DAVID OAKES – Album Review: “The Anomaly”

David Oakes is an imaginative and prolific musician and composer of electronic alternative rock music, ranging from gentle synth-driven compositions to aggressive guitar-driven hard rock, and everything in between. I really like his music, and have written about quite a lot of it on this blog (you can read some of those reviews by clicking on the links under “Related” at the end of this post).

Based in the coastal town of Aberporth, Wales, David’s been actively involved in making music since his late teens, when he started playing in various bands. From 2001-06, he and his younger brother were members of the rock band KOTOW, in which he played drums. He went on to study guitar and music theory at the Academy of Contemporary Music in Guildord, England from 2009-12, after which he started composing and recording music as a solo artist. He released his first album The Juggernaut in 2014, and in the years since, has recorded and released an astonishing nine more albums, the latest of which is The Anomaly, which he released on Bandcamp on April 2nd.

The new album features many of David’s signature electronic and guitar-heavy elements we’ve come to expect, but has more of a cinematic feel than his previous albums, with a sound he describes as “Nine Inch Nails meets Rammstein and Depeche Mode with a Danny Elfman Aperitif!” In fact, The Anomaly would make a great soundtrack to any number of films by Christopher Nolan or Tim Burton. Things kick off with “Intronomaly”, a darkly wonderful piece with an ominous droning sound sort of like an engine, over which David layers a captivating warbling synth riff. It all works beautifully in creating a portentous mood, setting the stage for what’s about to unfold.

Next up is “Enter the Anomaly”, a brief composition highlighted by a brooding piano riff and pounding drumbeats that seem to convey the sense of an invading force, in this case ‘the anomaly’. David hasn’t used piano very often on his previous works, so its addition here is a nice touch. His outstanding guitar work makes a return on “The Anomaly (Part 1)”, accompanied by gnarly industrial synths and chugging rhythms, keeping things firmly planted on a dark path going forward. On “The Anomaly (Part 2)”, he uses unusual guitar chords, pummeling drumbeats, and an almost spooky carnival-type melody, then bathes everything in a fuzzy texture to create a discordant, otherworldly vibe.

“The Anomaly (Part 3)” has a definite film noir feel, thanks to those wonderfully moody piano keys, while “The Anomaly (Part 4)” immediately made me think of Tim Burton’s 1989 film Batman, which was scored by Danny Elfman. I could imagine hearing this piece, as well as “The Anomaly (Part 6)”, while watching Jack Nicholson as The Joker wrecking havoc on Gotham City. The dark, cinematic vibes and driving rhythms continue on the next several tracks. David told me his guitar riff for “Part 6” was partly inspired by the Primus song “Welcome to this World”.

One of my favorite tracks is “The Anomaly (Part 7)”, with its rousing, hard-charging beat, grungy guitars and exuberant swirling synths. Though the instrumentals are still pretty intense, the synths and lively melody give the track a somewhat lighter tone. The album goes full circle as those enchanting droning and warbling sounds we first heard on “Intronomaly” make a return engagement on “Exit the Anomaly”. The brief but gorgeous final track “Set a Course…For Home” provides not only closure, but a sense of hopeful optimism, expressed through hauntingly beautiful piano keys, glittery synths and soaring strings. It’s a stunning end to another stellar album by David.

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Stream his music on Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud

Purchase on Bandcamp

DUNKIE – EP Review: “The Vanishing and Other Stories”

Dunkie is the whimsically-named music project of Welsh singer/songwriter and musician Anthony Price. Based in the town of Mountain Ash in the South Wales Valleys, Price has written and recorded songs for many years, and in late December 2019 he gifted the world with his exquisite debut album Working to Design. An ambitious and monumental work, the album is a stunning, meticulously-crafted labor of love featuring 17 tracks. Partially inspired by the books and works of author Richard Matheson, Working to Design is a concept album, filled with heartfelt songs exploring the oft-covered subjects of life, love, the passage of time, death and loss, but also healing, hope and rebirth. (You can read my review here.) It was also a collaborative effort, involving contributions by more than 30 other musicians and vocalists who performed on various tracks, most notably Wayne Bassett, a fellow Welsh musician and producer, who played numerous instruments on several tracks, and produced, engineered, mixed and mastered the album.

Now Dunkie returns with a lovely five-track EP The Vanishing and Other Stories, another wonderful collaborative effort featuring an eclectic mix of stylistic elements ranging from rock, folk and pop to electronic and alt-country. For this work, Price co-wrote, arranged, produced and mixed the songs with Wayne Bassett. As with the recording of Working to Design, he once again enlisted a dozen other musicians and vocalists to add their talents to various songs. And the album artwork was again created by their friend, Welsh Figurative Artist Michael Gustavius Payne. Recorded at Robot Recordings in Aberdare, Wales, The Vanishing and Other Stories is being released on Friday, March 19 through South Wales music label Dirty Carrot Records, and is available for purchase on Dunkie’s Bandcamp profile. 

Having different musicians and vocalists performing on various tracks gives the EP more of a compilation feel, although the common thread running through the entire work is Price and Bassett’s superb songwriting. The songs address various aspects of loneliness, isolation and fear – emotions many of us have experienced or grappled with over the past year. About the EP, Dunkie explains: “Reminiscent of 1950’s & 1960’s short story anthologies, collected together in the world of Corgi and Penguin paperbacks, we’ve aimed to create a similar aesthetic with this EP.  These songs/stories are grounded in the mundane yet heightened by a haunting, terrifying and sometimes surreal reality that surrounds us, present with despair for human lives, searching for hope in humanity and our own existence within it.  Standalone stories, that exist in the same storytelling world we write.” He’s also provided a line or two of commentary for each song.

