SINGLE REVIEW: Writer’s Resolve by Badminton Revival

Writer's Resolve Cover(1)

The genesis of Nashville-based Badminton Revival has a poignant backstory. The singer/songwriter’s uncle had a double heart attack during a badminton tournament, which also unfortunately affected his memory. Something that aided his recuperation was listening to music, which brought memories flooding back.

The importance of music was something that was brought home to him and he insisted his songwriter nephew should make the most of his gift. He suggested writing a song about being a struggling songwriter.

Writer’s Resolve is the result of that suggestion and is the debut release from Badminton Revival. It’s in fact written about a female singer/songwriter trying to make it in the Nashville music industry.

The song is in the alternative folk genre, a style that brought to mind early Simon and Garfunkel, Nick Drake and John Martyn along with more modern folk artists like Bright Eyes (Conor Oberst), Iron and Wine and Johnny Flynn.

Beginning with crystal-clear picked acoustic guitars, it’s the strong and stately male vocals that then capture the attention. The music has a melancholy, autumnal vibe encapsulated by the lilting vocal melody which works perfectly in tandem with the poetic lyrics.

The song is partly a fascinating depiction of the songwriting process itself, the first lines capturing the white heat of artistic inspiration: “Thoughts fly faster than fingers can fret, she’s never met a melody that she couldn’t catch yet…”.

The words then depict a difficulty that afflicts so many artists, having to deal with the commercially driven music industry as well finding themselves having to compete with more confident and commercially viable performers: “Her foes are brave and strong and tall and they don’t ever seem scared at all….”.

The lyrics to the last verse bring to mind the tormented but often beautiful metaphors of Conor Oberst: “Her friends they tell her time heals all, she fears the doses are too small, seconds tick like an IV drip…still she crawls….”. From there, the music blossoms with a virtuosic, superbly crafted acoustic guitar solo which bodes well for his future musical potential.

Overall, this a moving and exquisitely written song from an artist highly gifted both musically and lyrically. Blessed with a fine voice and a truly exceptional guitarist, his gifts as a lyricist are also of the highest calibre; this means he has everything it takes to rise to the top in his field and if there’s any justice he will get there. I very much look forward to hearing future material from Badminton Revival.

 

VERDICT =  9.2 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

ALBUM REVIEW: Zentronique by Michael Regina

Mind of the machine

Michael Regina is a composer, producer and multi-instrumentalist born in the Bronx, New York City. He was inspired as a child by the classic performance of The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show and he’s been performing musically since his early teens.

Starting out on violin and French horn, he got into guitar in his teens and in the 1980’s began writing and playing with bands. This led to becoming the main songwriter and lead vocalist of glam metal band WHITEFOXX.

They garnered attention in rock magazines around the world including the American publication Hit Parader and Britain’s best known rock magazine Kerrang. They were regularly played on radio and were offered several record deals.

These were eventually all declined and they disbanded in 1989. Now based in New Jersey, Michael has turned his compositional talents to New Age music, which allows him to apply the skills and knowledge he learnt both in the classical music field and in rock music.

He has previously released five full length albums: Ascension, Winter Chill, New Day,  A Far Better World and Stargazer. The first three were all released in 2017, A Far Better World in 2018 (which I reviewed very favourably, listen here) and Stargazer in 2019.

This album, Zentronique, consists of eleven tracks and was produced by himself in his own home studio. The album begins with the epic ambient soundscape of Frontiers. Driven by pulsating, tribal tom-tom patterns that brought to mind the Joy Division classic Atmosphere, it also shows the influence of Vangelis. Like that composer, Michael has a distinct gift for writing stirring and inspiring melodies.

Here, the soaring string theme that emerges halfway through is slightly reminiscent of one of the great film soundtracks, Chariots Of Fire. The theme is alternated and augmented with chordal swells, creating an awe inspiring widescreen sonic landscape. The word widescreen is apt as the music and production is as good as any you’ll find gracing any major movie in the cinema. Indeed, this excellent opener almost sounds like it should be some blockbuster’s main theme.

Second track The Gates shows his more rhythmic side, with a stately and slightly melancholy synth theme set to a languid but punchy, powerful beat. Though the essential rhythm is simple, it’s augmented with intricate and complex percussion that gives the piece an inviting and infectious energy. The arrangement gradually builds with a subtle layering of synth strings to create another mesmerising wall of sound.

All Good Things starts with a haunting synth progression which creates a wistful tone. This sets the scene for a beautiful, minor key piano motif which recurs throughout the track. This hypnotic style made me thinking of the swirling melodic patterns of Philip Glass. The motif is subtly developed and varied, whilst maintaining its memorable theme, strings providing an exquisite counter-melody at points. You can imagine this as the perfect soundtrack to a heartbreak scene in a romantic film.

Connections also begins with enchanting strings, but his other musical influences come into play after this; pulsing bass and kick breaks out into a 4/4 beat with a thunderous, echo drenched snare. The track is underpinned by very subtle but effective rhythmic synths, which give the music a momentum and acts as the perfect contrast to another fine high end string theme. At nearly six minutes, it’s the epic of the album and manages to captivate to its final bars.

Human Condition feels like a stark contrast initially, minimalist ambient synths weaving an evocative spell before tribal percussion and magnificent, choral sounding synths intervene to intoxicating effect. This piece in particular has an almost overwhelming grandeur that increases with the skyscraping melody that emerges halfway through. A definite album highlight for me.

Next comes the title track, which takes us into some new sonic territory. Futuristic Giorgio Moroder-style synths get things going before the music expands into a slick, tight groove that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Daft Punk album. With its chugging Iow-end synths giving it a restless energy, this is perhaps the most instant track of the eleven here and also one with the broadest musical appeal. The way the music breaks down and then gradually rebuilds from the midway point is cleverly done.

