E.P. REVIEW: Satisfied by Ashley J

Satisfied EP Art_preview

http://ashleyj.net

Ashley J is a singer and songwriter in the pop/EDM genre, originally from Texas. As a child, she grew up listening to singers like Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, Christina Aguilera and Michael Jackson, as well as country stars like Johnny Cash. Her burgeoning love of music and songwriting eventually led to recording a couple of dance tracks in L.A., with Cali reaching the top 10 of the Billboard dance chart.

After a single, Unbreakable, reached no. 2 on the European Independent Music Charts, she released Trapped last year, which spent five weeks at no. 1. That song features on this 5-track EP, Satisfied, with the main track being Like You Used To. The EP has been written with her producers Lucas and Adrian Rezza, with a contemporary pop/EDM sound.

Trapped, which opens the EP, is a classy track which showcases Ashley J’s fine voice and excellent range. It’s an incredibly catchy piece of pop with a hook that latches into the memory immediately and you can see why it spent so long at no.1 in the EIMC charts last year.

The title track, Satisfied, has more of a foot in the EDM world, more specifically the dancehall genre popularized by artists like Major Lazer , blended with aspects of house music. It builds like any good dance track should, with another earworm title hook. Unbreakable is another track that finds the perfect midway point between EDM and well crafted pop songwriting, this one with an upbeat, summery feel that fits the timing of this release.

The lead track off the EP comes next, Like You Used To. It’s a slightly slower track than the rest with an R&B feel that broadens her commercial appeal still further. A superbly crafted and performed track, it starts out with the irresistible chorus and maintains its addictive quality throughout. It’s a song that Rihanna and Beyonce would both be proud to put out, and that bodes well for its commercial success.

The final song, When I Come Home To You, shows a more sensitive side to her songwriting, singing about a romance where they are “sending letters like we’re young schoolkids“. It’s a song that could have easily worked as a ballad, but it’s been produced in a similar vein to the rest of the EP. This combination of traditional songwriting with an EDM vibe has proved hugely popular in the last couple of years, and it should work for Ashley J too.

Overall, this is a very strong five-track EP, headed by the excellent Like You Used To. With production that makes it both perfect for radio and the dancefloor the commercial potential is enormous, and Ashley J has a voice that’s distinctive enough to stand out from the crowd. With a suitably glamorous image to go with the songs, she undoubtedly has what it takes to become a globe-conquering pop star.

 

VERDICT: 8.4 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen here:

 

Advertisements

E.P. REVIEW: World Of Illusions by Reflected Illusions

a3965319325_10

http://reflectedillusions.net/

Reflected Illusions is the musical brainchild of composer/producer Rez from Toronto, Canada. This music project is in the Electro/Ambient/Experimental category with an emphasis on exploring sonic textures and atmospheres to create unique soundscapes.

The first album by Reflected Illusions, Psychosis, was released in 2004. After a quiet period, the EP Radio Waves was released in 2016, followed by Private Files Volumes 1 & 2 in the same year.

This year, 2018, sees the release of this five track EP, World Of Illusions. It begins with the four minute Narcotics, which is evocative from the start. Haunting, eerie strings combine with a simple but effective Rhodes-esque rising chord sequence.

Gradually, the sonic texture builds with subtle rhythmic patterns which become more prominent and develops into an intricate beat that drives the whole track forward. It is aptly named, as it has a mesmeric, drowsy and dreamy quality that someone on narcotics may experience! It ends with just the disembodied strings floating away, as if into outer space.

This sense of otherworldliness continues into the title track, which comes next. This one is like a very blissed out version of EDM, with a steady four-to-the-floor beat kicking in after a spectral introduction of icy synths. The syncopated, filtered synths allow the kick to breathe, while a tapestry of melodies weave their way in and out to create a hypnotic and compelling sonic journey.

This flows seamlessly, no doubt by design, into the psychedelic sound world of Waterfalls of Babylon. The magical, swirling and echoing synth sounds that reminded  me of The Orb’s ambient classic Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld. A complex glitch beat gradually starts to evolve across the track, which works as a nice contrast after the relative rhythmic simplicity of World of Illusions.

Fourth track Overdose is darker, with moody low-end organ and a fuzzy toned ominous sounding bassline over a sparse, angular rhythm and enigmatic Rhodes chords. Again, its an interesting contrast to the preceding tracks and perhaps the most mysterious one here, bringing to mind the more ambient moments of Radiohead .

The final track is Hydrocodone, which sonically manages to sound like the previous four tracks blended together. It fuses spacey, crystalline synths with darker edged low end synths and a haunting, sombre chord progression over a skittish, restless rhythm. The suspenseful atmosphere it creates keeps the listener gripped until the end.

