SINGLE REVIEW: Little Lovin’ by Peter Senior

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https://www.petersenior.com.au

Peter Senior is a singer, songwriter and pianist from Sydney, Australia. His music is essentially pop but with strong elements of soul and jazz. He has been inspired by current Australian artists like Matt Corby and Gotye, which has culminated this year in the release of his debut solo album, On The Edge, from which this song is taken.

Having given a rave review to his previous release, Cool Ride, I thought that might be a difficult single to follow up. Fortunately, Little Lovin’ is even better; a hugely catchy Motown and jazz influenced stomper that grabs you on the very first listen.

It begins with boogie woogie piano, infectious brass lines, Sixties style/gospel-tinged doo-wop female backing vocals and a thumping Motown beat that gets the toe tapping immediately. This provides the platform for a captivating and ballsy lead vocal performance from Peter Senior, who really makes the song his own.

The song is irresistibly upbeat lyrically, enough to quell anyone’s blues with lines like: “Good times are comin’, I saw it in a dream….”. As with Cool Ride, there’s a knowing wink and smile towards the sensual side of life: “When you’re a lovin’ lady, I’m a happy fella….”. This line leads into a fantastic sax solo, something we don’t hear enough of (if at all) in modern pop music. The song maintains its relentless energy to the very end.

Overall, this is a wonderful modern take on the classic Motown sound that is virtually impossible to dislike. It’s superbly written and arranged but, most importantly, Peter Senior’s authentic, earthy voice really brings the track to life. The sound is gloriously musical, real musicians playing together to create a synergistic energy – something you can’t associate with the mostly electronic and synthetic music that dominates the charts. Let’s hope that Little Lovin’ gets the commercial success it truly deserves.

 

VERDICT = 9.1 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: Steal My Soul by Troy Remedy ft. Mary Bragg

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 and City Lights from his upcoming debut album My Own Worst Enemy.

This track, Steal My Soul (ft. Mary Bragg) is a good showcase for his musical fusion of hip hop and soul. Starting with an intro of picked acoustic guitars and synths, the gorgeous vocals of Mary Bragg enter before the track breaks into a languid but muscular hip hop beat with deep dub bass. The track starts with the arresting title hook: “I just want you to know you can never steal my soul….”.

Troy then takes the spotlight with a captivating lyrical delivery, rapping about having to overcome adversity and encountering negative people in his life: “Those dark souls who try to steal your inner glow”. His abilities as an emcee can stand alongside the best in his field, with a fluent, assured style and verbal dexterity. The contrast between his rapped verses and the female vocals on the chorus work very effectively in tandem but it’s the moral depth to his words that really makes him stand out from the crowd with lines like, “Too many times I’ve seen the destruction of innocent lives….”.

Overall, this is an exceptional fusion of old school hip hop with elements of soul, similar in style to The Fugees but more akin to Chuck D of Public Enemy in terms of its hard hitting but spiritual lyrical content. Aided by first rate production values and the excellent vocals of Mary Bragg, Steal My Soul sounds like a major artist stamping his authority on the hip hop scene.

VERDICT = 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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https://youtu.be/SWaKlXfz-oc

SINGLE REVIEW: Born To Be Free ft. APZee by Toby TomTom

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http://www.tobytomtom.com/

Toby TomTom is a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist with a very interesting backstory. Earlier in his career he worked with Alicia Keys and Shelby J (of Prince fame), apprenticed with Kenni Hairston (Cameo, Cyndi Lauper) and even sat in on sessions with the legendary producer and composer Quincy Jones. He has a diverse range of influences, ranging from classical composers like Debussy, to funk and soul artists like Tower of Power and Marvin Gaye as well as Tupac Shakur, the hip hop artist who was tragically killed.

This track, Born To Be Free, is decidedly in the funk and soul category. It’s a hugely upbeat, inspirational song, partly influenced by his strong faith. As soon as his strong, distinctive voice enters, you know you’re in the hands of an artist who has honed his singing and songwriting craft to a high level.

Musically, it’s like a party where everyone’s invited; bouncy, propulsive bass locks in with crisp, punchy drums, creating the bedrock for piano, funky guitars and all manner of production effects. Rather impressively, he played all the instruments himself.

The title hook is instantly memorable and lyrically it’s a hymn to life itself, as well as an ode to human freedom: “Free like the wind, as it blows ‘cross the sea, we are blue skies, caressing the trees ….”. Later in the track we hear a concise rap from female emcee APZee, which adds a nice bit of modern flavour.

Overall, this is a superb piece of soulful pop that showcases Toby TomTom as an artist to be reckoned with, bringing Marvin Gaye’s soul sound into the modern era. Although there’s nothing radically original about it (a very difficult genre to be original in), there’s something undeniably fresh about the sound and style of the song. With fantastic production values it’s perfect for pop radio and with the right promotion he could have a huge hit on his hands.

VERDICT= 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: Fool’s Gold by Stephen Dusenberry

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Stephen Dusenberry is a composer/songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist. He was somewhat of a child prodigy, starting the drums at three years old and being offered his first gig at four. At six, he started playing keyboards and writing his own songs then taught himself guitar, clarinet and trumpet. He then spent his adolescence in a diverse range of bands, with his progressive rock band Twilight Machine signed to AFM records while he was only sixteen.

After attending Berklee College of Music he ended up spending two weeks at no.1 on the Billboard charts with a remix of Audio Playground’s Hands Up In The Air. Unfortunately, he was then struck down with skin cancer, with the tumor eventually removed. Upon his recovery, he began work on his most ambitious solo project to date, Steal City. This involved him writing, performing and producing everything purely by himself which led to comparisons with the great Quincy Jones.

This complete artistic and musical autonomy applies to his latest track, Fool’s Gold. In case anyone mistakes it for a cover of the classic track of the same name by The Stone Roses, this is very much an original composition in every sense of the word. It’s an irresistibly funky instrumental that allows Dusenberry to showcase his considerable musical versatility and virtuosity. Starting with a brisk rap of the snare drum, it launches into an instantly infectious groove consisting of brass, organ, piano and synths over a bedrock of water-tight bass and drums.

Aside from the impressive degree of musical skill in performing the track, the intricacy and detail of the arrangement is where Dusenberry truly excels. Like an artist using sparing amounts of colour, many of the instruments make brief cameos then allow another sound to take center stage. The instrumental colour and variety made me think of another autonomous composer/musician Frank Zappa and his classic Hot Rats instrumental Peaches En Regalia. The overall style and sound is comparable to another musical genius, Stevie Wonder.

The main hook of the track is the catchy horn lines that enter straight away, augmented by contrapuntal melodies or supporting chords on either organ, piano or synth. Special mention should go to the crisp, precise drumming and the rhythmic and melodic invention of the bassline. Halfway through, it enters a more sparse section that allows him to build things back up for the second half, which features a brief but brilliant organ solo.

Overall, this is a fantastic instrumental that lies between soul, funk and jazz. Stephen Dusenberry is simply one of those immensely gifted musicians and composers that occur only rarely, and Fool’s Gold captures him at the height of his powers. With a complete mastery of everything he plays and a deep understanding of how to compose and arrange, the result is a hugely enjoyable piece of music that deserves to be appreciated by both connoisseurs and casual music fans alike.

 

VERDICT = 9.2 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: Timberline And Mountain Crest by Forest Robots

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Forest Robots is the musical brainchild of electronic artist and composer Fran Dominguez and this project has an interesting and unusual genesis. It began when he began pictorially documenting his travels to the Sierra Nevada mountain range. When his daughter was born, he started to attach narratives to his collections to teach his daughter about the wonders of nature. This led to feeling inspired to compose music to go with these narratives and Forest Robots was born.

In May this year I gave a glowing review to the album Supermoon Moonlight – Part One. This follow up album, Timberline And Mountain Crest, has been completed just eight months later and consists of ten tracks. It is somewhat of a musical progression from the previous album; whilst Supermoon Moonlight had been based around nature-inspired ambient electronically with orchestral elements, here he retains the same natural inspirations whilst branching out into a more rhythmic style, incorporating synthwave, soul and funk. It has been described as Ambient R&B, and that is a good description.

Opening track Sudden Bioluminescence is a fine representation of this more expansive style. It starts with a swathe of atmospheric synths combining with pulsating, rhythmic synths which build the tension nicely. Then we hear an intricate yet languid dance groove enter, filled with subtle syncopations and rhythmic intricacies.

This becomes the foundation for a series of lead synth melodies which complement each other perfectly and maintain an excellent sense of melodic continuity. After breaking down midway, it builds back up then cleverly combines the various themes to great effect. It’s a very complex track, yet easy to listen to and built out of only three chords.

The evocatively named Where The Wild Summer Storms Run lives up to the promise of its title. Locking quickly into a tight 2/4 groove, the ear becomes hooked to the catchy synth melodies. A second section featuring some 80’s style chiming synths is a nice touch and towards the end we hear a theremin-style synth that adds more flavour to the sonic texture. One of the strong aspects of this album is how the titles perfectly fit the music, or rather how the music paints and portrays the title in sound.

Third track Through The Trees And Into Wide Open Landscapes is a good example of this quality. Beginning with the meditative ambient style which characterized Supermoon Moonlight, it gradually evolves into epic electronica with interweaving rhythms and melodies working in perfect synchrony.

This one works as a showcase for his compositional and programming skills, and the overall effect is hypnotic. Towards the four minute mark the music seems to evaporate and morphs into an otherworldly, disconnected section that evokes the ‘wide open landscapes’ of the title.

Between The Orange and Purple Horizon starts with a beautiful harp-esque synth melody, joined by a swingbeat that wouldn’t sound out of place on a hip hop record. As the piece develops, it gradually becomes more serene and dreamlike with some truly magical electronic sounds. You can easily picture the horizon in your mind’s eye, conjuring images of being stood on a mountain top staring at the sky. A transcendent track and one of the album’s finest.

After two epic five minute pieces, the eighty second Treading Where Others Have Perished acts as a nice contrast, a sparse but potent track that maintains the elevated vibe from the previous one.

Sixth track As The Sun Rises Between Timberline And Mountain Crest is essentially the title track of the album and feels like its centrepiece. It consists of a delicate, haunting piano figure that perfectly captures the sense of quiet awe and wonder a person can feel in nature. Aside from the repeating piano melody, we hear equally subtle bass which just lets one note per bar ring, giving a ‘floating in mid air’ effect which is augmented by sparse but powerful string synths.

On A Desolate Shore Under A Full Moon stands out from the pack with its angular, highly intricate funk beat and pizzicato strings that work as the main melody. The second section contains a multiplicity of melodies and percussive elements which acts as a counterpoint to the relative sparseness of the main section. I loved the use of a glockenspiel-type sound which gave it a magical feel, again apposite considering the title.

Track eight, Farewell Sudden Summer Storm Clouds has a tranquil quality, sort of what you might describe as the calm after the storm. There’s a slightly exotic, Eastern aspect to some of the themes and once again shows his talent for handling complex melodies and textures. When the soft beat breaks down at the end it allows the music’s subtleties to breathe and it finishes on a mystical high.

When Forest Leaves Begin To Change is about summer turning into autumn, an ambitious concept to try and capture in sound. But, indeed, the plaintive melodies do have a distinct autumnal vibe and you can feel yourself drifting away in its intoxicating and mesmeric sound world. Again, the music gradually builds in a clever, organic fashion and really blossoms at the end.

It leads to the album’s final track It’s Quietest At The Edge Of The Crestline which brings us full circle in terms of the title and overall concept. It’s an unearthly, hymnal piece of ambient music that casts a potent spell with the translucent, natural beauty of its sound and mood. Again, it captures that sense of deep wonder that the greatest of nature’s vistas can evoke and makes a fitting conclusion to this musical journey.

Overall, this is a sonic odyssey that takes its artistic inspiration from a deep love of nature, like much art of the past, musical, visual and literary. However, by incorporating the genres of ambient, soul, funk and synthwave in a seamlessly integrated way, it resurrects this form of inspiration and brings it decidedly into the modern era. It will appeal not only to ambient fans, but electronica fans in general  and, in fact, music lovers right across the board. With a wealth of melodic and rhythmic detail that reveals itself on repeated listens, Timberline and Mountain Crest is a journey you will want to take again and again.

VERDICT: 9 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

 

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