Maxim M Chill is another surprise, this one based around a swinging hip hop-style beat which provides the bedrock for an enigmatic and alluring musical accompaniment. The skilled use of spacious reverb gives a huge depth to the sound and by the end of its relatively short duration you feel utterly transfixed and mesmerised.

Eighth track In The Ether is another of his heavily dance influenced pieces, this one the funkiest of the lot. After an introduction of a simple percussive rhythm, a pulsating 2/4 beat joins forces with a brooding, inventive bassline that made me think of 90’s era Massive Attack and New Order circa Technique. Overlaid on top of this are a tapestry of interweaving melodic strands and synths that combine, as well as drift in and out, in an organic way. Again, this may find a very popular audience on the dance floor as well as his ambient audience. Excellent track.

Hybrid is another fascinating, well, hybrid of ambient and electronica. Surging and swelling choral strings are matched with a colossal beat, again augmented by highly intricate percussive patterns that give it an addictive quality. The almost industrial sounding rhythm made me think of Nine Inch Nails (interestingly, Trent Reznor is another rock musician now involved in film soundtrack composition). The simple repetition of the structure supplies a hypnotic effect with a gradual addition of layers providing the variation.

Tenth track Communion is another piece that you can perfectly imagine as the soundtrack to a powerful movie scene, this one conjuring images of war and heroism with its rolling snare drum patterns and resonant, uplifting strings. Opening with rich organ that sets the hymnal, transcendent mood it unfolds into something that is nothing short of majestic. It’s my personal favourite on the album and could be a potential game changer for Michael.

The album closes out with Hello Together, a return to the hybrid style of previous tracks. It melds another poignant synth string melody with a loping, highly propulsive bassline and crisp drums. Indeed, the bass playing here deserves a particular mention, its swirling and wide ranging melodies making it the perfect counterpoint to the strings. The hi hat groove gives it a laid back disco feel and the way the arrangement slowly blossoms towards a higher register is skilfully composed. A very fine way to finish.

Overall, this is a fantastic sixth album by an ambient and electronica maestro. Combining his varying influences into a unique fusion that he can claim his own, his music is never less than captivating. The quality of the music and production remains extremely high throughout and deserves a wide audience. It seems only a matter of time before Michael Regina becomes a household name.

 

VERDICT = 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

 

Listen on Spotify HERE

ALBUM REVIEW: Traveler Tales by David Arn

Traveler Tales - Final Art - Text-01

https://davidarn.com/

David Arn is a singer/songwriter based in Virginia. His music is mostly acoustic and strongly lyric driven, allowing his words to be clearly delivered with an authentic, gravelly voice that sounds full of life experience.

You can hear the influences of Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan as well as the sophisticated lyrical style of Van Dyke Parks and Randy Newman, though his style is very much his own. He has previously released two full length albums, Postmodern Days and Walking To Dreamland (which I reviewed very favourably in 2015, read here), along with numerous singles.

This album, Traveler Tales, consists of fourteen songs and is a concept album very loosely based on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, featuring fourteen first-person narratives from fourteen travelers on a common journey.

The album opens with the mid-tempo moody blues rock of We’re Not Broken – The Lover’s Tale. Set to a sturdy beat and R.E.M style clean picked electric guitar, it captures David at his most poetic and philosophical: “They say we’ll be judged for behaviour, till then payback’s in a corner chair, posing questions to a saviour who seems no longer there….”.

It builds to the understated but highly affecting chorus hook: “We’re not broken, only shattered.…”. David’s vocal delivery is full of character and nuance, pitched somewhere between Bob Dylan and Mark Knopfler from Dire Straits. The classy, crisp backing vocals from Kerri Hardwick and Tyra Juliette serve as a nice contrast to David’s more earthy tone. A strong opening track and another fine addition to the Arn canon.

Fallen Bird – The Beggar’s Tale is set at a similar tempo and makes even more use of the contrast between David and his backing vocalists, creating a lovely blend on the chorus. Lyrically, it poetically captures the torment of unrequited love, or at least an unresolved romantic relationship, all the more poignant from his mature perspective.

With unflinchingly honesty and vulnerability he sings tenderly: “Look at me, past my prime, spinning rhyme about you, your fingerprints on my heart, but for love I must dust for clues….”. Special mention must go to the first class dobro guitar performed by Toby Wilson, which helps give the music its rootsy vibe and sonic colour.

His guitar skills come to the fore again on Thirteen Days – The Exile’s Day, this one a country folk ballad consisting of David’s anguished vocals, Wilson’s guitar and stand up bass. It’s a heart rending tale about the end of a relationship and the desolation that follows.

Wilson’s guitars weave a crystalline texture around Arn’s voice and lyrically, he turns the poignancy up to eleven: “Sleepless in our highway room, shadows cross the moon, memory has me bound with souvenirs from higher ground…”. It’s a song that captures Arn’s particular gift for love songs, this one imbued with an emotional depth that brought to mind Dylan’s Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands.

Fourth track, Not Amused – The Wanderer’s Tale. is a complete contrast; a light hearted and highly entertaining country rock song with chugging pianos and more tasty steel guitar from Toby Wilson.

It shows a more playful side to Arn’s songwriting, displaying some dry wit whilst throwing in a few acerbic lines that ring true about those in power: “It seems every time I fall for the noble man, in the face of the poor he kicks more sand, he points the passer to the road where the trail goes cold….”. The chorus hook wryly captures how we smile through the pain: “I might have been grinning but I’m not amused.…”.