Overall, this is a fascinating musical journey that takes the listener into some unchartered sonic territory, like all good art should do. It is impressive how cohesive and seamless the five tracks work together in a synergistic way. For those looking for high quality and original ambient music, look no further.

 

VERDICT: 8.8 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

Listen here:

E.P. REVIEW: Knock 3 More Times by Bad Marriage

13393898_1711947199065344_6977505916494460905_n

www.BadMarriageMusic.com

Bad Marriage are a five-piece classic rock band hailing from Boston, MA. The band consists of Jon Paquin on vocals, Mike Fitz and Ian Haggerty on guitars, Todd Boisvert on bass and Michael Delaney on drums. Their sound is influenced by great rock bands from the 70’s era like Led Zeppelin, AC/DC and Aerosmith and 80’s rock like Van Halen and Guns ‘n Roses. They have the honour of being awarded “Best of 2017” by Classic Rock Magazine and have accrued a large fanbase.

This EP, Knock 3 More Times, consists of six songs and begins with the title track. Starting with an irresistible Led Zep-style low-end riff, you know from the opening lines that this band are the real deal: “Standing at the bar at a shotgun wedding, giving everybody a piece of my mind…”. Jon Paquin has the vital ingredient for any rock band worth their salt; an awesome voice.

His style is halfway between Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, Bon Scott and Robert Plant, with a great vocal range. Just as importantly, Bad Marriage know how to write great rock anthems, not just write cool sounding riffs like the lesser of their contemporaries. After an infectious verse, the song bursts into a cracker of a chorus, as catchy as the best AC/DC songs. A classic to kick things off.

That band comes to mind again with the slinky, sleazy thick guitar-riffage of Wizard of Love. It fits the lyrics which, in time-honoured rock tradition, are essentially letting the ladies know that a good time is very much on offer: “Your mama told you stories all about me, a rebel king to set you free, cos I’m the real McCoy, a dragon slaying boy….”. There’s a dry, knowing humour to the grandstanding that gives it charm. They deliver another anthemic chorus on this one, and the riff leading into the solo is fantastic.

Third track Be With You is a little more romantic in tone, digging emotionally a bit deeper with lines like: “I used to think that life was a game but now it’s breaking me down….”. They deliver another fist-pumping chorus, and I could detect the influence of Boston on this one, incidentally their home city.

Nay-Sayin’ Blues is back to the stomping 2/4 beat that gets people head banging and making ‘devil horns’. Lyrically, it’s a bit of a departure, a call-to-arms to stand up against the corruption in the world: “You left the truth far behind, there’s a trail of lies following you….now’s the time for revolution“. There’s some fabulous lead guitar worth sticking to the last seconds for.

Dead End Girl is another great song about women troubles, this one about a lady who’s a femme fatale, who can’t tell when she’s got something good going: “You’re fooling me with the tears you’ve cried, promises you can’t deny…”.

They bookend the E.P. with another instant classic, Old School Stereo. It’s another chunky, driving AC/DC-esque riff that provides the platform for a super fun song about the joy of listening to vinyl records on a jukebox. The addictive chorus sums up the theme nicely: “Turn up the new school music on the old school stereo…”. It’s a line that rather sums up the ethos of Bad Marriage; fusing traditional blues rock with modern lyrics and production style. This one must be a single if it isn’t already!

Overall, this is a consistently entertaining and enjoyable rock n’ rollercoaster ride of an EP that doesn’t have a dull moment. Taking the best parts of 70’s rock, they show consummate craft and flair in updating it for the modern age. In Jon Paquin, they have an authentically great rock voice, and the high quality of the musicianship backing him is self-evident to all who listen. This band deserve to be huge.

 

VERDICT: 8.9 out of 10 –

Alex Faulkner

Listen here:

 

E.P. REVIEW: Sukiyaki (ft. Alina Renae) by G.H. Hat

3_Track_EP_Cover

G.H. Hat is a composer, performer and producer hailing from Glendale, CA. For a while he was involved in the classical world, releasing almost 300 tracks. He then decided to venture into EDM and in 2016, he released his first two EDM/Triphop songs which crashed into the Soundcloud Top 50 and he found his music on many Spotify playlists.

He then did his first track with vocals, I Got A Problem (I Wonder….) ft. Mickey Shiloh. This achieved national billboard success, charting for ten weeks and peaking at no. 16 in the Dance Club category and a top 5 hit in the Hot Singles Sales category. He now has three quarters of his songs on Spotify playlists, and his music has found success in 45 countries.

