AMONGST LIARS – Single Review: “Kill the Tide”

I’ve noted many times on previous posts that some of the best rock music today is coming out of the UK. Perhaps it’s the rich musical legacy, the prickly politics or even the persistently dour skies that spurs such incredible creativity, but whatever the reason, there’s no denying the consistently high quality of British rock. One of the indie bands that stands out among many for me is Amongst Liars. Their fiercely aggressive style of melodic hard rock, forged from a dynamic and colorful trifecta of alternative rock, grunge and punk, has earned them a dedicated and passionate following, me included. With support from Kerrang Radio’s Johnny Doom, Moshville, BBC Introducing and Great Music Stories, their songs have garnered airplay on local and national radio throughout the UK, and have been collectively streamed over 177,000 times on Spotify.

Based in the Brighton/Eastbourne area along the southern English coast, Amongst Liars consists of Ian George (lead vocals, guitar), Leo Burdett (guitar, backing vocals), Ross Towner (bass, backing vocals) and Adam Oarton (drums). I’ve written about them numerous times, but to recap, they formed in September 2019 from the ashes of two successful previous bands – Saint Apache and Katalina Kicks. Not only are they all highly accomplished and talented musicians, they’re nice guys too. Ian in particular has been very supportive of me and my blog, which of course makes me a loyal fan who’s more than happy to support them as much as I can.

Beginning with the release of their spectacular debut single “Over and Over” in February 2020, they’ve followed with five more singles, the latest of which is “Kill the Tide“, which dropped October 8. All six singles will be included on their forthcoming self-titled debut album, due out in Spring 2022. I’ve previously reviewed four of them – “Over and Over”, “Wolf Machine”, “Burn the Vision” and “Black Days” (you can read some of those reviews by clicking on the related links at the end of this post) – and three have charted on my Weekly Top 30. All of their songs, along with the entire album, were recorded, produced and mixed by David Radahd-Jones at Red City Recordings in Manchester. “Kill the Tide” was mastered by Grant Berry at Fader Mastering.

While they don’t consider themselves a ‘political band’ per se, Amongst Liars have been pretty outspoken on some of their songs about what’s happening in the UK and beyond. Band vocalist Ian George explained “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.” On “Wolf Machine”, they called out inept and ineffectual governments led by power hungry politicians, while “Burn the Vision” denounced those who’ve sought to profit from the misfortune of others by distorting the media with fake news to spread their own narratives and lies. “Black Days” railed against the last 10 years of Tory rule in the UK, calling out austerity measures, questionable decision making, incompetence, lies and self-serving political bias.

On “Kill the Tide”, which was the very first song they wrote together after forming in late 2019, the band reflects on their own personal traumas they experienced over the collapse of their previous bands that ultimately led up to their formation as Amongst Liars. They describe the song as an “anthem of rebirth” that tells the story of their formation and determination “to dig deep and come back even stronger.” Ian explains: “Our new single has its genesis in our beginnings, yet it also marks a new chapter for the band. Despite the enormous challenges during lockdown, we used the time to focus on our songwriting and to issue new material regularly. During this process, we found our sound, we pushed ourselves, and we grew as songwriters. ‘Kill the Tide’ marks that evolution.”

In an interview with VENTS Magazine, Ian elaborated on their experiences: “Originally I was in a band for many years that imploded in mid 2019, and was really let down over the space of six months by a succession of people I really trusted. The other guys were in a different band who had a similar experience, being let down by people too, and we kind of knew each other before that having played a show together, so I reached out, we met up and it just clicked. It’s what bonded us so quickly I think, when you go through similar things. The title for the song came from a group chat when we were looking for a band name. Someone suggested ‘Kill the Tide’, which we didn’t like as a band name, but I thought that it would make a great song title. And with that title, the lyrics for this song just flowed and came quite easily – and helped me personally move on from the past, so it was very cathartic writing it!

Tonight we’re gonna demonstrate
So long – we nearly got it right
Those eyes they want to self-assure
Your side I can’t give any more
Those lies you’re not the only one
No end without a setting sun
Alive – you’ll never take it
When your hearts not in it – your head’s on fire
For what’s it worth
This wreck of hurt
I cast it all aside
I will embrace, I will insist
You are no friend of mine
In all I am – and all I see – I’ll bring it back to life
Don’t kill the tide, don’t kill the tide

The song was originally recorded in late 2019 with a long intro, but this past April, the band asked David Radadh-Jones to cut the intro and remix the song to make it more ‘fresh’ sounding. The result is a tight, beautifully-arranged melodic track that delivers the powerful driving rhythms and fearsome riffs we’ve come to love and expect from Amongst Liars. The song begins rather tentatively, with Adam’s gentle drumbeats and Ross’s soft vocal chorus, then Ian’s raw vocals enter the proceedings as the music ramps up. At 34 seconds the songs blasts open with Leo’s heavy chugging riffs layered over Ross’s throbbing bassline and Adam’s pummeling drumbeats. Ian’s vocals rise to the occasion, displaying the spine-tingling emotional ferocity that makes him one of the finest and most exciting vocalists in rock music today. I love the contrast between his intense vocals and Ross’s gentler backing vocals in the verses. Leo lets loose with a terrific guitar solo in the final chorus that takes the song to the next level.

“Kill the Tide” is another fantastic banger, and further proof Amongst Liars are a band to be reckoned with.

The official video shows the band giving an electrifying performance of the song in a studio space at the Congress Theatre in Eastbourne. It was produced, directed and edited by Josh R Lewis, with assistant editing by Robert Ruardy, the same team who produce all Amongst Liars videos.

Along with “Kill the Tide”, Amongst Liars has also released an exclusive (and elusive) B-side “Crucify”, a blistering song of protest. Their raging guitars, crushing bass and thunderous drums are positively mind-blowing, and Ian’s already feral vocals sound more fearsome than ever. The track will not be available on streaming sites, but only by download for one week only, via their website at https://www.amongstliars.com/

Those of you fortunate enough to live in the UK can see Amongst Liars at one of these upcoming shows:

Follow Amongst Liars:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase:  Amazon

FUTURE THEORY – Single Review: “Hang Your Hat”

I’ve featured hundreds of bands on this blog since I began writing reviews in early 2016, and have to say that some of the best hail from the United Kingdom. And among all those great British bands, one that impressed me from the start is alternative psychedelic group Future Theory. Blending elements of alternative and progressive rock, psychedelia, grunge, shoegaze and funk, they write especially compelling songs characterized by lavish, complex instrumentation, intelligent lyrics and mesmerizing vocals. Like many bands, the Lincolnshire-based foursome has undergone some lineup changes over time, and now consists of Max Sander on rhythm guitar and vocals, Chris Moore on lead guitar, Jacob Brookes on bass and Tom Paton on drums, although for the recording of their latest single “Hang Your Hat“, former band members Rex Helley played bass and Rohan Parrett played drums.

I first wrote about them in April 2017 when I reviewed their fantastic 2016 debut EP Fool’s Dream, then twice in 2018 when I reviewed their excellent singles “Fractured Nation” and “Peace of Mind”. (You can read those reviews by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the end of this post.) Now the Lincolnshire-based foursome are back with “Hang Your Hat”, their first new single in more than three years. The lead single from their forthcoming self-titled debut album, the song is a biting kiss-off to a romantic partner who’s been unfaithful, and broken the bonds of trust in the relationship. The track was recorded at 2fly Studios by Alan Smith (Arctic Monkeys, Reverend & The Makers, 65daysofstatic), mixed and produced by Koncide (aka Chris Hengmith), Max and Chris, and mastered by Yves Altana and Chris Ree.

Musically, “Hang Your Hat” is a marvelous feast for the ears, with some of the more dramatic and varied guitar work I’ve heard packed into one song in a long while. The song opens with a fairly intense instrumental flourish like you’d normally hear in a bridge or chorus, with a barrage of fuzz-coated psychedelic guitars and lots of crashing cymbals. At around 25 seconds, the music calms to a languid bass-driven groove, accompanied by strummed guitar and light drums as Max begins to sing in his distinctive sultry croon. Those gnarly guitars and aggressive rhythms ramp back up in the chorus, then transition back and forth in another verse and chorus, punctuated with beautiful chiming guitar notes and highlighted by a killer reverb-soaked guitar solo in the bridge.

I love Max’s vocal style that’s equal parts sensuous and raw, and enhanced by echo and reverb that render them particularly effective here in conveying the bitterness and pain expressed in the lyrics: “I don’t want to do this anymore. Where did you go last night? I said I’d lose my mind, where did you go last night? Got to be, where did you hang you’re hat? You’re gonna need that some day, pick it up wrap it up, just for today.” In the calmer moments, he almost sounds a bit like Anthony Keidis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, not a bad thing at all.

With “Hang Your Hat”, Future Theory return in fine form, proving they haven’t lost their stride one bit during their hiatus. It’s a very strong track, and I’m confident we’ll be hearing more gems from them in their forthcoming album.

Connect with Future Theory:  Facebook /  Twitter /  Instagram
Stream their music:  SpotifyApple Music / Soundcloud /  YouTube
Purchase on:  iTunes /  Bandcamp

Awen Veleda & The Wandering Lights – EP Review: “An Alien Invasion in the Petty Kingdoms (Part 1: Prelude)”

Awen Veleda & The Wandering Lights is a Brighton, England-based music collective that brings together musicians from around the world to create a unique brand of contemporary folk. The project is headed by songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Mike Five (who also plays guitar for the rock band 1 in Five and co-hosts a music podcast with Dr. Bones). They’ve just released their debut EP An Alien Invasion In The Petty Kingdoms (Part 1: Prelude), a concept work exploring how people deal with the unexpected, manage change through their own beliefs and context, and find ways to work together. The name Awen Veleda is a fictitious person, with ‘Awen’ meaning inspiration, while ‘Veleda’ was a 1st century prophetess who was worshipped by Germanic peoples, and her name has come to be synonymous with inspirational wisdom.

The story for An Alien Invasion In The Petty Kingdoms (Part 1: Prelude) is set in 9th Century Britain, amid an unexpected and shocking event that unfolds through the voices of various characters, all scrambling to understand the truth and come to agreement about how to deal with it. The collaborative EP is based on an original narrative and accompanying music written by Mike Five, with lyrics and lead vocals by GRIM17. In addition to Mike Five, who played guitars, organ, piano, drums, synths, shakers, tambourines and birdsong recordings, and GRIM17, for this EP The Wandering Lights is also comprised of One Blind Mouse, who performed the string arrangements and also mixed and mastered the EP, Gemma Kirk, who sang backing vocals on “A Message to the King”, Becca Wright, who played fiddle on “The Witan” and “Chieftain Caiside”, Iona James, who sang backing vocals on “The Real Ealdorman”, Ron Bowes, who played harmonica on “The Real Ealdorman”, Sadie-Rei, who sang joint lead vocals on “Lucrezia”, and Rae Cameron, who played flute on “Lucrezia”.

In advance of the EP’s release on Bandcamp on September 3rd, The Wandering Lights have also released music videos for three of the tracks. The EP will be released on all other music streaming platforms on November 5th. They’ve included all the lyrics for each song on their Bandcamp page.

The EP begins with “A Message to the King“, which describes the adventures of two messengers who travel day and night to reach the King with the terrifying news that an army of mysterious mercenaries has invaded the eastern end of the kingdom. But this is no ordinary group of heathens, as they may not even be human. Unsure themselves of what they’ve actually seen, or that anyone would believe them, their message must reach the King at all costs.

The song opens and closes with spacey sci-fi sounds, a nod to the mysterious alien nature of the invaders. But for the bulk of the track, the music settles into a dark and haunting soundscape of mournful piano and stings, accompanied by Mike Five’s strummed acoustic guitar. GRIM17’s vocals are perfect for the song’s dark mood, and Gemma King’s ethereal choral vocals add a wonderful ghostly vibe.

For the official video, Mike Five and Co. overlaid their track onto the original video for “The King” by Italian animator Goga Mason, which was itself a retelling of the classic story of King Kong. Though it’s a fascinating and compelling video, the visuals do not match the storyline of “A Message to the King”, so I’m not sure why they would use it for this song.

On track two, “The Witan“, a quickly-assembled witan advises the King to take immediate action against the invaders, but before he acts he must uncover the facts and separate them from rumor and superstition. (In England from the 6th to 10th centuries, a witan was a wise man who advised the king on specific issues, and often a member of the Witenagemote, or assembly of wise men, which was the forerunner of the future English Parliament.) Led by a dominant thumping drumbeat overlain with moody strings and acoustic guitar and highlighted by Becca Wright’s lively fiddle, the song has an ancient Celtic feel.

The Red Ealdorman” (an ealdorman, old English for alderman, was an official of Anglo-Saxon England appointed by the king, who was responsible for law, order, and justice in his shire and for leading his local fyrd, or militia) addresses the efforts by a particular official who’s sent by the King to raise the fyrd and gather an army in preparation for battle. Because of the unusual and potentially daunting circumstances behind their mysterious foe, the King will need all the help he can assemble, even from his enemies – in this case a Celtic Chieftain and his tribe. The prominent organ used in the track gives it a gospel feel, while Ron Bowes’ haunting harmonica and Iona James’ lovely backing vocals add a nice folk touch. Also, to my ears, GRIM17’s vocals on this track remind me a bit of U2’s Bono Hewson.

The video produced for this track enlisted the help of The Wandering Lights’ own army of music lovers from around the world, their own personal fyrd, if you will.

Chieftain Caiside” sees the red ealdorman, aka the crimson man, meeting with the King’s nemesis Chieftain Caiside, and delivering an urgent message of peace and unity, in their common need to defeat a newfound foe. Thankfully, the chieftain is responsive, and promises his support to the King: “The crimson man rides from my sights, with a message I sent that I hope is right. I won’t be the reason for the downfall these kingdoms may yet incur. I’ve heard your words, I’ve heard your words. Uncommon enemies.” Once again, Becca Wright’s rousing fiddle is a highlight of the song.

The final track “Lucrezia” is the most beautiful of the five, and also my favorite. At this point in the saga, the King, struggling to get to the truth, comes to the realization that the unusual challenges he faces will require creative solutions. He concludes that to achieve the greater good, one sometimes has to do something possibly sinful by comporting with beings outside his own religion, and contacts the Priestess Lucrezia to see if her visions can offer guidance – whilst praying to his own God for forgiveness. “Lucrezia, you’ve been light, love and teacher, So much for so long. But once more I must beg your indulgence. Could you lend me your song?” to which she replies with promise of her assistance that also comes with a warning: “King, I lend you arm and leg so you can make amends .Abuse them not. I am nonviolent until you force my hand.”

GRIM17’s vocals are raw, plaintive and heartfelt on this track, and the silky croons of Sadie-Rei (of the California alt-pop/punk band Until Further Notice) are as enchanting as we’d expect from a priestess. I love the sounds of chirping birds, as well as Mike Five’s beautiful acoustic guitar, One Blind Mouse’s somber strings, and Rae Cameron’s captivating flute. It’s a gorgeous ending to Part 1 of this saga, which I’m now eager to watch unfold.

THE ZANGWILLS – Single Review: “Never Looked Back”

The Zangwills (from left to right): Ed Dowling, Adam Spence, Jake Vickers, Sam Davies. Photo by Steve Forrest.

I seem to be stuck in the UK, as I’m now writing my 9th consecutive review about a British act. But as I’ve stated many times, there’s so much incredible music talent in the UK, and today I’m thrilled to feature Cheshire-based indie rock band The Zangwills. Though they’ve been releasing music since late 2017, I wasn’t familiar with them until their PR rep reached out to me about their latest single “Never Looked Back“, which dropped on Friday the 13th of August. Contrary to the infamous date, it was most definitely my lucky day, as I’ve fallen head over heels in love with this band. To prepare for writing this review, I listened to their entire back catalogue of songs and can emphatically state that I love every single one of them. Their exciting, highly melodic music is outstanding, with a maturity of songwriting and musicianship as fine as many top big-name bands around today. As they say in Britain, these guys are dead good!

The Zangwills are Jake Vickers (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Ed Dowling (bass), Sam Davies (lead guitar) and Adam Spence (drums). Formed in May 2017 while in college, they cite David Bowie, Arctic Monkeys, The Cure, The Rapture and The Strokes among their influences. And while those influences can be heard in their music, their sound is still uniquely their own. Thanks to their high-quality music, charismatic, high-energy live performances, and Jake’s distinctive vocals, they’ve amassed a growing army of loyal followers throughout northwest England and beyond. They’ve opened for such acts as Yungblud and The Charlatans, and have performed at festivals like Dot 2 Dot, Focus Wales, Sound City and Wychwood Festival 2019. Their fantastic debut single “New Heights” has been streamed nearly half a million times on Spotify, with several other singles garnering over 100,000 plays.

“Never Looked Back” was produced and engineered by Mark Winterburn (5 Seconds of Summer, The Script, Plan B, James Arthur, Don Broco), and mastered by Ben Booker (Bob Dylan, Elton John, PJ Harvey, Scissor Sisters, 5 Seconds of Summer). The band states that the song is about change, “highlighting the cyclical nature of human life, and the ‘limbo’ between the stale and the fresh, and perfectly balancing out the anxiety caused by change and anticipation of a more positive future. While the verses describe the narrator’s bleak acknowledgment of an inevitable situation, the hook and the refrain illustrate a newfound hope.”

The song is utterly breathtaking, highlighted by a dramatic pulsating beat overlain with gorgeous cinematic keyboards and thunderous percussion, and punctuated throughout by piercing trill-like flourishes that raise goosebumps. The layered jangly and shimmery guitars are spectacular, and together with the aforementioned synths and percussion, burst forth into an explosive spine-tingling soundscape. Jakes fervent vocals are equal parts captivating and chilling, backed by glorious soaring choruses that send the song into the sonic stratosphere. He passionately laments about a relationship that’s deteriorated to the point that there’s no going back: “I don’t know how to spot the truth in that bag of smiles you gave me. There was still a frown or two, and through trust, I’m sat here sifting through. There’s not enough to swallow, and there’s far too much to chew. And now I see in ways I’ve never seen before. So I took that vision by the waist and I danced it to the door. And I never looked back.

“Never Looked Back” is a magnificent song, both brilliantly arranged and flawlessly produced, and instantly one of my favorite songs of 2021. The Zangwills also now rank among my favorite indie bands, and I’m so happy to have finally discovered them.

Connect with The Zangwills: FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream their music:  SpotifyApple MusicYouTube

SOLAR EYES – Single Review: “Naked Monkey on a Spaceship”

Solar Eyes is a fairly new psychedelic pop/rock band from Birmingham, England. Curiously, they have no presence whatsoever on social media, so I don’t know a whole lot about them. What I do know is they’re a trio comprised of Glenn Smyth, Tom Ford and Sebastian Maynard-Francis, that their sound is influenced by such bands as the Beatles, Pink Floyd, Chemical Brothers and Death in Vegas (though I hear traces of The Cure, U2 and Oasis as well), and that their arresting brand of pop/rock is bathed in psychedelic grooves and dreamy cinematic synths.

In May, they released their excellent debut double single “Acid Test” and “Nothing’s For Free”, and now return with the infectious earworm “Naked Monkey on a Spaceship“, released on August 6th via AWAL/Sleeping Sun Recordings. The release is a sort of mini EP, as it’s accompanied by two additional tracks, “It’s Gone Forever” and “The Lotus and the Robot”. Glenn was inspired to write the song after hearing a friend proclaim that “life is like being a naked monkey on a spaceship, with no control.” Finding the line brilliant, Glenn felt compelled to write a song around it, only to later find out that his friend had actually first heard it on a Joe Rogan podcast. But no matter, it’s still a great lyric and song title.

The song is darkly beautiful and mesmerizing, with a wonderful pulsating bass groove overlain with lush, eerie synths, propulsive drums and swirling riffs of psychedelic guitars, all creating a gorgeous otherworldly soundscape befitting a space traveling monkey. I love Glenn’s echoed vocals that to my ears sound like a glorious mash-up of Bono Hewson and Liam Gallagher.

The cool animated video for the song was created by Birmingham-based videographer, lighting and visual design producer Matt Watkins, who’s also created videos and produced visual design & lighting for live performances by numerous acts, most notably Gorillaz.

The other two songs are great too. “It’s Gone Forever” has a brooding vibe, with a hypnotic beat and some nifty psychedelic guitar work, while “The Lotus and the Robot” is appropriately spacey, with eerie industrial synths, shrill psychedelic guitars and a droning vocal chorus. Solar Eyes are fine musicians, and I like every one of their songs a lot.

Stream their music on SpotifyApple MusicYouTube

New Song of the Week – NOPRISM: “Animosity”

Since the release of their spellbinding debut single “Lisbon” in March 2020, British electronic pop band NOPRISM have been on a creative tear. Formed in early 2020 and based in Newcastle Upon Tyne, NOPRISM are comprised of Andrew Young, Mark Nelson, Phil Taylor and Alex Hindle. Influenced by a wide and eclectic array of artists ranging from The Rapture, LCD Soundsystem and Arcade Fire to Daft Punk, Chaka Khan and Talking Heads, they create exciting and innovative electronic pop music loaded with infectious funky grooves and intoxicating dance vibes. Their songs have garnered both critical and popular acclaim, with their single “Happiness” earning praise by Duran Duran’s Simon LeBon as “perhaps the best new song ever” on his Wooosh! Radio show.

Despite the limitations imposed upon them by the Covid pandemic, they managed to make good use of their down time by recording and releasing seven singles, the latest of which is “Animosity“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. The song addresses the contradictions between the joys of love, and the sacrifices we sometimes make to have it. Band vocalist Andrew Young elaborates: “I’m always fascinated (obsessed) about the idea that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and the idea of love is no different. Very often you see people giving up important things or opportunities in their lives for the sake of love. But obviously it’s why we’re all here, and the positives that it brings is what makes us human. We decided to write a song for voguing to, but with our own imprint on it.

Inspired by the campy vogue music played on the wonderful MJ Rodriguez/Billy Porter TV show Pose, the band initially wrote the song as a distraction during the first lockdown, then put it out on Spotify under a pseudonym. After the song started getting airplay on BBC radio, they quickly realized they had a potential hit on their hands. Consequently, they pulled the song, re-recorded it with the full band, had it remixed and re-mastered, and released it under their own name. This new and improved version of “Animosity” is what we’re now blessed with.

The guys start with a strutting bass-driven groove, fortify it with energetic thumping drums and swirling cinematic synths, then add layers of funky and bluesy guitars to create a soulful and sensuous dance track that aims straight for the hips, while at the same time producing a lush wall of sound that beautifully captures the joy and euphoria of love. The guys’ pleasing vocal harmonies are wonderful too, adding to the song’s overall jubilant vibe. It’s a marvelous song.

The stylish video, shot in black and white, shows a group of beautiful and exotic-looking young people posing and vogueing to the song.

Follow NOPRISM:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream their music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud

Purchase:  Bandcamp

ZEN BASEBALLBAT – Album Review: “Better Ways To Love & Offend”

When I last visited British ska-punk collective Zen Baseballbat this past January, I wrote about their brilliant album Rations, which I described as wild, zany, fun, and as thoroughly eclectic as any record could possibly be (you can read my review here). Now they’re back with a delightful new album, which they’ve cheekily titled Better Ways To Love & Offend, calling it “a slap in the face, a wake-up call to rip us from the stasis we’ve ghosted into since recession and Brexit took hold. Can’t go forward, can’t go back, so we might as well just sit and watch the bombs fall.” They deliver their message with hilarious yet biting lyrics and a delicious blend of ska (itself an eclectic mash-up of Caribbean mento and calypso, American jazz and R&B), electro, punk, new wave, reggae, zydeco and dub.

Based in Widnes, England, a mid-sized city bookended by Liverpool and Manchester, Zen Baseballbat was originally formed in the early 1990s by twin brothers Gary and Carl Gleavey, along with several other musicians. Over the next 10 years or so, they released an EP and two albums, but eventually disbanded in the late 2000s. Fast forward another 10 years, the Gleavey twins reformed the band with a new lineup and a newfound burst of creativity. Zen Baseballbat now includes Gary G. on guitar & vocals, Carl G. 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 Better Ways To Love & Offend. Additionally, several other vocalists and musicians contributed to the album, including Jane Anderson, Ayshea Elfer, Jessica Wilkinson, Isabelle Wilkinson and Tony Nipper.

All 14 tracks are solid, but I’ll touch on my favorites, as well as those I feel are integral to the album’s overall narrative. The album opens with a man speaking the words “We don’t want to do anything to scare your children. We don’t want to scare anybody“, but then the band quickly informs us “There’s gonna be trouble“, which they repeatedly affirm throughout the bouncy reggae tune simply titled “Trouble“. Now that we’re suitably alarmed, they launch into “Retaliation” a terrific ska number with bits of punk, psychedelic and new wave, giving it a sort of lively B-52s vibe. The lyrics speak to standing up, speaking out, and fighting back against oppression and injustice: “This ain’t no place for sweet-tempered voices. Don’t hold back, don’t go with the punches. After a good old kick in the feelings, my heart still beats like a militant drum. Give a little bit of retaliation.”

Zen Baseballbat’s skill for using all sorts of fascinating instruments, textures and sounds is showcased on the cool, psychedelia-tinged gem “Over The Wall“. I love the skittering beat, exotic Caribbean sounds and delightful female vocal trills, punctuated with some marvelous guitar work. The lyrics seem to address income inequality: “Parties of the rich over the wall. The world won’t give me back my ball. Unsympathetic wealth is stinging. Despite Rock’n’roll right-wingers are singing.”

They also have a penchant for combining fun, upbeat melodies with darker lyrics. On “A Place Like This“, they rattle off a litany of bad behavioral choices to a lively zydeco soundtrack. And on “You Won’t Get Paid“, the bouncy ska groove contrasts with the caustic lyrics addressing the drudgery of dead-end jobs with little pay: “I’ve been shovelling shit for far too long. My body aches but my head is strong. I haven’t got a pot to piss in, yet you want me for next to nothing. You won’t get paid no, you won’t get paid.”

Rumble” is a fascinating reggae track with soulful and jazzy cinematic overtones, thanks to a colorful mix of brassy horns, flutes, organ, and funky bass. In spots, the melody sounds like a slowed-down version of the 70s disco hit “T.S.O.P.” by MFSB, which also happens to be one of my all-time favorite songs. The song’s only lyric, which is sporadically repeated throughout the track, is “I zigged when I shoulda zagged.” The delicious ska tune “Quivering On A Rope” seems to touch on the soul-crushing aspects of casual sex and one-night stands: “Rummaging for love on a Tuesday night. On the shirttails of bachelors putting up a fight. Fannies flashing like neon signs, a stained glass view of their behinds. Quivering on a rope between the beginning and the end. Forgive me my lost soul rendition. My heart sings at any proposition. Are there better ways to love and offend? Basic desires start to bend.

On “Reasons” the band takes on the political establishment and incompetent leaders who dither while the public suffers: “We have reason to believe that you have been living. We have several pictures to prove it. The mistakes you made were beautiful. Disguising your man for the television. We know who you are. We know where you’ve been.” “Don’t Oppress Me, Love” is a cheeky punk song about the perils of being romantically involved with a woman employed as an ‘adult’ entertainer – i.e. a stripper.

A stylistic departure for Zen Baseballbat, the atmospheric and contemplative “Elsa Dorfman” is a kind of ode to the American portrait photographer, who passed away in 2020 at the age of 83. The lyrics speak of seeking solace from life’s unpleasantries through her camera lens: “Tomorrow I’ll stick the job up its arse. A working-class kid will fly to Mars. Place me in front of the open lens Of Elsa Dorfman.” The album comes full circle with “Double Trouble“, a brief reprise of the opening track, this time sung by Jessica and Isabelle, daughters of band drummer Mike Wilkinson. The song’s whimsical feel gently reassures us that things really aren’t all that horrible after all.

Better Ways To Love & Offend is another fine and immensely enjoyable offering by Zen Baseballbat. Anyone who likes reggae and ska music, combined with humorous, witty and thought-provoking lyricism, will enjoy this album.

Follow Zen Baseballbat:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream their music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music

Purchase on Bandcamp 

New Song of the Week – EXPRESS OFFICE PORTICO: “Mishmesh”

Six months ago, I reviewed the marvelous debut single “I Like It Weird” by British synth-pop band Express Office Portico (which you can read here). Formed in early 2020 and named after the entrance to an old newspaper distribution office in the center of Nottingham, Express Office Portico consists of Tara Freeman (lead vocals, keyboards), Billy Townsend (lead vocals, keyboards), Reuben Tobolewski (guitar), Ben Phipps (bass) and Olly Walton (drums). Now the talented five-piece are back with a gorgeous new single “Mishmesh“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week.

The band states “Mishmesh” (whose title means a collection or mixture of unrelated things) explores the dangers of alcohol dependency, and how our coping mechanisms and compulsive tendencies can manifest themselves in toxic habits. To drive home their message, the band starts with a rapid, pulsating synth line, then adds deep bass and punchy drumbeats to produce a powerful hypnotic groove that quickly draws us in. Soon, the song expands with lush swirling synths and gorgeous layers of chiming and jangly guitars, creating a hauntingly beautiful backdrop for Tara and Billy’s stunning vocal harmonies. The song is really breathtaking, and I’m blown away by the bandmembers’ exceptional musicianship.

Barring any last-minute changes, those of you in the UK can catch Express Office Portico at one of these upcoming shows:

Friday, August 6 - Chameleon Arts Cafe, Nottingham, w/Oliver Marson & Ben Bickley
Thursday, August 12 - The Lexington, London, w/Oliver Marson & Conspirators
Thursday, August 28 - The Bodega, Nottingham, w/Swim School, Scuttlers & Grayce

Follow Express Office Portico:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream I Like it Weird on Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud

Purchase on Amazon

THE MARIGOLDS – Single Review: “Smash and Grab”

The Marigolds are an alt-rock group based in Liverpool, a city rich in music history and the birthplace of many a band. I’ve featured more artists and bands from Liverpool than I can recall, and The Marigolds are the latest. They formed in 2018 when bassist/vocalist Joe Green and guitarist Joe Morgan met at the University of Liverpool, and bonded over their love of such acts as Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Mudhoney, Weather Report, Stevie Wonder and Tame Impala. Drummer Lucas Pidgen was soon added to the mix, and they began writing songs together and playing gigs in and around Liverpool. Their rather bucolic sounding name stands in contrast with their music, which is an intense, high-energy blend of punk, funk and psychedelic elements, delivered with blistering riffs, crushing bass and fierce vocals.

The guys released their terrific debut single “Magnetic” in May, which was well-received by fans and music publications alike. Now they’ve returned with an explosive new single “Smash and Grab“, which dropped July 12th. The song’s title is a fitting description, as the song literally blasts through the speakers, laying waste to the airwaves and sending shivers up and down our spines. Wow, these guys really know how to rock! The song opens with Green’s deep, gnarly bassline, then erupts into a hard-driving, fast-paced onslaught of Morgan’s scorching, fuzz-coated riffs and Pidgen’s smashing drumbeats that never let up for a single moment.

Green’s vocals are downright fearsome as he wails and screams the lyrics touching on themes of insecurity, loneliness and poor self-esteem, viciously railing against those who are making him feel this way: “It’s a smash and grab at my feelings! Eat me, cause I feel numb. Just tear into my flesh cause I’m so done. Consume me, and swallow me whole. Keep me inside you in that deep, deep fucking hole!” Two and a half minutes into the song, the tempo abruptly shifts to a frantic punk groove that’s even more intense than before. Now Green screams with such ferocity, it’s a wonder he has any vocal chords left! I’ve written about some pretty hard-hitting music lately, but this song blows them all out of the water, and I love it!

Now that restrictions against live performances have lifted in the UK, the guys are excited about returning to the stage and sharing their new songs at their first scheduled gig on the 7th of August at Jimmy’s Liverpool.

Band photo by Joseph Conlon.

Connect with The Marigolds:  FacebookTwitter

Stream their songs: SpotifyApple Music / Soundclouddeezer

BLIGHT TOWN – EP Review: “Blight Town”

Blight Town are a five piece alternative/math rock band based in Nottingham, England. Formed in 2019, 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 bold instrumentation, complex time signatures and a dramatic mix of screamo and melodic vocals to create their wildly explosive sound. In short order, they dropped their debut single “Jejunum” in September 2019, but since then have taken their time releasing new music. Nearly a year later in August 2020, they followed up with their second single “Argument Bargument“ (which I reviewed), and now return with their self-titled debut EP Blight Town, which dropped July 16th. The EP features the two aforementioned singles, plus two new tracks.

The guys get right down to business with the opening track “Frostilicus“, instantly demanding our attention both musically and lyrically with an unrelenting thunderous barrage of grungy guitars and pummeling drums as Jake screams “She needs to listen to us right now!” I have no clue as to what the song’s title means, but the lyrics seem to be about confronting a duplicitous and self-destructive person: “Such whack shit is going down. The bullshit she’s churning out. If you don’t say the words to her then I will. Such a shame that you haven’t got the guts to still. Tell me where do I go? I wish that I didn’t know. A slave to the wages of sin. Where do I begin?” The scorching, intricately layered guitar work is fantastic, and a testament to the guys’ impressive musicianship.

Jejunum” continues on a similar theme, delivering another onslaught of fearsome riffs and explosive percussion, accompanied by a marvelous, almost skittering bassline. Once again, the intense, richly-textured guitars are mind-blowing, turning hauntingly beautiful at the breakdown that occurs at the 1:06 minute mark. Jake’s vocals are downright fearsome throughout much of the song, but also soften to an enchanting ethereal calm in the interlude. As for the song title, a quick Google search revealed that ‘jejunum’ is a part of the small intestine in both humans and most higher vertebrates, including mammals, reptiles, and birds, so it’s anyone’s guess as to the title’s meaning. The lyrics seem to speak to a similar type of unpleasant person we were introduced to in “Frostilicus”, who Jake roundly denounces: “You already know you made my life a living hell.

The cheekily-titled “Argument Bargument” is a prog-rock gem, opening with an atmospheric strummed electric guitar that gradually becomes enveloped in wobbly reverb. Suddenly, we’re 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 terrific guitar noodling punctuating the otherwise tumultuous proceedings, Jake’s vocal gymnastics are a thing of wonder as he transitions from pleasing croon to scary screams. 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.” Jake emphatically snarls “You never wanted an argument, well now you’ve got it. And that’s why they call me the cynicist.”

The guys unleash their full arsenal of sonic weaponry on the final track “Don’t Touch Me I’m Covered in Poisons“. The instrumentals are heavier and more intense than ever, with Sam and Will’s dual intertwining guitars laying waste to the airwaves while Joseph nearly blows the speakers with his smashing drumbeats. Then there’s Jake’s feral vocals, which are positively spine-tingling as he screams like a wild beast. It’s a wonder he has any vocal cords left!

Blight Town is a great little EP, a literal bundle of explosive TNT packed into 12 minutes and 51 seconds, beautifully showcasing this band’s outstanding songwriting and composition talents, as well as their impressive technical skills. Though their music is both complex and intense, it’s still surprisingly accessible and melodic.

Blight Town also offers an array of merchandise, including tee shirts, hoodies and caps made from sustainable and vegan-friendly materials, which you can purchase at https://slugapparel.com/.

Follow Blight Town:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase:  Bandcamp / iTunes