SINGLE REVIEW: Lullaby by Edward St. Martin

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Edward St. Martin is a songwriter, composer and lead artist producer based in San Diego. His background is actually in classical music and film composition, and he applies this knowledge to his foray into writing songs in the pop genre. This combination of styles is something I would describe as ‘epic pop’ or ‘orchestral pop’. Recent releases have included In The Ocean Of My Love, Fast Car and Don’t Leave Me.

This track, Lullaby, is a fine example of his classical-influenced epic pop. It features a female vocalist with a fantastic voice similar to Sia and there is a dramatic grandeur to the music that brought to mind Evanescence. Whereas Evanescence leans more towards rock music, there is a definite influence of EDM in the production style. It begins with a powerful orchestral introduction featuring a classical-style chord progression, before crystalline female vocals enter with troubled lyrics: “Four o’ clock and I’ve barely even slept yet…..”.

She is backed effectively by flowing piano melodies and epic orchestral percussion. The bridge builds like a dance track, leading to a colossal chorus where a four-to-the-floor beat emerges. The dynamics of the music are cleverly arranged so that there’s constant variety in the sparse and epic parts of the song. The strings that feature throughout add a great deal to the feeling of drama and gives it a musicality that is lacking from most EDM music.

Overall, this is an extremely accomplished fusion of pop, classical and EDM by a gifted composer in collaboration with a fine female singer. Edward St. Martin has impressively developed his own sonic niche by drawing on his experience in film and classical composition. He has developed an orchestral form of pop/EDM that has enormous creative and commercial potential, the best of both worlds. Lullaby should help bring a much greater awareness of his music to the listening public and deservedly so.

 

VERDICT= 8.8 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

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ALBUM REVIEW: La Symphonie-Thrash Du Professeur Juif Rebelle by The Gangsta Rabbi

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http://www.gangstarabbi.com/

The Gangsta Rabbi, a.k.a. as The King of Jewish Punk, is the moniker of the multi-instrumentalist, singer/songwriter, composer and producer Steve Lieberman. He was born in Brooklyn, New York to a working class Jewish family and now resides in Freeport. Perhaps more than most artists, his work needs to be understood in the full context of his life.

He has been considered an ‘outsider artist’, partly attributed to his lifelong struggle with bipolar disorder which began for him at the age of just eleven. He has been releasing studio albums since 2002 and has now released over thirty, along with live albums and countless cassettes. He has shared the stage with Weezer, Andrew WK, Glassjaw, Ryan Dunn and The Misfits, but had to retire from performing in 2011 owing to having to battle an advanced form of leukaemia, returning briefly to the stage in 2016.

Last year, he was admitted into a hospice and remarkably has carried on creating, producing his most challenging works including completely covering Jethro Tull’s Thick As A Brick (a major influence) and thrash metal versions of the British Opera, The H.M.S. Pinafore and Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.

This album, La Symphonie-Thrash Du Professeur Juif Rebelle, is his magnum opus, clocking in at thirty one tracks with a duration of over three hours. Apart from its remarkable length, it also sets a record for most instruments played in a symphony (eighteen!). The instruments involved cover a wide range including thrash guitar and basses, alto, tenor and bass trombones, flutes, trumpet, clarinet, euphonium and melodica as well as drums and percussion.

The first piece, L’espirit de Rebellion, sets out the album’s essential signature sound; a tsunami of sonic textures and frenetic drumming that borders on the chaotic and makes compelling listening from the outset. Although it teeters on the edge of musical chaos, it walks this tightrope effectively by retaining a melodic core throughout.
This basically fuses the essence of punk/metal spirit with the instrumental medium of classical music, and it results in abrasive yet consistently exhilarating soundscapes.

As with alternative rock bands like Sonic Youth and The Jesus & Mary Chain, who buried their melodies under layers of howling feedback, The Gangsta Rabbi’s music rewards repeated listening and this is the case with second track Mange Merde et Meurent (which translates as Eat Shit and Die!). It melds raw Stooges-style electric guitar with relentless thrash drumming and a dense wall of organic instrumentation with clarinet and trombones dominating the texture.

Third track, the amusingly titled Je Desire Une Basse Avec Un Whammy Bar, continues the riot with some rapid fire double kicks and some inventive Frank Zappa-style melodies and variations. Indeed, Zappa saw himself as a modern classical composer working in the idiom of rock music, and there are definite parallels here with Steve Lieberman. Like Zappa, Lieberman enjoys pushing the envelope, exploring the avant garde and juxtaposing unusual musical elements together.

La Carte de Recrue d’Aaron Judge and Hall’el Soixant-Trois both clock in at around eight minutes and continue the signature style with subtleties and details in the music that reward careful listening. As with his last album I reviewed, Lieberman’s work can be compared to the more challenging works of music by Don Van Vliet (Captain Beefheart) and the more outré offerings of Lou Reed. Beefheart’s album Trout Mask Replica sounds like a chaotic sprawl at first, then the order gradually reveals itself.

This tension between order and chaos, dissonance and melody and also the textural difference between raucous and soft is the fundamental dichotomy that lies at the heart of his music. These tracks notably feature his distorted lead vocals, and it’s no surprise that he approaches singing in a unique, idiosyncratic way, bringing to mind another avant garde rock artist, the late Mark E. Smith from the British group The Fall.

Le Jardin des Chiens is a ten minute epic that reaches a tumultuous climax, with some woodwinds seriously wailing against a piledriving musical backdrop. Woodwinds also dominate the following Holocauste, especially flute and clarinet and vocals emerge once again around the three minute mark. This piece flows seamlessly into Trois Petits Chiots, which almost feels like a sequel or companion piece with a similar theme.

Owing to the constraints of length, I can’t focus on every track but other highlights that stood out for me were Le Quartier Cancer #3 which is a sustained sonic hurricane that lasts nine minutes and which I perceived as an emotional expression of anger and rage at the struggle of being faced with leukaemia. This is followed by Le Professeur Juif est mort (The Gangsta Rabbi Is Dead), a title which certainly shows he has not lost his sense of humour, a testament to his fortitude and spirit.

The raging energy continues through to the end, with La Petite Jeunne Fille-Juife having one of the most distinctive melodies along with M.C.T.M.T. and the relentlessly frenetic but thrilling Mille-Neuf Cents Quatre-Vignts Et Neuf (which translates as 1989 but presumably has no link to the Taylor Swift album of the same name!) The superbly named Bonkey Sur D’an lives up to its title with a delightfully eccentric melodic theme that brings the woodwinds to the fore once again.

The final track La Chanson De Merde Vit (translating as The Shit Life Song) is a rampaging ten minute musical climax where it seems like all eighteen instruments are playing at once (probably the case). It feels like a defiant middle finger to the mortality we all share and it’s a glorious one.

Overall, this is a remarkable, challenging artistic work that blends thrash metal with avant garde classical to create music like nothing you’ve ever heard. It’s the sonic equivalent of standing in a wind tunnel for three hours. To have created such an epic musical tour de force in his dire health circumstances is an example of the power of the human spirit at its finest. Hopefully, The Gangsta Rabbi, a.k.a. Steve Lieberman, will get to be fully appreciated within his lifetime.

 

VERDICT =  8.4 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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Watch a video about the 18 instruments on the album:

 

 

ALBUM REVIEW: ‘Dark Journey’ by Ying-Ting Luo

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Ying-Ting Luo is an award winning film and video game composer from Taiwan. She was musically precocious from a very early age, starting piano at four and then the flute at eight. This led to studying at the prestigious Taipei National University of the Arts which led to many awards.

She then went to the even more prestigious Berklee College of Music where she studied film and video game scoring. She graduated with honours and has since composed scores for documentaries, feature films and video games as well as working with Grammy award winner Susana Baca, Wang Leehom and Joyce Moreno.

This album, ‘Dark Journey’, is a suite of orchestral compositions with an underlying concept: imagine your lover is a criminal and you’re stuck on a long journey with them. This intriguing theme sets the tone and opening piece The Suitcase contains this sense of the mysterious and slightly ominous. From its first bars, it becomes apparent that Ying-Ting has a real gift for composition.

Swirling strings combine with arpeggiated harp to create a magical soundscape which is then augmented by glockenspiel, giving the music a Danny Elfman-vibe (Edward Scissorhands, Spiderman). Indeed, her music combines the dreamlike quality of Elfman with the more dramatic, rhythmic style of Hans Zimmer and the pieces tend to alternate between these two styles with consummate skill.

‘Let’s Dance’ begins with pizzicato strings, then jazzy piano and woodwinds weave an enchanting melodic web that keeps the listener gripped. The woodwinds are beautifully orchestrated, which shows both her talent and years of training. There’s a continuity between the tracks, as well as recurrence of key themes, and the ominous ending of this piece explodes into the tense drama of ‘The Train to Death’.

This piece shows her compositional range, with strident low strings and brooding brass combining with epic Hans Zimmer-style percussion. The low strings are doubled with piano in the same register giving the music a real power and the way she maintains the tension shows her gift for musical storytelling.

‘The Painful Abyss’ is a distinct contrast, a plaintive, mournful melody first heard on oboe then counter pointed by flute. Towards the end it returns to the pulse-quickening excitement of the previous piece. ‘The Killer In The Desert’ has a really exotic flavour both in its eastern melody and percussion which brought to mind the Arabian Dance from Tchaikovsky’s classic work The Nutcracker. It perfectly evokes the title of the piece and ratchets upon the musical drama toward the end.

‘Peaceful Date’ showcases her gifts as a pianist as well as a melodist. The beautiful melody is doubled by violin and conjures quite a mood in its brief duration. ‘Casino in 1928’ is again a perfect musical portrait of what the title suggests, based on the dance rhythms of that era. It features a playful, jazzy melody on bass clarinet and my only complaint is that this didn’t last longer.

The gorgeous, haunting main theme returns on ‘The Dangerous Sex’, used in a Wagnerian way (Richard Wagner formulated the idea of the leitmotif, a melodic theme associated with a character or emotion that recurs across a large scale work). This piece acts as the calm before the storm of the following ‘The Bloody Truth Behind The Sweetness’. It starts out by lulling you into a false sense of security, with a happy flute melody in 3/4 waltz time. Then a minute in, it explodes into a fiendishly dramatic section that has you on the edge of your seat.

‘The Lonely Body In The Ocean’ consists of just glockenspiel, like a haunting and sinister version of Tchaikovsky’s Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. The closing composition ‘The End of the Wrong Love’ returns to the theme of ‘Let’s Dance’ and it feels like a piece of musical irony; the lightness of the melody is interweaved with dark, moody strings and we know things have not ended well for the story’s protagonist.

Overall, this is a remarkable concept album by an immensely talented composer and musician. With a complete grasp of orchestration, she has learnt to blend her many compositional influences into a nuanced style of her own. ‘Dark Journey’ takes the listener to some magical and dramatic places, and like all the best albums leaves the listener wanting more. Ying-Ting Luo could well become one of the most prominent composers of our era.

 

VERDICT: 9.3 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: The Last Sigh by Arash Behzadi

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http://www.arashbehzadi.com/

Arash Behzadi is a Canadian-Iranian pianist and composer based in Toronto. He started playing piano at fifteen which began his musical journey. He released his first album, the Persian influenced Aram-E Del I – Serenity of the Heart I in 2009, following up with the sequel in 2011. He then began to explore New Age music, releasing With Closed Eyes in 2015. He has performed in Geneva, New York, the Tirgan Festival in Toronto and the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto.

This track, The Last Sigh, is from his latest album Elsewhere and has been inspired by recent trips to Bali and Indonesia. It is a piano-based instrumental that showcases Arash’s gift for both classical composition and his talents as a pianist. Starting with simple but commanding, powerful low-end piano chords, the solemn and poignant tone becoming heightened when it moves to the higher octaves and adds a beautiful melody in the right hand.

Arash’s compositional technique is his own, but you can hear the influence of Philip Glass and Ludovico Einaudi. Gradually, a solo cello enters, adding to the hymnal beauty of the sound. The music slowly becomes more strident and passionate, reaching a climax towards the four minute mark. It then returns to the delicacy of the early sections before building back up once more, the cello part becoming more insistent. This raises the musical tension to a high pitch before returning to the same powerful chord with which it began.

Overall, this is a wonderfully poignant piece of modern classical that contains the beauty of traditional classical music with the more accessible structures of modern composers like Philip Glass. As the huge success of fellow pianist and composer Ludovico Einaudi has shown, there is a huge market for this kind of music and The Last Sigh could be a big step towards Arash Behzadi becoming a household name.

VERDICT: 8.8 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: Prophecy (from the White Light Collection) by Tony Newton

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http://tonynewtonmusic.com/album/wlc-preview-2/

Tony Newton is a composer and multi-instrumentalist with a fascinating history anda career in the music industry that spans over thirty years. After being somewhat of a child prodigy playing in orchestras, it was as a virtuosic bass player that he played on many classic Motown recordings and can lay claim to playing on hits by Michael Jackson, Diana Ross & The Supremes and Stevie Wonder.

If that isn’t impressive enough, he also acted as musical director to Smokey Robinson and in his youth was the prize student of his bass tutor, the legendary James Jamerson (himself a Motown recording staple). He can also lay claim to being one of the creators of the Jazz-Rock-Fusion genre with Miles Davis’ drummer in the Tony Williams Lifetime. Since then he has developed his talents as a composer and even formulated his own acclaimed harmonic language which he calls ‘novaphonic sound’, which is based on quartal and quintal harmonics.

This piece for solo piano, Prophecy, is taken from his album White Light Collection. The piece announces itself with some stentorian chords, then a swirling, saturnine melodic pattern emerges in a low octave, reminiscent of the last movement of Beethoven’s Appassionata sonata. Over this repeating figure, Newton then brings Bill Evans-style jazz into the mix with some exotic quartal harmonies in the right hand. The low octave melody is then doubled creating a fierce sense of momentum before it modulates to a different key.

The piece then develops with some incredible runs and ornaments in the upper octaves, which truly show the virtuosic level of Newton’s musicianship. Around halfway through the tempest dies down and a suspenseful section emerges, featuring some lush chordal voicings and arpeggios. This is what you would term a developmental section, which reaches a climax before recapitulating to the main theme to complete a compelling six minutes.

Overall, this solo piano piece is a tour de force by an artist who made his name as a Motown musician and has developed into a composer of real genius. He has found the perfect midway point between classical and jazz, combining the focused structure of the former with the adventurous harmonies of the latter. Prophecy is not just a compositional feat but also one of considerable virtuosity as a performance. Highly recommended.

 

VERDICT = 9.2 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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ALBUM REVIEW: Desert Spade by Mary Knoblock

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Mary Knoblock, a.k.a. DJ MEK, is an alternative electronica artist. Since 2016 she has been highly prolific, releasing seven albums in just two years. She followed up her debut Crystal Hallways with the albums Elevate and Champagne Socialists in the same year. 2017 saw the release of One Way, Heart Shaker and Crowns of Gold. This year has already seen the release of Zero to Sixty and now Desert Spade, her eighth album overall.

Consisting of eight tracks of between four to six minutes in length, it showcases the unique compositional method that Mary employs. It wasn’t a surprise to learn that she is also a painter and the technique of layering differing themes and melodies in this way is something she calls a ‘loopestra.’ It’s an apt phrase, as there is a strong classical influence in her work, a passion which she developed during her college years.

This more complex approach means her music stands apart from other electronica, as evidenced by the title track that opens the album. From the outset several different themes, all sonically and musically contrasting, compete for your attention. This would be distracting if it was not so well composed, with the main synth theme standing out amongst the atmospheric effects and chugging rhythmic synths that drive the momentum of the music.

The beat is itself intricate and layered with skittish hi hat patterns emerging at different points. The wealth of musical detail means you hear something new with every listen, not something you can say about most instrumental music.

Second track Blocker is a distinct contrast. It is rather more immediate in nature and at least starts out more simply. Based around two very catchy saw-wave synth riffs and a colossal beat that any hip hop group would be happy to have in their canon, this track is a very effective example of Knoblock’s ‘loopestra’ technique.

It is interesting how it employs repeating patterns yet the arrangement and musical soundscape is constantly metamorphosing so that there isn’t a dull moment. There is a lengthy breakdown section halfway through, which then introduces a funky horn line and it’s these influences from hip hop and soul that further enrich the music. This would be the ideal place to start with Mary Knoblock’s work.

Third track Lions is another six minute epic and, again, is very different to the previous track. It shows the classical influence once more with swirling harpsichord-esque arpeggios over a complex, syncopated beat in an unusual time signature. The last two minutes develop into a section of brooding piano chords which seems apposite for this enigmatic and intriguing track.

Fade is of a similar length but takes us to different pastures, musically. This one has a mesmeric quality achieved by pulsing synths repeating tight melodic patterns and an addictive use of rhythm. There are some really quirky synth riffs throughout that brought to mind the eccentric instrumentals of Todd Rundgren’s A Wizard, A True Star or the avant garde Hot Rats by Frank Zappa. An enjoyably crazy track.

Fifth track Queen of Diamonds is even further out there, with a magical, Eastern vibe. The triplet-infused shuffling rhythm provides the bedrock for one of the most evocative melodies on the album, a synth that sound like chiming bells. The second half has a truly transcendent quality with Knoblock conjuring a dreamy sonic landscape. Next comes the remix of Fade, which is an interesting reinterpretation of the original with a harder hitting beat and the version I prefer, personally.

Sail, the seventh track, is one of the more melodically complex pieces on the album, with a plethora of themes and riffs that cover the sonic spectrum. It starts with a minimalist approach to rhythm, with an off kilter tilt that made me think of Adamski’s electro-blues classic, Killer. It gradually progresses into a full beat and a fascinating exploration of the musical ideas that seeded in the first half.

Closing track King of Spades is equally complex but has a blissed out feel to it and a relatively simple four-to-the-floor groove. It passes through several stages of thematic development, almost like house music crossed with the structure of a classical fugato. It’s another fine example of the compositional and sonic possibilities that have been largely unexplored in electronica, making it an apt way to close the album.

Overall, this is a fascinating musical odyssey created by an artist who takes a unique approach to her art and breathes fresh life into the over saturated genre of electronica. By drawing on eclectic influences from classical to hip hop, she forges new sonic territory and opens up vistas of potentiality. I recommend this to all electronica/EDM fans, especially those who are tired of the homogeneous EDM in the mainstream and are craving something more substantial and adventurous.

 

VERDICT =  8.8 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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ALBUM REVIEW: The Gangsta Rabbi’s Thrash Opus – Year 1812 Fest. Overture In EbMAJ by The Gangsta Rabbi

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http://gangstarabbi.com/

The Gangsta Rabbi, a.k.a. as The King of Jewish Punk, is the moniker of the multi-instrumentalist, singer/songwriter, composer and producer Steve Lieberman. He was born in Brooklyn, New York to a working class Jewish family and now resides in Freeport. Perhaps more than most artists, his work needs to be understood in the full context of his life.

He has been considered an ‘outsider artist’, partly attributed to his lifelong struggle with bipolar disorder which began for him at the age of just eleven. He has been releasing studio albums since 2002 and has now released over thirty, along with live albums and countless cassettes. He has shared the stage with Weezer, Andrew WK, Glassjaw, Ryan Dunn and The Misfits, but had to retire from performing in 2011 owing to having to battle an advanced form of leukaemia, returning briefly to the stage in 2016.

He has been fighting the disease for the last seven years, which has had a pronounced effect on his artistic output. Every album has become progressively heavier to reflect the internal struggle of living with this terminal form of cancer. This year, he was admitted into a hospice and remarkably has carried on creating, producing his most challenging works including completely covering Jethro Tull’s Thick As A Brick (a major influence) and a thrash version of the British Opera, The H.M.S. Pinafore.

This work is based on Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture and preceding Opus numbers, with Lieberman playing every instrument himself. The instruments involved cover a wide range including thrash guitar and basses, alto, tenor and bass trombones, flutes, trumpet, clarinet, euphonium and melodica as well as drums and percussion.

The first track is a riotous sonic explosion from the very start. Dense layers of low-end distorted guitar and bass are augmented by double-kick drum patterns and frequent cymbals, proving the thrash element. A plethora of orchestral instruments create a fierce wall of sound, carrying the main melodic theme in unison or in octaves.

For the most part, the melody is submerged yet discernible amongst the onslaught of distortion and instrumental texture, yet towards the end we clearly hear the recognizable theme of the finale to the overture, an effective dynamic. The music is undeniably challenging, walking the tightrope between order and chaos in a way that reminded me of the more extreme and avant garde works of rock like Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music or Trout Mask Replica by Captain Beefheart.

The following tracks maintain this essential approach, with Opus 44 – Russian Folk Song and Opus 45 – 2nd Solennelle pushing the envelope even further, the latter particularly manic yet strangely cohesive in its melodic dissonance; with less distortion it could pass for one of the more far out instrumentals of Frank Zappa, another outsider artist.

It is also apt in a sense that Lieberman has chosen to reinterpret Tchaikovsky in this way. The great Russian composer was also a rather tortured person who struggled all his life with emotional turmoil and depression. For Tchaikovsky, composing and performing music was a cathartic emotional release which reflects in the intensity of his music, and this intensity is magnified exponentially in the hands of Lieberman.

The Battle of Borodino stands out for the stridency of the low end brass that has just as much bite as the wall of guitars and 3rd Solennelle continues in the same vein. Theme Aus Overture somehow finds another gear, giving the music a sense of fierce momentum and climax, with the theme from the finale emerging through the howling storm of sound.

The finale, Battalion Closer/Fanfare is an epic fifteen minutes that ramps up the relentless intensity to immense proportions. The drone of the guitars sounds like a jet taking off and the recognizable theme of the finale emerges at the same point as the first track. This time, it expands into another nine minutes of anarchic dissonance melded with melody, which goes through countless permutations before the two main themselves combine in a kind of tumultuous fugato.

Overall, this is an uncompromising and completely unique artistic reinterpretation of a well known classical work that is visceral yet compelling. The Gangsta Rabbi has forged a musical style entirely of his own, one rooted in his own life experiences and unique approach to music making. The fusion of thrash and classical is not one I’ve ever encountered and this will be appreciated by aficionados of the avant garde, in particular. It goes without saying that to have created and recorded this in a hospice with advanced leukaemia is a heroic feat in itself.

 

VERDICT =  7.8 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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