ALBUM REVIEW: Two Fingers In A V by Wasabi Fire Alarm

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https://www.wasabi-fire-alarm.com/

Wasabi Fire Alarm are a band hailing from York, England with quite a unique history and formation. They formed in 2017 when vocalist Sue Egypt (a moniker inspired by the Captain Beefheart track) decided it would be fun to form a band at a Musication course, which inspires ‘recovery through music’ for people with major life issues including homelessness, addiction and mental health difficulties.

This resulted in their first incarnation as Resistance. One early band member, Sin Bad, had made the news in his own right, from living in a tent next to a main road, captured in the song A Dying Man Lies Homeless. When Sin Bad left to pursue his own career, the remaining members formed Wasabi Fire Alarm in March 2018.

The title track begins the album, which I gave a glowing review to a few months back. It’s the perfect introduction to the Wasabi Fire Alarm sound and style. Fundamentally, they belong in a lineage of alternative/post-punk groups like cited influences Pere Ubu, Siouxsie Sioux and Portishead, along with rock/metal bands like Deftones, Nirvana and Rage Against The Machine.

You can also hear elements from diverse artists such as Captain Beefheart, Public Image Ltd., Elastica, Wire, and Slint to name but a few. On paper, it might sound difficult to imagine how a group could combine these disparate influences into a cohesive sound but Wasabi Fire Alarm pull it off with aplomb, forging their own unique oeuvre in the process.

Two Fingers In A V captures their signature strengths; Sue Egypt’s emotionally honest, often troubled lyrics and naturally melodic voice combine with the band’s taut, muscular musicianship. Wiry, precise guitar lines interweave over a tight, solid rhythm section and aggressive male backing vocals provide further contrast and variety. Lyrically, this song is a classic outsider’s anthem that many will relate to.

New Start is another honest lyric about trying to face the future positively, but struggling with memories of past experiences. Built on a foundation of chugging, crunchy guitar, moody bassline and a focused, circular drum pattern, Sue Egypt delivers a nuanced and emotive vocal performance, singing words that many will relate to: “The art of the easy smile is mine, in the bag, got it covered…even if life, again and again, turns out the same as it was before…”.

Third track 5&4 opens with haunting, saturnine piano that forms a bedrock for the song, which incidentally is in 5/4 time. This gives it a subtle feeling of displacement, as if the ground is constantly shifting under your feet. The beat is pure drum ‘n bass which is both unexpected, yet consistent with this group’s musical versatility. The lyrics have a disjointed, abstract quality which fits with the dislocated rhythm, bringing to mind William Burrough’s technique of cutting up words to create original phrases.

The following Numb is much more lyrically and musically direct: “System shut down, shutters in place and I am not facing this anytime soon…”. Starting off with a brooding, restrained verse, it explodes into an angular, dissonant but thrilling chorus with anguished male vocals (by D.Ni.L who I also reviewed) taking precedence. It’s a rollercoaster ride through emotional neurasthenia.

Endured is another brutally heartfelt song, this one a contemplation about being a survivor when others have fallen by the wayside: “The years are a barrier to the abyss, but there’s nothing there, no signpost of rulebook, just a belief we will endure…”. Musically, it’s another contrast with a lilting 6/8 rhythm and blends melody with restrained aggression in a powerful way.

Self Doubt is the epic of the album at five minutes and is perhaps their essence distilled. Based around a dark, skeletal riff that Slipknot would be happy to have written, it develops into an intriguing fusion of dissonant post-punk and modern metal with Sue Egypt bringing the whole track into cohesion with another insightful lyric about battling one’s inner demons: “My dark hour of the soul – the same time as it always is….”.

Not The Whole Truth (Twisted Dream) explores the dysfunctional relationship between a woman and an addict lover. Whether autobiographical or not, it’s a gripping narrative with a perspicacious perspective on this affair and relationships generally: “I loved the image of you in my head, you loved a version of me projected just for you…”. Special credit should go to the driving bassline on this, though this applies throughout, along with some superb drumming.

Eighth track Control is a masterclass in building musical tension. Built on a fraught, repeating guitar figure, Sue Egypt lays out a defiant stance about not allowing herself to be pushed around: “I will not ever be controlled, and will slip and slide even when the game is up….”. Shake That Bunny Tail is a nice contrast with a lighter tone, and one of the more traditional song structures on the album. It’s a positive song about being yourself despite personal hang-ups, with a superb vocal arrangement featuring lush harmonies.

The closing song Wrong is the closest thing Wasabi Fire Alarm come to a piano ballad, with a musical backdrop of nuance and subtlety. But rather than the insipid sentimentality of much chart music, it’s a poignant reflection on the difficulty of human relations, dealing with criticism and wanting to be the best person you can be for someone: “My biggest fear is letting you down…”. Aptly, after an album of such unflinching self-examination, the last lines show resolution through self acceptance: “What a lucky thing it is that I am happy with what and who I am….”.

Overall, this is another classic album to emerge from the Musication camp. Instrumentally, they are a very tight unit and Wasabi Fire Alarm are able to traverse disparate genres with consummate ease whilst remaining cohesive. In Sue Egypt, they have a unique vocalist and lyricist; astute, unflinchingly brave and emotionally open. With their forces combined, they make music that is vital and hugely relevant to our turbulent times. Two Fingers In A V is the sound of authenticity and I only hope it gets the widespread acclaim it deserves.

 

VERDICT: 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen to the album HERE

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ALBUM REVIEW: Sun King Eternal Peace by The Sun King

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The Sun King is the artistic brainchild of Maxwell Page Fairchild (a.k.a. Malachi Navi Wahy). He is a singer/songwriter, rapper, performer and producer who grew up in Los Angeles, but now lives in New Jersey. He started singing and rapping from an early age, which developed into writing poetry. Having endured mental health and depression issues in High School, he found solace in making music. He describes The Sun King’s music as Psychedelic R&B, Experimental Chorale Music and alt. acoustic/a capella, all of which apply and more.

This album, Sun King Eternal Peace, is a musical odyssey that spans twenty seven tracks and shows the depth and range of his artistry. Opening track Post Falsehood is a good introduction to the inimitable style of the music, which defies simple genre classification. It’s fundamentally based around Fairchild’s remarkably adept vocals, which are richly layered in ‘call and response’ style a capella gospel-tinged harmonies, with world percussion and elements of R&B thrown into the mix.

The real roots of the music seem based in gospel spirituals, which traditionally conveyed a Christian message. Fairchild has developed his own unique spiritual philosophy, however, and The Sun King is but one of several musical personas he explores. His positive, spiritual side is what the music of The Sun King is about, named after the song on the Beatle’s classic album Abbey Road.

Although twenty seven tracks must sound daunting to a generation where the album as an art form is dwindling, many of the tracks are brief and succinct. They usually contain refrains that capture some life lesson learned, which can range from the poetic and profound (“Storms will pass and disintegrate, troubled winds aren’t meant to stay” from Post Falsehood) to the more quotidian and humorous (“Girls with tattoos are dangerous, they might rip your heart straight from your chest“).

This mixture of the sacred and profane, the serious and playful, is not easy to do convincingly, yet Fairchild gets the balance just right. Those looking for depth will find it; the whole project is full of alchemical symbolism and Jungian concepts, and he shares an obsession with the number three like many artists before him, going back to Dante. Indeed, the symbolism of the sun and the king is central to alchemy, which Jung saw as an allegory for spiritual transformation.

He also mixes the personal with the political; Divide and Conquer lays it out straight on our current political climate: “We are being manipulated every single day, my friends…”, contrasted with the following, “Just be the person that you are” from You Are-Be. His utopian message is made manifest in False Dichotomy: “You’re my sister, you’re my brother, there is no such thing as color...”.

His humour comes to the fore once more with What’s Pot? While some might perceive the mantra “You must experience the cannabis now…” as encouraging hedonism, to me it seems he is encouraging use of psychotropics as a means of experiencing the transcendent and it’s an apposite message now that cannabis is finally becoming legalized and accepted.

Lone Lee, NJ is a funny, poignant track that’s lyrically based on The Beach Boys’ classic California Girls, while the lovely Gentle Tiger, Beautiful Lioness is the closest thing to a traditional love song on the album. The imagery of Jesus Christ and the devil are used to powerful effect in the following Knowing of The Son and 6 O’ Clock & Never Late. The latter is a metaphor, the devil representing fear and being a slave to it.

Overcoming fear with love is central to The Sun King’s artistic vision, Isolated (ft. Jimmy Carter) being a good example. Jimmy Carter is another of Fairchild’s alter egos, this one the yang to the yin of The Sun King. This is the persona he uses when he wants to express something other than the positive messages of The Sun King, and he delivers a succinct, impressive rap in a flowing, eloquent style on this track.

Pussy Galore is a brutally honest confession about his former hedonism, and how he’s found his way through that to a purer path. Elevate From Fall is a touching track about vulnerability and having to put your heart on the line: “My dreams tell me to tell you how I feel, but I’m so resenting of the bridge, it burns in the case you don’t reciprocate…”.

The symbolism of ice and fire emerge on Freeze To Death II: The Ice Cracks and Feel The Burn, the former about emotional coldness with the latter about the consequences of letting fear overcome you: “My biggest fear had made its mark, I blew the light out and thus birthed the dark…”. The cleverly titled Run to No One, Run to Know 1 has the Sun King finding his other half: “And there I saw her in the corner of my eye, my Queen so high.…”.

