ALBUM REVIEW: Radio Cowboy by Rob Georg

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Rob Georg is a country singer and songwriter originally hailing from Tuebingen in Germany. He became interested in music as a child, taking up the piano and then switching to guitar. He bought his first guitar at just 14 and this led to writing his own material. In 2018, he released his first official song Push That Horn and in December of that year came his first full band release, This Ain’t My First Rodeo.

That song made it into the US National Radio Hits AC Charts Top Ten. Since then he’s released several singles and this debut album, Radio Cowboy, contains songs that are nominated for the Fair Play Country Award in Europe, as well as for the New Music Award in the United States.

The album consists of fifteen songs in the country and country rock genres, beginning with the title track. It’s an autobiographical up-tempo song about how Rob swapped his life as a rancher for being a singer and songwriter, captured succinctly in the title hook on the uplifting chorus: “Cause ever since I kissed that saddle goodbye, I’ve been a radio cowboy….”.

His sincere love of music and sense of vocation is apparent in the opening lines of the second verse: “Once I picked up that six string nothing was the same, I know every highway out there, I know every DJ’s name….”. With his authentic, radio friendly voice backed up by a gifted band of top notch Nashville musicians, Radio Cowboy sets the bar high for the rest of the album.

Second song Carry The Wind is a different type of track that Rob does exceptionally well, the epic country ballad. This one is genuinely moving, about a beloved horse who has passed on and left him bereaved. The opening lines paint a poignant picture: “The last time I saw him alive was in the first rays of the morning light breathin’ in the February air….”.

Built around picked acoustic guitar, it builds to a powerful, anthemic chorus enriched by female backing harmonies. It resonates with the deep, genuine love for his horse and the longing to see him on the other side: “When I die will you wash my sins so I can ride him once again...”.

This Ain’t My First Rodeo is a return to the light-hearted country rock that opened the album, this one an entertaining yarn about an experienced rodeo rider passing on some well meaning advice to a newcomer: “Hey kid, I was once like you, full of spit with a lot to prove, but listen up lets talk it through, I can tell you’re new to this….”. With some fantastic guitar work throughout, this is one song that really cooks and you can understand its popularity.

Ghost is another fine example of Rob’s ability to write emotive, sensitive ballads.It’s  about feeling bereft after a loving relationship has ended and not being able to get over it: “I carved a headstone, here lies another sleepless night, I tried to bury the bones of all the memories you left behind….”. With its haunting melody, Ghost was understandably released as a single and you can read my full song review here.

This theme continues into This Old House, finding Rob reflecting on leaving the house that holds so many happy memories from the past: “There’s an empty house standing behind me, I’m trying not to look so I don’t cry, cause if I do, I know I’ll be reminded of all the memories we left inside….”.

The chorus is full of poignant imagery, the music perfectly reflecting the protagonist’s sense of sorrow: “Holes from where we hung the pictures of our wedding day, when we made vows we thought we’d never break, creaky wooden stairs leading down to Christmas mornings, a dirty fireplace that kept us warm when it was storming….”.

Harvest Moon Heart is the closest to a traditional country ballad on the album, a beautifully crafted song in waltz time with a lilting vocal melody augmented by steel guitar. After the emotional turmoil of the previous two songs, this touching track lightens the mood nicely and will be a popular one with country fans, both old and new.

My Family’s Got Fur is one of the more fun songs on the album, about the love he has for his dogs who help him on the ranch. It’s a sweet, mid-paced ballad that fellow canine lovers will especially appreciate. The second verse portrays the depth of his love and their importance in his life: “My dogs are braver than I’ll ever be, they run straight into danger and they’ll sacrifice their life for those in need. They’re the hardest workers on the ranch and I’m eternally grateful for the love they give to me….”.

Next comes one of my personal favourites on the album, the hard rockin’ Dust. It’s about the living daily reality of being a cowboy on a ranch, not the romanticized version we see on the silver screen: “The cowboys in the movies don’t tell you the whole story, I’m living proof we’re not it in for the glory….”. With its rich electric guitars and gritty vocal performance from Rob, it brought to mind the Jon Bon Jovi classic Blaze of Glory.

Sunsets At The Ranch is another fine ballad which portrays Rob’s love of nature, in particular the sun, inspiring some of his most poetic lyrics: “I’ve watched it sink behind the Tennessee mountains and soak into the ocean as I walked along the beach….”. With its universal qualities, again it made a suitable choice as a single, which I reviewed very favourably (read here).

Tenth track Push That Horn is one the most simple musically, with just vocals and acoustic guitar. It’s also one of the most emotionally affecting, with Rob paying tribute to a mentor who has now passed on: “I went to the States to be a cowboy, met a man who taught me how to cut. He said “Boy, you’re gonna win it all some day so I’m gonna work you night and day….”. A beautiful tribute song with some lovely Emmy Lou Harris-style female harmonies.

Time For Some Ink provides a complete contrast in mood, a playful rocker about the joys of getting a tattoo! Rob’s vocals on this are fantastic, showing he can rock out as well as perform the delicate ballads with equal ease. His cast of musicians sound great too, with crunchy electric guitar and meaty drums providing the bedrock for this entertaining anthem. You can read my full review for this one here.

This Gift Called Life is another fine ballad that deals with that most universal of themes, becoming a parent. The deeply emotional moment of becoming a father to a newborn is captured touchingly in the song’s opening lines: “She looks like you, the doctor said in the delivery room as I cradled your head. Your eyes were blue, just like the sky, reflecting over an ocean, so wide…..”.

It also shows the flip side, the pain of seeing your child suffering: “Left eye bruised from a fight at school, standing up for someone smaller than you…and as I held the pack of ice, couldn’t take away the pain but I knew I had to try….”.

Higher Ground is another song that shows his caring side, this one more upbeat with an insistent, toe tapping rhythm. It gradually builds into a real epic in strident 2/4, bringing to mind something like Born To Run by Bruce Springsteen. Halfway between a ballad and a rocker, it’s an easily overlooked gem on the album.

When I Make It Home For Christmas is one of the most beautiful songs musically, crystal-clear acoustic guitars mingling with subtle piano and drums. A close listen to the lyrics shows that its actually about a soldier fighting in a war and returning home for Christmas: “Every night on foreign ground as I lay my gun and helmet down, I can almost hear the sound of peace breaking through…”. This lends extra depth to a subject that might have been saccharine in lesser artistic hands.

The album finishes in the same uplifting fashion with which it began, this time via an ode to trucks: Beasts Made of Steel (read my full review here). As with Time For Some Ink, it’s another hugely catchy country-rock anthem that will appeal especially to automobile aficionados. It’s a fantastic, entertaining way to close out the album.

Overall, this a stellar set of songs from a country singer/songwriter as authentic as they come. Equally as skilful at writing and performing both up-tempo rockers and tender ballads, Rob Georg sings about the things that matter to us most. He’s also honest in showing the good and bad sides to the human condition. With this very strong album under his belt, there’s no limit to his potential and I hope it reaches many.

 

VERDICT= 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

Listen here:

ALBUM REVIEW: Moon Rituals by Sienna

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Sienna is an avant-garde EDM artist who is currently based in Norway but originally hails from Japan. Her music is an inventive meld of electronica, house, jazz and traditional-contemporary Japanese. She has performed extensively across Europe over a 10 year period as both a performer and DJ. She has collaborated with renowned artists like Nils Petter Molvaer, a psychedelic trumpeter from Norway, Mick Karn, an English bassist (now deceased) and famous group The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, whom she opened for in the UK on several occasions.

This latest album, Moon Rituals, is her eighth. To paraphrase her press release, it is unlike her former studio albums and “essentially consists throughout of chill-out songs – and all about the different phases of the moon in the Japanese cultural context.”

The album starts with the highly evocative Moonrise, which begins with a swirl of distant, ambient synths and haunting, echo-drenched piano. The exotic melody is juxtaposed with some unexpected, almost jazzy harmonic progressions and the low-end brooding synth adds to the meditative, mesmeric mood of the music.

Around the two minute mark the mood changes and we hear birdsong before a much lighter, more playful high-end melody emerges augmented by subtle percussion. This melody becomes the main theme of the piece and the percussive arrangement builds gradually into a captivating, intricate electronica beat as the melody is harmonized and modulated in unexpected ways. Moonrise is a very sophisticated and successful attempt at painting in sound.

After the epic, six minute opening track the more succinct but equally potent second track, A Hazy Moon, perfectly conjures in sound the imagery of the title. Opening with a scene-setting plethora of natural sounds, it is based around a complex, fast moving harmonic progression on synth.

This somehow has the ethereal effect of making the music appear to be floating in mid air, in combination with the hypnotic tempo, the result being a perfect evocation of a “hazy moon”. The brief bursts of the pipa, an exotic sounding Chinese musical instrument, adds to the magical, rich texture of the music.

Third track, Wesak on Mt. Kuruma, is about a festival that celebrates the birth, life and death of the Buddha, an event which takes place on the full-moon day of the lunar month Vesakha, which falls in April or May.

This mystical, other-worldly piece is set at a tranquil pace and consists of a simple but beautiful piano motif which is interwoven with blissful splashes of synth and a haunting female vocal (by Sienna) which gradually turns into harmonized vocals, creating a truly enchanting effect. Highly original and unique, both in terms of composition and performance/production.

This transcendent mood continues into the fourth track Moon on the Water which again uses delicate piano to paint the musical scene suggested by the title, and does so very effectively. The brooding mood, unpredictable chord changes and beatific melody brought to mind the work of French classical composer Erik Satie as well as other French impressionistic composers such as Debussy and Ravel. Ultimately, though, Sienna’s musical style in all her own and this is a real highlight of the album.

Tsukiyomi, the fifth track, is rather different. The title translates as Moon of the Underworld and Tsukiyomi is a moon god in Japanese mythology. This piece creates a tense and brooding soundscape through a sparse arrangement of percussion and brief interludes of exotic melody. It lends the music a stately grandeur with the space allowing every element to breathe. As it progresses across its five minute duration, it slowly builds in complexity and nuance, holding the attention gripped to the final bars.

This minimalistic style continues into The Harvest Moon-Viewing Banquet, with strident percussion set against swelling synth strings. It results in a powerfully atmospheric piece where a piano melody gradually emerges, only for the music to fall away. The final two minutes are a subtle crescendo of musical layers that captivates the ear.

Seventh track Snow, Moon, Flowers is one of the album’s epics at six and a half minutes long and is a return to the relatively more expansive and colourful sound world of the earlier tracks. With an unusual time signature that gives it a dreamy, ethereal feel it incorporates a pizzicato string melody with a deep bassline and glistening synths, as well as piano and flute.

A beautiful sung melody then floats serenely over the top before the pulsing kick drum develops into a full swing beat. The vocals on top help to make it the closest thing to a conventional song on the album, and it is my personal favourite.

Equally wonderful is the eighth track Crescent Moon, which is based around a recurring four note pipa melody. This piece truly showcases Sienna’s skills as a composer and arranger, gradually building up a richly woven tapestry of gorgeous counterpoint melodies and harmonies. On top of this she adds angelic vocals engulfed in reverb to create an irresistible musical melange. Perhaps the most instantly accessible piece on the album, and the most melodic.

Moon Rituals concludes with the extremely beautiful piece A Pale Morning Moon which feels like both a distillation and culmination of all the album’s lunar and musical themes. Driven initially by a moving low-end string motif and minimalist bass, the music gradually blossoms into a glorious extended climax of swirling synths and rapturous piano. It undoubtedly captures the mysterious and alluring power the moon has over us and completes the album in an inspired way.

Overall, this album is a truly captivating musical odyssey by a highly original and imaginative artist. She skilfully incorporates traditional musical styles with the modern ambient style to emerge with a sound that is quite unique .Sienna’s music has the remarkable effect of drawing the listener into intoxicating soundscapes that somehow seem to stand outside time and space. Every piece on the album takes you on a different sonic journey, yet it works as a seamless and unified concept album. Sienna has truly given us the whole of the moon.

 

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen here:

ALBUM REVIEW: Without Maps – 30 Years of Moments by Moments Of Pleasure Records

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This is a sampler of material from the Moments Of Pleasure label, founded in Brighton, England in 1989. It essentially features the work of six artists: Senses Reeling, Rogue Beauty, Almost Charlotte, Bluff, A Long Valley and B-Vox.  The common thread pretty much throughout is the involvement of Nick Fuller and Matthew Griffin – two of the five founders (along with Anthony Squires, Ian Philipson and Bill Russell) who comprised Almost Charlotte – the band behind its original single release.  The style of music throughout is essentially alternative pop/indie, though it branches out into more diverse genres over the years.

The compilation consists of nineteen tracks and begins with the upbeat funk-tinged indie pop of Rogue Beauty’s I Choose. Based around an infectious groove, the soulful female vocals are aligned with a memorable melody and an equally melodic baseline which acts as a fine counterpoint. Wah-drenched guitars add to the “dance-rock” vibe and synths complete the soundscape to great effect.

Next comes Eastern Eye by B-Vox which brings to mind some of the great indie pop of the 80’s such as Julian Cope and The Clash classic Rock The Casbah. Over crunchy guitars, the distinctive male lead vocals carry the song aided by eloquent lyrics and a highly catchy chorus hook. The subtle brass which punctuates certain parts adds an extra splash of musical colour.

Bluff’s Go Home Now comes next, written by Matthew Griffin it’s driven along by a Pump It Up-style bassline and Trevor Warman’s aggressively upfront guitar.  It notably features a contrast between the light, poppy verse and the heavier chorus which brings to mind The Pixies though musically it is more akin to the indie bands of the era (1992) such as Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, also harking back to arty punk bands like Wire. A superb and succinct piece of punk-influenced guitar pop.

This is followed by the sophisticated synth pop of Rogue Beauty’s Burn Down (Icon Park). It’s a viciously satirical song that aims its ire at celebrity culture: “Roll up folks for the PR man’s game, let’s wallow in the glory of a name, thank you Hello and Gossip and Morning TV, forget about real life and lose the real me.” Though it was written in 2001 by Nick Fuller and Matthew Griffin, the message resonates even more today, where celebrities are treated as deities in some cases.

Foreign or Poor by Senses Reeling brings us right up to date.  Infused with a similar righteous anger, this one deals with the terrible tragedy of the Grenfell fire, which occurred when a tower block in London burned down due to flammable cladding after health/safety concerns had been raised by residents and ignored.  There’s a strong sense of social injustice and moral outrage at how people were neglected as if they didn’t matter: “We can talk forever, but it has got to change, it has simply got to change.”

Their Way by A Long Valley is a more conciliatory song about not being overcome by hatred and bitterness, again a message that is more than apposite in Brexit-era Britain: “An open loving heart forgives, refusing bitterness for good, believing freedom always lives, as hatred never could.” Musically, it’s a solemn five-minute epic augmented by haunting synth strings.

Almost Charlotte’s Hope is a more traditional indie pop song, combining the light guitar style of The Sundays with the quirky vocal style of Julian Cope and Morrissey. It’s an effortlessly infectious track with a gloriously simple structure – featuring a prominently stabbing and melodic bassline by Anthony Squires – that proves sometimes less is more.

Ferocious Love by Senses Reeling is yet another song with a timely message. Recorded in 2016, it’s about those who deny the destruction of the environment or ignore it, in particular governments. Since then we have seen the rise of the eco-warrior movement which has become particularly well known this year through activists like Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg. They would certainly nod in agreement at such lines as, “Faith in our invincibility ignores a power so plain to see, no figure will make it right, no bribe will quell the fight, this place defines us and cannot disappear, we’ve got to talk“.

The following Attitude by Bluff is one of the compilation’s high-paced, punkier moments. It’s a thrilling ride, based around a simple but highly effective three-chord progression girded by an equally effective bassline.  This provides the bedrock for a lyric about someone with hypothetical views when it comes to helping those less fortunate: “There’s nothing to concern your cosy little world, on the outside there is no one suffering….”. It’s a potent, passionate song delivered with consummate conviction and one of the stand-out highlights for me.

There are shades of Depeche Mode in Paul Midcalf’s pristine production and the  pulsing synths of Easy by Senses Reeling, a rumination on the increasingly Orwellian use of data collection through our increased technology (“Surveillance or benign? Do we see the creepy line?“). Recorded in 2019, again this is a song that will only develop increased relevance as our lives become dominated by gadgets and subliminal advertising.

Anyone by Rogue Beauty is a low-key but lyrically powerful acoustic track about how losing yourself in a crowd can be a form of emotional protection: “And no one hears you scream beneath the neon sun, out here in the crowd you could be anyone.” The use of exotic percussion gives this a unique musical feel and acts as a nice contrast to the songs that surround it.

Missing Something by Senses Reeling is perhaps the most unexpected musical departure on the compilation. Based around a Latin American groove and piano style along with double bass and appropriate percussion, it’s a tour de force with a captivating lead female vocal by Rayne Gomes. Lyrically, it’s typically incisive, about how we don’t appreciate the moment if we are always chasing after the latest material acquisition (“A bigger house, a newer car…”). Full of sophisticated musical touches including some deft classical guitar work, it shows the impressive range at their artistic disposal.

Rainfall by Almost Charlotte returns us to more familiar sonic terrain, another finely crafted alternative pop song written by Matthew Griffin and recorded back in 1989. It’s a touching track about not being afraid to reach out to friends when going through some troubled times.

Someone Else by Senses Reeling is another song written from a standpoint of compassion, about how the elderly are neglected and should be appreciated while they’re still here. This is captured in such moving lines as, ” It’s only when we hold a hand so fragile and fading, that we realise the true cost….”.

Almost Charlotte’s Among The People is an interesting song, a character study about an extrovert young woman who refuses to be tied down to a relationship: “If you talk to her of love she’ll often turn and hide her eyes, if you ask her for a dance she will dance until you say goodbye…”. Recorded in 1990, it’s a poignant twist on the theme of unrequited love and says something larger about the shallow nature of modern relationships.

Some Small Control by Senses Reeling is another emotive song by Nick Fuller, with a sassy female lead vocal that brought to mind someone like Sia. It’s about trying to cling to the things you can control when all is turning to chaos around you. The arrangement here is excellent, with subtle piano and xylophone added to the musical palette.

Rogue Beauty’s Friends and Enemies is back to an edgier, fiery style, another well aimed attack at the banality of celebrity culture and how this has infected the music industry. (“What does the X stand for? Where will it end? Victorian Freak Show returns…” is clearly a dig at Simon Cowell and The X-Factor. (I heartily applaud!).

Bluff’s Switch Off is about wanting refuge from sensory overload.  Built around Joy Division-style interlocking drums and bass (the driving bassline by Colin Clifford being a particular feature) it’s built on rich, slightly heavier electric guitars than their signature sound. In “Sometimes I wish I had the guts just to switch it off, when the walls close in…..” it features one of the album’s most anthemic choruses: Fantastic song.

The compilation closes, aptly, with another social justice song, Your Place by Senses Reeling. This one is about the housing crisis in Britain where a combination of stalled social house building and the unaffordably high prices of private housing means that many people are left stranded – some at the mercy of exploitative landlords.  Musically, it’s one of the most unique here, a dance/rock hybrid that brought to mind Bernard Sumner and Johnny Marr’s Electronic. The contrast between the lively, upbeat music and the serious, saturnine lyrics make for a potent dynamic: “Easy to say that we all deserve our own space but it looks like they’re keeping you in your place….”.

Overall, this is a wonderful compilation of 30 years of material produced by this little-known hidden gem of a record label, Moments Of Pleasure. At nineteen tracks, it’s quite the epic listen that charts changing styles and times through a standard that is consistently high throughout, without a dud song here. The songwriters involved show a considerable amount of musical and lyrical skill, boldly dealing with the deeper issues of modern life and the human condition. It will be particularly loved by indie aficionados but any discerning music lover will find much to treasure here and much to discover beyond by checking out the induvial releases by the 6 acts.

 

VERDICT = 9.2 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

Listen here:

ALBUM REVIEW: V by D.Ni.L

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D.Ni.L. is a 35 year old hip hop artist, musician, producer and emcee hailing from Yorkshire. Having played with bands growing up in York, he developed the ability to compose in his head and play by ear. He has battled alcohol and drug addiction since the age of twelve, and spent four years living in hostels and sleeping rough.

These tough life experiences give his music an edge and intensity, and his record label Musication specifically uses music as a tool for recovery for people who face issues like homelessness and addiction. This has led to collaborations with Buttercream 87 and Wasabi Fire Alarm, as part of the band). As a solo artist he released two albums in 2017, This In’t A Party and the more guitar-influenced Suicide In Sips.

In 2018, he released the studio albums Boy Inside and Do You Know Who I Am?, both of which I reviewed highly favourably. D.Ni.L. has developed his own unique musical style which fuses aspects of progressive rock/metal (Deftones, Muse) with the emotive and well-crafted songwriting style of the Manic Street Preachers, also fused with the brutal lyrical honesty and aggression of hip hop.

This latest album, V, consists of eleven tracks and it maintains D.Ni.L’s signature sound whilst sounding fresh, owing to his highly sophisticated yet hard hitting musical approach.

As with his two previous albums the album starts with a strong, arresting track that instantly grabs your attention, in this case, Drop. Starting with taut, angular electric guitars saturated with gritty edge the time signature seamlessly switches from 6/4 to 6/8 where D.Ni.L shows the more melodic side to his musical persona, singing in falsetto and in harmony.

After these two contrasting but both highly effective sections have repeated the track then becomes ever more complex with wiry, syncopated riffs providing the bedrock for the mesmerising if enigmatic refrain: “You were my first love but I don’t think that I could ever….” which starts out sung and it’s up being growled, a sign of his strong metal influences.

The following Backhander maintains the brooding intensity and is propelled by a surging low end riff and meaty, punchy drums. D.Ni.L delivers a vocal performance full of conviction, never more so on the main hook, “There’s no turning back this time, there’s nothing left on me….” which turns into a haunting, anthemic mantra towards the end, delivered in octaves.

Third track Painted is one of the most visceral songs he’s yet recorded, with searingly aggressive vocals on the verse counterpointed by a vaulting chorus melody. The way he uses opposites in terms of both texture and rhythm/harmony provides dynamic contrasts throughout the album and this track is no exception.

Fourth song Licked is one of the album’s most instant and accessible, It starts out with an urgent but relatively straightforward 4/4 rhythm, yet even when it develops into something more complicated, the simplicity and compelling nature of the main vocal melody captivates the ear throughout.

Wallowing is a unique track on the album; a slow burning epic with a beautifully simple beat and languid tempo that brought to mind the ethereal Teardrop by Massive Attack. Musically, it’s a rich sonic landscape of piano, strings and picked guitar lines while D.Ni.L’s troubled lyrics only add to the potency. This track in particular feels like an artistic progression even from the heady heights of his first two albums, adding a maturity borne of experience as well as being one of the musically  accomplished things he’s written.

His sense of anger and resigned despair are never too far from the surface, which manifests clearly in the bottled rage of the following Fuck Right Now. Set at a brooding tempo, the music proceeds with a menacing momentum as D.Ni.L sings about being in prison “bashed about” and the all things “dark and sinister“. It’s a compelling depiction of a nihilistic, world-weary mindset that many will relate to, captured perfectly by the main hook, “If someone told this is just a little break from hell, I wouldn’t give a fuck right now…”.

If anything, seventh track Crawled Out is even angrier, D.Ni.L at his most angular and dissonant to begin with before breaking down to one of the emotive soul searching sections that he does well, then building back up to a passage of righteous fury.

Touched is one of the album’s most anthemic songs and a real grower. The verse provides the calm before the storm (“Now I smell the reaper on her breath…the smell of death was lingering..” he intones, darkly) before breaking out into blistering widescreen low-end guitars, the ascending octaves towards the end providing a gripping finish.

20/20 is one of the album’s lighter tracks that, for me, shows D.Ni.L’s gift for melody and effective harmonic progressions as well as the strong influence of the excellent and somewhat underrated Welsh group Manic Street Preachers, at least in the first half. From there it returns to his more familiar territory of prog-rock esque rhythmic left turns matched with gnarly riffage. It’s an approach he’s honed to perfection.

Bunch of Fives takes us back into a maelstrom of emotional turmoil, beginning with the tormented lines: “If I can’t figure me out, who’s gonna do it for me?”. This forms the main refrain with the music taking us through some equally dark and jagged sonic terrain; insistent lead guitar lines battle with tumultuous drums and industrial NIN-style grunting chords.

Final track Lying In Wait is the album’s uber-epic at nearly nine minutes duration and there’s not a dull moment. Featuring sections of relentless rage contrasted with sections of melodic beauty, it brings to the visceral impact of Nirvana’s In Utero, incidentally Kurt Cobain’s third album. The track reaches a powerful climax then fades away, giving the impression of an unquenchable energy. It feels like an apposite way to close things out.

Overall, this album completes a trifecta of highly consistent and unique alternative rock albums from D.Ni.L. It maintains the same quality and intensity of his first two albums while eclipsing them in certain ways, featuring some of his both troubled and transcendent music. D.Ni.L has learnt how to channel his demons into his art and the effect is frequently cathartic and electrifying. Highly recommended listening.

 

VERDICT = 9.2 out of 10  

Alex Faulkner

You can listen to the whole album HERE

ALBUM REVIEW: 666 Way$$$ by Feed The Weird

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Feed The Weird are a hip hop duo who are strongly influenced by their interest in the strange and the occult. The duo, Yami Weird and HellAir, have been friends since middle school and have had a long held mutual love for hip hop and punk rock. Both grew apart after moving out of their shared neighborhood, until Yami reached out to Hell after publishing a rough version of his song 666 Ways back in 2018. After that they decided to form a group and publish their music independently, with hopes of escaping the boring life of Northeastern Tennessee. They release their material through Pump Fink Records.

This album, 666 Ways$$$, consists of 11 tracks and musically is a surprisingly unique hybrid of hip hop, trap and metal to create a fusion that brings to mind the industrial rock/metal of Nine Inch Nails, gothic aspects of Marilyn Manson and a myriad of distilled hip hop/rap influences. The album’s opening track, Pussycat Hotrod (produced by Discent), is one of the most sonically arresting and challenging,  not representative of the album as a whole.

Starting out with crunchy, raw low-end guitar chords, it breaks into a trap/hip hop groove overlaid with metal-style growled vocals. Mixed in are a plethora of vocal samples and swirling synths to create a sinister but scintillating soundscape that is unnerving but undeniably gripping. It’s also a style all of its own.

Next comes the title track (produced by Vaegud and sketchymyname) which is more accessible and essentially more traditional hip hop, but with a rock style lead vocal and edgy, explicit lyrics. This become a hallmark of their music across the duration of the album. It begins with a haunting acoustic figure and is set to a languid, simple but effective beat. The vocals are delivered in a very low register and have a strangely mesmeric quality, especially on the potent, hedonistic title hook: “Another touch is dangerous, I’ve got 666 ways to fuck.…”. It’s a clever subversion of Jay Z’s famous 99 Problems.

Bonnie Rotten is even more explicit and brings to mind the claustrophobic, darkly sexual vibe of NIN’s Closer album and Eminem at his edgiest. Produced by Skami, it marries a blistering dubstep/hip hop beat with ghostly echo-drenched glockenspiel, which gives it an almost sinister undertone. Once again, the simplest of hooks proves to be very effective (“She likes it rough….”) and despite its brief two minute duration it packs a considerable punch.

Fourth track Zombie, produced by Dannyebtracks, is a good showcase for the fine rapping skills of both members as well as an entertaining but macabre tale, the sort at which Eminem used to excel. Yami Weird and HellAir make for an effective duo, their styles complementing each other. The title hook quickly lodges in the memory and the lyrics are graphic but compelling throughout.

Snowing In Florida, produced by Hertha & Stork, is another blissed out trip hop track which celebrates the hedonistic side of life on its hypnotic hook: “I smoke dope, I do coke, I do anything I want….”. Opening with an eerie, haunting soundscape, the track balances sung vocal hooks with smoothly rapped verses to great effect. Although the music has a ‘wasted at 3am’ kind of vibe, there’s no hint of struggling with the dark side of drug use here: “Got some bad habits and I don’t wanna break them….”.

The slinky following track Red Eyes seems a continuation of the theme and vibe, seemingly about getting high and enjoy a nocturnal drive: “Red eyes at the red light…I ain’t stopping for the blue light….it’s a night ride….it’s a moonlight drive”. Like an artist like The Weeknd, Feed The Weird have a talent for bringing a sense of the poetic and romantic to their tales of excess.

Seventh track Nowhere Noir, produced by Cashmoney Ap & FORTY38 picks up the tempo a little with a beat of subtle intricacy and nuance, the backdrop for a rather troubled lyric about a femme fatale (“She’s the devil in the shape of a ghost….”). There’s an ominous vibe to the music that mirrors the words and imagery perfectly and there’s a powerful sense of turmoil in the repeated chorus hook: “Dug her nails in me….”.

By contrast, Got Me Thinkin’ is perhaps the most accessible track here, with an undeniable commercial appeal. Built around a simple but irresistible vocal hook, the production by ricci is first rate and this would make an obvious choice as a single.
G.A.T. begins with an immediately captivating synth melody, soon conjoined with an infectious rhythm. This lays down the bedrock for some super fluent rapping, reflecting on their youth as misfits and trying to find a sense of identity. It’s another excellent showcase for their considerable emcee skills, this one produced by SOLO, and one of the most instant tracks on the album.

Love Potion #69 is a return to the more X-rated style of the earlier tracks though whereas a lot of hip hop is about braggadocio, Feed The Weird come from a more troubled place, the final refrain running: “I’m wicked, I’m stricken, I am spellbound, I ain’t ever, ever coming down, I ain’t ever going up….I’m just a fuck up….”.  Produced by Sxpply, it’s another darkly powerful track.

The final track, Anarchy You Can Dance To, is the album’s most anthemic moment and could perhaps be described as their manifesto. Built on an insistent 2/4 beat and an array of futuristic synth sounds, the entire vocal melody is instantly memorable but particularly the singalong hook of “We want sex, sex, sex and violence….” which cleverly plays on the 666 motif that runs through the album. Produced by S4d TrVnk, it’s a brilliant to finish the album and a track I feel could open a lot of doors for them.

Overall, this is a consistently strong hip hop album with a distinctly original flavour. Feed The Weird are a duo unafraid of their dark side and it gives their music a decided edge. Incorporating influences from rock and metal, the combination of singing and rapping is deftly balanced throughout and delivered with charisma and conviction. With a style all of their own and several killer tracks, I expect Feed The Weird to make a strong impact on the hip hop scene with this album, and deservedly so.

 

 

VERDICT= 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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ALBUM REVIEW: The Blue Tape by Earl The Monarch

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Earl The Monarch is a hip hop artist who was born in Dallas, Texas but moved to Port Arthur at an early age. He began writing music while young, growing up listening to DMX, Jay Z, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. His experiences with depression as he got older were also a factor in his artistic development, and he cites music as the reason he got through it.

He released his first mixtape in 2012 under the moniker ‘O.E.’, Insomnia: The Life & Times. He released the sequel in 2013, Insomnia: Dreamin’ of Nightmares. This became a proper album release in 2015 and he switched his moniker from O.E. to Earl The Monarch, putting out his first album under this name in 2017, Pain On The Rocks. I gave a stellar review to his 2018 album This Will All Be A Memory, which you can read here.

This album, The Blue Tape, consists of fifteen tracks. Some of these are skits which bring an element of humour amongst the hard hitting tracks where Earl The Monarch deals with some serious issues. As with the album This Will All Be A Memory, Earl confronts the deepest and darkest themes of life without fear.

After a brief and amusing skit to start the album, Bet $5 goes straight to the deep end with Earl berating the fairweather friends who’ve betrayed him. He also lays down some hard earned street wisdom: “Some doors close in your face, it just wasn’t your time, just be prepared with your plans when it’s time for the grind….”.

On second track Redemption, Earl depicts how music has been a positive influence on turning his life around over a slinky beat and smoky Rhodes progression. The underlying inspirational message behind his music is captured in the lines, “Made them believe….redemption ain’t no disease…”.

Inhibitions starts out with a quote from the tragically killed rap legend Tupac Shakur, and what follows is Earl at his most lyrically eloquent and life affirming (“I was suicidal but I bounced back…”). Over a simple beat, Earl lays down some rapid fire rhymes full of rhythmic invention, displaying his emcee skills to the max.

This heavy vibe is nicely alleviated by The Bridge Skit, which satirises the “bling” gangster mentality, before leading into the superb Blue Cup. Starting with the instantly infectious chorus hook which featuries the vocals of Blake Brake, Earl raps smoothly over a funky hip hop beat and the rapped verse/sung chorus contrast is very effective. With its summery, radio friendly sound it would make an obvious choice as a single.

409party (90s) is another upbeat track, this one a bit of a good time party anthem, also featuring the rapping talents of two of Earl’s cohorts, Killa Trae & Al Bee. Their differing styles complement each other well and it’s another slam dunk.

HowYouFeel? is a return to the more troubled depictions of life as a black man and the problems the black community face. The dark, claustrophobic vibe created by the backing music adds to the intensity and if anyone dare question whether Earl The Monarch is ‘for real’, they should listen to this track.

TakeCare Interlude is a distinct change of pace, a laid back hip hop groove providing the bedrock for a chorus hook sung by Bianca B Lo. Her serene vocals create a nice yin/yang effect with Earl’s direct rapping style. Live Forever is a brutally honest track, ruminating on mortality and those who’ve lost their lives needlessly, ending with another quotation from Tupac Shakur that itself needs contemplation.

Tenth track Mandatory is about a different kind of trouble and pain, portraying a relationship that’s gone wrong. It features the vocals of Kim on the hook which emphasise that love should be unconditional, not “for the glory”. One of my favourites on the album, full of insight and great rapping from Earl.

Friends, featuring Solorook and Coco continues the theme of women troubles, though this one about being betrayed by a close female friend: “I loved you like a sister only you were even closer.…”. The theme of being let down by people he’s helped and supported is a melancholy thread running through the whole album.

Rather than play the victim card, Earl chooses the philosophical approach as well as a defiant stance, as set out on WatchMeSwang II featuring Stevie Lights. Over a jazzy guitar chord progression, Earl gives another masterclass in fluent rapping and lyrical dexterity.

$mokey Momma is one of the most different and distinctive tracks on the whole album, with a chorus of joint male and female vocals over a complex triplet hi hat rhythm. Texas Relays is a remarkable piece of hip hop, also featuring the skills of Manuel, Fammo and Deezy Da Duce. The backing track is an ever morphing melange of swirling synths and the result is highly entertaining.

The album closes with SeeYouTomorrow featuring Coco and makes for a suitably emotional finish, expressing grief for a friend who has died. The last minute is particularly moving, with the ghostly, almost celestial female vocals of Coco repeating the poignant refrain, “The hardest part is that I wish that I could talk to you….”.

Overall, this is another brutal and brilliant hip hop album from an eloquent, emotional artist who has mastered his craft. All the hard times and experiences he’s endured have been poured into the lyrics, delivered with complete conviction throughout. He surveys the tragedies that surround him and offers a message of hope and positivity for a better future, a message that many need to hear. Earl The Monarch deserves to be recognised as one of the best rappers of his generation and this album should win him a new legion of fans.

 

VERDICT: 9.1 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

 

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ALBUM REVIEW: Times When I Know You’ll Watch The Sky by Forest Robots

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

This led to feeling inspired to compose music to go with these narratives and Forest Robots was born. In 2018, I gave a glowing reviews to the albums Supermoon Moonlight – Part One and the follow up, Timberline And Mountain Crest.

This latest album, Times When I Know You’ll Watch The Sky, is the third full length album in the last two years by Fran Dominguez. Just as Supermoon Moonlight and Timberline And Mountain Crest were essentially musical odes to the seasons of spring and summer respectively, this album is a representation of the Stanley Horowitz quote about autumn: “Winter is an etching, spring a watercolour, summer an oil painting and autumn a mosaic of them all….”.

It consists of eleven tracks and begins with the understated but wondrous Just Before Nightfall In The Forest. As with Fran Dominguez’s previous work, the music perfectly encapsulates the title, painting a sonic picture of certain magical moments in nature and conveying them to the listener. Swirling synth patterns are merged with a punchy electronic beat to create something modern yet unusually melodic and intricate for this era. This enchanting track acts as the perfect introduction to the album.

Everything Under The Light Of The Full Moon continues the hypnotic vibe with a similarly paced rhythm. Starting out relatively sparsely with a simple but effective bassline, overlayed with synth patterns, it gradually develops into a complex interweaving of melodies and evocative pads that fill out the sonic spectrum. Once again, the music conjures up the imagery of the title in an uncanny and accurate way.

The mysteriously named yet brief It Lies Sunk Deep Beneath The Old Lake consists of an intriguing synth figure reminiscent of an old sea shanty, conjoined with a double bass. This leads into the fourth track, In The Late Autumn Afternoon Rainstorm, one of the most melodically beautiful and haunting tracks on the album. Based initially on a mesmeric celesta melody it then expands into a gorgeous, reverb-drenched harp arpeggio backed by a rhythm of great intricacy.

Fifth track Deep In The Milky Way Spectrum lives up to the wide eyed wonder of its title, mixing a bewildering maze of melodies with potent synths and beats in certain sections. It conjures up the magnificent expanse of a clear night sky and results in a similarly transcendent feeling. The Last Of The Melting Snow is another of the short interlude tracks, but makes a strong impression in its ninety second duration with its arresting swirl of almost psychedelic, morphing synths.

This leads into the hypnotic groove of the title track, which weaves a magical spell owing to its mixture of languid pace and subtle yet alluring melodies. The way the synths swell and combine with understated celesta melodies perfectly encapsulates the wonder of looking up at the sky and feeling humbled by its magnificence. After its five minute duration, the effect is one of blissful elation.

Then comes the superb complexity of eighth track The Clouds That First Gather At The Mountain. With its masterly weaving of synth textures and melodic themes it brought to mind the ambient classic Little Fluffy Clouds by The Orb, perhaps an influence on Forest Robots. Either way, this is one of the album’s most powerful tracks which leaves a distinct impression on the listener.

Faint Sunlight In The Far Horizon is one of the longest tracks at five and a half minutes and, once again, paints a beautiful sonic landscape that conjures up the imagery of the title in an uncanny way. With a tranquil, blissed out tempo the music washes over you, transporting you to an ethereal mind state and having a gradually intoxicating effect.

This magical vibe continues into the enchanting Of Rivers And Rivers Of Light, which is based around some wonderful bell-like and harp melodies, the chord changes somewhat unexpected and taking us to some far out musical climes. Halfway through enters a potent synth theme which takes us back to the exotic wonder of the harp melody, gradually fading away with almost cinematic grandeur.

The album closes with another brief but beautiful piece, this one called Follow The Fog and The Rain. Once more, within its short duration it conjures a fully rounded painting in sound that captures the silent majesty of autumn and finishes the musical journey of this album in a most satisfying way.

Overall, this is another superb piece of work from composer Fran Dominguez. He’s managed to forge an entirely unique niche with his nature-inspired ambient instrumentals, which also incorporate other genres in a seamless way. Trying to frame the many moods and scenes of the natural world is no mean feat, but one in which Dominguez excels and here he raises his art to a high level.

As he has now covered three of the seasons, I look forward to his next work which I presume will capture the magic of winter in yet more enchanting and evocative music. Fans of this album should also check out the visual accompliment, “All Things Grow Faint With Great Adorn In Autumn”.

 

VERDICT: 9.1 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

 

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