Monday, May 22, 2017

Swaylex - Raging Rapids

 
Swaylex - Raging Rapids 


Swaylex’s “Raging Rapids” is probably the hardest and heaviest of his recent YouTube uploads.  Swaylex’s warm, yet crunchy, Ibanez guitar sound is the primary mover for this tune, but he also shows the same tendency for interesting drummer complementing this track that listeners can hear on his other upload “Scrale”. To Swaylex’s credit, he avoids the same over-indulgence plaguing many of his contemporaries – everything here is focused and streamlined to the best possible effect. The composition and performance, likewise, exude a confidence you can detect in both the music and video presentation – there’s a swagger here that never stretches the boundaries of taste and, instead, draws you deeper into his musical world despite the song’s brief duration. Swaylex, even at his crunchiest, gives listeners numerous melodic hooks to hang onto. “Raging Rapids” is a powerful performance and composition from the first. 
There’s a lot of power in this song. Swaylex structures it just right – from the opening wash of wailing guitar notes, the seamless segue into the song’s primary riff, and the perfect accompaniment from rhythm guitar, bass, and drums, “Raging Rapids” has an impressively full sound that never dips in quality or intensity. His home recordings might strike some, without taking a listen, as doomed to amateurish. That isn’t the case. He has full command over each instrument and weaves the different parts together with the sort of clarity we expect from longtime musical veterans, not relatively newcomers to the scene. It is obviously that this is a young performer who has worked mightily to polish his skills and presentation alike in such a way to make the best possible impression on his listeners.  It has a surprising horror or thriller movie character with its sustained, sharp guitar notes and the menacing riffing accompanying those touches underscores this effect in a memorable way. 
It never reaches too far either. He knows what he wants the song to accomplish, seemingly from the first, and it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that the song has been well rehearsed before he ever dared commit the performance to recording or film. Fortunately for us, however, it has a live and off the cuff quality that sounds like he hasn’t lived with the song too much or too long and, instead, is striking while the iron of inspiration is hot. This is the central factor that sets his work apart from similar musicians promoting themselves in such a way. Swaylex’s music is alive with a passion that is quite impossible to fake and it comes across with a very first take feel. There’s no sloppiness here however. Instead, it’s a direct and powerful track that grabs listeners’ by the ear and forces them to listen. Never under duress – instead, you will be grateful to hear every note and it never threatens to overwhelm you. 


William Elgin

Friday, May 19, 2017

The Chameleon Project - Funk ‘n’ Space

 
The Chameleon Project - Funk ‘n’ Space  


The Chameleon Project is based out of the Toronto, Canada area and has established a growing reputation as one of the most inventive young acts working today. The four piece’s eight track (excluding two remixes tacked on at the end) release Funk n Space shows them to be one of the foremost units today in terms of creating a fusion of various styles into a distinctive and highly unique sound. They are just as adept with the traditional elements of great music, like melody, as they are at invoking heady atmospherics with their use of electronica and spoken word passages in conjunction with one another. There is a strong underpinning of tradition making these songs go, but the surfeit of experimentation that colors the songs is equally key to making these tracks work. It’s never self indulgent however. Even at their most daring, there’s a mastery of fundamentals that makes this material fly.  
 
Few songs better exemplify that than the opener “Milky Way”. The aforementioned atmospherics are a big part of its success, thanks especially to the even handed manner with which they are handled, but another key part of the success is the chemistry struck between the band’s instrumentals. The rhythm section, above all else, makes the groove manifest itself deeply and instantly. It isn’t a track, however, that browbeats listeners into submission. Instead, it’s spacey overtones and a well defined funk sound that never overstays its welcome. “Playhouse” takes things in a different direction. It’s much more superficially simple, but there’s clear evidence for their versatility They are capable of bringing out a strong layered disco and funk influence in their music without ever overburdening the song with too much action. “Steppin’” certainly beefs up the customarily streamlined approach of reggae music and the form’s influence is quite heavy in the song, but The Chameleon Project is able to bring that influence to the fore while still embellishing the track with a number of their signatures elements – sounds that would have been quite foreign to the genre’s bygone icons. 
 
They go down the electronic dance music road in the biggest way yet with the song “Reactor”, but tweak listeners’ expectations by bringing rock overtones into play. The often beautiful guitar lines, however, never sound out of place with the synthesizer work. The following song, “Bigfoot”, steers the band toward much more definite rock music territory thanks to the thunderous rhythm section, but The Chameleon Project fortunately avoids the bash and thud so often associated with attempts to bring these influences into play. “DiMiTri cOde” recalls the earlier “Reactor” in its invocation of EDM elements, but things are played much straighter here in that regard and there’s little of the rock guitar poses here that we heard in the earlier tune. Funk n Space ends with the album’s seeming centerpiece – the six minute twenty six second “Wako”, a cinematic and bold confluence of all the aforementioned sounds into a stunning last curtain that stakes the band’s claim as one of the foremost instrumental acts (sans the aforementioned spoken word bits – not a significant amount of the album’s duration) working today.  


Montey Zike

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Round Eye – Monstervision

 
Round Eye – Monstervision  

The self-proclaimed “loudest band in China” are Round Eye, from Shanghai, and they’re making their way around the globe, having toured with UK greats like The Boys, and US legend the Paul Collins Beat. These tours are constantly going, and many have had the opportunity to play on these packages with the likes of Paul Collins. They are usually punk or pop punk bands, but Round Eye are a different animal. They have everything from 50s jazz to ska and R&B to blend with their punk intentions. You can’t keep that bottled up in one country, so away they’re sailing with Monstervision on their plate.

Joe Bob Briggs(John Bloom of the Daily Show) narrates in the house of monsters to get the blood flowing, and he does by letting the “Commie Blues” loose. And it quickly passes into the deeper thinking “Billy” which almost verges on horror-punk with its shock rock tactics. But there is much more to meet the eyes with a video that gets pretty graphic in its delivery. It’s nothing to be scared about, but Round Eye also aren’t playing to the bubble gum chewing pop punk crowd either. This is a troupe of seasoned players with a horn section, which even puts Joe Bob in his place as he pleads for a lighter shade. But it is not found on that or the following two, in the shape of “Sifter” and “Troma.” As they too, burn the candle at both ends with no slowing down as the guitars take over and the pogo dancing comes directly to mind, body, heart and soul. This is mostly found on the former, but the latter rocks more along its own lines. Then Joe Bob comes back with the funnies and throws John Goodman into it, to double take an ear or two. The music is much better than the spoken word is funny, but it doesn’t take away from the program as it serves the purpose for the taking. Getting lost in the music still happens, and that is all there is to really shake a stick at while you play along.

“Hey Dudes” could even be reminiscent of “All The Young Dudes” if it weren’t about culture being in a tailspin. But glam isn’t the strong suit of Round Eye or anything. You just feel some influences where they come on strong. The last thing they’re up to is being serious, but that doesn’t mean they don’t tackle serious topics. They do occasionally go into them, but they get out of it in some places on Monstervision to contrast that. “Pink House” is one of those times you fall or you don’t, but it’s one of the more well-crafted songs, so there is no ignoring it. They have a good repetitious go at the government with some fine jazz tones to back it. And it plays out very nicely with a howling tone. And that has Joe Bob Briggs telling female jokes before “Cats” and “Richie” get by with upper marks, to still leave Briggs bewildered. But the listener is then treated to “Curami” and gets whisked off to another place, where the outdoors are felt and even smelt for a few long minutes on a thing of beauty which captures one of the best efforts on the whole LP. It just sways with the breeze and takes you away and leaves you wanting more. This is where it pays to get into Round Eye and their eclectic pieces of Monstervision. With the rest coming in as the last, but not least, as it should be. 
 

10/10 

Todd Bauer  

Blue Room by Johnathan Cavier

 
 
Blue Room by Johnathan Cavier 


Blue Room, Johnathan Cavier’s 2017 full-length album, takes him to higher highs and no lows to report on these ten tracks that smolder with pop star qualities. If you could nail his influences does they’d have to be firmly grounded in the 70s and 80s R&B crooners like David Bowie, Bryan Ferry, Simon Le Bon and Martin Fry. And if that is calling it far from the mark, then take your pick of others with the same front man swagger. He’s a throwback in every sense of the term, but doesn’t forget he’s not living in the past, he’s just paying his usual homage to the finer things that used to fall off trees compared to now. With much more to know in his background, it’s been told and this is about the room of life’s mellowest color, blue. And so that naturally has the LP starting with the title number “Blue Room” where you get the first ripples of the smooth Cavier effect. You almost find yourself dancing at the clubs of youth or early adulthood. It has something so familiar about it that he’s like a ghost from the past, here to set the clock back a little and put some happiness into the world. You’ll be glad you heard him after just this one song, and if you’re already aware of him it will bring a smile to your face.

This is followed by what could be part two because it’s just as good, but it also seems to invite someone back into the room on “When You Come Around” if you try to nail the feelings. It’s worth the try, as he insists is the case himself on this tune about a disenchanted lover’s chances of coming back around. And all of these backing arrangements are spot on as every track flows along. There is no letting up after that, and the place where all your dreams come true gets fully explored on the streets of “Hollywood” and there’s no secrets hidden as he tells it like it is when you’re living it up out there.

This is toe tapping stuff for the masses to bump and grind to on the dancefloor, as it has the easiest beat for dancing away. It’s a finger snapping good cut with all of that retro comeback content done the right way. This isn’t quite R&B, but it’s closer to that and straight up rock, than disco or funk. Such a title cannot lose unless it’s done in poor taste, so, it wins with flying colors. But so does “Phoenix” in every other way possible, as it stacks up to being the most modern edged piece, with only slight inflections of any ambiance yesteryear. The bird wants to fly closer to real time than time wants it to. This track features some biting guitar to sink its claws in as far as possible. You’ll be swept away by this time, or not. But if not it only takes another crack at drawing you in to take you “Far Away” with an over the top acoustic trip to wonderland. Cavier seems to manipulate the wind in your sails on this easy listening masterpiece that reminds of sitting around the campfire, telling spooky stories to family and loved ones. It offers up as much as any track in the Blue Room of poetic pop and crooner musings. And don’t let any of these chosen titles stop you from hearing it all in one experience, as albums are meant to be heard. But “Someday” and the final cut “Edge Of A Singularity” are worth every bit of time they take to absorb, as I did like a sponge. 
 


10/10
 

Mike Tabor

Friday, May 12, 2017

David Starr – The Head and Heart


David Starr – The Head and Heart
With Arkansas roots and Colorado wings, David Starr has been making music since the age of 10. He is an Americana singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer with hundreds of live shows and seven releases under his belt both as a solo artist. Starr was awarded the Hotdisc Top 40 Most Successful International Artist of 2016 by participating UK DJ's and radio programmers.  Love and Sabotage was also reviewed very favorably by Glasgow's Paul Kerr in Blabber and Smoke in May of 2016.
He has a new six-song EP entitled The Head And Heart produced and arranged by John Oates, and this is review and a look at the songs, which features a surprisingly cool re-worked cover of the Mamas and the Papas classic “California Dreaming.” And it’s not only a highlight, but a bold effort to do something different with the well-known folk-heavy monster. And to get right to the tracks it comes off slowly but surely with “Edge Of The World” with its sad but enlightening lyrics about angels and redemption. This actually reminds me of Billy Joel’s “She’s Always A Woman.” And the great thing is that it gives him a run for his money. It could just be me, but that’s what I take away from it.

“The Head and Heart” keeps the same intentions but goes a little deeper and probably gets the best message across on the EP, which if were an album would just be twice as good. But being an EP, it manages to pull off all of the more power in one little package. It even questions the lack of EP appeal when that happens. I just don’t find that many prolific artists doing EP’s, but maybe that is changing. I still like full albums but this provides no skippers. And it is another good song but takes nothing away from the rest. But I think he could’ve named the EP after any of these tracks and kept the same meaning.

It almost gets smothered by the next track, the cover of “California Dreaming” but once the dream is over, it comes right back to mind. And that is a testament to it. But moving right along this is an extraordinary cover with sweeping violins and a slower, but much more powerful and even almost scary in some parts. It’s like making another song out of it, and doing it as well as the original without disgracing its standards. This isn’t always done with such great results but when it is, you get something not only refreshing, but way outside the box. And you have to credit David Starr for doing something brave and not pulling off a massacre at the same time.

It’s like he approaches his originals, with that same integrity. It’s not easy following up such a peaking point as that, but “Waiting In The Dark” keeps it real with a few welcoming bursts of excitement to bring you out of the trance of the previous animal. It keeps things as fresh as possible and quickly makes you forget you just listened to something that is now around fifty years old. But you’re still in the same century on what is essentially a track about getting tired of being alone. And it might just be me, but this is another one of the best tracks. They all have something compelling about them. But if you’re anything like me, this one stands on top.

“I’ve Come For You” takes on another good notch of the same caliber with its quieter but by no means weaker or less meaningful vocals. It’s a lot more blunt in getting its message across but doesn’t show any less spirit from Starr, with its vibrant but aware of the shadows mentality. It keeps things rocking a little into the finale, which slows back down a little on “Dancing With My pride,” but it also brings everything back into perspective, as it closes with class. And that is what this EP seems to be most fortified with, and you can’t help but feel that John Oates it more present than it appears. But that also should be attributed to the long way David Starr has come by dancing with his own pride.

INSTAGRAM:
https://www.instagram.com/davidmstarr/
10/10

Kevin Webber

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Bradford Loomis - Bravery & the Bell

 
Bradford Loomis - Bravery & the Bell 
 
 
There’s a time when albums like this had hit written all over them in colored marker. That earlier era in our collective musical histories respected soul and meaning much more than modern audiences; the majority of the music listening public, these days, turn their ears towards the sound in full flight from meaning and substance desiring, instead, for nothing more than escape. Bravery & the Bell’s seven songs promise few escapes – except through love, acceptance, and forgiveness. These are exactly shopworn qualities in the wheelhouse of modern music. Bradford Loomis, as his official website bio states in different words, is a man and performer plucked from another time and the ethos informing his art will never fail to touch the hearts of those open to receiving its experience. The album, produced by Brandon Bee except for the closing number, is the pinnacle of Loomis’ solo career thus far.  
 
It gets off to a fantastic start with the song “Wind & Woe”. Loomis has tremendous confidence coming through from the first and he gives the vocal the same sort of treatment. Newcomers are unlikely to have a difficult time adjusting to his voice. Loomis may use a rough hewn delivery on a number of tracks, but this isn’t Tom Waits territory where gurgling nicotine gouged vocal chords makes phrasing frequently indecipherable. He uses his voice to similar effect on the second track “Chasing Ghosts” and, like the opener, the singing brings a believability and depth to his lyrical content that makes everything all the more richer. It isn’t nearly as straight forward as the first track, but accomplishes the same goals ultimately with a different thrust of attack. “In the Time of the Great Remembrance” aches from the first and the exquisitely arranged acoustic guitars give Loomis’ voice a memorable setting for the words. It takes on a different air near the song’s end and concludes in a much different fashion than it begins. The acoustic character of the track isn’t out of place – even shorn of his voice, the same sensibility clearly guides the performance that fills the earlier songs. 
 
He brings the pace up some more on the next cut “The Swinging Bell”. It’s a song that has an irrepressible arrangement beginning with hard-charging acoustic guitars before the full band comes in behind Loomis’ voice. It has a vaguely commercial air, different from the opener, but still has the potential to get over with a wide audience in a fashion unlike the gentler numbers on Bravery & the Bell. “Drive You Home” shows how Loomis is perfectly at home on the stairway of surprise as he throws himself with just the right amount of vocal panache into his take on soul music. There’s a strong Motown influence pervading the song, but he balances it quite well with choruses much more in keeping with his typical approach. Bravery & the Bell ends with “Across the Divide”. It’s a song that has some obvious influences and scores as a love song, but it also has much more widespread potential than the earlier tracks – a fact reflected in its choice as the first single. Bradford Loomis’ third release builds on the praise his first two have received and his development shows no sign of slowing down.  
 
Dale Butcher

Friday, May 5, 2017

Threefifty - Gently Among the Coals


Threefifty - Gently Among the Coals 


The title alone tells some of the story. Gently Among the Coals is an understated image for an album bringing together strong musical and literary qualities in often surprising and dramatic ways. Threefifty has been working for some years now and has acquired a sterling reputation for their consistently high quality of achievement but, unlike many older and younger bands alike, Threefifty have proven rarely content for staying in one artistic place for very long. Gently Among the Clouds brings together the band’s penchant for classical composition together with a folk and slightly baroque sensibility. The sound, approach, and final result is singular. Some might say the world doesn’t need any more songs and the last half century plus flood of all manner of music might give the same impression to those otherwise uninformed. The bar has simply never been set high enough. Bands like Threefifty, however, are clearly aspiring to fare able to withstand posterity’s glare and succeed in doing so.  

Gently Among the Coals never takes shortcuts. The opener “Crossing State Lines” could have been much more traditional fare, but Threefifty thankfully hears the guitar in a much different way than many old and young bands alike. The instrument is recorded with great intimacy throughout the course of the album’s twelve songs, but the common theme in its presentation is that it takes on an orchestral role. The seeming chorus of guitars on the first song is arranged to perfection but still achieve recognizable effects. “Allegiance” will impress a lot of people. The song communicates with great simplicity, but likewise has a layered arrangement that will draw listeners in from the start. It is one of the few lyrical numbers on Gently Among the Coals and Threefifty makes the effort count by utilizing a superb vocal performance bringing the fine lyrics fully to life. Another musical high point comes with the song “Andromeda”. It’s another example of how this band inventively uses guitar in ways that few other bands would dare attempt, but despite the daring they show, Threefifty never loses the melodic plot. Their melodies are restless, forever evolving, sometime flinty or cracked, but it remains one of the band’s chief pursuits in nearly every song. 

Few songs on Gently Among the Coals better illustrate that quality than “Until Our Hearts Give Out”. Threefifty brings different styles together with a less than heavy hand and the conscientious artistry they show fusing electric guitar work with an electronica backing succeeds, in no small part, thanks to understatement. “The Door”, with lyrics by Vicki Kennelly Stock, has a disquieting effect on the listener thanks to its penchant for darker sounds, but there’s still the same attention to melodic detail setting it apart from the band’s peers and the expert way the band steers through a variety of textural changes should be admired. “More” features contributions from electronic performer and producer Daedelus, but it bears all the marks of Threefifty’s constant upending of expectations. They employ traditional instruments in unusual ways and the gripping backbeat frequently coming out of the mix will surely capture listeners’ attention. Threefifty’s latest release Gently Among the Coals is a new benchmark in an already impressive career.  

9/10 

Joshua Stryde