Get It Darling is one of the simplest tracks lyrically, but its effervescent, irresistible positivity continues into Walking/baby Reprise: “Music is my medicine and Mother Nature’s got me so well….”. This inspiring, holistic ‘back to nature’ message is perfect for an era that is drowning in the excesses of materialism. Place This Hand shows how this music is partly rooted in the Gregorian chants of early church music, but updated for the modern age.

The final tracks Sun Prince and Sun King Opus x-xviii complete the spiritual journey, the first reminding us, “Be glad that you are free, free to change your mind….”, and the latter bringing us back to the hieros gamos, the sacred marriage at the heart of alchemy: “So I ask you, my Queen, do you have a voice to sing?“. It’s the perfect line to finish on, forging the masculine with the feminine through the redemptive power of music.

Overall, this is an absolute tour de force of an album that takes the listener on an emotional journey that runs the gamut of the human condition. It’s a work of artistic authenticity and integrity, honesty and vulnerability. The pay off is a piece of work that succeeds on several levels, whilst transforming traditional musical forms/styles and reinventing them in his own artistic vision. Essentially, this is art that’s a much needed spiritual salve for our troubled times, deserving not just critical recognition but a large, appreciative audience.

 

 

VERDICT: 9.2 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen to the album HERE

SINGLE REVIEW: Sex by Kingkween

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https://www.facebook.com/ktmulholland/

Kingkween are an indie alt-pop trio who are based are based in New York City, but individually hail from different parts of the globe. They consist of frontwoman KT Mulholland, writer/producer Hitz and acclaimed drummer Rob Steadman, formerly of the successful folk group Stornoway. Rob joined the group after the release of their 2016 album Wild One. The title track from this album was very successful on radio, garnering huge amounts of airplay.

This track, Sex, highlights their yin/yang approach, and like Blondie in the late 70’s, they combine pop nous with an edgy lyrical style. It starts by letting the music set the mood, icy synths supporting wiry low end guitar that recalls Carlos Alomar, who played with Bowie in the 70’s. Then KT Mulholland’s throaty, passionate vocals take centre stage, adding to the sensuality of the sound that the title demands.

Lyrically, it captures the longing of sexual desire in a way that transcends the clichés of this well explored subject, as exemplified on the addictively catchy chorus hook: “I’ve been waiting for you all night, all night….”. Mulholland steals the show with her dynamic, compelling vocal performance but special credit should go to Hitz for the slick, cutting-edge modern production.

Overall, this is a sassy and sexy piece of alternative pop that exudes cool and swaggers with style. KT Mulholland is the kind of charismatic front woman that doesn’t come along too often, and her bandmates provide the perfect musical backdrop. It’s a song that will work well on radio, and should provide some great times on the dancefloor. The perfect soundtrack to a sultry summer, and this group have everything it takes to go huge.

 

VERDICT: 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

SINGLE REVIEW: You Look Like Something I Knew Once by Miftah Bravenda

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http://miftahbravenda.com/

Miftah Bravenda is a musician, composer and producer hailing from Serang-Banten, Indonesia. His music is minimalist and ambient in nature, with a cinematic and organic quality that gives it a strong sense of atmosphere. His previous releases include Eglantine, Those Who Wait For Sweetness and Engkelili. He regards his greatest trick as ‘his ability to turn familiar instrumentation into something of an entirely different nature.’

This track, You Look Like Something I Knew Once is a fine example of this. It begins evocatively with an interweaving blend of rich organ, sonorous synths and a haunting piano melody. This striking meld of sound is then added to firstly via musique concrete (using recorded sounds as a method of electronic composition) and then a lurching, mesmeric beat that compels the attention.

As the track progresses, various synth textures and melodies emerge gradually into the soundscape, and the constantly shifting and blossoming sonic tapestry unfolds with an inevitability that shows a high degree of skill in handling the material. The resultant effect is a sense of dislocation in the most pleasant way, a feeling of having been transported.

Overall, this is an extremely well composed and produced piece of ambient electronica. Although minimalist in style, the way the complex layers of sonic texture morph and develop across the duration of the track is testament to his inimitable gift as a composer, and the quality of the production is fully realized. He deserves to garner and a wide audience, particularly amongst ambient fans.

VERDICT: 8.4 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen here:

SINGLE REVIEW: Roller Coaster Night by Shane Scheib

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This song, Roller Coaster Night, is a collaboration with producer Ryan Mohr. It’s a very modern sounding EDM-tinged pop track, just about perfect for radio. It grabs your attention from the start, with a short intro based on rolling toms, then Shane delivering a very catchy vocal melody with energy and flair. His voice is strong and  distinctive yet wouldn’t sound out of place amongst pop contemporaries like Justin Timberlake or Ed Sheeran.

He has a definite sonic style here, with some fantastic synth swirls on the bridge giving it an almost futuristic vibe. It really bursts into life on the chorus, a pumping beat and Uptown Funk-esque high end guitars combining with a very memorable title hook. After the second chorus, it enters a breakdown section based around a long, anthemic melody that’s the perfect contrast to the rhythmic nature of the chorus. It will also sound great to sing along to at 2am in a club!

Overall, this is a very well written, performed and produced pop/dance track from an artist with a very authentic musical background, showing he can compete with the current luminaries of the pop world . It’s a great song for the season, and will work both on radio and the dancefloor, the best of both worlds. And who knows, there’s still time for it to go viral this summer.

Shane Scheib is a recording artist born in Eastern Washington State, growing up in Coulee City and Ellenburg. He studied jazz guitar at Jeff Berlin’s Player’s School Of Music, and guitar theory under Yuzuru Tanakura. For a while, Shane got involved in missionary work, and upon his return to the States was encouraged to move to Nashville, which he eventually did. Since then, he has released some highly successful EPs including Genrelicious and Fast Friends, which garnered rotation on over 100 radio stations.

 

VERDICT: 8.6 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

Listen here:

 

 

SINGLE REVIEW: Like Clockwork by Djo Life

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http://www.djolife.com

Djo Life is a singer/songwriter hailing from the “sun drenched environs” of Tucson, Arizona, as he puts it. He also rather amusingly describes himself as a ‘one piece band’. His music is essentially alternative acoustic pop, with tinges of electronica that give the music a modern sound. There’s a charming quirkiness to his style that brought to mind The Flaming Lips and even a touch of 90’s alt-pop legends They Might Be Giants. His previous releases include French Cigarettes, The Cactus Song, A Little Love and the excellent Because She’s Sleeping, which I recently reviewed.

This song, Like Clockwork, consolidates his signature style as a songwriter who writes about subjects that look at life in a slightly offbeat way, rather reminiscent of Randy Newman. This one is an astute piece of social observation, noting the strangely recurrent patterns of human behaviour, including his own. Something as quotidian as going for a coffee is made a subject of fascination: “The magical elixir, well it keeps me stopping by….like clockwork“.

Musically, its upbeat acoustic-led style made me think of 90’s group The Lemonheads, and Djo has a voice not unlike Evan Dando (a good thing). He mixes in some MGMT-esque synth sounds into the music, which adds to its quirky charm and alternative vibe. The line towards the end about calling his parents every day to hear their voices is touching and unexpected, but its these idiosyncrasies that make Djo a unique songwriter.

Overall, this is another great song that takes ordinary subject matter and makes you look at it in a slightly different way, as all good art should do. It helps that he has a gift for writing consistently strong top-tapping melodies, which won’t do his commercial prospects any harm. I feel convinced that he will accrue a large following over time, and this is another song that will win him plenty of new fans.

VERDICT: 8.5 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen here:

SINGLE REVIEW: Such Is Not by Jamit

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www.jamitjames.com

Jamit is an electronica/EDM composer and producer who grew up in Australia but is now based in Singapore. Not much is yet known about his genesis as a composer but the past few months have seen a plethora of instrumental releases, including The Original, Style And Fashion, Solar Power and Star of Wonder. His music is essentially psychedelic trance with other aspects of EDM genres incorporated into the sound, along with innovative use of spoken word samples.

This track, Such Is Not, is a perfect example. Clocking in at an epic six and a half minutes, it leaps out of the blocks straight away, opening with a pulsing ‘four to the floor’ kick and a burst of colourful, swirling synth patterns. It creates a mesmeric mood that captivates the attention immediately. Around the first minute mark we hear the first use of vocal samples, this one in Spanish. The music then abruptly changes to a lower key which draws the listener in further.

Around the three minute mark we hear the sample from which the title is derived, taken from a novel by sci-fi author Philip K. Dick’s The Man In The High Castle: “Such is not in accord with humanitarian considerations..”. Perhaps a prescient quote to use considering the current political climate, and the use of this author’s work seems apposite given the futuristic vibe of Jamit’s music. As the track progresses, the interweaving synth patterns develop in subtle but effective ways, along with another couple of modulations.

Overall, this is an inventive and highly enjoyable psytrance track that manages to be both blissfully chilled out yet addictive at the same time. The use of samples is tastefully done, lending variety to the soundscape. With a high level quality of production and his own inimitable style, Jamit has what it takes to make his mark in the saturated but still hugely popular world of EDM.

 

VERDICT: 8.4 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen here: