Psykobilly – Patron Saint Of Nothing – Album Review
Hey…it’s not like I haven’t been tellin’ ya that you can predict what to expect with Psykobilly’s music. In fact, if you read the series of reviews I’ve written about this band in the past from their album Black Candle on-forward, you’ll actually see evidence of this sound they’re rockin’ with continually expanding and becoming more versatility in just about every direction right there in-print in front of ya. You could easily get a sense of the shape-shifting nature of this crew helmed by Mr. Bill Newton even more so after being introduced to cuts like “The Invisible Man” and “Thrill U Kill U” over the course of last year. They’ve taught us already to expect the unexpected, and shown us many of their innovative twists in fusing just about everything from Indie Rock to Post Punk to New Wave influences into their music so far – and in what becomes a blend of the past-meets-present, Psykobilly has got off to a quick start in 2021 with a brand-new record called Patron Saint Of Nothing that continues to reveal the evolution taking place in both their band and the results of their efforts. They’re sounding stellar on this shiny new record.
Beautiful quote from Jack to start up the album, busting right into “(Kerouac Said) Everything’s Fine” and setting up the theme of the ideas driving this first cut. A couple things can be and are true here – one being that the hooks of the chorus, the “do-do-dooos” as well call them in the industry post-Beatles, are insanely strong for how simplified that part really is on a lyrical level – and the second thing being, of the songs in this set-list, there’s a good chance they’ve got the one & only cut that might have needed just a bit more in comparison to the rest. Ultimately, that’s saying a lot – many of you out there will hear there’s single-worthy sound in the melody of “(Kerouac Said) Everything’s Fine” and no doubt have no issues with it whatsoever – really, any criticism you might find to be found in this first cut will be unto itself, and quite likely, you’re not gonna find anything else at all you’d remotely think of changing. It’s flowery…that much is certainly true…but it’s not at all without depth – Psykobilly goes for expressive & Technicolor sound here, and for the most part, creates a pretty highly addictive lil’ ditty in the process. My main and only concerns would be that final line of the verses come out so lengthy…and perhaps a little bit of the flashy design in this first melody as well…it’s a bit theatrical, a bit melodramatic at times, and right on the edge of finding its way into the lounge-music style of Sinatra/Jones/Bennett terrain. Strangely enough, it’s those same very “do-do-dooos” that end up really pulling us all onboard the most.
The vocals of Isabelle Sorrell are phenomenal…and believe me, we’ll get into that along the way throughout this review at points I’m sure – we ALWAYS do, and justifiably so – between what she puts into the layers of the first two tracks alone will definitely have you convinced she’s more than capable of stealing the whole show without even being close to the center of the spotlight. Bill latches onto a spectacular couple of ideas that work fantastically together on this second cut – I love the rhythm he puts into the verses as he sings them, and I felt like the transition into the more spread-out atmosphere of the chorus on “Imposter Syndrome” was one of the strongest on the record that link two main-halves. Heading into introspective lyricism that deeply examines the inner-workings of the mind and the questioning that come along with the thoughts we tell ourselves – chances are, you’ll find this a highly relatable tune in many ways. I know for just about ANY writer I’ve ever talked with, and certainly including myself, we ALL feel like we suffer from “Imposter Syndrome” daily at various points in our career…I think it’s inherent to the artist community at-large, no matter how authentic we might be or how true to our art we are. So if you’ve ever fought the battle against your own thoughts, this Bud right here is for you, drink up. “Imposter Syndrome” immediately kicked this album into the second gear it deserved, however rhythmically, smoothly, and fluidly – it’s still EXCITING to hear music come together as well as it does through the way they’ve played & structured this tune. I will point out a few arguably stronger cuts on Patron Saint Of Nothing as we move on throughout this review…but don’t get me wrong – if I was Psykobilly, I’d still be looking at this song as a potential single/gateway into their music for the people out there. The appealing melody here is undeniable and comes at ya from every angle – Bill gives ya one of his cleverly controlled best here & Isabelle is as extraordinary as we know she can be.
If there’s one thing I can promise ya folks, it’s that if you’ve got yourself a truly single-worthy sound and/or a set of bulletproof hooks in your song somewhere, this elephant-esque musical-memory I’ve got will never forget ya whenever I hear it again. Case in-point – “Ballad Of An Exile” by Psykobilly here. Technically, this track’s already been out there and had a moment or two of recognition along the way in being a part of Psykobilly’s Black Candle album – but I can’t even begin to express just how happy I was to have it back, for whatever reason they decided to revisit this cut, fill it out a bit more evenly, and serve it up refreshed for us all to enjoy once again. Like, honestly…it was a mix of pleasure instantly sparked by the recognition of what’s truly been one of the best Psykobilly tunes I know of to-date, the excitement of having more time with it & a more balanced mix, feeling proud of the band for having the foresight to see this song deserved more, and the commitment they’ve put into their material here. Let me put it to you musicians out there this way…how many times have you gone back to a song you’ve recorded and wished you could just tweak it a little bit more this way or that way? If you’re like most out there, probably ALWAYS. What’s incredible is that very little actually do go back to refine something out, no matter how spectacular the idea may be…and quite often, because of something strange like a small hiccup in the performance, a dull mix that could be shined up, or a note or two out of key for a split-second, many amazing ideas end up staying semi-optimal in the one & only version you’ll ever find. So kudos to Psykobilly for giving “Ballad Of An Exile” even more depth & dimension than it already had – they’ve chosen wisely to re-record a great tune that really shouldn’t be ignored by any of you out there listening. I loved the idea when I first heard it back then, I certainly love it even more now – I think it sits perfectly in the lineup of Patron Saint Of Nothing & has more than proven it retains its appeal over time. Lest we forget, Black Candle WAS the debut by Psykobilly…it’s natural that they can execute with more confidence & conviction in their material now with more experience – you’ll love “Ballad Of An Exile.” Between the richness in the bass-lines and the smooth serenity of the vocals, you’ve already got the price of admission to this whole experience covered right in this cut culled from the Psykobilly catalog.
Ahhh fuck…there we go. Psykobilly is trying to invalidate my entire existence…not purposely, mind you. “Whydoeseverythinghavetomeansomething?” basically takes on my mindset and how I see the world, even though I’d be more than willing to tell ya that it’s actually Psykobilly that shows you the right perspective to have on this floating rock we’re all sharing together. Ha! Honestly, I really dig this tune. If you’ve ever read one of these rambling reviews of mine, you know that on a fundamental level I have to somewhat push back here and say that something’s gotta mean something, or else I might just disappear from my desk here quicker than Marty McFly in a family photo. I’ve always been a champion of the belief that art & music SHOULD be challenged…whenever and every opportunity you get to do it – it not only makes it stronger over time, but it ends up helping the artists involved with their own evolution. Of course, this is me arguing that everything IS connected on some level…which admittedly, is a strange perspective to have when trying to build a community in the independent scene and have it remain defiantly disconnected year after year… You know something? Psykobilly’s got me asking myself “Whydoeseverythinghavetomeansomething?” right now. Man would life be easier for me personally if I could just believe it didn’t all add up to something…this head of mine is way too overloaded with thoughts and continually trying to connect all these imaginary dots that, I mean…Psykobilly’s right – they’re really just not there; I just need and want them to be…many of us do. As he takes on social-media and flexes insightful philosophical concepts at us, you can’t help but agree with Bill’s lyricism here – he’s very apt in pointing out the parasitic nature of the society we share and the many flaws in our machine’s design. That being said, any/all commentary in examining this song too closely underneath the microscope by me is only going to prove the points being made on “Whydoeseverythinghavetomeansomething?” even more – I should probably do the right thing and respectfully bow out here and move on quickly, lest I out myself as just as much a cancer as the rest of us critical lot, which I most certainly AM. You’re meant to enjoy this cut without questioning all the things that Psykobilly is bringing up too closely…the moment you do, you’re part of the problem; “Whydoeseverythinghavetomeansomething?” makes it clear, some moments are meant to be enjoyed on the surface and nothing more. So thanks a lot Bill…this is not only accurate & ridiculously poignant, but you’ve masterfully entrapped every single reviewer & critic on Earth into proving your points, 100%!
Not that I wasn’t already convinced, but by the time I got to “Burying The Dead” it really just became undeniable how much progress Psykobilly has made in between Black Candle from last year and this new record Patron Saint Of Nothing – they deserve real credit for how locked-in & focused this whole album has been coming out so far. Much of that credit you’ll find is shared with Phil Sorrell of Caretaker Studios, who arranged, played on, produced, and mastered this whole album here – and he’s done an exceptional job to certainly be proud of. Patron Saint Of Nothing shows just how much a steady hand can help guide a new project to victory – Phil gets the best out of both the band AND the material itself. I like songs like this a lot, partly because I know the process of how this band writes behind the scenes, with the bulk, if not all of these ideas, starting out with nothing but humble Bill and his guitar; a track like this with the imagery, lyricism, and bold emotion it has…this all has that serious songwriter’s touch, and shows us that a guy like Mr. Newton really ain’t all that far removed from a Dylan or a Springsteen when it comes to ballad-based hybrids like this. Having said that, I ain’t gonna lie to ya – I respect both those artists greatly, but I’d absolutely rather listen to anything by Psykobilly before either of’em personally, and especially if we’re talking about this very album in question right here in review. “Burying The Dead” explores a deeper style & sound than many of the songs will on this album, especially the cut directly before it…the switch is noticeable, but also very welcome with such a high-quality level of execution from the writing on up. I can guarantee it’s probably not going to be the first cut people are going to notice on those initial spins – but over time, I’m always confident that songs like “Burying The Dead” and “Sacred Veil” to follow get their due recognition for being the real strengths that keep us coming back. You feel the real substance creep into the lyrics & vibe here, that’s what I’m getting at…Psykobilly has shifted us successfully once again into another facet of what this album has to offer ya, as fluidly as ever – this set-list flows earns & deserves high marks & high-fives for its layout.
“Sacred Veil” would be another song I’d point to where the songwriting really stands out for all the right reasons. Armed with an R.E.M.-esque sound I’ve enjoyed in the past on their single “The Invisible Man” that could fit onto the early records or on albums like Reveal or Around The Sun – Psykobilly goes for real depth in the atmosphere of “Sacred Veil,” and brilliantly retains the raw, honest edge that makes it genuine. At over six-minutes in length, you’ll find “Sacred Veil” preserves its authenticity at all times, keeping the focus on the natural strengths of the melody and allowing the humble vocals of Bill Newton to float us all dreamily through the melancholy beauty of this tune as we listen. I have my moments with him throughout the distance – at times, he’s right on the money, at others, I know he’s got a bit more in the tank to get the full heart of the melody he’s designed here – but now ask me about my favorite singer Michael Stipe and I’d probably tell you exactly the same about him & his vocals too. So there ya go – what do I even know anyway? I’ll put it to you this way – it’s those low-toned songs that tend to reveal these slight cracks the most, because the energy is so hard to harness with the melody required…make no mistake, it’s demanding stuff to sing with complete perfection, and also to be fair, it’s usually those same slips here & there of tiny deviation that shows us the humanity in these all-stars we’re listening to…and that can be quite endearing, even if the subject matter is emotionally heavy like this is. Like I was saying with “Burying The Dead” just a moment ago, you can feel the shift into a more serious terrain in the middle of this record, haunting even – but let’s also not forget that you’ll find Psykobilly self-described as Indie Rock/Alternative Rock/Gothic – this particular cut draws on the latter.
If you’ve read my past reviews on Psykobilly, you already know just how much I think Isabelle Sorrell brings to their music when it comes to the vocal department – and the queen remains the queen for the vast majority of the tunes you’ll hear on this record. Something that even Wild Bill himself and I agree on, is that she’s a genuine showstopper and the heart of so much of what makes Psykobilly as great as they are, in addition to being a key piece of their future to come. And I COULD spend another million pages on describing just how much she’s brought to Patron Saint Of Nothing…I’m more than tempted to DO it, don’t push me dear readers, dear friends, or we’ll be here all week – so let’s suffice it to say for now that, “Five Thousand Feelings #2 (Secret Weapon Mix)” brings out a spectacular performance from Isabelle that’ll easily prove to any set of ears listening just how essential & fantastic she truly IS, every time she steps anywhere near a microphone in the ol’ studio booth. I wanted to save the majority of my comments regarding her awesomeness, because I felt like this was the track to do that on – and I think that the title they’ve given this one, confirms that Psykobilly as a band completely agrees with everything I’ve had to say about her all along. The clue is right there in front of us – note the brackets – “Five Thousand Feelings #2 (Secret Weapon Mix)” – what IS that ‘secret weapon’ you ask? It’s Isabelle. Think of it this way – secret = hidden, correct? So when you start this track out and Bill’s taking on the lead & doing a stellar job on his own to begin with, it’s Isabelle that gets revealed later on, in what becomes a full-on duet between them for this tune – she’s the ‘secret weapon’ or ‘the ace in the hole’ or ‘the anchor on the relay team’ – and she proves it on this song, without question. That being said, as you’ll see in my comments throughout any review on Psykobilly, she’s actually incapable of bringing anything less than her A-game as far as I can tell – she’s got an absolutely spectacular voice & knows exactly how to get the most out of it, every time. Love the sound of the piano in this song…probably keyboards, but you get the idea – it brings a brightness to the aura of “Five Thousand Feelings #2 (Secret Weapon Mix)” that sets the stage for how this track develops and expands with such inspired performances. The chorus is exquisite…straight up immaculate really…and quite possibly the highlight on this record for many listeners out there, which you certainly wouldn’t find me arguing against – I think the writing is spectacular, the execution gets right to the heart of it – and when it comes to Bill and Isabelle singing together…well folks…let’s just say that this right here is the perfect example of why they work so well as a pair and why this collaboration between them on the mic in Psykobilly MUST continue.
While the changes to a cut like “Ballad Of An Exile” were much more minimal overall in rounding out the final corners of a song that had already come pretty close to its full potential in the past already – it’s the expert hand of Phil Sorrell that raises the stakes of a song like “As I Drown” to a level that quite honestly, I’m not even sure I realized it could have myself. I haven’t peeked at my past review on Black Candle where this song showed up before in their debut – and I’m more than confident I would have loved the idea at the very least in its original form to start and found a single-worthy sound in this melody – but I could rave about this for DAYS as it’s come out now in the “Phil Sorrell Remix” here on Patron Saint Of Nothing. What an INCREDIBLE update on this cut! Even BETH NEWTON, daughter of Sir Billiam, aka the leader of this multi-dimensional collaborative project we’ve got goin’ on here, shows up on this tune as well. I stand behind my assumption that there’s no way I could have missed the potential of this song as I first heard it in its original form last year – but to say this remix would exceed any expectations or wild hopes I could have had for this song would be the ultimate in understatements that I could make. In bringing back “As I Drown” for another round, they might have very well stumbled into the MOST single-worthy track on an album that’s basically lined with solid material from start to finish. It’s not familiarity that makes this song coming back as great as something like “Ballad Of An Exile” established earlier on – it’s the fact that Psykobilly has nailed every part of “As I Drown” as hard as you could possibly do it. Think of it like this…in the writing of this song and its powerfully moving melody to begin with, this band was already well on-target with “As I Drown” – but in this update, they’re like Robin Hood splitting the arrow, somehow delivering something even more on the mark than you’d even believe if you didn’t witness it for yourself. Hooks-wise, you really just can’t beat the chorus of this cut – the vocals & harmonies are freakin’ amazing, and writing-wise & sing-along-wise…this is memorable in every way and a mammoth highlight of universal accessibility in the set-list of songs on Patron Saint Of Nothing.
You know…in the context of this record, I wasn’t as sure about whether it really needed “Thrill U Kill U” in the lineup overall. I ain’t lyin’ to ya – with its addictive vocal harmonies and energetic pulse, it’s pretty damn hard to feel like you wouldn’t want to listen to it whenever it comes on – you will – I suppose I’m just noticing that the preceding songs all seemed to somewhat move away a bit from the more intense electro-synth groove style you’ll find here on this cut. Coming in at track nine was likely the best call to make if it was going to appear, providing strength to the overall lineup by letting loose a track that’s already tried, tested, and true…but yeah…I guess it just seemed like a good idea to do is all. Like I’ve been getting at, I’m not opposed to it, I’ll always take another helping of this cut when it comes right down to it – I guess what I’m saying is that…well, it’s the difference between how “Thrill U Kill U” still stands out with a defined single-worthy sound that seems to branch the furthest from the rest, versus something like “The Invisible Man” to follow, or how a song like “Ballad Of An Exile” fit into this set-list. LISTEN – I wouldn’t kick “Thrill U Kill U” outta my bed for eatin’ crackers y’all – so put down your pitchforks and don’t get stabby – I still think it’s a solid single, I still welcome it here with open arms – I’m just willing to acknowledge the surrounding ten songs ended up going in a significantly different route. Would Patron Saint Of Nothing be better WITHOUT it? I’m not gonna be the one to climb up that hill just to die on it right in front of you – it’s got a place on this record, just barely, right on the fringe. What I’m saying is, I don’t fully know if it’ll add to this experience overall, but it certainly won’t subtract. For me, of the two, “The Invisible Man” really felt like it fit perfectly…but I’m truly not complaining about the inclusion of either of’em…both strong tunes, just one that suits the overall vibe a lil’ bit more.
“You’re Not Coming Back From This” ends the record on lighter vibes and a heartfelt love-song loaded up with solid hooks from moment to moment to conclude the record, with Isabelle beaming out the background vocals loud & proud as ever. While I’ll concede I might feel more strongly towards the vast majority of the material between song one & song eleven on this album, again, Psykobilly leaves me with precious little to even think about complaining about. Drums are a bit busy at times maybe, but big deal. The melodic design of the chorus and the execution of it here really brought this record home and wrapped it up on another powerfully memorable moment – and I loved the additional…what is that – trumpets I’m thinking…I’m not an expert in the brass section, it could be a French horn for all I know, I just know it sounds fantastic. The verses are good, the chorus is great, the instrumentation & melody & backing vocals all steal the show at the end here, but make no mistake, it’s all a representation of what Psykobilly accomplishes together as a band, and they should be extraordinarily proud of what they’ve accomplished here from start to finish on Patron Saint Of Nothing. Verifiably entertaining, extremely well written, professionally produced, and brilliantly performed – they’ve got something for everyone in the lineup of songs on this record, they’ve clearly put their heart & soul into every one of’em – and as a result, they’ve come out with a massive win with this evolution on display. I wouldn’t take MY word for it though – take the audience clapping at the end of this record for the gospel truth – not only is it a completely welcome sound after not hearing it for so long in our isolated times, but it’s a sound that you’ll fully agree is more than merited for everything Psykobilly has put into this new album of theirs. Don’t be surprised if you start clapping yourself once you complete the journey through Patron Saint Of Nothing – what they’ve accomplished here on what’s only their second record, is well worth your applause, if not an outright standing ovation. Incredible work Psykobilly – keep this momentum going.
Find out more about Psykobilly & other great acts on the frontlines of the independent scene at the official Caretaker Studios website right here: www.caretakerstudios.com
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