I’m back in Wales (having just featured Welsh singer-songwriter Caitlin Lavagna last week) to shine a spotlight on indie rock band Columbia, who released their new single “Disorder” on November 4th. The Cardiff-based act was formed in 2019 by long-time friends Ben Rowlands (lead guitar) and Craig Lewis (vocals/rhythm guitar), who had been in a handful of other bands both together and separately over the years. They released their debut single “Fall Into the Sun” at the end of 2019, followed by a number of singles over the next two years. While in the process of recording their debut album Embrace the Chaos in 2021, they brought on bassist Aron Stenning to complete their current lineup.
Columbia released Embrace the Chaos in March 2022, garnering positive reviews from both music writers and fans. They celebrated its release at a sold-out show at The Moon in Cardiff, and have since performed at such renowned venues as Camden’s Fiddlers Elbow, The Dublin Castle, and SWNDfest at The Bunkhouse, Swansea, as well as playing on several This Feeling shows supporting The Shakes and The Kairos (another band I’ve previously featured on this blog). The band will be performing this weekend at the sold-out Shiiine On Weekender 2022 festival at Butlin’s Minehead Arena in Somerset. Their set is scheduled for Saturday, November 12th.
Recorded at King’s Road Studios in Cardiff and produced by Andrew Sanders, “Disorder” marks a new direction for Columbia. Not only is the song their first to be written by lead guitarist Ben Rowlands, (their previous songs have been written by Lewis), it’s also their most powerful track yet. Sanders has called “Disorder” “the biggest sounding track I’ve made with a band“, while the band cheekily notes that the song’s “incredible wall of sound makes you wonder where on earth Ben has been hiding this behind his calm and quiet demeanour?“
The song is a darkly beautiful, cinematic anthem. Opening with ominous sounds of police sirens and helicopters circling overhead, suggesting unrest in the streets, our ears are suddenly hit with a barrage of gnarly guitars, grinding bass and thunderous drums, accompanied by Lewis’ commanding vocals. I love the song’s portentous swirling melody, and the intricate guitar work – punctuated here and there with delicate acoustic notes, only to explode into a wailing solo in the bridge – is spectacular.
My take as to the song’s meaning is that it speaks to the addictive nature of public protests and disorder in the streets, how easily people can become attracted to them by the adrenaline rush from participating in such events that usually involve intense anger and/or passion for a particular cause. We’ve seen how these public protests can sometimes feed upon themselves, growing larger and out of control as crowds grow and tempers rise: “I’m breaking the silence. I feel my fear running. Don’t want to believe it, but everything is changing The colors are fading, the sound around me rising, climbing higher and higher and higher. I feel it, I need it, the streets are in disorder.Addiction, a feeling I couldn’t ever be there. I had it, I want it. The streets are in disorder, climbing higher and higher and higher.“
“Disorder” is a phenomenal track, nicely showcasing Columbia’s continued growth as a band.
And here’s the newer action video they’ve created for the song:
One of my favorite music finds of 2022 has been Welsh alternative psychedelic rock collective Holy Coves, who I discovered this past February as a guest moderator for Fresh On The Net, an independent music blog launched in 2009 by renowned BBC Radio 6 Music presenter Tom Robinson. As a guest moderator, my task was to listen to all 170 songs submitted that particular week, and choose my top five favorites of the bunch, along with any others I particularly liked. One of my five picks was the Holy Coves single “The Hurt Within”. The darkly beautiful song made me an instant fan of theirs, and I liked it so much that it spent 11 weeks on my Top 30 chart.
They quickly followed “The Hurt Within” with their brooding stomper “Desert Storm” in late April (which I reviewed), then “Grey” in June, another gorgeous single that recently finished a 10-week run on my Top 30 chart. Now they’re back with their long-awaited third album Druids and Bards, released on October 14th by Yr Wyddfa Records. The album features nine tracks, including the three above-named songs.
I provided quite a bit of background on Holy Coves in my “Desert Storm” review, but will reiterate a few important details about them here. The brain child of singer-songwriter Scott Marsden, a long-time and respected figure in the Welsh music scene, Holy Coves is based in Holy Island, which is itself situated just off Anglesey Island in northwest Wales. Since forming in 2005, the band has consisted of an ever-changing roster of musicians, as Marsden brings in who he wants to work with for each project. Holy Coves released their debut album The Lizzies Ynys Môn in early 2008, then followed in 2011 with an EP and two singles, which were later included on their second album Peruvian Mistake, released in 2012.
After a nearly 10-year hiatus, brought on in part by the death of his best friend and manager, as well as his personal struggles with addiction and subsequent recovery, Marsden assembled a new group of esteemed musicians – John Lawrence on guitar, Owain Ginsberg on guitar & synths, Jason Hughes on bass and Spike T Smith on drums – to help with the recording of Druids and Bards. Marsden wrote and sang all songs, and co-produced the album with Lawrence, who also engineered it. Mixing and mastering was done by Austin, Texas-based music producer Erik Wofford. The two men shown flanking Marsden in the photo below are musician friends he’s brought in for live performances, who will also play on his next record.
Hallmarks of Holy Coves’ dynamic sound are their striking melodies, powerful, driving rhythms, lush, cinematic synths, exquisite layered guitars, and Marsden’s beautiful and sensuous vocals that remind me at times of U2 front man Bono. Druids and Bards features all these attributes and quite a bit more, with songs addressing such topics as love, relationships, struggles with addiction and finding happiness in this often painful and difficult world.
The rousing opening track, “Away We Go“, seems to be about addiction, both to drugs and also the need for a love that cannot last: “I’m talking to myself again. Her web is spun. She’s taking aim. I can see it coming. She wakes me from my lonely haze. Her fire is hot. I feel a crave. The endless days are coming. All I see is you and me. Come on get in, take two my friend. Sail away we go./ She’s gonna break my heart again. I’m a fool for love. What can I say.” I love the song’s rapid, galloping beat and colorful mix of strummed and grungy shredded guitars.
With its powerful stomping groove, courtesy of Hughes’ thumping bassline and Smith’s pummeling drumbeats, the previously-noted “The Hurt Within” is one of my favorite tracks on the album. The layered jangly and psychedelic guitar work is superb, nicely accompanied by brooding industrial synths. The lyrics are directed at a woman who broke his heart: “Here’s another song for you to sing today. About all the pain you caused when you went away. How you made me cold and left a hole inside. I wear those scars with pride. Can’t feel the world outside. How I thought I’d healed my skin. Her love is cruel. The hurt within.”
“Grey” is another favorite, with it’s exuberant melody, swirling synths and gorgeous jangly and shimmery guitars. The lyrics speak to allowing yourself to wallow in your pain from time to time, but also being open to the healing powers of love and support from others: “Let go and feel again, cos everything is hopeless when you’re grey. Hurt will find you. Love will guide you home.”
“Small and Nothing” has a bit of an Oasis sound to my ears, and seems to be about not wanting more than you already have in life: “There’s nothing in this world that I can’t live without. There’s nothing in this world that I can’t dream about. Staying young is all I care about. Cause now, small and nothing I am.” On the other hand, the dramatic “Another Day” calls to mind some of the anthemic songs of U2. It begins slowly, but gradually builds into a cinematic masterpiece. The lyrics speak of working to overcome drug addiction as an answer to numbing life’s pain: “Ticking over day by day. Heavy medicated to heal the pain. What do you feel, what do you crave? Take it slowly, and feel again.And try to remember it’s just another day./ Leave that bottle closed, we can make it if we try.”
On the mesmerizing “Desert Storm“, Holy Coves start with another stomping groove, then layers mysterious psychedelic synths, assertive percussion and an arresting blend of droning and gently distorted guitars to create a moody soundscape with a hint of optimism. Marsden’s echoed vocals have a haunting ethereal quality as he details his struggles of keeping a troubled relationship together while suffering from drug addiction.
With its hauntingly beautiful melody, gorgeous strummed guitars and folk-rock vibe, “Welcome to the Real World” reminds me a bit of Michael Kiwanuka’s song “Hero”. The lyrics speak of the futility of tilting at windmills and beating your head against the wall: “They had you now, your time is up. Welcome to the real world. It hurts. It hurts. She had you now, your time is up. Welcome to the real world, and you’re gone. You’re gone.” And on the catchy and melodic love song “Until I Fall“, the vibrant chiming guitars are a thing of wonder!
The final track “Taste the Wine” is a monumental tour-de-force, and an aural feast for the senses, with breathtaking guitar work amidst a soaring cinematic soundscape. Despite its 7:15-minute run time, it’s so gorgeous I don’t even notice how long it is. The song is about letting go of slights and painful experiences that can keep you feeling bitter and resentful, unable to move forward and enjoy your life in the here and now: “It doesn’t hurt to try. It wasn’t worth the fight. Two wrongs don’t make a right, so be strong. Hold on til it’s over. Take it slowly, and taste the wine. Sit back, let it flow dear, open your eyes. Chances are you will lose your mind. Might as well enjoy it, it’s your time.”
Druids and Bards is a superb, flawlessly-crafted album, as close to perfect as any I’ve heard this year. Every track is outstanding, making for a joyful listening experience from start to finish. Holy Coves are back, and then some!
The subject for Day 27 of my 30-day Song Challenge is “A song by an instrumental artist“, and once again, the possible choices are immense. Musicians and composers have been creating instrumental music since the dawn of time I suppose, with classical music, followed by jazz, being the two most widespread forms of instrumental music composed up until the beginning of the so-called ‘rock era’ in the mid 1950s. After that, instrumental music created by more mainstream artists became popular, and from the mid 1950s through early 1980s, scores of singles like “Tequila”, “Sleep Walk”, “The Theme from ‘A Summer Place'”, “Green Onions”, “Stranger on the Shore”, “Love is Blue”, “Classical Gas”, “Grazin’ in the Grass”, “Frankenstein”, “Love’s Theme”, “T.S.O.P.” and “Chariots of Fire” became huge hits. Why instrumental songs failed to become hits after that has been a subject of debate, which I won’t delve further into here, other than to say that I think it’s unfortunate.
That said, there are still lots of musicians and artists out there who are creating some great instrumental music, and I’ve featured many of them on this blog over the years. One of my favorites, and also the very first I wrote about as a new blogger way back in March 2016, is David Oakes. Born in England and now living in Wales, he’s 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 (you can read some of those reviews by clicking on the links under “Related” at the end of this post).
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, for 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. Since 2012, he’s released an astonishing 10 albums! One of his non-album singles is “The Drop“, which I’ve chosen for my latest song challenge.
It’s an intense song, with a strong chugging bass line overlain with gritty staccato guitar and relentless pummeling drumbeats, highlighted by some tasty melodic riffs of metal guitar riffs. As with all his music, David played all the instruments, and recorded, produced and mixed the track.
The equally intense, horror-film like video, produced by Dark Fable Media, shows David playing the song on his guitar in the woods, where he encounters a man in a frightful-looking mask. The masked man attacks him, whereupon they struggle until David stabs him and runs off. The story seems to be a kind of nightmare, as all three men shown in the video are the same guy, stuck in a disturbing time loop. The entire video is filmed in black and white, with the only color shown being the red blood on the knife and the stabbed man’s hands.
Here’s David’s latest release Ten Years A Dave, featuring what he feels are his ten best tracks over the past ten years, including “The Drop”.
Hailing from beautiful Holy Island, situated just off Anglesey Island in northwest Wales roughly halfway between Dublin and Liverpool, alternative psychedelic rock outfit Holy Coves is the brain child of singer-songwriter Scott Marsden. Since its formation in 2005, the band has consisted of an ever-changing group of musicians, as Marsden brings in who he wants to work with for each project. Holy Coves released their debut album The Lizzies Ynys Môn on New Years Day 2008, then followed in 2011 with an EP and two singles, which were later included on their second album Peruvian Mistake, released in 2012.
After a nearly 10-year hiatus, brought on in part by the death of his best friend and manager, as well as his personal struggles with addiction and subsequent recovery, Marsden assembled a new group of esteemed musicians to record his third album Druids and Bards, due for release this coming August via his label Yr Wyddfa Records. These musicians are (with previous acts they’ve played with in parentheses) John Lawrence on guitar (Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci), Owain Ginsberg on guitar & synths (WE//ARE//ANIMAL, Hippies Vs Ghosts, The Heights), Jason Hughes on bass (The Painkillers), and Spike T Smith on drums (Morrissey, The Damned, New York Dolls). Marsden told me “It was a honour to work with them. I’ve wanted to work with all of them since I was a teenager. I’m very lucky. They are all geniuses.” He wrote and sang all songs, and co-produced the album with Lawrence, who also engineered the album. The two men shown flanking Marsden in the header photo are friends he’s brought in for live performances, who will also play on his next record.
In late March, Holy Coves released their first single from Druids and Bards, the brilliant “The Hurt Within”, which is currently enjoying a run on my Weekly Top 30. Now, only a month later, they return with the second single “Desert Storm“, and it’s another brooding cinematic stunner. Over a stomping, mesmerizing groove, they layer mysterious, psychedelic synths, crisp percussion and an arresting blend of droning and jangly guitars to create a dark and moody soundscape, but with a hint of optimism. Marsden has a clear and pleasing singing voice, and his slightly echoed vocals have a somewhat ethereal quality here as he earnestly details his struggles of keeping a troubled relationship together while suffering from severe drug addiction.
What you see is what you get
What you needs irrelevant
It's time we need to heal my friend
Let's go until we reach the end
Look how far we've come
We've only just begun
You're holding onto me
But I'm so far goneWere coming up don't fight the feeling
Let's ride the storm
Were coming up don't fight the feeling
It's the desert storm
Were coming up don't fight the feeling
Let's ride the storm
Were coming up don't fight the feeling
It's the desert storm
I come to feel her love again
And take away all the pain
It seems like everyday I fight her now
It's tearing us apart
Right now I'm falling hard
Let's go back to the start
I'm falling off again
She's got me hook line babe
“Desert Storm” is a marvelous track, and if it and “The Hurt Within” are any indication, Druids and Bards is guaranteed to be a spectacular album.
To coincide with their album release, Holy Coves will kick off their 24 date Druids And Bards UK Tour on August 19th in Wrexham.
South Wales-based electro/art punk band Head Noise, self-described purveyors of post-apocalyptic synthpop, are one of the more unusual acts I follow. Comprised of Mitch Tennant (primitive keyboards & shouting), Wayne Bassett (guitar & synths), Jordan Brill (more guitar & synths), and Andrew Topper Walsh (drums & percussion on some tracks), their unconventionally quirky music sounds like it could have been created by the love child of Devo, The Vapors and Dr. Demento. I’ve previously featured them twice on this blog, most recently last May when I reviewed their delightful EP CONSEQUENTIAL QUASARS! Now the guys are back with a terrific new EP SCRAM, which appropriately dropped on April Fool’s Day. The EP has been released by independent Welsh label Dirty Carrot Records.
For their latest effort, they’ve ditched the guitars and, inspired by music from early iterations of TheHuman League, Depeche Mode and (of course) Devo, they’ve decided to go fully electronic. While still awash with their signature zany screwball flair for the absurd, exemplified by songs about cataclysmic death-derbies (“Screwball Scramble”), unfinished David Lynch movies (“Ronnie Rocket!”), and mangling the English language (“Alliteration, Again”), SCRAM also explores darker topics like hidden surveillance (“Candid Camera”) and nuclear evacuation (“Miracle Mile”).
Opening track “Screwball Scramble” is a fun listen, with throbbing spacey synths and quirky baby-like vocal flourishes, in sharp contrast with it’s decidedly bleak subject matter: “They drop me into this barren place, a wasted space for an extinction race. A four wheel powerhouse of pain where chunks of flesh fall down the drain. Terminate, to seal our fate with blisters coming from the throwing flames.” “Candid Camera” has a funky techno vibe, with a strong, catchy beat overlain with more of those wonderfully spacey, sci-fi synths. In an altered voice at times sounding almost diabolical, Tennant sings “Smile, cuz you’re on candid camera. Yessir!“
On “Ronnie Rocket!“, Head Noise employ a hypnotic EDM beat and swirling sci-fi industrial synths to create a futuristic soundscape in a nod to David Lynch’s film Dune, but the song’s more generally about a film Lynch never made. Tennant said it’s “a mad mash up of Salvador Dali, Monty Python and the Looney Tunes.” An electronically altered voice sounding like Stephen Hawking says “The concept of absurdity is something I’m attracted to” – which could well be the definitive descriptor for Head Noise – followed by Tennant’s more ‘normal’ voice repeating the lines “Let’s Lynch again. We are the saboteurs.” “Alliteration, Again” is a silly and lighthearted new wave song with strong Devo influences, replete with a bouncy pogo-like beat and colorful psychedelic synths.
Far and away the best track on the EP is “Miracle Mile“, with it’s stunning Depeche Mode-esque sound. Running 6:20 in length, the song is magnificent, with a complex and lush mix of sparkling and haunting synths layered over a hypnotic pulsating dance groove. Tennant’s vocals sound more pure here, revealing a beautiful voice that’s often hidden beneath the quirky Dr. Demento-like vocals so prevalent on many of their songs. Still, in a somewhat electronically-altered voice that could be his or someone else’s, we hear the chilling lyrics “You’ll find us fossilized, in a dilapidated museum, burning with a strange fire that you can never put out.”
Special shout outs for the song’s phenomenal sound go to guest musician Andrew Llewellyn for his gorgeous synth lines, and Liz Bassett (Wayne’s wife) for her captivating backing vocals, both of which greatly add to the song’s overall dreamy vibe. Being a sucker for heavily melodic music, I think “Miracle Mile” is a triumph, and the best song Head Noise has ever recorded.
SCRAM is another impressive work by this talented group of musicians, who never fail to amaze us with their boundless creativity, imagination and musicianship. The marvelous nuclear-inspired artwork for the EP was created by Anthony Price, who’s own music, under the moniker Dunkie, I’ve also written about previously.
Those of you in the UK can catch Head Noise at one of these upcoming shows:
Jonny Ash is a wonderfully-named band from North Wales who make an exciting, hard-driving and melodic style of indie rock. Comprised of brothers Callum (lead vocals, guitar) and Dan Gaughran (bass), Peter Roberts (lead guitar) and Mike Jones (drums), their big, high-energy sound is influenced by some of their favorite acts like The Stone Roses, Thin Lizzy, Oasis, The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix. Formed only a year ago, they wasted no time getting down to business by releasing their fantastic debut single “We Are The People” in August, followed two months later by the ripper “Boys With Black Eyes”, quickly earning them recognition throughout the UK, and radio play on BBC Wales, XS Manchester and Amazing Radio.
Now the Wrexham four-piece are back with a rousing new single “Disco“, a banger of a tune the band states has already become a favorite among their fans. Though the song sounds nothing like typical disco, the band says its BPM is the same as actual disco music, however, most people hearing the song would never realize it as they fall in line with the driving beat. Band lead guitarist Peter Roberts elaborates: “We are really excited to release our new track ‘Disco’, as it’s one of our favourite tunes to play live, based on the interaction we get from our amazing crowds. It’s usually saved to the end of our set because of how well It goes down regardless of where we are playing.”
The song opens with Dan’s super gnarly bass riff, to which a nice tapping of Mike’s drumstick is added before the music explodes into a roiling barrage of grungy riffs, throbbing bass and pummeling drumbeats, all of which become even more intense in the choruses. Peter lets loose with a blistering guitar solo in the bridge, leaving no doubt this is anything but a disco song, but rather a full-on rock stomper. Callum has a terrific singing voice, with the perfect amount of sexy swagger the song requires.
Like many songs of the disco era, “Disco” is about having a good time and letting loose at a club, having drinks, dancing to hot music and flirting with people you’re attracted to. “I see you come in all the time. If I had three wishes, then I would make you mine. Come on get closer, get right in my face. I want to see you dancing all over the place. The bar’s still open, the night is only young. When you get home, say hi to your mom. / And I fell in love with you at the disco.“
“Disco” is a great track, and along with the guys’ two previous singles, showcases their impressive musicianship and skill for putting out solid rock songs. I’m happy to have learned about Jonny Ash, and look forward to hearing more from them soon.
Six months ago (in July 2021) I wrote a feature article about Secret Postal Society, the music project of Welsh singer-songwriter, composer and multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire Craig Mapstone, in which I focused on his intent to write and record a new song every week throughout 2021 (read my article here). At the time, he had successfully reached the halfway point in his very ambitious goal, with 27 songs under his belt. Well, I’m happy to report that Craig fully achieved his objective of faithfully releasing a new song every week, and by year’s end, he’d put out a total of 53 songs, including two Christmas-related tracks. He’s now asked his followers to let him know what our five favorites of his many songs are, and I’ve decided to write this post to tell him!
Before I get to my picks, I want to say a few things: First off, Craig is one of the kindest, most gracious and humble musicians I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know as a music blogger, and I’ve become quite fond of him both professionally and personally. He’s also incredibly talented, creative, and hard-working, and his discipline and ability to remain laser-focused on his goal puts many others – including me – to shame. Which leads to my second point, that I’m absolutely dumbfounded by his impressive output. The ability to write, record and release a new song – along with an accompanying video – week in and week out for an entire year is amazing in itself, but to achieve such a high level of quality in nearly every track is nothing short of astonishing.
Though his sound can generally be described as singer/songwriter-oriented pop and soft-rock, infused with touches of indie folk, his music is actually fairly eclectic. Some of his songs feature elements of grunge, progressive, post-punk and alternative rock, so there’s something for just about everyone in his discography (other than for fans of R&B or hip hop). It was extremely difficult winnowing down my list of favorite Secret Postal Society songs to only five, but herewith are my top five picks, followed by six honorable mentions that could all have easily been among my top five. Worth noting is that most of my favorites were written and recorded in the latter half of the year, an indication that Craig’s songwriting and musicianship grew better and stronger the more songs he wrote.
Though Craig doesn’t have an especially powerful voice, its comforting warmth is well-suited to his generally laid-back musical style, and no more so than on “Fly“, my favorite of all his songs. His 21st song, released last May, it’s his longest track, running over six minutes, and also his most beautiful. Craig’s twangy strummed guitar notes, accompanied by lovely strings, xylophone, and what sounds like a mellotron, create a hauntingly beautiful soundscape. His gentle vocals exude a deeply heartfelt sense of sadness as he sings the bittersweet lyrics expressing pain and regret over a relationship that’s ended, but remembering glimmers of what brought you both together in the beginning: “The ones we love are the ones we hurt the most. We fly so close. We fly so close. I kissed you once, and it took my breath away.”
The accompanying video is courtesy of The Internet Archives, and features footage from the classic 1923 silent film SafetyLast!, directed by Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor and starring Harold Lloyd.
2. A Thousand Times
Released in July as his 31st song, “A Thousand Times” is a perfect pop tune, with a breezy vibe reminiscent of songs by such bands as Fleetwood Mac, The Outfield and the Gin Blossoms. Craig’s jangly guitars and sunny synths are delightful, and the song is just so catchy and feel-good that it makes me happy. The lyrics seem to speak of a budding romance between two people who’ve been playing emotional footsie with each other for a while: “We both have secret smiles and glances. We play games young lovers still play. I believe we deserve second chances. I’ll wait a thousand times for you love.“
While it might not be one of Secret Postal Society’s most interesting songs from a musical standpoint, “Alive” is nevertheless one of my favorites because of Craig’s thoughtful lyrics, not to mention that it was released on my birthday in August as his 35th song. Many of his songs speak not only of romantic love, but love for humankind and each other, and this one’s a fine example of that. He acknowledges that while he may not be all that important in the scheme of things, he’s glad to be alive, and urges us live our lives with love and understanding for one another: “So we fight to survive through the lows and the highs ’cause we’ve got to keep going. So I look in your eyes. You know it’s OK to cry. I’m just grateful that you are alive.” It’s a warm and pleasing track, and the guitars and keyboards in the bridge are really lovely.
4. I Will Follow You
Released in October as his 40th song, “I Will Follow You” has a strong R.E.M. feel, which is why it appeals to me so much. Craig’s a fine guitarist, and his work is especially good on this track. The lyrics are spoken to a loved one, assuring them that they’ll always have your love and support: “Time and again I was always with you as a friend. But I guess that I never told you. I know that life’s hard. No one said it was easy at all. But we’ll be fine, and I will follow you.” The beautiful video was produced by Yaroslav Shuraev (Pexels).
5. Something From Nothing/Points of Light
Released in November as song #47, “Something From Nothing/Points of Light” is sort of a couplet, like having two songs for the price of one. With its urgent, intricate riffs and driving melody, “Something From Nothing” has a Foo Fighters vibe, but unlike the Foos’ similarly-titled song that ends in an explosive crescendo, Secret Postal Society’s ends on a calm, lovely and contemplative note with “Points of Light”. I like that Craig’s young son Reuben sings these optimistic closing lyrics along with him: “Don’t you let your sun go out. And never let the others dim the shine of hope you have inside. I see in you the light eternal.”
Very Honorable Mention:
Numb – A terrific alt-rock song with swirling synths and a great guitar riff reminiscent of “Lazy Eye” by Silversun Pickups
Hurt – A darkly beautiful, grungy track with industrial-sounding synths and fantastic reverby guitars.
Halfway There – A lovely guitar-driven track featuring shimmery keyboards and Craig’s soothing vocals, with optimistic lyrics addressing both his half-year milestone, but also a struggling relationship halfway toward its fulfillment.
A Song For Leaving You – A great kiss-off song with a captivating hip-swaying beat, spacey synths and some really gorgeous guitar work.
What’s Up Dude? – A languid and cool alt-rock song co-written and sung by Craig and his young son Reuben, with lyrics directed at slackers, encouraging them to get busy: “This is not a game of chance, you have to do the work, SO DO IT!“
It’s Not a Christmas Song(Unless the Sleigh Bells Are Ringing) – A thoroughly delightful contemporary Christmas song that’s as good as many I’ve heard from major artists. And once again, we’re treated to Reuben’s sweet vocals.
Craig is now enjoying a well-deserved rest from his exhaustive songwriting and recording schedule, and isn’t quite sure where he’ll take Secret Postal Society going forward. But I for one hope he’ll continue putting out more great songs, albeit at a more reasonable pace.
Welsh music journalist Kevin McGrath has embarked on an ambitious effort to raise funds for Velindre Cancer Center in Cardiff, Wales, where he’s received treatment for his own cancer. A regular contributor to Wales Arts Review and New Sound Wales, McGrath came up with the idea to create a massive 40-track digital album release as a way to not only raise money for a worthy cause, but also pay back in kind for the life-saving care he’s received.
Accordingly, he reached out to some of his favorite musicians in Wales, as well as in places such as Italy, Finland and America, to donate a song, old or new, released or unreleased, toward the creation of a 40-track mixtape album. Well, the response was beyond what he expected, and the album, entitled V4Velindre, now has a whopping 50 tracks by some of the best bands in Wales, including Bandicoot, Climbing Trees, Campfire Social, and Head Noise, as well as established singer/songwriters such as Jodie Marie, Evans McRae and Dan Bettridge.
McGrath explains his mission for creating the album: “V4Velindre exists because from the minute that we are born our lives intersect with the National Health Service. We all have stories (happy and sad) of the crucial role the NHS plays in our very existence. Nothing, though, could have prepared us for the sacrifice that NHS staff all over the country made to keep us safe during the COVID pandemic. Just between March 2020 and December 2020 883 NHS staff members died from COVID doing their duty and so much more. As the NHS, and the nation, seeks to rebuild in the wake of the pandemic we need to come together and make our contribution. As Nye Bevan famously said, ‘the NHS will last only as long as there’s folk with faith left to fight for it’. That fight comes in many measures – some will work for the NHS, some will vote for the NHS, some will protest for the NHS, and some will help finance its upkeep through jumble sales and sponsored walks. Please consider purchasing V4Velindre. Every single penny of the proceedings that comes to me from the sale of this album (minus the Bandcamp commission) will be passed straight to the Velindre Cancer Centre, where I have been cared for as an outpatient for the past eight years.“
Among its 44 tracks, the album features songs by the last three winners of the Welsh Music Prize, including “O Silly Me” by young singer-songwriter Boy Azooga, “Brassneck” by indie legends The Wedding Present (an exclusive re-working of one of their all-time classics), “Who You Are” by BOB and “Enemy of Promise” by the Nightingales. In addition, the album includes songs donated by outstanding new Indie bands from Italy (Smile) Finland (That Forgotten Band) and the U.S. (Walter Etc, Eggs on Mars and Parker Woodland). Two of the songs are by Welsh artists I’ve previously featured on this blog: “Deal With the Devil” by the hyper-talented singer-songwriter GG Fearn, and “Stage Fright!” by electro-punk band Head Noise. There are also some newly-recorded tracks from Armstrong, Silent Forum, Burning Ferns and Y Dail that cannot be heard anywhere else but on this album.
Here’s a sampling of the wonderful songs included on V4Velindre:
V4Velindre will be available exclusively through Bandcamp as a digital-only release on October 1st, and may be pre-ordered here. If you pre-order, you will get five tracks now (streaming via the free Bandcamp app and also available as a high-quality download in MP3, FLAC and more).
Dying Habit is an alternative rock band from the Isle of Anglesey in northwest Wales, and comprised of brothers Nathan (vocals & bass) and Mark Jones (drums), and their best friend Alan Hart (guitar). Formed in 2016, they play an intense and grungy style of melodic alternative rock steeped in progressive undertones and teeming with complexity and nuance. I’ve followed them pretty much since their beginning, and have written about them several times on this blog, most recently last November when I reviewed their excellent debut album Until the Air Runs Out. (You can read those reviews by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the end of this post.)
In August, Dying Habit returned with a terrific new single “Think“, which will be included on their forthcoming EP Antidotes, due for release later this year. It’s a darkly beautiful banger, featuring the signature melodic time changes, compelling lyrics and brilliant instrumentation we’ve come to expect from these talented musicians. Alan’s intricate guitar work is fantastic, with so many different layers and textures at play – from lovely chiming chords to thunderous fuzz-coated chugging riffs to flourishes of screaming distortion – that it sounds like there are three guitarists instead of only one. Meanwhile, the Jones brothers drive the powerful rhythm forward with a pummeling bassline and explosive drumbeats, all working in a glorious alchemy to create a spine-tingling backdrop for Nathan’s plaintive vocals.
The band states the lyrics describe the thoughts of someone after having killed themselves: “It’s morning. I don’t know. Turning to the light for something. The sunlight is getting in my eyes. There’s only one way this day is going. Memories are coming back but I don’t know what to do. There’s blood on my face and I’m lying next to you. / I think they’re going to take me straight to hell. Demon’s taking over everything. What the hell am I supposed to do. I got a bad feeling.” While the subject is arguably grim, the song is great, and I think it just might be one of Dying Habit’s best yet.
Caitlin Lavagna is a singer-songwriter and musician from South Wales, and she’s just released her terrific debut single “HowNot To Start a Fight“, which dropped July 30th. It’s a catchy, upbeat pop song about a break-up, specifically, how to end a relationship with as little drama as possible.
Growing up in the Rhondda Valley, Caitlin’s long had music and the arts in her blood, with a special love for singing, dancing and drumming. While in college, she was one half of indie folk duo Only The Reign, who released two self-recorded albums and spent two years busking and gigging, earning a strong local following. She later studied at the prestigious Rose Bruford College, in their Actor Musicianship BA honors degree program, and while there, formed a band called Big Wednesday, for which she plays drums. They busked and played gigs around London as time permitted, also recording a self-titled three-track EP. All three recordings are still available on all major music streaming platforms.
Her passion for strong rhythms is clearly evident on the track, the marvelous throbbing bass and galloping drumbeats driving the melody forward with unbridled energy. I don’t know the identities of her fellow musicians who played some of the instruments on the track, but they all do a masterful job. There are so many great touches, like the strummed acoustic and electric guitars, deliciously funky bass notes and lovely piano keys. But the highlight for me are Caitlin’s beautiful, emotive vocals that go from a soothing croon in the verses to commanding defiance in the choruses as she announces that she’s done with the relationship, while accepting partial responsibility for its failure, and now moving on.
Cross my fingers, hope to die
Before you find out, before I hit the ground
Party's over, it's goodnight
Word is going around
I am working out how not to start a fight
How to say goodbye
How to tell you why, how to make it right
Cause slowly over time, my bark turned into bite
It's no one's fault but mine
“How Not To Start a Fight” is a wonderful song, and a stellar debut effort from this talented young artist. I look forward to hearing what Caitlin comes up with next.