Quench – Temporary Hero – (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

We so often hear artists talk about how making an album can be a cathartic process, how music is a way of exorcising personal demons, of freeing the soul and revealing their inner most turmoils, deepest emotions, most private thoughts. But more often than not the said album actually ends up being little more than cliche and guarded revelations designed to tick certain boxes but say very little? On that score Temporary Hero is nothing if not the real deal. An artist who can forge music from the most intimate experiences, from real, deep rooted emotion and darkest thoughts. And if you are used to such a process resulting in tortured music and bleak soundscapes, again just another cliched refuge for artists looking to play to certain pre-conceived expectations, the sheer infectiousness of Quench will again surprise you.

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Scream Please – The Used Notes (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

There is a wonderful irony sitting at the heart of The Used Notes music. For whilst there is a wilful anonymity to the project, a writer and producer collaborating with various singers and musicians to see the songs to fruition but leaving the band largely faceless and the the audience free to approach the music without any prompting or suggestion, Scream Please is exactly the sort of music that if promoted in a certain way would probably fill stadiums and sell in big numbers. Not that everyone wants to go down such a route and the artistic sacrifices that are part of that journey and you have to respect that decision.  For many the art is more important than the artifice and The Used Notes certainly falls into that honest category.

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Love’s a Lie –  Gods Never Age (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Gods Never Age sounds like the future of R&B, or at least the cutting edge of the here and now. They fuse the sultry and soulful grooves of the genre with more far-reaching sonic ideas and forward-thinking thought processes and Love’s A Lie is a place where studio technology, beats and lyrical flows, smooth electronica and ambient dynamics all blend and build new sonic landscapes.

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Second Time –  Ferera Swan (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

How often do we hear words like “emotive,” “heart-aching” or “honest” being used to describe modern music? How often do we come away from such songs realising that those phrases were probably chosen by committee at a PR meeting and are there for merely commercial reasons bearing little meaning to the song that they have lazily been ascribed too? Well, not this time as Ferera Swan really does deal in such music.

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Ego Death – Emily Breeze (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Firstly, anything that comes with a Barry Adamson remix has to be worth a listen. But of course long before you get to that little bonus the mere fact that Ego Death is the latest sonic slice to come from Emily Breeze means that, irrespective of how many post-punk heroes you name check, it was always going to get the attention it deserved anyway. I guess by now the only thing we can expect from this mercurial and brilliantly inventive artist is the unexpected and indeed Ego Death moves away from the, alternative lounge-noir of Limousines and heads down a strange and seductive soul path.

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Nothing II Lose  –  ManaLion (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Roots music, like most generic labels, is too broad a term to really convey anything useful to the listener. It covers all sorts of world, folk and traditional sounds, sounds that seem to lie at the beating heart of one culture or another and also seems to imply a nostalgic backward glance to a sound that is fairly well established, that is instantly identifiable, easy to pin down and even point to on a map.  But if ManaLion is to be found anywhere in this broad musical scatter gun of ideas, it is found in a rare and interesting corner that is marked progressive, forward-thinking perhaps even futuristic.

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I Need You/Apocalypse Now and Forever  –  The Stone MG’s  (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

What a difference a video makes! Okay, we have been here before, I Need You found its way to us not so long ago and it is safe to say that we admired its deft weaving of rockish warp and soulful weft into a gorgeous sonic design, one that tipped its hat wonderfully to the past whilst striding confidently into the future. It is back, this time with a video attached and proving that a song can be great when experienced through the usual audio sensory intake but add a visual package and that experienced is heightened no end.

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Insomniac –  The Keymakers  (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

If anyone ever tries to convince you that the technology that was enabled sampling and all the studio innovations that much modern music is built on has taken all the skill out of writing songs, then just play them The Keymakers. There will always be those artist who use such advancements to make up for any lack of requisite skills, but this duo certainly is not one of them. The Keymakers instead use the studio itself as an instrument, make (largely) digital magic and then learn how to replicate it live, as the accompanying video shows.

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Soul Doctor –  Matt Oestreicher (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

What do you do when you find that you are not practicing what you preach? This was the dilemma facing Matt Oestreicher as he spent his days mentoring kids on how to aim higher and follow their dreams whilst realising that he wasn’t pursuing his own. Although an accomplished musician and working alongside many notable and name artists he was yet to record and release his own music and it was this epiphany that led to his own album, Dream The Word New. seeing the light of day.

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I Need You –  The Stone MG’s (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

The Stone MG’s make music that sits at the point where rock muscle meets soul sass. Vocally it tips its hat to a Motown vibe and musically a bluesy, urban rock and roll and the whole package feels as if it has just stepped out of a 60’s revue show. But that is not to say that there is anything dated or unfashionable about the sound that they make as such iconic grooves have never gone out of fashion. Rather the sound is timeless and so is both wonderfully nostalgic and bang up to date at the same time.

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The Weather Up Here – Niki Kennedy (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

That Niki Kennedy is no stranger to musical theatre and stage productions is evident in her voice right from the start. That combination of delicacy and power, control and confidence which is a requirement for such a career means that vocally she can explore sounds that your average pop wannabe would fear to tread. It also means that whilst The Weather Up Here is unashamedly a pop record, albeit one infused with soul and jazz touches, it bristles with a maturity not often found by her would be pop peers.

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Hate To Say  –  Zebulon Krol (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

It comes as no surprise that the wonderfully named Zebulon Krol is both a producer and a singer-songwriter. Often the drive behind a track, especially in such pop-soul-urban territory, is either one or the other. This usually results in either a slickly produced song with forgettable lyrics or a deft vocal turn with clunky and clumsy music to back it up. Calling on his wide-range of skills garnered from across the music spectrum, Hate To Say is the best of both worlds.

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Leave A Pretty Corpse –  James Dean Death Machine (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

I’m always going to be attracted to artists with such cool and controversial names, after all it shows that they think outside the box, avoid niceties and are not afraid to ruffle a few feathers along the way. And if they are prepared to do that even before they have played a note, it means that the music is probably going to follow similar lines. JDDM is an east coast singer-songwriter with a fleshed-out, full band sound and Leave A Pretty Corpse is a great album of raw rock songs often taking an outsider or antagonistic stance. Why not, that’s rock and roll’s job after all.

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Road Junkie  – Ewan Macintyre (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

As someone who deals with generic descriptions on an almost hourly basis, I am usually fairly cynical of them. You see that a band who have elected to use the term “cinematic indie” and you know that that is just wishful thinking and they are probably going to sound like the tracks that Oasis never pursued beyond demo recordings. So I see the term Celtic Soul/Country Swing and I’m thinking if this lives up to the expectation of such a combination I will eat my hat!

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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.

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Scene and Heard – CCCXCIV: Stay All Night – The Solsters ft. Jerri (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

TheSolstersStayAll NightReno180921CDCVR copy.jpgStay All Night is one of those  songs that feels timeless both in sentiment and execution. People have been falling in love since the dawn of humanity and people have been chronicling it in song for almost as long. Stay All Night echoes with the soft and subtle chimes of the chilled end of 60’s soul and Motown but also manages to make those same classic sounds ring with enough modernity as to appeal to a modern audience.

Unlike a lot of soul being produced today, there is a tastefulness to the amount of space left in the song. Whereas many modern producers would endeavour to fill every space, every pause and every draw of breath between the words available, here only the softest of peripheral sounds and succinct harmonies are allowed to pervade through the atmosphere that is allowed to build between the beats.

The video returns to their familiar territory of animation that served them so will with (Now We’re) Done though swapping the more cartoon look for something akin to watching someone playing The Sims. But of course the focal point here is the music and whether you are looking for something that tips its musical hat back to the classic sounds of the past or uses such influences to create a gentle soul-pop hit for today, Stay All Night is the song and The Solsters are the band to deliver everything you need.

Stay All Night will be available on Spotify and iTunes from Oct 12

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.

Criterion of the Senses – Ed Motta (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

61XCiTbggoL._SY300_QL70_There is a fine but very important line between being predictable and middle of the road and being smooth and cool. It’s the difference between playing old standards to uptown, supper club gigs and using phrases such as “don’t go changing” when thanking the audience and making music that weaves soulful grooves, jazz sophistication, gentle funk smarts and even touches of reggae, classical and homespun vibes together. Thankfully Ed Motta knows the difference, he knows where the line is, he knows which side he is on and he is so far removed from those music by numbers sets that he can’t  see that line or even clubs lights in the rear view mirror.

It’s the difference between compromise and accessibility, for whilst this latest album is certainly full of music which engages easily with the listener, the depths and textures it is built from are beguiling and inspiring. It never panders to expectations or merely gives the listener what they expect or feel they want, it would rather give you what you didn’t realise you wanted.

Whilst there is a touch of Al Jarreau or George Benson about the music, lyrically Motta out paces even those big names, I don’t remember either of them using the word Kafka-esque in a song and having it wash through so smoothly! Lyrically inspired by everything from sci-fi, abstract poetry, 80’s fashion…in a wonderfully humorous way and even Hamlet, these songs are stories in their own right, little vignettes and fleeting scenarios set to the coolest music.

The result is an album that will appeal to the jazz and soul purist and the fan of chilled pop alike, those who want a smooth sound track and particularly those who will revel in the elegance of the music and the eloquence of the lyrics. All things to all people…that isn’t a bad label to have.

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.

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 – CCCLXIV: Unbreakable –  Dee Hemingway (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

26167471_1652676628144376_5736590731732916192_nTaking a dash of classic rock muscle, smooth soulful vocal deliveries and infectious R&B melodies, Unbreakable is a song for the here-and-now but built on some already familiar sounds. Which is, of course, perfectly fine…in fact it is more than fine, especially when the end result is such a deft blend of styles. It is also a song with an optimistic message, a song which advocates personal strength, of not only being who you are but being proud of the fact too.

It hooks, it swaggers, it rocks 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 a powerful lyrical astuteness to the rock canon, a genre which very often is happy to deal in empty thoughts and shallow sentiment. But not this time, Unbreakable is a poignant torch song, a beacon and rallying point. If ever there was the need for an unofficial national anthem then this would take some beating.

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 – CCCXLI : Son – New Sky (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

photoHow do you make music that is at once soul searching yet accessible, reflective yet anything but melancholic, poignant yet marked for popularity, enigmatic yet infectious? I bet New Sky has at least some of the answers but then they are hardly likely to give away their secrets . For Son is just such a song, it is all those things and more. It is a song that delivers a wonderfully intimate narrative but one that is also a universal and relatable message about what it is to be a man, a gentleman, a decent person…a human being. Morality, ethics, character after all is just about common sense and honesty, you don’t need a politician or a religious leader to tell you what the right thing is and it is such a message that sits at the heart of Son.

It runs along a soulful groove but you wouldn’t call it a Soul song in the generic sense, similarly it is bluesy but not blues, it is built with an integrity and solidity that few rock songs have and is addictive in a way that your average throwaway pop song could only dream of. Do we need a new genre or should we just accept that the best music doesn’t need such artificial and largely journalistic devices? I vote for the latter.

It is the sound of basement soul gatherings blending into back street Chicago jazz clubs which in turn become the sound of illicit blues parties and underground gigs. It is the sound of an alternative, underground path that music took when it should have become the mainstream. It is the sound of a midnight ritual designed to re-animate the zombie corpse of the muse of music that mattered, still matters and will continue to matter, long after the current boy band wannabes have returned to a day job where the main concern is asking the customer if they want fries with that!

What is so great about Son, the real underlying charm it effortlessly exudes, is how wonderfully loose it feels, how relaxed and conversational  whilst being anything but sloppy. And that is the art of such music. Get things too together and it sounds like an uptight recital, too loose and you sound amateur and unprepared. But get the sweet spot and you sound both professional and chilled, competent to the point of relaxed. It goes without saying that here the New SKY hits the sweet spot dead centre.

Scene and Heard – CCCXXXVIII : Black – MusicBySire (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

2378cab3efbcd9e33c8c634a521a6d6a852a2707Music is made for many different reasons. It can be fun, celebratory and throw-away, it can be deep, meaningful and poignant, it can be everything in between. More and more often I am find an increasing amount of music coming my way that feels driven to comment on the nature of the world around us and I ask myself why that is. Is it that the world is indeed a darker and more unequal world these days, is it that injustices are better reported and so is informing the man in the street in a way that wasn’t possible in the past. Is it because many artists are again seeking the power of a platform to make themselves heard rather than merely chasing the hollow and transient music industry rewards. I suspect that the answer is all of the above.

He have heard a lot about the horrors of slave markets in Libya, a trade in refugees hoping to travel to the relative safety of Europe but instead being caught in a system that we thought had consigned to the horrific annals of a unenlightened colonial past. MusicBySire feels so strongly about this that the video is part performance, part CNN special report, the powerful lyrical delivery interspersed with actual interviews and footage of the victims. At this point in the review I would normally analyse the track from a musical point of view but that seems as if it would be distracting from the songs purpose, like reading a powerful and important book and then discussing the covers artwork. Suffice it to say that the song does everything it needs to via a blend of musicality, soulfulness, compassion and raw, upsetting honesty.

But that is the point, this should upset and unsettle, the lyrics should land hard enough to make you think, and feel, and hopefully empathise. And it works on all levels. Black is a perfect statement and proof that even those outside the political and legislative classes can be an important part of the conversation, a conversation that reminds us that the world is a community and we all need to come together to look after our neighbours. Words are important, songs brilliantly communicative, videos emotive and visually stimulating. MusicBySire proves to be the master of all these mediums. 

Scene and Heard – CCCXXXI: (Now We’re) Done – The Solsters ft. Evan Croft (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

f74cb9f0-b14e-4fc6-ba24-feab9280eb31The Solsters make a fascinating point with (Now We’re) Done. Break up songs don’t have to be depressing! You hear the phrase and you can’t help put envisage a long haired guy in a wide brimmed hat waxing lyrical in depressing tones over his 12-string guitar about losing the love of his life. Or an indie pop girl with fashionable glasses getting simultaneously sassy and soppy about the way that she’s been treated aided and abetted by a working knowledge of A minor. A minor? Wow! That’s how you can tell that she’s serious!

But Solsters offer a better approach. Whilst the lyrics address the same subject matter, it comes from a healthier place. This isn’t a song of victims and unrequited love, of broken hearts, well, maybe hearts that are a bit damaged, and teenage irrationality. This is a song that comes from a more mature place. This is the, “I think we need to talk “ song, the “ Look, if we are really honest…” relationship on the couch song.

And better even than its healthy and grown up approach to such situations is the music. As I said, break up music doesn’t have to be depressing and although it is emotive and analytical, reflective and soul searching, it is still full of groove and beat. It takes the golden age of soul and doo wop vocal quartets, blends it with fresh pop sounds, under pins it with modern synth sounds and electronic textures and the result is a tune that away from its lyric could move to the coast and make a decent living in an up town supper club.

It’s great, a real balance of old-school and cutting edge, of upbeat musical infectiousness and the harsh reality of the lyrics. I guess this is what you get when pop grows up and starts to talk about the realities of adult life. 

Scene and Heard – CCCXXXI : Hummingbird – Daxuva & Nina Miranda (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

418d92_c533864ab3ef4bdb8f3379e13eb6cfa4~mv2_d_1920_1279_s_2Pop music doesn’t have to be big and boisterous, bombastic and overblown. I mean, it can be if you like that sort of thing, it’s just that for me at least, the more interesting sonic creations are often found when such musical building blocks are spread thinnest, when a song seems built more of texture and nuance than groove and beat. Tracks like Hummingbird illustrate my point perfectly.

It’s a track so opaque, so gossamer light, so transient that it is almost impossible to assign it a genre, though if you pushed me (the most) ambient pop should suffice for now. It infuses together soulful, jazz echoes, whispered vocals, half-heard electronica and sultry musical touches into the most chilled of deliveries. It gently brushes the 90’s trip-hop sound and the global adventures of bands such as Dead Can Dance, flirts with clubland chill outs and the soundtracks to art house movies and blowing like a warm musical wind across many landscapes and many different cultures.

Gloriously understated, wonderfully warm, brilliantly evocative. Job done.

Unbridled and Ablaze – Zialand (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

ZiaVinylFront-highres_previewWhilst many bands chose references and soundbites which say more about what they think they sound like rather than what they actually do, Zialand’s third and latest album arrives with the perfect tag line. Cinematic Soul Pop. And that is pretty much all you need to know, though obviously there is a lot more to her fabulous music than that, but it’s the perfect jumping off point.

I first encountered Zialand in a much stranger musical world, that of John Fryer’s Black Needle Noise adding vocal textures and sonic beauty to his mercurial creations, then, in this guise, driving her own creative vehicle and via the two previous singles, tracks which taken together brilliantly mark the boundaries of her personal musical world. If Landslide plays with brooding yet thoughtful synth-pop and Shelter takes a more soul-blues, classic piano line, both capture the wonderful restraint, elegance and late night hush that is the hallmark of her music.

Chose any song on Unbridled and Ablaze and you are immediately taken to a nighttime world, one of dark, neon-infused streets and cool up town clubs, of noir-ish scenes and soft-focused, urban drama, of romance and reflection. It is music which before you even concentrate on the specifics of the lyrical message or musical content, its very presence sets scenes, a score perhaps to a film yet to be written or a dream yet to be dreamt. Such are its ethereal qualities, its very essence.

As an album it’s all about space. Don’t Look Back is wonderfully dramatic but built only on cascades of vocals and the most minimal of piano lines and even more driven songs, such as Fever, are confident enough to saunter slowly through soft beats and sultry brass rather than rush to impress the listener. And that is the real charm here, Zialand’s ability to take only a fraction of what other artists would deem necessary and still fashion it into something so resolutely understated and so wonderfully restrained that its impact is as striking as any full band effort or more complex musical salvo.

This is music as watercolour painting, music which sketches the basic lines and then proceeds to add only the gentlest, most translucent and sparsest of musical hues, the space and the suggestion allowing the listener to see, or in this case hear, the whole picture. The phrase “less is more” may be a cliche, but cliches are cliches because they  contain a kernel of truth. Less is more is also the only cliched thing you will find associated with this gorgeous music.

Magick Thing –  The Fell Swoop (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

The Fell Swoop coverYou could argue that The Fell Swoop’s sound is one that comes from a nostalgic place, from the golden age of soul, from a jazz and funk past and a disco dance floor of yesteryear. You could also argue, so what? If the music is worth keeping alive then keeping it alive is the thing to do. That said you could hardly call Magick Thing a mere pastiche or a rose-tinted retrospective glance, it sounds as fresh and funky as anything being made today, it’s just that you can see where it tips its hat. Or as the opening line stays…I know from where you came…” well, quite.

Guitars funk furiously, saxophones seduce, the beat pops and grooves in interesting and intricate ways but more than anything the music initially bypasses the listeners head and even their heart and aims straight for the dance shoes before working its way up the body.

You can approach the song from many directions. Jazzers will love the arrangements and intricacies, soul fans will love the smooth deliveries, funksters and disco divas, the inherent dance vibe. If you like the more traditional sounds, then there is a lot here that reminds you of past glories and golden age artists and more contemporary music buffs will just love the sassy vibes. Mission accomplished.

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