The beautiful opening track “The Vanishing” touches on feelings of emptiness that often stem from isolation, and ponders whether love can be a healing force. Dunkie elaborates “When lives begin to pull and push away from gravity and humanity, can one collective last breath of society prevail? Maybe only love can fill the hole within the soul…” The song is absolutely stunning, with lush, sweeping instrumentals highlighted by glittery synths, marvelous guitar work by Price, Bassett and Adam Price, and shimmery mellotron played by John Barnes. Anthony Price has a gentle and distinctive singing voice that sounds like a blend of Thom Yorke and Neil Young, and his vocals are deeply moving as he croons “I could disappear and leave without a trace from this world. I’ve left the human race. Nobody sees me, nobody sees me, sees me anymore / You’ll miss me when I’m gone / Only love can fill the holes within your soul.”

Shadows On The Sun” is an incredibly pleasing folk-rock song with a catchy and upbeat toe-tapping melody, and featuring more of the gorgeous guitar work played by the same three who also dazzled us on “The Vanishing”. Dunkie explains the song’s message: “How long can a surface hold its form before cracking? In a world where darkness rises and lights dim, one earthly, broken figure can no longer take it anymore…

Dunkie takes us off in a different direction with the haunting and contemplative “Choke“. Seven musicians play instruments on this mesmerizing track, highlighted by Terry Payne’s bewitching flute and Jennifer Drew’s inventive percussive textures. Mali Davies sings the captivating lead vocals, supported by gentle backing vocals by Anthony Price and Rob Lear. The lyrics seem to address the fear and desolation of facing one’s impending death, yet the music is ethereal and soothing, conveying a sense of peaceful resignation: “A fading lifecycle.. Visions searing the skin.. and the figure screams as the silent walls close within a room.. Choking the tears begin, again.” The song seems to end at around 4:42 with sounds of a person drawing their final breath, accompanied by a monitor indicting no heartbeat. But then the music abruptly returns, as if to signify the release and rebirth of the person’s soul into another dimension.

Deep Dark Heart” is a bittersweet song about a relationship in which both parties have drifted apart, becoming almost like strangers and afraid to be honest with each other: “Blinded by inner demons a mute couple attempt to feel what one each feels, but this comes with a price and begins to pull them from underneath… and slowly takes seed.” The song was co-written by Price and Bassett, along with contributions by Mark Purnell on music and Joanne Jones on lyrics. Purnell also played acoustic and electric guitars and sings vocals along with Sarah Birch. Another reviewer, Grayson Jones, compared their vocals to those of Cat Stevens and Stevie Nicks, and I have to agree. Their wonderful vocals are tender and heartfelt as they sing of doubts and unease toward each other: “Is it in my head? Or is it in my heart? Questions go unanswered through the tether of your bark.” Musically, the song has a haunting alt-Country vibe, thanks to the twangy guitars and Terry Payne’s mournful violin.

On “The Vanishing Shadow“, we have the pleasure of hearing lovely vocals by a third female singer, Lauren Coates. The song has a peaceful, atmospheric soundscape, thanks to shimmery synths, delicate strings and gentle percussion. Coates’ soft, captivating vocals perfectly fit the ethereal vibe, which is broken only by the piercing synth sounds at the end. The lyrics seem to speak to people losing touch with each other through fear or indifference, leaving us to wonder if our lives have any meaning at all: “When lifeforms fall out of reach from one another, into an endless pit of fear, the emptiness in space appears… and they question if they are really… gone.” Coates’ sings “The hardest thing to do, is to prove you exist. With every single coat that you paint erased…and I’m gone.”

Those who purchase the EP will get a sixth bonus track, an alternative version of “The Vanishing”, recorded at an Abertawe Road Studio session. This version is somewhat stripped-down, with richly-layered guitars, magical synths, and Price’s sweet vocals the only sounds we hear. But what sounds they are! The jangly and shimmery guitars are deeply resonant, with a fullness of sound that’s incredibly impactful.

To sum up, I must say that Dunkie has gone and done it again, creating another work of musical art that’s as perfect as it could possibly be. The Vanishing and Other Stories is a gorgeous, expertly-crafted little EP, and a testament to the impressive talents of Price, Bassett, and everyone else involved in its production.

Connect with dunkie on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream/purchase his music on Bandcamp / iTunes / Spotify / Soundcloud

JUSTIN BEYNON – Album Review: “In Motion”

Justin Beynon is a musician and singer/songwriter based in Aberdare, Wales who I recently learned about when he reached out to me about his just-released debut album In Motion. Music has been a major part of Justin’s life since his childhood, and he’s played an active role in the Welsh music scene for the last 30 years. As a member of numerous bands over the years, he’s been featured on several albums, as well as collaborated on many projects as a session musician. He’s also taught guitar and piano for the last 24 years. Several years ago, he built his own home studio and began learning how to use new technology so that he could record the backlog of songs he’d been writing over the years. Last year he decided to produce his first solo album, and got busy recording songs in his home studio, singing and playing all the instruments himself, other than on four songs that he recorded in a studio with the help of a friend and former bandmate Meirion Townsend on drums. The tracks were then mixed and mastered by Matthew Evans.

Justin elaborates on the things that inspired him to record and release the album: “Long before this pandemic was even on the horizon, I had experienced some of the most difficult and emotionally challenging years to date. As a result, I began to feel my passion and drive for playing and creating music slowly ebb away. Things got really difficult. I wondered if I was done. But, as has been the case so may times in the past, music came to my rescue. This collection of songs started life as two separate EP’s but with a common thread, that life is constantly ‘in motion’, regardless of what gets thrown at us.

Putting this album together has been my way of navigating a very difficult time. It was a big step forward for me as a writer, to have the freedom to work to my own timescale and have the tools to record myself, without the restrictions of studio costs etc. It was also my first step in releasing my own music under my own name rather than a band name. I called the album ‘In Motion’ as it seemed an appropriate title to a life and body of work gathering momentum over time, from the past and into the future. It’s been my way of making sure that these songs don’t live and die in my head. I hope that whoever hears them will find something positive in them.

