SINGLE REVIEW: Soul City by GentleBeatz

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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

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SINGLE REVIEW: Masala Bazaar by Jamit & Kroissenbrunner

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Jamit is an electronica/EDM composer and producer who grew up in Australia but is now based in Singapore. The past months have seen a plethora of instrumental releases, including Multiplayer Erotica, Lovers and Rockers, Solar Power and Star of Wonder. His music is essentially psychedelic trance with other aspects of EDM genres incorporated into the sound, along with innovative use of spoken word samples.

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

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

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

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

 

VERDICT = 8.9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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ALBUM REVIEW: 12-02 The Journey by Gulliverb

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Gulliverb is the artistic moniker of Spanish electronica composer/producer Chimo Ausin. He has a fascinating back story; he is a trained pilot and works for a well known Spanish company flying Boeing 747’s. When not flying planes around the world, he’s also the executive producer of Russia Today TV. However, it’s the former passion for aviation that is the inspiration for this album 12-02 The Journey.

This concept album has been years in the making, and the concept is based around space travel, specifically the first time we sent men to the Moon in 1969. He intends to release the album to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11. Musically, it could be described as future house or deep house, but the epic proportions of the tracks and use of atmospheric noises means it could be classified in the psytrance genre.

Another notable aspect of the music is that Gulliverb combines electronic sounds with real musical instruments including guitars, cellos, sax and harmonica. So far, he has made six tracks available before its full release in July, 2019. The opening track, Part 1, is the perfect introduction to his musical style. From its opening bars, it creates a sense of tension and excitement as vocal samples (presumably from the Apollo 11 mission) are heard over pulsing synths.

A memorable melody then emerges which forms the bedrock for the whole track. The arrangement is cleverly constructed, with effective use of cymbals and kick drum ‘booms’ that help create a sense of drama and crescendo. This builds up to the entry of a full house beat, with punchy kick and snare giving it a muscular and vibrant sound. Indeed, the intricate drum programming is one of the great strengths of the album, which is never just a repeated loop that a less talented, less inspired composer/producer might use.

Halfway through, the track breaks down to a female voice describing the musical concept behind Gulliverb and then for the first time we hear lead vocals, albeit briefly. It builds up once again when a new, very catchy low-end saw wave riff enters along with a classic ‘four to the floor’ beat. It then returns to a full beat augmented by samples, then follows a short half-time section leading to the final section coloured by rich saxophone. And that’s just the first track!

This complex, symphonic compositional style continues through the six album tracks released so far. Part 2 begins with dramatic strings creating a sense of intrigue then a section featuring a complex, syncopated beat leads to a hard hitting Oliver Heldens-style future house beat. The music continually morphs and progresses, featuring Enigma-esque Gregorian lead vocals and vocal samples, along with some imaginative atmospheric touches. It’s another epic at eight minutes but reveals a wealth of detail upon repeated listens, including more bursts of wailing sax and guitar towards the end.

Re-Entre is much shorter at three minutes but continues the future house style, with a raw sounding low end synth driving the momentum. This is one of the more aggressive sounding tracks, with the powerful drums bringing to mind The Prodigy. The ascending high-end synth melody that emerges in the final section is inventive and effective.

The fourth part, Landing, is the longest track here at over nine and a half minutes but, once again, there is not a dull moment. Constantly shifting rhythmic patterns and interweaving melodies keep your attention gripped, contrasted by tender strings and filmic percussion. Indeed, there is a strong cinematic quality to the music, given added depth through the album’s stylistic concept. The middle section is essentially dubstep, featuring Skrillex-esque warped, swooping saw-wave synths.

There is a real sense of drama where we hear vocal samples of the moon landing set to a poignant orchestral passage, clearly a major moment. It then takes off again with quirky NRG-style riffs and a restless, punchy beat before breaking down to a spine chilling section of piano, guitar and the beatific female vocals of Nicole Dobrovolski. At the very end we hear the classic famous moon-landing line, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind“. Truly an epic journey and perhaps the centrepiece of the album.

Nicole Dobrovolski features heavily on the uplifting pop house track I’ll Be Watching You, which is the most easily accessible and instant track amongst the six available so far. The title hook is memorable and deployed in myriad ways, augmented by lush harmonies, over a bedrock of swirling synths and an irresistibly danceable house beat. A genuine potential radio hit.

On the sixth track A Little Step For A Man, she gives another fine vocal performance on this contemplative, sensitive song. The title refers once again to the famous Neil Armstrong quote yet from the halfway point, the vocals make way for an evocative, dreamlike instrumental section with just sparse percussion adding subtle drama. The revolving melodic patterns have a mesmeric quality, then the vocals returning for the final seconds creating a haunting effect.

Overall, these six tracks already constitute a wonderful listening experience which bodes well for the full release of this concept album. Gulliverb has found a way to breathe new life into an over-saturated genre through a natural gift for melody and structure, an innate musicality and close attention to detail. Although some of these tracks are of lengthy duration, they never meander or drag on. With its many musical intricacies, it is electronic music that will work both on the dancefloor and just for listening pleasure. It would only be apt and justified if this album about space travel sends Gulliverb’s success soaring into the stratosphere.

VERDICT = 9.3 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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E.P. REVIEW: Chutney Chasers by aVIE

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aVIE is an RnB/electronica artist hailing from Houston. He had an itinerant childhood, which is partly the reason for the eclectic range of styles and genres that have influenced his music. He describes his music as Psychedelic/Punk RnB, which is accurate but he also incorporates dubstep, DnB and trap into his musical vision. He regards his influences as The Weeknd, Frank Ocean and Radiohead, amongst others.

This EP, Chutney Chasers, is his debut release and he describes the EP as a “story of a young colored man’s struggle with exotification, identity, addiction, anxiety and role”. It starts with the title track, a languid yet intense concoction of falsetto lead vocals with aVIE’s smooth-as-honey rapping style. Not many artists can claim such versatility as both singer and emcee, and aVIE’s gifts are the equal of similar artists like Frank Ocean. A fine start to the EP.

Tapwater shows another side to his oeuvre, starting out as fairly conventional RnB before developing into a fantastic hybrid of dubstep and DnB, with aVIE delivering his skills as a rapper once more for good measure. This is cutting edge 21st century pop, a futuristic meld of modern styles which aVIE pulls off effortlessly. The Self is another contrast, a hymnal, reflective track with some almost angelic lead vocals counter pointed with distorted spoken word sections.

New Feathers is another excellent track which again shows the influence of Frank Ocean. It’s exquisitely produced RnB with avant garde touches that lift it out of conventionality. Lyrically, it’s an inspiring song about personal transformation: “I’m cleaning the system, creating religion….”. A potential single.

Midnight Oil further consolidates his essential signature sound, an intoxicating melee of skittish rhythms and inventive production touches that somehow remains cohesive. The final Take Care is a beautifully melancholy acoustic ballad, beginning with strummed acoustic guitar and aVIE’s tender lead vocals, containing some troubled lyrics: “I’m drowning in alcohol…”. It builds gradually into a dark epic, reaching a cathartic climax at the end. A beautifully crafted and performed finale to the EP.

Overall, this is an absolute slam dunk of an EP by an artist who is fresh on the scene but whose artistic identity and style is fully formed. With soul searching, intelligent lyrics set to music of eclectic style, emotional depth and restless invention, aVIE has a lot to offer the music world and I expect Chutney Chasers to make a strong impact. I also predict that aVIE is going to be the next big thing in RnB, he’s simply destined for the world stage.

 

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: Involution by Martin Del Carpio

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https://martindelcarpio.bandcamp.com/album/involution

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.

This album, Involution, is a ten-track concept album that was strongly influenced by the passing of his mother and the spiritual/existential questions it raised. Fundamental to understanding the album is Carpio’s belief that we are essentially spirits, forms of energy that survive the death of our physical body, which is reflected in the music. After the short, poignant intro the hard-hitting industrial electronica of Dolphox seizes the attention.

Phosphorus is an instrumental that has a mystical, otherworldly aspect, achieved partly through skilled use of reverb. Gradually a beat emerges, with a haunting piano melody repeated till the end, which creates cumulative power. Alma is perhaps the centrepiece of the album, featuring a spoken word monologue that asks the deepest existential questions of the human condition: “What is behind the stars? What dark invincible sphere lies there?“. It’s an extremely powerful and thought provoking piece of art.

Camera Obscura continues the spiritual theme, recanting a Christian prayer in a whisper over an evocative, mysterious soundscape. Say A Prayer then surprises the listener with sung vocals for the first time. The moving lyrics are about feeling a spiritual connection regardless of belief: “Say a prayer in your heart, even if it doesn’t make sense…”.

Witchery is an unsettling but inventive piece of electronica, reminiscent of the claustrophobic intensity of Massive Attack. This is contrasted perfectly by the hymn-like purity of November (Black Rose). It’s a heartbreaking elegy for his mother, sung beautifully. The lyrics manage to be both dark and uplifting at the same time: “Oh black rose will you sing? For the heart beats no more…”.

The following I Only Want You To Love Me (Letter to the Father) is another spoken word instrumental that is brave and unflinching in exploring the difficult emotions that follow the passing of a loved one. The final song Ashes is, again, a very affecting and beautiful piece of music. It consists of just an a capella vocal, lyrically a sort of spiritual mantra that celebrates his mother’s passing as part of nature’s cycle of life: “I give these ashes back to the earth, to nourish lands and skies above.…”.

Overall, this a unique artistic expression of dealing with grief and the soul searching questions that experience raises. It’s a difficult and emotive subject handled with great sensitivity and emotional honesty, much to his credit. He has developed a musical oeuvre that is very individual, and the eclectic nature of the music is held together cohesively by the central theme of the album. It’s essentially a work of art that will move anyone who hears it and challenges the listener as all good art should do.

VERDICT: 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: You Look Like Something I Knew Once by Miftah Bravenda

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http://miftahbravenda.com/

Miftah Bravenda is a musician, composer and producer hailing from Serang-Banten, Indonesia. His music is minimalist and ambient in nature, with a cinematic and organic quality that gives it a strong sense of atmosphere. His previous releases include Eglantine, Those Who Wait For Sweetness and Engkelili. He regards his greatest trick as ‘his ability to turn familiar instrumentation into something of an entirely different nature.’

This track, You Look Like Something I Knew Once is a fine example of this. It begins evocatively with an interweaving blend of rich organ, sonorous synths and a haunting piano melody. This striking meld of sound is then added to firstly via musique concrete (using recorded sounds as a method of electronic composition) and then a lurching, mesmeric beat that compels the attention.

As the track progresses, various synth textures and melodies emerge gradually into the soundscape, and the constantly shifting and blossoming sonic tapestry unfolds with an inevitability that shows a high degree of skill in handling the material. The resultant effect is a sense of dislocation in the most pleasant way, a feeling of having been transported.

Overall, this is an extremely well composed and produced piece of ambient electronica. Although minimalist in style, the way the complex layers of sonic texture morph and develop across the duration of the track is testament to his inimitable gift as a composer, and the quality of the production is fully realized. He deserves to garner and a wide audience, particularly amongst ambient fans.

VERDICT: 8.4 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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