E.P. REVIEW: Human Nature by Halogyns

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http://www.facebook.com/halogyns

Halogyns are an all-female, guitar based alternative rock/pop group hailing from St. George in Utah. The group formed only last year and consists of Kamry Thelin, Dana Fontaine and Mari Ericksen who are aged between 17-19. Despite their relative youth and newness as a group they sound as if they’ve been playing for years and have emerged with a fully fledged, distinctive sound and artistic persona on this EP. Musically, they are comparable to Haim, at times recalling the 90’s alternative group The Cardigans and even further back, Blondie.

This EP, Human Nature, consists of six tracks and from the first seconds of opening song, Take Me Under, you feel you’re listening to a group with something a bit special. Built around a hypnotic lead guitar riff and breaking into a Heart of Glass-style alt. disco beat, the next thing that captivates you is Kamry Thelin’s voice and emotive vocal style. Their music is a very modern blend of pop, alternative/indie and a distinct but understated dance influence.

Lyrically, it fits the slight melancholy feel of the music, encapsulating the beginning of a romantic relationship before feelings have been confessed. This is summed up succinctly in the chorus: “I wanna love you but I keep quiet, you radiate the waves so take me under. A beautiful, poignant song you can dance to, and a fine start to the EP.

Even better is Love Drug, a slightly moodier but equally infectious alternative pop track with a swinging feel. After an understated verse and brooding bridge underpinned with a pulsing bass line it builds to a fantastic chorus built on a hi-hat heavy dance groove (the drumming throughout the EP is excellent).

The chorus hook is superb and lyrically depicts the opposite of the previous song, expressing conflicted feelings about a difficult relationship: “We got history but you see that don’t mean anything at all…. you poison dreams with your love drug”….”. With its Nile Rodgers-esque funk guitars and addictive hook, this would make a perfect single.

Next is the title track which shows the band’s gentler side. Based on a picked acoustic and light electric guitar chord progression, Kamry delivers a moving vocal performance that brought to mind Stevie Nicks. Once again, the lyrics dwell on relationship issues with poignancy and insight: “Don’t know how to function when your love burns my skin, get it all together…why do I let you in?”. It’s a sophisticated and mature take on the difficulties of love, all the more impressive considering their age.

Control is a return to their alt. disco signature sound, this one propelled by a Stayin’ Alive type low-end guitar riff and an interlocking bass and drum groove. As with their other songs, this one is enriched with Haim-style backing harmonies, especially on the chorus. This song is about dealing with a domineering partner, something that will resonate with a lot of women (“I feel your control….it’s all I know…”). Another great track that is a possible contender as a single.

Break is another classy piece of songwriting, this one a mid-paced pop track full of gorgeous lilting melodies and rich vocal harmonies. They truly sound like the musical successors of Fleetwood Mac and Haim on this one in particular, and the delay drenched guitar riff is also highly effective, reminiscent of the guitar style used by U2’s The Edge.

The EP ends with the lead single What You Want. It features the group’s now familiar strengths, starting out with a strident four-to-the-floor beat on the punchy first verse. It’s underpinned by yet more propulsive guitar work and intricate, restlessly inventive drumming, serving as the backdrop for another heart-rending vocal performance from Kamry. Lyrically, it’s another conflicted tale which captures the torment of torn feelings and feeling alone in a relationship, yet finding strength in the process: “I found my own way….you’re no longer my weakness”.

Overall, this is a consistently brilliant EP from a young female group who have already mastered their musical style and sound. Showing a lyrical maturity beyond their years, they write affecting yet accessible alternative pop songs that will connect with many, given the chance. I get to review a lot of talented up and coming artists, but if I had to put my money on one act becoming the ‘next big thing’ it would be Halogyns.

 

VERDICT = 9.3 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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E.P. REVIEW: Born In The Wild by 308 Ghost Train

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https://www.308ghosttrain.com/

308 Ghost Train are a rock band with a difference. Although their music harks back to the classic rock of the 70’s and 80’s, they have a spiritual message behind their songs and a lyrical approach that is decidedly modern. The band is the musical brainchild of singer and songwriter POSI Award-winning songwriter and vocalist Anthony “Train” Caruso.

The band name refers to a Bible passage, the Gospel of John 3:8, which compares the Holy Spirit to the wind. That explains the ‘Ghost’ part and Train is Anthony’s nickname – referring to his stoicism and determination which comes across in his music. As a vocalist he has been compared to Bruce Springsteen, John Fogerty (Credence Clearwater Revival) and John Mellancamp, amongst others.

This EP, Born In The Wild, consists of five tracks and starts with the lead single 21 Guns and A Million Tears. It’s a powerful and highly emotive stadium rock anthem that brings to mind the uplifting anthems of Bon Jovi with the blue collar lyrical seriousness of Bruce Springsteen. Featuring a passionate and authentic vocal performance from Caruso, the song is about how veterans are treated after military service and the ones who lose their lives serving their country.

This is a subject dear to Caruso’s heart as he has served in the military himself and this shows in the conviction with which he delivers the words. The title refers to the 21 gun salute given at military funerals for those who lost their life in battle and the song poignantly begins with the sound of bagpipes. This breaks into punchy classic rock with a solid, meaty drum sound and a rich wall of electric guitar chords. Caruso has the strong and distinctive voice necessary to soar above the music, particularly on the fist pumping, instantly memorable chorus.

The lyrics pull no punches with the second verse beginning with these powerful lines: “There’s an oath every defender takes, dedication for freedom’s sake, they’d rather die in an unmarked grave so we can live in the home of the free and brave”. As with Springsteen’s Born In The USA, Caruso delivers a searingly critical message under the guise of a singalong anthem. it’s one of the best rock tracks I’ve heard for some time and an obvious choice for a single.

The next track Worn shows a gentler, more personal side to his songwriting. It’s an epic rock ballad that begins with picked acoustic guitar. The lyrics depict an emotionally troubled state but his underlying faith shines through: “I know I’m in the palm of someone’s hand…”. The song builds to another cathartic chorus with Caruso delivering at the top of his range. The final chorus is particularly emotive and you can imagine thousands singing along, relating to the words of spiritual struggle with empathy.

The title track Born In The Wild is the most light hearted song on the EP, an uptight rock song with a healthy dose of country, driven by rich organ. Once again, he displays his gift for writing killer choruses, which is one aspect that separates great songwriters from merely good ones, in my opinion. The chorus lyrics are as American as mom’s apple pie with the great tag line: “In the back of a Chevy, I was born in the wild….”.

I’ll Unbreak Your Heart is the band’s ‘lighters in the air’ ballad in a style comparable to Bon Jovi’s Always or Aerosmith’s classic I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing. As with all with his other songs the lyrics dig emotionally deeper than most, with lines like “feels like you’ve tumbled off a cliff in the dark… but I’ll catch you girl and unbreak your heart…”. The emotional power of the song is enhanced by the swelling strings and this would be another good choice for a single.

The final song on the EP is another one with a serious and important social message, This Is My Home. On the surface it sounds like a vintage piece of classic rock with an AC/DC style strutting chord progression. But under the hood is a moving and empowering song about a child fighting cancer. Cleverly starting from a perspective of meeting the girl, it flips to her perspective and she expresses her defiance in fighting the disease in the towering chorus: “You’re not welcome here, cos this is my home…..you’re the invader, I’m  the crusader, I’ll fight you off on my own…”.

As cancer has become such a blight on so many lives this is a hugely inspiring and uplifting song, especially to those battling against it or those with loved ones in this predicament. It’s particularly aimed at child sufferers, however, and the band will be filming the video for this song at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. A great way to finish.

Overall, this is a hugely enjoyable EP that resurrects classic rock n’ roll into the 21st century with a socially aware and spiritual lyrical approach. With the lead single, 21 Guns and a Million Tears, they have a modern classic on their hands but this EP is solid gold right the way through. Aside from Caruso’s singing and songwriting, credit should also go to the excellent musicianship from the rest of the band which functions as a tight unit. Hopefully 308 Ghost Train will reach the people in the numbers they deserve.

VERDICT = 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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E.P. REVIEW: Hello Clarice

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Hello Clarice are a two-piece alternative rock band hailing from Los Angeles. The group consists of Jonah Michea Judy on lead vocals and Andrew Amsden on guitar. Their music is a fusion of various alt. rock styles with elements of 90’s grunge bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden along with aspects of Radiohead, Placebo, Breaking Benjamin and The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus thrown into the mix. They are far more than just the sum of the influences, achieving a unique sound of their own on this EP, their first released material.

The EP consists of five tracks and leads off with the first single, Arms of The Fall. Starting with echo-drenched guitar, a brooding musical landscape unfolds setting the scene for the distinctive and evocative lead vocals of Jonah Michea Judy.

Fans of the film Silence of The Lambs will probably recognize the line that has inspired the band’s name, and it’s a suitable moniker as there is a definite darkness to both the lyrics and the musical moods they convey. This saturnine quality gives their music a gripping edge and is captured in such sombre lines as “I think I might have set myself up for a plunge to a hopeless place.” It’s an understated but very powerful opening track and a good choice as lead single from the EP.

Second track Longshot is another memorable song with a darkly surreal lyrical vibe that makes it feel like the musical equivalent of a David Lynch film. Starting with a haunting guitar figure, the music casts a hypnotic spell with the unsettling lyrics of the chorus leaving their imprint: “Daisy wears a white plastic fox mask…..now you’re just another signature on my cast….”. It’s this kind of evocative, poetic imagery that seems missing from the modern rock lexicon but Hello Clarice pull it off with consummate style. A real grower.

