E.P. REVIEW: Tilt by Acharya

Attachment_1540659415.jpeg

https://www.facebook.com/acharyaband/

Acharya are an emerging avant/alternative pop band from Northern California, consisting of Josh Grayem (lead vocals/guitars) and Daniel Blackburn (drums, percussion). This duo are the creative hub, but Acharya are also a musical collective which feature contributions from other musicians. A few months back I reviewed the title track of this five-track EP which was produced by Dryw Owens.

Their music is essentially cerebral alternative pop/rock that combines the sound of intelligent 80’s/90’s groups like Depeche Mode,  Joy Division, Tears For Fears and Talk Talk with the modern production and style of alternative bands like Nothing But Thieves, The xx and Alvvays, as well as aspects of The Killers.

Opening track Spearhead is a fine introduction which establishes their signature sound; a musical bedrock of interweaving, angular guitar and synth lines that manages to be complex yet uncluttered, with arrangements that are structured to allow the music to breathe. This sets the scene for Josh Grayem’s rich, distinctive low-register vocals which bring to mind Dave Gahan, Roland  Orzabal and Brandon Flowers.

Just as Joy Division’s music somehow captured the bleak landscape of post-World War II Manchester, the juxtaposition of human elements with synth and production technology somehow mirrors the modern world in Acharaya’s music, akin to Radiohead on OK Computer.

Lyrically, this disparate and disjointed feel is conveyed through taut, focused single lines in succession that bring to mind William Burroughs’ cut-up technique, employed by David Bowie and Kurt Cobain. Spearhead appears to be about capitalism and big business: “Aspirations rise to the top, commitments made that won’t be fulfilled …Spearhead, your target market makes it so hard to choose….”.

I’ve already given my views on the excellent title track Tilt (which you can read here) but, for the uninitiated, it’s a great starting point for listening to this band. Musically, it resurrects the majestic synth rock melancholy of Depeche Mode circa Enjoy The Silence and updates it with slick, but still edgy, modern sounds and production techniques. “Hang your coat and let this great wall crumble…” seems an apposite line for this troubled era.

Third track Vigilance maintains the brooding intensity, this one based around a pulsating low-end guitar line and featuring some highly effective vocal harmonies. The tension of the verse is released in the Idlewild-esque cathartic chorus, with lyrics that are somehow vivid yet opaque: “First cry comes and you feel the cost, the elation creeping up your neck…”. The syncopated section after the second chorus is simply brilliant.

The following Stand sets itself apart through featuring guest lead vocals and piano from Rachel Wagner on the verses (and later combining on the choruses). Her crystalline voice made me think of Liz Frazer (Cocteau Twins) and it acts as a nice contrast to Josh Grayem’s. The lyrics are angst-ridden but stoic: ” This is time for struggle, lines blur, grinding knuckles, so thin, most left wanting, brave this with confidence and pride…”

Last track Continuum (featuring Matt Coate on bass) starts out as the most minimalistic song here, creating an accumulative momentum through repetition, which perfectly fits with the opening  lyrics: “Minimize the micro, and the size is so small…”. Having started out in 6/8 time it then gets sucked into a black hole section halfway through. After emerging on the other side there’s another verse in 6/8, then the music unexpectedly switches to a final section in 4/4 time to bring the EP to a suitably epic close.

Overall, with this EP Acharaya have already cemented their artistic sound, style and identity.  They have managed to transcend their influences to create futuristic alt. rock music that belongs completely to 2018, both musically and lyrically. I expect this band to make big waves on the alternative scene and can’t wait for a full length album.

 

VERDICT = 8.8 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

Listen here:

Advertisements

E.P. REVIEW: Flowoasis by Jupiter Gray

Jupiter gray.jpg

Jupiter Gray is a rapper, singer and hip hop/RnB artist who identifies as a trans woman and comes from Columbus, Ohio. She has been noted as an upcoming influence on the LGBT scene and has featured with fellow artists like Cakes da Killa, Azealia Banks, Mykki Blanco and Dai Burger, amongst others. She has performed at various musical festivals including Comfest, Pride Festivals and many more.

This EP, Flowoasis, is her debut and consists of six tracks. It begins with the powerful spoken word track I AM a Woman and many of the tracks deal with the issue of her gender identity. Next comes the title track, and it’s a superb piece of RnB infused hip hop where Jupiter showcases her skills as both a singer and rapper. Starting with the catchy vocal hook, she delivers the verses with a fluent lyrical style, full of inventive rhymes.

Queen Pinnin is equally good, a hard hitting hip hop track with an infectious groove. Jupiter’s rapping here is as good as any of her hip hop contemporaries, laying down clever, slick lines with effortless ease and seamless flow. Her lyrical style is aggressive yet always closely controlled, giving every track potency and intensity. High Note (ft. Kidd Misfit) is incendiary; Jupiter and Kidd Misfit trade verses and their styles complement each other perfectly. My personal favourite on the EP.

Trouble in Paradise (ft. Terrance Damien) is one of the more RnB influenced tracks, featuring a super catchy vocal refrain. Here, it’s the singing voices that complement each other rather than the rapping style. Final track Runaway is another fine, though shorter, RnB track with a languid beat and a compelling vocal performance from Jupiter, aided by some futuristic cutting-edge production.

Overall, this is a brilliant debut EP from a passionate and gifted artist, adept both at singing and rapping. Her background and gender identity make her an artist very relevant to the current cultural zeitgeist, but most importantly she has several killer tracks that will help make her mark on the hip hop scene. You might well be hearing the name of Jupiter Gray a lot in the future.

 

VERDICT: 8.8 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

E.P. REVIEW: No Flight nor Fear by MajorTommy

500x500.jpg

MajorTommy is a pop singer/songwriter who admirably prefers to let his music do the talking. All we know about him so far is that Major is a nickname he has had for a long time. His music is best described as sophisticated pop akin to Coldplay and Sam Smith, though vocally he sounds more similar to a cross between OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder and the throaty vocal style of Jon Bon Jovi..

This EP, No Flight nor Fear, consists of four tracks, all produced to a very high standard. The opening song Honey begins with pulsing Viva La Vida-style low end strings (a 60 piece orchestra recorded in London) which sets the tone for the entry of Tommy’s distinctive and captivating lead vocals. The lyrics are inventive and slightly ‘off the wall’ for mainstream pop: “We made another funny home made video, we keep on laughing at the story even though it ain’t that funny and our jokes, they kind of blow….”.

It’s an original way of approaching a love song, and leads to a strong, anthemic chorus. The tracks builds up in the second verse and truly explodes during the second chorus, the sound as big as Coldplay or U2 at their most epic. It’s an excellent song and an obvious choice as the lead single from the EP.

The high standard continues with second track Tell Me, a more mellow and melancholy ballad that starts with a tapped bass guitar arpeggio. Tommy’s vocals here are more gentle and sensitively delivered, showing his artistic versatility. The languid pace and sparse arrangement allows the vocals to shine and the emotional resonance of the lyrics to be conveyed: “I know that it’s certain we won’t stay the same if you won’t tell me anything…”. A touching song that many people will relate to, with some fine extemporizations towards the end.

The following Slow Motion is another ballad but this one takes us back into the realms of the epic. It’s a huge emotive love song that wears its heart on its sleeve, Tommy giving a stellar vocal performance comparable to Bon Jovi’s wedding song classic Always. The strings again play a strong supportive role, with a swirling Toxic-esque arrangement. Another potential single, undoubtedly.

I Don’t Wanna Go is another very well written that sits halfway between the previous tracks. Starting with flowing classical-influenced piano and strident use of strings, it gradually develops into a powerful pop track that brought to mind the Will Young classic Your Game, with another standout vocal performance. Lyrically, it’s a hugely emotive and honest depiction of the internal conflicts that many relationships encounter. Remarkably, for the last song on an EP, this is again a potential single.

Overall, this is an extremely impressive four songs from a currently enigmatic artist whose music can stand on his own merits. As a songwriter, he has emerged fully developed and is blessed with a charismatic and recognizable voice. With a radio friendly sound and flawless production, he has everything it takes to compete with the mainstream pop luminaries of this era.

 

VERDICT: 8.6 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen here:

 

E.P. REVIEW: Chutney Chasers by aVIE

ALBUM COVER.04 (2)(1).jpg

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

 

Listen here:

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

AlbumcoverFront_Resized.jpg

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

 

Listen here:

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

Front_Uncle_Brent_Another_Round_2.png

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

 

2550x1440

 

 

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

IMG7802.jpg

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

Listen here: