ALBUM REVIEW: Pour Me An Encore by Audiobender

coverart  http://audiobenderband.com/

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

VERDICT: 9 out of 10.

Alex Faulkner

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ALBUM REVIEW: Love And Blood by Jean Synodinos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alex Faulkner

 

VERDICT: 9.4 out of 10

ALBUM REVIEW: Real Life by Malichi

MALICHIhttp://www.malichimusic.net

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

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

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

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

 

Alex Faulkner (The Faulkner Review)

 

VERDICT: 9 out of 10

ALBUM REVIEW: Into The Woods by Philip Masorti

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Alex Faulkner

VERDICT: 8.7 out of 10

ALBUM REVIEW: Innocent Sin by Billy Dechand

BILLY http://www.cdbaby.com/dechand7

Billy Dechand is a singer/songwriter hailing from Missouri in the United States. His genre is essentially alternative pop/rock and he has been releasing material since 1998. This album, Innocent Sin, consists of sixteen tracks and is his seventh release on CD.

Starting with the title track, its a fine opener; a smoky, funky track with lashings of wah wah guitar, vibes and brass that give it a 70’s vibe, in a good way. Billy has a strong voice, a smooth croon that is almost Bowie-esque at times and that influence in manifest throughout the album. He also cites The Beatles, Beck and The Flaming Lips as influences.

Hungry For More is brief but very catchy, while When The Satellite Drops is an excellent song about our possibly over reliant relationship with technology. It’s set to a Beatles/Bowie style chord progression and builds to a memorable chorus. His sense of humour shows on Reproduce, a reggae tinged track that takes a sardonic look at male/female relations. The organ and bouncy bassline work well.

Keepin’ It Real is another funny song set to a lilting Kinks style melody, with bitingly satirical lyrics: “Every day when I wake yup I’ve been keeping it real…I’m so f—–g authentic, I’ve got my own cat food commercial…”. Kick Ass has one of the catchiest hooks on the album while You Do It is slower and more poignant: “He can teach you all the rules and never learn the game…”. The excellent chorus is pure Bowie musically but infused with Billy’s quirky style, so he makes it his own. A real highlight.

Spilled The Water and Little Miss Muffler are both deliciously offbeat and quirky acoustic pop songs, the latter replete with scatological sound effects, the more base end of Billy’s humour! Take Me Now is a fun song about getting amorous, while the infectious Booya rejects a negative outlook on life: “You can dress in black, cool like Cash… but me, I wanna live in colour…”.

Sell Out Is a justifiably cynical satire on those who will do anything to get ahead “Pretty beauty goin’ straight to your head…give it all away to the folks at the mall, cashing out your max for replaceable trash….”. She Has Work is one of the more moving and serious songs here; a poignant piece of characters study, showing his deeper side as a songwriter. The cute closing Chihuahua returns to his more familiar quirky style.

Overall, this is a very good album that showcases Billy’s musical and emotional range as a songwriter. All sides of life are here, from the poignant to the humorous, from the personal to societal concerns. He has a strong sense of craftsmanship and a gift for consistently memorable melodies and hooks. He has melded his influences into a style very much his own. Highly recommend for fans of left field pop/rock.

 

Alex Faulkner

VERDICT: 8.6 out of 10

 

ALBUM REVIEW: After Songdown by Voice In The Attic

After Songdownhttp://voiceintheattic.com

 

Voice In The Attic is essentially the artistic vision of singer/songwriter BC Bogey, who hails from Cologne in Germany. His musical path has been unusual, starting out in metal bands before entering a musical conservatory at 23, where he seemed destined for a career as an opera singer. He left to pursue his musical ambitions elsewhere, forming a progressive rock project called TIDE, who became critically acclaimed.

Since then he has developed his own unique style as a solo artist, releasing the album Earily Familiar in 2010 and a few singles and EPs since. This second album, After Songdown, he describes as his ‘unplugged album’ and though it could be described as acoustic, that would be over simplying his rather original sound. With a deep, expressive voice somewhere between Chris Rea and Tom Waits, he combines elements of folk, jazz, classical and rock into a refreshing hybrid.

Consisting of thirteen tracks, it contains both songs and instrumentals. Opening song Day introduces his organic, intimate approach which features picked acoustic guitar, dreamy female backing vocals and haunting strings interweaved throughout. Essentially, it’s a song of longing: “I’ve been waiting for the day to break since you went away…”.

Glass is a poignant two minute instrumental consisting of piano and strings, while On starts out simply, then builds into an intriguing song that stands on the verge of several genres. It explodes in a miasma of vocal harmonies towards the end, lyrically about the urge to “go where the wild things are…”. Reminisce is another fine instrumental track, similar to Glass and rather moving.

Ablaze starts out as acoustic folk before a funky, jazzy beat turns it into something else entirely, built around the potent hook “We’re ablaze with desire…”. The female vocals complement his in a perfect yin/yang kind of way, both sensual and romantic. Tear is a lovely, tender song with beautiful, poetic lyrics: “You are a tear…a drop of ink in the sky…”. The female harmonies are breathtaking on this one.

Over, the first single from the album, is another highlight. It appears to be about dying, but is in no way maudlin: “I cross the borders into the light, that’s where I’m going, that’s when I die…weightless, I’m soaring, this our goodbye…”. A very deep and meaningful song, this one alone deserves to be heard by a wide audience.

Rhinoceri is an experimental track, a Tom Waits-esque spoken monologue over quirky percussion, while Tribute pays intriguing homage to Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit and Foo Fighters Everlong in the lyrics, but sounds nothing like either. Toll is another fine song, with xylophone added to the instrumental blend.

Fall is the last instrumental featuring some gorgeous guitar work and leads to the closing title track Songdown. It’s a perfect way to finish, an ode to his passion for life and music itself, the chorus running: “I don’t know what I’m living for, but that’s OK…at the end of the day, songdown leaves me wanting….”.

Overall, this is a highly accomplished and eclectic album both musically and lyrically. It’s the work of a genuine artist that will reveal its depths upon repeated listening, such is the level of detail and sophistication. A highly recommended listen.

 

Alex Faulkner

 

VERDICT: 8.9 out of 10

ALBUM REVIEW: Adventures Of The Sound by Alby Sound

ALBYhttps://albysoundoff.bandcamp.com/album/adventures-of-the-sound

 

Alby Sound is a rap/hip hop artist hailing from Rodeo, California. Previously known as Oktayne, he rose through the ranks of the indie hip hop charts and is now back with a new moniker. He cites Kanye West as a major influence and his talents have been described as a cross between Kendrick Lamar and Chance The Rapper.

This album, Adventures Of The Sound, consists of sixteen hip hop tracks that show his musical diversity. Opening track Origins of Alby acts as a good introduction to him as an artist, starting with a haunting piano intro then progressing into a mellow groove, with Alby delivering some fine verses about his past. His laid back rapping style helps you get into his lyrical flow.

WLGYL ft. Takticz is based around the super catchy hook of “When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade….”, while Clap Your Hands is a real highlight featuring a superb sax break towards the end. Lyrically, he distances himself from the violence in the culture surrounding hip hop: “Keep them bullets away from us….”. The hook sticks in your memory instantly and this is a potential single.

Prison Of The Mind ft. Kareless MF’ah is another excellent track and full of lyrical wisdom (“Racism is a prison for the mind….) while Friends is a poignant track about not knowing who to trust, built around a powerful synth melody (“Got a knife in my back, and I might get stabbed…”)

Vibe N’ Ride is a more feel good track about the ladies which lightens the mood after a few ‘heavy’ tracks, lyrically speaking. Unlock Ft. El-Merow is another highlight with some slick vocoder vocals and a slinky, addictive beat. Situation is the super laid back epic of the album at five minutes, and shows Alby at his most explicit and amorous, shall we say. A track for an intimate evening, the ideal mood setter. The tight, rhythmic acoustic guitar really grooves this one along.

Grow Up is one of the most powerful tracks on the album, an inspirational message about staying positive and having high expectations for the future: “When I grow up, I wanna go far…when I grow up, I wanna reach the stars….”. Musically, its excellent too with piano and sax providing the perfect backdrop.

It’s aimed at his younger audience (“The children are the future… they always have been…staying in school is the motto to live by…”) and its nice to see a rapper putting out a good example when so many are led astray by the ‘bad boys’ of hip hop who glamorize violence and greed.

Final track Racing Division also has a powerful message, this one focussing on all that’s wrong in society: “All we talk about is race and religion…”. These are the things that divide us, along with greed: “Sell your soul for a motherf—– loan…”. Two great tracks with something important to say to finish a fine piece of work.

Overall, this album stands up to any hip hop out there currently being made. While Alby has his ‘good times’ tracks, he also has plenty to say about the big issues in life and suggests a positive, more spiritual approach which is refreshing. With several stand outs, this album should help Alby Sound make a name for himself.

 

Alex Faulkner

VERDICT: 8.5 out of 10