Cliffs release 13 track LP “Panic Attack”

What is it about three-piece bands hold our attention? How do they slam all that sound into their music? In the grand tradition of Cream, Green Day, Motorhead, Nirvana, The Police and ZZ Top – to name a few – Dallas, Texas, has unleashed another wall-of-sound trio in the band, Clifffs. Out now via State Fair Records is the brutally tight Panic Attack.

Panic Attack has 13 tracks, starting with the first five, “Undone”, “Manatee”, “Into The Salt”, “You Are Freaking Out” and “It’s All Gone Wrong”. Not to be smug, but let’s just say if you’re looking for a go-get ’em cowboy song, these aren’t them. These songs are fury, these songs are punk. Much of the lyrics are repeated, as in the first track: “you know this can’t be undone, you know this can’t be undone” and you get the impression these songs are constant insecurities. It’s just an immediate reaction and the way that front man (and presumably songwriter) John Dufilho delivers the news, he’s pouring his ever-loving soul out to his listeners. He’s joined on bass by Andy Lester, with Bill Spellman at the drum kit. The rhythm section also takes the mics with backing vocals. These songs, while they touch on darker, cynical moods, make the listener feel alive.


The next five tracks, “I Might Try Physics”, “Gotta Fix This Now”, “Panic Attack”, “Dark Clouds” and “Drown The Thought” might better yet be too Sylvia Plath for some, but again, the brightness in the guitars just wash over the insecurities. It’s relatable. It’s real. In the title track, Dufilho has this echoey-way of singing “panic attack” and his “don’t know why” has this strange way of making him sound vulnerable, nearly childlike. The juxtaposition of the two are intriguing and the way he’s presented feels emblematic of the jumble in your head during a panic attack. That anxiety, man, it’s a bitch.

The final three tracks “Stipe”, “Tilt” and “Life” close out a very fine album. All of these songs on Panic Attack are just so tight with the constant barrage of bass, guitar and drums. These instruments play off each other like ping pong to a paddle. In the “Life” the band stakes its claim and sings over-and-over “we’re just getting started, we’re just getting started, just getting started.”


These songs capture the sound of ideas running around in your head. When you have a panic attack, this coming from first-hand experience, you do feel like sound is pelting you from every direction. All 13-tracks on Panic Attack have that insane power. Only, as a listener, you aren’t covering your ears and hoping they shut up. Crank this one loud, music lovers, Clifffs is a band worth jumping into. Fans of Green Day, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Hives, The White Stripes, The Strokes and The Vines and especially Nirvana,  looking to stir up their musical library will want to take a listen to these track with special consideration to the title track, “You Are Freaking Out”, “Stipe” and “Life”.

Kim Muncie

Mike Donello & the New Essentials release eponymous debut EP

Eclectic elements are practically everywhere you look and listen in modern pop music, and Mike Donello & the New Essentials are a perfect example. Donello and his band blend together influences from R&B, indie rock and classic pop in their eponymous debut EP, and though their first record only clocks in at about 19 minutes in total length, it doesn’t come off as limiting nor a scattered effort from a group trying to figure out a new formula. In “Fun and Games,” “A Better Day” and “Setting Things in Motion,” we meet a band that seems more than confident in who they are instrumentally, while in “Roll” and “Southside,” Donello gets us acclimated to a vocal style that is refreshing to hear from a current pop singer to say the least.

Let’s start with the powerful soul ballad “A Better Day.” In this track, Mike Donello’s vocal isn’t as commanding as the strutting guitar to his left is, but that doesn’t mean the two components don’t find an equilibrium in the harmony they create together. The bassline is a beast, and yet it never intrudes upon the presence of the drums – because of the layered master mix, everything is neatly presented to us as a single tour de force without minimizing the impact of any one specific part in the music. It’s calculated and concise producing if I’ve ever heard it, and while this isn’t the only reason Mike Donello & the New Essentials works, it’s a big check in the positive column without a doubt.


“Southside” and “Setting Things in Motion” are more exotically constructed than “Fun and Games” and the poppy “Setting Things in Motion” are, but overall, the fluidity of the content on this disc is something the New Essentials’ peers could really stand to learn a lot from. The liberal aesthetic in the flow of the guitars in “Setting Things in Motion” and “A Better Day” would, on paper, conflict with the plodding bassline-drive of “Southside,” but thanks to the even-handed mixing of the material, there’s rarely a moment where it doesn’t feel as though one song is slipping into the next seamlessly, as they would in an unplanned concert medley. I can’t wait to hear a full-length from these guys; they’ve obviously got the skills, now it’s just a matter of getting them back into the studio.

Melody lovers of all stripes, shapes and sizes cannot afford to miss what Mike Donello & the New Essentials produced in their first studio record, and while it’s geared towards an audience that prefers amalgamative harmonies to minimalist pop simplicity, it has something for almost any listener who enjoys a slick beat and a soft but cunning lead vocal. Indie rock has taken a lot of different forms in the last thirty years, but as long as bands like this one continue to experiment with the limitations of genres, styles and musical creativity in general, we can rest assured that the 2020s will be even more interesting than the preceding decade was.

Kim Muncie 

Merlin releases “Love”

Imagine growing up on the other side of the world and discovering Michael Jackson or Tina Tuner? Imagine using the CDS from your parents music collection to learn English? Merlin, who grew up in Albania and Germany, moved to Boston when she was seven. Her passion for music and instant rapport with her listener is transported in the exciting debut single, “Love”. While her EP is anticipated later in 2020, “Love” is one of those songs hard not to hit repeat.

Lyrically “Love” is very pop. She tells her story – Merlin really connected with me as a listener with the idea of reflecting on past relationship fails. When she sings the unescapable “there’s some things you need to know” she drew me in. The rhythm reminded me a bit of “Puttin’ On The Ritz” from Taco (1983’s synth-pop sensation), but Merlin’s voice and cadence is more gutty, she’s singing from her diaphragm. “I’m the same, ah-ah-ah-, I’m your darker side, ah, ah, ah…love just be patient, these things take some time” she sings.

Musically, this song falls into both the pop genre and dance/techno world. There are some sharp electro streams and in the first few measures, just before Merlin sings her first note, the grooves are bright, almost like stars falling. Perhaps this is a statement that before the darkness, the pain, there were stars in her eyes. I enjoyed the crashing and the unexpected turns. “Love” throws together some interesting beats and companioned with Merlin’s deeper pitch vocals (she’s a lot like Christina Aguilera – but really reigns in her range.). She’s not shrill. She’s not over-singing. Merlin hits the right notes and the overall production of “Love” is tight. This song isn’t lovey-dovey and that’s what gives it such high marks. Merlin explores journeys from the past to show where her present lies. As a listener, you feel invested in her words and her command in this song. “Love” is not a background music song – it’s a sit down and really listen to the words and feel song. I also felt like this song is very 2020 – it’s empowering and it’s electronic and slightly gritty. It’s not Dystopian, but it’s darker than what I thought. The keys and music base is just emblematic of love loss,

mistakes, wish-you-could-take-backs and starting anew. It throbs, and you can almost see and feel the speakers expanding. After a few listeners, I did sense the joy and love coming from Merlin, but her weaving and magic (see what I did there) is that she created this whole experience from many experiences.

One thing that wasn’t as embraced was the ‘echoing’ feature. It’s cool, but I would have preferred to hear more of her vocals organically.

Overall, Merlin’s “Love” hits the right notes and is a knock-out hit for a rising star. Supposing her EP comes out next week, it will likely have some killer beats and her undeniably interesting voice. Kudos to Merlin for sharing her story and spreading “Love” to the masses.

Kim Muncie

White Sun – Behold the Light

Behold the Light brings together world music with hints of reggae and the singer-songwriter tradition. The beautiful vocals which listeners encounter shortly after the song’s beginning reverberate long after the song ceases to play. A male / female dichotomy pushes each side to a tremendous high, while the touching guitars do the same for the vocal / instrumental duality. Fans can strap on a pair of headphones and enjoy Behold the Light in numerous ways, either experiencing it on a surface level, delving into the hopeful lyrical message, or analyzing the dynamic established between the constituent instruments. Whichever way one takes the track in, they will be changed by the song’s closing notes.

We covered White Sun’s Tantric Har last month.

White Sun – Behold the Light (featuring Samuel J) / Domain / Facebook /

Gabriele Saro releases new single “Skippin’”

You have to applaud any musician and songwriting who, in 2020, can stake out individual territory in the increasingly recycled world of pop music. Gabriele Saro accomplishes just that. His single “Skippin’” reflects his grounding in classical music while exhibiting the skills necessary for writing and performing memorable pop songs. He brings these seemingly ill-fitting elements together without the single ever coming off as disjointed or half baked. Instead, it comes across as a well-rounded effort from the first second to the last. You can definitely hear the effect scoring documentary films has had on his songwriting style in this song, despite the presence of vocals, as Saro shows himself to be talented at creating a musical landscape that rewards listener’s attention with a fluid rising and falling, climatic moments that release tension before beginning to build it once again. 


The pop strains of the song are stronger than its more traditional aspects, but you can’t ignore how his classical touches shape the track as well. He engages in a bit of musical sleight of hand at first as “Skippin’” initially begins as a piano and voice duet and it loses nothing when he changes gears and the song transforms into a more straight forward pop number. Those aforementioned classical elements are an undercurrent running throughout the song’s four and a half minute running time yet never diminishes the predominant pop sound of the performance. 

Saro invokes the pop side of “Skippin’” through his use of electronic percussion and synthesizers, but he tastefully employs them throughout the course of the performance and the light touch of the former gives “Skippin’” a consistent pulse appropriate for the song title. The keyboards are warm and emerge from the production mix in controlled waves counterpointing the vocal and filling the song with color. Saro’s intuitive understanding of how to utilize these instruments is on display throughout the song and has an artfulness few of his contemporaries can match. 

The vocal has emotional immediacy that will seal the deal for many listeners. The singing gives itself over to the moment without reservation and invests each line with a level of commitment that gives the performance a real sense of something at stake. Pop music, even with classical conceits like this, often sports lyrics are little more than placeholders unimportant to the overall experience of the song, but “Skippin’” is an exception. The writing doesn’t waste a single word and feels tailored to the track’s needs while still making a personal statement of its own. 


These various threads coalesce into a rich and fully realized songwriting experience that’s capable of engaging listeners emotionally as well as entertaining them. Few modern pop songs can make such a claim. Gabriele Saro’s “Skippin’” has something for everyone who enjoys first class songcraft and it has the potential to appeal to wide audience. It’s little wonder this Italian born composer has garnered numerous awards and seems poised on the cusp of global recognition. His new single may be the moment that pushes his name to the forefront of worldwide acclaim.

Kim Muncie

Robert Vincent – In This Town You’re Owned (CD)

Flaunting the wide reach of Americana in 2020, the latest, next best shot at growing the genre into a much deservedly wider following is based in Liverpool. On his third album, Robert Vincent puts forth a collection of songs that would make Guy Clark proud.

Thankfully ignoring the advice that musicians should avoid politics, In This Town Your Owned is 10 deeply personal songs reacting to everything from the state of global chaos to spirituality. The highlight is “Kids Don’t Dig God Anymore.” While not taking sides on the religious debate, it’s a beautiful, almost mournful observation about a generation that no longer holds faith or feels a sense of spirituality to get them through the dark times. Thanks to painfully honest lyrics and Vincent’s hauntingly vulnerable vocals, it’s a hymn that even an atheist can sing along to.

Elsewhere, the opening track, “This Town,” is just as earnest and powerful and the seemingly out of character “My Neighbours Ghost,” an up-tempo singalong, is a pleasant surprise. There are moments in the middle of the record where it drags a bit due to sparseness, and a couple more upbeat songs like “My Neighbours Ghost” would round the record out nicely.

Regardless, In This Town You’re Owned is a near perfect modern marriage of folk, country and personal politics.  

Robert Vincent/In This Town You’re Owned/10 tracks/Thirty Tigers/2020

The Drowns – Under Tension (Vinyl)

The Seattle-based four-piece punk band The Drowns manage to somehow sound both assuredly nostalgic and contemporary at the same time. On their latest LP, Under Tension, the band brings to mind everyone from The Street Dogs and the first few Dropkick Murphys albums (sans bagpipes) to Swingin’ Utters. The fact that Ted Hutt, one of the best punk producers to come around in decades, oversaw this latest probably didn’t hurt. But this is far from being a punk rock jukebox. Over the past few years they’ve developed their own style and sound.

The vocals delivered with immediacy and voraciousness paired with a wall of distortion help propel these 11 tracks forward with a sense of urgency. The album kicks off on a strong note with ‘Black Lung” and “Them Rats,” but it’s the third song, “Wolves On The Throne,” where the band really shines. The vocals are mixed higher than the guitars allowing for the lyrics – one of the sharpest political songs written during the Trump administration – to be heard loud and clear. Despite a relative short, but impressive tenure as a group, “Wolves on the Throne” is destined to be a band classic. Elsewhere, “One More Pint” is a reliable Blue Collar drinking song and “Wastin’ Time” is an honest to god love song, though still a punk song at its core, so the sentimentality is still struggling to get over a wall of blaring power chords and machine gun drumming.

While the band’s debut showed plenty of promise, Under Tension over delivers on those promises for a remarkably satisfying LP from start to finish.

The Drowns – Under Tension (Vinyl) / Pirates Press Records/2020

Darren Michael Boyd releases instrumental LP Lifting the Curse”

Echoing into the ethers for what feels like an eternity, the opening chords of the aptly-titled “Notational Witchery” might not seem like the most elaborate of any you’ll hear on the new record from Darren Michael Boyd, the instrumental Lifting the Curse,” but they turn out one of the more captivating melodies on this incredible LP just the same. In Lifting the Curse, Boyd pushes the limits of rock n’ roll guitar as hard as he can, often incorporating a heavy metal mentality into the harmonies and replacing traditional lyrics with leads that say way more than words ever could by themselves.

While there might not be any verses for us to breakdown in this album, Darren Michael Boyd honestly does not need to them to make a point in tracks like “The Earth is B flat,” “Was it something I said?,” “This song won’t get played on the radio” and “Music in the Murder House.” In songs like these, and really the other five that join them on Lifting the Curse, there’s so much action going on just in the chemistry between the instruments that adding a vocalist into the mix would have been straight up overwhelming (not to mention wholly unnecessary from most every angle).


Lifting the Curse enjoys one of the sharper production qualities an indie record can have without sounding like it was designed as a play for mainstream adulation. There’s definitely not a lot of varnish for us to have to sit and sift through in order to get to the actual substance of the tones in tracks like “Tails & Entrails,” the title cut and opener “Circle of Sixes,” but there’s a ton of attention to detail in spots that other artists would just as soon overlook altogether without a second thought.

I would have opened the album with “The Earth is B flat” instead of “Circle of Sixes,” but I can definitely understand why Darren Michael Boyd decided to stack this record’s tracklist the way that he did. There’s a great overall flow to all of the songs here, and in some ways, having “The Earth is B flat” right where it is creates a little more tension moving into the middle of the LP (which, to be fair, is a terrific way of making sure that listeners are going to stay with you from the first bar to the last few strands of melodicism in the title track).

Though I had not heard Darren Michael Boyd’s music prior to now, I’m eager to hear more from his brand in the future after getting hooked on the riffing he’s throwing down in the monolithic 2019 debut. Lifting the Curse doesn’t necessarily change anything about the rock n’ roll spectrum as we know it going into 2020, but for what it lacks in revolutionary framework it more than compensates us for in sheer adrenaline, creativity and an aesthetical provocativeness that has been missing from the genre’s most lauded releases for, in my opinion, far too long now.

Kim Muncie

Terry Ohms delivers new album Cold Cold Shoulder

With a scooped EQ and overdrive as heavy as a pile of cinderblocks, Terry Ohms lays into the opening riff of “King of The Mountain,” the first sounds we’ll hear in his new album Cold Cold Shoulder, and while this deluge of distortion and evocative noise is about as stirring a first few bars as any indie rock fan could ask to hear in a new record this February, they’re only a sample of what’s about to come lurching after us in the next seven songs that follow, starting with the ghostly groove monster “Rock of Gibraltar.” There’s no stopping this LP from getting its hooks into you after pressing play on track one, so my best advice is as follows: sit down, strap yourself in, and allow Cold Cold Shoulder to unfold like the alternative rock epic it undeniably is.


“What Do You Mean, What Do I Mean?,” a song which takes its name from Terry Ohms’ 2010 sophomore album, slinks into the void left behind by “Rock of Gibraltar” and instantly fills in the space with a gargantuan rhythm and colorful melodies that are as dirge-infused as they are optimistically top-heavy in the way of a pre-fame Alice in Chains or, dare I say in 2020, a desert-tethered Kyuss (sans the over the top California theatrics and pothead-friendly themes, obviously). “IMO JSYK BTW” adds a bit of punkishness back into the big picture, but as is the case with the other songs in the midsection of Cold Cold Shoulder, it too isn’t as easy to categorize as it is to become hypnotized by.

A mostly instrumental break comes in the form of “All In The Past” before we’re turned over to the merciless grating of an anxiety-ridden groove in “Where You Coming From,” the most blatantly punk tune to behold on the album. The extended powerhouse “Making The Most” comes in at just over seven minutes in total length and, from a fluidity point of view, feels like it should be the natural conclusion to Cold Cold Shoulder, but by the time we get into the grips of its chiseled (albeit psychedelic-tinged) conclusion, the epilogue that ensues with “That Song” feels more than appropriate – really, it feels like the full-circle finish line we need.


Cold Cold Shoulder comes to an end after roughly five and a half minutes of eruptive noise rock ala “That Song” that somehow embodies all of the energy from the song before it without descending into the mold of a predictable hybridity all too commonly found on today’s college radio beat, and when it’s over, it’s hard to get its harmony out of your head no matter how cursory a listening session you might have indulged in just moments earlier. I’ve been following Terry Ohms for over a year, and while I had a lot of high expectations coming into my review of Cold Cold Shoulder, I’m pleased to say that this is a record that goes well beyond what I was anticipating it could deliver. Terry Ohms is back and better than ever here, and my gut tells me that will soon be the consensus among his audience.

Kim Muncie

Chris Mardini Releases Sleepless

In a gust of a verse that will set the tone for all of the kaleidoscopic harmonies soon to follow, Chris Mardini begins our journey into his heart amidst the opening bars of “Sleepless,” his third single currently out everywhere that quality independent pop is sold and streamed. There’s a bit of melancholy in his voice, but it’s nowhere near as strong as the optimism that drives the words cascading from his lips in this moment. Roughly thirty seconds sit between the first appearance of Mardini’s vocal and that of the percussion, but while this introduction is short and sweet, it’s more than powerful enough to put the entire audience in a state of tension that will find release later on in the song.


The drums come to life seemingly out of nowhere, ushering in a wave of guitar and bass lumbering that contradicts the pace of the verse altogether. Mardini is unfazed, unbothered by the contrasting tones coming together and evaporating before us in real time; there is only his voice and the instrumentation that pushes it forward through the stereo one gentle nudge at a time. Suddenly the percussion disappears once more, and the vocal hangs in the air above us as if to peer down at the world from the night sky, casting a judgmental stare over anything and everything below. We know there’s a climax around the corner, but waiting for it to come down on us is like counting down the final moments before a fireworks show is set to begin.

It’s too often said that a good pop song has to have a really good hook to seal the deal with listeners, but this narrative can be justifiably applied to “Sleepless.” When everything finally does culminate in a single incendiary descent into guitar fuzz and droning harmonization, we’re powerless to stop any urges to swing with the rhythm of the strings, the crash of the drums and the bludgeoning of the bassline. Chris Mardini is there in the eye of the storm, commanding our attention even when the music in the background is raging harder than the Atlantic in the late summer season. If anyone doubted his ability to rock a power ballad before now, they’re going to be changing their tune after hearing this track – for it just might be the best alternative pop song I’ve heard in a long time.


“Sleepless” concludes with one last instrumental plea from the guitar, branding us with an imprint of emotionality first presented to us in the lyrics and made too relatable for us to ignore as this final melodic ribbonry fades to black. I hadn’t listened to Chris Mardini’s music before now, and though I was told to have certain expectations coming into this review of his new single (which is also available in a striking music video as well), I didn’t anticipate hearing something quite as spellbinding as this. It’s hardly a perfect pop single, but for a relative rookie still getting his footing in the biz, it’s a five-star release listeners need to take note of.

 Kim Muncie