Well, I must say that after listening to In Motion, I’ve found plenty to like. First off are Justin’s engaging and catchy melodies. As someone with no musical aptitude whatsoever, I’m always impressed at how musicians are able to write great melodies and bring them to life with thoughtful arrangements and masterful instrumentation, which brings me to the second aspect of his music. Justin is an excellent guitarist, seemingly at ease playing a wide variety of styles ranging from folk, country and Americana to blues rock. He’s also a fine pianist, as evidenced on the opening track “All Inside” and the beautiful “All the Way Through”. Then there are his intelligent, heartfelt lyrics that speak to us in deeply meaningful ways which are expressed through his wonderful, no-frills vocals that remind me at times of the great Tom Petty.

He hits the ground running with the aforementioned “All Inside“, a rousing folk rock song that seems to speak to a relationship that’s failed due to a break down in communication and trust. Justin starts things off with his strummed acoustic guitar, then layers assertive piano keys and a driving bass line to add emotional depth to the song as he plaintively sings, “You’ll land, just like you did last time. You’ll stand, by keeping it all inside / Tell me, the reason for your disguise. Help me by keeping it all inside.” His blistering electric guitar that enters in the bridge and continues through the end of the track ends things on a high note.

Justin taps into his more soulful side on “The Walkover Rule“, laying down bluesy riffs over a mellow and funky groove that make this one of my favorite tracks on the album. He really channels Tom Petty on the next three tracks. The first, “Who Delivers?“, is a lovely, contemplative song where he seems to question the existence of faith: “Everyone’s talking like they know something. Like they found God. It’s probably nothing. Everybody knows somebody who delivers.” On the Beatle-esque “Another Universe“, he sings of hope and healing: “Until the sun comes out and warms the air like it was nothing. The day’s begun, start it all again. The fire and the rain will wash it all away into another universe.” And “The Sticks and the Stones” sounds like the best song Tom Petty never recorded, with a mix of jangly and twangy slide guitars that give the song a wonderful country rock vibe.

The melancholy “All the Way Through” is another of my favorites, as I’m a sucker for beautiful piano melodies. With only his haunting piano keys and stirring strings as a backdrop, Justin sadly laments to his partner of her unwillingness to make their relationship survive: “There’s nothing I can do to get you back inside the simple life. It’s perfectly entwined, and the love we’re trying to find is true. I really wanna see this all the way through. I’ll take it to a place where there ain’t any rules. I’m all out of luck.”

The mood picks up considerably with “Cheap Coat and Broken Wings“, a lively folk rock tune with some great Southern rock guitars, and on “One Long Kiss Goodbye“, with it’s exuberant toe-tapping melody and wonderful mix of jangly, chiming and gnarly guitars, accompanied by sparkling piano keys and snappy drumbeats. “Paper” is a particularly beautiful track, thanks to Justin’s shimmery guitar work and earnest vocals, enhanced by what I’m guessing are his own backing harmonies. The song seems to be a continuation of the sentiments first introduced on the opening track “All Inside”: “I don’t want to leave it all to chance. Do you want to wait for something greater? You’ve always lived with flashing lights. All of your dreams wrote out on paper.” He closes things out with “The Things That You Do“, a pleasing Country rock song with more of his terrific guitar work, and lyrics whose meaning I can’t quite figure out, but seem to speak to a loved one who takes him for granted: “The reason I fight ain’t over you. It’s not about the things that you do. I try, and I try ’cause of you, and you alone.”

To sum up, In Motion is a very fine, well-crafted album, and a wonderful debut effort from this remarkably talented musician. I’m truly impressed by Justin’s songwriting, musicianship and vocals, as well as his outstanding production abilities, and he should be very proud of what he’s created here. If you like an eclectic mix of folk and country infused with elements of blues, rock and pop, then you will enjoy this album.

Besides Soundcloud, Justin’s music can also be streamed on Spotify and Apple Music

DYING HABIT – Album Review: “Until the Air Runs Out”

From the picturesque Isle of Anglesey in northwest Wales hails alt-rock band Dying Habit, who in mid-October released their debut album Until the Air Runs Out. Officially formed in 2016 after a few years of informally playing together, the band now consists of brothers Nathan (vocals & bass) and Mark Jones (drums), and Alan Hart (guitar). Influenced by some of their favorite bands such as Dead Letter Circus, Katatonia, Biffy Clyro, Therapy?, The Wildhearts and Karnivool, they play an intense and grungy style of melodic alternative rock with progressive undertones.

I’ve previously written about Dying Habit a few times on this blog, first in July 2018 when I reviewed their magnificent single “Unrealities”, then again this past May when I reviewed their single “Solutions”, one of the tracks featured on Until the Air Runs Out. (You can read those reviews by clicking on the links under “Related” at the end of this post.) About the album, which dropped October 16th, band front man Nathan Jones explains: “Almost a year in the making, this album portrays our passion for music, grunge, and a 90s feel which has been given a contemporary makeover. It also explores the difficulties of how our world changed in 2020, as well as mental health, loneliness and how even in the darkest of times there is always hope.”

It’s an ambitious work, featuring 13 tracks and running a total of 46 minutes. There are quite a few gems here, and I’ll touch on the ones that most resonated with me. Kicking things off on an ominous note is “The Prey“, a dark track with heavy stab-like riffs of grungy guitars, spooky synths and a grinding, wobbly bass line, all of which succeed quite nicely in creating a menacing vibe. I really like the instrumentals a lot, and my only criticism is that Nathan’s vocals are sometimes overpowered by the music, making it difficult for me to understand much of what he’s singing.

Lost On You” is a great example of Dying Habit’s superb songwriting and musicianship. I love the meandering melody that goes from a moody, Nirvana-esque groove to a dramatic crescendo, highlighted by a torrent of fiery buzz-saw riffs. I cannot gush enough over Alan’s phenomenal guitar work, and Nathan does a great job on both bass and vocals here as he sings of his frustration to a partner who doesn’t value or appreciate him: “I will never burn these bridges / What are we hurting for? All my reasons, all my conscience, must be lost on you.” The beautiful track “Solutions” speaks to feelings of regret over past mistakes and hurts inflicted toward others, and yearning to make things right but not fully knowing how: “Whatever my mistakes were / Whichever lies I told / The heat is overwhelming but my skin’s remaining cold / This serenity engulfs me yet the world keeps passing by / I long to find solutions.”

I like when bands leave unintended sounds at the beginning or end of their songs, so the belch heard at the beginning “The World’s Too Big For Us” is perfectly fine by me. That said, it’s a terrific progressive grunge rock song, with a chugging start-stop groove, highlighted by a cacophonous mix of super-gnarly and distorted guitars, heavy throbbing bass and spacey synths. Along that same vein, “Red Lines” delivers a wonderful fantasia of grungy as hell riffs, accompanied by pummeling bass, Mark’s crashing percussion and wild psychedelic synths that make for a dramatic and fascinating track.

One of my favorite tracks on the album is “Out of My Hands“, an enchanting song where the band shows their softer side. The chiming guitars are simply gorgeous, and accompanied by a subtle bass line and just the right amount of percussion that allow the guitars to shine. Once again, it’s hard to make out many of the lyrics Nathan sings, but the exquisite instrumentals more than make up for it.

The title track “Until the Air Runs Out” is another great track that’s heavy on progressive grunge vibes. The song starts off with dark, ominous sounds that conjure up images of an impending battle in a sci-fi movie, then a driving, bass-heavy rhythm ensues along with wailing buzz-saw riffs as Nathan begins to sing. As the song progresses, Alan introduces an upbeat melodic riff that ends things on slightly more optimistic note. “Scared of the People We Love” is a moody six-minute-long tour de force, with an extended instrumental segment that nicely showcases Dying Habit’s outstanding musicianship and skill at playing as a tight unit. And the mesmerizing melody, stunning guitar work, and hypnotic drum beats on album closer “Nowhere to Run” are fantastic.

I must admit that I’m generally more a fan of melodic and dream rock than heavier grunge or progressive-style rock. Nevertheless, I still have a great deal of respect and appreciation for those genres, and do enjoy a fair amount of it. Dying Habit have packed quite a lot of complexity and nuance into their songs, and it took a couple of listens for me to fully get into Until the Air Runs Out. But once I did, I fell head over heels in love with this excellent album. I’ve been following this band pretty much since their beginning and I’m so proud of them. I know they worked hard on this album, and their skill and dedication for producing quality music really shows.

Nathan is also a talented visual artist, with a number of remarkable paintings to his credit. Inspired by their lyrics, album, lockdowns, and anxiety, he created this wonderful abstract oil painting titled ‘Until The Air Runs Out’:

Connect with Dying Habit:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream/Purchase their music:  Apple Music / Spotify / Amazon

ORTARIO – EP Review: “Playing With Fire”

Ortario is an alternative hard rock band from the South Wales Valleys, a region rich in musical heritage, as I’ve written about several artists and bands from that bucolic corner of the country. I’ve been following Ortario for more than four years, and first wrote about them back in March 2017, when I reviewed their debut EP A Place Called Home for The Symphony of Rock blog. (You can read that review here.) Comprised of Chris Clark (vocals), Jamie Thomas (bass), Scott Lloyd (guitar), Mark Lloyd (guitar) and Nathan Lewis (drums), the band released their self-titled album Ortario in April 2018, followed that December by Live, featuring live versions of seven of their best songs.

On September 4th, Ortario returned with their second EP Playing With Fire, featuring five hard-hitting bangers that see them exploring a harder rock sound. As the title suggests, the songs address themes of duplicity and mistrust, and the damage it can cause in relationships. There’s an interesting little story behind the artwork for the EP, as explained by the band: “The matchsticks that appear on the front cover of the EP actually spell out ‘Ortario’. The lettering seen is taken from the old Welsh and primitive Irish alphabet called “Ogham”, which dates back to the 3rd century. The medieval inscription was primarily used on tombstones and stone monuments. Examples of this alphabet can still be found in Pembrokeshire, West Wales.”

The guys get right down to business with the opening track “Losing Control”, blasting through the speakers with a furious onslaught of thunderous distortion and pummeling rhythms. Chris has a perfect voice for their style of hard rock – powerful enough to keep up with the intense instrumentals, while retaining a heartfelt vulnerability that beautifully conveys the pain and despair described in the lyrics. He laments of having to lose a piece of himself along with his self-esteem in order to keep his deteriorating relationship alive: “So I guess I better swallow my pride. But oh, I just want one more go. I know I think I’m losing control. And I don’t want to see the end. Not long ago you were my friend. And everything that we shared, I would never think it’d end this way.

Ortario continues on their relentless sonic rampage as they launch into “Save the Day”, delivering frantic riffs of gnarly guitars and smashing drumbeats. “The Fall” follows suit, as Scott and Mark’s dual guitars slice through the airwaves with a barrage of jagged, buzzsaw riffs, while Jamie drives the rhythm forward with his propulsive bassline and Nathan aggressively beats his drum kit into submission. 

“Time and Space” opens with a melodic intro of gently strummed guitar, accompanied by measured percussion and vocal harmonies lasting around 30 seconds before the song erupts in a storm of shredded guitars and thunderous percussion. While I do love the guys’ hard-driving sound, I also like when they scale things back and show their softer side. I would have enjoyed hearing an entire song played in the more acoustic style that the song opened with. That said, “Time and Space” is a highly satisfying badass rocker with some fine reverb-soaked guitar work.

They close out the EP with the hard-rocking “Sunrise”, featuring more of their signature blistering riffs and massive, speaker-blowing rhythms. The chiming guitar and Chris’s echoed vocals in the bridge add a bit of enchanting beauty, quickly followed by a final blast of distorted guitar to close things out with a bang.

Playing With Fire is an explosive little fireball, delivering 17 minutes of unrelenting hard rock grooves. The five members of Ortario really know how to kick ass, and if you like rock music that’s heavy, aggressive and loud, you will enjoy this EP. 

To learn more about Ortario, check out their Website  

Follow them on:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

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Purchase: Google PlayAmazonBigCartel.com

REVOLUTION RABBIT DELUXE – Album Review: “Myths and Fables”

Revolution Rabbit Deluxe (RRD) is an indie alt-rock rock band hailing from south Wales. Their innovative and sometimes unorthodox music style and sound draw from Brit-rock, pop and punk influences, with meaningful lyrics tackling topical issues ranging from politics, culture and environmental justice to mental health. RRD started out as a solo project for founder and guitarist Rev Rab, but gradually evolved into a four-piece band that now includes Rev Rab on guitar and lead vocals, Dan on guitar and backing vocals, and Ben on bass and backing vocals. Their drummer Nick, who played drums on their latest album, recently left the band.

With two previous albums under their belt – Tales From Armageddonsville and Swipe Left (you can read my reviews by clicking on the Related links at the bottom of this page) – RRD is back with their third album Myths and Fables. Like their previous albums, Myths and Fables is a concept album of sorts, in that its overall theme addresses politics, the media, and societal myths like celebrity and fame that people blindly accept as truths. It also has a darker and edgier feel, both lyrically and vocally, with Rev Rab sounding angrier and more frustrated than ever.

The album kicks off with “Generation Voyeur”, a song about the addictive allure of social media, specifically a person who documents everything from what they last ate, to their most intimate personal dramas and trauma. But in a broader sense, it speaks to the voyeuristic nature of society and our attraction for watching a personal train wreck: “There’s a time and a place and a space for disgrace. And then we took a look. He fell down from the ledge as we pushed from the edge. And then we took a look. She cried out to above as she died without love. And then we took a look.” The strong pulsating beat is overlain with spooky psychedelic industrial synths and rolling riffs of gnarly guitars, giving the track an almost sinister vibe. 

On “Killswitch”, RRD decries the cannibalistic profiteering by corporations in monetizing and selling our personal information: “Turning the on switch off / They tell you it’s progress, it’s progress baby / Stealing your life away / They tell you it’s progress, it’s progress baby. They’ll thrill you, betray you, then they’ll bill you / It’s big business now.” I like the song’s urgent chugging psychedelic groove and mix of sharp chiming guitars and grimy distorted riffs, along with the shrill sounds of what seem to be steel train wheels breaking on a track.

The title track “Myths and Fables” sees RRD railing about tired and ubiquitous old saws and platitudes people have repeated for years like “it’s better to have love and lost” or “all roads lead to Rome”, and how they’re just meaningless bullshit that never result in action: “It’s time for truth, open eyes, no secret lies / It’s time to choose, we’re outa time / The planet burns and we choose lies.” And on “Channel 5” he laments about the depressing effects of TV news: “And you’re watching it live, on channel five / You’re taking me down, taking me down down down / I don’t want to drown.

One of my favorite tracks is “Pretty Escarpment”, with it’s bouncy yet melancholy opening piano riff and ensuing galloping rhythms. The lyrics speak of a past love who wasn’t a good match, but whose memory still haunts you: “Too many memories in your shade / Too many echoes from your walls / Do I get up and walk away or stand at the edge and plunge into the pretty ravine that held my eyes / The pretty escarpment built from lies...” “Superstar” is a cheeky take down of superstar celebrities, with their superficial and often excessive lifestyles: “You drive a big fast car / You travel ‘round with your harem of young blondes / You say they keep you young / Any younger you’ll reenter your mother’s womb.”

“Battle Hymn (Of the New Republic)” seems to be an attack on the nationalistic attitudes that resulted in Brexit and the election of leaders like Boris Johnson and Trump. Lets take care of ourselves and screw everyone else. “The track’s jaunty melody contrasts with the biting lyrics “Tell me you feel safe in this land of hope and Tory / Will anybody stand or take the cheque and plead the fifth / We excuse ourselves, denying our responsibility / Taking all we can, we screw the system / It’s do or be done or be damned.

This theme continues on “TV Junkies”, with RRD calling out politicians and the media for feeding us an endless stream of fear and lies to keep society divided and angry, not to mention upping their ratings:  “In darkened rooms throughout the land TV junkies get sky high / They throw us targets for our hate / They fan the flames and toy with fate.” I think we can all identify with the powerful sentiments expressed in this song, regardless of our political persuasion. 

While I don’t think Myths and Fables is quite as strong an album as Tales From Armageddonsville or Swipe Left, it’s still a solid work filled with songs featuring timely and compelling lyrics, along with some terrific instrumentals.

