NEW BAND REVIEW: Never, Soulless, Even by Sunset Closeup

Sunset Closeup are an alternative rock duo consisting of producer/guitarist Andrew Amsden (Hello Clarice and GTFO) and Melbourne singer Mark Pearl (Texture Like Sun). The group were formed during the 2020 Covid pandemic after Andrew had left Los Angeles after a decade and settled in Portland, Oregon.

The group were named after the film noir classic Sunset Boulevard and they are now releasing the first fruits of their labour. These first releases consist of three sonically eclectic songs that are all highly different yet united by a signature sound.

Never is a brooding alternative rock track that opens with low-end acoustics, soon joined by muscular drums and rich, deep bass. This is augmented by slick wah-wah guitar that provides some subtle rhythmic sophistication and is highly effective even though its low in the mix.

This lays the bedrock for Mark Pearl’s earthy authentic vocals, bringing to mind Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder and U2’s Bono, though with an altogether distinctive style of his own. The first verse establishes a firm groove with Mark delivering his distinctive vocals in a low register, backing vocals harmonising on certain lines.

He gets to display his considerable range with the euphoric chorus hook featuring the memorable refrain, “I’ll reach out for more”. After the second  chorus it enters an interlude section where the music breaks down and we hear the haunting lines, “Never gonna leave this alive, taking a long time to fly….”. The music gears back up for the third verse followed by one final blast through the anthemic chorus.

It’s amazing to note how concise it is at only two minutes and thirty seconds, yet feels a perfectly complete and rounded arrangement. As with all with the tracks here, Sunset Closeup strike a fine balance between alternative and commercial, rock and (credible) pop.

Soulless is longer at just under three minutes and shows a more electronic influence under the bonnet of their sound, starting out sounding like U2 with delay-drenched guitar over a pumping kick and restless hi-hat rhythms.

The pulsating synths then provide a fresh energy and texture to the sound, bringing to mind early 90’s Depeche Mode with a similarly poignant and mournful vocal performance from Mark Pearl, comparable to Dave Gahan. A more modern comparison would be the with Brandon Flowers of The Killers, another band who know how to successfully bridge the gap between alternative rock and pop.

Soulless has an alluring, mesmeric quality that draws the listener in. This is partly due to Mark Pearl’s enigmatic, haunting vocal melody along with the intoxicating, sophisticated music that envelops his voice. You can hear their wealth of influences distilled into a sonic alchemy and this track in particular would make a strong single choice with its radio friendly sound.

Even, the third track released so far, shows another side to their musical oeuvre. It’s built around a crystal-clear picked acoustic guitar motif and subtly insistent drums that gather complexity and intricacy as the arrangement gradually expands. The tribal tom-tom patterns give the sound a driving, potent momentum, contrasted by the gentle rhythmic rustle of tambourine.

From its opening bars, the music has a memorable quality. The haunting, seductive vocal melody on the intro immediately casts a spell on the listener once again. Andrew Amsden’s guitar work particularly shines on this track, a symbiotic blend of subtle acoustic and electric guitars that merge seamlessly.

Once again, the U2 of The Joshua Tree era comes to mind, and the understated musical backing really allows Mark Pearl to give a truly expressive performance, full of extemporisations. His vocal gymnastics always serve the song and as the song swells to its climax, the most emotive anthems of Coldplay are another apposite comparison, along with shades of George Ezra.

Overall, these three songs from Sunset Closeup show a new group emerging with a fully formed creative vision and signature sound. The combination of producer and guitarist Andrew Amsden’s various talents with Mark Pearl’s powerful and cathartic vocals results in a consistent musical synergy.

All three songs are first rate, managing to balance artistic integrity with commercial viability and any of them would make good single release for radio. I, for one, cannot wait to hear a full length album from Sunset Closeup and this initial material should help them deservedly build up an adoring and devoted fanbase.

VERDICT = 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

ARTIST AWARD: Tony Newton

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TNT Xtreme’s music visionary, legendary composer-bassist-keyboardist-vocalist-producer, Tony Newton, is a musician’s hall of fame member who has performed on over 100 gold and platinum hit recordings. He can lay claim to playing on hits by Michael Jackson, Diana Ross & The Supremes and Stevie Wonder, amongst many others. Two of Tony’s Gold records were for his first renowned group, The Eighth Day, for She’s Not Just Another Woman and Crawl Before You Walk.

