Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Conory - Claustrophobia

Hear The Track Here

Last track out of the bag this month comes from Conory, a musician who has changed quite a bit since I first met him with Long Dark Hallway (July 2008), although never straying that far from some admirable Alternative roots. Looking back over the reviews its obvious that Conory has a bit more on the ball than most, he's a good songwriter within his genre and he knows how to make the music he wants to hear, usually making us want to hear it too. So far, though, he's only managed to snag one rave from me and that was for I'm Still In Love (Directors Cut) (July 2009), an absolutely awesome rock pop song that somehow conjures up visions of a music scene long dead and forgotten. Like a lot of his tracks, patience and persistence pays dividends. This is a musician it is worth taking some time over IMO.

Now I wouldn't be honest if I said I loved this whole Alternative thing. Some of it makes me want to vomit it's so introverted and pimply. Some of it makes me want to crack heads and smash guitars so lets not even discuss those kind. Then there is the odd musician who makes sense of it, Conory is one of those and a sharp, convincing songwriter into the bargain. Claustrophobia is yet another track that shows off that ability to plug directly into the depths of time and pull out a song that is both bang up to date and respectful to its roots. Damn, I can even hear the very beginnings of prog-rock in this...

Pop Quiz!!! Hands up if you remember '70's fad, pub rockers!

There is a lot of that sound in Claustrophobia. Admittedly a lot of that impression is going to come from the way that Conory has put this together recording-wise, there is a certain rough, home made feel it to0. Mind you, not that yer average listener is going to be taking that much notice of things like this, they are going to swept away away by the surge of energy that this extremely likeable track delivers in its wake. While I can't say this is one of Conory's best tracks, in energy and style alone it's well up there, it's just a bit too throwaway for my tastes I guess. Nonetheless, a very entertaining track and no mistake so roll up the rug push back the furniture and dance like its 1999! No, wait a minute, that can't be right....

Highly Recommended pop rock song.

M J K - Without You

Hear The Track Here

I've known Florida musician Matthew Kurz (aka MJK) for about three years and I can testify that he isn't one of the more prolific artists around but when he does come up with tracks you can bet they are about as solid, professional and commercially oriented as anything you are likely to hear anywhere. From the grand total of eleven tracks on his page I have reviewed at least four, ALL of which got a Must Have from me and all of which have featured in my end of year reviews. So the one thing that absolutely gets me every time is that knack, that unerring aim that produces something of quality and worth. Unfortunately, attaining that standard takes a lot of time, patience and yay lets hear it for bloody-mindedness. While it's true that you have to excel in the arcane crafts of production techniques, and have the necessary arranging skills in abundance all of it will mean nothing without the talent to match it. Without that talent what you have is something that sounds great but is hollow and leaves with all the speed of a Chinese meal.

Beyond any shadow of a doubt, over the course of the last four tracks, Matthew has proved time and again that he has the talent as a performer (everything you hear is him) and as a vocalist of no mean power. A natural born singer if I ever heard one. Where he really scores though is in the songs he writes, wonderful little pop odes that embody everything that is good about the genre. Take, for example, the rightfully detested Autotune vocal trick that has become de riguer amongst certain R&B musicians. It was kinda cute the first times you heard it but then along came Cher and I Believe I'm Insane (or something like that) and lo, everybody became so. Now everybody wants to sing like a demented squirrel. However, when used properly - as an EFFECT - the Autotune feature can intensify and broaden a vocals appeal.

One thing that has always been clear about MJK's work is that the man has taste. Arrangement, instruments, tone and feel, his tracks really do have it all. For my part I just wish he were a little bit more prolific because, well dammit, I just can't get enough. If you think I am just spinning my usual Gilmore Gabble, subject this guy to the acid test. Go over to his page and pick any track, if you like one you'll be sold on the rest. THEN might be a good idea to come back to this because you would be listening in context. Pop has always been the name of Matthew's first love and that adoration is obvious in everything the guy does. What really sticks in my craw is that he isn't famous already, at least as a knockout songwriter, if not a terrifically able pop singer.

MUST HAVE pop. Instant #1

Daniel Eboli - Paradigma

Hear The Track Here

You know, I have a theory about this 'ere reviewing malarky. See, I used to be a normal man musically, I had my likes and dislikes and when I loved I loved fiercely and when I despised I could curl paper from a thousand yards. Years of reviewing on Soundclick and elsewhere seems to have cured me of a good many of my endless list of musical phobias. While it's true that I can never really warm to the spiritual delights of ambient and new age or the bombast and fretboard envy that is prog-rock (to mention but three of my pet hates) I have still managed to stumble across musicians who seem to carry the candle for these genres, even to extent of finding listeners who wouldn't normally listen to that sort of thing but just happen to find the musician(s) interesting to listen to anyway.

Such is the case with me and Daniel Eboli.

He has presented us with tracks from all the genres I've mentioned and - as a special side treat - even teamed up with Jon Bushaway and Larry Ludwick with The Void (December 2009), and the really surprising thing is that he has had some very high ratings from me. Now I know for a fact that I haven't mellowed with age (Ed: no, he's got a lot, lot worse) which proves that Daniel is an extremely competent musician, arranger, producer, coffee maker et al. So, just by way of a change - as it were - Daniel this time throws us a solid electronica bone to gnaw on. Even, I might add, a dance flavoured electronica bone which kinda mingles yet again another couple of my pet peeves. (Ed: so wtf do you actually like then?)

Paradigma is made with Fruity Loops, Arturia modular system and Antares Tube and being a user of all four of these excellent pieces of kit, I can see that Daniel has again stamped his own special brand on this particular phobia. For a start, it's impressively tough sounding, bulling its way forward like some crazed American footballer, although some of the sounds are a wee bit tinkly, the solid underpinning (which sounds great really loud btw) maintains the pace and flow. There are some great little leads going on throughout the piece and it'll take you a while to decide whether it works or not but as someone who has listened to this a great deal, I'm absolutely sold. Who'd a thought a Brazilian musician could have cured me of so much... Bless you my son....even.

Incredibly tough, driving electronica. Highly Recommended and MUST HAVE for fans

Monday, March 29, 2010

Rude Corps - A Little Bird Told Me

Hear The Track Here

OK OK, I know.... This is beginning to look like a conspiracy. I swear that the chances of three of Soundclick's electronica's leading scallywags ending up in line on my review schedule is pure chance. Reflexion X, Alchemystic and Rude Corps all originated from the Soundclick electronica scene between 2003 and 2005 which, as they will testify, was a VERY happening scene back then. Of course, that was a good while ago and things have moved on, both for these musicians and for Soundclick's various communities. Now I liked the older electronica crowd because they had a kind of ethos about them, and it permeated the music of the time but the music of people like those mentioned and long lost ones like Bonamici, dcallen, Adam Fielding and too many others to name. Thankfully most of these musicians are still active (if not on Soundclick) and still deliver the same quality and tenor of music as ever and - as we've seen with Reflexion X and Alchemystic - become much stronger musicians because of it. While those two have both gone off at slight tangents lately, good old Rude Corps sticks right to what works as electronica and - almost as a by-product - cogent, topical political comment.

OK, argumentative will cut it too :)

I first started noticing Rude Corps around 2006 with various collaborations but since then he's kept me steadily entertained with his own material as well as standout work with Stain(ed) Art and a couple of tracks with the enigmatic Sir. Enough for me to know that whatever he's come up with this time is going to worth the listen and that - to my mind - is the mark of a true musician. So imagine my immense surprise to find that Rude Corps has joined the highbrow society, and in such a spectacular manner it absolutely took my breath away. If the thought of Alchemystic turning to classic ballads blew up my skirts, the one of Rude Corps turning to Classical Contemporary pulled down my pants and smacked my butt. Now before this gets all hot and foggy, lets all take a deep breath and....r-e-l-a-x.

