E.P. REVIEW: Bittersweet by Mason Roberts

Bittersweet.jpg
Mason Roberts is a singer and songwriter currently based in Kalamazoo, MI. His music is essentially emotive pop in the style of James Blunt but with an electronica/EDM aspect to his sound, akin to James Blake. As a vocalist, he has been compared to Josh Groban and Michael Bublé, amongst others. He has released several EPs before this one including Big City, Naturally and Come Home Tonight along with the recent singles 2 Close, Open Wide and Emotionless.

This EP, Bittersweet, consists of four tracks and begins strongly with the title track. Starting with a haunting acoustic guitar melody, Mason’s highly distinctive vocal style emerges along with a simple but effective beat which then develops into a more intricate EDM rhythm. Mason gives an affecting, memorable vocal performance often near the top of his considerable range. The contrast between the delicate melodies and more strident beat makes for a very effective dichotomy.

It’s on the second track though where Mason truly gets to shine vocally. Shattered begins in a similarly understated way to Bittersweet, similar in style to an artist like Sam Smith, then starts to build to an epic chorus where Mason’s rich vibrato comes to the fore. The power of the vocals is matched by the strength of the vocal melody and the combined effect is breathtaking, especially the extended high note on the line “Make me whole again…”.

Burn maintains his signature sound of EDM-infused pop, this one even featuring a snare roll and riser before the chorus. Once again, the vocals excel and the “Let me go” hook sticks fast in the memory. The balance between well crafted songwriting and a slick modern arrangement/production style is very skilfully managed, making it cutting edge whilst having strong traditional elements.

The final track is an acoustic version of Bittersweet and the intimacy of this version allows the beauty of the vocal melody and lyrics to make more impact. It will be up to listeners to decide which version they prefer, but both have their merits.

Overall, this is a very strong EP from a singer songwriter blessed with an exceptional voice. The standard of the songwriting matches the quality of the vocals and the infusion of EDM elements gives it a decidedly modern appeal. It’s surely only a matter of time before the world catches on to the brilliant talent of Mason Roberts and perhaps this is the EP that kicks down the door.

 

VERDICT= 9.1 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

 

 

 

Listen here:

 

Advertisements

ALBUM REVIEW: Ten Percent by Blue Soul Ten

Ten Percent.png
Blue Soul Ten is the artistic moniker and musical brainchild of musician, composer and producer Clay Greene. He’s been part of the music industry for 20 years, starting out as a radio DJ as well as studying composition and production at the prestigious Berklee College of Music. His music incorporates jazz, funk, soul, electronica, reggae and hip hop with his tracks often featuring guest artists. He’s released four albums previously, The Unspoken Warrior, The Fearless Warrior, The Beautiful Warrior and 2018’s Blue Notes.

This album, Ten Percent, consists of eleven tracks and starts out with the title track. It’s a jazz/soul instrumental that acts as a good introduction to the exquisitely performed and produced Blue Soul Ten signature sound. Opening with warm sax over subtle piano chords, an intricate percussive pattern breaks into a toe-tapping beat with a pulsing guitar lick driving the musical momentum forward. As it progresses with layers of synths and hints of female vocals, it sets the mellow yet sophisticated vibe for the whole album.

The second track Give In To Me flows seamlessly from the first. It’s a soul/RnB track with a slinky groove and some fine funk-style guitar work. The smooth male vocals fit the track perfectly, a succinct verse leading to an understated but subtly infectious chorus. The simple but effective bassline adds to the sensual vibe, along with the sax break towards the end. A good choice as a single release.

Make It Hot maintains a similar tempo but this one is a hip hop track featuring a performance from rap artist Surron The Seventh. Based around smoky Rhodes and a catchy vibraphone melody, Surron lays down his rhymes over a punchy hip hop beat. He has a natural flow on the mic with some great lines: “Listen, we learned the hard way…always running fast money like a Maserati car chase…”. This is interspersed by a female sung refrain which acts as the perfect contrast. Great track.

Life is another fine song, a laid back jazzy soul track with a summery vibe and featuring some exquisite vocal harmonies on the title hook. The guitar work once again is stellar and the catchiness of the chorus along with its radio friendly sound makes this another potential choice as a single.

Next up is my personal favourite on the album, the reggae/dancehall track Satisfied, featuring the vocals of Zahira. Set to a chugging reggae groove and syncopated, funky guitar Satisfied is a superbly crafted song building to an instantly memorable chorus. The vocal performance is first rate and the bursts of brass add to the colour before a searing electric guitar solo takes the music into the stratosphere. It’s a potent blend of genres fused seamlessly and sounds like one hell of a party.

Another fine instrumental, 10% Interlude, breaks things up nicely between the sung tracks and leads perfectly into Real Love which is based on a Police-style tight guitar lick. It features the same male vocalist as Give In To Me and it’s another sensuous song about the allure of a woman: “Every time you look at me, lost in the synergy…you are a firework in my headspace.” The hook works with the guitar line to great effect and it’s another track suited to radio. Listen out for the backwards wah-drenched guitar at the end.

Purpose (featuring IV) returns to the soulful hip hop sound with another strong rapping performance. The chord progression underneath shows the jazz influence with a meaty bassline going to melodic places you wouldn’t expect, but it works. There’s a more spiritual vibe to the rhymes than you find in most hip hop (“I don’t do this for the profit, I do this cos I’m God-sent…”) and the whole track has a deep message about finding your purpose in life.

These Words starts out like a soul/RnB ballad on the verse before developing into a fine EDM track with a swinging beat on the chorus. Again, it’s a fusion of styles that sounds completely natural and the lush female harmonies complete the sonic picture. Listen out for some unexpected chord changes on the middle eight that shows the jazz roots of the music. The memorable vocal hook makes it another apposite choice as a single.

The jazz influence comes to the fore on the slow-paced Grateful with some gorgeous arpeggio piano and Rhodes forming the bedrock for an intimate and sensual vocal performance that brought to mind Corinne Bailey Rae. Halfway through we hear some lovely Spanish-style classical acoustic guitar which adds to the sophisticated flavour and classy feel.

The album closes out with a final instrumental, Blue Theme V, starting with a didgeridoo (yes, you read that right!) then developing into the Blue Soul Ten signature sound once again, full of rich saxophone and super tight guitars. There’s a wealth of instrumental detail in the mix, from swirling synths to soaring strings and brief bursts of biting brass. It’s a nice way to come down from an album of consistent highs and wraps things up perfectly.

Overall, this fifth album from Blue Soul Ten is of the highest quality from start to finish. The standard of musicianship and composition is first rate and the way eclectic genres, from jazz to hip hop. are brought together is highly impressive. With a plethora of potential singles and stellar performances from featured artists, Ten Percent covers every base in terms of commercial appeal and artistic endeavour. Clay Greene has surely made his masterpiece.

 

 

VERDICT = 9.3 out of 10           

Alex Faulkner

For updates on the album’s release visit the Blue Soul Ten Instagram page HERE

 

 

 

 

 

TWO TRACK REVIEW: Doors To Manual/ Bruising by TheKunig

My God.jpg

TheKunig is the artistic moniker of electronica producer, musician and looper Micky C who hails from Derby, England. Specifically, his production skills include drum loops, sequencers, synths and bass. Under this moniker he has released several albums since 2015 including On The Canvas, Urban Album, Kunigunda, Coulda Tried Harder and his most recent album, Bloodline, released in March 2019.

His music has been featured many times on one of the UK’s most prominent and important shows for breaking new artists, BBC Introducing. I recently gave stellar reviews to his last two releases, In Love and Lakeland Plaza (read here and here )

These latest two tracks, Doors To Manual and Bruising, are both taken from TheKunig’s forthcoming album Where’s My God? As with every track TheKunig releases, they are both a little different to each other and to his previous singles.

Doors To Manual is a slinky electronica track with a jazzy four-chord progression underpinning a soul/RnB style vocal melody. This particular juxtaposition of genres brings to mind artists like Disclosure and AlexaGeorge, though TheKunig always manages to impose his own sonic identity on his productions.

Starting with just synth, a simple but effective bassline and a punchy, intricate beat enters to form the bedrock of the track, providing the platform for a superb female lead vocal performance from a guest collaborator.

Her soulful tone gives the track its emotional resonance as she depicts a relationship in a difficult place: “You can say I haven’t tried to cross the great divide, your feelings come and go but I still love you so…..”. TheKunig shows his musicality halfway through the track with a jazz-tinged, expressive synth solo that adds a little more flavour to what’s already a fantastic track which should open up a few more doors for him, commercially speaking.

Bruising is somewhat more up tempo, starting out with a funky, Stevie Wonder style keyboard break then bolstered by a Fools Gold-esque breakbeat. The melodic vamp forms the backbone of the whole track, with the ostinato bassline giving it a nice balance. The vocals in this one are more understated and work seamlessly with the rest of the track.

The punchy, super slick production gives a sound ideal for radio and the vocal hook is deceptively catchy. Underneath is another of the jazzy synth melodies that helps to unite these two differing tracks, sonically. Its restless, infectious energy makes it perfect to dance to, and brought to mind some of Mark Ronson’s work post-Uptown Funk.

Overall, these two tracks consolidate TheKunig as a consistently excellent electronica artist which bodes well for his upcoming album. The tracks work both as well crafted and memorable songs as well as dance tracks that will be popular in the clubs. Doors To Manual has the most potential for radio with its killer melody and modern urban pop sound while Bruising is guaranteed to get the dancefloor heaving. The album looks like it’s going to be a classic of its genre.

 

VERDICT= 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

Listen here:

E.P. REVIEW: The Legend Of Love by Miky Anton

01 new.jpg

Miky Anton is a professional violinist and composer hailing from Berlin, Germany. His style of music is what is known as neoclassical, combining traditional classical music with more modern genres such as electronica/EDM, pop, crossover and cinematic. He aims to tell a story through each piece of music he creates and invites the listener to work out what he’s trying to express artistically.

This EP, The Legend Of Love, consists of four compositions, each with a unique theme. Don’t Give Up starts the EP and grabs your attention straight away with some strident double stops on the violin over an urgent dance beat before performing some exhilarating runs that brought to mind the stormier parts of Vivaldi’s classic Four Seasons. These exciting sections are contrasted by gentle, haunting ones based on the same descending chord progression. A thrilling start to the EP.

Next comes the title track and once again it blends a beautiful melody backed by an electronic beat, this one more of a breakbeat, before exploding into a frenzy of virtuoso violin playing. As a composition, there is a dark, mysterious quality to the music that brought to mind the peerless composer Beethoven.

The following U & Me is quite a contrast with a much more tranquil sound set at a languid tempo. It is based on lovely pizzicato strings which forms the bedrock for Miky’s expressive and lyrical violin melody that again made me think of Beethoven, but something like the Pastoral Symphony.

Final track Beyond The Borders is perhaps the most modern sounding track, with a futuristic sounding electronic backing underneath more wonderful violin work. The second melody has a rustic, carefree quality that made me think of the folk-influenced composers like Dvorak and Haydn. A fine way to finish the EP.

Overall, this is a highly impressive EP by a first rate violinist and neoclassical composer. He has successfully combined virtuosity with melodic content as well as an accessible classical style with more modern, established genres. This is not an easy feat to accomplish and hopefully Miky Anton will reap the rewards by bring the wonders of classical music and the enchanting sound of the violin to an appreciative modern audience.

 

VERDICT = 9 out of 10           

Alex Faulkner

 

 

Listen here:

ALBUM REVIEW: Wav-Legion II by Bonnie Legion & wav-Dr.

