Saturday, January 31, 2009

Don J3 - Wishes

Hear The Track Here

Last one out of the review grabbag this month is a new hiphop name to me not, as you may assume, from the USA. Don J3 is based in Lagos, Nigeria not exactly a name I would associate with hardcore rap but ya never know. As I've explained before I am a big fan of the genre but the current commercial side of it leaves me cold. There is a strain of hiphop prevalent today that is way too sweet and sugary for such a ballsy in-your-face style that rap demands, rap is bad, dangerous, edgy and angry as hell. It sticks in my craw to hear so called rappers using the genre to write love notes to the woman (usually) they are trying to get with.

There again, I admit I am a bit of a purist as far as that goes so I try to be as objective as possible when I am reviewing this particular side of hip hop. So when I am listening to the genre I am looking for certain things from each of the elements that makes up the track. Musically, I need good, interesting beats, hopefully with some variation even if the beats are stripped down. I'd look for good instrumentation and a catchy arrangement which doesn't need to follow the 'song' standard but still checks all the right boxes. Finally, the rap - above all - should flow, supplying the hooks, drama and out and out syncopation.

Not an easy task by any means but there are several artists right here on Soundclick who manage to pull it off, sometimes to a very professional standard. That then, is the competition Don J3 has to see off and judging by Wishes, its a pretty tame affair. The music and arrangement are very static, whereas the rap changes almost every couple of bars; first one sound, then another. Obviously I could complain about the lyrical content but that seems pointless, I already told you I don't like this whole love-y thing. So on all the most basic levels this is an OK rap track but only if you like a) the romantic side of hiphop or; b) don't mind a fairly bland, linear delivery. It also seems unfair to leave it at this so I went online to have a listen to a couple of his other tracks and found they were basic ideas for tracks. Not bad style though, and I think I'd like to hear one fleshed out with a proper rap before I commented further. Don is obviously new to this so I would suggest - as a matter of urgency - checking out some of his SC peers, the standard on here is extraordinarily high; especially in hiphop. Upping your game IS the only thing you can do to make any sort of lasting impression.

Or I could just be talking bollocks eh? ;)

Confusion Said - What Lies Ahead

Hear The Track Here

When I saw this in the review list this month, bells immediately rang. I know that name, I thought, with a familiar sinking feeling. Now that's usually an indicator that I have given an artist a bad time OR it means that they made a particular impression on me. Obviously then my first thought was to delve back into past reviews and lo and behold there they were - and with a Must Have rating too!! Yep, panic attack over. Thank God I didn't trash them because I hate crawling back from those kinds of reviews. I may have a reputation for being a lenient reviewer (in most cases) but when I cut up rough, it usually takes more than ice and a band aid to make the boo boo well again.

Uh oh, kid talk. Better stop that.

Steve Calapp is the most visible name on the bands website but I know from past experience that they are in fact a three peice; Steve Dominguez and Josh Bechere being the other two. Steve (Calapp) is an old friend and one I am never tired of hearing because he has a consummate rock voice and the experience to use it to best effect. It helps that Confusion Said are - at base - yer old fashioned rock band band so don't be put off by that Alternative:Avant Rock rating - this is rock in all its Stone Age glory. I harked back to famous trios in past reviews (Cream being the most obvious one) but surprisingly enough this track reminded me very strongly of someone not so famous - but every bit as influential. The late Rory Gallager was an Irish guitarist who had his own highly recognisable style who inspired millions with his interpretation of the blues, here is a typical live track.

Obviously What Lies Ahead isn't quite the blues but listen to some of Rory's out and out rock stuff (there are TONS of clips on You Boob) and come back and listen to this and you'll see what I mean. One of the things I loved about Find Another Way (February 2008) was the relentlessly shifting arrangement and What Lies Ahead is the logical follow-up; immensely dense and detailed, the kind of rock track I would always clutch to my puny bosom. Like it's predecessor, What Lies Ahead was already a Soundclick Number 1 (not something easily achieved in rock, believe me) so that should give you some indication of the quality on display here. Mind you, when you are only squeezing out one track a year, may as well make sure it's a stone killer...

MUST HAVE Rock. VERY impressive.

Simonesongs - Synthetic Sugar

Hear The Track Here

Why am I wearing this dirty old mac? Oh, no reason really. Lets get on with the review should we? OK! OK! I'll tell you. I get soooo tired sometimes of reviewing the endless line of male musicians the net seems infested with, so every once in a while I'll cast about and see whether I can find a female (that's the sex that is different to us geezers) musician who I can appreciate - musically, that is. Of course, it helps if the female in question is gorgeous but - over and above all that gooey stuff - I happen to like female vocalists. So, over the last month I have quietly been checking out Soundclick's female musicians, which is how I came across Florida based Simonesongs.

My kind of rock chick ;)

One of the things that made me stop on Simone is because a) I am a sucker for rock and b) as soon as I saw the video on her page, I knew I had found what I was looking for. Simone cites both Alanis Morisette and Gwen Stefani as influences and on Synthetic Sugar she definitely has echoes of both artists. However, she can stand up on her own two feet too because she has a strong, confident voice that has obviously seen its share of live work; Synthetic Sugar has the kind of vocal that makes you SEE the artist as well as hear it - if you know what I mean. Moreover, encasing all that in a very capable production shows that she also knows what she is doing as far as 'finished' product goes - and you KNOW I'm gonna like that.

Don't mean sheeit though if there isn't a good song for her to sing under the bonnet, and Synthetic Sugar is a huge blast of a song with a chorus that sends shivers down my spine. The wall to wall sound only serves to propel the track along with consummate ease, whoever these musicians are, they sure know what they are doing. Although I stumbled upon her by the purest accident, I'm not likely to be forgetting this artist for a while, thats what kind of impression she left on me. This is a very commercial sound and an immensely catchy track BUT she also has some new stuff coming out shortly and THAT I am definitely going to watching for. She's got the look, she's got the voice, she's got the songs... What she hasn't got is a record contract so what is wrong with this picture??

MUST HAVE powerful rock pop.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Prospect Music - Tears Of The Moon

Hear The Track Here

Or Prospect, as this Illinois based Trance artist corrected me when I reviewed Aquatopia (December 2008). As you may know, trance is yet another one of those problem musical areas for this reviewer, but Prospect managed to slide by with that track and even got a highly recommended from me. Bit of a miracle actually because the amount of trance tracks I have time for could be counted extremely quickly. I put this bias down to a massive over-indulgence when this genre was current and an even more extended time when I moderated a well known trance/techno site early on this century. Seriously, although I like the energy of trance, it isn't the most flexible of genres and that counts for a lot in my world. If I am going to listen to something that stretches out like a lazy cat (ie more than say three minutes long) I am going to want lots of different scene changes and trance just doesn't do that.

When I first noticed that Tears Of The Moon was some eight and a half minutes long, my face sagged under the floorboards because I knew that this would be some fairly massive undertaking - and so it proved to be. One of the things I liked about Aquatopia was the fact that it was interesting enough to take you through six minutes without too much heartache but I'm afraid I can't say the same about Tears Of The Moon and it runs for an additional two minutes more than Aquatopia. Its built around a couple of piano and/or plucked refrains that certainly work well enough the first time around but pale massively once listened to more than a few times - a common problem with tracks of this type.

Obviously, though, this is not meant for some lard ass like me to pontificate about while sitting in my easy chair - dance is the reason for its existence. Welp, I have an outstanding system that I use to check out so called 'dance tracks' and Tears Of The Moon definitely ticks all the right boxes, more especially if you were off your face at the time. As something merely to listen to as you pass through your day, I think that only fans of the genre would really enjoy it cluttering up their MP3 player, although it does function well while driving/walking/running/skating or any other ambulatory recreation, which I suppose is certainly something in its favour. On a more positive note, it does show that Prospect knows what he is about and there are many people who DO love this genre so I guess one cranky old fart here or there won't make difference to this tracks success.

Very competent trance. Recommended.

Charlie A - Tiny Steps

Hear The Track Here

Funny thing I've noticed with musicians. Whenever one of us is blessed with children - our own or distant relatives - the first thought to enter our brains is 'lets record the baby!'. Don't try and deny it, I KNOW you have all done that at one stage, thinking how cute it would be to make a track with your son/daughter/niece/nephew/next doors child and/or dog. Well I'm here to emblazon one small word into your deluded little brain - NOOOOOOOOO!!! First off, its as tacky as a tacky thing and second, it always proves incredibly difficult to do unless you REALLY know what you are doing. In fact, I can count on one hand all the tracks I have heard where this actually works, and one of those belongs to Charlie A's first track Bebee Bubba (July 2006) - a laugh out loud piece of social commentary. Wait, you cry!

Serious Charlie A? The film soundtrack guy? Yep, we all have our moments eh?

'Take life slowly and don't rush' Charlie says of Tiny Steps so if you were imagining that this were one of those kiddie tracks breathe out your sigh of relief now... Like all of Charlie Armour's (for it is he) tracks, Tiny Steps is short, sweet and to the point. Almost a trademark of this talented multi-instrumentalist. As many of you are only too well aware I have a very short attention span for soundtracks of all descriptions but Charlie A is one of the handful of film soundtrack producers that I do have time for because his music is always extremely well presented and usually worth the listen. Even if, like me, you have an in-built horror of all things soundtracky (Ed: is that even a word?)

Tiny Steps is, for the record, more like a solo piano piece that yer average cinematic bombast, and I must admit I am very partial to a good piano piece. As someone once said, you can never have enough pianos. Charlie is a deft player, even on something as complicated as Tiny Steps, a constantly running refrain that works on the same level as (say) Tubular Bells. More a theme than an actual song. Like many good arrangers, Charlie takes the theme and embellishes it through the three or so minutes of its life so there is never any repetition, giving the listener something new to hear around every corner. Can't swear that I'll be hanging on to this track but that isn't any fault of Charlie's skills as a musician or composer - merely my own preferences.

Excellent, adept and compact piano piece. Highly Recommended.

It's I.K.E. - It's Bigger Than Me

Hear The Track Here

Man, that's a lot of dots, so lets just say IKE OK? In case you are wondering where you have seen this acronym before (especially if you are a Soundclick regular), Iron Klad Entertainment is yet another face of one Corey Banks (aka Corey Drumz). I have reviewed numerous Corey Drumz tracks over the past year or so, including at least one Must Have and considering we are discussing out and out urban hiphop a Must Have is something to cherish. It's Bigger Than Me is produced by someone called Kajmir Royale so I'm not wiser anyway but hey if he supplied the music and beats then it sure works for me.

A tad more commercial this time for Mr Banks, and I don't say that as a bad thing, just what it is. It's Bigger Than Me is also one of those slowish numbers that is rife in the genre lately and - I admit - not one of my favourite parts of the genre. Sure the music and beats work but even so I can't help noticing a certain drag in the track. Now maybe that's just me and my own antipathy towards this style but I did feel - after a few plays - that the whole thing could have been pepped up enormously by adding more percussive elements. Yeah, yeah, I know bare bones is one of the features of the style but sometimes bare bones just isn't enough, ya know what I mean.

Quite why this track has a Parental Advisory attached to it, I have yet to figure out. Yeah there are a couple of cusswords in it but it's only to give flavour to the excellent and worthwhile rap about where hiphop came from and what it meant at the beginning. Surely its something that needs to be said again and again because IMHO the current state of hiphop is lamentable to say the least - well commercial hiphop anyway. Here on the net, and down with all the other unsigned moles, the genre is alive and kicking partly helped by artists like Corey Drumz. Hean on heart, couldn't swear that this is one of Corey's better musical efforts but the rap and sentiments are more than worthwhile. Definitely worth a listen, especially if you feel despairing of the commercial pap being foisted on us by music business 'record' companies (Ed: what are those?).

Recommended Hiphop with A Message.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Apesoundscapes - BlackHole Heart

Hear The Track Here

Although he is not the most prolific musician around, UK based Carl Best (aka Apesoundscapes) is certainly one of the more interesting ones I have come across in the last few years. I think the tally of Ape tracks that has passed through my ears now numbers a princely four, spread over what, three years. See what I mean? Not quick but definitely worthwhile. Past tracks have had rave reviews from me and even a Must Have for Out Of The Cold (March 2006), a wicked slice of electronica that still resides on my hard drive to this day. Blackhole Heart is billed as Alternative and Carl even describes it as 'guitar based electro pop or something', the something being - good grief - a song.

If I didn't know that Carl was English, I would have sworn that this was an American track, in sound and style. No lyrics online unfortunately so you have to gather whatever you can from the track itself, but what you will find is a well realised Alternative song that has tremendous charm. Must say, I am surprised to hear Carol rocking out like this but it was a pleasant experience and one I am hoping will set a new direction for this talented musician (and songwriter/vocalist apparently). Having said that it shouldn't come as that much of a surprise considering that Welcome Home (October 2007) was in much the same mode, except with a distinctly English sound that had more to do with the Mancunian (Manchester, England) scene than anything else.

As much as I liked the track as a song, I couldn't help but notice a certain looseness in the vocals that could have done with being a bit tighter but maybe thats just me being my usual curmudgeonly self. For sure, if all things Alternative floats your boats, this is one track you will be happy to come across although you will have to live with it for a while for it to really sink in. There are some very nice touches in the production but plenty of rough spots too showing a definite 'home produced' sound but not one that would be evident to yer average punter. For my part I came away from the track wishing it could have been tighter in most respects but when you get into the song it really doesn't matter that much.

Rough but ready Alternative. Recommended.

Mechanik Project - Bombay Vampires

Hear The Track Here

Way back in the early days of the internet music scene when MODs were the name of the game, I got hooked on a program called Fast Tracker which made life for people with less than no professional kit (ie me) a lot easier. The tracker/MOD scene at the time was pretty much the ONLY musical scene around and as such threw up some brilliant talents (Dr Awesome, Necromancer, U4ia, and many more). It ultimately led to the enormous music scene we inhabit today and - as such - is a very relevant subject of study considering that most tracks were a puny 8bits and almost always had to be as small a filesize as possible. The music that came out of that scene was anything but puny and I do recommend you do some digging into this subject because there will be a test later...

Joke! Don't look so scared!

The reason I flew off at such a tangent is because a) Mechanik Project is from Tuomo in Finland, home of some of the very best 'trackers' from back in the day and; b) because this artist has a fan by the name of U4ea - all of which leaves me wondering, is there really a connection or am I reaching here? Certainly the musical side of Bombay Vampires harks back to those earlier times when Drum and Bass was completely underground. Although you may be forgiven for thinking otherwise Bombay Vampires is a very hefty slice of drums and bass once you get past the kinda/sorta world intro. Be prepared to get roughed up a bit because - like all class DnB - this track pelts along as if its ass is on fire.

Personally, I do like Drums and Bass and usually the more hardcore type too, having been weaned on the stuff since its beginnings and Bombay Vampires is exactly what I would have chosen to best illustrate what the genre has to offer. It isn't, of course, everyone's cup of tea but if you like your music hard as a rock and faster than greased lightning you are going to find much to love in this excellent - if slightly repetitive - outing. Kudos also to Mechanik Project for the terrific production job which is best heard at extremely high volumes; as it should be. Up until this point, Mechanik Project has been a new name to me but this track will definitely change that. Maximum high energy DnB.

Mmmmmm. Recommended

Stain(ed) Art/Forcefield Kids - Little Miss Star

Hear The Track Here

It is tremendously reassuring in these days of falling record sales, faltering music business models and the Great Economic Squeeze to find that there are some bright spots around, all on the internet as it happens. Netlabels is the current name of the game and I've already waxed lyrical about 23seconds (IMHO one of the very best around) but this track comes courtesy of Mutate Records a new name to me with some very interesting electronic music artists. We all, of course, know Stain(ed) Art from his UK based hiphop tracks with that distinctive regional accent well to the fore who has - over the time I have known him - given me some very credible music moments. It has to be said though that I do like the UK hiphop sound so whatever you do, disregard my obvious bias.

Uz britz have to stick togevver, innit?

The track is from The Forcefield Kids new Home EP, slated for a late February digital release on Mutate, and its no surprise that someone has picked up on this very interesting artist. Its probably really unfair to paint Stain into the same picture as the legendary John Cooper Clarke, a seminal influence on the UK rap scene, but by God he really sounds like the man himself. No, it isn't because they both have a broad Northern accent either because AFAIK they do come from different parts of the North of England (Cooper Clarke is from Manchester and I think Stain is from Newcastle). Nope, it's in style and humour that these two work the same field and having lived with Little Miss Star for a while I can see why Mutate wanted this track.

Its an absolute racing certainty that anyone coming to this track from the regular hiphop jolt of gangstas, riches and bitches is going to be scratching their heads in befuddlement. It may be hiphop Jim, but not as we know it. It's an electronica feast with some of the weirdest beats you are likely to hear and - to my ears anyway - probably the best thing I have ever heard Stain do. As I say, it won't strike the rap purists who would probably turn their noses up at its odd, disjointed feel and rapid vocal delivery but having lived with the track for the better part of a week, I'd say give it a few plays for that excellent chorus to sneak up and mug you. If this is an indication of how good the Home EP is going to be, this could be a very good year for Stain and the Forcefield Kids. Make sure you get a look at the lyrics mind, I find it really helps to appreciate this artist.

Excellent, and different, UK hiphop/rap. Highly Recommended.

Tetsuroh - Far From the White Mist

Hear The Track Here

A brand new name to me from POP this time, and also this month's pick from POP Big Cahuna Chris Bishop. Regular readers will already know that Mr Bishop has had an absolutely spotless record so far, every single one of his picks has been - at the very least - extraordinary, even if the genre doesn't always fit me. Mind you, I've long known that Chris - as well as being an excellent musician in his own right - has a tremendous pair of ears. Not, I hasten to add, that he looks like the human equivalent of Dumbo but that the man knows what he likes and boy are his standards high. Always a pleasure then to get to the CB choice and Far From the White Mist and Tetsuroh follows in some fine company.

It must be blindingly obvious that Tetsuroh is a Japanese musician so it's pointless stating it (Ed: so why are you?) and - as you know - I am very partial to all things Japanese but especially the music. Although Far From the White Mist is completely electronic, to my knowledge, the way it is put together borders on classical/new age and not really an area to my own particular taste. However, I am not that much of a cretin that I can't recognise quality work whatever the context and Tetsuroh obviously put a lot of time, effort and yay love into making this slice of aural magic.

I was quite surprised to see that this track was made in 1990 and, in fact, is the only track on this musicians webpage. Either he is the slowest musician known to man, or he is VERY particular about what he releases. Judging from the quality and overall sound textures presented on Far From the White Mist, I'd say that quality control is a big thing with this guy. Listen, for example, to the cleanness of the harp plucks, the depth and resonance of the trumpet (if indeed it is a trumpet). It's a huge, wide-screen sound but so clean and clear you would be transported to the place described without any effort on your part. Tetsuroh says 'A vision to say 'here is something that makes sense. Vision must be unique' in describing his music and I'd say that was right on the money.

Wide-screen New Age. Highly Recommended blissout.

Monday, January 26, 2009

David Deal - Transformation

Hear The Track Here

It seems like only a few years ago that almost anything you listened to from the internet was - how can I put this tactfully? - complete crap as far as sound fidelity went. Thank God the days of 8 bit files, 22k sound rendering and the ensuing 'popcorn' sounds it engendered are finally over. Pretty much all the sites I visit these days have even moved away from the old 128kbps standard and 192k streams and downloads are common. If sound fidelity means precisely nothing to you, its probably best you stop reading now and go and watch some reality TV. Sound fidelity is - to me anyway - a part of the MARKETING of your particular musical endeavours and one that is gaining more and more significance as time goes on. For example, if I had a choice between a standard 128k download or one at 192k or even 320k there is absolutely no question what I would go for. It is, of course, a double edged sword because the higher you render your sound, the more slight flaws are magnified to the point of noticability by your average music listener. The reason I am yapping on in such a nerdy fashion is because Transformation is a 192k download of 10+MB, and that triggered me thinking about how things change.

If you are now thinking that Transformation is subject to the flaws I mentioned above then you would be dead wrong. David Deal (also known as songdoc) is an accomplished musician and a fine producer so finding flaws in his tracks isn't something you would find easy or rewarding. Nope, about the only question of divergence of opinion on David's work has to be on a purely personal basis so let me get the bad stuff out of the way first. I hate show tunes (ie Andrew Lloyd Webber et al), and I despise prog-rock with an undying hatred and - unfortunately - Transformation manages to be both these things. It also manages to be a peerless peice of musical art that had me mesmerised and transfixed by just how good something I hated could sound. Don't be thinking either that a small touch of this won't do you any harm because there is no such thing as a small touch. Topping out at seven and a half minutes, Transformation is a lot of track to get through once, let alone enough times to really do the work justice. On arrangement alone, I could wax lyrical for reams - IF I liked the prog rock it is couched in.

No matter what I do though, the philistine in me comes to the fore sneering at the smugness and pretension inherent in the genre. On paper I understand and relish such comments as 'Sometimes, in the midst of a perfectly ordinary day, one is unexpectedly flooded by the magnificence of “what is”. Perhaps that moment of awareness and clarity arrives while watching a storm or absorbing a piece of art or while kneeling with intention in a church' but put all that to music and I'd be cringing before you could blink. Massive overexposure to this genre back in the day ruined me forever, even when I know for a fact that David Deal is one of the most un-smug and un-pretentious guys you are ever likely to meet. Tell you what, if you liked Yes (in particular) you are absolutely going to love this track to bits because - as I've pointed out - there is nothing whatsoever wrong in the way this track is composed and performed and everything that is right. Like all music however, it will always come down to personal preference and this is not mine. Nonetheless, it doesn't stop me admiring the work and insight it takes to make a track as detailed, complex and yes beautiful as this or recommending it to those with less biased ears.

Top class Prog-rock. Highly Recommended.

MD-1 Project - Sonic Sunday

Hear The Track Here

Although I've never really been a big fan of noise, even the controlled variety, one artist has managed to peel back my innate cynicism enough to grab quite a large foothold on my hard drive. Yep folks, the worlds's only (probably) freakbeat experimentalist has become a potent force over the last couple of years and - dare I say this - an envelope-pusher of the first order. Although it has to be said that Ricky Mancini's (aka MD-1 Project) collaboration with Melinda Mohn in Stella Polaris Project is what first acclimatised my ears towards his particular musical style, consequent MD-1 Project tracks have become much easier for me to get close too. So much so that two of them managed to land up in my Tracks Of The Year 2008 collection, and believe me that is a hard place to get to. It just goes to show, I guess, that first impressions can often be very misleading and that - given time and application - even the weirdest of things gains merit. And there isn't much out there that is weirder that MD-1 Project, mark my words.

You may be forgiven for thinking that working in Trance/techno, industrial, dance, DnB is going to be a breeze to listen to for just about anybody with a pair of ears, but whatever you do don't make that mistake around this artist. No matter what genre he is working in, Ricky Mancini is going going to stomp his own inimitable style on it. That means lots of ear-bending wtf and where did that come from? moments, and even more so on the more extreme forms he works in. Sonic Sunday, despite its peaceful sounding title, is in fact a Monday morning session at the local steel mill where you are rolled from huge machine to huge machine, pummeled by sounds as large as the Himalayas and spat out of the end as a bright, shiny peice of scoured metal. And that's just your brain, I am still wondering where the rest of my body ended up.

From the opening (brilliantly stated) few beats to the sputtering ending, Sonic Sunday is an assault on all senses at once; a bltizkreig of sound that takes no prisoners. I find myself respecting this musicians production skills more and more as time goes on and when the bulk of his material is instrumental, that assumes some importance. It's in the way he puts his tracks together that really gets my attention though and Sonic Sunday is a masterclass of what MD-1 Project is all about. As an industrial track Sonic Sunday is right up there, a HUGE wall of sound that there is no escape from and - surprisingly enough - a much more accessible MD-1 Project track than many. But I don't like industrial music, you may cravenly admit, but there again that is the beauty of this particular artist; I don't like any of the genres this guy works in normally but when he does it, it's often worth the listen. Or, in case, definitely something you should be checking out regardless of your own personal preferences. There just isn't anyone around like MD-1 Project, taste it and see but whatever you do make sure you are wearing a hard hat (and ears, and body come to that). Excellent experimental industrial.

Highly Recommended and MUST HAVE for fans.

Gangbangsters - In Decent Company

Hear The Track Here

'Harsh yet subtle experimental electronic rock' is what Hollywood CA based Gangbangsters promise on their Soundclick page which I found a bit misleading. Truth is that the last (and first) Gangbangsters track I reviewed - Shoelaces (September 2008) - was in fact a rough but ready rap/hiphop mashup that I would generally associate with gangbanging and California come to that. I did say at the time that you would have to work at it to overcome the roughness of the sound but that when you did, there is something there to find. To late now though because the track no longers seems to be on Soundclick and hopefully not because of the review I gave it because I have - believe me when I say this - heard much, much worse.

In Decent Company is much more what I would have expected from the description of their music and one that shows that this is NOT just some hip hop rap wannabee. The glimpse that Shoelaces gave me of what this artist could be capable of is fully borne out with this track - albeit with some of the same flaws that dogged the previous track. Mind you, we are all in some way constrained by the equipment we have for making music and - wherever possible - I really do try and take that into account. In Decent Company is billed as Electronica: Experimental and I'd say this time it justly rates that classification. Not, therefore, a track you will be able to assimilate in a play or two but something to play whenever the urge takes you.

When you see a musician citing influences as diverse as Daft Punk, Black Flag, Joy Division and the Velvet Underground, you can bet that the resulting musical style is going to be somewhat diverse too. I came away from reviewing Shoelaces feeling torn between two points, agitated by the poorness of the overall sound by definitely intrigued by the blend of styles Gangbangsters mashed together. This time I think I was ready for the roughness of sound and the imagination of the musician. As such, I have to admit that In Decent Company made a much better impression on me and in continued playing became something I looked forward to hearing. Whatever you might think about the roughness of the sound, this is a musician who is not content to stay within one genre - and you just got to love that. All they need now is a higher production sound and Gangbangsters are going to be a force to be reckoned because In Decent Company is a hell of a track whatever you might think about how its put together.

Highly Recommended electronica blitz.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sound Radius - Undying Love

Hear The Track Here

Ever since The Power WIthin Score (December 2006) - which incidentially got a Must Have rating from me - Sound Radius has been delivering musical peices that have entertained and amused me more than enough although he has yet to better that very first track. Not all that startling then, you might be thinking, EXCEPT that Sound Radius (as his name might imply) specialises in 'lush cinematic music experience(s)' and you know what I feel about film soundtracks. In fact, Sound Radius is almost alone in his field at making me say nice things about a genre that - in all other instances - I have taken a scalpel to rather than listening to the damn things. As such, I think it takes a rare talent indeed to get me off my mountain of predjudice.

Mind you, whenever I seen other reviews of this musician the words ' brilliant' and 'terrific' often feature largely, as summed up by the one comment on this track so far. Where Sound Radius always scores (no pun intended, honest!) is in his choice of instrumentation and the way he arranges his material to get the one element I always demand from this genre; drama. Yep, impact is the name of the game with this musician and always has been ever since that first blinder of a track. SR has also done much to load the dice in his favour with me on Undying Love by bringing some world music influences AND using them in a very constructive way. Although the peice doesn't exactly feel all that Arabic to me, the vocals do fit the track extremely well and are extremely familiar to me. I have heard these clips before somewhere but I can't put my finger on where, maybe Sound Radius will give us a clue or two eh?

Musically I have to admit that I didn't find Undying Love anything like as striking as some of his previous tracks and - after a lot of playing it began to seem a bit too 'cobbled together' which is definitely something I have not associated with this musician in the past. Now maybe its me just having a bad day and this will all sound much better with more plays but I somehow doubt it. Funnily enough its not something that I think Sound Radius is doing wrong so much as maybe a more personal preference. To be sure I did like the world music tinges he has brought to bear here but I don't think that is enough to get it over my long term indifference to it. There again, it might well be that a lot of that indifference is BECAUSE of the world music sounds, which I have heard in better circumstances. Still, as an indication of what Sound Radius can do, this will do as an introduction but I do urge you to listen to his earlier work for a clearer picture of what he is capable of.

Recommended soundtrack material. (Personal opinion notwithstanding)

Conory - She's From Venus

Hear The Track Here

Better not be saying that around my wife otherwise she may very well knock you to that planet. This is the third track I have been asked to review from UK based Alternative artist Conory, and look back over the past couple of reviews shows that he hasn't fared too badly at my hands gathering highly recommended's from both tracks. Much more to the point as far as I am concerned is that Conory is a man who writes songs; real songs with lyrics and all. It's amazing how many tracks get filed under Alternative that don't fulfill this most basic of requirements, still that's just me kvetching (Ed: huh?) again...

Surprisingly enough the first reference I encountered was with the main riff and it took me several plays to pin it down but its definitely a Michael Jackson riff, the second reference is to a Bananarama song also called Venus which the beginning of the chorus definitely echoes. Still, after a few plays, that plagaristic feeling wore off, after all everything that can be done with music has been done at least once and in some cases done to death. The general feel of the track also echoes the 1980's with its bassline and the overall arrangement and - to me anyway - that's not a bad thing.

After listening to the track more than a few times, I began to feel that the overall sound was a tad thin and distinctly home produced - although not in a bad way. All depends what you are looking for from a track I guess, but if you want something that is both retro (in some ways) and bang up to date (in other overall sound ways) then She's From Venus will probably ring a few of your favourite bells. Speaking personally, I think this musician has made better tracks and definitely much better sounding tracks but as an example of his songwriting skills this should show you enough to make you go and listen to some of his better material and that is ALWAYS a good thing. On that note, also have a listen to version 2 of this track which IMHO sounds a LOT better than the original I reviewed.

Recommended (with musical references galore) Pop.

Buzrk - When I Speak To The Mic

Hear The Track Here

It's Parental Advisory time so I guess we must be heading into hiphop territory. Over the eight or nine tracks I have reviewed from Miami based rapper Buzrk it has become clear that we certainly have some differences of opinion about what works and what doesn't. One of the major problems I have with this artist - and he's not the only one by a long shot - is that for a rapper his flow doesn't always. Flow, I mean. Now correct me if I am wrong but I understand that this is the whole point of rap, or at least it was back in the day when it seemed to mean more politically than it does in this age of riches and bitches. That's the problem, I guess, with growing older; things change. The rules however, especially in such a genre as rap, are absolutely clear cut; no flow, no go. Having said that, it would unfair to say that Buzrk hasn't improved a lot since I first heard him but I'm still waiting for that O.mi. god. moment.

But then there is this....

When I Speak to the Mic is, like a lot of Buzrk's work, initially set up by one of my favourite of beat factories: Sinima Beats. The backing track to When I Speak to the Mic is exactly what I have come to expect from this outfit; great beats, solid basslines and enough instrumental flourishes to keep the whole interesting. Where other wannabees try to sound like Eminem in style and content, a great many of Soundclick's rappers ARE trying to establish their own sound and style and none more so than Buzrk. He is a highly indivdualistic rapper that's for sure, I am beginning to think that I would recognise him in amongst a bunch of rappers and I guess that is never a bad thing.

Where the track falls down for me is in exactly the same place as 90% of this artists output and something we have spoken about endlessly whenever we happen to meet like this. See, its all very well sounding like yourself - as I say it helps - but when your flow is off (not always but a lot more than I give credit for) and when a large majority of the lyric is completely muffled and/or rushed it does IMHO defeat the whole point of the exercise. I'm also pretty sure that as soon as Buzrk REALLY addresses this problem the review side of things - and not just from me - is going to look a whole lot rosier. Nonetheless, When I Speak to the Mic is a good example of where Buzrk is at right now and nothing he should feel particularly ashamed of, it's just that I think he can do better.

Highly Recommended for the beats, not so hot on the rap...

CollabCity - Paw Paw Dog

Hear The Track Here

I know I am cutting it way fine when I talk about collabs being a kinda/sorta supergroup thing but here's another - this time from POPspace. Regular readers will already know Tony Mazza from his excellent work with Waiting For Helen, a band I have reviewed a time or two with some special results. David C Deal is another POPspace musician I have a lot of time for although many of you will know him better through his songdoc forum nickname; an excellent songwriter and singer. Last but by no means least is Joel Van Winkle who I have probably heard before in another guise but I'm blanking here when I try and dig it out.

Although it's billed as Indie, Paw Paw Dog is the purest rock you are ever likely to hear, with that slight retro feel that permeates a lot of internet rock right now. Have to admit that the first time I heard this I was driving and this is one track you really don't want to be doing that with. Before you could say 'accelerator' I was clocking 190 in a 30 mile zone and that is when I got busted for speeding, or rather I would have been but there isn't a cop car around that can beat my 190mph Morris Minor. Paw Paw Dog offers a lot more than yer average rockout though, and that is the main reason it transferred to my hard drive with almost as much speed.

Of late I have been exploring the German heavy metal scene and bands such as Rammstein of which the vocals in Paw Paw Dog most resemble. Personally I love that gruff, voice-in-my-boots vocal sound provided it is carried off properly and whoever is supplying the vocals on this track gets a big thumbs up from me. Rock it is though, when all is said and done but that retro feel and an arrangement that gets more complex the more you hear it make this exactly the kind of rock track I love and cherish. Funny really because I didn't expect it from this quarter although given some of the collaborators past history I should have known better.

Retro tinged classic rock. MUST HAVE.

Greybrow - The Lark's Lament

Hear The Track Here

Another six months go by and along comes another Greybrow track. Seems to be becoming a habit with this musician; either that or he's avoiding me. Can't think why he would avoid me though (Ed: aside from the normal reasons) because I don't think he has ever given me anything I felt I could give him grief over, in fact I've even raved about a couple of his pieces. Still he is a dad and all that entails and I know from personal experience how much time two growing boys can demand of their father. Anyway, MP3 Unsigned has a Modern Composers section that I always find enjoyable, because the music is usually of a much higher standard than you would have expected - viz my review this month of another MP3 Unsigned Modern Composer - AndyF. Should tell you something when I lump these two artists together like that, expect quality and no less.

'I went for haunting and melancholy with this one' Greybrow states proudly in the track comments and just a quick listen to the first minute or so of this magnum opus will show you that the boy done nailed it. The first two minutes of the track instantly swept me away to my favourite part of the British Isles (Ed: not England, repeat NOT England), the Western Highlands of Scotland; the lilting, haunting refrain instantly conjuring up the sense of awe and majesty I always experience in that part of the world - surely Gods Own Country. On the face of it, the tune seems to repeat itself (with some additions) throughout the next two minutes of life with only the slightest deviation from the overall lilt of the opening sequence.

Absolutely, should I be asked, I would say this is an IDEAL soundtrack for that kind of vista in either a documentary or even an ad; it has the same feel - for example - as the piece of music used in the award winning and justly famed Ridley Scott Hovis ads. The track is scored extremely sparsely, as I've mentioned, using at most five or six instruments but that doesn't detract whatsoever from its impact and breadth; less is often a lot, lot more. When you've played this more than a few dozen times it's initial appeal seems to flag but there again most tracks do. While semi-classical pieces aren't really my forte if I was in the mood for that, this would be the very first track I would reach for right now. An excellent piece of work for which Greybrow should take a bow.

Highly Recommended Modern Composer.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Patrick Lew's Band - Never A Second Chance Demo

Hear The Track Here

If there was an award for Most Abused Artist of the Year, it would have to go, overwhelmingly, to one Patrick Lew. Almost every reviewer I know approaches this artist with the greatest of caution; he's not so much a loose musical cannon as a sprinkler system spitting out his 'music' wherever and whenever he wants to. I know for a fact he hasn't been around Soundclick that long and despite the over abundance of derogatory remarks about what he does, it boggles my mind that he has 190 tracks on his page. And Never A Second Chance, which is a new track apparently, is right at the end of that very, very long list which go some way to telling you that things are not going to be as normal with this artist. You may also have wandered across his many side projects as well, and I certainly seem to have reviewed a fair few - and we are still talking... :)

As a cranky old bastard who has been around the block so many times I've worn a trench in the sidewalk I KNOW that - whatever the odds are against it - sometimes artists like this need to settle into something realistic (to outside ears that is). See, Patrick's Golden Musical Rule is that there are no rules, if you feel it; it works. That may be some worlds away from what most of his listeners may be thinking - should they survive with hearing and sensibility intact. You can get that 'you are kidding me right?' look off your face right now OK because - believe me - you will be so glad I gave you prior and adequate warning that suspension of belief is a prerequesite for any Patrick Lew opus.

If you still think I am having some sort of joke with you, go now and listen to this track.

The funny thing is that I actually (kinda/sorta) like his 'well I don't give a fuck' attitude but I know for a fact that most people would probably just scream WTF? and pass by on the other side of the street, trying hard not to look at the accident. Demo also has a different connotation for a musician like Patrick than for the rest of us, insofar as this is probably the one, and only, take which was probably completed in about 3.8 seconds - at least as far as forethought, production, and arrangement went. Not to mention equally useful musical tools as tuning and timing. Nope, ol' Pat wails on his guitar in a seemingly haphazard way, screeching incomprensible lyrics in an off key manner. There is one thing Patrick masters so well it's the reason why I still give him the time of day. No one else I have ever heard manages to make a peice of music where everything, and I mean everything, works against everything else.

Lunatic? Inspired? Who knows....but I'm sure Patrick will tell you.

Cam's Even Song - Orion Station

Hear The Track Here

From Canadian Cameron Pierce to Canadian Cameron Bastedo (aka Cam's Even Song), how eerie is that? Wooooheeewoooo ni nar ni nar (Ed: eh?) In case you haven't heard, Cam's Even Song have a brand new album out - Indie-scribable - of which Orion Station is apparently the final part. Considering I have reviewed pretty much Cam's entire catalog I am sure I am the proud possessor of many of the other tracks that make up the album, and if not why not? Yer, that's telling them. Cam's Even Song have come in for lavish praise from me and even an Artist Of The Year 2006 award and listening to ANY track out of the 216 listed on his Soundclick page will support my contention that Cam's Even Song is fresh, innovative and very, very distinctive.

'Orion Station is a track that I originally recorded over a year ago and stuck in the trash' Cam informs me but was resurrected and 'refurbished' and that 'It's odd, that's for sure'. Righty-o guv, sez I as if I hadn't heard 'odd' from this very idiosyncratic musician before, why I laugh in its face! Orion Station soon wiped that off mind, because when Cam says odd this time he means O-D-D. Far and away, the strangest, most convoluted track I have ever heard from this artist and probably a sure sign that he is gloriously, effortlessly and skillfully losing all his marbles. Funnily enough, it makes for a very, very intruiging track and one it will take a while to pick all the bones out of.

As you can imagine from the song title, Orion Station is a bit spacey, as well as being really out there. The intro introduces you to the basic system you are plasma sailing through, before Cam arrives with his usual aplomb and plonks down a verse of bluesy lines and then wanders off back into the ether. This bluesly refrain informs the bulk of the track and works extremely well to counterpoint the wilder off planet images being generated by massed electronica. It sounds weird, chaotic and disjointed but that all seems to add to its charm and - for my money - the last verse is pure Cam's Even Song at its very, very best. What you come away with is a sense of wistfullness for lost horizons and and an irritating tune you just can't seem to get out of your head. Which, when you think about it, is about what I always seem to get with this artist.

MUST HAVE Camweirdery.

Cameron Pierce - The End of the Galaxy (If My Baby is Out There)

Hear The Track Here

For as long as I have been on Soundclick, Canadian singer/songwriter has been making my ears twitch with his bright, breezy pop rock groove - a classic sound that will never go out of style. It was a bit of a surprise then that Young Lost and Lovely (July 2008) signalled a marked departure from the strawberry fields he wandered through before. For a start it was pure out and out electronica and this from an avowed pop/rock artist, secondly it featured Cameron's vocals in an astonishing new way. Of course, if this was the first Cameron track you ever heard it wouldn't mean nothing but for people who have years of this artists output on their hard drives, this was a major step away from what he had been doing. Still managed to snag a must have from me though, so that should tell you my opinion.

The thing that struck me is the The End Of The Galaxy isn't as radical (for this artist anyway) as Young Lost and Lovely but it still is much, more more than we've heard from this artist; a much fuller, richer sound that shows his increasng confidence in couching his music in other instrumentation than yer average guitar, drums and bass line-up the bulk of his work has comprised of so far. Personally, I have to say that I really like this new improved version very much although I have to say that wasn't my first impression.

Uh Oh.

You know when some people smile, your automatic response is too think 'surely that many teeth couldn't fit into a normal mouth'? Well, that's what I though instantly about this track. Not about teeth, of course, that would be insane (Ed: and....?) but the sheer amount of things going on. Mind you, after a couple of listens the sheer quality of the song and its ridiculously good hooks won me over yet again. I have to admit here, and boy am I going to suffer for this, that there are one or two (no more than that mind...) Coldplay tracks that I actually like. Moreover, this could be one of them. Cameron has obviously taken some influence from the current crop because this just shrieks commerciality, as well as a classic example of what Cameron Pierce does best; write a classic song. Not everything is puffick though, I thought that the piano was a tad too loud in the mix but with song as good as this, who cares?

Highly Recommended Alternative

Saturday, January 17, 2009

David Pendragon and Tribe World Ensemble - Sacred River

Hear The Track Here

Dear Santa (this is for next year, don't panic) I would like to find in my Xmas stocking this year my own personal copy of Don't Fear The Reaper (yep, that one) by David Pendragon and Tribe World Ensemble. Thank you. If you are interested in why I am reduced to begging a fictional character for a copy, I'd suggest you have a listen to the track at the above link and whatever you do play it at wall shattering volume. As a rule, I generally hate cover songs of my favourite tracks of all time but this one goes way, way beyond the cover version stigmata and becomes something else. For those who have spent the last year strip mining cowbells on the planet Weneedmore... David Pendragon and Tribal World Ensemble is one of the most exciting, and innovative internet groupings I have ever seen in all the years I have spent as a resident of this asylum. So much so that they snarfed a couple of Track Of The Year awards in my year end review of 2008.

More to the point, there are fekkin thousands in this tribe. OK, OK, maybe not thousands.

The tribe encompasses some very well known internet musicians, not the least of them Mr Pendragon who I have liked as a solo artist AND as a member of the Ensemble. David has been doubly blessed by having an epic vocal style (warm, sonorous) that flows over your ears like treacle and an astounding production knowledge that ALWAYS lifts his tracks over all comers. In short, here is a band that could hit the road running should fame ever come knocking at their door, and that my friends is extremely rare. Just a listen to the mix of Australian aborigine and Bhuddist chants in the intro of Sacred River will show you exactly what I mean. World is what they say, and world is what they mean. Mind you at an absolutely mind-boggling eleven minutes and change, Sacred River is going to need a lot more nirvana buddy to keep us going than a few geezers chanting from their boots.

The main event kicks in around two minutes and develops from a deceptively light acoustic guitar playing harmonics into a full blown world anthem that just keeps getting better with each hearing. In tone and texture, it's the kind of track that could have come from anywhere in the world and that to me is the true mark of genius. I have to say though, that it is basically a soundscape but one I'll put money on that you won't be able to put down once you get past the intro - you would have to see what came next. Nothing whatsoever about back story from the song but judging by some of the ambient sounds that drift in and out of the music; this is a musical trip to as exotic a location as you could imagine. So, nice plate of jammy dodgers, a steaming mug of coffee as provisions for the journey and you'd be all set. Can't end this review without praising the excellent wind instrument turns that are essentially the meat of the matter because they supply that dreamy, other-worldly feel to the peice. All this, and not a cowbell in sight. Mirac-u-lous.

MUST HAVE world journey.

N Talekt - Keep Dreaming

Hear The Track Here

One of the things that fascinate me about the current hiphop/rap scene on the net is the sheer amount of confidence in their talents these particular artists have. Now I understand that it is an integral part of the scene that you big yourself up as often and as loudly as possible and, as we have seen so many times, that can often backfire horribly. Probably THE most competive unsigned musical market around just has to be the hiphop/rap genre, it's sheer size dwarfs most other forms of music even on a musician-centred site like Soundclick. That can, of course, lead to a certain amount of friction between the endless wannabees and Soundclick's more established (and older) musicians. A couple of years ago much forum time was spent evading the myriad 'peep my shit' requests, and the attendant screams of rage from the older community. All of whom, I might add, have maybe forgotten what it is to be young, full of sass and vinegar and an innate certainty that you are indeed, the One. Cold fact is, I like a lot of hiphop and grime and crunk and endless other permutations that show a genre in full flower, and everyone has to start somewhere right?

and r-e-l-a-x...

On that score, being a fan of the genre from way back, I am not the kind of reviewer to come up against if you work is in any way half-assed. There are several worthwhile artists on Soundclick and despite the roughness of their approach have the right salt to actually pull it off. Where many of them fall down is by not paying as much attention to the musical backing track (even if it is a few beatz) and others where they think the point is to stuff as many words as possible in the track allotted time. It's a rare thing indeed where both those things come together and work properly but when they do, these are the ONLY hiphop tracks I transfer from Soundclick into my own extremely voluminous pockets. N Talekt found out just how picky I can been when I reviewed I Got U (February 2006) where I wrote 'judging by this example there is some way to go before he is the ****'

Towards the end of 2008, N Talekt popped back into view with a track called Diamond (December 2008) which showed that the intervening time hadn't been put to waste. In my view it showed a maturity and ease with the style that wasn't present before. So two some years down the road I have to say that Keep Dreaming came this close (holds thumb and forefinger as illustration) to sliding into my pockets bound for Always. The reason it didn't isn't down to anything this rapper did right or wrong, merely a personal opinion and not something I think is relevant for this review. It isn't a Parental Advisory thing either because this rapper is one of the few who can actually make sense without expletives encrusting the affair. Somehow, though to my ears it lacks a final touch and I couldn't tell you what and then it would really cook. As it is, this is a fine track for the genre and one I am sure will gain N Talekt more listeners.

Highly Recommended hiphop.

AndyF - Chronos Child

Hear The Track Here

Seeing as how I have been completely laid up for the past two doing doing nothing but honking into a handkerchief and spluttering like a man drowning (Ed: just a seasonal cold, tut tut poor reviewer), it seems appropriate that I should come riding back into the fray on orchestral wings. On second thought, after that sentence, maybe I should just go back to bed. Andrew Foyston (to give him his full due) has been a on-off presence on my screens for a few years now and - bless him - is one of the very few artists that come by and make meaningful comments about my own material. As usual, that curries no favours but Andy has beena round long enough to know that golden rule too well. More especially when we are talking about a form of Modern Classic which generally has the allure of a cat which died a couple of weeks ago. Andy has the distinction of slipping one or two very good tracks past me in a genre that I truly don't like and that's no bad thing.

The last time I reviewed him was with the Dard Productions track Stand The Test Of Time (April 2008) and Dard mainstay Denis Couture features on this track too. Essentially Chronos Child is a track written about Andy's new grand-daughter; piano score was supplied by Denis and Andy did the rest. As a world recognised musical philistine I am well aware that there is a larger market for Andy's style of music, than there are old curmudgeons who incessantly moan about it, but let me just add - in my favour - that a lot of this genre probably more belongs in New Age than in any other bracket. Whatever you do, don't get me started on New Age music or we'll be here for years. What saves Andy time and time again is that he is an extremely competent musician with a feel for the right tone, texture and arrangement as Chronos Child so amply demonstrates.

It's pretty much a piano solo, but orchestrated in such a way that the piano integrates with the backing track perfectly. Much more positive, as always with this musician, the sounds, instruments and technique is clean, clear and warm. Considering the kind of music we are discussing, those three elements are key to my enjoying the peice, and given that it's almost seven minutes long without them would have been a heavy slog. Andy is, IMHO, one of the only people I have heard online who is worthy of the Modern Composers tag used over at MP3 Unsigned because his music has a quality, a fineness you are not likely to hear to many other places. Chronos Child is a peice in point, this is a track that really SHOULD be heard live and in a concert hall, even I would appreciate it more and I am tainted by years of rock abuse.

Extremely pretty classically inclined instrumental. Highly Recommended

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Mike-K - MAD!!

Hear The Track Here

I have to admit that I cheated with this track. Well, that's not strictly true. In actual fact, Mike Kohlgraf (aka Mike-K, for it is he!) cheated on this, not once but several times to my certain knowledge. I know, the blackguard!! Would you have ever thought such a thing possible from a DJ/Musician/Indie shining light? Seeing as I can at least several nodding heads, I can assume most of us know the real answer to that question. Yep, Mike as much as a cool cat as any of us gets terribly excited about his work and wants to share it with everyone - so he does. And again. and again....and again.... In fact, by the time I had finished that particular version of Saturday Night Rocks (Mike's excellent radio show on Mixposure) I had hear MAD!! a grand total of four times. All of which, I might add, blows away my 'don't listen before reviewing rule'. Still, he's a musician and I do know that kind of breathless OMG-look-what-I've-done-now excitement you get when a new track is burning a hole in your brain.

Aaaaah, bless 'em eh???

As Mike so eloqently states in the song comments 'this is normally NOT my kind of music' it being a peice of heavy rock which - if you already know this musician - is DEFINITELY not his usual style. Despite his obvious love for guitar based rock, its not an area Mike normally dabbles in; his is usually the less splashy but no less important mellow guitar tracks he has become well known for. Written as an antidote to a bad case of the blues MAD!! is Mike literally railing against all comers at the hardness of life sometimes, albeit with his guitar as the voice. Regular readers will already know that I have spent years twitting Mike (gently, I hope) about his chosen smooth path and I guess this is also his answer to verbal snipers like me lurking in the Soundclick undergrowth. I certainly shut me up, that's for sure. Should get a Must Have just for that eh? ;)

For me, as a long standing friend of this musician, it shows that a guy like Mike can still pretty much turn his hand to anything and make it work, and work exceptionally well. I also think that his long association with world class players like Christopher Martin Hansen and the firestorm known as Kephas has definitely rubbed off on his own playing style because - to be honest - I wouldn't have said he could have pulled this off a couple of years ago. Pull it off he does though, and in raucous style too. I am not always a fan of straight ahead guitar instrumentals but this one is more than a bit special - not least because of my own connection with this musician. However, all bias aside I know what rocks and what doesn't and this by God does... Now all I have to do is remember where that little riff comes from, a could have sworn it goes with the lyrics 'life in the fast lane...' :)

Highly Recommended and a MUST HAVE for fans.

The Peach Tree - The Colour Of Your Eyes

Hear The Track Here

Like a lot of artists that are just starting out, I guess Melbourne, Australia based The Peach Tree, found that being ground up amongst his peers not a particularly pleasant experience. I myself gave him a very hard time with the first few tracks and, I think even he would be willing to admit, with some justification. Certainly he has cleaned up his act considerably from those early faltering attempts so that we are now at the point where I can at least listen to his music without wincing. (Ed: Harsh, Gilmore, harsh). I've already reviewed one of the tracks from The Gus Sessions, the album that The Colour Of Your Eyes is taken from. A Change Of Perception (October 2008) was the first ever Peach Tree track to get a highly recommended from me so that bodes well for this next track.

Doesn't it? (Ed: not necessarily...)

Personally I think that those early tracks gave me an erroneous picture of this musician and that's probably because they were Experimental electronica and as we know, this is a genre that can hide countless horrors. Since then, I am glad to say, Peach Tree ( a one man show btw) has become MUCH more discerning both in what he releases and what he uses to make his music. Like a lot of people, when stymied by music, he went back to the basics and IMO hasn't made a mis-step yet. Much more to the point, despite its apparent roughness of sound and the oddly muffled vocals, The Colour of Your Eyes strikes me as being a very encouraging sign for this artist and certainly his strongest track yet.

As regular readers will know, my Artist Of The Year 2008 - one Thomas J (aka The Antennaheadz) - tried this trick and just look at what its done for him. I mention the Antennaheadz specifically because this track reminds me strongly of what Thomas J is about these days. What it all comes down to, when all is said and done, is a song. It's either a good song, or a bad song and in the case of The Colour Of Your Ears its a surprisingly good song. Sure, it being well lo-fi you could be tempted into making the usual comparisons (early Pink Floyd, acoustic artists such as Johnathon Richman) but there is a lot more going on here than that. There is a dark underlining to this track that - for my money - makes it work; that and the clever arrangement and sparse accompaniment. Yep, excellent track.

Off the wall, but well worth a listen. Highly Recommended.

Pidgeman - Sympathy

Hear The Track Here

Out of the seven or eight reviews I have done of Craig Matthews (aka Pidgeman) one thing becomes instantly clear, I like this musicians style even if I haven't found a track to rave about yet. That is obviously just a question of time of course, and the right combination of circumstances, but I feel fairly confident at this stage that this is an artist who definitely has a Must Have track lurking around somewhere. After all, he has a string of highly recommended's even though - it has to be said - his voice isn't as strong as it could be. Mind you, I wouldn't say that Bob Dylan (for example) is a great singer and as with all music - it depends on the vocalist being able to put the point across more than anything else.

I mention this because I have been a bit down on Craig about it and that's probably not fair. You have to work with what you have got, right? One of the most positive things about Pidgeman (who is as aware of his vocal limitations as anyone) is that he does tailor his tracks extremely well to be able to get the point across so that ordinary mortals just wouldn't hear anything wrong. On that score I have to say that Sympathy is one of this artists strongest tracks - a pop song truly worthy of the title.

Someone made a comment that its sounds like something Hansen would have done and I have to say - with some surprise - that I actually agree with that. The chorus (instantly catchy as all get out) especially so, which is quite surprising considering that AFAIK Craig is a fellow Brit; although you'd be hard pressed to tell by this track. Where the track falls down is in the thinness of that exact same chorus in terms of vocal punch and I have to say that it isn't helped by the delay applied to the vocal. The major problem is that the delay is out of time with the track which tends to make the chorus sound sloppier than it actually is. Still, this is exceedingly small change when contrasted with such an energetic, classically pop performance. As I said, despite my whinges, one of this musicians strongest tracks yet.

Class US-centric pop. Highly Recommended.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Farrell Jackson - The Train To Normal

Hear The Track Here

Every Saturday night you can find me propping up the bar in the Mixposure chat room while having my ears sand-blasted off my head while listening to Mike-K's exceedingly raucous Saturday Night Rocks radio show. Its the kind of place where laughs are cheap and plentiful, the music is loud and the company stimulating, so if you have never had the pleasure join people from Mix, Cygnus and ITunes and plug into the best damn rock show on the net. OK, that's probably covered the entrance charge for me - a bit of publicity works wonders I have found. I catch up with so many people there its not even funny, and one of which - Farrell Jackson - twisted my rubber arm for a review and I being the craven coward I am immediately capitulated.

What? It means I gave in OK? I feel no shame.

Farrell has a Soundclick page and until I met him on Saturday Night Rocks, was an unknown factor to me but The Train To Normal soon showed me that I had better rectify this oversight. I have to admit that, provided the work is up to absolutely scratch, I like nothing better than a good song, well sung. The best praise I can give The Train To Normal is to say that it is a great song, beautifully sung and performed even though - to be honest - it's not really my thing. Farrell is billed on Soundclick as being Acoustic Rock but to my ears this track belongs to a much longer and prouder tradition than that.

I am, as you know, quite an afficienado of pure American country music and - if I had to call it something - I would say that The Train To Normal is exactly what I would think of as country. For a start, there is the lyrical content, an American parable about life in a small town admit its endless characters. The song is based on one such character, Floyd, who jumped off a train one day and stayed for twenty years, or jumping from 'normal to freedom' according to the man himself. His story is told by Farrell half speaking, half singing the excellent lyrics, the music is easy and flowing and - if you like the style - easily a track to lose yourself in. Farrell provided all you hear, and excellent it is too but he was aided by drummer Frank Northcutt on this particular track.

American folk at its best - telling stories... Highly Recommended.

Pilesar - Care (with Marcus Sjoland)

Hear The Track Here

T'was the night before Christmas, when all through the house not a creature was stirring - except my white haired ol' mum and me, She wasn't stirring anything, not even her tea; merely staring at the wall and listening to the milk curdle. It was a while before I realised that the claw flapping in my face meant that the old dear wanted to speak to me. 'what the bleeding hell is that you are listening to?' she screamed hard enough to curdle the milk, the cheese and next doors love life. I had made the mistake, ya see, of trying to listen to review tracks while doing the family duty. Always a bad move. So after spending three hours explaining that a Pilesar is definitely not anything Pulsar-like, or even Pilestar-like, she made me give her my Ipod so that she could listen to it as well.

I'll never forget that blank eyed stare as long as I live.

Quite why Care tipped her over the edge, I am still puzzling over. I could have played her any amount of Pilesar tracks that could REALLY curdle milk (and her brain) but no, she entered a coma to the sweet strains of Big Ship's distinctive vocals. To clear out some of the fog that has obscured this review, this is the second collaboration that the Pilesar one has done with the artist formerly known as Big Ship. Marcus Sjoland (aka Big Ship) was hugely popular on Soundclick a few years ago, with his lo-fi but wonderfully realised pop tunes that brightened up many a day. As did the first collab between these veryy different artists. When I reviewed Sorry (September 2008) it was like a blast of fresh air and a much welcome return for a SC prodigal son. It also, btw, got one of my Tracks Of The Year 2008 awards which should tell you how much I liked it.

Like his involvement with The Antennaheadz in their lo-fi guise, a collab between the Prince of weird and a laid back Scandanavian singer/songwriter sounds weird on paper but works a treat when listening to the final thing. Care has a lot of the same elements as Sorry, and a lot of the whimsy too. If anything, I think Care is actually the stronger song but that may just be my own euphoria and it will turn out to be merely similar. Not sure who is doing what on this track mind, but I fancied I heard the Pilesar pipes in there as some kind of backing vocal - but I'm prepared to be wrong. Always the best attitude when driving Pilesars... It looks like this is going to an album at some point and that is definitely going to be worth looking forward to.

Excellent acoustic whimsy. Highly Recommended lo-fi Alternative.

Xcelsis - 'Tis the Season (Of Love)

Hear The Track Here

Another new name to me this month, Xcelsis come to me through my Rebelriffs blog and an email that states 'My name is Bradford Johnson, and I recently started an 80s spoof/satire band called "Xcelsis'. Hi Brad, but a spoof 80's band? Man, do you know how to pique my curiousity or what? Personally I really liked huge parts of the 1980's music scene, especially the electro-pop variety although - as with most decades - it did contain it's horrors too. Many of us look back at the 1980's as being a bit of special period; there was punk, ska, rock, and emerging synth based bands like ABC and the Human Leagure, Soft Cell and Depeche Mode.

Aaaah glory days....

Ahem, where were we? About the only way you can hear this band is by viewing their video at either the website linked above, or at You Tube, and out of the two I do suggest You Tube because it is a very, very decent video - if you like that sort of thing. Mind you, better to realise that the band have their tongues firmly in their cheeks (Ed: I pray to God he his making a humorous reference here and not a sexual one) and when they say spoof, better believe they mean it. The video is 'Tis the Season (Of Love) from their two track Digital Yuletide single which you can gaze longingly at because it will cost you money to buy it, best to check out the video first eh?

Took me a while to discover that these guys were serious about the spoof aspect because my first reaction was not good. It was only when I realised that the track they were playing was an incredible pastiche of Deck The Halls With Holly and some unknown 80's electropop sensation - even down to the ubiquitous syn drum sound. They have the look and feel down so well, even the female dancers look and move exactly as they would have back in the day. Obviously this would have gone down well around Christmas but its quirky and funny enough with many laugh out loud moments (the girl dancing in the front room, the onstage band's big hair, the way they recreate that 1980's seriousness). Wouldn't mean squat mind if the music wasn't up to scratch but it is, this is an excellently produced and realised song with so many echoes its not funny.

Well worth a watch I say. Excellent LOL 80's Pastiche. Highly Recommended

333maxwell - Willow Weeping

Hear The Track Here

333maxwell had a very good 2008, ending up with two Tracks Of The Year from me (Post War Dreaming and After Hours respectively), not bad going especially when the main genre for the bulk of this artists work is the much maligned jazz. Having said that, THOSE two tracks were jazz but he has surprised me by wandering into other areas but Willow Weeping finds him in yet another genre that has as many detractors as fans. As an old dog, I grew up with the blues in many forms but really started to appreciate it more with the explosion of electric blues in the late 1960's, and this is the area 333maxwell has chosen to mine for this track.

I have to be honest, when I first heard this track my initial reaction was wtf? Had the man sent me a demo? This is an artist I have come to know and like tremendously and it surprised me how rough and slung together (like a jam, maaaaaan) even down to the odd mains hum. The blues is, of course, a genre that can be stretched everywhichway and 33maxwell does his level best to push it into some interesting shapes. Instrumentally, of course, there isn't a lot you can do with the basic line of bass, drums, guitar and keyboards but that first impression (it's a jam) stayed with me longer than it should have.

At the height of the 60's blues boom I was into the usual English suspects but bands like the Paul Butterfield Band played a large part in it to, especially guitarist Mike Bloomfield. I mention them specifically because that is what WIllow Weeping reminds me of, both technically and the way the track is put together. I've always been a sucker for Hammond organ use in the blues and this track contains a splendid example of why and it's that combination that finally sealed the deal for me. Mind you, I'm still not sure - even now - about the overall structure of the peice but maybe that's just me being picky.

Highly Recommended Electric blues.

Ben Brown - Suit and Tie Commuter

Hear The Track Here

I have a very soft spot for UK-specific hiphop/rap, so if you tie that in with a track that is raising money for MS sufferers, a review has to be a shoo-in. Ben Brown is a new MP3 Unsigned artist to me although he has been on that site under another name which, btw is also new to me. Anyhow, Suite and Tie Commuter is part of a six track EP MS Fundraiser, make a donation of at least five pounds and you get the EP for free. More information on that can be found at Ben's Just Giving page. Now that's what I call a good deal, supporting two great things at once; a very worthwhile charidee AND your local musician.

The only question left to answer? Is the music any good.

Anyone who has heard The Streets will instantly recognise what Ben has come up with, especially seeing as they both appear to be vowel stretchers (saaaaaarf for south). That is an unfair comparison though and I am sure Ben is already hot around the collar so no more of that. Like a lot of rap artists, he neglects to post anything online in the way of lyrics and if you are a bit thrown by broad London accents and slang you may have a hard time following everything. As a London resident myself, I obviously appreciate the humour and style Ben brings to the track 'The same lunch time breaks, and the guys you want to punch in the face' is a sentiment I heartily relate to...

Musically, there isn't a lot to the track, most of the track coming from a Rhodes piano line, a bass and drums but it does fit the dour, bitter style the track is couched in. Obviously a whinge sheet about the joys (NOT) of the daily grind as a wage slave, Suit and Tie Commuter does carry that sense of helplessness that is so familiar to almost everyone in the western word. The hidden anger at the way the chips have fallen, the quiet desperation of a large slice of humanity. Despite ALL of that, it's a surprisingly good listen, especially if you are a fan of pure UK hiphop.

Recommended UK hiphop rap.

Friday, January 09, 2009

The Antennaheadz - The Head's in the Hands and its Late At Night

Hear The Track Here

It was pure serendipity that placed this track alongside Fear 2 Stop's Spiralin' Down in the review schedule but led me to some interesting observations about life as a reviewer on Soundclick. When I moved my reviews from another site to Soundclick in early 2003, I instantly became aware that two bands would prove to be incredibly hard work to review; one was Fear 2 Stop and the other was called Station For Imitation. They were hard work because both bands insisted on doing it their way and when you are talking about experimental electronica, hard work, pain and aural torture are the first words that spring to mind. I'm glad that I didn't cut them up too much in their early reviews because they have both turned into something a bit special; F2S because they are who they are, and Station for Imitation for what he (it was a one man show) was to become. Who'd have thought, back then, that the young guy behind SFI would snag my Artist Of The Year award for 2008?

Yep, who'da thunk it!

Despite scurrilous rumours to the contrary I devote enormous amounts of time, patience and care in choosing my Artist Of The Year and I think - over the years - my choices have been vindicated time and again. What I look for most in terms of that award is originality and I don't think anyone could dispute that Thomas J (aka The Antennaheadz) is about as original as it gets right now. Following hot on the heels of his tremendously successful Chameleon Dish Archive EP, Let Them Down Gently, The Head appears to be a track from a forthcoming album from this artist. Yay indeed. Even more yay to the pound if this kind of intensity and exhuberant performing is going to be the underlying premise for that upcoming set. Just be thankful that once awarded a AOTY, it is impossible to get another. I say this because I have a feeling that Glorified Failure (the name of the new project) is going to be one of the highlights of this year too.

The first time I heard this, it took me 30 minutes to finally re-attach my jaw to my face, not to mention the 10 minutes I spent fishing it out from under the couch where it had bounced as it hit the floor. This musician hit a creative high with Loveless Blues (October 2007) that shows absolutely no sign of stopping. Judging by My Head's In My Hands... its set to get a damn sight stronger. Now I know I have become a bit of a slave to this artist but there is no denying - whatever you might feel about the roughness of the sound - the power and intensity he brings to bear. It's a deceptively simple track, it really doesn't have much going on musically (guitar and vocals) but what comes out the other side is an incredibly mature performance from an ever more confident and assured vocalist and songwriter. Whatever you do, make sure you have your jaw taped up tight before you listen to it.

That's all. MUST HAVE. That's all.

Fear 2 Stop - Spirallin' Down

Hear The Track Here

Here is an impossible task if I ever heard one. 'Take a listen to this', chortles Billy Castillo (one third of Fear 2 Stop), as he put this track on my review list, 'and try figuring out who did what' he finished. Oh right, I thought, better get right to it then because it's probably going to take me a long, long, long time to get there - if ever. The simple fact is I'm still trying to work out what kind of music they make - and this after five years of constant F2S tracks - let alone try to figure out who does what. I know, however, what their music does to me, and to some of you too apparently. Listening and/or liking Fear 2 Stop revolves are two key emotions; frustration and/or bafflement (because they got their own ideas and pursue them religeously) or insane euphoria (because they got it just right)

One of Soundclicks most challenging bands then? You bet.

Listen, anyone who proudly proclaims themselves to be a 'bizarre experimental electronica' band would have most people running for the hills in an instant. Not this intrepid (Ed: or stupid) reviewer though because I am made of sterner stuff (Ed: or as deaf as a post). Actually, over the years I have found a very on-off liking for what this Houston TX based trio do, and mostly I can find things to like about their work in general. Admittedly I am not that big a fan of analog sounds, yes I know it's considered retro and cool but I couldn't give a f*** about that, and the only band who make it work for me are, surprisingly enough, Fear 2 Stop.

Hand on my heart, I can't say I was eager to hear this latest track, although their work as a consistent feel these days I don't think they have delivered anything really substantial for a while. In my mispent youth I loved a band called Soft Machine who were considered REALLY out there at the time (1966-1971 or so). These days that band are considered to be true innovators and damn me if they weren't the first thing that popped into my mind while listening to Spiralin' Down. Its exactly the kind of sound I associate with their early work (is that a B3 or 4 for example?) so its a given that I would like this. Not so sure whether the more faint hearted amongst us would agree but for a long time fan like me, this is a meatier morsel than any Fear 2 Stop track for a while and a welcome addition to my growing F2S folder.

Highly Recommended 'bizarre experimental electronica' and MUST HAVE for F2S fans.

SpreaderCraig - A Million and One Things Unsaid

Hear The Track Here

One of the more positive things to happen on Soundclick's Critics Corner (my home, as it were) over the past few months has been the introduction of the CC review competition where a certain number of tracks are entered every month, whittled down by three other reviewers and then the finalists are judged by an interactive poll. The winner, obviously, is voted there by his or her peers. The competition gave me a Must Have from Michael Hughes called Cold Rain Water (November 2008) and extremely good it was too. I admit I have been looking forward to the winner of December's competition because the quality of ALL the entrants is mind boggling, it's always going to take a rare track to get the better of such excellent contenders. Who knows, it may become a source of endless Must Haves...

Or I can just dream on....

SpreaderCraig is 'a songwriter looking for an artist/publisher to run with my tunes!' and aren't we all. He's from Sheffield right here in the UK - a city well known for its musical roots. You can only listen to this though, to have your own copy you will have to fork out some hard earned cash. Of course, it being for sale puts an entirely different slant on the review process, so I am looking for near perfection on all levels because that is what I would expect for cash money. In almost every way A Million and One Things ticks all the right boxes, it's a terrific song, performed and produced with energy and drive and produced to a reasonably high standard.

As a straightforward pop song it scores all ways from Sunday, it is exactly what I would expect from the genre and then some. I would be struck, for example, by the song crafting skill on display here (structure, instrumentation, arrangement) and the professionalism that imparts. Can't say I am that struck by the overall mixed sound though. I don't know, call me a nit picker, but it started to feel a little thin around about the eighth or nine play, which doesn't do much for its longevity. Pop was always meant to be disposable, but when you are spending money on it that may well prove to be a factor in its success. Mind you, it's very Beatle-ish sound and structure will endear it to many people despite it's slow start and it certainly makes me want to check out this artists other work.

Highly Recommended Pop.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

The Year End Review of 2008 (The Stevies!)

So, here we are again at the end of one year and the beginning of the next so it must mean that oil stain on my character needs to vent the years doings by coming up with my own (highly personal) review of the year and some of the musicians who have made the year happen for this reviewer. It all, of course, means squat out there in the real world. After all, who gives a twopenny toss WHO is my Artist Of The Year? For that you would have to speak to past winners of this tawdry bauble but when I mention names such as Nad Sylvan (AOTY 2003), Jim-n-Lisa (AOTY 2004), Maria Daines and Paul Killington (AOTY 2005), Cam's Even Song (AOTY 2006) and Omnisine (AOTY 2007) you can be sure that consistency and ability is but one part of the whole picture. Anyway, more on that later, let's get started...

Welcome to the Sixth Annual Stevies Awards, my own personal round-up of the tracks and artists that have made an impact with me - and my readers - over the past year. Please note that these awards have nothing whatsoever to do with Soundclick or any other website that hosts my reviews, or with any of the musicians featured. This is just my personal impression of the year just past and is based on the amount of tracks that managed to stick to my hard drive this year. So what kind of year has 2008 been generally? Well, I expanded my reach a bit more by the continued success of my Rebelriffs blog which is going great guns at the moment, giving me a goodly slice of the tracks I have reviewed this year. other tracks came from an assortment of sites primarily Soundclick, MP3 Unsigned, POPspace, MySpace and a million other budding OMD's (Ed: OMD=Online Musical Distributor).

Words on the Community we live in

My home site, Soundclick, appears to be doing slightly better in terms of forum activity and - wonder of wonders - the owners of the site have become increasingly more visible on the forums and that is definitely a good thing. Their new system for the musicians is still only in Preview but I am quite excited about some of the changes they have made, many of them based on forum suggestions. Sooner the better, I say. The forum too seems to have gained SOME impetus from the inclusion of a Forum button on the front page and we can only hope that this continues because IMHO the forums are a vital and needed part of what Soundclick offers to the musician.

I still have tremendous loyalty to MP3 Unsigned and POPSpace because of their attitude towards the musicians they host; POP in particular being an absolute goldmine of outstanding artists as you will see when we get into the Tracks Of The Year section. However, this year I would like to highlight a new site that is....mmmm how can I put this?......actually an old site. A while ago a musician called Dazed (hey big guy!) put his money where his mouth is and bought the old Mixposure name and is now hosting a vibrant and exciting new site. Although at this moment it is awash with guitarists and their mates, the roster is slowly expanding to include some of the more original artists around. It's also the new location for the ever popular Mike-K's Saturday Night Rocks, whose shows have sustained this reviewer for years and is unquestionably my favourite internet radio show.

All in all, I'd say that the scene that I kinda/sorta cover is in good health this year, although I have noticed a discernible lull in the amount of knockout tracks I have been getting. Quite why that should be, I really don't know other than the fact that I am reviewing things from just about everywhere and in every state, some years are bound to be better than others.


Again, let me make this clear from the beginning, this is my own PERSONAL opinion and there are bound to people who disagree vehemently with my choices. In which case, I urge them to go ahead and write their own versions - which I have noticed happening this year for the first time.

2008's Movers and Shakers

Those artists who have made an impression on me one way or another are listed - and in no particular order. The letters after the names denotes their home site: MP3U=MP3 Unsigned, POP=Popspace and Project Overseer Productions main site, MS=MySpace. All the others either come from Soundclick or are from sites I don't normally frequent or are too small to count right now. So 2008's winners are :

333maxwell - Azoora - Cam's Even Song - Cant Stop The Daggers - MD1-Project (MP3U) - Pilesar - Largo - The Antennaheadz - Dan E Peck (MP3U) - Corey Drumz - Steve Altonian - Stella Polaris Project (MP3U) - Wired Ascention (POP) - Mike-K - Crockmister (MP3 Unsigned) - David Pendragon and Tribe World Ensemble (POP) - Cameron Pierce - Refrag - The Sugar Dames - Charlie A - Amadeo (MS) - Frankfurt Dialog Company - Road Apples - Oji / Ascension Team (MS) - Kiria (MS) - Minimack - Laroche - Sound Radius - Slippy-T (MP3U)

A very heartening thing about this list that there are LOADS of new names in there, even when veterans such as Refrag, Crockmister, Slippy T and others show that there is life in them too.

2008 Tracks Of The Year Overview

This year I reviewed just over 400 tracks and listened to hundreds more in some form or other. What counts though is what sticks to my hard drive and this year only 119 made the cut, considerably down on last year btw. Not all of these 119 could make it into this section because I weed it down further by adding all these tracks to a constantly running playlist that is - gradually over the year - weeded out until only a certain number are left, these then become Tracks Of The Year. Like last year, a lot of musicians got considerably more than one Must Have but however many there are, they can only have on TOTY, even though I might mention others. Top of that list is, as usual Cam's Even Song - winner of Artist Of The Year 2006 - (with 8!) but I am enormously biased and I recognise it. He is followed closely by Azoora (7), The Antennaheadz (6), Can't Stop The Daggers and MD1-Project (5 each), so its pretty clear already who has had a good year. Anyway, as usual, here is a breakdown of what I kept each month.

Exceptional Tracks by the Month

Unifaun - Birth Of A Biggie
60 Hertz - VTEI
Rob Preston (aka Pink Bomb) - What About Us
Corey Drumz - To Let You Know
Cam's Even Song - It's Just Like That
Dan E Peck - Beachin MP3U
Can't Stop The Daggers - High
Stella Polaris Project - Private Road
Steve Altonian - Tell Me Why
Carol Douglas - Too Numb Too Cry (with Nigel Potter)

Stella Polaris Project - Dragonfly
Side Seat Driver - People
Confusion Said - Find Another Way
Cam's Even Song - Words You Said
Wired Ascention - Dark
Mike-K - Why Am I So Blue Ft Jim Miller and Christopher Martin Hansen
Slippy-T - Bleak
Can't Stop The Daggers - Changing My Mind (Azoora Remix)
M J K - Movin On
dcallen - The Main Intermezzo

Azoora - Restless
Tedd-Z - Senseless Logic
Crockmister - Just My Morning
David Pendragon and Tribe World Ensemble - Lay Down Your Guns
Cameron Pierce - Cognitive Vacuum
Can't Stop The Daggers - Go Driving Fast
Alchemystic - Dark Omen

Largo - Heal In Time
Can't Stop The Daggers - Faking It Well
Onager - Dagonet (A Radiant Mourning)
Stephen Bellm - Raga Primavera
Refrag - Cant Opener/Deligion
The Antennaheadz - I Never Found A Reason Until Today
Svenni Bjorgvins - Into The Wind
The Sugar Dames - Enough For You

Charlie A - Epique
MD-1 Project - Altered States
Largo - My Head
Azoora - Revelations EP

Wreckless Music (Ejay) - So Focused (Stand Up)
Steve Altonian - New York City Cowboy
MD-1 Project - Latinotekk
Iannai - Scattered Peices
Amadeo - Artist Overview
Crockmister - A Long Dry Season (Video)
The Antennaheadz - The Boy Who Took The World

Cam's Even Song - We're The People
Eric Oberg - Prosperous Dude
MD-1 Project - World Eclipse
Dawn Sinclair - Golden Years
Pilesar - Beef On Fire
Cameron Pierce - Young Lost and Lovely

Azoora - She's Coming Dubmix
Frankfurt Dialog Company - Do or Die (A summer song)
333maxwell - Carousel
The Antennaheadz - Dead Horse
Azoora - Temptress Ft Peter Garland
MD-1 Project - I fcuked Aphex Twin
Crockmister - Refugee
Cam's Even Song - A Touching Place
Steve Altonian - Holdin' On
Road Apples - Beautiful Creation
Can't Stop The Daggers - No More Looking For Escapes
Daysahead - You Move Me
We Are All Dying - The Reason

Oji / Ascension Team - Collective Conscious Project CD
Cam's Even Song - Seeing Darkness
Whitman Speck - Suburban Hell
Pilesar - Sorry (with Big Ship)
333maxwell - Post War Dreaming
Fluidity - Possession and Exorcism
Groyse Metsie - Mein Shtetala
The Antennaheadz - Game Of Love
The Realest - Drowning Beat
SilentWave Ent - I Rap

MD-1 Project - Giugno 2008
Cam's Even Song - Mythology
Wreckless Music (Ejay) - Old Times
David Orrick - Acrobat - radio edit
Dan E Peck - Peace Pipe
The Antennaheadz - Everyone is Weird
Kiria - Radio
Largo - This Morning
Minimack - $Dro and Drank$
The SolitaireOne - Memories Of Yesterday

Kay'Vion - Artist Overview
The Antennaheadz - A Modern Secret
333maxwell - After Hours
David Pendragon and Tribe World Ensemble - Downloading Life
Dan E Peck - The Demize
Michael Hughes - Cold Rain Water
Musicarian - Get Your Soul Reborn

Black Ice 9 - Hall of the Serpent Lord
National Snack - Apply Machine EP
Can't Stop The Daggers - Changing My Mind
The Antennaheadz - Ill
Azoora - The Big Bang EP
Mike-K - Midnight (Electric Version)
Charlie A - Hopefull
Pilesar - Gator Wrasslin' - All Sold Out
Laroche - Winter Warmth

Phew! So, out of all those tracks you may be surprised to note that only 15 separate artists made it into the final Tracks Of The Year list. These are tracks I consider to be absolutely outstanding either technically or musically (and there can be several frome ach artist as you will see) or both and appear in no particular order.

2008 Tracks Of The Year

Steve Altonian - New York City Cowboy and Tell Me Why
I'm a sucker for a good song, regardless of the genre its couched in and Steve Altonian's songs are well special, especially if you like classy country music. New York City Cowboy has stayed on my playlist all year as has Tell Me Why because I reviewed both in the first quarter of 2008. A very talented songwriter and musician.

Cam's Even Song - It's Just Like That/We're The People/A Touching Place/Seeing Darkness/Mythology
2006's Artist of the year Cam's Even Song just keep rolling out the hits in an endless blizzard and this year has seen some truly extraordinary examples of this Canadian musicians talent. You would think that someone so prolific would drop the occasional clanger but not this guy. Out of the EIGHT must haves this musician got, I still couldn't sort out any less than five that I would say are amongst his best work.

Can't Stop The Daggers - High/Changing My Mind (Azoora Remix)/Go Driving Fast/Changing My Mind
Absolutely no question in my mind that one of the major finds this year is Can't Stop The Daggers, a five piece American band that has delivered some outstanding tracks this year; most of which are featured above. They have also given me a lot of demos this year, none of which made it into this list because - well, it would be too silly wouldn't it?. I loved both versions of Changing My Mind and Go Driving Fast almost more than anything else I have heard this year. Beautifullly constructed songs performed by musicians who know exactly what they want.

Azoora - Restless/Revelations EP/She's Coming Dubmix/Temptress Ft Peter Garland/The Big Bang EP
Azoora, by a country mile, ruled everything this year and yes I am a little biased. Firstly they are just jaw droppingly good musicians, killer songwriters and outstanding arrangers, all of which makes all of their FREE 23 seconds EPs THE must have for this - or any other - year. I have been around a long time, and I have heard almost everything the net has to offer and nothing comes close to this band in any form. These guys should/will be huge someday and these early releases will become a cornerstone for what Indie musicians can do. If you doubt me, listen to She's Coming Dubmix which has hardly been off my playlist since I first heard it. Grab them while you may.

Tedd-Z - Senseless Logic (MP3U)
Its always nice when someone I have known for a long time blindsides me, and this year Tedd-Z did it to me with this absolutely rock solid chunk of electronica. I think it's mix of D&B and dub/dancehall is a major factor in its appeal but so also is Tedd-Z quite massive step forward in production techniques. If you are looking for something for your next dance party, this will go down a storm.

Crockmister - Just My Morning and A Long Dry Season (Video) (MP3U)
Wouldn't feel like the end of the year unless there are a couple of Crockmister tracks nestled on my hard drive, and this year is no different. Crockmister has been a fixture in these reviews ever since I started them and a listen to either of these tracks will show you why. He is a wonderfully rounded vocalist, whose song writing style I find second to none - as professional as it gets. Take a quick listen to Just My Morning and it will become obvious. The reason I include a video here is also evident if you see it... One guy, one guitar and an incredible peice of kit :)

Refrag - Cant Opener/Deligion
Back in the day on Soundclick (2003-4) Refrag was a much loved and respected character on the forums and musically one of the most adventurous I have ever heard. Refrag has no rules when it comes to making music (see, my kind of guy), mixing and matching whatever seems to fit AND doing it flawlessly. It was great to hear something new from this artist after such a long break.

Charlie A - Epique
As you all know I am not taken with soundtrack musicians but amongst them there are some very worthwhile artists, notably Sound Radius and Charlie A. Charlie come up with this track in May and I've played it to death ever since then. The main reason is because it features a vocal and a great sound structure as well as Charlie's usual instrumental talent.

MD-1 Project - World Eclipse/I fcuked Aphex Twin
Its a given that the enfant terrible of MP3 Unsigned (and other points to Pluto) would feature strongly this year but even I was surprised to find that he had FIVE of his hard edged 'freakbeat' tracks nesting on my playlist. These are my favourite two tracks of his this year. Believe me, you have to hear this to see just why this musician is so different to your normal electronica.

Whitman Speck - Suburban Hell
Surprisingly enough, hip hop done extremely well with me this year and that monthly list above is sprinkled with some of the best hiphop tracks I have heard this year. This one is extra special. I have only heard one Whitman Speck track but this is just so good, I couldn't stop playing it.

Pilesar - Sorry (with Big Ship)
Pilesar managed to land at least three tracks on my hard drive this year but Sorry just hits every single one of my 'oh my god, harder, faster' buttons. Part of that is the usual Pilesar sound weirdery but I have to admit that this collaboration between one of my favourite musicians from a few years back is right up my street - as lo-fi as it is.

333maxwell - Post War Dreaming/After Hours
Jazz is a very misunderstood genre, and often a very slighted one. Over the years I have heard some excellent jazz out of Soundclick but this musician shows just how tame (and new-age-y) a lot of it is. Admittedly his brilliant reproduction of 1940's jazz bands on Post War Dreaming swept me away but special mention to for After Hours; both examples of classic jazz that would appeal right across genres.

The Antennaheadz - The Boy Who Took The World /Everyone is Weird/ A Modern Secret/Ill
We've already had the enfant terrible of MP3 Unsigned, so let me introduce you to the Soundclick equivalent, Thomas J (aka The Antennaheadz). His Chameleon Dish Archive EP 'Let Them Down Gently' is another free release that shows just how good (and original) indie music can be. Three of its tracks are featured above.

David Pendragon and Tribe World Ensemble - Downloading Life/Lay Down Your Guns (POPspace)
I've known of this Australian artist for a couple of years but this multi-continent collaboration is awesome even before it starts making music. Featuring 25 musicians from Europe, the USA, Canada, the UK, India, Singapore and elsewhere, these two tracks show just how possible a major project like this is nowadays. Downloading Life, in particular is a splendid track.

Dan E Peck - The Demize (MP3U)
Last but not least is a guitarist who has blown my ears off several times this year, a fluid, dynamic player who gives new meaning to the words 'guitar instrumental' To my mind, if you are going to make music of this type and your name isn't Clapton, Beck or Page, don't expect too many listeners. Unless, that is, you can manage to sound like all three. Dan does this with consummate style.

2008 Artist Of The Year

Now for the big one. For the greater part of the year this award (unlike last year) has been a fairly easy call; only three artists have consistently rung every one of the bells necessary for this kind of status. Right from the start Azoora and Can't Stop The Daggers were the obvious choices for me. Azoora because of their incredibly professional approach and flawless song writing and arranging skills and the standout two EPs they released this year through the 23seconds netlabel. The same pretty much can be said for Can't Stop The Daggers who could well be the US version of Azoora, so closely do these two bands follow each other - except not musically of course. Can't Stop The Daggers have also released some significant tracks this year but I have a feeling that they are only just getting started. Both bands also embody what I consider are the very best of ideals for Indie musicians and that is a sure fire way to gain an AOTY slot.

However, another act came from left field and started mopping up the competition for this particular award very early on and has kept that momentum going all year. As I've explained before to get an AOTY award, the music is but a part of the criteria I apply to choose the winner. Allied to that is the musicians willingness to bend and shape themselves to fit in with the scene, nay to be a substantial part of it. Finally, it comes down to attitude as well as aptitude and attitude is what really decided my choice this year.

My Artist Of The Year 2008 is...

Thomas J/The Antennaheadz

Hey!! You may be shouting, he is just a lo-fi, johnny-come-lately warbler isn't he? Well, no he isn't although that may well be the impression you would get lately. Matter of fact, part of my reason for choosing Thomas is BECAUSE of his latest tracks; wonderful songs full of humour and warmth and an incredible retro feel. A larger part is because of his long time commitment both to his own music and to Soundclick forum life. By commitment, let me give you an example. I first met Thomas in 2003 in his Station For Imitation guise and I think I probably give him more shit than he ever gave me. He took that critical abuse right on the chin and went on his own, highly distinctive, way. He was always determined to do it his own way and now I - and several hundred others I suppose - see only too well why he was so obsessed. On a more personal note, this is one of those years when I feel that the award has been justly deserved in so many ways.


OK, now lets all get to the champagne!!

I'd like to thank everyone who has trusted me with their babies this year, it's a task I do take extremely seriously - even if it sometimes doesn't seem so. There are sooooo many different artists I get through in a year it is impossible that everyone would get onto this particular review but hey, maybe this year will be your lucky one? You can but try...

Thank you all, and I hope you had as good a time in 2008 as I did.