SINGLE REVIEW: Upstream by Thy Veils

Thy Veils are an ambient/electronica artistic collective founded by composer and Romanian ambient pioneer Daniel Dorobantu 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. You can read my review of their last single, Influx, here.

This latest single, Upstream, is taken from their forthcoming album immediately captivates with a hypnotic intro, set at a blissed out, dreamy tempo. A sparse yet compelling groove kicks in, locked in tight with Mircea Ardeleanu Jr.’s bassline while what sounds like an echo-drenched trumpet (though possibly a very realistic sounding synth) floats across the sonic terrain. This creates the perfect ambience for the entry of Maria Hojda’s haunting, otherworldly vocals.

With her crystalline voice and such a beatific vocal melody soaring over the electronic soundscape courtesy of Daniel Dorobantu, Upstream brings to mind the subtle majesty of Massive Attack’s classic track Teardrop (featuring Liz Fraser of the Cocteau Twins). Ardeleanu Jr’s bassline starts out as succinct and rhythmic, then gradually develops and expands melodically whilst maintaining the core key notes. This provides a counterpoint to the vocals along with pulsing momentum.

As with previous releases, the lyrics are deeply reflect a mystical and spiritual mindset which perfectly reflect the mood of the music, “Fire, fire…fighter, turn the light, we’ll go upstream, along the strong eternal wind….”. The words are a fascinating rumination on the nature of inspiration and how it forms part of our spiritual path. This is encapsulated by the transcendental lines that could have come from the Bhagavad Gita: “And we find the place of our dreams through the voidless when we go upstream…”.

Overall, Upstream is another ambient/electronica masterpiece from the consistently superb Thy Veils. Through Daniel Dorobantu’s gifts as a composer and producer, his musical vision is brought to life by Maria Hojda’s unique vocals and the masterly bass playing of Mircea Ardeleanu Jr. The result is what will surely be one of the best tracks of 2023, which deserves to be heard far and wide.

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: Human Connection by Elena C. Lockleis

Elena C. Lockleis (They/Them) is a singer/songwriter based in Los Angeles. As an artist, Elena uses music to bring awareness to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety and bring them to the forefront. Before becoming a solo artist Elena contributed the script to a musical called Feelings, which inspired the musical’s songs written by Jon Worthy. This was recorded as a concept album and received critical acclaim, including from me (read my review here).

This single, Human Connection, is a mid tempo, melancholy pop ballad with an intimate lead vocal performance. With an immediately emotive impact, the musical style is somewhere between Taylor Swift and Billie Eilish, with lyrics that express vulnerability and emotional pain in a very moving way. Beginning with simple, strummed acoustic chords, Elena paints a poignant picture with just the opening lines: “I smile with trouble, feeling numbly anti-social”.

The lilting vocal melody, beautifully sung, mirrors the words perfectly and builds to an instantly captivating chorus. While the song is an expression of tormenting feelings, the memorable melody of the chorus, augmented by subtle vocal harmonies, sticks in the memory upon the very first listen. Lyrically, it captures a mood of isolation and craving companionship: “Human connection, I crave affection, I’m lying when I say I’m ok…”. The after chorus line, “Can I just be loved?” is especially touching.

After the second verse and chorus we hear the depths of despair and social alienation expressed by such lines as “Feels like I’m clashing with my skin, will I ever win? Loneliness is my best friend.…”. The song concludes with a final chorus, completing a fine arrangement.

Overall, this is a touching and powerful first single from songwriter Elena C. Lockleis. Both a highly gifted melodist and lyricist, it is the degree to which Elena is able to honestly convey innermost feelings and emotions in an articulate way that makes this song stand out. With an excellent chorus and pristine, radio friendly production I would expect this song to open many doors for Elena and indicates a very successful career ahead.

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

MAXI SINGLE REVIEW: Fantasy by Project Rod Williams

Project Rod Williams is an electro-dance pop studio ensemble which is the musical brainchild of songwriter/musician Rod Williams. Musically, it is a fusion of classic 70’s disco music like Giorgio Moroder and Donna Summer, 80’s synth pop such as Depeche Mode and Erasure and more modern pop artists like Justin Timberlake and Pharrell Williams. He has released three full length albums so far, Fire in 2019, Spin Me in 2020 and last year’s excellent Run Away. Along the way, Project Rod Williams has garnered many fans and much critical acclaim (myself included).

This latest release, Fantasy, is a maxi single, something we don’t see that much of these days but akin to a release like Depeche Mode’s Personal Jesus in terms of format. The title track is the kind of irresistibly upbeat and funky pop track that Rod has excelled at in the past as a songwriter. Rod collaborates with some gifted singers and Fantasy has lead and background vocals performed by Tim Condor, who does a superb job. Rod himself also contributes additional vocals, along with synthesisers and vocoder. The full version that opens the maxi single is the most epic track from Project Rod Williams yet, clocking in at eight minutes.

Built around a bouncy, melodic bassline that propels the music’s momentum throughout, synths fill out the soundscape before Tim Condor’s assured vocal performance takes centre stage. Lyrically, it’s a timeless tale of unrequited love: “How I wish I could turn back time, reverse the spin of the earth and make you mine…”. This builds to the instantly memorable, radio friendly chorus, layered with rich vocal harmonies which showcases Williams’ talent as an arranger.

There is an intriguing astrological and astronomical lyrical theme that recurs throughout, such as the second verse line, “I hope one day when the planets align you’ll return my love and wanna be mine…”. This continues with the brilliantly written bridge that follows the second chorus: “Divert a fireball if the sky should fall, travel near and far from Jupiter to Mars”. Then we hear a great 80’s style guitar solo performed by Tim Condor, the kind of slick solo we just don’t hear in modern pop much these days. A repeat verse and chorus closes out a fantastic song.

Next we get a very cool remix by Rod and Nivanoise, which gives the track an EDM vibe with four to the floor kicks and riser build ups. After this we get a radio edit version, and as I’ve already said, Fantasy is a perfect song for mainstream radio. We also get a radio edit of the remix version, and both will be popular on the dance floor.

What follows next is another remix from Nivanoise, this one a song which appeared in its original guise on the Run Away album as a tender piano ballad. Here, it is reimagined as a synth pop track which retains a great lead vocal performance from Matt Williamson, another talented collaborator. With a vaulting vocal melody that is both haunting and beautiful, it brought to mind the 80’s pop group Erasure (Vince Clarke was also in Depeche Mode, another influence).

Lyrically, it is deeply romantic and the chorus brings back the recurring theme: “And we’ll soar up high to the clouds and fly into space to the moon…”. Whilst the original version was excellent, this remix really brings the song’s melody to life in a very effective way, and acts as a fine counterpoint to Fantasy. After this, we get instrumentals of the various Fantasy versions and it’s great to hear the intricacies of the music, a look under the hood.

Overall, this is another fantastic release from Project Rod Williams. The new track Fantasy is one of Williams’ finest pop songs, bringing back the exuberant 80’s synth pop style with a modern edge. The eight minute version is a joy from start to finish while the remix will be a hit in the clubs. The alternative remix of Fly With Me is inspired and I applaud the idea of bringing back the maxi single concept! Tim Condor and Matt Williamson also deserve credit for their vocal contributions and I can’t wait to hear more from this musical collective.

VERDICT = 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

ALBUM REVIEW: The World Was Not the Same by Marc Lowe

The World Was Not the Same is the latest album from the highly prolific alternative artist (singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist/producer) Marc Lowe. The album has a fascinating genesis and history that stretches back several years. The second half of this epic double album was originally intended to be as an album called 1123, which was to also include a piano version of a ballad called One Touch. This material was recorded back in 2018 with the exception of a David Bowie cover, which is a reimagined version of Heat from The Next Day album with verses from 2002’s Heathen. The 2018 material has now all been remixed and rearranged which reflects Lowe’s artistic development both in terms of sonics and production techniques. The first half of the album largely constitutes what was originally intended as a six track album called Heart Mind, which was mostly original material and another Bowie cover, a different version of Lazarus (originally from Lowe’s 2019 album I’m A Blackstar).

Lowe then added a largely spoken word Intro track, which starts the album. His opening monologue sets the apocalyptic tone for the album, full of existential dread: “So this is how it stands…as far as I can see…one has to ask oneself how much longer we have here on this planet that we’re fucking up completely…”. After a brief burst of chaotic guitars and drums (a melange of old recordings melded together and deliberately distorted) a more reflective and resigned attitude emerges with the lines: “You just need to find something to hold on to, and hold on to it as long as you can…and then let it go. Nothing lasts forever”.

This philosophical stance, becoming detached from desire and all material and emotional attachments, is the influence of Buddhist ideas which form an important part of Lowe’s artistic persona. This juxtaposition of an impending apocalypse with Eastern religion emerges on the title track, a five minute instrumental. It features an excerpt from Robert Oppenheimer’s famous speech about the atomic bomb he developed as part of the Manhattan Project and which was deployed in 1945. Upon witnessing the death and destruction caused by the bomb, Oppenheimer remarked, “We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent”.

He then goes on to quote the famous translated lines from the Bhagavad Gita: “I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds”. This obviously has huge contemporary relevance as we stand of the brink of World War 3 due to the Russia/Ukraine conflict. Lowe creates a brooding, unsettling soundscape which reflects the world’s deeply troubled state. This soundscape continues into Lowe’s version of Bowie’s Lazarus, consisting of just haunting lead vocals and acoustic guitar. Its world weary tone is very apposite and Lowe adds some pithy lyrics of his own: “By the time I got to Tokyo I was living like Donald Trump….”.

This segues into Inner States Improvisation in which we hear some of Lowe’s rather unique tapping techniques which are both melodic and percussive. This is a version of Inner States of Mind which has appeared in different guises on several of Lowe’s releases. With his vocals set back in the mix, the track slowly builds in intensity with Lowe’s rallying cry, “We must never forget our humanity”, never sounding more relevant.

This is followed by LFLZ Improvisation, a powerful sonic concoction of tumbling Tom fills and sinister sounding synths. It maintains the saturnine yet cathartic vibe established by the previous tracks, evolving into a wall of noise that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the soundtrack to Apocalypse Now.

What follows is the album’s epic, the twenty two minute Heart Mind. It’s a fascinating piece of work, a spoken word monologue which starts out on a personal level then soon delves into politics, religious and philosophical ideas, allopathic and natural medicine, Freudian and Jungian psychology and psychiatry. As an artist, Lowe consistently explores and traverses the borderline between opposites, the Western and Eastern approach, the spiritual and the material, the heart and the mind. Whether intentional or not, this track feels like the centrepiece of the album and as a whole the album appears to constitute a descensus ad inferos (descent into hell). This is also known in mythological terms as the “dark night of the soul” and Carl Jung experienced this himself in middle life.

As the track evolves, the backdrop music builds in momentum and intensity, Lowe’s voice becoming more fragmented and distorted, multiple voices emerging as if descending into the complexities and tensions within his own heart/mind. Eventually, a solid industrial beat provides order amongst the sonic chaos and the effect is undeniably powerful.

This is contrasted by the sparse but beautiful acoustic ballad The Ties That Bind Us. This song appears in a different guise on another album released this year, Past Life. This version is stripped back to just acoustic guitar and Lowe’s lead vocal, allowing the poignant, melancholy melody to shine.

Ashes (of the Past) is one of the more avant garde tracks consisting of just Lowe’s vocals amidst a chaotic and unsettling soundscape, featuring some beautifully poignant and poetic lines: “The times you slept in the crook of my arm, well the coldness pierced our bones”. This particular track obviously carries emotional weight for Lowe, the line about “vivid scars” being the original title for the album (albeit with a different running order and different cover art).

Happenings is a superb track, one of the more instant and anthemic tracks on the album that could be regarded as a call to arms for outsiders everywhere, for those who feel on the edge of society. Both the gripping vocal melody and seductive, brooding bassline captivate you upon first listening, the lyrics so relatable for many: “How many times has the hammer come down, how many times have they run you out of town?”. Lowe’s production is particularly good here, a veritable plethora of masterfully sculpted reverb effects and sonic segues.

Bones is another track that proves less is more, a skeletal musical backdrop consisting of a cavernous echo-drenched 2/4 beat and Lowe’s vocals. The Bowie influence shows through once more, though it feels more like the abstract and avant garde Bowie of the Low era, with enigmatic and intriguing lyrics: “The master’s bones are dancing, the master’s bones are swaying….”. The simple piano motif in the second verse is a genius touch, the vocal harmonies and overlapping voices very effective. It then breaks down to a haunting cello passage before the final minutes of the track interweave previous elements with what sounds indeed like bones “dancing”.

I Loved That Boy is a song with a poignant backstory. The track is about a friend of Marc’s who was sadly born with no hands, yet refused to let his disability hold him back or even acknowledge it as a disability at all. He managed to become a musician despite his impediment and the song is a touching tribute. It’s a synth based alternative pop/track with an immediately distinctive and memorable vocal melody from Lowe, his delivery pitched somewhere between David Bowie and David Byrne. The track is surprisingly funky once the loose groove kicks in, then breaks down to just piano and vocal. This expresses a moment of loss and grief before returning to the complex, ever shifting beat. This is a good showcase for Lowe’s inimitable talents and I could imagine this proving popular if played in clubs.

Goonsquad is an intense, rather claustrophobic track that skilfully depicts an Orwellian and dystopian world where everyone is looking over their shoulder in fear. After the unsettling intro, the eerie yet compelling synth melody conjures a saturnine vibe that perfectly reflects the equally troubled words: “You’d better run, you’d better hide, do not go out, best stay inside….the goonsquad’s at your back, they will keep on hounding you…”. As many countries have become increasingly totalitarian since the pandemic, this track feels particularly timely and apposite, a mirror held up to the world.

The Lone Cricket is perhaps the most mystical track on the album, a blissed out ambient instrumental for the most part, with spoken word and subtle falsetto vocals deployed with great effect. The music and perhaps the philosophical concept behind this track seems very influenced by Eastern religion and mysticism once again, though tinged with the darkness that pervades the rest of the album: “The lone cricket chirps all day, he doesn’t realise that the summer has gone away….”.

Peeved Pear is a stately and mid tempo electro pop track with a languid, mellow musical feel but juxtaposed with lyrics dripping in vitriol. They depict a person with very few redeeming qualities, a portrait of a nihilistic hedonist who has no concern for the feelings of others, seemingly: “It drinks and it frowns, lounges out all day, in its liquor it drowns, it doesn’t look at your face…”. The impersonal use of “it” captures this person’s basic inhumanity, and Lowe foretells a dark demise: “This pear is gonna fall, this pear is gonna cry and if it doesn’t shape up it’s gonna die….”.

Inside is a clever little gem of a song, consisting of piano and lead vocal. The stacked fourths give the music an Oriental feel, an influence of Lowe’s life in Japan rubbing off on his music. Lyrically, it explores similar territory to Goonsquad, and whether he intended or not, he absolutely captures the authoritarian mood of the last couple of years (a disembodied, ghostly voice whispers “Don’t go out your door…stay inside”) along with the enforced introspection that resulted from it.

The final track is a radical interpretation of two David Bowie songs (Heat from The Next Day and Heathen from the album of that name). As with any cover version by Marc Lowe he makes it very much his own and here seamlessly fuses two very different songs from two very different periods in Bowie’s career.

The last moments of this epic musical journey are truly moving, a quote from Lama Chime Rinpoche spoken over the unsettling sonic landscape that underpins the whole album till it fades and leaves only his words: “I’ll meet him again in the next life, somewhere much better, more happy and pleasant than now….”. These wise words somehow bring the journey full circle, showing how it is mortal life itself that is the descensus ad inferos we must all endure as best we can, a better fate awaiting us on the other side.

Overall, this is a remarkable new album from the hugely creative Marc Lowe. Taking material originally written a few years ago, he has reworked and remixed these tracks into a cohesive whole that manages to capture the current zeitgeist in a compelling way. While these songs are often full of pain and darkness, they are also shot through with hope and hard earned wisdom drawn from all corners of life. It’s inspiring to know that while mainstream culture is at an all time nadir, artists like Marc Lowe are making uncompromising art and music that really matters.

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Visit Marc Lowe’s official website HERE

Listen to the full album:

Album Documentary

REVIEW: The On The Couch Sessions by Eddie Arjun

Eddie Arjun is a composer, multi-instrumentalist and producer based in New York. In the past he has made albums as part of instrumental trio Arjun and is regarded as an exceptional lead guitarist. The genesis of these tracks were the result of trying to find unconventional ways of making and releasing music during the pandemic. Using clips of drummers posted on Instagram, Arjun used these beats as a platform to build fully fleshed out compositions and these tracks are the fruit of his labours, which he has named The On The Couch Sessions.

Getaway (ft. Patch Mahoney) is a very well composed and performed jazz/rock fusion track, built around an intricate groove and a very melodic and inventive virtuoso bassline (which is either doubled with a higher octave instrument or an octave pedal is used on the bass) performed by Eddie. This lays the bedrock for some stunning lead guitar work, starting out with simple, subtle and tasteful phrases then gradually building up the tension to a glorious passage of rich, harmonized guitar. Then follows a carefully crafted, perfectly executed solo that displays the skill Eddie is renowned for before returning to the main theme.

Easy Street, featuring Miguel Lamas on drums, is another track of the highest quality. Starting out distinctively with quite an emotive and poignant sounding chord progression, it flips into a more funky style with a driving bass riff augmented by choppy guitar licks drenched in wah-wah. This section seriously cooks, especially when Eddie let’s rip with an incendiary guitar solo, pitched halfway between Hendrix and Frank Zappa, between funk rock and a more modal jazz style. Miguel Lamas provides a solid, taut groove throughout, with the dynamics nicely punctuated in all the right places and the two contrasting sections create the perfect musical yin and yang. A real highlight.

Opening with a phenomenal leadguitar run, Eddie then gets to showcase his Stratocaster funk guitar skills on the excellent Unstoppable, this one featuring Will Daly behind the kit. Aside from the superb John Frusciante-style guitar work high up on the neck, Eddie’s use of a five-string bass means the low end packs a real punch when he makes use of that low B string. This is particularly noticeable on this track and works in perfect tandem with the expressive yet rock solid drumming. Eddie gets to break out the Cry Baby again for a positively orgasmic solo that covers the full range of the fretboard.

Glisten is a meaty blues rock track featuring Justin Scott on drums and it stands out for the way the propulsive bassline works in perfect tandem with the slick, moody blues riff. The more mellow second section has some dreamy Wind Cries Mary licks and runs, providing the ideal contrast.

The superb Crossover is a real standout track. Thus one features Ciara behind the kit, who delivers a brilliant tribal, tom-heavy beat. After a quirky and original opening section, Eddie then turns the talent up to eleven with a fireworks display of harmonised guitars. This is genuinely spectacular musicianship, but it’s all carefully composed and structured without the merest hint of self indulgence.

Moving On is one of the more mellow and melancholy instrumentals with a soulful lead guitar melody, played with real feeling. Taylor Dorothea is on skins this time and provides a steady groove on the main section. It then breaks out into a more funky section where Eddie gets to let rip with some more searing lead guitar, modal rather than pentatonic. The switch in mood is highly effective and the mellifluous lead runs have the perfect guitar tone, nicely drenched in delay.

Urban Terrain is undoubtedly the most inventive and musically complex track, featuring a stellar performance from Louie Palmer on drums. Starting out with an instantly striking high end riff, the track ebbs and flows through numerous shifts in time signature to exhilarating effect. It goes to some equally adventurous places melodically and harmonically, a prog rock rollercoaster ride that keeps you on the edge of your seat to the end.

This compendium of tracks are full of great performances from the numerous drummers who’ve made their musical contribution, but Andwele Simons’ super fluent and intricate drumming on Pick It Up is a real standout for me. Working in perfect synergy with Eddie’s funky Chili Peppers- style guitars and bass, Simons gives a stellar performance behind the kit, fast hands delivering hi-hat heavy grooves.

Pleasures, featuring Jon Foster, is a nice contrast, one of the more subtle and sophisticated tracks which leans more toward the melodic and harmonic aspects of Eddie’s style. It starts out with a very creative staccato guitar phrase before breaking into a simple but effective melody. The music seems to build organically and naturally, culminating in a fantastic passage where lead guitar dominates via tapping techniques and some warp speed runs up and down the neck. Jon Foster gives the perfect supporting role behind the kit.

BEYOND is one of the harder rocking tracks, with a real bluesy vibe and an assured drumming performance from Alexander Flood. Eddie creates a truly potent soundscape with the combination of biting lead guitar and low-end synth, with even the drums having a gritty tone that suits the track perfectly. After the moody minor key section, it progresses to an instantly memorable guitar melody played in octaves (or an octave pedal employed). This leads to a euphoric guitar solo passage, Eddie’s playing full of feeling. The track culminates in a glorious blaze of guitar harmonies and string bends, concluding my personal favourite amongst some stiff competition.

Voyage Within is one of the most sophisticated and musically complex tracks here, a masterclass in syncopation and synergy, Eddie locked in perfect sync with another excellent drummer, Samuel Paul Gerald. The title implies a certain introspection and that’s the vibe given by the melancholy lead guitar melodies. Special mention should go to Eddie’s brilliant bassline which works as both a rhythmic and melodic counterpoint to the guitars, highlighting his gifts both as composer and versatile musician.

FRIENDS, featuring Jacob Evans on drums, is a delicious slow burner of a track. It starts out with a laid back vibe that allows Eddie to showcase the more reflective and melodic side of his musical persona. After this mellow start, the momentum builds with slinky, rolling bass and a steady groove from Evans providing the bedrock for some fabulous wah-drenched lead guitar pyrotechnics.

Overall, this is a consistently superb collection of instrumentals that effortlessly fuse rock, funk and jazz along with elements of progressive rock at times. Working with a coterie of talented drummers, Eddie Arjun showcases his considerable skills as a musician (guitar and bass) and composer. Creating memorable and distinctive instrumentals is no easy task, but Arjun’s craftsmanship and musical flair mean every track has much to offer the listener. If you’ve not heard Eddie Arjun’s music yet, this is a great place to start.

VERDICT = 9.3 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

SINGLE REVIEW: Influx by Thy Veils

Thy Veils are an ambient/electronica artistic collective founded by composer and Romanian ambient pioneer Daniel Dorobantu 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.

This latest release, Influx, is a mid tempo synth-pop track featuring the enchanting lead vocals of Maria Hojda. The music is built around Depeche Mode-style pulsing synths and a superb bassline from Mircea Ardeleanu Jr. These strong elements capture the listener’s ear from the opening bars, setting the stage for the entrance of Maria’s vocals. The juxtaposition of the strident bass and Daniel Dorobantu‘s exceptional synth arrangement with Hojda’s otherworldly and seductive vocal melody makes for a powerful sound.

While the 80’s-inspired electronica sound has an undoubtedly commercial sheen, aided by excellent production, the mystical and unusual vocal style brought to mind a unique and maverick artist like Kate Bush. This is also reflected in the poetic and magical lyrics that read almost like a haiku: “Heart is like the moon, bright in the deep green pool”.

The track reaches a particular peak of brilliance as Maria sings, “There is a way I ride, ocean of stars inside”, underpinned by some truly virtuoso bass playing from Ardeleanu Jr. that drives the music’s momentum. As the track progresses Dorobantu weaves a tapestry of synths and sound effects in and out of the mix in a masterful way, allowing the music to breathe in between the vocal sections.

Overall, Influx is an exceptional synth pop track that captures Thy Veils at the peak of their powers. Fusing an 80’s style with cutting edge production and Maria Hojda’s magnificent, mesmerising vocals, the result is a gem that must stand as one of the best singles released this year. The track is lengthy for a single at four and a half minutes, but there is not a dull second. Influx may turn out to be the masterpiece that opens the door to the huge critical acclaim and wide audience Thy Veils deserve.

VERDICT = 9.2 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

SINGLE REVIEW: Sometimes Hard, Sometimes Gold by Deadphonecalls (Remix by Karl Roque)

Deadphonecalls is the artistic alias of Max Cossu, a songwriter/producer from Prague in the Czech Republic. His chosen moniker is a reference to EVP (electronic voice phenomena) where deceased relatives have been known to leave messages from beyond the grave. His interest in all things esoteric and mystical serves an inspiration for his music, which is distinctly influenced by 80’s indie-pop groups like Depeche Mode and Killing Joke, along with David Bowie amongst others. He released his first album, Calls to the Dead Phone, in 2015 and this year has released a single, Revolution Day. Over the years, he’s built up a sizeable fanbase and following on social media.

This latest single, Sometimes Hard, Sometimes Gold, is a great showcase for the Deadphonecalls sound and artistic style and this version is a remix by Karl Roque. Musically, it takes the strongest elements of 80’s synth pop and combines it with more modern EDM-style production to create a cutting edge sound. The track grabs the listener from the opening bars with pulsing low-end analog synths driven by a thudding EDM kick drum before breaking into a punchy two-four beat.

Cossu’s distinctive vocals then enter, his vocal style reminiscent of David Bowie with aspects of Dave Gahan (Depeche Mode). The lyrics reflect the artistic ethos behind this project, as evidenced by the compelling opening lines: “Coping with tragedy, I’m recalling some kind of sense of mystery”. The song progresses into a strident, anthemic bridge and chorus that celebrates nurturing our inner child to cope with the vicissitudes of modern life: “Never stop sanctifying the child who smiles deep in your soul”. The final minute of the track reaches a euphoric crescendo that brought to mind the finest moments of the Pet Shop Boys.

Overall, this is an excellent modern electro-pop track that combines the great sound of 80’s synth/New Wave groups with cutting edge EDM production. Max Cossu has developed his own artistic style, especially by fusing his commercial and catchy music with lyrics that explore esoteric and mystical territory, reminiscent of Bowie’s more experimental work. Deadphonecalls deserve to become a global success, and the current nostalgia and revival of all things 80’s should help bring this fine track to a much bigger audience beyond their already large fanbase.

VERDICT = 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

E.P. REVIEW: French Diseases of the Soul by Deckard Croix

Deckard Croix is a singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist (guitar, keyboard, bass) hailing from Columbus, Ohio. His musical style is somewhat multi-faceted, though psychedelia, ambient and musique concrete all feature in his work predominantly. Krautrock, atonality and dissonance as well as indeterminism are also part of his artistic lexicon and influence his compositional approach.

His recordings show a preference for a “lo-fi aesthetic”, exclusively recording on analog equipment from 2001-2008. In 2010, he released Bocca di Leone, a “large collaborative project celebrating the culture and peoples of Sardinia”, while 2018 saw Croix become involved in Manos, an improvised psychedelic/ambient band. They released their eponymous debut in 2019 under Croix’s own label, Tachisme Records. 2020 saw the release of Splendour Plus Misery, a “freak-folk” acoustic album, while the EP Noncommunication of the Cephalopods and a sound collage album, Mise en Concrete were released in 2021.

This EP, French Diseases of the Soul, consists of three tracks and Croix has described as “a three-part stellar nursery of frigid music”, and a “sister album” to the Noncommunication of the Cephalopods EP. The first track, Ennui (French for boredom) is a fourteen minute instrumental that weaves quite a spell upon the listener across the duration. The music is a masterclass in minimalism, subtle organ and synths growing organically in texture and musical tension. A very low two-note recurring motif gives the music a quietly ominous quality, along with delay drenched, swelling synth strings. Around two thirds through we hear a Frenchman on the phone, the influence of musique concrete on Croix apparent here. The final minutes are incredibly peaceful and tranquil, making for a satisfying resolution.

Second track Umbrage has a distinctive grandeur from the outset, featuring a compelling vocal performance from Deckard. Built around a brilliant, brooding bassline and echo-drenched guitar, the languid tempo allows the music to breathe, an understated psychedelic epic with hints of Aphrodite’s Child and the more languid moments of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.

Lyrically, the enigmatic and sophisticated style brought to mind the more experimental work of Scott Walker (a noted influence) or someone like Van Dyke Parks (legendary collaborator on the Beach Boys highly avant garde Smile album). Croix is obviously a very literate songwriter and the arcane poeticism of certain lines brought to mind poets like Dylan Thomas, E.E. Cummings and Gerard Manley Hopkins: “Lord and Lady of our sustenance, cowed and cowardly indecent. Aztec moments, privy to this heart, the wiles of the wind (so entrepreneurial).”

The EP concludes with Pique, another ambient instrumental and expression of his minimalist side. This one is not so much psychedelic as mystical, entrancing strings creating a remarkable beauty and tension, a mesmerising blend of the tonal with the atonal. The effect is undeniably hypnotic and transports the listener to somewhere circa Betelgeuse, as the best ambient music does. It’s an enchanting and yet slightly unsettling composition that manages to transcend space and time.

Overall, this is a truly unique EP from a sophisticated composer and songwriter. The EP is bookended by two superb instrumentals that show how less can be more, while Umbrage shows his skills as a lyricist and vocalist. For those looking for genuinely original alternative music of the psychedelic and ambient variety, Deckard Croix might well become your favourite new artist.

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

ALBUM REVIEW: OPUS# 132-WITH A PILLAR OF SOUND /IN THE WOOZATORIA/THE BAD’LAN vs. THE RACIST SKINHEAD by The Gangsta Rabbi

The Gangsta Rabbi, a.k.a. The King Of Jewish Punk, is the moniker of the multi-instrumentalist, singer/songwriter, composer and producer Steve Lieberman. He was born in Brooklyn, New York to a working class Jewish family and now resides in Freeport. Perhaps more than most artists, his work needs to be understood in the full context of his life.

He has been considered an ‘outsider artist’, partly attributed to his lifelong struggle with bipolar disorder which began for him at the age of just eleven. He has been releasing studio albums since 2002 and has now released over thirty, along with live albums and countless cassettes. He has shared the stage with Weezer, Andrew WK, Glassjaw, Ryan Dunn and The Misfits, but had to retire from performing in 2011 owing to having to battle an advanced form of leukaemia, returning briefly to the stage in 2016.

In 2018, he was admitted into a hospice and remarkably has carried on creating, producing his most challenging works including completely covering Jethro Tull’s Thick As A Brick (a major influence) and thrash metal versions of the British Opera, The H.M.S. Pinafore and Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. In 2019, he released his 3 hour magnum opus, Symphonie-Thrash Du Professeur Juif Rebelle. This year has seen him release a compendium of singles and EP’s from Post-Militia Pogo Battalion (#39/77).

This latest release consists of twelve tracks performed in a continuous hour of colossal musical energy. While his recent output has often involved highly entertaining and hugely enjoyable reinterpretations of other people’s songs that ran the gamut in terms of genre, here the Rabbi hits us with mostly original Lieberman compositions.

Not only are the tracks interlinked but there are lyrical themes that also link the tracks that range from the joys of love and sexual union to being on the receiving end of anti Semitism, as well as his inspiring fight against living with leukaemia. As with all the Rabbi’s work, it’s a real rollercoaster ride, so strap yourself in.

First track Me & Suzy in the Woozatoria is a rambunctious rocker with razor edge guitars, augmented by a unison of classical instruments and matched by a tornado of a drum beat. The lyrics are a joyous expression of sexual love with humorous references to The Knack’s My Sharona as evidenced by the opening lines: “Always get it up with the touch of the elder kind…”.

His references to the “Woozatoria” are probably referring to his lengthy stay in the hospice, where he has been for years and heroically continues to create music like a true artist does, showing more vitality and creative inspiration than a man a quarter of his age. The theme is extended into I’m Older Than The Ground, where the sonic maelstrom is turned up to 11 and Suzy’s methods of bringing happiness are openly discussed!

With a Pillar of Sound, I Praise The Lord is a distinct contrast lyrically, reflecting his deep Jewish faith and artistic inspiration: “The Noise Militia, the 14/7 Chord, With a Pillar Of Sound, I praise the Lord”. There’s an Old Testament “fire and brimstone” sense of drama and depth to lines like, “I consecrated myself to His service, my adversaries, they get so nervous, just like Hezekiah, King of Judah, the Lord struck down his persecutors.”

The history of his faith is the story behind Hall’el 473, which has a Dylan-esque vibe and similar poetic elegance: “423, I got the call, Street-corner at the shopping mall, preached to the non believers: “you’re all gonna fall”, as they relegate me to the mourner’s hall”. Though his message is serious, there’s a warm humour and honesty to lines like, “425, became a teenage Prophet, proselytised like a Saturn 5 rocket.

Bass Guitar Entr’acte #132.2 is a short track where the Rabbi’s wild basslines are put through a very cool flanger/phaser effect, leading into a radical Gangsta Rabbi reinterpretation of Oh Pour, Pour the Pirate Sherry, from Gilbert and O’ Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance. While nothing like the original, it captures the true Bacchanalian spirit of the song.

We then return to the album’s core theme of his relationship with Suzy with the eighth and ninth tracks I Wanna Be Suzy’s Bass Man and I Became Suzy’s Bass Man/Me and Suzy Praise The Lord. The former is my personal favourite on the album, capturing the Rabbi’s anthemic punk rock spirit and featuring some awesome lead guitar amongst the sonic maelstrom. The latter is an inspiring portrayal of a woman’s love and support: “She says you’ll always be my Bass Man, you’ll always be my favourite one man band, in many more you’ll take your stand, you’re the fastest in the land…”.

This then switches to a darker theme as the Rqbbi recalls have to contend with racism and anti Semitism on A Skinhead With A Stickball Bat. Rather than play the victim as is the common approach, the Rabbi shows his typical feisty courage and strength of faith: “He made me tilt, I made him fall, and that skinhead never bothered me no more…”. There’s a real power to the final lines: “Cause I serve Israel’s Lord they call me a Zionist hoard, I serve the Lord with a distorted 14/7 power chord!”

This theme continues into the final tracks Was That Skinhead a Racist? and Skinheads In My Yard, Oy Vey 473 which sees the album out in a tumultuous blaze of glory, a whirlwind of instruments swirling till the final bars, concluding an epic hour of unique music.

Overall, this another vibrant and life affirming album by an inimitable artist with an indomitable spirit. Here he delivers a collection of tracks which are nearly all Lieberman originals and fuses them into an exhilarating musical journey. The lyrical themes run the emotional gamut; they are both personal and yet deal with issues that so many go through, from love to facing health issues and prejudice from others. But, as always with the Gangsta Rabbi, he shows that the human spirit can overcome any adversity and that will be his artistic legacy.

VERDICT = 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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

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