Follow RRD on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream on Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase here / Bandcamp Google Play

 

 

THE PUSS PUSS BAND – Album Review: “Life Cycles”

Puss Puss Band Life Cycles

There’s a lot of musical talent in Wales, and I’ve written about several artists and bands from that fair British Isles nation: David Oakes, Dying Habit, Revolution Rabbit Deluxe, GG Fearn, Dunkie, Head Noise and, most recently, Kidsmoke. Another Welsh act I’m especially fond of is The Puss Puss Band, who I’ve featured a few times on this blog over the past four years. Based in Cardiff, they started out as a duo consisting of multi-instrumentalists Asa Galeozzie and Lee Pugh (the band is named for Asa’s cat Puss Puss). Both are accomplished musicians who’ve worked with numerous artists and bands in the UK and Welsh music industry for nearly 15 years as writers & session musicians. Asa plays guitar, bass, percussion, piano and melodica, while Lee plays lead guitar, bass and piano, as well as sings lead vocals. Their relaxed music style is a pleasing mix of jazz and folk-infused indie pop that just makes you feel good.

In April 2017, with help from seasoned musician and producer John ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick (who’s best known for his work with The Who, as well as on the soundtracks for the films The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Almost Famous), the guys released their beautiful debut album Echoes Across the Cruel Sea. (I reviewed that album along with an interview with Lee, which you can read here.) On July 3rd, they dropped their second album Life Cycles, featuring ten wonderful tracks addressing the subjects of life, love, loss and the passage of time. Once again, the recordings were all written, arranged, performed and engineered by Asa, Lee and Rabbit. Post-production, mixing and mastering was done by Richard Digby Smith at TQ1 Studios. The Puss Puss Band has now expanded to include six members, including Asa, Lee, Steven Stanley, Joel Rees, Luke Moore, and Nigel Hodge. Only Nigel is featured on the new album, as he played flute and alto sax on the track “Losing The Rain”.

The opening track “We Should Be” is a bittersweet song about missing someone you’d had a love affair with who now seems to have lost her feelings for you, and wishing she was back in love with you so you could be together. Gently strummed guitars, crisp percussion and delicate synths create a warm backdrop for Lee’s soothing, breathy vocals that convey a sense of sad resignation as he sings the poignant lyrics “The way you see the world is just the same. It’s just the way you feel about me that’s changed. But we should be…. We should be in love.”

The delightful video shows a man in a cat suit (played by Lee) standing in downtown Cardiff, holding a large flip chart printed with words that are directed at his love interest. In various scenes, he’s shown chasing pigeons, riding the merry-go-round, and sitting on the bench offering some of his food to a man who politely turns him down, then proceeding to eat it out of the bowl. By and by, he walks past a busking musician (played by Asa) and throws a few pieces of dry cat food into his guitar case. At the end, the busker sees him sitting forlornly on the ground next to the merry-go-round, offers his hand, and they walk off together down the street holding hands.

Many tracks have a gentle folk-rock vibe, such as “About Time“, which touches on how a relationship built on love and respect endures over time: “It’s about time. It’s about all we got left. It’s about the way you walk. And the way that you still care about me.” The song has a mellow vibe and catchy melody, with a lovely mix of jangly and chiming guitars accompanied by snappy drums, and some nice keyboards and organ. I love Lee’s breathy vocals that hover in a sweet spot between raw and comforting, with an almost seductive quality. Another is “Holding Its Own“, a pretty but poignant song about the daily struggles of keeping one’s sanity in this crazy world: “Hopeful yet empty, Following rules. Blind to the life of a mind. Just holding its own.” The instrumentals are sublime, with what sounds like a mellotron being the highlight for me. The guitars, bass, keyboards and organ are all pretty terrific as well.

The Puss Puss Band channel their rock side on “Thank You“, thanks to a harder-driving beat, heavier electric guitars and more aggressive percussion. The lyrics seem to acknowledge a friend who saved the singer through tough love, brutal honesty and perseverance: “But thank you so much for saving me from me. Thank you so much. For friends who never sleep.” One of my favorite tracks is “Pretty Games“, as I love the horns, funky guitars and mellow instrumentals that give it a cool, jazzy vibe. The lyrics speak to the games we play at one time or another, unable to be honest to ourselves or others about how we feel, which keeps us treading water so to speak. I like how they give a nod to their previous album Echoes Across the Cruel Sea: “It’s all a pretty game. Another year and still the same. But I still hear echoes of that sea. Parts we play. Wasted days. Still the same. Pretty games.”

On The Common” is an exquisite song, with beautiful acoustic and delicate chiming electric guitar notes, accompanied by the gentlest of synths, all creating a glittery, ethereal backdrop for Lee’s soft vocals. “Losing the Rain” is another favorite, with its sophisticated, jazzy feel thanks to Nigel’s wonderful flute and saxophone. The lyrics seem to be about trying to make a relationship work despite the many obstacles: “I’m losing the rain. These broken thoughts that roll around inside my brain. Maybe I’m too blind to see? I wasn’t meant for you and you were never meant for me.”

The guys deliver more stellar guitar work on “Junkie“, a song about trying and failing to save someone from addiction and the realization some people just can’t be saved. A standout track is the marvelous Pink Floyd-esque “Time and Tide“. The song starts off slowly, with only gentle acoustic guitars, but gradually builds into a dramatic rock song with electric guitars, piano, sweeping synths and heavy percussion. The lyrics were inspired by the passing of Asa’s uncle, with whom he was close; his uncle took him to gigs and got him into music when he was young. “For all the glitter and gold. We all grow old. As the lights fade down. We still hold for applause. And the show moves on. But the feeling… Lingers on and on.”

They close out the album with “Missed“, a beautiful and very poignant song that nicely encapsulates the album’s overall theme of the cycles of life – how relationships and friendships come and go over time. The piano melody was written a while back by Rabbit, and the lyrics later written by Lee to address the loss of a loved one: “I’m losing you tonight. But I’m here by your side. There’s no more need to fight. / But time shows no kind of nostalgia for goodbyes.” Musically, the song is different from all the other songs, as it features only a haunting piano and Lee’s raw, yet comforting vocals.

Life Cycles is a really lovely album and a pleasurable listen from start to finish, without a single weak or throwaway track. The song arrangements and production values are flawless, and the guys’ musicianship is outstanding on every level. I love this band!

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KIDSMOKE – Album Review: “A Vision In The Dark”

Kidsmoke album

Kidsmoke is an exceptionally talented indie dream rock band based in the city of Wrexham in northeast Wales. On June 19th, after many months of hard work, they released their debut album A Vision in the Dark via Welsh label Libertino Records. Like so many bands, they’d planned to tour over the summer to promote their album, but those plans were dashed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Nevertheless, they decided not to delay the release of their album, and just wanted to get it out so their fans would have some new music to look forward to. And what a beautiful album it is, featuring 11 superb tracks. Their lush and beautiful guitar-driven sound is strongly influenced by such bands as Joy Division, The Cure, Wilco and The National, among others.

Formed in late 2012 by Lance Williams and James Stickels, who’d been friends since their school days, Kidsmoke was named after a song by one of their favorite bands Wilco. They released their first EP Higher in 2013, followed by a second EP So Long, Emptiness in 2015. Various members came and went, but the band finally came into its own with the addition of Sophie Ballamy and Ash Turner in 2016. Since then, the lineup has been Lance on Lead Vocals & Guitar, James on Bass & Vocals, Sophie on Guitar & Vocals, and Ash on Drums. The band continued to release numerous singles, along with an EP Save Your Sorrow in 2017, and had the experience of a lifetime when they performed at SXSW (South By Southwest Film & Music Festival) in Austin, Texas in 2019.

Kidsmoke

A Vision in the Dark opens with “Passenger” a lovely, uptempo song that sets the tone for the album. Its sunny, upbeat instrumentals, highlighted by jangly guitars and snappy drumbeats, contrast with the rather poignant lyrics “I’m moving on to God knows where, I’m dressed to kill the time I’m moving on, I’m a passenger.” Lance explained that the song is “about losing your direction in life, being swept along with the crowd and feeling helpless to stop it.” The song was chosen for NPR’s Austin 100 playlist.

The warm, summery vibe carries over to the next track “Layla’s Love“, with its swirling guitars and dreamy, ethereal melody. Lance states that the song “is a retrospective story of a relationship, where one partner begins to dwell upon the many ‘what ifs?’ we all face.” The male character in the narrative ultimately realizes that, though not perfect, the relationship remains strong and they’re still together: “Baby, the sun won’t rise over you. But I know we are still together. Layla’s love is the only love I’ll never lose.” I love the interplay between Lance and Sophie’s enchanting vocals as they sing “You gave me everything I had (I hope I did). Everything I wanted (you know I tried). But sometimes everything just isn’t enough.” This beautiful song stayed stuck in my head long after hearing it, and is one of the highlights on the album for me.

Kidsmoke continue to deliver the breezy feels on “Colourfield“, with its chiming guitars and cheerful, bouncy bass line, “Higher“, a beautiful reworking of a song from their first EP, and “She Takes You Under“, where they seem to pay homage to The Cure with bouyant jangly guitars and sparkling synths. Lance and Sophie’s vocal harmonies are particularly wonderful here, as well as on the brief but enchanting “Kaleidoscope“. The track is a chorus from an old song the band had previously written but never recorded, and serves as an interlude between side 1 and side 2 of the album.

Another standout track is “Rising Sun“, a high-energy tune with a retro 80s new wave vibe. The fast-paced driving rhythms and exuberant guitars are fantastic, and as always, the vocal harmonies are sublime. The lyrics speak to pushing back against others’ expectations, even when they’re coming from people who are closest to you: “Your days are done. I turn the black to blue. I turn the night to day. I’m the rising sun. I feel your love, I don’t want to follow.

The hauntingly beautiful “Take Me to the River” is another re-imagining of an old song from their debut EP Higher. A fan favorite, Kidsmoke decided to re-record it for the album. The song was featured on an episode of the Netflix series Black Mirror, and is about being led astray from one’s path by negative influences. The bouncy, guitar-driven melody contrasts with the dark lyrics that seem to touch on a relationship doomed by the suicidal tendencies of one of the partners: “If I leave you, I’ll miss you, I’ll never make you mine. We’re sinking fast. We’re running out of time.” The richly layered guitars and pulsating bass are wonderful.

They continue to dazzle us with dreamy melodies and exquisite guitar work on “Still Dreams“, a deeply personal song Lance wrote based on his own experience having to come to terms with a life-changing event that made it hard for him to face the world. He elaborates “The song is about the expectations from family, friends or work to ‘get back to normal’ after something traumatic has happened. The overarching sentiment is about giving people the time they need to heal.”

Kidsmoke slows things down with “Little Easy“, a gentle song of thanks to someone for their love and support: “Little easy. You’ll never know how much you mean to me. You play the part, you play it right.” With its languid beat, mix of acoustic and electric guitars, and lovely vocal harmonies, the song has an early Fleetwood Mac feel, at least to my ears. About the inspiration for the song, James explains “I felt a little bit directionless at the time; I’d moved back home to Wales from Manchester for a job that didn’t work out and I was missing city life. I always aim for emotion in my music, but this one felt a bit more genuine…I just wrote how I felt.”

They save the best for last, closing out the album with “The Bluest You“, my favorite song of them all. Being a lover of music who cannot write a note of it, nor play a single instrument, I’m always awestruck at how people can create such gorgeous melodies, then bring them to fruition with various instruments. What Kidsmoke has achieved with “The Bluest You” is nothing short of spectacular, creating a song of such incredible beauty and depth that it renders me speechless. The glorious swirling guitars are as dreamy as they come, and James and Ash keep the spellbinding rhythm with their pulsating bass line and perfect drumbeats, respectively. Once again, I must make note of the stunning vocal harmonies delivered by Lance, Sophie and James. This song is honestly one of the most beautiful I’ve heard in a long while.

I’m not the only one for whom this song is a favorite. Lance said “This song is a live favourite of ours”, while James noted “This is my favourite track. I originally intended for it to be an instrumental – thankfully I soon decided against that idea. I knew from the moment it was written that it was destined to be the last track on the album.”

The song lyrics address mental health, specifically the effect someone’s issues have on loved ones around them. Lance explained: “It is a fly on the wall look into a household where one person’s depression is affecting everyone else who lives there. The song doesn’t address the feelings of the person suffering with depression, it is a sort of commentary from the viewpoint of the rest of the family.”

I’ve gushed about A Vision in the Dark throughout this review, so I don’t know what more I can say except that it’s an absolutely stunning album from beginning to end, and ranks among the very best releases I’ve heard so far in 2020. Listening to it is an immersive experience, as one gorgeous track flows into the next, keeping the listener in a continuous state of thrall. Other than for the minute-long interlude piece “Kaleidoscope”, the other ten tracks could all be hit singles, they’re that good.

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HEAD NOISE – Single Review: “200,000 Gallons of Oil”

Head Noise

Born from a love of inane junk culture and modern art. Here to disorientate, but also to captivate.” So say Welsh new wave/electro/art-punk band Head Noise about themselves and their deliriously fun retro-80s music that sounds like a crazy mash-up of Devo, Erasure and The B-52s. Formed in 2016 and based in Aberdare and Mountain Ash in southern Wales, Head Noise consists of Mitchell Tennant (Keytar/Vocals), Wayne Bassett (Guitar/Synth) and Jordan Brill (Guitar/Synth). The band started out as a duo act with Mitch and Wayne performing an original set of songs at an art exhibition, which according to their bio was described by an attendee as “David Lynch meets the Pet Shop Boys”. Jordan joined the band in 2017 as a second guitarist and synth player, giving their music a fuller sound.

In October 2017 they released their debut EP Special Effects Improves The Defects, which includes some hilariously-titled songs like “The Meat People” and “The Man With the Rubber Head”.  That was followed in August 2018 with the Microwave EP which, along with their humorous and entertaining live performances, catapulted them to notoriety (or infamy, depending on who you ask), throughout South Wales and Southwest England. They’ve also had the good fortune to open for bands like Wolf Alice, Public Service Broadcasting and Electric 6. This past November (2019), they dropped their debut album Über-Fantastique, an ambitious and marvelously trippy work featuring 14 tracks. The album release was accompanied by a limited run of CDs which quickly sold out.

Head Noise has just released one of the album tracks “200,000 Gallons of Oil” as a single, along with a wacky video that nicely showcases their zany, playful nature. (Be sure to check out their other imaginative and quirky videos on YouTube.) The song is catchy as hell, with a thumping synth bass-driven beat that immediately sets our toes tapping and head bopping. The guys layer a cool assortment of spacey, psychedelic synths to create a trippy vibe, then add crisp percussion and subtle, funky guitar notes to fill out the sound. I like how they top things off with some well-placed cowbell near the end for good measure.

The lyrics are rather silly and make no real sense to me, unless they’re singing about an unfortunate oil spill. But whatever their meaning, they’re perfectly suited to the lively music and band’s quirky persona. Mitch has a great singing voice, and delivers the lyrics with a cheeky sense of urgency:  “200,000 gallons of oil. Fill up the bath, you grotesque gargoyle. 200,000 gallons of oil. There is a potential cause for concern. Sit by the side of the road and get wet. Cut off the area with hazard tape. I’m just not ready to deal with it yet.”

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DYING HABIT – Single Review: “Solutions”

Dying Habit2

Dying Habit is an alternative rock band from northern Wales, whose electrifying and melodic sound is influenced by such bands as Dead Letter Circus, Katatonia, Biffy Clyro, Therapy?, The Wildhearts and Karnivool. Hailing from Anglesey Island, they started off as a group of friends who bonded over a shared love of music. Eventually coming to realize they had a special musical chemistry between them, they officially became Dying Habit in 2016. Beginning as a four-piece, they now consist of brothers Nathan (vocals & bass) and Mark Jones (drums), and Alan Hart (guitar).

In August 2018, they released their first official single “Unrealities”, a magnificent and stunning rock song (you can read my review here). More recently, they’ve been writing and recording songs for their forthcoming debut album Until The Air Runs Out, due out later this year. In April they released the first single from the album “Out of My Hands”, and on May 6 they dropped the second single “Solutions“. The song has a moody, contemplative feel, with Alan’s superb, layered guitar work that forms the backbone of the track’s hauntingly beautiful melody. After the departure of the band’s previous bassist, Nathan took over duties on bass and does a fine job laying down a pulsating bass line that keeps the track on solid footing. Mark’s measured drumbeats strike the perfect balance of percussion, never overpowering the sometimes subtle instrumentals and intricate guitar notes.

Nathan has a low-key vocal style with a vulnerable, emotive quality that’s well-suited to the music and introspective lyrics that speak to feelings of regret over past mistakes and hurts inflicted toward others, and yearning to make things right but not fully knowing how.

I’m reading every word
All the wires in my heart
And the memories lay dead
But not in the eyes of everyone
This is what we’ve learnt
Is that I feel
My mind still hurts
But yes I’m fine
Yes I’m fine

Whatever my mistakes were
Whichever lies I told
The heat is overwhelming
But my skin’s remaining cold
This serenity engulfs me
Yet the world keeps passing by
I long to find solutions

I never get the use
Of letting people in
Of giving them your pain
Don’t let them breathe you in
Breathe you in

When we’re lost
There is no right answers
There is no cost
There’s no cost

“Solutions” is a well-crafted and beautiful song. I like the direction that Dying Habit seems to be going with their latest music, and look forward to hearing their album when it’s completed.

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