It’s Not Going To Kill Us – The Father’s Tale is a fine country ballad written from the perspective of a father worried about his daughter from afar. With dreamy echo-drenched steel guitar floating in the background, David expresses parental concern with customary sensitivity: “I may be miles away but I can read the signs…gonna fix your mind right even if I must talk you through the night….”. A lovely song.

This is mirrored by Mother’s Day – The Mother’s Tale. It features a guest artist taking the lead vocal duties, Ava Hart. David notes that this song has special relevance for Ava, a mother of a child on the autistic spectrum. She gives an enchanting performance here, augmented by mellifluous violin by Joni Fuller.

Over delicate acoustic guitar, Ava’s haunting voice compels from the powerful opening lines: “I’m always fighting an invisible war my prayers haven’t seen before…”. It portrays the purity of maternal love with succinct eloquence: “Little one, let me rock your soul…four in the morning, the ladder to your sleep is much too steep…”. Bringing to mind the Joni Mitchell classic Little Green, it works perfectly in the context of the album.

You Never Really Know – The Fool’s Tale is another ballad of consummate craftsmanship. Featuring an interesting Elvis-esque slapback delay on his lead vocal, David expresses how it’s love that gives life meaning and purpose: “You never really know technically which way you go… until you fall in love….” Some gorgeous female-sung harmonies and gentle violin enrich this touching country-folk ballad.

Black Dog – The Photographers Tale is another of the lyrical portraits he does so well. This one is about an aging photographer estranged from his family, finding solace in the memories of a lost love. The “black dog” of the title is a reference to Winston Churchill’s analogy for depression. You can read my previous full review of this song here.

Next, we come to the title track, Traveler – The Minstrel’s Tale. It starts out as an acoustic ballad then takes a turn into soul and jazz territory. It features warm, smoky electric piano, rich gospel-style backing vocals and, towards the end, some wonderful wailing sax courtesy of Ian Smith. He’s played for legends like Gladys Knight, Sister Sledge and The Temptations.

Similar unexpected sonic features await us on Keeping My Distance – The Veteran’s Tale. It appears to be a first person narrative of a veteran who finds himself homeless: “My home is in the East, I have no bed in the state I’m in, I’m walking twelfth street at midnight, feeling stuck within my skin.…”. The use of a subtle vocoder effect halfway through is a nice production trick that gives the track a modern edge. Another well crafted song with understated power and gravity.

Silently Drifting To Paradise – The Sinner’s Tale is the second appearance of Ava Hart, rather different in tone to her first. It’s a truly gorgeous song with a lilting vocal melody and magical, almost harp-like acoustic guitars. With a distinctly sensuous undertone (“Heaven used to wait at the top of your stairs”), it brought to mind the heady, intoxicating mood of The Sensual World by Kate Bush. The harmony on the superb chorus is positively spine-tingling and the dreamy, drifting strings are simply otherworldly.

Twelfth track St. Paul’s Chimes – The Bystander’s Tale might sound like a dead cert folk track with such a title but, in fact, is the album’s slow burning Americana rock epic. Starting out as an acoustic strummer, it finds David with a vocal effect akin to John Lennon on The Beatles’ Tomorrow Never Knows. The gritty, biting lead guitar has a Clapton-esque grandeur.

Love Is Free – The Writer’s Tale is one of the more Sixties influenced tracks here with not just the influence of Dylan but also a strong influence of Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground and Rubber Soul-era Beatles. The lyrics have a distinctly psychedelic glean in their eye with lines like: “We were a prism through which love flowed...”. The stop/start dynamics surrounding the title hook work well and it’s another very enjoyable song.

The album’s journey comes to a gentle and beautiful end with the achingly poignant When It’s Over – The Ex-Writer’s Tale. It’s folk-tinged Americana at its finest, an autumnal reflection on a relationship: “I love my freedom, time is moving slower but I hate that it’s not over when it’s over….”. Augmented by simple but elegant acoustic guitar and swirling strings, it completes this epic album in the most apposite way.

Overall, this is a wonderful collection of songs by David Arn that cover the many vicissitudes of the human condition. Having forged a refined poetic lyrical style and honed his musical craft over years, he’s developed into a songwriter of the highest class. He need not worry; not only is he not past his prime, Traveler Tales finds him at the peak of his powers.

 

VERDICT = 9.2 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Album released: Sept 8th

 

Visit his official website HERE

ALBUM REVIEW: Songs About You by Blue Soul Ten

SongsAboutYou_Album

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 five albums previously, The Unspoken Warrior, The Fearless Warrior, The Beautiful Warrior, Blue Notes and Ten Percent (to which I gave a stellar review, read here).

This album, Songs About You, consists of ten tracks and continues the unique fusion of soul, RnB, jazz and hip hop as forged on Ten Percent and previous albums. As with its predecessor, the album starts with the title track, an instrumental.

The music immediately creates a soulful, smoky vibe with warm Rhodes and brooding bass set to a crisp and taut hip hop beat, the languid tempo setting the tone.

Kind of Blue-Esque trumpet then floats across the sonic stage with mellow descending lines before being contrasted by airy, mellifluous flute that brought to mind Right On from Marvin Gaye’s classic What’s Going On album. Succinct at two and a half minutes, it gets the album off to a fine start.

It leads into Everything, the first of several tracks to feature the vocals of Syauqi Destanika, whose earthy, sensual voice fits the Blue Soul Ten sound like a velvet glove. This is a track where he really shows his musical smarts, combining a simple beat with roaming, syncopated bass that crosses the barlines and acts as a counter melody to the main vocal.

