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: Truth Syrum (ft. Wo-Billz) by Nikia

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www.soundsofnikia.com

Nikia is a R&B/pop singer who was born in New York and raised in California. She hails from a large musical family and was musically highly precocious, starting her career as a professional singer at just thirteen and signing a deal with L.A.’s Swooper Records at fifteen. She released her first single Wanna Get With You the next year and then released a Spanish crossover album which was a big hit overseas. She has since released several albums, EPs and singles including the 2016 EP She Is Me. She has also more recently released the song Do U from her upcoming album No Fairytale.

This track, Truth Syrum (ft. Wo-Billz), is a slow R&B/pop ballad that makes a wonderful showcase for Nikia’s considerable talents as a vocalist. Set to a musical backdrop of subtle synths and a languid, seductive R&B beat, as soon as Nikia enters on the verse her silky smooth vocals captures the attention. With a voice comparable to megastars like Beyonce and Rihanna, she gets to express her vocal range at the end of the memorable chorus.

Lyrically, it’s an emotionally heartfelt plea towards a lover who has been straying: “Out in the clubs, playing with these freaks….you’re out in these streets while I’m lonely in our sheets….”. After the first chorus we then here a rap section from guest vocalist Wo-Billz, whose naturally contrasting style is highly effective juxtaposed against the sung sections. Wo-Billz gives the track a cutting edge vibe and keeps it real with killer lines like, “Go scuba diving for your ring…..”. After the second chorus Nikia delivers the poignant refrain, “What goes around comes around….”, aided by some slick production effects on her voice which adds to the modernity of the sound.

Overall, this is an emotionally powerful R&B/pop track about infidelity by a truly gifted female singer. The song captures the pain and heartbreak of being cheated on, while the acerbic contribution of female rapper and guest star Wo-Billz adds some bite and dry humour to proceedings. The production is flawless and very commercial, making it perfect for radio. It feels only a matter of time before Nikia breaks through to the world stage and Truth Syrum could be the song that gets her there.

 

VERDICT = 8.8 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: Ride With Me by Soup Black

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https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/s-o-o-p-started-out-of-poverty/1448159792

Soup Black is a hip-hop/rap artist hailing from Harlem, New York. He endured a difficult childhood, growing up in poverty with his father absent and a mother with addiction problems. He also faced bullying while in school. These negative formative experiences have been the source of his inspirational message about overcoming adversity and difficulties, which he has explored on his debut album S.O.O.P. (Started Out Of Poverty). Previously, he has released the singles Big Plans and Have It All.

This track, Ride With Me, is also taken from the S.O.O.P. album. It’s a mid-paced hip-hop track that allows Soup Black to fully demonstrate his considerable skills as an emcee and lyricist. It starts with a haunting piano refrain that has aspects of both jazz and classical, before a punchy hip hop beat enters, laying the platform for Soup Black to deliver. From just the opening lines, he displays a distinctive, clear rapping style that shows his emotional honesty and positive self-belief: “Dear life, you did send me through some ups and downs, but it’s made me what I am now, a role model…”.

After depicting some of the struggles he has faced along the way, the track builds up to an equally inspiring, anthemic chorus bolstered by uplifting synth strings. It’s a succinct message about overcoming your problems: “Throughout your struggles in life proceed to move on, don’t give up, hold your head, be strong....”. On the second verse Soup Black really displays his skills with some verbally dextrous rhymes delivered with consummate flair and style. With its well crafted, addictive chorus hook you will find yourself humming along by the end of the first listen.

Overall, this is an excellent single from a charismatic hip-hop artist who has fought back from his difficult start in life and forged an inspirational artistic persona. His life affirming, positive message will not only empower people from similar backgrounds but will help to uplift anyone going through hard times, from whatever walk of life. Aside from that, Ride With Me showcases his versatile talents as a lyricist and rapper, staking a strong claim to be the next big thing in hip-hop.

VERDICT = 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: This Love by Kendra Black

kendra black

http://www.kendrablackmusic.com/

Kendra Black is a singer, songwriter and producer hailing from New York City. Originally with a background in professional ballet, she eventually shifted her focus towards music, performing in the U.S., France, Monte-Carlo, Italy, Egypt and the Caribbean. She trained with teachers from the Music Conservatory of Cannes and The Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory, then perfected her vocal training with Justin Stoney (director of New York Vocal Coaching), A&R Meghan Cress at Voice Academy NYC and Ilana Martin from Vocal Workouts singing school. Her 2017 album The Edge featured rapper Snoop Dogg on the single Rude.

This track, This Love, is taken from her 2019 album The Fire. The song is in the pop/EDM genre and begins with a brief intro before Kendra’s distinctive vocals enter in a high register. Her voice has a crystalline quality and has been extremely well recorded and produced, giving it a slick commercial sheen. On the verse, the musical backing is sparse with percussion entering on the first refrain of the very catchy chorus. From here, a standard EDM riser and drum roll builds us up to a full ‘four to the floor’ beat.

Along with this pounding kick, we hear an equally memorable synth melody which continues into the second verse. The way the track builds and breaks down is cleverly done so that there is a sense of crescendo at key moments. Lyrically, it’s about a relationship that has a special, unique quality that is simultaneously romantic and physical: “There’s something about this love that feels so magical…..when I get around I feel like an animal.….”. The track’s momentum and energy continues to the very end.

Overall, this is a classy piece of pop/EDM as good as anything you’ll hear in the uppermost reaches of the charts. Kendra Black has a perfect voice for pop, and is ideally suited to the material in this instance. The song is well crafted and equally well suited to commercial radio and the dancefloor, which is a difficult trick to pull off. This means it doubles its potential of finding success and that’s exactly what I expect to happen to Kendra Black in 2019.

 

VERDICT = 8.5 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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SINGLE REVIEW: Father’s Second Son by Lachlan Grant Splendor

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Lachlan Grant Splendor is an acoustic singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist hailing from New Zealand. His songwriting has been compared with that of Neil Young, whilst his distinctive vocals have drawn comparisons with England’s Billy Bragg. He cites influences such as Dave Matthews, Ben Howard, Lumineers, Hollow Coves and the aforementioned Young.

To that, I would add the slight influence, or at least similarity to, fellow Kiwi Neil Finn (Crowded House) and aspects of Elliott Smith. There is also a spiritual aspect to his music and he describes his concept album The Choice Is Yours as being inspired by higher conscious awakening.

This song, Father’s Second Son, is a beautifully crafted and performed acoustic ballad in the complex time signature of 12/8. It begins with haunting Elliott Smith-style picked acoustic guitar which sets the stage for Lachlan’s unique, quirky voice which does indeed bring to mind Billy Bragg, but only a little. The lyrics grab you from the start, depicting the complicated relationship with his older brother and their father: “When I was sixteen my brother was twenty… when I was sixteen, life felt so empty…….I looked up to him, he was my role model…..”.

The subtly anthemic and memorable chorus encapsulates the song’s emotional honesty and self-reflection: “What if I become my father’s second son?“. The second verse is equally poignant with lines like, “Used to always think that I would turn out the same… drink the same beer, burn with the same hot flame, score with the gorgeous girls….but none of that ever came true.….”. The understated and restrained delivery adds to the affecting nature of the song. Special credit should go to the intricate drumming, full of nuance and deft touches.

Overall, this is a great example of how the honest, confessional songwriting style can be one of the most powerful in music. Lachlan wears his heart on his sleeve but with the slightest hint of self-pity, delivering a genuinely moving song that can stand alongside that of his musical heroes. His musicianship (guitar and bass) along with his vocals are first rate and although you would place it in the alternative category, the universality of his songwriting means there’s no limits to the potential of his popularity.

 

VERDICT = 8.8 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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SINGLE REVIEW: Race Against Time by Bianca Modesti

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https://www.bianca-modesti.com

Bianca Modesti is a singer and songwriter born and raised in Melbourne, Australia. She has been under the mentorship of her singing teacher Steven Zammit and as spent the last year working on original solo material. She has already performed at numerous venues and the result of her labours in the studio has been a 5 track EP, Race Against Time. She regards her influences as artists like Christina Aguilera, Alicia Keys and Pharell Williams as well as great singers from the past like Etta James.

This song is the title track from her EP and makes a strong showcase for her singing and songwriting skills. The track is an interesting blend of R&B, pop and rock. It begins with just her charismatic vocals singing the chorus hook, set to rhythmic acoustic guitar. We then hear a funky guitar lick, with some clever dynamics such as the drums briefly dropping out. The verse breaks down to just piano and tom-tom heavy drums before the bridge creates an effective tension for the explosive chorus.

This is where Bianca gets to display her powerhouse voice, with an Aguilera-esque range and a tone akin to Alicia Keys. However, the chunky low-end electric guitars give her music a unique sound that helps it stand apart from the crowd. The chorus has an excellent vocal melody and lyrics that capture the world’s obsession with chasing fame: “Reality is getting the better of me cos I can’t escape into my MTV….”. The words also subtly pay tribute to the late, great Prince with the line, “Wish I could party like it was ’99….”. Later in the song, she shows her fine ability to vocally extemporize with control.

Overall, this is a debut release of the highest calibre from a hugely gifted female singer/songwriter. Her singing voice is exceptional but augmented by refined songwriting skills, a vital string to her bow in an era where great vocals are not enough. She has emerged with a musical style that is a little different to what’s currently out there, whilst retaining a commercial and accessible sound. Bianca Modesti has the potential to become as successful as her artistic idols and she should have a very bright future ahead of her.

 

VERDICT = 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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