ALBUM REVIEW: A Cold Heaven by MadWolf

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https://song.link/album/s/1LJzedaYnv7MRC43a9MP3C

MadWolf is an upcoming composer/producer and multi-instrumentalist who creates music in an eclectic range of genres and styles, though his music could be loosely described as alternative and, at times, avant garde. He works with several creative collaborators, so in a certain sense MadWolf is essentially a collective.

Having also released a single this year, The Little Piano, this album consists of fourteen tracks and the collaborators include Ian Darr-Johnson, Nuetrino Yeatts, Vikiro Hop, Chase Naviello and Dylan ‘Cowboy’ Rose.

The first track Writing To My Reality features Nuetrino Yeatts delivering a spoken word poem over a background of classical-influenced piano. Whilst the moniker of Yeatts brings to mind the famous Irish poet, the poetry of this track is more akin to the stream of consciousness, introspective and freeform lyrical style of the Beat poets like Allen Ginsberg.

Musically, it is a composition of some skill in both how it is written and performed. Stylistically, it is closest to the era of Beethoven’s late piano sonatas and the combined effect is a mesmeric piece of avant garde along the lines of Revolution 9 by The Beatles.

Second track The Longest Dream is completely different; a ten minute alternative blues song featuring Ian Darr Johnson and Dylan ‘Cowboy’ Rose. Strummed acoustic guitar and occasional electric guitar are the bedrock of the sound, underpinned by subtle drumming and percussion.

The vocals are raw and passionately delivered, reaching anguished states at certain points. Lyrically, it is again poetic, with stark, affecting imagery that made me think of Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst: “Broken cities and broken men…..burning cities and burning men….”.

Gods and Stars maintains the rawness and slightly lo-fi nature of the previous song but is relatively lighter in tone. It is the first of several collaborations with Vikiro Hop. Whilst melodically upbeat, lyrically it’s riddled with angst and self-loathing: “I was the one who sucked the desert dry….I can see that this story is ending…”. The chorus hook is unexpectedly memorable and catchy, with the looseness of the performance belying a well crafted song and arrangement.

Broken Elevator is a solo MadWolf track, a two minute instrumental that made me think of the bleak electronic soundscapes of the second half of David Bowie’s classic Low album.  A fine track that showcases MadWolfs skills as a producer. The following Silver Forest is another song featuring Vikiro Hop, very different to the first. It’s electronica-tinged futuristic pop similar in style to that of another musical collective, Gorillaz.

Subconscious is a solo effort, one of the more avant garde songs that sounds like Dr. John jamming with a stoned Fleet Foxes, produced in the style of Tom Waits’ Swordfishtrombones album.

The inventive use of off-kilter percussion acts as a nice textural contrast to the finely played bluesy acoustic guitars. Seventh track Sticatto is another quirky instrumental featuring an irrepressibly upbeat staccato piano melody counterpointed by synth strings and brass.  Impossible to classify in terms of genre, but very enjoyable.

Float Back Down is an album highlight, a gentle, melancholy acoustic ballad with a poignant, world weary lead vocal (presumably by Vikiro Hop). This is MadWolf at his most traditional and accessible (even though the last words are ‘f*** them all’….).

Next comes a reprise of Broken Elevator, this one full of restless, hard to define rhythms and pleasingly distorted keyboards. Tenth track Bassoul is another curveball, a busy bassline and a jazzy vocal melody produced and arranged in a very unusual and interesting way. Perhaps the most original track on the album.

Simple Songs is a nice contrast; it’s a return to the more straightforward acoustic balladry of Float Back Down, this one augmented by magical, xylophone-style synth.  Twelve track Insane sounds like being in the studio at 3am after a few ‘jazz cigarettes’ and recording the results, including the amusing studio chatter. The song’s surreal start gives way to a more defined effort that has a Father John Misty vibe in its vocal melody.

Smooth Sailing introduces a new collaborator to the album, Chase Naviello.  It is one of the epics, a space-rock instrumental with reverb-drenched guitars beamed in from somewhere approaching Alpha Centauri. A deliciously blissed out track that seems to exist in it own unique sonic space, with a Dave Gilmour influence in the style of the playing.

The closing song Your Silence is another collaboration with Ian Darr-Johnson and it’s the sort of raw acoustic blues that Kurt Cobain was covering on Nirvana’s Unplugged in New York album.  The dissonant chord changes and angular vocal melody ensure the album ends on a predictably unpredictable way (if that makes sense).

Overall, this is a fascinatingly eclectic and diverse collection of songs by a composer/producer who seems to thrive on collaboration. Despite the wide range of genres and moods the album encompasses, there is still a cohesion to the music that is perhaps due to working with fellow creative kindred spirits.

There is a refreshing lack of pretension and commercial ambition in the rough hewn, ‘warts and all’ approach to the production, but those not put off by a lo-fi style will find a wealth of interesting material here.  I expect MadWolf to gain a devoted fanbase as a consequence of this fine album which puts blues, folk and electronica through the mangler and returns some intriguing, often enthralling, results.

VERDICT = 8.6 out of 10

 

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: Bhangra Loaded by BYND

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BYND is an American rap/hip hop artist working in a subgenre known as Surf-rap. This is a laid back style of hip-hop that centers around the popular pastime of surfing. It has the relaxed and mellow feel of stoner rap, but with a unique, fresh vibe.

Based in Miami and NYC, BYND is fairly new on the scene and has a distinctive rapping style that brings to mind a more chilled out Notorious B.I.G. or the light hearted hip-hop of De La Soul. 2018 has already been a prolific one for him, with the release of several EPs and single tracks.

This track, Bhangra Loaded, is taken from his twelve track debut album Noir Medley, released this year. Set to a languid tempo but featuring a subtly intricate hip-hop beat, BYND gets your attention from the start with a commanding vocal delivery that grabs you, whilst still maintaining a blissed-out demeanour. Musically, it is quite sparse but effective, based around a two chord synth motif. This allows his rapping to take the spotlight.

Lyrically, the title refers to a kind of surfboard and but this track doesn’t appear to be literally about surfing. It’s a metaphor for finding mental release from stress through the use of active imagination: “Dream surfin’, just with my beliefs, keep my mind grinding, that’s my stress relief….”. The main lyrical hook has an addictive aspect that lodges in the memory from the very first listen: “Want my dream to be real, so I grind the wheels….”.

Overall, this is a laid back yet infectious hip-hop track from an upcoming artist who has carved his own niche and stylistically stands apart from most of his rap contemporaries. With a signature sound and a strong debut album in the bag, the future is looking good for BYND and Bhangra Loaded is a great introduction to his oeuvre.

 

VERDICT = 8.8 out of 10

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SINGLE REVIEW: Gotta Go by MusicbyKO

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MusicbyKO is a hip hop artist/rapper from Oakland, California. He has been trailblazing the underground hip-hop scene which has resulted in two singles that have generated 170k listens on Soundcloud. He has shared the stage with many artists including J.I.D., Earthgang and many more. He tries to set himself apart from other hip-hop artists by striving to connect with his fans through lyrics they can relate to.

This track, Gotta Go, is a good example of that ideal and also highlights his skills as an emcee and lyricist. The foundation of the track is a slinky, simple-but-effective beat and a rubber band bassline, the relatively sparse musical backdrop allowing him to take centre stage.

Lyrically, it’s an honest depiction of dealing with life’s difficulties and struggles, as well as the transitory nature of modern life and the necessity for moving on despite our problems. This is captured succinctly in the very catchy chorus hook: “Gotta go, gotta go, gotta run…stuck in this loop of hell“. Aside from the profound depth of the lyrics, the rapid fire delivery and effortless flow mark him out as a serious contender in his genre.

Overall, this is a strong release from a hip-hop artist whose gifts for rap and rhyme can stand alongside the finest in his field. With a proven track record of being able to amass a huge amount of listener interest, this could be the track that catapults this rap artist to the next level.

 

VERDICT = 8.3 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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SINGLE REVIEW: Breed by The Vanilla Milkshakes

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http://reverbnation.com/rpk/thevanillamilkshakes

The Vanilla Milkshakes are a punk rock trio hailing from Denver, CO. They have a compelling character for a frontman in vocalist David McGhee who is gay, autistic, an ex-junkie and formerly homeless, so he is not short of life experience. His partners in crime are Frank Registrato on drums and Mike King on bass. Together, they produce a highly entertaining racket and have a famous fan in music journalist Everett True (he introduced Courtney Love to Kurt Cobain) who describes them as ‘like Nirvana if they had been a K Records band’, which sums them up nicely.

Back in 2015, I gave a rave review to their album Tall People Have No Feelings. This track, Breed, is a cover version of a Nirvana song from their classic 1991 album Nevermind. While that album was made on a major label budget and slickly produced by Butch Vig, this version has a lot more in common with the more lo-fi sound of Nirvana’s debut album Bleach. Notably, that was produced by Jack Endino who The Vanilla Milkshakes have worked with.

Musically, it’s a pretty faithful rendition and, most importantly, it rocks. You can sense a kindred spirit to Kurt Cobain in vocalist/guitarist David McGhee and the whole band embody the raw punk rock spirit that Nirvana were accused by some of losing on Nevermind. The ascending octaves after the second chorus are just as good as the original and special credit should also go to Frank Registrato’s spirited drumming.

Overall, this is a highly entertaining version of a classic grunge song that retains the musicality of the original, whilst reinvigorating it with their own inimitable, ramshackle charm. This likeable band are keeping to the spirit of punk rock alive, and long may they do so.

 

VERDICT = 8.5 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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ALBUM REVIEW: Spirits in Smoke by REVELEVER

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https://www.facebook.com/REVELEVER

REVELEVER is the artistic moniker of composer/songwriter and multi instrumentalist Randy Lever. Having started out as a drummer playing pop, rock and metal he became increasingly interested in synths and the creative freedom of technology. His music is highly influenced by the synth-driven artists of the 1980’s such as Gary Numan, Duran Duran, Talk Talk and Japan.

This short album, Spirits in Smoke, consists of four instrumental tracks that all clock in between the four-to-six minute mark. They are ambitious in their scope and structure, with an intricacy in the composition that shows a clear artistic vision from the composer. The title of the album is very apposite, as REVELEVER’s music has a mystical vibe that takes the listener on a journey.

Musically, the soundscape consists of a very 1980’s synth rock sound, when technology and musicality truly combined. So alongside synths, we hear drums, bass, piano and guitar (the latter performed by his father Ferry Lever . The album starts with the title track, and it’s a stately, evocative epic that gradual grows in complexity. The main melody has a haunting quality, underpinned by jazz-inflected piano chords. The different sections of the track contrast well, and the lightness of the synths also works with the more low-end, darker sounding instruments.

Second track The Driving Force of Nature starts with a beautiful piano melody and sparse percussion. Subtle synths weave their way into the sonic texture before it bursts into an uplifting section led by crystal-clear clean lead guitar and strings. This piece really showcases his gifts as a melodist and there’s so much musical detail that you barely notice that six minutes have passed. It ends the same saturnine way it began.

Third track The Beauty of Innocence is more rhythm-based, with a tense classical-style piano motif heard over an intricate world-music influenced beat and another prominent role for strings. The music is driven along by a chugging, picked guitar and the complexity of the arrangement brings to mind the sophisticated pop of Peter Gabriel and Talk Talk. The track takes a more Eastern direction in its second half, with the introduction of the magical sound of the sitar. It gives the music a very exotic flavour and this was my personal favourite.

Closing track Sunshine is much lighter in tone compared to the sultry intensity of the previous track. Set to a gentle, laid back bossa-nova beat it once again showcases his talent for melody and interesting harmonic structures. Ascending piano lines interweave with soothing string melodies to create a sound picture that made me think of a sunny holiday on a foreignb each. The restrained lead electric guitar was a nice touch, and the EP very much ends on a high note.

Overall, this a highly enjoyable album of synth-rock instrumentals, written and performed by a composer of consummate skill. Inspired by the more interesting and ambitious aspects of 1980’s pop, he has brought that sound into the 21st century and added his own musical idiosyncracies. The result is a compelling sonic journey.

 

VERDICT = 8.8 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: Female Medieval Jester by Jamit

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Jamit is an electronica/EDM composer and producer who grew up in Australia but is now based in Singapore. The past few months have seen a plethora of instrumental releases, including Multiplayer Erotica, Lovers and Rockers, Solar Power and Star of Wonder. His music is essentially psychedelic trance with other aspects of EDM genres incorporated into the sound, along with innovative use of spoken word samples.

This year I have already given glowing reviews to his previous releases Such Is Not, Pioneer Generation, MRT and Chicken. His latest track, Female Medieval Jester, is somewhat a musical departure from his previous releases whilst still maintaining the Jamit signature sound. This track is both his most minimalist and, at the same time, his most epic so far at nine minutes long. Whereas he defined his previous work as psytrance, this belongs more in the ambient category.

It begins with an intricate percussive rhythmic pattern that forms the bedrock for the whole track. A synthesized vocal chant then emerges followed by a psychedelic, swirling synth pattern, which is the kind of sound you associate with Jamit’s music.

These simple elements interweave and repeat throughout the duration, having an accumulatively meditative and mesmeric effect on the listener. Jamit has suggested to listen to it in the bathtub; this is subtly complex ambient with a gentle infusion of the erotic. By the end of the track I was feeling noticeably more relaxed and peaceful, it is essentially music to bliss out to.

Overall, this is another strong step forward in Jamit’s artistic progression. It’s nearly twice the length of his previous releases and in a more ambient style, yet still retains the key elements of his sound. My only criticism of his tracks in the past was that sometimes they felt like they ended too soon. Not this time, here Jamit really allows the music to breathe and this slightly new direction will increase his appeal radius even further.

VERDICT: 8.7 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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ALBUM REVIEW: Down The Rabbit Hole by Cashing In Karma

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https://cashinginkarma.com/

Cashing In Karma are a three-piece alternative rock band from the Tacoma-Seattle area in Washington State. The band began back in 2015, formed by founding member Jonny Barrett and they recently reformed in 2018 with Marco Diez and Dave Bugg. Their music is influenced by American rock bands such as Queens Of The Stone Age and Foo Fighters, along with British bands like Muse and Royal Blood, amongst many others.

This seven-track EP, Down The Rabbit Hole, is the first fruits of their labours since their reformation. Opening track Liar, Liar establishes their musical style immediately with Jonny Barrett’s powerful lead vocals bringing to mind Conor Mason from British alt. rock band Nothing But Thieves. You can also pick up the influence of mid-period Arctic Monkeys in the exotic chord changes and dynamics.

Lyrically, I’m going to go out on a limb and say this song is about the dreaded Donald Trump: “Our eyes are set on a new horizon but you tell us to say goodbye to it all, and go about your plans. And no children’s cries, no island’s pain would be enough for things to change.” The concise Led Zeppelin-drenched guitar solo added a nice little extra flavour.

Second song Yesterday Didn’t Work is also political in theme, this one dealing with the difficult issue of immigration and governmental racism: “You’ve heard of freedom and of peace and opportunity but your colors don’t fit, so you really don’t get any of it for free…”. Musically, it’s a divine marriage of The White Stripes with AM-era Arctic Monkeys, where the songs are often built around riffs. The meaty main riff of this song stands up with the best rock bands around and works well in tandem with the lead vocals.

Here I Stay swaps the political for the more personal, this one about a relationship that has gone south: “I don’t know what broke or fixed inside your barren mind, but the things that you don’t tell me are what eat you from inside….”. It’s one of their most instantly memorable choruses, aided by the vocal harmonies that feature throughout. Like the best rock bands, they combine hard-hitting sound with strong melodies.

Good Enough seems like a thematic continuation and dissection of the same problematic relationship, the chorus trying to find emotional resolution: “If I show you my worst and you show me yours, I only hope it’s good enough.” It’s another track that shows their fine songwriting sensibilities, equally able to flit from broader subject matter like political issues to the intimate and vulnerable aspects of being human.

Fifth track Folie a Deux again shows their gift for blending gritty riffs with insightful lyrics on the vicissitudes of romantic relations: “If we could see outside of ourselves, would we just call our love a Folie à deux? And what would we do?

The following B.S.D. shows both some of their heavier influences with some monster Muse-on-PCP guitar riffs, and lyrically shows a more humorous side with a cuttingly satirical depiction of a soulless money-obsessed alpha male type: “Big Swinging Dick walks into the room to hunt some elephants, best in the room and it’s so clear to see….”.

Final track The Sound ends the EP on a high note, and it’s not only where we get the EP title but it’s a powerful song lyrically, about how artists/bands are pushed to the sidelines: “Did you forget about the artists making things for you?” It’s also a very inspiring message about how important music is itself: “You need it to set you free from all the mundane little miseries…”. It culminates in a blazing guitar solo, which reiterates the point of the track rather nicely.

Overall, this is a very strong set of songs that is essentially a short album at seven tracks, and a good one. The range of Anglo and American musical influences that have informed their music means they have a deep well of inspiration to draw from and it has resulted in a distinctive style all of their own. A natural gift for melody and lyrical versatility are also virtues that will help Cashing In Karma make a strong impact on the alternative rock scene. A rabbit hole well worth going down.

 

VERDICT: 8.7 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

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