ALBUM REVIEW: Fire by Project Rod Williams

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www.aug1stmusic.com

Project Rod Williams is an electro-dance pop studio ensemble which is the musical brainchild of songwriter/musician Rod Williams. Musically, it is a fusion of classic 70’s disco music like Giorgio Moroder and Donna Summer, 80’s synth pop such as Depeche Mode and Erasure and more modern pop artists like Justin Timberlake and Pharrell Williams. Rod has collaborated with lead vocalist Ben Dial on this album with additional vocals by Matt Williamson, Hannah Montwill, Nataly Andrade and Alex Silva.

The album, Fire, consists of eleven tracks (also featuring club mixes of nine of the songs) and has a conceptual theme. Half of the songs on the album are about enjoying the passion and seduction of nightlife and the other half are about the longing and pain often brought on by romantic relationships. The album is due for release on January 7th, 2019.

Opening track Let’s Get Out is the perfect representation of the Project Rod Williams sound and style. It grabs you from its opening bars with infectious percussion locking in with an alluring 70’s disco-style bassline. This is soon augmented by syncopated 80’s-esque synths before breaking into a full, very danceable beat that gets the toe tapping. The smooth lead vocals of Ben Dial enter the picture and his voice brings to mind cutting edge modern pop like Maroon 5 and the more recent work of Justin Timberlake. Alternate lines are layered with backing harmonies so that the music is constantly evolving and developing.

Thematically, it exemplifies the concept of the songs that celebrate living the good life, with the lyrics highlighting the appeal of escaping the daily grind by looking forward to Friday night and the weekend: “We work all week from nine to five, making money to live our lives…..”. The extremely catchy refrain captures this joyous feeling succinctly: “Leave our problems at the door, laugh, jump and scream, let our hearts be free…..”.

This is followed by an equally memorable chorus and Rod Williams shows his ability to make every part of the song a hook, a hallmark of the best pop songwriters. After the second chorus it enters an excellent breakdown section with a sophisticated vocal arrangement that brought to mind the finest Michael Jackson songs arranged and produced by Quincy Jones.

Second song Come On continues the lyrical theme but is musically quite different; smoky Rhodes and a more complex and unusual rhythmic pattern. There is a more rocky feel to the seductive and raunchy lead vocal performance, fused with Vince Clarke (from Erasure and one time member of Depeche Mode) style pulsing, futuristic-sounding synths. The descending vocal melody is fiendishly catchy, with an overt sexuality to the sultry lyrics: “I see you staring across the room, your eyes are saying what you want me to do….”. Great track.

Third song Hot To Trot returns to the more traditional dance rhythms of the first track but stands out for the addictiveness of the title hook and for featuring some very funky Nile Rodgers-esque high end electric guitar. Indeed, the way the song celebrates the hedonistic side of life (“We can be flirtatious, lose our minds and act outrageous…”) made me think of Rodgers’ classic group from the 1970’s, Chic. This infectious style is combined with low-end synths and piano lines with occasional stabs of synthetic brass to create a potent sonic concoction.

Next comes Fire, the title track of the album. It maintains the funk guitar sound of the previous song, but has a more modern EDM four-to-the-floor beat, at least to begin with. Vocally, the breathy falsetto style made me think of Prince and one of the dance classics of recent years, Get Lucky by Daft Punk ft. Pharell Williams. Once again, the title hook latches in the mind upon first listen and the use of female foreign spoken word vocals lends an exotic flavour. The falsetto lead vocals are contrasted by a section of low-end male vocals that adds to the song’s very sensual theme.

The following Invasion feels in ways a continuation but has a more rock vibe, with some low end lead guitar lines which work well with the swirling synths. The lead vocals are this time contrasted by certain lines being whispered, which adds a lot of atmosphere and encapsulates the power of seduction which is this tracks subject matter: “I can’t fight the way you hypnotize….invade my body, invade my soul…you’re taking over me, you’re in control….”.

After this, the album switches to the second aspect of the album’s theme, the pain that comes from love. Sixth song Take Cover has a much more emotional tone after the light hearted and sexually orientated earlier tracks. It’s a mid-paced synth pop epic in 6/8 time, with lyrics that are rather deep and poetic, about the tempestuous nature of romantic love: “The sky will thunder tonight, from lightning sparks my rage ignites, when flames of passion burn high you better find a place to hide…”. This kind of emotive synth pop is more reminiscent of 80’s groups like Soft Cell and The Human League.

You Were My Lady is the first truly traditional love ballad on the album (the only one not written by Rod Williams) and it’s a very well crafted one with a lilting vocal melody. It allows lead singer Ben Dial to perform in a more gentle and sensitive way, which he achieves with distinction. It’s a rather moving song about reflecting on happy times after a relationship has ended, then contrasted with the stark reality: “Now that house is empty, the music’s gone from the radio that used to play that song….”.

Bad Boys Don’t Cry returns to the more uptempo synth pop style whilst maintaining the lyrical theme of this half of the album. Musically, it has a real Giorgio Moroder vibe with rhythmic synths driving the song along. It’s about how men are not supposed to appear vulnerable or sad when going through heartbreak and contains yet another strong title hook. Ninth song Broken is rather more angry in its tone with some rather visceral lines: “Fake love you gave to me, filled my blood and clogged my veins…”.

Though the following I Say contains similarly downbeat and tormented lyrics, musically it is one the lightest moments, recalling the euphoric anthems of Erasure. The vocal melody is irresistible, providing another fine example of Williams’ melodic consistency and also features a superb synth section comprising several combined sounds.

The album ends on a rather melancholy but poignant note, with the heartfelt ballad Nobody Wants To Know, which features lead vocals from Matt Williamson. Matt powerfully conveys the troubled nature of the lyrics about not feeling supported by friends during dark times: “Can’t they see the tears I try to keep concealed?“. The music builds as the song progresses, with a sky-scraping string arrangement that closes the album on a musical high, even if the words are sad.

Overall, this is a modern pop album of a very high calibre that fuses the synth pop of the 80’s with the euphoric sound of 70’s disco, then brings it into the 21st century with cutting edge production. Aside from one track, Rod Williams has written, arranged and produced the whole thing which shows his artistic versatility. The album feels like a real labour of love and runs the gamut of emotions, from joy to despair. As if that’s not enough, the album comes with club mixes of nine of the songs, tailor made for the dancefloor. Put simply, Fire is an album laden with killer pop tracks of wide ranging appeal and has enormous commercial potential worldwide.

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

Release date: 7th January, 2019

Listen to the album here:

Listen to the club mix of Come On:

 

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ALBUM REVIEW: Montauk by Montauk

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www.takemetomontauk.com

Montauk are a British pop/rock band and the musical brainchild of songwriter and lead vocalist Drew Richardson. He has been writing music from an early age and Montauk is the culmination of a lifelong dream. The band is much a product of the internet era; on this album Drew worked face to face with producer/guitarist Tom Jobling, vocalist Rebecca Chambers and drummer  Sam West, however fellow members Jon Wright and Max Saudi (guitar and drums respectively) recorded their parts online, a method used by many artists and producers today.

This self-titled album, and the band name itself, was inspired by the classic film Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, about a couple who have their memories of each other erased to get over their relationship. This theme recurs on certain songs on the album. Musically, while they can be essentially described as commercial pop/rock, there’s an eclecticism within the songs and you can hear similarities to bands like The Killers, U2, Bon Jovi, The War On Drugs, Snow Patrol and Red Hot Chili Peppers, along with solo artists like George Ezra, Ed Sheeran and the more mature solo work of Gary Barlow.

Opening track Doom Dust is a superb start to this twelve track album. Beginning with echo-drenched guitars, it builds into an anthemic, uplifting song about trying to realize your full potential. You can tell quite quickly that Richardson is an experienced and accomplished craftsman. There’s a firm understanding of dynamics in how he keeps the verse and chorus cohesive, yet contrasting.

The chorus itself is huge, augmented by the fine backing vocals of Rebecca Chambers, whose voice complements Drew’s nicely. Lyrically, it expresses something many will relate to, feeling things block you from truly being yourself: “I want to shake this world to the core and let the people know that I’ve got so much more“. It’s the kind of music you can imagine thousands singing along to in sold out arenas, and the mellifluous guitar solo fits perfectly. A perfect balance between rock and pop.

Fall in Love is one of the album’s more romantic moments, and another very finely crafted song. It’s one which wears its heart on its sleeve, lyrically: “Could you be the missing link, the mixer for the bitter drink that is my life?“. It’s another lighters-in-the-air epic chorus and the subtle combination of male and female vocals made me think of one of Britain’s great unsung pop groups The Beautiful South (early era).

Hanging Baskets has the most beautiful intro on the album, crystal-clear picked acoustic guitar setting the tone for an intimate lead vocal from Richardson. It’s a song about wanting to just enjoy being in love without letting anything else intrude: “I don’t know if its wrong, don’t know if its right….I don’t know what has gone, I don’t care what’s to come…”. This is a very touching song that should win him many fans.

Welcome To You is an interesting song, with shades of later period Mumford and Sons in the folk-inflected melodies and rolling drum patterns. The vocal melody is very modern sounding to go with the production, and the instantly memorable vocal melody makes it very suitable for radio. After the second chorus, it breaks out into a gorgeous symphonic section; the album is full of these nuanced touches that add richness to the sound. A potential single.

Heart Attack takes things in another direction entirely – an upbeat funk/blues track driven by rhythmic piano and bursts of organ, featuring some slick harmonies. Drew gives an excellent vocal performance here and this different style shows the versatility of his songwriting. Lyrically, its a classic tale of falling for someone where the passion burns so much that it makes for a tempestuous relationship. Well written, high quality pop .

The intriguingly named Osidius (Just A Girl) returns to epic rockier style of the opening song though this one leans more heavily to the rock side. Alongside another massive, memorable chorus (an area where Richardson excels), it features some gorgeous, plaintive strings and a blistering stood-on-a-cliff-edge lead guitar solo. The following Love For Sale maintains the Bon Jovi vocal and guitar style, with the riffs and harmonies on this one really showing the more classic rock side of his oeuvre.

Eternal Sunshine is the first of two consecutive songs based on the film mentioned earlier. Here, Richardson effectively captures the emotional torment the lead characters go through in the film. Musically, it’s one of the more sparse tracks and it’s a proper duet with Rebecca Chambers, who depicts the character played by Kate Winslet. It works so well, that you could imagine it as part of a musical based on the film. Their voices combine and harmonize beautifully on the tender chorus, a real album highlight.

Take Him To Montauk is essentially the title track and it’s a good one. It starts with a vocal ‘dum-de-dum’ section that brought to mind George Ezra, whilst the gorgeous high end acoustic guitar and vocal delivery recall the lighter moments of Red Hot Chili Peppers. It’s clearly about the main character of Eternal Sunshine (played by Jim Carrey) and how he’s missing his lover despite having had all memories of her erased. The title hook (“Take him to Montauk, driver….”) is very effective and latches in the mind upon the first listen. Another potential single.

Tell The Fool is another moody epic ballad in the Bon Jovi mould and stands out for a particularly good lead vocal. It should be said that his singing voice is as good as anything you’ll come across in the upper reaches of the charts, and this song is one crowds will love to sway along to.

I Won’t Want To Wake Up With You is a return to the toe-tapping pop funk style of Heart Attack, propelled by an irresistible groove and Chic-style funky high-end electric guitar chords. Special mention should go to the restlessly inventive bassline (including a superb bass solo!) and the smoky Rhodes piano. Richardson’s falsetto vocals in parts of the track sounded like Justin Timberlake, and this ability to switch genres gives massive potential to his fanbase.

Closing track Dance With The Devil is essentially his signature pop/rock sound, though with an intriguing arrangement. It starts out sounding like The Police with reggae-infused quarter note guitars then unexpectedly switches into an almost punky full-on rock style. The rich organ gives the song a 70’s Deep Purple vibe, and it works. There’s a tremendous brooding energy that seems to explode in the orgasmic guitar solo, then leads into the penultimate choruses. Lyrically, it’s by far the most raw and edgy he gets on this album, with a few words at the end I can’t repeat here! A blazing way to finish.

Overall, this is one of the best albums I’ve heard this year, one that runs the gamut in terms of both genre and emotional range. Drew Richardson has honed his songwriting craft to a fine pitch and can go from sensitive balladry to headbanging rock n’ roll with consummate ease, throwing in funk, soul and even a little reggae influence along the way. Though this is far from an easy era to break through to the ‘big time’, if any band deserves to it’s undoubtedly Montauk.

 

VERDICT = 9.3 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

You can purchase a CD or download the album from the official website HERE

2 bonus tracks are available only for those who download or purchase through the website!

Listen here:

 

 

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Timberline And Mountain Crest 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 May this year I gave a glowing review to the album Supermoon Moonlight – Part One. This follow up album, Timberline And Mountain Crest, has been completed just eight months later and consists of ten tracks. It is somewhat of a musical progression from the previous album; whilst Supermoon Moonlight had been based around nature-inspired ambient electronically with orchestral elements, here he retains the same natural inspirations whilst branching out into a more rhythmic style, incorporating synthwave, soul and funk. It has been described as Ambient R&B, and that is a good description.

Opening track Sudden Bioluminescence is a fine representation of this more expansive style. It starts with a swathe of atmospheric synths combining with pulsating, rhythmic synths which build the tension nicely. Then we hear an intricate yet languid dance groove enter, filled with subtle syncopations and rhythmic intricacies.

This becomes the foundation for a series of lead synth melodies which complement each other perfectly and maintain an excellent sense of melodic continuity. After breaking down midway, it builds back up then cleverly combines the various themes to great effect. It’s a very complex track, yet easy to listen to and built out of only three chords.

The evocatively named Where The Wild Summer Storms Run lives up to the promise of its title. Locking quickly into a tight 2/4 groove, the ear becomes hooked to the catchy synth melodies. A second section featuring some 80’s style chiming synths is a nice touch and towards the end we hear a theremin-style synth that adds more flavour to the sonic texture. One of the strong aspects of this album is how the titles perfectly fit the music, or rather how the music paints and portrays the title in sound.

Third track Through The Trees And Into Wide Open Landscapes is a good example of this quality. Beginning with the meditative ambient style which characterized Supermoon Moonlight, it gradually evolves into epic electronica with interweaving rhythms and melodies working in perfect synchrony.

This one works as a showcase for his compositional and programming skills, and the overall effect is hypnotic. Towards the four minute mark the music seems to evaporate and morphs into an otherworldly, disconnected section that evokes the ‘wide open landscapes’ of the title.

Between The Orange and Purple Horizon starts with a beautiful harp-esque synth melody, joined by a swingbeat that wouldn’t sound out of place on a hip hop record. As the piece develops, it gradually becomes more serene and dreamlike with some truly magical electronic sounds. You can easily picture the horizon in your mind’s eye, conjuring images of being stood on a mountain top staring at the sky. A transcendent track and one of the album’s finest.

After two epic five minute pieces, the eighty second Treading Where Others Have Perished acts as a nice contrast, a sparse but potent track that maintains the elevated vibe from the previous one.

Sixth track As The Sun Rises Between Timberline And Mountain Crest is essentially the title track of the album and feels like its centrepiece. It consists of a delicate, haunting piano figure that perfectly captures the sense of quiet awe and wonder a person can feel in nature. Aside from the repeating piano melody, we hear equally subtle bass which just lets one note per bar ring, giving a ‘floating in mid air’ effect which is augmented by sparse but powerful string synths.

On A Desolate Shore Under A Full Moon stands out from the pack with its angular, highly intricate funk beat and pizzicato strings that work as the main melody. The second section contains a multiplicity of melodies and percussive elements which acts as a counterpoint to the relative sparseness of the main section. I loved the use of a glockenspiel-type sound which gave it a magical feel, again apposite considering the title.

Track eight, Farewell Sudden Summer Storm Clouds has a tranquil quality, sort of what you might describe as the calm after the storm. There’s a slightly exotic, Eastern aspect to some of the themes and once again shows his talent for handling complex melodies and textures. When the soft beat breaks down at the end it allows the music’s subtleties to breathe and it finishes on a mystical high.

When Forest Leaves Begin To Change is about summer turning into autumn, an ambitious concept to try and capture in sound. But, indeed, the plaintive melodies do have a distinct autumnal vibe and you can feel yourself drifting away in its intoxicating and mesmeric sound world. Again, the music gradually builds in a clever, organic fashion and really blossoms at the end.

It leads to the album’s final track It’s Quietest At The Edge Of The Crestline which brings us full circle in terms of the title and overall concept. It’s an unearthly, hymnal piece of ambient music that casts a potent spell with the translucent, natural beauty of its sound and mood. Again, it captures that sense of deep wonder that the greatest of nature’s vistas can evoke and makes a fitting conclusion to this musical journey.

Overall, this is a sonic odyssey that takes its artistic inspiration from a deep love of nature, like much art of the past, musical, visual and literary. However, by incorporating the genres of ambient, soul, funk and synthwave in a seamlessly integrated way, it resurrects this form of inspiration and brings it decidedly into the modern era. It will appeal not only to ambient fans, but electronica fans in general  and, in fact, music lovers right across the board. With a wealth of melodic and rhythmic detail that reveals itself on repeated listens, Timberline and Mountain Crest is a journey you will want to take again and again.

VERDICT: 9 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

 

Listen here:   

ALBUM REVIEW: On My Way by Martin Lucassen

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Martin Lucassen is a singer and songwriter in the adult contemporary pop/rock genre, hailing originally from the Netherlands. After developing his skills as both a singer and songwriter over time, he found a method of sending his demos to production companies to produce the professional backing tracks to his vocals. This worked well for him, and in this way he completed his debut album The Night Turns to Morning Light, released in 2015.

He has a strong Beatles influence in his melodic songwriting, though in fact I would say his signature sound is acoustic pop/rock in the same vein of John Lennon and George Harrison’s solo music. His singing voice is strong with a tone that is easy on the ear, somewhere between Lennon, George Harrison and Neil Finn from Crowded House. This album, On My Way, consists of eleven tracks and sees him branching out into other styles.

The opening song Nobody Knows Me starts out like a country track with an intro featuring plucked mandolins and picked acoustic guitar. This folky style is maintained on the verse but brought more into the rock sphere with rich electric guitar chords on the excellent chorus. Lyrically, it’s a rather poignant song about how little it’s possible to really understand and truly know each other as people, captured in lines like, “So you think that I’m predictable, can you read my thoughts so well?“. Superbly performed and produced, it gets the album off to a flying start.

Next track Human Revolution is somewhat of a musical departure; a brooding power pop/rock song with a pulsating, dance-influenced beat and an array of guitar styles. There is a definite 80’s vibe to certain aspects such as the epic sound of the production and the stellar lead guitar solos that appears after the choruses (bringing to mind Ritchie Sambora from Bon Jovi). Lyrically, it has an interesting theme, telling the story and progress of the human race itself in three minutes. An extremely accomplished and enjoyable song.

Why Today shows the more emotive and vulnerable side to his songwriting; a tender, string-augmented piano ballad that wears its heart on its sleeve. It captures the low emotional mood that results from the end of a loving romantic relationship and portrays it with simple but affecting honesty: “Everyone makes mistakes and I know I’ve made a lot…”. A fine example of his songwriting craft.

Fourth song Live for Tomorrow quickly lifts the mood back to positive and life affirming. It’s a pop rock with an angular, syncopated beat that keeps the music from feeling predictable. It’s a sunny anthem with an important message about keeping hopeful and contains one of the most instant choruses on the album. The following Keep Running Away is a return to his balladry. It starts out sounding like White Album-era Beatles with its crystal clear arpeggiated acoustic guitar, then builds into the epic pop style that he makes his own.

Yearn For The Past is another highly emotive song about a relationship going badly, and a feeling of nostalgia for how things used to be between them: “I yearn for the past, for our first kiss that beautiful night….”. As with most of his songs though, Lucassen manages to balance the dark with the light, ending the song with the optimistic refrain, “You’re still the one I’m longing for…”.

Brotherhood is a nice change of pace, a country-tinged upbeat track in 2/4 time and featuring one of the most life affirming lyrics on the album about sharing life’s ups and downs together: “Life is all about what is real, happy smiles and shedding a tear, getting and giving, emotions keep them living…”.

Passion & Attraction is a very well written song about the things that keep a romantic relationship, captured in the anthemic chorus: “Passion: open our hearts and release desire, Attraction: we’re old but still pretty, light the fire“. The haunting echo-drenched lead guitar lines and subtle strings add much to the emotive power of this fine example of songwriting craftsmanship. By contrast, ninth track Happy Dancing is perhaps the album’s most light-hearted moment. It’s a rollicking rocker that celebrates the simple joy of dancing, and the infectious vocal melody captures the subject matter perfectly.

Next comes the title track, and it’s a fine song with an interesting arrangement and unexpected chord changes. It features a crunchy, Money For Nothing-style guitar sound and lyrically it’s a continuation of an earlier theme – wanting to return a relationship to a previously happy state.

The album ends with a deeply moving song, Painted Nails. It’s a tragic and heartrending true story about a six year old boy called Tijn Kolsteren, close to death from brain cancer. He decided to raise money by painting people’s nails and raised millions of dollars which went towards research. This poignant subject is treated with great sensitivity by Lucassen, who sets the story to a beautiful piano ballad.

Overall, this album is a consistently strong set of songs that shows how Martin Lucassen has developed as a songwriter. Whilst his debut album was good evidence of his songwriting talent, this one shows his creative progression. Aided by very talented musicians and excellent production values,  he manages to convey the vicissitudes of the human condition with heartfelt passion and time-honed musical skill. The result is a piece of work that will appeal to music fans right across the board, ticking the boxes of both commercial appeal and artistic endeavour.

 

VERDICT = 8.8 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen here:

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Gospel Overloaded by Blessed Tha Kid

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Blessed Tha Kid a.k.a. Dez Knight is a hip hop/Gospel rapper. His music is essentially mainstream hip-hop but he sets himself apart from the majority of hip-hop artists through the spiritual message of his music based on his strong Christian faith. This is what is meant by the gospel aspect of his musical style, rather than gospel as a genre.

This album, Gospel Overloaded, consists of nine tracks, with one featuring a guest appearance from fellow rapper Jonoe X. Opening track WYG Serve is a good signifier of the Blessed Tha Kid signature sound. Set to a drowsy but subtly intricate beat and dub bass, the title hook refrain hits you immediately: “Who you gonna serve? My God…”.

On the verses we hear his rapping style for the first time, comparable in delivery to hip-hop legends Cypress Hill in terms of tone and flow. However, that’s where the similarities end, as Blessed Tha Kid sings to his own hymn sheet in terms of lyrical content: “Try to be the best I can be” is not the kind of line you hear often in a scene marked by aggression, infighting and tribalism.

Second track Live For God features an even more intricate, skittish beat with complex triplets in the hi-hats. Lyrically, it’s about how Blessed Tha Kid has turned away from the gang lifestyle to embrace his faith: “I said I’d rather follow God than be like the next guy, cos the next guy won’t help me make my way to the sky, I want my wings so I can fly…”.

The two next tracks are the highlights of the album for me, personally. Haunted ft. Jonoe X is built around a haunting synth melody and the contrasting styles of Blessed Tha  Kid and Jonoe X complement each other well as they take turns trading verses. All My Life maintains the intensity with an addictive beat and a memorable hook: “All my life I’ma live for Christ…”. Both these tracks would make good singles.

Keep Em Off Me is rather more mellow and languid, and another track about the difficulty of treading the moral path and the allure of materialism: “Blinded by the money when their making deals…” Not Changing is even more defiant (“I’m never switching up“) with a superb, swinging beat and simple but effective piano motif.

In God’s Eyes is the most mellow track here featuring a contemplative and introspective lyric about his relationship with God. The following 10-0 is an expression of gratitude which shows his devotion and humility while the final track I’MA STAY reiterates this position with heartfelt passion: “I play to win, I live for God, I stay away from sin...”.

Overall, this is a very fine album by a hip hop artist who refreshingly departs from the common narrative of violence and rivalry that’s rife in the hip-hop scene. His underlying moral message is important in this era and it applies whether or not you share his faith. Blessed Tha Kid deserves to be hip hop’s new role model.

 

VERDICT: 8.5 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

Listen here: 

ALBUM REVIEW: A Cold Heaven by MadWolf

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https://song.link/album/s/1LJzedaYnv7MRC43a9MP3C

MadWolf is an upcoming composer/producer and multi-instrumentalist who creates music in an eclectic range of genres and styles, though his music could be loosely described as alternative and, at times, avant garde. He works with several creative collaborators, so in a certain sense MadWolf is essentially a collective.

Having also released a single this year, The Little Piano, this album consists of fourteen tracks and the collaborators include Ian Darr-Johnson, Nuetrino Yeatts, Vikiro Hop, Chase Naviello and Dylan ‘Cowboy’ Rose.

The first track Writing To My Reality features Nuetrino Yeatts delivering a spoken word poem over a background of classical-influenced piano. Whilst the moniker of Yeatts brings to mind the famous Irish poet, the poetry of this track is more akin to the stream of consciousness, introspective and freeform lyrical style of the Beat poets like Allen Ginsberg.

Musically, it is a composition of some skill in both how it is written and performed. Stylistically, it is closest to the era of Beethoven’s late piano sonatas and the combined effect is a mesmeric piece of avant garde along the lines of Revolution 9 by The Beatles.

Second track The Longest Dream is completely different; a ten minute alternative blues song featuring Ian Darr Johnson and Dylan ‘Cowboy’ Rose. Strummed acoustic guitar and occasional electric guitar are the bedrock of the sound, underpinned by subtle drumming and percussion.

The vocals are raw and passionately delivered, reaching anguished states at certain points. Lyrically, it is again poetic, with stark, affecting imagery that made me think of Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst: “Broken cities and broken men…..burning cities and burning men….”.

Gods and Stars maintains the rawness and slightly lo-fi nature of the previous song but is relatively lighter in tone. It is the first of several collaborations with Vikiro Hop. Whilst melodically upbeat, lyrically it’s riddled with angst and self-loathing: “I was the one who sucked the desert dry….I can see that this story is ending…”. The chorus hook is unexpectedly memorable and catchy, with the looseness of the performance belying a well crafted song and arrangement.

Broken Elevator is a solo MadWolf track, a two minute instrumental that made me think of the bleak electronic soundscapes of the second half of David Bowie’s classic Low album.  A fine track that showcases MadWolfs skills as a producer. The following Silver Forest is another song featuring Vikiro Hop, very different to the first. It’s electronica-tinged futuristic pop similar in style to that of another musical collective, Gorillaz.

Subconscious is a solo effort, one of the more avant garde songs that sounds like Dr. John jamming with a stoned Fleet Foxes, produced in the style of Tom Waits’ Swordfishtrombones album.

The inventive use of off-kilter percussion acts as a nice textural contrast to the finely played bluesy acoustic guitars. Seventh track Sticatto is another quirky instrumental featuring an irrepressibly upbeat staccato piano melody counterpointed by synth strings and brass.  Impossible to classify in terms of genre, but very enjoyable.

Float Back Down is an album highlight, a gentle, melancholy acoustic ballad with a poignant, world weary lead vocal (presumably by Vikiro Hop). This is MadWolf at his most traditional and accessible (even though the last words are ‘f*** them all’….).

Next comes a reprise of Broken Elevator, this one full of restless, hard to define rhythms and pleasingly distorted keyboards. Tenth track Bassoul is another curveball, a busy bassline and a jazzy vocal melody produced and arranged in a very unusual and interesting way. Perhaps the most original track on the album.

Simple Songs is a nice contrast; it’s a return to the more straightforward acoustic balladry of Float Back Down, this one augmented by magical, xylophone-style synth.  Twelve track Insane sounds like being in the studio at 3am after a few ‘jazz cigarettes’ and recording the results, including the amusing studio chatter. The song’s surreal start gives way to a more defined effort that has a Father John Misty vibe in its vocal melody.

Smooth Sailing introduces a new collaborator to the album, Chase Naviello.  It is one of the epics, a space-rock instrumental with reverb-drenched guitars beamed in from somewhere approaching Alpha Centauri. A deliciously blissed out track that seems to exist in it own unique sonic space, with a Dave Gilmour influence in the style of the playing.

The closing song Your Silence is another collaboration with Ian Darr-Johnson and it’s the sort of raw acoustic blues that Kurt Cobain was covering on Nirvana’s Unplugged in New York album.  The dissonant chord changes and angular vocal melody ensure the album ends on a predictably unpredictable way (if that makes sense).

Overall, this is a fascinatingly eclectic and diverse collection of songs by a composer/producer who seems to thrive on collaboration. Despite the wide range of genres and moods the album encompasses, there is still a cohesion to the music that is perhaps due to working with fellow creative kindred spirits.

There is a refreshing lack of pretension and commercial ambition in the rough hewn, ‘warts and all’ approach to the production, but those not put off by a lo-fi style will find a wealth of interesting material here.  I expect MadWolf to gain a devoted fanbase as a consequence of this fine album which puts blues, folk and electronica through the mangler and returns some intriguing, often enthralling, results.

VERDICT = 8.6 out of 10

 

Alex Faulkner

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ALBUM REVIEW: Spirits in Smoke by REVELEVER

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REVELEVER is the artistic moniker of composer/songwriter and multi instrumentalist Randy Lever. Having started out as a drummer playing pop, rock and metal he became increasingly interested in synths and the creative freedom of technology. His music is highly influenced by the synth-driven artists of the 1980’s such as Gary Numan, Duran Duran, Talk Talk and Japan.

This short album, Spirits in Smoke, consists of four instrumental tracks that all clock in between the four-to-six minute mark. They are ambitious in their scope and structure, with an intricacy in the composition that shows a clear artistic vision from the composer. The title of the album is very apposite, as REVELEVER’s music has a mystical vibe that takes the listener on a journey.

Musically, the soundscape consists of a very 1980’s synth rock sound, when technology and musicality truly combined. So alongside synths, we hear drums, bass, piano and guitar (the latter performed by his father Ferry Lever . The album starts with the title track, and it’s a stately, evocative epic that gradual grows in complexity. The main melody has a haunting quality, underpinned by jazz-inflected piano chords. The different sections of the track contrast well, and the lightness of the synths also works with the more low-end, darker sounding instruments.

Second track The Driving Force of Nature starts with a beautiful piano melody and sparse percussion. Subtle synths weave their way into the sonic texture before it bursts into an uplifting section led by crystal-clear clean lead guitar and strings. This piece really showcases his gifts as a melodist and there’s so much musical detail that you barely notice that six minutes have passed. It ends the same saturnine way it began.

Third track The Beauty of Innocence is more rhythm-based, with a tense classical-style piano motif heard over an intricate world-music influenced beat and another prominent role for strings. The music is driven along by a chugging, picked guitar and the complexity of the arrangement brings to mind the sophisticated pop of Peter Gabriel and Talk Talk. The track takes a more Eastern direction in its second half, with the introduction of the magical sound of the sitar. It gives the music a very exotic flavour and this was my personal favourite.

Closing track Sunshine is much lighter in tone compared to the sultry intensity of the previous track. Set to a gentle, laid back bossa-nova beat it once again showcases his talent for melody and interesting harmonic structures. Ascending piano lines interweave with soothing string melodies to create a sound picture that made me think of a sunny holiday on a foreignb each. The restrained lead electric guitar was a nice touch, and the EP very much ends on a high note.

Overall, this a highly enjoyable album of synth-rock instrumentals, written and performed by a composer of consummate skill. Inspired by the more interesting and ambitious aspects of 1980’s pop, he has brought that sound into the 21st century and added his own musical idiosyncracies. The result is a compelling sonic journey.

 

VERDICT = 8.8 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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