The third track Anymore is relatively lighter after the sturm und drang of the first two songs, based around a chord progression on strummed acoustic guitar. However, despite the relative levity of the sound, the nihilistic refrain of the chorus shows its still very much the same band: “Maybe I don’t care anymore….”. There’s a fine build up section after the second chorus featuring strong backing harmonies.

Fourth track Abrasion also starts with acoustic guitar but that acts like a Trojan horse as this is the heaviest song by far on the EP. After an intense, claustrophobic verse it breaks out into a colossal Soundgarden-style chorus augmented by a barrage of razor-edged low end guitar chords. Jonah Michea Judy sings with a Cobain-esque conviction at the top of his range and Andrew Amsden gets to really showcase his guitar skills, from Hendrix-like funky wah wah rhythm to a fantastic guitar solo that lifts the track even higher.

Final song Wake Me is a return to their signature sound; lush lead guitar lines working in perfect harmony with the lead vocals and another anthemic, memorable chorus that brought to mind the epic high points of Pearl Jam’s Ten album, Jeremy and Alive. Lyrically, it maintains the dark romantic beauty that is one of their great strengths: “As we’re dying please pretend with me the light still burns between us in our hearts….”. A suitably poignant and cathartic ending to proceedings.

Overall, this is a hugely impressive EP that sets the bar high for the future and deserves to make a major impact on the alternative rock scene. With consistently excellent songs that run the gamut emotionally and the X factor of Jonah Michea Judy’s charismatic and compelling vocals, Hello Clarice have got everything it takes. I’d be surprised if I hear a better rock EP this year and I, for one, eagerly await future material from them.

 

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10   

Alex Faulkner

 

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E.P. REVIEW: Coming Back Stronger by Patrick Carpenter

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Official website HERE

Patrick Carpenter is a singer/songwriter and guitarist from Jackson, Mississippi. He started out in music by wanting to emulate his guitar playing heroes such as Richie Sambora, Eddie Van Halen and Brad Paisley, picking up the guitar himself at just eleven. He has since developed into a singer/songwriter and launched himself as a solo artist in 2018. His music is essentially a combination of traditional country, mainstream pop, blues and 80’s-style arena-rock as personified by bands like Bon Jovi.

This EP, Coming Back Stronger, consists of six tracks and has already reached #13 in the ITunes chart, which is truly impressive for a debut release. It begins with the title track, an instantly memorable and enjoyable country rock track with an 80’s-esque stadium-rock drum sound.

Patrick is gifted with a strong and recognizable voice that’s easy on the ear and perfectly suited to the material. Featuring an anthemic chorus augmented by fine backing harmonies, it’s an uplifting song about fighting back against adversity. Towards the end, we get to hear his superb lead guitar skills which finishes off an excellent track nicely.

Second track Chance on Me is a more sensitive side to his songwriting, an epic six-minute country rock ballad in 6/8. It works as a showcase for his first rate lead vocals and musically, it’s enriched by warm organ and tasteful, controlled bursts of lead guitar, although he does allow himself to let rip a little towards the end. I Wish She Knew is another fine ballad based on a musical bedrock of piano and strummed acoustic guitar. This one is a more melancholy song about being unable to tell someone how they feel, a subject many will relate to.

Back Again is quite a contrast, a demo version of a song that combines country rock with a more electronic influence in the drums which gives it a modern sound. It’s another strong piece of songwriting and I’d be interested to hear the song in its complete production form.

The following Drink of You is my personal favourite on the EP, an infectious and up tempo country pop/rock track and perhaps the one with the most commercial potential of the songs here. Lyrically, it’s a twist on the current fad for country songs celebrating drinking, this time being a metaphor for being intoxicated by the effect of a desired woman. If this hasn’t been released as a single yet, it should be!

The final track Controlled Madness shows the influence of late 80’s stadium-rock with its use of a talk box, first made famous by Peter Frampton and employed on the Bon Jovi classic Livin’ On A Prayer. It gives the song a quirky edge that is unexpected, set to a great rock backing that brought to mind Neil Young’s Rockin’ In The Free World. A great way to finish.

Overall, this is a very strong set of songs that show the versatility of Patrick Carpenter as a songwriter, singer and lead guitarist. Taking country-rock and combining it with the classic stadium-rock sound isn’t an easy trick to pull of, but Patrick makes it seem natural and the result is a musical style that is both vintage and modern. With further material as good as this, the sky’s the limit for Patrick Carpenter.

 

VERDICT = 8.7 out of 10             

Alex Faulkner

 

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E.P. REVIEW: Tilt by Acharya

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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

 

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E.P. REVIEW: Flowoasis by Jupiter Gray

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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

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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

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