ALBUM REVIEW: Origin of Times by Danjul

Screenshot-2018-3-31 Origin of times

 

Danjul is a singer songwriter and performer based in Los Angeles. He has been developing his music since 2008, when he started searching for producers to collaborate with. In 2010 he started working with Matthew A. Nelson, who intuitively understood him as an artist. He cites his influences as Michael Jackson, Brandy and Justin Timberlake, and I can also detect the influence of Prince in his work. However, Danjul has created his own unique style/sound during the three years he’s taken writing and producing his debut album Origin of Times. It’s a musically ambitious piece of work that consists of eight diverse tracks.

It begins with an atmospheric, minute-long spoken word instrumental that sets the tone for the whole album. Over echo-drenched piano and choral synths, Danjul lays his heart bare immediately, stating, “My life began surrounded by darkness, yet I’m still determined to find my light…..therefore, I share with you my greatest sacrifices……”. It’s a gripping and powerful way to begin an album.

City of Chaos, the second track, is a remarkable piece of songwriting and production. A fusion of electronica, rock, dance and RnB, it’s the musical equivalent of a rollercoaster ride. It’s the first taste of Danjul’s versatile vocals, leaping from a verse delivered in a low range to the heights of his falsetto. Yet it all seems effortless. The track is packed with hooks, the catchiest being the “Hell yeah!” refrain, augmented by gritty low electric guitars. It’s the most futuristic sounding song I’ve heard for a while.

Third song Chapter of Love has already been released as a single/lead track and understandably so. It’s an emotive RnB ballad that showcases Danjul’s extraordinary vocal talents. The music has a stately grandeur and classiness that brought to mind both Prince and Michael Jackson in their pomp, especially the rich falsetto harmonies. With its instantly memorable chorus, it was an obvious choice for a single and could be the song that breaks him into the big league.

Fourth track The Path is unique as a sonic experience as well, another fusion of dance and RnB with an almost cinematic vibe from the superb production. It’s a heady cocktail of synth strings, dreamy lead guitar and inventive percussion. There’s a slight Latin feel to the intoxicating and exotic rhythms that brought to mind the infectious tribal pop of Shakira. The central hook is simple but hugely effective, a spiritual call-to-arms: “Come on, follow me….walk the path…“.

Story of She is another slice of perfectly executed pop, from the inventive and nuanced arrangement to the vocal performance which is restrained yet emotive. It is one of the more mainstream moments on the album, which provides some stable ground for the more experimental and daring songs that surround it. Both The Path and Story of She are potential singles and perfect for radio.

Magic Carpet is another fantastic track with an exotic sounding intro. It launches into a hypnotic 2/4 beat and sounds like The Weeknd in a really blissed out mood. The title hook has a mesmeric quality that increases with every listen.

Tower is perhaps the deepest song on the album, seemingly about the struggles and difficulties of completing this artistic project. Starting with a minute of strings and swirling synths, Danjul confesses, “It took me years to build this, my blood and tears carved it…”. It builds gradually to a cathartic and hugely uplifting sonic tour de force.

Final track Madhatter’s View is a fine way to finish; another Prince-influenced piece of RnB that sounds like its been sent back to 2018 from twenty years into the future! The electronic grittiness brought to mind the cutting-edge production style of Taylor Swift’s recent Reputation album. Aptly, it finishes in a flourish of strings and harps to complete the journey.

Overall, this is a dazzling debut album from a unique artist. His vocal talents alone would guarantee a certain level of success as a singer, but his original and versatile music should help to catapult him into similar realms of success that his musical heroes achieved. Credit should also go to his visionary producer and collaborator Matthew A. Nelson, who’s produced this with his finger on the pulse. It’s a strange quirk of nature that some people simply seem born to be stars, and, on this evidence, Danjul could well be the next big thing in the world of pop.

 

VERDICT: 9.1 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

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E.P. REVIEW: Rebel by Ravenscroft

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Website: http://ravenscroftofficial.com/

Ravenscroft are a four-piece rock/metal band hailing from Orange County, California. They consist of Ralph Buso (vocals), Brett “Octane” Gorke (guitars), Devin Baker (bass) and Pat Magrath (drums). They formed in 2014 and take their influences from a wide variety of rock and metal bands. They cite influences stretching from 70’s rock bands like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, 80’s rock/metal bands like Metallica and Megadeth and 90’s grunge bands like Soundgarden and Stone Temple Pilots, amongst more modern influences.

To put it simply, Ravenscroft combine the hard-hitting, aggressive elements of metal/grunge with the anthemic choruses and virtuosity of classic rock. These fused elements are very much in evidence on this six-song EP, Rebel.  In Ralph Buso, they have an authentic rock voice that can compete with the great rock vocalists of the past and which is vital for this style of music. Fortunately, the rest of the band match his talent in their respective disciplines and, most importantly, they write strong songs rather than just great riffs like many of their contemporaries.

This is exemplified by opening track Denomination, which combines brutal riffage with a powerful song structure. Building from a verse that brought to mind Soundgarden, it centres on a visceral chorus that sounds like all the best metal bands rolled into one. The anthemic aspects of classic rock emerge in an energizing vocal chant section and a ripping guitar solo.

Second track The Chase is another hugely uplifting song that blends heavy riffage with soaring vocals, especially in the skyscraper of a chorus aiding by vocal harmonies. The drumming and bass playing on this are worthy of special mention and Brett Gorke delivers a short but vital solo. Third song Stand Up is built around a slinky low end metal riff and an incendiary ‘call to arms’ chorus “Stand up! It’s time to tear it up!” After the second chorus, there’s a formidable build up section before a blazing solo that covers the fretboard.

My Dearest One shows a whole other side to the band, a sensitive and emotive classic rock ballad built around strummed acoustic guitar and a track that shows their songwriting craft. It brought to mind classic rock like Aerosmith and Ravenscroft have a similar gift for writing huge choruses in the Tyler/Perry mould.

Fifth song Jaded is comparatively lighter than the more metal-tinged tracks that precede it, employing the octave-riff technique of modern rock bands like Foo Fighters. It features a killer chorus that Dave Grohl would be proud of. The post-chorus hook is even better, expressing the turmoil of infatuation and obsession: “It’s not about you, it’s all about me now…”. A great choice for a single.

The title track, Rebel, completes the EP with a furiously intense song that encapsulates the light and dark, yin/yang aspects of Ravenscroft. With perhaps the most anthemic chorus on the EP, its guaranteed to get fans raising their double devil-horns: “I am the rebel, I am the rebel, I am the Antichrist“. The central positive message of their music is nailed in the excellent middle eight: “It’s time to face the storm, to right the wrongs...”.

Overall, this is a classic EP from a rock band who have culled all the best parts of rock and metal going back four decades and fused them into a potent musical force. Ravenscroft have it all; a first class singer, superb musicianship and the most important ingredient – great songs. Their already sizeable fanbase is about to get bigger.

 

VERDICT: 9 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

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E.P. REVIEW: Nearly Alive, Almost Home by Blue Painted Flag

Screenshot-2018-3-29 Nearly Alive, Almost Home

Blue Painted Flag is the moniker of an indie rock artist hailing from Stockholm in Sweden. The inspiration came from supporting a local Stockholm football team known as the Blue Stripes. The musical style of Blue Painted Flag is described as ‘soft indie rock’ which strives for a mellow sound with mellow lyrics. Their style is reminiscent of late 80’s style British indie pop/rock along with more modern minimalist indie bands like The xx. They cite themselves as one of many bands in the little-known Stockholm indie scene.

This three track EP Nearly Alive, Always Home was released in March 2018, preceded by the first song on the EP, Basically Everything Is Just A Play in February. This track exemplifies the Blue Painted Flag signature sound; simple but effective drums, sparse but melodic and evocative, echo-drenched guitar lines. The low-key vocal style brought to mind Jim Reid from The Jesus And Mary Chain, and the lyrics share a melancholy outlook: “Wasted days and wasted nights…” The subtle approach of BPF shows how sometimes less is more, with the uncluttered arrangements allowing the music to breathe. Although not commercial in any obvious way, these songs are deceptively catchy and even after one listen I found myself humming along to the chorus refrain.

Second song Peaches and Papers is slowly and dreamier, the gently throbbing bass and crystal-clear guitars weaving a mesmeric spell on the listener. The vocals are set low in the mix reminiscent of shoegaze bands like My Bloody Valentine, almost as if they are just part of the overall musical texture rather than the main focus as with most pop music. The lyrics are to a certain extent opaque and imagistic, but this song seems like an ode to where he’s from: “Night time skyline, this is where I really wanna be….Stockholm, homegrown, makes everything go so slow….”.

Final song As It Should Be is more upbeat musically, with a gorgeous, dreamy vocal melody. But the lyrics belie a darkness beneath the surface, hinting at the repression of traumatic memories: “That never happened, it didn’t happen, it will come back and strike you and tear you apart….it will come back and hurt you and break your heart.…”.The magical, cascading guitar lines brought to mind the intricate melodies and inventiveness displayed by Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd from Television on their classic Marquee Moon album. At an epic five and a half minutes, it also shows a similar ambition and scope.

Overall, this is a superb debut EP from Blue Painted Flag, who have appeared on the music scene fully formed, their distinctive sound and style fully realized. Like with all the best indie music, it’s just as memorable as mainstream pop music but infused with a mysterious and magical element that is noticeably absent in the mainstream. Provided exposure to an appreciative and discerning audience is a given, Blue Painted Flag will carve their own niche in the alternative scene and make plenty of fans on the way.

 

 

VERDICT: 8.7 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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E.P. REVIEW: Nashville Songwriting Sessions by Claudia Norris

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http://www.claudianorris.ca/

Claudia Norris is a singer/songwriter currently residing in Edmonton, Alberta in Canada. She has been songwriting since 14 and sharing her music on YouTube since 2007. She has run her musical career in parallel with her career as a certified make-up artist, and regularly travels to Nashville and L.A. to write, perform and record.

Her Shine EP received airplay on over 100 radio stations and she was a finalist in the Great American Song Contest in 2015. She’s amassed a huge fanbase (30k+) online, her army of fans known as Claudiators! She regards her influences as Taylor Swift, Adele and Meghan Trainor, and these influences are in evidence on this 5 track EP, Nashville Recording Sessions.

Opening track Say Yes is a finely crafted piece of country-tinged pop that Taylor Swift would be proud to have written, and a showcase for Claudia’s crystal clear and powerful voice. Like Taylor and Adele, her music mostly deals with timeless emotional issues, though there is also the light-hearted exuberance of Meghan Trainor in the musical mix.

Second song Stronger is the standout on this EP, for me. It’s an emotive ballad about a trust and communication breakdown in a relationship, with Claudia delivering a vocal performance of both passion and restraint. Lyrically, it shows the empowering message behind her music with lines like, “Don’t blame me, I’m not changing, couldn’t be your Barbie doll“. With its radio friendly sound and memorable chorus, this sounds like it could become a huge worldwide hit.

Third track Heartbeat is a more upbeat and fun Meghan Trainor-style song which is based on classic 1950’s era chord changes and has the sweet innocence of that musical period. The chorus is ultra catchy, the whole track driven by propulsive, rhythmic piano and it also brought to mind the British pop group Scouting For Girls.

Stay is another Stronger-type ballad which is well written and performed, though perhaps a little too similar to Sam Smith’s massive hit Stay With Me, at least lyrically. Final track Love On Replay is the most modern sounding song here, with a Rihanna/RnB influence that adds another interesting facet to her music. It broadens her appeal and is, again, extremely catchy and packed with hooks.

Overall, this EP is first class evidence that Claudia Norris is a superb singer and songwriter. As an artist, she stands poised halfway between the two pop giants of this era, Taylor Swift and Adele. Her positive, empowering message is perfect for the times, and with Stronger, she has a song that could catapult her to the centre of the world stage and deservedly so.

 

VERDICT: 8.7 out of 10

 Alex Faulkner

E.P. REVIEW: Crow Eats Man by Crow Eats Man

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Crow Eats Man are a five-piece heavy rock band based in Mountain View, California, who formed in 2016 and are heavily influenced by rock/grunge bands like Stone Temple Pilots and Alice in Chains, who both  rose to prominence in the nineties. They combine these influences with aspects of more recent rock bands like Queens of the Stone Age and Avenged Sevenfold. The fusion of grunge and modern rock/metal gives them a unique sound, aided by all members being highly proficient musicians and performers.

This five-track eponymous  E.P. is their first release and packs a powerful sonic punch. Crow Eats Man make music on an epic scale, with several tracks clocking in at close to, or over, five minutes, including the E.P. lead track Jaded. Based around a descending chord sequence and some meaty guitar riffs, it is Sebastian’s lead vocals that really grab your attention. His full-throated delivery brings to mind the vocals of rock legends Scott Weiland and Layne Staley, both sadly now passed on. After a brooding verse, it bursts into a cathartic, engaging chorus lifted further by a killer high riff; “I’m faded, I’m jaded, you brought me to my knees….” runs the memorable refrain.

