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

Robin B. Czar - Once Upon a Scary Night - EP Cover


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



ALBUM REVIEW: Pour Me An Encore by Audiobender

coverart  http://audiobenderband.com/


Audiobender are a three piece band from San Jose, California, consisting of singer/songwriter and guitarist Jared Richard, bassist Paul Cingolani and drummer Jeff Lemas. Their music could be described as hard rock/power pop but essentially it is good ol’ rock ‘n roll with a modern twist. I had the privilege of reviewing their excellent debut album Reverb, and though my review was glowing, my one slight criticism was that they had not yet forged their own unique sonic identity. This second studio offering rectifies that issue with a great deal of panache.

Immediately it becomes apparent that the production has stepped up a notch from their debut, with a blistering drum sound courtesy of Don Budd at Tone Freq studios, who also did a fine job recording the bass. With a little help from their friends, the band themselves produced the album (mixing and mastering courtesy of Jeff Lemas) and they’ve done a first class job.

Most importantly, they’ve maintained one of their key strengths from their first record, which is capturing the energy and intensity level of their live performances (also recommended is their ‘Live at the Whiskey’ album). They have also maintained their other strengths; being a 3-piece allows the music a sonic clarity and a chance to breathe, with Cingolani and Lemas providing a solid rhythmic platform for Jared Richard’s soulful, emotionally raw vocals.

The albums starts with a little musical humour, a few seconds of strummed country style guitar floating out of the speakers before a needle scratch intervenes and the band launch into the incendiary opening song Venus. Musically, it’s the lovechild of AC/DC, Green Day and The Clash, with whirlwind drumming that would have Tré Cool dribbling into his beer. The band strike a great balance between playing tight yet maintaining a raw edge, avoiding the overly slick, overproduced and sterile sound that mars many modern rock records.

Venus is a great showcase for the band’s improved sense of dynamics, ranging from quiet and subtle to Def Con 1 with consummate ease. Lyrically, Venus is a classic ‘femme fatale’ song in time-honoured rock ‘n roll tradition: “Fill your head with lies while they cut you down to size…”. A mid section based on a rolling tom-tom pattern leads to the song’s climax, with some nifty bass runs from Paul Cingolani and a great vocal performance from Jared, singing at the top of his range. A perfect opener.

Second track Show Me A Sign shows their funkier side, with a bouncy, elastic bassline, an insistent groove and Chilli Peppers-style high-end guitar. Jared once again rips it up on the memorable chorus, channelling Robert Plant and rivalling him for vocal range. Though the music is upbeat, it’s a song about emotional struggle and world weariness: “Sometimes I feel caught beneath a tidal wave or a thousand pounds of steel, heading for an early grave….”. A strong track that shows they can do deep and introspective alongside the pure rockers.

Next song Easy maintains the emotional intensity, with a brooding Queens Of The Stone Age vibe on the verse before Jared unleashes a killer chorus, aided by a snaking bassline. Once again, it’s women that are driving him crazy, this one depicting a duplicitous type who hides behind a facade and whose feelings only run surface deep: “It’s easy to pretend, cos you’re easy to believe….”. While a few cuss words rule this one out as a single, it’s another well crafted, memorable track that completes an explosive opening trifecta.

Next comes a distinct change of pace with the self-explanatory Stuck On The Floor of a Hotel Bathroom, musically an upbeat piece of funk rock with an insanely catchy main melody. As the title implies, it’s an ode to nights of hard drinking and the messy situations that ensue: “Last night, everything was possible, the world was in my hands….now I think I need a hospital…”. Great fun, providing a little levity and humour after the emotional heaviness of the previous two tracks.

