“I’ve got the rest of my life and I’m not gonna stop ‘til I get it right.” -The Simple Radicals, “The Optimist”
Rock is a glorious genre. It’s diverse, it’s moving in many ways, and it captures the essence and passion of a person’s identity—whether that be artist or audience. This happens in all music, but a song leaves a certain impression to the point where you can hear a release from decades ago and remember the exact moment you heard that track and what it meant. The Simple Radicals attempt to bring back that feeling.
Vocalist John Malkin and guitarist John Griffin formed The Simple Radicals in Chicago. After years of performing with other acts and laying tracks in home studios, a simple request via social media brought the two together—and a sound was born.
It’s an old sound, but not borrowed, and the same could be said for the sake of a revolution. As discussed before, rock music is due for a rewind that will rejuvenate the genre back into mainstream significance. Not that all rockers necessarily value mainstream success, many would claim the underground is where the energy pulsates the most, but rather the ability to share a beloved sound and deeply meaningful lyrics. Or at least a strong opinion.
Malkin shared, “We released a song and video “Rich Man Wanna Be King” which provides a scathing lampoon of ex-President Trump. It’s already racked up 190,000 views and climbing.”
Impressive, yes, but The Simple Radicals are more than one message; they’re a package deal.
Inspiration can occasionally be misconstrued as imitation. Yet, all music comes from a similar foundation of past brilliance. With influences such as Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters, Cheap Trick, Pink Floyd, Green Day, and Tom Petty, The Simple Radicals have a tremendous base to build upon. These great names have helped the band craft their sound and style, and also fittingly place them in the retro-rock genre.
“I grew up listening to classic rock and still listen to it to this day,” Malkin said. “It’s timeless and some of the best music ever written. I wanted to form a band that maintained the integrity of the classic rock sound while adding retro flavors.”
The key element to The Simple Radicals’ sound is they actually span generations—which, and I’m aging myself here, have all become “classic” rock. As long as the loves of my adolescence aren’t considered “oldies” then I’m fine with the label. I remember when it happened; years ago, probably at least over a decade, a classic rock station in town played Local H. I knew how old I was then. Yet, just like a certain song, these moments are engrained in a listener’s memory, and they are welcomed.
Malkin explained where his lyrics stem from, “Life as we see and know it. When you distill it down to the basics and just take a look around, you’ll see that it’s so dynamic and malleable. Things develop and change right in front of your eyes every second. The challenging part is how to capture it all and put it into lyrics and music. But that’s also the most rewarding part.”
That’s what rock music is about, and life has certainly been challenging for all as of late. Even more reason for the revolution.
The Simple Radicals have taken advantage of the pandemic. The more we move through this, the more we are winning the battle. Progression remained essential for the band including the heavy promotion of their releases, recording new music and the development of a podcast, “Music & A Brew.” What more do you really need in life?
A sustainable income would be nice, and touring is where acts make a majority of their revenue. The Simple Radicals have played hometown festivals as well as iconic venues like New York City’s Cutting Room. Though 2020 came with many cancellations, the band is slated to support major acts and perform at SXSW in Austin, Texas in 2021. With the guests they are able to book on their podcast, and the artists they tour with, The Simple Radicals have created and maintained their experience in the industry.
“I’m always learning from other bands and musicians,” Malkin said. “The way they interact with the fans, their mannerisms, how they use pauses in the show. It’s a combination of the band being completely in sync and in the moment combined with the audience truly engaged with you and your music. There is nothing more rewarding than watching people lose themselves in your music. It’s intoxicating.”
Even though the live shows are scarce, we’re gradually crawling back to normal. As for now, The Simple Radicals are solidifying an online presence with their sound.
When a band has knowledge and experience in their genre, especially when it comes to blending the subtle differences each generation presents, it shows. From blues to classic rock to even hints of metal, The Simple Radicals have used their industry familiarity to produce new content the last two years.
In 2019, the band released an eight-track album, New Revolution. It was pure, direct and visceral. “Raise Hell” is a perfect opening track. The song not only preludes to the overall statement of the album, the structure and flow hit all the right elements you want when beginning a musical experience: a growing intro, crisp riffs and a catchy rhythm that transitions anticipation into energy.
“The Optimist” then comes in with a heavy metrical bassline and a solid beat throughout courtesy of James Page and Griff Johnson. Something that stands out other than just the standard rock vocals is the clean and blistering solos Griffin produces. The rock feel is there, but the influences are apparent and diverse from track to track, yet contained, which is important because it proves the band doesn’t lose their style via experimentation.
“Raise Hell” gave us a little of The Refreshments at the beginning, “Medicate” has hints of Alice Cooper, the title track is just a clean standard rock song straight from the ‘90s it would seem on first listen, and then they relax the tempo for “Emotion.” Balance is so important while producing a full album or listeners become weary of the tracks just blending together.
“Talk” is a beautiful enigma of meshing styles; it shouldn’t work, but it does, and has before any of the mentions to follow, which makes it stranger. Griffin’s notes are Santana- or Pink Floyd-esque, while Malkin captures the bleak somberness of ‘90’s vocals, but the undertones are comparable to ‘80’s metal. “Talk” is a three-decade experience of rock music shifts in about five minutes.
Then the transition out begins the conclusion. Malkin’s favorite song he has written sums up the overall message of New Revolution, and though the tempo is slow and basic, it proves that passion and energy truly have no specific cadence, just relevance and relation within. This technique was perfected by Metallica, and after listening to “Learn” you’re given that exact feeling.
“Civility” is great closure to the journey. If an album’s overall rhythm resembles a roller coaster, then a band has done a very good thing. Listeners are able to experience the variant moods Malkin and Griffin create from song to song and a collection of life experiences.
Malkin stated, “The important thing is to get things right in your life and you have your whole life to do so. Be patient but just get it right.”
The band is getting it done on many levels. On March 5, The Simple Radicals released a cover of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” with a pop-psychedelic spin. The collaboration with Che-Val stretches even further back into rock history, and the new version is excellent.
The Simple Radicals may be strengthening their presence in the scene at the perfect time. Stay simple and think radical.
“Seems like in death, we all become our perfect self.” -Stereomud, “Perfect Self”
I finished My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard. It was exhausting. It was an accomplishment.
At the end of the sixth book, the Norwegian author stated, “I am no longer a writer” (p. 1052).
I am no longer an ordinary reader.
My Struggle, or Min Kamp, should not be confused or compared to the most recognized European work with the same title, Mein Kampf. Knausgaard’s struggle has nothing to do with Adolf Hitler’s struggle from a philosophical aspect, so you’re able to continue at your leisure. Phew.
There are, however, two curious similarities. First, the style must be addressed. They are both autobiographical. Second, the key antagonist, if we were to classify a real-life character as such, is the father.
The controversy surrounding the book isn’t in its title, but rather the full disclosure of the author throughout the text, and the inclusion of his family and friends as the cast. Knausgaard’s My Struggle is a series of six volumes forming one immense piece of work. The books were published in Norway from 2009-2011, and have been translated into 35 languages. More than half a million copies of the 3,600-page novel have been sold in Norway alone.
In 2012, the books began to appear in English and each volume was released in year increments. By 2018, the sixth and final installment was made available and I instantly purchased my hardback copy. However, with grad school set to begin in 2019, and with the looming combination of academic text and heavy autobiographical philosophy, I decided to pause my reading of the latter.
Two winters and a global pandemic later, I started the end of this specific literary journey. It took me nearly three months to complete My Struggle Book Six, but the eagerness was worth the overwhelming distraction, the sometimes dreadful anxiety was relieved with small situational climaxes, and the closure, well, it will always remain a thought.
Though the struggle the reader absorbs is Knausgaard’s, there is relation in the prose. Not specifically or literally per se, but rather one’s comparison to the stressors of daily life and how an upbringing shapes an individual.
Whenever I read a volume, timing was everything, and I was enthralled from the beginning. It seemed to move with my life, or at least the lasting memories, current idiosyncrasies and future perspectives. For example, in book six, my wife and I had just been discussing what traveling with two children would be like after we are comfortable battling the tail end of the pandemic, and, sure enough, the section I read the next day involved Knausgaard, his wife at the time, Linda, and their children navigating through an airport.
That, however, is just coincidentally anecdotal. But such is life. Major similarities include the dialectal closeness of our names, the fact that we are both authors (one being much better than the other), we are both fans of soccer and have both broken our collarbones playing the sport. Not to mention our obsession with music, the minuscule and immense aspirations of adolescence, complete existentialism and death.
Perhaps the reason I latched on to Knausgaard’s journey was because I was always given a fitting line at the perfect time. Or perhaps I see a common bond through my own literary fiction—or my own life.
I’m more of an author than a reader, and that has nothing to do with desire and motivation, but rather time. I am one who is always battling time. Therefore, I know what genres I’m genuinely drawn toward. Autobiographies are one of said genres.
My Struggle has been labeled as autobiographical fiction. This is part of the names used and perhaps the jumbled memories of the author. However, it’s not a fantasy, everything is based on Knausgaard’s life as he remembers it. If you can find me a person who says they remember every precise detail of their life, then you have found me a liar.
In episode six (how delightfully accidental) of the television series Clarice, a therapist says to the mentally-damaged young FBI agent, “Everything is tinged with experience.”
In other words, experience may slightly alter fact because it can tend to be viewed subjectively. That raises the question: Is anything truly an autobiography then? Which also raises another question: Is most literary fiction autobiographical? Authors tend to take situations from real life and insert it into their prose when the genre calls for it. However, it’s safe to say the answers to both are yes and no.
That didn’t clear anything up.
Knausgaard’s style can be maddening to some readers. Some become exasperated with the excessive use of minute details, but there is valid reasoning to such confidence in filler and fluff. The strange double standard is that over-describing is allowed in some genres and not others. I’ve heard readers complain about autobiographies or literary fiction having too much detail, but then they love epic fantasy. Each involves a world you nothing about and yearn to discover, so why should it be stereotyped, and therefore only permissible in one genre or the other? Writing is writing. Creativity is creativity.
As an author, I believe that every single word matters to a story, and you must love every word or it doesn’t belong. In a discussion I had with esteemed novelist Leslie Epstein, he said, “About cutting, you can be ruthless. Look closely at the passages you love the most; the reason you love them may be because, like one’s favorite child, they are the weakest. Out they go! Just make sure the storyline is clear and that reader will never be confused.”
Epstein also shared a quote from Rudyard Kipling, “It’s like poking a fire, no one knows you have done it but when people enter the room the flames are burning so much more brightly.”
Sometimes the fire is a bonfire, or a massive blaze consuming a city in the case of My Struggle. Every word is needed, and it is intimate to the author no matter what Knausgaard claims.
Book six is a different animal than books one through five. Knausgaard’s life was on full display in the prior volumes and it led readers to this point—the point of publication and revelation. We followed him through his adolescent years, adulthood, childhood, the various phases of fresh independence when life’s complexity is commonly exaggerated—which continues until maturity settles the fire.
Readers know everything about Knausgaard, from his reliance on cigarettes and coffee to the daily paths he strolls and the views he observes to even the most personal and intimate details of his life such as how successful his bathroom breaks and battles with sexual desire are. We become him, but he is us.
The main difference between books one through five and six is he was a nobody, just like us, and now he is writing as a somebody, unlike us. Yet, though that would seemingly eradicate this bond that had been formed between reader and author, person and person, Knausgaard’s style keeps him exactly as we know him in book six: human.
This is why the finite details are so important and should not be considered fluff or filler. He must prove that he isn’t an esteemed author, but rather just a man. It’s almost as if he is guilty, as if he abandoned humility, and us in the process, and must maintain and prove his worth as an everyday person. It would be daring to call it Christ-like, but wrong to leave that comparison out.
This is also something Knausgaard is used to doing: self-modulation. Strangely enough, and to counter my own point, self-modulation is actually the opposite of how people view their lives in the modern era of being “social.”
That is beside the point, however. The middle section of book six is where we find an unnecessary exaggeration by Knausgaard to prove said worth. We experience his love of literary analysis first-hand, which is greatly appreciated. As he works us through Proust, Joyce, Kafka, Hamsun, Mann, Faulkner, Dostoevsky and Dante, and inserts Hamlet and Don Quixote comparisons wherever he can, we delve more into not only his life in the literary world, but his passion.
Yet, he still downplays his importance in that very world by stating, “This is the novel’s basic constraint, chained as it is to life in the social domain, the way people are to each other, and the minute the novel departs from that human world and ventures into the nonhuman or the beyond-human of the divine, it dies.
Music can express it, and painting too, since their forms are wordless, their language another and nameless, as removed from the ‘I’ that employs it and the ‘I’ that perceives it as figures in a mathematical formula. Reading a novel after having listened to Bach’s cello suites is like leaving a sunset to descend into a cellar. The novel is the form of the small life, and when it’s not it is because it’s being deceitful and is no true novel at all, since no ‘I’ exists that isn’t small too” (pp. 425-426).
He’s implying that he is small life. Then, he takes something he isn’t strong at, analyzing poetry, and dissects the importance of individual entities in a a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke, which leads to another analysis of a Paul Celan work which transitions the word “ash” from literary line to tragic representation—which then leads the reader to the most controversial part of the entire six-book journey: Hitler and the Holocaust.
Yes, Knausgaard analyzes and picks apart Mein Kampf, but not only the words, but rather the life of the author.
He said of the work, “I usually always sniff the books I buy, the new ones as well as the old, putting my nose to the pages and breathing in their smell because I associated that smell, and the smell of old books in particular, with something good, that element of childhood that was unconditionally pleasurable. The adventure, the abandoning oneself to other worlds. But I could not do that with Mein Kampf. The book was evil, in some indefinable way.
Hitler’s book is no longer literature. What later happened, what he later did, the axioms of which are meticulously laid out in that book, is such that it transforms the literature into something evil. Hitler’s Mein Kampf is literature’s only unmentionable work” (p. 493).
It was a heavy experience for there were excerpts shared and history remembered. It went on for 353 pages and felt like an academic text. As Knausgaard searched for the meaning of evil, “you” and “I,” he wasn’t necessarily providing us with his exceptional analytical talents, but rather his defense. In his analysis of “I,” he is the literal and figurative “I” in every form. He needed to prove to himself, not us, that he could review and understand poetry; he needed to prove to himself, not us, that there’s no ideological similarity between Min Kamp and Mein Kampf; he needed to prove to himself, not us, that his novel, his glorious accomplishment, was truly relevant and remained chained to life in the social domain.
He needed to prove to himself, not us, that he’s just a man living his life.
And that’s why this book is beloved. He is us.
What is on the surface, a simple tale about a life that not many people would consider fascinating, is somewhat what My Struggle can be considered even after dedicating your time, part of your life to his 3,600 pages.
I always remember when I ordered the fourth volume from Barnes & Noble. The woman who was checking me out said with sarcasm on full display with no intention to be hidden, “Still going on about his struggle I see.”
Reference my aforementioned counter-point.
These unnecessary exaggerations to prove one’s worth aren’t actually a counter-point, you see. We all self-modulate below the book cover. It’s life. Knausgaard is infected with self-doubt from an insignificant being to the limelight and spent anxious years writing a book about him and his father.
There’s not much to analyze because of the way My Struggle is written. Knausgaard puts everything out there for the world to absorb—attempting to make analysis almost impermissible—similar to what we experience on social networking, but in single form. In the “I” form. He is constantly on the defense, guarded, vulnerable, as if he was on trial as we all seem to be.
My Struggle is needed. It’s brilliant because it’s human. Yes, it was about the “I” but it became “us.” What Knausgaard did for himself, what he did for the world, is greatly appreciated and will go down as one of the most significant pieces of literature in our history.
“In the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes (Andy Warhol).” -The Venus Fly Trap, “Icon”
The Venus Fly Trap has been around for decades. The British alternative rockers have an extensive catalog that has spanned generational shifts in music. In an era where it’s harder to maintain consistent relevance, the band is grasping on to the resurgence of their prime.
The Venus Fly Trap has seen many contributors to their sound through the years. Originally formed in 1986 in Northhampton, England, just a shade fewer than 20 musicians have helped produce the post-punk electronica rhythm that has helped the band sustain a name in the industry.
Career musicians never stop creating and perfecting their craft. Lead singer Alex Novak not only formed The Venus Fly Trap, he also provided vocals for such past acts as Religious Overdose, Attrition and The Tempest.
