SINGLE REVIEW: Halo by Marc Illy

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Marc Illy is a hip-hop artist, pianist, rapper, vocalist, songwriter and producer originally born in Pittsburgh. He was raised all around the world and has lived in Cape Town, Los Angeles, Costa Mesa, San Diego and Boca Raton, Florida. He now resides in Los Angeles. In 2008, he was the opening act on Method Man’s “Still High” tour as well as touring around Taiwan for two and a half years. He creates music in order to inspire and encourage others, along with his work as an entrepreneur and social influencer.

This track, Halo, is a mid-paced hip-hop track that showcases Marc Illy’s skills as a songwriter, rapper and vocalist. Starting with a brooding bassline, the track breaks into a laid back groove that gets the toe tapping, augmented by tasteful bursts of light electric guitar and Rhodes. On the verse, Ally raps with an assured lyrical and rhythmic delivery and a distinctive style. Lyrically, it depicts the struggles of the creative process: “So many songs never made it to the outside, going through a crisis cos without music I’m feeling so lifeless…”.

But the main theme of the track is captured in the instantly memorable sung chorus, about channeling and appreciating the best parts of our nature as people: “Don’t let them try to steal your halo, don’t forget that you are an angel….”. In the second verse, he depicts how hard life can be in the city with blunt honesty and brutal effectiveness: “So many people don’t even have a f***** home…and you complain you don’t have a screen for Netflix shows….”.

Overall, this is an inspiring and uplifting hip-hop track that boasts both superb rapping about real life subject matter and a catchy vocal hook that reels you in fast. Marc Illy’s lyrics are raw and honest, giving an emotional depth to his music that adds to its power and artistic importance. His music has a more noble and spiritual message than you find in most hip-hop, which often glamorizes violence and material gain. It’s a vital, positive message conveyed by great music and deserves to be widely heard.

 

VERDICT: 8.7 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: Get Cha Hustle Up by Thuggizzle

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Thuggizzle is a freestyle rapper and hip-hop artist hailing from San Antonio, Texas. From an early age he has had the ability to come up with clever and inventive rhymes on the spot, known also as rhyming “off the dome”. His childhood was traumatic with himself and his three sisters in and out of foster care which led to getting in trouble.

He realized his gift for music could be his way out of his dire situation and put his experiences of street life into his lyrics. He cites Dr. Dre’s classic album The Chronic as a major influence and Thuggizzle has actually performed with one of the main contributors to that album, Snoop Dogg.

This track, Get Cha Hustle Up, is a great showcase for his rapping skills. Based around an infectious, skittish hip-hop beat and augmented by rhythmic, descending orchestral synth lines the vocals enter with the super catchy title refrain. You can hear the influence of Tupac, Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent and Eminem in certain aspects of his lyrical delivery but it soon becomes clear that Thuggizzle has a unique style of his own.

The verses show his ability for fast and fluent rapping, showing real dexterity in his use of rhythm and meter. The rapid-fire, busy style of the verses is perfectly contrasted with the simplicity of the title refrain in the chorus. He shows his self belief with lines like, “When I start just flipping that beat, man, I start on any instrumental…slow it down, Thug, what’s up, are you ahead of your prime? Well I’m just speeding past my watch cos I’m ahead of this time….”.

Overall, this is an incredibly catchy and assured single by a freestyle rapper who has developed a strong artistic persona and an entertaining personal style. He has taken the experiences and adversity of his childhood and turned it into the fuel of his creative success. He should go on to become an inspirational figure to aspiring rappers who come from a similar background. Thuggizzle is a hip-hop artist who truly deserves the hype.

 

VERDICT = 9 out of 10

 

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: Why Can’t You? by Celiane The Voice

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https://celianethevoice.bandcamp.com/

Celiane The Voice could be roughly described as an R&B/pop singer and songwriter, but her music encompasses a broad range of influences including soul, Latin pop, Broadway music, dubstep and hip-hopera. She surmises her own style as electronica hip-hopera. Hailing from the Bay Area, California, she cites equally diverse influences on her music such as the late, great Amy Winehouse, Origa, Tina Quo, Adele and Pharrell Williams, to name but a few.

This song, Why Can’t You?, was written and performed by Celiane herself and produced by Bill Williams. Musically, it’s an infectious fusion of dubstep, classical, R&B, hip hop and pop which showcases Celiane’s eclectic musical versatility. Starting with moody synth strings along with beautiful harp and woodwinds, it then bursts into a hard hitting Skrillex-style dubstep beat and a gut-punching saw-wave synth.

For the verse, Celiane enters with an immediating captivating vocal performance, the music switching to a more R&B/soul vibe. Her voice is charismatic and commanding, which acts as a cohesive glue on the music’s disparate elements, giving the track its sonic identity. It also features some breathtaking harmonies on the memorable chorus, augmented by a melodic piano motif.

Lyrically, it addresses a relationship where one partner is unable to appreciate the other’s emotional commitment, devotion and love: “I love you, do you know what that means? It means I will do anything, it means I will lay down my life….”. After the second chorus it breaks down to another excellent section built around a vocal refrain before the chorus returns, but with a totally different beat! The continual musical metamorphosing across the track’s five minute duration is breathtaking.

Overall, this is a remarkable single by an artist who seamlessly combines disparate musical genres into one organic whole, underpinned by a strong understanding of traditional songwriting values. The result is something both commercial yet quirky and highly original, with a sonic surprise around every corner. Celiane The Voice has emerged fully formed as an artist with a unique style, and Why Can’t You? deserves to be recognized as both a great song and a hugely inventive piece of composition and cutting edge production.

 

VERDICT = 9.2 out of 10  

Alex Faulkner

 

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SINGLE REVIEW: Beautiful by RIIV

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www.riiv.hearnow.com

RIIV is an up and coming singer/songwriter originally from Haiti. Moving to Connecticut at the age of 6, he was a rebellious teen until he hit a low point in life and his father had him placed in a group home. It was there that RIIV began to turn his life around. He started discovering his love for singing. He has been through ups and downs in life but music has always been a constant. RIIV is a go-getter and has linked up with L2 Records to produce his recently released track “Beautiful”.

“Beautiful” is the result of RIIV’s collaborative process with beatmaker DJ Shaw, producers DJ Dens (a.k.a. The Rooster), Chris Anger and executive producer Michael Varner of L2 Records. The track is a blissfully laid-back pop tune with a subtle EDM vibe and works as the perfect showcase for RIIV’s smooth and charismatic voice. Beginning with filtered clean guitar, a languid ‘four to the floor’ beat provides the bedrock for RIIV to lay down a memorable vocal melody with romantic lyrics: “Finally found a reason to sacrifice all of my heart…”.

It breaks down for the bridge with a catchy “Is it your love?” refrain before building back up to an instantly anthemic chorus augmented by synth melodies. In the second verse, the beat develops subtly with handclaps before the chorus and bridge refrain combine to great effect. The production throughout is absolutely first rate and can stand alongside anything on mainstream radio. With the music appealing to both the pop and EDM scenes, “Beautiful” is well placed to be successful both on radio and in the clubs.

Overall, this a perfectly produced Pop/EDM track with a summery, joyous vibe that will undoubtedly help RIIV gain traction in the Pop/EDM space. Since the track’s release, “Beautiful” has received nearly 200,000 views on YouTube and has been doing extremely well on streaming platforms. If RIIV continues to produce songs of this caliber, he has the potential to become the next big thing in the Pop/EDM world. I await future releases with great interest.

VERDICT = 8.7 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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SINGLE REVIEW: Core by Kori Reardon

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Kori Reardon is a singer-songwriter hailing from Christchurch, New Zealand. Aside from his solo work, he is the front man in an alt-rock band called Rezin though the musical style of his solo material is more acoustic rock. He has been releasing songs under his own name for about four years and this year has seen a plethora of releases including Here We Go Again, Awaken Me, Free You, Raw shot and DSA amongst others.

This latest track, Core, is a heartfelt acoustic rock ballad that showcases his fine skills as a singer and songwriter. Starting off with Led Zeppelin-style acoustic lead guitar over strummed chords, what quickly becomes apparent is the passion and intensity with which he performs his vocals. He has a powerful voice, not unlike Jon Bon Jovi but with his own distinctive nuances and performing style. The song is very well crafted and the title hook grabs you instantly on the first listen: “You shook me to the core…”.

Lyrically, it’s about the difficulties of loving relationships, a subject most will relate to well and there’s a wisdom borne of experience to lines like: “It’s nothing but a waste of time to hurt, blame, scream and fight….”. The song’s arrangement builds gradually and effectively, with the drums not entering until the second verse. After the second chorus is an excellent refrain section that adds to the emotive power of the song (“It’s not yet time to say it, it’s not time to say goodnight.…”).

Overall, this a highly impressive release from a Kiwi songwriter blessed with a strong voice and who gives everything in his vocal performance. His excellent skills as a guitarist go hand in hand with his gift for songwriting and with Core, he may well have the song that really propels him to a much wider audience. With flawless production and a natural commercial appeal that encompasses both rock and pop, the future’s looking good for Kori Reardon.

 

VERDICT = 8.7 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: Female Medieval Jester by Jamit

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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 few 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.

This year I have already given glowing reviews to his previous releases Such Is Not, Pioneer Generation, MRT and Chicken. His latest track, Female Medieval Jester, is somewhat a musical departure from his previous releases whilst still maintaining the Jamit signature sound. This track is both his most minimalist and, at the same time, his most epic so far at nine minutes long. Whereas he defined his previous work as psytrance, this belongs more in the ambient category.

It begins with an intricate percussive rhythmic pattern that forms the bedrock for the whole track. A synthesized vocal chant then emerges followed by a psychedelic, swirling synth pattern, which is the kind of sound you associate with Jamit’s music.

These simple elements interweave and repeat throughout the duration, having an accumulatively meditative and mesmeric effect on the listener. Jamit has suggested to listen to it in the bathtub; this is subtly complex ambient with a gentle infusion of the erotic. By the end of the track I was feeling noticeably more relaxed and peaceful, it is essentially music to bliss out to.

Overall, this is another strong step forward in Jamit’s artistic progression. It’s nearly twice the length of his previous releases and in a more ambient style, yet still retains the key elements of his sound. My only criticism of his tracks in the past was that sometimes they felt like they ended too soon. Not this time, here Jamit really allows the music to breathe and this slightly new direction will increase his appeal radius even further.

VERDICT: 8.7 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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ALBUM REVIEW: Pawn and Prophecy by Mike Lepond’s Silent Assassins

 

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https://www.facebook.com/mikelepondssilentassassins/

Mike Lepond’s Silent Assassins are a heavy metal group hailing from New Jersey. Mike Lepond is perhaps best known for being the bassist in progressive metal band Symphony X. Silent Assassins were formed as an offshoot solo project and they have released one eponymous album before this. Their music is a combination of 80’s metal influences like Iron Maiden and Metallica with Folk/Viking metal made famous by mostly Scandinavian/Germanic metal bands.

This album, Pawn and Prophecy, consists of nine songs with the title track clocking in at an epic 21 minutes. It begins with a bang, Master of the Hall opening with a blaze of anthemic vocal chants and whirlwind drum patterns. It leads on to a section of brutal guitar riffage before lead vocalist Alan Tecchio takes centre stage. He has the perfect voice for the music, with an incredible range and falsetto.

Master of the Hall contains a colossal chorus and it’s actually their ability to write consistently strong, anthemic choruses that sets them apart from their peers. Lyrically, this song is somewhat of a manifesto: “We’re the killers of the sea, sing with me, ‘Save my Viking soul!’.

Special mention should go to the incredible speed metal drumming, but every musician in the band is exceptional; Mike Lepond’s rhymically driving bass is higher in the mix than in most metal (and rightly so) while Lance Barnewold and Rod Rivera cook up a storm together on guitar.

Black Legend is a little simpler musically but rocks like a mutha. It shows their more 80’s metal and heavy rock influences with strong shades of Iron Maiden and a touch of Gun’s N Roses in the classy, instantly addictive chorus. It’s propelled along by a fantastically wiry guitar riff and culminates in a climactic solo. One of their most accessible tracks.

Third song Antichrist is Silent Assassins turned up to eleven; it’s an apocalyptic metal epic with Faith No More-style choral keyboards that give it an almost Biblical feel. Alan Tecchio sings at the top of his remarkable range throughout, making Ian Gillan sound like Barry White. There is a plethora of pleasingly demonic riffs for metal fans to headbang to and the whole track is hugely entertaining.

I Am The Bull starts with a guttural bass ostinato before launching into a planet-sized wall of sound, the chords like hammer blows. While it is in standard 4/4, they incorporate a lot of rhythmic variety, such as an effective double-kick section and intricate syncopations throughout. One where they allow the music to really breathe. Lyrically, it takes its inspiration from Greek mythology.

Avengers of Eden returns to the Iron Maiden-infused speed metal of earlier tracks and they manage to deliver yet another killer chorus. The guitars get to really rip on this one, with some superb duelling solos and Avenged Sevenfold-esque lead guitar harmonies. The high note that Tecchio hits vocally near the end is simply extraordinary. One of their classics.

Hordes of Fire is rather more Metallica in its crunchy Enter Sandman-type low-end chordal riffage. The layered, cleverly arranged backing vocals on the chorus make this one stand ou, along with more stellar lead guitar work.

Eighth track The Mulberry Tree is musically quite a departure, showing the folkier side of their Folk Metal with strong use of acoustic guitar and various rustic-sounding instruments. It works as a distinct change of pace and shows their Led Zeppelin influence with a beautifully crafted chorus, once again. The Segovia-style lead classical duel guitar solo is exceptional, and the poetic spoken word section is a nice touch.

Finally, the title track of the album brings things to a suitably ambitious climax. It starts with a brilliant bass solo before an assault of keyboard and guitar riffs take turns. It could almost be described as a metal symphony with alternating sections of female and male vocals, breakneck speed metal featuring some radical chord changes and dissonant guitar lines.

Further on there are sections of angelic sounding piano and strings that show the musical range of this band. The energy they generate is almost unreal, and it never lets up over twenty minutes. As with the opening track, lyrically it is a call-to-arms to the converted: “Take up your swords and rise!“.

When a boogie rock section enters around halfway through it somehow fits, as does the Jon Lord-esque organ solo. For the last five minutes it breaks down to solemn blues rock then builds back up to a lighters-in-the air chanting half-time section before one final, very fitting, blast through galloping speed metal. Also fittingly, Mike Lepond gets to really shine with some remarkably fluent bass playing.

Overall, this is a thrilling and ambitious metal album that is fully realized in terms of its creative vision. Taking the best aspects of 80’s metal and forging it with the mythological lyrical style of metal makes for a highly effective fusion, aided by musicianship of the highest caliber. It deserves to go down as a classic of the genre.

 

VERDICT: 9 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

 

 

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