Stop Talking opens with an ominous sounding, slinky syncopated bassline soon doubled by low-end guitar to create a formidable and deliciously dark groove. After a moody QOTSA-esque verse it builds into a swirling riff that develops into a superb instrumental section where Jeff Lemas gets to shine with some cyclonic fills round the kit. Audiobender are tasteful with their displays of virtuosity; there’s no element of the self indulgence that you associate with the rock of the seventies and eighties (excessive guitar solos, ten minute drum solos etc.). Jared’s vocals on this one brought to mind the late, great Chris Cornell of Soundgarden (R.I.P.).

However, they do continue to flex their musical muscles on next track , the instrumental High and Dry. Based around a rapid fire descending guitar and bass riff, it creates a fierce sense of momentum before some colourful bursts of bluesy harmonica enter the fray, courtesy of special guest Jake Flood. Jared gets to shine with a ripping, wah-drenched guitar solo that doesn’t outstay its welcome.

This leads on to arguably the album’s most instant song, the AC/DC influenced Die Another Day. After a chugging verse that builds the tension nicely, it bursts into a classic chorus that sticks in your head from the first listen and marks it out as a strong potential single. After the second chorus, it enters a languid section of Steely Dan-style harmonized guitar which is unexpected and very well crafted. A full-blooded solo section follows, the whole band playing their heart out, before a final killer blow of the last chorus. This is Audiobender at their best.

I Tried is the album’s ‘slow burner’, showing their excellent command of dynamics. It starts subtly with vocals and sparse guitar, Jared setting the scene of someone who’s given all he’s got to a relationship: “Slow down baby, give me time, I’ve been down to my last dime, I’ve been searching up and down, I’ve been rolling all around…”. The music gradually builds with a pulsing hi-hat groove which develops into an addictive, syncopated beat in the second verse. This creates a brooding tension which eventually breaks out into a section of tribal tom tom patterns, as Jared expresses his anguish at the peak of his range. A real grower.

The last official song, This Is The End, is a poignant depiction of a relationship on the verge of finishing, with emotions running high:“It’s gotten so tense that even words hit me in the chin…”. Featuring one of the most anthemic choruses and gorgeous four-part stacked guitar harmony, it’s pretty much the perfect way to end the album.

But wait….not quite, as there’s a ‘hidden track’ – a light hearted cover of the jazz standard All Of Me, which actually links nicely from the preceding song in terms of theme. There’s some more humour to bookend the album, which I shall leave for the listener to discover.

Overall, Audiobender have truly raised the bar on this album, taking the best elements of 70’s/80’s rock and merging them with the most effective aspects of modern rock to create a distilled, potent fusion. With several classics in the bag, they deserve to spoken of in the same sentence as their luminaries and Pour Me An Encore proves them to be serious contenders for the throne.


VERDICT: 9 out of 10.

Alex Faulkner

ALBUM REVIEW: Love And Blood by Jean Synodinos

LOVE  You can stream this album at http://www.loveandblood.org/

Jean Synodinos is a singer/songwriter and now prolific painter, hailing from Austin, Texas. This is her fourth album, following her first acclaimed releases Breathe, Lucky and Girls, Good And Otherwise. The latter received the Texas Award for Musical Excellence in 2012. Her music is an eclectic blend of country, folk, blues, jazz and elements of classical, brought together by her warm, distinctive voice which has received critical acclaim in itself.

This album, Love And Blood, consists of eight tracks and is a particularly personal project for Jean, as it is essentially about the relationship with her husband who sadly passed away from having battled the disease of addiction, in the form of alcoholism. It starts off powerfully with opening track End Of The World, a bluesy string-laden epic about a relationship on the rocks: “This is the end of the world…a hundred heroes couldn’t save us now…” she sings on the wonderful chorus. A poignant and heart rending song, with achingly poetic words.

What is immediately striking is the emotional power of Jean’s voice, which, combining with her excellent songwriting and exquisite production, makes for captivating listening. Second track This Morning is just as moving, a delicate acoustic guitar led ballad imagining a happy day lying in bed but contrasted with the reality of her lover having left: “If you could have stayed, we could have laid in bed this morning….every feather in the pillow a thought I should have said….”.

Picture is another fine song, seemingly a sweetly nostalgic song about looking at old pictures, but it really depicts how a picture can show the emotional distance between people and how a captured image can reveal so much about a person: “In every picture, look at you looking right past the camera, keeping your eyes on a far horizon…”.

Mercy, Mercy is a necessary contrast after three such emotional tracks, and this upbeat, jazzy track lightens the mood, augmented by tasteful bursts of brass and barrelhouse piano that really captures the mood. Lyrically, this one is a departure, a narrative that tells of a lover being shot down.

The Morning Does Not Suit Your Eyes returns to the more melancholy, sombre style. The haunting, nocturnal feel of the music with its descending melodies perfectly mirrors the evocative imagery of the lyrics (about all night drinking binges). Jean has a real gift for framing a situation or emotion in a poetic way, something that seems increasingly rare in modern music: “You and your Mistress, you stay up every night, out of sight…empty glasses guard, whilst the sun rises you stumble up to the yard….”.

Forgive Him His Sins is another deeply moving portrait of her relationship with her husband, this one again directly referencing his alcohol problems: “Pick up the bottles, the empties on the floor…and a cry from the bedroom – ‘It won’t happen anymore’…”. Wonderful, brave and honest songwriting that contains more depth in a few bars than many achieve in their whole career.

Bark Right At The Moon is relatively lighter in mood, and perhaps the most traditional track here in terms of genre. It’s a lovely country rock ballad, simply about missing someone deeply, with some gorgeous guitar work throughout.

Real Renegade is a sweet and unexpectedly happily romantic ending to the album: “I’m done running round, I like what I’ve found, my renegades days are through, now I believe I’ll never leave a real renegade like you….”. It’s the upbeat finale that feels right in the context of the album after so much depiction of struggle and pain, though rendered all the more poignant knowing the real life events surrounding it.

Overall, this is an absolute artistic jewel of an album from start to finish. The quality of the songwriting, both musically and, particularly, lyrically is of the highest calibre and you can tell the whole album has been a labour of love. It is reminiscent of Joni Mitchell’s classic Blue album in the way it lays its heart on its sleeve, and is all the more rewarding for the listener because of it. In an era where the album is quickly becoming a forgotten art form, here is a perfect example of the artistic heights it can achieve.

Alex Faulkner


VERDICT: 9.4 out of 10

E.P. REVIEW: You Find Out On Your Own by Michael Reddington



Michael Reddington is a singer songwriter hailing from Nottingham who initially had his sights set on being a sound engineer, which for a while he achieved when working at the venue Stealth, where he worked with Bastille and Shy FX. However, an escalator accident ripped off his big toe, leaving him bed ridden for three months. He turned to music to get through, and began his songwriting journey which has led to this EP.

His music is essentially well crafted pop/rock in the great British tradition and you can hear myriad influences in these three songs, from The Beatles to The Smiths, though he also cites American songwriters like Neil Young, Ryan Adams and Tom Petty. His lyrics are very much rooted in the struggles of everyday life.

Opening song You Find Out On Your Own is an excellent start, a mid paced piece of guitar pop that has a nice Beatles-esque lead guitar line, warm pulsing bass, subtle piano and rich organ filling out the sound. It alternates between a lilting 4/4 rhythm on the intro and verse then switches to 2/4 on the bridge/chorus which injects momentum into the music.

Lyrically, it’s strong, a rumination on figuring things out through your own life experiences rather than accepting what others say: “I’ve been keep on making my own rules, avoiding fools…they don’t teach you any of this in school, I guess you find out on your own…”. His vocals are very good, comfortable singing in a high range and the whole song is catchy and memorable while avoiding anything predictable.

Monotony Lobotomy is slightly faster paced and in 4/4 throughout, lyrically a melancholy tale of frustration through being stuck in a humdrum situation and longing for a chance to escape, though still with a ray of hope for the future (“Just one chance and they’ll be no stopping me….”). The vocal melody and main hook are haunting, expressing the weariness of the lyrics perfectly.

Final track Uniform is a slow paced acoustic track, and lyrically takes an acerbic look at those to conform rather than show any individuality: “You’re a nancy of a man, got to do for them all you can…in uniform“. It’s another very melodic and memorable song, augmented by some lovely strings as the track progresses.

Overall, this is an excellent EP that shows Michael Reddington as a quality songwriter both musically and lyrically, with a fine gift for melody and a voice that is both distinctive and easy on the ear. While it’s hard these days for a songwriter to break through, he has everything it takes and I look forward to hearing a whole album from him.


Alex Faulkner (The Faulkner Review)


VERDICT: 8.9 out of 10

E.P. REVIEW: Balloons by Dechard



ALBUM REVIEW: Real Life by Malichi


Malichi is a hip hop artist hailing from Canada who originally broke out back in 2003 when he had a Top 5 single for six weeks on mainstream radio, then reached number one on the Joy 1250 Christian radio countdown. He was also nominated for the 2004 Covenant Award and received 2 Maja Awards for Hip Hop Album of the Year and New Artist of the Year.

This album, Real Life, consists of twenty tracks and starts with the excellent Rush, featuring his fine rapping talents and a female sung chorus hook. His style of hip hop is more classy and sophisticated than most, with a slick commercial quality to the sound. Lyrically, though, he deals with raw themes and tales of street life and shares some of the tracks with some guest rappers.

B-Boy Stance is another great piece of hip hop with the great hook line “When I die, bury me vertically in the B-Boy Stance…”. There are almost too many highlights to mention but the Other strongest tracks for me were the powerful Child Soldier, Hesitate. Watch Dem Friends with its great vocal hook,  the funky Heaven and the closing Cry, inspired by the Bob Marley classic.

Overall, this is an extremely high class hip hop that shows a lot of musical range across its twenty tracks. Although Malichi’s presence dominates the album, his collaborators help add variety and just about every track here is strong, with numerous potential singles. Deserves to make a big impact, above and beyond the hip hop scene.


Alex Faulkner (The Faulkner Review)


VERDICT: 9 out of 10

ALBUM REVIEW: Into The Woods by Philip Masorti

into-the-woods-1024x928 http://philipmasorti.com/


Philip Masorti is a singer songwriter who is a trial lawyer by trade and came to songwriting fairly late in life. He turned to music for solace after family loss, and after playing songs to accomplished musicians he ended up recording his first album Fathers Eyes in 2009. His music is essentially country/folk and you can hear the influences of Mark Knopfler, Johnny Cash, Leonard Cohen and Neil Young in his music.

This album, Into The Woods, consists off eight tracks and starts with the mid paced  acoustic One World that lyrically discusses life in differing parts of the world, including the Third World: “One man, the virus took his eye…is it he or the rest of us that’s blind?“. Along with his deep, rich voice it is his thoughtful, poetic lyrics that mark out his songwriting. The chorus acts as an effectively simple contrast to the verses, aided by lovely female backing vocals.

Bridges on 80 is a mellow country song with mandolin and slide guitar creating a dreamy soundscape, a cinematic tale of a car journey, while Lean On Me and Motorcycle Rider are both excellent, the latter the mostly lively song here. Every track is strong, but among other highlights the brutally honesty of Truth Be Told adds some edge, though it’s the closing war story Iron Curtain that achieves great artistic heights, finishing with a powerful spoken monologue over poignant music that remembers those lost in war.

Overall, this is a very accomplished and enjoyable album full of well written and performed songs. He has a fine voice and facility for melody, with an assured feel for songwriting craft. The lyrical writing is more sophisticated, literate and nuanced than the great majority of music out there, which this gives it a depth that discerning listeners will appreciate. Highly recommended for fans of serious songwriting and country fans in general.


Alex Faulkner

VERDICT: 8.7 out of 10