Questions –  Agency (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

If Exponents demonstrated Agency’s distain for generic boundaries and for following other people’s pre-conceived ideas of what one musical style or another should conform to, Question’s continues very much down the same non-conformist path. Having made a name for taking strands of broadly urban music – R&B, hip-hop, soul and the like – and taking it to strange, illogical conclusions, this latest album shows that there is a lot of sonic territory yet to be explored. As R&B seems content to become a modern substitute for throw away pop and hip-hop gets taken to a lowest common denominator by a wave of mumbling, bedroom rappers looking for a quick shot at fame, Agency’s musical machinations remind me more of the early pioneers of UK’s underground 4AD label such as A R Kane who mixed soulful sounds with dream pop soundscapes.

Continue reading “Questions –  Agency (reviewed by Dave Franklin)”

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Watercolor Lies –  E E Beyond (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

49ac5193850d6d8c2cdde0afafa37a968ca48953Whilst a lot of music seems to be made for the most shallow reasons, fame, money, ego a means to an end rather than the journey itself, occasionally you come across music which seems confessional, intimate, the narratives of an artist trying to make sense of their own life and understand the world around them. Watercolour Lies falls very much into the latter camp. At its most intimate it examines the authors own relationships and searches for honest truths beneath the outer appearances, at its most poignant it is nothing short of a bold dissection of The American Dream.

The Watercolor Lies of the title refers to the things that society and the system, even friends and family tell us are in our best interests but which later prove to be only hollow traditions. You get an education but you still have to work three jobs to make ends meet or you stay in a relationship because maybe it is easier or maybe you think they will change. Nothing is the way society, the media, politicians tell you it is but you go along with it anyway.

But for all its soul searching and deep questioning, Watercolor Lies is a gorgeous album. Lyrically it may often be confrontational but musically it wraps these thoughts in exquisite R&B grooves and soulful sound washes, hip-hop beats and alt-pop infectiousness. The title track in particular is a spacious and dark piece and taut with the frustrations that the lyrics highlight. Dreamers Howl which opens the e.p. is a wonderful blend of tribal hypnotics and shuffling, minimal dance floor beats and right from the start shows the thread  of optimism that runs through the music in its “I’ve Got You” chant. Life may be tough but we can find comfort and support in those around us.

Enemy, which brings the e.p. to a conclusion is a beautiful pop ballad, both haunting and deeply personal. But it is this confessional stance which reaps the greatest rewards, once you are honest with yourself, once you know how you really feel, only then can you move on.

Watercolor Lies is an important collection of songs. For too long music has forgotten that it has a platform, a place to engage with like minded people, or perhaps change other point of view and that is exactly what Elaine Faye, the driving force behind the project, does here. She may seem like a voice in the wilderness in these troubled and broken days but sometimes the purity of such a lone voice can make it seem all the more powerful. And on the basis of this musically intelligent and lyrical eloquent collection of songs, E E Beyond should resonate with a lot of discerning music fans looking for artists who speak their language and who put those same frustrations to creative use.

The Myth  –  Chad Rico (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

the mythThere’s a certain late night feel that wanders through Chad Rico’s music. Whereas many people working in the broad urban music environment try hard to make an impact by getting up close and personal, bombastic raps, machine gun hip-hop beats, confrontational R&B and the like, The Myth makes its point through a sort of wonderfully lazy swagger, slow paced grooves and a sultriness that is often lost in the rush to be heard.

Less is more is a cliche of course but cliches are cliches because they offer some truth and Chad Rico understands that sometimes the power in the music comes from its spaces and subtleties, of the anticipation between the beats and the pause between the words. Night In Barcelona mixes trippy electronica with a gentle swagger and Options takes this minimalist approach to its logical conclusion being little more than lyric and beat and all the more powerful for it.

In a world where everyone is shouting to get the discerning music listeners attention, it is the artist stood quietly and confidently in the corner that is the most intriguing, the one that you are compelled to check out. Chad Rico is that artist. Not quite a Myth yet but certainly on his way to becoming a legend.

Scene and Heard – CCCLXXXVII : Anytime –  SillyKing Denny (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

61C+N-6p2fL._SS500If rap and hip-hop are defined by the lyrical flow and the delivery of the message that lies at the heart of the song, then SillyKing Denny is someone who fans of those genres won’t fail to notice. His ability to blend busy and energetic vocals with some sweet and soulful tones stands him apart form the pack immediately and with the music happy to merely frame his deliveries he builds the perfect platform to promote his talents.

Musically, gentle soul vibes and R&B grooves effortlessly drive the song, soulful and sophisticated rather than the usual bombastic blasts, skittering trap beats and warped electronica that the rest of the pack seem so enamoured with. And it is this mix of early hip-hop, soulfulness and easy accessibility that means that it will have wide appeal. The cool kids on the street with dig its vibe, the old schoolers will pick up on the vocal deliveries and the pop set will love the lazy, lilting  loveliness of it all. Why try to act tough and sing your own praises when you can charm the audience with a song that naturally does that for you? SillyKing Denny is more than aware that this is the way to go.

Scene and Heard – CCCLXXV : Cobra CMDR – Paradame  (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

ParadameBannrGreen-1024x653The great thing about Paradame is that on the surface of things, her music seems to fit into some fairly neat boxes, exploring soul, pop, R&B and urban music strands. But the more you listen too it the more you realise just how subversive it actually is and that the reason that you didn’t pick up on its outsider qualities straight away was because songs like Cobra CMDR come wrapped in a brilliant sonic trojan horse. It is music which seems to be easily identifiable on the outside but has so many hidden depths and by the time you realise that it has managed to get past any musical prejudices or genre snobbery that might have got in the way.

It is a dark, sultry and edgy piece of sci-fi infused sonics, sitting somewhere at the centre of the perfect storm of street rap deliveries, dystopian pop, glitchy electronica and commercial infectiousness, a song that doesn’t follow the usual template, which is cool and cultish yet which is instantly memorable and clever enough to get a mainstream following with ease.

And visually it does something just as clever too. In many videos the women are just the material trappings of a male music master, not quite as important as the car, the bling, the weed, the money. Even when a supposedly liberating female popster appears to be calling the shots there is still often an obvious undercurrent of them playing a stereotypical image for the music money men. Paradame offers something new. These women are projecting real power here. Yes, they are projecting a sexy and sultry image too, but on their own terms and would you walk into that room alone? And if you did would there be any doubt who was in control?

As she proved on the brilliant Aye! Priori from which this track is taken, Paradame is not about trying to change things from the outside, about creating alternatives to the mainstream, underground scenes or new genres for the sake of it. She is about showing those with more mainstream tastes what they are missing, that music can be both challenging and chart accessible, that music doesn’t have to follow a lowest common denominator to be successful. Clever pop music, it would seem, is back on the menu. I bet you didn’t see that one coming?

Foxing begin UK tour in support of new album

mailCreated over the course of nearly three years, ‘Nearer My God’ was produced in St. Louis and Montreal by Walla and Hudson, with additional help from Joe Reinhart (Hop Along, Modern Baseball).

It’s an apocalyptic melodrama about control in a world that really, really feels like it’s falling apart. Expertly-executed by vocalist Conor Murphy, guitarists Eric Hudson, Ricky Sampson, and Jonathan Hellwig on drums, Foxing shines their collective brightest on this record, especially on tracks like ‘Gameshark,’ or the title track, recorded and released in 5 different languages. Here, they combine elements of anthemic indie rock, avant-garde R&B, classical and more to create some of their most original and strongest material yet.

Foxing’s discography, including their 2013 breakout debut ‘The Albatross’, is one that can be slow-moving but with purpose. ‘Nearer My God’ took the band nearly three years to complete, but that time was well spent re-focusing on the future of Foxing. What preceded ‘Nearer My God’s newfound energy was the emotional and physical fatigue that came from years of their relentless drive. Their last album, 2016’s ‘Dealer’, helped push the St. Louis group to entirely new heights; Pitchfork instantly dubbed it “an artistic triumph,” it debuted at #3 on Billboard’s best-selling vinyl chart, and the band spent nearly 2 years off and on the road in support of it. The patience pays off, though; ‘Nearer My God’ feels like an entirely refreshed Foxing, even if they never really needed much refreshing in the first place.

Continue reading “Foxing begin UK tour in support of new album”

Perspective  –  Wembi (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Attachment_1532887136.jpg.pngIt’s safe to say that Perspective covers a lot of ground musically speaking. You would’t go as far as to say it is eclectic, but stylistically it is happy to shift around a number of genres, from accessible rock to soul, pop and hushed R&B and from late night piano ballads to gentle gospel. And between these parameters Wembi creates an album that already feels like a future classic, one of those that gets revisited and re-explored by successions of new listeners as the years roll by.

Songs such as Hell No! immediately put you in mind of the likes of Toto and that funky pop-rock groove that has served them so well over the years and it is a song that I find myself drawn to lyrically right from the off, intrigued by a set of lyrics that, though the names have been removed to protect the guilty, it can be read as either covertly political or highly personal. Or both.

Ring The Bell plays with no such vagueness, an intimate message rendered into a smooth piano piece all emotive space and anticipation, atmosphere and heartfelt feelings and musically there seems to be as much power and intent in the gaps between the notes and the pauses between the words as in the more structured parts of the song. Less is indeed more and space is there not just to be filled but perhaps also framed, enhanced and used as an integral part of the song itself. Tanganyika takes a more electro-pop line, mixing groovesome rhythms and pulsing bass lines with synth melodies to form a striking instrumental piece.

But what Wembi revels in is deftly crafted ballads whose largely unadorned nature means that the grace and beautiful simplicity of their creation is open for all to see. Songs such as A Promise, Hopes and Lies and the statement of support and solidarity that is Puerto Rico are brave enough to remain fairly simple songs and that is where their power lies. It is easy for artists to fall into the trap of entering the studio and adding layer upon layer of sound, texture and musical excess to what was already a great song an act that only seeks to muddy the waters. Thankfully Wembi knows that he has good songs to start with and plays to their aesthetic strengths by allowing them to breath. Did I say good songs? Make that great songs!

Scene and Heard – CCCLVII : Back It Up –  Dia Grover (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

imageIf songs charted because of sass and swagger rather than sales then Back It Up would be occupying the top spot for a long time. It is the perfect storm of groovesome old school R&B, pop energy, hi-octane soul and dance floor smarts. That’s a lot to fit in to a song but Dia Grover deftly weaves those threads together into a vibrant musical party. And more than just delivering a cool tune, via the video he also brings the dance moves to go with it. How great is that?

Defining the song really depends on which aspect of the sound catches your ear first. Back It Up is capable of driving like rock music, grooving like a dance floor classic, blending slick, R&B moves around echos of disco’s golden age, has pop infectiousness in spades and is delivered with effortless cool. Genres? Who needs them?

Exponents  –  Agency (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Agency-e1529681209575I spend so much of my time trying to find something new to say about music that lands on my desk with the label R&B attached, music that is really just production line pop with the same stolen groove and an eye on a quick buck, that I have taken to dreading anything which turns up with such moniker attached. Perhaps it is such a backdrop of unoriginality that makes Agency’s Exponents e.p shine so brightly, though more likely it is that what’s going on here is actually something a bit special, cool and totally original, a collection of songs created by thinking so far out of the box that they can’t even see the box in the rear-view mirror as they take this musical vehicle for a spin down the highway.

Take opening salvo Darkness for example. Most artists would want to make a big and obvious impact to kick the record off, Agency opt for a wonderfully weird and glitchy a capella introduction, much more memorable in its otherness than the usual bombastic offerings. It then proceeds to play with everything from sweeping pop balladry to hip-hop grooves, from  up beat soul to mainstream commercial infectiousness. In just this opening track they seem to cover more musical ground than many acts take the first decade of their career and four albums to encapsulate.

Moonlight weaves more ambient threads together, smooth soulfulness, sultry grooves and a wonderful use of space to create atmosphere and anticipation between the notes and the beats and Daylight is the perfect dance floor wind down as the club slips into the early hours chill mode. Nothing Easy About Me,  the final slice of this five song offering, is a brilliantly eclectic musical cut up of spoken word and strangely affected musical interludes.

And whilst it is easy to assign these tracks to broad generic labels, that doesn’t even begin to do them justice as even when they can be pinned down to such normal classifications the songs seem to be constantly either creating new sub-genres within them or making leaps across those generic fences and gene-splicing music and ideas that seem to have passed everyone else by. The ability to do this, to almost turn accepted musical forms on their head and still come away with something cohesive, intriguing and accessible is a trick most can’t carry off. And when they are not reinventing the core concepts of soul, R&B, hip-hop, ambient pop and the like, they are creating wonderfully smooth, musically elegant and lyrically eloquent songs.

If it wasn’t for the fact that you can’t help but love everything about them, they would make you jealous enough to hate them…in a good way, at least.

Scene and Heard – CCCXLIV : Immature – Celeste Buckingham (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Screenshot_BARE_cover_1.pngCeleste has got guy trouble. It’s the age old story, she’s with a man who in reality is a boy, he doesn’t treat her right, he’d rather be hanging with his friends and she has had enough. What do you do? You can either get mad, get even or get creative and Celeste takes the third option and puts her thoughts and feelings into a cool little slice of R&B infused pop.

This is a song for the modern age, the here and now, the cutting edge of musical fashion. It flirts with pop infectiousness but runs along on sultry dance floor grooves laced through with some glitchy electronic intricacies. It is wonderfully spacious, leaving room for the vocals and the beat to do most of the real work and allowing the other instrumentation to add texture and layers rather than addition riffs, melodies and motifs. In short it is perfect for current musical tastes, a great pop single, one destined to find favour in many musical quarters. The formidable vocal performance is just the icing on the cake.

Scene and Heard – CCCXXXIX : Not What I Want –  Jackie Dope (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

24301099_192738537949689_6955696907881915857_nRevelling in the past is all very well and good but the best music, or at least the most original,  seems to be made as people move things forward. It’s evolution, it’s forward-thinking, it is the way the world turns. Jackie Dope is the sound of the world turning and music moving into pastures new. Yes, you can break the song apart and find very recognisable musical building blocks being used, but it is what they are used to build which is the real charm.

Over a lazy and sultry hip-hop groove he hangs soulful vibes, trippy electronica, deft rap flows and a wonderful use of space and anticipation. It certainly beats with a chilled hip-hop heart but it also evokes a timeless soul, commercial R&B and a strange blend of cocktail lounge sophistication and urban street smarts. 

But I guess that is how the whole scene rolls forward and you can run a thread through blues, jazz and soul that eventually takes you to hip-hop and then beyond as that in turn has evolved into its own offshoots and sub-genres But they all come from the underground, form honest expression, from the street, from the heart, which is why blending them together seems such a natural thing to do. Then again, there always has to be someone who gets there first!

Scene and Heard – CCXCIX : Never Enough – Joan Mercury (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Never+Enough+Single+Cover.pngThe best pop music has the ability to walk fine lines between different worlds and is able to appeal to wide demographics without sacrificing its own integrity. We often see the opposite of this idea at work, at one extreme you find throwaway pop music aimed at the teen dollar to be used and discarded when the wheel of fashion turns, at the other music aimed at a mature audience often playing things safe, music consumers who have long ago decided what they like. Rarely do we find songs which appeal to both ends of the spectrum, songs which are sassy and fresh enough for the younger set but also refined and slick enough to become firm favourites through constant repeat. Just occasionally, music clever enough to fit into both camps simultaneously pops up on the radar and Never Enough is just such a song. 

Pop it may be but it is a track that mixes the infectiousness associated with that genre with some slick R&B grooves and unexpectedly soulful undercurrents. And it is the depth that these genres add to the song, the rising and emotive Hammond organ sound, the funky guitar lines, the sumptuous and often ethereal back vocals and the rising and falling of the songs dynamic from subtle interludes to soaring crescendoes, that provide its mass appeal status.

Never Enough also speaks of things that listers of any age can relate to, of being in a one sided relationship, of thoughts and feelings, love and longing, rather than employing lyrics which confine it to a more niche experience. Not everyone wants to hear about how Lit your party is or needs another twerk-fest video, and it is this broad accessibility, this integrity, this pop maturity, which is going to put her in good stead for a long career. 

As a teaser for her album Mercury Rising, this is a track that neatly sums up why we need to throw away our old prejudices and divided ways when looking at music genres and embrace a new and holistic musical age. For Joan Mercury does that most rare of things, she makes pop that sounds both grown up and wonderfully infectious at the same time. Throwaway pop is two-a-penny, it always has been, and that is pretty much the nature of the beast. But then pop written specifically for a more mature audience generally misses the point, taking itself too seriously and forgetting why it came into the room in the first place. Never Enough, however, is the perfect point where both worlds co-exist.

Scene and Heard – CCXCI :  Avec Moi  – Angelle ft. Philmoore Rich (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

GGGAngelle is one of those artists who, despite working in the contemporary world of soulful, R&B infused pop, also manages to remind us of a host of great names from Roberta Flack to Witney Houston to Toni Braxton. And that, of course, is the secret isn’t it? It isn’t really about inventing new genres, or gene-splicing musical styles which have no business getting that intimate, that rarely works anyway. No, the art is to create music which is both of the here and now and yet subtly references the past. A blend of the fresh and familiar, new but just with a slight touch of nostalgia.

And Avec Moi does this to perfection. The blend of French and English lyrics adds a classy sheen to its already sultry grooves, Philmoore Rich’s lyrical rap and flow updates the sound nicely and the end result is a timeless piece of sensual soul which stands with one foot in the present day and the other in soul’s golden age. Perfect.

Scene and Heard  –  CCLXXXVI Final Warning “Bye Bich” – So Unique (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

hqdefaultFinal Warning is the perfect sound creation for the modern music fan, just the right blend of old school familiarity and new ideas and the result is a slick urban groove-laden, R&B infused track, one perfect for the clubland dance floor and pop picker alike. It speaks to the cutting edge rap scene, although it is individual enough to stand enough apart from that as well, but it also echoes with the slow sensuality of blues divas, jazz singers and soul acts of the past.  This isn’t about re-inventing those past times but it is certainly the successor to much of it.

There was a time when R&B sat on one side of a certain musical divide and music deemed cooler or more cultish sat on the other. One of the aspects of our non-tribal, post-genre musical world, is that as the various barriers have been kicked down, as rules and traditions have been abandoned, the more commercial has been allowed to merge with the underground, or more importantly a whole generation of musician has grown up not even knowing that those restrictions even existed. This is the sound of someone not playing by the rules, of a woman in what used to be a man’s world, of crossing boundaries both musically and culturally and of breaking moulds.

The perfectly named So Unique, therefore, represents this balance of old and new, traditional sounds and modern exploration perfectly blended as she merges skittering, electro-R&B beats with more cultish underground vibes, deft rap flow and pop infectiousness. Throw in a soulful vibe and some darker and sensual moves balanced with an edgy and confrontational stance and you have something rather special. The result is music that will both connect with the commercial crowd but also has mass appeal to the more discerning, underground markets, music which is at once inventive and clever but without being anything other than a cool and accessible pop record, one that feels like chart positioning and mainstream radio play is just around the corner.

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. Yes, pop! In the bigger scheme of things everything is pop and in this post-genre world where artists are happy to mix and match their influences, maybe it is the only generic term we really need, In short it is pop from the streets, pop with an eye on the long game, pop reaching its full potential, pop that you really don’t want to mess with. Maybe it is just another throwaway pop song, but one that you will want to keep forever! Whatever will they think of next?

Scene and Heard – CCLXXXIII : Shero – Da Voicez (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Da_Voicez_Cover-1-620x420Who says that pop music can’t have a conscience? Who says that pop can’t be both big and clever? Just because by its very nature it is a form aiming for mass appeal and therefore a certain amount of immediacy and infectiousness, doesn’t mean that it can’t have something to say. At a time when certain, age old social issues are being addressed once more, Da Voicez throw Shero into the ring, a comment on relationships, empowerment, confidence and being strong and patient enough to wait for the right partner to come along.

This R&B and pop-laced dance crew make a striking impression, old-school pop mixed with the confidence and candour of the modern musical age. But first impressions are easy to make, lasting ones are the real trick and beyond the impact of the video, Shero’s real skill is to walk a fine line between the swagger of pop, the grace and sensitivity of soul and the sass of R&B. The result is a track that neatly sums up why we need to throw away our old prejudiced and the tribal and divided ways of looking at music genres and embrace a new and holistic musical age. For Da Voicez do that most rare of things, they make pop that sounds both grown up and wonderfully infectious at the same time. Throwaway pop is two-a-penny, it always has been, and that is pretty much the nature of the beast and pop written specifically for a more mature audience generally misses the point, taking itself too seriously and forgetting why it came into the room in the first place. Shero, however, is the best of both worlds.

It hooks, it zings, it pops and it certainly grooves, it is accessible and it actually has something to say for a change 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.

Be The Change (The Shelter) – Marieme (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

27749781_908687395975096_973584009618949688_nMarieme does that most rare of things, she makes pop that sounds both grown up and wonderfully infectious at the same time. Throwaway pop is two a penny, it always has been, and that is pretty much the nature of the beast. But pop aimed at a more mature audience generally misses the point, taking itself too seriously and forgetting why it came into the room in the first place. Be The Change (The Shelter) however, is the best of both worlds.

It hooks, it zings with an understated grace, it pops in the most chilled out of ways and it certainly grooves, it is infectious and accessible but it is also cleverly put together, sassy, soulful and bluesy, 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 the sense that all music is essentially pop when it comes right down to it.

And as cleverly wrought and finely crafted as the music is, it is Marieme’s voice that is the stand out feature, how could it not be? It is a voice filled with the ghosts of soul legends and jazz-blues icons, a natural and all encompassing vocal equally happy to whisper softly in your ear or hit the big crescendo.

In short it is pop in an evening dress, pop with an eye on the long game, pop reaching its full potential. Throwaway pop songs that you will want to keep forever! Whatever will they think of next?

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow –  Addy C. (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

IMG_20180303_175452_778.jpgThis isn’t normally the sort of thing I get to review on this site. Usually I am surrounded by piles of CDs from European dream-pop explorers or West Coast alt-country bands. But music comes in many forms from the highly promoted and studio polished artists forging a professional career to those just starting out and it would be hypocritical of me to spend all this time writing about bands with a decade of experience behind them without acknowledging where it all begins. And it normally begins with a young kid, hair brush in hand, singing and dancing in front of the mirror at home with a song in their heart and a dream in their head.

Addy C is a bit beyond that, she is out there performing and anyway you look at it, that makes her the equal to any other live performer no matter how big. Treading the boards is what it all comes down to. And whilst I can’t really talk about her in the same way as those releasing slickly produced original albums, the one thing we can talk about is potential.

And the potential of this girl is obvious. At 8 years old singing and dancing live on a stage of a size many of the indie I get to write about would kill to step on to, full of confidence and charm…how can you not love that? And vocally, considering that her voice is yet to undergo many changes and developments, she not only has a great delivery, but great  control. Power and other techniques can be learnt over time, but what she has right are the fundamentals, the basics, the things that you can’t teach, the base upon which everything else will be built. Add to that confidence, grace and charm and you get the impression that Addy C can take these initial steps and head out in any creative direction she wants.

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow is a brave song to choose, The Shirelles are a tough act to follow and there is a wonderful subtext here, the song marked the first all-girl group to have a number one in the US and the video arrived in my in-box on International Women’s Day. If I were a superstitious person I would say that the portents are all there for a successful solo career. You go girl!

To The Starz –  Blow Flyy ft Jason “Soul” Howe (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

DSCF1661.jpgHip-Hop and therefore rap and all the other sub-genres that it spawned has always had a love of the hedonistic lifestyle. Commerciality may now be more of a driving force for the music being made on those tough streets but it never lost its sense of wanting more, craving success and the glamour of the lifestyle that it brings. Some might see cliche running through the song but this is a genre which has always known what it wanted and this is just a mission statement rather than playing up to well used stereotypes. Okay, it is playing up to a stereotype but players will play…and why not?

But at least Blow Flyy and Howe are more honest about their aspirations, aiming for a successful career and a nice life rather than the bling and party that has become the cliche. This is a song rooted in ambition and achievement rather than the shallow party life that is often what is really at stake.

Jason “Soul” Howe delivers the  message over skittering percussion and solid beats, it runs on a minimalist R&B groove, as much as it does a rap delivery and whereas many people making music in this urban field are happy to rest on the musical laurels of past glories, To The Starz as its name suggests is more about looking forward. This is the music of the here and now, no looking back.

Breathe – Erica James (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

img-3879Breathe is the perfect sound for the modern music fan, just the right blend of old school familiarity and new ideas and the result is a slick and groove-laden, R&B infused track, one perfect for the clubland dance floor and pop picker alike. There was a time when R&B sat on one side of a certain musical divide and music deemed cooler or more cultish sat on the other. One of the aspects of our non-tribal, post-genre musical world, is that as the various barriers have been kicked down, as rules and traditions have been abandoned, the more commercial has been allowed to merge with the underground, or more importantly a whole generation of musician has grown up not even knowing that those restrictions even existed.

This Toronto artist, therefore, represents this balance of old and new, traditional sounds and modern exploration perfectly blended as she merges skittering R&B beats with more cultish underground vibes, rock muscle with pop infectiousness. Throw in a soulful vibe and some gospel hints and you have something rather special. The result is music that will both connect with the pop crowd but also has mass appeal to the more discerning markets, music which is at once inventive and clever but without being anything other than a cool, sensual and accessible pop record, one that feels like chart positioning and mainstream radio play is just around the corner.

As a teaser for her latest release Crave, this is a track that neatly sums up why we need to throw away our old prejudiced and divided ways at looking at music genres and embrace a new and holistic musical age. For Erica James does that most rare of things, she makes pop that sounds both grown up and wonderfully infectious at the same time. Throwaway pop is two-a-penny, it always has been, and that is pretty much the nature of the beast. But pop written specifically for a more mature audience generally misses the point, taking itself too seriously and forgetting why it came into the room in the first place. Breathe, however, is the best of both worlds.

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, pop with an eye on the long game, pop reaching its full potential. Pop with a PhD? Maybe it is just another throwaway pop song, but one that you will want to keep forever! Whatever will they think of next?

Scene and Heard – CCLIV : Deeper –  Kenny Fame (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Cd_cover_DeeperYou have to admire Kenny Fame’s ability to explore his chosen genre, to push into the extremes of the commercial and the unconventional alike. If 2016’s An Intimate Portrait was a collection of progressive R&B, an album which mixed fragile and delicate songs seeped in soul and jazz with short musical sketches and thoughts, and last year’s Another Man’s Woman played out along more expected lines, Deeper sits somewhere between.

It is wonderfully commercial but without relying on the obvious or the cliched. It runs on a slow burning and sultry groove, remains understated and sparse and, as the video underlines, is built of the darker emotions that surround the break down of relationships. As always, Kenny Fame represents the alternative to the usual Day-Glo pop infused R&B that is the standard chart fodder these days. But he does so without veering too far from what most people expect from the genre, it’s just that his choices are braver, pander less to the average listeners expectations and take more thought provoking journeys.

He might represent the most gentle of musical revolutions, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t both necessary and long over due.

Deadline to Breadline – Lo-Fi Rebels (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Cover1.pngThere is some music which, going on titles alone, begs more questions than answers. A band called, for example, Splat! could turn out to be almost anything musically. Similarly Doctor Bongo’s Electric Herring leaves you similarly bemused at what might lie within, though you can be fairly sure that drugs were involved in its construction. The only really certainty when it comes to names is that anything with an umlaut over a vowel is an old school metal band trying to look tough or worldly…or both. Lo-Hi Rebels presents no such problem, something of the sound and the attitude are captured in the band name and something of their worldly point of view in the album title.

If the opening salvo fires off in fairly expected style, underneath their scuzzy garage rock sound there are some less than expected reference points. Whilst many of the tracks seem to pay homage to the early days of Brit punk, somewhere between the brash melodics of the first wave and the more intense and destructive second, tracks like Last Chance Saloon are built on the echoes of the pre-punk, London R&B pub-rock era that when speed up and stripped down became the musical template for British punk. Got Soul also hints and a more interesting record collection, 60’s psych rock meets twisted beat music and Carol even shows that the band are not adversed to pop balladry, though obviously they drench it in visceral and raw guitars plus the odd jaunty retro riff and a lunatic crescendo.

Whilst so many bands are looking to create their own sound through convoluted vocal styles and cross genre fusions with an eye on the fickle fashion of the youth market, Lo-Fi Rebels wear their “art on their sleeve”. It may be cooler to reference happening indie bands or iconic American punk but the band are effectively channelling, reviving and updating a sound that has been wielded many times before from the likes of BB King to The Seeds to Dr Feelgood to Burning Tree, proving that great music does stand the test of time. If these are intentional references then good on them, it shows that they not only have great taste but are aware of their place in musical history, something that all bands should have a grasp on. If unintentional it probably says something about musical osmosis or that maybe humans have something in their DNA that makes them predisposed to such raw and primal sounds. I don’t know, I’m not actually a real scientist.

Thanks to The Moth and Areanna Rose –  The Veldt (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

a4045149065_16I continue to be amazed by The Veldt’s ability to similtaniously shimmer yet saunter, chime but groove. How do you even do that? On the one hand they play with sounds which seem built of almost intangible, ethereal qualities, the stuff of stardust and dreams but the clever part is that they then bolt those fey and ephemeral vibes on to soulful and sultry rhythms, pulsating beats, raw post-rock guitarwork and infectious boogies to fashion the perfect blend of texture and solidity.

Whilst there are undeniable parallels with a whole raft of challenging post-punkers, timeless progressive trailblazers and modern day sonic explorers, what keeps the band tied to the real world, rooted in something more structured, is the soulful, R&B undertones and the ability to mix unreconstructed and unabashed grooves with these more gossamer and floating sounds. I can’t think of any other band who walks a more perfect line between such seemingly unconnected worlds.

And proof of just how original a path they do walk is demonstrated by the calibre of the people they attract to work with. People like A.R. Kane’s Rudy Tambala, New Kingdom’s Jason Furlow, the godfather of soundscaping Robin Guthrie and Carlos Bess of The Wutang production team all adding their not inconsiderable skills to the mix and production of the record.

Yes, you can tell a lot about a band by the company it keeps and such associations speak volumes, but it is their mercurial and singularly unique sound, one which evokes old soul records as easily as it does dense walls of shoegazery, which draws such icons to their flame, and rightly so.

Incubus – Xeus  (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

f1The term urban music is, like pretty much every journalistic label, too general, too vague, too broad to be of any real use when it comes to discussing music and New York City artist Xeus is the perfect example of why. Yes, most of his references come from music that can be described as contemporary and urban but, as always it is the way that you put those building blocks together, what you can fashion from the raw materials, that makes all the difference. And unlike many artists following the paths beaten by others through familiar territory, Xeus takes his own direction.

R&B, rap, trap beats, ambient hip-hop and even some unexpectedly soulful pop tones find their way into the proceedings, 100 Million Times in particular playing with laid back patterns under the vocals, and if it wasn’t for the directness and blunt images discussed in the lyrics could almost find itself with mass commercial appeal. But this isn’t the world of compromise and Xeus is nothing if not unambiguous in the scenes and scenarious he conjures and it is this balance of some of the smoothest sounds overlaid with the harsh realities of life and the pulse of the street that makes this such a mercurial musical ride.

Although it is easy to pick music apart to see what it is made of, in the case of Incubus, these six songs become more than the sum of their parts when the work is finished and the joins neatly concealed and is easier to defined by what it is the alternative to rather than what it conforms to. It is an old school OG brain on a young pair of shoulders, alt-trap and anti-rap and even in the dark streets of the underground, this seems even deeper, darker and more defiant. In a town of tough musical hombre’s, Xeus is one of the toughest.

Listen to the album HERE and follow Xeus on Twitter and Instagram at @xeuspr

This Is Why –  Samie Bisaso (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

cover_This_is_whyiTuneIt is the most natural thing in the world to use music as a way of celebrating your faith, expressing your adoration and adherence and spreading the word which you hold dear. It is safe to say that it is one of the main the reasons music even survived and evolved through the ages, most early music being devotional in nature and sacred in purpose. Fast forward to the modern age and music is now made for a whole range of reasons and across a multitude of genres, but artists like Samie Bisaso not only remain loyal to their cause but are clever enough to understand that to be effective his music needs to be on equal terms with that around him. And so This Is Why is a collection of soulful and infectious pop, addictive R&B grooves, Afrobeat rhythms and much more besides. And as a method of delivering a message it is the perfect way of reaching a wide audience and of course once you reach that audience they are free to revel in the music, explore the lyrics or hopefully do both.

This is Why is the long awaited follow up to the acclaimed Million Pieces which won album of the year in Christian and Gospel genres and which includes two singles which have already been both critically and commercially well received. Samie himself explains the reason behind his passion, “In a society of bold secular…which is turning away from the things of God, I wish to bring to the music arena material that is not only clean, uplifting and catchy, but songs that make people think about the realities of life, love and most importantly, Jesus Christ. Each song is written to inspire. I hope you enjoy my music and take the lyrics to heart. They are written from the core of my soul. And I pray that through my songwriting I bring some extra happiness and thought to your days.”

It is an album which covers a lot of ground from The Goodness, an exotic collection of contagious African beats to the slick balladic pop of Your Love and from the cinematic and widescreen soundscapes of Be Still to the slick, jazz infused title track. This may be an album whose sole intent (make that soul intent) is to spread the message of the Gospels but it is anything but a gospel music album, not in the traditional sense anyway. Maybe this is the sound of nu-gospel, if that is even a thing, and if it isn’t maybe it should be, maybe we all need to move with the times, move away from the traditional image, and indeed sound, of the devotional music of the past and embrace more contemporary sounds. Samie Bisaso has and the result is something which neatly connects two worlds, those already in the know and those who may wish to explore the albums message more thoroughly. It may be a collection of musical styles, a blend of genres but lyrically there is no ambiguity.

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Gospel music is often accused of following its traditions too closely, of moving too slowly, of sticking to the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” ethic but Samie Bisaso shows us that the potency of such music and therefore the effectiveness of the message can be increased ten fold when you don’t worry about where the musical barriers lie, when you wander more contemporary or wide-ranging musical pathways.

This Is Why certainly comes from the heart and may be familiar in its message but it is Samie’s ability to embrace such a wide sound palette, to be forward looking and, sonically of the moment that makes this such an effective album. So much so that even if the message isn’t necessarily one that resonates with your own life, musically it is still an interesting, intriguing even, range of songs and can be embraced just for its musicality and deft songwriting as much as it can for its higher purpose.

The official music video for the albums title track, This Is Why will be available on general release on  17th November.

You can get your copy  n-iTunes-https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/this-is-why/1297105284?i=1297105289,

Tricks – Amita (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

AmitaTricksSingleArtIf your vision of pop is as a music box of shiny, vibrant and boisterous sounds, Amita opens your eyes to a wonderful new way of working in that genre. She takes the accessibility and simple elegance of modern pop but instead of charging off with them in party mood, cleverly she slows things down, spaces them out, makes them more soul searching and intimate. The result is the most seductive of grooves, one that snakes its way across the back of the song, changing speeds to alter the dynamic but essentially being the main musical thrust on which the song is built.

And between this musical back bone and the sultry vocal delivery that sits up front there is plenty of space but instead of filling it with the usual pop fare, Amita takes the braver option of leaving it bare and apart from a few interesting, passing musical motifs and distant electronica, it is essentially the atmospherics and emptiness in the centre that helps create the mystique of the song. It is pop, yes, but it also ticks some more unexpected boxes. It panders to gothic nostalgia, ambient sensibilities and even flirts with the dark underbelly of R&B. Doom-pop? That might be over selling it slightly but it does provide a wonderful alternative to the usual neon lit youthful exuberance that normally goes hand in hand with the pop label.

It is surprising how many references are evoked from such a minimalist delivery and the song writing itself does share some common ground with any number of pop and R&B acts albeit given a slower, more atmospheric spin. However, it is the more eclectic choices that really make this track stand apart from the competition. It is the deft weave of classical grace, futuristic electronica and gothic ethereality that really jumps out at you, the oft cited less is more qualities, the pauses between, the notes, the unresolved tensions in the music and the inherent melancholy.

Drunk –  Johnny Crown (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

a0732945388_16If R&B is built around sleekness and Hip-Hop comes from an edgier place then they find perfect union in Johnny Crown’s musical creations. D’Usse (other brands of Cognac are also available), the first single from the album Drunk, blends a slick urban vibe with a slow rolling R&B groove and the heavy kick of a trap backbeat. It is effortlessly cool and as a sound track seems to describe the heady lifestyle of the great and good, or at least the aspirations of one. And whilst it is easy to level accusations of self-aggrandisement at many artists working in similar fields today, D’Usse aims to be sensual and sassy rather than posturing and self-serving, it is seductive and elegant rather than brash and boisterous. Did I say aims to be? This is actually right on target and also perfect for both the commercial market and the more discerning, underground listener.

And D’Usse is the perfect calling card for the round of musical drinks that the album is built on. 12 songs all with titles referencing different alcoholic beverages and cleverly working the qualities, features and effects of those drink into these uptown bar tales. And just like the liquor itself, each song is a heady mix of flavours, Hello Henessey is built around a edgy and warped groove, all alien electronica and staccato beats, Crown Royal is blend of old-school soul and futuristic R&B and Ace of Spades is a finely tuned, spacey and spacious glitch-hop trip.

It’s a clever concept, one which in lesser hands could end up cliched and over worked, but Johnny Crown isn’t your usual bar fly, where some would find only the seedier side of life, he finds a much classier world, a world of eloquent wordplay and elegant, state of the art music, one of desirable women and high living and one that looks so much better with a drink or two crossing through his veins. Drunk? Maybe but it is the good life that he is intoxicated with.

If the single shows that Johnny Crown knows how to pen the perfect commercial song, the album as a whole really opens things up and proves that he can take his music in almost any direction he likes, rooted in the same core elements of soul, hip-hop and R&B but not afraid to push those sounds into fascinating new territories. Even in the crowded musical scene of his Los Angeles base, Johnny Crown is certainly one to watch.

 

Another Man’s Woman – Kenny Fame (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

22491822_1272265402879322_7559313500341619990_nThe last time Kenny Fame crossed my path it was with his wonderfully adventurous e.p. An Intimate Portrait, a collection of songs which really explored what modern R&B could be about. And if then he toyed with nu-jazz, soul, progressive pop and even offered some fascinating new song structures and played with the idea of space and atmosphere, here we find him on slightly more conventional ground. I say slightly because he is still very much his own man, doing R&B his own way but still tipping his hat to some of the more expected conventions.

The result is a slow groove through soulful territory, the same late night vibe that flavoured his previous work and the same personal narratives and heartfelt sentiments. In a world of revolution, where genres are split, fused and rewired into strange hybrids, this feels a lot more like evolution. It is certainly remoulding the traditions of the genre and moving them forward into the early light of a new musical era but it does so at a speed which even the most retro-loving pop-soul groover will be happy with. Sometimes change is only noticeable when you look back to see just where you came from. Kenny Fame represents change but somehow stability at the same time. That’s going to keep everyone happy I reckon.

New Music of the Day – CCXII: Joy To The Girl – Nick Black

20245475_1564887303562305_1359988134592340101_nWell, if that isn’t the feel good hit of the summer I’d like to know what is! As earnest heroes of indie crank out earnest indie songs, rockers master their clichéd poses and pop divas suggest pointless dance routines which everyone will have given up on by next week, Nick takes a simpler approach.

Simple, infectious, joyous abandon…. pop-soul style. How can you not like this guy, he makes great videos, doesn’t take himself seriously and is obviously having a lot of fun. Even without the video it’s a real earworm of a song, try getting that chorus out of your head once you have heard it.

Sassy, funky, groovesome, fun, frivolous and flippin’ great. I’m sure that the guy is many leagues down a very successful career path but there is part of me that really wishes that the place in the video is somewhere that he works part time…you know just between national tours and winning awards.

 

The Drunken Buddhist – Nick Driver (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

a2086147176_16It isn’t often that you stick an album on only to find track one being a cross between an advert for the music to follow, an admonishment of the listener about the cultural effects of not paying for music and a musing about the availability of prescription drugs. Once that sinks in it is difficult to imagine what is going to follow, but you are certainly thinking that is not going to conform to the usual musical templates. And you’d right….sort of.

Musically it wanders between smooth r’n’b and pop infused folk, rather than the musical avant-gardening that the opening rant-o-mercial might have suggested, but it is all about context really. If the likes of Captain Beefheart had grown up on hip-hop or Zappa had sought out a commercial pop career, the result may not have been too dissimilar to this. Sure, it’s musically different, the product of an altogether different evolutionary path but the same attitude and off kilter sense of humour beats at the heart of The Drunken Buddhist that they would have warmed to, especially lyrically.

Don’t Spit in My Food is a tongue in cheek tale right out of the Zappa songbook but updated for the Tinder age, I’m Gonna Party is (hopefully) a parody of the cliché the runs through the centre of contemporary music and the fact that the brilliantly named The Not So Noble Truth’s Voicemails Interlude is a collection of weird messages and mumbled conversations is just a strange added bonus.

The joy of the album is that it is so well done that you lose sight of where the line is, the one between its more serious moments and its parody of modern music. But then again, satire works best when it walks such a fine line.

An Intimate Portrait – Kenny Fame (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

 

a1525039913_16I guess the question that this short collection of music asks us is this….where next for the seemingly tried and tested format of contemporary R&B? And without deviating too far from the recognisable traits of the genre…smooth, beat driven soulful melodies…Fame still manages to find some interesting new places to explore.

For a genre normally associated with slick textured layers and a musically full sound, here he explores a more spacious, atmospheric style, with the likes of Friend Zone taking a staccato, almost dystopian route. Dystopian R&B…now there’s a genre we haven’t come across before.

Music in Your Life builds on this template pushing the beat into a more familiar, dance driven environment but it is the final song, I Want It All, that is the pay off, taking the disparate strands he has worked with so far and combining them into a late night, slow burning, nu-jazz meets R&B trip.

Although there are only three full songs here, the lyrics that take you on a short journey that wanders between club encounters, the ability of music to make you forget the grind of everyday life and heartfelt reflections on relationships, form a personal narrative which perfectly justifies the title of An Intimate Portrait.

Even the format shows some outside the box thinking with short spoken word sound bites linking the songs proper and again showing that if you thought that there were no new musical territories to conquer within the dance/soul/R&B world, Kenny Fame will make you think again.

 

 

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