This track, Sukiyaki, features the vocal talents of Alina Renae. She has had numerous tracks chart on Beatport (four top 10’s) and has racked up several million YouTube views and Spotify plays. The song is actually an EDM reinterpretation of the 1963 Billboard no. 1 hit, Sukiyaki by Kyu Sakamoto. This was the only Japanese song (sung in Japanese) to reach number one in the U.S. charts.

It start with pulsing synths and as soon as Alina’s powerful vocals enter, you know its going to be superior to the average EDM track. The way the arrangement builds is clever with subtle syncopated snare sounds on the verse that morph into a solid four-to-the-floor beat on the second half.

Breaking down for the anthemic bridge, it then crescendos with effective force before Alina holds an extremely long note while a catchy synth riff holds the attention. The music keeps building for the rest of the track, with the strong vocal melody providing the anchor.

The Not So Chill Version is a much more rhythmic interpretation, with a synth bassline that contrasts with the vocal melody in an interesting way. It doesn’t build in the same progressive way as the first version, but its constant rhythms make it perfect for the dancefloor. The electric guitar also gave the sound some added colour. The instrumental version let’s this guitar come to the fore, taking the lead vocal melody and allowing G.H. Hat to express his high level of ability on this instrument.

Overall, this is an excellent reinvention and reinterpretation of a lost classic from decades ago, with a distinctive vocal performance from Alina Renae. Hat’s production techniques are second to none and it balances a radio friendly sound with being perfect for the dancefloor. The Not So Chill version could become a club hit in itself and, with its cultural angle, this track should stand above the crowded market of EDM and become the potential sound of the summer.

VERDICT: 8.6 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen here:

E.P. REVIEW: Spectrum by The Bleeding Obvious

spectrumep

The Bleeding Obvious is the moniker and musical brainchild of singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Jessica Rowbottom, who hails from Yorkshire, England. She describes her music as theatrical electronica, which is a good attempt to broadly classify it. But her music is actually very varied and eclectic in style, due to her numerous influences.

She cites progressive rock like Genesis, pop artists like Elton John, Pet Shop Boys, and the more alternative Chumbawamba and Saint Etienne as influences. Her upbeat poppier tracks certainly capture the exuberance and uplifting vibe of the 80’s hi-NRG style. This is in evidence on this E.P., Spectrum. It contains five tracks, which are either remixes or reinterpretations of songs that originally appeared on her first two albums. These were her eponymous debut in 2016, and 2017’s Rainbow Heart.

As a genderqueer lesbian, Jessica often writes about issues regarding gender and sexual orientation and these are manifest in the opening Spectrum (Hacienda remix). This is an instant toe-tapper of a track, musically sounding like the Pet Shop Boys produced in the style of New Order (the Manchester group whose success funded the Hacienda nightclub).

Jessica’s vocal delivery is halfway between Neil Tennant in an extrovert mood and the late, great comedienne Victoria Wood, who she acknowledges as an influence. This retro style is combined with cutting edge, modern lyrics which are perfect for this liberal era, the catchy chorus running, “We’re on a spectrum, eccentric perfection…”. Combining risqué with the dryly humorous, it has the potential to become an anthem for the LGBTQ community.

Second track Wallflower (Classical reprise) is a stark contrast. This is a radically different version to the Wallflower that first appeared on her debut. It’s a poignant song about feeling isolated by your sexual/gender orientation is suited to this sparse but beautiful arrangement of piano and strings. It shows a deeper, more sensitive side to her songwriting as well as a musical sophistication which bodes well for her artistic longevity.

Third track Gender Babylon, continues a similar theme of dealing with repression and wanting to come out. Musically, this is just vocal, acoustic guitar and harmonica which concentrates focus on the powerful imagery of the lyrics: “Days at home, hiding the clothes, change in a layby hidden by shadows…”. Certain lines brought to mind the dry humour of Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker, especially: “Jennifer, Emily, Zoe or Lisa, pick a name and hope it suits ya…”. A very human and moving song.

Me, Myself and I shows her sophistication, with this song done in a jazzy, big band style. It’s a bittersweet ballad about refusing to be heartbroken by a relationship ending and embracing the freedom of being single again. It’s a song Victoria Wood would have been proud of, who didn’t only write humorous songs, and there’s a trace of her style in the vocal delivery. The vibraphone contribution truly lends a touch of class.

The E.P. ends on a very positive note with the sunny, optimistic pop of One Foot In Front Of The Other, which is a radio edit version of a song that first appeared on Rainbow Heart. The radio edit was a good idea, as this song is most definitely single material and perfect for radio.

With a throbbing bassline and irresistible vocal melody, it brought to mind the quirky, left-field pop of The Teardrop Explodes and I can’t give higher praise than that! Guaranteed to cheer you up however you’re feeling with its infectious energy, this could be the song that catapults her to a much bigger audience.

Overall, this is an excellent E.P. of seductive, sassy pop that skillfully balances the retro with the modern, the serious with the humorous, the uplifting with the melancholy and the commercial with a strong individual persona. The range of genres she covers gives her the edge over artists who corner themselves into a musical niche and her bravery in dealing with gender/sex issues makes her message highly apposite for these revolutionary times.

 

 

VERDICT: 8.7 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen here:


 

Visit the official website HERE

E.P. REVIEW: Calamity by Lesser Known Character

a0886057183_16

Lesser Known Character are a four-piece punk rock band (Pete and Nick on guitars, Carl on bass and Matt on the skins) hailing from Bristol, England. They list their influences as Propagandhi, Lagwagon, NOFX, Pour Habit, The Human Project and The Flatliners. You can also hear the slight influence of classic British punk groups like The Clash and The Buzzcocks, who both combined punk edge with melodic power.

While some groups hail their magnificence from the rooftops, Lesser Known Character take a more self-deprecating approach: “There are winners and losers in all walks of life. Those who are picked first and those left on the bench. After all their friends with talent had formed bands, these four were left on the bench….”.

This four track EP Calamity, released through Custard’s Punk (geddit?) Records shows that they are being more than a little hard on themselves. But that kind of humorous glorification in the persona of the “loser” is integral to the outsider outlook expressed by some of their favourite American punk bands and influences.

It begins with an intense minute-long track simply called Intro, and it does indeed act as an introduction and sets the abrasive mood nicely. A taut, picked guitar riff over restless hi-hats creates a brooding tension before launching into a full punk on onslaught, rapid fire drums joining forces with razor edge guitars.

It bleeds straight into second track Mark, Recall, Repeat which maintains the breakneck 4/4 pace of Intro. It’s a surging, extremely catchy piece of power punk that has more intelligent and thoughtful lyrics that some might not associate with this genre: “We weave chaotic tapestries from the thread right through my memory”. Pete Wentz would be pleased with a line like that.

The Fear Tree explodes out of the speakers at an even faster tempo, this time alternating between 2/4 and 4/4. I like how this band are both musically proficient but rough round the edges at the same time, as punk should never sound too slick, in my opinion. Final song, the title track, Calamity leans more towards heavy rock than punk bringing to mind groups like Red Jumpsuit Apparatus. The instrumental section is effective and inventive. It’s another strong track and makes for a good finale.

Overall, this is a fine EP from a band bursting with sonic energy and passion, who have developed their own musical style in a well established genre. In these times of political turmoil, the art and culture should reflect the times and so I hope Lesser Known Character make an impact on the anodyne musical mainstream. Ones to watch.

VERDICT: 8.2 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen here:

E.P. REVIEW: Hello Winter, Goodbye Winter by Michael Kang

a2919000050_16

Michael Kang is an instrumental composer hailing from Seoul, South Korea. His genre is essentially electronica, though he also uses sub-genres like toytronic and indie pop when classifying his music. This EP, Hello Winter, Goodbye Winter, is his first release and it was entirely, composed, arranged, performed, recorded and produced by himself. His style is melodic yet fairly minimalistic, comparable to instrumental composers like Vangelis and Jean-Michel Jarre.

The EP is a kind of depiction of the journey through winter and coming out of the other side. The first track A Winter Ballad is an interesting musical interpretation of the season, conjuring a sparse soundscape that depicts both the icy desolation and the spectral beauty.

A pan-pipe type sound takes the lead melody which is actually very distinctive and memorable. A vibraphone-style synth sound harmonizes the melody with some slightly unexpected chord changes. An evocative instrumental to start the EP.

Second track A Kind Of Dance Song is an interesting piece of music. Over an insistent piano chord progression that has shades of jazz in its chordal voicings, it has the hallmarks of the piano you hear in dance music but without the beat. In the upper register, we hear another memorable melody with a subtly inventive synth bass low in the mix, but filling out the sonic spectrum nicely.

As the track progresses, it develops into other sections aided by atmospheric swirls and whooshes. The chord progressions are again quite unusual and original, taking unexpected harmonic twists and turns. It’s an effective contrast to the more sedate and dreamy pace of A Winter Ballad. The final track on the EP is an alternative second version of A Kind of Dance Song, a more psychedelic approach in the music with a larger focus on other worldly sound effects that shows another facet to Kang’s musical palette.

Overall, this is a promising first EP from a composer who has plenty of musical ideas to express and shows a lot of potential for the future. While I’m not familiar with the musical climate of South Korea, I’m sure Michael Kang will eventually find a strong audience for his music and I look forward to hearing more from him in the coming years.

VERDICT: 7.4 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

Listen here: