SINGLE REVIEW: LIFE by Race Against Fate

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http://www.raceagainstfate.com/

Race Against Fate is the musical brainchild of singer/songwriter Vik Kapur, who hails from Toronto, Canada. In 2013, he decided to start this solo project with the concept of combining Western pop/rock with Eastern sounds, such as Indian instruments like sitar and tabla. This idea has not actually been really explored before although has been touched upon by such diverse artists as George Harrison and Anouska Shankar. Aside from Indian influences, Vik cites U2 and The Smiths as pop/rock influences.

This song, LIFE, is a sensitive, plaintive pop ballad in a similar style to artists like Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith but augmented by the rich, vibrant and exotic sound of the sitar. It consists of just crystal clear strummed acoustic guitar, interspersed with tasteful injections of this magical sounding instrument. Vik has a very fine singing voice, pitching in the highest part of his vocal range without a problem. The passion in his performance also lends emotive weight to the song.

Lyrically, it’s a classic tale of not being able to get over loving someone and move on with your life, captured in the memorable chorus: “Now you’ll never, ever see what it is that you mean to me, it’s surrounding me like a disease, our life’s got a hold of me….”. There’s some excellent singing and extemporizing towards the end as he varies the vocal melody.

Overall, this is a very well written and performed acoustic ballad that’s given an exotic and original flavour via its Indian influence. While the song holds up in its own right, this unique musical concept will help Vik Kapur stand out from the crowd in a saturated pop market. With a commercial voice and strong songwriting style, he has major potential to go far in the future. Maybe LIFE is the song that will help take him there.

VERDICT: 8.8 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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E.P. REVIEW: Evolution by EMBI

 

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https://www.facebook.com/Embi.Official/

EMBI, a.k.a. Michele Beneforti is a singer/songwriter and guitarist who was born in Tuscany, Italy, and currently based in Los Angeles. At 18, his band Hot Love Trio won competitions that allowed him to opening for members of The Doors and Robben Ford at national and international festivals. He then won a scholarship for the prestigious Berklee College of Music, earning a degree in performance, and a live performance of his song Highway featured on their official YouTube channel to great acclaim.

As EMBI, he has performed in Boston for 4 years and performed a set of entirely original material at Salem Jazz Festival. Simply as a guitarist alone he has made a strong impact, performing with the original all-female band of Beyonce and Gospel artists Phil Thompson, Freda Battle and Dorothy Norwood. This EP, Evolution, is his debut and consists of five tracks.

The aforementioned Highway opens the EP, and its musical sophistication is immediately apparent. Musically, it is a cutting edge blend of soul, RnB, pop and electronica, with a distinct jazziness to the complex harmonic progression. Starting with filtered synths, clean guitar and his distinctive, smooth lead vocals, it soon explodes into a huge chorus with a pulsing EDM beat.

It manages to be refreshingly different in its sound yet would not feel out of place on the radio, alongside Sam Smith and Justin Timberlake. His remarkably mellifluous lead guitar skills makes a few cameos, but wisely, he keeps this subtle in the mix where it is effective. A superb piece of modern pop, and the most obvious choice as a single.

Second track Over and Over (ft. Spnda) is a laid back but very catchy piece of soul/funk, with some very jazzy overtones. It brought to mind the Stevie Wonder- influenced Jamiroquai and EMBI’s vocal delivery also brought to mind 80’s soul/pop legend Maxi Priest. Hip-hop artist Spnda makes a brief but effective appearance with a succinct rap towards the end, lending the music an extra level of modernity and variety.

Brooklyn Lights is a nice contrast, a poignant song that shows his more sensitive and lyrical side, as shown on the excellent chorus: “Take me back where my sun will shine, from the city heart to the Brooklyn lights….”. It’s a track that’s clearly from the heart about needing a place to belong, a timeless theme of the human condition. He allows himself a brief display of guitar virtuosity towards the end, with some lovely melodic lines.

Fantasy World is another change of pace, this one a serious ‘state of the nation’ message with some powerful heavy rock dynamics: “The dark cloud is rising with violence, we shouldn’t be colour blind to live in peace…”. It initially develops into a powerful blues track that displays another side to his musical range, then changes gear halfway through, morphing into a funk section, then a spine-tingling spoken word passage that gives the track a striking emotional depth.

Cocoa Eyes, the final track, is a funky instrumental that allows him to express his musicality to the max, which, to his cred it, he has reined in on previous tracks. It has a smoky vibe, gradually building from an Albatross-style languid mood to a tight funk groove where his entire band get to enjoy a blow-out, whilst still keeping it controlled. A great way to finish the EP.

Overall, this is a fantastic debut from a very gifted songwriter and musician. He has a fine singing voice and the songs are well crafted and produced in a manner perfect for commercial radio. He manages to balance this with also forging his own sonic signature, which is no mean feat. It certainly won’t hurt also being a stellar guitarist, but it’s the voice and the songs that should ensure that EMBI becomes a huge success, and I expect this EP to kick start a meteoric rise.

 

VERDICT =  9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: The Door by Trae Morris

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Trae Morris is an R&B singer and songwriter born in Mississippi and raised in Fayetteville, North Carolina. His career was launched in 2014 when he signed with vHIZions Management and then shortly after co-wrote and released his first single Deeper. After relocating to Atlantic in 2015, he connected with a songwriting team which resulted in the release of End The Night. This got him in Encounter Magazine and he won an Artist Spotlight spot on Foxy 99.1 in North Carolina.

Since then he’s been back in the studio for a year and this song, The Door, is the first fruits of his labour. It’s the first single from his long awaited debut EP Subconscious, due for release this summer and the perfect showcase for Trae’s vocal talents. It’s a delicate ballad consisting of just him and a guitar (with some subtle and very lovely female backing vocals on the hook). His style is halfway between John Legend and Sam Smith, gifted with both Legend’s vocal strength, and Smith’s sensitivity and range.

Singing to just to the accompaniment of light but soulful finger-picked jazz guitar, Trae gives a captivating performance full of nuance and emotion. The song is about deciding to move on from a painful relationship that should have already ended: “You left me out in the cold, a shoulder I could not lean on…..you could have left way before, now its my chance at the door”. The last line is the song’s simple but very memorable hook.

Overall, The Door feels like the arrival of a major new artist with genuine worldwide potential, commercially. Gifted with a voice as smooth as honey, it would be no use without a strong song and fortunately The Door is an absolute gem. It’s also the perfect sound and style for the times, with solo singers like John Legend at the peak of their popularity. Simply put, there’s absolutely no reason why Trae Morris won’t become a household name like his heroes with further songs of this quality.

VERDICT = 9.3 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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ALBUM REVIEW: Our Of We by Lucien Dante

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Lucien Dante is a singer, songwriter, guitarist, pianist and producer hailing from Chicago in the States. Gifted in music and the arts from a young age, a turning point came at the age of sixteen, when he went to Germany on an exchange program. It was there that he realized he wanted to produce music and wrote his first songs which featured on his album, First Breath.

Since then, he has signed to DEG Records and already released three singles and the EP Lights. Our Of We is his debut album and consists of eighteen tracks (with a few songs being bonus tracks). Lucien worked with four different producers in creating the album and so the songs are varied in style and sound. He cites other singer songwriters like James Blake and Bon Iver as big influences, but he undoubtedly has a musical and lyrical style all of his own.

Essentially, I would classify his music as electro pop, with a production sheen throughout that gives it a modern, cutting edge sound. The focal point is undoubtedly Lucien’s remarkable voice, which has a crystalline, ethereal tone and an emotional vulnerability that can be powerful. He tends to sing in the upper apart of his range, which is a style currently hugely popular due to artists like Sam Smith and Ed Sheeran.

The album has an intriguing introductory track that only lasts a minute, consisting of a spoken word dedication poem to the person who inspired the album. The next track Worldwide is a fine piece of electronic pop that features a four to the floor beat and an excellent vocal. It’s about the worldly wisdom and perspective you get through travelling: ‘If you want to live in the worldwide, gotta be worldwise!’

Love Me Lessons (I’m a Be) feat. Lu Reads comes next, a blissed out and hypnotic electro RnB track which contains the simple but poignant hook ‘I found love in the openness of your heart…’. Unexpectedly,  after the second chorus it features a fluent rap from Lu Reads, which works well within the context of the song. It is unusual these days for solo artists not to feature guest vocalists or rappers on their tracks and Lucien is no exception.

Cradle Me Germany is another excellent showcase for Lucien’s voice, a slow piano ballad with RnB overtones, like the lush backing harmonies. He sings some parts in an angelic falsetto and the chorus is emotive : ‘Germany, cradle me… there’s a life you gave to me..’. Fans of Sam Smith will love this well crafted song. Fifth track Spark is a nice contrast, a pop dance track with a Robert Miles style musical backing. It works well as an album track, but is tailor made for the clubs with a pulsating kick-heavy beat.

Lake House Glory carries on the dance vibe, though this one has a more laid back, summery feel. It’s about escaping with a lover for a holiday, and features some typically quirky lyrics: ‘Just like karaoke carries you, I’ll carry you away….’. Tell Me Why returns to the dreamy languid pace and electro pop of earlier tracks. Lyrically, it is about a lover with emotional issues: ‘Tell me why would you let me waste away? I don’t got the heart for playing games, so tell me why….’.

Beowulf is at a similar pace with a sparse musical backing, but the music is filled out by some breathtaking vocal harmonies that weave in and out of the song. The lyrics are societal rather than personal and very serious, originally about the tragedy of the Sandy Hook shooting. Lucien explains that ‘it explores a much deeper and broader issue about the destructive ways through which we raise male youth in America’.

#Should I Wait (the hash tag is part of the title – very modern!) returns to a romantic theme. It’s a slinky RnB track with a very catchy chorus, aided by a swirling synth sound. Lucien shows no fear in being gender specific in his songs and is brave in his openness and honesty about his sexuality. However, though it’s written from the perspective of a young gay man, love songs are universal. A great track and a potential single.

Ivory Toast is a fun upbeat dance track that takes Lucien from the deepest part of his range to the highest part of his falsetto, while Hookup (Romance) is a sultry, slow song that creates a sensual vibe. It’s a track to play when you’re on the sofa with a prospective lover and want to set the mood. Mr. Drugman is a late highlight, a funky RnB song about decadence and hedonism with the line : ‘Lately, sex feels like a commodity…’.

The album concludes with two piano ballads, Wolf and Dylan’s Keep, that are both excellent pieces of songwriting and feature some of his most poetic and powerful lyrics. There are a few good bonus tracks as well, which makes it eighteen altogether, an impressive amount for any album but especially for a debut.

Overall, this is an album that impresses in every aspect, as Lucien Dante excels as a singer and songwriter in equal measure. The production is both modern and cutting edge, which makes it perfect for radio. He fits in perfectly with the current strategist of male songwriters being emotionally honest and vulnerable in their music. He brings to mind someone like Rufus Wainwright, but with the commercial potential to become one of the major pop stars of his generation.

 

Alex Faulkner

Verdict: 8.9 out of 10