This is augmented with subtle jazzy guitar, Bitches Brew-style keyboards and an array of cool sound effects. The title hook is effortlessly seductive and the result is a slinky, sexy song full of intricate detail.

Third track Dear You features another guest artist, the rapper Surron The Seventh, who also appeared on Ten Percent. Here, he delivers another strong performance over a slinky backing track based around a toe-tapping beat and another superb, highly melodic bass line.

It’s a surprisingly moving narrative about a relationship that ran deep but has now ended: “I’m staring at your old texts like we could have been something…I mean, we could have been special…I should never have let you go...”. A great track where the music mirrors the emotive vibe of the lyrics.

Fourth track This Moment is a funky RnB track, again featuring the vocal talents of Syauqi Destanika. With a swinging beat, Syauqi delivers a sultry performance expressing amorous desires in no uncertain terms. The layered harmonies work well with the interweaving Rhodes melodies and the harmonised trumpets towards the end are the icing on the cake, along with the piano vamps on the outro.

Cupid’s Bow is another track featuring Syauqi, and rather more romantic in mood. This one stands out for it’s subtly infectious chorus and the virtuoso, swooping basslines that brought to mind the great Motown legend James Jamerson (as far as I know, he is responsible for the majority of the musicianship). Both This Moment and Cupid’s Bow would make excellent singles, with a commercial radio friendly sound aligned with their musically sophisticated style.

Sixth track Healthy is a fusion of all his various styles at once, featuring Syauqi and another guest rapper, Rae Dot. Set to a chilled out groove, Syauqi lays down a languorous, seductive vocal before Rae spits some assured rhythms halfway through.

The contrast works like a dream, with a myriad of instrumental melodies underpinning it. Lyrically, it depicts a dysfunctional relationship on the rocks but with strong feelings still present: “Is this healthy to be in love with someone this way?

Another Day feels like a continuation of that theme, a dreamily slow RnB track with pulsing Rhodes put through a tremelo effect. The unusual vocal harmonies on the chorus give an exotic feel to the song, and the echo-drenched guitar lines add to the spacey ambience. An understated gem.

First One maintains the mellow mood and this one features the vocals of Tyla Rae. It’s perhaps the most mesmeric song on the album, deeply romantic in tone and based around the affecting refrain: “You were the first one to ever break my heart….”. The harmonies towards the end are spectacular

The following On Me introduces us to another vocalist, Dennis Lorenzo. It’s one of the most minimal, with succinct but effective infusions of bass and electric piano. Lorenzo has a smooth voice, and as the track builds he gets to express his considerable range. The music is cleverly arranged, rich organ and increasingly intricate percussion added to the mix, culminating in an intoxicating finale.

The album closes with the epic This Time and a return to the vocals of Syauqi Destanika. Starting out with a tight hi-hat groove, the music again gradually unfolds into an uplifting wall of sound featuring synth strings, gorgeous wailing sax and a superb, mode-based guitar solo that gives the album its suitably climactic moment. With its instantly memorable and anthemic chorus hook, it’s a blazing way to close things out.

Overall, this is an excellent follow up to 2019’s Ten Percent by a composer and multi-instrumentalist of the highest rank. His songs are brought to life by an array of talented guest vocalists and rappers which gives the music a freshness and natural variety. With such diverse genres integrated into a seamless whole and songs that run the gamut of human emotions, the album will appeal to a broad fanbase. It deserves to be widely heard and for Blue Soul Ten to be recognized as one of the finest acts currently around.

 

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10           

Alex Faulkner

 

Album released September 4th

Follow Blue Soul Ten on Facebook and Instagram

 

SINGLES REVIEW: Suzanne Gladstone

Everything Will Be Fine - CD Cover - edited

Suzanne Gladstone is a country/soul singer and songwriter from San Diego. She was born in Oceanside, California and was one of ten children. Her childhood was rather difficult, being raised by her aunt and grandparents after the age of five. She turned to music and poetry for solace and this led to her love of singing and songwriting.

She is self taught and somewhat of a natural, with her paternal grandmother being a jazz singer. Along the way she has found inspiration from such artists as Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, Reba McEntire, Faith Hill and Garth Brooks amongst many others. Her voice has been compared to singers such as Shania Twain and Adele.

Here’s my verdict on her most recently released singles:

Dreamer

This track is a moody, organ-driven epic rock ballad with a passionate lead vocal from Suzanne. Opening with the chorus hook doubled on electric guitar, the opening lines set the tone for this heartfelt, soul-searching song: “The sands of time are running out, I haven’t figured what life is all about…”. This emotion is captured perfectly by Suzanne, and the memorable, anthemic title hook is something most will be able to relate to. Towards the end, she gets to showcase her outstanding vocal range and power.

 

Dust Settles

This song shows a whole other side to Suzanne’s songwriting. While maintaining the pop/rock instrumental sound, there’s a definite RnB influence in the fast flowing verses that display the vocal dexterity you find in rap and hip hop. Lyrically, it once again expresses honesty and vulnerability: “I can’t stand this cold bed, or these nasty thoughts filled with dread..”. The simple, poignant title hook captures this sense of desolation: “As the dust settles, you’re gone”. A great pop track with a sassy modern edge.

 

I Am! I Am! (My Own Kind Of Pretty)

After the emotional turmoil of Dreamer and Dust Settles, this song is a nice contrast; it’s an upbeat, ultra catchy and uplifting track, this time displaying a jazzy side to her musical oeuvre. Over a crisp, punchy beat Suzanne alternates with catchy sax lines, delivering a ferociously feisty vocal that takes no prisoners. Lyrically, it’s about overcoming negativity and showing self-determination, the chorus defiantly running: “Ain’t nobody gonna hold me down, ain’t nobody gonna take my crown again”.

