ve reviewed three singles that dropped that day. Now I’m writing about yet another one, the latest single “Cigarettes and Regrets” by British alt-rock band The Common View. The young Leeds-based band is a favorite of mine, as I’m impressed by both their outstanding music and unflinchingly outspoken advocacy for social justice. Their lively and melodic style of alternative rock is influenced by elements of indie pop-rock, post-punk revival and rockabilly. Originally formed in 2018 by three University of Leeds students with a shared love of music – Dom Robertson (guitar, vocals), Jose Ignacio Barrera (guitar) and Jacob Lindsay (vocals) – the band now consists of five members, including the three aforementioned guys plus Joe Sykes (bass) and Will McKay (drums).

I featured them three times in 2019, most recently last October when I reviewed their wonderful EP Man on the Moon. The prolific band subsequently dropped another EP If Not Now, When?, as well as three more singles, the latest of which is “Cigarettes and Regrets”. It’s the 16th song they’ve recorded in the less than two years they’ve been a band! And one of the things I love about them is that no two songs sound alike.

“Cigarettes and Regrets” is a rousing rock’n’roll gem with frantic punk overtones that make for a bouncy head-banger. The guys are highly skilled musicians, consistently delivering outstanding instrumentals on all of their songs, and this one’s no exception. I love Dom and Jose’s fast-paced jangly guitars that erupt into a glorious torrent of swirling riffs in the chorus. Joe and Will drive the lively rhythm forward with their throbbing bass line and snappy drumbeats, respectively.

I also like that The Common View has two fine vocalists, and I believe it’s Dom who sings lead vocals on this song. He croons the lyrics that speak of someone who’s cheated on his girlfriend with a one-night stand he picked up at a bar, and regretting his actions the next morning: “You wake up in the morning all full of regret. The taste of her lips like your last cigarette. You don’t know what to say to this girl beside you. Now it won’t be long til your girlfriend is back. And shortly thereafter, you’ll be forced to pack. It’s all coming down, and it’s been your fault.

The guys made a charming video that features a mix of stop action footage interspersed with humorous scenes of Jose packing up his instruments and himself into his guitar case, and Dom playing guitar and singing the song in various locations throughout the house. About the video, the band said “Our homemade video is a perfect reflection of how hard it is being a band during Lockdown.”

Follow The Common View on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Reverbnation / Apple Music
Purchase on iTunes / Google Play