E.P. REVIEW: Don’t Panic by Datastar

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Datastar are an EDM songwriting and production collective based in Queens, New York City. Their members are wide ranging, from a DJ to a record store owner. Their music is similarly eclectic, encompassing various genres including techno, house, future house, pop, rock and hip hop, often with an undercurrent of the psychedelic. Most of their music is instrumental thus far, with use of vocoders and samples thrown into the mix.

This EP, Don’t Panic, consists of four tracks that are all essentially in the EDM genre, though each a little different in style. The EP starts out with the title track and it’s the perfect introduction to their signature sound.

It begins with an immediately memorable swirling synth melody, before futuristic vocoder-infused vocals inform us to “Slide…bounce….don’t panic!” over crisp snare rolls and a pulsing four to the floor kick drum groove. As the track progresses, we hear a fantastic arpeggiated synth melody that goes off to some weird and wonderful places sonically the second time around. It’s an excellent house track full of energy and musical personality, making a fine opener.

Just Like That shows their more psychedelic side, a laid back future house track with an infectious, bouncy bassline that brought to mind the modern future house classic Gecko by Oliver Heldens. Set to a languid 2/4 house beat, the track is built upon intertwining layers of syncopated and swelling pad synths, house piano and the recurring title hook, a whispered vocal. The track is arranged to perfection, with the various sections leading into each other seamlessly. The subtle use of dynamics means the music sounds fresh to the very end.

Third track Nardo is based around a three-chord progression on top of which is an array of catchy synth melodies and insistent piano backed by an energetic house beat and a simple, mesmeric bassline for the most part. In certain parts, it breaks down to an ambient style section replete with tranquil, blissed out synths and an exotic, Spanish guitar type melody that conjures images of golden beaches and crystal clear oceans. The contrast with the main upbeat section is highly effective, and this section has a particularly danceable beat which should go down well in the clubs.

The final track Blackheart is the darkest and moodiest sounding one here, built around a brooding, ominous sounding synth riff and a meaty, 2/4 beat. This one brought to mind the intense instrumentals of mid-period techno pioneers 808 State. The music has a decided hypnotic quality that is enhanced to a high degree in a section that cleverly combines a triplet rhythm in the synth over the strident beat. This track has a definite different flavour to the rest of the EP which has a more general ‘party vibe’ and shows they have the potential to move in all sorts of creative directions in the future.

Overall, this is a consistently superb EDM EP by a collective of talented writers and producers. Across the four tracks they display a wealth of creativity whilst remaining within the realms of commercial accessibility. Every track here will be popular on the dance floor but the music’s richness of detail and nuance means it’s equally as enjoyable just to listen to. On this evidence, Datastar have a stellar future ahead of them.

 

VERDICT= 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: Joystick by Amaru

http://www.amaru.nl

Amaru is a singer and songwriter as well as being a trained actor. Originally from the Republic of Suriname (South America) he has been residing in the Netherlands since 1991. In 2008, he began releasing music with his debut single Put Your Hands Up. His 4th single Independence Day was released in 2016 and won a Bronze Award at the Global Music Awards In Los Angeles. Since then he has worked on his full length debut album Champagne Attitude, which was released in 2018.

This track, Joystick, is taken from that album and it’s an upbeat RnB track that features Amaru both rapping and singing. Over an infectious beat, Amaru lays down the verses with an assured, distinctive rapping style, the rhythm bringing to mind the classic Fight For Your Right To Party by The Beastie Boys. Joystick also has a similar party vibe and switches to sung vocals for the instantly memorable title hook: “You can bring your X-box, I will bring my joystick…”.

From the lyrics to the second verse it becomes obvious that Amaru isn’t talking about computer games: “This is what grown ups too, consensual, respectful too, a come-together of the mind, body, senses …so divine”. After an equally entertaining third verse the track finishes with repeat choruses and some nice vocal extemporising from Amaru.

Overall, this is an extremely catchy and risqué RnB track from an artist with his own unique style. Equally adept at both rapping and singing, Amaru has a cheeky charm and his lothario persona along with his witty innuendos are guaranteed to put a smile on your face. It certainly has the kind of infectious hook that sticks in your mind after one listen and could well be the track that brings Amaru to a bigger, worldwide audience.

 

VERDICT = 8.6 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

 

Watch the video on YouTube HERE

Listen on Spotify HERE

SINGLE REVIEW: Soulsville by Happy Curmudgeons

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Happy Curmudgeons are a rock/pop band with shades of folk, blues and country hailing from Bloomfield Hills in Michigan. Their debut album and musical journey to get there has had a lengthy gestation period.

In the 1980’s singer/songwriter and guitarist Dave Hamilton was in a band called the Angel-Headed Hipsters and met none other than Velvet Underground legend Lou Reed who told him he was a great songwriter and to stick at it. Many years later the band were formed with Jeff Warner on guitar and Amy Dixon-Lavery on additional vocals. Recently, I gave a stellar review to their album, Meant To Be, which you can read here.

This track, Soulsville, is taken from that album and makes an apposite choice as a single release. It’s an upbeat rock track based around an instantly infectious bluesy guitar riff, which starts out the song. Backed by the excellent rhythm section of Rick Beamon on drums and Takashi Iio on bass, the band hit a strong groove before Dave Hamilton’s assured and authentic vocals complete the sonic picture, his vocal delivery lying halfway between Neil Young and Lou Reed.

The song was originally inspired by seeing the Grateful Dead perform in Chicago and it’s essentially a love letter to that city’s vibrant music scene, the Soulsville in question, as captured by the opening lines: “There’s a place that I know, somewhere to go…I like to hang around….downtown is the place.”. The spirited energy of the music perfectly mirrors the lyrical subject matter with Beamon and Iio interlocking with Hamilton’s crunchy chords and driving riffage.

The second verse depicts the Chicago strip where all the music happens: “See it move with style, the strip’s for miles….lights the night on fire….”. After this the music really explodes with a colourful burst of saxophone played by guest musician Jeff Tabaloff. His mellifluous sax playing adds to the soulful musical vibrancy and he’s allowed free rein with an extended solo that showcases his skills. This leads into a succinct guitar solo before the final verse rounds off the track nicely.

Overall, this is an excellent single release from Happy Curmudgeons that highlights the strength of Dave Hamilton’s songwriting and the synergistic musicianship of his gifted band members. It’s old school rock ‘n roll but with a refreshing energy and vibe that is missing from so much of today’s synthetic chart music. For anyone searching for new music that’s authentic, catchy and colourful look no further than Soulsville.

 

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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E.P. REVIEW: Bittersweet by Mason Roberts

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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

 

 

 

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E.P. REVIEW: Achmelvich 1 by Fake Teak

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https://www.facebook.com/faketeak/

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 1, 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 first fruit of their labours, with more EPs to follow.

This one consists of three tracks each written by a different member of the group. The first song on the EP is Panel Beater, written and sung by guitarist Alastair Nicholls. The key elements of the Fake Teak signature style are in place; Andrea Adriano’s alt. disco drumming interlocking with Andrew Wyld’s pumping bassline and taut, angular but melodic guitar lines mingling with Jo Wyld’s vintage synths.

Perhaps what is different on this EP is a more serious lyrical approach after the playfulness and dry humour that often characterised their debut album. It’s about those who are determined to defy the aging process and rectify what they see as imperfections: “You could not accept something used, you saw rust and wanted to make it gleam like new… but the character was removed…”.

It’s the sort of highly relevant subject that you never hear anyone write about in the mainstream and it’s dealt with sensitively through the use of metaphor, the catchy chorus running, “Panel beater, put the mallet down, you want a pristine body but it’s nowhere to be found…”. It’s a very well crafted song and perfectly executed in terms of arrangement and production.

The second song, Prufrock, is equally serious and thought provoking in its content, this one partly inspired by the classic T.S. Eliot poem The Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock. Written and sung by Jo Wyld, it’s a very poignant description of a man who buries his emotions and leads a lonely life as the result. Beginning with a solemn snare roll pattern, the lyrics depict a self-inflicted miserable existence: “He buttons up his shirt and buttons up his heart, ready to face a day that’s the same as all the others….”.

The melancholy, sparse musical backdrop perfectly mirrors the emotional isolation portrayed and actually manages to be more moving than the poem it was based on, achieving an Eleanor Rigby-level of poignancy by the end. Fans of that poem will note the lines quoted and seamlessly incorporated into the narrative.

The following Carousel maintains the musically minimalist approach, this one written by drummer/producer Andrea Adriano. It’s based around a haunting keyboard melody and an understated vocal lead, the verses bringing to mind the desolate synth-based soundscapes of Joy Division’s Closer or David Bowie’s Low.

On the choruses the music becomes more expansive and Jo Wyld joins in on vocals, providing an effective dynamic. The lyrics are once again contemplative, trying to make sense of life’s journey, as captured succinctly in the quietly powerful chorus: “Try to keep my toes to the ground as we go around, surely there is an axis to be found as we go around….”.

Overall, this is another highly accomplished release from one of Britain’s little known musical gems. This EP sees them progressing to a more serious place lyrically, with three very intelligent and different perspectives on the human condition. Having all members creatively contributing and performing vocals gives them a varied sound, yet every song is unmistakably Fake Teak. Highly recommended, once again.

 

VERDICT: 9 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

 

 

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E.P. REVIEW: Bodhi by Apollo Soul

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Apollo Soul is the artistic moniker of Taylor Doerfler, a singer/songwriter, rapper, mix engineer and producer from Buffalo, NY. Having previously collaborated with other artists and producers, he made the decision in 2018 to set out on his own path. Since that decision he has been very prolific, releasing Scattered Thoughts Vol. 1 then the albums Reborn, Apologies, Roses and 2019’s XCIV.

This EP, Bodhi, consists of four tracks. The EP opens with the hard hitting Xo, which starts with a delicate guitar figure before Apollo Soul’s compelling vocals and lyrical narrative grab your attention. He depicts someone in the throes of drug addiction with stark yet poetic imagery: “She got that ice in the mouth like a diamond veneer…“. From here the track develops into a cutting edge EDM track which showcases his skills as both singer and rapper, proving equally adept at both.

On My Grind is more upbeat, an anthemic EDM/rap track with an instantly memorable chorus: “I’ve been on my grind, trying to define this winding road inside my mind“. It features some incendiary fast flowing rapping on the verses that give the music an exhilarating feel and on this one in particular he sets out his stall as an extremely eloquent rapper with a breathtaking delivery. Combined with the poppy hook, it adds up to perfect material for a single.

Same Old You is again based on a recurring guitar line, a simple bedrock for Apollo to lay down some more rapid fire rhymes. It has another “reality check” vibe to the lyrics, as summed up succinctly by the title hook: “You got the same city with the same friends…you got the same problems as the old you“. Once again, with its radio friendly sound and catchy hook, it would make a good choice as a single.

Purple Rain is not a cover of the Prince classic but another entertaining ode to the hedonistic side of life: “Last night I woke up on the pavement“. This one is driven by crunchy, funky guitar which works with the infectious beat and the EDM sound of the rest of the track. Although the tone is decidedly upbeat once again, Apollo Soul doesn’t shy away from the dark side of excess: “What you hate most you come and do again“. A very fine way to finish.

Overall, this is a brilliant EP that maintains a high degree of lyrical and musical quality across the four tracks. Apollo Soul has honed his skills as singer, rapper, writer and producer to perfection and most importantly his music is completely fitting with the current zeitgeist. With material as good as this, I can see him being hailed as the next Mackelmore and hopefully he achieves similar success.

 

VERDICT= 9 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

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ALBUM REVIEW: Journey Home by Monica Ortiz

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https://www.facebook.com/monicaortizmusic/

Monica Ortiz is a country/pop/adult contemporary singer and songwriter. Ever since she was a child she’s had a very strong relationship with music and felt the desire to express herself creatively from an early age. This debut album Journey Home, which consists of nine songs, is the end result of her musical journey so far and features a number of collaborators and guest performances. She has co-written several songs with Charlie Lowell from Jars of Clay and there’s vocal contributions from Matthew Koziol and the McCrary sisters.

