ALBUM REVIEW: The Julie Project by 27 $AVAGE


27 $AVAGE a.k.a. Hefe Heetroc (amongst other aliases) is a rapper/producer hailing from Albuquerque, New Mexico. He grew up in Rochester, NY and moved to California before ending up in Albuquerque. Picking up the guitar at 19, he moved into the hip hop genre at 27, collaborating with the emcee Loose Logic. His music has been featured on numerous blogs including ThisIs50 and his single ‘Space Energy’ has been aired on WRIU FM by Dj Padrino (of the Coke Boys).

His musical style has been described as a fusion of hip-hop, glitch-hop, and vaporwave, though for this album/mixtape The Julie Project he describes the music as ‘Alien Emo Trap’. Rather than a collection of separate tracks, it is mostly variations and remixes of the track Ocean Front with different material interspersed towards the end.

His rapping delivery is smooth and so laid back it’s almost vertical, imagine Snoop Dogg after a night on the chronic. He has a natural facility for rhythm and rhyme, with an inventive use of language like the best rappers. The album starts with lead single The Awakening, built around a simple but infectious vocal hook: “Now we’re rollin’ on the ocean front….”. The production is lo-fi but imaginative and edgy; it suits the overall vibe of the music, a meld of trap beats and bursts of synth riffs.

The Reckoning is, in ways, an extension of the first track, this one with an Eminem-esque lyrical flow and similar use of dark realism: “Life’s meaning is in its making, pain, blood, death, that’s for the taking…”. The track The Comeback is another variation on the theme, this one containing some impressive verbal gymnastics and rapid fire delivery.

Following this is a series of remixes and reinterpretations, my personal favourite being Ocean Front Part II, with it’s moody, throbbing bass and weirdly haunting synths. Eighth track It’s A Lie is excellent, built around a pounding kick and verbal fireworks, with the rhymes coming thick and fast. The last remix, Unstoppable, features a blistering breakbeat which helps make it one of the most effective tracks and a fine way to finish.

Overall, this is an intriguing project from 27 $AVAGE, who has melded various styles into a unique fusion that sets him apart from the generic hip hop crowd. He has developed his own style which is versatile, and deserves a strong fanbase. I’d be interested to see if he can develop this approach further and deliver a full album in the more conventional sense of entirely different tracks. This could be the case with his upcoming album Empire Of The Forgotten. Definitely one to watch for the future.

VERDICT: 7.4/10

Alex Faulkner

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ALBUM REVIEW: The Whisper and The Hurricane by Matt Hartless


Matt Hartless is an Irish songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer, currently based in Manchester, England. He has, so far, put out three full length studio albums (Our Last Days In The Sun, Victory and this one, The Whisper and The Hurricane, released in August 2017). Aside from these he has also released singles, E.P.s and compilations.  His music defies simple genre categorization, encompassing an eclectic range of styles including folk, ska, classical, ambient, flamenco and alternative rock. Sometimes these styles vary and combine within the same song!

This ten track album begins with Rorschach, and as soon as Matt’s rich, harmony layered a capella vocals emerge from the speakers you realize this is not going to be the usual fare. His voice is distinctive and powerful, reaching an almost operatic grandeur at certain moments. It is reminiscent of Muse’s Matt Bellamy and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, though less affected, and he is gifted with an astounding vocal range (as anyone will discover if they listen to the entire album).

Lyrically, like musically, he is very eclectic and varied, mixing the oblique with the concrete and the romantic with the quotidian (this is captured even in the album’s title). These juxtapositions of the internal and external worlds lend the lyrics both a cinematic and imagistic quality that brings to mind T.S. Eliot circa The Waste Land. Lines such as “Analyze my every motive with a questionnaire and a Rorsharch test” seem particularly apposite in this current climate of behavioural scrutiny, both personal and societal.

Rorsharch is itself like an ink blot test, open to interpretation. Musically, it creates an evocative soundscape, with Hartless playing the majority of the instruments, aided by haunting violin lines (courtesy of Mark Humphries). The song is led by the lilting, folk-influenced vocal melody and the memorable enigmatic refrain, “No, I don’t remember at all...” In the second verse he muses, “There was no point to anything we did, till we ran out of time.…” and these themes of existential ennui and an impending sense of apocalypse recur throughout the album.

Second song The Vaulted Lead Ceiling is one of the album’s epics at six minutes long and begins with sparse acoustic guitar set against a sound collage of modern life; street noises, weather and bits of broken conversation. It is more openly personal. as evidenced by the dryly humorous opening line: “I don’t want to live the life of the chronically bored…”.

This elegiac, melancholy and world-weary tone pervades the album in a way that is reminiscent of troubled troubadours from the past like Nick Drake and Elliott Smith. The song brings to mind Exit Music (from Radiohead’s magnum opus Ok Computer) in the way it builds from, well, a whisper to a hurricane. To attempt a six minute track like this shows the scope of his musical ambition, and he pulls it off with aplomb.

The following Life In The Tannery is an effective contrast, with it’s samba-esque rhythms and restless, addictive guitar lines. It’s one of two tracks on the album that bring to mind the quirky alternative pop of Badly Drawn Boy and acts as a nice counterbalance to the ‘sturm und drung’ style of the emotionally heavyweight songs that surround it. Lyrically, it deals with the harsh truth that our relationships in life are partly based on projections and illusions: “To pull you from the blizzard, cartwheeling out of sync with the feelings that you perceive: you’re in love with a daydream…“.

Fourth song Waterlilies is arguably the album’s finest moment, drawing from the same well of doomed romanticism as The Smiths and Joy Division, but inhabiting its own sonic landscape entirely. Starting with a jazzy, beautifully simple two-chord piano progression, it develops into a soaring, euphoric ode to the timeless struggles of the human condition. It’s a good example of how he mixes the personal with powerful imagery, so we get: “I stumble through the haze that separates me from the end of days…” mixed in with striking images like ‘bodies in the street trampled by the protesters’ feet’. At the risk of sounding pretentious, you could call this style impressionistic in a similar way to Monet’s painting of the same name.

Fifth track Peace To Camera shows another facet to his oeuvre; an ambient instrumental that shows influences ranging from Sigur Rós and the French classical composer Erik Satie. Ethereal, haunting piano melodies drift and swirl without finding resolution, a mixture of the melodic and the dissonant. Again, you could describe it as an impressionistic painting in sound.

The classical influence continues strongly on the next two songs, Alice Loses Grip and The Science Of Attachment. The former begins with a swirling piano motif before developing into an epic piece of catharsis, lyrically capturing the theme of the album and giving us the source of the title: “The steps towards my hopes and dreams were worth my splitting at the seams, or better not to entertain the whisper and the hurricane…“.

The music is leant weight and stately grandeur by tasteful bursts of brass, adding to the symphonic texture. Matt delivers another stirring vocal performance of soaring intensity, which continues into the following six-minute The Science Of Attachment. This one brings to mind Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata along with the Gallic charm and beauty of the soundtrack to the classic film Amélie. It is in 6/8 time giving it a waltz feel, and violin from Dan Reiss lends it a gypsy vibe.

Emotionally, this song turns up the heat still further, the opening lines desperate and despairing: “I need a miracle or something magical, to prove there is more to life than this….“. Vocally, he channels a blend of Thom Yorke-esque power with the measured restraint of Elbow’s Guy Garvey. It builds to an anguished crescendo before ending on the evocative piano figure with which it began. Superb.

Making Small Fries Illegal is a distinct change of pace, an upbeat piece of indie-pop that brings to mind Mancunian music like, again, Elbow and Badly Drawn Boy. Lyrically, it sardonically deals with our disposability in modern society: “I left the office today, they’re making small fries redundant and I don’t know what to say, they think that I am one of them…..”. The melody really sticks in your mind and makes it a good choice as a single.

The final two songs, Snapdragon and London Will Fall, provide a showcase for both his eclecticism and extraordinary falsetto, especially the latter. Snapdragon shows his Irish roots, a piece of lilting but fiery folk in 3/4 waltz time (for the most part) that brought to mind The Levellers. The instantly memorable fiddle melody sets the tone and Thom Yorke would be proud to have written a line like, “Sleeping pills and aspirin, all to no effect, I’m shocked there’s anyone left….”

London Will Fall is a suitably epic way to end the album, the third to clock in at over six minutes. This one is perhaps best described as progressive ska, starting out in 4/4 then switching to triple time halfway through. As you can tell from the foreboding, yet maybe prescient, title it once again hints at apocalypse though the lyrics are barbed towards someone in particular: “London will fall and I won’t be there and it will all be down to you. Call, but I won’t be coming…we were saving our own skins…“.  It builds to a cathartic climax, with his falsetto voice reaching high notes that have to be heard to be believed! A stunning way to finish.

With The Whisper And The Hurricane, Matt Hartless has set the bar very high artistically and provided a powerful, poignant musical document of what it means to be a human being in the early 21st century, with artistic influences drawing back to the 19th century.

While the mainstream has become very much a case of the bland leading the bland, this album offers hidden treasure to anyone who still regards the album as an important art form and dares to delve down the rabbit hole. With any justice, this will still be listened to in fifty years time and hopefully beyond. British music has a new unsung hero.


VERDICT: 9.3 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner



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ALBUM REVIEW: BARE by Celeste Buckingham


Celeste Buckingham is a Slovak singer-songwriter of Swiss-American descent. Her songwriting began at a young age, with one of her first demos having been written when only twelve. She also wrote a successful children’s story with her sister, which they self-published in 2007 and eventually resulted in a paperback release. She rose to prominence with her musical talents in 2011 via becoming a finalist in the Czech and Slovak TV series Superstar.

From this success she was able to establish herself as an artist which resulted in the release of her debut album Don’t Look Back in 2012. Released to critical acclaim, it spawned a number two hit single in the national charts, Run, Run, Run. She followed this with the 2013 album Where I Belong, which featured the single I’m Not Sorry. Another album followed in 2015, So Far So Good. She has also featured as a judge on the Czech-Slovak X Factor.

This album, BARE, features ten tracks and musically is fairly eclectic in its influences, but it is essentially soul/RnB fused with Middle Eastern and Latin elements that is reminiscent of artists like Shakira. Vocally, she is distinctive and powerful, with a voice to stand up against any of pop’s big hitters like Beyonce, Rihanna and Adele. You can also detect the influence of Joss Stone, and Celeste shares her penchant for barefoot performances!

The album gets off to a blistering start with the perfect R&B pop of Paradise, with cutting edge production that rivals the best Bloodshy & Avant productions (Britney Spears, Katy Perry). Starting with a pulsing kick drum that ensures it will rip on the dancefloor, Celeste lays down a killer vocal about resisting but still being tempted by a lothario: “You say you love the dark side, and I got a wild side but I ain’t gonna let you in, no, no…”.

As with the best pop songs, every section of the track is filled with catchy hooks and ear candy, the breakdown bridge (“Even though I know you’re no good for me…”) building to an instantly memorable chorus that captures the harsh reality of life and both the shallow nature and allure of human relationships: “This ain’t paradise, it’s as cold as ice, but there’s magic in your bones I don’t understand…”. If there’s a better pop song in 2018, I’ll be surprised.

While Paradise is my personal favourite on the album, second track Addict is perhaps the one with the most commercial potential and is quite simply, well, addictive! Built around an exotic Eastern groove and a seductive vocal melody, it brings to mind the world conquering classic Hips Don’t Lie by Shakira. Again, it’s about the potency and lure of physical and mental attraction and starts with the chorus hook: “Losing my mind and I kind of like that….”.

Unexpectedly, Celeste shows her versatility on the verses, rapping with a smooth and rapid delivery as fluent and rhythmic as Eminem at his best. This gives the track added sass and really drives it forward, contrasting effectively with the sung sections. A song that could storm the charts, globally.

Third song Rose is a total change of pace; a tender ballad about feeling love and compassion for a man going through a rough time emotionally: “His petals are worn and frayed at the edge, his clothes are torn and his face is a mess…”. Celeste gets to show another side to her talent here, delivering a sensitive, moving and powerful vocal, with a theme that avoids the clichés of the traditional love ballad. With its radio friendly sound and strong chorus, this is another potential single.

Next up is Go Away, which has been released as the first single from the album. It is a return to the Latin-tinged R&B vibes of the first two tracks and matches them for sheer catchiness. Lyrically, as the title implies, it’s about reaching the end of a relationship with someone who’s turned out to be no good. The whole song is packed with hooks, and with its solid four-to-the-floor beat you can tell it will work well in the clubs.

The following Selfish is another fine track, with some nice production effects on the vocals. Although it’s as good as most of what you hear in the charts, it doesn’t have the inspired vitality of the preceding songs and perhaps sounds a little too similar to the majority of what’s out there.

Things pick up again straight away with the superb Trip, a slinky piece of jazz-inflected R&B that Beyonce would be very happy to have in her catalogue. The track makes great use of space, with a sparse but highly effective arrangement based around a xylophone-esque synth melody. It exudes a tasteful sensuality, especially as Celeste purrs “Can we take it nice and slow?” on the bridge. The use of triplet rhythms vocally and instrumentally throughout is the secret to its immense catchiness. A monster track that must surely become a single!

Seventh song Immature has a similar production style to Selfish, with a beefier hip hop style beat. I enjoyed the way the arrangement built across the duration of the track, and the chorus hook soon gets stuck in your head. Lyrically, it’s self explanatory, about a man who hasn’t got round to growing up yet. There is a dry humour in the lyrics that I appreciated, another facet to her musical personality.

Time Is Ours is the second ballad on the album, based around a haunting Coldplay-esque piano arpeggio. Celeste delivers another excellent vocal full of intimate vulnerability, and though it’s not as memorable as the lovely Rose, it’s certainly another well crafted piece of songwriting. All This is another fine example of what is essentially her staple sound, exotic rhythms and percussion and hook-laden vocal melodies, this one driven along by an elastic bassline.

The final track Intoxicated is perhaps the most lyrically edgy song on the album, and makes for a blazing finale. Starting with a harmonized vocoder effect, it’s an ode to the need to temporarily escape through hedonism: “I must stay intoxicated, baby, drink till it’s over, don’t try to change me“. A stomping beat and the verses delivered as a laconic rap gives this a hip urban feel, and this, again, has the potential to be a huge hit in the clubs. A great way to finish.

Having already amassed a huge fanbase, Celeste Buckingham stands poised to enter the big league with this album. She has the voice, image and charisma to become a globe conquering star, but most importantly, she has several songs that sound like they are destined to soar to the upper reaches of the charts. In particular, Paradise, Addict and Trip are potential number ones, but what makes this album stand out from the pack is its consistently high quality. When Shakira released Laundry Service, it broke her beyond just success in her native country and the same should happen here. I rate this as the most important female pop album since Lorde’s debut Pure Heroine. A star is born.



VERDICT: 8.9 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


VERDICT: 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

ALBUM REVIEW: Pour Me An Encore by Audiobender



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

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

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