DYING HABIT – Single Review: “Think”

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.

Connect with Dying Habit:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream their music: Apple Music / SpotifySoundcloud

Purchase their music:  AmazonBandcamp

CAITLIN LAVAGNA – Single Review: “How Not To Start a Fight”

Caitlin Lavagna is a singer-songwriter and musician from South Wales, and she’s just released her terrific debut single “How Not 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.

Connect with Caitlin:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream her song:  SpotifyApple Music

ARTIST SPOTLIGHT – SECRET POSTAL SOCIETY

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!

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Stream his music:  SpotifyApple MusicYouTube

HEAD NOISE – EP Review: “CONSEQUENTIAL QUASARS!”

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.

Follow Head Noise: Facebook / TwitterInstagram
Stream their music: Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Amazon

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.

Follow David:  TwitterInstagram

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

Stream their music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud

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