E.P. REVIEW: Chutney Chasers by aVIE

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

VERDICT: 9.2 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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SINGLE REVIEW: Tinga by Silent Disco Sex

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https://www.facebook.com/silentdiscosex/

Silent Disco Sex are an electronic duo hailing from Chicago, consisting of Hope Taylor and Ros Garcia. They describe their musical genre as trip-tonic, which is a perfect summation. They combine the cinematic trip hop of Portishead with an array of alternative and electronic influences including NIN, Lovage and Radiohead. They have released one single prior to this, Acid Fetus, which came out this year.

This track, Tinga, is compelling from the very start. It’s a slinky trip hop instrumental that starts with a simple, instantly hummable melody on double bass before a colossal hip-hop beat kicks in. This sets the scene for some Mariachi-style trumpet laid over the top, giving it the kind of exotic vibe that would make it suitable for a Quentin Tarantino soundtrack.

The trumpet sections are contrasted by a sparser section consisting of just keyboards and drums, followed by just trumpet and drums. The way these relatively simple musical elements are interwoven and varied gives weight to the idea that less is more. The sound is full and punchy, and the track as a whole is produced to perfection, bringing to mind Mark Ronson circa his album Version.

Overall, this is one of the best instrumentals I’ve heard for a while in any genre, and trip-tonic might just be the coolest new genre going. The brilliantly named Silent Disco Sex have taken the dark trip-hop sound made famous by the Bristol bands Portishead/Massive Attack and given it a modern twist and even more of a film noir vibe, perfect for these times. They deserve to be massive.

 

VERDICT =  9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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ALBUM REVIEW: The Whisper and The Hurricane by Matt Hartless

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https://matthartless.bandcamp.com/album/the-whisper-and-the-hurricane

Matt Hartless is an Irish songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer, currently based in Manchester, England. He has, so far, put out three full length studio albums (Our Last Days In The Sun, Victory and this one, The Whisper and The Hurricane, released in August 2017). Aside from these he has also released singles, E.P.s and compilations.  His music defies simple genre categorization, encompassing an eclectic range of styles including folk, ska, classical, ambient, flamenco and alternative rock. Sometimes these styles vary and combine within the same song!

This ten track album begins with Rorschach, and as soon as Matt’s rich, harmony layered a capella vocals emerge from the speakers you realize this is not going to be the usual fare. His voice is distinctive and powerful, reaching an almost operatic grandeur at certain moments. It is reminiscent of Muse’s Matt Bellamy and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, though less affected, and he is gifted with an astounding vocal range (as anyone will discover if they listen to the entire album).

Lyrically, like musically, he is very eclectic and varied, mixing the oblique with the concrete and the romantic with the quotidian (this is captured even in the album’s title). These juxtapositions of the internal and external worlds lend the lyrics both a cinematic and imagistic quality that brings to mind T.S. Eliot circa The Waste Land. Lines such as “Analyze my every motive with a questionnaire and a Rorsharch test” seem particularly apposite in this current climate of behavioural scrutiny, both personal and societal.

Rorsharch is itself like an ink blot test, open to interpretation. Musically, it creates an evocative soundscape, with Hartless playing the majority of the instruments, aided by haunting violin lines (courtesy of Mark Humphries). The song is led by the lilting, folk-influenced vocal melody and the memorable enigmatic refrain, “No, I don’t remember at all...” In the second verse he muses, “There was no point to anything we did, till we ran out of time.…” and these themes of existential ennui and an impending sense of apocalypse recur throughout the album.

Second song The Vaulted Lead Ceiling is one of the album’s epics at six minutes long and begins with sparse acoustic guitar set against a sound collage of modern life; street noises, weather and bits of broken conversation. It is more openly personal. as evidenced by the dryly humorous opening line: “I don’t want to live the life of the chronically bored…”.

This elegiac, melancholy and world-weary tone pervades the album in a way that is reminiscent of troubled troubadours from the past like Nick Drake and Elliott Smith. The song brings to mind Exit Music (from Radiohead’s magnum opus Ok Computer) in the way it builds from, well, a whisper to a hurricane. To attempt a six minute track like this shows the scope of his musical ambition, and he pulls it off with aplomb.

The following Life In The Tannery is an effective contrast, with it’s samba-esque rhythms and restless, addictive guitar lines. It’s one of two tracks on the album that bring to mind the quirky alternative pop of Badly Drawn Boy and acts as a nice counterbalance to the ‘sturm und drung’ style of the emotionally heavyweight songs that surround it. Lyrically, it deals with the harsh truth that our relationships in life are partly based on projections and illusions: “To pull you from the blizzard, cartwheeling out of sync with the feelings that you perceive: you’re in love with a daydream…“.

Fourth song Waterlilies is arguably the album’s finest moment, drawing from the same well of doomed romanticism as The Smiths and Joy Division, but inhabiting its own sonic landscape entirely. Starting with a jazzy, beautifully simple two-chord piano progression, it develops into a soaring, euphoric ode to the timeless struggles of the human condition. It’s a good example of how he mixes the personal with powerful imagery, so we get: “I stumble through the haze that separates me from the end of days…” mixed in with striking images like ‘bodies in the street trampled by the protesters’ feet’. At the risk of sounding pretentious, you could call this style impressionistic in a similar way to Monet’s painting of the same name.

Fifth track Peace To Camera shows another facet to his oeuvre; an ambient instrumental that shows influences ranging from Sigur Rós and the French classical composer Erik Satie. Ethereal, haunting piano melodies drift and swirl without finding resolution, a mixture of the melodic and the dissonant. Again, you could describe it as an impressionistic painting in sound.

The classical influence continues strongly on the next two songs, Alice Loses Grip and The Science Of Attachment. The former begins with a swirling piano motif before developing into an epic piece of catharsis, lyrically capturing the theme of the album and giving us the source of the title: “The steps towards my hopes and dreams were worth my splitting at the seams, or better not to entertain the whisper and the hurricane…“.

The music is leant weight and stately grandeur by tasteful bursts of brass, adding to the symphonic texture. Matt delivers another stirring vocal performance of soaring intensity, which continues into the following six-minute The Science Of Attachment. This one brings to mind Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata along with the Gallic charm and beauty of the soundtrack to the classic film Amélie. It is in 6/8 time giving it a waltz feel, and violin from Dan Reiss lends it a gypsy vibe.

Emotionally, this song turns up the heat still further, the opening lines desperate and despairing: “I need a miracle or something magical, to prove there is more to life than this….“. Vocally, he channels a blend of Thom Yorke-esque power with the measured restraint of Elbow’s Guy Garvey. It builds to an anguished crescendo before ending on the evocative piano figure with which it began. Superb.

Making Small Fries Illegal is a distinct change of pace, an upbeat piece of indie-pop that brings to mind Mancunian music like, again, Elbow and Badly Drawn Boy. Lyrically, it sardonically deals with our disposability in modern society: “I left the office today, they’re making small fries redundant and I don’t know what to say, they think that I am one of them…..”. The melody really sticks in your mind and makes it a good choice as a single.

The final two songs, Snapdragon and London Will Fall, provide a showcase for both his eclecticism and extraordinary falsetto, especially the latter. Snapdragon shows his Irish roots, a piece of lilting but fiery folk in 3/4 waltz time (for the most part) that brought to mind The Levellers. The instantly memorable fiddle melody sets the tone and Thom Yorke would be proud to have written a line like, “Sleeping pills and aspirin, all to no effect, I’m shocked there’s anyone left….”

London Will Fall is a suitably epic way to end the album, the third to clock in at over six minutes. This one is perhaps best described as progressive ska, starting out in 4/4 then switching to triple time halfway through. As you can tell from the foreboding, yet maybe prescient, title it once again hints at apocalypse though the lyrics are barbed towards someone in particular: “London will fall and I won’t be there and it will all be down to you. Call, but I won’t be coming…we were saving our own skins…“.  It builds to a cathartic climax, with his falsetto voice reaching high notes that have to be heard to be believed! A stunning way to finish.

With The Whisper And The Hurricane, Matt Hartless has set the bar very high artistically and provided a powerful, poignant musical document of what it means to be a human being in the early 21st century, with artistic influences drawing back to the 19th century.

While the mainstream has become very much a case of the bland leading the bland, this album offers hidden treasure to anyone who still regards the album as an important art form and dares to delve down the rabbit hole. With any justice, this will still be listened to in fifty years time and hopefully beyond. British music has a new unsung hero.

 

VERDICT: 9.3 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

 

 

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