E.P. REVIEW: Chutney Chasers by aVIE

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aVIE is an RnB/electronica artist hailing from Houston. He had an itinerant childhood, which is partly the reason for the eclectic range of styles and genres that have influenced his music. He describes his music as Psychedelic/Punk RnB, which is accurate but he also incorporates dubstep, DnB and trap into his musical vision. He regards his influences as The Weeknd, Frank Ocean and Radiohead, amongst others.

This EP, Chutney Chasers, is his debut release and he describes the EP as a “story of a young colored man’s struggle with exotification, identity, addiction, anxiety and role”. It starts with the title track, a languid yet intense concoction of falsetto lead vocals with aVIE’s smooth-as-honey rapping style. Not many artists can claim such versatility as both singer and emcee, and aVIE’s gifts are the equal of similar artists like Frank Ocean. A fine start to the EP.

Tapwater shows another side to his oeuvre, starting out as fairly conventional RnB before developing into a fantastic hybrid of dubstep and DnB, with aVIE delivering his skills as a rapper once more for good measure. This is cutting edge 21st century pop, a futuristic meld of modern styles which aVIE pulls off effortlessly. The Self is another contrast, a hymnal, reflective track with some almost angelic lead vocals counter pointed with distorted spoken word sections.

New Feathers is another excellent track which again shows the influence of Frank Ocean. It’s exquisitely produced RnB with avant garde touches that lift it out of conventionality. Lyrically, it’s an inspiring song about personal transformation: “I’m cleaning the system, creating religion….”. A potential single.

Midnight Oil further consolidates his essential signature sound, an intoxicating melee of skittish rhythms and inventive production touches that somehow remains cohesive. The final Take Care is a beautifully melancholy acoustic ballad, beginning with strummed acoustic guitar and aVIE’s tender lead vocals, containing some troubled lyrics: “I’m drowning in alcohol…”. It builds gradually into a dark epic, reaching a cathartic climax at the end. A beautifully crafted and performed finale to the EP.

Overall, this is an absolute slam dunk of an EP by an artist who is fresh on the scene but whose artistic identity and style is fully formed. With soul searching, intelligent lyrics set to music of eclectic style, emotional depth and restless invention, aVIE has a lot to offer the music world and I expect Chutney Chasers to make a strong impact. I also predict that aVIE is going to be the next big thing in RnB, he’s simply destined for the world stage.

 

VERDICT: 9.2 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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E.P. REVIEW: Sinners and Saints by Calvin Rainwater

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Calvin Rainwater is a country singer/songwriter who was born and raised in Arizona. A musical child, he began playing guitar at just eight, learning to play by hanging out with local musicians and picking up riffs. For seven years he performed in a band with friends called Common Ground Country, which became very successful on the live circuit for several years but sadly the drummer was rendered disabled from a spinal deterioration disease.

Since then, Calvin has developed as a solo artist, performing at open mic/jam nights to great acclaim. He regards his main influences as country legends like Don Williams, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings and Keith Whitley, regarding himself halfway between Jennings and Gordon Lightfoot. This six track EP is his debut release.

It starts with the lyrically powerful title track, Sinners and Saints. It’s a very apposite song about religion, more specifically the moral hypocrisy of the Church. Starting with picked acoustic guitar and fiddle, Calvin’s rich, deep voice enters and it’s perfect for the material. The lyrics pull no punches in criticizing the Church: “They say I should love my brother while they backstab each other and they do it all for personal gain……the devil’s not the one to blame…”. A fantastic, bravely honest song about a subject that has never been more relevant.

Second song God Has Sent Me An Angel is a more traditional kind of country song, a deeply romantic ballad as the title implies. Calvin gives a sensitive and passionate vocal performance, convincingly portraying the feeling that you’re to blame for causing your loved one to suffer, perfectly encapsulated on the chorus: “God sent me an angel and I put her through hell….”. A very fine piece of well-crafted songwriting.

The lighter-hearted If We Could Go Fishing One More Time is poignant in a different way. It’s a nostalgic and reflective song about looking back to his childhood, when he went fishing with his father. It’s a subject many will be able to relate to, especially missing a loved one who has passed over. Even more movingly, the second verse imagines him on the other side, fishing with both his father and grandfather. Lovely song and a potential single.

Chloey Marie is another touching song, though this one is more upbeat and rockier, for the first time featuring distorted electric guitar. It’s about spending time with his daughter but in a difficult relationship situation with her mother, who has left them. Again, these kind of family problems are a subject many will connect with, and it’s one treated with honesty and sensitivity by Rainwater.

Fifth song Tonight I Told My Dream Girl Goodbye is a heartbreak ballad in the classic tradition. It captures the melancholy and anguish of a close relationship ending, with a particularly emotional performance from Calvin, especially on moving lines like, “If I die before I wake and I leave this world behind, I pray the Lord my soul to take ‘cos tonight I told my dream girl goodbye….”.

That’s the last track officially on the EP and its a fine way to close it, though there I’d also a bonus track called The Boulevard, co-written with Henry Mittnacht, Billy Playle and Matt Morgan-Shaw. It’s another one about a broken heart, but this one has a darker edge as the protagonist has turned to drink: “Maybe tomorrow things will change and the shakes will go away….”.

Overall, this is a first rate collection of country songs from an artist who bares his soul and sings honestly about both the good and bad things in life, like genuine artists always do. His songwriting style is mature and highly developed, plus he’s blessed with a voice that is strong and as authentic as his songs. This EP will win over many country music fans, especially those who appreciate songwriting that comes from the heart.

 

VERDICT: 8.9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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E.P. REVIEW: Another Round by Uncle Brent & The Nostone

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https://www.facebook.com/UncleBrent.and.theNostone/

Uncle Brent & The Nostone are a four-piece Americana band hailing from Austin, Texas. They have been together over a decade and have become huge favourites on the live circuit there, leading to plaudits including being nominated Best New Band in Presidential Glen. Uncle Brent is the front man of the group, contributing guitar and lead vocals, assisted by Jimmy Durham on lead guitar, Chuck Smith on bass and Emilio Ramos on drums.

This EP, Another Round, follows on from the 2015 EP, Bobbing For Crapples. It consists of two tracks in contrasting styles, Salt and Lime and Sarah’s Creek. The former is an upbeat country rock song that nicely showcases their strengths as a band. Uncle Brent’s assured, authentic vocals are backed up by some fine musical synergy from his band mates, sounding like a group that’s played together for years.

Lyrically, it’s a good-time ode to a wild night where the drinks will be flowing: “Senorita Margarita, won’t you come over tonight…”. The title, of course, derives from what people like to enjoy with their tequila, and you could imagine a packed bar loving this music. It has a nice middle eight breakdown section featuring some lush piano work, before blasting back into a succinct guitar solo and a couple of choruses to round it off. Great track.

The following Sarah’s Creek could not be more different, both musically and lyrically. Consisting of just guitars and vocal to begin with, Brent gives a sensitive and affecting vocal performance on a song about the difficult subject of child abuse happening undetected: “In that little house across the street in Sarah’s Creek, lives a monster of no good….”. It’s a powerful and moving song that builds to an emotional climax which feels cathartic. A very brave and well executed piece of songwriting.

Overall, this is a very fine EP that shows two different sides to this first rate Americana band. Salt and Lime is classic country rock guaranteed to get toes tapping, whilst Sarah’s Creek is poignant and deeply moving. Contrasting the good and bad sides to life is the role of the artist, and this band can feel very proud of their work. Assuredly a huge hit with their existing fanbase, this should also make them plenty more new ones along the way.

 

VERDICT: 8.6 out of 10 

 

Alex Faulkner

Visit the official website HERE

 

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E.P. REVIEW: there is no cure/they will be the death of me EP by Diveyede

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Diveyede is an alternative hip hop artist based in Seattle but from California. He regards himself as a “Style of No Style” MC as his lyrics are more poetic, contemplative and abstract than what is found in most hip hop. After touring with Rhymesayers in 2015, he began releasing an EP series called The Fallout. He is also now a member of the NW supergroup Oldominion and a founder of the CA trifecta The DynoNauts, and has shared the stage with many artists including Zion I., ill Methods, Mac Lethal and many more.

This EP, there is no cure/they will be the death of me, consists of six tracks. Although he regards his style as “no style”, to his credit he has forged his own signature sound, which combines dark but compelling Massive Attack-esque soundscapes overlaid with Diveyede’s thoughtful, philosophical and troubled lyrics.

First track, midnight thoughts on alki, is a fine example of this from the opening lines: “Staring into the iris of a fog, a beautiful virus….” and the chorus hook, “Bitter cold…I needed this walk, I needed this talk amongst my thoughts….” Second track, i lost my mind in seattle, is more dark and intense with a powerful, gripping performance from Diveyede. The hook is addictively catchy and Nirvana fans will appreciate the lyrical quote in the pre-chorus: “I love you, I’m not gonna crack….”.

The third track, confessional, is brutal in its unflinching honesty and self-laceration (“I’ve cheated on every girl I’ve ever f*****….”) yet still holds out for possible spiritual redemption: “Luck’s always been a lady till karma turned up, and I bleed my guts to the deity up above“. A gripping piece of music, dealing with the deepest themes of the human condition.

Fourth track, phoenix down, maintains the dichotomy of dark and light over a languid, yet unsettling musical backdrop. The chorus imagery hits home pretty hard: “Now she lays down to sleep and if I die she will resurrect my life….”. I could be mistaken, but this track could be about one of his major influences Eyedea, who tragically died in his sleep and was discovered by his mother.

The Fifth track, catacombs, is more aggressive and hard hitting, with a punchy lyrical delivery that brought to mind the track Ill Manors by Plan B. The wordplay and verbal gymnastics involved showcase Diveyede’s obvious gift as an original MC. It’s also where we get the EP’s title.

Final track, black winter, completes the musical journey as a ‘descensus ad inferos’ (descent into hell), with a haunting piano melody underpinning a bleak but captivating depiction of a troubled soul wrestling with his demons: “This is my black winter, the cold whispered to my soul and I let her...”.

Overall, this is a very fine EP that packs a considerable punch in terms of lyrical depth and musical force. His uniquely poetic yet urbane style sets him apart from the great majority of his hip hop contemporaries and deserves to be regarded as a serious artist with a lot to say about life and being human. In short, he shows that hip hop can make for great art.

 

VERDICT =  9.2 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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E.P. REVIEW: Evolution by EMBI

 

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https://www.facebook.com/Embi.Official/

EMBI, a.k.a. Michele Beneforti is a singer/songwriter and guitarist who was born in Tuscany, Italy, and currently based in Los Angeles. At 18, his band Hot Love Trio won competitions that allowed him to opening for members of The Doors and Robben Ford at national and international festivals. He then won a scholarship for the prestigious Berklee College of Music, earning a degree in performance, and a live performance of his song Highway featured on their official YouTube channel to great acclaim.

As EMBI, he has performed in Boston for 4 years and performed a set of entirely original material at Salem Jazz Festival. Simply as a guitarist alone he has made a strong impact, performing with the original all-female band of Beyonce and Gospel artists Phil Thompson, Freda Battle and Dorothy Norwood. This EP, Evolution, is his debut and consists of five tracks.

The aforementioned Highway opens the EP, and its musical sophistication is immediately apparent. Musically, it is a cutting edge blend of soul, RnB, pop and electronica, with a distinct jazziness to the complex harmonic progression. Starting with filtered synths, clean guitar and his distinctive, smooth lead vocals, it soon explodes into a huge chorus with a pulsing EDM beat.

It manages to be refreshingly different in its sound yet would not feel out of place on the radio, alongside Sam Smith and Justin Timberlake. His remarkably mellifluous lead guitar skills makes a few cameos, but wisely, he keeps this subtle in the mix where it is effective. A superb piece of modern pop, and the most obvious choice as a single.

Second track Over and Over (ft. Spnda) is a laid back but very catchy piece of soul/funk, with some very jazzy overtones. It brought to mind the Stevie Wonder- influenced Jamiroquai and EMBI’s vocal delivery also brought to mind 80’s soul/pop legend Maxi Priest. Hip-hop artist Spnda makes a brief but effective appearance with a succinct rap towards the end, lending the music an extra level of modernity and variety.

Brooklyn Lights is a nice contrast, a poignant song that shows his more sensitive and lyrical side, as shown on the excellent chorus: “Take me back where my sun will shine, from the city heart to the Brooklyn lights….”. It’s a track that’s clearly from the heart about needing a place to belong, a timeless theme of the human condition. He allows himself a brief display of guitar virtuosity towards the end, with some lovely melodic lines.

Fantasy World is another change of pace, this one a serious ‘state of the nation’ message with some powerful heavy rock dynamics: “The dark cloud is rising with violence, we shouldn’t be colour blind to live in peace…”. It initially develops into a powerful blues track that displays another side to his musical range, then changes gear halfway through, morphing into a funk section, then a spine-tingling spoken word passage that gives the track a striking emotional depth.

Cocoa Eyes, the final track, is a funky instrumental that allows him to express his musicality to the max, which, to his cred it, he has reined in on previous tracks. It has a smoky vibe, gradually building from an Albatross-style languid mood to a tight funk groove where his entire band get to enjoy a blow-out, whilst still keeping it controlled. A great way to finish the EP.

Overall, this is a fantastic debut from a very gifted songwriter and musician. He has a fine singing voice and the songs are well crafted and produced in a manner perfect for commercial radio. He manages to balance this with also forging his own sonic signature, which is no mean feat. It certainly won’t hurt also being a stellar guitarist, but it’s the voice and the songs that should ensure that EMBI becomes a huge success, and I expect this EP to kick start a meteoric rise.

 

VERDICT =  9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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E.P. REVIEW: Other Worlds by Drone Flesh

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Drone Flesh is an electronic artist/producer hailing from Zurich, Switzerland. His music is a unique hybrid of electro, house and dubstep or complextro, as he describes it. His primary musical interest is in “exploring different genres of bass heavy music that does not fit into a drawer”. He has already released several tracks including Do Not Touch, Risk Everything, Big Bad Bass and Petrified, to which I gave a very positive review in 2015.

In the intervening years he has developed and refined his style further, creating a futuristic sounding hybrid consisting of techno’s precise beats, dubstep’s punch and vitality and the sophistication of complextro. His musical raison d’etre is best surmised by himself: “Drone Flesh ignores the rules, controls the madness and turns the chaos into complexity.” This is very much self-evident on this four track EP, Other Worlds.

Opening track Be Yourself throws you into the deep end straight away, the musical equivalent of a rollercoaster ride. Pounding four to the floor kick drum competes with syncopated filter effects and tension-building risers before bursting into a full beat driven by a pulsating low end synth bass.

It goes into an excellent percussive section around the 1.30 mark that made think of The KLF’s acid house classic What Time Is Love? It has a similar sense of euphoria and momentum, maintaining the energy till the end. A barnstorming start to the EP and surely a hit waiting to happen on the dancefloor.

Second track Ride The Waves maintains the feverish intensity of Be Yourself, again propelled by a slick synth bass and a colossal, equally dubstep-inspired beat. It takes the essential sound of Deadmau5 and sends it into space, with interesting results on re-entry. Indeed, things takes a rather psychedelic turn around the halfway mark, before returning to its hard hitting roots.

It should be mentioned how Drone Flesh has raised the standard of his production to a fine pitch. Whilst his music always had a vitality and force, he has raised the bar even higher so that his beats and melodies burst from the speakers like Skrillex on PCP.

That’s actually a very adequate description of third track Hey, which is a joyous explosion of riotous rhythms and distorted, angular synth melodies. This one has a synth riff best described as mindblowing, incorporating vocal samples and sound effects with highly intoxicating and enjoyable results.

The title track of the EP is also the finale, accompanied by a video that’s well worth watching. It’s a slightly more mellow track than the rest, yet still hard hitting. The sonic textures again border on Dali-esque, with a cornucopia of chaotic sounds and melodies combining and synergizing. This is perhaps Drone Flesh in his purest form, ripping up the traditional rules and genres then morphing it all together to create something genuinely original. An apt way to complete the musical journey.

Overall, this is an inventive EP from an artist who has blended electronic genres in a way I’ve not heard anyone else doing, let alone with such panache and style. Owing to the danceable nature of the music, it has the potential to spread like wildfire in the clubs. Drone Flesh shows that the world of EDM is still full of exciting and barely explored sonic territory, and he is leading the way to something new.

 

VERDICT =  9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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Watch the video for Other Worlds here:

 

E.P. REVIEW: Satisfied by Ashley J

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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

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