Trust in Rude Corps's stance has always been, I found, an integral part of his work and - despite the mind boggling classical part - it is a part of this too. A Little Bird Told Me is a track from 1381, an upcoming album (I presume). The album tells the story of The Peasants' Revolt of the summer of 1381 in England, led by the legendary Wat Tyler, a classic tale of English struggle. In other words, a blood soaked, betrayal filled, utterly dreadful episode that many an Englishman would recognise down the centuries and more power to Rude Corps for breathing some extra life into the subject. As a piece of music, of course it's wow factor had me under its spell for a long time but as the track became more and more familiar to me, it stood up amazingly well to endless repetition and that is due, completely, to the inspired instrumentation and its use. Damn (sniff) fair makes me proud to be English (sniff)...

MUST HAVE classical (and I can't tell you what this is going to do with Rude Corps fans)

Alchemystic - Never Thought Ft Yolandé Strauss

Hear The Track Here

It was only by the purest chance that this track was back to back with Reflexion X because the leading players in both cases are wizened Soundclick electronica veterans, deepndark and Alchemystic are names very familiar to us and not always because of the music :) Mind you, Alchemystic now has his own very snazzy site and no longer seems to be on Soundclick per se so its no good looking for him and - much more to the point - he seems to have changed musical direction too. It started a while back when I reviewed Destiny's Fire (February 2009) which is where we first encountered Alchemystic the musician and arranger for (gulp) a female vocalist. Now, if I've got this right (Ed: he'll undoubtedly be wrong then), the vocalist on that track was Yolandé Strauss with the lyrics written by Katherine Wong. Exactly the same combination then came up with Sweet Sorrow (January 2010) which is where the change became most pronounced. Here is what I wrote at the time while raving about 'a straightforward, three hankie tearjerker of a power ballad'.

Yes, yes, the eyes do bug, don't they?

If you had used the words power ballad and Alchemystic a few years ago, I would have laughed myself silly, No longer, because BOTH of the tracks I have mentioned got a Must Have rating from me and believe me, I don't usually hand them out to ballads, let alone to (makes the quote sign) power ballads. Now I know that Alchemystic is a very talented and competent musician (more so on this kind of material surprisingly enough) and Katherine Wong's lyrics are classic examples of the art, the real glue holding this together rests in the vocals of South African singer Yolandé Strauss. I compared her at the time to Karen Carpenter because she has that same inviting warmth in her vocal that helped a philistine like me to appreciate Ms Carpenter and it certainly did the same with Yolandé.

Now you wouldn't think it to look at me but I'm a deep, deep cynic so it would have to be a rare talent that could move me enough with a ballad, and indeed very few do. On that score Never Thought has much the same instrumentation and feel of Sweet Sorrow, all extremely tasteful which says much about just how good Alchemystic is at what he does. Without the killer ingredient though... That's where Yolandé steps up to bat and knocks it right out of the park. As clean, classy and elegant as the music is, Yolandé's vocal is all that wrapped up in the kind of vocal sound that sends shivers down my spine. None of the Whitney Houston histrionics either which mar a lot of modern ballads, what we get is pure tone, beautifully phrased lyrics and a soundtrack that could definitely stand on its own. The major part of that music backing is Yolande herself on piano, or at least I think so. Not only can she sing like an angel, she can tickle the ivories like one too. Now, I'm not sure which is the stronger track, this one or Sweet Sorrow. Tell you what, you decide by listening to both of them.

MUST HAVE ballad (damn, I could even get used to writing that!)

Reflexion X - I Got An Error

Hear The Track Here

A new name, but with a Soundclick veteran behind it. Finnish musician Heikki Roots has been on Soundclick a long, long time. Since 2003 to be precise and believe me that's a long time in Soundclick years. During that time, he was releasing electronica under the deepndark name (also his forum name which may be naggingly familiar), and to my eternal shame I don't think I have ever heard any of his music. Ever. Funny thing is, like a lot of Soundclick forum regulars, I have followed his various comings and goings with a lot of interest but never really known very much outside of that. Now that I've heard some music and done a bit of research I suspect that Heikki and I have a similar musical path to where we are right now. He started making and releasing music back in 1993 (I started a year previously) and - as you do - learned a lot over the years about what works and what doesn't and, most important of all, learning to sharpen and hone your own unique musical 'voice'. Funnily enough, Soundclick's electronica community contains a surprising number of these kind of musicians so it really shouldn't come as that much of a surprise.

Back in the day (talking 1992-1993 here) Scandinavian musicians (Swedes, Fins and Norwegians in particular) ruled big time. Almost all the musicians working then and well known were European anyway, but the Northern states cleaned almost everyone's clock big time. The reason still eludes me to this day but there is no doubt that they picked up on the musical possibilities a lot quicker than the rest of us. So what I get from I Got An Error is a modern, very grown up version of the kind of electronica that made the MOD scene such a joy to know about and be involved with. In other words, given the man's history, I would expect something that stands on its own on every level and I Got An Error does not disappoint, technically or stylistically.

I say this fully well aware that this is not my favourite area (dance electronica is for dancing IMHO). So I already had one hurdle to overcome but a very, very small one when up against this excellent song. Yep, you read that right, an electronica track that actually carries a song. Heikki readily admits that one of his main influences is Prodigy which, when you hear the track, is obvious although not to the 'copyist' level. The production is so clean and punchy I didn't even notice it the first few plays and that is rare for me because that is where I usually pick the most holes. Couldn't do it on this track, Heikki tied it up so tight. As always I try these tracks out in a variety of situations and over a large sound system this is ******* devastating and - strangely - reminds me somewhat of Kraftwerk at their pop end. Whatever, no denying that this is an excellent piece of work, regardless of style or genre.

Highly Recommended indeed.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Rustik - Backpack

Hear The Track Here

By all accounts, hip hop musician Rustik has been on Soundclick since 2005 but doesn't seem to have that busy on the site, although he does have some twenty odd tracks posted up for you to listen to. A distinct lack of any information about the artist though, so its blindingly obvious that Rustik is a new name to me at least. As usual, my preconceptions cluttered my view until I actually heard the track. I was expecting the fairly typical Soundclick rap track that - although decent - would never set the world on fire. The naming of Jay Z, Li'l Wayne and Kayne West as influences should have given me a clue that this would be different.

When I first started hearing the track I had to smile because it still has a distinctive (for Soundclick anyway) home produced sound, but what comes out of the speakers is in a different league to many rappers. In fact, it's not really a rap at all, more a song with a little bit of rap hanging about looking suspicious. The ghost of T-Pain visits with the by now ubiquitous Autotune sound so despised by so many of us and - most grievous of all - this track comes from the softer sounding side of hip hop, never a good area for me to visit on account of my intense nausea towards all that lovey dovey crap.

What saves it, from my point of view, is that Rustik sounds confident, is a competent musician and producer and - given the style - a good enough singer. For my money, as good as the overall sound is (and it is good) there is something lacking and I can't for the life of me place my finger on it. From a commercial standpoint, this is an excellent track and if the influences I have mentioned interests you, then do grab a listen because it is worth it just in terms of some real indie alternative to the artists I have mentioned. Backpack is also, when all is said and done, a very decent song and shows that there's more to Rustik than meets the eye. Worth keeping an eye on methinks...

Excellent indie commercially flavoured hip hip. Highly Recommended.

Dark Arts - You A Naughty Gurl

Hear The Track Here

You may remember me reviewing Dark Arts' Music Down, Bass Up (October 2009) and mentioning that although the name is different we know the musician underneath the bonnet, going under the name of Solidsounds and I have reviewed a fair amount of those tracks. So, couple of things to bear in mind; I'm not much of a fan of the whole dance thing and in particular electronic forms of dance music. This is an area Solidsounds worked and and probably suffered because of it, although I doubt that was the reason for the name change. On Music Down, Bass Up there was a definite tightening up of the sound heard previously and it's actually a very listenable piece of said dance electronica, enough for me to give it a grudging recommended when I reviewed it and considering my dislike of the genre, I think Shane Simpson (aka Dark Arts) got off lightly ;)

Of course, he won't think that.

See, right from the getgo You A Naughty Gurl (not sure if that's patois or English skule edukashun) proudly pronounces its electronic house credentials and those are words sent to torment me. There again, this is the aural philistine who forever wondered what could possibly be happy about house. Admittedly, I was back in the day when it was fresh and clean smelling but the current (modern) version of it is a flabby pale imitation of the spirit that moved the house movement. For my money, the genre is full of people who think that the only thing that really matters is the four to the floor, bolstered by a couple of out of tune piano and/or horn samples. Not, fortunately, a charge that can be levelled at Dark Arts either for Music Down, Bass Up or You A Naughty Gurl.

If I was forced to listen to dance music (which is the only way it would happen anyway, lets face it) then it would have to be something at least as inventive as Dark Arts is with this outing. What a lot of modern dance electronica seems to have forgotten - especially when its called House - is that the original sound was very, very subtle, sophisticated and ahead of the curve. It just happened to be set to a dance beat. Dark Arts manages to keep enough of the original style and elan of the genre, with an excellent production standard that even I can forgive him for the genre he so obviously has a deep love for.

Recommended Dance electronica.

Zebrabook - TDC The Buildings Are Dying

Hear The Track Here

If you haven't already had a frisson of apprehension already at the band's name, then let me add more to the pot. Zip along to the webpage and the first name that will leap out at you is Jon Bushaway and if the TDC in the song title hasn't given the whole game away from the start you will know that we are facing that perennial review challenge: a Dead Company track. There isn't a reviewer alive, I think, that doesn't experience a dizzying plummeting of spirits when faced with one of this bands tracks. Their music is always dense and complex, the tracks are endurance trials often way over ten minutes long - as is this fourteen minute exercise in what The Dead Company is all about. The biggest strike against them though is the hardest, the dark, bitter heart of every single track. If this all sounds like I don't like the band, dead wrong. I have long been a big fan of this very experimental electronica grouping because of the music and - more to the point - the poetry that often studs their work.

Poetry?? Experimental electronica?? Run away!!

This is, in fact, a piece of Dead Company history coming from the extremely disturbing 'Buildings' cycle that shook most of their peers back in 2003 when it first saw the light of day. I know I have a physical copy of the whole project somewhere and I've turned my house upside down looking for it because there is a difference between the original and this new version. Sean Boyle (aka Black Circles) was the original speaker in chief, and in this version is replaced by Soundclick's very own Larry Ludwick who has been doing sterling service with the newer version of TDC. As always, caution is demanded when listening to TDC and as a reviewer I feel duty bound to point out that the earlier version of The Dead Company was considerably more miserable than its present incarnation and The Buildings Are Dying are is but a pale shadow of the beast it was.

Nonetheless, it is the kind of music, lyrical content and overhanging, overwhelming sense of doom, that would drive your average listener to commit suicide within the first minute or so, let alone the other thirteen. Music to irritate your dog by. The dark, suffocating sense has always been the very essence of what The Dead Company has always been about and one of my first clues that things would never be the same for me again. So, early on I formed this bizarre attachment to what they did and this track only bring back to me exactly why I found them so interesting. Whatever you do though, think. You know me, you know I can like some seriously deranged stuff but The Dead Company has always raised the bar for weirdness beyond most people's reach. Oh, and Larry gets to swear, swear a lot and with great viciousness.

MUST HAVE remake for fans. All others exercise EXTREME caution.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Fear 2 Stop - Hopeless (Demo)

Hear The Track Here

Despite the exact same word as this songs title being levelled at some of the works of Houston, TX based Fear 2 Stop, I have an abiding affection for their admittedly strange, often disjointed and dissonant work. Also, as you may gather, Hopeless is a work in progress; in other words something maybe a wee bit raw and unfinished, also words I have heard levelled at this band and in fact I think I have even said that from time to time. Doesn't stop them though. In fact, nothing stops them as the fact that - of all Soundclick artists - I have spent more time listening to Fear 2 Stop tracks than any other. Not because I wanted to, although as I say I am a fan of this band but more because they never, ever let me off the hook. Rare is the month that doesn't feature a Fear 2 Stop track. So why don't I tell them to sling their hooks? (Ed: I think he means go away but don't quote me on that).

That is a long story.

I'm certainly not rash enough to say that Fear 2 Stop deserve the attention of everybody because I know only too well that they do have limited appeal. However when they do make a fan, those fans do seem to roll with the punches Fear 2 Stop throws better than anyone else around. The key to Fear 2 Stop is understanding that they actually WANT to sound like this. Believe me, they go out of their way to sound like this and as much as it isn't to most people's tastes, they also don't seem to care what people think of what they do. All of which leads you to either an irritating and/or interesting listen and its often not until you start playing the track that you realise which kind it is.

'About 80% finished' Billy Castillo says and you may well argue that it sounds about 0% finished but that is the way with this outfit. I do indeed see the shape behind this track and it is a familiar shape, a rough hewn mix of electronica and basic analog sounds that is absolutely unique to this band. Best not to go looking for musical sense in here because it will drive you as mad as a box of frogs if you try. I once though that Fear 2 Stop had some kind of inner depth that I'd never found, then I thought they had no depth at all and it was all just surface noise. Yeah, a surface noise that has lasted many, many years and becomes more consistent by the track. You may not like Fear 2 Stop but you cannot deny that they are persistence personified.

Texas electronica; if it rattles drop it and run away screaming.

Erik Oberg - Pam & Lee's Cafe

Hear The Track Here

It might surprise you to know, despite the sparsity of tracks on this musicians page, that I first reviewed one of his tracks as I moved my reviews to Soundclick from another site back in early 2003. So despite being around on Soundclick at least as long as me, he still manages to have a grand total of three tracks on his page. Exotic Tuesday (September 2003), nothing then until Prosperous Dude (July 2008) which didn't have any of the slight flaws of its predecessor and gained a Must Have from me on that basis of that., Erik was obviously delighted at this achievement because (lazy armpit that he is) it's taken him almost a year to deliver the next track. So, three years between Exotic Tuesday and Properous Dude, and now one year gap between that and this new track. Hopefully then next one will come in six months, but enough of my carping, lets see what we have here...

As much as I was blown away by the professionalism and competence of Properous Man, a lot of the praise came because I felt it was a strong song in and of itself. With my hand on my heart I fear I can't say any such thing about Pam & Lee's Cafe. Don't make the mistake though that I don't like it, I do but probably for all the wrong reasons. It was obvious to me even back in 2003 that Erik Oberg was going to be a different prospect because he stood out at the time and this was when Soundclick was probably at its creative peak in terms of artistic activity. To be sure, we haven't seen years like it since, nor are we likely to.

So its pretty much a given that I wouldn't have much to say about Erik's performance and/or production ability, the man learned those lessons a long time ago and he knows he can reach a certain standard without really straining himself. That, frankly, is my problem with this track. I doesn't sound as if Erik is putting himself into this track very much at all. Oh it's certainly likable as a slice of Euro-rock-pop and I know there are many people who would like it a lot. However, for this reviewer, this is a bit of a lazy track hampered - I feel - by its overt Euro-rock which to my ears sounds incredibly dated. More to the point though is the feeling that the musician was pretty much marking time with this track because I've definitely heard better from this musician.

Recommended Euro-poprock.

GSM - Time Will Cure Us All

Hear The Track Here

I admit that I don't really pay a lot of attention when I am reaping the dubious rewards of my chosen profession (Ed: he means when he's downloading all your tracks, I think) but I do catch the odd thing that flits before my eyeballs. Like, for example what kind of music this is ie genre classification. This is something that has caused me massive amounts of grief down the years because, well I'm a bit weak in the assumption department. Meaning if there is one to be leapt on, I am certain that I'll be there shouting 'yeeeaaahhh' and waving my hat about long before most of humanity. Now I have my list of peeves and I think it is headed by prog-rock and I've never ever made any secret of it and having said that I've still found myself having to defend this music from time to time because the musicians do such a bang up job of it.

And all without a nice frilly blouse and big hair in sight.

Gabriel Sabadi, Chris Moore and Chris Georgiou are the three musicians who make up GSM and they may well be familiar names to you, certainly I've heard much from Gabriel and Chris through the good offices of Mix Radio but Chris Moore I'm not so sure of. What I do know about these musicians is that - whatever the genre - the result is certainly going to be highly listenable. I had the great good fortune to come across Yes before they go famous and bloated and I admit to loving their first two albums and if Time Will Curse Us All reminds me of anything its Yes during that period. The contrast between the floaty, effortless vocals and the heavy aggression they could pile on when needed, echoed in this track, although I can hear a lot of other influences into the bargain. Mind you, this is a long piece (seven minutes and change) and the trio make as much use of that time as possible.

Yeah, all well and good but did I like it, you ask impatiently. No, I freely admit. Not in the conventional sense anyway. I wouldn't, for example, root around looking for something like this myself but when I come across it in a review environment it comes down to two outcomes; will it be a struggle or will I like it because - well - it's that good. There are, I am glad to say, a few prog-rock musicians that I have come to like - especially over the last two or three years - and I think there will be room in there for a band of GSM's obvious calibre. What makes this different from most 'prog-rock' is that it is a very affectionate nod to the beginnings of the prog-rock scene rather than its bloated, pretentious aftermath. It also helps that GSM holds three extremely talented and competent musicians/producers/whatevAH. Who knows, it might even tempt me to pull out a copy of the Yes album (released in 1969) and if that's the case I am really *******. And I blame you all for corrupting me :P

Excellent Prog-rock affirmation. Highly Recommended.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Howard Billington - 300 Years

Hear The Track Here

An artist who has made a very big impression with me in a very, very short space of time, Howard Billington is definitely one of my Soundclick musicians to watch out for. With just two Howard Billington tracks under my belt, there is no doubt in my mind that this musician is a singular talent. His music and songs have all the charm, grace and style of an somewhat over-enthusiastic six week old puppy; exuberance personified. I'm not going to say that this is music that will lick your face right off in a rush of boisterous pleasure but it certainly feels that. Now being a well known curmudgeon and part time cantankerous old fart you would have thought I would run a mile from something like this but, the fact is, Howard's music even got to me.

There, I said it. Happy now. Harrrrummmmppphhh.

Having said that, I haven't heard any of the tracks off the brand new freely downloadable Welcome To Tomorrow LP of which 300 Years is the first track so let's get to it. Almost the first I noticed about Howard was his songwriting ability, that eerie knack of putting the right sounds to the right words. I've compared him to both Ian Dury and Madness and that's chiefly because they are all Londoners, making music for Londoners - despite its universal appeal. To me, that is the real point about Howard and his music, he makes no bones about his roots and his music lives and breathes because of it. Oh, and remember that puppy we were discussing in the first paragraph? Remember about the face mask, whatever you do.

Imagine, if you would, a cross between Madness (structure), Joe Strummer (pace and style) and the lyrical simplicity of the whole punk period and you've have a pretty good idea about which kennel this guy lives in. Not really sure what 300 Years is all about to be honest but there again I don;t really care either because what is there is pure - if decidedly lo-fi - punk energy. You wouldn't say that by the slow intro mind, so give it a while to get into its stride. Somewhere around forty seconds in, the track picks upself off, eyes the starting gate and pelts off hell for leather for the outro. It's a poppy, engaging song encased in what is a danceable rhythm but you'd have to be about twelve to have to energy to bop around to it. Whatever, it certainly bodes well for this new album so watch this space for some more adventures in puppy raising...

Highly Recommended modern punk.

JT Chisom - I Don't Mind

Hear The Track Here

JT Chisom is a new artist to me, even though he seems to have been on Soundclick since 2008 but that's an indication of how big the site is and how small I am in comparison. No matter, I noticed he started a review thread in Soundclick's Critics Corner forum and that's always a good sign. As the man says, radiators and drains, know what I mean? Folk Rock is what he appears to be into and judging by I Don't Mind, more folk than rock even. Not that I have a problem with that but I know a lot of people do, especially the bleepheads amongst us (Ed: he means electronica) who seem to think that sitting, playing a guitar and singing is easy. Now I know that I am one to talk about railing against guitarists, but it does take some skill and a LOT of patience. OK, you counter, but so does electronica. At which point I poke my fingers into your eyes, give you a tasty kick in the testicular department and get on with the music.

Given the size of Soundclick and the number of wannabe troubadours, it is a bit surprising to me that we are not knee deep in acoustic singer/songwriters. The fact is that there are a lot of this kind on Soundclick, but they tend to put a whole lot more into their music that just the voice and the guitar; they are the basis of almost all the one-man bands Soundclick is rightly known for. Then there is the acoustic, folky kind who prefer to keep it as simple as ABC. JT Chisom fits into this landscape perfectly; his vocal style, his playing and his songwriting all evoke a much simpler period. Having said that, I'm sure there will be plenty of drive by listeners who wouldn't even give it the obligatory 20 seconds before moving on.

Actually 20 seconds is about all they would need because this is a very, very short song coming in at a whisker below a minute and a half. Even in that minute and a half nothing very substantial happens, other than the song unwinding around you. What it shows, despite its length, is that JT Chisom definitely has something going on here; he's a sharp, concise guitar player, a vocalist comfortable with what he is doing and a decent song to sing. I think I'd prefer to get my critical teeth into something a little lengthier before I could make a meaningful decision about this musician, but this is for sure a good start.

Lo-techo, folky song. Recommended (why its over in a flash!)

Wake Of Destruction - Spirit

Hear The Track Here

'Dedicated to the ones I have lost' is how Omar Chavez (aka Wake Of Destruction) refers to Spirit, a new track from this electro-pop singer songwriter. In case you have no idea who Wake of Destruction is, it's high time to put that right because he is definitely one of the best songwriter musicians around right now, especially if you have a leaning towards electro-pop in the first place. Personally I was into it the first time around during the 1980's and most of the latest stuff I have heard pays more than a healthy nod towards its roots and nowhere is this more so than with Mr Chavez. Since the first time I reviewed him with Run From Me (July 2009) he has delivered a string of extremely high quality songs, gathering at least four Must Haves in as many months and is one of the Soundclick artists I would have gone for anyway, as a reviewer or a listener.

Biased? Moi? Too ******* right!!

My bias is because this guy really is that good. Slight musical detour this time, into a much grimmer, grimier industrial sound although the underlying song is exactly what I would have expected from this very accomplished composer, its very economy and spareness is a testimony to the less is more school of music. Amazing when you read the lyrics, you can almost hear the song being sung, but the actual track may very well take long time Wake Of Destruction fans a bit by surprise because - lets face it - we are well spoiled by the extremely high studio quality this musician always bring to the table. Mind you, despite its aural roughness (deliberate btw), the same sonic standard still applies although I have much sympathy with Omar because this must have been a bitch to mix.

Sounding a bit like Low period Bowie, Spirit is full of sturm and drang, clashing aural textures and edgy, disjointed angles all vying for your attention, leaving the vocal some way behind. Omar also sounds very different from his usual clear lyrical self, gruff, growly and angry; these are vocals that demand to be listened to and I'm sure it will take a while to sneak up on you. One of the strengths of this musician in the past has been his uncomplicated, straightforward yet intricate style. Spirit is just taking it to a whole new level and one that, I am sure, will bear some very strange fruit indeed. If this is an indication of where Wake Of Destruction are heading off to now, I shiver in anticipation of what is to come over the next year or so. Be prepared to work for this one but it is so, so worth it.

Highly Recommended dark electronica.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Charlie A - Finding Neverland

Hear The Track Here

Someone should have let Charlie Armour (for it is he) know that finding Neverland is going to be a bit difficult now that Big Money have their claws in it and the monkey's friend has gone to the real Neverland. There again, Charlie may well be thinking of the original source of the Neverland myth and the stories by JM Barrie about Peter Pan which definitely explains why Michael Jackson was so fixated on it. So now I've comprehensively screwed myself for all time with the MJ estate, let's see what the real deal is. Now those who know Charlie know that he is a man of few words (and at least some of them are read the rules, fool) so as usual no clue exists as to why this is named so, and - as usual - the music is left to speak for itself.

Speaking of which I would be well fearful if anyone other than this English musician asked me to review an electronic ambient track. Just don't do that trick too well, as many have found out to their cost. Charlie, on the other hand, has always showed a tastefulness about his forays into this genre and - truth to tell - has me sold that he can do it almost effortlessly these days. If anyone can actually score a soundtrack, this guy can as he has proved again and again. From the opening notes of Finding Neverland you know you are in for an aural feast for the ears.

Please bear in mind that I really dislike the whole soundtrack thing and I absolutely loathe and despise ambient but somehow Charlie always manages to vault those mountains of prejudice and Finding Neverland is no exception. As lush and as sumptious as his instrumental sounds are, Charlie's real strength comes in his ability to coax our very lazy minds to actually get to work running the movie the music demands. For me, the whole point of soundtrack music, regardless of its uses, is to invoke and inspire in the listener images and scenes the music then illustrates. When it's done properly it's a joy to behold but when its not its usually turgid, pretentious rubbish. Certainly not a charge that could ever be levelled at Charlie A.

Highly Recommended Wide Screen entertainment.

Skin Deep - She Stands At The Precipice

Hear The Track Here

Yet another new name to me, again from Mixposure. As I've said, time and again, it isn't physically possible for one little guy (Ed: little, little little) to take in the whole breadth of the online music scene. Even if I had a clone army and time on my hands I'd be hard pressed to even hear a third of it so when people say 'yeah but we've been around for years' it comes as no surprise. I've been actively reviewing online music since 1994 and, believe me, I've heard a LOT of music but even so people come, people go and things change from year to year. Can't hope to keep up and I treasure the new artists I do meet, simply to get a break from the usual hungry horde (Ed: he means you guys). So, Skin Deep, whodat??

Obviously reading between the lines at Mixposure, I should know more about Skin Deep because everyone else seems to know about it, but lets not go there again. Nonetheless this seems to be a track from a solo side electronica project for - I suspect - a rock musician of some kind. Now, I tell you, a six and a half minute slice of electronica better have a bit more going for it than a four-to-the-floor plus added beeps and whizzes, especially seeing as we seem to drowning in that type. On that score, Skin Deep need have no fear because if you have gotten say a little bit into this track, you'll never get out again. One of the elements that keep me coming back to this track time and time again is the arrangement, it's path as twisted and erratic as you wish for. Moreover it treads a couple of musical paths equally deftly, and switches between them with breathtaking ease.

It is, of course, just an electronica track basically but what Skin Deep has added to it is an almost lo-fi song that sounds a lot like our old friend Thomas J Marchant or - going waaay further back - some of the acid rock work of the late 1960's, in particular Syd Barrett and the Pink Floyd. The electronica part and this old rock style are seamlessly attached and that is the final confirmation that this is very different to yer average electronica. I find it just as interesting that Skin Deep thought to meld these two things together but there is no question that it does work; the rhythmic complexity of the instrumental sections sets off the more laid back out-of-his-head that is the essence of the song. Excellent stuff and well worth checking out if you like to hear something a little bit different.

Highly Recommended blend of electronica and rock.

The Usual Pleasures - All In The Eyes

Hear The Track Here

Some guys are butt guys, some guys are leg guys, some guys are jug happy and some guys, myself included, are eye guys. For me, it's always been in the eyes. That chance contact where a choice is made and you both recognise it. Can't beat that. But here we are again talking about sex and that will never do. I blame The Usual Pleasures for bringing this track to my sordid attention. You may remember that we first encountered them through my blog when I reviewed Kevlar Hearts (January 2010), which I liked for its energy but contrasted against other tracks on their MySpazz site felt a bit lifeless. This is, after all, a live band and the best way to hear them is as close to live as possible given a recording environment. No matter, when the review was in they told me they had some new stuff in the works that better represented them...

And lo, it shall be....

Mark Fletcher, Chris Jones, Craig November and Sam Taylor make up the TUP entity and they hail, btw, from Sheffield, England also home to Artic Monkeys with whom they share a fairly common sound. Mind you, there's not much you can do with a couple of guitars, bass and drums, especially in a proto-punk format so everything kind of hinges on the quality of the song itself. As much energy and drive as you inject into the tune is going to prove worthless if the tune is flabby and weak, and that is more so in punk than any other genre. The best punk songs are clean and efficient, that's why demolish buildings. Now from the energy levels in All In They Eyes, you would think that The Usual Pleasures could do that trick but, somehow, it doesn't. Everything is there; the song with bellow-a-long chorus, the absolute breakneck pace, the obligatory vocal sneer so why doesn't it reach out and nut you in the face?

Tell you the truth, I'm still not sure and I've heard it enough times to form an opinion. Seriously, it sounds great, lively and energetic, the track is exactly what you would expect given the bands obvious punk leanings but it just doesn't really catch fire. For my money, some of the vocal at the beginning throws the listener off, the rhythmic emphasis from the drums isn't anything like hard enough, and the emphasis on the guitars to carry the tune is misplaced. I'd be willing to bet real life money that the band are more exciting in live concert and all this track does is prove that to me - but not much more besides. I think The Usual Pleasures WILL find that sound, and it's just a question of time, and this track will do in the meantime to show what the band could sound like.

Recommended energetic punk.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Brett Howe - My Way Out

Hear The Track Here

Those of you who aren't dead may remember that I met US based acoustic folk musician Brett Howe when I reviewed his Each Passing Day (February 2010), a track that actually made a very decent impression on me. A guitar and a voice is how I started how in this music thingie so I do have a special regard for someone who can do it and do it well. After all, you may think, its just one guy how bad could it be? You have obviously never suffered the dubious delights of the open mic nights at the local folk club then, and now that I've tipped you off you can avoid it altogether. So, I can be a right PITA when I hear it all going horribly wrong but equally I can be praiseworthy where its obviously right and heartfelt and it's the latter state that Brett exists in.

Fact of the matter is, its very hard to hold peoples attention when it's just a guitar and a voice unless one or the other (or preferably both) have a compelling quality about them and that is very, very rare. Speaking of compelling qualities it's notable that Brett is a college student in Minnesota, a state that bred the man known to the world as Bob Dylan and he shares the folk subtlety the man originally started with. I'm not comparing Brett with Dylan here, that would be ridiculous, but the connections between them. Brett's shade of folk is subtle, inventive and extremely listenable; a quality that illuminated the last track.

Just to show that this is recorded exactly as it happens, the track is dotted with extraneous noise and the cut off at the end is noticeable but to me that just adds to it's charm. Sure it may be lo-fi, but the music, the song and the performance are anything but. After a while of listening to the track, I envisioned seeing him performing it live right in front of my eyes, which is the only real way to hear music of this type. Those little audio glitches and the noise only added to that sense of 'liveness', all of which showed that Brett could manage to hold a coffee shop crowd interested. Playing live is the best way to really test this but I'd be willing to bet there would be takers.

Highly Recommended folk song.

ejhooker0is0my0name - Tie My Hands

Hear The Track Here

The gob stretching name hides someone who should be familiar to you, you might know him better as Wreckless Music who I have had the pleasure of reviewing a time or two. Ej Hooker is indeed his name but nonetheless, it's still a mouthful. Still, what's in a name right? Mmmmm. As you may have guessed, Ej's chosen musical field is hip hop/rap and - as Wreckless Music - has given me some tasty stuff. The only other ejhooker0is0my0name track I have reviewed was Apologize (March 2009) and although it took a while to work on me, eventually I got the point and liked it enough to recommend it. It is, after all, hip hop and I have a marked intolerance for sub-standard work.

Tie My Hands features the usual Wreckless cast of thousands (not really but Mo, menace and t-k are involved in it somewhere and no I don't know who they are either) also something almost obligatory for the genre. If you know anything about hip hop in general and Soundclick hip hop in particular then you will know roughly what to expect. There are very few of these rappers, IMHO, who really stand out. EJ Hooker is one of those who do stand out, and he has a string of Must Have's from me to prove the point. The one thing EJ has never stinted on is an overview of the whole thing; song, message or musical interest. Sure he sounds like a lot of other rappers but listen again and listen to how tight his thing is.

More to the point, whatever name he is going under, rap, flow and lyrics with a brain behind it have always been this rappers main strength, right from the very beginning. And I really don't like all this lovey-dovey crap the genre seems to be infested with, at least EJ had the musical sensibility to make it believable especially when you fully understand the tale behind the music. Like a lot of this musicians tracks, Tie My Hands shines from the very first, slick guitar lines before sliding seamlessly into an extremely meaty and solid hip hop beat that carries the track through without effort. Be advised that there is a Parental Advisory attached to this track and it is yet another track that does deserve it, but again EJ shows his style being making sure that there was a point to it.

Highly Recommended hip hop and MUST HAVE for fans.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Densyl - Hope Is All About

Hear The Track Here

Densyl is a Canadian musician I've run into a few times over at Soundclick, the last time in a collaborative effort with my old friend Salman Anwer (aka Musicarian). However, the sad truth is that I don't particularly like the smoother side of the musical street and Densyl seems to thrive there. I put most of the blame for that on my being English, I was brought up not to wear my heart on my sleeve and continental American musicians of all stripes and countries bare all at every opportunity. It's also down to their intense optimism about everything, like a kid in a sweet shop. Now if that sounds like I am denigrating Americans, you are wrong. I married an American, my children are raised as if they were Americans. I am denigrating the highly pessimistic, fatalistic view of the English who stopped gawping at the wonders in the world a long time ago. Hope Is All About is a case in point. Certainly can't picture any UK musician coming up with something so sunny and upbeat.

Densyl wrote the original song, Mexican lyricist Soni Conde supplied the lyrics and Matt Tyson of Cinnibar stepped in to perform the vocal honours. Matt and Cinnibar are one of my prime finds lately and I must admit I was looking forward to hearing the result. From the acoustic lick that runs through the track, to the incredibly detailed sub-Beach Boys vocals and vocal arrangement, Hope Is All About is a very surprising track - particularly since I'd already pigeon-holed Densyl as a bit of a musical softy. Despite it being virtually acoustic, Hope Is All About is tough, detailed and aggressive, forcing your jawbone closer to the floor with every note.

The first time I heard this, it made me stop and pay attention and - to be blunt - there aren't many tracks that can do that. At first it was the amazement at how closely Matt had come to creating that classic Pet Sounds Beach Boys sound, and used it in a very modern way, then as the tenor and feel of the track settled in it was obvious that this was a special track. It speaks volumes that Densyl wasn't tempted to put any kind of drum track on this because it would have ruined that timeless feel it has and absolute top marks to Matt Tyson for an absolutely stellar vocal performance. Even melted this hard English heart.

MUST HAVE inspiration.

Paul Oakley - The Last Pharoah

Hear The Track Here

Yet another new name to me. Damn this has been a good month for new music, and I can't always say that's the case. Paul Oakley is a guitarist from my own part of the world (sunny ol' England town...), like most of us has been slogging away at the musical coal face for years and found contentment online. Made a good few friends along the way too, he says, and ain't that always the way. The music, however is all Paul, yer actual one man band. Now I know a great many artists of this stripe, many of them good to excellent and I have a lot of respect for them, providing they do it right. However, also like most other people, I have a really short attention span for guitar instrumentals. Mostly because I hear way to many of them and also because I am a guitarist myself and I'd rather be playing than listening.

It takes then something really distinctive to rouse me out of my instrumental stupor and to be honest I could count the number of rock guitarists who really interest me enough to listen to everything they do is very small. So now it's obvious that The Last Pharaoh is a guitar instrumental let's don the Seven Veils and shimmy our way into it. The track is supposed to 'describe the last journey of a great pharaoh to his final resting place' and it does it in a surprisingly good way considering that it is - in tooth and claw - yer dreaded prog-rock and you know my feelings on that score. Paul has some depth as a player that was immediately obvious, as at ease in pretty, complicated structures as he was in full on Shreddomatic Mode. Believe me, this boy can shred with the best of them, you could go nuts trying to count the notes... Not that I did. (Ed: looks highly suspicious. He did, didn't he? That's the sort of nerdy crap he thrives on)

Aaah, but remember me foaming at the mouth at guitar instrumentals? Well, Paul got there before me too because The Last Pharoah works on that level too. I'm not automatically a fan of shredder guitarists; too much flash and not enough cash, unless they really are exceptional. Can't be sure of that on this track because the track itself is so well put together. While it doesn't sound all that Egyptian (or even Arabic) too me, the way Paul plays his guitar throughout this piece certainly is and consequently it may sound 'odd' to people. So, despite me having all the right reasons for not liking this track, I still came to the conclusion that its not possible, either as a guitarist or as a listener. A very, very distinctive track amongst so much been there, done that rock...

Highly Recommended (gulp) prog rock, guitarist alert!!

Strange Lights - Poe

Hear The Track Here

Another request from the blog now, singer/writer duo Lonny Roth and Deb Zazzo are from deepest Colorado where, believe it or not they have a surprisingly healthy live music scene. Mind you, been a while since I was last there and God knows whether that's changed along with everything else. Anyway, Lonny and Deb seem to be on the serious side of songwriting, at least judging by their list of influences. Anyone who appreciates the likes of the Smashing Pumpkins is alright in my book, a most under appreciated rock pop group. Of course it won't save Lonny or Deb from the slings of outrageous Gilmore if their own music isn't right up there because it's all well and good setting yourself a high bar, but you need to hope you can reach it.

Know what I mean?

Mind you, Lonny did mention that the album this is from, Light Bright, was produced and mastered by 'Grammy winner David Glasser' and it certainly sounds like it. So does this then count as an unsigned track? Hell yeah, a lot of the tracks I review are put together in this fashion, you use what you can get your hands on right? What comes out the other side, at least on Poe the only track I've so far heard, is a bit of a surprise. Here I was expecting a usual romp around American pop rock country and instead I get transported to the musical fields of Albion (Ed: England) circa 1970 because this is a very, very close relation to the stuff done by Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention. that, btw, is a very good thing.

Structurally and tonally this also has more to do with folk rock than anything else, that understatement in the vocals - so predominant in folk rock - the soft jingle of the guitars; all give this a surprisingly English feel. Ultimately though, after having spent some considerable time with the track, I finally decided that it's a very agreeable and pleasant listen but it doesn't inspire me to go into the streets and proclaim the second coming of the Folk revival. No matter because this is just one track and Lonny and Deb are savvy enough to have at least one monster track under their belts, so maybe we should try another one. In the meantime if you like a relaxed almost acoustic outing, this will do the trick.

Recommended folkie rock.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

333maxwell - Oriental Electronica

Hear The Track Here

Oh my gosh look at the time. It's almost 333maxwell o' clock and we all know now that, for the past month, Chas Holman (for it is he) has been beavering away trying to come up with something that will stump me. Now I don't know whether you guys have noticed but I think our Max is getting ahead of himself, too clever by half. All this fame and glamour going to his head no doubt. Anyway this month's opus is an attempt to (and I wearily quote) 'create as organic of piece as I could using only synths' Listen, any other person said that, I'd be rolling on the floor right here laughing my fool head off. I have found, however, never to take anything this musician says or does at face value, there's always a whole world more going on than it appears.

Speaking of which, oriental AND electronica? Is this going to end with Max stepping on my toes? I thought I had cornered the market on that bad boy. Moreover, the use of Chinese instruments and structure has long been a feature of my own work and I have to say that not only has 333maxwell captured the true feel and tone of all his instruments - remember his warning 'using synths only' I think there is one organic sample in here but it doesn't play a major part - but he's created a detailed, structured world with it. Whenever I wanted the true sound I've always had to use samples because I just couldn't emulate that exact tone, 333maxwell has that nailed. Looked at from that angle, Oriental Electronica is bloody amazing.

Of course you'd have to be a fan of the ol' ying tong yiddle I fo (Ed: Chinese of the Gilmore kind) musical school of caterwauling, and I am a fully paid up member who is bound to love such an obvious work of creative art - moreso because he nailed the sound and tone so well. I know that there are many, many Westerner listeners who see no value in this kind of music at all, but I certainly don't and it's obvious 333maxwell feels the same. This is a beautiful, timeless music that been around considerably longer than almost any other form on the planet; it has drama and emotion and sweeping musical views and yes, 333maxell squatting large as life in the centre of it.

MUST HAVE World/electronic blend

Shorty Fat Head - Can't Be Without You (prod by Darkcyde)

Hear The Track Here

A new name to me this time from Soundclick and its ever expanding hip hop community. This time in the guise of Hip hop: Positive Vibes and God knows we could all do with some of that. But that a Parental Advisory splattered all over it? Well no surprise there, the terms hip hop and parental advisory should get a room there are so close these days. Now I don't mind a bit of profanity if it a) spices up an otherwise deadly dull conversation or; b)has a valid point attached to its use. Tell you though, profanity was the furthest thing from my mind once I had heard this a couple of times. What was really at the forefront of my mind was whether Shorty (or Darkcyde for that matter) had sped up the backing vocal on purpose or because it was the only way it would fit the track.

All a bit too much big teeth and bushy tails for me (Ed: He means singing chipmunks)

Except for that glaring addition, much of Can't Be Without You will be familiar, especially if you have even a passing knowledge of the genre. Guy going on about the girl he loves and how she stands by her man kind of thing. As you can see, at this stage of the game I might even be reaching for my own cutting implements except for one thing. It's actually a really decent rap, regardless of words and/or musical tenor albeit in a very lo-fi, low key way. I suspect the addition of the Parental Advisory is because of the sexual content in the track rather than any obvious profanity.

The real stumbling block here is the cheap as chips production, if you know any of Soundclick's rappers you will know that this is a standard and certainly recognisable format. Name any one of the more well know, and I think Shorty could be just as good, but what needs to happen is to up the game musically. Not that there is anything wrong with this track, despite my derision about the chipmunk effect, just that it's nothing like strong enough melodically or lyrically to face up to Shorty's real competition - his own peers. I have had a fair bit of exposure to this competition and almost all have had to take that final step into serious production to really make an impact.

Workmanlike rap track.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Silvertrain - Under Pressure

Hear The Track Here

Silvertrain is a very flexible name right now. Back in the day (around 2003, 2004) Silvertrain appeared and took Soundclick by storm, it consisted of two members; John Brandon and Ritchie Allen. Over the years the outfit has stayed pretty much the same but the past year has led to many startling changes, mostly initiated by John Brandon which have been - in their own way - excellent examples of where Silvertrain COULD go in the future. But, of course, that is still to be seen so in the meantime, lets get on with this one. As always with Silvertrain there is a back story... [John] 'wrote it, Lino produced it and then we got in guest vocalist Steven 'Mez' Mesropian' which, if I am correct is the first time ANYONE has sung with Silvertrain outside of John or Ritchie.

What comes out the other end is a much weightier 'train proposition, one that veers from the band's English pop roots, through American heavy rock and sounding nothing very much like anything they have done in the past. I do have some questions about some of the elements but taken as a whole this new Silvertrain definitely has some major potential. One thing is for sure, this isn't a song for girlies. Some of the levels are a bit strange mind but I'm pretty sure that only a geek like me would spot such things. What they will hear is a fairly standard rock workout, but they wouldn't know anything about the bands history and know how much of a change it is.

So the burning question is, do I like it?. In all honesty I find myself in two minds, I do like this tough new approach and Mez is a considerable vocalist who obviously works best in a more rocky environment. On the other hand, that distinctive, almost innocent appeal of Silvertrain's earlier existence barely gets a look in. Not that this is a bad thing, change is essential to a musician and, from where I sit, John Brandon is handling the change very capably but it's all swings and roundabouts, know what I mean? As a Silvertrain song, mind, this is a recognisable format, just not that distinctive English sound and that may take some getting used to.

Mid-Atlantic rock, in a Silvertrain setting. Recommended.

bri-an - Fading Ballerina

Hear The Track Here

Those readers with sharp minds and good recall (Ed: we have those???) will remember we have come across bri-an recently when I got embroiled in a swamp by getting him mixed up with Self Tort (who calls himself bri-an in forums). I escaped public humiliation on by pleading my advanced age and forgetfulness as if that would ever put my off my stride. Now, where were we? Dazed's Desperate Man (January 2010) was a collaboration with the said bri-an where he supplied a very nice set of drums, keyboards and a memorable Martin guitar sound that became one of the many highlights of that track. So, despite the castigation and public flogging (which I actually quite liked but that's another story) I live to write another day. And lo, here is a track featuring bri-an having a 'full out "jam" session with myself' which kinda absolves me in the liking the public flogging bit because that's just too weird. 'I left all the mistake intact!!' he trumpets in the song comments as if this were some Unique Selling Point (Ed: Adspeak!! Die viper!!)

Me, I pondered on because bri-an might just be serious. There again, one mans mistakes are another mans classic musical moments, know what I mean?. Sure, I'll tender that there is a considerable looseness about the track but even that minor, minor flaw adds to the overall effect of the track. Above all, this tracks rocks in the time honoured fashion, a great drum sound, chunky, meaty slices of guitar and bass and a vocal that sounds surprisingly English. Considering that bri-an is Canadian, its amazing how close he has come to a standard English sound both instrumentally and performance. Certainly without the cavaet bri-an supplied I might have been harsher on the track for some of its sonic roughness but can't fault the musicianship or the energy.

Funny thing is, despite the lapse, I have been aware of bri-an for a good while but never really encountered him musically unless it was on the radio (Mix Radio, seeing as you axed) or on the various websites we frequent. The two tracks I have now heard officially (as it were) convinced me that he's a man after me own heart because I do like a good, solid rocker. He's no slouch in the production department either because each element of the track (but especially the drums) was as wide as an ocean and twice as deep. hence that certain roughness of sound. The reason is because bri-an used only EQ to bring out the various tones and nuances of each instrument. For sure compression would have tightened that all up but it would - I suspect - have lost its immediate appeal.

Chunky LOUD rock. Bite down hard. Highly Recommended for energy levels.

Paula - I Could Be

Hear The Track Here

Second track this month from the blog come from the lovely Paula O'Brien known more simply as Paula. A completely new name to me, I admit, but I'm just one teeny little guy battling a tsunami of tracks innit?? Anyway, Paula is a ' singer-songwriter / piano/ keyboards' thingie and her list of influences gives you an indication of how high her bar is set but, as normal, the proof is in the eating - or in this case the listening. I Could Be is, according to her initial email to me an electro-pop song and I'm always game for some of that. One of my favourite Soundclick artists right now - Wake Of Destruction - does a great job of breathing life into that genre, but does Paula? I know I rag on MySpazz constantly but it still nonetheless has some very commendable musicians and, I'm glad to say, Paula is definitely one worth paying attention to.

Regular readers will already know that I am woman crazy, and not for the usual scurrilous reasons. Fact is, I absolute adore good female singers and I've never made any secret of it and I do love to hear a clear, clean voice and - more than anything else - Paula has a voice to remember. Not because there is anything that startling about it or her but because she (or her producer) know exactly how to bring out the tone and richness of her voice. That's actually a lot rarer than you think but I do think it is made easier by the structure and arrangement of the song, which is as clean and bright as the vocals. It isn't, unfortunately, without its little flubs but that's a small price to pay for a) a good tune and b) a memorable performance.

I was living in New York City in the late 1980's when that city has so many female musician/songwriters at work it fair boggled the mind. I had the pleasure of working with a lot of these artists, some of them very successfully indeed and I get the same sort of vibe from Paula. Here is a musician and songwriter who has a clear sense of what she does best, and the technical capacity to realise it. Certainly someone to be keeping an eye on methinks, and no doubt I will be. Having said that, I Could Be is a tad on the long side (for an electro-pop song), an even tadder bit too slow and - for my ears - a bit thin once you get used to it. What really sealed that thought was living with the track. While it's sufficiently good enough to attract attention it won't turn heads. There's no doubt she has it in her though, hence the watchful eye.

Tasteful clean electropop and exactly the right voice to sing it. Highly Recommended.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

JPC (NZ) - F.I.O.F.O

Hear The Track Here

Over the years I have developed a distinct regard for Soundclick musicians such as John Paul Carroll who, as it happens, come from New Zealand. JPC (NZ), as his bandname states doesn't mess about; he gets it said, gets it done and gets on with it. It's a quality that has always appealed to me, and is critical if your chosen musical path is straightforward, right in your face rock music that takes no prisoners. If there is one thing that has kept me solid with this musician all the time I have known him it is that dedication to his purpose, to rock out in his own style and the rest of us can go hang. One of my early comments about him was that he couldn't really carry the vocals, and obviously his voice couldn't change and yet, somehow, he still manages to come up with the goods time after time. As he says about this track 'just raisin' a little hell...' and that's fairly accurate description of what he does.

Like a lot of Soundclick artists, sometimes it takes a while to develop an ear to their particular style or range. Took me forever, for example, to realise just how good Cam's Even Song were because of that idiosyncratic style of singing he has, The same holds true for John Paul and I think I HAVE developed a taste for his vocals, ever since I realised how much like Status Quo he sounded at times. Don't look at me like that, don't you think I know how stupid that sounds? What comes from John Paul is always meticulously put together, rocks like a son of a female dog and as meaty as the bone said female dog chows down on. What really matters to really get JPC is to take it in as a whole, seamless which always but always has an intelligent, passionate song at the heart of it and FIOFO is a classic of example of that.

That's why John Paul's real strength lies IMHO. There isn't anyone I know (and I know a LOT of musicians) who could do justice to a John Paul Carroll track because they couldn't nail down the essence of the man. This is a musician who, over the years, has learned to deal with both his technical and performing shortfalls and turn it all overwhelmingly into his favour. FIOFO (fit in or fuck off, apparently) would fit in what most people would term 'good music' although I'm sure that there are many who would utter the old 'not sure I like the way he sings' comment and fair enough comment but it is missing the point. John Paul has a musical vision and he has made great strides towards achieving his own very unique sound, something I find highly commendable. At the end, only one thing counts, does it stand up musically? Yep, stories high.

Excellent rock from NZ. Highly Recommended and a MUST HAVE for fans.

Musicarian - Sailing through Dusk to Dawn

Hear The Track Here

At this stage in my reviewing career (if you could call it that) I have probably heard musicians from almost every country on the planet, including some countries that boggle the mind with their musicianship. One of those is most definitely India which seems to have a plethora of really talented musicians but so far I think I have only ever reviewed one musician from neighbouring Pakistan. That musician being guitarist Salman Anwer (aka Musicarian). I first met him way back in 2004 when I reviewed Dark Days, Bright Nights (January 2004) which I liked a lot because it displayed just how good a guitarist Salman is. I didn't however like the kind of soft rock jazz he was doing and I said so at the time and I've said so since but that doesn't, nor shouldn't, detract from the fact that Musicarian is a very competent player and arranger, and his production quality really is superb. At that level, personal feelings and/or musical likes and dislikes don't even feature.

Like a lot of sub-continental musicians, Musicarian doesn't necessarily reflect his own roots. Oh, he does on the odd occasion like Naey Din (April 2009) which IMHO is one of his better tracks, although to my knowledge I've only ever given him one Must Have for Get Your Soul Reborn (November 2008) which was his first track since 2004 btw. That track displays the more normal face of Musicarian; jazz is really the name of the game and jazz fusion is where Salman really feels at home - even if philistines like me don't. However, as I say, I can appreciate the combination of skills Salman brings to bear to make such music; especially from a production angle. This is music that demands a preciseness (and economy) of playing that certainly eludes a great many guitarists.

So if the names George Benson or Carlos Santana riff on your fretboard, you should definitely go away right now and see what Musicarian has to offer because I guarantee you'll find plenty to capture your ears and interest. This is a musician who takes great care, and much effort, to get things feeling and sounding right and it shows from the very first notes. The tone and style of Salman's playing is a thing to be savoured if you are a machine head (Ed: guitar player) and enjoyed as a listener - whatever your personal preference. Personally I didn't find listening to this track more than a few times that onerous a task, mainly because Musicarian's playing was so fluid, precise and nuanced it made the over four minute length seem like a stroll in the park. A very enjoyable, sunlit day in the park.

Slow jazz inspired guitar instrumental. MUST HAVE.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Your Audio 2 Riot - Outsider Musician (Mastered)

Hear The Track Here

Just in case you were preparing to flee for your lives, let me just confirm that this is indeed the very same Patrick Lew who - over the space of around ten tracks - has managed to baffle, annoy, anger and irritate me in equal measure. Not in a good way either, unfortunately. Now I am all for championing difference and, for certain things, stretching musical rules to make a point. I'm also well known for championing musicians who don't have a lot in the way of recording kit (hence everything is lo-fi) so long as the ideas and music make sense in some way. Do please note my use of italics there because it's important later on. Patrick professes to be a grunge musician which obviously means a certain level of noise but not, I would hope, a total lack of musical sense or reason. This, of course, is age old history between Patrick and I, we agree on disagreeing with each other about what this is all about. That's OK, Soundclick is a very big tent and there is room for everybody. So obviously I've raised a lot of anger from him in various ways, and obviously its not something I WANT to do, but truth is truth.

Some congratulations are in order though because Patrick upped and got married since we last saw him AND inducted the wife into the band. So say hello to Faith Tanner who appears on this track 'about deviant alienated musicians trying to get revenge' Revenge of the best kind would be making a track that would blow ALL of his critics away and I got to say, I live in hope. Anyway, in the meantime we have Outsider Musician and presumably the (mastered) appellation means that this is not some garage/bedroom/closet recording from hell - this musicians usual method. Well, sad to say that although it is somewhat cleaner than previous tracks, it's still as rough as a newly sawn plank mainly because you have instruments cutting across each other without so much as a thought. All of which many more reviewers than me will testify that this is indeed Patrick's 'trademark' sound and style.

'I am a very troubled guy so that's why I took your reviews personally in my past' he told me when he asked me to review this track, to which I have to reply that you CAN'T take reviews personally otherwise you'll go nuts. If I feel that someone is right in their criticism, I will do something about it, if I don't I will just ignore it. Ultimately that's what this is all about, self choice and self control. Just because I, and a great many others, say the same thing time after time after time, it doesn't make it right, which I believe is Patrick's stance on this. Well, yes to an extent. It doesn't detract from the fact that Patrick's music is still chaotic, rough, out of time/tune with a vocal that doesn't fit in where it should and does fit in where it shouldn't. All very Patrick Lew. So, ya pays your money, and you take your choices.

Me, I'll just keep a wary eye on him.