The production is first rate, with every instrument recorded with crystalline clarity and mixed to perfection. After the standard verse/chorus structure, the band really allow the music to breathe. Following the second chorus, a passage of Avenged Sevenfold-esque harmonized guitar leads to some cyclonic drumming, then a break down section which culminates in a blazing guitar solo. One last chorus drives the song home and you can see why this is the lead track. Excellent stuff.

Lost Son, the second track, starts with a dark, sleazy low-end riff that any self respecting metal band would be proud of, before launching into a hard-rocking song guaranteed to get the moshpit headbanging. It alternates between sections of heavy Alice in Chains-style grind and slightly lighter but still hard hitting Audioslave-type riffs, with vocals that brought to mind Josh Homme. They show their musical chops towards the end with alternating sections of 5/4 and 6/4, which shows the influence of progressive rock, another facet to this band.

This rhythmic complexity continues on third song Before Sunday, which is in triple time throughout. It creates a brooding sonic soundscape with rumbling, swirling riffs and ascending lines played in octaves, with Sebastian giving an excellent vocal performance. It brought to mind the cathartic rage of Soundgarden, with Sebastian reminiscent of the late, great Chris Cornell. The exotic lead guitar work towards the end made me think of Faith No More’s Jim Martin circa their classic Angel Dust album.

Deependit is another bulldozer of a song built on a colossal low-end riff. It builds to an anthemic chorus strengthened by solid backing vocals, with a highly melodic bassline that helps drive the music forward. It culminates in a potent, wah-drenched guitar solo that doesn’t outstay its welcome and completes one of the strongest tracks on the E.P.

Closing song, the excellently titled Fresno Cigarette Run, is a relatively short but no less powerful way to finish. It features some biting machine-gun riffage and combines 4/4 and 6/8 time to great effect, with a catchy chant section and creative use of space. It provides a little light relief after the emotional intensity of the earlier tracks and bookends over twenty minutes of sustained high quality rock perfectly.

Overall, this is a highly impressive debut E.P. from a rock band who have hit the ground running and found their own style. Combining elements of old-school grunge with more modern influences and production techniques gives them an appeal for both young and old rock fans. Their first-class musicianship should mean that they thrive on the live circuit and, in Jaded, they have a track that should do well on American radio and elsewhere. This is a band with huge potential for the future. Ones to keep an eye on in 2018.

VERDICT: 8.9 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

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E.P. REVIEW: Once Upon A Scary Night by Robin B. Czar

Robin B. Czar - Once Upon a Scary Night - EP Cover

http://www.rbczar.co.uk/

Robin B. Czar is a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who is German but currently resides in Canterbury, England. He has developed a cult fan base owing to his unique sound; it is a fascinating fusion of old school hard rock/metal like Black Sabbath, with more modern influences such as Marilyn Manson and HIM. Vocally, he has an immediately distinctive tone reminiscent of David Bowie and Buzzcocks singer Howard Devoto.

He has released three albums, Nachtgesange, Kiss from The Abyss and Mission Bizarre, which I reviewed a couple of years back. This E.P., Once Upon A Scary Night, consists of three tracks which form a ‘trilogy about a fictional character’ who goes through an emotional journey portrayed across one night that resolves the next day. For the fans who love his established sound, they will be pleased to know it retains the virtuoso musicianship, darkly humorous lyrics and ambitious, sophisticated arrangements that have become his trademarks.

Opening track Candle In The Rain begins in a blaze of Avenged Sevenfold-esque guitar pyrotechnics, displaying Robin’s incredibly fluent style, grabbing the listener’s attention immediately with a swirling riff that he harmonizes to great effect. The first verse depicts a life of misery over a sparse musical backing: “Another endless day has passed, another sleepless night begins.…”. The bridge/pre chorus bursts out of the speakers in a blaze of guitars and syncopated rhythms, the lyrics even darker: “The torture never stops, its like a nightmare without waking up…”.

Then the gloom is relieved by the instantly catchy title hook which refers to the fleeting and fragile nature of life: “Like a candle in the rain, everything’s vain in the end….”. After the second chorus there is an excellent instrumental passage, first with a short half time section featuring beefy, low-end riffage before launching into a fantastic solo, again featuring Bat Country-style duel guitar harmonies, then one last chorus.

Second song Until The Morning Breaks is a complete contrast musically, but carries on the nocturnal theme. This one is a brooding, intense epic rock ballad which starts with a lilting piano motif before a sparse but effective beat kicks in and Robin portrays a bleak, gothic scene: “The raging wind’s outside… the winter storm, it howls, it’s banging at the door….ghosts from forgotten graves come to you in need….”.

It builds gradually in intensity across the duration of the track, with atmospheric synths and subtle lead guitar work adding to the texture. The central theme of the ‘dark night of the soul’ is captured in another memorable chorus: “In sombre silence you sit in here and wait…until the morning breaks….”. After the second chorus there is an instrumental section with a concise, well structured solo played in octaves. It ends poignantly with the return of the piano phrase.

The final track Kill Everybody, is again in strong contrast to the previous song, this one hurtling along at a hectic pace, though not quite what you’d classify as speed metal. It shows Robin’s macabre sense of humour for the first time on the E.P., with a scenario in the lyrics reminiscent of the film Falling Down, about a man who cracks from stress and starts taking revenge on whoever has slightly wronged him.

Robin clearly has his tongue in his cheek as he sings: “Now is the girl who gave the wrong change, now it’s too late for mercy or tears….”. It leads to the joyously delivered chorus hook: “Kill everybody! Now it’s payback time….”. After the second chorus, Robin wrong foots the listener once more, reducing the tempo drastically for a build up section that airs grievances in a humorous fashion: “They do the same job, but get paid a bonus on top….”. Then ensues a return to the machine gun kick drums of the first half of the song, Robin delivering the best guitar solo of all, performed with a mellifluous, silky tone to bring things to a satisfying musical climax.

Overall, this is an excellent E.P. that’s works as a complete whole rather than just a collection of separate songs based around a lead single, as is usually the case. Robin B. Czar can lay claim to a genuinely original sound and style, melding rock (classic, prog, and industrial) with elements of heavy metal, then throwing quirky, eccentric lyrical themes shot through with Gothic black humour into the mix. It all adds up to an entertaining sonic concoction and this E.P. raises the bar even higher in the context of his previous work. Rock/metal fans looking for something a little left of field are implored to give him a listen!

 

VERDICT: 8.8 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

E.P. REVIEW: You Find Out On Your Own by Michael Reddington

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Michael Reddington is a singer songwriter hailing from Nottingham who initially had his sights set on being a sound engineer, which for a while he achieved when working at the venue Stealth, where he worked with Bastille and Shy FX. However, an escalator accident ripped off his big toe, leaving him bed ridden for three months. He turned to music to get through, and began his songwriting journey which has led to this EP.

His music is essentially well crafted pop/rock in the great British tradition and you can hear myriad influences in these three songs, from The Beatles to The Smiths, though he also cites American songwriters like Neil Young, Ryan Adams and Tom Petty. His lyrics are very much rooted in the struggles of everyday life.

Opening song You Find Out On Your Own is an excellent start, a mid paced piece of guitar pop that has a nice Beatles-esque lead guitar line, warm pulsing bass, subtle piano and rich organ filling out the sound. It alternates between a lilting 4/4 rhythm on the intro and verse then switches to 2/4 on the bridge/chorus which injects momentum into the music.

Lyrically, it’s strong, a rumination on figuring things out through your own life experiences rather than accepting what others say: “I’ve been keep on making my own rules, avoiding fools…they don’t teach you any of this in school, I guess you find out on your own…”. His vocals are very good, comfortable singing in a high range and the whole song is catchy and memorable while avoiding anything predictable.

Monotony Lobotomy is slightly faster paced and in 4/4 throughout, lyrically a melancholy tale of frustration through being stuck in a humdrum situation and longing for a chance to escape, though still with a ray of hope for the future (“Just one chance and they’ll be no stopping me….”). The vocal melody and main hook are haunting, expressing the weariness of the lyrics perfectly.

Final track Uniform is a slow paced acoustic track, and lyrically takes an acerbic look at those to conform rather than show any individuality: “You’re a nancy of a man, got to do for them all you can…in uniform“. It’s another very melodic and memorable song, augmented by some lovely strings as the track progresses.

Overall, this is an excellent EP that shows Michael Reddington as a quality songwriter both musically and lyrically, with a fine gift for melody and a voice that is both distinctive and easy on the ear. While it’s hard these days for a songwriter to break through, he has everything it takes and I look forward to hearing a whole album from him.

 

Alex Faulkner (The Faulkner Review)

 

VERDICT: 8.9 out of 10