NEW BAND REVIEW: Never, Soulless, Even by Sunset Closeup

Sunset Closeup are an alternative rock duo consisting of producer/guitarist Andrew Amsden (Hello Clarice and GTFO) and Melbourne singer Mark Pearl (Texture Like Sun). The group were formed during the 2020 Covid pandemic after Andrew had left Los Angeles after a decade and settled in Portland, Oregon.

The group were named after the film noir classic Sunset Boulevard and they are now releasing the first fruits of their labour. These first releases consist of three sonically eclectic songs that are all highly different yet united by a signature sound.

Never is a brooding alternative rock track that opens with low-end acoustics, soon joined by muscular drums and rich, deep bass. This is augmented by slick wah-wah guitar that provides some subtle rhythmic sophistication and is highly effective even though its low in the mix.

This lays the bedrock for Mark Pearl’s earthy authentic vocals, bringing to mind Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder and U2’s Bono, though with an altogether distinctive style of his own. The first verse establishes a firm groove with Mark delivering his distinctive vocals in a low register, backing vocals harmonising on certain lines.

He gets to display his considerable range with the euphoric chorus hook featuring the memorable refrain, “I’ll reach out for more”. After the second  chorus it enters an interlude section where the music breaks down and we hear the haunting lines, “Never gonna leave this alive, taking a long time to fly….”. The music gears back up for the third verse followed by one final blast through the anthemic chorus.

It’s amazing to note how concise it is at only two minutes and thirty seconds, yet feels a perfectly complete and rounded arrangement. As with all with the tracks here, Sunset Closeup strike a fine balance between alternative and commercial, rock and (credible) pop.

Soulless is longer at just under three minutes and shows a more electronic influence under the bonnet of their sound, starting out sounding like U2 with delay-drenched guitar over a pumping kick and restless hi-hat rhythms.

The pulsating synths then provide a fresh energy and texture to the sound, bringing to mind early 90’s Depeche Mode with a similarly poignant and mournful vocal performance from Mark Pearl, comparable to Dave Gahan. A more modern comparison would be the with Brandon Flowers of The Killers, another band who know how to successfully bridge the gap between alternative rock and pop.

Soulless has an alluring, mesmeric quality that draws the listener in. This is partly due to Mark Pearl’s enigmatic, haunting vocal melody along with the intoxicating, sophisticated music that envelops his voice. You can hear their wealth of influences distilled into a sonic alchemy and this track in particular would make a strong single choice with its radio friendly sound.

Even, the third track released so far, shows another side to their musical oeuvre. It’s built around a crystal-clear picked acoustic guitar motif and subtly insistent drums that gather complexity and intricacy as the arrangement gradually expands. The tribal tom-tom patterns give the sound a driving, potent momentum, contrasted by the gentle rhythmic rustle of tambourine.

From its opening bars, the music has a memorable quality. The haunting, seductive vocal melody on the intro immediately casts a spell on the listener once again. Andrew Amsden’s guitar work particularly shines on this track, a symbiotic blend of subtle acoustic and electric guitars that merge seamlessly.

Once again, the U2 of The Joshua Tree era comes to mind, and the understated musical backing really allows Mark Pearl to give a truly expressive performance, full of extemporisations. His vocal gymnastics always serve the song and as the song swells to its climax, the most emotive anthems of Coldplay are another apposite comparison, along with shades of George Ezra.

Overall, these three songs from Sunset Closeup show a new group emerging with a fully formed creative vision and signature sound. The combination of producer and guitarist Andrew Amsden’s various talents with Mark Pearl’s powerful and cathartic vocals results in a consistent musical synergy.

All three songs are first rate, managing to balance artistic integrity with commercial viability and any of them would make good single release for radio. I, for one, cannot wait to hear a full length album from Sunset Closeup and this initial material should help them deservedly build up an adoring and devoted fanbase.

VERDICT = 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

ALBUM REVIEW: Montauk by Montauk

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www.takemetomontauk.com

Montauk are a British pop/rock band and the musical brainchild of songwriter and lead vocalist Drew Richardson. He has been writing music from an early age and Montauk is the culmination of a lifelong dream. The band is much a product of the internet era; on this album Drew worked face to face with producer/guitarist Tom Jobling, vocalist Rebecca Chambers and drummer  Sam West, however fellow members Jon Wright and Max Saudi (guitar and drums respectively) recorded their parts online, a method used by many artists and producers today.

This self-titled album, and the band name itself, was inspired by the classic film Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, about a couple who have their memories of each other erased to get over their relationship. This theme recurs on certain songs on the album. Musically, while they can be essentially described as commercial pop/rock, there’s an eclecticism within the songs and you can hear similarities to bands like The Killers, U2, Bon Jovi, The War On Drugs, Snow Patrol and Red Hot Chili Peppers, along with solo artists like George Ezra, Ed Sheeran and the more mature solo work of Gary Barlow.

Opening track Doom Dust is a superb start to this twelve track album. Beginning with echo-drenched guitars, it builds into an anthemic, uplifting song about trying to realize your full potential. You can tell quite quickly that Richardson is an experienced and accomplished craftsman. There’s a firm understanding of dynamics in how he keeps the verse and chorus cohesive, yet contrasting.

The chorus itself is huge, augmented by the fine backing vocals of Rebecca Chambers, whose voice complements Drew’s nicely. Lyrically, it expresses something many will relate to, feeling things block you from truly being yourself: “I want to shake this world to the core and let the people know that I’ve got so much more“. It’s the kind of music you can imagine thousands singing along to in sold out arenas, and the mellifluous guitar solo fits perfectly. A perfect balance between rock and pop.

Fall in Love is one of the album’s more romantic moments, and another very finely crafted song. It’s one which wears its heart on its sleeve, lyrically: “Could you be the missing link, the mixer for the bitter drink that is my life?“. It’s another lighters-in-the-air epic chorus and the subtle combination of male and female vocals made me think of one of Britain’s great unsung pop groups The Beautiful South (early era).

Hanging Baskets has the most beautiful intro on the album, crystal-clear picked acoustic guitar setting the tone for an intimate lead vocal from Richardson. It’s a song about wanting to just enjoy being in love without letting anything else intrude: “I don’t know if its wrong, don’t know if its right….I don’t know what has gone, I don’t care what’s to come…”. This is a very touching song that should win him many fans.

Welcome To You is an interesting song, with shades of later period Mumford and Sons in the folk-inflected melodies and rolling drum patterns. The vocal melody is very modern sounding to go with the production, and the instantly memorable vocal melody makes it very suitable for radio. After the second chorus, it breaks out into a gorgeous symphonic section; the album is full of these nuanced touches that add richness to the sound. A potential single.

Heart Attack takes things in another direction entirely – an upbeat funk/blues track driven by rhythmic piano and bursts of organ, featuring some slick harmonies. Drew gives an excellent vocal performance here and this different style shows the versatility of his songwriting. Lyrically, its a classic tale of falling for someone where the passion burns so much that it makes for a tempestuous relationship. Well written, high quality pop .

The intriguingly named Osidius (Just A Girl) returns to epic rockier style of the opening song though this one leans more heavily to the rock side. Alongside another massive, memorable chorus (an area where Richardson excels), it features some gorgeous, plaintive strings and a blistering stood-on-a-cliff-edge lead guitar solo. The following Love For Sale maintains the Bon Jovi vocal and guitar style, with the riffs and harmonies on this one really showing the more classic rock side of his oeuvre.

Eternal Sunshine is the first of two consecutive songs based on the film mentioned earlier. Here, Richardson effectively captures the emotional torment the lead characters go through in the film. Musically, it’s one of the more sparse tracks and it’s a proper duet with Rebecca Chambers, who depicts the character played by Kate Winslet. It works so well, that you could imagine it as part of a musical based on the film. Their voices combine and harmonize beautifully on the tender chorus, a real album highlight.

Take Him To Montauk is essentially the title track and it’s a good one. It starts with a vocal ‘dum-de-dum’ section that brought to mind George Ezra, whilst the gorgeous high end acoustic guitar and vocal delivery recall the lighter moments of Red Hot Chili Peppers. It’s clearly about the main character of Eternal Sunshine (played by Jim Carrey) and how he’s missing his lover despite having had all memories of her erased. The title hook (“Take him to Montauk, driver….”) is very effective and latches in the mind upon the first listen. Another potential single.

Tell The Fool is another moody epic ballad in the Bon Jovi mould and stands out for a particularly good lead vocal. It should be said that his singing voice is as good as anything you’ll come across in the upper reaches of the charts, and this song is one crowds will love to sway along to.

I Won’t Want To Wake Up With You is a return to the toe-tapping pop funk style of Heart Attack, propelled by an irresistible groove and Chic-style funky high-end electric guitar chords. Special mention should go to the restlessly inventive bassline (including a superb bass solo!) and the smoky Rhodes piano. Richardson’s falsetto vocals in parts of the track sounded like Justin Timberlake, and this ability to switch genres gives massive potential to his fanbase.

Closing track Dance With The Devil is essentially his signature pop/rock sound, though with an intriguing arrangement. It starts out sounding like The Police with reggae-infused quarter note guitars then unexpectedly switches into an almost punky full-on rock style. The rich organ gives the song a 70’s Deep Purple vibe, and it works. There’s a tremendous brooding energy that seems to explode in the orgasmic guitar solo, then leads into the penultimate choruses. Lyrically, it’s by far the most raw and edgy he gets on this album, with a few words at the end I can’t repeat here! A blazing way to finish.

Overall, this is one of the best albums I’ve heard this year, one that runs the gamut in terms of both genre and emotional range. Drew Richardson has honed his songwriting craft to a fine pitch and can go from sensitive balladry to headbanging rock n’ roll with consummate ease, throwing in funk, soul and even a little reggae influence along the way. Though this is far from an easy era to break through to the ‘big time’, if any band deserves to it’s undoubtedly Montauk.

 

VERDICT = 9.3 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

You can purchase a CD or download the album from the official website HERE

2 bonus tracks are available only for those who download or purchase through the website!

Listen here:

 

 

 

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

Listen here:

E.P. REVIEW: The Sublime Art of Self Importance EP by The Drama Dolls

Itunescover4 www.thedramadolls.com

The Drama Dolls are a UK based four-piece alternative rock group. They are the brainchild of ex-colony bassist, guitarist and main songwriter Mike Cambridge, with Alan Bristow on drums, acclaimed US singer Chris Hodges on lead vocals and keyboards courtesy of Agatha. Their sound is a blend of stadium indie rock like early U2 and Muse, along with elements of 90’s alternative rock bands like The Pixies, Sugar and the Manic Street Preachers. This EP is their first release, with their debut album to be released in early 2016.

First track Don’t Waste Your Prayers is an excellent start, featuring delayed guitar on the intro reminiscent of U2’s The Edge. It develops into an upbeat rock song with a superb vocal performance from Chris Hodges, delivered at the top of his range. Although the music is uplifting, the downbeat, serious lyrics act as a good contrast: ‘I’ve seen the hope and I’ve seen the despair, I’ve seen the confusion everywhere….’. It leads to a memorable chorus that, along with the 80’s style guitar solo, brought to mind the anthemic style of Bon Jovi. This combination of stadium rock with angst ridden lyrics is something the Manic Street Preachers mastered in the early 90’s, along with Radiohead.

Second track I Want More is rather different, slower paced and more 90’s style indie rock than stadium rock, with Chris Hodges singing in a lower range. Though there are some unusual and unexpected chord changes, it still has a very memorable title hook that keeps one foot in the world of pop, which bodes well commercially. The subtle female backing vocals are very effective in adding texture to the sound.

Last track King For The Day lies in between the first two tracks in terms of pace and style. It delivers yet another strong chorus that latches in the memory the first time you hear it. Drummer Alan Bristow particularly excels on this song, and Mike Cambridge gets to show his lead skills guitar with a concise solo.

Overall, this is a highly impressive set of songs considering its their first release. In an era where factory line pop music currently rules the roost, its heartening to know that intelligent modern rock is out there being made. As this band now have a proven record of writing the kind of hooks you need to play arenas, perhaps The Drama Dolls can become part of a much needed UK rock resurgence. Here’s hoping.

 

Alex Faulkner

Verdict: 8.5 out of 10