Tony played on several Number One hits: Where Did Our Love Go, Baby Love and Stop in the Name of Love by The Supremes, as well as Nowhere To Run by Martha and the Vandellas. He studied piano with teachers of Debussy and Donanyi and had the same composition & theory teacher of Frank Zappa, Dr. Matt Doran.

Acclaimed for his dynamic work with the famed jazzrock- fusion group, the Tony Williams Lifetime, Newton, one of the original architects of jazzrock-fusion penned the classic compositions, Snake Oil, Red Alert, and others. Tony also performed and composed with legendary guitarist and friend Robby Krieger from The Doors on Robby’s solo CD, Cinematrix.

Newton has a long musical history, participating on many hit recordings and tours, throughout his long and prolific musical career. Robby Krieger has famously referred to Tony Newton’s writing skills as “the Holy Grail of Rock & Roll or Jazz or any medium you can think of.”

This year, 2020, Tony Newton has received the Artist Of The Year Vision Award For Excellence, Innovation, Originality and Musicianship from the Academy Of Music Arts. He was given the award at a ceremony on April 24th. After an introduction from the hosts, Tony appears via video link and gives an inspiring, emotional speech about what a great era it is to be an independent artist.

He describes how he’s been able to follow his heart and pursue his spiritual vision of writing, performing and producing innovative music. His inspirational motto is, “Anything is possible”. He talks about how winning the award has inspired him to explore and expand, to an even greater depth, his musical creativity and to reach new fans around the world as he continues to achieve his musical goals.

He then performs a live rendition of his epic track Follow Your Heart, taken from his album White Light Collection (you can read my original review here). This is actually the shorter version of the song at eight minutes long and he’s backed by a highly talented group of musicians and backing vocalists.

It’s the perfect showcase for Tony’s unique Rock-Funk Fusion as well as a truly uplifting message. Tony gets to display his considerable virtuosity as a bass player, playing a 6-string bass. The music takes us through so many sections from the taut and funky verse to the gospel-infused final section. He really shines as a vocalist in this climactic part of the song and it was the ideal choice of material for this occasion.

Overall, this is a richly deserved award for a genuine music legend whose career spans all the way back to playing on classic Motown records and who now has developed a musical style all of his own. He’s a special artist who understands the spiritual power of music and uses it to uplift and inspire, so it’s gratifying to see him get such plaudits and well earned recognition from his peers.

 

VERDICT = Legend!

Alex Faulkner

Watch the award presentation ceremony here:

 

ARTIST REVIEW: Tamaskin

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Tamaskin is a pop/RnB artist, a singer, rapper and songwriter originally hailing from Charleston, South Carolina. For a while Tamaskin has been leading somewhat of a double life, attending the College of Charleston on the one hand then experiencing the celebrity lifestyle by attending numerous music award shows, fashion shows and A-list parties. This has giving him a rounded, worldly view of life which has influenced the music he makes.

He’s also influenced by the great recording artists in musical history and forged his own artistic style that he calls ‘moonlight music’. This is an apposite phrase for the often languid, seductive vibe of his music which combines RnB, pop and rap into a unique fusion. He first released an EP called Undefeated and in July, 2019 released his debut full length album, Murder Mountain.

This ten track album showcases Tamaskin’s many talents as vocalist, rapper and songwriter. It contains numerous highlights from the brooding, orchestral dubstep-influenced RnB title track, the anthemic laid back groove of Road and the harder hitting intensity of Crazy.

Other highlights for me were Let Go, which alternates rap sections with a female sung chorus, the powerful Dim My Light with its gospel-tinged backing vocals, the mellifluous and inventive rapping of Love Yourself and the classy closing RnB ballad Black and White.

Overall, Tamaskin is a versatile and multi-talented modern RnB artist that has everything it takes to hit the big time. With an excellent debut album in the bag, new fans should also check out the footage of his live performances on his website. I predict a very bright future for this artist.

 

Visit his official website HERE

Visit his Instagram HERE

ARTIST REVIEW: SharaLee

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SharaLee is a singer and songwriter hailing from Canada. She was born into a very musical family where every member played an instrument or sang, and SharaLee made her debut singing on stage at just five. She developed into recording demos then her own songs, with Postcards her first album of original material.

This led to writing with Mark Zubek, with their co-written song Together Again winning an Akademia award and considered for an Etta James biopic. She is strongly influenced by the great soul and Motown artists of the past but also loves pop, rock, gospel and country western music.

These eclectic influences become apparent through listening to the various songs she has made available online on her artist page. The first track Fall Down is a powerful introduction to her work, an epic ballad that brought to mind artists like Adele and Amy Winehouse. Like them, SharaLee has a soulful, strong voice full of character as well as considerable range.

She sings near the top of her register on this one, depicting a heartbroken lover over terse, rhythmic strings and brooding bass. The song is about those who have built their lives with a “wall of lies” and how it eventually catches up with them. The opening lines capture the sense of personal pain: “My heart was broke when you walked away like a hit and run.…”. SharaLee‘s vocal performance is highly emotive and it remains captivating until the final bars which are performed ‘a capella’.

Her love of Motown and soul comes to the fore in the excellent Deja Vu. It’s a ballad in 6/8 time and, as with Amy Winehouse’s Back To Black album, it effectively recreates the magical Motown sound. The feel of the music is very authentic with the unmistakable sound of musicians playing their instruments, an unfortunate rarity in this era. SharaLee’s vocals are more gentle and tender here, crooning a beautiful melody augmented by backing harmonies, along with strings and brass.

She shows another side to her musical persona with the funky pop of Now. Built around a slick groove that brought to mind George Michael’s classic Freedom, it’s propelled by a pulsing bassline and interspersed with moody organ. The catchy chorus hook latches in the memory upon the first listen and the detail in the music means this great track stands up to repeated listens.

Don’t Need A Hero is another superb piece of songwriting with a ballsy, brass-led soul sound and an epic chorus. The rich sound of the organ and picked guitar lines reminded me of The Animals’ perennial classic House Of The Rising Sun, especially with the blazing organ solo after the second chorus. This one is my personal favourite.

You Can’t Stop Me showcases the more modern pop side to her songwriting though retaining the emotional punch that is a consistent feature throughout her music. It alternates between a sparse verse and defiant, uplifting chorus which again soon sticks in the memory. Her ability to write memorable and convincing choruses is testament to her skills as a writer. You can imagine an artist like Taylor Swift having a huge hit with this song.

The aforementioned Together Again is the last song on her artist page and it’s another well crafted soul ballad that made me think of Carole King’s great songs of the late 60’s and 70’s. With an excellent arrangement, SharaLee excels vocally here especially on the skyscraping chorus. It’s a truly wonderful song and deserved the awards and plaudits it has received.

Overall, SharaLee has written and performed some first rate soul songs in the course of her career that deserve recognition and a wide audience. She writes accessible and easily relatable songs that stand out from the crowd due to their musically authentic sound, emotional depth and SharaLee’s distinctive singing. Motown and soul fans will particularly appreciate her work but her appeal is truly universal.

VERDICT= 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen here:

ARTIST REVIEW: Attack in the 26th Zone

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https://attackinthe26thzone.com

Attack in the 26th Zone (a.k.a. Sue Sue Vessell) is the moniker of an electropop artist hailing from Finland. Her first ventures in music began in 2009, when she posted a few songs on Finnish music forums which were received with acclaim and positive feedback. Although she is essentially autonomous and writes and records everything herself, she has since collaborated with producers in the area of mixing her music .

Her debut single, Shower Power, was released in 2017 and her unique, distinctive sound is self evident from the start. Over a sparse yet highly effective, drowsy electro beat, her breathy, lilting vocals float over the evocative soundscape like a cross between Bjork and Lana del Rey. Indeed, the latter comparison is apposite as there is a similar sensual aspect to this music (“Your head between my legs….”) and the vocal melody brought to mind Suzanne Vega’s classic Toms Diner. An excellent first single that is fully realized in its artistic vision.

Second single Black Horse Badge is more radical and original, an electro-industrial hybrid that bursts from the speakers in a complex melange of rhythms, sound effects, ghostly synths and ethereal vocals. This track rivals Bjork at her most avant garde and is one of the most unique pieces of music I’ve heard for a while. A brave and fascinating follow up to her first release.

Her most recent single was released this month, How Long Was The Wind Blowing, and it’s perhaps her most commercially accessible song so far. The vocal melody has a particularly mesmeric effect and it retains the spectral, highly atmospheric vibe of her first two singles, the music proceeding at a languid and dreamlike pace.

The way the music breathes and grows organically across the track’s duration is skilfully done, taking the listener into an alternate sonic universe. This transcendental aspect is a such a rare thing in modern music, and special credit should go to the epic production which achieves its ambitious aims and sounds cutting edge.

Overall, these first three singles represent a trifecta of high quality releases that are subtly different but all drenched in a potent signature sound. With the mystique that Scandinavian artists seem to carry, Attack In The 26th Zone could find herself conquering a huge amount of worldwide territory with her intoxicating songs and alluring, enigmatic persona.uh

 

VERDICT =  8.7 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen here:

Watch here:

ARTIST REVIEW: DJ Kazo

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http://www.djkazo.com

DJ Kazo (Kalvis Ozolins) is a 22 year old Latvian electronic artist, currently residing in Ireland. His genre is essentially EDM, but more specifically he combines the euphoric aspect of traditional trance with the modern vibe and production style of acid techno to create his own sound. Heavy bass and psychedelic effects are also a constant feature in his music.

He has so far released four singles across 2017/18: Sinners, Psychedelic Damage, State Of Trance and Addicted, the latter two being released this year. DJ Kazo’s music is tailor made for the dancefloor and the first thing that strikes you is the high quality production that must sound fantastic in a club environment.

Sinners bursts out of the speakers with a biting four-to-the-floor kick drum and low-end synth/sub bass, before the track starts to build with atmospheric trance sounds that crescendo to fever pitch with a lengthy riser. After a brief breakdown we launch back into the beat, with a mysterious female vocal floating into the mix that brought to mind the acid house classic Voodoo Ray by A Guy Called Gerald.

Psychedelic Damage, as the title implies, shows a more expansive and psychedelic to his oeuvre. With a complex, syncopated kick and snare beat, it fuses morphing, squelchy synth sounds with subtle synth chords. A leading saw-wave riff starts to emerge along with a pulsing, simple but highly effective bassline. There’s not a dull moment in this constantly inventive track.

State of Trance lies somewhere between the two styles, with the relentless four-to-the-floor techno of Sinners melding with a trancy, atmospheric and psychedelic vibe that gradually unfolds across the duration of this instrumental track. This has a darker sonic mood than Sinners, perfect for 3am in the clubs. The sound and production is cutting edge.

His most recent release, Addicted, develops his nuanced style a little further, balancing the hard techno edge with spacey sounding synths and eerie, disembodied vocal samples that add to the hypnotic vibe, which is the essence of trance. It builds to an intense climax at the two minute mark, then sustains momentum till the end.

Overall, in the space of just four singles, DJ Kazo has forged his own unique signature style. This is impressive considering the difficulty of standing out in the dance music world and his relatively young age. He’s already developed a sizeable fanbase, and he has the potential to become the next big thing in the overall EDM scene, but particularly in the techno/trance genres.

VERDICT: Could become the next big thing in EDM!

Alex Faulkner

Listen here:

 

ARTIST REVIEW: Susan G

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Susan G is a singer and songwriter hailing from Seattle. She possesses an authentic, rich soul voice and you can hear the influence of classic soul singers like Etta James and Mavis Staples, along with modern pop singer/songwriters like Sia and Sara Bareilles. Musically, she fuses the retro-soul sound of Amy Winehouse with 90’s pop/RnB to create a unique synthesis.

In 2009, she released her first album The Way To Here and then the single No Room For You in 2014. This was followed by the Some Freedom EP in 2016, featuring the classic song A Better You, which became regularly featured on IHeartRadio. The same year she experimented with a more urban sound, releasing the single Need You Here featuring the rapper Redhead.

In terms of live performance she has shared the stage with Colbie Caillat, Sony artist Ryan Cummings, The Voice’s Austin Jenckes, Zarni de Wet, amongst many others as well as selling out venues all across Seattle. She is due to release another album later this year, and her YouTube Channel is helping her reach a wider audience, featuring a mix of original material and covers of well known songs.

Usually she performs with just vocals and keyboards, and I particularly enjoyed her interpretations of The Weeknd’s I Feel It Coming, her cover of I Fall Apart by Post Malone and a haunting rendition of the Amy Winehouse modern classic Back to Black. She also does excellent versions of well known hits like the ubiquitous Shape of You by Ed Sheeran and Look What You Made Me Do by the current Queen of Pop, Taylor Swift.

But it is her own original material that showcases what a great talent she is. The epic six minute ballad Push and Pull had me enthralled from start to finish and the lilting Unafraid, featuring the guitar talents of Skylar Mehal, is another fine piece of songwriting that could appeal to country audiences. Indeed, she has the potential to appeal right across the musical spectrum.

Overall, Susan G has everything it takes for major success in terms of singing ability and image. If her upcoming album is as strong as her previous work, there’s no reason why her fanbase won’t increase exponentially. Her soulful yet modern sound is perfect for the times. This could be a name you’ll be hearing plenty of in the future.

VERDICT: One To Watch!

Alex Faulkner

www.instagram.com/susangmusic