Friday, July 19, 2019

AV Super Sunshine releases “Are You Happy?”

AV Super Sunshine are, above all else, songwriters. “Are You Happy?” is the latest entry in their growing catalog and drawn from their album Candyland Vol. 1 and they lay out the song in such a way that discerning listeners will be able to tell, from the first, that if you took away the effects and post-production manipulations of the song’s radio and club mix, what remains is a durable and sparkling example of popular songcraft at its finest. Though I believe the band pays deference and respect to past influences, AV Super Sunshine is a band of the present as well and their appeal can cut across genre and age lines with little effort. “Are You Happy?” is one of the best singles from anyone I have heard in 2019 and serves notice that this unique and uber talented band has yet to reach the peak of their powers.

I am taken with the way the vocals and music weave around each other without ever sacrificing any element of the musical arrangement or singing. A crucial decision they make ensures it will come across for listeners – the tandem of the lead vocalist and secondary singer Philomena bring a combination of emotion and attitude to the radio mix that is sure to capture any listener’s attention. The effect dampens only a little with the song’s chorus – the sound of the two singers is a little too diffuse for my taste, but they nevertheless convey the lyrics with a real sense of stakes that makes you sit up and pay attention.

The lyrics help in this regard. I like the question burning in the heart of this song title and they face it in the writing without any sense of cliché and a genuine wonderment about what their own answers, or others answer, might be. There’s no overwriting weighing down the song with too much verbiage – instead, the same keen sense of what the song needs musically reaches into the verbal realm as well.

The drumming and synthesizer work in the song are its defining musical elements. The drumming is obviously live rather than the result of a computer or drum machine laying down a rhythm for the song and the melody really comes alive with warmth and vitality thanks to the synthesizer playing. AV Super Sunshine are not content with just pursuing those ends, however, and adorn the song with other instruments that complete the song in a memorable way.

The club and rock mixes of the track are effective as well, though in different fashions naturally. The club mix is a much longer take on the track’s potential and will play well in the environment it is clearly aimed for while the rock mix will appeal to a wide swath of new and old fans alike. AV Super Sunshine’s “Are You Happy?” has many faces, as these mixes show, and I can say without reservation I found each of them compelling in their own way. I can’t wait to hear more from this great band.

Zachary Rush

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Where We Begin by Fenix & SM1LO

Music is a far more complicated medium than any other in the art world, and among all of the most popular music genres in the 21st century, there’s no debating whether or not electronica is the most sophisticated and multifaceted. Newbies to the electronica experience that are interested in getting a sampler of everything that the style can do should make a point to check out Where We Begin, the collaborative album from Fenix & SM1LO released this past June on the Say Wow Records imprint which features none other than Llexa on lead vocals. 

Where We Begin is one song sliced fourteen different ways, six of them being one hundred percent instrumentals. The instrumental “Dub” mixes are generally unnecessary for the average fan’s needs, but for music enthusiasts like me, they’re the bread and butter of a weekend spent taking over every club in the downtown core. There’s no vocal to get in the way of our appreciating the differences between house, club and pop versions of “Where We Begin,” and in some situations, the music is more communicative without the addition of lyrics. “Fenix House Radio Dub Mix” and “Club Radio Dub Mix” are two of the best in this category, but they’re far from the only winners here.

Vocalist Llexa gives some clarity to the emotional subtext in the manipulated melodies we hear in “SM1LO Remix” and “Kali Remix,’ and in the album-opener comes close to going over the top but stops just short of drifting too far from the main hook’s harmony. Some of the alignments are off (namely in the house mixes that she’s featured in), but regardless of how her amazing skills are utilized, they’re an ever-present element that keeps things on a mainstream path instead of a jagged, avant-garde one.

I need just a little more energy out of the “Kali Remix” for it to be the best edit here, but the structure of this mix is nevertheless one of the strongest that Where We Begin features. Does it borrow its piano part from the mid-2000s? Yes, but that rigid riffing that follows it beside Llexa’s singing isn’t similar to anything on the FM dial this July; in all actuality, it has the most futuristic vibe of any element here. Electronica geeks will squabble about the minute differences between these mixes, but all in all, there’s nothing in Where We Begin that misses the mark, especially if you’re a newcomer to this sound.

Fenix & SM1LO’s collaborative project and the fourteen songs it has produced make for a tough record for any journalist to review. It poses as many questions about the players that go unsolved as it does provide an answer to listeners in need of some swinging grooves this summer, but I’ve got a feeling that this could be only one installment in a series of releases from this duo. They haven’t said as much, but if they’re keeping up with the critical reception that Where We Begin has had, they would be crazy to miss out on the lucrative opportunity to make more music like this. This is a club-goer’s paradise, and a great way to get acquainted with contemporary EDM.

Anthony Carlisle 

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Integriti Reeves releases new Single/Album

The faint strumming of an acoustic guitar greets us with open arms as we wander the lush sonic landscape of “Eu Vim Da Bahia,” the new single from up and coming jazz singer Integriti Reeves. Her gorgeous Latin vocal is met with a decadently melodic backdrop in this spellbinding debut, but the excesses of a mainstream jazz sound are mostly absent from this tightly arranged composition. Reeves is an angelic force to be reckoned with here, dishing out robust harmonies alongside a minimalist beat that is as stirring as any of her words are, and thanks to its erudite master mix, there isn’t a single detail in the massively textured “Eu Vim Da Bahia” that goes without a personal touch from behind the soundboard. The grooves are glowing, the strings are as dreamy as a summer’s setting sun, and the voice of our star player is a velvety slice of vocal virtuosity unlike any other that I have had the pleasure of sampling this year.

Reeves is full of energy, has a spunky demeanor and bubbly tone in her execution, but her style of attack is much more conservative than that of her peers. She isn’t afraid to share the spotlight with this excellent instrumental track in the background, and her elegant distribution of the vocal melody is wholeheartedly avant-garde, at least in comparison to what I’ve been spinning lately. There’s a couple of instances where she comes close to overtaking the percussive strut with the colorful cadence of her verses, but instead of assaulting the chorus with unnecessary gusto, she recoils, and lets the guitars work their magic for us. Her unselfishness in the studio makes her quite a rare find nowadays; where so many of the modern jazz players that I’ve been following recently have embraced cruder indulgences of the old school, Reeves is doing the exact opposite, and appealing to a post-genre generation of jazz enthusiasts who appreciate postmodernity as much as she does. There’s plenty of room for growth, but there’s not a doubt in my mind that with a push in the right direction, Integriti Reeves could be a phenomenally popular artist in and out of the jazz world.

Chic, classy and truly one of a kind in every way that really matters, “Eu Vim Da Bahia” is one of my new favorite singles of the summer. Integriti Reeves is still earning her stripes in the underground, but with a voice like hers (and a strong talent for arranging to match), it’s hard for me to imagine her brand remaining under the radar of mainstream audiences for very long. She’s got the sort of skills that you just can’t teach, no matter how disciplined the student might be. Her gifts are natural, uncompromisingly expressive, and exploited quite well in this awesome track. If you haven’t already taken the time out to do so, I highly recommend giving her new EP, tilted Stairway to the Stars, a listen the next time that you’re in the market for new and intriguing Latin jazz. If you’re a connoisseur of the genre, it’s an acquisition you won’t soon regret.

Stephen Dejong 

Monday, May 20, 2019

The Respectables - The Power of Rock ‘N’ Roll

Swinging with as much firepower as a vintage American muscle car, The Respectables get right into the groove of “That Girl” and impress upon anyone listening just how committed to the classic rock model they truly are. The subtly country “Wheel in My Hand” tosses some southern twang into its melting pot of melodies, and much like “18 Wheeler,” doesn’t stop sizzling no matter what volume we’re listening to it at. These three songs and eight others comprise the blistering new album The Power of Rock ‘N’ Roll, The Respectables’ first in ten years, and while they’re not glistening in pop polish, they’re definitely the smoothest work of the group so far.

If “That Girl” has the swing, “Give Some” has the missing sway, and uses it as a foundation for its brutally physical riffing. “Mardi Gras,” one of the more exotic tracks on the LP, bridges the first half of the record into the second without skipping a beat, and though it’s not as tenacious as the title track, it isn’t lacking in lyrical substance at all. The Power of Rock ‘N’ Roll is constructed with very diverse material, but it never feels like a haphazard mixtape.

“Highway 20” is a smart exhibition of the band’s terrific harmonizing as a group, and with “The Shotgun Seat,” makes for the most rhythmically intoxicating song on the album. “As Good as Love Gets” is, regrettably, sort of predictable percussively, but right next to it in “Oasis,” the jaded tone of the drums gets replaced with a surreal spaciness that lends to the introspective nature of the lyrics. “Limousine” is a little too stripped down for my taste, but it doesn’t feel out of place in this record at all. The Respectables had a decade to put this LP together, and you can tell that they spent plenty of time making sure that it was everything that it could be from both a musical and a production standpoint.

The Power of Rock ‘N’ Roll isn’t the only juggernaut in their discography, but I do think that it’s the most fluid and consistent release that The Respectables have chosen to share with us since forming so many years ago. The basslines are beefy, the guitars are crunchy where it counts, and as the music hypnotizes us with its seamless mix, the poetic narratives in the lyrics remind us of who these guys really are, underneath the hard-rocking persona that they’ve fashioned for themselves. To put it quite simply, The Power of Rock ‘N’ Roll is an identity record for this band, and it’s a worthwhile listen for curious indie fans looking for something fresh.

Lucas Kilpatrick

Monday, April 29, 2019

Victor Pedro releases new Single

Victor Pedro’s “Call Me I Need Ya” opens in a very stylish manner and has female backing vocalists nailing down the song title for listeners before Pedro’s voice enters the song. Pedro wisely never overburdens the song with an assortment of musical bells and whistles but, instead, centers his musical efforts on creating an uncluttered musical experience built around insistent electronic percussion and additional understated synthesizer flourishes flashing intermittently throughout the entirety of the tune. Many listeners, especially those who aren’t converts to electronic instruments, decry what they often label the sterile and impersonal nature of such sounds, but such criticism cannot be leveled against this song and its arrangement. The percussion and synthesizer emits genuine warmth throughout the song dovetailing into Pedro’s own intimate vocal.

Pedro’s singing is the heart of the song. Much like the focus we hear from the song’s music, Pedro never overplays his hand as a vocalist and concentrates on delivering emotive and well phrased lines while devoting much of his attention, as well, towards weaving his voice around the musical accompaniment. Unity is one of the overall strengths of this track. Each element feeds into another rather than creating tension and the inclusion of the earlier mentioned backing vocals complements him as well. There is no glaring chorus, per se, but Pedro has a canny skill for manipulating the lyrics in such a way there is a natural rising and falling in the vocal every bit as satisfying. He, likewise, fills the vocal with a tangible longing surging through each line with an amount of feeling we expect from much older and more experienced performers. To hear it from Pedro testifies to the vast talent he brings to bear on each new release.

The lyrics give him a launching pad for such excellence. There isn’t a hint of overwriting present in this track; instead, it goes right to the heart of the subject without ever entertaining any sideshows. The same emotional intensity fueling the musicality of this song is present in the lyrics as well, but there’s confidence as well coming through in every line. Victor Pedro’s words are convincing at every turn. Even a single listen to this track will make even the most casual listeners believe he, indeed, does need to hear from the subject of this song and he pulls it off with bracing effectiveness. Much of that effectiveness can be attributed to the fact, like it is musically, there isn’t a single wasted word to be heard in this song.

Victor Pedro’s journey from youthful musical passion to becoming a complete professional has proven to be an invigorating ride, but even one hearing of “Call Me I Need Ya” should likewise prove this journey is far from over. He possesses the necessary talent to be a musical force for years to come and we have likely only begun to scratch the surface of his considerable talents. This is a dyed in the wool R&B single with all the necessary attributes to make it a classic of the form.

Trace Whittaker

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina - Little King and the Salamander

If “Hey Everybody” doesn’t draw you into this album and bring a smile to your face, check your pulse. Some might dismiss this track as a throwaway, but that’s a superficial knee-jerk take on an obvious album opener brimming over with an affirmative spirit and inspired guitar playing. Bandleader and songwriter Ryan Shivdasani has a clear penchant for utilizing studio effects to enhance the atmospherics of the band’s recordings, but strip away the artifice from tunes like “Hey Everybody” and you still have musical gems capable of entertaining listeners in studio and live settings alike.

“The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina” is one of the more idiosyncratic musical and lyrical offerings included on Little King and the Salamander, no small accomplishment, but it isn’t so precious and far removed from the common listener’s experience that they will reject the tune. It has an unusual jazz influenced flair, but Shivdasani and his collaborators never overplay their hand in this regard and mix it with pop structures in a compelling way. The chorus is strong and has an abbreviated cascading effect that will stick with you after a single listen. There’s a strong cinematic texture defining the mid-tempo “White Light and Lullabies”, another song shaped in a big way by Shivdasani’s judicious use of effects, and he delivers one of the album’s best vocals with this track. The melancholy of his voice is well suited to the dark lyrics, but it isn’t a track wallowing in despair. The songwriting on this release is far too canny to ever be so crude.

“Particle Craze” is one of the cornerstone tracks on the band’s previous release Act 3 and included here in demo form. The Act 3 version has some musical elements absent from this earlier take on the track, but it is fully satisfying in this form as well and connects with listeners early. The unique lyrical imagery is something shared by all Merrymaker’s Orchestrina tracks and it testifies about the extent of Shivdasani’s songwriting skills that he can take unusual language and use it to fuel new takes on well-tested subjects for songs. “Together” has a rough and ready alternative rock take on another traditional songwriting subject, longing for a significant other, and the uptempo pace gains even more momentum thanks to the song’s uncluttered instrumental makeup.

The oddest points in the release come with the tracks “Jeepers Creepers” and “Definitely Not My Underwear”. The former track is sort of coffeehouse poetry gone mad with an unpredictable jazz infused backing capable of taking turns wherever it likes yet never losing the listener. It is quite unlike anything else included on Little King and the Salamander. The latter cut is a blast of psychedeliczed acid rock in the vein of early Pink Floyd or Hawkwind, but Shivdasani’s humor has a quality all its own that helps keep this distanced from imitation. The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina’s Little King and the Salamander includes fourteen songs spanning a wide array of musical styles and never fails to hold listener’s attention.

Carrie Logan

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Ajay Mathur releases new Single

It’s a song about making a decision on a relationship fallen apart. It’s about getting smart about your own life,” said Switzerland singer-songwriter, Ajay Mathur, in his official biography for his newest release, “Start Living Again.” The song and its accompany video are just a small example of the globe’s independent musicians making their mark in a big way. Mathur, who took home the top album prize at 2018’s Germany’s Rock & Pop Awards for his album, Little Boat, channels all what is best about indie music and all that inspired it along the way: solid songwriting.

“Start Living Again” is track number three from Little Boat and comes in at just under three-and-half-minutes. The mood is light. Not fun, or clap along worthy, but very earth tones and sun-like. I heard very strong influences of 60s pyschedelic guitars and percussion smatterings. Interestingly enough, Mathur was born and raised in India. He gravitates more towards acoustic and electronic guitar riffs in “Start Living Again” and relies heavily on a repeated chorus. While listening to the chorus, my mind wandered off into far spaces – and even recalled Grizzly Bear’s “Two Weeks.” Mathur’s lyrical contact sways way more into the pop rock world than a prose or gloomy-indie rock. With words like “They were only ‘things’ that we aspired not love for someone. Everything I was holding onto fed my fear,” he simplifies decision making in a relationship. And he seems to do with an inspirational confidence. It’s as though he himself as already been through the fray and he can attest to getting out alive on the other side. As mentioned before, his own vision of the song is about making better decisions.

Mathur’s decision to make this song pop rock is a wise one. Supposing this was more of a piano-based track, I don’t think it would have had the same reaction. I enjoyed the guitar work on many levels, and the harmonies the riffs created were very tight. The tempo is perfect, and it sets the mood for a strong start to a morning run, or even just a ride in the car to work. It’s probably not a slow dance song. But whatever floats your boat.

Mathur once again collaborated with video creator, Ciro Ayala, for the “Start Living Again” visual representation. The two previously worked together on “My Wallet Is a House of Cards” (also from Little Boat). Ayala’s canvas is one of computerized graphics and visually stunning, rich colors (especially the fire scene). He even gives a 60s filter look to Mathur’s facial profile. I can concur with Mathur that Ayala captures the essence of first tearing down one’s house before the rebuilding can start. Before we become anew, we must sometimes look in the mirror and discover the true source of pain.

“Start Living Again” doesn’t take long to get the emotional reactors charged. I still think Mathur’s lovely voice makes it hard to be angry or hurt while listening to the song. I do think it makes you reflective. It makes you feel less alone.

Andrew Brody