The album starts with the poignant piano ballad The Woman I Became. It acts as a fine showcase for Monica’s crystalline vocals and emotive, inspiring songwriting approach. It’s a style that was known in the 1970’s as “confessional”, where full and open expression of feelings was paramount. The opening lines paint a touching picture of parental love: “When I was little you said it would be hard, you sat me down and warned me of future scars….”.

Monica’s delicate and sensitive vocal performance in a high register perfectly expresses the lyrics that depict the difficult process of growing up, of a girl growing into a woman and standing on her own two feet. Aside from a fine piano arrangement, the song features strings which add to the emotional effect, especially on the moving and memorable chorus. A very strong opening song and one co-written with Charlie Lowell.

The second track Burn Out is a mid-paced country-tinged pop song written by Matt Odmark from Jars of Clay and Heather Bond. Monica very much makes it her own, delivering another fine performance that brought to mind Shania Twain’s country ballads. The musicianship and production is absolutely flawless with slick backing harmonies augmenting Monica’s lead vocal.

The following Pigtails, which is similar style musically and lyrically, is a plea to a partner to allow her to fully be herself and not try to control her, (“Just let me dance to my music, let me drum to my song”) a subject that many will be able to relate to. It features some lovely instrumental touches from the strummed acoustic guitar to some tasteful, creamy sounding slide guitar interspersed throughout. Once again, the backing harmonies enrich the vocals at various points to great effect.

On My Side is altogether different, an upbeat pop track with a reggae-tinged rhythm and a vocal from Monica in the highest part of her considerable range, bringing to mind Cyndi Lauper or Kate Bush circa Wuthering Heights. The melody is instantly infectious with the funky guitar adding to the catchiness. The beat is mostly in half time but cleverly switches to straight 4/4 and the whole arrangement is full of rhythmic invention. That’s something the discerning listener will enjoy, but this song’s huge commercial appeal is in its addictive lead melody. A definite contender as a single release.

Bring Me Home is a return to the emotive piano ballad style of the opening song. It’s on this kind of song that Monica gets to excel as a singer, and here she gives an enchanting performance. Lyrically, it’s about needing someone to show emotional support.

This Time is a little different, this one a country pop song that opens with a fine fiddle part. It’s a duet performed with Matthew Koziol and Matthew takes the lead on the opening verse. Monica joins in on the excellent chorus, their contrasting voices blending and complementing each other perfectly. She then takes the second verse giving a nice ‘yin yang’ vibe to the song, and lyrically it’s a positive affirmation about giving a relationship another go.

The Mirror is both a melancholy country ballad and an empowering, uplifting anthem. It’s about a woman who has reached the end of her tether while in an unhappy relationship and decides to leave, as captured succinctly in the superb singalong chorus: “She can’t take it anymore, her suitcase sitting by the door….she won’t back down”. Another potential single.

Let Me Be There is more emotionally straightforward and musically a toe-tapping country rock song that has an authentic, roots vibe. This song is actually a cover version of an Olivia Newton John which was originally released on an album in 1973. It’s traditional country at its finest, featuring a sweet lyric about wanting to be in someone’s life. The subtle low male vocals on the chorus are a nice touch as is the rich Hammond organ which adds to the instrumental texture.

The album closes aptly with one final piano ballad where Monica once again gets to shine, vocally. Backed by plaintive piano and evocative strings, she is eventually joined by the gospel-tinged vocals of the McCrary Sisters whose contribution lends the song an uplifting, highly spiritual quality. Lyrically, it’s particularly moving, about losing a loved one: “A forced goodbye when heaven can’t wait….”. It’s a fitting end to an album that, as the title implies, takes the listener on an emotional journey.

Overall, this is a very fine collection of country pop songs that allow Monica Ortiz to showcase her skills as both singer and songwriter. Her different collaborators bring variety yet there’s also a sense of cohesion and musical unity. With a flawlessly produced sound and several potential singles, Monica Ortiz has everything it takes to break through to the big time.

 

VERDICT= 8.8 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

 

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