Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Another one bites the dust....

So there we are then, 2008 almost gone... I'm off to do my yearly review and awards for the sixth year running and that, no doubt, will be the first entry in this blog in the new year. It's been a great year for this blog and its beginning to attract some attention and for that I thank the people who actually take the time to read it and respond. I'd like to wish you all a happy and prosperous New Year and keep the music coming.

Now, where did I put that champagne.....

Lined With Asbestos - Through The Shadows

Hear The Track Here

Marek d'Fordewin is the real name of Lined With Asbestos and they are both new names to me and thats the best way I can think of rounding the year off. Yep, my very last review of 2008, not sure what sort of honour may attach to that but hey, grab it where you can right? Unfortunately Through The Shadows was on a playlist with some very heavy duty tracks and that usually doesn't bode well. What it means is that tracks like that (see past Must Haves) raise the bar on the tracks around them and usually come out sounding worse than they probably are. Especially if you are a furious nitpicker with a Christmas hangover and a tense digestive system.

Uh oh. Pull them screens.

'A brooding little piece of down-tempo music. Looking for female vocalist' is what the song proclaims and I can't see anything wrong with that. I think it would take a rare vocalist to do this track justice in the broodiness stakes and obviously female because they rule the world of broody. (Ed: Oh God, did he just say that! Cut!! Cut!!!!). Not that it actually needs a vocal mind, it's a surprisingly good listen considering its dark tone. It's also surprisingly well put together, with some good sounds going although I found some of it a bit overdone. Nonetheless, it acheives the objective; an overwhelming bleakness.

Ewww, you may think, not for me fanks. So would I, except I had to play it a few times and in the process grew to quite like its weird amble through a graveyard feel. I have to admit I wouldn't track it down by choice, there is still something about the track that doesn't gel for me, but I can see it doing well amongst those whose main diet is dark, forbidding electronica, because this is done with some considerable style.

Recommended dark electronica.

DJ Prospect (US) - Aquatopia (Enhanced Trance Redux)

Hear The Track Here

Another new Soundclick name to me, DJProspect (aka Cody Oleszczuk) is a trance artist from America and I have to admit to instantly turning my nose up while glancing around his page while downloading the track. I am a well known philistine when it comes to trance and very, very cautious with any praise I may dish out. I have, over the years, heard so much really, really bad techno and trance tracks that it has definitely jaded my dance palate for years. Even with the high standards available to us today, there is still enormous amounts of bland, anonymous music under these genres.

I actually enjoy dance music even though I would never be foolish enough to expose my moves to the wider world. I love it when the walls shake with some remorseless beats, I have a St Bernard sized woofer and the angriest neighbours on the planet as adequate testimony to my love for a good jiggy. What makes a trance track exceptional, at least for me, is the amount of time and effort spent on creating the right atmosphere; once that is in place even someone as hardbitten as me HAS to respond.

Aquatopia is even a reasonably easy track to digest, topping out at six minutes, forty seconds, none of it a waste of your time. There are ways to make good techno/trance and/or dance and this track pushes all the buttons all the time. One of the tricks, I have found, of getting tracks like this across quickly is an active bassline spread across the backline, rather than one single point. I do it with chorus which may well be what is happening here. Whatever, the bass on this is SLAMMIN and that is exactly the kick up the ass that makes the genre work for me. Add to that intelligent, well thought out peaks and builds and you have a very tasty peice of work.

Excellent trance. Highly Recommended.

Laroche - Winter Warmth

Hear The Track Here

I'm surprised to note this is only my third Laroche review because I could have sworn I had done more than that. Considering that he is an electronica musician he's managed to notch up two highly recommendeds from me and I don't hand them out lightly. It usually means that this musician has something serious to say and gets on with the job. Both A Synopsis (May 2008) and Immaterial (August 2008) showed that Laroche had a definite touch with the music, even some of the sounds didn't quite come up to the same standard. There again, that's well into nitpicker territory and its best not to go there on a full stomach.

As I type this the temperature outside is rapidly sliding into double digits below for the next week or so, so a bit of Winter Warmth is exactly what is needed. Laroche does serve up a nice chillout though, as I have discovered before, and this is a track to savour before the fire with the system cranked and your choice of stimulants to hand. Me, I stuck my head in the clouds for a few minutes, cranked up my anti-neighbour system and blissed out as if it were Christmas already (Ed: Been, gone. Where were you? Oh, Happy New Year readers). Even more than that, here was a track that didn't have the same flaws as its predecessors. In fact, I even liked the plucky things and you KNOW I hate them little buggers. There is a Chinese quality to the sound and structure of the part that lifts this track way above the ordinary.

Winter Warmth is a lovely combination of so many styles, some production wizardry and an unfailing dedication to getting it EXACTLY right. The opening sequence is drop dead gorgeous and I defy you to listen to that and not want to rip its clothes off. My jaw hit the floor with an audible thump when I found at that the incredible journey I had been on was a mere stroll at almost five minutes. There is so much packed into those few minutes, all lavishly rubbed onto your ears with almost flawless sound fidelty that they may well eargasm. If I sound well mellowed out it is because I am STILL listening to this at least a couple of times a day and chillout doesn't always float my boats so that should tell you something.

Gorgeous. Perfect. MUST HAVE.

www.Fortune-Music.com - All Sold Out

Hear The Track Here

Its no good blinking your eyes mate, the band name is not going to change dramatically. First time for me though and no, I am not reviewing a website. Fortune, I guess, is the name of the band and band indeed they appear to be. A live, gigging five peice by the looks of the video on their Soundclick page from the Boston area. The reason I divulge all this essential trivia is - yep you guessed it - the band are new (to me) and I'm flailing around for something to say. At least that's my story and I am going to be sticking to it no matter what. (Ed: For fekks sake Gilmore get on with it!)

Although I constantly piss and moan about the vast differences between American and British rock (big hair, block-busting drums and wall to wall guitars) I do have a soft spot for the more commercial side of American heavy rock. Got to admit, they have written a killer riff or two that adds to the pantheon and - when they are hot - there is nothing like it on the planet. Over the years I have gained great respect for bands that put on a show - and I don't mean the visuals. Fortune has that ring about them, and it pays off massively on All Sold Out.

Too right mate, as you will see when you get an earful of the track. Anything that shouts 'Oi you! Better rock now!) from the opening note is fine by me and it keeps getting better and better. Classic American rock, proud, boastful and right on the fucking money - no ifs ands or buts. I was sold (Ed: groans) on this track from the first note but I am a well known rock hound and this track contains all my main food groups and in the gourmet version too. Damn, now I've made myself hungry. I'll grab a sandwich and you clickee clickee on the linkee and we'll rock out for a while with this awesome, and I mean that folks, rock song.

Absolutely classic Classic rock. MUST HAVE and 11.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Nuff X - Redemption

Hear The Track Here

I knew that I had known Nuff X, a Soundclick electronica musician, for a long time but I must admit I was surprised that it was almost 4 years ago that I reviewed his first track. Now the man sits on a mountain of tracks (178 and counting), most of them 'right crackers' (Ed: he means very good to excellent) in that glitchy, electronica way he has seemingly made his own. There is even a term for it: nuffcore and I swear it fits the musical style to a T. Its fair to say that Nuff has made huge strides over the years and has provided some very masterful tracks but....

You are only as good as the last one :)

Redemption is the first track from Nuff's upcoming third album 'Paper Wings' and turns out to be a very strange peice of electronica indeed. So much so that I had to check the copy that I had with the online version just to make sure I was hearing what I had been intended to hear. There again, that very oddness is one of the reasons I have grown to like this artists work, he is never one to take the easy road when he can take the widest detour possible...

Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn't but I think it would be fair to say that you would have to like electronica (and the wilder fringes of it at that) to really get something from Redemption. It's probably one of his more opaque tracks, making wide use of his customary cut up vocals and some excellent noise samples that actually work within the context of this odd little track. There is a sombre, dark edge to the track that will, I fear, out more than a few people off. There again, if you know and like what Nuff X does, then you will find a hefty dose of it in this track - as odd and off-the-wall as it is.

Wacky IDM. Recommended.

Buzrk - Post Dormant Scar

Hear The Track Here

Its been just over a year since I made the acquaintance of Miami based rapper Buzrk, and although we haven't always seen eye to eye, his tracks are never that much of a stretch to review. I do like a bit of hiphop ya see, and Buzrk supplies a pretty decent version of it. He hasn't given me anything to rave about as yet but hey, can't do that from a standing start and Buzrk has been improving for most of this last year so there is always time. One of the main problems this rapper faces, I think, is his lyrical flow; often its a case of too many words, not enough breath if you know what I mean.

Beats provided in this case by IQ The Goon who supplied the Old Man (October 2007) track I raved about constantly at the time. All looking good then because thats music and rap taken care of by people who should know what they are doing. There then, is the fly that constantly mars what this artist attempts; I'm sure that my problem is mainly to do with the vocal tone he employs, and the sheer amount of words he always stuffs each track with.

The truth is that I found Post Dormant Scar mainly pedestrian and yes, a bit boring. That's a problem of course, especially with rap which relies solely on the rappers ability to mesmerise with their lyrical flow, There is none of the percussive punch you would normally associate with the best of the genre, and again I would put that down to the sheer weight of the words Buzrk is trying to put across. There again, as someone might say, what do I know about it anyway? Well, I know what works and what doesn't and this doesn't it for me. There again, I have said time and again and I guess by now Buzrk is used to it, less is more and laying back into the beat would help too.

Pilesar - Gator Wrasslin'

Hear The Track Here

Ladles and gerbils, The Wizard of Weird, the wombat of wtf, the something of the something else, Pie LEE zur (if ya please). If you think that is an over the top introduction you have obviously not met the aformentioned wizard/wombat/whatevah yet and could not possible know that Pilesar is a sometime human who was given his name by an elf. He's also one of the foremost exponents of Alternative:Experimental you are ever likely to hear. The ghosts of America's endless parade of weirdo's (think Sun Ra, Beefheart, Zappa, Residents et al) live on in this artists many, many minds.

Its funny that Pilesar should be championing an artist like Thomas J, who has a lo-fi (but incredible) EP on Pilesars Chameleon Dish Archive. The reason I mention this is that Thomas went from electronica weirdery to troubadour chic and Pilesar also seems to drifted away from his electronic fukry and into more conventional musical styles - albeit with that added Pilesar whiff of chaos that permeates anything this artist is involved in.

The list of Pilesar tracks resident on my hard drive long passed double figures and that should tell you how badly I am infected. 'Loving you is like gator wrasslin' is the theme of this, the first track from Pilesar's upcoming No Good For Eyeballs album which promises to be a special treat. As I say, the man has gone all retro on us, and Gator Wrasslin' features a nice bluesy rock peice that wouldn't have sounded out of place back in the days (early 1970's) - provided you had the right amount of stimulation applied to the pleasure centres of the brain. Otherwise it would sound just like a bunch of freaks making a shedload of noise and having a lot of fun doing it. That would never do, I suppose.

No good for eyeballs it may be, but the brain likes it. MUST HAVE mayhem.

Charlie A - Hopefull

Hear The Track Here

Charlie Armour (for it is he) has long been an acquired taste for me and many other Soundclick regulars which is very surprising for me because you know how I feel about (shudder) film soundtracks. Charlie though, is a bit special in a good many ways. Charlie is a wheelchair bound artist for a start, as you can see from his webpage but as he so wonderfully puts it when putting this song forward for review 'Its about my life, despite the struggles I have had and pain i go through I still smile' Being hopeful in Charlie's case is a state of mind that he has always had as far as I can tell and it permeates every bit of his music I have heard.

He is also, in my opinion, one of the most adept musicians working in the genre, as evidenced by the fils he actually managed to score, rather than just making the music to go with a film. Very different processes let me tell you. Hopefull is yet another example of what Charlie A does best; ally his undoubted musical ability to a knowing sense of what instrument is going to sound right with the material he is working with. In that, he never fails.

There is more then a sense of The Omen soundtrack in Hopefull, the piano part definitely echoes that great film score but Charlie brings a wistful lightness to it that fits the rest of the track so well you forget the reference after a while. From the very first notes of this track, you sense that this is a track it would be good to get to know even if - like me - you don't normally like the genre. That's the best thing about Charlie overall, he fits in any basket you care to put him in, so long as it includes melodies as fine as these.

MUST HAVE Soundtrack.

Larry Ludwick - The Christmas I Miss

Hear The Track Here

Considering this is the season to be whatsname, this is the first overtly Christmassy track I've reviewed this month, for which - I might add - I am eternally grateful. Yes, I know my bah humbug is showing again but hey, it all gets a bit much ya know? Here I am the day after Christmas and all I can think is that it must end soon, surely? I'm not anti-Christmas or anything like that, just fed up to the back teeth with people exhorting me to be cheerful and full of the seasons joys. 'k off' I shout at their rapidly retreating backs when they realise that my Xmas cheer would be at their expense.

Enough already.

Now that we have the grumpy old man stage out of the way, let's get back to Larry. Larry Ludwick has become quite a fixture on Soundclick's forums and, five tracks down, a bit of a known quantity to this reviewer too. Although I don't always jive with the style there is never any doubt that Larry the musician knows exactly what he is about - and the tracks I've heard show that again and again. As does - in its own festive way - whatever my own feelings about the season.

The easiest musical reference is Neil Young, but simply because Larry is a songwriter whose music is in the same field. For me his vocal is much than Neil Young, he is much more real country sounding and I mean that as a compliment. Carrying off a track like The Christmas I Miss would be difficult for anyone IMHO because it is a fairly arrangement and style but somehow Larry makes it happen even if the vocals were'nt all they should be. Its that relaxed, laconic delivery that finally won me over.

Seasons greetings. Bah Highly Recommended Humbug!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Mokee Dugway - Not Enough

Hear The Track Here

Before you go asking, I don't have a clue what the name means either and there isn't a lot of info on this artists Soundclick page to shed some light on the matter. From what I can gather Mokee Dugway is an Italian rock musician based in the Eternal City (Ed: Rome to you and me) and a new name to me and Soundclick to by the looks of it. Headed by one Gabriele D'Urbano Mokee Dugway appears to be a one man band, and I see nothing wrong with that, the internet is infested with them. There are, however, a round 13 tracks on the webpage so obviously he isn't going to be new to making with the music.

So, let us see...

'A man with no face steals things with no value, then drives away, steers off the road and speeds away through the desert' is what the song blurb has to say. Not Enough turns out to be a very tastefully put together soft rock instrumental with a deceptively intricate arrangement that leads you into the track with an ease that took my breath away - or at least it when it was new to me. After I had a few plays under my belt, my initial impression proved to be right, this is a particularly good track in many ways, production, arrangement and performance.

It is, however, a guitar instrumental and you have to ask yourself is there room for yet another guitar instrumental. After all, they are ten a penny on Soundclick right? And indeed they are, but there aren't that many that reach this kind of quality where literally ALL of the musical bases are covered and then some. I can't say I am a big fan of instrumentals and for a track to register with me it must contain something over and above and Not Enough definitely does that. An interesting introduction to this artist and that's for sure.

Highly Recommended rock guitar instrumental.

Mike-K - Midnight (Electric Version)

Hear The Track Here

Dear Michael Xavier, You seem to be under the impression that I don't like your music. As you know, I am like you (except without the beard and the smooth line in DJ patter), I don't think that there is a peice of music I don't like; as cliched as it is I love ALL music. Just like you see? Moreover, I think you are a very, very talented musician, and one not afraid to experiment either. While its true that I don't like 'easy listening' music, if I had to endure some I'd prefer that it was yours because I know that you write from the heart to the fingers as any good musician should. At the end of the day, reviews are merely opinions and - not unlike assholes - everyone has one. The only opinion that counts at the end of the day is your own. Sincerely, your friend, Steve Xavier (no relation). (Ed: Good, can we get on with the review now?)

Sure Ed. Mike, your track is shit! :) Sorry, little joke there

(Ed: in every way because the review starts NOW!). In all seriousness, I do like Mike K as a musician as I've said endless times, it's the style that often grates on me and that is just personal preference. Truth is, if you like the lighter side of the musical spectrum then Mike-K is the very man to know as Midnight (Electric Version) amply testifies. Admittedly, the philistine in me screams and attempts to run away every time this comes up in the playlist but that's because of my feelings about the genre. Musically and technically, I think this is one of the best Mike-K tracks I have heard; a truly lovely peice.

The bulk of the kudos has to be down to that tone and style of the guitar line that dominates the track; wouldn't have worked at all if it had been yer average jazzy tone. Not sure how Mike is getting this particular sound, but hey I definitely like it even encased in the musical equivalent (to me anyway) of syrup - a track so nice it makes your teeth ache. There again, that's what Mike specialises in and this is a classic example of the man and his music, As I said, one of the best sounding tracks this artist has ever come up with.

Excellent New Age guitar instrumental. Highly Recommended and a MUST HAVE for fans.

Thielus Grenon - Platypus on the Prowl

Hear The Track Here

I think that most Soundclick forum regulars will agree that one of the best times on this site was 2004; the site was gaining fresh blood from the collapse of other MP3 sites and the musicians that were already around were eye poppingly good. One of the names that still reverberates from that period is one Thielus Grenon, at the time a prog rock musician in the manner of Sylvan & Bonamici who were elevating the bar for that genre on Soundclick. Personally, I cannot stand prog rock in any form but - when in the hands of masters - even I can take a few listens of it without running for the sick bag. So that should tell you something about the quality of this artist. He's wandered in and out of Soundclick since that time because I reviewed some tracks of his is 2006 but obviously there has been some kind of hiatus in his musical output. The last track I reviewed of his was The October Scale (November 2006) which got a highly recommended from me - principally because Thielus is a rare guitarist.

Platypus on the Prowl is a song about 'a Platypus who doesn’t like chicks with hairy pits' and that should give you a clue that the word to apply here is odd, eccentric even. Certainly the arrangement is one of the most eccentric you are ever likely to hear, lurching drunkenly from one theme to another without any apparent rhyme or reason. In any other circumstances I may have assumed that the musicians were indeed drunk and disorderly but I know this artist of old. He IS odd and eccentric, its one of his trademarks. It's a given that if the name Genesis makes your eyes light up, this track is tailor-made for you - and the greatcoat you live in.

Although it only tops out at two minutes and some twenty seconds there is a whole world to discover in the flowing, incredibly fluid lines from both guitar and bass. According to the song blurb there are four separate sections to this track and I guess it would be a prog rock fans delight to figure them out but I've never been into those kind of brain games. So, I settled for my usual 'yeah but do I like it?' routine and found that - as much as I admire the production and inspired playing - the track leaves me personally a little cold. There again, it is a the soundtrack for a short video Thielus has in the works so maybe that will help me to get into it more. No doubting the quality of the work though.

Short, if effective, slice of prog rock. Highly Recommended (for the genre)

Stain(ed) Art - Carmen Finestra

Hear The Track Here

If the title of this track is ringing some bells then take a bow because you have been paying attention. I have, in fact, reviewed Carmen Finestra before but not under this name. Through Crosshair Eyes LP (February 2008) was the artist at the time. UK based rapper Stain has in fact presented a few tracks to me under different guises although the bulk of them have been under the Stain Online personna. All good stuff too in one respect (I have a marked taste for UK hiphop) but not so good in another. Stain is an intellgent, coherent rapper whose style I definitely rate, but the more technical side of the equation has always been the rough part of the deal.

Quite why I am reviewing this track again I'm not sure although this IS a new version (uploaded this month) and features a new name on the credits: Krowbar. As soon as I heard the track I remembered it which says something about the quality of the song itself. A huge part of that recognition factor is the chorus; an anthemic sound that you can imagine being shouted from thousands of throats in a stadium/arena. The song itself hasn't changed much but - I believe - the sound of the track has got much better, more rounded, sharper instrumentation.

The beginning of the track will fox you a bit mind so best to lay off the drugs while you get used to it. Once the main track kicks in though, it is so obviously the song I remember. As I mentioned in my original review, this may be rap but its a million miles away from the US variety and infinitely more lyrical, this is a VERY wordy rap. One of the things I didn't like about the original was the verbosity, and the struggle Stain seemed to have fitting all those words into a mere four minute; on this version he seems to have licked that particular problem. This is one rap track though where reading the lyrics is essential to understanding the track, Stain understands that and they are on the songs webpage in all their glory.

The War and Peace rap even. Highly Recommended UK hiphop.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Azoora - The Big Bang EP

Hear The Track Here

If I were a record company exec and looking for something I could take to the marketplace and make a shedload of money from, I would certainly be looking closely at two Soundclick bands Can't Stop The Daggers and Azoora (Ed: what again?? Are these guys paying you for this???). The only fly in that particular commercial ointment is that neither band seems that interested in dealing with the RW music business and if anyone could, Azoora could. Which, I guess, is one of the reasons that the bands 'netlabel' 23 Seconds is pushing them so hard.   They have released THREE FREE EP's through 23 Seconds, each one a gem unto itself. Revelations, Tall Tales and The Big Bang (just released as it happens) all a classic example of how musicians can cirmcumvent the usual dime store tactics and find an audience and a sympathetic recording situation.

Azoora, like CSTD, is a real band in this case comprising of Paul Loader, John Purcell, Trudi Lawrance and Ben Cochrane who have shown consistently that they know precisely what they are doing, and that is making some of the best alternative music you are likely to hear right now - online or off it. Although I now have the whole of the Big Bang EP, Lying Back - Fire in our eyes is the first track I was asked to review from it. The EP is the usual Azoora line up; three completed songs and three 'versions', one of which - She' s Coming Dubmix - I did a review of the unfinished track back in August this year ending with the comment ' I can't wait to hear the finished track' . Well now I have and its everything I thought it would be and more, one of the major highlights of the EP. It doesn't come much better than this.

Lying Back - Fire in our eyes is a bit of a departure for Azoora, it being pretty much an acoustic track, but that only serves to point up both the incredible musicianship and the absolutely mind-boggling quality of the songwriting. There is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that the songwriting partnership of Paul Loader and John Purcell is one of the most potent around right now and it's to both Soundclick and 23 Seconds eternal credit that they are providing the platform for their music. Lying Back is absolutely everything I like about Azoora; clean clear instrumental sounds, punchy and supportive backline and an arresting arrangement. What this does, IM(very)HO, is show just how classy and head and shoulders above the rest this team is, especially vocally and lyrically. I will bet any amount of government bailouts that you will not have heard anything like this before; songs with depth, meaning and wonder. Azoora, simply the best. Btw, the EP is every bit as good as the others and - in some ways - even better.

MUST HAVE MUST HAVE MUST HAVE (one for each track) What else?

N Talekt - Diamond

Hear The Track Here

Richmond, Virginia based rapper N Talekt says 'you gave me a rather harsh kick-in-the-pants review a couple years back' so I was duty bound to go back and re-read it before I tackled Diamond. Best to know what you are in for I say. 'I'd like to think I've come along fairly well since then' he adds and so would I because there is no substitute for making mistakes and learning from them. One of the benefits of being a long term, almost daily reviewer is that you get to understand very quickly that everyone learns at their own rate, but they DO learn. I have had many happy instances of trashing somebody's work only to have them turn right around and prove to me just how wrong I can be at times.

Or how right, depending on which end you live.

Hiphop and rap has a bad, bad reputation amongst most of the Soundclick regulars I know which is strange considering it is far and away the largest sector on the site. The sole reason for that particular canard is because we've all been deluged by endless 'peep my shit', 'Holla back's' and sundry other blatancies and - of course - a universe of wannabees who should be shotabees. A massive generalisation of course because I have found lots of good (and some great) hiphop on Soundclick, but sadly that us - even today - a rare occurence. Which is why Diamond came in so handy because it shows that not all hiphop is derivative meaningless pap. See, N Talekt was right, two years can indeed make a difference, but can it make THE difference?

Happily, N Talekt comes real, real close to it with this excellent slice of hiphop. Beats and production supplied by VybeBeatz and that is the first plus you will notice. Its a full blooded sound, despite the fact that its a semi-ballad, and lyrically it is excellent - in that hiphop/rap/gangsta kinda way. The real surprise is N Talekt himself who I gave crap to about his vocal delivery last time because he has cleaned up his act big time. His rap fits perfectly with the track, making the impact on the listener that I feel is necessary for ANY hiphop track to get through the clutter and into a wider set of ears. It isn't perfect but its pretty damn close and that in itself is an admirable achievement.

Highly Recommended hiphop.

The Empires - You Won't Make a Fool of Me

Hear The Track Here

Judging by the usual signs, Australia's The Empires are new to Soundclick, either that or they don't have a whole lot in the way of repertoire. There are just two tracks on their Soundclick webpage and very little information whatsoever about who they are. Billed as Alternative, they sound (from the blurb anyway) like a band but - as you know - you can never be too sure about that. Doesn't of course matter if they are a band or not but some people are just plain nosy - just like me. the reason I mention it in the first place is because there is some inconsistency in the use of 'I' and 'we'...

Bet, you didn't know I'd be reviewing your grasp of the language either eh? ;)

If I was going by the track alone I would definitely say this is a one man band, and as it happens a pretty decent songwriter into the bargain. Musically, its just guitar and vocals but when I went to get to more info about it it became obvious that this was a demo. Moreover a folk rock demo, even if its a particularly good one; clean, unfussy mix, understated but very effective strumming and that's yer lot. Believe me though, when it comes to material as basic as this I am a bit of an expert and aside from some vocal flaws, I've heard much, much, much worse.

What does stand out, and immediately at that, is just how good a song this is. Mind you, I've been here a few times too. You have a great song and, somewhere between scoring it for other musicians, recording and mixing it, you lose the essence of what you started with. Therefore my only advice to The Empires concerning any future work on this track is to follow the golden rule: keep it simple. The reason it works right now is because of its simplicity which allows the song to breathe and, in the process, tug at your ears. Certainly a good introduction to this artist, but I'd want a bit more meat on the bones before I'd commit to anything with any certainty.

Recommended acoustic song.

The Antennaheadz - Ill

Hear The Track Here

Another Soundclick artist who is destined to do extremely well in my year end awards this year is one Thomas J (aka The Antennaheadz) who this year alone has racked up a whole bag of Must Haves. Mind you, I know for an absolute fact just how hard this artist has worked to up his game. That he has done it in such an elegant, understated manner is a mark of the man himself. Even when he was struggling to find his own path, Thomas was always one to take any criticism on the chin and keep moving forward.

Those efforts have paid off handsomely this year, capped off by the signing and general release of his latest EP - Let Them Down Gently - through the much admired Chameleon Dish Archive (sole prop: Pilesar). If you haven't snagged that EP yet, you really should. Going from an out and out experimentalist to a fully fledged troubadour with a fistful of really terrific songs is some stretch by anybody's standards, but with every track he is solidifying that image. Ill, upon first listening, is the bastard son of Iggy Pop and Tin Man era Bowie, and then it gets weirder.

There again, as I've already pointed out, Thomas is not one to take the easy way out - his way or the highway but when he makes tracks as good as this with such consistency it's hard to ignore. It's also great to see Thomas once again applying his chops to my favourite of his instruments, the sax. Not at all what I expected, I must admit but once I had become accustomed to it and its idiosyncratic way of tale telling, I was completely hooked. Then my head fell off and I don't feel too well.

Unique, priceless IMHO. Out there alternative. MUST HAVE.

The Dead Company -Xmas Song

Hear The Track Here

Those people who came over from another site to Soundclick with me some four or five years ago will know all too well what The Dead Company is capable of. When I reviewed Buildings 3 Vocal/Buildings 3 Pt 3 (June 2003) I wrote of them 'TDC are well on their way to offering the most challenging material I have ever heard' and surprisingly enough I have yet to find anyone to better them - at least at their own game. That game being a very serious attempt to scare the crap out of you with edgy (and I really mean that folks), incredibly dark soundscapes. At the time The Dead Company comprised of three very well known names; Jon Bushaway, Sean Boyle (aka Black Circles) and Graham High (aka Paradise Garage) and thoughtout the next year or so plied me with a great many tracks that still reside on my hard drive to this day.

As much as they are the most experimental of bands, I did develop a taste for their material that still appeals so when I saw this in the review thread this month I admit I smiled - not normal behaviour when faced with their tracks, believe me. Best not to go expecting any Xmas cheer from these guys though, it just isn't their style. The main lyrical thrust of the track goes something like 'so we ask ourselves, why is it he has no hope. When all he asks for for xmas, is a rickety chair and a length of rope'. Nice eh? I told you they have a wierd worldview. The same does not apply to their music however, which I have always found most palatable - in an experimental kinda way.

Its also a great pleasure to re-aquaint myself with Sean Boyle's particularly idiosyncratic vocal style; a sort of spoken whisper that typified a Dead Company track. Mind you, I was always super careful never to listen to this band on a bad day. If you are having a bad day, depressed or suicidal then this is one band that will have you reaching for the nearest bomb, bullet, rope, sleeping pill, gas oven or large building to throw yourself off in an effort to MAKE IT STOP!. The bright side of it is the musical soundscape constructed behind the vocals; it isn't everyone who can keep my attention for almost seven minutes with a soundscape, but TDC have always been a bit special that way. Highly unique and very infectious for certain people (like me), say hello to the Dead Company and merry fucking Christmas :)

Unique experimental alternative. Highly Recommended.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Solid Sounds - What Dreams Are Made Of

Hear The Track Here

I first encountered this Sheffield based duo when I reviewed Exorcism Of Sound (November 2008) and considering that their main musical stomping ground is trance music I think that they got off pretty lightly. Regular readers will have ploughed through endless splenetic displays of pique whenever I encounter the genre and have probably become innured to it by now. Not my favourite stomping ground by a long shot, unless you are talking about stomping trance wannabees through the floor. Having had more than my fill of it when it was first popular, I've listened to way too many bad imitations for my own good. So if a trance artist is going to stand a chance with me at all, they will need to have their act together.

Fortunately Solid Sounds do indeed have their act together and What Dreams Are Made Of presses all the right (ie positive) buttons. Given my in-built antipathy towards the genre, if I have to listen to it I want to hear melody and intelligence rather than an endless litany of four to the floor and the odd squeaker, squeak, squeak. One of the things that impressed me about this artist on the first track I reviewed is a major feature of What Dreams Are Made Of; a textural density that - I think - is essential to putting the track across.

There is an odd pause at the beginning which I understand the need for, but its probably a tad too long to work effectively and just had me wondering wtf, as did the extremely abrupt ending. In between though is an electronica feast for the ears; massive flitered sweeps, wall to wall beats and some quite fine little melodies. I played this in several different setups and there is no doubt that it is best played at ear bleeding volume through a pair of high end speakers (its natural environment after all) but it sounds just as good through a set of decent headphones. If it carries on like this, Solid Sounds ma just change my mind about trance. Oh btw, i did also listen to What a Feeling and - to be honest - I prefer this track.

Highly Recommended Trance (Ed: Nurse! Quick, he'll faint now!)

Can't Stop The Daggers - Changing My Mind

Hear The Track Here

At this stage of the game I am busily working away at my year end reviews and it is clear - beyond all shadow of a doubt - that two names are going to figure strongly in it and I won't be giving anything away by mentioning them because I have waxed lyrical about them all year long. The first is the absolutely awesome Azoora (and its many collaborators and remixers) and the second is none other than Can't Stop The Daggers. I take a liberty somewhat by lumping them together like this but, in many ways, they are extremely compatible like that. Both bands have strong musical personalities in them, both have impeccable sound taste and both specialise in melodic alternative music the like I guarantee you would be floored by.

Well, that's what it sez on this banknote anyway :)

OK seriously now, CSTD is a live, gigging five peice out of Phoenix AZ consisting of Chris Chattom (guitars and upright/fretless basses), Jon Partelow (vocals, keyboards, accoustic guitar) , Emily Schalick (electric bass, acoustic bass, upright and 5 string bass, Cello, backup vocals) and Lionel Luchessi (drums, percussion and backup vox). Don't go by the rough rehersal video on their SC page though, I do advise that you listen to this bands recorded product before leaping to any conclusions. With at least 3 or 4 Must Haves in their pocket this is a band who brush up a treat and if alternative indie is what floats your boats, you are not likely to find much finer.

Now before you start whacking off emails, yes I know I have reviewed this track before; or at least the John Purcell (of Azoora) remix of it and - despite it being a kinda/sorta rock ballad - I felt the same instant appeal. This though is the final thing from the band itself and as much as I liked the remix, the clean, angular approach of this version won me over from the getgo. While there may be elements of the remix I would have liked to see on this version, this is most definitely a Can't Stop The Daggers track in every respect. What really staggers me about CSTD (and Azoora too) is the extremely high standard of song-writing these musicians bring to the table. Considering that this still at the 'demo' stage according to Jon Partelow, its cleaness makes it feel much more than that.

Classic slice of CSTD and well worth the wait. MUST HAVE (hell yeah!)

National Snack - Apply Machine EP

Hear The Track Here

Yet another artist that comes to me through the Rebelriffs blog, National Snack are a London based three member Alternative band, who kindly gave me a copy of their Apply Machine EP. Actually, its not so much an EP as half a full album. There are six tracks on offer in the downloadable version (costing a mere 4GBP) and a bonus hidden track if you buy the hard copy CD and even that is only a fiver. So here's a shout to my fellow Londoner's reading this review: support your local band, you know it makes sense. Moreover, each track on the Ep is rendered at 320kbps, and soundwise that's about as good as it gets and a terrific value for money.So, the only thing to know is, is it worth it? I am well known for cutting musicians a break when reviewing free downloads but when you pay hard earned cash for it, there has to be a much tighter frame of reference. So having plonked down the moolah, I'd be looking for two things from any unsigned, unknown artist: something recognisably different that I can't get anywhere else and (more important I think) sound fidelity.

Now anyone who masters tracks at 320kbps is already going to aware of that and indeed the general tenor of the track is excellent and when Mischief romped through my speakers, the sound was spot on. National Snack describe their music as Mungrul music and it certainly draws influences from every which way. Underneath it all though is yer typical understated music that London is justly famous for, and I would imagine these guys are a terrific live act. My Head Hurts is proto-punk (its a tad over a minute long) in a Clash stylee and again shows the bands strengths are songwriters and performers. On all of the tracks on this extremely well put together EP the vocals shine out, thanks to Gemma Storr and Joe Carlo (guitarist and bassist respectively) amply backed up by the powerhouse drumming of Phil Casey. This is music that jumps out of the speakers and wrestles you to the ground.

This is Not Enough is Gemma's turn to shine vocally, and she delivers with a charming London accent that had my toes curling and I live here, so God knows what the Americans will make of it. Although they may get incredibly bent out of shape because of the many cusswords this track contains, but hey, fuck 'em right? The one thing that became blindingly obvious by this point in the EP is that definitely fulfill both of my rules for buying unknown and unsigned artists. Working For The Devil, while not one of my faves of the EP, is nonetheless a track that has weight AND legs as do all National Snack's tracks and lyrically its spot on. Self Concious and Rock n Roll close out the EP with Rock n Roll having a much greater impact and - to be honest - I was REALLY taken by the line 'rock and roll can't save my soul anymore'. All told this is exactly what I needed to hear right now and increasingly (along with Mischief) became my favourite tracks from this outstanding EP.

Excellent UK Alternative. MUST HAVE (yep, you read that right)

Black Ice 9 - Hall of the Serpent Lord

Hear The Track Here

Brand new electronica name to me, Black Ice 9 is an American musician who seems to specialise in Game Soundtracks (Ed: oh dear). Now before my editor starts chopping my review into peices, let me state quite simply that I fekkin hate ANY kind of soundtrack; whether it be be film, tv or videogame. I just can't see the point. Yes, I love sound film scores and even some game scores but if I were sitting down to an extended playlist session the very last thing I would be loading up are tracks of this type. I rather be playing the game/watching the film etc.

Ahh, but I am a well known philistine in this respect. (Ed: got that right Gilmore)

My heart sunk to my boots when - while downloading the track - I happened to glance at the song comments. 'Track 4 in my series of compositions fusing dark electronic and cinematic/soundtrack elements based on an epic fantasy theme' it chortled gleefully as if this could possibly be thought of as a good thing. Mind you, I do like dark electronica, have a very pronounced taste for it even, so even I could have something else to hang onto. As it happened I might as well not worked myself into a snit, I should have just plonked the track on there and then. Then I would have discovered that - no matter how huge my misgivings - assumptions are for assholes.

Truth is, Hall Of The Serpent Lord is an excellent, extremely well realised slice of the darkest electronica, well produced, well performed and very well stitched together. As it happens I am familiar with some of the sounds used on this track because it wanders into my territory with some excellent Middle Eastern touches that give the counterpoint to the dark layer it sits on. Not sure why BI9 visualises fantasy images with this track because I get deserts, extreme heat and huge horizons. There again, it could be the desert planet Tatooine (Star Wars, doncha know) I have just spent two hours watching with my kids. Whichever one it is, this is a track to savour.

Excellent blend of electronica, dark huge and mysterious. MUST HAVE.

Avalanche - Free

Hear The Track Here

Although this is billed as an Avalanche track, it would be fair to say that the main mover and shaker on this track is Micheal (NAV) Foster. Producer, engineer, songwriter, guitarist, singer; the man does the lot and probably makes the coffee for everybody too - in which case black, no sugar thank you. He is joined on this track by session musicians Mike Corsini (bass) and Tommy Dion on drums so no Easton brothers on this track either. Mike Corsini is, of course, Avalanche's regular bass player but I guess you knew that already if you are a fan of this excellent, tight classic rock band.

Like a lot of Avalanche tracks, Free has a chequered history. First written in 1978 and performed by Avalanche in their live shows back in the day, it was originally recorded in 1981. This remixed version has been updated somewhat by the Navalator (Ed: he means Mike Foster) and remixed last year I believe. As such it is classic Avalanche fayre: crunchy guitars, top rate production and a decent song to undrepin the whole thing.

As an incentive to anyone who loves classic rock, I defy you to listen to the first twenty seconds. Its a racing certainty that you will be listening to the rest of the track too. Just listening to those opening chords puts you right back when rock was young and full of piss and vinegar; and so it should I guess. If I had to be really truthful, I think I prefer the current Avalanche material in terms of energy and drive but as far as classic rock tracks go, it doesn't get much more classic than this. Hugely redolent of bands such as Blue Oyster Cult and Boston this is big hair rock with a vengence.

Highly Recommended classic rock from the masters.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Damion ICE Kyng - da Finisher

Hear The Track Here

A completely new Soundclick name to me, Damion ICE Kyng is - as you may have suspected - a rap artist from one of the prime stomping grounds of the genre back in the day: NYC in general and the Bronx in particular. Having lived in NY for 10 years during the 1980's and working in studios I had chance to hear some of the finest rappers of the time and accordinly grew a taste for the style that still holds me in thrall when I hear it done well. Of course, these days the whole world and his brother claim to be rappers and the sad truth is that many of them just don't cut it - at least not in the old school style where words and flow were EVERYTHING.

The first thing that will become evident within seconds of starting da Finisher is that here is an artist who is struggling to get his sound down. There is an absolutely massive bass hum at the start of the track that you need to be aware of if you want to save your woofer permanent damage. Moreover, as the track develops, it is obvious that the vocal is recorded very hot, whereas some of the female backing vocals get completely lost in the track. Still, those are technical matters and - as such - never really play that much of a part in my final judgement of a hiphop/rap track,

What does play a part is lyrical flow, interesting musical ideas and the ability to stitch it all together to make a satisfying whole. On that score Damion has done exceptionally well. The underlying music track, courtesy of Real Cool Ethan, is an excellent melange of sound; orchestral, beats, vocal interjections that work to lift the track above the usual hiphop sound in much the same way as Sinima Beats is doing in their field. Personally I like this mashup style of making music and when it is allied to a good, intense rapper it works a treat - as it does here. Admittedly it is a bit short (a little shy of 1:40) and rough in overall sound, but what it contains works as well as any other Soundclick rap artist I have heard recently.

An interesting, if flawed, slice of hardcore rap. Recommended.

The Muse Machine - Artist Overview

Hear The Track Here

Over the 14 or so years I have been reviewing unsigned independent internet musicians I have, obviously, come across a great many artist names. Now we are all too aware of just how important a good bandname is and spend hours coming up with snappy, ironic names. And then there are people like me who don't give a **** who just call themselves by their real names. And then there are people who use the £ee7 method, more commonly know to most of us as wtf. These, to my mind, are the wordy versions of the Hounds From Hell. You have no idea how irritating it can get when you have to type out a bandname like - just as an example - LeO IcON9 ByTE19 twenty times in a review AND get all the cApS sTuFf in the right place.

LeO IcON9 ByTE19, you ask, wtf would call themselves that?

Well, The Muse Machine, as it happens. When I saw that they had come up with a proper bandname, I fell to the ground and gave thanks to a merciful God. Not so merciful however that He didn't put at least one boulder in my path. Through a mix up I ended up with TWO tracks from this band this month but hey, they were nice enough to change their name.... What You Mean To Me is the track I was asked to review initially and I was definitely interested when I read a comment from Sound Radius calling this track 'very emotional' and from that artist it counts as an accolade worthy of mention. It turns out that its a real pretty acoustic pop song and a (gulp) ballad. However, even with their old bandname they proved that they are worthy musicians and songwriters and What You Mean To Me is a wonderful example of what they can do. A perfect pop song about being a father, which is probably why I like it so much being one myself.

As She Leaves is much what I would expect from these guys, a nicely put together slice of hot buttered soul but not, unfortunately, without its problems. Not quite sure how this is recorded and rendered but it seem to me that the overall sound on this track is well low, on the vocals especially and seeing as they are an essential part of this track, this is a major weakness. Its actually a track that I find highly reminiscent of the inimitable Biill Withers, and with much the same feel and tone too. If I had to pick a favourite of of these two very different tracks, it would have to be What You Mean To Me (even though it is a ballad) because it is so well put together. Remember, chums, less is always more. New name, same excellent standard. Definite up and comers.

Highly Recommended Pop AND soul. Yay, double top!

Fear 2 Stop - 2pm - Versions 1 & 2

Hear The Track Here

Anyone with any experience with Houston's Fear 2 Stop will know that you need to have a strong musical constitution to get what they are about. The one thing that you will know is that this is a band who know how to surprise you - time and time again. OK granted, it might not be the greatest surprise ever invented but hey you get your kicks where you find them, right? As usual there is a long and convoluted story behind the track so let me summarise; originally written in 1989 (when band member Billy Castillo was a mere 11 years old) and finally set to music in 2002, 2pm comes in two versions. I was asked to review version 2 and I will, but I had to listen to the other version, didn't I?

I didn't? Damn.

2pm Version2 is, confusingly, the original track. Version 1 is where Billy attempted to some structure behind it and - yay - make a song. It doesn't of course, but that is also par for the Fear 2 Stop pantheon and one of the reasons I treasure them so much. The thing is, no matter what style or genre, they always but always come out sounding just like Fear 2 Stop - which is a very good thing for F2S fans of which there are a surprising amount. Version 2 weighs in at a incredibly puny one and a half minutes so giving it a listen isn't going to stretch anybody. However, it would be best to say that Version 2 does serve as a kinda/sorta demo for version 1 - which I prefer, given the choice.

It doesn't really do to much, ya see.

On the other hand, Version1 is exactly what I would expect from Fear 2 Stop; a unique mix of digital and analog, a well known trademark of theirs. If the track appears to wander from to point propelled by the tinniest drums known to man, without much in the way of structure to get in your way, then I'd say you have just had a Fear 2 Stop moment. Depending on how that struck you, you will either 'get' what this band are about or you won't. There are no halfway measures with this extremely experimental crew. So, ultimately I plumped for version 1 for all sorts of reasons but mainly because it actually sounds like I would expect - and that's a rare thing with this band let me tell you.

Handle with care but Recommended if you like different.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Keyboard Rebel - Pop Grenade Album

Hear The Track Here

My first request through the blog this month is a new five peice band to me from Manchester (a city renowned for its musicians) called Keyboard Rebel. Pop Grenade is the title of their debut album, released under the increasingly common Creative Commons licensing scheme which means that lucky ol' you can download the whole thing for free. Click the link and you will be at the charmingly titled Aaahh Records netlabel where you can either download the album for free or - if you are the more charitable sort - give a donation to Amnesty International who will get all the money from this release anyway.

What? Committed musicians? What is the world coming to? ;)

Obviously I am not going to have time to review the whole thing (especially not this month) so I thought I would single out the title track for extended treatment and give the other tracks a quick looksee. Apparently recorded in a Welsh 17th Century farmhouse, Pop Grenade doesn't come across initially as being anything but a nice little pop tune. When I say little, I mean less than two minutes which is exactly what I would call pop. There's more of an element of Blur in the way the track works out and certainly none of the guitar sturm and drang of other notable Mancunian bands. Obviously then as good as it is, Pop Grenade didn't exactly have me writing reams of praise so I had to attack the other tracks with a lot more attention to detail too - and I am glad it did.

My Lordship starts with a sub-Beach Boys vocal that definitely made me double-take and when the track powers in behind it, shows that there is a lot more to this band than one single track will show. One thing that does become clear is that Keyboard Rebel have more in common with folk pop than rock pop, with some excellent use of brass and woodwinds; see Northern Sherpa for the way this works out. Lonesome George too has some excellent sounds in and despite only being one minute and change soon became on of my favourite tracks from this very different outfit. I personally found a lot of the tracks maybe a little too understated but I guess its going to be a personal choice. Whatever I think though, I'd have to say that Pop Grenade is an excellent introduction to this artist, even if I find the whole somewhat underwhelming. There again, this is their debut release and it definitely bodes well.

Original, that's for sure. Recommended pop whimsey.

Sound Radius - Love, Life & Loss

Hear The Track Here

The logjam of predjudice towards film scores and/or soundtracks I had built up over a lifetime, refused to move no matter how many of the damn things I reviewed. Back say 8 years and that was pretty much all there was around the net, and most of it - to be honest - stank. There again I would say that because I have this bias against the genre anyway. However, even philistines like me deserve a second chance and lo and behold, I finally got one. The track that caused this flood of empathy towards a much despised genre was The Power Within (December 2006), from the aforementioned Sound Radius. It was the first track I ever reviewed from this Canadian musician and it blew me away; indeed it was the first Must Have I have ever given in that genre.

Ok, pick your jaw up now please. That's so ewwwww...

Mind you, he has not - to my knowledge - delivered the equal to that since then but hey, it was THAT good but don't take my word for it, go listen for yourself. Still, maybe this one eh? I had to admit I quailed a little when I saw 'full orchestral/rock hybrid suite' as its descriptor and it says much that I didn't obey my usual flee sequence immediately. Such things instantly conjure up words like overblown, pompous and pretentious but those are not things I associate with Sound Radius in any form. Regardless of the style, he has always shown a remarkable sensitivity in arrangement and tone and Love, Life & Loss is another in a long line of excellently scored peices.

Surprisingly enough there is just the merest hint of one of the unacknowleged greats in the field, Jeff Lynne in his ELO guise, and I suspect that is probably more wishful thinking on my part than a concious decision by the musician. What has always impressed me about Sound Radius - and this track does nothing to change that opinion - is that unerring knack of animating the music; making it live and breathe if you like. Hard enough to do with the simpler forms let alone something as complex as a suite like this. Hand on heart I don't think it is on a par with Power Within but that may well be the curse Sound Radius has brought upon himself. Personally, I think its a curse worth having, and so btw is this track.

Highly Recommended orchestral/rock hybrid.

Cam's Even Song - Your Hard Packed Ground

Hear The Track Here

I think too many people may have taken me seriously when I asked for some seasonal cheer and if anyone has a knack for turning out seasonal (read Christmas) songs then it's Cam's Even Song. Those who know me know that I'm a bah humbug kinda guy. It's not that I don't understand Christmas and all it means, I just get ticked off by the endless 'good cheer' thrust at you whether you want it or not. Personally, I prefer a good old moan and whinge at Christmas but I would never stand in the way of a party of any description, let alone one with presents involved. Cam has the singular honour of giving me one of my favourite Christmas songs, the mighty Just the Truth - On Christmas which is at the top of his page.

Even he knows better than to try and foist anything seasonal on me, which is probably why I am reviewing Your Hard Packed Ground, a track I notice has had some reviews already. The guy has obviously been busy (or going through a growth spurt) because the last time I was at his page he had 184 tracks on there. As of the time of writing, he now has 215! Now I don't know about you but that is prodigious by anybody standards. What is even more astounding is that ALL those tracks have much to offer, depending on your favoured strain of Cam.

Personally I prefer the preachier side of Cam, but each to their own. Fans of the whimiscal side of this artist will really enjoy the easy lope of Your Hard Packed Ground, and the extremely winning chorus. Pulling enormously on his love of 60's music, this is a track that understands what it needs to do and does it without fuss or mess. There again, that's always the way with Cam's Even Song, a trademark even. More to the point its one of Cam's little gems, encased in four minutes of your time, how could you resist? IMHO, one of Soundclick's finer songwriters.

Highly Recommended rock pop.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Minimack - Down and Out

Hear The Track Here

One of the names that has sprung full blown into my world this year has been beatmakers Sinima Beats who seem to have become flavour of the month for some of our more discerning rappers, Minimack among them. If the name is ringing bells with you, I raved about Dro and Drank (October 2008) -or $Dro and Drank$ to be precise - and gave it a Must Have rating which has been rare for hip hop this year.  

Obviously part of the appeal is because of the involvement of Sinima (because they really are THAT good) but also because Minimack is a more than competent rapper.Not sure whether he is singing the vocal on this track but it does the job but - it has to be said - it wanders off pitch a lot. Where it takes off is in the chorus; a wonderful raspy rap, partnered with a female tra-la-la-ing and a hook to die for. So musically this is as fine a peice of product as anything Sinima has come up with and Minimack has made a more than competent job of it.

Down and out is not, as you may imagine, about the gritty, grim city life espoused by so many other rap artists. In fact, its actually a love song and that is where - surprisingly - tis scored with me. Again, the vocal could definitely do with some work on those noticeable wobbles but all told the final reaction is definitely positive. To really put this across though, that vocal really has to sound confident, relaxed charge and what is there right now just doesn't. Doesn't mean much though, because most people wouldn't notice that. They would, however, take notice of an excellent slice of hip hop.

Excellent music and idea. Highly Recommended.

333maxwell - Casual Funk

Hear The Track Here

It's absolutely funking amazing how many people preface a review request with the words 'it's really not finished'. Then wtf am I doing in this picture? No smart cracks about the lowest of the low, if you wouldn't mind. So the sounding board that is obviously Gilmore got snookered again but - to be honest - I've never found listening to 333maxwell to be a chore; in fact its often been a pleasure. So far this year he has been the recipient of at least three Must Have tracks and a couple of lesser rating but those Must Haves are right up there.

Almost all the best 33maxwell tracks IMHO have been the heavy jazz ones of which - despite its title - this is a proud additition. He has an uncanny knack with the genre, there is no disputing that. Anyone who has heard the 1940/50's classic Post War Dreaming (September 2008) can see that this is someone who loves the music and takes pains to get it sounding right in all respects.

Casual Funk to me anyway, is a little too laid back for my own taste by by God there is no disputing that the man has nailed the genre yet again. Six minutes plus of some of the coolest jazz this side of heaven which is great if you are a jazz nut but completely rubbish if you want music to bang heads with. So be warned, this is a track that is definitely going to find many welcoming ears but it is most definitely for those with a taste for the stuff. Billed as a demonstration of low cost recording (laptop, freeware addons) it is certainly that because the clarity this kind of music demands is there without question. What is somewhat lacking is structure and pace but there again it IS jazz and that should be as spontaneous as possible - even in this wired world.

Excellent free style jazz jam. Highly Recommended.

Audio Riot (SF) - A Taiwanese DJ on the Mic

Hear The Track Here

First one out of the box for this yuletide is from my old sparring partner Patrick Lew who really should not be under the impression that I am singling him out for special attention. He asks for reviews and I give them, that's the way it goes. Except that Patrick, in many guises, has never quite hit the right spot for me, unless you count the endless shredded nerve ends that his music has rubbed on. See, in Audio Riot, the name means exactly what it says. I have a lot of admiration for artists who decide that everyone else is wrong and they are right and fortunately Audio Riot fit right up that street. I don't think they actually care very much about what it sounds like - its what they feel when making it that counts. Truth to be told, I don't think I have heard a full band Audio Riot track yet, just the stuff that Patrick intends to turn into band music.

If that is the term.

While Patrick has plenty of ambition, he is somewhat lacking in experience and I'm afraid that has been showing more and more as I hear more of his tracks. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily, although getting listeners may be a bit of an ordeal as he is already finding out. A Taiwanese DJ on the Mic is exactly what it says; Patrick (here as DJ Audio Rage) making like 'a DJ at Club 54'. Have to say, compared to his normal output the first part of this track sounds amazing but it would do if he were using pre-manufactured sound wouldn't it? It's the second part that you become aware that this is from Patrick world...

A scary, scary place usually.

Obviously what he has done is taken a bunch of riffs without a lot in the way of continuity and structure, plonked the ocassional (out of tune) guitar lick on top of it and that's pretty much it. The riffs that he is using are pretty decent though, it has to be said, its certainly the thing that kept me listening way after I should have stopped fro my own sanity. So there you have it, Patrick world in a nutshell a place weirder than scales on a duck. And yet... and yet... Just a little further up the page is Patricks's version of the old Joe Cocker/Beatles tune With a Little Help From my Friends. Now this is one of my all time favourite tracks (the Cocker version especially) and I absolutely had to listen - well see for yourself. Have a listen to this by all means but you MUST listen to With A Little Help.

Disjointed, erratic? Naaah, just an Audio Riot. Probably for fans. (hint: With A little Help...go listen)

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Ifunkus - Rebels to Revelations

Hear The Track Here

I spent years in the 1990's working through Usenet newsgroups, finally emigrating to the web in 1999 once it was established that MP3's would be the thing for the future. Like many musicians I tried many websites at first and - for my sins I guess - somehow ended up moderating the Ejay website forums in 2002 or thereabouts. Considering that software's pedigree, the Ejay forums held some rare - and quite unique - musicians many of whom are much better known these days. One of those musicians is none other than Ifunkus who amazingly turns up every once in a while, drops a track in my lap and then wanders off to only he knows where. Anyone who has encountered this guy on the forums will be only too well aware that when I use the word 'character' about him, you bet I mean it.

Rebels to Revelations (I spelt it right for you Ivan) is inspired by another old Ejay hand who I haven't heard from since forever; Kameleon and is - to quote the man himself - 'a very long story' Quite a long track too as it happens topping out at just a whisker over five minutes. It is blindingly obvious to me that Ifunkus has learned a lot over the years and his music has gained a lot for it. No longer is the work interesting but shambolic; the man has tightened up his act considerably. Even if, it has to be said, that he is treading over familiar ground for him.

Electronica is the name of Ifunkus's game and Rebels is a nice slice of the genre, with a hint of chill out thrown into the bargain. It doesn't do that much, and it doesn't go there in a hurry but its nice to kick back with which is, I suppose, the whole point of the exercise. Quite why it is billed as Experimental is a bit beyond me because its so obviously a very tasteful peice of electronic chillout. As five minutes goes in the presence of this track, you will find that it will pass surprisingly quickly and that says something about its structural composition too. In other words, it sounds great. :)

Highly Recommended chillout.

Mike-K Ft Kephas - Amigos

Hear The Track Here

Here come old flattop, he come grooving up slowly, he got joo joo eyeball... Wtf IS joo joo eyeball anyway? Still, enough of that, back to work. Indie music's favourite DJ Mike-K has found a very fruitful collaborative partnership with another Soundclick stalwart Florida based uber-guitarist Kephas. For those who haven't been exposed to the Kephas style, you have a treat in store. The first few tunes I heard from him were eerily (nay fekkin spookily) a twin of anything by Carlos Santana. Of course, I am a lazy bastard, and that would be the first musical reference anyone would get, but dig a little deeper and you find that Kephas has a distinctly different sound, feel and tone.

Oh and a healthy fire in his belly...

Anyone who could make a version of Bob Marley's classic Redemption Song and not completely crucify it has much kudos where I am concerned. Go listen, its on his page and its well tasty. Anyway Mike K is actually the focus of this review but the regard that these two musicians have for each other will outweigh Kephas hogging a lot of the spotlight. Funny that I should mention Santana (but not really) because the feel of the track instantly puts you in that latin mood and both guys style lend themselves to the task with considerable style.

There is no doubt that the instrumental line up (organ, bass, drums, percs everywhere) is one of the main reasons for the Santana connection, but the guitars amplify it too. So good, in fact, are the guitar leads and so closely do their two styles mesh that I am extremely hard pressed to say who is who and I thought I had Kephas's sound and tone down. Oh well, back to the drawing board. Mike-K is, as well as trading licks, the main musical muscle behind the track and he has done an outstanding job of making the whole thing sizzle with energy.

Guitar instrumental par excellence. Most Highly Recommended.

Produced by Radius - Altitude

Hear The Track Here

Just in case you are wondering, yes it is the same Radius as Sound Radius, so now ya know. When I first encountered this Canadian Film composer my heart sank because - as you know only too well - me and film scores just plain don't get on. Mind you, that is MOST film scores. Sound Radius produces work that is head and shouders above most film scores I hear and I still play the first track I ever heard from him - The Power WIthin Score (December 2006) - every once in a while when I am in that kind of mood. That, however, is Sound Radius; the entity we are dealing with here is a (allegedly) new direction.

Song writing Now there's a thing.

So it comes as a bit of a surprise that Altitude is an instrumental, doesn't it? Songs is songs, as a man once said. Words and stuff. All true but once you listen to the track - and I do suggest you do - it becomes obvious that structurally and thematically this is a song waiting for lyrics and vocals. When that happens, provided it is done right, this is going to be one killer track. I've never had any problems whatsoever with this musician as far as what he is doing musically and Altitude is exactly what I expected.

See the thing I love most about Sound Radius's work is the depth of emotion he can pack into a track - and a purely instrumental track at that. The way he constructs melodies and then buillds on them relentlessy is also a bit of a trademark for him, and in this respect Altitude is a blinder. Sounding like a cross between electro-pop and pomp rock (I kid you not) this is one instrumental I definitely have time for. Mind you, as I said, I'd be a lot happier if it were a song but in the meatime this will do very well indeed.

Excellent, detailed 'lectronica. Highly Recommended (for an instrumental)

LeO IcON9 ByTE19 - Get Money

Hear The Track Here

Hereafter referred to as 'these guys' because I can't keep writing that bandname. I first encountered them when reviewing Night @ Alcazar (October 2008) and really liked this class mix of electronica, a complete surprise from what I had been expecting. As unfinished as it obviously was, there was certainly enough there to satisfy most knob twiddlers (Ed: I HOPE he is referring to electronica heads) and was a worthy introduction to a band that most definitely should not be taken at face value.

They may look like a bunch of rappers but don't go there :P

Officially classed this time as Neo-Soul (wtf?) its certainly a strange thing to get close to, at least going by first impressions. There again, this is a lesson I have learned from the last time so I know that whatever I thought upon first hearing was going to change quite a lot once I had more plays under my belt. I can kinda see the soul connection here because the tenor and style of the track comes directly from that tradition; the music comes from outer space.

Well not really outer space of course, because then we'd all be wearing suits and bumping into things, but definitely music of a stranger stripe than most. You know the style and yet somehow, no matter how often you play it, it just doesn't fit in any of the usual rhythm styles you are used to. Don't go looking for much in the way of structure either, the deal here is groove, groove and a likkle more groove. The musical depth they (Ed: these guys surely?) showed in Night @Alcazar is also on display on this excellent and yes, different slant on the rap tradition.

Excellent, different and tasty. Highly Recommended urban soul.

Solid Sounds - Exorcism Of Sound

Hear The Track Here

Solid Sounds are a new name to me but obviously not to Soundclick because they have some 80+ tracks awaiting your listening pleasure. A couple of local Sheffield lads, Shane and Ant are responsible for all those tracks and considering their relative age that is remarkable in itself. Ahhh but the more cynical among you may now be sniggering 'but it's techno and trance, how hard could that be?' Well, as much as I despise and abhor the genre, like any musical style if its done properly with even a modicum of style it's often listenable if not exactly pleasureable.

One of the main reasons I guess I have this phobia is because I was immersed in this stuff up to my eyeballs back in the day, and pretty much everything is retreading the same old ground. Nonetheless, every once in a while a trance track comes up with a bit more to offer than most and Solid Sounds seem to have it. It made a distinctly favourable impression from me from the getgo and that's always rare for me with this genre.

Most of the time its like 'ewww cooties!' if I have to listen to trance but Shane and Ant make it at least a good, worthy listen - especially if good solid trance is what floats your boats. A nice solid sound to back up the beats and sequences always helps with this kind of material and Solid Sounds stretch the sound right across the spectrum. What this does, IMHO, it to make it seem more welcoming, inviting. A kind of 'what next' reaction sets in and that definitely helps pull in the more casual listener. Damn, even I'd be interested in what Solid Sounds were about, if this is an example of what they can do and I fekkin hate techno and trance.

Excellent, well produced Trance. Highly Recommended

Musicarian - Get Your Soul Reborn

Hear The Track Here

Its been a dogs age since I last heard anything by Pakistani based guitarist Salman Anwer (aka Musicarian). Consulting my creaky filing system I notice that the last track I reviewed of his was That's Life (October 2004). For a while during that year this guy was everywhere and then suddenly poof! Four years roll by (but who's counting?) and up he pops again. Now many regular readers will be aware of my love affair with Indian music in general, and indeed many Indian musicians and there is a very good reason for that. In my time at Soundclick I have met some extremely talented musicians from the sub-continent, one of which is the previously lost in action Musicarian.

One of the main reasons I like and respect these musicians is because they are professional to their very core. When it says Jazz Fusion on the label, that's exactly what you are going to get but a thousand miles away from the pallid, lifeless pap that often masquerades as fusion. Musicarian gets his chops in early (as a producer) because the intro will blow you away and it is perfect for the track that follows. Even stretched out at a princely six minutes plus, Get Your Soul Reborn is a slice of guitar heaven that have your jaw on the floor. His music has life, energy, bite and a stupendously clear, deep mix that had my jaw dropping from the getgo.

If Mike K hasn't already spotted this then the man is getting old because THIS is right up his street, in every way I can think of. So, I think it would be fair to say that Musicarian has something in common with fluid, dexterous, emotional geetar players like Kephas, Salman brings a unique slant to the whole affair. For a guitar instrumental to really sway me it has to have fire in its belly and emotion pouring out of every note. Now I don't know whether its because of current events in India or because this really is as good as I think that I am so biased towards it. It might also be that the central message of the song is 'against all the killing in the world. A message to stop killing'. At this moment in time, its an apt reminder that - no matter where we come from - we are all simply human.

First class Jazz Fusion, first class guitarist. MUST HAVE.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Michael Hughes - Cold Rain Water

Hear The Track Here

Hows this for serendipity. Who likes 'post-punk stuff, machine music, jazz, 20th/21th century classical, contemporary acoustic-based music, American roots-oriented stuff, early country, African & Middle Eastern music'? Moreover who bangs on endlessly to anyone who will listen about the magical properties of Waves (and no, not the wet kind)? Such a description could be applied to yours truly but not in this case. Michael Hughes is the man of the hour, a Maine-based acoustic player who has just won the first Critics Corner competition - which is why I am wittering on about it now. Seriously, this track was up against some big time competition, but the votes are what counts.

Anybody who can field and play ukeles, banjos, steel guitars, dobros and endless other fascinating toys is gonna be A-fekkin-OK in my books. I love all manner of stringed instruments especially the kind named above, and more so when they are used in living, breathing country music. That is what Cold Rain Water promises to be on your first listen before it detours into some very interesting nooks and crannies; including some Eastern European strains of mandolin playing. Its easy to see why this won and I am glad that I didn't listen to the tracks beforehand because I would have been seriously biased towards this from the get go.

As such, I've been getting used to it since the competition finished but having said that it hasn't been far away from the start button either. Its not the raucous, yeehaaah fest I was expecting that's for sure; it's a much darker, complex song than the intro leads you to believe. Country fans will either see its instant appeal or they will be so far up their purist asses they couldn't even see daylight. Me, I loved this dour, sparse little track and will no doubt be playing it many more times before the year is out. All I want now is a track from them where they REALLY let rip. Yep, that would be a sight to behold.

MUST HAVE country genius (yep, that word. Listen to the track)

AvMo - Mo is Allright

Hear The Track Here

I know, I know but I didn't make up the title did I? Anyway, its alright innit? Sooo, where was I? Ah yes Avmo (aka Morris Avrashi) is a Canadian rock artist I've encountered a couple of times in the past and we both seem to have survived it. Although I have liked his style and musical ability something about the two tracks I have heard means the jury is still out on this artist. Can't even point at anything the guy is doing wrong either, as both of my past reviews state quite clearly, it just hasn't grabbed me yet. Ah well, another day another dollop...

AvMo bills this as ' low down and dirty rock&roll'. Them's big boots to fill.

It sounds low down and dirty, with the vocal to match first time around, although it has some problems deciding just how it wants to sound, low down or sweet and sassy. This comes about because of the backing vocals, a soft '60s sound, sounds at odds with the rest of the track. It works, nonetheless, and you can't argue with that coming across as a rough and ready testament to early rock. Continued playing however started to show some real problems - at least for me, most people would probably not notice.

There is a real bad timing problem in this track and at times the drumtrack is well off what's happening in the music. I didn't really pick up on it at first, but the more I played the track the more obvious it became. The first minute or so goes down quite with nothing that makes me go eh? It's after that first minute that things start to move weirdly and no, it ain't the drugs. Again, I am a well known nit picker and again, Mo hasn't given me much to pick apart and most people will probably never notice. What they will notice is a reasonable rock song with a nice line in smart talk.

Recommended 'down and dirty' rock.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Cam's Even Song - You're Gonna Miss Me!

Hear The Track Here

And now the man who can make music out of anything. Seriously, you name the subject he can write a stirring, effective song to go with it. A song about a computer game?, Cam did it. A song about the woes of computers, Cam did it. Reality TV, burger corporations, nothing is beyond this guy. Ally that to a very likeable, accessible sound and a tongue in cheek style of delivering often brilliant lyrics and you have a working model of the astounding hit machine that is Cam's Even Song. If you think THAT is hyperbole, wait until I really get started...

No, maybe not.

Cam was thinking about people living apart for various reasons when, bish bash bosh a song appears about that very thing. It won me over in an instant when I spotted the very effective gob iron (Ed: he means a mouth organ) fill that introduces the song. 'You’re gonna miss me! , you better pucker up and kiss me!' the lyrics chirp and that should give you a clue that we are facing the more light hearted side of this musicians work. Coloured by the Beatles past, Cam's music reaches out to the listener - especially on these lighter numbers in a way that will plaster a smile on your face within seconds.

As always with Cam's Even Song the song is the thing and You're Gonna Miss Me is a faultless, picture perfect snapshot in all his clowning glory, and yet...and yet. The more you look, the more you find and deep, deep buried amongst all the apparent merriment of the track is an infinite, weary sadness at the vagaries of life. Set in a perfect 1960's pop production this is yet another example of just how many different genres this singer/songwriter can straddle - and all with infinite ease and not a little grace.

Excellent pop. Pucker up and kiss me! Highly Recommended.

The Peach Tree - The Dark Side

Hear The Track Here

After reviewing literally thousands of tracks over the years, I have noticed there are always certain artists that I have to struggle to understand. Sometimes its a 'is this a joke' reaction and sometimes it requires a more thought (and playing) for the full picture to become clear. Sometimes, of course, it doesn't happen at all and that's where the difficulty arises. Australian electronica musician The Peach Tree knows all about it and has bounced back surprisingly well gaining a highly recommended for A Perception of Change (Understanding) (October 2008) where - it has to be said - he went in a completely different direction.

A good one obviously. Although quite how good and experimental electronica can all fit in the same sentence is beyond me. Ha ha ha, little joke (Ed: then stfu and get on with it) This is the first track I have reviewed from the The Ghost Of Muses Past album and stands up well to its title. Dark electronica it is but then that Peach Tree oddness (never far away) injects itself into the mix and things get a whole lot stranger. The vocal - if that word can be applied here - is 'a chopped up interview with your average guy, Mark Heenan, talking about The Dark Side'

Well alrighty then. ????

I'm a big fan of slicin' and dicin' with notes and phrases and The Dark Side does a very reasonable job of knifin' n' guttin' - in more ways than one. Obviously there's a healthy interest in 'getting drunk, destroying things because you can't be killed' as the character says. I have to say that the music alone would qualify as doomy, but the disjointed, inarticulate feeling it puts behind the music does give the track its one edge. Soundwise this is very good and shows how much of a step this artist has already taken. Probably not something to play to cheer someone up with.

Interesting, doomy electronica. Recommended.

Slippy-T - Crossfire

Hear The Track Here

Its been blinking ages since I've heard a Slippy T effort, absolute yonks. Bleak (February 2008) was my last encounter and before that a year had passed since Ain't This Just the Feeling 2 (JB Tribute) (January 2007). The reason I mention this is because I have known Rob Taylor (aka Slippy T) since forever and believe me, this guys fingerprints were everywhere back in the day. In the meantime, of course, real life will have its way and Slippy's musical presence has obviouslt taken a back seat because if that. All the more reason to be joyful because Slippy is an experienced musician, songwriter and singer.

Yeah, lucky bastard. I agree.

Mind you, I was there at the beginning I know just how hard this guy worked to sound like this; polished, professional and right on the money. Slippy is an artist who always has his detractors, people I gues who can't get past his unique vocal style. Nothing startling mind, just the tone he pitches at. It's a style I will always associate with English artists and I am used to it. What Slippy always manages to do is to stretch the style just that little bit to accomodate his particular take on it. He's had a string of Must Haves from me over the years and each one deserved. Even a cursory listen to Crossfire, a classic electronica track if I ever heard one, will show that this is a musician who knows his own mind and capabilities.

What seems to get most people with Slippy is his songwriting style; for sure you won't have had much quite like this. He's always been fond of electronica and he's returning to a well trod path but overlaying it all is the vocal style he has perfected over the years; a kinda multi-harmony thing that works like gangbusters once you get used to it. There are a couple of major level problems on the track that mar the final product, one of which (the hi hat) could be fixed with the miniumum of fuss and this would be a worthy addition to anyone's Slippy T folder. Nonetheless, a good introduction to a fine vocalist and songwriter.

Highly Recommended Electronica.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Audio Cortex - Mind & Soul

Hear The Track Here

If the names Soul Summation and Active Minded ring some bells with you, it is probably because I have reviewed both of these POP based artists and have known of their work ever since the early days of the POP experience. Matter of fact, I reviewed Soul Summations Contact (January 2008) and enjoyed it a lot, very classy electronica. That's the common link between these two artists, they deliver some of the slickest, melodic electronica you are ever likely to hear. The reason I am chattering on about these two artists is because they have just become one: Audio Cortex.

A marriage made in heaven or in hell? Heaven, absolutely. Nirvana definitely.

From the opening burbles you will recognise that sonically this is a clean, sophisticated sound and that excellent attention to the overall sound was one of the first pluses I ascribed to this track. However, like all good electronica, the more you play it the more becomes apparent to your ears. Got to say that my first listen to this deceptively long track (it tops out at almost seven minutes) really surprised me because I could have sworn I was only listening for a couple of minutes. Further plays showed that this is probably more like two tracks than one - and maybe even three....

I know, I know. Crap description.

The problem is that you really have to experience this track to see what I mean. There is so much going on here you will take a month of Sundays to unravel it all. More to the point it is stuffed to the rafters with some of the most interesting sounds it has been my pleasure to hear this year. Anyone who can bring a melodica (my fave sound in reggae/dub) into an electronic conversation like this is quids in with me (Ed: I think he means he likes it). Mind you, I've listened to this track endless times now and the track still throws up things I hadn't heard before or maybe not noticed. Hand on heart, couldn't say that it really floats my boats but I am in awe of the amount of love and devotion that has been lavished on this outstanding slice of electronica.

Highly Recommended. Very classy blend of electronica.

Ron Gragg - My Fathers World

Hear The Track Here

Although the Ron Gragg tracks I have reviewed so far haven't entered any of the loftier spheres of hyperbole I am prone to, I have - I hope - shown that here is an artist who takes time and effort to get his thing done right. What most impressed me this year about our Ron isn't so much his music but the committment to bringing his faith into the musical equation. For once, I might add, in a way that I personally don't mind at all. When I reviewed Nothing But The Blood (August 2008) I was more enthusiastic that it was an interpretation of a hymn first published in 1876. Ron had actually gone to the trouble of researching the song and adding peices to it that had been missing for years.

Can't fault that.

My Fathers World is another track of this type. The words were written by a pastor called Maltbie D. Babcock, in 1901 and it was apparently a reference to his saying 'I’m going out to see my Father’s world.” when going about his business. Not sure whether this has ever been set to music but the music and arrangement are credited to Ron so I guess this is modern (as it were). There can be no doubt that Ron is a home producer but fair dos, he's come up with a relatively quiet track that delivers excellent sound on the guitar, although the vocal suffers considerably.

Again though, respect to the guy for coming up with this, I'm sure there are many people who will take to this lo-fi song of praise - particularly regular churchgoers in America who will certainly recognise the style. Again, that's where I can take or leave this stuff; for me if it has a Christian message attached to it, it's probably going to have to work harder to impress me. This is where Ron does score, and very well too. The excellent arrangement, tone and delivery of the lyrics and the outstanding guitar accompaniment all help to sell the song to the unconvinced and I do include myself in that. Rough yes, but we don't all have the luxury of properly produced sound and - in this case - it's what comes across that counts.

Recommended acoustic Christian rock.