E.P. REVIEW: Achmelvich 2 by Fake Teak

72739899_10157905096557280_4750165642475208704_o.jpg

Fake Teak are a four-piece alternative rock band based in London. The group was originally the musical brainchild of lead vocalist and bass player Andrew Wyld, evolving eventually into a range of musicians with eclectic styles and tastes. They belong to a rich lineage of left field, alternative artists and you can hear the influence of groups like Roxy Music, The Teardrop Explodes, Talking Heads and Sparks, along with more modern influences like Hot Chip, Vampire Weekend and LCD Soundsystem. I gave a very positive review to their eponymous debut album which you can read here.

The genesis of this EP, Achmelvich 2, is based on a band ritual where every summer they spend a week in the Highlands of Scotland, which affords the seclusion and lack of distractions to concentrate on their music. This EP is the second fruit of their labours, you can read my review of Achmelvich 1 here.

As with Achmelvich 1, it consists of three tracks each written by either different members of the group or a group collaboration. The EP begins with the melancholy, brooding synth pop of Cromford which brings to mind the reflective moments of late-era Bowie and Depeche Mode circa Enjoy The Silence. The song mentions “village greens”, a reference to the classic 1968 album by The Kinks, The Village Green Preservation Society.

Over an intricate, off-kilter beat, pulsing bass and Jo Wyld’s haunting synths, Andrew Wyld gives a fine vocal performance while lyrically painting a picture of a world where industry and commerce has, over time, slowly destroyed the aspects of life which are not material but have real value to people.

This is captured succinctly and poetically in a line like, “Time descended on the Earth like Arkwright on the spinning wheel…”, a reference to the Industrial Revolution. Towards the end the track reaches a powerful crescendo, with the guitar and bass working in tandem like early Joy Division, one of their noted influences.

The following Wake Up (Another Place), written and sung by Alastair Nicholls, continues with the theme of the world changing around us but is more specifically about the political turmoil and division of Brexit-era Britain.

Based around a beautiful guitar figure that Johnny Marr would be proud to have written, the music blossoms into a soundscape that mirrors the resigned despair of the lyrics: “We wake up in uncertainty, this back and forth becomes the norm, there is one thing that’s clear to see, the fragile fabric has been torn…”. With its understated grandeur and balanced, incisive social commentary, this is Fake Teak at their best.

The final track, Pylons, is the result of a group collaboration and inspired by the Scottish highlands where it was written. Similar to the way Josh Homme invites artists out to a studio in the desert to record in a unique environment, known as the Desert Sessions, Fake Teak here show the strong influence of their surroundings.

Opening with a gentle flurry of flutes and bagpipe-sounding synths, it develops into a hymnal and languid ode to the place of its creative genesis. As with the other songs on the EP, it is filled with melodic intricacies that reveal themselves upon repeated listening and brings proceedings to a satisfying, transcendent close after the lyrical conflict of the first two tracks.

Overall, this is another sophisticated set of songs from this highly intelligent and creative group. This EP sees them continue with a contemplative and thoughtful lyrical style, while musically spreading their wings in a myriad of subtle but effective ways. With such a consistently strong musical output, it’s only a matter of time before Fake Teak are recognized as one of Britain’s finest alternative groups.

 

VERDICT: 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

Listen here:

 

SINGLE REVIEW: Inevitable by Forest Robots

Inevitable Cover.JPG

Forest Robots is the musical brainchild of electronic artist and composer Fran Dominguez. He has previously released two full length albums, Supermoon Moonlight – Part One and Timberline And Mountain Crest (both of which I gave glowing reviews to, read here and here). These albums were essentially conceptual works, ambient instrumental soundscapes inspired by nature.

This latest release, Inevitable, is a distinct contrast to those works, moving into the area of traditional songwriting and featuring vocals performed by Dominguez himself. The genre is influenced by classic 80’s electronica/synth-pop groups such as Depeche Mode and Cocteau Twins, as well as a My Bloody Valentine influence in the use of guitars.

Set to a mid-paced, slinky Daft Punk-style electronic beat, the music is propelled by pulsing, highly melodic Depeche Mode synths and a subtle but effective bassline. This forms the bedrock for the distinctive, rich lead vocals with Dominguez singing in a low register not unlike Depeche Mode’s Dave Gahan along with the understated style of New Order’s Bernard Sumner.

Lyrically, the song is essentially one about self-empowerment and not giving into the self-doubt created by a success-obsessed society: “They try to pretend that they know something that you don’t”. This builds to a momentous chorus with the mesmeric vocal hook, “When you know you know, you know…”. After this is a section of spectral guitars that gives the track an otherworldly feel akin to his previous work.

The second verse is direct in its unflinching honesty about life’s vicissitudes: “No point in pretending, heartbreak will always come…”. This is far from a ‘glass half empty’ outlook however, with the ultimate message hugely positive and empowering.

Overall, this is a bold step forward into unchartered territory for Forest Robots and already a highly successful one, creatively. Retaining some of the sonic qualities of previous material, Inevitable is a very well composed and performed synth-pop track, with Fran Dominguez’s vocal style as unique as his musical approach. Accessible, yet nothing like most of the mainstream music out there, Inevitable should gain Forest Robots a whole new legion of fans and open many doors.

 

VERDICT: 8.7 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

 

Listen here:

ALBUM REVIEW: Fire by Project Rod Williams

Fire No Faces.jpg

www.aug1stmusic.com

Project Rod Williams is an electro-dance pop studio ensemble which is the musical brainchild of songwriter/musician Rod Williams. Musically, it is a fusion of classic 70’s disco music like Giorgio Moroder and Donna Summer, 80’s synth pop such as Depeche Mode and Erasure and more modern pop artists like Justin Timberlake and Pharrell Williams. Rod has collaborated with lead vocalist Ben Dial on this album with additional vocals by Matt Williamson, Hannah Montwill, Nataly Andrade and Alex Silva.

The album, Fire, consists of eleven tracks (also featuring club mixes of nine of the songs) and has a conceptual theme. Half of the songs on the album are about enjoying the passion and seduction of nightlife and the other half are about the longing and pain often brought on by romantic relationships. The album is due for release on January 7th, 2019.

Opening track Let’s Get Out is the perfect representation of the Project Rod Williams sound and style. It grabs you from its opening bars with infectious percussion locking in with an alluring 70’s disco-style bassline. This is soon augmented by syncopated 80’s-esque synths before breaking into a full, very danceable beat that gets the toe tapping. The smooth lead vocals of Ben Dial enter the picture and his voice brings to mind cutting edge modern pop like Maroon 5 and the more recent work of Justin Timberlake. Alternate lines are layered with backing harmonies so that the music is constantly evolving and developing.

Thematically, it exemplifies the concept of the songs that celebrate living the good life, with the lyrics highlighting the appeal of escaping the daily grind by looking forward to Friday night and the weekend: “We work all week from nine to five, making money to live our lives…..”. The extremely catchy refrain captures this joyous feeling succinctly: “Leave our problems at the door, laugh, jump and scream, let our hearts be free…..”.

This is followed by an equally memorable chorus and Rod Williams shows his ability to make every part of the song a hook, a hallmark of the best pop songwriters. After the second chorus it enters an excellent breakdown section with a sophisticated vocal arrangement that brought to mind the finest Michael Jackson songs arranged and produced by Quincy Jones.

Second song Come On continues the lyrical theme but is musically quite different; smoky Rhodes and a more complex and unusual rhythmic pattern. There is a more rocky feel to the seductive and raunchy lead vocal performance, fused with Vince Clarke (from Erasure and one time member of Depeche Mode) style pulsing, futuristic-sounding synths. The descending vocal melody is fiendishly catchy, with an overt sexuality to the sultry lyrics: “I see you staring across the room, your eyes are saying what you want me to do….”. Great track.

Third song Hot To Trot returns to the more traditional dance rhythms of the first track but stands out for the addictiveness of the title hook and for featuring some very funky Nile Rodgers-esque high end electric guitar. Indeed, the way the song celebrates the hedonistic side of life (“We can be flirtatious, lose our minds and act outrageous…”) made me think of Rodgers’ classic group from the 1970’s, Chic. This infectious style is combined with low-end synths and piano lines with occasional stabs of synthetic brass to create a potent sonic concoction.

Next comes Fire, the title track of the album. It maintains the funk guitar sound of the previous song, but has a more modern EDM four-to-the-floor beat, at least to begin with. Vocally, the breathy falsetto style made me think of Prince and one of the dance classics of recent years, Get Lucky by Daft Punk ft. Pharell Williams. Once again, the title hook latches in the mind upon first listen and the use of female foreign spoken word vocals lends an exotic flavour. The falsetto lead vocals are contrasted by a section of low-end male vocals that adds to the song’s very sensual theme.

The following Invasion feels in ways a continuation but has a more rock vibe, with some low end lead guitar lines which work well with the swirling synths. The lead vocals are this time contrasted by certain lines being whispered, which adds a lot of atmosphere and encapsulates the power of seduction which is this tracks subject matter: “I can’t fight the way you hypnotize….invade my body, invade my soul…you’re taking over me, you’re in control….”.

After this, the album switches to the second aspect of the album’s theme, the pain that comes from love. Sixth song Take Cover has a much more emotional tone after the light hearted and sexually orientated earlier tracks. It’s a mid-paced synth pop epic in 6/8 time, with lyrics that are rather deep and poetic, about the tempestuous nature of romantic love: “The sky will thunder tonight, from lightning sparks my rage ignites, when flames of passion burn high you better find a place to hide…”. This kind of emotive synth pop is more reminiscent of 80’s groups like Soft Cell and The Human League.

You Were My Lady is the first truly traditional love ballad on the album (the only one not written by Rod Williams) and it’s a very well crafted one with a lilting vocal melody. It allows lead singer Ben Dial to perform in a more gentle and sensitive way, which he achieves with distinction. It’s a rather moving song about reflecting on happy times after a relationship has ended, then contrasted with the stark reality: “Now that house is empty, the music’s gone from the radio that used to play that song….”.

Bad Boys Don’t Cry returns to the more uptempo synth pop style whilst maintaining the lyrical theme of this half of the album. Musically, it has a real Giorgio Moroder vibe with rhythmic synths driving the song along. It’s about how men are not supposed to appear vulnerable or sad when going through heartbreak and contains yet another strong title hook. Ninth song Broken is rather more angry in its tone with some rather visceral lines: “Fake love you gave to me, filled my blood and clogged my veins…”.

Though the following I Say contains similarly downbeat and tormented lyrics, musically it is one the lightest moments, recalling the euphoric anthems of Erasure. The vocal melody is irresistible, providing another fine example of Williams’ melodic consistency and also features a superb synth section comprising several combined sounds.

The album ends on a rather melancholy but poignant note, with the heartfelt ballad Nobody Wants To Know, which features lead vocals from Matt Williamson. Matt powerfully conveys the troubled nature of the lyrics about not feeling supported by friends during dark times: “Can’t they see the tears I try to keep concealed?“. The music builds as the song progresses, with a sky-scraping string arrangement that closes the album on a musical high, even if the words are sad.

Overall, this is a modern pop album of a very high calibre that fuses the synth pop of the 80’s with the euphoric sound of 70’s disco, then brings it into the 21st century with cutting edge production. Aside from one track, Rod Williams has written, arranged and produced the whole thing which shows his artistic versatility. The album feels like a real labour of love and runs the gamut of emotions, from joy to despair. As if that’s not enough, the album comes with club mixes of nine of the songs, tailor made for the dancefloor. Put simply, Fire is an album laden with killer pop tracks of wide ranging appeal and has enormous commercial potential worldwide.

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

Release date: 7th January, 2019

Listen to the album here:

Listen to the club mix of Come On:

 

E.P. REVIEW: Tilt by Acharya

Attachment_1540659415.jpeg

https://www.facebook.com/acharyaband/

Acharya are an emerging avant/alternative pop band from Northern California, consisting of Josh Grayem (lead vocals/guitars) and Daniel Blackburn (drums, percussion). This duo are the creative hub, but Acharya are also a musical collective which feature contributions from other musicians. A few months back I reviewed the title track of this five-track EP which was produced by Dryw Owens.

Their music is essentially cerebral alternative pop/rock that combines the sound of intelligent 80’s/90’s groups like Depeche Mode,  Joy Division, Tears For Fears and Talk Talk with the modern production and style of alternative bands like Nothing But Thieves, The xx and Alvvays, as well as aspects of The Killers.

Opening track Spearhead is a fine introduction which establishes their signature sound; a musical bedrock of interweaving, angular guitar and synth lines that manages to be complex yet uncluttered, with arrangements that are structured to allow the music to breathe. This sets the scene for Josh Grayem’s rich, distinctive low-register vocals which bring to mind Dave Gahan, Roland  Orzabal and Brandon Flowers.

Just as Joy Division’s music somehow captured the bleak landscape of post-World War II Manchester, the juxtaposition of human elements with synth and production technology somehow mirrors the modern world in Acharaya’s music, akin to Radiohead on OK Computer.

Lyrically, this disparate and disjointed feel is conveyed through taut, focused single lines in succession that bring to mind William Burroughs’ cut-up technique, employed by David Bowie and Kurt Cobain. Spearhead appears to be about capitalism and big business: “Aspirations rise to the top, commitments made that won’t be fulfilled …Spearhead, your target market makes it so hard to choose….”.

I’ve already given my views on the excellent title track Tilt (which you can read here) but, for the uninitiated, it’s a great starting point for listening to this band. Musically, it resurrects the majestic synth rock melancholy of Depeche Mode circa Enjoy The Silence and updates it with slick, but still edgy, modern sounds and production techniques. “Hang your coat and let this great wall crumble…” seems an apposite line for this troubled era.

Third track Vigilance maintains the brooding intensity, this one based around a pulsating low-end guitar line and featuring some highly effective vocal harmonies. The tension of the verse is released in the Idlewild-esque cathartic chorus, with lyrics that are somehow vivid yet opaque: “First cry comes and you feel the cost, the elation creeping up your neck…”. The syncopated section after the second chorus is simply brilliant.

The following Stand sets itself apart through featuring guest lead vocals and piano from Rachel Wagner on the verses (and later combining on the choruses). Her crystalline voice made me think of Liz Frazer (Cocteau Twins) and it acts as a nice contrast to Josh Grayem’s. The lyrics are angst-ridden but stoic: ” This is time for struggle, lines blur, grinding knuckles, so thin, most left wanting, brave this with confidence and pride…”

Last track Continuum (featuring Matt Coate on bass) starts out as the most minimalistic song here, creating an accumulative momentum through repetition, which perfectly fits with the opening  lyrics: “Minimize the micro, and the size is so small…”. Having started out in 6/8 time it then gets sucked into a black hole section halfway through. After emerging on the other side there’s another verse in 6/8, then the music unexpectedly switches to a final section in 4/4 time to bring the EP to a suitably epic close.

Overall, with this EP Acharaya have already cemented their artistic sound, style and identity.  They have managed to transcend their influences to create futuristic alt. rock music that belongs completely to 2018, both musically and lyrically. I expect this band to make big waves on the alternative scene and can’t wait for a full length album.

 

VERDICT = 8.8 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

Listen here:

SINGLE REVIEW: Tilt by Acharya

tiltt

Acharya are an emerging avant/alternative pop band from Northern California, consisting of Josh Grayem (lead vocals/guitars) and Daniel Blackburn (drums, percussion). This duo are the creative hub, but Acharya are also a musical collective which feature contributions from other musicians. This song, Tilt, is taken from the EP of the same name due later this year and was produced by Dryw Owens.

Their music is essentially cerebral alternative pop/rock that combines the sound of intelligent 80’s/90’s pop like Depeche Mode and Talk Talk with the modern production and style of alternative bands like Nothing But Thieves and Alvvays. The track grabs you within seconds, with Josh Grayem’s rich, distinctive low-register vocals bringing to mind Dave Gahan. He sings over a bedrock of tight, rock solid drums from Daniel Blackburn and a propulsive bassline courtesy of former A Lot Like Birds’ bass player Matt Coate.

Lyrically, it’s somewhat arcane and refreshingly deep, with some thought-inducing lines: “Regardless of the mind pull, now is never something to think trivial….”. This angular, left of field approach is also manifest in the clever use of syncopated, minimalist guitar that proves less is more and brought to mind the work of Carlos Alomar during Bowie’s experimental 70’s period. Special mention should go to the superb production, which is absolutely flawless.

Overall, this is an exceptionally good debut release from an alternative group who combine a fine pop sensibility with a cerebral, inventive approach that sets them apart from the crowd. With both a unique, identifiable sound and radio friendly production, I predict that, with further releases of this quality, Acharya are a group that will gain in critical and commercial success very quickly indeed.

 

VERDICT: 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen here:

SINGLE REVIEW: Killer by Collegians

KILLER_ARTWORK

Collegians are a four-piece, alternative electro-rock band based in Melbourne, Australia. Formed in 2014, they have been busy recording their debut album and have already forged a distinctive sound; they combine the dark synth textures of Depeche Mode with the harder hitting rock aspects of bands like Muse and Linkin Park as well as the anthemic elements of Imagine Dragons. They have already made a considerable impact with their first two singles Vaccine and Black Mass, which featured highly in several charts and was received to considerable acclaim from the critics.

I gave a glowing review to Collegians second single, Black Mass, released in late 2017. This song, Killer, is slightly heavier and harder hitting, while retaining their keen pop sensibility for creating hooks that are, well, killer. Starting with a moody synth melody, singer Glenn Patrick lays down a captivating vocal performance about a femme fatale. Combined with a raw, gritty electronic backing and a pulsating beat, it results in what is now their signature sound.

There’s a subtle reference to the Queen classic Killer Queen in the opening verse, another band who fused rock with other genres in inventive ways. As expected from this band, it builds to an epic chorus that is instantly distinctive and anthemic: “We’re praying for you, we’re praying for you…”. After the second chorus, it enters a breakdown section that forms the lyrical crux of the song (“There comes a day where something’s gotta break) and culminates in a magnificent lead vocal crescendo, before blasting through the chorus one last time.

Overall, this is yet another single of the highest quality from a band who are fusing rock and electronica in a way that results in a cutting edge form of modern pop, that will appeal to both the rock and pop crowds. Collegians songs are designed to sound huge and be sung along to by huge numbers. With three fantastic singles now under their belt, the world is theirs for the taking.

VERDICT: 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen here:

 

SINGLE REVIEW: Black Mass by Collegians

Collegians 2_preview.jpeg

Collegians are a four-piece, alternative electro-rock band based in Melbourne, Australia. Formed in 2014, they have been busy recording their debut album and have already forged a distinctive sound; they combine the dark synth textures of Depeche Mode with the harder hitting rock aspects of bands like Muse and Linkin Park as well as the anthemic elements of Imagine Dragons. They have already made a considerable impact with their first single Vaccine, which featured highly in several charts and was received to considerable acclaim from the critics.

This second single, Black Mass, has followed suit, gaining even higher chart placing since its release in November, 2017. It’s the perfect showcase for their modern synth-rock style, with a standout performance from vocalist and frontman Glenn Patrick. Lyrically, it is highly apposite for this era; it’s about the pervasive, brainwashing influence of the mass media on people. The band describe the song succinctly as “a requiem to free thought”.

It starts with chugging low synth and lyrically, goes straight for the jugular: “You lay your dead sheep sermon on me, its round my neck, it’s poisoned my head…”. The track builds gradually builds with a simple beat entering in the second verse. It leads to the instantly memorable, anthemic chorus describing the far reaching effect of the media: “It’s a black mass going live to every lounge room, every bedroom….”. After the second chorus it breaks down into an extended middle eight section with rolling toms and fizzing synths, building up to a final chorus that you find yourself singing after one listen.

Overall, this is a real barnstormer of a single, a powerful one-two punch after the killer debut single Vaccine. It cleverly balances an accessible, radio friendly sound whilst having a sharp lyrical edge that is distinctly lacking in much modern pop. It boasts the kind of anthemic chorus you can imagine thousands chanting along to, and, based on the evidence so far, Collegians are my tip for the top in 2018 and beyond.

 

VERDICT: 9.2 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Jitterbug Shake by Rick Shaffer

JitterbugShake_ARTWORK_Front

Rick Shaffer is a singer and songwriter, as well as the founding member of the Philadelphia based band The Reds. Their eponymous debut album led to live appearances with groups like The Police, Blondie, The Ramones and Public Image, amongst others. On a different label they released several critically acclaimed albums, which led to working with director Michael Mann, who incorporated their songs into the show Miami Vice. This led to writing for films and the song Terror In My Heart featured in Nightmare on Elm Street 2.

Along with session work, playing guitar for artists like Marianne Faithfull and Marc Almond, Rick started releasing solo albums, with Jitterbug Shake being his sixth. It contains ten tracks all written by Shaffer and has been produced to recreate the raw, overdriven sound of the garage rock groups of the Sixties like The Pretty Things and early Rolling Stones. These bands were inspired by the 50’s rockers like Chuck Berry, Slim Harpo and Link Wray, and those influences are manifest throughout this album.

Got to Know starts the album and makes immediate impact, with Shaffer’s swaggering Jagger-esque vocals delivered over the biting guitar twang of the great Chuck Berry and Link Wray records. The following Sure Thing is superb, a swampy blues number in 2/4, driven along by a riff that brought to mind Personal Jesus, one of Depeche Mode’s rockier moments. Going Strong is another highlight, with a fantastic nah-nah chant on the addictive chorus and some wonderful lead guitar.

So Tired is so Stonesy that they’ll be disappointed not to have written it themselves, carried along by a jangling guitar riff that brought to mind their early classic The Last Time. Sixth track Just A Little is another fine blues rock track, while the fuzzy distortion of It’s True features a wild lead vocal drenched in slapback delay, a hallmark of 50’s rock n roll production.

Confidence Man and Break Of Day carry on the Stones vibe, while throwing harmonica and slide guitar into the musical mix. Can’t Go Back is a great homage to blues artist Jessie Mae Hemphill, while closing track Last Of Me is a perfect finale, with a mean guitar riff. It appropriately parts with the words ‘C’mon baby, do the Jitterbug Shake….’

Overall, this is a fantastic album that takes all the best elements of garage rock and combines them to create an arresting and potent sound. It manages to sidestep what could have become mere pastiche and revitalizes a sub genre of rock for the modern age, in a similar way to bands like The White Stripes and The Black Keys. Fans of those groups will find much to enjoy here.

 

Alex Faulkner

Verdict: 8.7 out of 10

 

Download a FREE mp3 of “SO TIRED” from JITTERBUG SHAKE here:

SINGLE REVIEW: Tears by In Isolation (released 21st July 2014)

INISOLATION

In Isolation are an indie rock trio hailing from Nottingham that hark back to classic New Wave 80’s bands such as The Cult, Depeche Mode and, perhaps more than anyone, mid-period Echo and the Bunnymen. After successfully releasing a clutch of singles that have received radio play and featured on various shows, this single has been superbly produced by Gavin Monaghan (Editors, Paulo Nutini) and Joseph Murray.

Much like the bands listed above, In Isolation favour rich and expressive, passionate vocals courtesy of Ryan Swift and also, like the Bunnymen, a predilection for poetic, impressionistic lyrics (‘Tears spill over, flooding your fire…’ runs the epic chorus). With a trio, there can be no weak links instrumentally and In Isolation form a powerful, tight musical unit.

Tony Ghost’s precise, inventive drumming and John Berry’s muscular yet melodic bass playing provide a strong platform for some deft guitar work (also played by Berry) that runs the gamut of 80’s playing styles, from shimmering delays to Will Sergeant-esque scratchy high-end chords. I enjoyed the way a steady wall of guitar sounds built across the song in the way Johnny Marr used to do in The Smiths, another influence.

However, quality musicianship is worth nothing without a good song and fortunately Tears is a memorable and well-crafted piece of music, Swift’s distinctive and emotive vocals making a strong impression on the first listen. They are somewhat less portentous and bleak than, say, White Lies, another British trio with 80’s New Wave leanings. The chorus soon sticks in the mind and this commercial aspect bodes well for their future. Overall, this is an excellent choice for a single, and an intriguing taster for their forthcoming debut album being released sometime later this year.

 

Alex Faulkner

Verdict: 8.6 out of 10