Friday, April 30, 2010

Refrag - Light Metal

Hear The Track Here

I've never spent a month like this one and - as usual - I've found someone to blame. Refrag. It was all Desbo's fault. Now before that look of dazed stupefaction can curdle on your face, let me season the mix. Refrag is a name spoken in whispers around here, such is the power of his legend. When I reviewed Fill O p N Tube (September 2003) I wrote that 'it should come with a warning about blue touch paper and standing well back' but I had no idea what I was unleashing onto my poor long, suffering readers. The series of tracks he pumped out from 2003 to 2005 were little masterpieces of musical oddity, each one more complex than the previous one and definitely, infinitely weirder than anything out there at the time. This was at a time when Burp (an electronica experimentalist from Germany) was also active on the Soundclick site and between them they raised my expectations of what experimental should be to heights I haven't seen since their disappearance. Still no sign of Burp on the horizon so lets just clutch Refrag to out breasts and be thankful. On second thoughts, better not.

This is Refrag we are talking about and you have no idea where he's been lurking.

The last time I came across him, I stumbled on Cant Opener and Deligion (April 2008) and relished the opportunity of bringing Refrag to a whole new blog audience. They have since recovered of course, the only scars the experience leaves are all in the mind, or what's left of it. So, having waited an entire month to sample it, I was in a rare old mood for this track and it didn't disappoint. In the weirdness factor it was more Zappa than Beefheart, more Devo than The Residents and shows a welcome return to what used to be one of my favourite of all musical tricks; experimental electronica tracks with the propulsive kick of a runaway mule. Step forward, Mr Dynamite.

Who light's the blue paper and...

Refrag takes on Rocktronica (Ed: Whaddat?) and believe me that is a very good description of what's going to assail your ears if you take my advice and get to know this track, especially if Refrag is a new name to you. The fact that he was around back in the day and helped to create the scene most of us enjoy today should speak volumes about the quality of work you are likely to hear and Desbo doesn't disappoint. Well, it's not as ferociously funny as some of his tracks (he loves musical jokes, in the nicest possible sense) but its still as powerful as I ever heard him. The years have not dimmed him indeed. So, a bit of Alternative Metal, Refrag stylie? Too ******* right matey boy and I hope that this is the start of a new active period for one of Soundclick's living legends. (Ed: way, way, way over the top as usual Gilmore, but what the **** eh?)

MUST HAVE machine rock.

Karma Police (UK) - Get Well Soon

Hear The Track Here

Third time around for the UK's Karma Police (see what I did there?) (Ed: on!! on!!) who you may remember had me waxing all lyrical about Soundclick's auspicious past when I reviewed Angels Breathe (December 2009). Both that and T.M.A.2 (January 2010) are both originally made back in 2004 and I was commenting whether Neil Anderson (aka Karma Police (UK)) had any newer material to offer. Not that I care where the music is from mind, merely curious. Get Well Soon is his answer and it too, ah ahhh, is from 2004? OK, that got my butt stirred. I went online and checked and lo, there are many recent tracks so why are we still dwelling in the past? I had a quick listen to Moon March for example, uploaded on Tue Apr 06, 2010 and it sounds mighty fine to me and something I would relish reviewing (Ed: Maybe..) although as a quick drive by, it's all a bit too spacey for me maaaaaaannnn...

Now, pass that bad boy on and stop hogging it....

Now you can tell that Neil is English because while he's making this track, it's pissing down with rain. I'm an old geezer and there's a problem with being an old geezer that they don't tell you about in the instruction manuals (Ed: what instruction manuals?), and that is you want to pass water much more than earlier versions of you. Running water, therefore, is a distinct no-no. There seems to be a psychic connection between the sound of water and my bladder. Get Well Soon is billed as Ambient but about the only thing I can hear ambient about it the rain. What it is to me is a piano ballad delivered with a lot of style and conviction - the sort of track that cries out for a vocalist.

If I was in the market for a tasty piano piece then this would come in very handy indeed, and shows that this musician knows what to use and when to achieve the effect he is after, all of which add up to a philistine like me - who hates ambient with a passion - really enjoying this track. I've found that most instrumentals have an extremely short shelf life for me, and it's a rare one that stands strong against the more conventional standard. Structurally and technically Get Well Soon comes real close. It's certainly good enough to stand alone as an instrumental but I cant help but wonder how this would be with a killer vocal to go with it. Nonetheless, well worth a listen, especially as a relaxer.

Highly Recommended Piano ballad.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Brett Howe - No Longer A Want

Hear The Track Here

It never fails to fascinate me why so many people do what we do. Spend hours/days/weeks/months/years making music, then spending endless other hours/days etc uploading it onto the net in various ways and then sitting back to wait for the roar of approval. Which, btw, turns out to be a deafening, nay humiliating, silence and the distant sound of tumbleweed. The really important point I am making here is that this experience is sooooo common, more so today than it was when I first started making music online, even for people who are extremely well known. Fact is, the internet music world is probably a damn sight harder to crack than the RW one and may well be impossible for anyone to TRULY be 'discovered' through this medium. Nope, what this is really about, once you have the music thing happening, is the endless slog to build a reputation. At the end of the day, it's all about networking, and unless or until you do it, your music is going to lie there unheard, unplayed and unloved.

(Ed: Where is this going? I have a bad feeling)

I come across endless musicians who say I just put music online because I make it and I want other people to hear it. I say bollocks. You put music online because you are PROUD of what you do, and you want some recognition from your peers. Which brings me to Brett Howe (Ed: how??). This is the third Brett Howe track I have reviewed and yet we've probably swapped about four words about it. Nowt wrong with that, let the music speak for itself, and - thankfully - Brett's music does. But it doesn't help me, or any potential audience, to identify with what he's doing and his Soundclick page is a masterclass in minimalism. Musically, Brett is a folkie of the old school, in fact I have compared him to Bob Dylan but only as a way of describing the style of song and accompaniment. Worthy of note is that both previous tracks - Each Passing Day (January 2010) and My Way Out (March 2010) - received good ratings from me. There again, when folk is done properly, it is worthwhile.

Now remember, whatever you do, that this is just one guy and, to be honest, a fairly ropey way of recording sound resulting in an absolute basic sound. Get past that lo-fi and pay attention to what is actually going on and it is evident that Brett knows how to turn a good lick, and to slur out a good vocal. I think its probably too basic for most peoples taste, but it would be of interest to folkies because of that very quality. If I were to dig out some old sandals, a baggy, shapeless sweater and not wash my hair for 20 weeks at a time, I would probably think that going down to my local folk club would be the height, the very pinnacle of society. If I'd heard a musician as good as Brett Howe, live and in person, I would probably be even smugger. So Brett, come by, say hi :)

Recommended Acoustic folk.

Ron Gragg - Time (The Time Project)

Hear The Track Here

We are entering unfamiliar territory here. This is the second Time track I am reviewing this month, and that just odd. Two very different Times though you couldn't possibly imagine. Unread Pages and Ron Gragg are in entirely different musical fields, one into experimental and electronica, the other being a son of the soil, acoustic guitars and all. Room, of course, for every single one of them. I've been through a fair amount of Ron's tracks by now so I know that I am getting something thoughtful, if not technically perfect for sure its heart will be in the right place. Ron is a Christian and it follows that Time is also Christian Rock but like a lot of the better musicians in this genre, Ron never gets on the pulpit and bangs the drum. His faith is subtle, like Cam's Even Song, bringing the subject to the front of your mind without rhetoric or harangue.

Horse, water??? Get the picture?

Time (The Time Project) is the first of a series of tracks around the subject Ron is planning and I now understand what the word patchy can mean when applied to a piece of music. In it's defence, I should state that this is a current 'work in progress' and that things are probably going to get better and that's a good thing. So here I am talking as if this were not a good track but it actually is. It's a terrific song, and kept afloat by some nice guitar flourishes and a really excellent vocal from the man himself. Almost from the getgo, the vocal style was so like Eric Clapton it was scary, and it just got better the more I heard it. Definitely one of Ron's most assured vocals yet.

And then there is the other side of the coin. Ron, like a great many of us, produces all of this music at home, usually out of anything that comes to hand. The real problems right now on this track is the lack of a driving force, the percussion that is on it just doesn't cut the mustard. There is no doubt in my mind that Time is a great song struggling to get out but for that to come about I think the whole rhythm thing should be reconsidered. What this really needs is a kick ass drummer, and some backing vocalists to supply the honey. Then, believe me, it would give old Eric himself a moment's pause wondering whether he'd made a track in his sleep maybe... For a WIP, this is soooo worth a listen anyway.

Highly Recommended Christian Rock WIP (so cut it a small break). (Ed: very small)

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Reflexion X - Night Ride

Hear The Track Here

I spent a large part of the review of Reflexion X's I Got An Error (March 2010) explaining why it had seemingly taken me from 2003 to 2010 to actually get around to reviewing this long term Soundclick resident. If it really interests you to read my craven apologies (or shabby excuses depending how you look at it), that review should suffice and I don't want to tread the same ground again. Suffice to say that I really liked I Got An Error, a masterly piece of electronica that reminded me of a poppy Kraftwerk, and that's never a bad thing. More to the point, it rubbed my nose in the fact that I really should have been checking out his work a whole lot sooner so I am glad to get another shot at his stuff. Mind you, he may be testing my tolerance levels because Night Ride (as I noticed while downloading it) is a (gulp) Trance track and boy o boy o boy o boy, I don't like that too much as you well know.

There again, the one thing that Hiekki Roots (aka Reflexion X) did prove on the previous track is that he is a serious musician, who takes care to make the very best of what he has - and it shows. Quality will out as they say, even if IMHO the genre is God-awful. Now that I've had time to listen to it, and got rid of the strange ringing in my ears, I would be hard pressed to call this trance, or at least what I think of as trance. What it comes across to me is a weird blend of 1980's electro-pop with an edge of electronica supplied by either Kraftwerk or Yello - take your choice. It's actually a kinda/sorta song too, and I have to say I ended up liking it enormously.

I wouldn't buy it chocolates and take it home to meet Mum though, as much as it charmed me. As a song, and as an instrumental, Night Ride stands up to scrutiny in all respects; it sounds full and meaty, clear and precise where it needs to be and the rhythmic backline push it all along with great style. The reason it didn't steal my heart is entirely personal, as good as the track is, it just isn't good enough to last more than a few more plays before wearing out its welcome. That, however, is down to my own pitiful tolerance levels for this kind of material. While was was listening to it though, a good many times I might add, I kept thinking it reminded me of something and I couldn't for the life of me remember what it was. When I started to write this, it hit me immediately. Anyone remember Falco?

Excellent electro-pop-ish electronica. Highly Recommended.

Zebrabook Music - The Lovers

Hear The Track Here

The continuing adventures of Jon Bushaway finds us with a new chapter from the other side of his musical tracks (ie NOT The Dead Company) with this new track from Zebrabooks Music, his alter electronica ego. Certainly if you dabble in the wilder excesses of experimental music you have become aware of Jon Bushaway through his Dead Company persona, and consequently know exactly what to expect and for those who don't know I should probably issue a stern warning about music that messes with your brain. Personally I like Jon more when he is in non-chaos/doom mode, and know him to be extremely good at putting his finger on a gorgeous musical moment. Mind you, its only fair to say that with this guy for every gorgeous musical moment, there will be five more that will make you poop your pants in terror. So, what does he have in store for us now?

Jon Bushaway is actually a poet of some note IMO, his words usually accompany Dead Company outings and The Lovers follows that tradition although, as Jon says, he is yet to decide whether the words fit or not. So far, so Jon Bushaway. So is the extreme length, this is a small fry for Jon weighing in at a measly ten minutes plus, some his works are triple that time so I guess he must have restrained himself somewhat. Of course, it doesn't feel like that when you are faced with ten minutes of kinda electronica, kinda funky, kinda weird as ****. However, over the many years I have known this most difficult of musicians, I have developed a method of dealing with his music. And I'll tell you if you pay me.

The Lovers is exactly what I would expect from Zebrabook Music based on the two other tracks I have reviewed and, of course, Jon's copious output as The Dead Company. This is not a musician who gets it said and done, here's a guy who stretches out as wide and far as it will go, and then gets behind it and really pushes envelopes. Consequently, people will come to two conclusions a) this is boring or b) wtf IS this? Personally, I've NEVER found Jon Bushaway's work boring, baffling, confusing and intensely shot through with real beauty yes but boring never. Mind you, even TDC/Zebrabook fans usually struggle to assimilate the pieces that Jon throws our way, and not always because of their obesity.

Only for lovers probably. Excellent experimental nonetheless. Recommended.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Unread Pages - Time

Hear The Track Here

Although I've reviewed at least three Unread Pages tracks, as well as wearing the beejeebers out of this track and I admit I am still no further in nailing down just what it is that this musician does - other than challenge the listener in many weird and wonderful way. Now don't go running away with the impression that this Sydney, Australia based musician is one of the 'awkward squad' of musicians who revel in experimental that is o.u.t t.h.e.r.e, although he is one of the most experimental musicians I've heard on Soundclick his music is surprisingly free of extraneous noise.

It's immediately obvious that there is a brain at work here, and consequently the tracks that he makes require a fair amount of diligence on the part of the listener to seek out all its secrets. Time is the name of the track and time is what you should give it because believe me it is worth the effort.There is 'difficult' music and then there is music that seems difficult to assimilate at first, but soon wears a trench direct to your pleasure centres and Time seems to have done to that me in record time. After the first play or so, I knew I was going to like getting to know this sprawling new world, but I had no idea...

From the odd syncopation of the intro, to the 'is it in tune or not' of some of the instruments your attention is diverted from the real prize to be wrestled from this track, the lyrics and vocal. Although I take issue with some of the sounds (video game stuff), I cannot fault either the instrumentation or production which is spot on and it does a great job of keeping the pace of the song up to speed. Yes song. Told you this is not like THAT experimental. The song, and the way Unread Pages delivers the lyrics are the real work here, at least for me. One thing stands out above all others, you are not going to hear anything like this any time soon. Relaxing, challenging and hypnotic.... (Ed: Sounds like a good film then)

MUST HAVE song. Read it and weep.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Policy Overkill - Undead Army

Hear The Track Here

I first came across US based Experimental Electronica musician Policy Overkill when I reviewed The Stomp Dance (June 2006) was proud to say that the music was ' 'Kraftwerk and Wumpscut run through a meat grinder' and over the years, and a few tracks, he's proceeded to stamp his own style on many of our hard drives. At least those of us who thrive on experimental electronica that is. I must admit to having developed a rare old taste for it, and although I haven't 'got' all of Policy Overkill's tracks there are certainly enough for him to be taken seriously by me. Been a while since we last saw him too, the last track I reviewed was And Another Thing (February 2008) so a fair bit of time has passed. So, how much has changed?

I know for a fact that it will still be 'weird music'. Plug Me In and Turn Me On isn't on Soundclick but you can get it from Policy Overkill's site in the link above or, because you are a lazy bastard, right here and don't say I don't give you anything. Ah but would we want it Gilmore?, I hear you say. Having foisted the likes of Fear 2 Stop and other Soundclick oddities on you, you have a right to be mistrustful, but if - by an small quirk of fate - you happen to like electronica and experimental then maybe you should be checking this out because Undead Army is surprisingly more raw electronica than I've heard from this musician before. Or not that I noticed anyway. Still, no surprise there eh?

Don't - like a certain reviewer - get all bent out of shape about the much over-used record noise (needle on vinyl) because once you get past that, Undead Army turns into a nifty, propulsive piece of electronica in the grand old Kraftwerk manner. The early 1980's German feel is a particularly fruitful field for a lot of musicians these days who often plunder and pillage the originals, but very few nail the particular subtleties that the band often brought to the party. On this track, that feel stands like a ghost at a wedding, always hovering in the background and you know what? I liked that whole deal because it's a lot more atmospheric than a casual listen will show so probably be good to give it time to sink in.

Kraftwerk inspired Electronica. Highly Recommended.

Ian Dadon - Youtopia

Hear The Track Here

I was always under the impression that Israeli musician Ian Dadon was a one man band so I was a bit surprised to see that he now has a band called Rumour Control, although he has still to recruit others to this banner. (Ed: so he's still a one man band then? wtf was all that about??) While I haven't been overly enthusiastic about his work so far, nonetheless he has got off fairly lightly considering that all the tracks I have heard so far had their own little faults - although more technical than musical thankfully. None of that would have prepared me for Youtopia though, which is much, much tougher than anything I have heard from him before, with a bitter darkness at its heart that makes it really appealing for me at least. Others may beg to differ, it bothers me not.

What is immediately apparent is that Ian has put in some serious work in the one area he was having problems in, production. Although it's not without its faults, Youtopia is probably the best sounding Ian Dadon track. Billed as Alternative: Experimental I personally can't see much that is experimental about it, but that's a small snipe in the scheme of things. It comes across as more goth rock than anything else although without the power and energy of that genre. The first part of the track is almost electronica in texture although I'm sure most of it is Ian playing some instrument or other, and it isn't until the later sections that he becomes the acoustic Ian Dadon we have known in the past.

Mind you, if I didn't point some things out that did bother me about the track, I wouldn't be doing that good a job would I? Ian Dadon is undoubtedly a talented songwriter but his musical and technical skill sometimes runs ahead of the ideas, and not always in a helpful direction. The worst culprit here was the vocal which is pitched pretty low to start with gets completely buried in the mix from time to time and - as in all his songs - words are the mainstay of his work. Moreover some of the other instruments started to stand out - over a period of plays - until it finally became irritating, such as the hi-hat figure that runs through the rockier parts of the song. Still, as a straight forward alternative song, and his continued improvement on the technical side, show that Ian Dadon is someone worth keeping track of.

Recommended Alternative.

This Modern Empire - How You See The World

Hear The Track Here

Over the space of three tracks and a year or so, I became aware of Australian band The Empires who slowly but surely made an impression on me. You wouldn't have thought that if you had read the first review I did of them - You Won't Make a Fool of Me (December 2008). There again, the second track - Love Is The New Black (July 2009) - fared considerably better showing much improvement both in sound and technique and by the time I got to A Better Way (January 2010) I was positively effusive about them, awarding them a highly recommended for their efforts. For me that is one of the major upsides to this review stuff, you can actually hear a band develop and grow and The Empires were doing that well. That was then, though, and this is now so what's new nu? Well, the bandname for a start. The Empires have since grown up and become This Modern Empire and this is the first track from that new quarter. Right now there are only two tracks on the webpage, this and Love Is The New Black (but I'm not sure if that has been redone. Anyway we have How You See The World to pick on so lets get to it.

The members of the various Empires are not exactly talkative, informative or even visible and for a while there I was under the distinct impression that this was a one man band, although I don't think that now but I've never really had any confirmation of this. What has kept me listening is the poppy, zippy tracks this outfit is capable of, all in an Alternative style that suits the style of song perfectly. The tracks on Soundclick came about because reviewers like me had many things to say about the band's work and they wrote when requesting this review that they had 'gotten a little more professional in our attitude to recording our music' although I can't remember being that harsh on previous output. Anyway, if you were unaware that these were studio recordings, the instant the drums kick in at the beginning you would know instantly.

Taken from the forthcoming album The Clearest View, How You See The World shows that the band have learned much about presentation and style and it is obvious to me but probably because I am aware of where they came from. Although they are an Australian band, they manage to sound surprisingly American to me, at least in feel and remind me most strongly of Michael Stipe and his cohorts in REM. Now, you may think that good news, but let me qualify this. I don't actually like REM, and I never have although I can see that I am in a minority and one of my biggest bugbears about them is that I don't think they write decent songs. Can't say that about This Modern Empire though because, despite their sound problems in the past, have always scored most when the song comes into play. If How You See The World is an indication of how good the album is going to be, then this is definitely something to look forward to.

Highly Recommended Alternative (mopey but not dopey).

Wreckless Music (EJAY) - Falling Thru

Hear The Track Here

Out of all the genres I review I am probably most critical of the biggest genre of all: hip hop. Not that I am against hip hop, far from it I have loved the genre since I first started hearing it back in the early 1980's. I was living and working in NYC at the time and got involved with a Brooklyn studio where a lot of the early hip hop records were made, and of course, Grand Master Flash and The Furious Five were all over the radio at the time and if anyone signifies the birth of this genre to me it is this outfit. Therefore I have an abiding love for the genre and frankly despair of the commercial mess it has become today. No matter though because - believe it or not - the original spirit of hip hop lives on, and in the most surprising place of all, the internet. Over the years I have reviewed a great many Soundclick hip hop musicians and rappers but found very few of them to be what I would consider 'true' hip hop. Wreckless Music (EJAY) is one of those artists and he has at least three Must Haves from me to prove the point. Bear in mind that Must Haves in this genre are as rare as hens teeth.

As an example of why I hold this rapper in such esteem can be heard on Old Times (October 2008) arguably his best track so far, Times In My Life (May 2009) and Words Kill (August 2009) all of which are worth listening to again and again. Although most of his work carries the almost obligatory Parental Advisory, Ejay uses profanity to make the words count, rather than merely peppering his rap with convenient cussing like most rappers these days. It's in the combination of words and flow where Ejay scores for me though, and this is one artist I will take the time to listen to the lyrics properly because they usually have a decent tale to tell, and not always about his trouble with his girlfriend/mom/sister/any other female. Speaking of which, the rap on Falling Thru is shared by Ejay, YS(?) and Lady E but it's Ejay's rap that still registers most for me but probably because I have become used to his sound and style.

That is not to put down the solid contributions from YS and Lady E, both of who offer up the opening for Ejay to roar through and this surprisingly short track, or at least it seems short. Coming in at a whisker over three minutes Falling Thru seems to be over before it starts which - to me - shows I am enjoying it. Musically, of course, it's a fairly standard mix of piano/string licks set against a solid - if pedestrian - beat track, although the production is several shades above most Soundclick based hip hop. Ejay may well be making these tracks on the cheap but he knows how to clean it up enough for someone like me not to pick holes in it. While I wouldn't want to say that this is one of Ejay's better tracks (the ones I mentioned are far better IMHO) it would certainly serve as a good introduction to this rapper if you have never heard of him before.

Recommended Hip Hop/Rap.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Ralph Atkinson - Going Down In History

Hear The Track Here

Third time around for Ralph Atkinson a blues rock guitarist from Toronto, Canada. You may remember his excellent Building A Time Machine (October 2009), the track that introduced me to him. There are an awful lot of singer/songwriters around on the various sites and on Soundclick in particular, so its a given that this is going to be a hard sell and you'd have to have something on the ball to be able to make an impression. With the two tracks under my belt, Ralph has shown two different sides, From the great blues rock of Building A Time Machine and a not so hot blues rock in You Mix Me Up (January 2010) I definitely like his bluesy side but You Mix Me Up just failed to cut it with me. Going Down In History is slightly more to the blues rock (and more rock than blues) side and - as such - suffers somewhat by being more of the same. If that sounds derogatory, I don't mean it that way. As I say, there are ample songs out there in this vein, there aren't too many with authenticity.

Time Machine had that but neither of the other tracks do, and that may well be my own personal taste kicking in. Like most of the comments already posted about this song, the elements that make it up are very well sourced and put together, but maybe I have heard this style too many times for my own good. When we get away from the musical side of things that the track scores for me because Going Down In History is a story song, and a pretty good example of it too. While Ralph doesn't have the greatest voice in the world, he certainly manages to carry a tune and that in itself is a bit of talent, especially in a track like this where the lyrical side is as important, if not more so, than the music it is packaged in.

I wouldn't have expected a musician of Ralph's obvious quality to deliver sub-standard work instrumentally or technically and indeed Going Down In History makes that point admirably, then it just becomes a matter of taste. While I can appreciate the work that has gone into the track, and find parts of it immensely appealing, it isn't in all truthfulness something I'd want to listen to on a regular basis and a lot of the blame for that must lie in the very standard setting of the music. As I say, something I have a lot of times before, its only Ralph's style and presence that saves the day. There again, this is a kind of ballad and a rock ballad to boot so I plead my usual defense against such things and run away screaming...

Recommended rock tale (nonetheless)

Christopher Martin Hansen - Passage

Hear The Track Here

Now here's a welcome surprise and a return of sorts. Although I'd known about acoustic guitarist par excellence Christopher Martin Hansen (CMH) for a while on another site it wasn't until 2005 that I finally got to bring him to your attention (if you were around back then, of course). I did an extremely belated Artist Overview of his work in August 2005, and we have followed it up over the years with a lot of really excellent tracks, including from his side project Donegal Street. CMH is one of my personal favourite musicians because he is just so awesomely good at what he does, and what he does best is to play the acoustic guitar in the time honoured fashion of artists such as Bert Jansch, Leo Kottke and many others. Now its obvious that as a guitarist I am going to like what he does but I have found that his music is very listener friendly, and his continued fame even during what appears to be a quiet period.

I can't quite believe this but I don't think I've heard anything from CMH for at least two years or more and that's a crying shame, especially when listening to what I have been missing with Passage, a brand new track - or so it would appear. Although Chris has ventured off from time to time into other genres (rock notably) my favourite place for him to be is sitting with an acoustic and just picking the beejeebers out of it, believe me there is nothing better. When I was younger I was considerably influenced by Spanish guitar players like Paco Pena and Manitas de Plata], who are world recognised masters of the art of Flamenco guitar playing which while it may be all castanets and stamping boots in parts can also be heart-breakingly beautiful.

Passage obviously borrows considerably from this, but any guitarist of this kind cannot fail to be influenced by it, what counts is what they do with that influence. Christopher Martin Hansen does what he always does and comes up with a piece of music so stirring, so lyrical and so gorgeously simple, you just want to shoot him for being so damn good. Now I don't know about you but instrumentals are tricky beasts, I like them mostly but could I stand a whole one? Christopher Martin Hansen transcends the instrumental tag perfectly with a wonderfully balanced, crystal clear acoustic guitar piece most of us would give our eye teeth to have come up with. I hope this is indeed a welcome return to form for CMH because musicians of this calibre are priceless, and I urge you to be checking the man out, especially if you like what I've described so woefully.

Beautiful and MUST HAVE.

Jim Easton - My Romance in Rome

Hear The Track Here

The final track from Mixposure this month is yet another two-fer effort whihc, as you know, I try and avoid. When Jim Easton (no relation I believe to the Easton brothers) offered this to me for this month what sold it was because it was a collaboration with Mix artist Baracasa who IMHO you can never hear enough of. Well yes, it does help that she's pretty but that isn't my motivation (Ed: that makes a change then). Over the time I've been on Mixposure I've heard quite a lot of Baracasa's music, and indeed a fair bit of Jim Easton's too at this stage of the game. The less senile readers will still remember that I started off this month reviewing Mike Kohlgraf's excellent bossa nova collab with Jim, KE-Nova and that was a smooth track and you know how I feel about them. Just goes to show how much of a pushover I am, doesn't it?

Two tracks in a month tut tut, whatever next...

Anyone who is familiar with Baracasa's R&B/latin style will immediately recognise My Romance in Rome, principally because it is written originally by the lady herself, Jim Easton added guitar parts and he fits right in with the style. Now while I do like that style, I admit it isn't really going to be something I would seek out because - as you know - smooth is not my nirvana buddy. I am also painfully aware that I am in the philistine section of the audience because a great many people DO like smooth, and I'm just an old rock and roller. I think my main problem with the genre (and therefore this track too, I suppose) is that the musicians and producers (Jim and Baracasa are both) tend to play it safe and stick to the tried and tested. OK if you like that, not so good if you don't. Having said that, don't think I am having a dig at this track, I'm not.

In the hands of two experienced musicians even plinky tinkly stuff can sound pretty good, especially to someone like me whose diet is usually unrestrained and raucous as all get out. My Romance in Rome is the perfect earbalm for those 'my ears are bleeding' moments, its unhurried style and tasteful instrumentation a testament to the care and devotion lavished on this track. Its incredibly sweet, underpinned by a very tasty riff from Baracasa, with Jim's guitar adding exactly the right amount of input without stepping all over the track. Lately, I've been listening to a whole slew of Jeff Beck (IMHO one of the best guitarists around in this genre) and Jim Easton has some of that same dash and rhythmic style. Not saying he is Beck of course, but the man is as tasteful on this as the Master himself. Stunning job all round I'd say and I can't normally abide this stuff, has to be REAL good for me to get behind it - and this is all that.

Excellent R&B/jazz combination. Highly Recommended.

Conory - By Jingo

Hear The Track Here

I've known UK based musician Conory for a couple of years and his brand of Alternative rock has hit the spot more than a few times, even gaining him one Must Have somewhere down the line. Moreover, he's also an artist I do like listening to whenever, because his songs are always pretty decent and worthy of a listen. Now, hold steady, while I insert the fly into this review ointment because By Jingo is the first ever Conory track that hasn't been a song. Mind you, again I should expect the unexpected from him because - lest we forget - this is also the musician who brought Marking Time (January 2010), an excellent XTC soundalike that had me frothing at the mouth and that ain't a pretty sight. So, Conory has always been one to throw spanners into things so that the music coming out of the other end of this process is (and isn't) familiar and fresh.

The story behind By Jingo is worthy of mention as an example of how to capitalise on ideas. Where other people take notebooks (you know, the paper kind) and jot down ideas they have while on the move, Conory takes along a small office tape recorder and when he had an idea, he'd hum it into the tape. Well, he says its more like a dum than a hum and when you hear By Jingo you will know exactly what he means. Conversely this is the first track finished from that basic idea and Conory is threatening that there around 40 more to come. It is, as he describes it, 'the first Dum to be finished' Can't say fairer than that, I say.

Musically it's a very weird combination of electronica, trance, rock and all points on out. It's also a full on instrumental, although - thankfully - it doesn't rely on the time honoured tradition of messing up a perfectly good groove with ego stroke lead guitarists and keyboard players. Now I'm a sucker for a great groove and By Jingo has one, and truth is that's about all it has. Mind you being dominated by the Dum school of musical thought it pumps along a damn sight quicker than you would expect. Has some excellent sounds in it too, although I wasn't prepared to be as won over by the horn sounds as I later found myself. If I have a complaint about the track at all, I think it would have to be its repetitiveness. The basic groove is only so long, and the track seems to repeat it two or three times when I felt it could have been expanded more than it was. Still, as a lesson in the Dum method, it's a fine challenge.

Dum dum dum. Dum dum dum. (but not dumb). Recommended instrumental.

Fungus Dace - I Find It Really Hard

Hear The Track Here

As you know I do a LOT of reviews but I have to say, in all honesty, that this review is one I have absolutely not been looking forward to. Not because of anything musical, Dace is a new name to me or at least was a little while ago, so anything i said about his music would be premature. Nope it was because Dace absolutely doesn't like my reviews. Fair enough, you say, lots of people don't like my reviews and - as it happens - I don't care whether people like them or not. It isn't why I do it. No, my real problem is the same as always, how objective can I be when provoked? Regular readers know that I've had some very hairy situations down the years because of what I say but it hasn't stopped me yet, and neither will it. I do take a certain pride that in my objectivity, even when that same objectivity can be taken as a partisan view. What's the big deal? It's just an opinion. Speaking of which....

Dace (that's his name, Fungus is his music) is an improv artist which means that he pretty much plays whatever comes into his mind, or springs to his fingertips. Now if that sounds easy to you I have to say you probably need major help, because GOOD improv is very, very difficult to master and it comes down to knowing exactly what your instrument is capable of, in any given situation. For example, some of the best blues players I ever heard played directly out of their heads, never looked at a piece of music, nor needed accompaniment and the result was mesmerising. Blues is at the root of I Find It Really Hard but not as we know it Jim. Dace takes that root and literally makes a musical and textual flow that, to be honest, I found surprisingly familiar. Dace supplies a voiceover rather than an actual song, and that is where I found it so easy to like, in fact he reminds me, in some ways of Soundclick's Larry Ludwick - certainly in sound.

So while I wouldn't actively search out something like this (it's billed as Art Rock) I must admit I was pleasantly surprised by the style, and the ideas being expressed. Essentially, the track comes down to Dace describing how he makes his music, and obviously he finds it really hard. That isn't what you would be thinking though because the music that's going on underneath this tale, is stacked with enough guitar sounds and licks to make even the most avid plank spanker want to hear it more a few times. Sure, it won't interest some people because its the spoken word and I know for a fact that it puts people off but where Dace scores it to make it flow wonderfully along with the music. If this is the way Fungus Dace goes, then it's fair to say there aren't going to be too many people that sound like this, and that's a benefit in itself.

Interesting, odd and involving. Highly Recommended noodling.

Tangled Thoughts of Leaving - Contextually Inept

Hear The Track Here

Last track out of the Rebelriffs blog this month is an Australian band we've met before. Yep, those sunny, smiley purveyors of 'Industrial Cruise Ship Jazz' (I kid you not) are back for more. Ron and Luke Pollard, Andrew McDonald and Ben Stacy are not an easy band though, as my review of A Vexing Predicament (December 2009) shows only too well. Now I like jazz, and, in some forms, I like experimental too but Tangled Thoughts of Leaving combine that and that's where things tend to get a little sticky. Surprisingly enough I came away from that session actually liking the track and seeing that this was a band with a vision, and you can't say that about most of them. The only problem is, will they be the only ones who ever see it?

I know lots and lots of people who make 'difficult music' and they all - to a man and woman - know that they don't stand a ******* chance out there in cyberspace, let alone in the real world. So why, you may ask, do they persist in making music that often mimics the sound of cats making whoopee under a full moon? Surely they would realise that this kind of music turns off the bulk of humanity and a nice, boppy pop tune and smiles might get them a lot more attention? Well, I'm sure they do know this, and I'm equally sure that they couldn't care less and that is why I like bands like TToL. It helps that they are in fact more jazzy than experimental and feature versatile and adept musicians (the bass, for example is a wonder for the ears). Contextually Inept, like its predecessor is not going to set the world on fire so if jazz makes you shudder, this is probably not for you.

If I hadn't learned about their musical skills on the first track, I probably wouldn't have been as nice as I was to them, and even on this track their musicianship is one of the major draws despite it sounding as if it were recorded in a garage. Which, I suppose, it might well have been. I had to go back and listen to the first track again while I was writing this review because I felt the same reservation as I feel with this. As I say, I like this band and I like the material they come up with but I am really not a big fan of the production it comes wrapped in. OK, it may well have been recorded live right off the bat in which case there isn't a lot you can do about it, and that's that. I suspect, however, that if time were spent on defining and sharpening instrument sounds, and a wider approach to the overall sound ,Tangled Thoughts of Leaving may well find it increases their audience dramatically.

Highly Recommended Jazz workout.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Logical Conclusion - Double Black Diamond

Hear The Track Here

Soundclick veterans will know this one. You hang around a site long enough and you start to notice the ebb and flow of people in it, and when you've spent years on a site you get a great many re-appearances. It's always nice to see old friends coming back to the site and we've seen the return of a few extremely well known names from the past, including - as it happens - one half of Logical Conclusion. Logical Conclusion is a duo from America consisting of Skye van Duuren and Robert Rice, but if you've been around a while you may well know Skye Van Duuren under another name. The last time he was active on Soundclick he was going under the name of Lord Skye. Aaahhh, now you are beginning to look a little greener around the gills so you obviously remember that listening to his music was no walk in the park. We all have to start somewhere though right, and by the time of my last review - To New Lands (Sailing) (May 2007) - I was actually being quite nice about his work.

His genre at the time was Games Soundtracks and that obviously plays a part too. Logical Conclusion's genre though is Modern Jazz which given my aversion to all things soundtrack is a sweet deal because I definitely like jazz in all its forms. Unless, of course, it isn't jazz. That's when things can get a bit explosive. The primary charge I laid at his door in those few reviews I did between 2006 and 2007 is that he has way too much reliance on standard - even factory - sounds. Doesn't mean anything in some music but when you are trying to recreate classic and classical structures that sound fidelity is probably THE most important factor - at least for me. If the instruments don't strike the right tone and texture then it doesn't really matter what those instruments are doing musically. There again, at the best of times I can be a crotchety old so and so and this is probably not the best of times.

So while the track was most definitely Modern Jazz, and a rollicking version of it at that, the sounds definitely let it down, at least in my view. But a sound is just a sound right? Yes, and I freely admit that there are sounds I really, really don't like. If I didn't recognise the impossibility of such a thing, I could have sworn that Skye deliberately went looking for every single keyboard sound with an irritant fact of 25 and worked them all into this tune. I think even he would have to agree that a lot of the leads happening in the track have their roots in the video games world, but nonetheless do sterling service in this track too - even if they are the aural equivalent of blackboard and chalk to this reviewer. So, if you can stand the leads, Double Black Diamond is a belter of a jazz track.

Highly Recommended Jazz (but beware of razor sharp leads)

James Crosbie Hancox - The Girl With The Sun In Her Eyes

Hear The Track Here

Like most of us, James Crosbie Hancox loves it when a plan comes together. Listen to him waxing lyrical about how this song was written 'I was going through a real dry spell as a writer and was sitting in my house when the title came to me. It was at this moment I picked up my guitar and played these chords, the whole thing was written and recorded and mixed in around 2 hours. Every take is first time' Good eh? Now do you hate him as much as I do? It is very rare that I have those moments, most tracks seem to take forever to make, but when they do happen, like James, I am ecstatic about it. Of course, when I go and listen to it the next morning its still the usual dreck I come up with, but that's my curse not Mr Hancox, his curse is being reviewed by me.

Given James's usual very English sound, The Girl With The Sun In Her Eyes, sounds surprisingly American and - better yet - doesn't sound like it was put together in a couple of hours with everything done with one take, but that's what the man says. What generally gets me about JCH's tracks is that they contain a song, a well rounded, well put together by-God song. Indeed it's one of this musicians greatest strengths and is responsible for him getting a string of highly recommendeds from me. Having said that, as much as I like the retro, instant pop that this track is wrapped around, I'm not so sure that the overall thing has the same impact as some of his previous tracks.

Mind you, if you have a thing about the birth of rock and all sounds 1960's, here's the track you've been looking for. From the Farfisa organ sound, to the jangly guitars and straightforward, workmanlike drums this is a feast of past influences, bringing up all sorts of musical memories. Put it like this, if this were the Swinging Sixties, then James Crosbie Hancox would be discovered playing at Butlins and this track would be part of his ode to the Great British Summer, and the happy campers would just lap it up. So, as I say, rich in period detail, and that's the draw for me because I have heard better songs from this composer but I tell you what, this is a good track for you to make his acquaintance with.

Recommended period pop.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Thomas J Marchant - It's A Hard Life (That We Are Living)

Hear The Track Here

Because I was lucky enough to get an physical copy of the Silvertrain EP, this track was sandwiched on my Ipod with Headwork's Don't Pass It By and as I mentioned in that review, Thomas was the first musician I had encountered who made shoegaze music. You and I know it as English Alternative but hey what's in a name. Yes, Yes, I see you spluttering that Thomas J has already had a go round this month because - o sharp eyed reader - didn't I start the month with Keeping Up Appearances, his killer collaboration with Chas Holman (aka 333maxwell)? I admit this openly but I plead temporary insanity. I was so excited by the idea of starting the month with a track featuring two of my Artist Of The Year('s) - Thomas won it in 2008 and Chas won it in 2009 - that when Thomas came along with this track I completely forgot to tell him to f*** off. So here I am stuck with it.

As the man says, it's a hard life.

I admit I am completely taken with Thomas's style and his songs, a unique talent that was completely illuminated by the work 333maxwell did on Keeping Up Appearances, and I admit to a shudder that the refinement Chas brought to the party might have changed my view about Thomas's original (and rougher) sound. Tell you what, with lesser talents that may well be a problem but I should have known Thomas would be the last one I could level that charge at. All that Chas did was enhance (wonderfully) what is at the base of each and every Thomas J Marchant, an intelligent, focused song performed with incredible confidence and style. I've lost count of the amount of Must Have's I've dished out to this guy but again and again he proves that it is all so worthwhile and It's A Hard Life (yadda yadda) merely confirms that with some considerable exhibiting of a massively burgeoning musical muscle.

So, what's he gone and done this time that so has my panties in a twist? Damn me if he hasn't gone all country-fied on us. Not only that but he's somehow managed to find the hidden pill jar that has the only known MakeMeDylan pills known to humankind, and promptly scarfed the lot just before he made this track. Now I know for an absolute fact that Thomas is from my neck of the woods but the sense of wide open skies and endless, dusty horizons It's A Hard Life contains is pure Dylan, as his Thomas's inflections. I don't know whether it was intentional on his part, and if so he ran a serious risk of my carving him a new rear end for blasphemy, but the boy did good. Nope, he did brilliantly. The song is just verse, chorus, verse, chorus, one man his voice and guitar and as such you will have heard it a million times before but I beg to differ. I've been saying forever that Thomas J is unique and something this simple proves my point better than any words I can muster. T'ain't perfect, of course, but that's Thomas's trademark so deal with it.


BSM - Falling Apart EP

Hear The Track Here

'Dear Mr Gilmore', the letter said, 'what is the world coming to? I notice from this month's review list that even the British School of Motoring is getting into the internet music act, are you really going to review their EP? Next thing you know, it will be a tuneful little ditty from a group of that blood-sucking scum we know as lawyers!!. Yours rashly, Cedric Fredrick'. Well, Ced, let me instantly put your mind at rest because BSM in this case stands for Brandon, Strickland & Mesropian which, although sounding like a bunch of bloodsucking etc's is none other than a new guise in which to find one John Brandon whose name you will know only too well. What? Silvertrain!! Helloooooo. Not that Silvertrain have gone to the breakers yard mind, but John did assure me that this was a completely different set of I mean music and musicians. There again, he also assured me I'd have the EP in time for review and he only just got it in under the wire so things haven't changed that much.

So, and for the record, BSM are John Brandon from the UK and Brad Strickland and Steven 'Mez' Mesropian from the US and their Soundclick page holds all four of these tracks for you to listen to, while I have a shiny, spinning thing (Ed: CD to the rest of us) so lets listen together. You may remember in my last Silvertrain review - Under Pressure (March 2010), I banged on about the changed style and my reservations about it. John assured me that Mez's voice (he was the vocalist on that track) fitted BSM much better and judging by A Different Song it surely is. First off, I was stunned by the production, clear, clean and sharp as a tack which helps, I think, the substantiate the band's comment that it is ' it's a great introduction to the sound of BSM'. It is that, and more. It's style is hammered home with When You Sell Yourself For Something New (track two) and at this stage I was already sold.

From my side, I can't help but bring up all the old baggage between John and I, and I have to admit that I think we have a much tougher, more in-your-face version of the 'train. Rock (rather than pop) is the source this time though, even though each and every track on this excellent EP (and it really is an EP, four tracks innit??) is actually pop by nature. I put this down to the blend between an artist I know only too well, and two musicians I am just getting to know. I am bound to recognise John's influence but its surprising how much the other lean towards John's favourite musical stomping ground. Falling Apart (track three) is where the real rock credentials come into play, an absolute firecracker pop rock song that itches so many familiar memories, but Lost and Found (track four) really seals the deal. The vocals that power the other tracks, becomes mellow and pretty, oozing into your ears like aural honey and if I wasn't convinced by now that Mez has a killer voice, this would be the track that would do it. Damn, this is a killer selection of tunes right enough, and it's sure to guarantee BSM a front row seat in feature reviews.

MUST HAVE EP. Seriously awesome.

Headwork - Don't Pass It By (Radio Edit)

Hear The Track Here

A brand new name (to me anyway) again, this time courtesy of Soundclick. The band are, apparently, from the UK and are Jay Porter, Dean Woodington, Andy Clarke and Tony Dawe and, I guess, not so new to Soundclick because they have comments going back a few years. Mind you, huge site, one little guy, know what I mean? Anyway, they are billed as an Alternative band, and Don't Pass It By is billed as that interesting new genre 'shoegaze' and yet their influences are a fairly classic mix of new and older rock names. Mmmmm, mixed messages anyone? Whatever, we have come across shoegaze before if I remember correctly because one Thomas J Marchant is my own favourite choice. Aaaahhh, now you are beginning to get the picture. See, a genre whose name really does describe the music; spacey, lollopping and intensely introverted. Where Thomas sticks to a retro feel for it, Headwork go for a much more electronic sound.

Ever since Echo and The Bunnymen there has been this miserablist strain in English music, mainly from the North of England and centered around the cities of Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield - all of which produced classic examples of the genre. So although I like, say, a couple of the Smiths tracks and some others I'm too lazy to look up, this is a genre I would usually run a mile from. Fortunately, it has mellowed from its snot-nosed, whiney brat beginnings into a reasonably decent genre and, thanks to Thomas J, I've developed quite a taste for this newer, modern variety. Well, now I can add Headwork to the bag too because the track is extremely well put together technically and it's a pretty decent tune into the bargain, particularly if you happen to like the genre.

Now I know that it's almost de rigeur to mumble the vocals in this genre but even so Don't Pass It By does a neat trick. As much as the vocal can hardly crawl out of the singers mouth, and as whispery as that voice is you can hear all the words, and that knocked me right on my critical butt. It isn't often that I am able to hear one of these tracks where as much attention has been spent on the final product as on the fun bits of putting it all together. I'm also a sucker for that time honoured 303 sound and this track features a beaut, and it just gets better as it goes along making me suspect that this was put together in Reason but I'm prepared to be wrong about that. No mattter what though, I'll probably be coming back to hear more from this quarter because Don't Pass It By is a cracking introduction.

Highly Recommended Electronic shoegazing...

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Howard Billington - Break It Up

Hear The Track Here

Don't know quite why Howard Billington has chosen to give me the first track from the freely downloadable Welcome To Tomorrow CD - 300 Years (March 2010) - and the last track (this one) but I'm sure that he has some crafty marketing ploy up his sleeve. Like his music, this is not a man to be taken lightly even if his image and his music invite you to do exactly that. I made that mistake for about ten seconds and then I played He Stole My Girl and promptly realised that appearances can indeed be deceptive. Essentially, despite his extremely English take on it, Howard Billington is a pop observer of life who just happens to write music about it and consequently making his track very accessible even to the most jaded of listeners (ie me). I freely admit that since I first made his acquaintance I have looked forward to hearing his material and that doesn't happen nearly often enough.

Howard turns his eye to rock for this track, although it has as much Britpop influence as rock and again shows that Howard is a consummate songwriter and I wish that he would post lyrics along with his tracks because - for my money - they are the best thing about any Howard Billington track. That's not to say that the music is sidelined because every single one of the four Howard Billington tracks I have reviewed has been musically tight and - here's a thing - fresh and inventive. Where 300 Years comes out of the punk field, it also shares a lot of the same attitude and style as Break It Up, almost if if this track were the grown up version of 300 Years. Definitely a Clash feel about the whole thing that's for sure, and that was punk grown up and serious as far as I am concerned.

I am intensely proud of my English musical heritage and I've already detailed the shoulders of the greats Howard is standing on in my review of Love Can Wait (February 2010) and it makes my appreciation of his lyrical side all the more important. Songwriters like Howard are a vital part of the whole English experience and - if they know their language - can be both uplifting and unsettling as in the case of the late, great Ian Dury, who - it has to be said - Howard Billington owes a big debt. Like the famed inventor of the Rhythm Stick though, Howard Billington knows that he has to bring his listeners along with him and his songs definitely do that. Can't say, hand on heart, that he has yet surpassed the highpoint that was He Stole My Girl but I've still got another ten tracks from the CD to go...

Highly Recommended English cockney rock stylee

Rayon Vert - Rayon Vert Remastered

Hear The Track Here

Now, as you might see, a new name. Well, to be confusing, Rayon Vert is a new name to me, although it holds some very well known figures in it. The full line up is Rob Grant, Gary Carciello, Doctor C and Farrell Jackson, the latter seeming to be everywhere at once. Their self titled track was, no, I'll let them tell you... 'All bands (even internet ones) need to write a song named after them' so, like many bands before them they wanted to write their signature tune and nothing wrong with that. Not sure whether the character Rayon Vert in the song is either a superhero or a supernatural being but it's all about harnessing the power or something. Aaahh, you nod wisely, now that the penny has dropped. Yes, Rayon Vert are indeed a rock band and yes again clever clogs, they inhabit the world known as Mixposure. Where I noticed that someone has compared this track to a Kiss song. Aaaahhh, curse my eyesight, not a good start. When I am downloading tracks for review, I really should do it blindfolded because I always notice the bad stuff.

Like many a non-American, I was confused why anyone could actually like Kiss (Ed: we got no insurance on you Gilmore, don't tempt fate) so seeing something compared to them is not the best start. There again, think on those names I mentioned in this band. None of them are exactly novices at this music stuff and long past their rock virginity so I personally expected something several levels above what Kiss were capable of and lo, I wasn't disappointed. Rayon Vert Remastered is a very sharp, concise rock pop track that fairly jumps out of the speakers and attaches itself clamp-like to your ears before you can so much as blink. Most of that instant appeal is supplied by the keys (and production) of Doctor C and the incredibly crunchy guitar sound of Gary Carciello, although they face some serious competition from Farrell's Paul Rodgers sounding vocals and Rob Grant's economic bass figures.

I was surprised to notice that they were classed as Progressive Rock (shudder) on their Mixposure site but I'm glad to say that not only are Rayon Vert not like Kiss at all, neither are they anything like the prog-rock horror you might expect. Well, I might expect. You may be deranged enough to actually LIKE prog-rock, in which case why are you even reading this still? For the rest of us mere music lovers, Rayon Vert is exactly what the Doctor ordered. A healthy shot of rock right into your earholes that manages to sound as fresh the 20th time you've heard it as the first, and that's definitely what I would have expected given the calibre of the musicians mentioned here.

Highly Recommended power rock song.

Steff Adams - Blue Pathways CD

Hear The Track Here

A review now from the Rebel Riffs blog, which seems to be turning into a great source of new, unheard musicians. Almost all of the review requests I am getting from there are from artists I have never heard of before and given my steady Soundclick diet, that can only be a good thing. Tired ears are ****** ears. Steff Adams, his website declares, ' is a Welsh singer songwriter from Cardiff, UK. He writes and records most of his material at home' and there is a familiar refrain eh mateys. Other than the location, it applied to several dozen million of us internet musicians, but I digress (Ed: as usual). Tell you what though, he has a very smart looking site which shows that he has the right attention to the presentational side.

Bodes well for the music, d'ya think?

Well, put it like this, the last time I got so worked up about a solo artist was with Alex Highton last year and the quality he brought to the party, Steff Adams has in equal measure. Funnily enough they cover the same musical ground too, although I think Alex tends to be wordier. The emphasis for Steff is most definitely acoustic based pop with an incredible Beatle-ish feel and a knack for knowing how to bring out a tune (and being able to carry it vocally too). The chief influences being either Harrison and MacCartney rather than Lennon so don't expect anything rough edged. So mentioning those two names should conjure up images of complex, but devastatingly pretty music that envelopes you in feel good vibes. Takes a rare talent to carry this off successfully and it takes a rare talent indeed to even begin to think they could even do it, let alone sound confident while doing so. If you are not convinced by Should Have Stayed Home (the first track), then I don't think any of the other tracks from this 10 track CD will interest you either. Mind you, I'd have to think you were out of your mind because this is extremely classy stuff - whatever your preference.

I mention Should Have Stayed Home because it turned out to be one of my favourite tracks from this excellent, if low key, selection of pop goodies. Moreover, considering this was produced 'at home', it's surprisingly clear, crisp and punchy, a great job all round. Funnily enough (and on a much more parochial note) the tracks I really latched onto all reminded me of the work of Soundclick veterans Silvertrain around the time of The One To Blame CD (2004 or so), and I'm sure that anyone on that site will instantly recognise the truth of that statement. The strength and quality of work that Steff has poured into each of the ten tracks shows the same attention to detail as creating a sharp online image, the image and music are very, very professional indeed. As well as being a very lucid songwriter, Steff is also a formidable arranger and musician, showing us many different sides of his particular style. About the only negative thing I can say is that the Beatles/MacCartney did get a bit wearing over a few plays but I never liked that side of the Beatles much anyway, being a rough hewn son of the rock. Nonetheless, this is a classic opportunity to catch up with a very interesting artist indeed, especially if my review has done him any justice.

Awesome Beatles inspired collection of songs. MUST HAVE.

Friday, April 16, 2010

MJK - Wait

Hear The Track Here

There isn't a month goes by without me, or an artist, making a God almighty c***up over a track I did/didn't/couldn't/wouldn't review and last month Matthew Kurz (aka MJK) was the unfortunate victim. Shame that because, as my reviews show, in a very short time indeed MJK has shown that he is a singer (and songwriter) well worth keeping an eye on. Especially if your preference is for extremely polished, professional sounding pop songs that actually work as they are supposed to. Add to that, Matthew's distinctive - and very confident - vocal style and you are listening to a sure fire winner. Anyway, I think the fault was mine so this month we can put that right. Wait was the track I was supposed to review last month but wires got crossed, brains got fried and here we are. Once Matthew had put me straight (and I got out of the hospital), I went to listen to Wait - before I knew he was going to put it up this month - and shock, horror, I can't say I liked it.

At all. Uh ******* oh.

This, after all, is the same guy who has had four Must Haves from me in a row. So where did it all go so wrong? The answer, my friends, is down to one thing and one thing only, I really should never review tracks in a drive by fashion. More so with a musician as refined as MJK because his style isn't in your face. One of the things I picked up on that fatal driveby is that Wait is a ballad - and I think I even heard the original version not this much more developed monster of a track. I am on record as stating that I cannot abide ballads, and indeed that is true. I hold myself in utter contempt for absolutely loving this track but its that kind of track. That's the only defense I can muster on this occasion other than to say that MJK is by far and away one of my favourite singers on Soundclick - or anywhere else for that matter.

While it is, at heart, a ballad, Matthew injects the piece with more than enough emotion and drama to make even a philistine like me pause and take notice. The main thing that comes across in just about ANY MJK track is this musician's amazing ability to not only write a good song, but to perform and record it faultlessly too. As I mentioned in my last review of Without You (March 2010), he is one of the only musicians around who actually uses that annoying Autotune feature without it taking over as the whole point of the song. It's when you come across musicians and singers of this calibre that the abyss between real and online musical world becomes most apparent. In any sane universe, MJK would be as popular as that other MJ and maybe decidedly saner too.

(sigh) MUST HAVE (sigh) ballad.

Ron Vogel - Us Mere Mortals

Hear The Track Here

Although I've known US based Alternative Indie musician Ron Vogel on Soundclick for ages, I only came up against him musically when I reviewed Blazing (November 2009),a nice slice of straight ahead rock that kinda set the seal on the next few tracks I reviewed. In this respect, Ron can certainly hold up his own in his chosen field because all of the tracks I have reviewed since then has been highly rated. Mind you, I do like a geetar player, as many of you are only too painfully aware. Ron first wrote this song in the 1980's during a similar financial crisis (the savings and loan one if I remember correctly) to the current one, just a matter of scale. He obviously saw the similarities and resurrected the song, even so it retains a surprisingly retro feel, the kind of track that could have come out of the period - especially in America where this kind of music was a big deal at the time.

Tell me, have a listen to the track. Doesn't the vocal remind you of Ian Anderson, erstwhile (and hirsute) singer and flautist of Jethro Tull? Certainly does me, until he gets into a prog-rock kinda American style and starts wailing like a banshee. Now, normally here there would be a mighty pulling of hair and gnashing of teeth because we are in very dangerous territory. Nonetheless, Ron saves the day by merely flavouring the track with that prog-rock influence, it's real roots are in early 1970's rock of the inspirational kind. Actually, casting my rusty mind back, I can't say that I have noticed before how good a vocalist Ron is. I've always recognised his guitar playing as something I like to hear.

In fact, reading back through my review of Staying Out Of The Way Of The Day (February 2010) I mentioned that the vocal could have been better but I definitely couldn't say that about this track, the vocal is nigh of perfect for this material. Now understand that I don't actually like this kind of rock, never have. It's all too American sounding for me, all a bit too histrionic, know what I mean? In Ron Vogel's case though, is an exception. Not just because of his incredibly tight, focused production, and the quality of the performance both instrumentally and vocally but more so because here is a song that wears its Christian heart on its sleeve and speaks what it sees. On that alone, I would have recommended this track, but the musical style that goes along with it is a wonderful bonus.

Highly Recommended Alternative rock.

Larry Ludwick - Life Lessons

Hear The Track Here

Reading between the lines, I suspect that Larry Ludwick and I have a great deal in common; musically, philosophically and in life experiences. Came as a bit of a shock then to read about his latest track (this one) 'might be my last'. Larry has been suffering from some ear problems and I for one hope that he is feeling better about that now because it is IMHO, the nightmare that haunts all of us. I wouldn't even mind being blind (much) so long as I could still hear. Like all musicians, my hearing is critical to my own personal well being and when I have problems (I've had some, I've been a musician for a long, long time) I just can't settle to anything. So, hope your problems get resolved Larry and soon because we need all the talent we can get.

Although Larry hasn't been that active on his own account lately, due to endless collaborations with one Jon Bushaway and a couple of other collaborative meisterwerks, all of which stand up to endless scrutiny but I would expect nothing less from this musician. Now I've known Larry long enough to know that this is not a musician who would be/could be tied to any one particular genre. In fact, I don't think he has followed one style for any more than one track in all the time I have known him. The really irritating fact here is that in every genre, the man stamps his own style and that is a hard trick to follow.

Life Lessons sees Larry donning backpack, battered hat and heading out to Alternative Country, although I'm not quite sure about the country bit. I've always found Larry a painstaking songwriter, where every element backs up each other, with a story that has a beginning, a middle and an end. Where all this falls down is in Larry's presentation. Like a lot of home produced musicians, I have found that Larry Ludwick is an acquired taste - at least for some people. I suspect that I have become very used to his sound and take it into account when reviewing his material. There is a comparison I've made before and I make it again now, his sound and style is very Leonard Cohen although his vocal certainly isn't, so if you like intelligent songwriting maybe you could get a taste for Larry's material too. Overall, I think I warmed more to the subject matter than the song itself, not really my kind of thing. No disputing the quality though.

Recommended Alternative Country (but not Yeeeaaahhhhland)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Absolute Chaos - Sunrise

Hear The Track Here

I knew I had reviewed Absolute Chaos before but - for some reason - my mind had run away with the idea that they were some kind of electronica band so when this kinda classy (but decidely home made) hip hop comes out through my speakers it kept throwing me for a loop. Mind you, a few plays took care of that then I started to remember that Absolute Chaos was in fact only 17 years old, but was still making music that sounded mature and confident - and for a rapper confidence is pretty much the whole deal. As I explained in my last review of this musician - Falling Asleep (February 2010) - I have become used to Soundclick's particular brand of hip hop and Absolute Chaos fits in there like a glove.

I'm still unsure as to how the music Absolute Chaos uses comes about but in feel and style it will be familiar indeed to anyone familiar with independent unsigned hip hop music, I mentioned in my last review, Absolute Chaos is coming from the De La Soul school of music, slick beats, jazzy accompaniment. In short, exactly the kind of hip hop I appreciate and, in some ways, that saves Sunrise but not quite. There is a tendency in the vocal for the voice to flatten at certain points in the rap and that definitely spoiled it for me, which is a shame because this is a very enjoyable track.

Nonetheless, the more times I listened to it, the more times those instances became glaring errors so that by the end of the reviewing cycle it was making me grit my teeth. Mind you, the guy is still learning and given the quality of what IS right here, its a small, fixable thing. Given the quality and style displayed on these two tracks, Absolute Chaos seems to know what he's doing and lets face it, only nerds like me would spot the vocal glitches. Most people wouldn't even hear it, they'd either like the track or they wouldn't and if they liked this particular style of hip hop they might find they liked other Absolute Chaos tracks too.

Recommended Hip Hop.

Mike Kohlgraf - KE-Nova

Hear The Track Here

As you know I am a creature of habit, usually bad ones. One of my worst habits is hanging around the chatroom during Mike-K's (as in Kohlgraf yes,sheesh) blockbusting Saturday Night Rocks radio show on Mixposure, making a nuisance of myself and generally behaving disgracefully. Due to a plethora of computer problems I haven't been over there in a few weeks so with that guilt foremost in my mind, let's turn our attention to what Mike does most; ie being a musician. Like a lot of people who spend time building things, Mike suffers from being better known as a DJ than as a musician, a position I recognise and sympathise with. None of which stops Mike from churning out his tracks which is as it should be but sometimes, just sometimes, I like to see people like this get the credit that they deserve, Yeah, in a perfect world right? So let's have some fun and carve Kohlgraf a whole new butt!!

(sigh) OK, let's not.

Actually shouldn't joke about doing physical injury to the guy, he's been doing that pretty much solo over the last year or so. He's busted his arm once, his leg and probably something else I've forgotten but he does seem to have been in the wars. Now while I don't particularly like the smoother end of the musical spectrum that Mike inhabits, I certainly wouldn't beat him up about it, at least not by much. fact is, as much as I hate to admit it, Mike Kohlgraf is a class act, especially if smooth happens to be your music of choice. What he has done over the past couple of years IMHO is to bring his guitar work up to the standard of his arrangement and production and truth to tell, that has been a bit of a revelation. Mind you, he's been backed by some pretty awesome musicians in the past few releases and this track is no different, featuring the talents of Jim Easton (also on guitar).

On KE-Nova Mike shows us that not only does he know the words bossa nova, but he knows what it means musically because - above all - that lazy, but insistent rhythm is at the heart of this (essentially) guitar instrumental. This is the sort of music you will find playing in some of the finer spots in the world, so I guess in one way Mike has this deal sold. On the other hand, people like me are never going to fully like something soooo unbelievably smooth, but that doesn't stop me from recognising when someone is doing it right and Mike Kohlgraf has been doing that for a long time now. Funnily enough, the reason that I ended up really liking this track was BECAUSE of it's incredible Latin feel - and that's from ALL the instruments, not just the guitar.

Excellent bossa nova from Mr Smooth. Highly Recommended.