Novak shared, “I’ve been watching live music since I was about 15. What got me involved in music in the first place was the punk, new wave explosion and it changed my perception of being able to be in a band.”
It’s an obsession of sort, and when artists become engrossed in the scene at a young age, it’s easier for them to set their goals and find their sound—and find other ways to stay in the industry. Not only does Novak play, he runs a record shop. Now during England’s third lockdown, he has used the time to save his business and perfect his craft.
The Venus Fly Trap, currently consisting of Novak and Andy Denton, has been described as “bladerunner rock ‘n’ roll with dark acidic shades” but Novak brings a more artistic feel to the music. He treats it as a movie almost.
“We create dark sonic cinema for the mind, film noir, sci-fi soundscapes,” he explained.
The band’s influences are acts well-deserved of following and flattery. The Venus Fly Trap attempts to blend inspirations from Chemical Brothers, Joy Division and the Doors. In fact, Novak’s vocals have been compared to Jim Morrison’s signature mysterious monotone. Yet, no artist wants to sound exactly like an earlier band or they will be labeled a copier or trend-chaser. It’s important for an act to strive for uniqueness, and that can come from taking specific elements of influence and then arranging an original sound. With that being said, it’s difficult to categorize The Venus Fly Trap.
Imagination is the essence of The Venus Fly Trap’s style and sound. Their music isn’t just something to listen to, they strive for it to be an experience. It’s almost as if they write for movies, attempting to capture a visual to help the listener better understand their tracks. This especially makes touring memorable.
The stage was dark and smoky and the audience was being provided with an unknown aura that ended up enchanting them through the evening. The electronics pounded, the colors mesmerized, and Novak sang as a woman, slim with tiny cloth barely covering only the most precious areas of her figure, danced next to him. A large python slithered around her body as she not only charmed the reptile but the audience as well.
The Venus Fly Trap attempts to make their live show into an event rather than just a recital. Yet, it’s the after party that allows the band to understand their impact.
Novak said, “It’s always interesting speaking to people after the show, it’s a two-way conversation, you’re finding out about what people are thinking. We have a lot of memorable shows, probably done hundreds of gigs, so it’s good to keep track otherwise you forget where you have played.”
Of course, touring has been limited the past year and gaining support is vital not only for the artists, but audiences as well.
“Let’s hope we can do that again soon. It’s good to see all sorts of live music; it all goes into the brain to widen your influences and see what works and what doesn’t. You’re always learning.”
The Venus Fly Trap’s debut, Mars, landed in 1987. It had new wave undertones, but darker, less poppy than the mainstream acts who defined the ‘80s. It was deeper, as if it was always raining while the music played. Most notably the singles “Morphine.” Their psychedelic sound continued in 1989 with Totem. A little more post-punk began to surface, especially when it came to the drum and bass rhythms, but their original style didn’t falter in the least.
In 1991, the band’s Gothic roots were added to the dark wave, psychedelic post-punk sound. The consistency throughout, however, is the use of electronica to mesh everything together, keeping the band’s identity always intact. Pandora’s Box may be the band’s best ablum, and not only is their style most on display, but as is their true ability to create infectious cadence. “World Turned Upside Down” is a great song and “Monument To The Sublime” is a fantastic instrumental. Lastly, their versatility is proven with the pure piano arrangement of “Shedding Another Skin.” There is a Duran Duran resemblance throughout, but, again, they kept it their own.
Luna Tide added yet another element of the times. Launched in 1994, that standard ‘90’s rock distortion was apparent, especially on tracks like “My Ships Coming In” and “Jupiter Collision.” Yet, the album as a whole sounded too similar from song to song, but tracks “Urban Sprawl (Part One)” and “Heretic” either slowed the pace or offered some dark acoustics for balance.
The Venus Fly Trap revamped and almost reached back for their 1996 album Dark Amour. The track “Lifeforce” captures the essence of the band, but the album also displays their range of creativity, even using the sounds of different cultures as exemplified on the primarily instrumental track “Decaying Orbit Part 1 & 2.”
The next 22 years, Venus Fly Trap provided listeners with limited editions, compilations, documentaries, and the albums Zenith (2004), Nemesis (2011) and Icon (2018). They were epic and operatic, charming and dark, and the lasting impression that they made in the music world proved their love for music and creating.
As uncertainty looms at the moment for society, The Venus Fly Trap hopes to continue their passion. Nothing has to end.
“You reach out to the stars, but they move further away.” -Pressure, “Path of a Shadow”
There’s a heavy feeling in the world today. It’s not the weight of the earth, but rather the figurative burden of uncertainty and growing anxiety. Sweden’s Pressure attempts to relieve the stressors of daily life and help listeners embrace their existence. Music can always be a release, a guide to navigating each step we take.
Based in Stockholm, Pressure was formed after 10 years of performance experience and audience analysis. Simon Forsell once was Emil Salling’s guitar teacher, and soon they were part of a successful cover band. After experimenting with a blend of pop and metal, they discovered an invaluable reaction from the crowd: artist appreciation.
Forsell said of their origin, “We wanted more challenging things in our music journey. Because of this we started to change the songs, both the lyrics and also the arrangements, taking pop songs and making them into metal songs. The crowd loved the versions and we wanted to explore this even more.”
To an average music follower, pop and metal are two genres that don’t sound like they would mesh well based solely on the stereotypical surface of each. The assumption makes sense, but couldn’t be further from the truth. Denser vocal tones and distortion differentiate the two genres from a style standpoint, but at a song’s core, there’s a relation.
“We play story metal. That is a sub-genre of heavy metal but focuses on the stories that we tell and the mood of the songs.”
Why do you think ‘80s hair metal was so popular? Look, both styles of music are written together in that sentence. When done correctly, it’s a fascinating sound.
Forsell is a story collector. His inspiration comes from the tales told by people around him, the life experiences that can be turned into an anthem of sort.
“We take our inspiration from the mood of the Pressure that we sing about and from the people around us who inspired us to write the stories,” Forsell explained.
Lyrics and finding that relation to the listener are key elements to how Pressure produces a track. Occasionally, especially in the modern era of rock, experimentation can lead to complexity and lyricists believe they are deeper than they actually are. They stress image, uniqueness and progression, and the final product suffers. Sometimes a listener just wants something they can share and something that sounds good. That’s what Pressure is attempting to offer. Acts like Rob Zombie, Powerman 5000 and The Union Underground created some fantastic content back in the ‘90s using this industrial, groove metal concept.
Whether it is heavy metal, folk, thrash and power metal, punk, or simply standard rock, there’s one thing that people appreciate: a relation. This is where Pressure starts to drift into pop metal. Pop is popular for a reason, people understand it and it makes them move.
“We tried our concept at a private party. It was cool and we were rocking out poolside as people had a really good time.”
Sometimes that’s all an artist needs to be successful.
Something refreshing about Pressure is their devotion to the genre and the local scene. Social media, especially when everything has become over-saturated, can be daunting at times. The future of promotion may be lifted from the past.
Forsell shared, “We go to a lot of other bands’ shows because we really think it’s important to support the local scene. Especially now when the pandemic has hit our business really hard. There are so many stages and clubs closing down. We need to support each other if we shall have a live scene that is working well after the world has become somewhat normal again.”
Touring is vital to sustainability, but while profit and live inspiration is on hold, writing new material and practicing performances is important to a band’s goals. Pressure wants to broaden their audience and bring their sound and style to the masses. If they continue to focus on the local scene and creating quality content, then they will re-enter the international scene with ferocity.
Though Olaf Jönsson sings primarily in Swedish, other European acts have certainly became mainstream without English lyrics. Rammstein’s dominance can’t be stressed enough. The band has flourished, and this is partially due to their melodic metal and stage performance. The rhythm is certainly there for Pressure, but I’m not going to impress anyone by using a translator for the lyrics.
The band released five tracks in 2020. “Osårbar” and “Ännu Mer” have a straight ‘80’s metal feel similar to Mötley Crüe. The riffs are infectious and the tempo is perfect for bobbing your head or tapping your foot. Song structure starts to become more seasoned and modern on “The Shadow,” however. This is a great example of solid metal vocal rhythm and is a hit, perhaps Pressure’s best song, and the Swedish metal sound is on full display. This would be a great end to an opening set if their Scandinavian brethren Ghost were headlining.
“Beaten But Not Dead” and “Julstress” regress a tad on vocal flow and structure, which are important elements to creating anything pop—whether that is dance, punk or metal. Pressure rediscovers its guitar cadence on “Julstress,” and the chorus is catchy, but the verse rhythm needs more consistency.
In 2021, Pressure released “What You See (Is What You Get)” and they clearly found a distinctive sound that blends what they’re going for. They have been able to capture four decades of metal into one track. The guitar becomes more modern, like Avenged Sevenfold, as does the structure. With the vocals becoming spoken word before a nice solo, it reminds rock fans of Five Finger Death Punch.
With future releases “No One Can Hear You” and “Path of a Shadow” in queue, Pressure has the ability to put together a quality album, but must truly stick to the pop metal sound for consistency. It’s a popular genre that has international appeal, and the band has the talent to gain a massive following. The lyrics are there, and the musical philosophy and stories are greatly appreciated as well—as proven on their website because they share their lyrics. It’s like looking in an old CD jacket which I love. They are doing it the right way; they are paying attention to the local scene, working on their craft, and eventually they could entertain the masses by bringing generations of metalheads together. They could because they know how to adapt and relate.
“And tell me again about the man who went insane.” -Shinedown, “Left Out”
It’s the most wonderful… I’m not going to finish that sentence, Christmas is pretty wonderful… time of the year. Shoot, I did it anyway.
As I noted in January, I’m a spoiled college football fan. I have connections to both Alabama and Ohio State. The former is where I went to grad school and the latter is where I fell in love with a community as a child. Fittingly, both schools are two-seeds on opposite sides of the NCAA Tournament bracket this season.
I cheer for six universities in college basketball. With the addition of Georgetown and St. Bonaventure making the tournament, I’m preparing myself for a very anxious weekend. At least both New Mexico and New Mexico State had pathetic and disappointing seasons, so I don’t have to stress over anything in the Land of Enchantment. Well, except for the state itself.
I love the stress. Perhaps I should start searching for other schools to cheer for in their respective dominance. Oregon track, USC water polo, Cornell debate, Webster chess…
Why can’t I just be happy?
It was 38 years ago. My mother reached Georgetown Hospital, and shortly after I was born in the early hours of the morning. There I was, jaundice with a cone head and peeing all over the place—so I’m told. I’m a normal color, my head flattened out and I try to go get through the day with some decency now.
My father went to Georgetown, so did my sister and my two stepbrothers. I was born in D.C. and was too young to remember the school’s golden years, but I was alive, nonetheless, drooling at the television, processing the flickering lights and nothing more.
Now, decades later, I still cheer for the Hoyas. Patrick Ewing is at the helm trying to accomplish what he did as a player for the university in the ‘80s. Their run through the Big East Tournament was unprecedented, but even more moving. The great John Thompson, ex-Hoya coach and, more importantly, dominating and significant civil presence, passed away last year, and there appears to be some inspired play from the Hoyas of late. This season is dedicated to Big John, and a win in the NCAA Tournament would make it just that much sweeter.
Game Attire: Navy Hoyas’ long-sleeve shirt with Jack the Bulldog’s rough face on it and a white towel draped over my shoulder.
Prediction: Sweet 16
We moved to Dublin, Ohio after leaving D.C. The small town outside of Columbus was a beautiful area, and the love for Ohio State everything stretched well past our borders. We fell in love with football, but the university is powerful in all athletics.
The basketball program has always been solid, but the last time they won the national championship was in 1960. Of course, the football team is in contention every year it seems for their respective title.
In 2007, the Buckeyes made the championship game, only to fall short. In 2012, they returned to the Final Four, but lost their semifinal game. This year may be different. The team reached the Big Ten championship game, and the conference was the best in the country. They won’t need much luck to get back to the Final Four, but I better not take any chances with tradition.
Game Attire: Dark gray Buckeyes’ long-sleeve shirt with buckeye leaves that dangerously resemble marijuana and a scarlet hat.
Prediction: Elite Eight
The year I graduated from high school was a trying one to say the least. I was at the latter end of my teenage angst, and situations beyond my control led me to believe a fresh start was needed. I packed up and drove almost 2,000 miles east and settled in the small peaceful confines of a town in western New York.
St. Bonaventure had a beautiful campus and great people. I enjoyed my year spent at the university, I even made one of my best friends for life in that short time, and we’re still in contact today. However, timing is everything, and though I loved trekking through a foot of snow to get to class at times, the small-town feel and proximity to Buffalo and Toronto, I mind just wasn’t ready for college.
Though I left school early, that time spent at St. Bonaventure made me appreciate their basketball program and I will remain loyal. Watching the games in their small campus gym and how the community adored the Bonnies was special. The program has reached the Final Four once (1970). Bob Lanier led that great squad, and the team has had some good rosters since. This year is one of the better ones, and hopefully they can get past LSU and knock off Michigan, Ohio State’s sworn enemy, in the second round.
Game Attire: Gray Bonnie’s T-Shirt and maybe something brown lying around the house to hold.
Prediction: Round of 32
The Crimson Tide are my newest love. I started my higher education at St. Bonaventure and finished my graduate studies at Alabama. Perhaps another school will earn my loyalty if I pursue a doctorate. For now, Alabama is the freshest fandom.
I’ve never felt so welcomed in a university setting. The faculty was tremendous and I’m still in contact with some of my professors. No, I’m not a brown-noser; I’ve just been enchanted by southern charm. Though, the humidity isn’t my favorite.
Like Ohio State, Alabama is most known for their talent on the gridiron, claiming their 18th national championship this past season. The basketball program has a great chance to help Alabama become only the second school in history to hold both men’s basketball and football titles in the same year (Florida, 2007). Let’s not get ahead of ourselves quite yet; that’s some serious jinxing right there.
On an awful side note, those Gator teams beat the Buckeyes in both basketball and football to claim their titles. Ugh.
Game Attire: Crimson Alabama T-shirt with angry elephant head stating “Roll Tide!” and a khaki hat with Big Al and the “Bama” scroll.
Prediction: Final Four
Just My Luck
Three of these four schools are in the same region. The NCAA Tournament committee is obviously against me. They sit in their little board room, ties loosened, passing around pitchers of what we all hope is water, laughing at an embarrassing candid photo of me taped to the whiteboard. How rude. Ideally, like the College Football Playoff championship, I would want all four of my teams in the Final Four. The only possible final-two pairing can be Alabama and Ohio State. Interesting. See above, and also way above.
Or would I want this?
I wouldn’t win, again. Perhaps having the teams I support play each other early erases any false sense of hope. Friday, I start my journey, but Saturday will be an all-day fest. How early is too early to start drinking? If tip-off is past noon in one time zone, does that validate opening a morning beer?
Friday and Saturday, and with any luck Sunday and Monday, I will be on my sunken cushion of the couch, skipping any temptation to be active outside or healthy in general, and superstitiously watch each of my teams advance or fall. I’m hoping for pure joy, will settle for a blend of bliss and agony, and ultimately wish I’m not completely tormented.
Let’s not forget about the total importance of this year’s NCAA Tournament, however. It’s been two years since a champion was crowned in front of a raucous crowd in a sold-out stadium. Then something terrible happened, and now society is gradually returning to form.
When the referee tosses the ball up at mid-court at the start of the first tournament game this afternoon, a shining moment will take place. Something close to normal for all of us. We should all be happy, for we have madness.
A trend in rock music is taking place, and it’s welcomed. As noted with Alien Feelings and Tarah Who?, there has been a surge in ‘90’s grunge influence. Freedivers continues that rush of nostalgia, but falls even deeper into the past.
Spain is a country known for his incredible rhythm and masterful guitar. One of my favorite composers is Isaac Albéniz, and though mostly known as a pianist, his pieces have been transposed beautifully to the classical guitar. The moment I heard “Asturias (Leyenda)” I knew I had to learn it. I did my best piano rendition, but is mostly performed on an acoustic six-string now.
Over a century since Suite Española’s release, there has been plenty of instrumental innovation and progressive composition. Though many older classical listeners may not consider the grunge movement of the ‘90s worthy of recognition, many artists embrace the overall importance of that rock era.
Rafa d Villegas, bassist of Freedivers, explained, “We are influenced by the sound of Seattle of the ‘90s, it is undeniable. We have grown up listening to bands like Nirvana, Stone Temple Pilots and Pearl Jam.”
Yet, bands don’t just stick to one genre or era for inspiration. They incorporate different styles and branch well into the past to craft a song. For example, Iron Maiden samples “Astrurias (Leyenda)” in their track “Mother Russia.”
Freedivers is no different. From Barcelona, the trio of Villegas, Sergi and Xavi Blanch display classical training in their abilities and song structure.
During 2019, Villegas was beginning to find his sound. He had developed some decent riffs and solid lyrics, but was in search for talent to finish and produce the songs. Brothers Sergi (guitar and vocals) and Xavi (drums) then joined him, and Freedivers was formed. The three Spaniards then added their personal touches and created with equal collaboration.
“It’s been said that our music is indie/rock,” Villegas said. “We talk about personal stories; we believe that they are the same stories as anyone else and that connects us with people.”
Relation is key, especially when writing for a rock audience. Writing, however, is all they can do at the moment.
It has officially been over a year since the world entered a global pandemic. As is the case with most acts, the lack of touring can hinder an artist’s progression. Exposure is key during a time like this, especially with things seemingly on the swing upward to being social once more. Real social, not social networking. Ironically, to sustain the possibility of future social gatherings such as concerts, bands must rely on online promotion.
“The pandemic situation made down most of our plans,” Villegas shared. “Any tour or concert was canceled. That is why we have tried to promote the sale of records and merchandising. These are hard times.”
The band is currently writing and recording and making the best use of their time. Freedivers is looking forward to getting back on stage and making a connection with their audience. It’s not about the size of the crowd, it’s about the magical environment created by musician and listener. The band is capable of providing such as aura with their sound, and live music always heightens the senses.
Freedivers released their debut EP, Upside Down, on Feb. 6. The track listing is a gathering of pre-released singles they have shared since 2019.
Perhaps “The End Of The World” isn’t the most tasteful title for an opening track, but that’s just the times, and no one with a practical mind should take issue to it. The song provides a feel for Freedivers’ sound, and listeners can surely catch the ‘90’s rock influence through the distorted riffs and even Sergi’s vocals. It creates a standard for what is to come, and that’s part of a solid opening track’s responsibility.
The beginning of “Under Arrest” is dangerously close to “Have You Ever Seen Rain?” by Creedence Clearwater Revival. Not like there’s anything wrong with that; they are certainly a band other rock artists should like being mentioned with. The song structure flows well, and the chorus has an easy sing-a-long start, but also shows how the trio can harmonize their vocals. That is difficult to find right now in rock.
“Isolation” again showcases the band’s influences. The sound and vocal cadence is very ‘90s. The monotone drawl of grunge is apparent on this track, the guitar style is similar to Filter or Oasis, and it captures the essence of the era. Again, as I have pointed out before, it’s a good era of rock to incorporate while creating new music.
Freedivers slow down the tempo with “Walking Upside Down” which balances out the EP. It’s a beautiful melody with a deeper, poetic message. Every album needs a ballad such as this because it’s important to the overall flow. It also displays range and versatility in a genre where bands are sometimes labeled as having the same sound throughout. The old, “each track sounded like one big song” complaint. You can say that about a lot of popular artists and genres these days, however.
“Freerider” is the hit of the extended play. The track has a jam-band feel that was once perfected by Counting Crows or Sister Hazel in the ‘90s, but the rhythm definitely has roots that can be traced back to the ‘70s even. The small solo is fantastic and completes the song, and it’s a tune that can get stuck in your head. Upside Down is a complete EP.
The Spanish trio has a great sound and it comes from a variety of inspiration and overall understanding of music. They have captured a time and are re-releasing the experience through their uniqueness as an artist. Another win for the future of rock music.
She took the stage; stories permanently etched from wrist to neck, her hair shaved on one side with the rest parted, allowing the opposite full strands to dangle and wildly match the energetic performance. By the end, red had stained her guitar strings and dripped to the floor from her fingertips, the strobe spotlighting the blood through the haze. For Tarah G. Carpenter, music is in her, and she’s fine exposing her passion.
Tarah Who?. It’s not a question that needs to be answered. Tarah Who? is a rising statement in the progressive punk/grunge scene. However, the duo of Carpenter and Coralie “Coco” Herve is prepared to become a brand whether the world is ready or not.
They are an independent band. Though the industry has been over-saturated with amateur acts for quite some time, Tarah Who? has built a solid following the last half-decade. Yet, their end game isn’t necessarily overwhelming stardom, but rather motivating others to push through the obstacles that make sustainability difficult in the music industry—and having fun throughout the process.
Carpenter said, “I hope to inspire women to play and dare to do what they want to do, and everyone as a matter of fact, regardless of their sexuality, religion, race, etc. My end game is: if WE can do it, EVERYONE can.”
Though people have fought mightily for progression, female lead singers in rock music still must overcome hindrances that delay recognition and relevance.
Herve explained, “I don’t understand that in 2021 there is still this thinking. The best will be for artists to be respected for their art and not because they are a man or a woman.”
Tarah Who? has not only showcased their talents, but has proven their value, and are leading a new charge to shift the narrative.
Carpenter was born in France. Many, especially visitors who have only experienced the country through stories, view the culture as romantic in a sense. Their musical tastes are deep and moving, and many French audiences expect poetic lyrics and masterful production from classical to pop. At 14, Carpenter decided to self-teach herself the drums. At the time, it wasn’t common for a lady to be aggressively slamming sticks against cymbals, snares and toms.
“I remember when my dad said that it was not an instrument for girls. I didn’t take it as a rebellion but more like ‘I don’t care I still want to do it’,” Carpenter said.
Even the drum teacher at a music school in Paris brushed away her aspirations based solely on assumption. Little did they know, Carpenter had already been practicing over tracks and playing in a band. It wasn’t the norm, it was too different, and it had been that way for quite some time.
“I found out a year ago or so that my mom had always wanted to learn how to play the drums, but my mom was born in 1943, so for her time it was really not something girls, women did. Especially after the war.”
The norm had been challenged.
Though she was an experienced stateside traveler since she was 10, Carpenter moved to the United States as an exchange student at 15. Positioned in Kentucky, she fell in love with America, though she had always been drawn to the culture. Her English teacher in France would praise her grasp of the English language. After earning her baccalaureate, she saved all her money and headed way west at 21 with just a guitar strapped around her shoulder and one piece of luggage in tow.
It was just years before she was learning to break musical barriers on the drums, and now she had thrown herself into a sea of intimidation and dreamers. She was in Los Angeles. With no plan or contacts and little money, she landed in Koreatown, and she knew her voice had to become louder than all the screamers.
A writer needs to be knowledgeable in a variety of industry and societal aspects. They don’t just understand their genre and instrument, they understand music as a whole. They don’t just understand their experiences, they understand the issues that affect their surroundings and beyond. They find a relation in human behavior through past actions and modern affairs. They’re capable of processing an obscene amount of content, and using the information to produce something to share with the world they are emotionally embedded in.
They also need to be able to rock out.
As Tarah Who? was first being formed, another French-native moved to Los Angeles. Herve came to the states from Brittany, France, but her and Carpenter’s similarities and bond didn’t just stop at language and culture. She was a drummer since 10 and a well-versed music lover. After Coco graduated from the Musicians Institute in 2018, it was time for the duo to define and perfect their sound and start their legacy.
Music has the tendency to repeat itself every three decades. This doesn’t necessarily mean the sound is the same, but rather the style and attitude. The ‘60s and ‘90s brought us great rock, boy bands, and emotion; the ‘70s and ‘00s also gave the world great rock, disco and dance and high energy; the ‘80s and ‘10s spread pop throughout every genre, fantastic experimentation and some strange fashion choices. The ‘20s will give us yet another rock revolution.
In the ‘60s and ‘90s, societal conflict led to progressive voices rising from every form of status, and the start of the ‘20s have been no different, maybe even more demanding in that sense thus far. Also, perhaps these chance comparisons are subconsciously due to the generational bonds we have with our parents, or perhaps, on a less complex psychological note, we’re just in need or nostalgic influence. Fans get that with Tarah Who?.
“I have never written a song just to write a song,” Carpenter shared.
Does this signify the return of the quality album in the industry, something that has vanished since probably the ‘00s in rock music? As a ‘90’s teen, a CD was something of value, and every last track was part of that experience. In the modern world of digital downloads, all a band needs is a hit or two, and maybe land the audio for a commercial.
Both Carpenter and Herve have deep-seeded roots in “older” rock. From strong female-led ‘90’s acts such as Alanis Morissette, Bikini Kill, Björk, The Cranberries, The Distillers, Garbage and Sonic Youth to classics rockers like Bon Jovi, Heart, Joan Jett and Journey, the women of Tarah Who? have a superior catalog of influence.
Her love for these artists, and her drive, allowed Carpenter to enter the industry and a valuable network.
Jason Orme was, and still is, an established guitarist from the ‘90s on. He served as Morrisette’s guitarist, and provided support for other strong female artists such as Sarah McLachlan, Natasha Bedingfield, Michelle Branch, Idina Menzel and Kelly Clarkson. He has since added production to his credits.
Orme first met Carpenter when she was a teenager. He was on tour with Morrisette and they were playing a show in Paris. Carpenter attended the concert and was able to linger enough after the show to have a conversation with Orme. They would connect each time France was a tour stop, and after Carpenter moved to Los Angeles, their contact became more frequent. It wasn’t until 10 years after they met that Orme began to truly hear what Carpenter had to offer, and with production now a part of his resume, the timing worked out perfectly.
Orme said of their relationship, “It just kind of developed over time. She’s really got a voice, and she has something to say.”
Carpenter fits in well with the role of a strong female voice who has the ability to reach an audience. Orme has always respected her work ethic and independence, and it’s partially why he was excited to work with her and Herve.
“I have a lot of respect for her because I think she really sticks to her gut feeling on things. If it doesn’t feel right in her gut, and if she’s not representing herself in a way that she really wants to, then she doesn’t do it.”
Though Tarah Who? is in a good position when it comes to their genre, they still face an uphill battle. They have their sound, they have an audience, but now there is a call for broader respect.
Progressive punk, grunge, hard rock and other closely-related genres have one thing in common: they are male-dominated. Yet, female-led acts such as Evanescence, Flyleaf, Halestorm, Lucina Coil and The Pretty Reckless have been able to maintain successful careers in the mainstream rock world. Not to mention the previously aforementioned acts dominated the ‘70s-‘10s. The industry isn’t necessarily the issue, though.
Gender norms aren’t something that musical artists themselves live by, but rather audiences and listeners tend to be more focused on what is standard.
Carpenter said, “We had an interview with a French radio show not too long ago and there seems to be, still, an issue with female artists playing rock, metal, etc. Here in L.A., I feel that women, in general, are able to express themselves more in whatever area they are in. It is very refreshing.”
Cultural differences and mindsets are important to consider for international acts, and when placed in the right scene, it enables any musician with more opportunity and to be taken more seriously. And though the artist shares a common ideology with their colleagues, ignorance and sometimes strategy can delay progression.
Orme added, “I think women are held to a different standard sometimes than men. That’s something they still have to fight.”
There is also the danger that comes along with being a female in not only a male-dominated genre, but in front of male-dominated audiences. Precautions need to be taken, and there have been instances where both Carpenter and Herve have felt uncomfortable, even at risk from persistent vulgar drunks.
“We usually are able to either calm them down or they get kicked out,” Carpenter explained. “We as artists can’t really get into it since it is also our show on the line.”
It is a difficult balance. Carpenter and Herve, who tour alone most times, must be careful of not only the information they provide, but from any sort of physical altercation or theft. On the other hand, they also have a name to keep and a brand to promote. The duo does it the right way: through their music and onstage presence. They don’t need shock value or degrading sexiness to prove they belong or draw an audience in, and most spectators appreciate the genuine act.
In 2014, Tarah Who? released their debut album, Little Out There. It screamed progressive punk and grunge with loud rhythm, low riffs and heavy distortion and Carpenter’s signature blunt lyrics.
Carpenter admitted of her style, “I am not good at making up stories or using metaphors. When I write I have this burst of emotions, and I am about to explode. Well, I actually do end up in tears of anger or sadness. For a few minutes, I am just writing and writing until my hand hurts and almost until the dark cloud is gone. I feel like I can breathe again.”
Her methods are full of emotion and energy, but nothing is ever forced. Everything is developed with thought. After Little Out There, Tarah Who? released three EPs, Federal Circle of Shame (2016), Half Middle Child Syndrome (2017) and 64 Women (2020). Recently, a slew of singles have been available for streaming, including their latest release on Feb. 16, “Manners.”
Though many of Tarah Who?’s songs contain aggressive riffs, anger and sadness, like “Copycat,” “Pantomath” and “Swallow That Pill,” the band does showcase versatility. “Human To Be” slows the tempo and promotes acceptance and hope within personal frustration, and “Hurt,” “14 Months” and “In A Rush” bring a deeper, softer musical touch to their cadence.
Tarah Who? has shifted their sound a tad. Little Out There had more of a standard ‘90’s rock feel, especially on tracks such as “Rainy Day” and “Too Much Thinking.” The best thing about the album, however, is full balance. It’s loud, heavy, up-tempo, but can shift and transition into melodious ballad songs like “Here All Ears” without any abrupt choppiness. In music, or at least in the past, it’s not just about inner-song structure, but album structure as well.
Releasing singles and EPs are a newer strategy recycled from decades ago. It works on many levels, especially for independent bands. However, Tarah Who? has proven they can write an album, and another full release like Little Out There, not necessarily a retreat to the sound, but rather the structure, may push them further into the scene—and even more so in the community.
The EP title 64 Women isn’t just some random grouping of females; it has significance. On Nov. 19, 2014, 64 women were detained at an immigration detention center in downtown Los Angeles. Carpenter and Herve also reference the Manchester bombing at Ariana Grande’s concert on May 22, 2017 in the track “Numb Killer.” Through the hard riffs, the punk-grunge sound and attitude, there are important messages connected to Tarah Who?’s music. Carpenter sings about accepting yourself, loving one another despite our physical and ideological differences, and affairs that affect society as a whole.
Tarah Who? can possibly be an influencer—an important one, that is, not the pointless millionaires on social media. Fame isn’t a primary aspiration because there are drawbacks to that level of status. It’s sometimes just about developing a core audience in order to make a living and keep doing what an artist loves to do. That happens on and off the stage.
Carpenter said, “I think that it is the responsibility of any influencers, musician or not, to inspire others in what you believe is right. If you are able to make an impact on someone, you should try to make a good impact. For instance, voting, Black Lives Matter, etc.”
One such cause in Carpenter’s heart is the LGBTQ+ community. “For communities like the LGBTQ+, the way I am making an impact is by not hiding, nor do I need to mention it on every post. The way I see it is that if I want the LGBTQ+ to be ‘normalized’ (because I think it is normal in the first place) is just to be. Do your thing.”
She lives her life as she chooses, and if she receives any flack for her style or preferences, she realizes that sometimes reaction is useless. It’s regression in a way. When issues are brought to light, and norms are challenged, it’s about progression, and the petty arguments only hinder our development as a society.
Orme added to Carpenter’s plight, “The thing that always impresses me about her is her drive. I think Tarah can keep moving forward and do what she wants, but she’s putting in the work of probably 20 people.”
What’s most impressive is that Tarah Who? remains an independent band, which comes with freedom. However, there are the financial uncertainties and the stresses of booking gigs and managing tour logistics. Yet, one of the main issues an unsigned artist faces is being taken seriously. Tarah Who? works just as hard, or even harder, than other acts in the industry; they don’t sit around and wait for opportunities to be presented.
Orme said, “In my experience they are some of the hardest working musicians I’ve ever met. Tarah is so dedicated and their story is deep and touches on so many facets of what it takes to be an artist and remain true to what you want to put out into the world.”
Tarah Who? has a great opportunity to lead a new charge of female empowerment, as well as being an influential act for young musicians. It’s the story you always hear about, but one in which the ending still needs to be written. Carpenter and Herve can be more than a talented rock duo, they can be an industry symbol of perseverance and progression.
Herve simply said, “I hope we can, as humans and with our music, make the world better. I know it’s cliché, but that’s what I’m hoping for.”
Tarah Who? is doing exactly that. Cliché or not, that’s something we can all aspire to achieve with our respective passions and talents. You just have to go for it whether the world is ready or not.
Carpenter added, “We want an open-minded audience.”
Experimentation in music, especially when mixing genres, has led to progression within the industry. Vulgarithm is looking for similar success, and is using an old style to help.
Vulgarithm is a one-man outfit created by Andy “Dirt” McGurk. With a decade of rock and metal experience, he decided to make a change and challenge his artistic abilities.
McGurk explained, “I felt my previous solo stuff started getting stale and I needed a creative reboot.”
Bands, or artists, in need of invention look to the technique of blending styles, or in many pop culture cases, collaboration. Look what’s going on with country and hip-hop, for example. Blending sounds is different, though, especially when it’s one person creating and programming the composition. McGurk knew what he liked, knew what was becoming flat, and decided to venture into the uncertain world of providing unique content.
Based in the U.K., McGurk has concentrated on music since he was a child. There wasn’t a thought toward anything other for his future. He learned the piano at six and eventually picked up the guitar. He studied his craft, learned structure and sound through listening to songs and attending festivals, and eventually followed the industry as it has drastically shifted the last two-plus decades. He realized a personal change was inevitable and vital to sustain in an overcrowded scene.
Vulgarithm’s style could best be described as riff rave. It takes deeper riffs, especially the low distortion popularized in the ’90s and 2000s, and mixes in some 90s dance music. Sound strange? There’s a little more to it, so it’s a tad difficult to explain. Yet, within the variety of beats offered, nu-metal is also present.
“Bands with big riffs and grooves always stick with me,” McGurk said, “but the two biggest influences on my writing has been anything Trent Reznor or Maynard James Keenan have done. Constantly reinventing themselves to make their music unique.”
Those inspirations, and also the vocal tone of Serj Tankian at times, can be heard. More so, the bass usage is similar to The Prodigy and the nu-metal act Ultraspank. Yet, he also mixes in remains of the old rap-rock genre on some tracks when the vocals are added. A good comparison may be Hed PE.
Then there are the visual elements, and this derives from McGurk’s time as an audience member watching bands such as Chemical Brothers, Underworld and Orbital. I’ve personally seen Nine Inch Nails and Tool before, and the production quality of their performances is incredible. It’s an art; it’s an act. Of course, they have the funding to offer that level of entertainment on a grand scale, but adding those elements are important factors to consider.
The combination of visuals with energetic sound can take a live show to the next level. However, there first needs to be live shows.
Vulgarithm uses projections and costumes to enhance the experience for its audience. Unfortunately, there haven’t been many performances to showcase its fresh act and sound. In fact, the only shows McGurk has been able to share are virtual, having never played in public as Vulgarithm due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
McGurk said about his shows, “I’ve had a grand total of 3, maybe 4. Sadly, all of these have been online as Vulgarithm has only been around since the start of 2020.” He added, “My main aim as an individual performer is to look engaging as well as sounding good.”
As many in the industry know, live shows are where artists make a majority of their money, and for McGurk to miss out on that type of revenue and promotion is difficult to swallow. In the meantime, it’s about finding other avenues in order to sustain.
“This is where Vulgarithm has to step up now,” McGurk explained. “It has only known lock-down in its existence so I’ve had to really push the word out through music, videos, online shows, and merch. Anything other than gigging to let the general public know I exist.”
In 2019, Vulgarithm released Share If You Agree, and offered its sophomore EP, Share If You Disagree, last year. The single “Out My Way!” was recently shared on Feb. 19. More tracks will be released leading up to McGurk’s next EP, Share In The 3rd Degree.
There are a couple tracks by Vulgarithm that best defines the sound McGurk is attempting to develop and perfect. “Piece of Shame” off Share If You Agree provides listeners with an idea of Vulgarithm’s influences. It has similar energy to the nu-metal group Spineshank. McGurk really finds his sound and attitude on “The Vulgar Rhythm” and “I Cannot Take This Country Seriously.” The latter is his hit, in my opinion, and it’s because the song is one of the most consistently rhythmic and structured tracks McGurk has produced.
Though Vulgarithm is in no doubt creative and versatile, which is most apparent in its tracks “Still Have Doubts” and “I Can Only Find Nothing,” there is a small issue to consider. Occasionally, when blending styles, consistency suffers. You can use different styles to make a unique sound, but it’s better to keep that unique sound instead of flirting with other combinations on the same track or album. Experimentation is a necessity for the creative mind, but so is organization for the final product.
There is some Reznor in “Out My Way!” but it also displays Vulgarithm’s ability to make infectious hard rock beats. On the contrary, it also makes abrupt changes to the sound, including the insertion of the Independence Day speech. No complaint there. Great movie, great speech. The one thing Vuglarithm can work on is its in-song transitions, and then it will have its unique sound.
Nine Inch Nails, Tool, The Prodigy and Chemical Brothers maintained their sound and style, and they are definitely great acts to be influenced by. In the case of Maynard James Keenan, when a new sound was developed, it wasn’t developed necessarily through Tool, but rather A Perfect Circle or Puscifer.
What Vulgarithm is best at, in my mind, is rhythmic nu-metal, or perhaps industrial metal. There are parts of each song that McGurk can use. He has a good hard rock vocal range and tackles issues with his lyrics, he can make excellent beats and riffs, and can visual stimulate an audience. The key is bringing those aspects together more consistently and organizing each song and EP for a better flow. And if he can do that, he has the ability to become a known brand.
Heavy rhythmic acts, whether straight riffs or with the addition of synthesizers, do work on an international level. Danish band Volbeat has some of the best cadence for a hard rock band, especially with the distinctive vocals of Michael Poulsen. However, if Vulgarithm wants to take note of any band to learn from, it would be Rammstein. The Germans not only blend hard rock distortion with synthesizers almost perfectly, they know how to structure a song from beginning to bridge to end. Not to mention Rammstein is one of the most electrifying live acts in the world. Trust me, I’ve seen them and I will always remember that show.
McGurk is on the right path with Vulgarithm. One thing is for sure, he is creative and true to his style, and once he perfects it, it can take him places.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been problematic for new bands such as Alien Feelings. It also doesn’t help that they’re musicians from a town that doesn’t know much about music outside of the charts.
Alien Feelings formed in Coedpoeth, North Wales. The small village sits outside Wrexham on the industrial borders of North Wales, and there isn’t much of a music scene outside of open mics at the local pub. In a way, a small town with little knowledge of music is a perfect setting to band together like minds. After all, rock music is full of young outcasts primed to prove their worth.
A small town leaves little room for strangers and secrets as well. The band all knew each other, or knew of each other, before forming. Whether it was from school, open mics or being co-workers at the factory, Alien Feelings came together with little hesitation.
Josh Evans explained, “The band formed when I was working on a little home demo and quickly realized I had no clue what I was doing. I had the tunes, just no real knowledge of music production.”
After some group sessions, a brand new musician—not just to the band, but to an instrument—and a fresh demo, Alien Feelings found their sound.
Not every band can create a genre and ooze out utter uniqueness. In fact, they shouldn’t have to. Rock is rock, and Alien Feelings fits directly into the genre because, well, they know how to rock.
This decade we could possibly see another revolution in rock music, similar to the ‘60s and ‘90s. Perhaps the thirty-year full circle is some subconscious generational bond between ourselves and our parents, but we don’t need to psycho-analyze something we don’t want to hear. We just want good quality music.
The boys in Alien Feelings grasp on to ‘60s roots. The Beatles, The Doors and Pink Floyd all serve as influences for the band, but so do acts such as Blink-182, Nirvana, NOFX, Reel Big Fish and Slayer. The artists are well-versed in rock royalty, and it is heard in their sound and through their style.
To expand, there could be some late-20th, early-21st century Aussie influence to consider. The basic and rhythmic distortion sounds a little like Jet and The Vines, as does the shrill raspy vocals—more so to match the latter.
Their music is raw, vibrant and infectious, but the self-loathing emotional theme enchants rockers back to the ‘90s. We shouldn’t, but we strangely enjoy the bittersweet relation of worthlessness and imperfections. These reflections should be shared because they offer hope, especially when the world has provided us with an unprecedented break in normality.
Alien Feelings was ready to release quality tracks, tour the world and leave their mark in rock music. And then, forced seclusion happened. In the modern era of file sharing and streaming, it’s difficult for artists to make money directly from content produced. Their living primarily is made booking gigs, landing tour spots and selling merchandise. A band shirt at a concert isn’t overpriced just because the tour dates and locations on the back cost more to print.
Evans explained, “We missed out on a few gigs early 2020, including The Brighton Great Escape festival and The Day and Night Café in Manchester. We have been trying to keep really active on all our socials.”
This unexpected pause needs to be utilized wisely, especially for bands who are just entering the scene. Staying active on social media is a full-time job it seems, but being prepared for when restrictions are lifted is just as important.
Evans added, “We have been writing like mad.”
An artist’s mind is dangerous, and it needs to be occupied. Perseverance is important for bands that have arrived at a bad time and fortune seems unreachable in more ways than one. They need to do what they do best: create.
Bondage & Lipstick was released Sep. 4, 2020. This four-song EP is a preview of what Alien Feelings is capable of achieving in the rock world.
The mini-album opens with “Good Looking.” This is a quintessential rock song from theme, to sound to energy. Their guitar play shines in this track and defines their style right from the beginning through the solo and to the roaring end.
“Scream,” in my mind, is a perfect opening track though it sits second on the EP. It starts tame, then gradually becomes aggressive, loud and encourages listeners to do exactly what the song’s title asks. When Alien Feelings gets back on the road, I can visualize this opening the show and setting the tone for what’s to follow.
“Lie To Me” is the hit on the EP. The bass is established, the melody is extremely catching, the lyrical relation is simple and can spread, and the guitar rhythm leading into the bridge is pristine. I instantly thought The Fratellis, Alien Feelings’ U.K. brethren and one of the more genius acts in rock music, when I heard this song, and that is a good thought. It seems like it could have been written for Eyes Wide, Tongue Tied, but that is more of a compliment rather than a suggestion.
Alien Feelings gets more autobiographical with “Town That Made Me,” but coming-of-age songs are always appreciated and valued. The tempo softens a tad, but the drums and vocal rhythm, along with a classic guitar solo, help this song toward a fantastic lyrical bridge. Take something like “Story Of My Life” by Social Distortion and add some quick montage storytelling like Butch Walker does in “Going Back/Going Home” or “Summer of ’89.” The tempo increases toward the end, but perfectly leaves us wishing for a full album.
“One, two princes kneel before you.” -Spin Doctors, “Two Princes“
I’m a spoiled college football fan, and my two favorite schools, Alabama and Ohio State faced off in the National Championship Monday night. It was bound to happen. The Crimson Tide defeated the Buckeyes 52-24, giving unbiased fans an unfulfilled but predictable ending to a tumultuous year, and me some pretty impractical anxiety.
The what-ifs leading up to contest actually started at the beginning of the season. First, I was worried if there would even be a season, but when the first pigskin was kicked off the tee in the Southeastern Conference, there was hope. The Big 10 finally obliged to the fan and financial pressures and allowed games to be played, and the possibility of the Tide and Buckeyes meeting in January became real.
Of course, there were plenty of speed bumps and stop signs along the way. Cancellations, postponements and some sketchy conference rule changes stretched that hope and reality until the end of the regular season.
Though there were a scarce amount of fans dotting the aqua seats of Hard Rock Stadium for the College Football Playoff title match, the feel before kickoff was as if the camera was hiding a sell-out crowd. After the ball sailed through the air for a touchback, I forgot how anti-climactic kickoffs are. And then one play later, OSU running back Trey Sermon got injured, and that set the tone for the night.
In 1988, we moved to Dublin, Ohio. Just outside Columbus, we were in the shadow of a mammoth horseshoe that was speckled with scarlet every Saturday in fall. With Georgetown and Southern Connecticut State roots, we had a college football void to fill. Ohio State University became that program.
The state of Ohio has always been perplexing, and I’m not speaking of the strange reliance politicians have with its population. No matter where you go, somehow you’re going to meet someone from the small Midwestern state, and chances are they will be OSU supporters. With over half a million living alumni already, the university’s enrollment ranked third in the 2019-20 academic year with 61,391 students—and I didn’t go to school there.
Still, Ohio is a community not just confined to each big or rural city, and one that welcomed my family. I grasped the culture at a very young age, and though short and broken, our new roots were planted, nonetheless. And adopted and experienced memories are engrained.
The impact of Sermon’s injury was eerily similar to Ted Ginn Jr.’s in the 2006 BCS National Championship against Florida. The Gators routed the Buckeyes 41-14. Ginn returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown (obviously kickoffs were much more climatic back then), but sprained his left foot during the celebration. He didn’t play the rest of the game. That changed the dynamic of the game greatly. Monday night, Sermon injured his shoulder and was taken to the hospital shortly after. The good news is that Sermon is doing well, the bad news is that his injury was seemingly not as significant as Ginn’s 2006 debacle.
Alabama was just too good this season, and it was proven early and often—most notably, by their three-headed monster: Mac Jones, Najee Harris and Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith.
Smith is the first wide receiver to win the Heisman since Desmond Howard did for Michigan in 1991. The quick and uncoverable wideout proved why he was worthy of the honor. In the first half alone he set a College Football Playoff record by snatching 12 catches for 215 yards and three touchdowns. He got injured early in the second half and did not return.
Smith also can be remembered for his game-winning catch in the 2017 National Championship as a freshman. The great thing about memories is that new ones can always be created.
Nearly three decades removed from Ohio, with my loyalty challenged via an acceptance letter, I decided to attend the University of Alabama. Oh, how I used to loath those crimson tops and white pants, but I soon became accustomed to the classic look and unmatchable passion of storied tradition. We visited Tuscaloosa when the Crimson Tide hosted the New Mexico State Aggies in September of 2019. My support was solidified when the crowd erupted and the band boomed after Alabama scored on their first offensive play of the game. We were also happy the Aggies beat the massive spread.
Though I earned my master’s degree via Alabama’s online platform, our visit to the state was special. Birmingham is an amazing city with important history, and Tuscaloosa is a beautiful gem among an eclectic landscape. People said “hello” on city streets instead of their face buried in a small screen; they waved, offered assistance and smiled.
On game day, the Communications department hosted my family at their tailgate. We gathered on the veranda that overlooked the quad and immersed ourselves in tradition and expected greatness. Southern hospitality on both sides of our shoulders, and below, the Million Dollar Band strutted toward the stadium in perfect formation and tone. They grasped the attention of all, and then students and fans followed the ensemble to the stadium, like the Pied Piper of Hamelin, except with a less-offensive and creepy paraphrase. It was extraordinary—also engrained. It wasn’t just fandom I generously paid for through tuition.
On Monday, The program showed why they are storied, and Nick Saban added to his argument as the greatest college football coach to ever pace the sidelines. The decorated general has now won seven national titles, six at Alabama—the most by a coach in NCAA and university history. It wasn’t just Smith’s legendary performance, or Jones throwing for 464 yards and five touchdowns, or Harris rushing for 79 yards and two touchdowns—doubling his yards from scrimmage and accounting for another score receiving. No, the game didn’t come down to the dominance on the offense and defense, it was the first Alabama drive of the second half that was an interlude to the fat lady’s solo.
The Crimson Tide were up by 18 at halftime, a lead that could have easily vanished with OSU’s offensive firepower. For example, the Buckeyes went 75 yards on three plays in just 1:02 for their first drive of the second half, which ended in a touchdown. Alabama scored a measly 20-yard field goal after receiving the second-half kickoff. It was one of just three series that didn’t end with an Alabama star crossing the goal line, but it took 7:13 off the clock, and allowed for anxiety to trump the hope of a momentum shift. That drive was a great example of well-executed strategy—one that a fan comes to expect in Tuscaloosa.
The Ending We Anticipated
It was a year of disruption and uncertainty, one that is still lingering even after we tossed our 2020 calendars out of our homes and into a fire as if they were cursed. Though there were plenty of arguments of why OSU shouldn’t have been in the playoff, or the field needs to be expanded, or a G5 school should be given an opportunity to compete, they really didn’t matter. Alabama was going to win this championship whether you liked it or not.
Maybe we needed this, though. It could be argued that it was oddly satisfying to have a little normalcy right now. Nothing is more normal than Alabama competing for a national championship. And OSU, for that matter.
I was hoping for this day, but didn’t know what to expect. Even though it could be claimed that I couldn’t lose, I actually couldn’t win. Either way, there would be a sense of disappointment. Maybe that’s the pessimistic narrative the pandemic created. Or maybe it’s just the delusional reasoning of an obsessed fan.
Or maybe we all needed this win. Roll Tide! And, still, Go Bucks!