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.
One of the most prolific and generous artists I’ve encountered in my nearly six years of blogging is Secret Postal Society, the music project of Welsh singer-songwriter, composer and multi-instrumentalist Craig Mapstone. Since the beginning of the year, he’s faithfully released a new single every week, and as I write this, he just dropped his 27th single “Here Comes Trouble”. At the end of each month, he bundles the four singles from that month into an EP, which translates to six EPs thus far in 2021. Here’s the cover art for his latest EP, simply titled June EP.
Based in South Wales, Craig has been writing songs and playing in various local bands over the years, primarily as a drummer. He was content to remain mostly hidden behind the scenes playing drums, but hadn’t been in a band for quite a while. As with virtually all musicians around the globe, the covid lockdowns prevented him from performing live and leaving him with lots of time for introspection, but also impacting his overall sense of well-being. He told me “After the crazy year that was 2020, I found myself refocusing what was important to me, and music was always a big part of my life. It was also my lifeline as it helped me with my anxiety. During last year I found myself playing guitar more and coming up with lots of ideas with no real focus as to what to do with them. Then literally a few days before the end of the year I just decided that I was going to create a band and then try and write/record a new song every week. I set up my YouTube channel and Instagram account and went from there.”
And thus, Secret Postal Society was born. Each week, Craig writes (or co-writes) and records a brand new song, playing all of the instruments and singing all of the vocal parts himself (with the notable exception of some solo guitar and backing vocals from Rev Rabbit (of Welsh indie rock band Revolution Rabbit Deluxe, whose three albums I’ve previously reviewed) on the song “Now Is The Time”. In addition to Secret Postal Society, Craig is also co-founder (with Raj Chand) of Weird Triangle, a business that offers design services for digital video projects, logos and promotional materials, and their own line of T-shirts and hoodies. Through his involvement with Weird Triangle, Craig designs most of the artwork for the Secret Postal Society single and E.P. covers, along with limited edition T-shirts for each song. He also creates most of his videos using free and publicly available footage he finds on the internet, then edits it to fit the particular song.
Secret Postal Society was not only a way to help Craig through a difficult time, but he also uses it to help others. Accordingly, he donates 100% of the profits from the sale of each T-shirt (with the E.P. designs) to a different charity each month. Thus far, he’s supported the following charities: MS-UK (January), Cystic Fibrosis Trust (February), Velindre Hospital (March), Mermaids UK (April), The Prince’s Trust (May) and Umbrella Cymru (June).
The very first song he released, on New Years Day, was “It’s Not Over“, an old song he originally wrote and recorded back in 2006. He said the song got him through some difficult times over the years, and felt it was the right track to launch Secret Postal Society. It’s a good example of his laid-back singer-songwriter music style, which is primarily pop-rock infused with touches of indie folk. But as I’ll show in this post, his music is actually quite eclectic, exploring elements of progressive, experimental, grunge, post-punk and alternative rock. Most of his songs are really good, but I’ve chosen a few of my favorites, as well as ones I think give a good representation of his extensive stylistic range.
On his next single “Happy Sad“, he delivers a somewhat heavier rock vibe, with some fine jangly guitar work. He almost reveals his entire face on the video of him performing the song.
One of my favorite songs by him is “Choices“, a dramatic and moody track released in February. On this song, Craig seems to delve more deeply into progressive and experimental rock, using distorted psychedelic guitars, somber keyboards and horns to great effect in creating a darkly beautiful soundscape for his ominous droning vocals. The video was produced by Rubén Velasco and edited by Craig.
His follow-up single “I Like You” has more of a grunge/psych rock vibe, with some terrific reverb-soaked gnarly guitars. His electronically-altered vocals sound almost robotic as he drones “Your love it isn’t science. My love isn’t art. We must redraw the line, cause you’re tearing me apart. Cause I like you. Yeah, I like you.” The cool animated video was produced by Cottonbro.
Continuing on a grunge theme, but with more alternative and electronic elements, is the pleasing track “Numb“. Released in April, it’s another one of my favorite Secret Postal Society songs. Craig’s synths are wonderful, and I also love his guitar work in this track, which reminds me a bit of “Lazy Eye” by Silversun Pickups. The beautiful video was once again produced by Cottonbro.
“Half Way There“, released in late June as his 26th single, marks the halfway point of his opus 2021 endeavor. It’s a beautiful guitar-driven track featuring some lovely keyboard synths and Craig’s soothing vocals. The optimistic lyrics speak not only to his half-year milestone, but also metaphorically of a struggling relationship halfway toward its fulfillment. And we finally get a good look at Craig on the video, which shows his creative process and him performing the song.
I’ll end with his latest single “Here Comes Trouble“, which dropped July 2nd. The song has a late-90s alt-pop/rock vibe, reminiscent of songs by artists like Duncan Sheik, Eagle Eye Cherry and Deep Blue Something. Once again, it showcases the breadth and variety of Secret Postal Society’s musical style. There’s literally something for just about everyone in his discography, and I’m dumbfounded by his impressive output. The ability to write, record and release a new song week in and week out is amazing in itself, but to have such high quality in nearly every track is quite an accomplishment. I hope Craig will be able to maintain the creativity and stamina to continue releasing a new song per week for the remainder of 2021, and look forward to hearing what he comes up with next!
South Wales-based Head Noise are a self-described “Oddball DIY electro trash punk band, spitting out angsty garbage about junk culture, broken technology and modern art.” Listening to their zany music, which sounds like it could have been created by the love child of Devo, The Vapors and Dr. Demento, I’d say that’s a pretty spot-on assessment. I first featured them on this blog almost exactly one year ago, when I reviewed their single “200,000 Gallons of Oil”, one of the tracks from their trippy debut album Über-Fantastique. Now they’re back with a new five-track EP CONSEQUENTIAL QUASARS!, serving up 13 minutes of non-stop musical mayhem for our listening enjoyment. The EP was released on April 23rd via the independent Welsh label Dirty Carrot Records.
Since I last visited Head Noise, they’ve grown from a threesome to a quartet, with the addition of a drummer. They now consist of Mitch Tennant (primitive keyboards & shouting), Wayne Bassett (guitar & synths), Jordan Brill (more guitar & synths), and Andres “Topper the Pops” Walsh (drums & percussion). Bassett is also involved in other music projects, including a recent collaboration with Dunkie, who’s wonderful EP The Vanishing and Other Stories I reviewed in March. The songs on that EP could not be more different than those on CONSEQUENTIAL QUASARS!, which features their signature ambiguous and surreal lyrics, unorthodox instrumentals and quirky vocals.
About the EP, the band explains “The idea for the EP was to have more of a rough and ready, raw and energised approach to the recording for bit more of an experimental flair. The inclusion of the electronic drums alongside some much thicker and fuzzy guitars have given the latest batch of songs a certain kick to them, which the band are finding quite exciting to play with. The band thinks that this will transpose to the live arena very well, so are very much looking forward to debuting these songs when live music makes its eventual comeback.”
The EP kicks off with “Alaska Later“, a delicious punk gem with a frantic, driving beat, chugging riffs and colorful, fun-house synths that create a deliriously upbeat vibe. I’m not sure what the song is about, but it seems to speak to the foolishness of poseurs, idiots and wannabes: “We’ve got this shared hatred of idiocy. But now they’ve missed the bus for a slice of new-age hogwash./ Imitator. Alaska Later. Instigator. Alaska Later.” But later in the song, Tennant sings “The only thrill that I consider that is greater than this, is a smaller heating bill, and a bathroom that doesn’t smell like piss“, so it’s anyone’s guess. Then, in his twisted Dr. Demento voice, he chants “Liquidator, see you later. No you won’t. Dead.”
The wild and crazy vibes continue with “Cubist Ballet“, a frenetic punk ode to the early 20th century cubism art movement that shook the art world. Like all ground-breaking trends, it was met with much derision, expressed in the lyrics “But then they booed and hissed like proto-anarchists. Art is subjective. Then I have something to say. No matter the outcome from those zany days. The collaboration was wild and abhorred. So I think innovation deserves an award.” Things turn a bit more gothic on “Drift“, with a beat that reminds me somewhat of The Cure’s “Lovesong”. I really like the spooky, almost psychedelic synths, aggressive drumbeats and and mix of jangly and gnarly guitars. Tennant’s vocals sound more conventional here, though still delivered with the cheeky playfulness we’ve come to love and expect.
The trippy “Queztalcoatl’s Axolotl” has a bouncy retro 80s punk/new wave vibe, and rather nonsensical lyrics alluding to Greek and Aztec statues and enjoying the good life: “Like I tried to convey, I lust to compile with an Aztec flavor, and a salamander smile. You see my garden lacks a prophetic shrine, a kind of je ne sais quoi.Behind the concrete of hidden landmines, we’ll be sharing beluga caviar.” Whatever it’s meaning, it’s a fun tune.
“Tracey Emin” is the most melodic of the five tracks, with a terrific guitar-driven new wave groove. And like many of their songs, it’s features an abundance of the band’s signature zany psychedelic synths, stellar guitar work and strong, thumping rhythms. The lyrics speak of the English artist Tracey Emin, specifically her 1997 work Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963–1995, a tent appliquéd with the names of everyone she’d ever shared a bed with, including family members, friends, drinking partners and lovers: “Did you only mean to shock? Tracey Emin! Opening Pandora’s lock, and then throw away the key. Bringing you closer to me. Would you ever be content, hiding your life in a tent? Showing the state of your bed. Do you ever feel exposed…”
CONSEQUENTIAL QUASARS! is a thoroughly delightful little EP, and another fine release by this highly creative and eccentric group of guys. If you enjoy quirky, out of the ordinary music and vocals, you will like this record.