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: Grey by Lunar

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Lunar is a rather enigmatic RnB/soul/dance singer and songwriter. Not much background information can be found about her but this element of intrigue and mysteriousness extends to her music. She has so far released two full length albums, 2016’s Gravitar and Theogony in 2017. Her music is difficult to categorize but, essentially, she combines the sassy RnB/dance style of an artist like Rihanna with the more, quirky eclectic style of St. Vincent.

This track, Grey, is taken from her four track EP Project. It starts with a haunting piano motif, then Lunar’s strong, distinctive voice enters along with a simple but effective 2/4 beat. The bridge breaks down to hi-hats and pulsing synths before building up to a captivating chorus driven along by a synth bass. Lyrically, it’s about a relationship that is both romantic and sexual: “Love, lust, craving for a safe place……luck, lost, they don’t think we’re the same….”.

After that chorus, the music veers off-piste dramatically. It breaks down to the haunting classical and jazz infused piano of the intro, moving through some beautiful minor key progressions. Then without blinking, it switches back into the second verse and chorus. It’s a stroke of genius that sounds like it shouldn’t work on paper, but it somehow fits the moody sensuality of the song. In the final chorus we also hear a swirl of synths before concluding on those poignant piano chords, once again.

Overall, this is a superb piece of modern pop that seamlessly combines RnB, dance, classical and jazz in under three minutes. Lunar is a highly intriguing artist with a style of her own and deserves to be recognized as an important female artist of the times. Although eclectic and unpredictable, this track is still very commercially appealing and has the potential to be the song that brings her to a much wider audience.

 

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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ALBUM REVIEW: The Journey by J. Sariah

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www.JSariah.com

J. Sariah is a singer songwriter born and raised in Macon, Georgia but has lived in several places including Long Island, New York, Cardiff in Wales and Houston, Texas. She began writing songs in her teenage years, which helped her cope with difficult experiences. This led to winning the Director’s Award in the Paramount Songwriting Contest at the age of 15. From there, she began working on songwriting projects with her cousin Airplane B, the founder of AMG (Airplane Music Group).

She describes her music as Neo-Soul, which encompasses R&B, hip hop, soul and gospel, and cites her favourite artists as Aaliyah, Beyoncé, Rihanna, Chris Brown and Ashanti, amongst others. Her debut EP, The Path, was released in March this year and The Journey is her first full album consisting of eleven tracks, featuring songs produced by Houston duo 3Bubble & J. Gray of Live From The Pentagon Entertainment and DJ Izzy Ill, idreaminstereo and Dorothy Chan of Barron Studios in Houston, Texas.

Opening track Friendzone is a brilliant start to the album. It’s a slinky, soulful piece of R&B with an instantly addictive vocal melody. J. Sariah gives a compelling vocal performance, her voice distinctive and easy on the ear which bodes well for her commercial potential. The track is superbly arranged, with a wealth of subtle detail in everything from the intricate beat to vocal doubling on certain lines.

Lyrically, it’s about someone hiding their desire by keeping them a friend: “In the friend zone, I know you want me, but you’ve got me in the friendzone…..”. With its catchy title hook and slick production, it’s a song that Rihanna or Beyoncé would be proud to have in their canon, and a perfect choice for a single.

Second track Shooting Star is another fine song, this one more languid and romantic with a jazzy chord progression and a deep dub bass. J. Sariah’s natural style of mixing rhythmic, fast paced vocal melodies on the verse, then switching to longer, anthemic melodies on the chorus is very effective. The hook grabs you on the first listen, lyrically about dreaming of being with someone they’re in love with: “I’m wishin’ on a shooting star, for you and me to be making history forever….”.

Are You Ready is based on a simple but effective guitar figure which forms the bedrock for another well crafted and soulful R&B song featuring some lush vocal harmonies and cutting edge production, especially towards the end. Track four, Run It, is a sharp contrast with a harder edged sound driven by a low-end synth melody. The lyrics are a little edgier too, describing the enjoyment of flirtation and seduction with an alpha male: “That smirk is worth a thousand words playing on repeat….”.

Overthinking is one of the more emotional, reflective songs on the album. It’s a poignant and sensitively performed expression of something many will relate to, thinking obsessively about a relationship and its issues. The chorus is clever, both highly memorable but reflecting the repeating inner turmoil she’s feeling: “Am I thinking about it, thinking about it too much?“.

Sixth song Revenge is another emotive and honest track that deals with a handling negative situation, this time a cheating lover. The perfectly executed vocal harmonies makes this one stand out musically. The lyrics are barbed and pull no punches: “What goes around comes and I’ll make sure it happens…who knew karma could be such a friend? Revenge…..” The following Reflection also wears its heart on its sleeve, an escape from her relationship issues into hedonism as captured by the opening lines: “Wasted, drinks on me…”. It’s another highly relatable, memorable song that packs an emotional punch due to its lyrical openness and honesty.

Break History is a real departure from her signature sound, this one with a bit of a rock vibe. Starting with some mellifluous lead electric guitar, it bursts into an infectious pop/rock fusion that shows her Beyoncé influence. Her vocals on this one are particularly good, singing near the top of her range on the anthemic chorus. Lyrically, its another positive message about putting the past behind you.

H202 is a return to her more usual super-catchy R&B style with a particularly good groove, a love song with an interesting and inventive metaphor: “Let the rain fall, like a waterfall of never ending love into a  sea, you’re the water and I’m  the air, the only elements we need….”. Another potential single for the future.

Reckless Love starts with a haunting, evocative piano/vibes melody that made me think of the composer Saint Saens. It progresses into a beat with a tempo so laid back it’s almost vertical, setting the scene for a smooth-as-honey lead vocal with strong lyrics:  “You’re like a man in the mirror for me, you reflect everything I need….”. The section where its just her voice with the intro melody sends shivers up the spine.

The closing Dutty Wine is a great way to finish the album, featuring a guest male vocalist. Their voices complement each other perfectly, alternating and then combining. It’s a fiendishly catchy track with a slick R&B groove, an openly sexy expression of sensual desire that will be hugely popular on the dancefloor. It completes the emotional journey of the album, which J. Sariah says is about the ups and downs of tempestuous young love.

Overall, this is a consistently excellent modern pop album that balances commercial appeal with authentic artistic expression. She has a gift for writing about the issues that affect most of us with insight and brutal honesty. Containing several potential singles and not a weak moment on the whole album, it’s surely just a matter of time before this gifted artist explodes onto the world stage. J. Sariah has the potential to be as big as her musical heroes and heroines.

 

VERDICT =  9.2 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

Visit her official website HERE

SINGLE REVIEW: Need It Too by AMAAL

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AMAAL is an 18 year old pop singer/songwriter haling from Washington, D.C. He’s been studying and performing music since the tender age of four and began singing lessons at fourteen. He gravitated towards pop and counts artists like Prince, David Bowie, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Rihanna and Jay Z, amongst others. He has battled with chronic pain and depression for years, and has found solace through music.

This song, Need It Too, is his debut single. It was written by himself and produced by Thomas Mansur. It is a pop ballad in the vein of modern Justin Bieber, and AMAAL’s voice is well suited to the material. It starts with simple piano chords, allowing the focus on the vocals and words.

Lyrically, it is honest and emotional deeper than most pop music, as you can tell from its opening lines: “Your breath reeks of whisky, used to say you missed me…”. It’s about a relationship where each others needs aren’t being met, with hedonism seen as a means of emotional escape. The vocal melody is memorable and catchy, with insistent rhythmic hooks keeping the listener gripped to the end.

Overall, this is a fine debut single for an artist with an emotional maturity beyond his years. His voice and music are perfectly in sync with what’s happening in the current pop scene, and the way his lyrics dig deep and capture his emotive rawness will win him many fans. With further material of this quality, there’s no reason why he won’t break into pop’s major league.

VERDICT: 8.3 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: Never Wanna Leave by Xavier Toscano

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Xavier Toscano is a singer/performer and pop artist hailing from San Jose, CA. He’s been singing since 2008 and has accumulated a large fanbase on social media. His music is most definitely in the pop category, and he cites his influences as Justin Timberlake, Maroon 5, Rihanna and Madonna. He’s an independent artist and releases his music through his own record label, CBM.

This song, Never Gonna Leave, is an upbeat dance-pop track with a strongly commercial sound. Starting with EDM-style synth riffs, a pulsing 2/4 dance beat kicks in with a buzzing synth bass. Xavier enters with an instantly catchy vocal melody which builds to an equally memorable chorus, aided by a swirling synth arpeggio that adds rhythmic energy and momentum.

The production and overall style/sound is reminiscent of the hi-NRG pop that dominated the charts in the late 80’s, when Stock, Aitken and Waterman ruled the pop roost. Xavier has a natural voice for up tempo pop and delivers a fine performance here. Lyrically, it is fairly standard fare and not the focal point in this genre.

Overall, this is a well produced and performed dance-pop fusion that is perfect for both mainstream radio and the dancefloor. No doubt it is already a big success with his existing fanbase, and I can see him reaching an even bigger audience as Never Gonna Leave has appeal right across the board.

VERDICT: 7.8 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

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ALBUM REVIEW: BARE by Celeste Buckingham

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http://www.celestebuckingham.com/

Celeste Buckingham is a Slovak singer-songwriter of Swiss-American descent. Her songwriting began at a young age, with one of her first demos having been written when only twelve. She also wrote a successful children’s story with her sister, which they self-published in 2007 and eventually resulted in a paperback release. She rose to prominence with her musical talents in 2011 via becoming a finalist in the Czech and Slovak TV series Superstar.

From this success she was able to establish herself as an artist which resulted in the release of her debut album Don’t Look Back in 2012. Released to critical acclaim, it spawned a number two hit single in the national charts, Run, Run, Run. She followed this with the 2013 album Where I Belong, which featured the single I’m Not Sorry. Another album followed in 2015, So Far So Good. She has also featured as a judge on the Czech-Slovak X Factor.

This album, BARE, features ten tracks and musically is fairly eclectic in its influences, but it is essentially soul/RnB fused with Middle Eastern and Latin elements that is reminiscent of artists like Shakira. Vocally, she is distinctive and powerful, with a voice to stand up against any of pop’s big hitters like Beyonce, Rihanna and Adele. You can also detect the influence of Joss Stone, and Celeste shares her penchant for barefoot performances!

The album gets off to a blistering start with the perfect R&B pop of Paradise, with cutting edge production that rivals the best Bloodshy & Avant productions (Britney Spears, Katy Perry). Starting with a pulsing kick drum that ensures it will rip on the dancefloor, Celeste lays down a killer vocal about resisting but still being tempted by a lothario: “You say you love the dark side, and I got a wild side but I ain’t gonna let you in, no, no…”.

As with the best pop songs, every section of the track is filled with catchy hooks and ear candy, the breakdown bridge (“Even though I know you’re no good for me…”) building to an instantly memorable chorus that captures the harsh reality of life and both the shallow nature and allure of human relationships: “This ain’t paradise, it’s as cold as ice, but there’s magic in your bones I don’t understand…”. If there’s a better pop song in 2018, I’ll be surprised.

While Paradise is my personal favourite on the album, second track Addict is perhaps the one with the most commercial potential and is quite simply, well, addictive! Built around an exotic Eastern groove and a seductive vocal melody, it brings to mind the world conquering classic Hips Don’t Lie by Shakira. Again, it’s about the potency and lure of physical and mental attraction and starts with the chorus hook: “Losing my mind and I kind of like that….”.

Unexpectedly, Celeste shows her versatility on the verses, rapping with a smooth and rapid delivery as fluent and rhythmic as Eminem at his best. This gives the track added sass and really drives it forward, contrasting effectively with the sung sections. A song that could storm the charts, globally.

Third song Rose is a total change of pace; a tender ballad about feeling love and compassion for a man going through a rough time emotionally: “His petals are worn and frayed at the edge, his clothes are torn and his face is a mess…”. Celeste gets to show another side to her talent here, delivering a sensitive, moving and powerful vocal, with a theme that avoids the clichés of the traditional love ballad. With its radio friendly sound and strong chorus, this is another potential single.

Next up is Go Away, which has been released as the first single from the album. It is a return to the Latin-tinged R&B vibes of the first two tracks and matches them for sheer catchiness. Lyrically, as the title implies, it’s about reaching the end of a relationship with someone who’s turned out to be no good. The whole song is packed with hooks, and with its solid four-to-the-floor beat you can tell it will work well in the clubs.

The following Selfish is another fine track, with some nice production effects on the vocals. Although it’s as good as most of what you hear in the charts, it doesn’t have the inspired vitality of the preceding songs and perhaps sounds a little too similar to the majority of what’s out there.

Things pick up again straight away with the superb Trip, a slinky piece of jazz-inflected R&B that Beyonce would be very happy to have in her catalogue. The track makes great use of space, with a sparse but highly effective arrangement based around a xylophone-esque synth melody. It exudes a tasteful sensuality, especially as Celeste purrs “Can we take it nice and slow?” on the bridge. The use of triplet rhythms vocally and instrumentally throughout is the secret to its immense catchiness. A monster track that must surely become a single!

Seventh song Immature has a similar production style to Selfish, with a beefier hip hop style beat. I enjoyed the way the arrangement built across the duration of the track, and the chorus hook soon gets stuck in your head. Lyrically, it’s self explanatory, about a man who hasn’t got round to growing up yet. There is a dry humour in the lyrics that I appreciated, another facet to her musical personality.

Time Is Ours is the second ballad on the album, based around a haunting Coldplay-esque piano arpeggio. Celeste delivers another excellent vocal full of intimate vulnerability, and though it’s not as memorable as the lovely Rose, it’s certainly another well crafted piece of songwriting. All This is another fine example of what is essentially her staple sound, exotic rhythms and percussion and hook-laden vocal melodies, this one driven along by an elastic bassline.

The final track Intoxicated is perhaps the most lyrically edgy song on the album, and makes for a blazing finale. Starting with a harmonized vocoder effect, it’s an ode to the need to temporarily escape through hedonism: “I must stay intoxicated, baby, drink till it’s over, don’t try to change me“. A stomping beat and the verses delivered as a laconic rap gives this a hip urban feel, and this, again, has the potential to be a huge hit in the clubs. A great way to finish.

Having already amassed a huge fanbase, Celeste Buckingham stands poised to enter the big league with this album. She has the voice, image and charisma to become a globe conquering star, but most importantly, she has several songs that sound like they are destined to soar to the upper reaches of the charts. In particular, Paradise, Addict and Trip are potential number ones, but what makes this album stand out from the pack is its consistently high quality. When Shakira released Laundry Service, it broke her beyond just success in her native country and the same should happen here. I rate this as the most important female pop album since Lorde’s debut Pure Heroine. A star is born.

 

 

VERDICT: 8.9 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

 

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