Artist to Watch: Miller and The Hunks

Columbus, Ohio’s Miller and The Hunks (@millerhunks) perform highly prolific alternative music that is difficult to pin down. Some songs are slow, some go at three-fourths speed, and a few are pedal to the metal headbangers. One would imagine that was lead singer and songwriter Colin Miller’s mission from the start. It prevents the brand containing his namesake from going stale and being pigeonholed into one sub-classification. He has succeeded in ensuring listeners get a surprise with every song. Going back to the group’s origins a couple of years ago, the band has dropped seven different Bandcamp releases of synth-laden, guitar-rocking, and drum-banging alternative pop rock. Each record is more prolific than the previous. As the group gets ready to headline a show serving as a bouillabaisse of genres this Wednesday, November 15, here is a summary of each albums’ standout tracks in which some are sure to be part of their upcoming set.

From April 2015’s Purely Sexual, one outstanding tune is the surefire smash “I Want Out”, which is also a popular track the band plays live.  A major label would have to summon a radio edit version as the song contains Miller spouting the F-bomb a couple of times. Another fantastic one from this 13-song album is the piano-heavy ballad “Happy Days” which could be a Hot AC or Top 40 chart hit. “Blue Dream”, however, is one guitar-heavy gem that would be right at home at hard rock stations nationwide.

Later that year, Miller and The Hunks released two holiday-themed singles “Last Halloween” and “Hunkmas”. The former is a soothing, bluesy yet haunting tune that at the beginning sends a chill down one’s spine and picks up big time at the back half. The latter tune of 2015 is a Weezer-ish take on Christmas that just might be the best rocking song for the season. Parents be forewarned, much like the catchy “I Want Out”, listener discretion is advised for adult language. To be fair, it would not be authentic rock n’ roll without a little controversy from the band.

In August of 2016, the quartet which then consisted of Miller, guitarist Jon Leonard, bassist/backup vocalist Josiah Ogden, and now-defunct drummer Tommy Cheeseman commissioned the six-song EP Would You Like To Yes?. According to the Bandcamp page, the record is described as “a journey of an alt-rock EP, telling the story of the end of a life of a violent drug-addicted man.” The band turns what comes off as a tragedy in the blurb into some fantastic indie rock vibes that make people dance versus cry. “Drunk Driving” is a Walk The Moon-esque tune that will have folks dancing at live shows. They slow the pace down a few notches on “Good Heavens” a brooding bluesy song that shows some fantastic guitar work from Leonard and vibrant vocals from Miller and Ogden.

In the fall of that same year, Miller and The Hunks bestowed the single “Stapled Shut” upon indie rock enthusiasts. It is another one of their tracks that would warrant a radio edit, but this time it would be due to time constraints. The unedited version clocks in at approximately five and a half minutes. It would not be until July of this year that they released new music, providing the public with another live show favorite titled “Creativity”, although likely known at shows as “I Wanna Dance”. That is a tune that lives up to its lyrics and gets crowds going each time it is played at concerts.

Last month, this time with Ethan Joseph behind the kit, Miller and The Hunks released the eight-song album And Jeff: Part 1. It lives up to the group’s prior works while standing on its own merits. The record provides the Hunks’ standard mixture of alternative indie rock with a slightly heavier rock tune thrown in. On this album, “Wicked Tongue” is glorious hard rock presented only as the boys can do. “Gravity” is a melodic synth-pop jewel with provocative lyrics that the group has performed live and will likely do for Wednesday’s gig from the popular venue Spacebar featuring Los Angeles duo Dad & Steve, local project Golden Death Music, and Toledo-area post-hardcore band Castle No Kings. The sets will be limited in time, so fans will get only a sample of what Miller and The Hunks has to offer. Given Colin Miller’s ingenious songwriting and the band’s priceless execution, even an abbreviated set is sure to satisfy audiences.

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Open Your Mind to Conway’s Open Your Eyes

Quintet Conway (@conwayband) has paid their dues by touring across the U.S. in support of their unique take on pop-punk. Their most recent EP Open Your Eyes will get listeners’ attention as the Michigan five-piece demonstrate a great effort into recording it with its recurring main idea of relationships gone awry. This makes the band and their music more relatable to everyday people who can find solace knowing they are not alone in being broken.

 

The first tune ‘On Your Own’ is a song of love gone awry with splendid arrangements and spot-on vocals. It seems clear the band has spent some time listening to Simple Plan, A Day To Remember and The All-American Rejects for inspiration. It is an anthem that the heartbroken and neglected can relate to. The EP‘s longest track ‘All Wrong’ is another tune with the same imperfect relationship theme. Some of these songs will likely hit close to home with listeners who have experienced what the songwriter(s) have. It is often that the worst situations make the best stories.

 

Much like the previous two tunes, ‘Currents’ has surefire hit written all over it and maintains the album’s continuity of imperfect social situations. From start to finish, this track is their best chance at obtaining a Top 10 Alternative Chart hit off this record. Coming in at under two and one-quarter minutes, the finale ‘Meant To Seem’ is an ideal ending to the EP with solid musicianship on display and poignant lyrics such as, Sail away from the safe harbor / Catch trade winds to the east / Cause every part of me knows I should leave / But that’s not happening.

 

Open Your Eyes is a commendable effort from Conway as it cannot be easy to take dark subject matter and turn them into danceable, headbanging, songs. Although the lyrics are grim, the vocals and musicianship are on point and high energy from beginning to end. Another thing that is amazing is how they have managed to fly under the radar for so long. It is in every pop-punk fan’s best interest to pick up the EP and check the band out live. Their tour kicks off in Columbus, OH tomorrow, November 17 before they head back to their home state for a show and head west. Conway is in possession of four coping mechanisms for today’s depressed and confused youth and this EP along with their back catalog going unnoticed is a travesty.

Aiming For Average: Miles Better Than Their Name Dictates

Aiming For Average (@Aiming4Average) is a pop-punk quintet from Berwyn, IL (a western Chicago suburb) proving they do not live up to their tongue-in-cheek name. They are actually better. The group was founded in 2011 and has two records currently on Bandcamp (Icebreaker, which was released in 2014 and Blueprints the following year). Given what they have provided thus far on both EPs, the band is well on their way to joining fellow pop-punk groups A Day To Remember, Allister, and Taking Back Sunday on Active Rock radio and with a label deal.

 

The five-piece act consists of lead vocalist Nik Maniotis, guitarists Chris Perez and Christian Castillo, drummer Ruben Lopez, and bassist Zak Vhrel. On the seven-song release Icebreaker, the group primarily stays in high gear with heavy guitars and blazing drum work. The second track, ‘Sorry Not Sorry’, is a headbanging bitter love song relatable by anyone whose heart has been broken. The album’s final song, titled ‘3 Years, And All I Got Was A T-Shirt’, is another jaded relationship track in the band’s repertoire. With most tunes on Icebreaker being at warp speed, a standout track is their ballad ‘Man On The Moon’ in which Castillo gets to reveal his voice as the second coming of Chris Carrabba’s. This is their cigarette lighter/cell phone waving song at live events and the band will have ladies eating out of their hands after this is played.

 

On the four-song EP Blueprints, Aiming For Average keeps it short and sweet with fine results. Each track will have its place on rock radio, however, their best chance for a hit is the opening track ‘Feedback’, which is a brilliant toned down song similar to ‘Man On The Moon’. ‘IOU’ is another tune that will be pleasing to not only radio listeners, but to those who get to hear it live. The band has recorded themselves two fine pieces of work that at some point are going to attract the attention of labels big and small. Able to tour the Midwest this year, these guys are doing fine on their own, though.

 

Not only are Aiming For Average above-average musicians, they seem like swell gentlemen. Per Facebook, the group has raised money and performed on behalf of Autism Speaks and have had several write-ups recognizing their talent. Their summer tour is underway with stops in Shickshinny and Lansford, Pennsylvania on June 16 and 17, respectively. The big show of the week is on Saturday, June 18 as part of Columbus, Ohio’s Pride Weekend. Thousands of tourists will invade the capital city and once the marching and parading is over, Woodlands Tavern will feature three hours of in-your-face live music. They will be joined by indie rock darlings Sam and The Barbers and fellow pop-punk outfit Two Years Later. It is in one’s best interest to catch the band when they can and sample the music for themselves to confirm how good they really are.

Sam and The Barbers Definitely Make The Cut

Indie rock trio Sam and The Barbers (@samandbarbers) have provided a sample of what they have to offer the industry on their new four-song EP End of the World and alternative music’s future is great shape because of it. What vocalist/guitarist Derrick Walter, drummer Brett Williams, and synthesist Paul Strawser have constructed demonstrates a bright outlook for them in the years to come.

The band’s name is an ironic one as at no time since their inception has any band member been named Sam and none of them are or have been hair stylists. According to their October 2015 video interview with the university’s publication The Lantern, the band is named for American composer Samuel Barber, who Walter noticed had a noun for his last name and thought it was a good idea to keep the same band name format that has worked for Katrina & The Waves, Huey Lewis & News, among others.  The Columbus, OH band was formed by high school friends and former Ohio State University undergrads Walter and Williams. During their college stint and after several lineup changes, fellow student Strawser joined and magic has been made ever since. That has resulted in positive feedback for their high energy, spot-on live shows around town and now critical acclaim for the EP released just this year.

End of the World has potential radio hits across the board all the while maintaining musical integrity sometimes lost in mainstream music. The opening track titled ‘Everyone Here’ is a synthesizer and drum driven tune that has teenage rom-com soundtrack written all over it, and that is a good thing. Walter’s guitar-playing comes in about 90 seconds into it and takes the track to another level. His solid lead vocals give it a boost to create some static on the Alternative and Adult Rock radio charts.  The EP’s title track is a faster-paced synth-laden track that should also not be ignored by rock radio and by alternative music lovers.

It is End of the World’s middle two tracks that with the right people backing them will make Sam and The Barbers well-known. ‘I Promise I’ll Never Promise Again’ is a high-energy modern rock track that exudes influence from Vampire Weekend, Arctic Monkeys, and the like. ‘1982’, written by Walter, is a fun throwback that has a 1980s new wave vibe to it yet has enough relevance to be a surefire Top 10 Alternative smash and cross over to CHR Pop stations (you know, the ones that carry Ryan Seacrest’s ‘American Top 40’).

During their live shows, Sam and The Barbers have included a handful of other catchy rock tracks along with a unique take on the Talking Heads tune ‘Once in A Lifetime’. The next chance alternative rock enthusiasts can see and hear the hoopla for themselves is Saturday, June 18 when they invade Woodlands Tavern to open a show featuring Chicago pop punk quintet Aiming For Average and local rockers Two Years Later. It is in modern rock fans’ best interest to become familiar with these three upstanding and talented gentlemen before their careers explode and they become inaccessible.

Review: Captain Kidd / Clubhouse / Personal Public (Skully’s: 4/8/16)

This past Friday night, three of Columbus’ up-and-coming indie rock groups took to the Skully’s Music-Diner stage not only to entertain the sea of concertgoers who braved the elements, but also to support a fantastic charity. Proceeds went to the non-profit Music Loves Ohio, which makes disadvantaged youths’ dreams come true with scholarships, songwriting workshops, and more.  Early into the evening, the doorman had a wad of cash in his hand and given the crowd’s size  by show’s end, thousands had to have been donated.

Spunky quintet Personal Public (@PersonalPublic) kicked off the night to a great sized audience for a nine o’clock start. All five guys seemed to be having fun performing their array of catchy, yet thought-provoking alternative rock songs. Their sound is a fresh mishmash of Kings Of Leon, Parachute, and Knox Hamilton, who are three acts that have earned respect within the genre. The coolest part of their set was the bassist showing off his drumming chops off stage in front of the crowd. Not to be outdone, Personal Public’s actual drummer took to the standalone kit on the concert floor and did his thing. Furthermore, the fact that the week prior these guys played the same gig as national alternative acts Declan McKenna and Best Coast demonstrates Personal Public is getting the right ears to hear them.

Clubhouse (@clubhouse_music) had big shoes to fill and this group held their own with no issues. These guys stood out with a hybrid of the romantic 1980s sound combined with the hooks and harmonies found in today’s alternative music (think UB40 + The 1975). Their music is cool enough to dance to by oneself, but it strikes the heartstrings enough that couples can be affectionate to it, too. It seemed quite obvious due to what Clubhouse brings to the table musically and aesthetically, they had the female-heavy audience from the first note. This is a band that is not too far from where Personal Public are in terms of opening for nationally known artists. On June 11, they will participate in LaureLive, a festival outside of Cleveland that features O.A.R, Grace Potter, Red Wanting Blue, to name a few.

Despite setbacks with the singer/guitarist’s monitor, once headliners Captain Kidd (@Capn_Kidd) started playing the mob quickly forgot about the snafu and hung onto every chord these guys cranked out. These gentlemen were spot on from beginning to end and their indie dance style caught on with ladies and gentlemen alike. Their best known tune, “Freaky Love”, was played next to last and sounded just as great as it does in the awesome video with over 26,000 YouTube views.

When the night was over, fifteen musicians had given their time, effort, and energy to execute something special. Those who witnessed the greatness exuded this past Friday were left wanting more. Perhaps Columbus festivals’ big wigs were in attendance for a prime scouting opportunity as these bands deserve to be considered for spots. If they were not, then they missed out on good music with a fun crowd for a great cause.

Review of Good Luck Year’s Tinder for the Fire

Good Luck Year (@goodluckyear) is a Dayton, OH-based alternative rock sextet comprising of Matt Shetler, Justin Smith, Tesia Mallory, Jason Thompson, Josh Guild, and Cole Howell. Much like other rock outfits like Children 18:3 and Skillet, there is a hybrid of male and female vocals at play from Shetler and Mallory. On September 18, the group released their third record Tinder for the Fire and they have garnered praise in their hometown for it. Upon listening to the EP, there is no surprise why the outfit has a buzz about them. It is now time for the record and the band to reach a wider audience to show the masses what they are all about.

Tinder for the Fire starts off with a bang with ‘Temporary Light’, a track cocked and loaded with harmonic dual vocals that is Good Luck Year’s staple. The tune is a mishmash of what would happen if Hayley Williams teamed with Andrew McMahon. The result is a surefire Top 20 rock hit one can headbang to. Once a label gets their hands on this band, expect widespread attention off of this song alone.

Clocking in at 2:42, ‘Pinch’ is the shortest track of the five and the only downside of that is less of Tesia Mallory’s voice, which leads off the song. It is a departure from ‘Temporary Light’, but it displays to the listener that this six-piece is no one trick pony. The third track ‘Tie Tie’ has elements of Twenty-One Pilots, Panic! At The Disco, and Paramore mixed in leading to what would be another rock radio staple.

The group prides itself in being unique, which is important the current state of the industry. ‘Colors’ turns the intensity down several notches with acoustic guitar more at play than the previous three tunes. On their Facebook page, Good Luck Year mentions they have two keyboardists, which outside of Tennessee act sElf is uncommon. It gives the band more to play around with on this EP and future releases. Lastly, clocking in at exactly four minutes ‘Secret Science’ is the group’s best chance at a crossover pop hit. The pace is slowed even more than the previous tune with the emphasis on the dual vocals and acoustic guitars. Both singers show they have the chops to make this tune work.

Similar independent artists to Good Luck Year can also be found right in the state of Ohio. Cleveland’s Envoi with frontwoman Maddie Finn perform tunes in the same vein as Good Luck Year. Furthermore, Columbus’ Two Years Later with founding members Jamie Rogers and Zak Toth present a similar superb style of music. It is worth a pop-punk fan’s while to hunt down this EP, available at Bandcamp, iTunes, and Amazon. The band is looking to tour, thus bookers and fans who want them in their town need to take the initiative now before the group’s calendar fills up. It is safe to say with what they have displayed thus far, Good Luck Year will have very, very good luck for years to come.

*Photo courtesy of the band’s Facebook page.

Mint Leopard is Ready to Pounce

Cincinnati’s Mint Leopard (@MintLeopardOG) consider themselves a psych-jazz rock n’ roll band and based on what they have released thus far, they live up to the hybrid description. Formed earlier this summer, the quartet of lead vocalist Jaxon Hughes, drummer Justin Van Wagenen, guitarist Alex Masset, and keyboardist Ben Bob Hammer have been getting their feet wet with live shows across their hometown and surrounding areas. They recently released the single “Progress in the Evenin’” and even created a music video for the track. Based on first impressions alone, the foursome should have a bright future ahead of them.

The video, directed by Hughes, was conceptualized and executed with sheer brilliance. Based on its premise and production, it would fit right in with the playlist of The Cool TV and MTV2’s 120 Minutes, when the latter network still aired the program. Released this past July, the video is primarily set in the desert, with three guys in business casual outfits searching for Hughes. The song is a melting pot of pop-rock psychedelic greatness that crosses over multiple decades. It would fit like a glove on playlists in the 1970s and 80s. With several acts in the 2000s inspired by music from 30 to 40 years ago, the track is just as relevant today as it would have been back then. Hughes’ harmonic vocals gel perfectly with the slick guitar and synthesizer work of Masset and Hammer. Van Wagenen’s drum work caps off “Progress in the Evenin’” giving the listener approximately four and a half minutes of a non-stop jam session.

Mint Leopard is seeking to expand its horizons beyond being their local territory and they are well on their way in doing so. The group looks to tackle Ohio’s capital, known for its diverse and embracing music scene. Cincinnati has produced good talent across different genres such as 98 Degrees, Pay The Girl, and Motherfolk. With upbeat on-your-feet tunes in their arsenal, Mint Leopard has an excellent chance to succeed anywhere.

*Photo courtesy of the band’s Facebook page

Critique: Kid Runner’s Wake Up Now

Kid Runner (@kidrunnerband) sent out a wake-up call to the music world, so to speak, in the form of their second EP Wake Up Now. Dropped this past October, the unsigned Columbus, OH quintet have delivered a series of tracks that stand up in quality to anything from Passion Pit, OK Go, Walk The Moon, and Fun., who perform a similar routine. If they had the same resources available to them those bands have, Kid Runner would hold their own on late night TV shows as well as the Alternative and Top 40 charts.

The opening track, which happens to be the title track, is disappointing in that it is relatively short but is a nice instrumental intro nonetheless in the same vein of The xx. ‘Thinking Out Loud’ is a would-be hit with fans of Sheppard with strong male and female vocals on display. According to their Soundcloud page, it is the EP’s second most clicked track behind ‘Move’. Speaking of which, ‘Move’ is the track that has earned the group local success as a winner of Radio U’s daily ‘Battle of the Buzz’ competition. Furthermore, the song is also licensed for use on MLB Network. The band also released a video for ‘Move’ that is equally as relevant as major label artists’ videos using a fraction of those groups’ budgets. These two tunes on their own ought to be enough to garner Kid Runner the industry-wide attention they are due.

Wake Up Now has three more tracks that have their own flavor and showcase the five-piece’s creativity and talent. ‘Breaking Away’ is a tune in which the lyrics imply it is a song about destorying figurative shackles and escaping a toxic situation and/or person. It is the EP’s most serious song and one that proves Kid Runner’s wide songwriting range. Even hair metal bands churned out the occasional ballad and life commentary with favorable results. ‘Killin’ Me Now’ is pop brilliance from start to finish with the incorporation of keyboardist Frances Literski’s backing vocals to compliment the strong drum and keyboard work. Litterski’s dove-like vocals are also included in “Higher”, the record’s most dance club-friendly tune.

Alt-pop music lovers willing to take approximately 30 minutes to check out Wake Up Now will experience proof Kid Runner is going places figuratively. Literally, the group is expanding their horizons outside of their local confines opening for Civil Twilight in Pittsburgh on May 28 and playing at Cincinnati’s Burnbury Music Festival on June 5. Those gigs are followed by a return to Columbus on September 5 for the Fashion Meets Music Festival. Alternative and indie music’s true believers and supporters must not miss out on a chance to hear Wake Up Now in addition to their self-titled EP. If this band has the success they have demonstrated they deserve, the alternative and pop rock genres are in great shape for years and years to come.

*Photo courtesy of the band’s Facebook page

Artist Showcase: Motherfolk (presented by DX Entertainment)

Motherfolk (@Motherfolkmusic) is an American folk rock quintet currently based out of Cincinnati, OH. Originally formed in Maysville, KY, the band first consisted of Nathan Dickerson and Bobby Paver. The duo eventually became a five-piece with Rich Miller, Aaron Wilson, and Jacob Bremer joining the band. They are a very hard working group who has done some extensive touring throughout the midwestern and southern United States just this year, traveling as far as Texas and also gracing the stage at the Hard Rock Cafe in Chicago. This demonstrates that Motherfolk is serious about building their brand through live events and word of mouth. Gracing stages is one of the best ways a musical act can prove they are the real deal. It will be an honor for them to open DX Entertainment’s second ever show on Friday, October 24. Pseudoname, no stranger to the Cincinnati area, headlines the event and former Bonneville drummer Nick Frye will be fronting of his own band that night.

Motherfolk has a self-titled record out now on iTunes and Bandcamp that should also be available at their gigs. This 10-song gem’s most notable tracks are the mainstream-friendly “Tired”, the jam “Hiccups” which is sure to get people on their feet and dancing, and the rocking “Goldie Hawn” which based on the title alone should generate some attention from record labels. All three of those tunes are a fit on Alternative or Top 40 Pop radio stations. Slower tempo songs are another part of Motherfolk’s arsenal and encourage the listener to pay attention to the lyrics. “Salt Lake City” is a tune that starts off and finishes quite gentle, but in the middle it gives listeners a good kick in the butt. “I know”, “Defining Me”, and “Tune For Me” are classic folk tracks that are to be a staple at their live events as they make for good sing-alongs, especially the latter. This album is a must listen for those who want to be taken on a journey of love, joy, hope, and faith.

From the lyrics of many of their tunes, it is foreseeable these songs are about worship, but it is important for listeners not to dismiss or pigeonhole Motherfolk as a “Christian band”. While there is nothing wrong with that term per se, less than informed listeners may be quick to write off the merits of their music. It would be their loss if they ever did that as no matter what religion Motherfolk’s members practice, the music is extremely phenomenal. There is significance in a group writing and performing songs that have some depth and substance to them in addition to style. Given today’s mainstream music landscape, Motherfolk is a breath of fresh air and after listening to their record, listeners will have solace in knowing pure music is alive and well.

In four days, listeners of this record will get a chance to see Motherfolk play these songs live and in living color. They will take the stage at King Avenue 5 in Columbus, OH on Friday, October 24 and then six days later in Newport, KY for a pre-Halloween bash. Other tour dates occurring later this year include November 14 in their homebase of Cincinnati, December 9 in Cleveland, and December 18 in St. Louis.  For those who live in those areas, it is in their best interest to see what this band has to offer in person as they are sure to be satisfied.

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Artist Showcase: Truslow (presented by DX Entertainment)

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Truslow (@TruslowMusic) is an American quartet based in Columbus, OH. The band consists of lead vocalist James Truslow, bassist Andrew Lee, guitarist Sean Mackowski, and drummer Matt Myers. The group is among the fastest rising in their vicinity with nearly 2000 fans on Facebook and a slot as part of the much-hyped Fashion Meets Music Festival. The Labor Day weekend-long event faced controversy when then-headliner R. Kelly was met with backlash and he was ultimately fired from performing.  Given the fanfare of the entire festival, expectations will be high for all artists involved.  Based on what’s been heard from Truslow, these guys will bring their best to the stage on Friday, August 29.

For any independent artist, publicity is extremely important.  Having near 3000 fans spread out among multiple social media sites for a local band is commendable.  This band is young and the sky’s the limit for them.  From what’s been heard on their new EP Hurricane thus far. this group should have a record deal and score Top 40 hits sooner versus later. “ADHD” is already scoring airplay on Radio U, which is a station based locally but reaches a nationwide audience.  New Albany’s New Hollow managed to score a hit this year and hopefully Truslow will follow suit. “ADHD” is poppy with enough of a rock crunch to fit in with the likes of New Hollow, 5 Seconds of Summer and R5. The title track to Hurricane starts off like a ballad, but picks up the pace. It is a track that shows the versatility of the band. James Truslow’s voice is going to make the ladies swoon. This Friday is sure to be a fun evening for those who attend the group’s set at the Fashion Meets Music Festival.

In two months, Truslow will be on a bill for DX Entertainment’s first ever show with their set sandwiched between headliner They’re Coming They’re Coming and opener Something Keen.  This will occur at King Avenue 5 (approximately two miles from Ohio Stadium) in Columbus, OH on Friday, October 17. Admission is $5.00 at the door and it is a solid lineup from top to bottom.  For those who live in the area, there is no excuse not to come and see these artists play.  To get a taste of what Truslow has to offer, please check out the lyric video for their new single “ADHD” below.  You’re welcome.