E.P. REVIEW: Presque Vu by Meader

Meader is a rapper hailing from New England and has been rapping since 2006. In 2017 he released his first EP Jamais Vu, which is French for “never seen”. This title was apt as the rapper prefers to remain largely anonymous, which is refreshing in the very much “in your face” approach of many hip hop artists. Now Meader has returned with his second EP, Presque Vu, which means, wittily, “almost seen”.

The EP consists of six tracks that all clock in around the two minute mark but those two minutes are crammed full of lyrical content delivered in Meader’s inimitable, mellifluous style. His lyrical approach is comparable to Eminem in its brutal honesty and often dark tone, though his delivery style is very much his own. He raps in a low, gravelly voice with great conviction which backs up the authentic, heart-on-sleeve vibe of his rhymes.

This is encapsulated by the EP’s opening track, Simon Says. Over a dark, unsettling backing track with a slick hip hop beat, Meader soon let’s rip on what he dislikes: “I’ve been throwing up from drinking in the mediocrity that’s flowing through the airwaves – streaming into my TV and while I see that it’s appealing as a circus, once you’re peeling back the surface it’s just painted faces asking for a purchase.”

It’s a visceral and insightful takedown of modern celebrity culture and Meader sees this lyrical skewering as his artistic duty: “I shoot off truth like it’s my horse and I’m a cowboy dude, it’s kinda rude to think I’m on the brink of sinking all our ships when yours are built with lies and sins.”

He’s also scathing about the conformity culture and groupthink going on which will eventually backfire: “… the second that you think you know the rules with which we play, that’s the moment that you lose it all cuz Simon Didn’t Say.”

Second track Subsequence sees Meader turn his wrath on inferior rappers in general who he regards as clogging up the hip hop scene. Here, Meader displays his rapping skills to the max, with a breathless, rapid fire delivery over a strong beat. He again takes no prisoners and shows his understanding of what makes a great rapper: “It’s hard to hear a rapper talkin’ guns and drugs and bitches when their parents in the kitchen tellin them to do the dishes. What made Biggie, Pac and Eminem so vicious and appealing wasn’t cooking crack and stealing, it was visionary realness.”

Meader’s authentic style makes him the perfect candidate to critique artists who are basically fake: “So don’t be frontin’ just be honest, to yourself and to your art and then I promise it’ll come across to all the people watchin”.

Next, he turns his ire on another rapper with Lil Sheff Diss, an acerbic and amusing roasting of a fellow artist that Meader most definitely doesn’t rate highly. Over a toe-tapping swing beat and a haunting piano refrain, Meader gives both barrels and shows his gift for wordplay: “it aint like your chopped up, stuttered out, crop dust, blubber mouth, bullshit even got a point, bitch…”.

Eminem would be understandably proud of hilarious lines like, “you named one of your songs after an 80’s lady drama – that’s a comedy bit and you’re acting hard on that shit? Sayin’ you got guns and money? Ya I’m sure ya got plenty honey you bought em with the funds from mommy.”

Loose-Leaf is more about explaining his own personal style and approach to the rap game: “I didn’t invent it, I wasn’t a member of the rap club back when the music ascended;

I ain’t a bad boy, brat, toy, beast or a legend; just the rat king rapper with the best of intentions…”.

Meader revels in his outsider status, having no time for the mainstream which he rightly perceives as phony: “I aint the main stream, cut clean, play it on your boom box, tell me what the fox say, relegate to comedy.”

Over a dark, claustrophobic backing track with an insistent beat this is another display of virtuoso rapid fire rhyming and lyrical flow from Meader.

Mind Vault is delivered in a languid, laid back style yet finds Meader digging deep within his psyche and doing battle with his personal demons: “Lock the closet while I’m gone, leave a bomb in the bedroom, light it with a mic boom, blow apart the bits of me I wish I didn’t have to listen to at night….”.

He is fiercely honest about the tough times he has endured along the way: “How about the scars on my hands from the anger when they left, or the pain in my chest from the messages unread. Maybe back when my name with a viciousness was spit into my face like every day….I knew hardship, then I blew a hard left, snow would flow from the sky, up my nose, leaving scars in my throat, head to mend, going broke, then I woke all alone and my home was so cold shattered glass on my stove….”.

It’s one of the EP’s finest tracks where Meader lays bare the demons that drive him and makes him all the more “real” and relatable as an artist.

After the “dark night of the soul” depicted in Mind Vault, the EP closes out with the life affirming message of Summit. Set to an upbeat, piano driven backing, Meader waxes philosophical: “I mentioned a whole lotta shit that’s abysmal, but really the bits that I’ve been through are blessed, yeah we fall in the pits sometimes, you need to dive so you can fly, once you’re top side”.