82kPqomaPXmNdLsBfMgpatvpjtkLHYM7zV9yJ2FgJBsL.jpg

www.wav-legion.com

This artistic project has a fascinating and very modern genesis. Bonnie Legion has been a multi-genre recording artist for over a decade and in late 2018 she connected with the Canadian producer, songwriter and musician wav-Dr.

Their first collaborative track was Heavy Weight and this led to a full length album, Wav-Legion, which fused electronica with real instrumentation and was released at the start of 2019. This highly eclectic duo encompass several genres including pop, rock, hip hop, electronica and soul.

Hot on the heels of their debut album comes this epic sixteen track album just a few months later. It gets off to a fine start with the super catchy and acerbic Escape The Mundane (ft. Miss Efemby).

Blending a pumping four-to-the-floor dance beat with strummed acoustic guitar, the lyrics depict quotidian life and trying to transcend it: “Clock ticks slowly, a quarter to insane, I go around in circles on the road of the mundane.” The music’s momentum is so strong you hardly notice its lengthy duration, breaking down and building up around the halfway mark with some nifty lead guitar work.

Fear of Flying is equally good, a mid-paced mash up of electronica, dubstep, hip-hop and pop with another great hook and lead vocal performance from Bonnie Legion. The loose, funky beat is pure hip-hop, melded with smoky Rhodes electric piano along with both acoustic and electric guitar. This provides the bedrock for a fantastic vocal arrangement, layered with backing harmonies. A potential single.

Money Time Life is more minimal, a languid RnB beat and eerie synths setting the scene for a haunting lead vocal from Bonnie, interspersed with spoken male vocals (presumably wav-Dr.) intoning the unsettling title hook: “They want your money, your time, your life….”. Fourth track The Wave It Rides is a similar tempo but with a more intricate, tribal sounding beat. This is fused with disco bass, funk guitar and some quirky vocal effects. Very inventive and pleasingly impossible to categorise.

Flip Side maintains the mellow vibe, this one with an understated but deceptively catchy hook (“See you on the flip side…”) that blends the two members’ vocal styles perfectly. The lyrics are deliciously dark and subtly apocalyptic: “Let’s watch the world as it’s burning down, fingertips gonna touch the sky when its coming down….”.

Directions is rather more upbeat, a sassy and fiesty vocal performance from Bonnie that brought to mind the equally eclectic St. Vincent (Annie Clark). As usual, the lyrics are full of wit and pithy observations on life: “Everybody’s got the truth, I say it’s yet to be found….”. Fantastic track and another potential single.

Layered Intentions brings back the hip hop vibe with a slinky, shuffling beat, interspersed with funky Rhodes piano. It’s another standout performance from Bonnie Legion, who shows a rhythmic dexterity of delivery that would rival the finest rappers out there. The whole album is cutting edge but this track feels like it really has its finger on the pulse, stylistically.

The superbly grimy Money Crime seems to emerge from the slipstream of the previous track, taking it to another level with a more soulful pop vibe and a killer hook. Yet another good choice as a single.

Ninth track You Up is quirky rock-infused electronica with wav-Dr. taking over the majority of the vocal duties, which adds further contrast and variety to the sound. The message is defiant and empowering: “Don’t let them keep you down, don’t let them fuck you up, you’re only on the ground, I’m here to pick you up….”.

Hello City is another great track with an important message to impart about the homeless along with its genius title hook: “Some of them are sick and wounded, some are always high, but if you were out in that cold alone you would long to fly…”.

Soldier is another masterful fusion of pop, RnB, dubstep, EDM and rock that starts out sparse and unfolds into a very clever arrangement that builds up until the very end. Lyrically, it’s affecting; it depicts a troubled, complex relationship with someone who has issues but who’s also the source of encouragement and support (“Girl, you’re a soldier…onward, soldier“).

How Bad is one of the album’s most pop moments with a huge title hook that soon latches in the memory. Of course, there’s all sorts of smart genre fusion going on underneath the poppy hook, making it the most modern, cutting edge pop music out there.

Missing It is more proof of this, a relatable song about the realities, contradictions and complexities of human relationships. Musically, it throws together subtle country-style guitar with chugging funk/reggae guitar along speaker-rumbling synth bass and a restless, insistent beat. Once again their combined vocals hit the yin/yang bullseye, captured by the haunting title refrain.

Hynoptise is one of the album’s most earthy and sensual songs with a seductive rhythm and an alluring ‘come hither’ vocal from Bonnie.  The result in an intoxicating, exotic sounding piece of pop that is perhaps the most commercial and accessible track here, with lyrics that get right to the point: “Hypnotise my mind baby straight to heaven …..let the smoke rise“.

The album’s final two tracks maintain the remarkably consistent quality, with Kinetic being another pop gem featuring a fantastic second section based around the tribal mantra “Let it bring down fire and lightning“. It’s another fine example of how they breathe new life into what many perceive as a stale format.

Last track Stop Thinking (featuring Robert P. Kreitz II as feature producer) is both one of the most experimental and quirky yet infectious and addictive songs on the album. As if the Black Eyed Peas had dropped acid and gained an imagination, the track is driven by disorientating and wild synth sounds, constantly morphing underneath the dynamite vocal melody. A hugely entertaining note to end on.

Overall, this is an outstanding modern pop album that fuses a bewildering range of genres together seamlessly and reinvents what pop music actually is in the process. The sustained inventiveness and creativity across sixteen tracks, along with consistently strong lyrics and melodies, make Bonnie Legion and wav-Dr. a musical force to be reckoned with. Balancing originality and eclecticism with peerless pop nous, their commercial potential is enormous as is their creative potential for the future. Ones to watch, for sure.

 

VERDICT = 9.2 out of 10       

Alex Faulkner

 

Listen here:  

 

SINGLE REVIEW: Soul City by GentleBeatz

gentle beats.jpg

https://www.facebook.com/gentlebeatz

GentleBeatz is the artistic moniker of a hip hop/electronica composer and producer currently based in Mozambique. He describes his musical style as lo-fi hip hop/chill-hop. In fact, he incorporates and fuses many eclectic genres into his sound including jazz, reggae, soul, blues, EDM, R&B, folk, indie and world music. His work is mostly instrumental in form and he explains that creating music is partly therapeutic, as a way of dealing with life’s anxieties and difficulties.

This track, Soul City, is taken from the eight track album of the same name. It’s a mellow, mid-paced hip-hop instrumental that makes a strong impact despite its short duration, less than two and a half minutes. It starts with the sound of crackling vinyl, and a languid, dreamy guitar line that quickly latches in the listener’s mind. It has the authentic feel of funk music from the 70’s with its subtle but seductive bassline, yet also has the modern addition of a slinky hip-hop beat.

On top of this are brief bursts of electronica which further add to the modernity of the sound and these gradually become more recurrent as the track progresses. Around halfway through a female vocal refrain emerges that complements the guitar motif perfectly and towards the end the guitar switches to a low octave, giving the feeling of gradually coming down to earth after a flight. It’s this wealth of nuanced detail that marks out GentleBeatz’ music as superior.

Overall, this is a highly impressive fusion of hip-hop, R&B, funk and electronica that is, most importantly, very enjoyable to listen to. GentleBeatz takes the soulful sound of 70’s funk/R&B and brings it up to date with slick hip-hop beats and a modern, cutting edge production style. It is similar to what Mark Ronson was doing in the earlier part of his career, and I hope GentleBeatz gets a break in the industry as his music would bring pleasure to many.

VERDICT = 8.7 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen here:

SINGLE REVIEW: Masala Bazaar by Jamit & Kroissenbrunner

jamit(2).jpg

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

Listen here: