Formed in 2020 during the height of the Covid pandemic, talented British five-piece Express Office Portico is comprised of Tara Freeman (lead vocals, keyboards), Billy Townsend (lead vocals, keyboards), Reuben Tobolewski (guitar), Ben Phipps (bass) and Olly Walton (drums). In cleverly naming themselves after the entrance to an old newspaper distribution office in the center of Nottingham, England, it follows that they would not be afraid to address all sorts of relevant and timely issues, including those related to mental health and emotional well-being. Their debut single “I Like it Weird”, released in late January 2021, dealt with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and how it can exacerbate feelings of jealousy over past lovers. Their second single “Mishmesh” explored the dangers of alcohol dependency, and how our coping mechanisms and compulsive tendencies can manifest themselves in toxic habits, while their third single “Then Wave” addressed abandonment and trust issues.
I really like their brand of dreamy synthpop with an edge, and have reviewed all three of their previous singles, which you can read by clicking on the ‘Related’ links at the end of this post. Now they’re back with their fourth single “Cosmic Joke“, which has a mellower vibe than their previous singles, as well as a more lighthearted message. They’ve provided a bit of background on their creation of the song: “‘Cosmic Joke’ came about by trying and failing to work out the chords to the 70s classic “I’d Rather Be with You” by Bootsy Colins. As big fans of artists immersed in RnB and funk like Erykah Badu, Yellow Days and Steve Lacy, we began thinking, how would an Express Office Portico track with these accidental chords sound? ‘Cosmic Joke’ evolved from there, with other influences such as Men I Trust, Beach House, Yellow Days, Rex Orange County & Mac Demarco adding to its creation. We love comedians that go on long rants that are more like philosophical monologues than stand-up. Bill Hick’s famous ‘It’s Just a Ride’ piece, being the perfect example. From here we decided on using this framing device for the track.
The title comes from an idea in philosophy that the entire universe and life in general is just one big joke. A trick played on humanity by existence itself, or God, or whatever you wanna call it. ‘It’s all a cosmic joke, nothing less and nothing more’. The lyrics are essentially about having an existential crisis and the utter confusion of being a conscious human in the physical world. Everyone is searching for meaning, but life is fundamentally meaningless. So, we might as well just laugh about it all, and try to enjoy it as much as we can! During the recording weekend, we booked ourselves an Airbnb to house us all. After a mild night of drinking, our guitarist Roo had a bit too much nicotine, which resulted in a fairly violent bout of sickness, starting with us all sat around the TV. Who knew too much nicotine could do that to you hey?“
The song opens with Olly’s assertive drumbeats, then silky keyboards enter along with Ben’s funky bassline and Reuben’s beautiful shimmery guitar as the music settles into a delicious R&B groove. In her sweet, lilting vocals, Tara cheekily croons “Sit back, relax. As the curtains draw, the microphone stands upon the stage floor. Out walks a comedian. The crowd we roar. Out walks a comedian, and they say ‘It’s all a cosmic joke, nothing less and nothing more. Your ticket’s already pulled, so you may as well just laugh and applaud’.” The song is filled with great moments like the quiet little interlude halfway through the song during which Ben’s funky bass really shines, and Tara and Billy’s wonderful harmonies in the final chorus.
With “Cosmic Joke”, Express Office Portico keep their perfect score of putting out stellar singles fully intact.
As some of my regular readers and Twitter followers know, my recent bout of serious burnout caused me to decide, for the second time in six months, to quit writing music reviews. The fact that I actually do not enjoy writing, combined with a relentless and often overwhelming flood of submissions and requests for reviews from artists and PR firms, have time and again caused me tremendous anxiety and stress. On the other hand, I do enjoy lending support to indie artists and bands who follow me on social media in whatever small ways I can. Obviously, giving them a bit of press is an important part of that support. I’d like to continue doing so, but the challenge is finding a way to accomplish that without burning myself out again.
In order to continue featuring new music, I’ve decided to resurrect my ‘Fresh New Tracks’ series, which has been on a hiatus since I last wrote one in October 2021. For the series, I feature three or four new songs by various artists, with a few paragraphs about each one, rather than a full-blown review. Though they were generally well-received, I got the sense that some artists were not happy sharing the limelight with other artists or bands. But as more than a few musicians have told me, artists and bands should be grateful for any press, especially when I’m giving it to them for free.
Also, many of my reviews tend to be rather wordy and long, and being a slow, meticulous writer, they take me quite a while to get done. This seems to be a counter-productive approach in this day and age, where most people have the attention spans of a gnat. Although most artists and bands love when I write extensive and detailed reviews of their music, I’m guessing that few people actually read those long reviews in their entirety. Therefore, a short, concise description of each song would seem to be more appealing to a lot of readers who are pressed for time. With that in mind, I will make a valiant attempt to write a Fresh New Tracks post each week going forward. Today I’m featuring songs by three outstanding rock bands with great names from the UK, two of whom, Amongst Liars and FloodHounds, I’ve previously written about, as well as one that’s new to me, Mount Famine.
AMONGST LIARS – “Cut It”
Hailing from Brighton & Eastbourne, Amongst Liars play a fiercely aggressive style of melodic hard rock, forged from a powerful trifecta of alternative rock, grunge and punk. Comprised of Ian George (lead vocals, guitar), Leo Burdett (guitar, backing vocals), Ross Towner (bass, backing vocals) and Adam Oarton (drums), 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.
I first learned about them in early 2020, and was immediately blown away by their explosive debut single “Over and Over”. In the two succeeding years, they’ve followed with six more outstanding singles, many of which I’ve reviewed on this blog. Their latest is “Cut It“, a clarion call for people to stand up to abuse in all its forms. While they don’t consider themselves a ‘political’ band, Amongst Liars are not afraid to tackle some of the biggest socio-political issues of the day, including war mongering for financial gain, poverty, greed, fake news, deceitful politicians, election fraud, human rights abuses and climate change, and they’ve been outspoken advocates for social justice on several of their songs. About “Cut It”, the band explains: “These are difficult times behind many closed doors – words and actions can cause a lifetime of damage. Speak up for those being abused and bullied, and be kind – always.“
The song is a ripper, overflowing with the signature searing riffs and pummeling rhythms we’ve come to love and expect from Amongst Liars. Then there’s that droning bass riff by Ross, creating a menacing vibe that chills us to the core. Ian has a beautiful singing voice that turns deadly when he needs to get his point across: “This violence bleeds silence, bleeds silence / Pray, lead us astray! Pray, just cut it!” I love the dark video, which shows the band performing the song surrounded by curtains of sheer fabric, creating powerful feelings of suffocating claustrophobia. “Cut It” will be included on their forthcoming self-titled debut album, due for release July 8th.
FloodHounds are a terrific rock band from Sheffield who play a high-energy style of guitar-driven alternative rock, drenched in blues, punk and grunge influences. Formed in 2013, the band consists of Jack Flynn on guitar and vocals, Lauren Greaves on drums, and Anna Melidone, who replaced Joel Hughes on bass in summer of 2021. I’ve been following them for nearly six years, and they’re among the earliest bands I wrote about when my blog was still in its infancy, way back in October 2016 when I reviewed their excellent EP Look What You’ve Started.
In the years since, they’ve released numerous singles and a second EP Always in Sight, in 2019, and have toured extensively throughout the UK, including performances at the Isle of Wight and Liverpool Sound City festivals in 2019, as well as twice in Paris. FloodHounds remained active during the repeated lockdowns, putting out live streams and sessions for platforms such as Jagermeister, God Is In The TV Zine and Wentworth Festival, as well as self-producing a 10-track acoustic album. They also made the final shortlist of Record Store Day’s national video competition, and their innovative video for their single “Take It Too Far” garnered high placement at the London Music Video Festival 2020. Also in 2020, they released a brilliant single “Something Primeval“, a hard-hitting song about tapping into our inner resolve to survive in this world, which I also reviewed.
Now FloodHounds are back with “Panic Stations“, a stomping banger fueled by Jack’s jagged fuzz-soaked riffs, Anna’s grinding bassline and Lauren’s fearsome drumbeats. The biting lyrics call out those who spread lies and misinformation to sow fear and divisiveness, urging them to instead put their energy into trying to bring people together for a common good. “Panic Stations touches on the air of uncertainty we’ve all been labouring under“, explains Jack. “I wanted to write a song that echoed us roaring out of lockdown, and back into real life. The takeaway is that sticking together will serve us better than alienation and blind panic. It’s great fun to play live, it’s heavy but catchy, so people seem to really get on board with it.” In his arresting vocals, Jack emphatically implores “Give me something with meaning. And I will show you something to believe in. But if you just try and deceive me with all the lies that you hear blaring out your TV. It is your mission to heal division, so go and rally all the people who will listen.” It’s a great song.
Jack is also a photographer and graphic artist, and created the artwork for the single.
MOUNT FAMINE – “Distance”
Mount Famine are a rather enigmatic post punk/synth infused indie rock’n’roll project based in Derby. From what I can tell, they formed in 2019, and according to their bio, their sound is inspired by 80s bands such as The Cure, The Psychedelic Furs and Pet Shop Boys (all of whom I personally love too), and 90s bands like Manic Street Preachers, Pulp & Suede, along with “the same desire to tell stories that produce the adrenaline-fueled highs of indie disco dancefloors.” They have no photos of themselves on any of their social media, and I was told by band member Martin Stanier that they’ve steered away from photos, wanting the focus to instead be on their music. They’ve released four outstanding singles thus far, beginning in January 2020 with “Faith”, followed that July with “Pulse”, then “Lost” in February 2021, and now “Distance“, which dropped March 11th.
Martin reached out to me about “Distance” after seeing posts of my recent Top 30 song lists on Instagram, thinking it would be to my liking. Well, he was correct, as it’s right up my alley. With it’s rousing, guitar-driven melody, swirling cinematic synths and exuberant dance groove, all creating a glorious 80s-influenced wall of sound, it’s exactly the kind of sound I love. The band says the song was written and recorded on an old Roland synthesizer and beaten-up drumkit, which gives it that wonderful vintage 80s feel. The lyrics speak to the speed of life, and how it passes by with the blink of an eye, a sentiment they beautifully capture in the frenetic video.
British electro-funk/soul collective WINACHI call their sound a blend of “swaggering Mancunian tenacity spliced with smooth Californian G Funk soul”, a perfect description for their delectable music stew of infectious sexy grooves. Based in Warrington, situated roughly halfway between Liverpool and Manchester, WINACHI consists of Liam Croker (lyrics and vocals) and Antony Egerton (keyboards, programming), Inder Goldfinger (percussion), Andy McKay (lead guitar), Richard Ritchie (bass) and Paul Lawrence (drums), all accomplished musicians with diverse musical backgrounds.
They formed in 2015, but I first learned about them in Spring of 2018, around the time they released their funky dance single “Transition”. I instantly loved it, as well as all their subsequent releases, and have featured them numerous times on this blog, most recently last November when I reviewed their PARASITICAL ELIMINATION E.P. (You can find links to some of those reviews under “Related” at the end of this post.) That EP included four great collaborative remixes of three of their previous songs by international artists and producers Howie B, Paolo Baldini, Jim Spencer, and Impey. Now WINACHI are back with a marvelous new single “CHARACTERS“, the first of a long line of singles they plan to release in 2022.
The track, which features additional keyboards by Lee ‘Latch’ Parker, was engineered and mixed by Jim Spencer and mastered by Ben Booker. About the song, front man Liam Croker explains: “CHARACTERS is about how we’re all living together in this extremely beautiful yet completely fucked up world, and how once you get past all the prejudice, hate and judgmental bullshit, we’re all just the same, living under the same sky…we’re human beings and without each other we’re nothing. When writing and producing this track we wanted to make something that sounded like a cross between Beck, George Clinton and a Looney Tunes cartoon, I think we succeeded with that. The world’s such a dark, insane place at the moment that we wanted to put out our own little slice of madness…except exchanging the darkness for a bit of a colour. CHARACTERS is exactly that, a funked-up Bugs Bunny cartoon.”
I’m not sure I can improve on Liam’s description of the song, so I’ll just elaborate on what I love about it. Firstly, there’s that seductive and funky bass-driven trip hop groove that grabs you by the hips and shoulders, compelling you to move! Then there’s the colorful mix of magical glittery and darker industrial synths, punctuated with flourishes of sci-fi and cartoonish sound effects, hand claps and wonderful jangly guitar chords, all of which come together to create a trippy, enchanting soundscape.
Liam’s distinctive vocals are smooth, but with a seductive, slightly raspy undercurrent that conveys an air of mystery as he croons “The people that we meet, will paint the pictures of our lives. Some make a fortune, some shoot to get by. Some walk on the moon, while some just shoot to get high. We’re all just faces in the crowd./ We’re characters of the world.”
WINACHI never disappoints, and with “CHARACTERS” they deliver another stellar track for our listening enjoyment. I’m certain we’ll continue to hear more great songs from them in the coming months.
I have a special fondness for female-fronted bands, and British group Never Apart fit the bill quite nicely. Consisting of the talented Alice (Al) Clarke (lead vocals), Rhys Scott (rhythm guitar), Ben Ollis (lead guitar), Nathan Gummery (bass) and Louis Baille (on drums, who recently left the band), the Coventry-based group plays a hard-hitting style of edgy melodic rock, with compelling lyrics addressing such issues as relationships and emotional well-being that many of us can relate to. They released their debut single “Damaged” in late 2019, then followed in May 2020 with “Hold On Hope“, which I reviewed. Now they return with a terrific new single, “Sick of It“, which dropped January 7th.
Never Apart wastes no time getting down to business, blasting through the speakers with a torrent of raging guitars before things settle down to a throbbing bass-fueled groove, overlain with chugging riffs of gnarly guitars and heavy thumping drumbeats. The music ebbs and flows with each verse and chorus, punctuated by a beautiful interlude of shimmery guitars, sparkling synths and delicate piano keys in the bridge, only to explode into a dramatic barrage of shredded guitars and pummeling rhythms in the final chorus. The band’s musicianship is impressive, and gets better with each new release.
Alice has a commanding vocal style that’s well-suited to the band’s heavy rock sound, and on this track her clear, highly emotive vocals are quite effective in conveying a strong sense of exasperation and anger as she belts out the searing lyrics in which she gives her former lover the big kiss-off.
You’ve got some nerve boy you're playing me like a toy
with all that I ever do
it seems its always too much for you
But now you won't see me
I'm running away from you
pleasure is pain now baby
more fool on youYou broke the wall around me built up the lie I believed
you burned it all now
I'm so sick of it
you dragged me down to the ground
so lost but thought I was found
you burned it all now
I'm so sick of it I gave you everything
now you’ll never see me again
with all of your games in my head I’ll never forget.
But now you won’t see me
I'm running away from you
Your pleasure is pain now baby
more fool on you
Why am I so hard to please
cried my eyes to start to freeze
You burn it all
London-based alt-rock band Oli Barton & the Movement are a long-time favorite of mine. As indicated by their name, the band is headed by the wildly creative and charismatic singer-songwriter Oli Barton, with the Movement comprised of four outstanding musicians – Ryan Wilson on lead guitar, Jamal Lagoon on rhythm guitar, Marco Paone on Bass, and Josh Needham on drums. With a winning combination of talent, imagination and personality, their eccentric yet sophisticated style of alternative rock is a colorful mix of post-punk and psychedelia, fortified with touches of funk, grunge and pop.
I’ve written about them numerous times on this blog since first featuring them in May 2017 (You can read some of my reviews by clicking the links under ‘Related’ at the end of this post), and have loved every one of their releases. Three of their songs have appeared on my Weekly Top 30 lists – their provocative 2017 single “Kinky” went all the way to #1, and their 2018 single “44”, and more recent single “Martyr” from earlier this year, both reached the top 5. They’ve been on a creative streak since the fall of 2020, and have released a string of excellent singles. Their latest is “Just Like Always“, a beautiful song featuring guest vocals by London-based singer-songwriter Maella that I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. Released via Coke & Dagger Records, the track was produced by the band’s long-time collaborator Jules Gulon.
“Just Like Always” starts off with strummed acoustic guitar and Oli’s soothing vocals, giving it a more introspective feel than many of their previous songs. The music gradually expands with added guitars, bass, drums and synths into a lush, melodic soundscape in the choruses. The shimmery guitar notes and piano chords are sublime and, as always, I love Oli’s beautiful plaintive vocals as he sings words of encouragement “And just like always, you say you’re done. But I know inside my heart, you’ve just begun“. Everything builds to a dramatic crescendo in the final chorus as Maella’s vocals enter, highlighted by a terrific guitar solo.
The lyrics generally speak to not allowing the impediments that life often throws in our path to prevent us from realizing our dreams. Oli states that the song is deeply personal to him, as it’s about someone he knew who was giving up on life, referenced in the lyric “she tried to lift her head up but a force just brought it down“. “We’ve all been there” he adds. “The Maella segment of the song is the kind of positive end which speak to not waiting for the moment to strike but to seize it in order to reach your goals and not needing anyone else’s permission to do so.“
“Just Like Always” is a wonderful song that beautifully showcases Oli Barton & the Movement’s ongoing growth and maturity as a band. Their music just keeps sounding better and better, and I’m thrilled to follow them as they continue moving forward on their musical journey.
Tarraska started out as a mostly acoustic cover band, but within a few years the guys began writing their own songs, and incorporating more electric guitars and heavier bass into their dynamic blend of classic and modern hard rock. Influenced by some of their favorite acts like Myles Kennedy, Tremonti, John Mayer, Slash, Aerosmith, Van Halen, Whitesnake, Iron Maiden, Five Finger Death Punch, Alter Bridge and Foo Fighters, their music took on a harder rock edge, characterized by heavy riffs, hard-driving rhythms and aggressive vocals. Jack plays rhythm and acoustic guitar and sings vocals, Ben plays lead, rhythm and bass guitar.
The guys released their debut single “Trailblazer” in May 2020, and followed that December with “Renegade”, which I featured on a Fresh New Tracks post this past February. Now they’re back with their third single “Prose“, which dropped December 3rd. All three singles will be included on their forthcoming self-titled album, due out in early 2022. A beautiful rock ballad that’s a departure from their typical harder rock sound, “Prose” became a fan favorite after Tarraska played it in their live shows. In response to the song’s positive reception, including even frequent requests for its lyrics, the guys felt it was the obvious choice for their next single release. They decided to record “Prose” with their full rock sound, and the result is a magnificent, deeply moving track that I think is their best release to date.
Jack reflects on his inspiration for writing the song: “The lyrics for ‘Prose’ were written to honour the many, many influences, artistic and familial, that have helped shape both my lifelong love for my art and who I am as a person. Of course, for me personally the lyrics refer to music, story and poetry as these are the mediums I resonate most strongly with, though for others it may be dance, painting or any number of other pursuits. I therefore see ‘Prose’, as I hope others will too, as a love song not for any one person, but for the ideas and emotions that so many have been able to express only through their dedication to, and love for, their craft.”
The track was recorded and mixed at Absolute Studios in Bournemouth by Gareth Matthews of GMMix, and mastered by Grammy-winning Brad Blackwood at Euphonic Masters in Memphis, Tennessee. Fellow musician Allan Varnfield played drums on “Prose”, as well as many of the songs on their forthcoming album, and will hopefully be joining the guys for live shows in 2022. About the recording process, Ben elaborates: “We knew the arrangement of ‘Prose’ was going to command our utmost attention; it was a delicate balance between a waltz and a rock ballad. Through its metamorphosis in the studio, the song unfolds from its acoustic roots to a powerful, yet melodic, ballad that hopefully captures you within its numerous dynamic shifts.”
As Ben alluded, “Prose” starts off with a beautifully-strummed acoustic guitar, as Jack tenderly sings “The songs and the stories of childhood, made me who I am today. And if I could thank you then I would, for lighting the path that I take. Expression committed to page…” As the song progresses, more guitars, bass and percussion enter, flowing and ebbing with each chorus and verse, becoming more intense in the choruses when Jack passionately sings “Your numinous prose, the verse and the line. The depths of your mind, slowly composed for you at the time. But the meaning implied, spoke to my soul, and taught me to hope, to love and to hold.” It all builds to a dramatic crescendo in the final chorus, highlighted by Ben’s gorgeous guitar solo and Jack’s fervent vocals at their emotional peak, after which the song fades out in a trail of serene strummed guitar notes.
To learn more about Tarraska, check out their Website
I’ve commented more times than I can remember on this blog about the staggering amount of musical talent that continues to emanate from the United Kingdom. One of the many British acts I’ve been following for more than four years is the charismatic young rock band Wild Horse. Based in Heathfield, East Sussex, the talented trio consists of brothers Henry and Jack Baldwin, and their long-time friend Ed Barnes. Now in their early 20s, the guys are already seasoned musicians who’ve been writing and recording songs since forming in 2013 when they were barely teenagers. Both Henry and Jack are multi-instrumentalists who play guitar, bass and keyboards, as well as sing vocals, while Ed plays drums and percussion, sings backing vocals and plays guitar on a few tracks.
While presenting a fun, lighthearted image with their high-energy and eclectic punk-infused style of blues rock, the guys take their music very seriously. Their dedication and drive, fortified with thoughtful lyricism, ace musicianship and a mature approach towards the music business, have taken them far and brought them both critical acclaim and a loyal and growing fan base. The Baldwin brothers are also prolific songwriters who’ve penned hundreds of songs over the years, and now have five albums to their credit.
Their debut album It’s Begun, featuring songs recorded when their average age was only 14, was released in January 2016 by a New York-based record label they were signed with at the time. (Henry sang lead vocals on that album, where he sounded alarmingly like a young Mick Jagger.) Working independently since 2017, the guys subsequently released three EPs from late 2017 to early 2018, then followed that June with their second album Songs About Last Night. They’ve continued to drop a new album every year since then. In April 2019, they released their third album DANCE!! Like An Animal, which I reviewed, then followed up in July 2020 with their fourth album WE ARE IN AN IDENTITY CRISES…BUT WE LOVE IT, featuring 16 tracks. Now they’re back with their fifth album When The Pool Is Occupied, which dropped November 18th. Their most ambitious work yet, the album contains a whopping 18 tracks!
Before I get to my review, I want to include a few thoughts about the album the guys shared in an interview for Brighton and Hove webzine BN1. “The album name ‘When the Pool is Occupied’ is actually a metaphor for self-love. We realised that this was the theme of the album quite late into the making of it. When we started writing the album, we were not in the best place personally, with lockdown giving us anxieties about the future and the direction we were going in our lives. As we neared the end of making the album we were in a much better place, as the whole process actually taught us a lot about ourselves, and we decided to make it our most honest record. So the album has become a musical imprint of our journey to self-love and happiness, which we hope everyone who listens will be able to relate to!
This album is definitely more mellow and that is down to a few things. Firstly, we didn’t want to be perceived as just a rock band anymore, and wanted to push the boundaries as much as we possibly could. We wanted our first record back after covid to be one that would make people dance, hence the strong disco and 80’s influence. Also, we took a new approach to writing and creating music in not only taking the reins on production, but also because Jack (our main songwriter) taught himself piano over lockdown and began writing songs on [piano], which gave us a whole new feel. From there, synths became a much more integral part of our sound, and we became really obsessed with creating an atmosphere in our music. Our previous albums were all recorded quite quickly, whereas this one took us over a year. The main difference is that every single tiny note and lyric on this album had so much thought put into it, which is why we’re so proud of it.”
Well, let me say that Wild Horse has created a near-epic album running just over an hour in length, and featuring 18 wonderful tracks that span across genres from rousing post-punk bangers to angst-filled piano ballads to bouncy dance-pop gems. The songs explore issues related to growing up in the modern world, relationships, struggles with addiction and mental health, and the long journey towards self-acceptance and self-love.
Opening track “Happy Love Songs” is a short and bittersweet piano-driven tune that sets the tone for the album. In his quirky endearing vocals, Jack plaintively laments “Why are there never happy love songs anymore? It takes two to fall in love, but it only takes one to fall apart. And then there’s never.” The song immediately segues into “Freaky Together“, a catchy, lighthearted earworm celebrating the liberating freedom of a no-strings-attached approach to relationships and life (ah, the joys of youth). The guys layer jangly guitars and woozy synths over a delightfully funky bassline and thumping drumbeats to create a fun and sexy dance beat that aims straight for the hips. Jack croons “Baby, I know that you could never need me. But come on let’s get down and dirty. Oh yeah, Oh, give it to me.” The sweet video nicely showcases the guys’ youthful charm and charisma.
The guys keep the lively vibes going with the delectable “Pornstar Martini“, an irresistibly bouncy mashup of punk, disco and funk, then later slow things down with “Coffee In The Morning“, the first of several romantic piano ballads. Jack’s heartfelt vocals are raspy and vulnerable as he sings of his ardor and desire to a potential romantic partner: “I’m sitting in my dirty University room. Haven’t slept for days now. And I was hoping that you could come around and stay, for 17 days.” But once they’ve become a couple, cracks appear in their relationship, which are explored on the lovely but bittersweet “Feel“: “I wanna talk to you about last night. You know I hate it how we always fight. But if you saw the world through my eyes, then you would understand about the way I feel.” And on “Symphony of Broken Hearts“, Jack sings of the pain he’s feeling over a broken relationship: “You said forever, and then you couldn’t stay. You said forever, until you walked away. And now I’m lying on my own, feeling sorry for myself.“
One of my favorites on the album is “Anxiety“, a joyful, upbeat song about the emotional roller-coaster ride we willingly take when attraction for another hits us like a ton of bricks, rendering us helpless in the throes of passionate longing. I love the exuberant synths, funky dance grooves and the guys’ beautiful vocal harmonies. Jack’s plaintive vocals sing of emotions we’ve all felt at some point in our lives, fearful we’ll make a fool of ourselves: “Petrified by the things you say (petrified). I only met you yesterday (yesterday). But really I’m fine. I’m just going with the groove. Only been preparing for like 24 hours through.”
Another favorite is the ebullient and sexy “Pray 89“, in which the guys sing the praises of a seemingly more innocent time (although those of us who were already adults in 1989 know it really wasn’t) and the freedom of living a life where self-love without emotional attachments is prioritized, but with an appreciation of the beauty in other people. The lyrics include the album’s title: “You bring the fire and sexy eyes. I bring the smoke to stay alight. When we go party we’ll do it right, like we belong in ‘89.Dance on the table to New Order’s new song. And we’ll be feeling alright when the pool is occupied.”
The guys’ willingness to venture out of their musical comfort zone is exemplified by the bluesy hip hop track “Confidence“, on which Henry’s backing vocals are more prominent. On the poignant “Just About Enough”, they turn tinkling piano keys into a true percussive instrument as they combine them with assertive strummed guitar notes and pounding drumbeats to become a powerful driving force, before finishing things off with gorgeous bluesy guitars, accompanied by Jack’s fervent vocals. And on “OneNight Robbery“, Jack does a decent job rapping some of the verses letting a former girlfriend know he doesn’t appreciate how she used him and only wanted his money after all the nice things he did for her.
Hands down the most charming track on the album is “Record Collection“, a delightful pop-rock song with a retro 60s power pop vibe. The sweet lyrics speak of connecting with someone you meet on a night out and taking them home, not because you want to have sex with them, but because you like their taste in music and want to share your record collection with them: “I don’t wanna be your lover. I just wanna show you my record collection. I don’t wanna get under the covers. I just wanna know if you like Mott the Hoople. I don’t wanna touch your hand. Just tell me your favourite band. Oh, the only thing I’m turning on is the record player.” I love the jangly guitars on this song.
“Kelsie” is a shining example of how a kiss-off song can still sound sweet. “Kelsie, you’re much happier on Twitter. But you want me back on tinder. And I just laugh and smile ‘cause I’m finally over you. Have you noticed I don’t care what you do? When you tell me you’re getting drinks bought for you. Shit, me too.” The track has a mellow, head-bopping melody with subtle hip hop elements, making for a really pleasing tune. The guys close the album on a positive note with “Thank You (It’s Gonna Be Alright)“, a minute-long piece with a church-like organ riff accompanied by Jack’s echoed vocal repeating the words “It’s gonna be alright“, followed by “The pool is occupied.” As the music abruptly ends, he says “And that was the album, thank you very much. Woo!”
Woo indeed! What a fun, delightful and brilliant album this is! With WhenThe Pool is Occupied, Wild Horse pushed themselves into expanding their songwriting and sound in the hopes of making their most honest record yet, and I think they’ve succeeded quite nicely. It showcases their continued growth and maturity as songwriters and musicians, while their sense of humor and playfulness remains fully intact.
In naming themselves after the entrance to an old newspaper distribution office in the center of Nottingham, England, it’s no surprise that British synth-pop band Express Office Portico do not shy away from tackling relevant and timely issues. Since forming in early 2020, the talented five-piece consisting of Tara Freeman (lead vocals, keyboards), Billy Townsend (lead vocals, keyboards), Reuben Tobolewski (guitar), Ben Phipps (bass) and Olly Walton (drums), has released three singles touching on mental health and well-being.
Their first, “I Like it Weird”, dealt with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and how it can exacerbate feelings of jealousy over past lovers. Their second, “Mishmesh”, explored the dangers of alcohol dependency, and how our coping mechanisms and compulsive tendencies can manifest themselves in toxic habits. (I reviewed both of those singles, which you can read by clicking on the links under “Related” at the end of this post.) Now they’re back with a new single “Then Wave“, which addresses the struggle of coping with abandonment and trust issues. The track was produced and mixed by Joshua Rumble and mastered by Fluid Mastering. The beautiful artwork was created by Antonio Pacelli.
With “Then Wave”, Express Office Portico gifts us with another beautiful synthpop song, overflowing with their signature swirling synths and Tara and Billy’s captivating harmonies. The sounds of theremin, accompanied by Ben’s throbbing bass notes and Olly’s perfect drumbeats, creates a dreamy backdrop for Tara’s enchanting vocals as she plaintively sings the lyrics describing someone struggling to reach out for affection amid their fears and anxiety over letting people get close to them. As she sings the verses, Billy repeats the words “Can’t get up” over and over, driving home the feelings of anxiety and helplessness in overcoming one’s insecurities:
Let me be swallowed by my own self doubt
Nauseous from constantly spinning around
(Can't get up)
Time to sit with my shame
(Can't get up)
Feeling flows through my brain
(Can't get up)You are infecting my very body
So close I can feel you inside of me
Time to sit with my shame
(Can't get up)
Feeling flows through my brain
(Can't get up)
I stop calling your name
(Can't get up)
Then wave, calling your name
(Can't get up)
A little over a month ago, I featured British alternative psychedelic rock band Future Theory when I reviewed their marvelous single “Hang Your Hat”. I’ve been following this talented group since early 2017, and their incredible musicianship has never failed to blow me away on every one of their releases. I’ve written about them numerous times over the years (you can read some of my reviews by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the end of this post), and am happy to feature them yet again so soon, as I love their latest single “One and the Same“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week.
Blending elements of alternative and progressive rock, psychedelia, grunge, shoegaze and funk, Future Theory creates music characterized by lavish, complex instrumentation, intelligent lyrics and mesmerizing vocals. Like many bands, the Lincolnshire-based foursome has experienced some changes in lineup 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 as with “Hang Your Hat”, former band members Rex Helley played bass and Rohan Parrett played drums on “One and the Same”. The track was recorded at 2fly Studios by Alan Smith, mixed and produced by Koncide (aka Chris Hengmith), Max and Chris, and mastered by Yves Altana and Chris Ree.
“One and the Same” is magnificent, and quite possibly one of their best songs yet. It starts off slowly and rather introspectively with shimmery strummed guitars, accompanied by gentle bass and crisp drumbeats as Max sings in his distinctive sultry croon that I love so much. Around 45 seconds, the music erupts in the first chorus into a glorious cinematic soundscape, highlighted by a glittery cascade of chiming guitars and fiercely crashing cymbals, instantly covering me with goosebumps. The music calms back down for the second verse, only to return to an even more dramatic crescendo in the final chorus, with Max’s vocals now more impassioned than ever, before the song ends in a trail of reverby distortion.
The official video, produced by Lewis Carter of 3Link Media, is as breathtaking as the song, with beautiful footage of marine life and outer space, combined with images of the band performing, overlain by kaleidoscopic explosions of color.
I’ve been following British psychedelic garage/punk band DENSE pretty much since their beginnings nearly five years ago, and it’s been gratifying to watch them grow and mature as artists. Based in Leeds, the wickedly talented trio – comprised of Charlie Fossick (Guitar/Vocals), Dylan Metcalf (Bass) and Sam Heffer (Drums) – live up to their moniker by combining thick, fuzz-coated grooves with progressive elements and fierce instrumentation to create music that’s electrifying, innovative and intense.
I’ve written about them numerous times over the past four and a half years, most recently in August 2020 when I reviewed their debut EP Abjection, which I described as “four combustible sticks of dynamite packed into 14 explosive minutes” (you can read some of my previous reviews by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the end of this post). Now the guys are back with a new single “Reckoning“, which they refer to as “a desperately needed release of energy“. After listening to the track, I’d say that’s almost an understatement, as it’s a furious eruption of wailing distortion and sonic mayhem.
The guys have gained a reputation for their electrifying live performances, and they’ve somehow managed to capture that energy and inject it into their songs. As MC (who goes by @LeedsGigs_ on Twitter and writes about shows in and around Leeds) commented on my review of Abjection, “Seeing them live is a visceral experience and their music demands your attention. Charlie contorting primeval sounds from both mic and guitar through his pedal board, Dylan prowling the stage with adrenaline-fueled rockstar stances, riffing on a parody of every bedroom axeman, and Sam, limbs akimbo, thrashing his drumkit into quivering submission.”
According to their press release, “‘Reckoning’ is an abstract journey through anguish, capturing the frustrations of modern day life through utilisation of melodic dissonance alongside a focus on rhythm and groove-led songwriting, conveying what the lyrics represent. The track boasts a mix from Ross Orton, who has worked with the likes of Arctic Monkeys, Drenge, God Damn, Pulled Apart by Horses and Working Men’s Club. This was the first track we wrote together in 12 months post-lockdown, and it feels like the track absorbed and channeled a lot of our pent-up energy and frustration that the three of us individually experienced during isolation.”
That pent-up energy and frustration is manifested in an explosive barrage of super-gnarly guitars, grinding bass and bombastic percussion. Dylan drives the chaotic rhythm forward with a deep, chest-thumping bassline while Sam smashes his drumkit like a man possessed, the two of them somehow bringing order to the madness. Charlie unleashes the full fury of his double-barreled arsenal of gritty guitars and savage vocals, thrashing the airwaves with frantic, reverb-drenched psychedelic riffs, punctuated here and there by flourishes of screaming distortion, while sending shivers up and down our spines with his signature demonic wails and screams. The song is so intense, I’m left in a quivering heap by the end. It’s good to hear that DENSE have not lost one bit of their fearsome edge in the 12 months they’ve been quiet.
The guys pull no punches with their bitter lyrics that speak to a sense of hopelessness and despair, a reckoning with the terrible state of things:
When I get inside I never feel dry the rain it constantly pours and I’ll ask for more
I feel a nervous pulse men riding on horse been dropped in the tank shot, point blank
residing I’m torn providing I’m born declining I’m torn reclining I’m born
I’m formed we’re scorned No future And no past
and it sails, to the core sailing down to the core, to the core, to the core
Reliving Past lives and I’m always Terrified
The ends are looking frayed Cause it tore me Fired under No cause
residing I’m torn providing I’m born declining I’m torn reclining I’m born
Reckon now? Reckon now? Re, Reckoning, Reckoning
I’m formed we’re scorned No future And no past
and it sails, to the core sailing down to the core, to the core, to the core
DENSE will be launching “Reckoning” at a show tonight at the Castle Hotel in Manchester. They’ll perform again on the 13th at Royal Park Cellars in Leeds.