SINGLE REVIEW: Ain’t It Strange by Xanthia Skye

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Xanthia Skye is an English singer and songwriter. She was highly musical from a young age, becoming involved with musical theatre at six and triying different instruments, settling on the piano. In achieving her classical Grade 8 in professional vocals she encountered numerous musical styles and developed a love of such diverse artists as Ella Fitzgerald, Fleetwood Mac and The Cranberries. This eclecticism is reflected in her music, which is a blend of pop with jazz and soul influences intertwined.

This song, Ain’t It Strange, is her second release after her debut single, Hold Me. The song is a slow paced pop ballad with a sophisticated jazzy undertone. It’s the ideal showcase for Xanthia’s outstanding voice, bringing to mind the vocal power of Adele and the range of from Florence and the Machine, another noted influence. Set to a melancholy and emotive backing of warm electric piano, Xanthia’s vocals captivate from the moment they enter.

Lyrically, Ain’t It Strange is about reflecting on painful relationships memories from the past, captured in the opening lines: “Words in my head stained like tattoos on my skin, when I vowed to forget you, how could I begin?”. It builds to an understated chorus with some poignant lyrics: “Twenty three turns on this earth, I know people are not the same, show me love can change, ain’t it strange?”.

The way the arrangement builds gradually across the verses and choruses is very skillfully done, along with the pristine, faultless production. A beat emerges only during the final choruses, augmented by subtle but very effective backing vocals and some lovely vocal extemporizing from Xanthia.

Overall, this is a very well crafted and exquisitely performed pop ballad from a young singer and songwriter blessed with a fabulous voice. The music has a radio friendly sound, slightly jazzier than mainstream pop, and she’s already managed to carve herself a commercial niche. For fans of artists like Adele and Taylor Swift, they will most likely find Xanthia Skye’s music much to their taste and so the sky really is the limit for her in the future.

 

VERDICT = 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen here:

SINGLE REVIEW: Alone by The McKenzie FIX

PACKSHOT - 'Alone' by The McKenzie FIX

The McKenzie FIX is the artistic moniker of Scottish musician, singer and songwriter Ewan McKenzie. He was formerly the frontman of Edinburgh-based group Emporium and their album Silver Brainwaves received support from the Scottish Arts Council. His songs have also been supported by Radio One, DJ Steve Wright on BBC World Service and received Album Of The Month on popular German show, Popscene. He’s also garnered a 5-star review in UK’s Guitarist magazine as well as NME coverage.

This song, Alone, is taking from the forthcoming debut album, to be released later this year. The song is an alternative pop piano ballad that acts as a fine showcase for McKenzie’s craftsmanship as a songwriter. Opening with a poignant piano motif, Ewan enters with a plaintive and distinctive vocal style over inventive and unexpected chord changes.

After a haunting verse accompanied by piano and organ, it develops into a more rhythmic section. There’s a distinctive classical and even operatic influence in the complex structure of the song as well as the sophisticated use of synth strings.

Lyrically, it’s a rather poignant tale of a young lady who feels very much an outsider in social situations as captured by the opening lines: “Alone in a room full of strangers, by herself in a roomful of friends, it seems that they whisper in corners and she wonders will this never end?

The song was co-written with lyricist Kay Russell, whose sensitive portrayal of loneliness and social awkwardness is perfectly married to the music, resulting in a very fine artistic collaboration.

Overall, this is an extremely well written and performed alternative pop song with classical overtones. Ewan McKenzie’s music is clearly more about art than simply creating a commercial product and he clearly has a gift for composing beautiful melodies. Kay Russell’s lyrics about isolation seem particularly apposite during this era of social distancing and hopefully many will be moved by this touching song.

 

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

Listen here:

The McKenzie FIX · The McKenzie FIX – Alone

ALBUM REVIEW: After Geography by Forest Robots

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Forest Robots is the musical brainchild of electronic artist and composer Fran Dominguez and this project has an interesting and unusual genesis. It began when he began pictorially documenting his travels to the Sierra Nevada mountain range. When his daughter was born, he started to attach narratives to his collections to teach his daughter about the wonders of nature.

