Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Magic Music - Self titled


Magic Music - Self titled 


Magic Music’s original run ended in 1976 before the band even recorded an album. Nearly forty years would pass before the opportunity to do would present itself again to these Colorado based musicians. By that point, the musical world had changed multiple times over and the style that had fallen out of favor by the time of their mid seventies breakup now occupies a comfortable and secure niche in the American songscape. Their debut album Magic Music is a seventeen song release that puts its foot in every style of traditional American music and never loses its balance once. Unlike many other retro performers, Magic Music’s style never seems forced or too studied. These songs seem like a natural and effortless expression of the experiences that go into the songwriting and they show outstanding technique as well. Each of the songs, even the instrumentals, don’t waste a single word or note trying to convey themselves to the audience.

Few songs make that more apparent than the opener. “Bring Down the Morning” is a brilliant modern folk song that’s never too precious or affected; it seems like an intensely sincere accounting of the speaker’s yearning and the poetic touches littering the song give it real added verve. “Bright Sun Bright Rain” pushes much harder against the listener and has an almost rock song like urgency without any of the histrionics. The lilting opening of “The Porcupine Flats Shuffle” shifts tempo slightly as it goes further in the song but it never turns into a full fledged shuffle as the title implies. It tumbles out, instead, with a slightly staggered pulse that’s quite pleasing all the while. The overlapping musical lines opening “Gandy Dancer” coalesce into another quasi-shuffle peppered with tasteful melodic splashes. The vocals are handled in harmony for much of the song with occasional changes and the instrumental breaks are kept relatively brief in comparison to the surrounding songs.  

There’s a gradual growth in the instrumentation of “Carolina Wind”. It begins with an almost skeletal melody and Magic Music shows great patience in developing it for the listeners. “The Flatbush Jig” is a brief instrumental with a haunting quality that seems to waft into form rather than emerging fully fleshed out. Acoustic guitar is the primary musical mover on “Eldorado Canyon” and lays out a very deliberate melody in the introduction. It shifts into a much more fluid mode for the verses but the understatement remains the same. There’s much more of a solo vocal at work here than the abundance of harmonies heard in other songs and it gives it a different sort of quality. There’s a strong blues influence in the later songs “Country” and “Better Days”, but much like the band does with other styles, they opt for artfully invoking its tropes rather than leaning too heavily on clich├ęs. Much of the men behind these songs emerges through their art and helps all of the songs on this debut sound like no one else could have written or recorded them.  

9 out of 10 stars


Charles Hatton

Friday, November 25, 2016

RedBelt - Beautiful Surround

 
RedBelt - Beautiful Surround 


Milwaukee has been a hub for rock music for many decades, a popular stop for major and minor touring acts, and remains a bastion for the form in uncertain times. The latest exponent of the city’s rock community, a four piece outfit named RedBelt, has debuted with a thirteen song collection entitled Beautiful Surround. The band has an obvious propensity for melodic punk rock, but they don’t restrict themselves to pursuing one avenue exclusively. Instead, they adeptly blend the punk rock influences in their music with generous portions of classic rock, pop melodies, and three part vocal harmonies that often raise the songs up a whole other notch. The album has few points that can referred to as a manifestation of pure punk rock – Mike Mann’s lead guitar work is clearly too sophisticated for such labels – but it makes excellent use of the genre.  

“Crossed Wires” perfectly illustrates that last point. The track is a romping musical thrill ride, but there’s moments scattered throughout the track when Mann’s lead guitar bursts from the mix and forces the track to take on a distinctly different tenor. The punk influences recede on the second track, “American Mercy”, in favor of a more singer/songwriter sensibility. This isn’t some sensitive, aching examination of American life, however; there’s just a little more lyrical depth here and a more carefully phrased vocal compared to the first track. “Shoot It All the Time” is much more an out and out classic rock tune. The presence of rhythm guitarist Kevin Brown’s acoustic running through deep in the mix combined with Mann’s fiery slide guitar makes this stand out from a crowded pack of excellent songs. 

It pairs nicely with the title song. The segue from such a resolutely classic rock themed number into a more detailed, layered alternative rock inspired title song. Brown adjusts his vocal accordingly and shows much more of an ear for slowly developing melodies for voice that enriches this song immeasurably. “Sweet Release”, however, doesn’t care for developing anything slowly or patiently. This is one of the purest shots of tough-minded punk rock on the album and has an almost claustrophobic level of intensity. “Cold” finds them shifting gears again. It retains the same wide-eyed enthusiasm of the earlier song, but the guitars are turned to work in a much more pop-oriented direction and empathizes melody over power. The vocal melody is particularly catchy. 

“Throw Away” joins “Sweet Release” as one of the album’s hardest hitting punk cuts. There’s much more art here, however, than attitude and Brown’s vocal far outstrips his efforts on the aforementioned earlier track. The concluding number on Beautiful Surround, “Hard Light”, is a stylistic turn that no one will expect. The guitar work is much more restrained here and, instead, RedBelt relies much more on their talented rhythm section to carry the musical day. It affixes an exclamation point to the end of Beautiful Surround; perhaps not one that the listener expects, but it’s nonetheless quite an effective ending.  

9 out of 10 stars 


David Shouse

Jemima James - When You Get Old


Jemima James - When You Get Old 


Released with her long-shelved debut album At Longview Farm, Jemima James’ When You Get Old is her most recent recording and finds her talents greater than ever after three plus decades away from recording new music. Her folk music roots, naturally, are the driving force behind the songwriting on When You Get Old, but everything is likewise firmly rooted in melody and strong lyrical detail. She has the natural inclinations of a storyteller and a pitch perfect interior ear for finding just the right image for her subject without ever slipping into overwrought writing or overly theatrical delivery. Instead, the thirteen songs on When You Get Old sound well “lived in”, finely tuned for maximum effect, and guided by a knowing artistic hand that brings just the right amount of creativity and force to the individual efforts without ever upsetting the artistic balance that has given birth to this album.  

The album opens with its charming and well written title track. “When You Get Old” takes a different approach to writing about the effects of aging by assuming a wry, slightly humorous stand, but nonetheless incorporating a more serious subtext to the song as a whole. “Magician” slides out of the speakers with lovely, sleepy grace. The lyrical content is perfectly realized – James takes full literary advantage of the double-meanings and metaphors implicit in the subject matter and it all works. “Beaver Moon” has a similar musical bent to the preceding track, but the lyrical content looks outside instead of within and there isn’t the same mournful undertow affecting the song’s mood as there is on “Magician”.  

“If I Could Only Fly” is different from the preceding songs in one critical way – though James is accompanied by other instruments, their prominence in the mix is much lower here than any previous track. This is predominantly a solo performance carried by nothing else except James’ acoustic guitar and her voice. Some strong, yet tasteful, drumming powers much of “If It’s the End”, but there’s a little light dark humor in the lyrical content that tempers the more serious implications hinted at by the lyric. The instrumental breaks are quite tasty, particularly the slide guitar work. She downshifts from the mid-tempo pace of that song into the slower, much more patience unwinding style of “Bats in the Belfry”. The muted musical accompaniment places James’ voice front and center.

“Tennessee Blues” can’t help but make me think a little about the classic country track “Tennessee Waltz” and the song even seems to hint at that with the light waltz twist of its arrangement. James’ vocal wraps around the melody in a very appealing way. The harmonica work gives listeners the biggest dose of blues in this track and hits its mark quite nicely. The fiddle filling “Slow Dancing With You” is a perfect touch for this slightly elegiac and outright romantic track. Much of James’ lyrics concentrate on forming images for the listener, but the imagery is never inaccessible. The album’s final song, “Nothing New”, is the clearest solo performance on the entire disc and balances its array of emotions quite nicely thanks to a James vocal that never leans too far in any particular direction. There’s an impressive unity to this album; When You Get Old is full of subtle shadings, emotion, and great musical fluency. 

9 out of 10 stars. 

Gilbert Mullis

Martin X. Petz - Broken Man


Martin X. Petz - Broken Man 


The latest full length release from Detroit native Martin X. Petz, Broken Man, is another fine work from a singer/songwriter who’s prodigious output in recent years is marked, among other things, by the uniformly high level of the material. Some experienced with his work might lump him into the contemporary Christian category, but they couldn’t be any further off. There’s no question that this album, as well as previous efforts, touches upon concerns about maintaining spiritual faith in an often faithless world. Other songs, however, look outside the micro and appreciate people’s trials and the effect it has on them. Petz has a real talent for characterization and adopting different voices through his lyrics. These thematic variations all point back to one central truth about him as an artist and performer – he wants nothing more than to communicate with his songs and the unvarnished simplicity and willingness to engage that each of them demonstrate is impossible to deny. 

“Broken Man”, the title song, is unlike any other song on the album. The loping bass groove established in the opening seconds continues throughout and there’s some top notch electric guitar work that further enlivens the song. He shifts into a more familiar gear on the album’s second track “Noble Blues” and will win over a lot of new listeners with his confident roots rock approach that never gets too brash for its own good. The lyrical content is a perfect illustration of the ability he has with drawing characters mentioned earlier in the review. A few songs on Broken Man adopt a largely acoustic approach and the first, “Fall”, is an intimate track that will move many emotionally. Petz’s acoustic guitar work is never fancy for the wrong reasons and, instead, concentrates on fleshing the melody out to its fullest potential.  

The pensive tempo and tasteful electric guitar that carries the bulk of “Castaway” helps set it apart as one of the finest crafted songs on the album. The sound and approach of the arrangement suggests that Petz took a great deal of time to make sure he got this song right; he coaxes it out with delicacy and a careful take on its lyrics that emphasizes the emotion behind the song. There’s a slight Tex-Mex feel to the musically saucy track “Run Ride Leave” that gives it a different color than earlier songs. Petz’s lyrics are a little regretful, but ultimately forgiving. The album’s second to last song “They Say (You’ll Know)” seems geared a little towards possible radio play and, if so, it’s certainly well-fitted to achieve that kind of success. Few songs on Broken Man are melodically stronger or quite as likeable overall.  

Broken Man works nicely from beginning to end and makes a deep impact without ever being overly ambitious. Petz picks his spots however; there’s a number of influences easily spotted in the music but, overall, he shows a willingness to follow his own musical path and has the skill to pull it off.  

9 out of 10 stars. 


Dale Butcher

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Django Mack - ‘Round Christmas


Django Mack - ‘Round Christmas


Performers like Django Mack promise to be among the rare performers tackling traditional popular music who may be capable of bringing something lasting to the genre while remaining faithful to its formulas. The only route to making this happen is through lyrics but, predominantly, the charisma of the songwriter/performer. Mack sings with sound and character that blues fans will certainly embrace, but it isn’t merely some overly dramatic bucket of blood nonsense despite the dirt and gravel in his voice. The two latest releases from Mack, the single “’Round Christmas” and its bonus track “Big Black Dog”, finds him fixed in on the goal of embodying the characters behind each song and doing a bravura job of it. This is exactly the sort of artists that this style of music needs to continue getting heard in our increasingly narrow world.  

His voice is, arguably, the most memorable quality of “’Round Christmas”. Mack’s speaker is a character locked in primal doubt, stripped of all comfort, and afraid to confront the future and his vocal spares no expense in getting us to believe that. It’s this sort of commitment that makes him special. The band turns in a stellar performance with a patient backbeat that brings the song to its peaks with great care while sparkling and often echo-laden guitar thickens the mood. This isn’t a light-hearted tribute to the season. Django Mack wanted to write a song exploring the theme in a different way and really hits it out of the park with the musical and vocal content. 

The words are, likewise, quite memorable. There are a handful of surprising rhymes placed in the song that are really quite bracing and natural. Any lyricist who can write an intelligent, lucid text that doesn’t seem like a bunch of individual lines sewn together deserves notice, but his skills are a step above that. 

“Big Black Dog” pops and rolls with woozy and bluesy rambunctiousness. Django Mack commands this track with every ounce of the authority he brought to bear on “’Round Christmas”, but he manifests it in a different way. Instead of playing up the comedic aspects of the lyric, Mack’s delivery is steady but low-key and never overemphasizes the song’s sad sack humor. The piano really drives things hard and takes off even faster with its brief instrumental breaks. The lyric is much simpler than its counterpart on the single, but there’s still the same guiding intelligence that saves this from sounding like a rote rework.  

Django Mack’s music will, undoubtedly, continue gaining a wider and wider audience. Tracks like “’Round Christmas” and its companion track will guarantee that. He has style to burn, but there’s genuine musical and lyrical substance between his compelling turns on each of these tracks. It’s equally for sure that he hasn’t even come close to his peak and will continue growing from here into, potentially, one of the transformative figures that the genre has needed for a number of years.  


Scott Wigley

Kelly McGrath - You and Me Today


Kelly McGrath - You and Me Today 


Kelly McGrath’s first single “You and Me Today” from her forthcoming fourth studio album is a clear illustration of how this singer’s prodigious vocal and songwriting skills are in full flower. This is the first taste of a follow up years in the making to her last full length release Heartstrings. The album produced a hit single for McGrath entitled “One Foot in Front of the Other” and propelled an extensive radio station tour that saw McGrath traversing the nation in order to spread her art. The success of Heartstrings and her tireless self-promotion resulted in McGrath amassing a larger following than ever before. She reaches for her highest pinnacle yet on “You and Me Today” thanks to her courage in looking over an event that must rank as one of life’s most painful lessons yet – the death of a parent. Mortality isn’t typically good pop song fodder, but McGrath turns her trauma into the highest art with sincerity, technique, and grace.  

McGrath’s singing has invited comparisons to a variety of female icons, namely Janis Joplin, but her range is far wider and the complements fail to do her justice. McGrath’s versatility takes its more startling form not from her lung power but, instead, the combination of her phrasing and vocal strength. She knows how to utilize her dynamics to their fullest potential while still possessing enough control over her voice to modulate its effects as needed. She is likewise particularly skillful at meshing her voice with the arrangement in such a way that it becomes a duet, as it should be, between her and the accompanying musicians. Many singers, men and women alike, take over songs with their ego or craving for the spotlight and it undermines the potential in a performance. McGrath wisely avoids such pitfalls.

The lyrics are very straight-forward without ever being too obvious. There’s a good mix of the personal and general, but the real accomplishment of her writing lies in its underrated literary qualities. These manifest themselves as a talent for making the intensely personal into something resonant, universal, by incorporating the right significant details into the lyric. Her phrasing wreathes these words with an additional dramatic quality, but as before, she never has pushes too hard to achieve those effects. Her fine text for the song matches the vocal melody quite well and more than carries their weight with its unflinching depiction of grief. 

The rhythm section is quite powerful and provides “You and Me Today” with the necessary ballast, but it’s the evocative acoustic guitar work that provides the track with much of its melodic punch. This is really quite a well-rounded song with no discernible flaws. Its release is a clear sign that the long wait for Kelly McGrath’s next album has always been well worth the time and our patience will be handsomely rewarded. This is a song of rare distinction from an even rarer performer.  


William Elgin III

Friday, November 18, 2016

Jemima James - At Longview Farm

 
Jemima James - At Longview Farm 


1979 certainly wasn’t the time for this album to come out. Jemima James faced the unenviable timing of debuting during a period when the value of singer/songwriters and folk-influenced performers couldn’t have been at a lower commercial ebb. Her talents, as exhibited on the ten song release At Longview Farm, are the equal of many of her much more famous peers of the era and At Longview Farm is a complete listening experience that touches on many American musical influences without ever ceding dominance to one particular style. She is surrounded by a top shelf supporting cast of musicians who know just what to add to her songs and when to temper their talents. James has a fantastic voice for the material and it’s full of nuance that helps her realize the dramatic potential of the arrangements and lyrical content alike. The album is immaculately produced – the often layered performances never sound cluttered and are juxtaposed perfectly against James’ vocal.

The song “Sensible Shoes” is an unique and understated fusion of a few musical styles. Jemima James the folk performer is visible and audible throughout, but there’s also a sharp commercial edge on this song with its chorus and other attributes that will reappear from time to time throughout the course of the album. The vocals are quite exceptional throughout and the elegant simplicity of the musical accompaniment is a perfect match for them. “Easy Come, Easy Go” continues with the commercial standard established by the opener, but it is a much more natural sounding track. It plays more like the result of a loose, good natured jam rather than a structured arrangement and it’s a testament to the skill level of the players involved that they can achieve that sort of atmosphere while keeping the performance disciplined and inspired. “Esperate” brings a slightly more exotic feel than the other songs, but it isn’t some overwrought stab into an uncomfortable style. James’ versatility is impressive and she glides vocally through the track with free-flowing, relaxed strength.  

“Book Me Back in Your Dreams” is one of the most interesting pieces of songwriting on the album and, surprisingly, one of the most traditionally minded efforts as well. The inclusion of instruments like steel guitar and harmonica isn’t unique, but they do give this song its own distinctive musical voice. “One More Rodeo” will reminds most listeners of songs like the opener and “Easy Come, Easy Go”, but it’s the best of the album’s more commercial tracks thanks to its compression and perfect unity of vocals, lyrics, and musical content. The second to last song on the album, “Billy Baloo”, features two lead vocals, but it’s by far the most rousing singing that she does on this album.  

Jemima James’ album At Longview Farm has found an ideal time and avenue for its emergence. Team Love Records has demonstrated a commitment to promoting and releasing some of the most interesting music coming out today and shining a light on some forgotten corners and performers of our time. This ten song collection stands proudly among the label’s other releases and will likely stand the test of time. 

9 out of 10 stars. 


Michael Saulman

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Leo Harmonay - The Blink of an Eye

 
Leo Harmonay - The Blink of an Eye


Leo Harmonay’s first album, Somewhere Over the Hudson, served notice that a talented new singer/songwriter in the folk tradition had emerged with a wide command of the genre and different ideas about how to manifest its traditions in engaging, modern ways. He isn’t a strict purist and both the drumming and guitar work on the album reflects his willingness to think outside the norm and bring new textures into the music. His second album The Blink of an Eye features eleven tracks that reaffirm the virtues of the genre while still reflecting Harmonay’s personal ambitions and musical excellence. He has the unique ability, certainly not shared by every performer in the field, for bringing these retro sounds into a modern context and making it work without much apparent effort.
The songs on this new album are either folk or blues in approach with stylistic deviations that set them apart from run of the mill efforts in this genre. Songs like “Up to You” and “Gone Are the Days” are the album’s clearest excursions into the blues genre and they work exceptionally well. The reason for their success, however, isn’t because Harmonay hits all of the expected blues notes. Instead, it’s because he takes the form and, instead of cutting a tribute with his songwriting credit attached, he tries to use it as a genuine vehicle for self-expression while never strictly serving up what the listener expects. A small handful of songs are cut from a purist folk cloth. The earliest of these, “River Dancer”, doesn’t flow as freely as some of the later attempts, but it’s probably the strongest lyrically. “Wounds of Love” and “Dirty River Town” have familiar elements, both musically and lyrically, but the mechanics of each performance are so vividly rendered that it redeems any flaw. Harmonay’s vocal tops off both of these aforementioned songs with its unsparing musicality, lively phrasing, and gusto.  
The remainder of the songs features varying blends of Harmonay’s styles and show across the board creativity that manifests itself in different ways each time. “In the Morning Light” is one of the album’s most striking moments thanks to the use of electric guitar. Rather than attacking the song conventionally, Harmonay uses the instrument for atmosphere and it gives considerable teeth to one of the album’s more brooding moments.  One of the album’s last songs, “Bridges”, is the most startling example of his skill for re-inventing traditional forms. There’s a surprising amount of dissonance powering certain passages and the raw, aggressive sound of the recording is unusual for offerings from this genre. The eleven tracks on The Blink of an Eye will please purist and iconoclastic tastes alike. Such all-around talents are rare. Leo Harmonay’s vocal style will even win you over after, perhaps, some initial hesitation. He has immense likability, intelligence, and a fantastic command of every musical style he touches upon. The Blink of an Eye will make any fan of his first album quite happy and, undoubtedly, win Leo Harmonay many more fans.  

9 out of 10 stars. 


Scott Wigley

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Jamie Kent - All American Mutt


Jamie Kent - All American Mutt 


The third album from Jamie Kent, All American Mutt, signals a new peak in Kent’s short career thus far. He has hacked out quite a trail for himself since his 2009 debut with the release Neoteny and the latest studio platter amply illustrates his development as a performer and songwriter. Kent has distilled his passions and aims down to their purest essence and possesses an unique style that spans virtually the entirety of American music instead of confining himself to some narrow artistic corner of the genre. Rock, country, funk, blues, and folk exist side by side here in often various permutations. David Brainard, a respected Grammy nominated producer, mans the boards for Kent and helps stage these songs in the best possible sonic light. Only one song out of the ten is not written by Kent alone. 

Such all encompassing efforts make for singular releases. “All American Mutt” is a bit of a cataloging song, but it chooses a varied target and basically turns this track in a sweeping melodic assessment of his own place in American life. Kent’s singing has a relaxed confidence you can discern from the first line and sometimes it seems like someone grinning from ear to ear, reveling a little in his own facility with the language and music. “Look Up” is the exact opposite as a composition. The opener never sounds cluttered, but this first ballad never risks cluttering for a single second of its duration. The song is able to breathe free and easy and it gives room for Kent’s voice to move around. His emotive skills are outstanding but never overdramatize the lyrical situation. He paints things with a broader brush on the unabashedly commercial “Last Call”, but it never gets painfully obvious. Following it with “Home Again” is a surprising move. The arrangement is pure yearning honkytonk that never lays possible affectations on too thick and emphasizes its melody.  

Fiddle, banjo, and mandolin form an unlikely instrumental trio to get “Be Your Man” over with the listeners thanks to its colorful and quirky sonic charm. Listeners will be able to hear the genuine relish that Kent takes in singing this song. The folk-influenced singer/songwriter balladry of “Safe” can scarcely be better conceived. The precise and often quite lyrical acoustic guitar matches itself up nicely against Kent’s voice and the spaciousness of the musical arrangement gives it a nicely dramatic quality. “Red Rover”, however, is the album’s best ballad. It proceeds slowly and with great patient while vocalists Kent and Michaela Anne focus on their phrasing with such success that their aesthetic beauty of their voices is easily a secondary concern. There’s a last jolt for listeners buried deep in the track list with “Sheila”. Huey Lewis and his horn section from backing band The News team up with Kent to unleash their gleeful ode to a bad news heartbreaker. It isn’t anything older music fans haven’t heard before, but Kent and his partners on the song pull it off with great panache. There’s something for any listener on All American Mutt. 


Scott Wigley

Monday, November 14, 2016

Alessandro Coli - I Betcha'


Alessandro Coli - I Betcha' 


Alessandro Coli’s career path was forged early on and he is pursuing his dream with a singleness of purpose and the talent to back it up. The Italian born nineteen year old began his mainstream career with an appearance on the national Italian television show Io Canto and garnered a ton of attention from that appearance. He soon signed to Sony Music and released highly successful recordings in Italian and only made his American language debut with the early 2016 release of “Flames”. The first entry into English music proved to be quite successful and earned him a spot on the Billboard charts as well thanks to the efforts of collaborator and multi-platinum producer Chris “C-Rod” Rodriguez. His second single “I Betcha” builds on the success of that song and shows a demonstrable step forward in its clear sincerity and strong songwriting.

Bringing an entire genre’s game a full step up might seem like a fool’s errand. If so, thankfully no one told Alessandro Coli. This performer served notice that he intends to make it on a global scale and proved with the release of “Flames” that he will give the best possible effort to realize that dream. He succeeds spectacularly well here thanks to the strong confluence of every essential element – the electronic musical arrangement and his vocals share equal footing in the mix and renowned producer Chris Rodriguez is, undoubtedly, once again a major force in shaping the work like he was on Coli’s English language debut. It’s memorable to hear how the intensity of the music takes on a slow rise and Coli’s vocals joins in the ascension but uses great judgment in perfectly modulating his voice against the electronic instruments.

The synthesizers, bass pulse, and drums pop with immediacy and will undoubtedly sound massive piped through some massive speakers. Another of the song’s finest qualities is the slightly gritty edge in the mix, the spike in its punch, that strengthens the effect of the lyrics. Coli has a total vocal command and gives the song a hard nudge at key points that are particularly effective. The lyrics are surprisingly artful for the genre as well. There aren’t any unnecessary poetic flourishes, naturally, but Coli communicates his tale of woe with understated elegance that nevertheless retains a conversational tone. 
 

Alessandro Coli’s second effort into the American market sets him up as one of the major talents going forward in the dance music scene and his rise will only continue. “I Betcha” has some real sophistication in both the music and the lyrics and Coli gives it the final touch with a supreme vocal turn. It never tries to take over the performance and shows the instincts of a musician far older than his nineteen years. It’s rather thrilling to imagine where Coli can take this from here, but there’s no question he has yet to fully realize his considerable talents.   


William Elgin III

Phantom Phunk - Arboles Ossific


Phantom Phunk - Arboles Ossific 


Phantom Phunk have landed on the national music scene with Arboles Ossific, a highly individual and willfully independent musical effort that challenges listener’s expectations while never failing to entertain those willing to stick with its numerous twists and turns. The band has only been together since 2014 when songwriters and longtime friends Sasha Cheine and Hector Alexander convened to flesh out songwriting ideas and decided to begin working on this project in earnest. They soon realized that their collaboration was blossoming to a point where recruiting sympathetic collaborators became a must and, after a brief search, rounded out the lineup with drummer Nick Emiliozzi and guitarist Juan Gonzalez. Their work writing and assembling this release has produced a wildly eclectic outing that takes on too much for its own good but, shockingly, never makes a single misstep.  

“Snowy in Florida” touches on the recent mass shooting in the Orlando area but never in a heavy-handed way. This is much more of an emotional reaction to the world we unfortunately inhabit today given shape in song and the highly musical cacophony of changes packed into a relatively small space never overwhelms the listener. They know how to alternate moods on this album and the second song “Sip of Wine” is proof. This is a dream-like and exquisitely woven piece relying much more on subtlety that instrumental prowess to deliver its romantic sentiments. The album’s first single, “The Unheard Spirit Symphony”, would have made an excellent album title and the track clearly is geared towards airplay without ever sounding overly calculated or dishonest. The uptempo rush of its charging rhythm section and guitar work perfectly matches Sasha Cheine’s vocals.

“Looping” has a slightly disjointed feel at first, but the song quickly makes its musical intentions clear and excels further on the back of another quality Cheine vocal. They once again show their skill at manipulating the audience’s attention with its follow up, “Brother’s Keeper”, which recalls the earlier track “Sip of Wine” with its invoking of a delicate mood, even if the mood here is considerably bleaker than before. They take another slightly surprising turn with the instrumental “Distant Kaleidoscopes” and it gives listeners an opportunity to hear their melodic talents in full view without the added distraction of vocals and lyrics. The second to last song on the album, and for all intents and purposes its climax, “Tommy’s Cosmic Avocado” is a long musical piece that moves through a variety of atmospheres and moods that never lose their coherence despite the long duration.  

Phantom Phunk seem to be bursting with ideas and energy and undoubtedly this supplies their debut with many of its surprises. This is relentlessly optimistic music in some ways. Phantom Phunk are clearly a collective of musicians who believe nothing is beyond their grasp and, even if some songs deal with heavier subject matter, they clearly position their songwriting as a strike back against settling for second best. This is a band that’s aiming for the highest peaks they can find. 

9 out of 10 stars. 


Dale Butcher

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Project-TO - The White Side, The Black Side



Project-TO - The White Side, The Black Side
 
DISCOGS: https://www.discogs.com/Project-To-The-White-Side-The-Black-Side/master/1061342

The Italian based collective Project-TO, a trio whose membership includes producer Riccardo Mazza, keyboardist Carlo Bagini, and filmmaker Laura Pol, have released a debut album that will surely rank among the widest reaching expressions of techno music’s artistic potential we have yet heard. The White Side, The Black Side is a study in contrast, but it’s much more. It is almost a painterly exercise with sound as the trio recorded a dozen songs consciously divided into two groups of six – the white side and the black side. The white side features an inspired, yet arch-traditionalist approach to techno – the big beats, bright keyboard and synth textures, and incessant rhythms that never relent from first note to last. The black side, naturally, features these same elements only stripped down to their essentials and given a decidedly darker shade than heard on the white side. The experiment comes off flawlessly and results in one of the most substantial recording achievements of 2016.
 
The opener “I Hope” takes its title from a Hilary Clinton quote that finds its way into the mix as a spoken word sample. The use of such techniques gives the track a slight avant garde edge, but pretentiousness never weighs down any of the album’s twelve cuts. The fat beats, unlike the typical dry sound you customarily hear with this style of music, resound with warmth and presence while still pushing the song hard towards its inevitable conclusion. The black version of the track features a similar tempo, but the spoken word samples are much fewer and, when they arise, heavily distorted. The density of the white version gives way to a thicker, but much more spartan sound, reliant on fewer separate keyboard and synth lines. “Look Further” has a strong vocal presence, but it is heavily treated with electronics and fully integrated into the mix. The percussion presence in the song is as strong as ever, but keyboardist Carlo Bagini explores a much wider dynamic range here than heard on the earlier songs. The black version drops the vocal presence entirely and, instead, pursues a much more bare bones approach intent on creating atmosphere. It succeeds wildly.
 
The vocals return on the white side’s “Rebirth” and segue into some quasi-rock posturing interlaced, naturally, with the busy percussion, but the truly powerful element driving the track is Mazza’s and Bagini’s wise and knowing manipulation of dynamics. “Rebirth” snakes its way through a variety of astutely placed dramatic shifts. “Black Rebirth”, in contrast, maintains a much straighter line of attack – the manipulations heard on the white side are much fewer and, when they do happen, much more subtle. One doesn’t often attach the adjective “subtle” to a description of techno music, but Project-TO is not your typical practitioners of the style. The multimedia nature of this release and the obviously uncluttered creative vision of the songwriting and performances alike show the trio to be proudly standing on the cutting edge of the form. The White Side, The Black Side deserves your attention. 
 
9 out of 10 stars
 
Scott Wigley