SINGLE REVIEW: Truth Syrum (ft. Wo-Billz) by Nikia

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www.soundsofnikia.com

Nikia is a R&B/pop singer who was born in New York and raised in California. She hails from a large musical family and was musically highly precocious, starting her career as a professional singer at just thirteen and signing a deal with L.A.’s Swooper Records at fifteen. She released her first single Wanna Get With You the next year and then released a Spanish crossover album which was a big hit overseas. She has since released several albums, EPs and singles including the 2016 EP She Is Me. She has also more recently released the song Do U from her upcoming album No Fairytale.

This track, Truth Syrum (ft. Wo-Billz), is a slow R&B/pop ballad that makes a wonderful showcase for Nikia’s considerable talents as a vocalist. Set to a musical backdrop of subtle synths and a languid, seductive R&B beat, as soon as Nikia enters on the verse her silky smooth vocals captures the attention. With a voice comparable to megastars like Beyonce and Rihanna, she gets to express her vocal range at the end of the memorable chorus.

Lyrically, it’s an emotionally heartfelt plea towards a lover who has been straying: “Out in the clubs, playing with these freaks….you’re out in these streets while I’m lonely in our sheets….”. After the first chorus we then here a rap section from guest vocalist Wo-Billz, whose naturally contrasting style is highly effective juxtaposed against the sung sections. Wo-Billz gives the track a cutting edge vibe and keeps it real with killer lines like, “Go scuba diving for your ring…..”. After the second chorus Nikia delivers the poignant refrain, “What goes around comes around….”, aided by some slick production effects on her voice which adds to the modernity of the sound.

Overall, this is an emotionally powerful R&B/pop track about infidelity by a truly gifted female singer. The song captures the pain and heartbreak of being cheated on, while the acerbic contribution of female rapper and guest star Wo-Billz adds some bite and dry humour to proceedings. The production is flawless and very commercial, making it perfect for radio. It feels only a matter of time before Nikia breaks through to the world stage and Truth Syrum could be the song that gets her there.

 

VERDICT = 8.8 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: Halo by Marc Illy

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Marc Illy is a hip-hop artist, pianist, rapper, vocalist, songwriter and producer originally born in Pittsburgh. He was raised all around the world and has lived in Cape Town, Los Angeles, Costa Mesa, San Diego and Boca Raton, Florida. He now resides in Los Angeles. In 2008, he was the opening act on Method Man’s “Still High” tour as well as touring around Taiwan for two and a half years. He creates music in order to inspire and encourage others, along with his work as an entrepreneur and social influencer.

This track, Halo, is a mid-paced hip-hop track that showcases Marc Illy’s skills as a songwriter, rapper and vocalist. Starting with a brooding bassline, the track breaks into a laid back groove that gets the toe tapping, augmented by tasteful bursts of light electric guitar and Rhodes. On the verse, Ally raps with an assured lyrical and rhythmic delivery and a distinctive style. Lyrically, it depicts the struggles of the creative process: “So many songs never made it to the outside, going through a crisis cos without music I’m feeling so lifeless…”.

But the main theme of the track is captured in the instantly memorable sung chorus, about channeling and appreciating the best parts of our nature as people: “Don’t let them try to steal your halo, don’t forget that you are an angel….”. In the second verse, he depicts how hard life can be in the city with blunt honesty and brutal effectiveness: “So many people don’t even have a f***** home…and you complain you don’t have a screen for Netflix shows….”.

Overall, this is an inspiring and uplifting hip-hop track that boasts both superb rapping about real life subject matter and a catchy vocal hook that reels you in fast. Marc Illy’s lyrics are raw and honest, giving an emotional depth to his music that adds to its power and artistic importance. His music has a more noble and spiritual message than you find in most hip-hop, which often glamorizes violence and material gain. It’s a vital, positive message conveyed by great music and deserves to be widely heard.

 

VERDICT: 8.7 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: Ride With Me by Soup Black

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https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/s-o-o-p-started-out-of-poverty/1448159792

Soup Black is a hip-hop/rap artist hailing from Harlem, New York. He endured a difficult childhood, growing up in poverty with his father absent and a mother with addiction problems. He also faced bullying while in school. These negative formative experiences have been the source of his inspirational message about overcoming adversity and difficulties, which he has explored on his debut album S.O.O.P. (Started Out Of Poverty). Previously, he has released the singles Big Plans and Have It All.

This track, Ride With Me, is also taken from the S.O.O.P. album. It’s a mid-paced hip-hop track that allows Soup Black to fully demonstrate his considerable skills as an emcee and lyricist. It starts with a haunting piano refrain that has aspects of both jazz and classical, before a punchy hip hop beat enters, laying the platform for Soup Black to deliver. From just the opening lines, he displays a distinctive, clear rapping style that shows his emotional honesty and positive self-belief: “Dear life, you did send me through some ups and downs, but it’s made me what I am now, a role model…”.

After depicting some of the struggles he has faced along the way, the track builds up to an equally inspiring, anthemic chorus bolstered by uplifting synth strings. It’s a succinct message about overcoming your problems: “Throughout your struggles in life proceed to move on, don’t give up, hold your head, be strong....”. On the second verse Soup Black really displays his skills with some verbally dextrous rhymes delivered with consummate flair and style. With its well crafted, addictive chorus hook you will find yourself humming along by the end of the first listen.

Overall, this is an excellent single from a charismatic hip-hop artist who has fought back from his difficult start in life and forged an inspirational artistic persona. His life affirming, positive message will not only empower people from similar backgrounds but will help to uplift anyone going through hard times, from whatever walk of life. Aside from that, Ride With Me showcases his versatile talents as a lyricist and rapper, staking a strong claim to be the next big thing in hip-hop.

VERDICT = 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: This Love by Kendra Black

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http://www.kendrablackmusic.com/

Kendra Black is a singer, songwriter and producer hailing from New York City. Originally with a background in professional ballet, she eventually shifted her focus towards music, performing in the U.S., France, Monte-Carlo, Italy, Egypt and the Caribbean. She trained with teachers from the Music Conservatory of Cannes and The Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory, then perfected her vocal training with Justin Stoney (director of New York Vocal Coaching), A&R Meghan Cress at Voice Academy NYC and Ilana Martin from Vocal Workouts singing school. Her 2017 album The Edge featured rapper Snoop Dogg on the single Rude.

This track, This Love, is taken from her 2019 album The Fire. The song is in the pop/EDM genre and begins with a brief intro before Kendra’s distinctive vocals enter in a high register. Her voice has a crystalline quality and has been extremely well recorded and produced, giving it a slick commercial sheen. On the verse, the musical backing is sparse with percussion entering on the first refrain of the very catchy chorus. From here, a standard EDM riser and drum roll builds us up to a full ‘four to the floor’ beat.

Along with this pounding kick, we hear an equally memorable synth melody which continues into the second verse. The way the track builds and breaks down is cleverly done so that there is a sense of crescendo at key moments. Lyrically, it’s about a relationship that has a special, unique quality that is simultaneously romantic and physical: “There’s something about this love that feels so magical…..when I get around I feel like an animal.….”. The track’s momentum and energy continues to the very end.

Overall, this is a classy piece of pop/EDM as good as anything you’ll hear in the uppermost reaches of the charts. Kendra Black has a perfect voice for pop, and is ideally suited to the material in this instance. The song is well crafted and equally well suited to commercial radio and the dancefloor, which is a difficult trick to pull off. This means it doubles its potential of finding success and that’s exactly what I expect to happen to Kendra Black in 2019.

 

VERDICT = 8.5 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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ALBUM REVIEW: Transition by Eddie Arjun

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http://www.eddiearjun.com/

Eddie Arjun (formerly Arjun) is the collective name of New York-based instrumental trio, consisting of lead guitarist (and producer of this album) Eddie Arjun Peters, backed up by Andre Lyles on bass and Mike Vetter on drums.

Essentially they combine the raw expression and energy of rock and blues with the sophistication and intricacy of jazz and progressive rock, resulting in a musical fusion that is unique and original. All three members are musicians of the highest calibre and manage to balance free expression on their respective individual instruments whilst managing to interlock musically in an airtight, completely synergistic way.

Founded back in 2003, the band developed their craft over time and they eventually began releasing a trilogy of studio albums which started with Space (2013), followed by Core (2014, reviewed very favourably by yours truly) and culminating in 2016’s Gravity. These albums also featured contributions by highly regarded musicians such as E.J. Rodriguez (The Jazz Passengers, Sean Lennon), John Medeski (Medeski, Martin & Wood), Cory Henry (Snarky Puppy) and Jeff Coffin (Dave Mathews Band, Bela Fleck and The Flecktones).