This led to feeling inspired to compose music to go with these narratives and Forest Robots was born. In 2018, I gave glowing reviews to the albums Supermoon Moonlight – Part One and the follow up, Timberline And Mountain Crest. In 2019, he released his third full length album, Times When I Know You’ll Watch The Sky (which you can read here).

This year sees the release of After Geography, his fourth. The album’s title has an interesting back story and genesis. After Geography was a suggested title for The Beatles’ 1966 masterpiece Revolver, a witty idea from Ringo Starr as a reaction to The Rolling Stones album of that year, Aftermath. Something clicked when Fran read that story, as he realised this would make an apposite title.

In his own words: “Before any excursion, every experienced mountaineer will put in the time to research traveling routes, gear to bring, food to pack, weather patterns to watch out for and best times to travel. However, there comes a point during a climb when all of this preparation is inconsequential if your focus isn’t there.

The album consists of ten tracks which ebb and flow into each other seamlessly and is a return to the more minimalist style of his earlier work. As with his other full length albums, it is best listened to as a continuous musical journey, combining classical, ambient, drone and musique concrete into a symbiotic whole.

A Detailed Cartography opens the album and immediately sets a tranquil, transcendent mood with its spacious soundscape, seemingly outside of space and time. Atmospheric synths drift in and out whilst a sparse harp-like melody of understated beauty drifts across your consciousness. It’s gentle majesty is best enjoyed via the evocative accompanying video.

This morphs seamlessly into the second track, Of Birds Migrating In The Distance. Built around another simply but haunting melody, this is augmented by a delicate high end piano motif that brought to mind the composer Erik Satie, one of his noted influences. Gradually, a third motif emerges and its recurrent pattern made me think of another, more modern, composer – namely, Philip Glass. The interplay of the three melodic strains is skilfully done and is another fine example of painting in sound that perfectly evokes the piece’s title.

Karst Wildlife Surveying takes subtlety to even greater heights, with tremulous murmurs of melody layered together to create an otherworldly tapestry of sound. Here he is painting in the most delicate watercolours and you get a visual image from the music that again resonates with the title (karst is a topography formed from the dissolution of soluble rocks).

It shifts almost imperceptibly into the fourth track, Awash in Granite Geometry which again suggests surveying rocky landscapes. This has another Erik Satie-esque piano melody, which floats serenely over a bedrock of ambience.

Over The Drainage Divide has a similar feel of epic expanse, conjuring numerous images of nature in the mind’s eye and capturing the sense of grandeur one feels when confronted with scenes of great natural beauty. Subtly Widening Bergschrunds is also expansive in scope and has an almost glacial quality, which again captures the essence of the piece (a bergschrund is a crevasse at the junction of a glacier or snowfield). To be able to paint in sound in this way is quite an art.

The wonderfully titled Glacial Architecture Of The Mountain Corridor has a similarly opaque quality, but with an intricate, tumbling melody that brought to mind another French composer, Saint Saens. It’s probably the least minimal piece on the album, providing contrast whilst maintaining the perfect musical continuity.

Imagining August 1976, Here is another captivating piece, evoking a late summer haze and with a distinct air of melancholic nostalgia imbued in its gossamer-like drifting melodies. It imparts the same feeling one can get from looking at an old faded photograph and reminiscing on a happier time, a bittersweet emotion.

Night Sky Over The Face Of A Nearby Tarn is similar in mood but with that glacial quality found in earlier tracks. A tarn is a mountain lake, pond or pool, formed in a cirque excavated by a glacier and so it’s another masterly evocation of nature’s majesty, and captures the magic of the night sky in tone.

The musical journey concludes with All Across The High Plain After The Storm, which starts out in a minimalist way then gradually develops into the epic expansiveness that characterizes some of the album’s most sublime and transcendent moments. Almost imperceptibly, like a musical mirage, you can picture a camera swooping over vast vistas of land then pulling away to infinity, closing the circle.

Overall, this is another scintillating collection of nature-inspired instrumentals that capture composer Fran Dominguez’ art at its most nuanced and subtle. With a unique talent for portraying panoramic landscapes in tonal form, he takes the listener on another sonic adventure that captures the thrill of travelling and surveying the many natural wonders of the world. Fans of Harold Budd, Brian Eno and Philip Glass will find much to enjoy here and hopefully this album will provide some artistic solace to many during this tumultuous time in history, as it was intended.

 

VERDICT: 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen here:

SINGLE REVIEW: Police Brutality by Darrell Kelley

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Darrell Kelley is a singer, songwriter and performer who was born in Boston, Massachusetts. He began his career as a gospel artist before eventually merging into the RnB/hip hop genres. In his music he has dealt with social issues close to his heart such as racial injustice.

His song Believe In Something (Kneel) addressed critics of Colin Kaepernick for his silent protests against systemic racism, which took place before NFA games. Another song Because Of You dealt with the epidemic of gun related crime taking place in the United States.

This track, Police Brutality, deals with the recent tragic death of George Floyd, a black man killed by the police in a heinous manner. Set to a slow, brooding RnB groove, the sadness and anger felt is conveyed through the introduction via the repeated refrain, “We want justice”, while Darrell delivers a spoken word dedication to George.

As the beat kicks in, Darrell delivers the verse with a powerful, passionate vocal performance that depicts Floyd’s saddening death at the hands of a corrupt cop. He is unflinching in his description of what happened and this gives the song a real emotional gravitas: “Another black man is dead because of police brutality…”.

The second verse emotively reflects the emotional impact the event has had on Darrell and the black community: “My heart breaks then tears run down my eyes and the only thing I can say is why this black man had to die….”. The song builds to a hugely affecting climax featuring the same refrain that started the track.

Overall, this is a hard hitting, highly emotional song about a tragedy of racial injustice that will resonate with many around the world, not just America. Darrell Kelley has used his considerable gifts as a singer and songwriter to express the heartache and anger that millions are feeling at this present moment. Hopefully, this song will reach them and provide catharsis and emotional healing.

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen here:

Darrell Kelley · Police Brutality

E.P. REVIEW: Work Together by Working Flakes

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Working Flakes are a three-piece indie/alternative rock band based in New York. The band consists of Chris Agar (vocals, guitars and upright bass), Collin Stanley (guitar) and Zach Simao (drums, tambourine). They had all been involved in various music projects but originally came together as members of the group DDWhite. Eventually, Working Flakes were formed from this nucleus. This EP, Work Together, is their first release and was collaboratively composed and engineered by the band as part of their DIY ethic and approach.

The EP consists of five tracks and starts out with the powerful call to arms of Ease Your Mind. Set to a taut 2/4 groove, it brings to mind Pink Floyd’s Another Brick In The Wall but with the more ragged, garage rock vibe of The White Stripes. Chris Agar’s distinctive, idiosyncratic vocals are augmented in various places with Arctic Monkeys-style falsetto vocals an octave higher, to good effect.

The lyrics are essentially a clarion call for people to wake up, and where we find the EP’s title: “We must work together, we have all the power, do not fear the haves, it’s the have-nots hour…”. Though this was released in the fall of 2019, the message seems more apposite than ever, especially in light of the American riots against injustice taking place at the time of writing.

Second track Cheap Love is sonically more in keeping with the gritty, glam rock style of The Black Keys, propelled by a memorable bassline and infectious vocal melody. The music fits the subject matter like a glove which comes across as a slightly sardonic depiction of the shallow nature of modern dating: “Tuesday night, swiping right and we match….”. As with every track, the arrangement is well structured with succinct guitar melodies alternating with crunchy chords. There’s also some great tumbling tom tom fills from Zack Simao.

The final anthemic refrain, “You’re a cheap love, not a deep love…” is a pithy summation of Tinder culture which has become the societal norm. A fun, super catchy and dryly humorous piece of ‘rough round the edges’ rock ‘n roll.

Are We Connected?, the third track, is a more serious and contemplative dissection of relationships in this era of technology that has made us more connected in one way yet has isolated us from each other in another sense. The song questions whether this has been beneficial or created an artificial existence lacking in genuine interaction: “Staring at your screen, what does it mean?”.The song’s main refrain hits the nail on the head, “Views are injected, no one respected, are we connected or are we infected?

Musically, it’s set to a loping, funky groove with a slick guitar riff. Agar sings in a lower register than previously, with all kinds of instrumental nuances and details that help to keep the music compelling throughout. The band have an excellent understanding of dynamics and can veer from subtle guitar effects to huge vocal refrains with consummate ease.

Fourth track Thank You is the highlight of the EP for me, personally. It’s a perfect marriage between Gang Of Four-style driving basslines and razor sharp guitars with the laid back, languid cool of The Strokes. The groove has a Stones-esque confident strut though lyrically it’s a little more opaque and difficult to decipher than the previous songs. Lines like these suggest the supposed gratitude of the title hook is meant sarcastically: “Disengaged with fits of rage you explode, drowning together feels like I’m drowning alone…”.

Final song Roll With The Punches consists of just vocals and acoustic guitar (with a little bowed upright bass)and displays more openly the dry sense of humour which has been present under the surface throughout.

From the lyrics to the first verse it soon becomes apparent that this was written with tongue firmly in cheek: “Stabbed in the heart tossed in the gutter, got better treatment from my former mugger who left me stranded picked up by a trucker, she couldn’t have known I was born to suffer.” It’s a light hearted and rather catchy song that rounds off the EP in a highly entertaining fashion, especially the dialogue at the end of the track.

Overall, this is an excellent debut release from a band who’ve emerged with a perfectly honed musical approach, combining a punk rock rawness and spirit with inventiveness and nuance. Similarly, the lyrics balance the serious with the humourous and the result is a very enjoyable set of songs that stand up to repeated listening. I look forward to hearing their debut album.

 

VERDICT = 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

Listen here:

 

E.P. REVIEW: The Troubled Boy At The Bonfire Disco

Troubled Boy at the Bonfire Disco - Cover

Freddie Bourne is an American singer songwriter hailing from Jackson, New Jersey. He has been very highly placed in various talent competitions including winning Liberty Idol in 2010. He is known for fronting the bands Exit 22 and Sahara from Jackson and Manalapan, New Jersey, respectively.

His solo career began in 2012, and he has opened for acts such as Tyler Hilton from the television show One Tree Hill, Jersey Acoustic Music Award Winner Chelsea Carlson, and played for Gavin and Joey DeGraw’s bar The National Underground. He released his debut album, Only Human, in 2013.

This EP, The Troubled Boy At The Bonfire Disco, consists of four tracks and constitutes his fifth project. The style is essentially contemporary pop, a blend of Lewis Capaldi-style acoustic/piano singer-songwriting with some EDM aspects incorporated to give the sound a modern edge. This is perfectly encapsulated by the excellent opening track, I Hope You Don’t Forgive Me. Based around picked acoustic guitar, Bourne delivers a haunting vocal melody in his distinctive, emotive singing style.

You can hear the influences of songwriters like James Blake, Daniel Powter and Richard Marx in the melancholy, intimate nature of the music, at least at first. After the chorus hook, it breaks into an unexpected EDM section, before returning to the second verse augmented by warm strings. With its radio friendly sound and subtle but effective title hook, this has huge hit potential and also as soundtrack music.

Second track Jeni is another well crafted song, this one more straightforward stylistically, essentially anthemic pop/rock that brought to mind Paolo Nutini and Coldplay, circa A Rush Of Blood To The Head. Bourne gives another compelling vocal performance in his plaintive upper register, with subtle touches of electronica emerging in the second verse. The concise guitar solo working in tandem with synths was a nice touch and once again, the vocal melody sticks quickly in the memory. This would also make a fine single release.

The EDM production style returns to the fore on the intro to Pale Blue Sky, before breaking down to a sparse verse. This allows the vocals to dominate, backed by a minimal beat and haunting piano arpeggios. The simple hook of “I’ll fly with you…” proves addictive and the way the arrangement builds to an EDM finale is cleverly done. Again, the commercial potential is big, owing to the wide ranging appeal of the pop/dance crossover sound.

Final track Spacedust has an equally languid tempo, Bourne delivering a Chris Martin-esque falsetto vocal that sounds natural and uncontrived. Once again, it is something of a slow burning epic, gradually building in texture and rhythm towards an understated but highly intricate blend of picked acoustic guitar patterns and interweaving synths. This track will again have a large across the aboard appeal, particularly those who love Coldplay’s more recent output.

Overall, this is a consistently strong collection of songs by an upcoming artist gifted with both a unique style of his own and a contemporary, commercial sound. In an era where male singer-songwriters are dominating the charts worldwide, Freddie Bourne has everything it takes to make it to the top and this EP could potentially be a major step towards that goal.

 

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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ARTIST AWARD: Tony Newton

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TNT Xtreme’s music visionary, legendary composer-bassist-keyboardist-vocalist-producer, Tony Newton, is a musician’s hall of fame member who has performed on over 100 gold and platinum hit recordings. He can lay claim to playing on hits by Michael Jackson, Diana Ross & The Supremes and Stevie Wonder, amongst many others. Two of Tony’s Gold records were for his first renowned group, The Eighth Day, for She’s Not Just Another Woman and Crawl Before You Walk.

Tony played on several Number One hits: Where Did Our Love Go, Baby Love and Stop in the Name of Love by The Supremes, as well as Nowhere To Run by Martha and the Vandellas. He studied piano with teachers of Debussy and Donanyi and had the same composition & theory teacher of Frank Zappa, Dr. Matt Doran.

Acclaimed for his dynamic work with the famed jazzrock- fusion group, the Tony Williams Lifetime, Newton, one of the original architects of jazzrock-fusion penned the classic compositions, Snake Oil, Red Alert, and others. Tony also performed and composed with legendary guitarist and friend Robby Krieger from The Doors on Robby’s solo CD, Cinematrix.

Newton has a long musical history, participating on many hit recordings and tours, throughout his long and prolific musical career. Robby Krieger has famously referred to Tony Newton’s writing skills as “the Holy Grail of Rock & Roll or Jazz or any medium you can think of.”

This year, 2020, Tony Newton has received the Artist Of The Year Vision Award For Excellence, Innovation, Originality and Musicianship from the Academy Of Music Arts. He was given the award at a ceremony on April 24th. After an introduction from the hosts, Tony appears via video link and gives an inspiring, emotional speech about what a great era it is to be an independent artist.

He describes how he’s been able to follow his heart and pursue his spiritual vision of writing, performing and producing innovative music. His inspirational motto is, “Anything is possible”. He talks about how winning the award has inspired him to explore and expand, to an even greater depth, his musical creativity and to reach new fans around the world as he continues to achieve his musical goals.

He then performs a live rendition of his epic track Follow Your Heart, taken from his album White Light Collection (you can read my original review here). This is actually the shorter version of the song at eight minutes long and he’s backed by a highly talented group of musicians and backing vocalists.

It’s the perfect showcase for Tony’s unique Rock-Funk Fusion as well as a truly uplifting message. Tony gets to display his considerable virtuosity as a bass player, playing a 6-string bass. The music takes us through so many sections from the taut and funky verse to the gospel-infused final section. He really shines as a vocalist in this climactic part of the song and it was the ideal choice of material for this occasion.

Overall, this is a richly deserved award for a genuine music legend whose career spans all the way back to playing on classic Motown records and who now has developed a musical style all of his own. He’s a special artist who understands the spiritual power of music and uses it to uplift and inspire, so it’s gratifying to see him get such plaudits and well earned recognition from his peers.

 

VERDICT = Legend!

Alex Faulkner

Watch the award presentation ceremony here:

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Spin Me by Project Rod Williams

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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. In 2019, he released his album Fire which I reviewed very favourably (you can read that review here).

This album, Spin Me, consists of ten tracks with every song written and produced by Rod Williams. Shake It On The Dancefloor gets the album off to an exhilarating start, an infectious high energy disco track that brought to mind Off The Wall-era Michael Jackson.

From its opening bars, it’s a riotous explosion of driving bass, bursts of colourful brass and catchy funk guitar licks. As with the Fire album, Project Rod Williams is a collective featuring several lead and backing vocalists who swap roles from song to song.

This one is energetically performed by Ben Dial, with some finely arranged backing vocals from Aleisha Leo. I enjoyed how the track allowed for an extended instrumental section, featuring the excellent saxophone playing of Fabian Hernandez. Loaded with hooks, it’s perfect dance pop.

Don’t Stop Me Baby is great in a different way, this one a smoky and slinky Rnb/electronica track featuring a sassy and charismatic lead vocal from Aleisha Leo. Built around an insistent beat, it starts out with a Daft Punk style synth riff before the revolving vocal melody of the verse grips the ear.

The title hook is just one of several that sticks in the mind quickly, with the “DJ, don’t you stop, DJ, turn it up” also proving addictive. The swirling, highly melodic bassline deserves a special mention here, infusing the music with great energy. Both of these opening tracks would make excellent singles, with obvious potential to be huge in the clubs.

Go To Town (Get Busy), another sung by Ben Dial, is slower in tempo but just as catchy, based around a simple but effective 2/4 groove. As usual, the arrangement is full of neat touches, such as the interplay between the sharp guitar lines and the synths. The anthemic chorus hook is the focal point, sung in octaves towards the end to great effect.

Lyrically, it is more overtly sexual, about the point in the night where you’re ready to leave the club and take things further. It brought to mind Prince at his most explicit though the words are never distasteful, just risqué: “Let’s lose control, yes bare it all, bite and kiss with our hungry lips….”.

The title track comes next and it grabs you instantly with a toe tapping, Latin American-influenced rhythm and ultra funky wah wah guitar. Ben Dial gives another fine lead vocal performance, with some excellent falsetto backing harmonies providing contrast. Once again, amorous concerns are the lyrical subject matter and it sustains the sensual mood created by the previous track.

Fifth track Dangerous Lover maintains the memorable melodic style and catchiness of the opening songs but this one has a more serious lyrical theme, about not being seduced by appearances and having a relationship with someone who isn’t with you for the right reasons: “They’ll always please their man as long as his money is in their hand, they’ll lay in bed every night, just make sure your pocket never gets light…”. Musically, the lead vocal is augmented throughout with backing harmonies from Rod Williams and the dual vocal sound is what makes this song stand out.

Crimes For Passion contains another salutary moral lesson, this one containing a lead vocal by Matt Williamson who does a great job. Whereas the protagonist of Dangerous Lover finds out a woman just wants him for his money, this song is about a woman already in a relationship and is cheating with a lover that she discards when he’s not needed: “Oh, you live your lie, pretending all is fine, while I wait like a fool here alone in my room….”.

How Can You Say You Love Is True is another emotive song, this one written from the viewpoint of discovering out his partner is cheating on him. The musical backing reflects the emotional nature of the song, with melancholy piano lines and heart rending strings providing the melodic counterpoint to the well crafted vocal melody.

Because, the eighth track, almost feels like the sequel to the previous song, continuing the musical bedrock of piano and strings and lyrically exploring the emotional turmoil that results of lies: “You moulded me this way, my heart was unsculpted clay…”. The poignant vocal melody is delivered with sensitivity by Ben Dial and these songs show the more tender side of Rod Williams’ songwriting.

Tears is an interesting song, combining this emotive lyrical style with a modern pop/EDM backing. Backed by a mid-paced disco beat and swirling synths, this track stands out for the strength of its lilting vocal melody and a further example of Williams’ songwriting craft. This one is another potential single in my opinion.

The closing song Now also has some surprises up its sleeve. Sung once again by Matt Williamson, it’s the first time we hear acoustic guitar on the album, which forms the instrumental backbone of the track. It sets the mood for another tale of heartache, giving some perspicacious insights on the possessive nature of romantic relationships: “Now I’m in deep, I can’t breathe when you’re away from me, now I wanna keep you trapped like a bird in a cage”. It’s a deep and affecting finale to an album that starts out so much lighter in tone.

Overall, this is another fantastic modern pop album from Project Rod Williams. Featuring a plethora of talented collaborators, Rod Williams proves once again he is equally adept at writing upbeat dancefloor tracks as well as the more deeply emotional, reflective songs that show the more painful side of love and romance. With top notch production and first rate performances from all concerned, Spin Me deserves to be a major success.

 

VERDICT = 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen HERE

E.P. REVIEW: How Will I Justify This Habit Today by Made On Tape

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Made On Tape is the artistic moniker of a bassist currently residing in New York City with roots in Metro Detroit. He has been involved in several music projects in the past including being the co-founder of a female fronted indie rock group called DDWhite, helped Collin Stanley make his debut EP (you can read my review and listen here) and created a rock band called Working Flakes. He has also worked on Broadway.

Made On Tape is his first solo project, and it refers to the equipment used which involves a  TASCAM tape recorder, an 80’s Roland drum machine and a reel-to-reel recorder from the 1970’s. This EP, How Will I Justify This Habit Today, consists of five instrumental tracks. As mentioned above, all the music was recorded onto tape which gives the sound a distinctive warmth and “fatness”.

The opening track How begins with a swirl of reversed synths before a series of punchy drum breaks leads us into the main section. Naturally, being a bassist, the lead melody is provided by a propulsive, bouncy bassline which works in tandem with the taut groove of the drums. This is augmented by subtle but highly effective lead guitar lines and even more subtle synths that fill out the soundscape nicely. The stop-start drums makes for a fine dynamic, with handclaps adding further variety later on.

Will I is based around a four to the floor beat and another funky, swooping bassline which is doubled up with a morphing synth on the main melody. The beat gradually grows in intricacy, augmented by high end funk guitar. The staccato bass riffs are counterpointed by a jazz-inflected rolling bassline in places which makes for a nice contrast. Even the synths resemble wah-wah guitar at points and the result is a very catchy 70’s influenced funk instrumental that would sound great in a club or as a theme tune.

Justify is built around a slick 2/4 groove and another taut staccato bassline that brought to mind The Beatle’s Taxman, though the overall sound made me think of Another One Bites The Dust by Queen. It has a similarly infectious rhythm and melody, with the prominent lead guitar lines adding to the texture, sometimes working in tandem with the bass. Things turned somewhat psychedelic towards the end, repeated drum fills creating a mesmeric effect as they collide with a suddenly sinister bassline and eerie synths. Great track.

Fourth track, This Habit, starts with just an instantly memorable bassline and glockenspiel chords, which then doubles the melody. It creates a pleasing tension before the drums enter, and the sound brought to mind the famous Prince productions of the 80’s. The roaming bass melody keeps the ear interested throughout, with some fine counterpoint synth melodies in the background.

The EP closes with Today (perspicacious readers will have realised by now that the tracks spell out the EP title!). It’s the fastest and most intense track, featuring a truly virtuoso bass performance. Again, it has a distinct aspect of the psychedelic in certain sections, the interplay between the bass and metamorphosing, modulating synths creating a bewildering effect at times. The mysterious, haunting synth chords that end the EP leaves the listener dangling and wanting more. Once more, this could be very effective as part of a soundtrack and rounds off the EP in a strong way.

Overall, this is a very accomplished set of instrumentals with a unique vintage sound. Centred around consistently vibrant and inventive basslines, the music continually intrigues the ear and goes to some unexpected places. A blend of funk, jazz and various styles of electronica, the music is accessible yet unlike anything around at the moment. For anyone searching for something a little left of field and loves old school analog warmth, I can heartily recommend Made On Tape.

 

VERDICT= 8.8 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

Listen here:

SINGLE REVIEW: The World Again by Martin Del Carpio

072 The World Again

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 latest track, The World Again, is a reworked and re-recorded song originally released in 2011. Martin describes this as an “orbital Chimera version”. It’s a slow burning, haunting epic that has an expansive, almost cinematic, soundscape. It opens with subtle mood-setting synth and softly strummed acoustic guitar.

Martin’s emotive and sensitive vocals enter, bringing to mind the plaintive, almost mystical tone of Neil Young’s After The Goldrush. This song has a similarly magical effect, transporting the listener into otherworldly realms. The opening lines match the transcendent grandeur of the music, Del Carpio at his most poetic: “A complicated dance, unspoken words, your soul vibrates, you should let them know your heart’s failure, your heart’s desire….”.

In this time of enforced isolation caused by the current pandemic, this song about self reflection and looking to the future could not be more apposite. Despite the song’s stately tempo, it maintains a traditional structure, gradually building to a chorus of understated power and melodic beauty. It recalls the moving music of Wish You Were Here-era Pink Floyd.

Almost imperceptibly, the arrangement grows with a subtle but highly effective pulsing beat whilst in the background we hear a kaleidoscopic swirl of ambient synths. Harmonies are added along with some truly ethereal production effects on the vocals.

Overall, this a wonderfully captivating piece of songwriting and production that might be the finest thing Martin Del Carpio has yet released. Managing to balance the personal with the universal, the music takes us on an inner journey and makes us look at the world in a new perspective, like all great art. And, in the midst of a world pandemic, we need great art and new perspectives to guide us more than ever.

 

VERDICT = 9.3 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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