Scene and Heard – CCXC : I Need You  –  Phoenix O’Neill (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

544229_750If Cruel World saw Phoenix O’Neill opening up her soul in a cathartic and confessional way, a slice of from the heart, honest emotion, I Need You navigates some more expected pop waters. This track from the same debut e.p. Out of the Ashes, is the perfect balance to the more considered and understated strains of the aforementioned track, riding on a more obvious commercial pop ticket but still blending her now trademark mix of tried and tested commercial elements with cutting edge and cultish approaches.

On the surface it is an infectious and accessible number one that is going to charm the pop audience, wow the indie kids and with its confident back beats and solid grooves will be a firm favourite with the more dance audience set of clubland. But as this is Phoenix O’Neill you can guarantee that the song is cleverer than it first appears. It’s main trick is out in the open, an inspired use of dynamic. It accelerates and slows in staccato bursts moving from strident drives to brooding lulls, from spiralling crescendos to sultry lows at a turn. The result is a song which at first keeps you guessing but once you have your ear tuned you can just revel in its rich tapestry of textures and tones.

It temptingly holds back when you expect it to run wild, breaks free when you thought you had it under control. It builds big sounds without swamping the song with too much instrumentation and the depth and texture it carries is the result of creating enough space to let the songs individual components breath and flow, to have time and room to let the listener become beguiled by its heady mix of restraint and drive. It also weaves subtle piano, electronic washes, delicate musical motifs and supple musical detail around the songs main sonic trust.

It hooks, it zings, it pops and it certainly grooves, it is infectious and accessible but it is also cleverly put together, sassy, soulful and groovesome, and it adds an unexpected lyrical astuteness to this often misunderstood genre, so much so that the end result is nothing less than deep and meaningful pop. In short it is pop in an evening dress, okay maybe not an evening dress but in the classy attire of an up-scale clubber, pop with an eye on the long game, pop reaching its full potential. Pop with a PhD? On first listen you may think that it is just another throwaway pop song, but before very long you will realise that its a throwaway pop song that you  will want to keep forever! Whatever will they think of next?

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Scene and Heard – CCXCV : Land of Clouds  – Yaman Palak (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

sddefault.jpgLand of Clouds is one of those songs that underlines the power of the digital music revolution. There was a time when synthesisers and samples, music created from non-analogue sources, sounds drawn from the ether rather than for physical dexterity of the player was viewed with suspicion, especially by guitar wielding, narrow-minded, nostalgia freaks. But that was their loss because the studio itself has become an instrument in its own right, one limited only by the imagination of the creator rather than the sonic limitations of the instrument at hand.

Thus we have artists such as Yaman Palak making songs which are wonderfully emotive, seem to be built as much on mood and atmosphere as much as they are on beat and lyric, songs which seem to encompass a strange blend of primal force and futuristic sound. The past and the present existing in one space. Land of Clouds is a mercurial blend of technology and soul, of ambient soundscaping and skittering, slow dance grooves, a glimpse of the future via sounds which resonate with familiarity. Music isn’t always about revolution, that rarely works, but evolution, that is much more effective.

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The Drugs Didn’t Last Forever – Rob Ashley (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

ohbpideiikkjiffm.jpgIt maybe a cliche that the best things are worth waiting for, but in the case of Rob Ashley the 25 or so years he paid his dues gigging around the North-East of America before striking out to write his own album Premiere. Farewell. The Drugs Didn’t Last for Every is the opening salvo and lead single from that album, a considered, spacious and understated number of the sort that Leonard Cohen would have been proud to have written in the 70’s, though Ashley’s voice is one that is more universally accessible than the Canadian’s dulcet and melancholic tones.

A great slow burner rising out of balladic singer-songwriter territory to be embellished and emboldened with some exquisite, shimmering guitar trappings and gentle additional textures as it moves towards its sonic destination. The album as a whole contains a range of styles and temperaments from the restrained and ambient of this track to more muscular rock workouts but as an opening gambit, this lovely work of eloquence and elegance is the perfect place to start.

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Skip – Dennis Kyne (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

UnknownI’ve been saying it for a while now, there is something in the air, a change, a need to comment, something borne out by the fact that I seem to be receiving more and more music which has a message about the darkness gathering in the world at the moment and the need to push back against it. Music has always been a potent force to inform and energise people, to call to arms like minded folk and to put your thoughts and observations on record for all to see. Some bands make music which counterpunches with rhetoric and rabble rousing, some makes music which examines and debates and some, like Skip, fights back in the sweetest, gentlest way possible an approach which seems to make it all the more powerful in a sort of David and Goliath fort of way.

And whereas most artists advocate a need to combat the problems of the world, Skip instead encourages you to embrace your inner child and follow the instructions in the title and skip! Why? well, because skipping is fun, it reminds us of our formative years, it allows us to forget things for a while and once you learn how to momentarily let go the world doesn’t seem so bad. But also if it raises a smile on one other person, makes someone laugh, even make someone join in then you have made the world a slightly nicer place to be in, if only for a moment and if enough people do that change will come. It is tackling the earths ills through holistic happiness, start anywhere you want, do something no matter how small and you are part of the change.

The song runs on a sort of mix of pop-jazz infectiousness and old-school music hall and the result is wonderful. Scat singing, cascades of piano, brass salvos and the most addictive chorus you have heard in a long time and the important message “war makes you old, skipping keeps you young” resonates throughout. It is a message to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, The Iraq War and every other war and disaster which needs some love and laughter to help those effected to get through.

Sometimes the simplest messages are the most effective, forget the political rants and idealistic raves, those who have the answers and know how to fix society. Sometimes you have to just reduce everything down to its most childlike quality, embrace the simplicity and innocence and just skip through the eye of the storm. It’s sometimes that simple.

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Scene and Heard – CCXCIV : Jessica – Christopher Carpenter (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

imagesThis is a bit different from what I usually review on this site. An audio track or video comes my way and I’m asked to give some thoughts and insight into the music, the way it has been put together, what it is trying to do and search for some purpose and point to it all. Jessica is actually something a bit different. For a start the music is not by the artist who sent it or indeed called Jessica but is actually Hangman by Ontario alt-rockers Selfish Things. So what is going on here?

Well, this is actually a piece of performance art. Music has always been a catalyst and a comfort to fans, inspiring them to be similarly creative or giving solace through the words or some sort of sonic emotive connection. What Christopher Carpenter is doing here is choosing music which helps express his creative outpouring. The video is a visual representation of the medical condition akathisia, which manifests itself as a feeling of inner restlessness and an inability to stay still.

And that is exactly what you get from the video. The music provides a driving and slightly fractured sonic backdrop but the action all comes from the subject and his stop-motion effects which sum up the friction and the unrest coming from with in. The video also has a slightly unnerving quality as if you are a voyeur to someone’s private life, an uninvited viewer to the spectacle of someone wrestling with their inner demons.

It’s a strange and challenging visual, provoking a reaction in the view shining a light on an inner turmoil put into movement and feeling like you have stumbled unbidden upon a private recording, a CCTV into someones most personal moments. Strange, beguiling and powerful.

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Scene and Heard – CCXCIII : Her Voice in My Head  –  Joshua Ketchmark (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

KETCHMARK-The-Misses-coverI remember Joshua Ketchmark’s last single, 17,  very well. Firstly because it was the last review I wrote before shutting things down for Christmas. Secondly because it dripped with a real Neil Young vibe. But mainly because it was a cracker of a song, one that understood its place on the singer-songwriter timeline whilst helping to take that style forward into the bright new future. Her Voice in My Head grooves on a more countrified feel, but one invested with a slice of rock muscle sailing it closer to an early Ryan Adams feel. How does this guy keep referencing all my favourite artists but still sound like his own man?

Her Voice In My Head is the perfect follow up to 17, and it proves that Ketchmark really has the acoustic rock, singer-songwriter thing sorted. After all, anyone can sing, anyone can write songs, but the term is more than the sum of its parts. In the case of Joshua Ketchmark much, much more than the sum of its parts.

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Tribal Love – Rivita (reviewed by T. Bebedor)

9Take a female singer/songwriter/producer from Delhi in India, give her a musical education from London and drop her into the boiling pot of influences of a city like, oh I don’t know… New York, and it would be pretty interesting to hear what she came up with, well Rivita is that woman and her new five track EP is currently being played into my ears.

I like to leave an album on loop when I’m going to review it and this album benefits from such a method because the depth within the production only really reveals itself through repeat listening and shows that this EP wasn’t cobbled together with little thought or planning, it knows what it wants to do and sets up the listener early with the opening track, ‘Galaxy’ (coming in at barely a minute in length), boldly stating “I speak the truth, and nothing but the truth”.

It’s a good opener, a strong appetiser, if you will, for the music to follow which dips it’s toes into electro dance, world music and straight laced pop with strong hooks and choruses, particularly ‘While The Love Is Gone’ (which you’ll be singing for hours afterwards).

This song gets a remix treatment within the EP with Rivita – who, as well as singing and writing these songs, also produces – clearly interested in exploring other treatments. Where the original mix seems to soar with the help of subtle backing vocals, the remix benefits from the inclusion of acoustic guitar. ‘Hunt You Down’ is a catchy pop song that, and I’m showing my age here, reminds me of 90’s band All Saints. That isn’t in any way meant as a negative, they bridged the gap between pop and ‘urban’ (whatever that means) successfully and ‘Hunt You Down’ wouldn’t sound out of place on any commercial radio, and is, again, an ear worm in waiting.

There is lots to enjoy in this snippet into the talent of the Dehli-Born, New York native, and this EP will act as a calling card for those wishing to delve deeper into the back catalogue of her work (which can be found at www.rivitamusic.com)

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Scene and Heard – CCXCIII : Vexx Voxx – Siblings of Us (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

29178222_911232665724993_939782670211088384_nSiblings of Us has always been one of those bands which confuses and bemuses in equal measure in music form. It video form they raise even more questions. How did I miss all of their cameo roles in such blockbuster movies? How come a band so draped in dance beats and synth-pop vibes has such poor dancing skills of their own? When did they sprout an extra member…hang on, that sounds a bit rude.

Anyway, the point is that Siblings of Us is not about pandering to the listener, it is about playing by their own rules. Rules which insist that they take industrial strength synth wave, slightly unhinged falsetto vocals, psychotic pop infectiousness, electronic-rock muscle, retro vibes and futuristic musical predictions, throw them against the wall and see what sticks.

And what sticks is brilliant, in a mad sort of way.  Imagine if The Bee Gees had formed a hardcore band using gear stolen from Depeche Mode! Well, now you don’t have to.

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Kapil Srivastava captures India in music

Kapil_Srivastava_Amazing_India_Guitar_Journey_Guitarist_Guitarmonk_Gmtunetime_MusicI once heard a folk tale that every place on the map has its own voice and tale to tell. Not just natural features such as rivers and trees, rocks and mountains but even man made structures and the more ancient they are the more they have to tell. It is for this reason bards and storytellers would travel from place to place listening to the song of the land, learning its message and then use it to inform and entertain. India’s top guitarist Kapil Srivastava seems to be on just such a mission. The founder of India’s largest chain of Guitar Schools, Guitarmonk is the man behind Amazing India, a heritage site guitar journey, connecting the countries unique places and heritage sites and composing a piece of music for each.

Musically he is creating a series of wonderfully unique Ragas on Guitar that are inspired by and reflect the majesty, history and diversity of the country capturing its individual colours and flavours in sonic form. Kapil is also filming this audio and video adventure, a feat which when complete will gain an entry into the Guiness Book of Records.

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Pow! – Big Toast and Jack Diggs (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Jack-Diggs-Big-Toast-Call-It-On-AlbumAny track that is topped and tailed with the strains of Withnail and I wins my respect irrespective of what they do to fill the space between those soundbites. For these are clearly people of taste and didn’t a wise man once say that there are two sorts of people in this world, those who know it to be the greatest, not to mention most quotable, film of all time and those who have yet to see it. No, well they should have.

Although pursuing their own, separate careers, Big Toast and Jack Diggs have been collaborating on various projects for over a decade and now present Call It On, the full length album which is home to this track. There is something of the Sleaford Mods vibe but only because like them they have re-worked old-school, gritty UK hip-hop sounds, samples garnered from crate digging, studio deftness and an ear for the cool, clock themselves in the same urban anti-fashion and deliver a brutal scatter gun salvo of lyrics and poetic flows.

I guess I make the reference mainly because the aforementioned Nottingham agitators are the best known of the genre but turn a few stones, look down a few dark alleyways, find a few underground clubs and invite only parties and you will find acts like this and a whole wealth of talent that are ready to give them a run for their money.

 

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