SINGLE REVIEW: Hope and Glory by Book Of Shame

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https://bookofshame.bandcamp.com

Book Of Shame are an alternative rock from London founded by Pete Boyd (vocals, electric guitar) and Gary Bridgewood (guitars, basses, synths, mandolin, violin, strings, vocals). The two members bonded on a shared love of alternative artists and you can hear a wealth of influences in their work from Nick Cave’s band The Birthday Party to the more avant garde side of David Bowie, along with Wire, Talking Heads, Captain Beefheart and The Velvet Underground.

The result is a completely unique sound, with eclectic styles brought together in an inimitable way, what they have termed “acoustic-electronic-ambient-rock”. They began releasing material in 2018, with their first single Compatibility. This track, Hope and Glory, is taken from their eleven track album, simply called ALBUM.

It’s a seven minute tour de force that flicks two fingers at everything that’s conventional about songwriting and what constitutes a typical single. Opening in a blaze of angular guitar lines, Pete Boyd’s highly distinctive vocals enter along with primal, tribal drums courtesy of Fergus Gerrand.

Boyd’s gripping vocal performance holds the whole thing together, his vocal style like a mixture of Syd Barrett, Howard Devoto, Wire’s Colin Newman and, at times, Captain Beefheart. The music walks the tightrope between chaos and order and this sense of disorientation is captured in the lyrics to the first verse: “Everything is changing, head is rearranging, spine is realigned…undefined”.

The music expands and grows into unexpected territory, with a powerful passage featured synth brass and a visceral section of razor-sharp lead guitar. It then breaks down to strummed acoustic guitar then builds back up to a colossal wall of sound with Boyd wailing “Welcome to the land of hope and glory…”, perhaps a sardonic comment about Brexit-era Britain.. It ends in a pile up of rapid drum fills and raging guitars, a tumultuous climax.

Overall, this is a hugely engaging and original alternative rock song that embraces an array of genres, from fringe punk to prog rock and everything in between. Pete Boyd makes for a compelling, idiosyncratic lead vocalist and the way the band fuse eclectic styles to form an epic one of their own recalls Radiohead, circa Paranoid Android. If something truly different is just what you’re searching for, take a walk on the wild side with Book of Shame.

 

VERDICT= 8.7 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: Girl on The Moon by Martin Del Carpio

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https://martindelcarpio.bandcamp.com/track/girl-on-the-moon

Martin Del Carpio is an experimental electronica artist hailing from New York. His music is a unique hybrid of electronica, avant garde, spoken word and musique concrete, as well as occasional songs which he performs lead vocals on himself.

Previous releases include 2011’s X album, followed by Goddard in 2013. A retrospective compilation called Lost Illusions was released in 2014, while 2015 saw the release of an experimental music project called Notes From The Underground. 2018 saw the release of Involution to which I gave a highly favourable review (you can read that here)

This track, Girl on The Moon, is a haunting acoustic ballad with an intriguing air of mystery. This is partly achieved by the use of audio footage from NASA’s moon landings at the beginning and end of the song. Martin has a gentle voice full of character that suits the material perfectly. The opening line has an enigmatic quality that draws the listener in immediately: “I once knew a girl who dreamed of impossible love….”.

After a scene setting first verse the song builds up to a simple but highly memorable and effective chorus. This is augmented by a subtle beat, backing vocal harmonies and interspersed with colourful, magical sounding synths.

The poetic, mystical quality of the lyrics continues into the second verse: “From the ground of the moon I’ll watch her blossom from afar...”. The arrangement also gradually builds with subtle details being incorporated seamlessly. The final verse which uses echo effects is especially effective.

Overall, this is an evocative and mysterious ballad that has an undeniably captivating quality. It is Martin Del Carpio’s most commercial release so far whilst still managing to maintain his artistic integrity. In the wrong hands, this song might have been fey but his tasteful, understated approach means he achieves that rare thing: a genuinely beautiful song.

 

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen here:

 

 

 

SINGLE REVIEW: Need It Too by AMAAL

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AMAAL is an 18 year old pop singer/songwriter haling from Washington, D.C. He’s been studying and performing music since the tender age of four and began singing lessons at fourteen. He gravitated towards pop and counts artists like Prince, David Bowie, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Rihanna and Jay Z, amongst others. He has battled with chronic pain and depression for years, and has found solace through music.

This song, Need It Too, is his debut single. It was written by himself and produced by Thomas Mansur. It is a pop ballad in the vein of modern Justin Bieber, and AMAAL’s voice is well suited to the material. It starts with simple piano chords, allowing the focus on the vocals and words.

Lyrically, it is honest and emotional deeper than most pop music, as you can tell from its opening lines: “Your breath reeks of whisky, used to say you missed me…”. It’s about a relationship where each others needs aren’t being met, with hedonism seen as a means of emotional escape. The vocal melody is memorable and catchy, with insistent rhythmic hooks keeping the listener gripped to the end.

Overall, this is a fine debut single for an artist with an emotional maturity beyond his years. His voice and music are perfectly in sync with what’s happening in the current pop scene, and the way his lyrics dig deep and capture his emotive rawness will win him many fans. With further material of this quality, there’s no reason why he won’t break into pop’s major league.

VERDICT: 8.3 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

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ALBUM REVIEW: Dreamland by Jennifer Maidman

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Official website: www.jennifermaidman.com

Jennifer Maidman is a singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer originally from Upminster, England. Jennifer has had a remarkable and extensive musical career casting back to 1976, with her first release being L-L-Lazy Days as a writer member of the group Red Hot. While working at Decibel Studios in London  she recorded and mixed Marc Bolan’s I Love To Boogie.

She then went to become a founder member of Penguin Cafe Orchestra (1984-2007), several members of which contributing on this album. As a musician, producer or writer has worked with an array of famous artists including Joan Armatrading, Ian Dury, Boy George, Shakespeare’s Sister and Linda McCartney, to name but a few. Amongst numerous commercial successes, the album Hormonally Yours by Shakespeare’s Sister stands out. It went double platinum, spawning the hit single Stay which reached number one in several countries.

This album, Dreamland consists of seventeen tracks and it’s an epic musical odyssey that encompasses an eclectic range of genres including rock, funk, jazz, pop, psychedelia, spoken word and musique concrete, Irish folk and world music…. sometimes within the same song!

It was recorded largely in 2016 at Dreamland studios in Woodstock, in Upstate New York’s Catskill Mountains. Jennifer has recruited a team of musicians of the highest quality (Jerry Marotta on drums , David Torn plays guitars  & Annie Whitehead plays trombone, Paul Brady, Robert Wyatt, Sam Brown, Mitt Gamon) that have helped her realize her creative vision, and the flawless production matches the musical ambition of the project. Jennifer produced the album herself, another string to her bow.

Opening track Conspiracy of Dreamers is an odyssey in itself, a smoky, seven minute rock/funk track with soul and gospel thrown into the mix. Lyrically, it’s very apposite for the era, and could be perceived about wanting to escape and transcend the endless political and social turmoil. It also relates to the whole album’s theme of achieving your dreams and achieving freedom to be truly yourself as an individual.

While the album does deal with universal themes and issues, it is essentially about the emotional and spiritual journey Jennifer has gone through as a transgender person. The documentary that accompanies the album gives insight into its genesis and subject matter, with second track Hinterland containing a spoken word excerpt that depicts the sense of emotional isolation she felt growing up. This documentary was made by Dakota Lane and has been selected by the NYC Indie film festival to be screened in May.

This sense of isolation and turmoil is explored in Outside, which is a complete contrast to the musical fireworks of the first track. Just piano and Jennifer’s vocal comprise the soundscape, the sparseness suiting to the vulnerability and emotional rawness of the lyrics. It brought to mind the fragile beauty of Antony and The Johnsons, with Antony also a transgender artist.

The following Red Heart reverts back to the style of the opening song, a driving piece of rock/funk about expressing a passionate and sensual temperament. The music captures perfectly the primal energy that the song is depicting and hits upon a killer groove. The musical modulations cleverly reflect the subject matter and creates a fierce musical tension.

This Man Is Dangerous is one of the most emotive songs on the album, about how Jennifer felt almost like a malevolent presence in the world as a man: “Caught in the shadow of a man you’ll never be, running from a face without a name….”. The Letting Go is another epic eight minute song, and this one brought to mind the more reflective songs on David Bowie’s last two albums. There is a similar worldly wisdom to the lyrics, borne from authentic lived experience.

O Caroline is a nice change of pace, an acoustic ballad that brought to mind the songwriting of Ray Davies of The Kinks and is one of the most conventional love songs on the album, musically, with a very catchy hook. No Man’s Land is another well arranged and detailed song with an orchestral feel.

In parts, it sounds like E.L.O. and early Pink Floyd, when Syd Barrett was the main creative force, and at times has the jazz-tinged symphonic grandeur of Brian Wilson’s legendary Smile album. Lyrically, it depicts the healing ability of both music and love as well as a feeling of finding home after a long period of estrangement.

Bird Dreams is an evocative spoken word instrumental that somehow seems to have delved into the collective unconscious and captured the wisdom that comes in dreams: “To be a bird, one must first learn the art of perfect waiting….a sea of agitation drowns the precious moment…the demon of logic consumes your precious bird dreams….”.

Open The Door is a welcome return to the funky and uplifting soul-infused rock of the earlier songs. About halfway through, it modulates and drifts off to some wonderfully unexpected places. The jazz influence is more manifest in the haunting Land of Dreams, with rich, Bacharach-esque chordal voicings. Lyrically, it brings us back to the album’s title and underlying theme, and achieves a remarkably dislocated, dreamlike sense of floating outside time and space.

Here, another short audio excerpt from the documentary (featuring the voice of its maker, Dakota Lane) depicts the imagery of a crow, and the parallel between the freedom of bird flight and Jennifer’s journey of self is obvious. The brief but lovely Home takes us back to the delicate piano balladry of Outside (this one with a beautiful string arrangement) and lyrically seems pivotal to the album’s theme: “Born such a long way from our home….”.

The Magic Voice is one of the finest songs on the album, an ode to the redemptive and spiritual power of music itself (“A mystical phone, a shaman in my head…”) and the kind of quirky and inventive pop at which the British have always excelled. It brings to mind the restless inventiveness of Todd Rundgren’s similarly mystical and epic album A Wizard, A True Star along with The Beatles at their most avant garde.

The way the music drifts off into another sonic universe from around the three minute mark is very cleverly executed, flowing seamlessly into the transcendental last two tracks, both instrumentals. Higher Than Life? has a tribal feel that made me think of the wild freeform jazz of Miles Davis’s classic Bitches Brew.

The closing Crow’s Dance brings us back to earth, as if the crow has finally reached its destination. It’s a joyous mélange of Irish folk and world music featuring accordion, brass, strings, mandolin and more. It’s superbly arranged with a subtle intricacy and somehow seems the perfect way to complete this epic emotional and musical story.

Overall, in an era where art and culture is increasingly adapted to the short attention span of the modern generation, to make such a sprawling and musically ambitious album cannot be commended highly enough. It shows artistic integrity and bravery, and the result is a unique musical document of her own emotional journey, saying plenty of truthful wisdom about life and the world along the way. A wonderful album by a very individual artist which richly deserves all the plaudits it receives.

VERDICT: 9.4 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen here:

Watch a short documentary on the making of the album:

Buy the album from CD Baby HERE

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

 

SINGLE REVIEW: So Simple and Another Song by Lovers of Fiction

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Lovers of Fiction are a four piece alternative rock/pop band hailing from Portland, Maine. They were formed in an unusual way, when classical composer and  University music theory professor Dan Sonenburg decided to ask three of his students to form a band with him. They released a critically acclaimed three song EP, The Bear, in 2013 and are due to release their debut album this year.

This double A-side single (nice to know bands still release those!) is a taster of their forthcoming album, and both songs certainly merit A-side status. Their music shows traces of many influences such as Roxy Music and David Bowie, and they have an operatic/progressive element that lifts it outside of your usual rock/pop. All four members are excellent musicians, and all multi-instrumentalists.

So Simple is the more straightforward of the two songs, an upbeat piece of melodic rock with a 60’s vibe to the songwriting. What strikes you immediately is the musical chemistry, with Keith Moon-style drumming and rubber-band bass playing forming a great rhythm section, over which chugging guitars and quirky keyboards fill out the sound.

Vocally, Sonenburg sounds like an American Bryan ferry, backed up by some nice harmonies. The lyrics are romantic but not in any clichéd way, and it makes for a perfect sugar rush of a pop song with an alternative edge.

Another Song, written by guitarist Jimmy Dority, shows their musical ambition and range as it has a sense of almost operatic grandeur that you’d compare with a band like Queen. It features a verse in 5/4 and a chorus in 6/8, constantly shifting and unpredictable chord changes that are almost Wagnerian and bursts of brilliant Brian May-esque lead guitar (from Dority and Mark Dennis). Somehow, this all hangs together and makes for a thrilling listen.

Overall, these two superb songs showcase a very gifted group who have the ambition to stretch the musical boundaries of the three/four minute song and the talent to pull it off. The whole band are pulling in the same direction and play for the song, despite their obvious virtuosity. Lovers of Fiction are one of the best bands I’ve heard for some time, and I can’t wait to hear their album.

 

Alex Faulkner

 

VERDICT: 9.2 out of 10