ALBUM REVIEW: Without Maps – 30 Years of Moments by Moments Of Pleasure Records

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This is a sampler of material from the Moments Of Pleasure label, founded in Brighton, England in 1989. It essentially features the work of six artists: Senses Reeling, Rogue Beauty, Almost Charlotte, Bluff, A Long Valley and B-Vox.  The common thread pretty much throughout is the involvement of Nick Fuller and Matthew Griffin – two of the five founders (along with Anthony Squires, Ian Philipson and Bill Russell) who comprised Almost Charlotte – the band behind its original single release.  The style of music throughout is essentially alternative pop/indie, though it branches out into more diverse genres over the years.

The compilation consists of nineteen tracks and begins with the upbeat funk-tinged indie pop of Rogue Beauty’s I Choose. Based around an infectious groove, the soulful female vocals are aligned with a memorable melody and an equally melodic baseline which acts as a fine counterpoint. Wah-drenched guitars add to the “dance-rock” vibe and synths complete the soundscape to great effect.

Next comes Eastern Eye by B-Vox which brings to mind some of the great indie pop of the 80’s such as Julian Cope and The Clash classic Rock The Casbah. Over crunchy guitars, the distinctive male lead vocals carry the song aided by eloquent lyrics and a highly catchy chorus hook. The subtle brass which punctuates certain parts adds an extra splash of musical colour.

Bluff’s Go Home Now comes next, written by Matthew Griffin it’s driven along by a Pump It Up-style bassline and Trevor Warman’s aggressively upfront guitar.  It notably features a contrast between the light, poppy verse and the heavier chorus which brings to mind The Pixies though musically it is more akin to the indie bands of the era (1992) such as Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, also harking back to arty punk bands like Wire. A superb and succinct piece of punk-influenced guitar pop.

This is followed by the sophisticated synth pop of Rogue Beauty’s Burn Down (Icon Park). It’s a viciously satirical song that aims its ire at celebrity culture: “Roll up folks for the PR man’s game, let’s wallow in the glory of a name, thank you Hello and Gossip and Morning TV, forget about real life and lose the real me.” Though it was written in 2001 by Nick Fuller and Matthew Griffin, the message resonates even more today, where celebrities are treated as deities in some cases.

Foreign or Poor by Senses Reeling brings us right up to date.  Infused with a similar righteous anger, this one deals with the terrible tragedy of the Grenfell fire, which occurred when a tower block in London burned down due to flammable cladding after health/safety concerns had been raised by residents and ignored.  There’s a strong sense of social injustice and moral outrage at how people were neglected as if they didn’t matter: “We can talk forever, but it has got to change, it has simply got to change.”

Their Way by A Long Valley is a more conciliatory song about not being overcome by hatred and bitterness, again a message that is more than apposite in Brexit-era Britain: “An open loving heart forgives, refusing bitterness for good, believing freedom always lives, as hatred never could.” Musically, it’s a solemn five-minute epic augmented by haunting synth strings.

Almost Charlotte’s Hope is a more traditional indie pop song, combining the light guitar style of The Sundays with the quirky vocal style of Julian Cope and Morrissey. It’s an effortlessly infectious track with a gloriously simple structure – featuring a prominently stabbing and melodic bassline by Anthony Squires – that proves sometimes less is more.

Ferocious Love by Senses Reeling is yet another song with a timely message. Recorded in 2016, it’s about those who deny the destruction of the environment or ignore it, in particular governments. Since then we have seen the rise of the eco-warrior movement which has become particularly well known this year through activists like Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg. They would certainly nod in agreement at such lines as, “Faith in our invincibility ignores a power so plain to see, no figure will make it right, no bribe will quell the fight, this place defines us and cannot disappear, we’ve got to talk“.

The following Attitude by Bluff is one of the compilation’s high-paced, punkier moments. It’s a thrilling ride, based around a simple but highly effective three-chord progression girded by an equally effective bassline.  This provides the bedrock for a lyric about someone with hypothetical views when it comes to helping those less fortunate: “There’s nothing to concern your cosy little world, on the outside there is no one suffering….”. It’s a potent, passionate song delivered with consummate conviction and one of the stand-out highlights for me.

There are shades of Depeche Mode in Paul Midcalf’s pristine production and the  pulsing synths of Easy by Senses Reeling, a rumination on the increasingly Orwellian use of data collection through our increased technology (“Surveillance or benign? Do we see the creepy line?“). Recorded in 2019, again this is a song that will only develop increased relevance as our lives become dominated by gadgets and subliminal advertising.

Anyone by Rogue Beauty is a low-key but lyrically powerful acoustic track about how losing yourself in a crowd can be a form of emotional protection: “And no one hears you scream beneath the neon sun, out here in the crowd you could be anyone.” The use of exotic percussion gives this a unique musical feel and acts as a nice contrast to the songs that surround it.

Missing Something by Senses Reeling is perhaps the most unexpected musical departure on the compilation. Based around a Latin American groove and piano style along with double bass and appropriate percussion, it’s a tour de force with a captivating lead female vocal by Rayne Gomes. Lyrically, it’s typically incisive, about how we don’t appreciate the moment if we are always chasing after the latest material acquisition (“A bigger house, a newer car…”). Full of sophisticated musical touches including some deft classical guitar work, it shows the impressive range at their artistic disposal.

Rainfall by Almost Charlotte returns us to more familiar sonic terrain, another finely crafted alternative pop song written by Matthew Griffin and recorded back in 1989. It’s a touching track about not being afraid to reach out to friends when going through some troubled times.

Someone Else by Senses Reeling is another song written from a standpoint of compassion, about how the elderly are neglected and should be appreciated while they’re still here. This is captured in such moving lines as, ” It’s only when we hold a hand so fragile and fading, that we realise the true cost….”.

Almost Charlotte’s Among The People is an interesting song, a character study about an extrovert young woman who refuses to be tied down to a relationship: “If you talk to her of love she’ll often turn and hide her eyes, if you ask her for a dance she will dance until you say goodbye…”. Recorded in 1990, it’s a poignant twist on the theme of unrequited love and says something larger about the shallow nature of modern relationships.

Some Small Control by Senses Reeling is another emotive song by Nick Fuller, with a sassy female lead vocal that brought to mind someone like Sia. It’s about trying to cling to the things you can control when all is turning to chaos around you. The arrangement here is excellent, with subtle piano and xylophone added to the musical palette.

Rogue Beauty’s Friends and Enemies is back to an edgier, fiery style, another well aimed attack at the banality of celebrity culture and how this has infected the music industry. (“What does the X stand for? Where will it end? Victorian Freak Show returns…” is clearly a dig at Simon Cowell and The X-Factor. (I heartily applaud!).

Bluff’s Switch Off is about wanting refuge from sensory overload.  Built around Joy Division-style interlocking drums and bass (the driving bassline by Colin Clifford being a particular feature) it’s built on rich, slightly heavier electric guitars than their signature sound. In “Sometimes I wish I had the guts just to switch it off, when the walls close in…..” it features one of the album’s most anthemic choruses: Fantastic song.

The compilation closes, aptly, with another social justice song, Your Place by Senses Reeling. This one is about the housing crisis in Britain where a combination of stalled social house building and the unaffordably high prices of private housing means that many people are left stranded – some at the mercy of exploitative landlords.  Musically, it’s one of the most unique here, a dance/rock hybrid that brought to mind Bernard Sumner and Johnny Marr’s Electronic. The contrast between the lively, upbeat music and the serious, saturnine lyrics make for a potent dynamic: “Easy to say that we all deserve our own space but it looks like they’re keeping you in your place….”.

Overall, this is a wonderful compilation of 30 years of material produced by this little-known hidden gem of a record label, Moments Of Pleasure. At nineteen tracks, it’s quite the epic listen that charts changing styles and times through a standard that is consistently high throughout, without a dud song here. The songwriters involved show a considerable amount of musical and lyrical skill, boldly dealing with the deeper issues of modern life and the human condition. It will be particularly loved by indie aficionados but any discerning music lover will find much to treasure here and much to discover beyond by checking out the induvial releases by the 6 acts.

 

VERDICT = 9.2 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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SINGLE REVIEW: Soulsville by Happy Curmudgeons

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Happy Curmudgeons are a rock/pop band with shades of folk, blues and country hailing from Bloomfield Hills in Michigan. Their debut album and musical journey to get there has had a lengthy gestation period.

In the 1980’s singer/songwriter and guitarist Dave Hamilton was in a band called the Angel-Headed Hipsters and met none other than Velvet Underground legend Lou Reed who told him he was a great songwriter and to stick at it. Many years later the band were formed with Jeff Warner on guitar and Amy Dixon-Lavery on additional vocals. Recently, I gave a stellar review to their album, Meant To Be, which you can read here.

This track, Soulsville, is taken from that album and makes an apposite choice as a single release. It’s an upbeat rock track based around an instantly infectious bluesy guitar riff, which starts out the song. Backed by the excellent rhythm section of Rick Beamon on drums and Takashi Iio on bass, the band hit a strong groove before Dave Hamilton’s assured and authentic vocals complete the sonic picture, his vocal delivery lying halfway between Neil Young and Lou Reed.

The song was originally inspired by seeing the Grateful Dead perform in Chicago and it’s essentially a love letter to that city’s vibrant music scene, the Soulsville in question, as captured by the opening lines: “There’s a place that I know, somewhere to go…I like to hang around….downtown is the place.”. The spirited energy of the music perfectly mirrors the lyrical subject matter with Beamon and Iio interlocking with Hamilton’s crunchy chords and driving riffage.

The second verse depicts the Chicago strip where all the music happens: “See it move with style, the strip’s for miles….lights the night on fire….”. After this the music really explodes with a colourful burst of saxophone played by guest musician Jeff Tabaloff. His mellifluous sax playing adds to the soulful musical vibrancy and he’s allowed free rein with an extended solo that showcases his skills. This leads into a succinct guitar solo before the final verse rounds off the track nicely.

Overall, this is an excellent single release from Happy Curmudgeons that highlights the strength of Dave Hamilton’s songwriting and the synergistic musicianship of his gifted band members. It’s old school rock ‘n roll but with a refreshing energy and vibe that is missing from so much of today’s synthetic chart music. For anyone searching for new music that’s authentic, catchy and colourful look no further than Soulsville.

 

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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SINGLE REVIEW: Strong by Mark Winters

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http://www.markwintersmusic.com/

Mark’s positive perspective and influences from the people in his life, and a love for guitar drew him to music. He started his career playing cover songs with the support of a close friend and along the journey felt the urge to share his own original voice. Mark’s poetic style comes from his Grandmother who taught him how to write poetry and express himself.

This song, Strong, perfectly captures his signature sound, what Mark defines as “rock with a positive vibe”. Starting with a high end guitar motif, Mark’s distinctive vocals enter and weave a memorable melody, soon augmented by an equally melodic and inventive bassline. The arrangement is finely crafted with swirling tom-tom patterns on the drums building the music up to the chorus.

For the first time, the music breaks into full 4/4 time and the uplifting message behind the song is captured in the anthemic refrain: “Hold up your head now, baby….keep your eyes on the prize”.

The second verse depicts him wondering how to advise someone struggling with life like he once did and relates how what he’s been through in the past can act as guidance and inspiration for them. After the second chorus is a catchy refrain section based on the title, before one last bridge and repeated choruses leave the song on a euphoric high.

Overall, this is an inspiring and ebullient rock/pop track from the Mark Winters. Mark proves himself to be both an accomplished singer and songwriter, aided by excellent supporting performances from his band. With its memorable hook and radio friendly sound, Strong should win Mark Winters and his group a much bigger fan base in preparation for his debut album release.

 

VERDICT = 8.7 out of 10           

Alex Faulkner

 

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ALBUM REVIEW: Weekendson by Weekendson

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https://www.facebook.com/weekendson1/

Weekendson is the artistic moniker of Jon Thor, a rock/pop singer and songwriter hailing from Iceland. He works as a sound technician for an Icelandic national broadcasting service, but in his spare time he has devoted himself to his love of writing and recording music. The result is this eponymous debut album which consists of ten tracks, all written and vocally performed by himself.

The album starts out strongly with the five minute long mid-paced pop/rock song Dark, which brought to mind the beautiful melancholy of Wish You Were Here-era Pink Floyd. Starting out with echo-drenched Dave Gilmour-esque lead guitar, the drums break into a solid, meaty beat augmented by strummed acoustic guitars. As it builds to a stately, memorable chorus set to soaring synth strings you realize you are in the hands of a fine songwriter.

Weekendson has a unique and distinctive voice in part to due to his Icelandic accent, but he has a rich tone that serves his material. Halfway through the track it becomes noticeably heavier, with crunching electric guitar chords setting the scene for a mellifluous guitar solo, which brings the track to a dramatic climax.

Second track Liar is much more up tempo with an infectious beat,  harmonized lead guitars and funky, choppy rhythm guitars that drive the music forward. After a concise, succinct verse it bursts into an anthemic chorus with the vocals leaping up into a higher register, an effective contrast.

The lyrics are fiercely honest, with a frank admission to start with: “I got real big trouble but I’ve got myself to blame, this is not the first time I’m afraid…but now I’ve gone too far, saying I’m better than I am….”. Its this kind of self reflection and perspicacity that gives Weekendson’s songs a relatable humanity and warmth. A great track.

Syncless brings back the Pink Floyd guitar style for this reflective epic ballad that really shows the melodic side to his songwriting. It features some gorgeous harmonies on the understated but highly effective chorus and, as with the previous song, he’s keenly aware of his flaws as a person (“I know I’m not perfect….”). Towards the end, the music becomes truly epic with some unexpected chord progressions keeping you captivated.

Easily Alone is another superbly written rock song that grabs you from the outset with a gritty guitar melody and a surging beat. As has now become familiar, he wears his heart on his sleeve with some moving and vulnerable confessions: “I don’t like where I am from, I don’t like what I’ve become, I don’t wanna stay alive but I don’t really wanna die…..”. Three are sentiments that most of us can relate to at some point in our lives and he goes on to deliver one of the album’s strongest choruses, followed by an excellent section features stacked guitars and a well-crafted vocal arrangement.

The fifth and six songs, Hero and My Friend, consolidate what is essentially Weekendson’s signature sound; uplifting, vibrant power-pop based around captivating chord structures and decorated with rich vocal harmonies. In the latter case, the music is further augmented with skyscraping strings on the already soaring chorus. Both contain superb musical arrangements full of detail that means the ear always picks up something new with repeated listens.

Seventh track True Love is a little bit different, a highly romantic ballad performed as a duet with a fine female vocalist. Over a lovely acoustic guitar-based chord progression Weekendson bares his heart to his lover with customary directness. After a heartwarming chorus full of lush harmonies from both vocalists, his female guest star takes the lead for the second verse. Her voice is a nice counterpoint to his more masculine tones and their combined vocal blend works perfectly.

Broken is perhaps the darkest song on the album, emotionally. It finds Weekendson at a distinctly low ebb, expressed with a poignant minor chord progression and some saturnine lyrics: “I scream to comfort myself….it’s probably raining out there“. The female sung refrain, “Raining, raining…” during the post-chorus is very effecting, painting a bleak picture of his emotional state. There’s no letting up in the second verse either: “No light in here, my soul is black…no second chance, I would take it all back…”. A powerful, moving song and an artistically brave one to write.

The high emotion continues with the string-laden acoustic ballad The Father. It’s about going through a difficult period with one of his children: “The phone is silent and it’s breaking my heart...”. The anguished chorus ramps up the poignancy even more: “I was the one who taught you how to live, I was the one you used to call in need….”. With it’s beautifully written string arrangement, this deeply affecting song will move even the hardest heart.

The album ends on a high note, however, with another song dedicated to a child, Daughter Dearest. This one returns to his uplifting high-energy pop/rock sound and the words reflect this sunnier sound: “Now, I am a better person, all because of you….”. It’s a genuinely touching expression of parental love and sums up the album’s emotional journey of love and positivity conquering over life’s many dark moments. A great way to finish.

Overall, this is a very strong collection of pop/rock songs that proves Weekendson deserves to be recognized worldwide as a very fine songwriter who has honed his craft over many years. His songs are emotive and relatable, running the gamut of life’s vicissitudes with honesty and truth and composed with a natural flair for melody. Who knows, with enough exposure he could build a big enough fan base to make music his full time living, and that scenario would be richly deserved.

 

VERDICT = 9 out of 10           

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: Come and Stay with Me by Phil Mitchell Band

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Phil Mitchell is a composer, author and musician hailing from Chicago and the members that comprise the Phil Mitchell Band are musicians native to that area. He started writing songs while still a child and has written music in an eclectic range of genres including jazz, classical, RnB, rock, blues and country. He has released several albums including Morning Star, Crossroads and America. The band formed back in 2004 and they have performed at a variety of venues whilst recording music in the studio.

This track, Come and Stay With Me, is an upbeat pop/rock song taken from their album Crossroads, with elements of 70’s rock such as musical virtuosity and an ambitious, epic arrangement. The sound is very musical with flamboyant, Rick Wakeman-style piano and equally florid guitars, providing the bedrock for Phil Mitchell’s assured vocal performance. The lilting verse melody latches quickly in the memory but its the surging passages of energetic musicianship that really set this apart from the pack.

The structure is unusual but highly effective and the longer the track goes on the more euphoric the instrumental sections become. Strident, octave-spanning piano duels with creamy electric lead guitar and synth strings driven by solid but inventive drumming, held in perfect balance by the vocal sections and the infectious title hook. This approach brought to mind the epic rock of the 70’s such as Queen and the operatic rock of Jim Steinman (Meat Loaf).

Overall, this is an immensely enjoyable rock/pop track that cleverly balances traditional verse and chorus songwriting with instrumental sections that allow the other members of the Phil Mitchell Band to shine. What is truly impressive is how the studio recording has effectively captured the energy of the musical performances and you can tell this is a band who have been playing a long time. It’s this kind of musical authenticity that is lacking from so much modern mainstream music, but fortunately Phil Mitchell and his gifted cohorts are here to help redress the balance.

 

VERDICT = 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

Visit the official website here

SINGLE REVIEW: Cruisin’ by Josh Best

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Josh Best is an up and coming country singer and songwriter hailing from Forest City in North Carolina. He is currently in the Air Force stationed in Alaska and is now hoping to push forward with his music career. He has been playing the guitar and performing, having received tuition from his father and uncle, the latter a well known musician in the Gastonia, North Carolina area. He has recently released several songs including Rebecca’s Song, Half (Must See) and Country Grown And Country Strong.

This track, Cruisin’, is an upbeat mid-tempo country rock track and a good introduction to Josh Best’s music. Starting with a brief country-tinged guitar melody it breaks out into strummed acoustic guitar and a steady drumbeat. Josh’s vocals come across immediately as strong and authentic, easy on the ear and suited to the material.

Lyrically, it’s a light hearted and enjoyable ‘good time’ ode to the joys of a truck journey with someone you love and the radio blasting. The vocal melody is deceptively catchy on the verse melody which is magnified on the instantly memorable title hook: “Cruisin’ on down the road, I’m cruisin’ listening to the radio…cruisin’ and I’m crossing the lines, cruisin’ with you by my side.” The guitar solo after the second chorus adds a little flavour and musical authenticity.

Overall, this is an infectious country rock song by a talented songwriter who has a natural gift for writing accessible music that most will find easy to relate to. He has a voice suited to his chosen genre and while there is scope for polishing the production, his current recordings have a raw lo-fi appeal that gives his sound a little edge and an old school feel. Josh Best has the potential to find a large audience and I hope this fun song will help him get there.

 

VERDICT = 8.6 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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SINGLE REVIEW: Which Way To Go by Troy Remedy

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troyremedy.net

Troy Remedy is a hip hop artist and producer from Dallas, Texas. The latter part of his moniker was inspired by the healing effect of music itself and there is a strong spiritual vibe as well as the influence of soul in his hip hop. So far, he has performed in cities like Dallas/Fort Worth, San Antonio, Austin and Houston. He has previously released the singles Underdog, City Lights and Steal My Soul (which I reviewed very favourably, read here) from his upcoming debut album My Own Worst Enemy.

This track, Which Way To Go, starts out with an evocative intro consisting of spaced out guitar and synths then Troy interjects with an assured and direct rapping style. Bolstered by a laid back but punchy hip hop beat, his honest and soul searching lyrics take centre stage with this track depicting his struggle to find his path in life: “Gotta ask myself, what it is I’m pursuing….”.

The first verses are a marvel of rapid fire delivery and eloquent lyrical flow that describe the various problems he’s faced with, summed up succinctly by the title hook: “Even though I’m still not knowing…not knowing which way to go.”

After the first chorus we hear an unexpected but very refreshing bluesy guitar solo, and these guitar licks recur through the second verse.  The lyrics here are even more visceral: “Seen a massacre in broad day, watching as the crowd scatters through life’s maze…..most would say they have nothing to live for, no inner peace, nothing to strive for”. This sense of desperation is reiterated by the final refrains of the title hook.

Overall, this is another compelling and unrelentingly honest hip hop track from Troy. He has found his own artistic niche blending hard hitting lyrics with underlying spiritual themes of redemption and hope, which gives his music a real emotional depth and power.  Musically, this track effectively blends hip hop with a melancholy blues-rock guitar sound to great effect. For people looking for hip hop that is 100% “real” and from the heart, look no further than Troy Remedy.

 

VERDICT = 8.8 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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