SINGLE REVIEW: But Tonight I Wanna Cry by Mallika Mehta

Mallika Mehta is a multi-lingual singer/songwriter, musician and performer hailing from Mumbai, India. She has been referred to as the “Adele of Mumbai” and has amassed as huge fan base including a following of over 130k on Instagram. She has featured in both national and international media from Times of India to Rolling Stone and has performed onstage with Bollywood artists such as Kailash Kher and Shankar Ehsaan & Loy. She has had five hit singles to date (Evolve: The Story of Her, Way Too Long, Kahan Hai Tu, Kaafi, Keh Bhi De and Bling & Pictures) as well as releasing an English language EP.

This latest release, But Tonight I Wanna Cry, is an electronic pop/EDM fusion track written by Mallika herself and produced by Aasa Singh at WIBE Studio. The song is an emotive reflection of trying to move on from a relationship breakup, with cutting edge production that makes it suitable for the dance floor as well as the radio. After a guitar-based intro that captures your attention, Mallika’s superb voice takes centre stage and the first verse depicts her getting over the break up of a romantic relationship: “It’s been ten months already and it’s been alright but I’m stronger than ever and I know how to smile….”.

But on the excellent, explosive chorus Mallika expresses finding herself feeling overwhelmed: “But tonight I wanna cry, I sense I won’t survive…”. It is on the chorus that Mallika gets to display her impressive vocal range, backed by a blistering dubstep-influenced beat and powerful synths. The second verse finds her trying to move on by working on her music, yet the dark feelings return once more.

After the second chorus a highly inventive instrumental section leads to a haunting middle eight that breaks down to just Mallika’s vocal and poignant piano: “I don’t know what to feel, I don’t know how to heal….”. This leads back to the chorus sung with a ballad feel before bursting back to the original chorus sound. This contrast is highly effective, though intriguingly the song finishes with a final verse that gives the narrative a satisfying conclusion: “You tell me it’s time to move on…”.

Overall, this is a fantastic modern electronic pop/EDM track from the hugely talented Mallika Mehta. Boasting a strong Adele-style voice, Mallika gets to excel here both as singer and songwriter. What would usually be produced as a piano ballad is instead given an ultra cool, cutting edge production which merges pop, RnB and dubstep into a very effective song. With enormous commercial potential due to being both radio and club friendly, this could be the track that makes Mallika Mehta a globally known name.

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen here:

ALBUM REVIEW: Supermoon Moonlight Part Two by Forest Robots

Forest Robots is the musical brainchild of electronic artist and composer Fran Dominguez and this project has an interesting and unusual genesis. It began when he began pictorially documenting his travels to the Sierra Nevada mountain range. When his daughter was born, he started to attach narratives to his collections to teach his daughter about the wonders of nature.

This led to feeling inspired to compose music to go with these narratives and Forest Robots was born. In 2018, I gave glowing reviews to the albums Supermoon Moonlight – Part One and the follow up, Timberline And Mountain Crest. In 2019, he released his third full length album, Times When I Know You’ll Watch The Sky (which you can read here) and 2020 saw the release of his fourth, the critically acclaimed After Geography (read my laudatory review here). In a prolific 2021, he released Amongst A Landscape of Spiritual Reckoning and Horst and Graben (my review here).

This latest album, Supermoon Moonlight Part Two, is the sequel to Part One which was originally released in 2018. He began work on this album in 2019, but the pandemic caused him to abandon it temporarily to work on the albums he released during that period. Those who are already familiar with the minimalist ambient music of Forest Robots will find with this album there is a whole other side to their work , a complex and sophisticated electronica that still maintains the otherworldly magic of their more abstract music. As with Part One, the album consists of ten tracks though this time each track is accompanied by poetry/lyrics that help give a deeper insight into the artistic meaning behind each composition.

All The Rivers Born In The Mountains opens up the album in spectacular fashion, making a strong impression from its opening bars. Swirling synth melodies weave in and out while a powerful, punchy beat adds to the euphoric, vibrant sound. The thought effusive sense of joy in the music is better understood through reading the accompanying lyrics. The initial inspiration for Forest Robots, Fran Dominguez’s daughter, also provides the inspiration here, specifically her birth: “The moment you entered the world a long season altered…”. This experience is closely linked to the power and wonder of nature, which is the very essence of Dominguez’s art. Here, he captures the joy of becoming a father and compares it to the beginnings of a river: “…like newly formed alluvial flows that run wild before joining the water currents of every river born in the mountains….”.

Just as good is the haunting electronic majesty of Everything Changes Color With The Rainfall. Starting with a pulsing low end synth, the track blossoms into life with a strident 2/4 groove and a dreamy, effervescent mood that brought to mind The Orb’s classic Little Fluffy Clouds. The soaring synth strings and ethereal wisps of beautiful melody coalesce in a fabulous middle section where the music truly becomes transcendent. Combining ambient synths with a more traditional style of electronica results in a fabulous fusion that defies simple categories. The accompanying prose shows that the piece was inspired by his newborn daughter and his hope that she discovers the wonders of nature as she grows up: “It is my hope your perception finely sharpens as some of the most brittle rocks I have climbed”.

In All The Places That We Roam And Wander is another gem, starting out simply with just bass and synth then gradually building and unfolding with melodic motifs recurring then expanding across the course of the arrangement. Dominguez has cited Boards Of Canada as a musical influence on this track, and I also detect the influence of Brian Eno. It depicts a scene of walking through the woods with his young daughter and opening her eyes to the wonders of the natural world: “Traversing these down trodden paths, occasionally, while I hold your hand, I point to every intricacy held within these woods we explore.”

Somewhere In The Early Morning Mist is one of the album’s finest musical moments, a masterpiece of intricate yet mesmerising electronica. Dominguez has cited artists such as Ulrich Schnauss and Four Tet as an influence on this composition and it has an understated elegance throughout. This track, in particular, captures Fran Dominguez’s gifts as a composer and, naturally, it has a deep spiritual meaning behind it. The accompanying prose poem explores the idea that we can learn most about nature through traversing “unforgiving topography”, because by enduring difficult terrain we can truly appreciate nature and life’s true beauty: “While conviction is often forged stronger traversing the most difficult surroundings, its essence always springs from what’s already sowed inside yourself….”.

Fifth track Of Embers Warmth The Long Forgotten Memories provides the album’s most poignant and moving moment, a hymnal instrumental based around two solemn chords while a most haunting and enigmatic melody floats over them. It’s when you read the prose poem though that he really tugs at the heartstrings; Dominguez imagines himself here as an elderly man with the same deep love for his daughter as the day she was born, reflecting on many happy memories spent in nature together: “Ever deeply engulfed in long held memories with a heart full of gratitude for each and every single one I created with you…”.

There is no trace of sadness or melancholy in the vibrant sixth track Every Ray Of Light In Between The Reeds And Trees. It’s an upbeat and life affirming piece of sophisticated electronica featuring clever use of syncopation and full of music nuance, such as the tumbling electronic toms and crystalline synth sounds that weave such a fine melodic tapestry. The accompanying words explain how the music depicts those joyous shared moments in nature between father and daughter: “The moments will show how each one coalesced with one another….revealing images of a bond between father and daughter, resplendent in warmth and mystery like rays of light, beaming, between the reefs and the trees…”.

And The Clouds Then Turned Into Castles lives up to the promise of its magical title, a very atmospheric and unique piece of electronica with unusual beats and percussion that give it a quirky edge. This is another track where Dominguez feels influenced by Boards of Canada’s The Campfire Headphase sound though I can hear elements of artists like Aphex Twin and Massive Attack in the original, left of field approach. This one is about those moments of wonder in nature, imagining his daughter holding a rock that has been shaped over centuries and feeling a deep, ancient connection with it: “This is the power bestowed upon you, it has taken millennia to reach you….”.

Everything Changes Shape Under The Supermoon is superb, built around an instantly memorable bass synth melody that brought to mind the great electro pop of the early 80’s such as Depeche Mode (Vince Clarke era) and New Order. The punchy four to the floor kick drum gives it a danceable beat, if a deliciously laid back and languid one and the prose poem is a powerful rumination on life’s journey and the human condition. 

Ninth track Wind Always Runs Wilder Along The River’s Current is a brief gem at only ninety seconds long but makes a strong impression, continuing the analogy of human life to nature: “Never forget you ARE like the wind: able to go places not even a river can go”. Musically, it’s a remarkable piece of sound painting, a bubbling swirl of textured synths that brought to mind pastoral scenes and running streams in a vivid way.

The album closes with As The Sun Sets Across Wide Open Fields is a satisfying and very sophisticated conclusion to the album. You can hear the deep classical influence in his compositional technique in the way he skilfully weaves several melodies in and out, retaining a perfect balance where each melodic thread can clearly be discerned despite the harmonic complexity. It is one of Dominguez’s most spiritually deep pieces of music that has a powerfully uplifting yet tranquil effect on the listener, and the poem describes an ecstatic spiritual experience in nature. The words are as moving as the music, describing how through an understanding of nature’s glory we also discover the infinite nature of human existence. The closing lines encapsulate the theme poignantly and perfectly, a father expressing his deep love for his daughter while contemplating mortality: “So while our bodies may perish eventually we will nevertheless carry on in you and through you, may those views from great on high always remind you of THIS”.

Overall, this second part of Supermoon Moonlight ranks as one of Fran Dominguez’s finest artistic achievements so far. It is a different style to the more minimal ambient music he is known for, but a style he makes entirely his own from drawing on a vast array of influences and imposing his own artistic stamp. The accompanying prose should be read while listening to each track, an inspired idea which deepens the artistic experience. The result is an album of great beauty which reflects the touching journey between father and daughter as they explore and enjoy nature over the years.

VERDICT = 9.3 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

ALBUM REVIEW: Feelings

https://feelingsmusical.com/about-the-show

Feelings is a concept album based on a contemporary pop/rock musical that aims to address mental health issues to help de-stigmatise them. The songs (written by Jon Worthy with additional lyrics by Emily Henry) are based on a script by Elena C. Lockleis. Elena’s script tells the moving story about a college senior called Jane who is struggling with such severe depression that she intends to take her own life before reaching graduation. But she begins to fall in love with a vibrant classmate called Naomi and when her feelings are reciprocated she battles whether it’s worth staying alive for love.

The album opens with Inner Dialogue, sung beautifully by Jessica Bell. This is sung from the perspective of the character Jane, who depicts her mental health struggles with depression and anxiety: “Doctor says take the pill, it will clear your mind, it will make you well….the problem is I’m not fixable…”. Musically, it’s a sophisticated pop/rock ballad with a powerful vocal melody that brought to mind Alanis Morrissette and Taylor Swift at their most emotive. It sets the scene for the rest of the drama to unfold perfectly.

Second song 11.11 is about Jane meeting Naomi who instantly makes a strong impression on her. This track is an upbeat and touching expression of how quickly feelings can develop upon meeting that intended someone, with Jessica Bell delivering a feisty and passionate lead vocal.

The first verse depicts Jane as a young girl at school, realising she’s different and has an attraction to other girls. This helps us understand the impact of meeting Naomi, and the song captures the nervousness and joy of finding someone special. Musically, it’s a very effective acoustic pop song but with a lyrical edge that brought to mind an artist like Avril Lavigne or the group 4 Non Blondes. The infectious chorus lands in the memory on first listen especially the great hook, “I just wanna know everything about you”.

Third song Strawberry Muffins is a very sweet duet between the two characters Jane and Naomi, performed by Natalie Masini and Jessica Bell. It depicts the development of their relationship and their mutual bonding over making strawberry muffins is a lovely narrative touch. The two voices complement each other well and come together in harmony towards the end, the highlight of a very fine song.

Lately is another emotionally moving song as Jane finds she’s unable to tell her about the depth of her emotional problems. She feels she has to sabotage the relationship so that Naomi isn’t brought down with her, as Jane feels she’s “going under”. This is set to a very well written pop rock backing, the music reflecting the emotional anguish of the music with understated elegance.

Fortunately, these feelings are overcome and Tell Me A Secret finds the two lovers expressing their vulnerability to each other and getting closer through sharing deeper feelings and intimate secrets. It’s again a duet sung by Natalie Masini and Jessica Bell, this one a very upbeat pop track that would work well on radio (to promote the musical, perhaps). It’s catchy chorus is one of the most memorable and the positive vibe acts as the perfect contrast to the beautiful but melancholy song that preceded it.

But unfortunately, as Better To Leave poignantly depicts, the demons return to Jane and once again she pushes Naomi away again without explaining the root cause of the situation. It’s a solemn acoustic ballad mostly sung by Jessica Bell, the lyrics veering from deeply troubled (“I have so much darkness swirling in my mind ”) to the bittersweet yet touching chorus refrain, “You taste like strawberries, but you’re too sweet for me”.

Masini appears as Naomi towards the end, pleading for an explanation for her behaviour: “What has changed so quick to say we’re over….why are you acting this way, why can’t you love me?”.

This extends into the next song In Between, where the relationship in caught in flux, neither ending or progressing, because of Jane’s difficulties with being completely honest with Naomi about her depression and suicidal feelings.

The following Just Wanna is told from Jane’s private perspective as she tries to process her complicated feelings, not want to have to expose Naomi to the “dark thoughts” that go through her “broken mind”. This articulate depiction of someone dealing with deep depression and how it affects their closes relationships is wonderfully well done, both musically and lyrically.

This is taken to new artistic heights by the delicate beauty of 3 Words, a heartfelt expression of love between two women. In a minor key, the song is only based around three or four piano chords akin to Coldplay. The intimate lead vocals and compelling narrative sustain the listener’s interest, the words full of emotional honesty: “To say I’m fine would be such a lie but I love you….”. Natalie Masini counterpoints Jessica Bell’s voice perfectly as Naomi shows tenderness and understanding towards Jane as she gradually opens up.

Overdrive takes us into different pastures musically, an electro pop track full of inventive percussion and musical nuance (such as the infectious low end acoustic guitar motif) plus a plethora of clever production effects. It’s another reflective and sad song, with Jane feeling overwhelmed by her emotional situation and deciding that it’s best to end the relationship with Naomi.

This feeling continues with the heartbreaking To You I Say, where Jane has effectively given up all hope on her relationship with Naomi and even her struggle with life itself, encapsulated by the haunting refrain, “This is the end…”. The penultimate track Some Days is performed by Natalie Masini, the lyrics essentially a plea for a kinder world and for people to show more understanding towards each other. The simple but very touching chorus refrain, “I need some kindness in my life” feels like a touchstone for the whole story.

The album concludes in dramatic fashion not with a song but with a spoken monologue from the perspective of Jane. While the listener awaits the conclusion of this gripping love story, the monologue opens in harrowing fashion: “The morning after I tried to kill myself a flickering street lamp was filling in for the sun...”. But, fortunately, the suicide attempt turns out to be unsuccessful and the monologue depicts Jane heading for Naomi’s house, who comforts her and promises to assist her in getting the help she needs. And so the album ends on an ebullient and inspiring note: “That’s why I’m here, I’m finding more fight, winning more battles, I’m doing my best to not lose the reminder that the small steps count too….”.

Overall, this concept album is a unique work of art that takes themes of the timeless human condition and expresses it through a very modern lens. It deals with classic artistic themes such as love and trust but addresses them in a way that combines with contemporary concerns such as maintaining mental health, dealing with depression and coming to terms with one’s sexual orientation. The result is a powerful collection of songs by Jon Worthy, beautifully performed by Jessica Bell and Natalie Masini, which I hope will be developed and adapted into a successful musical. As it is, Feelings works as a superb concept album which will bring inspiration and comfort to those that hear it.

VERDICT = 9.2 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen to Feelings HERE

E.P. REVIEW: Lovescape by Dejhare

Dejhare (pronounced Dei-Jhar) is a singer and songwriter based in San Jose, California. She first released an eponymous six-track E.P. in the autumn of 2018, which was popular. Dejhare then released her debut full length album, Unbreakable, in 2019. This brought her more acclaim and expanded her fanbase. 2020 saw the release of D7, a seven track experimental album that featured reinterpretations and dance versions of seven songs from Unbreakable. She has since released singles such as Do What You Gotta Do, Long Time No See and a five track EP, Plead The Fifth. This EP resulted in several streaming successes, notably for the songs Skeletons, Take Five and Perception.

This latest EP, Lovescape, consists of six tracks and starts with the strident and confident EDM pop of Light Up. The track encapsulates what I’d now describe as the Dejhare signature sounds, which fuses EDM production and arrangement style with a more traditional pop songwriting approach. Combined with Dejhare’s compelling, exotic vocals it creates a vibrant brand of modern pop. While her production standards have always been high, this EP feels a step up, with a real sheen and finesse to the sound.

After an atmospheric intro, Light Up soon builds into a catchy verse before an EDM snare roll breaks us into the chorus. Dejhare’s vocals here are superb, the mesmeric refrain sung over a pounding beat that gives the song a real energy. While it has the pop sound of, say, Lady Gaga, there’s also the laid back dancehall vibe of Major Lazer. Perfect for radio and the clubs, with a positive message in the lyrics, Light Up could become Dejhare’s biggest success so far.

Second track Drawn To You is just as good, a dreamy Lana Del Rey style infused with a languid Latin American/dancehall groove guaranteed to get the hips moving. The ethereal chorus melody is delivered in an enchanting way by Dejhare, whose seductive voice once again takes centre stage. Another potential single, without doubt.

Under A Spell continues the theme of romantic desire, the musical style pitched halfway between the first two tracks. Set at a similar to Drawn To You, it also features an anthemic EDM chorus with a pounding 2/4 beat and all manner of cutting edge production effects on the vocals. The lyrics capture the intoxicating of infatuation: “Under a spell of divine love…your eyes on me, your arms around me…your touch is all I need.”

The following Like A Fool is a strong lyrical contrast, capturing the emotional turmoil of a relationship gone wrong: “I’ve been lying, pretending to hide away my feelings, uncertain on how to go from here…”. Although the tone is melancholy, there’s a catharsis to the superb chorus that feels like a release and the finely sculptured vocal melody , Dejhare near the top of her considerable range, helps to make this an understated gem of a song.

Fifth track Nobody stands out immediately with its 80’s style arpeggio synth riff which acts as a good melodic hook throughout the song. Indeed, the whole song has an 80’s vibe, a style which has been coming back into the mainstream recently. The melancholy yet highly memorable chorus is full of strong hooks, especially the “you’re no good, you’re no good” refrain. An excellent song with perhaps the finest vocal performance on the whole E.P.

Lovescape concludes with the well crafted Going Solo. It’s a return to the simple but very effective dancehall style, this one containing an empowering and inspiring message about moving on from a relationship. Dejhare delivers another captivating performance and hypnotic chorus melody, the title hook quickly sticking in the mind. It’s a suitably positive message on which to end and a fantastic E.P. finale.

Overall, Lovescape is a superb collection of modern pop tracks that fuse EDM and dancehall production with great pop choruses and meaningful lyrics. Dejhare has now refined her style and songwriting to a high level and Lovescape constitutes her best release so far. With several potential hit singles to choose from, Dejhare’s star will surely continue to rise.

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

SINGLE REVIEW: Bring On The Night by Heavenhead (ft. Ris Brisland)

Heavenhead is the artistic moniker of an EDM songwriter/producer based in Manchester, England. During the pandemic lockdown of 2020 the idea for Heavenhead was formed, and with time available, numerous tracks were written and recorded in the studio. Working with talented lead vocalists such as Ria Brisland and Jenny Jones, a particular style of EDM developed which Heavenhead describes as Space Pop or Future Soul. Heavenhead’s first single, Bring On The Night,was released near the start of 2022 and has already proven successful on Spotify, closing in on 20,000 streams. 

Bring On The Night is a four minute EDM-style pop track that features the lead vocals of Ria Brisland, from Southampton in England. The track opens with a very strong synth melody that becomes a recurring melodic motif throughout the song and one of several memorable hooks. Breaking down to a solid four to the floor beat for the verse, Ria Brisland’s superb voice takes centre stage. The lyrics capture the dark emotional landscape that so many encountered during the lockdowns: “I’ve been crawling through the days in such a haze, the nights have been so silent…”.

This is counterpointed by the hugely uplifting and anthemic chorus that showcases Ria Brisland’s fantastic vocal range. The words celebrate the idea of coming together and having fun after a period of gloom and isolation: “I wanna see those arms back in the air, I wanna see you throwing all those cares away….”. 

The second verse takes us back into the world’s many problems that we are faced with, from pandemics to war: “We’ve been living through a storm that’s rumbled on, the world has been so violent…”. After a chorus repeat, the cleverly crafted middle eight feels like a comforting arm round the shoulder: “No one can see how it will be, no wonder we’ve been feeling blue, we’ve been in nowhere land so come and take my hand…and bring on the night”.

Building back up from an impressively held long note from Ria, the song closes out with several repeat choruses to great effect. Featuring first rate production and the commercial sheen of pop, the potential for radio play is huge. 

Overall, Bring On The Night is a fantastic EDM/Pop track, both musically and lyrically. Combining a modern EDM production style with traditional, sophisticated pop songwriting and featuring a magnificent lead vocal, Bring On The Night is the uplifting post-pandemic pop anthem we’ve been waiting for.

VERDICT = 9.3 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

SINGLE REVIEW: White Light by H2SO4

H2SO4 are a UK electronic indie collective, originally formed back in 1998 as a remix project when electro pioneers CODE reworked songs by indie songsmiths Sulphur (then signed to Rhythm King). Singles such as I Need Love and Little Soul were championed by the tastemaker DJ’s of the time Pete Tong and John Peel. Their debut album Machine-Turned Blues was then championed by then XFM drive-time presenter Bob Geldof.

They went on to become one of the UK’s best kept secrets, with their songs featuring on major shows like The Sopranos, Six Feet Under and Queer as Folk. Co-writer and producer Andy Phillips broke away from H2SO4 after releasing their second album Glamtronic, leaving Graham Cupples and James Butler to continue making music as H2SO4.

This latest release, White Lights, is an upbeat house track which is being released as a three minute radio edit version and a four minute Bassbears remix. The radio version immediately captivates with a hypnotic hi-hat heavy groove and a subtle yet seductive synth melody. A deep, speaker shaking bassline completes the soundscape and provides the bedrock for a strong lead vocal full of catchy refrains, especially the title hook: “We are the light, and we are free, we are forever, we energy…. let’s come together, the white light shines bright on us.”

The track remains compelling to the end, building up and breaking down like a good dance track should and the group’s producers have done a great job combining elements of old school house with more modern elements and production techniques to create something really fresh and perfect for the summer. The remix is also excellent, bookended by a pure house groove that makes it DJ-friendly for segueing into other tracks and this remix should prove hugely popular in the clubs.

Overall, this is a superb modern house track by a talented UK electronic indie collective that deserve more widespread recognition. Full of infectious energy and driven by memorable lead vocals, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better house track released this summer.

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

SINGLE REVIEW: Lina Luna by Thy Veils

Thy Veils are an ambient/electronica artistic collective founded by composer and Romanian ambient pioneer Daniel Dorubantu in 1995. Over twenty years Thy Veils have released seven studio albums and three live albums, garnering critical and public acclaim along the way.

Their music is a fusion of ambient, electronic and neoclassical music and they combine this with visual art to create immersive audio-visual performances with cutting edge techniques employed both musically and visually. Along with live concerts, Thy Veils have also made a musical science fiction film, Neoradiant, which featured filming from all over Europe with an entirely electronic soundtrack. Their latest project, begun in 2020, is NextForever, their most ambitious and futuristic work yet.

This track, Lina Luna, is an ambient electronica track that emerges in an atmospheric swirl of echo drenched vocals, gently pulsing and swelling synths and the mesmeric effect of the sound of water. Taking from their forthcoming album NextForever, it is a completed version of a previous song, Luna. It features the otherworldly vocals of Maria Hojda as well as a subtle but compelling bassline courtesy of Mircea Ardeleanu Jr.

Combined with Daniel Dorubantu’s rich compositional gifts, the result is a beautiful and hypnotic soundscape that gradually weaves a spell upon the listener, Maria Hojda’s echo drenched vocals floating and drifting over the ambient sonic haze. With elements of exotic Eastern melody giving it a mystical feel, the effect created by the end is an experience of transcendent euphoria, somehow outside time and space.

Overall, Lina Luna proves Thy Veils to be an exceptional ambient music and visual art collective, the various gifts of its numerous members creating an effortless synergy. For those seeking music with a strong, ambitious spiritual and mystical approach, Thy Veils could be exactly what you’ve been searching for. Lina Luna gives us a fascinating glimpse of their NextForever album, which promises to take their art to an even higher level.

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

ALBUM REVIEW: The Vrbs

The Vrbs are an alternative rock three-piece who formed in 2019, based in the San Francisco Bay Area. They consist of singer/guitarist Jared Richard, bassist Paul Cingolani (both formerly of Audiobender) and the former percussionist from Weapon Eleven, Jeff Ham. Their eclectic music is essentially alt. rock with aspects of punk, metal, industrial, prog rock and shoegaze thrown into the mix. They have released their eponymous debut album this year, also split into separate releases as the Black and White album.

The double LP version of the album consists of fifteen songs (all written by Jared Richard) and gets off to an electrifying start with the vibrant Strokes-infused opener Take Me Home. Built around crunchy electric guitar, pulsing melodic bass and driving drums, the brooding vocal melody is set to a chord progression that flips from major to minor in a skilful manner. Jared Richard’s earthy and soulful vocals are just what is needed to round out a primal rock ‘n roll sound that channels 1977 style punk rock with the effortless cool of more modern rock like Kings of Leon and the aforementioned Strokes.

Say Hello is just as strong, featuring an impressive lead vocal from Richard in the upper part of his range, the song built around a meaty and infectious guitar riff doubled on bass. Paul Cingolani’s basslines never linger on the root note for too long though, weaving a constant melody that brought to mind Husker Du’s Greg Norton. The closing refrain “Say..say..say you’ll do it” shows Richard’s natural gift for catchy pop hooks.

New Drug opens with a superb drum groove from Jeff Ham that Tre Cool would be proud of. Indeed, the arrangement with its stop start guitars made me think of Green Day’s American Idiot, combined with the fizzy punk energy of The Ramones, Cingolani’s restless bassline this time recalling Paul Simenon’s early work with The Clash. It builds to another great chorus that lands instantly in the memory bank: “Cos I need a new drug, better than the old drug, I don’t give no fucks….”.

Paper Claims is more mid paced, a simple but effective three chord progression featuring some Bob Mould-style lead guitar work and a guttural lead vocal from Richard with acerbic lyrics: “It gets harder to ignore as I’m going down in flames…”.

Well I Do is an upbeat and very melodic alt. rock track with strong vocal harmonies and a succinct arrangement that show’s Jared’s songwriting craft. Jeff Ham’s rolling tom patterns and more bass pyrotechnics from Paul Cingolani help raise the music to a high level.

Without You starts out like a Pixies song with a simple descending bassline soon augmented with clean lead guitar. They take a leaf from the Pixies’ rule book of dynamics too, flipping to the more familiar distorted guitars and another strong vocal performance.

Scream For Me starts out with a brooding, hypnotic bassline and slick, hi-hat heavy groove. It sets the scene for a staccato vocal melody delivered in octaves, which creates a distinctive sonic texture. Gradually building in intensity, it culminates in a cathartic refrain of “Scream for me!”, providing one of the album’s most thrilling moments.

Under The Sea show’s the band’s more gentle side at first, starting out as a lilting ballad in 6/8 time. It clocks in at six and a half minutes yet doesn’t outstay its welcome, alternating with a heavier section featuring a superb, cascading guitar line. The lyrics are full of melancholy and existential angst, the tormented refrain, “What is it for?” soaring above a glorious concoction of noise to great effect. Rapid fire snare rolls and ascending guitar lines bring the music to an impressive crescendo and it’s another standout moment.

This is contrasted by one of the album’s heaviest tracks, Gravity, starting out with a pleasing dissonance and a brooding menace that made me think of Queens of the Stone Age. Jared Richard gives perhaps his most full throated vocal performance, enough to makes James Hetfield a little nervous. Jeff Ham is clearly enjoying himself on drums, laying down a cymbal heavy beat. This one shows their industrial and metal influences to fine effect, another arrow in their eclectic musical quiver.

The fuzz guitar and languid groove of Closer is reminiscent of the effortless cool of a band like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Richard suggestively intoning, “Can I stand just a little closer, dear? Maybe for a minute or two?”. A sultry, sexy track that really allows the music to breathe and build, featuring another solid performance from Jeff Ham on drums.

Hog comes out of the blocks with all guns blazing, another QOTSA-style hard rock track, Jared Richard giving a fine Josh Homme- esque vocal. The driving rhythms of the guitars locked in tight with the drums give the music a fierce energy and momentum which builds with mounting ferocity. This one is a real grower.

Do You Remember? is another example of their more melodic side, a poignant descending chord progression forming the basis of the song. It soon hits its stride with a more familiar heavier style, Cingolani delivering a particularly buoyant and versatile bassline. Richard gives another performance full of conviction and fire in his belly, and it’s another gem.

Blow It Up is a highly entertaining burst of punk rock with lyrics that would need a few well timed bleeps for radio airplay. The catchy title hook makes it one of the album’s most instantly memorable tracks and there’s some fantastic lead guitar towards the end.

Run is the second of the album’s epics at six minutes, a moody minor key song contrasted with more familiar sections of emotive expression. It shows the band’s skill for large scale arrangements and musical sophistication, tied together by a great vocal hook and leading up to perhaps the album’s finest lead guitar moment, a searing solo that takes off into the stratosphere.

The album closes with Down The Mountain, which mixes descending and ascending melodies over which Jared Richard lays down a rootsy low end vocal. It is very much the grand finale and the album’s most ambitious arrangement at nine minutes long, featuring several sections that ebb and flow. As ever, the band know how to keep the energy and interest flowing, providing the apposite conclusion to this musical rollercoaster ride. “Turn it back around, there’s still time…” is the final refrain, which seems strangely profound in the times we’re living through.

Overall, this eponymous debut album from The Vrbs shows that the spirit of rock ‘n roll is far from dead. Consistently excellent throughout, this talented trio combine their influences in a way that sounds both traditional and modern at the same time, a neat trick. In Jared Richard, they have a talented songwriter and singer who has a perfect voice for rock, backed up by a superb rhythm section. With a wide array of styles incorporated into these fifteen songs, there’s not a dull moment and The Vrbs can undoubtedly lay claim to one of this year’s best rock albums.

VERDICT = 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

SINGLE REVIEW: Forever by Hitha

Hitha is an award winning singer, songwriter and recording artist from California. Alongside her music, Hitha is a teen activist and her Indian heritage has led her to become involved with the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s mission on “Self-Reliant India” and “Save and Educate Girls”. She was also recently selected as a Young Ambassador for Unite4Good. Her mission of empowerment extends to her music and her collaboration with renowned producer Krunk-A-Delic led to the hugely successful track We Are Who We Are. This won several awards and racked up huge streaming numbers on Spotify.

This latest track, Forever, is taken from her self-produced album of the same name. It’s an uplifting pop/EDM track and, lyrically, a touching tribute to her father (in fact, it will be released on Father’s Day, June 19th). It sets an emotive mood with an intro featuring a “love you” refrain. Hitha’s strong and distinctive voice captures the attention on the first verse, while the lyrics capture the special love and bond she shares with her father: “Don’t need a princess gown, I’ve got the golden crown, I feel like royalty in your embrace…”.

It then builds up to the anthemic chorus, first driven by a pulsing kick then breaking into a punchy 2/4 beat, the catchy “I will love you forever, you will love in my heart” refrain making an immediate impact.

The synth riff between chorus and verse acts as another melodic hook and the track skillfully blends the structure of a pop song with a dance/EDM track to great effect.

Overall, Forever is more evidence of Hitha’s talents as a singer, songwriter and producer. Gifted with a beautiful tone of voice, her radio friendly vocals and production style means her commercial potential is huge. Combined with memorable melodies and an emotional message that many will connect with, Forever could well become Hitha’s biggest success yet.

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

SINGLE REVIEW: Calmness In The Way You Move by Lyn Ventimiglia & Jessica Bell (from Unfolding Temporary)

Calmness In The Way You Move is a song taken from a pop/rock musical Unfolding Temporary, which is based on a script by Elena C. Lockleis. The musical is based around a college girl called Jane who’s struggling with severe mental health issues but finds herself falling in love with a classmate, Naomi. This reverses her seemingly irreversible decline and both the book and the musical address the issues of depression and anxiety in an open and honest way to bring these important problems of modern life to the forefront. The musical was adapted from the book by Jon Worthy and this track is sung by Lyn Ventimiglia and Jessica Bell. I recently reviewed another song from the musical, Still There’s Only Pain (sung by Jessica Bell), which you can read here.

This song, Calmness In The Way You Move, is another cathartic and highly emotive pop/rock ballad that opens with picked acoustic guitar and pizzicato strings. The first verse features the expressive vocals of Lyn Ventimiglia, who has an impressive vocal range and power. The lyrics depict the struggle to stay positive amidst the stresses of life: “I get a little nervous, I count in threes to cure it, I’m obsessive and overwhelmed at the same time…”.

But the excellent chorus, driven by strident piano, reveals the song to be about two young women falling in love, the core theme of the musical: “Are we on a date? I guess so, didn’t know what to think…I hope so”.

The second verse is sung from the other girl’s perspective by Jessica Bell , whose more gentle voice works as a fine contrast to Jessica’s. She also has her share of emotional troubles, singing of “the thoughts circling my mind” and hoping to find herself “one of these damn days…”. But then it circles back to their blossoming relationship: “I hope you understand how I feel, it’s all so natural with you here…”.

After the second chorus the two vocalists sing a line each to each other before combining on the line, “I like your vibe....”. We then get one last chorus sung as a duet, their harmonies entwining to great effect and providing the emotional climax of the song.

Overall, this is another very well written and performed song that captures the love between two sensitive and troubled young women. It would need to be seen in the context of the musical for every nuance and aspect to be fully understood, but it works as a standalone song featuring two standout vocal performances.

VERDICT = 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner