Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year folks...

As we bid bye bye to 2011, I'd like to take a minute to thank you all for reading my inane twaddle this year - the best year yet for this blog. More on that in the next post, which is - of course - the Stevies...

Happy and Prosperous 2012 to all of you

Scars By Fire - Junkies/Lost In My Ways

Hear The Track Here

Last review out of the bag this month, and this year as it 'appens, is music that by rights should have been made for a lazy rock hound like yours truly. Scars By Fire are a four piece hard rock band from the UK comprising of Pete Hillier, James Budd, Andrew Dewing and Leonardo Ozorio (originally from Brazil apparently) who were nice enough to slip me a couple of tracks from their latest EP Junkies. It's a six track EP costing less than four English pahhhnnds which is about ten bucks to rich Americans (hint, hint) and is the perfect riposte to those who say American rock takes no prisoners. IMHO, it's a pale, pale comparison to the real thing and I venture Scars By Fire as proof.

For my money, there are several clues to attest to this (some would say) outrageous claim. There is an inherent dirtiness, a rubbed-down-by-life quality to UK rock and it's always been there since the dawn of the genre. Rock has always, from its very beginnings, been the music of the working man and woman; hard people who lead hard lives and it shows. They should look like this and they should sound as rough as being rubbed down a brick wall, piss stains and all. If Junkies doesn't get that said to you, then I guess it's time for you to stop reading this twaddle and wander off in search of something new because if Junkies don't get you, nothing will.A ferocious slab of heavy, biting rock that clamps on to your ears in the first four bars and doesn't let up until the track finishes some four minutes later, Junkies is as good as hard rock I've ever heard, and as packed with adrenaline as a punch in the face. Aaaahhhhh yeeeeaaaahhhhhhhh.... Ahem, sorry 'bout that. Social tic while in the presence of the rock...

Lost In My Ways pounds much the same rock base as Junkies and by the time you've got used to both tracks it becomes obvious that not only can Scars By Fire rock like the proverbials, they can write some pretty decent songs to go with it too. Good songs, ass kicking instruments and a terrific production; this is an EP worth getting to know... Put it like this, it certainly made me want to hear the whole thing and, in some ways, I am glad this is the last review of the year and I have to go now and work on the miesterwerk that has become known as the Stevie's but be sure we are going to be hearing more from this band in the coming year - I'll make sure of that.

MUST HAVE UK hard rock.

St Anthony - Chilifornia Dreaming

Hear The Track Here

Now I hurriedly hasten to point out that I have not been visited by the divine, this is not the revered saint you see before you, but a Los Angeles based producer rapper who asked for a review through the Rebel Riffs blog. As you know, we seem to plough through a fair amount of hip hop in these reviews and while I am not in favour of some things, I do have a lot of time for the genre when, IMHO, it isn't playing to the lowest common denominator a la the commercial side of the street. As I have already pointed out a gazillion times there is a perfectly acceptable (and often groundbreakingly good) hip hop music on the net but - as ever - it takes some digging up.

Producer Joe Picco (who is friends with Mathien who you may remember) recorded Chilifornia Dreaming to reflect a 'Chicago->California mind-state' and I guess it's definitely got those ingredients. As you know I am no big fan of the softer side of hip hop too, in fact the rawer the better sometimes, but if the underlying tune and lyrical content are up to the job then that's half the battle right there. Chilifornia Dreaming treads a very, very fine line between the more traditional form and the new, re-energised indie hip hop you hear online, and it only just slides by.

There again, I have become a lot harsher these days because the indie/online bar is so damn high as as good as Chilifornia Dreaming in many ways, I personally don't think it strong enough to make that much impact. On the other hand, what it does show is yet another creative centre where indie hip hop is struggling to counter the tide of commercial rubbish that deluges us every day and that's always a good thing. Don't get me wrong, if you like hip hop and rap you won't find anything wrong with this track and who knows, you may even grow to like it. While I do like it as far as production and intention go, St Anthony has some way to go before convincing me fully.

Recommended hip hop none the less.

Friday, December 30, 2011

N Talekt - Don't Cry For Me

Hear The Track Here

Although I've known this Richmond, VA rapper since 2006 he hasn't made all that much of an impression on me up until Feeling Good (October 2011) and So Gone (November 2011) both tracks from his recent In My Loving Memory album, Don't Cry For Me is the third. So, as I mentioned in the last review, all musicians who take this stuff seriously (it's NOT a hobby, it's a calling!) go through a long process of learning. It seems like a long time, but it zips by at light speed once you get the basics right. Playing music, when you devote time and energy to it, pays off. Always. N Talekt is now at the sharper point of that than he was a few years ago and the work he has put into upping his game is evident although, it has to be said, there is still a ways to go...

Now read on :)

N Talekt has always been a fairly serious rapper, his lyrical content usually being the main draw for me and its taken him a good while to find what he is comfortable with, but Don't Cry For Me is about as good as it gets to sounding original (not an easy thing in such a genre). Don't Cry For Me isn't much to look at musically, a bare frame to hang the words on, cleverly done sure enough but really window-dressing and you would have heard the like many times. It isn't bad, my words don't mean that. One of the main ways N Talekt has improved is production and overall sounds and this track shows that. It's just a very generic sound, ya know. It's a good job then, that the main action centres on the rap and lyrical content and - thankfully - a decent hook to keep it all straight.

I think this the first track where I have understood perfectly what this rapper is putting across, and that's certainly a first - having the words online tipped the scales there. The rap is in three parts; a son to his father, a brother to a sibling, and a gang member to another - 'a crew on a ship with no captain' as N Talekt tells it. He's got some great lines going on too, although - it has to be said - his work is understated vocally and that takes some getting used to. Mind you, again I think the years have been kind to him because it has given me time to get used to a less bawdy, in-your-face approach to hip hop that is very satisfying indeed. As is this track. If this is the standard, In My Loving Memory promises to be a very nice piece of work indeed.

Highly Recommended serious hip hop.

Blueberry Hill - Long Walk To Wilmslow

Hear The Track Here

'I found my thrill on Blueberry Hill' goes one of the all time great rock songs, recorded in 1956 by Fats Domino it was an extremely influential track, so that's me won over to this artist right there :) Blueberry Hill is a new name to me from Soundclick (first one this month though) and a quick perusal of the band page will show that the name might be new, but the names behind it certainly aren't. Kevin Miller is an artist you may have come to like as much as me, especially when he drags his family into the proceedings. The natural progression to that is for them to become an actual band and - wonder of wonders - here she be. Kevin (guitar, vocals, mandolin) is joined by wife Sarah (bass), daughter Aida (guitar, mandolin, vocals) and son Forrest (banjo, jawharp) and they comprise Blueberry Hill and, if you go by the instrumental lineup a bit of yeeeaahhh is winging our way. A bit of a Kevin Miller specialty btw.

We've actually heard this band under his name on both One Big Happy Family (May 2010) and Bluebird Train (March 2011) so if you liked them, it should be more of the same high class country right? After all, Bluebird Train was a sublime bluegrass track, a real proper American country song. Thanks to the tender ministrations of Mike-K I have developed a taste for real country (ie not Nashville) but the back roads, sitting on the porch country. Long Walk To Wimslow was written by Kevin but could easily have come from any professional country musician such is the strength of his songwriting and his sureness about the genre. The most telling point I should leave to Kevin to explain. 'This is our newest song' he says 'Just a quick recording out on the front porch' he adds. So, live then, as it happens and THAT is what I am talking about.

The track scored a number one in both the country and bluegrass charts, and that is no surprise. The real surprise is that it sounds good enough to eat (if you know what I mean) considering it is live and it would seem a bit churlish to gripe about anything. So smooth and relaxed a track as this is going to bliss you out something rotten, especially if - like me - you like bluegrass as a musical form. It could just as easily be said that this is a straight forward country song, with a chorus that grabs you from the get go. Personally I think I detected some hesitation in the track, a restraint that doesn't do the track adequate justice. This came from the backing vocals for one,and it shouldn't. Aida sings beautifully but I don't think she knows it yet, and secondly the instrumental solos were a little tame too but - believe me - this is nothing when you have a track as good as this.

Excellent. Highly Recommended sittin' on the porch Country

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Ian Dadon - Hollowtime

Hear The Track Here

Dunno what it is about the Soundclick tribe, I've been reviewing there since the year dot and have I been able to train them to do the simplest things? Not a ferkin hope mate. To get a review from me is simplicity itself, a link to a downloadable file and presto - instant opinion. No matter what, every month, someone (usually several someones) forget either how to create a download link or are just simply to lazy to do it. Normally I either let the request die a festering death or just review it online, as I did this one. Ian, obviously, fell into the trap mentioned above and I bring it up in this review as a gentle reminder that I may not be so lenient in the future. Besides, I really don't think a musician's best interests are served by listening to an ultimately inferior streamed version. I never give it as much time as I would a track that lived on my hard drive. It's a personal quirk I know, but I am the one doing the listening after all and I don't ask for much......

Aahhhh, poor, poor Gilmore....(sniff)

As you can see, the track is not downloadable for you lot either so you need to know whether its worth your listening time. This is the eighth or ninth track I have reviewed from this Israeli singer/songwriter and for sure he knows how to write a good song. Never quite it the high spots with me, but the comments and ratings so far - from all quarters - show that he has appreciation on a good scale. Hollowtime is a song about 'wasted time, wasted human life' and - like previous tracks - has its roots firmly in the fine old rock tradition. Funnily enough I got a hell of a Jack Bruce thing off the vocal on this song. Although Ian's voice hasn't got that power (yet), it's a real good sign of where he's going with it and that alone makes the effort of reviewing this live worthwhile.

I've often compared Ian with JPC (NZ) another Soundclick rock musician working in the same field. As well as sharing a similar sound, vocally and instrumentally, they also share the ability to construct quite complex song structures that may well be too much for straight ahead rockers but I'm pretty happy with what comes out. Hollowtime is yet another track where reading the words while listening greatly helps you understanding of the song, although I have to say the vocals are a lot clearer on this track than a great many of his previous efforts. All in all, Hollowtime is a chunky slab of rock that will have regular Ian Dadon fans rocking away although others may still have to acquire the taste...

Polar For The Masses - Silence CD

Hear The Track Here

Despite all the bad press they have been getting lately, I like Italians. I am particularly partial to Italian bands and I've come across some really good ones over the past few years with the absolute standout being the awesome Ophelia Dorme (and the Let Her Dive offshoot), but not forgetting RHA, a + m, Sdzeta et al who have provided some magic musical moments. Let Her Dive's The Bravest (September 2010) has grown on me more and more since I reviewed it and is now one of my all time favourite tracks - I even put the video on my You Tube channel and I'm ferociously picky about what goes on that. All this chatter obviously means that Polar For The Masses are Italian (in case you hadn't already guessed)...

Simone, Davide and Jordan comprise the band who specialise in 'alternative disco indie punkrock' whatever that is when its at home. I snagged a copy of the CD from Sit Still Promotions and promptly started in on it. Like the bands I have mentioned already, Polar For the Masses experiments with electronic noise in a way (as far as I can see) no other country does, so I guess it is an Italian thing. Great rhythms, snappy vocals with this low level of ambient noise that just has to be heard to be understood. It also helps that the band can come up with meaty, convincing songs as well, as Consequences and Rust (tracks one and two) will illustrate. If that isn't enough, there is even a Rust video that is well worth a look, it also convinced me that - whatever else - Polar For The Masses ******* rock like nobody's business.

Silence is an eight track CD which - for the most part - continues the fine work evidenced by the first two tracks although things calm down somewhat by Sailing Away (track four) which while still punk rock, has a slightly less relentless feel - not exactly a ballad but as close as this band comes to it. I kept returning to Dismembered (track three) because it's got relentless written all over it and better that than an (almost) ballad eh? ;) If you think that punk rock is a dead art, take a listen to Ignorance (track seven) and Guilty (track eight) then tell me it's true. For me, it's that combination of experimental, rock and punk that make this band work for me and - if you can't take a whole album - I definitely recommend you check out the Rust video. If you like that, you'll like the whole thing.

Italian punk rock (I kid you not). Highly Recommended.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Cinnabar - A small bit of Ilrod

Hear The Track Here

Looking at how ferociously I hate the whole prog rock thing you would be welcome to be surprised that Cinnabar do a sort of prog rock thing, and they have a miraculous three Must Have from me over the space of half a dozen tracks. Yeah, wooahh indeed. Gotta be some kind of fit for purpose proggie tendency to get one of those bad boys but Matt Tyson and Gary Judge (aka Cinnabar) have been doing this for a while and have picked up some suitable tricks, but obviously without some talent right at the beginning tricks mean nothing. Welp, as far as I can tell, Gary brings the music to these parties and Matt supplies some of the best vocals I have heard online or off it - especially if the Beach Boys happened to be a favourite sound for you.,

The Ilrod in question, of which this is a small part apparently, is from the album Ilrod's Journey and knowing proggies, it could well mean that the whole album is one track - of which this is but a small part. Huh, small or not, depends on which end of it you are on. To say that a 'small part' is definitely a proggie when the track weighs in at a ball busting nine and a half minutes so anyone whose attention is likely to stray won't get much from this, but those who are of the proggie persuasion will absolutely love it - and well they should. If that sounds like an approving tone in my voice, you would be right. As much as I hate the original concept of big hair prog rock, I have found since the turn of the century that there are quite a few newer prog rock things I do like. As ashamed as that might make me by admitting it.

At the hands of a couple of very accomplished musicians (and Judge and Tyson and very much that), even die hard fanatics like myself can imagine that there may well be life left in that dinosaur frame and Cinnabar even improve it along the way - and that's the real trick here. I guess when you are not competing for the riches of the real world, making music for yourself and a few close friends, you can indeed make nine and a half minutes whizz by. Only, however, by making a very complex, ever shifting and never repeating piece of music that - in every way - fully deserves to be called a work of art. Forget whatever prejudice you harbour, it's is an awesome piece of music, whatever you want to call it. The only question remaining is whether it could be sustained longer without damage. Watch this space.

MUST HAVE (I said that) adult prog rock.

Mike B is for Byj - Beneath The Belt

Hear The Track Here

Fourth time around for Canadian pop rocker Mike B is for Byj which is, by far, is the weirdest band name I have ever come across but hey that isn't what counts. During the space of those earlier three tracks - Crybaby (April 2011), Average Joe (June 2011) and Look, Look, Look (September 2011) - Mike showed what he had to offer (sharp pop rock songwriting in partic-u-lar) with Look Look Look coming out as the clear favourite. As you know I like most shades of rock, and the harder the better so it should be a given that I would like someone like Mike B and while I have liked what I have heard so far, there hasn't been anything that really set me on my ass.

Oh unfair, you may cry, but when I hear the quality of Mike's work, for me the production just doesn't match it - and I think that applies across all the tracks. We work with what we are given (or steal) though, and I do often make amends for that but when all is said and done, these days computer mastering is relatively easy to do. Beneath the Belt is so deserving of its Garage Rock listing; so consequently rough and ready is the production norm anyway so that would make it alright surely? It definitely does if you are looking for a quick shot of energy. Kinda hard to tell whether the production is better but certainly I found this clear and sharp enough - in a garage rock sort of way.

To be sure, Mike B has a knack for this kind of track, and the style suits his production sound and - to my ears anyway - is a pretty good song to boot but (uh oh) I think this will probably boil down to a personal taste thing. Personally I like its shouty vocal style and the fire-up-the-butt pace but I'm well aware there are a great many people who would just think it a 'racket', but they were never into punk I guess, or even garage bands (more an American thing). Either that or old, deaf and slow. One thing I have to say about Mike B, the man does deliver something different every time and long may he continue to do so. Mind you, at the back of my mind, is that wish to be knocked on my ass... Some, I guess, might call that high hopes but it has a kind of inevitability about it IMHO.

Highly Recommended Punky Pop

Mineral Kings - The Course Of Empire

Hear The Track Here

To be honest I'm not sure whether this is a CD or an EP because, as far as I can see, there are only four tracks on it (usually the sign of an EP) but it's called an album on the site... Well no doubt we'll find out in the fullness of time. Mineral Kings are a new name to me through the Rebelriffs blog request system consisting of Art Forte, Tony Morosini, Carv Tefft and an unnamed teenage girl singer (I read somewhere). Musically their roots are firmly in West Coast grunge although they could have just as easily based the sound in Detriot or NYC both in terms of content and attitude. Certainly Bennies and Coke (track two) could have come from either highly wired (and not in a good way) city.

New Third World (track one) ploughed the more usual gunge furrow and while I am not much inclined to the genre when its allied with a good song it can be devastating. Now while Mineral Kings aren't Nirvana (nor would I expect them to be, they do sound surprisingly like a modern version of the band, and that to me ears is a good thing. Certainly between these two tracks you will get the message that this is a serious band, New Third World being a song about the 99% and Bennies and Coke being about the wasted (in every sense of the word) generation that this particular recession is going to create. Unfortunately I wasn't able to get a hard copy of the EP in time so most of this review was conducted online and it has its consequences; not the least being that while the songs were meaty and full of crunch the actual online sound was thin and weedy and I presume its because of the streaming.

The videos sound a lot better but there are only three; New Third World, Bennies and Coke and Broken Dreams (track three) Broken Dreams (the video) supplies the name, Olivia Tefft, of the female vocalist I mentioned earlier who supplies the backing vocals and who made the video. Out of the three Broken Dreams is probably the more conventional rock song of the trio and - again - the video sound is far, far better than the stream from their site. The Course of Empires, the title track and track four is almost punky as it springs out of the speakers at you and gets punkier as it goes along and easily the best sound of the four tracks being streamed from the site. Almost as if it were an entirely different recording session... Cracking track though and if that didn't make any sense to you, it means I liked it a lot. Fact is, I like the bands lyrical attitude a lot and their music (despite the online drawbacks) sounds more than promising. Certainly I'll be watching out from them, and I would dearly love a hard copy of the EP or (failing that) The Course Of Empires - my personal favourite of the four tracks on display.

Excellent grungy-type rock. Highly Recommended (and topical too)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Tragik The Tragedy - When All Light Dies

Hear The Track Here

We first came across this Canadian rapper with She Says (August 2011), a Sinima produced track that was interesting but not enough to make it stand out of the ever increasing hip hop pack although I did say that TTT may be a rapper to watch. Like a great many indie rappers, Tragik seems to have to rely on outside sources for music to bounce his raps off, and that has been a mighty hurdle for just about everyone attempting it and - in my view anyway - fails more often than not. It takes a special skill to absolutely stitch a disparate music and rap together so they would appear to be one and the same thing, and I really haven't heard too many accomplish that in all the time I have been reviewing this style.

Still, there's always room for improvement, and thankfully that has happened to indie hip hop - at least on Soundclick. Not a song about entropy itself, but hey ya never know... It appears to be a track about emotional stormclouds in that time honoured navel-gazing style beloved of all mopes, although saved in this case by a neat music track and again a very decent rap. Still, as the Americans would have it - that and a quarter won't get you uptown. As big as some of the other musical scenes are on Soundclick but the hip hop scene dwarfs them all, and therein lies the problem for rappers such as Tragik The Tragedy.

I am sure that the Soundclick rappers I like, the ones I consider different enough would agree whole-heartedly about how hard it is to even make a dent in the bling-encrusted riches and b*tches world but IMHO this is only a matter of time and education. Compared with most real world commercial hip hop, indie varieties are on fire with ideas, great rhythms and a willingness to use whatever works musically, and to really make a mark you need to have something special; something that makes people stop and pay attention. As far as the actual mechanics of the thing, Tragik The Tragedy has it.

All it needs now is a vision....recommended nonetheless.

Swingjazza - Taking The Slow Train

Hear The Track Here

Here's this year's one (and only) Xmas quiz, guess what kind of music this musician makes... Not too difficult is it? Oi!! Oi!! don't be lining up for prizes, I guard my Scroogeness jealously. Tim Lowe (aka Swingjazza) is a new name to me from Soundclick, and he hasn't been on there long either but longevity on Soundclick means nothing because - being of a certain age - Tim has obviously had some serious experience. To really play jazz, you need a) a gift from God or failing that b) years of playing. Being myself of a certain age I remember when the term 'don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing' carried some weight. A sentiment I can fully get behind. Although my early years were coloured by jazz and its influences, I hated it at the time. It was parents music, ya know? Of course, I changed my mind about the genre as I have about almost everything as I've grown older.

It'll do that to you, will life....

These days I have a ravenous taste for the genre, although it isn't something I listen to regularly but I do enjoy the times when it appears on my review lists. Swingjazza goes for the slinky, smoky sprawl over the piano lounge sound, and scores a point right there for getting the atmosphere right. Score another point for the lyrics and song structure and the very stylish vocal... While I can appreciate these things though, it don't mean a thing unless it's... (Ed: OK, we get the picture, on! on!) got the right tone and that is where Taking The Slow Train Home scores more than most. Mind you, lounge jazz would have to be something you like and I know there are lots of people who do, and obviously it's them this is aimed at not an uncouth and opinionated reviewer.

Now as you know, I am not one to leave stones unturned so I can see what crawls out, and this track made me curious about ol' swingthing.. The sax solo on this is right in the pocket AND just the right length and tone so when I saw the Just A Moonlight Dance collaboration with our old friend 333maxwell, how could I resist?? Chas Holman (aka 333maxwell) has almost singlehandedly redeemed the name of jazz on Soundclick and is a pretty mean clarinetist. Tim plays a mean saxophone, they are both steeped in years of jazz tradition so what's not to like? Well. if you put in a smidgen of Beatles melodies into the song, and doubled up on the vocals it would be perfect, wouldn't it? Indeed it would, and indeed it is. Go listen to that too..

Highly Recommended lounge jazz.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Charlie A - Running Free

Hear The Track Here

I have spent years (and years and years) wearing down the lining of your eyeballs while reading my rants about this and that but none of my pet poisons has come close to the daddy and mommy of them all - the soundtrack. Over the time I have been reviewing like this, I have come across several hundred wannabe soundtrack producers but very few who actually achieve that aim. I don't mean slamming the track onto Soundclick (or anywhere else) and calling it a soundtrack because it ain't, it's a piece of music in a particular style. Put it together with a film, video, animation and then, and only then, is it worthy to be called a soundtrack. Got that?? Do you feel the sharp edge of my reason here? (Ed: noooooo) Well, neither do I but I think you get my drift. When I give Charlie A kudos it is because he IS a soundtrack producer and a damned good one at that.

Linwood Riley is another name I would associate with the same thing and lo; here they are together! Linwood featured some excellent scoring for Doctor Who and assorted DC Comics characters which you can see and hear here. As if that weren't enough, Trina Brunk is right in there too. This is a singer I once described as 'a cross between Tina Weymouth (as in Tom Tom Club) and the older female rhythm and blues singers. Whatever it is, this is an authoritative voice, one used with confidence and no mean skill' and she displays it to perfection on this haunting, highly evocative piece. All names - I would imagine - you would be familiar with if you follow the same leads I do. Let's just say, to see these three artists collaborating is something that is already in the must listen league - long before you actually hear it.

Yeah, yeah, you shout, but what does the damn track sound like?? Sublime. Wonderful. The sound of Freedom. Aaaiiiiieeee!!!! (Ed: uh oh he's gone over the top!) Let me explain why this has evoked such a reaction. In my youth I soaked myself in the native American Indian story, hoovering up anything and everything that told it - in whatever form. One of the enduring insights that stuck about that period of study was how wise these mis-used and forgotten people were about the world they lived in and why their freedom was so important to them. As harsh as American Indian society could be, it held important lessons about the nature of being and your effect on it (Ed: not a musical subject Gilmore, get to the point). Running Free (the song) is inspired by the Lakota Sioux saying 'Hoka Hey' used by Crazy Horse and essentially meaning 'it's a good day to die'. In essence, live life to the full while you have it, therein lies freedom. What??? All this from a little tune??? As a lady once screamed yes yes yes YES

MUST HAVE natural high.

Ralph Atkinson - Down In The Dungeon

Hear The Track Here

As the old saying goes, better late than never. Except, it would seem, when it comes to Halloween compo entries. Readers will already know that I have reviewed several of the entries into the 2011 CC Halloween Contest and Ralph, one hopes, is here to supply the last of them. See I think my problem is that I have a thing (yes, another!) about 'seasonal' music. Although it does go some way towards describing said music, to me there is always an element of ewwww attached to it. Mind you, the other tracks I have reviewed have lived up to their billing, being scary and musically challenging at the same time; the whole point of these compos IMHO. Nothing, as far as I can see, is beyond Ralph Atkinson - even Halloween tunes but - dear God - I really hope this is the last of them....

and don't even get me started on Christmas music. (Ed: no please don't, it's messy)

For me there are a couple of things that instantly conjure up the darker side of the musical street: one is down and dirty blues, and the other is rock; hard, hot and relentless in its singleminded intention to drive you crazy. One musician, for me, did it better than anyone else although he wasn't really a blues musician. I speak of the Mother of all invention: Frank Zappa. This all stems from the influences I feel at work in this excellent, if way offbeat, slice of something or other. After I got over the rather surprising vocal, then picked myself off the floor after the riff fest the track turned into, all I could do was shake my head in wonder. How is it, I thought, that this guy nails it every time? Even, it would seem, emulating one of the all time greats to absolute perfection.

Hold on there hoss, hold on... Wasn't I just spitting out my dummy in a hissy fit because I had to review a piece of 'seasonal' music? Yeah, there's generational musical taste too and that is what saves this track from the Halloween night of the long knives. To be sure it has it's obligatory horror feel, mainly because of the vocal but also the variety and variation of the musical movements (Ed: progressions Gilmore, Only you could make music sound like a bowel joke) dug their section of the grave as well. Put it all together and you have a track that ascends any notion of season or time, a track that you will play again and again - probably every Halloween for sure - and that means a lot. Anyone with even a passing interest in musical history really has to hear this for the evocation of an era.

Highly Recommended Halloween and a MUST HAVE (for fangs)? See what I did there??

Speedpig - Hog Roast In Hell EP

Hear The Track Here

I seem to be hearing a lot of Welsh musicians just lately, Speedpig being the latest. Powered by a couple of likely lads by the names of Gaz and Mungo (aka Ben Scott and Gareth Richards) Speedpig have released a six track EP of Stoner Metal tracks which, it has to be assumed, the world has been in need of. Stoner Metal has actually been a bit of a favourite of mine over the years because I do like to see a guitar turned to matchwood for the sake of art. I don't mind extreme riffage either, so long as it has a point to it. What I can't stand is anything lacklustre, rock is balls out or nothing, know what I mean? Metal is where everything is out so it is even more important to hit the right target.

Going by their name, I've been wondering what Speedpig sounded like and now I've been there I'd say it was a very apt name. 'Fuelled by a powerful lust for solos, metal, bacon and methamphetamines' is the proud boast on their Reverbnation page and a quick bellow of Kill You To Death and a smart kicking from Dark Acid will show you they are men of their word. I've done loads of gigs over the past year with bands working in the same genre and style as Speedpig and judging by their work in Hog Roast In Hell in general they should be on every respectable hard rock playlist. However, as we know only too well, this does tend to be a small market and a very, very crowded one but there's always room for just one more... Speedpig will certainly make it worthwhile...especially if heavy riffage and seriously testicular vocals are what makes you nod your head (or whatever).

The hardest thing about this genre, I find, is making it an interesting listen as well as a bruising one and I have yet to come across a band that actually does it but I'll be sure to let you if I ever do. Speedpig acquit themselves very well, don't get me wrong, there isn't much wrong with any of the tracks on this excellent ear bleed of an EP and much that is so, so right. Got to give marks to the production side of things too, arranging, recording and mixing all this stuff was much more of a task than it might appear in first hearing. To really see how much energy, love and patience has been devoted to this six track EP you really have to put it on repeat for a good while... Then the walls start shaking....

Highly Recommended stoner rock.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Mike-K - Having Fun

Hear The Track Here

The Germinator rides again!! Said Germinator residing in the hirsute visage of the man, the legend Mike Kohlgraf or Mike-K as he is referred to musically. I say this because Mike is a busy, busy boy and sometimes people forget that deep down he is a musician, just like the rest of us. It's a problem for all those who put their heads above the parapet so to speak. I first met Mike as I started reviewing on Soundclick and I dug out a review of Melancholy (October 2003) which seemed to be the very first time I had reviewed him. Reading this and being fully aware of how much musical water has flowed under the bridge since that long ago day I was bemused to see ' I discovered the most amazing breath of fresh air' being applied to his music from me.

Regular readers will be chuckling a bit here because they are only too well aware of the 'easy listening/smooth' labels I inevitably heap upon his shoulders. The fact is that Mike has a wide musical range, I just seem to take particular umbrage to some of it (soft, mellow = eeeewwww). As well as writing the tune and bringing 'electric guitar, electric bass, 12-string, mandolin and 6 string western' to the party, Mike brings us a slice of near country picking that I have to say raised my eyebrows. I have noticed a new found confidence in his guitar playing of late and if I hadn't already guessed it, this track would have been equally convincing proof. Mike has, through his various internet radio shows (Saturday Night Rocks, and it does), introduced me to some really terrific country players (think The Chairs, Morris P Rainville etc) so the biggest surprise here is that Mike is one of those.

For sure I always knew he was a good musician, which is why I wrote those long ago words, but there are levels, you know? All musicians learn constantly, and its only the amount of real physical labour (ie playing your instrument) you are prepared to put into it that dictates the pace. I suspect Mike has been upping his game quite considerably by a) collaborating and b) having fun. We forget, sometimes, that this is the reason we are all here - at least the sane ones. We know we are not going to get draped in riches and b*tches anytime soon, and that's OK because we are having a LOT of fun making this music. The one thing that is evident from this track more than anything else, is that Mike had a whale of a time putting it together. Which, conversely, means we should have a whale of a time listening to it. So yeaaahhh, little dogies and lets git to gittin'... whatever that means...


Howard Billington - Don't Go Home

Hear The Track Here

Out of the twenty or so Howard Billington tracks I have reviewed - either as Howard Billington or with group Smoke It 'n' Die - I can honestly say there isn't a bad one in the bunch and more than a couple that are ferociously good. More to the point, the last couple of years he has come very, very close to scooping up the Artist Of The Year Award and has only been eclipsed by two of Soundclicks bigger draws - Avalanche (Artist Of The Year 2010) and 333maxwell (Artist Of The Year 2009) - for that dubious honour. Mind you, this year has been a bit quiet on the Billington front, I only have two HoBi and two Smoke It 'n' Die tracks in my year end folder. Nonetheless, awards or no, Howard Billington is yet another Soundclick musician who can rightfully claim to be different - and there really aren't too many of them around.

Howard Billington does happy. Not yer happy clappy 'look-at-me-Jesus-loves-me' joyousness, or yer 'it's Christmas you HAVE to be happy' grim death either, just normal, everyday, infectious happiness at life. It's certainly one of the main reasons why I prize his material, we all need something to cling to in the storms innit? Don't Go Home is a new song, headed for inclusion on the upcoming To The End album and the track comments 'NEEDS A LOT MORE STUDIO ATTENTION' just to warn you that you might not 'get' it in its rough form. This from an artist who relishes in ramshackle (I mean that in the nicest way) and true enough the track is full of aural oddities although the music and song don't suffer too much from being essentially a 'live' mix.

Where HoBi scores in a big, big way is by being both a gifted songwriter and an excellent lyricist, as I said before there isn't a bad track in the bunch. Even this, despite the caveat from Howard, no-one REALLY notices these things unless the track really sucks in all directions and that has never been a charge you could level at this musician. Nope most people will either be blown away by just how good a solid pop song can sound, and how clever the style is, or they will not have taken any notice anyway - mix or no. I am firmly in the fan camp and I can't wait to hear what the final version of this is going to sound like but 2012 bodes very, very well for Mr Billington. (Ed: 'n' sho shay allufuz (hic, burp))

Highly Recommended rock energised pop.

Thomas J Marchant - Blackout

Hear The Track Here

I tend to get very reflective at this time of year, a trait that has resulted in over nine years of Year End Reviews, and of course, those Tracks/Artist Of The Year jobbies. I feel a warm glow in handing Thomas J Marchant Artist Of The Year 2008, and seeing him going from strength to strength since then, despite pitfalls and setbacks. Now it would be obvious to a desert signpost (Ed: what's that thing doing in here?) that I am a big fan of Thomas's work, and in fact of his attitude towards life in this odd musical world. Like all good, true musical voices (and I am not talking vocally here), Thomas's version is was also obtained by long and often tedious sidetracks, learning the tricks of the trade and - finally - being able to put all that to good use - or in Thomas's case sometimes mis-use (and I mean that in the nicest way).

Thomas J Marchant, despite all the early indications, turned into one of Soundclick's finer songwriters with a freewheeling, don't really care attitude that is infectious to say the least - regardless of what his lyrical subject matter is. What seals the deal for me, and all his other fans, is that utterly recognisable voice and style; I would know this musician anywhere and welcome him into my ears. Historically, Thomas is either back in the late 1950's (with all the hallmarks of the period) or somewhere in the punk period but not on Blackout although it's roots definitely lie in punk rock. It's a zippy little bastard too, scooting along at a very respectable version of rockabilly. I always let this musicians tracks sink into my mind slowly because it's never easy pinning down what is working in the track to make it so easy on the ears.

In this case, it's that combination of quasi-rockabilly beat with the completely deadpan way Thomas spits the lyrics out. Moreover coming in at a whisker under two minutes long, what is too lose? What you would gain is a musical feelgood experience (more so if you already like this musician) from one of the most idiosyncratic Soundclick artists there is. 'Do yourself a favour' as Thomas would have it. Although he does follow that comment by saying you should always talk to strangers and I know that mummies worldwide will be shocked by that, but I agree. Talking to strangers is a special part of life and what are strangers if not friends you haven't met yet? Go, hear Thomas J Marchant tell the tale in his inimitable fashion.

Highly Recommended modern rockabilly romp.

Sukuta - Visions

Hear The Track Here

Having hoovered up every track on Sukuta's Soundclick page last month while supposedly reviewing Out There (November 2011), he surprisingly comes up with a brand new track this month as if to say nrrrr, I have loads more. So, a slight recap: Sukuta works in the same musical nooks and crannies as yours truly (that's me folks) so when something is presented to me as World music, I am bound to perk up and listen more.closely. Although I definitely liked what I heard, for my money all of the tracks tended to wander off the point a bit although soundwise the man seemed to know his stuff (Ed: Doesn't look like a man to me, look at that artist pic, he's hairer than a hairy thing...)

Visions is exactly as billed, a 'dark ambient/world music blend' of orchestral vocals and electronica that works surprisingly well. Much more welcome is the fact that is considerably shorter than any of his previous tracks - all of which weighed in at some seven minutes each. Visions is a sprightly five and a bits minutes and is so full of interesting, atmospheric sequences that flow quite naturally - the whole point, I would have thought, of ambient. Something that just occurs naturally or organically, innit? As regular readers will already know I always have bad experiences when cavorting with the 'ambient' word because, to be quite honest, most of it just puts me to sleep. Mind you, that may the intention of the genre, a calming, relaxing, warm and cos.......(snore)

What?? What??

I will grant that I preferred Sukuta when world music is on the menu but Visions, with all its ambient allusions doesn't really do much for me. That's because I don't particularly care for it, even when it is put together as well as Visions has been. Moreover, lets face it, there are many more people out there who DO like the genre and try and keep up with its growth. Sukuta has certainly shown over the space of these tracks that his ideas are good, as is the performance. Any of the five or so tracks on his page will show that here is a musician who can at least make it ALL sound good, whatever your taste. Besides, I have a well known phobia about ambient and most people take that into account.. (Ed: Most people...mmmm..that'll be me, your mum, the goldfish and the dog then right??)

Recommended dark ambient.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Down The Machine - Know Your Place

Hear The Track Here

One of the benefits of being a regular reviewer is that your name gets around and that is when you get the interesting contacts. Such a one is Pete Baldwin of Ambicon Records who introduced me to Harlot, a great little UK rock band. Now here he is with yet another slice of Northern rock life, this time courtesy of Down The Machine, a 4 piece alternative rock band from Leeds. Steve Wilson, Dan Millikin, Neil Short and Mark Greenwood are the card carrying members of the band and have already released a whole bunch of tracks which you can find on their website or the affiliated Bandcamp site. The reason I mention this is because (as you know too well) I am partial to good rock bands and sorry, no one does it quite like the English... OK, I'll get my coat As an example of what I mean, have a listen to Let You In on their site, ******* awesome...

Know Your Place is the track I was sent though and - as you will see - there is also a video to go with the experience and a damn fine video it is too. I must admit to liking this principally through the MP3 (and staring at the wall obviously) so the video came as a welcome revelation because it shows that the band have thought about the image they want to show as well as the quality of the music they produce. The band perform cut with shots of the riots and demonstrations that plagued London and other parts of the country this past summer, and the combination of the band's power and those images shows you in uncertain terms exactly which place Down The Machine have settled on.

While I have nothing but admiration for the devotion to image and professional attitude of bands like Down The Machine it don't mean shit if the music doesn't actually....well....rock. Know Your Place is both a great song and an enormously enjoyable wallow in the healing waters of great rock music. Put it like this, if there were any justice in this sick, sick world, Down The Machine would already be rock stars because they certainly have all the musical ducks in a row. The thing that always does it for me (in rock as elsewhere) is a simple chorus that can be bellowed by just about anybody and Know Your Place sports a classic; it's worth a listen for the chorus alone, know what I mean?

MUST HAVE riot rock.

Solosounds - We Were So Young

Hear The Track Here

Jon Solo is a pop junkie. I know this because he told me and, through his tracks, I have discovered it to be true. All very good things in my world because I am myself a bit of a pop junkie. I do like a tale told with style and skill and - despite it's more sugary side - pop music has always been a good place to pick up great songs that have meaning and substance. Unlike, I might add, the more commercial X Factor crud that infests the modern pop world like a malignant cancer. So if there is an antidote to such rubbish it's going to lie in the capabilities of musicians like Jon Solo. Solosounds is his side project and thus far I have only reviewed one track from this source - Across The Great Divide (February 2011) - which I liked despite the fact that it was a Carpenters flavoured ballad of the old school.

Can't have everything. can you?

I am absolutely certain that Jon is a young man (Ed: unlike this reviewer) and although he is placing 'Phil (Spector), Hal (Blaine), Carol (Kaye) and Glenn (Campbell) in the comments and then saying 'So I did it myself'. Obviously he wouldn't have done it at the time those names were festooned with glory, unless it were possible to write a pop song at -2 years of age (Ed:or more likely -22 years old). Nonetheless, if you recognise those names you will know that we are discussing some of the greats of songwriting and - despite his musical and vocal prowess - Jon Solo is a songwriter to the depths of his soul. This skill is evident both in the Solosounds track I mentioned above and his - even better IMHO - solo work. Jon...Solo... how easy could it be?

If the early sixties (ie pre-Beatles) had any redeeming feature it would have to be the 'wall of sound' girl groups put together by a young (but still extremely weird) Phil Spector. His manufactured girl groups (The Crystals, The Ronettes) triggered a whole new sound revolution, If this song is supposed to be about that period of musical history, then it is eerily, uncannily accurate and I say that as someone whose early life was enlivened by the original sound. Once again it shows that - whatever his age - Jon Solo has his roots firmly planted in very fertile historical soil, and is a master of making pop blossom in the time honoured way. So, the only question remaining is why I am beginning to sound like a gardening programme? Anyway, those of us of a certain age are about to have the flashback of their lives and for the rest of you young un's here is a taste of what it actually sounded like.

MUST HAVE girl group pop flashback.

Rustik - With You

Hear The Track Here

Soundclick continues to be a terrific source of good independent hip hop, and some really original ways of re-interpreting what exactly the genre can consist of. Right up in the leader pack is Rustik who, over the space of a year or so, have given me some very snazzy tracks indeed and - in the process - gained some dubious praise from me. Must Have's and Tracks Of The Year (in my books anyway) are all very well, but I do like a musician who keeps on defying gravity and Rustik stretches that envelope better than most. To be honest, I don't really like him when he is in his more commercial mode (even though it's miles better than the real thing) but when he has his 'lets try this' hat on, I'm all for it.

To tread the experimental path though is to put yourself in the way of people not understanding, and it's a rare artist indeed who can do that and still retain the interest of the average listener. If anyone can do it with hip hop it's going to be Rustik or one of the other notable Soundclicker's who push the genre to its limits and beyond. See, the real problem with this side of the game is that most of the tracks are made in the cheap, which means that production usually takes a back seat. Not, IMO, that it makes much difference if you are into music that pushes boundaries, but some people have a real bad attitude to what they consider 'home produced' music. Personally, I think that's crazy but hey, takes all sorts.

So while With You does sound home produced (ie a certain roughness of sound and delivery) it's content far out-weighs any quibbles I might have about production values. This is often the way with musicians like Rustik, and truth to tell he has in fact been improving with each release - which is generally the way I have found. So those who already know and like this musician/rapper this will fit in nicely with the tracks you already have from him, and even for an old techie like me this is a pretty good track in every way but the production. Small change when you have a good tune happening and With You is all that and more. You should probably enjoy hip hop to really get mileage from it but I have also found it useful to play Rustik tracks a lot longer than most review tracks. The extra plays are often worthwhile.

Highly Recommended indie hip hop.

Those Among Us - Sayonara Sally

Hear The Track Here

I remember, vaguely obviously, being told that I have either heard and/or reviewed this track as a Silvertrain epistle but for the life of me I can't remember so I went looking and now - covered in dust - I found the review. 2003-2004 were glory days indeed for Silvertrain, they were everyone's darlings and this track dates from that period but... That, my learned friends is a literary pregnant pause, and I use a couple of quotes from that August 2004 review to illustrate why. 'Silvertrain are amongst my favourite bands ANYWHERE' is promptly followed by 'Personally, I think they have something in for me. They know full well that I can't abide ballads, but here's another one' See, as much as I liked Silvertrain, it was pop rock one minute wonder variety that really hit the spot. So, not only did John Brandon inflict it on me once, he thinks he can get away with it again?

Where's me knife set????

Resurrected by Those Amongst Us (John is a member, along with Lino Gonzalez and Steven 'Mez' Mesropian) and now appearing as a track on their new Final Destination EP. I must admit to wondering whether my opinion of the track had changed any. Liked the song, despised the genre but Those Among Us are a very different proposition to Silvertrain in a great many ways, most of them good so stop sweatin'. This version of Sayonara Sally stubbornly remains a ballad in every respect, so not much has changed there. I mentioned originally that I liked the actual song and something must have stopped me from seeing it before, this version has corrected that oversight - and perfectly too. Firstly, top marks to whoever did the mix/production here, it is absolutely right on the money.

I think that helps enormously to put the emotional content of the song across whereas I don't think it did in the original, otherwise that review might have been quite different. OK, I admit I still can't abide the ******* things (ballads, that is) but if you were to strap me to a chair and torture me with a choice selection of them then this would have to be one of them. If I had to be driven into a foaming tantrum I would rather it was with a bit of class, and this track has that and more. Essentially a song about a life lived out of control with inevitable consequences, Sayonara Sally is inventive (especially technically), involving and entertaining. The way that the band have stitched this together is nothing short of amazing, and I don't get to say that often about ballads. So, if I (finally) get it, there is all the hope in the world for you guys. Go. Listen.

Highly Recommended indeed.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Weylin's Slayer Orchestra - Love

Hear The Track Here

I had hardly pushed open the old, battered review door at Soundclick before Weylin bounded in, clutching his new opus. 'It's LOVE' he shouts, and I start eyeing all the likely escape routes out of there. He was, of course, referring to the title of said new opus and not proclaiming his undying devotion to this reviewer. This to show that I still have a grip on reality and understand that not everyone in the world worships at my feet, even though they rightly should. Anyway, beside the point. I finally shooed Weylin off, still declaiming love to all and sundry to some astonished, and no doubt completely innocent passers-by. By the time I got to the actual review I had almost put that part out of my mind (well, you would, wouldn't you?) and started to worry another puzzle. Think on this, o jaded ones, what do we associate Weylin's Slayer Orchestra with?

Well, here's a Helpful Hint: The dark side is strong in this one...

There ain't usually much l-o-v-e in the dark, satanic **** you of death metal after all, know what I mean? Not the right tone at all. So, did this mean that Weylin had embarked on a sunnier, brighter vision than the classical/prog-rock/soundtrack he has pursued up to this point? And with some success too, I might add. Thankfully the love on display on this track is not the hearts/flowers/cute critters vomit inducing variety but merely the love of one man and his axe. Wait!! Wait!!! Why are you all running away screaming like wounded antelope? (Ed: isn't that what they always do?) I refer to the guitar of course and, I am pleased to finally discover that ol' Weylin here has a hint of the Guitar God about him, certainly on this track if not
any other of his little vignettes.

We've done the supersonic kick conversation already so now I know that speed (drums anyway) is of the essence. If you can rattle the windows with a kick drum exceeding 200bpm, that's half the battle apparently. Me, I'll just blink a little, look dazed and move right along. What seals the the deal for me, and always has even since this musician finally grew on me (Ed: ewwww, won't that stain??) is his obvious love for metal, regardless of the genre trappings. As you know, even the word soundtr*ck has been known to have me hammering up the storm blinds, but Weylin's Slayer Orchestra has always added that special edge, a noticeable sound for a start, Judging by some of his stats on this track, it's doing well as it should because it's pretty intense, probably for speed freaks but more especially for metal heads everywhere.

Rock at light speed. Highly Recommended.

Joe McGrady - Fading Autumn EP

Hear The Track Here

If the name tinkles some familiar bells that's because I reviewed Joe McGrady's last three track EP - The Road To Nowhere (February 2011) - and liked it although with some reservations, probably more of a taste thing than anything Joe was doing wrong. Mind you, like a lot of unsigned music, you will have to devote some time to discovering the tracks. So here we are, almost a year on, and along comes Fading Autumn. It was in fact released in September but - as usual - I've only just managed to whittle my way to it. Life in the fast lane eh?? The change (from the first EP) is immediate and total, firstly because this is a much more rocky approach and secondly extremely well produced.

However, that veneer hasn't harmed the main McGrady ingredient, a catchy and effective song. Living in these septic isles (Ed: I think he meant sceptre’d but you never know) means that you get to know all the regional musical sounds and Ireland (all parts of it) has long been one of the staple musical diets for its natives, and the rest of us. Mind you, when it spits out the likes of Van Morrison and the Undertones, how wrong can it be? The reason I mention this is because I like what Joe McGrady does because of that familiarity with the accents and rhythms, take 1912 (track one) for example. It's a poppy punky piece that could well have come out around the time of punk and been a monster hit, although - for my money - I could have done with hearing more energy from the rhythm guitars. There again, that was the stumbling block with the first EP and - as I said - a taste thing. Nonetheless, as a piece of accessible rock pop, 1912 will find many fans.

As much as I liked Drama Queen (track two) I found myself time and again concentrating on the drums which, to me just didn't sound right. Kinda muffled and inconsistent, enough so that it was noticeable, although probably only to a nerd like me. If you are a regular reader and have developed a taste for bands like Silvertrain, Those Among Us, Cameron Pierce et al then you really should have a listen to Drama Queen because it fits that pop-rock niche so well. Alright brings the set to a close and it is far and away the most out and out rock track on the EP, full of pregnant pauses, clattering drums and power chord heaven. There is no doubt that Joe McGrady writes some wonderful songs, as these EP's amply show, but I still think some work needs to be done with the whole dynamics thing - but that's just me being crabby, you'll probably love it.

Highly Recommended Irish pop rock.