E.P. REVIEW: Crow Eats Man by Crow Eats Man

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Crow Eats Man are a five-piece heavy rock band based in Mountain View, California, who formed in 2016 and are heavily influenced by rock/grunge bands like Stone Temple Pilots and Alice in Chains, who both  rose to prominence in the nineties. They combine these influences with aspects of more recent rock bands like Queens of the Stone Age and Avenged Sevenfold. The fusion of grunge and modern rock/metal gives them a unique sound, aided by all members being highly proficient musicians and performers.

This five-track eponymous  E.P. is their first release and packs a powerful sonic punch. Crow Eats Man make music on an epic scale, with several tracks clocking in at close to, or over, five minutes, including the E.P. lead track Jaded. Based around a descending chord sequence and some meaty guitar riffs, it is Sebastian’s lead vocals that really grab your attention. His full-throated delivery brings to mind the vocals of rock legends Scott Weiland and Layne Staley, both sadly now passed on. After a brooding verse, it bursts into a cathartic, engaging chorus lifted further by a killer high riff; “I’m faded, I’m jaded, you brought me to my knees….” runs the memorable refrain.

The production is first rate, with every instrument recorded with crystalline clarity and mixed to perfection. After the standard verse/chorus structure, the band really allow the music to breathe. Following the second chorus, a passage of Avenged Sevenfold-esque harmonized guitar leads to some cyclonic drumming, then a break down section which culminates in a blazing guitar solo. One last chorus drives the song home and you can see why this is the lead track. Excellent stuff.

Lost Son, the second track, starts with a dark, sleazy low-end riff that any self respecting metal band would be proud of, before launching into a hard-rocking song guaranteed to get the moshpit headbanging. It alternates between sections of heavy Alice in Chains-style grind and slightly lighter but still hard hitting Audioslave-type riffs, with vocals that brought to mind Josh Homme. They show their musical chops towards the end with alternating sections of 5/4 and 6/4, which shows the influence of progressive rock, another facet to this band.

This rhythmic complexity continues on third song Before Sunday, which is in triple time throughout. It creates a brooding sonic soundscape with rumbling, swirling riffs and ascending lines played in octaves, with Sebastian giving an excellent vocal performance. It brought to mind the cathartic rage of Soundgarden, with Sebastian reminiscent of the late, great Chris Cornell. The exotic lead guitar work towards the end made me think of Faith No More’s Jim Martin circa their classic Angel Dust album.

Deependit is another bulldozer of a song built on a colossal low-end riff. It builds to an anthemic chorus strengthened by solid backing vocals, with a highly melodic bassline that helps drive the music forward. It culminates in a potent, wah-drenched guitar solo that doesn’t outstay its welcome and completes one of the strongest tracks on the E.P.

Closing song, the excellently titled Fresno Cigarette Run, is a relatively short but no less powerful way to finish. It features some biting machine-gun riffage and combines 4/4 and 6/8 time to great effect, with a catchy chant section and creative use of space. It provides a little light relief after the emotional intensity of the earlier tracks and bookends over twenty minutes of sustained high quality rock perfectly.

Overall, this is a highly impressive debut E.P. from a rock band who have hit the ground running and found their own style. Combining elements of old-school grunge with more modern influences and production techniques gives them an appeal for both young and old rock fans. Their first-class musicianship should mean that they thrive on the live circuit and, in Jaded, they have a track that should do well on American radio and elsewhere. This is a band with huge potential for the future. Ones to keep an eye on in 2018.

VERDICT: 8.9 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: Only U by JDR

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JDR are an EDM duo who are based in Sydney, Australia, consisting of two pop/dance producers and performers called Derrick Attwood and Joshua Paltoo. Both attendants of the JMC Academy, they have perfected their skills over time and Only U is the first fruit of their labours, at least that has been released so far.

Despite being only recently released it has accrued a sizeable amount of attention, with a large amount of views/streams on YouTube and Spotify , as well as enjoying radio play on multiple top level Australian radio stations. Their music is perfectly in keeping with the current musical climate in dance music, a combination of Calvin Harris-esque pop EDM, with the laid back dancehall grooves of Major Lazer.

This track, Only U, starts with filtered synths, the catchy beat soon entering with a brief flourish of Spanish guitar. The smooth-as-velvet vocals of Joshua Paltoo take the verse, contrasted nicely by Derrick Attwood’s distinctive tone. Taking turns on the verse and bridge is effective and they sound great in combination on the instantly memorable chorus. Lyrically, it is standard fare for dance music, about being transfixed by the charms of a girl and having one aim in mind: “The night is young and there’s so much love to explore…”. A few lines in Spanish give the track an exotic flavour and should help the popularity in Spanish speaking countries.

Overall, this track has a lot going for it; a superbly produced Latino-flavoured piece of EDM that is equally radio and dancefloor friendly. It will appeal to the currently huge mainstream dance crowd and beyond due to its fine pop sensibilities. If you’re a fan of Calvin Harris, The Chainsmokers, Juetin Bieber and Major Lazer, JDR will find a strong place in your hearts and this song has summer smash written all over it.

 

VERDICT: 8.7 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

SINGLE REVIEW: Black Mass by Collegians

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Collegians are a four-piece, alternative electro-rock band based in Melbourne, Australia. Formed in 2014, they have been busy recording their debut album and have already forged a distinctive sound; they combine the dark synth textures of Depeche Mode with the harder hitting rock aspects of bands like Muse and Linkin Park as well as the anthemic elements of Imagine Dragons. They have already made a considerable impact with their first single Vaccine, which featured highly in several charts and was received to considerable acclaim from the critics.

This second single, Black Mass, has followed suit, gaining even higher chart placing since its release in November, 2017. It’s the perfect showcase for their modern synth-rock style, with a standout performance from vocalist and frontman Glenn Patrick. Lyrically, it is highly apposite for this era; it’s about the pervasive, brainwashing influence of the mass media on people. The band describe the song succinctly as “a requiem to free thought”.

It starts with chugging low synth and lyrically, goes straight for the jugular: “You lay your dead sheep sermon on me, its round my neck, it’s poisoned my head…”. The track builds gradually builds with a simple beat entering in the second verse. It leads to the instantly memorable, anthemic chorus describing the far reaching effect of the media: “It’s a black mass going live to every lounge room, every bedroom….”. After the second chorus it breaks down into an extended middle eight section with rolling toms and fizzing synths, building up to a final chorus that you find yourself singing after one listen.

Overall, this is a real barnstormer of a single, a powerful one-two punch after the killer debut single Vaccine. It cleverly balances an accessible, radio friendly sound whilst having a sharp lyrical edge that is distinctly lacking in much modern pop. It boasts the kind of anthemic chorus you can imagine thousands chanting along to, and, based on the evidence so far, Collegians are my tip for the top in 2018 and beyond.

 

VERDICT: 9.2 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

 

SINGLE REVIEW: Darkness (ft Elizabeth Robinson) by RaR

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https://www.facebook.com/RARmusicgroup/

RaR are an EDM duo hailing from Sydney, Australia. They are currently known to the world as Rich and Raymo, with Rich having been involved in the dance music industry for some time, working in venues all around the world, including London. Raymo, until recently, had not been involved with music, but in 2017 they decided to join forces and commit to their great passion for dance music on a full-time basis.

This track, Darkness, featuring the vocal talents of New Zealand soul singer Elizabeth Robinson, is the perfect showcase for their musical synergy and expert production. Essentially, its an ode to the joys of dancing and clubbing, starting with a vocal intro: “I feel so free in the darkness, amongst the lights and smoke…”. Then enters a catchy synth riff which is layered throughout the track.

RaR know how to structure a track for the dancefloor, with the music building up to a climax then exploding into a full beat. The main hook is the euphoric vocal refrain of “Round and round we go”, Elizabeth sounding magnificent at the top of her range. They then take the music back down and build it up once more, an established technique but highly effective. It’s the potent and catchy melodic hooks that make Darkness stand out from the crowd.

Overall, this is a first class piece of EDM, that sounds fresh and current in the musical climate of similar artists like Martin Garrix, Calvin Harris, The Chainsmokers and David Guetta. With more tracks as good as Darkness, RaR will become a force to be reckoned with, and this could well be the single that launches them into the stratosphere.

 

VERDICT: 8.5 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

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ALBUM REVIEW: Motel Blue by The Steven Blane Band featuring Rachel Horter

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https://www.stevenblane.com

Steven Blane is a singer/songwriter and multi instrumentalist (guitar, piano, ukelele) hailing from New York City, as well as being a Universalist Rabbi and Cantor. His music can be essentially described as Americana, with shades of other genres such as folk, rock and blues thrown into the musical meld. Having already released several albums, he has accumulated a sizeable fanbase and critical acclaim along the way.

This album, Motel Blue, is his fifth, following on from 2016’s I Confess and The Shed Sessions. It was written and produced by Blane in the legendary country mecca of Nashville with his band of highly accomplished musicians; Frankie “Sticks” Levatino on drums, Kevin Hailey on bass and the formidable Ross Holmes on fiddle. Steven is accompanied on vocal duties throughout the album by Rachel Horter, a successful singer/songwriter in her own right.

The opening song Old Heart, Young dreams is the perfect introduction to the album, showcasing Blane’s rich Roy Orbison-esque voice, counterpointed beautifully by Rachel Horter’s angelic and authentically country tones (she is based in Nashville). It starts with a brisk 2/4 beat and a short burst of fiddle, Steven and Rachel taking turns delivering verses, before entwining effectively on the hook. It’s an apposite theme about a man and a woman of differing ages chasing their musical dreams. A great piece of country rock.

Next comes the title track of the album, performed solely by Rachel Horter. It’s a much slower and more bluesy country song about a place where those who’ve been unlucky in love stay to recuperate from their heartbreak. Rachel delivers a hauntingly lovelorn performance that Patsy Cline would have been proud of. One subtle aspect of Blane’s nuanced songwriting is that he takes traditional country forms and sets them to knowingly modern lyrics which stop it being mere pastiche: “There’s a TV and WiFi too, all that I need at Motel Blue….”. Ross Holmes contributes a wonderfully structured fiddle solo which musically enriches the song, as he does throughout the album.

Third song Curb Your Dog is a return to the upbeat country rock style, in 2/4 time. This one has a highly relevant theme of the importance of exercising a degree of self-control in the midst of hectic modern life, whilst acknowledging the difficulty of so many rules and regulations: “You’ve got to do what I say, day and night, right way…you’ve got to know what I mean and everything in between”. A fun, catchy song with great interplay between Blane and Horter.

Lover’s Lane is a nice change of pace; a smoky, sultry song with a lead vocal performed by Blane, aided by some 50’s-style “bop-shoo-bop” backing vocals from Horter. If features some nice lead guitar licks throughout, culminating in a short but sweet solo. The middle eight is strong, Horter’s voice blending with Blane’s in gorgeous harmony.

Preacher To The Prisoner is again a contrast, this song showing the influence of Steven’s faith. It’s a light hearted yet profound piece of songwriting, which, as the title implies, is about a preacher encouraging a prisoner to repent and find redemption. Musically, it shows Blane’s more jazzy side, set to a slinky, swinging rhythm with some nice brush work from Frankie Levatino and aided by rolling double bass from Kevin Hailey.

The next track Saved could be mistaken at first to be another faith-themed song, but is in fact about wanting to be saved by love rather than it being painful, restrictive and limiting. It is another fine example of how Blane and Horter bounce off each other, taking a verse on their own before combining for an instantly memorable chorus. In fact, it is so quickly recognizable that this would make an excellent choice for a single.

While Steven Blane has no problem writing the uptempo toe-tappers, for me, it is the slower material where he really shows his strength and craftsmanship as a songwriter. This is very evident on the poignant As Far As I’m Concerned, a song about trying to find the cause as to why a relationship is failing, captured in the excellent chorus: “Well, its the jetlag baby, or a head cold maybe, or the dollars always needing to be earned, it’s the season turning, it’s the spirit yearning, it’s the bridge that’s burning as far as I’m concerned…”. Another potential single.

Anytime is another wonderful slow song, this one in 3/4 waltz time and performed once more solely by Rachel Horter. It’s a touching country ballad sung in a gentle croon, and displays a tender side to Blane’s songwriting. The poignancy comes from the story told in the lyrics, about a woman showing her partner devotion and unconditional love after his infidelity.

The fine run of ballads continues with Dance With The One Who Brung Ya, this one another duet, the theme being about appreciating what you have and the person you’re with. This one is notable for the emotional expressiveness and Orbiton-esque intensity that Blane channels towards the end of the track.

Tiny Little Moment is a nice contrast and adds a little light relief amongst the more emotional songs, a two minute gem with a busy bassline and a catchy vocal melody. This one has a real 50’s feel to it and would go down a storm at a barndance. Ross Holmes delivers another phenomenal fiddle solo, as well as driving the music along throughout with his infectious sawing.

The closing song, Moth To A Flame, is a haunting Leonard Cohen/Paul Simon type ballad that again showcases his gift for this kind of style. With the sparse backing of a plucked ukelele and subtle strings, including a movingly melancholy fiddle passage, Blane and Horter give a spine tingling vocal performance as they depict two people irresistibly drawn to each other. A perfect finale.

Overall, this is a superb collection of well written and exquisitely produced Americana songs, performed with consummate skill and style by both Blane and Horter, who make a great vocal combination. Fans of country, folk, blues and the lighter end of rock will find plenty to enjoy here. The consistently high quality of the album will most likely mean the music of Steven Blane reaches a much bigger audience and deservedly so.

 

VERDICT: 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

SINGLE REVIEW: No More Reprise by Norine Braun

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Norine Braun is a singer/songwriter hailing from Vancouver who is already very established and has won several awards in a long and successful career. Her music is an eclectic blend of blues, rock, soul and jazz which she has performed worldwide at festivals and elsewhere to both critical and public acclaim. With a lengthy back catalogue behind her she is now releasing her eleventh album Kind of Blues, with No More Reprise as the lead-off track.

The song grabs the listener’s attention from the very start with a warm, rootsy sound based around a funky drum groove, catchy bassline, slick wah-wah drenched guitar and wailing, bluesy harmonica. Norine soon enters the fray with a distinctive and authentic vocal style, mildly reminiscent of Arethra Franklin albeit with a lighter tone.

The lyrics depict a relationship that has hit the rocks owing to her partner being a good-for-nothing, the protagonist having reached her wit’s end with them: “No more sleeping in this bed, no more tears about you shed…”. The acerbic lyrical style fits perfectly with the strident mood of the music, which follows the traditional pattern of twelve bar blues. There is no obvious chorus as you’d find in standard pop, but the song is so catchy throughout that you soon find yourself singing along. After the second verse, there is a concise, effective guitar solo performed with a Hendrix-esque tone and some nice harmonica licks in the last verse to keep the listener gripped to the end.

Overall, this is a fresh, funky and highly enjoyable piece of modern blues written and performed by a versatile and mercurial talent. For those who appreciate music with heart and soul and who are looking for undiscovered gems outside the banal mainstream, look no further than the music of Norine Braun.

VERDICT: 8.9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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E.P. REVIEW: Once Upon A Scary Night by Robin B. Czar

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http://www.rbczar.co.uk/

Robin B. Czar is a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who is German but currently resides in Canterbury, England. He has developed a cult fan base owing to his unique sound; it is a fascinating fusion of old school hard rock/metal like Black Sabbath, with more modern influences such as Marilyn Manson and HIM. Vocally, he has an immediately distinctive tone reminiscent of David Bowie and Buzzcocks singer Howard Devoto.

He has released three albums, Nachtgesange, Kiss from The Abyss and Mission Bizarre, which I reviewed a couple of years back. This E.P., Once Upon A Scary Night, consists of three tracks which form a ‘trilogy about a fictional character’ who goes through an emotional journey portrayed across one night that resolves the next day. For the fans who love his established sound, they will be pleased to know it retains the virtuoso musicianship, darkly humorous lyrics and ambitious, sophisticated arrangements that have become his trademarks.

Opening track Candle In The Rain begins in a blaze of Avenged Sevenfold-esque guitar pyrotechnics, displaying Robin’s incredibly fluent style, grabbing the listener’s attention immediately with a swirling riff that he harmonizes to great effect. The first verse depicts a life of misery over a sparse musical backing: “Another endless day has passed, another sleepless night begins.…”. The bridge/pre chorus bursts out of the speakers in a blaze of guitars and syncopated rhythms, the lyrics even darker: “The torture never stops, its like a nightmare without waking up…”.

Then the gloom is relieved by the instantly catchy title hook which refers to the fleeting and fragile nature of life: “Like a candle in the rain, everything’s vain in the end….”. After the second chorus there is an excellent instrumental passage, first with a short half time section featuring beefy, low-end riffage before launching into a fantastic solo, again featuring Bat Country-style duel guitar harmonies, then one last chorus.

Second song Until The Morning Breaks is a complete contrast musically, but carries on the nocturnal theme. This one is a brooding, intense epic rock ballad which starts with a lilting piano motif before a sparse but effective beat kicks in and Robin portrays a bleak, gothic scene: “The raging wind’s outside… the winter storm, it howls, it’s banging at the door….ghosts from forgotten graves come to you in need….”.

It builds gradually in intensity across the duration of the track, with atmospheric synths and subtle lead guitar work adding to the texture. The central theme of the ‘dark night of the soul’ is captured in another memorable chorus: “In sombre silence you sit in here and wait…until the morning breaks….”. After the second chorus there is an instrumental section with a concise, well structured solo played in octaves. It ends poignantly with the return of the piano phrase.

The final track Kill Everybody, is again in strong contrast to the previous song, this one hurtling along at a hectic pace, though not quite what you’d classify as speed metal. It shows Robin’s macabre sense of humour for the first time on the E.P., with a scenario in the lyrics reminiscent of the film Falling Down, about a man who cracks from stress and starts taking revenge on whoever has slightly wronged him.

Robin clearly has his tongue in his cheek as he sings: “Now is the girl who gave the wrong change, now it’s too late for mercy or tears….”. It leads to the joyously delivered chorus hook: “Kill everybody! Now it’s payback time….”. After the second chorus, Robin wrong foots the listener once more, reducing the tempo drastically for a build up section that airs grievances in a humorous fashion: “They do the same job, but get paid a bonus on top….”. Then ensues a return to the machine gun kick drums of the first half of the song, Robin delivering the best guitar solo of all, performed with a mellifluous, silky tone to bring things to a satisfying musical climax.

Overall, this is an excellent E.P. that’s works as a complete whole rather than just a collection of separate songs based around a lead single, as is usually the case. Robin B. Czar can lay claim to a genuinely original sound and style, melding rock (classic, prog, and industrial) with elements of heavy metal, then throwing quirky, eccentric lyrical themes shot through with Gothic black humour into the mix. It all adds up to an entertaining sonic concoction and this E.P. raises the bar even higher in the context of his previous work. Rock/metal fans looking for something a little left of field are implored to give him a listen!

 

VERDICT: 8.8 out of 10

Alex Faulkner