SINGLE REVIEW: I Encourage You feat. Myra Maimoh (Ebenholz remix) by Vin Deca

Vin Deca is a songwriter/composer as well as producer/mixer originally from Cameroon but now based in Germany. This particular song was originally released in 2011 as a contemporary pop song, but Vin Deca noted how it seemed to stay relevant and he decided to remix it in a modern style. After four doing remixes, he discovered the Ebenholz remix, this version, found most favour with radio stations.

The song begins with not so much an intro but a prelude to the verse, with a four to the floor beat starting straight away, a sense of tension created by the filtered vocal and whirling rising synth. The beat then drops out to just light percussion and we hear Myra Maimoh crystal clear for the first time without effects. She has a fantastic voice, similar to Nicole Sherzsinger, which really shines on the chorus that begins just 45 seconds into the track.

A short instrumental follows after the chorus, a beautiful melody played by a trumpet before another verse and bridge, then second chorus. The contrast between verse and chorus is large as it should be for a dance track with the chorus lifting the track every time. The overall sound is very current, similar to other pop-dance artists like Clean Bandit and Avicii. After a sparse third verse there is a short build, then a final chorus to complete the song.

Overall, an excellent remix and production of a very good pop song that should make Vin Dead more well known, brilliantly sung by Myra Maimoh, with huge potential to become both a hit in the clubs as well as on radio due to its highly commercial sound and infectious melody.


Alex Faulkner

Verdict: 8.5 out of 10









SINGLE REVIEW: Tears by In Isolation (released 21st July 2014)


In Isolation are an indie rock trio hailing from Nottingham that hark back to classic New Wave 80’s bands such as The Cult, Depeche Mode and, perhaps more than anyone, mid-period Echo and the Bunnymen. After successfully releasing a clutch of singles that have received radio play and featured on various shows, this single has been superbly produced by Gavin Monaghan (Editors, Paulo Nutini) and Joseph Murray.

Much like the bands listed above, In Isolation favour rich and expressive, passionate vocals courtesy of Ryan Swift and also, like the Bunnymen, a predilection for poetic, impressionistic lyrics (‘Tears spill over, flooding your fire…’ runs the epic chorus). With a trio, there can be no weak links instrumentally and In Isolation form a powerful, tight musical unit.

Tony Ghost’s precise, inventive drumming and John Berry’s muscular yet melodic bass playing provide a strong platform for some deft guitar work (also played by Berry) that runs the gamut of 80’s playing styles, from shimmering delays to Will Sergeant-esque scratchy high-end chords. I enjoyed the way a steady wall of guitar sounds built across the song in the way Johnny Marr used to do in The Smiths, another influence.

However, quality musicianship is worth nothing without a good song and fortunately Tears is a memorable and well-crafted piece of music, Swift’s distinctive and emotive vocals making a strong impression on the first listen. They are somewhat less portentous and bleak than, say, White Lies, another British trio with 80’s New Wave leanings. The chorus soon sticks in the mind and this commercial aspect bodes well for their future. Overall, this is an excellent choice for a single, and an intriguing taster for their forthcoming debut album being released sometime later this year.


Alex Faulkner

Verdict: 8.6 out of 10

E.P. REVIEW: Stitches by Aztec (released July 2014)

Stiches_EP_coverAztec are an alternative rock four-piece hailing from Canada, and have built up a good fanbase through the old-fashioned route of touring their collective behinds off. This E.P. has been produced by a member of one of Aztec’s favourite bands All Get Out, and is remarkable for the reason that it manages to capture the elusive raw energy of a band playing live, which is so often lost in translation during the recording process.

Aztec write consistently strong melodic pop/rock songs that are always catchy and memorable, but, as with many alternative bands, their hooks are not of the obviously signposted ‘here’s the big chorus’ type, which is a corny characteristic of many of the more commercial bands. The way they double up their hooks with female backing vocals brought to mind the Dandy Warhols, but without the ‘cooler-than-thou’ lyrics, and a closer listen shows they belong more with the more quirky, offbeat likes of Modest Mouse and Manchester Orchestra.

Opening track ‘The Benefits of Being Alone’ starts with a mellotron-esque sound with a gentle, chugging guitar before lead singer/guitarist Kyle Schepens enters with the opening lines ‘Got no plans today, gonna smoke my cigarette…maybe drink the bottle here of red…’. This melancholy tone sets the lyrical mood for the whole E.P. but is soon counterbalanced by the music exploding into widescreen, a wall of guitars and Amber Banman’s raw, primal drumming setting the listener’s ears alight. Schepens’ distinctive voice reminded me of the Pixies’ Black Francis (but without the screeching).

The dichotomy and interplay between downbeat lyrics and upbeat music, along with pretty vocal melodies offset by heavy guitars, is found throughout the E.P. This is showcased best by the second song “Too Shallow To Be A Grave” (great title) which marries a surging, melodic musical backing to self-lacerating lyrics: “I am nonsense scribbled down, then erased and never found…I’m the cancer that you fight every day“. Even with words like that, it is the one of the most commercial of the five tracks, and would make a great single.

Third track “Untitled Part 1” is more mid-paced and features some gorgeous, chiming lead guitar work from Saul Sitar (the two guitarists combine well across the whole E.P.). Lyrically, it appears to be about a family reunion and nostalgia trip gone wrong (‘brothers and sisters all around, what did you bring me out here for?‘), yet, again, the overall song is uplifting to listen to.

Fourth track If I Believed In Anything is my personal favourite of the five and perhaps also the poppiest. With an understated but radio-friendly chorus and a nice harmony section, I could imagine this being very popular on college radio, proving Aztec can write a great pop song in the classic sense. Definite contender for the lead track off the E.P. and the first single, in my opinion.

Closing track East is a superb finale, a short, quirky song in waltz-time, with a quiet-loud-quiet dynamic and an explosive chorus that rivals Kings of Leon for epicness. It ends an extremely good run of songs that, for me, showcases what an E.P. can and should be. Essentially, it should aim to be a mini-album rather than one strong track and a bunch of filler. This one perfectly exemplifies the former and, with no weak links at all, is one of the best E.P.s I’ve heard in a long time.


Alex Faulkner

Verdict: 8.8 out of 10



SINGLE REVIEW: Crazy Heart by Matthew Schultz ft. Alessia Guarnera (Released 2nd May 2014)

Hailing from New Jersey, Matthew Schultz is making big waves in the music industry, with his first single Money or Me creating a huge impact. This track, which melded hip-hop with a rock element was produced by Armando Guarnera and earned him a nomination at the 2013 EOTM Awards, as well as one for Best New Male Artist. In a short time he has accumulated a huge fanbase and is currently at the top of the charts on Reverb Nation.

However, he’s no newcomer to the industry, having played guitar in Chris Daughtry’s first band, and then venturing into other areas of the entertainment industry, landing a role in The Dark Knight Rises. Now having returned to his musical roots with the very successful Money or Me, his next single Crazy Heart looks set to be a surefire smash as well.

The track is a laid-back but emotive hip-hop ballad about a troubled relationship, propelled by funky acoustic guitar and snappy finger clicks. It builds gradually, we don’t hear a kick drum enter until two minutes in, and grabs your attention from the start. Rather than huge layers of production, Crazy Heart lets the song do the talking, the vocals taking prominence over a fairly sparse but effective backing.

Vocal duties are shared with the breathy, soulful voice of Alessia Guarnera, who brings to mind a cross between Janis Joplin and Rihanna. Alessia, from Brooklyn, New York, is the daughter of producer Armando and a singer-songwriter in her own right. She carries the memorable hook of the song, which it begins with, singing poignant lines such as ‘You build me up, you break me down, I never know my place…’.

Her high-register vocals are contrasted nicely by Schultz’ deep, gravelly tones, who details two lovers in turmoil in the verses. The lyric depicts two people very much in love, but struggling to remain faithful in the face of temptation (”I don’t wanna be that guy, and you don’t wanna be that girl” Schultz sings with sadness in his voice), a timeless theme we can all relate to. Schultz’ voice is not usually the kind you hear on a hip-hop track and the slight rock element that it brings makes the track fresh and original.

From his rapid rise, it would be fair to say that Matthew Schulz has all the credentials for huge success. Combining suave good looks with a distinctive voice and a fresh sound, it seems only a matter of time before he becomes a household name. Great tracks like this one should ensure that his ascendance continues to be meteoric.

With his first single racking up millions of YouTube views, Schultz already has a plethora of fans waiting to hear his next material. They will be far from disappointed with this song which is both catchy and has the emotional weight to get inside people’s hearts and heads. You could well be hearing this a lot over the summer.


Verdict: 9/10

Alex Faulkner

ALBUM REVIEW: The Loose Kites – Of Bricks And Brambles


The Loose Kites, hailing from Chester, are one of those delightfully quirky and effortlessly eccentric groups that Britain seem to have a particularly knack of producing. Their music is difficult to pigeonhole genre-wise but is somewhere between rockabilly and folk (folkabilly….? Perhaps not).

Having released their eponymous debut in 2009 to wide acclaim, even catching the attention and admiration of legendary Bowie producer Tony Visconti, this second album has been a while in the making, but certainly worth the wait. Whereas their debut had a raw, ramshackle charm this album is a more musically sophisticated piece of work.

Consisting of thirteen tracks the whole album has a warm, rustic sound. Crystal-clear acoustic guitars and inventive, driving basslines, courtesy of ‘Bod’, jostle for your attention with flourishes of brass and strings adding fullness and sonic colour.

Vocalist Simon Poole helps define the band’s unique sound with a soulful, rasping voice, and Jai Stark’s tumbling tom-tom fills bring to mind a less aggressive Danny Goffey (Supergrass).  Since their debut they have added keyboard player Mike Collings who fills out the sound nicely with some rich Hammond organ and occasional barrelhouse piano.

Not many bands would lead off their album with a song featuring a viola solo (ok, interlude) but that’s exactly how Of Bricks and Brambles begins. Opener ‘Andrew’ is an infectious and delightfully quirky toe-tapper, punctuated by stabs of brass and musical left-turns, contrasted with an oddly poignant lyric about drinking alone and emotional impotence.

Just as a band like The Pixies took the traditional rock song structure and turned it on its head, The Loose Kites show that you can still be inventive and original within the confines of the three-minute pop song. The lively tone continues with Nice to Be Nice, a gem of a song featuring the lyric ‘It’s what we’re here for…making life richer for the poorer’, a line so succinct that it could be regarded as the Kites’ entire manifesto.

Cold Comfort Home is perhaps my favourite on the album, a wistful, surprisingly moving song about a prodigal son returning home to a cold reception with an older brother who can do no wrong. This kind of narrative-driven songwriting is not easy to pull off, but the Kites do so with consummate ease.

Hold Your Horses is another pearl, starting with some late-night jazz bar trumpet before developing into another finely crafted song (superb arrangement on this one) about the hectic pace of modern life. Lyrically, it is reminiscent of Lennon’s ‘I’m Only Sleeping’, musing about ‘the dumbing down of the profound…..the pavements bustling like a nuclear merry-go-round’.

Other highlights for me were ‘Lothario’, ‘Latch Key Kid’ and ‘We Got A Groovy Thing Goin’ On’ is, for want of a better word, groovy. The curiously titled ‘An Incident of Extraordinary Cons’ is another catchy-as-hell tune that hurtles along at breakneck pace and ends with a magnificent blow-out section leading to the dreamy closing track Come Walk With Me. With acoustic finger-picking work that Nick Drake would have been proud of and delicate piano, it conjures the ethereal sound-world of Love’s Forever Changes, bringing the album to a suitably satisfying close.

Whether The Loose Kites break through to the upper echelons of the music industry remains to be seen, but there’s no doubt they deserve to. Anyone who has seen them perform knows they are also a fantastic live band and they themselves must want more than to be ‘Britain’s best-kept musical secret’. However, in an era when a folk group like Mumford and Sons can headline Glastonbury, it could be the case that this album is the catalyst for bringing the Kites out of the shadows to a much wider audience.

Verdict: 8.9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner


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ALBUM REVIEW: Flicker – How Much Are You Willing To Forget?


Prog rock. The very words can be enough to send some running for cover. It can bring to mind the very worst excesses of pretension and indulgence, twenty-minute organ solos and seemingly endless concept albums called things like Tales of Topographic Oceans. It is for this reason alone that rock bands with any sense of ambition and musical progression have tended to be sidelined by the mainstream music scene, at least in Britain, which has favoured the more accessible meat ‘n’ potatoes rock of Oasis et al.

The last mainstream album to be adjudged prog-rock would be Radiohead’s OK Computer, way back in 1997. Such was the adulation and expectation heaped on the band’s magnum opus that they reacted by going in the opposite direction with the bare-bones electronica minimalism of Kid A. No British band since has really tried to explore the expansive sound world of OK Computer since, and many, including myself, have often wondered where Radiohead could have gone had they continued down that path. Flicker have provided that answer.

A concept album loosely based around the idea of a single day (like James Joyce’s Ulysses) of someone caught in the daily grind of modern life, How Much Are You Willing To Forget? begins with a minute of tense, twitchy guitars and synths, as a train announcer sets the scene for the start of the journey. We are then thrust into the frenetic intensity of ‘Go’, all swirling guitar lines (think Holy Bible-era Manics) and lyrics depicting the alienation of the individual feeling lost in the push ‘n’ shove 9-to-5 existence ( ‘the same old silent crowd that patiently waits to go..’) that so many endure daily, a theme shared with OK Computer.

This sense of alienation continues with the next tracks ‘Out There’ ( ‘Is there anybody out there?’ sings frontman Ellis Mordecai) and My Empty Head. Both coming in at around the 6-7 minute mark, they feature expansive sections of instrumental exploration, but neither outstay their welcome. There are more traditional prog-rock influences detectable here (Pink Floyd, Genesis) but not even a hint of self-indulgence.

This brings us to the album’s lyrical centrepiece Counting Time, the protagonist depicting the tedium and monotony of his mundane office job, overlapping vocals painting a bleak picture (‘my future’s stacked up on tables and buzzing through cables….threading my hope through the eye of a needle’). The chorus provides the cathartic sense of release that you associate with Radiohead’s finest moments. It’s another epic in terms of length, but gripping throughout.

Next track Everywhere Face is a concise slice of modern angst-rock that lifts the pace nicely, with Nirvana (not exactly prog rock!) the most discernable influence, one noted by the band in interviews.

‘Falling Down’ is the album’s bleakest moment, an apt title for the album’s theme whether intentional or not (bringing to mind the 1993 film about a man cracking under the strain and stress of modern existence). Featuring similar nails-down-the-blackboard style eerie strings to OK Computer‘s spiritual nadir Climbing Up The Walls, it conjures up a mood of catatonic despair before lurching into a mid-paced but intense-as-hell second half, Mordecai’s voice drenched in angst and distortion. If the album is a depiction of a mental descensus ad inferos, this is undoubtedly the lowest point.

In an instant, we are brought out of this dark soundscape by the flourish of Spanish guitar that begins Breathless, the longest track on the album and one of the best. Poignant lyrics (‘last night’s dream drunk to its dregs…..too afraid to look within…’) and a rousing, tumultuous climax would have made for a great finale to this album, but Flicker go one better.

It is the final track ‘Is This Real Life?’ that truly deserves all the plaudits. A haunting piece of immensely ambitious epic rock (especially considering this is their debut), it’s one of those transcendent moments in music that don’t come around too often. Over sparse, dreamy piano and strings, Mordecai seems disconnected from time and space itself as he asks ‘Is this real life or just forever…?’. The orchestral arrangement is simply stunning, even getting away with quoting Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto (yes, there’s more to music than the Beatles, Noel…).

It’s the perfect denouement to what should come to be regarded as a modern classic, if there’s any justice. Special credit should go to producer Marc Joy for helping to realize the band’s vision and give free rein to the ambitious, if always focused, arrangements.

In an era of Cowell-controlled careerists and the ubiquity of cardboard cut-out musical non-entities like One Direction ruling the roost, we need bands like Flicker to thrive more than ever before. Pigeonholing them into the prog-rock wilderness would be a major mistake. Prog rock….epic rock…angst rock…call it what you like. Just listen.

Alex Faulkner

Verdict: 9.3/10

How Much Are You Willing To Forget? by Flicker (released 28 Jan 2013)
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