Monday, October 21, 2019

Jay Elle releases new EP Ease Up

Some artists spend a lifetime searching for their signature sound, pining after an elusive multidimensional element in their style that is capable of encapsulating all of their emotions into a singular strand of harmony; but for singer/songwriter Jay Elle, he’s reached this apex in the new EP Ease Up, which is out now everywhere that fine indie music is sold. For lack of a better phrase, he’s on fire in Ease Up – in “Sickly Sweet,” he gives us a deluge of poetic melodies that, while being totally different in design from those in “Never Dreamed (I Could Be the One),” are tethered to the same soulful source of creativity. He’s emotional in “By the Blade,” self-assured in “Needs Fixing,” carefree in “Take a Holiday” and as swaggering as a popstar in “Ease Up (Into Love),” and for all of the would-be doubters that might question how so much diversity could be stuffed into an extended play, there’s a progressive twist to the fluidity of the tracklist that keeps us on the edge of our seats from start to finish. Jay Elle is a humble, honest troubadour of the old school in his new record, but his execution style is unabashedly rooted in contemporary pop aesthetics.

This EP has a very exploratory vibe in that none of its tracks feel deliberately rehearsed or tightly arranged for commercial airplay. Evidence of Elle’s increasingly experimental tendencies can be heard in the rather grainy “By the Blade,” the synthesized harmony of “Never Dreamed (I Could Be the One)” (which sounds drastically better with the assistance of Brent Kolatalo) and the blushing bass tones of the Ease Up’s title track, but these songs don’t make “Take a Holiday” and “Sickly Sweet” sound saccharinely traditional.

As I mentioned, there’s a progressiveness to this material that ensures the audience’s attention right out of the gate, and as we move from one hurricane of harmonies into another, there’s no abrasiveness in the shift between songs at all whatsoever. Elle has been working hard at refining his sound to be as streamlined as possible, and the fruits of his labor are on full display for all of the world to enjoy in this amazingly sharp and urbane extended play.

Take one part James Taylor, another part Morrison Kincaid, throw in a little bit of melodic modernity into the pot and you’ll come up with a splendidly delicious dish that resembles something like Jay Elle in this current phase of his career. Fans of old fashioned folk/rock have a lot to be excited about in Ease Up, and although I wouldn’t say that it’s the only record making a big splash this September, it’s the only EP that I would describe as soft enough for folkies while being pretty enough for the pop crowd. I’ve been listening to Jay Elle for a little while now, and though I came into this review of Ease Up with a lot of near-impossible expectations, I’m very happy to say that he met most – if not all – of them without having to exert an excessive amount of energy in the studio. He’s got the talent to take this sound into the primetime limelight, and a record like this will go a long way towards getting him there.

Joshua Beach

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Ooberfuse releases “Call My Name” (remixes)

With a pulsation similar to the elevated heartbeat that most of us experience upon seeing someone that we’ll have a passionate romance with, we find the understated bassline’s groove in Patrik Kambo’s remix of “Call My Name,” the new song and music video from Britain’s ooberfuse. Kambo makes the bass as much of a star in this track as the vibrant lead vocal from singer Cherrie Anderson is, and when we compare their textural similarities to one another, the only thing to distinguish the two of them is the lyrical emissions that Anderson shares with us one poetic verse at a time. If “Call My Name” were a meat and potatoes pop song, you would never know it, and that’s because these five mixes allow for it to evolve into something much more commanding than a simple Top 40 teen beat could ever be.

Hal St John’s mix of “Call My Name” was, like Kambo’s, designed for mainstream radio airplay, but where Kambo leaves the central synth melodies alone in his edit, St John scraps them altogether, filling their spots with an effervescent string arrangement that arguably holds the song together much better than the synthesized parts do. This mix favors the vocal and the instrumentation equally, with the rigidity of the drum track melting away under the pure heat of the groove and tonality of the guitars. There isn’t another version of “Call My Name” that is quite as captivating as this one is, though some – like the “Push The Frequency Festival Mix” – are definitely in the same ballpark of provocativeness.

“Push The Frequency Festival Mix” borrows a few of the string parts that we hear in Hal St John’s mix and fuses them into the spastic percussive components with virtually zero elegance, creating a gritty noise between the two that singer Cherrie Anderson essentially incorporates into her seductive vocal harmony. Though I find the smorgasbord of color to be incredibly beautiful, this track will likely be viewed as the most overwhelming for casual listeners if for no other reason than its magnificently multilayered mix. The same can be said for the low-end assault that “The Noise” edit can be described as, but not in the case of Paul Kennedy’s remix (also found in the music video for “Call My Name”), which I consider to be the most efficiently structured track here

Kennedy’s use of sharp white noise as a backdrop for the cathartic verses that Anderson vaults in our direction was probably the most brilliant move made in the creation of this EP, but I have a feeling that listeners are going to walk away with plenty of their own opinions in regards to the aesthetics of Call My NameOoberfuse give us a lot to think about in this sixteen-minute opus, and for containing less than half a dozen tracks, that’s something that even their tougher American critics would have to concede as being exceptional. Having spent a great deal of time reviewing music in this genre, I can confidently say that there really haven’t been any electronica records released in 2019 that can compete with the enduring musical depth that we find in these five tracks.

Joshua Beach

Monday, August 5, 2019

Robert Miller’s Project Grand Slam releases new LP

There are a lot of interesting things going on in pop music right now, but as I see it, few acts touring today have the prowess to compete with Robert Miller’s Project Grand Slam, whose new record PGS7 is taking the jazz fusion world by storm this summer. Unsurprisingly to those who follow the group, Project Grand Slam’s latest studio affair is littered with powerfully melodic lyricism (delivered by Ziarra Washington) and a bevy of instrumental treasures like “Torpedo of Love” and “Funk Latino” that only add to the jam session-feel of the tracklist. It’s a fully-loaded disc, and it couldn’t be arriving at a much better time of year.

“Python,” “Redemption Road,” “No One’s Fool” and “Take Me” express more with their rhythmic drumbeats than they do with their decadent melodicism, whereas “Get Out!,” “At Midnight” and the vicious, groove-driven “I Don’t Know Why” use plunging basslines and searing sax play to get everyone within earshot clinging to the edge of their seats. Robert Miller is using everything at his disposal in PGS7, whether it be his players or the instruments that they wield like divine weapons, in making a big statement about the current direction of this much-buzzed pet project.

When she steps up to the mic in songs like “Tree of Life” and “With You,” the whole world belongs to Ziarra Washington, who submits some of her most profoundly beautiful vocal work to date in this album. Both of these ballads contain just as much zeal as we hear from her in the single “Redemption Road” and Project Grand Slam’s affectionate cover of “The ‘In’ Crowd,” but there’s something all the more special about their slow-paced melodies as she commands them. She’s become such a powerhouse in her own right, and in some ways is just as much the face of this band as Miller himself is.

I don’t often say this about LPs that are as long and in-depth as this one is, but pretty much every song here would make for a decent single. You don’t have to be the biggest fusion fan on the planet to get into the thick grooving of “Funk Latino” or “At Midnight;” in fact, I think that a lot of this material would play just as well with adult contemporary and experimental rock fans as it would with hardcore jazz fanatics. PGS7 could act as an essential gateway drug for a lot of curious listeners interested in finding a more erudite sound this summer, but even if it didn’t, it’s still a major upgrade from most anything I’ve heard gracing the American Top 40 lately.

Project Grand Slam provide us with an immaculate smorgasbord of colorful crooning and artful rhythm in this most recent release via Cakewalk Records, and if history has taught us anything about this band (and really anything that Robert Miller is involved in), it’s that PGS7 is only a blueprint for whatever is going to come out of their next trip to the recording studio. This is one group that can always be counted on for a rock-solid melody just when we think they’ve gone extinct, and it’s hard to see that reputation changing anytime soon after hearing this awesome LP.

Joshua Beach

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Matthew John releases “best of” collections

It’s not often enough that simplistic string melodies are given a starring role in an inarguably vocal-based pop musician’s songcraft, but that’s exactly the case in Matthew John’s “Shine for Me,” one of four tracks that can be found on his new record, The Best of Matthew John. John is a beacon of hope in this song, illuminating the stoic framework of the rhythm with his warm vocal, imparting unto us a bevy of emotions that transcend the limitations of lyrics altogether. 

He’s expressing a deeper love for his medium in this composition than artists who have been in the business twice as long as he has typically would, and even when it seems like we’ve experienced the most powerful of his verses, there’s another sequence of words waiting to wow us with their cutting introspection. The same can be said of “Reach for the Stars,” an inspirational ballad that employs a lot of the same stylistic cues that its counterparts do on this disc, only with the addition of a distinctly surreal edge in its patterned string play. “Reach for the Stars” is ultra-emotive in every respect. The music can take the edge off of the toughest of days, while the vocal angelically floats above the beats, never quite synchronizing with the grooves as to create maximum catharsis in the perfectly aligned chorus. Matthew John’s extensive songwriting background is on full display for us in this composition, as it is in “Let’s Begin Again,” a track that I would describe as somewhat of a signature piece highlighting his trademark tonality.

He becomes one with the instrumental backdrop in this single-worthy ballad, and there are even a couple of instances where it’s difficult to discern his voice from the harmonizing electric guitar. John has such an amazing way with his words, but there’s just as much to be said about his compositional prowess, which has only grown more exceptional as the years have gone by. These are definitely the best songs in his discography, and they’re neatly packaged in this record for anyone – fans new and old alike – to enjoy.

“You Are There” brings The Best of Matthew John to a close on a high note, but I do think that it’s an interesting choice to end this particular record. It’s got a rather retrospective tone both in its verses as well as in its textured melodies, which isn’t often found in a Best Of conclusion (but works here just the same). No matter what strain of pop music you prefer, you’re bound to find something to relate to in this amazingly cohesive extended play from Matthew John. With any luck, this will serve as but a teaser for whatever new material he has planned for release in 2020, and my gut says that we’re going to be seeing said material a lot sooner than later. The buzz surrounding this cat’s work is undeniably mammoth at the moment, and calls for a full-length album could become too loud for John to ignore as 2019 comes to an end.

Joshua Beach

Friday, July 19, 2019

AV Super Sunshine’s “Are You Happy?”

The question of the song’s title reflects the songwriting directness. It is a hallmark of AV Super Sunshine’s songwriting. They are notable for their ability and willingness to balance a need for self-expression, their first priority, with an obvious passion for delivering musical art to audiences eager for their contributions. Numerous outlets, other musicians, and reviewers laud their talents on a frequent basis and with ample justification. AV Super Sunshine releases “Are You Happy?” in three different mixes. The radio mix leads the way and arguably is the most mainstream version of the song, albeit longer than the rock mix, but the radio mix gears the song in a more modern commercial direction thanks to how they bring together electronic and live instruments together in a dense, yet intensely musical, performance.

They include a strong, yet simple, melody in the radio mix. A clear synth line carries the melody without ever sidelining other musical parts and its la of a heavy footprint proves one of the best decisions AV Super Sunshine makes in developing this song. It juxtaposes well against the rugged guitar parts and crisp drumming adding fills to the track. However, it isn’t a mix plunging straight ahead towards the song’s inevitable conclusion. They change gears at certain points scattered throughout the song and this design reveals just how much they know, as songwriters, about song construction. Strip this mix of its electronic factors and effects and it still works.
The same holds true for the vocals. The lead vocal shows listeners the way, for the most part, but there are crucial backing vocal contributions from band member Philomena along the way reaching their zenith with the song’s chorus and bridge. AV Super Sunshine does a superb job marrying the vocals with the radio mix musical arrangement and they play off each other in a way certain to ensnare new fans and keep them coming back for more.

The club mix of the song has a near epic duration of over six minutes, but it never tests listener’s patience. AV Super Sunshine develop this take on the song with much more patience and deliberation than we hear in the alternate versions and the synth melody present in the radio mix takes a little longer to announce itself. The rock mix, however, is punchy and makes its point with a minimum of fuss.

This is AV Super Sunshine stripped clean of any musical trickery and performing the track with palpable love for the rock style. Synths are missing from the rock mix, but there are keyboards present bringing more musical color to the song. The vocals are a highlight here, especially Philomena’s contributions to the song. If the remaining songs on Candyland Vol. 1 exhibit the same creativity and boundless inspiration as “Are You Happy?” we are in for a real treat when we have the opportunity to hear the album in full. The laurel leaves and fulsome praise greeting each new release is far from hype; instead, I read it as evidence of a band on the rise.

Joshua Beach

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Fenix & SM1LO drop collaborative Single

Electronic dance music, more colloquially known as EDM, is an acquired taste. For the genre’s most elite players, taking the right blend of emotionality and physicality into the studio comes as second nature, and in Where We Begin, the new record from the buzzworthy Fenix & SM1LO, listeners are offered the rare chance to see this effortless expression of talent in action. Where We Begin introduces us to what profoundly gifted musicianship looks like in an electronic setting, and over the course of its fourteen mixes of the same song, a new generation of EDM fans can perhaps better understand the intricacies that come with making a genre of music as rooted in experimentalism, Dada, existential thinking and animalistic emotion as this one undeniably is.

Fenix & SM1LO, who are joined by Llexa in eight of these fourteen tracks, employs classical Europop aesthetics in the design of the choruses we hear in the house and club mixes, but the standard version of “Where We Begin” feels more American to me (undoubtedly due to SM1LO’s influence here). The tonality of the synths isn’t quite there, but their bonding with the beat is seductive in all the right ways. Longtime fans will be able to spot which parts are Fenix’s work and which are those of SM1LO, but regardless of who is responsible for what in Where We Begin, the chemistry is as cool as it gets for modern collaborative efforts.

There’s no showboating, but instead a lot of drawing the most provocative elements out of each other’s instinctive abilities, resulting in stimulating content everywhere we look in this record.
Llexa almost sounds too soft in her approach to the lyrics in the “Club Remix” of “Where We Begin,” which is a lot different from her dynamic attack in the Kali and SM1LO remixes, which wrap-up the tracklist with some sensational pop grooving. I can only imagine how difficult these sessions must have been – deciding where to put this bassline, how to adjust that synth’s melody to be a little more assaultive – but I definitely think that Fenix & SM1LO did a good job of making every one of these tracks sound really unique and originally styled. They were smart to pick a strong vocalist in Llexa, who I had never heard before this record (but intend to hear more of in the future just the same).

Where We Begin could be a one night only-style event for EDM fans just as easily as it could be the start of a beautiful relationship between these individual artists, each of whom earn a lot of additional street cred and points with indie critics through their work on this LP. Personally, I hope that it’s only the first of many hit collaborations that we’re going to see between Llexa, Fenix, SM1LO and Kali, whose remix of “Where We Begin” concludes the album better than anything else could have, because there really isn’t anyone making the kind of thunderous beat magic that they are in Europe, the United States or anywhere else at the moment. At its most simple and straightforward, this is an outstanding record that goes against the grain in a time of unparalleled, unilateral conformity.

Joshua Beach

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Integriti Reeves’ brooding new single “Eu Vim Da Bahia”


Harmonies soar as high as the emotional thrust of the percussive beats do in Integriti Reeves’ brooding new single “Eu Vim Da Bahia,” which is out now and stirring up a lot of attention in the Latin jazz underground this summer, to say the least. The eroticized rhythm of the drums is only one of the many evocative elements to behold in this three minute exercise in sonic sophistication, and while it’s not the only superb jazz song to see release in 2019, there’s no debating that it is definitely among the most sublime in texture and tonality.

Reeves’ vocal has an interesting relationship with the strings in this track, and I think that it adds to the mood of the lyrics significantly. Her voice is sewn into the fabric of the instrumental melody quite seamlessly, but there’s enough definition in the mix for us to be able to differentiate where one strand of vibrato ends and the other begins. They duel for our hearts as we drift deeper and deeper into the guts of the song, but by the time we reach the finish line, their agile interplay yields an almost singular force of emotionality that transcends the limitations of most studio-recorded material altogether.

The master mix is squeaky clean, to such an extent where it sparkles more than the typical indie jazz track would, but it isn’t overproduced or processed in tone. From the strings to the muted bassline and the percussion that shadows its swaggering movements, every component gets the VIP treatment in the grander scheme of things, yet nothing ever comes close to equaling the presence of Reeves’ singing, which doesn’t need a lot of extra help from the EQ in sounding anthemic, and at times, larger than life itself.

There’s a lot of different layers to “Eu Vim Da Bahia,” and though the stylization is versatile and even a bit experimental, I don’t think that I would categorize this single as being so far away from the mainstream model that it wouldn’t appeal to casual fans as well as serious audiophiles. It will probably take a full-length album to garner the attention of non-jazz fiends, but among the right circles, the Stairway to the Stars EP has the potential to be one of the hottest records of the summer season. Its leadoff single has already brought the buzz to her camp, and I have a feeling that I’m not the only critic raving over its edgy cosmetics and outside the box construction.

I wasn’t aware of Integriti Reeves before, but I’m very interested in what she’s produced in “Eu Vim Da Bahia.” It’s not a powerhouse stadium-rocker, but it’s got a chill factor that I don’t recall encountering in any other Latin jazz material that I’ve heard this month. This is a song that was designed around its signature voice, and something tells me that this won’t be the only time that this voice makes headlines with its white-hot harmonies and endlessly endearing lyricism. Summer is upon us, and I can’t think of a much better addition to its fabled soundtrack than “Eu Vim Da Bahia.”

Joshua Beach