There’s a quiet heroism to his tenacity against his struggles and devotion to his craft: “I kitty rangle the syllables and line ‘em up to rhyme in time with life as viewed through eyes imbued with lighter fluid – fighting for a brighter future – every day ain’t gaining from the last but persistence in my passions gunna get me what I am after…”.

The final verse is a testament to Meader’s lyrical ability that you could almost say stands up as poetry: “It’s a massive undertaking staying focused on a change and it keeps shifting with my vision as I’m turning the page; but til’ my soul turns to ink, I’ll till the ground with my rage, and sow the seeds of growth so I can see some flowers on my grave…”.

Overall, this is a brilliant, hard hitting hip hop EP from a rapper with a unique style and gift for wordplay. Unafraid to confront and depict the darker side of himself and life in general, Meader proves that he’s an artist to be reckoned with on Presque Vu. His reputation will only grow on the underground hip hop scene and may well go much further beyond it.

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

ALBUM REVIEW: The First Crusade by Draconian Remains

Draconian Remains are a modern metal band hailing from Balingen in Germany. They formed in 2012 and the fixed line up since 2017 has been Alexander Thalmaier on lead vocals, Marcel Willkommen on bass, David Wolfer and Manuel Rothmund on guitar and Benni Drumbledore Antolovic behind the kit. They draw their main inspiration from 80’s metal groups like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, which they have combined with modern rock influences like The Killers to create their own style and sound. They produced their first release, The Start Of A Journey, and this LP, The First Crusade is also an in-house production. 
The album consists of ten tracks and gets off to a blazing start with the incendiary Bloody Mary. After an intro in 3/4 and 6/8, the song breaks out into a formidable wall of sheet lightning guitars and driving drums, providing the perfect bedrock for Alexander Thalmaier’s impressive lead vocals. You can hear a myriad of 80’s metal influences on this track that are distilled into a sonic alchemy, centred around the ultra catchy title hook. 
Hangman opens with an ominous ascending melody that builds the tension nicely for the onslaught of solar plexis-hitting electric guitars and piledriving drums. This is a fascinating track in the way it seems to encompass so many eras of rock and metal into an eclectic whole and the lyrics have a suitably macabre tone that fits the music perfectly: “In the corner of my eye, I can see the creeping shadows….”. 
In God’s Name starts out with a spectacular cyclone of tom-tom rolls before breaking into a heavy low-end riff that rivals the great riffs of their metal musical heroes. It’s also the first track where we get to hear the band’s superb lead guitar skills, with both a thrilling, visceral solo midway and then some excellent Avenged Sevenfold-style guitar and bass harmonies when the track breaks into a 6/8 rhythm. It then seamlessly flips back to straight 4/4 speed metal, ending in a blaze of guitar fireworks. One of the album’s finest tracks. 
Kingsfall shows the melodic strength of their music, alternating between minor key arpeggios and crunchy chords. The lyrics are full of entertaining braggadocio: “My army will rise and there’s nowhere to run”. The super catchy chorus refrain captures the band’s knack for writing killer hooks, which sets them apart from bands who rely purely on guitar riffage. There’s certainly plenty of enjoyable riffage and more impressive duel guitar harmonies. 
Paladin grips you from the very first seconds with a razor-sharp riff and pounding beat from Drumbledore Antolovic. It’s another fine example of the band’s mastery and control of rhythmic dynamics which continually propel the music forward. Alexander Thalmaier delivers a great Bruce Dickinson-esque lead vocal at the top of his considerable range. The excellent solo brought to mind the Deep Purple classic Highway from the Made In Japan album. 
Sixth track Purgatory shows their more gentle side on the melodic verses, akin to Metallica’s Nothing Else Matters. It then bursts into an epic chorus which leads into a skyscraper of a guitar solo the second time around. It’s further confirmation of the band’s songwriting prowess and natural gift for melody. 
The Hunt is an exhilarating rollercoaster ride of a track, a rapid fire riff backed by virtuoso drumming full of whirlwind fills. This is broken up by effective sections more open and sparse before switching back to the juggernaut riff. Another finely constructed guitar solo is the icing on the cake on another excellent track. 
Eighth track The Voice stands out for a particularly strong vocal from Thalmaier, who delivers an almost operatic David Coverdale-style performance. It captures the group at their most emotive, with some fine double-kick work adding to the musical finesse. 
Unbound is perhaps the heaviest track on the album with dark, dissonant chords and menacing lead vocals creating a brooding, intense soundscape. At the midway point Marcel Willkommen’s excellent, wiry bassline is joined in tandem by the guitars and it proceeds towards a thrilling finish. 
This leads onto another brilliant Willkommen bassline which opens the album’s closing track, When He Awakes. The 12/8 time signature full of triplet rhythms has an arresting quality, reminiscent of Megadeth at their finest. The lyrics are as suitably ominous and sinister as the music: “It will be a living hell when he awakes….he’s watching you through a hundred eyes, the end of all humanity”. It’s an apocalyptic message fitting for the times and a fantastic track to close on. 
Overall, this is a superb modern metal album that incorporates the classic elements of old school metal and combines it with strong songwriting and virtuoso musicianship. Every band member contributes to the synergistic whole and every track stands up on its own merits. The First Crusade deserves to be acknowledged as one of the finest metal albums of recent years. 

VERDICT = 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

ALBUM REVIEW: Versa Vice by Sophisto

Sophisto are an alternative rock/dreampop group based in Liverpool, England. They formed back in 2016, featuring singer/songwriter Kahl McCann on vocals and guitar (also a member of the successful dreampop duo Lights That Change). Sophisto released their debut, a live band album, Pseudo Psychics, in 2016. They also released a piano version of album track Character Assassination and a separate single release, I Take The Blame, in 2018. Sophisto have now returned to create this album, Versa Vice.

The album consists of ten tracks and the opening Imagine Stars immediately evokes a powerful mood, a haunting intro of acoustic guitar and florid piano bringing to mind Radiohead’s Karma Police. Kahl McCann’s understated but very effective vocals enter and the song builds into a gentle epic that also recalls early Coldplay when they were still “indie”. The chorus has a real melodic grandeur and, combined with the classical Bridge Over Troubled Water-style piano towards the end, creates a fantastic soundscape.

We Dreamed Of Life is more sparse, strummed acoustic and a simple, mesmeric beat evoking a melancholy mood akin to Nirvana’s Something In The Way. The recurring , drifting vocal melody has the dreamy, hypnotic effect you associate with the finest shoegaze and dreampop music, the refreshing opposite to mainstream pop that tends to bombard the listener with repetitive refrains. One of the album’s epics at nearly five minutes, though it doesn’t seem that long.

Out The Light Again is more upbeat whilst maintaining the album’s vibe, built around a strong guitar progression that brought to mind Sonic Youth circa Daydream Nation. McCann delivers a moody, low end vocal with lyrics that swerve effortlessly between the yin and the yang, captured by the title hook: “To keep the darkness out the light again….”.

So Calm is perhaps the most dreamy track on the album, McCann delivering a blissed out, almost horizontal lead vocal over lilting acoustic guitar and a waltz-like 6/8 beat. The title hook instantly latches in your mind and makes you feel like you should be listening to it lying under the stars to be fully transported. One of the album’s real highlights for me.

Dreaming Is Real (Part 2) brings back the duel acoustic guitar and piano style of the opening track and is another gorgeous piece of melancholy, full of beautiful melodies both vocally and instrumentally. Fifth track Incessant Karma is another five minute gentle epic with an almost ethereal vocal and a suitably enigmatic chorus: “Across the ocean baby, incessant karma, across the ocean maybe, incessant karma…”

Sentences is another track in 6/8 time, a brooding acoustic strummer reminiscent of the dark balladry of the late, great Elliott Smith. The superb Good Things Will Rest starts out sounding like Under The Bridge by the Chili Peppers before developing into an angular, haunting song that blends the sweet melodies of dreampop with a darker musical undercurrent to great effect. There’s a resigned despair to lines like, “He was searching for something on the other side of the world, he was searching, searching….” which seems to capture the mood of the whole album.

Ninth track Cloud Thinking is a return to the lush acoustic and piano style, which perfectly mirrors the bittersweet melancholy of the lyrics. The main hook, “thinking is so cruel”, has the ring of a sad truth whilst still managing to be somehow consoling and uplifting, a neat trick.

The album concludes with the excellent title track. It’s a beautifully written and performed piece of minor key desolation with strummed acoustic and piano conjuring a soundscape like waves lapping on the seashore. Kahl McCann’s almost ghostly vocal exudes deep feeling and emotional longing, having a moving effect on the sensitive listener. It’s a befitting finale with some fine lead acoustic guitar towards the end adding another layer of sophistication.

Overall, this is a very accomplished and impressive dreampop album that encapsulates how effective a traditional songwriting approach can be when combined with alternative and avant grade elements. Kahl McCann is a natural born songwriter and has created a very enjoyable musical journey which proves Liverpool continues to produce an endless stream of artistic talent. Let’s hope Versa Vice gets the wide audience it deserves and doesn’t become merely a hidden treasure.

VERDICT = 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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E.P. REVIEW: Elevate by Era’ Nay

Era’ Nay is an R&B/soul singer and songwriter hailing from Louisville, KY. Her parents were both preachers and so she was exposed to music at an early age, starting to sing at age 4. She went on to play several musical instruments in her school marching band, but her life really changed when she decided to put her preaching career on hold and began working with the Carter Music Group, aged 21. With producer Darrin Lee Jr she has now written, produced and released several singles, two of which appear on this EP, Elevate.

The EP consists of six tracks, opening with the sultry, sensual and soulful R&B song Waiting For. Over a simple but effective groove and warm electric piano, the quality and power of Era’ Nay’s voice becomes immediately apparent and the focal point of the track. She regards her vocal style similar to powerhouse singers of the past such as Toni Braxton and Patti LaBelle and I would certainly say she belongs in that category of talent.
The song itself is seductive and sexy, Era singing from the perspective of an impatient lover waiting to be satisfied: “All this time you’re wasting, all this procrastination, got my mind blazing, send my heart racing….”. With its mesmeric title hook and killer lead vocal, it’s a very fine start to the EP.

In My Feelings (feat. T Real and Darrin Lee Jr.) is another classy piece of R&B, this one with a jazzy chord progression played on a smoky sounding Rhodes. Lyrically, it is more barbed and even x-rated in places, Era’ Nay expressing her ire towards a cheating lover: “I bet you’re with that bitch, I know she’s talking shit…”. Aside from another fine vocal performance, she delivers a succinct rap towards the end which adds a little extra flavour.

Third track Lesson is a catchy, upbeat R&B track with a toe-tapping beat and a funky bassline. The song is about learning life’s lessons around love and romance (“Why does every one night stand have to become your man?”). The “hurts so bad” refrain sticks in the mind and becomes almost the main hook, and the infectious sound of the whole track makes it a potential single.

Stay slows down the pace again and here Era’ Nay gives perhaps her most expressive and passionate vocal performance, showing her power and range. The song is about feeling emotional turmoil over a relationship where love isn’t enough and finds Era’ Nay wondering whether it’s better for them to go their separate ways. As with the other tracks, she sings about what many have experienced and can relate to, the most important strength of any songwriter.

Fifth track Chances has already been released as a single and it’s easy to see why. An understated but very classy R&B track, Era’ Nay gives a nuanced vocal performance which is both emotive and restrained. The track allows her to perform some Beyoncé-style vocal gymnastics whilst the simple but very effective title hook quickly lodges in the memory.

The final track on the EP, Farewell, has also been released as a single. It’s a very moving tribute to Era’s father who sadly passed away and the lyrics reflect the grief that everyone feels who has lost a loved one. The stripped back approach allows Era’Nay’s poignant words to truly hit home and this song shows the emotional range and depth of her songwriting to great effect.

Overall, this is a consistently excellent EP from a very gifted singer and songwriter. With an honest and relatable lyrical style combined with strong hooks and slick modern production, Era’ Nay has everything it takes to reach the top. This EP could well be the stepping stone she needs to get there.

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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E.P. REVIEW: Blaming Eternia by Bryanna Rain

Bryanna Rain is an author and singer/songwriter from Richmond, VA. Bryanna is an artist who has developed her career through the DIY internet scene, which allows artists to grow organically without needing a vast budget. She released her debut EP, Blameless, through Kounterfeit Records to great acclaim when she was just thirteen. She also performed background vocals on Celadon Candy’s cc:EP and has developed a considerable proficiency and expertise in music production over the years. Her debut release for Exquisite Noise will be out in June this year.

This latest EP, Blaming Eternia, consists of three tracks which display her eclectic and expansive artistic range. The title track begins the EP, starting out with a brooding synth driven intro which bursts into life with a strident, punchy 2/4 beat. It’s Bryanna’s strong lead vocals that then captivate, delivering a soaring lead melody over a descending chord progression. Stylistically, it manages to land in the perfect midway point between pop and EDM, making it equally suitable to radio and the dance floor.

There’s an interesting late 80’s element to the production and songwriting style, an era which continues to influence the music of today. This is combined with a more modern Dua Lipa-esque vibrancy and sound which bodes well for its commercial potential.

With a skyscraper of a chorus and such a passionate vocal performance, as well as an unexpected but great synth solo, it’s easy to understand why this was chosen as the lead track from the EP.

The 80’s vibe continues with the infectious second track Phospene, Dreaming. The music grabs you from the opening bars, the hypnotic opening line, “I close my eyes” becoming a mesmerising refrain throughout the song. With its intricate, pulsing synths and lyrical otherworldliness (“Outer space is where I belong”) it creates an intoxicating musical concoction. Bryanna’s charismatic voice really shines on this track and combined with the cutting edge, futuristic production, would also make an excellent single release in itself.

The third and final track, Sleeping, is a real contrast, an acoustic rendition of a well known song from the 90’s, Sleeping Satellite by Tasmin Archer. Whereas the original was an epic pop production this version takes the opposite approach, stripping it back to just vocals and acoustic guitar. This allows Bryanna’s voice to come to the fore, giving a measured yet highly emotive performance, full of nuance and intimacy. This exceptional version also brings out the romantic melancholy of the song which was not fully captured in the original version. It is perhaps the most impressive vocal performance on the EP, showing Bryanna’s impressive range and beautiful singing tone.

Overall, this is a very fine EP from a gifted singer and songwriter who has emerged from the internet DIY music scene. With a powerful and distinctive voice that can rival Beyoncé and Rihanna, her music blends modern EDM/dance with more traditional pop styles to create a sound that is uniquely her own. Furthermore, her abilities as an author mean that her lyrics have a poetic sensibility that you don’t find in much mainstream music. Hopefully, that will change with Bryanna’s inevitable success as she reaches a wider audience. With further material of this quality, I’d say Bryanna Rain is heading for the top.

VERDICT = 9 out of 10

Visit Bryanna’s Official Website HERE

SINGLE REVIEW: Oh My Heart by Pepper Gomez featuring Tacboy

Pepper Gomez is a Nu House/EDM house vocalist and songwriter who started out as part of a Chicago-based house music project called Master Plan with Tom O’ Callahan. In 2017, she founded the Wake Up! Music record label which she is now the CEO of. This label was created as an outlet for artists working mostly in the dance and EDM genres, but has now developed into a diverse and eclectic range of musical styles. Artists on her roster include A Killer’s Confession and Ra.

This single, Oh My Heart, is an upbeat house track featuring a vocal contribution from Pepper’s son, Tacboy. He himself is part of a project called the ET Boys with his brother, and their first releases are shortly forthcoming. The song was written by Pepper with Tacboy, Andrew Kitchen and Ralphi Rosario. Pepper also co-produced it with Joseph Salamida. The track has been remixed by Ralphi Rosario and Craig J. Snider, with further remixes by Eric Kupper.

This is the Meet Mix and grabs you from the start with an infectious house rhythm and swelling synths, before Pepper enters with the title hook. Tacboy then provides the perfect contrast to her earthy style with the catchy “my heart” refrain. Delivered over an insistent Chicago house-style four chord piano progression, the two talented vocalists weave in and out to create a hypnotic groove. Lyrically, the song expresses regret over a relationship, captured by the verse refrain delivered in octaves: “I had known you’d leave, all the lies I weave cos I won’t fess up that I need you….”. After a brief instrumental section the track closes out with more killer refrains.

Overall, this is a first rate EDM track from Pepper Gomez and Tacboy. Taking the best elements of late 80’s Chicago house and fusing them with a modern production style, the track works both as a pop song and something that will be a huge hit on the dance floor. While lyrically melancholy, the track has an uplifting vibe that people will connect with and it has already proven extremely popular. This is a track with huge potential as a worldwide success.

VERDICT = 9 out of 10

ALBUM REVIEW: Incandescent by Lights That Change

Lights That Change are an alternative shoegaze/dreampop group, the musical brainchild of producer, composer and multi-instrumentalist Marc Joy. After a long career in numerous bands, Marc formed LTC and they emerged with their first material in 2013, the E.P. Rainbow On Your Shoulder. In 2016, they released their highly acclaimed debut album Byzantium and have since gone through various line up changes, culminating in the present group featuring Kahl McCann, who co-writes the material and provides lead vocals.

This latest album, Incandescent, consists of ten tracks (with a special bonus track, Sad Reality). The album opens in a mesmeric swirl of atmospherics that sets the film noir-esque feel that pervades the rest of the songs, a mood that perfectly melds melancholy and transcendence to forge a musical alchemy.

Naughty Sleepy soon develops into a gorgeous wall of sound; Stephen Morris-esque (Joy Division circular Tom patterns and icy, Low-era Bowie synths combine with Karl McKann’s serene, echo-drenched lead vocals. The sonic landscape is completed by Marc Joy’s shimmering guitar lines and simple but effective bass, the result being a compelling, otherworldly listening experience and a very fine opening track.

Never is even better, encapsulating the group’s ability to lurch from an almost gothic eerieness on the intro (The Cure are an acknowledged seminal influence) to the skyscraping, euphoric guitar line that opens the song. This is also the most fully realized development of their signature sound, the dreamy shoegaze and guitar-driven undercurrents of My Bloody Valentine merged with the languid cool of bands like The Jesus & Mary Chain and The House Of Love. With it’s hypnotic chorus and abundance of killer melodies, this must rank as one of LTC’s finest moments.

Resolution is then the perfect contrast, a brooding and intense track that finds McCann’s voice surrounded by a swirl of phasing synths with pulsing bass and desolate sounding percussion. The resulting soundscape brought to mind Joy Division’s The Eternal and the lyrics show a similar self-negation: “I’m in denial, I’m in denial…”. But the title hook offers hope of redemption.

Next comes a reprise of Never, an interesting reimagining of the second track. This version is both more psychedelic and more vocally focused, the killer chorus more lyrically audible: “We count to forever and ever and never….”. Both versions of this song are excellent, showing different sides to the group.

Fall Apart is another sonically powerful track, conjuring an ethereal, otherworldly soundscape that feels like the musical equivalent of a David Lynch film. The insistent low-end synth triplets gives the music a compelling restlessness, counterpointed by a particularly dreamy and mesmerising performance from Kahl McCann.

Mountains In The Sky maintains the enigmatic quality that unites every track on the album whilst displaying another facet to their sound, this time exploring the acid-drenched sonic territory of bands like Wirral psychedelic rock group, The Vryll Society. The circular guitar lines and brooding bass work in tandem with another killer lead vocal from McCann, and writer/producer Marc Joy deserves special credit for the boundary pushing Martin Hannett-style production here.

Double Versions (album version) is a reimagining of a track that first appeared on 2020’s EP, Lost Echoes And Shadows. It immediately becomes apparent that it’s one of the album’s most immediate and catchy songs, the infectious title hook lodging in the memory on the first listen, displaying a Bernard Sumner-esque pop nous.

Desecrate returns us to the more turbulent and intense style that permeates the majority of the album and this track reveals itself to be a real hidden gem upon repeated listening. Starting out as a glorious melange of surging bass and rolling toms, as guitars and synths entwine, it breaks out into a stately chorus with an angelic vocal. This is contrasted by the unsettling low-end vocal doubling on the verse, encapsulating the band’s effortless gift for balancing the yin and the yang.

Just Yesterday maintains this vibe but takes us to more ethereal places, the musical equivalent of looking out at a sea of clouds from a plane window. What at first sounds sparse again reveals a wealth of detail and intricacy and works as the perfect bridge track to the album’s finale Tiny Machines Part 2.

Captivating from its introduction, this closing track seems to epitomise the brooding grandeur of the LTC sound, the vocal floating over ascending minor key guitar lines and a haze of low end synth. This dichotomy of uplifting melody with a dark and melancholy vibe gives the group its potency and power, summed up by the refrain, “There is a paradox…”.

Overall, Incandescent stands as the finest Lights That Change album to date. Seamlessly fusing a plethora of alternative and shoegaze influences and reimagining them in their own creative vision, this album sees them producing their most powerful work so far and deserves to be widely recognised as one of the best in its genre.

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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ALBUM REVIEW: The Incredible Sound Of Blue by Blue Soul Ten

Blue Soul Ten is the artistic moniker and musical brainchild of a musician, composer and producer who has been part of the music industry for 20 years. He started out as a radio DJ, as well as studying composition and production at the prestigious Berklee College of Music.

His music incorporates jazz, funk, soul, electronica, reggae and hip hop with his tracks often featuring guest artists. He’s released six albums previously, The Unspoken Warrior, The Fearless Warrior, The Beautiful Warrior, Blue Notes, Ten Percent and Songs About You (to which I gave stellar reviews, read here and here).

This album consists of ten tracks and, like its two predecessors, it is book-ended by two instrumentals (though the outro track is more of a spoken word instrumental) After the relatively chilled out vibes of the previous album, this album is more focused on hip hop, which has always been a strong influence on the Blue Soul Ten sound.

The smoky intro track sets the mood, a vibrant RnB instrumental with smooth-as honey, mellifluous James Jamerson-style bass over a crisp and punchy swung beat. The rich chordal voicing and jazzy progressions played on Rhodes electric piano show this highly musical side to the signature sound is still very prominent.

This is followed by Opportunity, a slick and super funky RnB/hip hop track featuring Surron the 7th, a collaborator who has featured on previous albums. The track switches between the languid but memorable title hook and the fluent rapping on the verses. The deep dub bass is contrasted perfectly high end Rhodes, taut guitar lines providing rhythmic momentum. It’s one of the most instant tracks on the album and would make a good single.

The slinky groove of Speakers comes next, featuring the smooth rhymes of IAMIV. With just a sparse but effective bass line and a simple but sensual beat as the main musical bedrock, the rapped verses are clever and cocky: “Cool as I wanna be, check the persona, fur coat in the summertime, word to your mama, she put it on layaway, got it back around the holiday, it’s not a mink coat but I wear it like it’s designer...”. The summery, laid back vibe and effortless class this track exudes marks it out as a potential late summer single release.

A.B.R. is the spiritually themed tracks on the album, this one featuring a guest performance from J Pad da Juggernaut. The acronym of the catchy title hook stands for Ask, Believe, Receive and the whole track is a testament to the importance of faith in God. Musically, it’s an uplifting RnB/hip hop fusion with another great bassline. Whereas many hip hop artists just rap over a beat and chosen samples, the classy, authentic music that backs these raps sets Blue Soul Ten in a class apart.

The mood flips once again with the hazy, female sung Can’t Stand The Rain, Kenilworth Katrina putting in both a fine lead vocal and rap performance. Whilst musically a contrast to the previous track, this song is also spiritual and soul searching, digging in deep lyrically; it’s about going through emotional struggles in general but in particular the struggles an artist goes through: “Lord, please bless my career, let it take off, hope you see I’m sincere...”. A great track.

11.30 is one of the album’s chosen singles and it’s easy to see why. It’s a dreamy RnB track featuring Surron The 7th and lush lead vocals from Syauqi Destanika. The yin and yang of the rapped verses and sung chorus brought to mind the chemistry between Jay Z and Beyoncé on tracks like Crazy In Love. The first verse is strongly romantic while verse two has some killer lines from Sarron The 7th: “We hustling backwards, influenced by the rappers who grew up watching actors, I’m feeling like they trapped us....”. A real album highlight.

Seventh track Hustle (the second track featuring IAMIV) keeps the bar set high, and reveals itself on repeated listens to be the album’s biggest grower. The main vocal hook, “Ain’t no hustle like the one I got...” is deceptively addictive and with its radio friendly sound, this seductive track could be a real contender as a potential second or third single release.

Sunshine sees the second appearance of Kenilworth Katrina, who here delivers the rapped verses with a male sung chorus hook. This is a nice twist on the usual set up and an effective contrast. Once again, the title hook is catchy as hell and the moody lead electric guitar works well, giving the track a late 80’s vibe.

Ninth track One Shot marks the third appearance on the album for Surron the 7th. The track grabs you by the throat from the outset with its hooky, sharp-toned bassline and insistent groove, creating an intense soundscape for Surron to traverse. The rhymes come thick and fast with a virtuoso display of linguistic dexterity and rhythmic flow, the result is another knockout.

The album closes with the aforementioned outro track, which is where Blue Soul Ten performs a powerful and moving spoken word monologue over a pulsating hip hop beat. He explains how the album is dedicated to his friend, Eric Houston, who has sadly passed on and he also refers to the more dominant hip hop influence on this particular album.

Overall, this is another very impressive album by Blue Soul Ten and signifies another step in the artistic and creative development of the project. Maintaining the high musical calibre and jazzy underpinnings of previous albums, The Incredible Sound Of Blue sees this combined with hip hop to a greater extent aided by some familiar collaborators and some new additions. There’s also an undercurrent of spirituality to several of the tracks which gives the music extra depth and the result is the most sophisticated hip hop and RnB being made right now.

VERDICT = 9.2 out of 10           

Alex Faulkner

ALBUM REVIEW: ParaNormal FrequencieZ by Zach Mac

Zach Mac is an alternative folk singer/songwriter who was born in Florida, grew up in Virginia and currently resides in Massachusetts. Although only 21 years old, he is already very experienced having started out in music production aged just 10. He then started to learn guitar at 13 and eventually released his first EP, 2016-2019. Towards the end of 2020 he joined a band called The Sircus and produced their 28 track album Join The Sircus, as well as performing on it. This year, he released his first full length acoustic album, How The Times Have Changed.

This album, ParaNormal FrequencieZ, consists of twelve tracks and is best described as psychedelic alt. folk. The album is unusual and interesting as the tracks are separate but seem to work as one cohesive whole, based around a similar tonal centre. It begins with dreamy effects-laden acoustic guitar on Everything’s Where It’s Meant To Be. This is joined by a languid, hip-hop inspired beat and Zach’s equally laid back vocal style completes the original sound.

The psychedelic nature of the music is cleverly manifested through subtle shifts in tempo where the listener feels they are standing on shifting sands as the music morphs and shimmers. The melancholy beauty of the haunting acoustic guitar motif is matched by the troubled but hopeful tone of the lyrics: “Maybe the wind will blow me further, further away, where I can finally see that everything is where it’s meant to be…”.

This track drifts seamlessly into I Feel Like A Martian, with another minor key arpeggio motif and opening lines that define his outsider status as an artist: “These days I feel like a Martian, I was living on Earth but it doesn’t seem like this is the place where I belong”. Like the first track, there are moments of mind bending spacey effects that brought to mind the acid rock of the 60’s.

Whilst Zach regards Mac Miller, Pink Floyd and Bob Dylan as some of his major influences, 5avi0r and Savior brought to mind another alternative folk artist, Conor Oberst. There’s a chordal similarity between these tracks and his song First Day Of My Life, though the vocal melody is very different. 5avi0r is an instrumental and acts as a prelude to Savior, where Zach sings, “I won’t try to be your saviour ‘cause I just can barely breathe…”.

This sense of desperation continues on to If Only I Could Fly, a depiction of dark depression set at a funereal pace: “Can’t keep my head together, I’m losing control…if only I could fly….”. This is then contrasted by Hypnotising You, where Zach’s voice is sped up to sound younger, a psychedelic trick employed by The Beatles during their Revolver/Sgt. Pepper period. The mesmeric refrain, “Hypnotising you…” has its intended effect.

The trippy vibe only increases on You Might Be Right, which brings to mind an artist like Beck at his most experimental or Todd Rundgren’s acid phase in the early 70’s. “You might be right about everything you see…” made me think of the perspective portrayed by Lennon’s Strawberry Fields Forever.

Playing The Blues Away and Brush It Off take us even further down the rabbit hole, with all manner of time distortions and production effects that could make the most ascetic teetotaller wonder if someone put something in their tea! Where I Belong is a natural extension musically and the words mirror the music perfectly: “I was travelling like a Captain way far at sea, that’s all I ever think about is drifting out to sea…”.

The upbeat bluesy folk of Starlight feels like coming out of the other side of a weird but wonderful acid experience and finds Zach at his most poetic and Dylan-esque: “You dream of silhouettes and sparkly eyed men, I dream of cigarettes in a dirty old den….”. Naturally, the psychedelia seeps in towards the end and sets the scene for the ultra trippy final track, Far, Far Away.

Beginning with a flurry of backwards sonic weirdness we hear Zach’s voice slowed down and the tormented refrain, “Far, far, far away…I wanna go far, far away….”. It’s the fitting finale to an album about escapism along with simultaneously the loneliness of feeling isolated and not belonging anywhere.

Overall, this is a highly original psychedelic alt. folk album by a truly creative artist. He shows a proficient ability at standard songwriting, both musically and lyrically but his unique sonic style owes more to blending this with avant garde, psychedelic and hip hop influences to create a sound all of his own. ParaNormal FrequencieZ is an album like nothing you’ve ever heard, an it’s a wild trip well worth taking.

VERDICT = 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: Night Drive by heyiloveyou

heyiloveyou is an experimental music project and the musical brainchild of K, who is the sole member and who contributes production, guitars, field recordings, drum programming and beats. Deciding against the traditional industry route of signing with a record label, this has freed K to push sonic and stylistic boundaries and the music of this project is a fusion of electronica, post-rock, trip-hop and ambient. In 2020, he released several singles including Everybody’s Got 2 Sides, No Wires and Okay as well as the debut album Lunatics.

This track, Night Drive, fuses experimental electronica with post-rock guitar and aspects of trip-hop. The track immediately grabs your attention with a haunting, sombre guitar line emerging through an array of musique concrete sound effects and jittery, intricate hi hats. It has an intense, brooding quality from the outset that brought to mind the dark trip-hop of mid-era Massive Attack and Tricky.

Moving into another section of low-end synth and record scratches, it creates a mesmeric yet menacing soundscape that portrays the enigmatic track title in an almost cinematic way. The music continues to morph and expand in a compelling fashion, the repeated guitar motif leading out the track to its abrupt and unsettling conclusion.

Overall, this is an impressively original and inventive electronica/trip hop instrumental that integrates rock guitar into the sonic texture in an inventive way. The enigmatic K treads his unique artistic path, pushing boundaries and blending styles in the way artists should. Aside from the musical elements, the production and mixing are first rate. If you are looking for something outside the mainstream, the music of heyiloveyou comes highly recommended from this reviewer.

VERDICT = 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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