This album, Transition, consists of eight tracks and is due for release February 1st, 2019. Opening track There It Is gets the album off to a strong start. It begins with a Jimmy Page-style rock/blues riff which for many rock bands would become enough to base a whole track around, but it forms just one of a number of melodic themes and motifs which are deployed throughout the track. It leads straight into a high-end blues/funk riff, with the simple rhythm soon displaced with syncopations. This is alternated with the low-end riff, played in tandem on the bass with a short chromatic section adding further variety.

Drummer Mike Vetter and bassist Andre Lyles soon manifest as a formidable rhythm section, both rock solid and incredibly fluid. They lay the platform for Eddie Arjun Peters’ versatile, almost otherworldly guitar skills. Halfway through the track it breaks down to an extended section where Eddie gets to show the more psychedelic Hendrix/Gilmour side to his playing, with some incredibly mellifluous runs across the neck. This is underpinned by some stunning playing from Vetter and Lyles, culminating in a jaw dropping section of virtuosity before returning to the original groove.

Second track Core opens in a blaze of Keith Moon-esque drum fills and raw guitar chords before launching into a mellow blues in 6/8 time. From this simple template, the band progress through an intricate arrangement full of nuanced dynamics where almost every bar has some clever accent placement or rhythmic motif that adds musical interest.

It then builds up to a gorgeous ascending section that Hendrix would have been proud of, the music exuding sensuality. Eddie gets to break out his wah-wah which he uses tastefully and effectively, bringing to mind the Jimi of his latter day Voodoo Chile-period.

Next comes the title track and it’s a very different beast. Opening with a taut guitar riff that keeps you hanging in suspense it then locks into a pulsing, intense groove with a continually unpredictable rhythm that shifts under your feet. This is the track where the whole band really showcase their mastery of rhythmic dynamics and their remarkable unity that almost seems telepathic but is no doubt the result of tireless rehearsing.

Here the music is more modal than pentatonic giving it a more exotic feel, though still with a strong bluesy vibe. It feels like every single note has been worked out to precision, with some astonishing moments where all three players reach a frenzy yet remain in complete control, such as the superb solo section and the frenetic climax.

The following Longass has an irresistible groove and a real strut, with the guitar and bass once again playing a funky blues riff in tandem. And again, what starts out as a seemingly simple rock/blues jam becomes a cleverly arranged epic. After the initial sections have been repeated a further section midway through takes the music into the stratosphere, with Eddie Arjun Peters breaking out the delay pedal for another skyscraping solo. Another album highlight.

Iana is more like an interlude track consisting of just a moody solo bass, acting as a lull in the storm. The next two tracks both made me think of Hendrix, but in different parts of his short career. Sixth track Ascent is a mellow jazzy blues number that recalls the Axis: Bold as Love era, specifically songs like Little Wing and Castles Made of Sand. The arrangement is very clever in how it reflects the title perfectly, gradually building up to the thrilling development section where Andre Lyles shines with some remarkably fluid bass playing, locked in perfectly with Mike Vetter’s whirlwind fills around the kit.

The following, aptly-titled Lavalust is more akin to the wild epic psychedelic rock of Electric Ladyland and is my personal favourite on the album. Kicking off with a killer slap bassline put through a phaser, this is joined by a torrent of flamboyant fills reminiscent of Mitch Mitchell. It then launches into a rock/blues masterpiece that takes all their combined compositional and arrangement skills to another level.

The breakdown section in the middle is where this track really aims for the stars though; delay-drenched lead guitar playing some mind bending runs over gradually intensifying bass and drums, as trippy as something like 1983… (A Merman I Should Turn To Be) from Hendrix’s last magnum opus. It then returns back to Earth for another fantastic section where the guitar does indeed drip like liquid lava, and the whole band is captured at their euphoric, boundary-pushing best.

Closing track Gone is a real slow burner. It starts with a languid groove that really allows the music to breathe, Vetter and Lyles play with exquisite restraint while Eddie Arjun Peters slowly weaves a spell with some deliciously dreamy guitar work. The main theme is plaintive and haunting, the arrangement gradually growing in grandeur towards one final blaze of wah-soaked guitar pyrotechnics. It continues through several sections on this subtly complex seven-minute sonic odyssey. It’s a majestic way to end the journey overall, finishing on an unexpected major chord which gives an air of completion.

Overall, this is the best album so far from this terrifically talented trio. The three members of Eddie Arjun have honed their respective skills to a very fine pitch, have developed a musical unity and synergy that few musicians ever achieve and most importantly write and perform consistently stunning music. The nuanced details and craft in the arrangement of every track means it will richly reward repeated listening and should appeal to an enormous range of rock, blues and jazz aficionados.

VERDICT = 9.3 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: Masala Bazaar by Jamit & Kroissenbrunner

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Jamit is an electronica/EDM composer and producer who grew up in Australia but is now based in Singapore. The past months have seen a plethora of instrumental releases, including Multiplayer Erotica, Lovers and Rockers, 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.

His most recent releases have included Female Medieval Jester, Taeb Ecnad and Pole Vault, a collaboration with Franco Paulsen and vocalist Yuriko. This latest track, Masala Bazaar, is also a collaboration. This time it’s with producer Kroissenbrunner who hails from Johannesburg, South Africa. This constitutes their third collaboration and it’s a highly effective one.

It’s a moody and hypnotic piece of electronica, with an arrangement by Jamit and Kroissenbrunner contributing the various sounds and vocal samples. The beat is slightly unusual and off-kilter which gives it an exotic feel whilst still remaining eminently danceable. On top of this is a haunting, recurring synth line that becomes the main melodic motif of the track. This is augmented by pulsing synth pads and an ostinato note in the low end which also adds to the mesmeric ambience.

Interspersed with the music are the vocal samples, which enigmatically turn out to be the names of spices. As the track progresses the beat starts to become more strident, with the kick in particular developing a real punch. Near the three minute mark things turn psychedelic as the music starts to morph and an eerie sounding synth swirls to the end of the track, adding to the trippy nature of the music as a whole.

Overall, this is further evidence that Jamit, with the artistic assistance of his collaborator Kroissenbrunner, has mastered a certain style of electronica that takes the listener to some far out places whilst never losing its essential dancefloor appeal. He has developed a sonic niche of his own that is both quirkily original but with wide ranging appeal. Masala Bazaar will go down a storm with his current fans and should make him a whole lot more.

 

VERDICT = 8.9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: Father’s Second Son by Lachlan Grant Splendor

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Lachlan Grant Splendor is an acoustic singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist hailing from New Zealand. His songwriting has been compared with that of Neil Young, whilst his distinctive vocals have drawn comparisons with England’s Billy Bragg. He cites influences such as Dave Matthews, Ben Howard, Lumineers, Hollow Coves and the aforementioned Young.

To that, I would add the slight influence, or at least similarity to, fellow Kiwi Neil Finn (Crowded House) and aspects of Elliott Smith. There is also a spiritual aspect to his music and he describes his concept album The Choice Is Yours as being inspired by higher conscious awakening.

This song, Father’s Second Son, is a beautifully crafted and performed acoustic ballad in the complex time signature of 12/8. It begins with haunting Elliott Smith-style picked acoustic guitar which sets the stage for Lachlan’s unique, quirky voice which does indeed bring to mind Billy Bragg, but only a little. The lyrics grab you from the start, depicting the complicated relationship with his older brother and their father: “When I was sixteen my brother was twenty… when I was sixteen, life felt so empty…….I looked up to him, he was my role model…..”.

The subtly anthemic and memorable chorus encapsulates the song’s emotional honesty and self-reflection: “What if I become my father’s second son?“. The second verse is equally poignant with lines like, “Used to always think that I would turn out the same… drink the same beer, burn with the same hot flame, score with the gorgeous girls….but none of that ever came true.….”. The understated and restrained delivery adds to the affecting nature of the song. Special credit should go to the intricate drumming, full of nuance and deft touches.

Overall, this is a great example of how the honest, confessional songwriting style can be one of the most powerful in music. Lachlan wears his heart on his sleeve but with the slightest hint of self-pity, delivering a genuinely moving song that can stand alongside that of his musical heroes. His musicianship (guitar and bass) along with his vocals are first rate and although you would place it in the alternative category, the universality of his songwriting means there’s no limits to the potential of his popularity.

 

VERDICT = 8.8 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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