 

Warrior

This ebullient spirit is continued into Warrior, one of the rockier tracks in her current canon. Over a potent 2/4 beat, synths interweave with gritty electric guitars to great effect. The stomping chorus hook is instantly infectious and provides another inspiring anthem in the Christina Aguilera mould. The opening lines once again perfectly set the tone: “You and I, we fight the night like we can touch the sky, we rock it hard like we are meant to fly, no one can stop us and they don’t know why….”.

 

Paralyzed

This is a classy pop track that brought to mind the epic ballads of the 80’s, but with a more modern production approach. Suzanne gives another emotive performance, portraying a wronged lover in an affecting way. The emotional impotence you feel when heartbroken is captured by the excellent chorus, augmented by high register harmonies. Can easily see why this was chosen as a single.

 

Gazing In Your Eyes

This is an interesting track, a seemingly languid and low-key song but the lilting vocal melody quickly sticks in the memory and, upon repeated listening, it proves to be an understated gem. Based around an atmospheric guitar motif, Suzanne here depicts someone in the depths of being in love: “Heart beating with your love, without it would be broken, no more reason living on if your love were unspoken” runs the fine chorus.

 

Everything Will Be Fine

Even more catchy is the summery sounding perfect pop of Everything Will Be Fine, which brought to mind Taylor Swift circa 1989 (the album, not the year!) The title hook is effortlessly addictive, the lyrics equally full of positive energy: “Don’t downplay your passion as some childhood fantasy…”. If this wasn’t a hit upon its first release, it deserves a future re-release as it’s got all the makings of a major worldwide smash.

 

Effortlessly

This is another fine piece of songwriting with a gorgeous piano introduction and a jazzy influence in the chord progression, along with a funky overall feel. Lyrically, it depicts finding someone special after a dark period: “After a few months of living like my heart couldn’t beat….”.

 

Is It Love?

This song is a return to the epic rock ballad style of earlier tracks, alternating between sections of delicate piano and storming drums, the musical bedrock for a blistering vocal performance once again from Suzanne. Lyrically, it’s also a return to portraying  the inner turmoil that romance can bring: “I want to cry but the tears have dried in my eyes, instead I’m looking for the meaning in my life…”. Excellent track.

 

You Walked Away

This track opens with a Tori Amos-style piano flourish before a beefy beat kicks in, building to an anthemic and cathartic chorus featuring effective call and response backing vocals. With its radio friendly sound and affecting vocals as ever, it’s another fine choice as a single. Suzanne really gets to display her considerable range towards the end and it brought to mind the highly emotional Stevie Nicks-sung classics of Fleetwood Mac.

Overall, this is an outstanding collection of singles that showcases Suzanne Gladstone as a singer and songwriter of considerable talents. Her commercial and creative potential is huge and it’s surely only a matter of time before she becomes a big name.

 

VERDICT = 9.2 out of 10  

Alex Faulkner

ALBUM REVIEW: Artificial Intelligence by Mystic of Melody

Artificial Intelligence (Album Cover)(1)

Mystic of Melody is the artistic moniker of Mark Christian, a composer and songwriter hailing from Durant, Oklahoma. He’s a completely independent artist making music autonomously in his home studio. He primarily makes electronic music using a unique technique of electronic voiceovers which combines with his instrumental music. This can vary widely in genre and he’s diversified into many rock and pop styles from the 1970’s-1990’s. Other albums include Falling Leaves, Compare and Contrast and Night Messenger.

This album, Artificial Intelligence, consists of sixteen tracks. From the opening track The Final Hour, it quickly emerges that this artist has forged his own completely original style.

For those familiar with the Stephen Hawking-style computer voice from Radiohead’s Fitter Happier, this style of electronic voiceover is employed here. Set to a fast tempo backing of synths and an intricate programmed beat, the opening lines hit a suitably apocalyptic note for these times of worldwide turmoil: “One day we will all be faced with a difficult decision, many of the purest saints will sacrifice their mission, we have all been given our warning, the sun will blacken as laughter turns to mourning….”.

This kind of biblical gravity might have seemed out of place in another era, but it feels perfectly in keeping with everything that’s happening presently, from the pandemic to the doomsday predictions of the climate change movement.

The urgent rhythms of the synths augment the intensity of the spoken words. It would have been nice to hear the backing music more present in the mix, a minor criticism which I found with certain tracks, but not a major one. The recurring lyrical motif, “It’s black or white, do or die” again seems highly apposite.

Second track Master Plan is set to a similarly insistent tempo with the opening line setting the mood, “For so long I have walked this dark, desolate highway….”. The lyrics describe the negativity perpetuated by the media and the importance of treading your own individual path, a personal “master plan”.

Eyes of Madness begins with a poignant synth string melody and this track has a noticeably much better balance between the vocals and the backing music. This allows the many fine melodic strands to come to the fore, while still allowing the words to be clearly heard. This track is a depiction of meeting someone with a bad vibe about them despite a “polished appearance”: “Deception reflected in his eyes as he deluded me with lies”. A haunting and powerful piece of music, one of the most effective on the album.

The title track of the album comes next, a return to the rapid tempo of previous songs, and again contains a highly relevant message for the times, despite being first released back in 2017: “We are a mass of confusion living in the delusion”. I was particularly struck by the line, “Our minds are imprisoned and they hold the key…”. Having been written several years ago, there is a certain prescience here which should be given full credit.

Connect The Dots stands out due to its particular style of voiceover which incorporates a ghostly sounding low-pitch voice over a mid-tempo backing. One Step Too Many has a voice similar to the earlier tracks, with memorable synth melodies holding the attention. The crunchy low-end guitar chords add real grit to the sound.

Tunnel of Light is an intricate piece with a fine chord progression and several melodic themes that work together. The vocals combine both male and female voices which are very effective and lyrically it shows a much more mystical, spiritual side. The lyrics depict an out of body experience, an ambitious subject for a song but it is successful and one of my personal favourites on the album.

On The Lookout is one of the rockier tracks with another profound lyric possibly about himself and the wisdom that can be earned as an outsider, due to the different perspective it entails. The words are full of prophetic doom, which seems fitting: “The sky will turn blood red and the earth shall crack”.

Mannequins continues the ‘fire and brimstone’ lyrical style while the more genteel Fading Panorama is much lighter in tone. The words depict the beauty of a sunset and express a deep love of nature. The way he contrasts the dark state of the world with more spiritual themes is cleverly done. Here, the music mirrors the words perfectly, with a serene flute-like melody.

Night Child continues this poetic, romantic style, once again employing male and female voices. The Vow is an interesting track with an enigmatic lyric about a mysterious femme fatale (“If only you knew what she had planned for you”).

Dead End Town is a nice track with a memorable classical-style piano melody, the upbeat music contrasting with the despair depicted by a tale about living in a town with no hope. Me and My Bird is rather interesting, the computer voice taking on a Scottish twang. I enjoyed the line, “it all goes down well with fine wine”.

The final two tracks seem to complete the emotional journey of the album, Ascension containing the powerful line, “One must never ignore the voice of fate”. The album concludes with the poignant track The Funeral: “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, who can we trust?”. It opens with an emotive string theme and the words express how we should respect those who’ve died before us: “Let us lament and commemorate the deceased, they are forever among us”. A moving and fittingly poetic message to close with.

Overall, this is a distinctly original album by an artist who can lay claim to a truly unique and distinctive style. While there are production aspects that could be improved for greater sonic balance, the marriage of the electronic voiceovers with synth driven backing music is nonetheless very effective. For anyone searching for music that is nothing like what you would find in the mainstream, I can definitely recommend giving a listen to Mystic of Melody.

 

VERDICT = 8.5 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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ALBUM REVIEW: After Geography by Forest Robots

FINAL AG ALBUM COVER

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 glowing reviews to the albums Supermoon Moonlight – Part One and the follow up, Timberline And Mountain Crest. In 2019, he released his third full length album, Times When I Know You’ll Watch The Sky (which you can read here).

This year sees the release of After Geography, his fourth. The album’s title has an interesting back story and genesis. After Geography was a suggested title for The Beatles’ 1966 masterpiece Revolver, a witty idea from Ringo Starr as a reaction to The Rolling Stones album of that year, Aftermath. Something clicked when Fran read that story, as he realised this would make an apposite title.

In his own words: “Before any excursion, every experienced mountaineer will put in the time to research traveling routes, gear to bring, food to pack, weather patterns to watch out for and best times to travel. However, there comes a point during a climb when all of this preparation is inconsequential if your focus isn’t there.

The album consists of ten tracks which ebb and flow into each other seamlessly and is a return to the more minimalist style of his earlier work. As with his other full length albums, it is best listened to as a continuous musical journey, combining classical, ambient, drone and musique concrete into a symbiotic whole.

A Detailed Cartography opens the album and immediately sets a tranquil, transcendent mood with its spacious soundscape, seemingly outside of space and time. Atmospheric synths drift in and out whilst a sparse harp-like melody of understated beauty drifts across your consciousness. It’s gentle majesty is best enjoyed via the evocative accompanying video.

This morphs seamlessly into the second track, Of Birds Migrating In The Distance. Built around another simply but haunting melody, this is augmented by a delicate high end piano motif that brought to mind the composer Erik Satie, one of his noted influences. Gradually, a third motif emerges and its recurrent pattern made me think of another, more modern, composer – namely, Philip Glass. The interplay of the three melodic strains is skilfully done and is another fine example of painting in sound that perfectly evokes the piece’s title.

Karst Wildlife Surveying takes subtlety to even greater heights, with tremulous murmurs of melody layered together to create an otherworldly tapestry of sound. Here he is painting in the most delicate watercolours and you get a visual image from the music that again resonates with the title (karst is a topography formed from the dissolution of soluble rocks).

It shifts almost imperceptibly into the fourth track, Awash in Granite Geometry which again suggests surveying rocky landscapes. This has another Erik Satie-esque piano melody, which floats serenely over a bedrock of ambience.

Over The Drainage Divide has a similar feel of epic expanse, conjuring numerous images of nature in the mind’s eye and capturing the sense of grandeur one feels when confronted with scenes of great natural beauty. Subtly Widening Bergschrunds is also expansive in scope and has an almost glacial quality, which again captures the essence of the piece (a bergschrund is a crevasse at the junction of a glacier or snowfield). To be able to paint in sound in this way is quite an art.

The wonderfully titled Glacial Architecture Of The Mountain Corridor has a similarly opaque quality, but with an intricate, tumbling melody that brought to mind another French composer, Saint Saens. It’s probably the least minimal piece on the album, providing contrast whilst maintaining the perfect musical continuity.

Imagining August 1976, Here is another captivating piece, evoking a late summer haze and with a distinct air of melancholic nostalgia imbued in its gossamer-like drifting melodies. It imparts the same feeling one can get from looking at an old faded photograph and reminiscing on a happier time, a bittersweet emotion.

Night Sky Over The Face Of A Nearby Tarn is similar in mood but with that glacial quality found in earlier tracks. A tarn is a mountain lake, pond or pool, formed in a cirque excavated by a glacier and so it’s another masterly evocation of nature’s majesty, and captures the magic of the night sky in tone.

The musical journey concludes with All Across The High Plain After The Storm, which starts out in a minimalist way then gradually develops into the epic expansiveness that characterizes some of the album’s most sublime and transcendent moments. Almost imperceptibly, like a musical mirage, you can picture a camera swooping over vast vistas of land then pulling away to infinity, closing the circle.

Overall, this is another scintillating collection of nature-inspired instrumentals that capture composer Fran Dominguez’ art at its most nuanced and subtle. With a unique talent for portraying panoramic landscapes in tonal form, he takes the listener on another sonic adventure that captures the thrill of travelling and surveying the many natural wonders of the world. Fans of Harold Budd, Brian Eno and Philip Glass will find much to enjoy here and hopefully this album will provide some artistic solace to many during this tumultuous time in history, as it was intended.

 

VERDICT: 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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ALBUM REVIEW: Spin Me by Project Rod Williams

Spin Me - Final Cover(1)

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. In 2019, he released his album Fire which I reviewed very favourably (you can read that review here).

This album, Spin Me, consists of ten tracks with every song written and produced by Rod Williams. Shake It On The Dancefloor gets the album off to an exhilarating start, an infectious high energy disco track that brought to mind Off The Wall-era Michael Jackson.

From its opening bars, it’s a riotous explosion of driving bass, bursts of colourful brass and catchy funk guitar licks. As with the Fire album, Project Rod Williams is a collective featuring several lead and backing vocalists who swap roles from song to song.

This one is energetically performed by Ben Dial, with some finely arranged backing vocals from Aleisha Leo. I enjoyed how the track allowed for an extended instrumental section, featuring the excellent saxophone playing of Fabian Hernandez. Loaded with hooks, it’s perfect dance pop.

Don’t Stop Me Baby is great in a different way, this one a smoky and slinky Rnb/electronica track featuring a sassy and charismatic lead vocal from Aleisha Leo. Built around an insistent beat, it starts out with a Daft Punk style synth riff before the revolving vocal melody of the verse grips the ear.

The title hook is just one of several that sticks in the mind quickly, with the “DJ, don’t you stop, DJ, turn it up” also proving addictive. The swirling, highly melodic bassline deserves a special mention here, infusing the music with great energy. Both of these opening tracks would make excellent singles, with obvious potential to be huge in the clubs.

Go To Town (Get Busy), another sung by Ben Dial, is slower in tempo but just as catchy, based around a simple but effective 2/4 groove. As usual, the arrangement is full of neat touches, such as the interplay between the sharp guitar lines and the synths. The anthemic chorus hook is the focal point, sung in octaves towards the end to great effect.

Lyrically, it is more overtly sexual, about the point in the night where you’re ready to leave the club and take things further. It brought to mind Prince at his most explicit though the words are never distasteful, just risqué: “Let’s lose control, yes bare it all, bite and kiss with our hungry lips….”.

The title track comes next and it grabs you instantly with a toe tapping, Latin American-influenced rhythm and ultra funky wah wah guitar. Ben Dial gives another fine lead vocal performance, with some excellent falsetto backing harmonies providing contrast. Once again, amorous concerns are the lyrical subject matter and it sustains the sensual mood created by the previous track.

Fifth track Dangerous Lover maintains the memorable melodic style and catchiness of the opening songs but this one has a more serious lyrical theme, about not being seduced by appearances and having a relationship with someone who isn’t with you for the right reasons: “They’ll always please their man as long as his money is in their hand, they’ll lay in bed every night, just make sure your pocket never gets light…”. Musically, the lead vocal is augmented throughout with backing harmonies from Rod Williams and the dual vocal sound is what makes this song stand out.

Crimes For Passion contains another salutary moral lesson, this one containing a lead vocal by Matt Williamson who does a great job. Whereas the protagonist of Dangerous Lover finds out a woman just wants him for his money, this song is about a woman already in a relationship and is cheating with a lover that she discards when he’s not needed: “Oh, you live your lie, pretending all is fine, while I wait like a fool here alone in my room….”.

How Can You Say You Love Is True is another emotive song, this one written from the viewpoint of discovering out his partner is cheating on him. The musical backing reflects the emotional nature of the song, with melancholy piano lines and heart rending strings providing the melodic counterpoint to the well crafted vocal melody.

Because, the eighth track, almost feels like the sequel to the previous song, continuing the musical bedrock of piano and strings and lyrically exploring the emotional turmoil that results of lies: “You moulded me this way, my heart was unsculpted clay…”. The poignant vocal melody is delivered with sensitivity by Ben Dial and these songs show the more tender side of Rod Williams’ songwriting.

Tears is an interesting song, combining this emotive lyrical style with a modern pop/EDM backing. Backed by a mid-paced disco beat and swirling synths, this track stands out for the strength of its lilting vocal melody and a further example of Williams’ songwriting craft. This one is another potential single in my opinion.

The closing song Now also has some surprises up its sleeve. Sung once again by Matt Williamson, it’s the first time we hear acoustic guitar on the album, which forms the instrumental backbone of the track. It sets the mood for another tale of heartache, giving some perspicacious insights on the possessive nature of romantic relationships: “Now I’m in deep, I can’t breathe when you’re away from me, now I wanna keep you trapped like a bird in a cage”. It’s a deep and affecting finale to an album that starts out so much lighter in tone.

Overall, this is another fantastic modern pop album from Project Rod Williams. Featuring a plethora of talented collaborators, Rod Williams proves once again he is equally adept at writing upbeat dancefloor tracks as well as the more deeply emotional, reflective songs that show the more painful side of love and romance. With top notch production and first rate performances from all concerned, Spin Me deserves to be a major success.

 

VERDICT = 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: The World Again by Martin Del Carpio

072 The World Again

Martin Del Carpio is an experimental electronica artist hailing from New York. His music is a unique hybrid of electronica, avant garde, spoken word and musique concrete, as well as occasional songs which he performs lead vocals on himself.

Previous releases include 2011’s X album, followed by Goddard in 2013. A retrospective compilation called Lost Illusions was released in 2014, while 2015 saw the release of an experimental music project called Notes From The Underground. 2018 saw the release of Involution to which I gave a highly favourable review (you can read that here)

This latest track, The World Again, is a reworked and re-recorded song originally released in 2011. Martin describes this as an “orbital Chimera version”. It’s a slow burning, haunting epic that has an expansive, almost cinematic, soundscape. It opens with subtle mood-setting synth and softly strummed acoustic guitar.

Martin’s emotive and sensitive vocals enter, bringing to mind the plaintive, almost mystical tone of Neil Young’s After The Goldrush. This song has a similarly magical effect, transporting the listener into otherworldly realms. The opening lines match the transcendent grandeur of the music, Del Carpio at his most poetic: “A complicated dance, unspoken words, your soul vibrates, you should let them know your heart’s failure, your heart’s desire….”.

In this time of enforced isolation caused by the current pandemic, this song about self reflection and looking to the future could not be more apposite. Despite the song’s stately tempo, it maintains a traditional structure, gradually building to a chorus of understated power and melodic beauty. It recalls the moving music of Wish You Were Here-era Pink Floyd.

Almost imperceptibly, the arrangement grows with a subtle but highly effective pulsing beat whilst in the background we hear a kaleidoscopic swirl of ambient synths. Harmonies are added along with some truly ethereal production effects on the vocals.

Overall, this a wonderfully captivating piece of songwriting and production that might be the finest thing Martin Del Carpio has yet released. Managing to balance the personal with the universal, the music takes us on an inner journey and makes us look at the world in a new perspective, like all great art. And, in the midst of a world pandemic, we need great art and new perspectives to guide us more than ever.

 

VERDICT = 9.3 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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ALBUM REVIEW: The Language Of Clouds by Scott Howard

artwork final tlc – Version 3

https://www.scotthowardmusic.com/

Scott Howard is a singer and songwriter from Fort Lauderdale, FL. Music played a big role in his childhood. Born to an entrepreneurial opera star in New York State, Scott Howard’s mother began the Long Island Lyric Opera which propelled him into the world of inspiring, finely tuned, and captivating music. His musical journey is closely bound with his spiritual journey as he is resolute to use his song writing as a force for good after the tragic loss of his son, Maxx.

His inspirational songs have already reached many, with his debut album, Ascended Man, accumulating 6.4 million streams. He uses a special kind of instrument tuning, 432 Hz, which is regarded by some as the frequency of the universe and therefore has a spiritually uplifting effect on the listener.

This album, The Language of Clouds, is the follow up to Ascended Man and consists of four songs. The album begins strongly with Written in the Clouds. It starts with a beautiful intro consisting of strummed acoustic guitar and celestial sounding synths. From the opening lines you can tell Scott takes a deeper approach to lyrics than most: “What language do you speak when you say hello to a cloud, out loud?”.

Scott is blessed with a strong and distinctive voice which some have compared to Cat Stevens, and he has a similar inclination towards the mystical. After a succinct verse it builds to a powerful and memorable chorus with poetic words: “Thunder and lightning be along to say, “Wake up and find your way”. Lyrically, it’s about becoming spiritually awakened, the underlying message essentially behind all of Scott’s music. Interestingly, the arrangement ends on another verse rather than the traditional repeat choruses.

The following Queen of Hearts has an equally crystalline sound, the theme of this one more romantic, about finding your soulmate. Beginning with exquisitely recorded acoustic guitar, the first verse sets the scene of trying to find true love: “When I was a younger man, a little voice called to me, “You’ll meet the woman of your dreams, a real life fantasy”.

The second verse depicts a more realistic and down to earth perspective on building a lasting love relationship: “To rebuild our hearts takes every moment, bricks and blood and tears to make a love that lasts forever, at least a million years…”. Once again, it explodes into an uplifting, epic chorus, Scott displaying his excellent vocal range.

Third track Dreamer is more up tempo, driven by infectiously rhythmic acoustic guitars. It’s another philosophical and reflective song full of spiritual wisdom: “Everything that’s evergreen is turning brown…. life is always changing, life is rearranging”. Once again, it features an anthemic and singalong chorus, one of his real strengths as a songwriter.

The album closes with a live performance of the profound and inspirational Harvest Blessings, which is about the dawning of a new spiritual era: “As the trumpets herald the new earth, the time to weep is over….”. The lyrics have a deep poetic and mystical quality that brought to mind Dylan and Leonard Cohen at their most spiritual.

He closes the song with a powerful message that it is how we think that creates our future: “The truth is yours to find…so manifest your best….your mind creates nightmares and miracles…”.

Overall, this is a wonderful short album from a unique singer/songwriter with a powerful spiritual message to convey. Combining the mystical introspection of Cat Stevens with the anthemic energy of Bruce Springsteen, Scott Howard has already inspired many. The Language of Clouds could see him reach many millions more with its universal appeal and many words of wisdom enshrined in memorable melodies.

 

VERDICT= 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner