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

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Dane Maxwell - “Where I’m Seen”

In Dane Maxwell’s “Where I’m Seen,” the up and coming pop singer/songwriter addresses the ills of abuse and bullying with a soft-spoken poetic drawl, but the lyrical content his smooth vocal emits is beyond cutting in tone. Maxwell comes in with a fragile style of attack that slowly grows more aggressive as he makes his way through the verses, and though he doesn’t show the slightest hint of reticence in his execution, there’s a shy sensibility to his serenade that adds to the narrative of the song substantially. “Where I’m Seen” is a beautiful ballad with a powerful message, and it’s giving critics more than one reason to take notice of its composer this season.

The string parts are remarkably organic, which hasn’t been the case with the majority of the pop singles that I’ve reviewed in the last year. They’re woven into the percussive throttling seamlessly, and leave a reverberating trail of melodies in their wake. Nothing ever steals our attention away from Maxwell’s handiwork with the microphone, but there’s plenty of texture in the instrumentation here to keep serious audiophiles more than satisfied with the sublimely textured harmonies that ebb and flow in the background.

This bassline is a little quieter in the mix than the other components in the track are, but it’s an evocative role player nonetheless. It’s not super-physical, nor is it saturated in overdrive, but despite its relatively muted disposition, it sustains the swing of the drumming really well, and furthermore, creates a fine cushioning for Maxwell’s dexterous lyrical lashings. So many of his contemporaries are adopting more atmospheric tones in their bass parts, but “Where I’m Seen” does just the opposite; it retains an acerbic, focused rhythm, and ends up sounding a lot more sophisticated than its counterparts in the mainstream as a result.

Lyrically, Dane Maxwell dives into the subject at hand with a furious passion that has been, thus far, unrivaled amongst his underground peers in 2019. “Where I’m Seen” contains none of the pointless platitudes, unoriginal metaphors and endlessly enigmatic verses that have often plagued tracks geared towards this particular theme; in their place, there is only Maxwell’s heartfelt poetry and a constant urgency in his voice that reminds us of the severity of what he’s describing so vividly to us. In this respect, it might be a tough song for some to swallow, but it’s an important release that should be heard just the same.

For survivors and their supporters alike, Dane Maxwell’s “Where I’m Seen” is a must-listen empowerment track that couldn’t have arrived at a better time. In the last six months alone, there have been countless singles to top the charts on the strength of a catchy hook alone, but few have embodied the unfiltered emotion and motivational prose that this song does, and though its singer is an unknown at the moment, its release could go a long way towards changing that. Hopefully this won’t be the only bit of change that it inspires, as the world sure could certainly use a touch more love these days.

Joshua Beach

Monday, May 20, 2019

The Respectables release The Power of Rock ‘N’ Roll (LP)

The Respectables really weren’t doing themselves any favors in their last record Sibley Gardens, but in The Power of Rock ‘N’ Roll, their latest full-length album, they wisely play to the handful of strengths that have gotten them this far in the industry with moderately positive results. While there’s a bit of excess where I was least expecting to find it here – the acoustic wailer “Limousine,” the haggard hybrid “Mardi Gras” and Steppenwolf-style “Give Some” – there are also moments of genuine originality, such as in the pop-rocking “That Girl” and jittery “The Shotgun Seat.” The Power of Rock ‘N’ Roll doesn’t live up to its name by any stretch of imagination, but it’s got enough zeal to qualify it as an accessible offering from a band that seems to be headed (mostly) in the right direction.

Though slightly overproduced, “Oasis,” “As Good as Love Gets” and the countrified “18 Wheeler” (which sports a really sweet swing in its rhythm) are a lot more streamlined and concise than anything we’ve heard from The Respectables before. “Wheel in My Hand” drags on longer than it needs to because of its cringe-worthy abuse of a blues riff, but disappointing tracks like this one are balanced out by more acerbic material like “Highway 20.” The title track has got the bones of a classic rock song, and even though I would have made the drums a little less prominent in the master mix, the hook that serves as the song’s bread and butter gives it a texture that I really wish I could have heard more of across the tracklist.

It’s not an album that would recommend to anyone other than diehard supporters of the band, but The Power of Rock ‘N’ Roll is nevertheless a big upgrade for The Respectables’ nonsensical Sibley Gardens, which contained only shades of the focused style of attack that this record’s most sterling songs employ liberally. The gap in time between the two LPs gave the group some time to hone their craft a little more and get into a more relevant mode as songwriters, and possibly in this second phase of their career, they’ll at last find the perfect counterbalance between alternative rock and traditional pop that has evaded them so torturously for the last thirteen years.

Joshua Beach

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Victor PEDRO releases “Call Me, I Miss Ya!”

Like sparkling city lights, sparse synthesized notes flicker and dance in surreal slow-motion in the intro to “Call Me, I Miss Ya!,” Victor PEDRO’s brand new single. Somewhere in the background, a vocal harmony is growing out of the silence and cutting into our hearts from afar. The melody is warm, but the tone of the instruments is cold, removed from this world and unlike the vivacious vocal that will come soaring into the sky only moments away from now. Victor PEDRO is engaging all of our senses in “Call Me, I Miss Ya!,” and if you thought that he couldn’t top some of his previously released material, you’d better brace yourself for the most dynamically stylish single released thus far in his career.

PEDRO repeats himself more than once in the lyrics to this song, but it isn’t because he’s aimlessly looking for words to fill up the space in the track; in fact, quite the contrary indeed. To emphasize his point, he will reiterate a statement once, twice, even three times if he deems it necessary, and rather than elaborating on his point by getting descriptive in his adjacent verses, he keeps his commentary as sharp and uncompromising as he can. PEDRO doesn’t want to bore us with a lot of patronizing placations or, for that matter, a stale beat that’s been reheated after a decade in the freezer (see the new Logic collaboration for such trite dribble). Instead, this Nigerian singer and songwriter is pushing his sound into the experimental, and coming up with some wildly imaginative results.

The theme of the song comes full circle in the chorus, which marries the question with the self-explaining answer through little more than a simplistic prose and a poetic disposition that makes the track so much more relatable than the plastically-stylized pop fodder of PEDRO’s contemporaries to the west of his home country. Lyrics are supposed to be the centerpiece of hip-hop, and PEDRO never tries to skew them with a lot of uselessly indulgent instrumentation here. He might not be the most famous rapper in the world, or even in Africa, but he’s got one thing that countless others who came before him never did – self-awareness. His music isn’t plagued with the same problems that we hear in mainstream rap, because both he and his aesthetic are lacking in egotism on (basically) every front.

“Call Me, I Miss Ya!” wraps up in a gentle thrust that leaves anyone with a taste for hard-hitting R&B and affectionate hip-hop ready to take on the night and whatever heartbreak it might have in store for us, and in terms of promoting its star composer and performer, it does more for Victor PEDRO’s moniker than any of his other work ever has. PEDRO has a very special talent that he’s putting to good use in this song, and if we’re lucky, it won’t be the last time that he puts all of himself into a wicked experimentation. I’ll be following his progress in either case, and I would tell anyone who loves real, urbane rap to do the same.

Joshua Beach

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Makes My Blood Dance release LP


Makes My Blood Dance are living up their promising handle and executing one of the sickest, slickest and most stylish metal tracks that you’re going to hear this quarter in their official debut single “Beaming Right Up.” Using a sonic vortex that originates from a sizzling bassline, “Beaming Right Up” sees its creators using every weapon in their war chest to overwhelm us with their staggering musicality, unrelenting rhythm and symphonically synchronized swagger. 

The drums are fiery and fierce, blanketing us in a discomforting rigidity that is only broken up by the feverish riffs adorning every verse. Lyrically, Makes My Blood Dance pull out all the stops to deliver unto us something that doesn’t draw too heavily from the well of their predecessors but nevertheless flanks its modern construction with a vintage familiarity tethering it to the metal gods of yore. “Beaming Right Up” is only their first single, but it boasts so many impressive facets that it would be hard for anyone to make the argument that these guys aren’t going to win over some hearts in this interesting period in rock n’ roll history. The production quality here is top of the line from every angle, highlighting all of the unconventional nuances in their depth of songcraft without focusing too much on one aspect of the band’s sound over another. There’s a lot to Makes My Blood Dance; their beats have a very club-oriented feel to them, the mix is varnished in an equalization that is more common in pop music, and their method of attack (when it comes to structuring a melodic vocal inside of a hurricane of vicious harmonies) is unlike anything that I’ve heard in the glam revival movement that has been concentrated around the Northeastern United States. Their hooks remind me a little of Diamond Nights, but their violent churn is straight out of the Queensr├┐che playbook. 

The progressive undertones here are something that could definitely be exploited in an album setting, but I think that it’s still too early to tell what Makes My Blood Dance are going to do with this template as the future unfolds. They’ve certainly got no shortage of options with a versatile sound like this, and that alone makes their brand a more than worthy follow for heavy metal disciples everywhere. If this is but a sampling of what we can expect out of Makes My Blood Dance in future recordings, then it’s safe to say that you can sign me up for more. 

There’s a moodiness in “Beaming Right Up” that just isn’t there in the bulk of material that I’ve heard out of their closest rivals in 2019, and to call it a fascinatingly experimental way to start off their career just wouldn’t be doing this work justice. I’m excited to see what my peers in journalism think about this band, but for my money, there simply isn’t another group making the magic in the studio that Makes My Blood Dance are, and that’s no small statement to make when considering how inspired the scene that spawned them has been lately. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Francine Honey To Be Continued (LP)

Francine Honey’s To Be Continued… will likely be considered a breakthrough moment in the Ontario singer/songwriter’s career. Her previous two albums are fine enough, even exceptional, but this third collection goes even further towards establishing Honey as a songwriter possessing an uniquely personal vision. “Snowflakes on My Eyelashes” serves as an excellent introduction to how she’s elevated her game; the lean poetics of the lyrical material is unquestionable. The song’s lead musical instrument is guitar, but it never takes a spotlit role – Honey, instead, opts to use the instrument in an ornamental way and the color it brings fills in the spaces left by the song’s percussion. Few songs are as patient as this; it never gets in any hurry and evolves at a luxurious pace, but it pays off in an impressive way.

“To Be Continued”, the album’s title song, might remind some of the first track in the way it develops. The same patient approach to arranging is presented, but the spartan array of instruments on this cut is centered on the melodic piano runs Honey drops into the song along the way. It’s a fascinating song in a lot of ways, but one that leapt out to me is how much detail is laden into a comparatively short tune without ever seeming too much. “Honey” is very different fare. Honey’s focus turns towards a more blues-oriented sound with this song, though there are strong country influences working here as well, and the slide guitar near the song’s end highlights the former’s contributions. Honey’s having a great deal of fun with this one and it’s an infectious experience for listeners.

The video released along with the single “Shacked-Up Sweetie” makes for an entertaining one two punch sure to garner To Be Continued… some much deserved attention. Her video for the song reminds me of the prime years for music videos; it plays up the song’s comedic potential without ever reducing the song to a novelty number, obviously benefits from being helmed by top notch video professionals, and presents Honey in the best possible light. The song, on its own, is fine as well – a familiarly rough and tumble country/blues rock number that doesn’t aim for the lowest common denominator but makes great hay from pouring old wine into new bottles. It’s obvious why Honey selected this song for such an important spot.

There’s a virtual duet fueling the track “Space” – Honey’s voice and the accompanying violin pair for a deeply moving exchange culminating with a chorus you won’t soon forget. Coming where it does, after “Shacked-Up Sweetie”, the song might be a sleeper gem on this release, but it easily ranks with the album’s best songs. “Open Road” is another more overtly commercial track, retro sounding all the same, but the personal touch it derives from the lyrics helps make it stand apart from songs cast in a similar mold. Acoustic guitar forms a lot of the bedrock sustaining “I Wish”, but the country sound of the song is inescapable and the piano lines running through the track provide a lightly played melodic lift.

Francine Honey’s To Be Continued… is an appropriate title. The latest chapter in Honey’s musical development has her reaching heights previously unavailable and signals she’s in this for the long haul; there isn’t a single hole marring this release, no filler at all, and the apparent care she took making sure each song strikes the right chord for listeners results in one of the most unified efforts in recent memory.

Joshua Beach

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Hughie Mac releases "Let’s Get Away” Single


It takes a very specific kind of singer to make a cover song feel like an original, and time and time again, the talented Hughie Mac proves more than adept at doing just that. In his brand new single “Let’s Get Away,” he dispenses a charismatic vocal from behind a tenderly-produced microphone that serves as our bridge from 2019 into the gilded age of midcentury bop. Here, and really with the entirety of what all who give Hughie Mac Sings Some Great Songs, Pt. 3 a spin this spring will discover in its enormous tracklist, Mac crushes us with his emotive singing style and finds a way to spellbind us with little more than his elegant voice and a simplistic backing band inside of nearly three minutes of play.

The instrumentation in this single is very brooding and emotional from the get-go; in more ways than one, Mac is holding all of the pieces in the jazzy backdrop together with his slick vocal, and making it so that the lyrics are the central flashpoint of all the action going on in the track. He’s front and center in the mix, but his singing doesn’t drown out the colorful piano melody that is framing his words and providing some fluidity to the somewhat rigid percussion. “Let’s Get Away” has a streamlined, radio-ready production value, but believe me – it’s hardly the artificially-faceted pop that you’ll commonly find lurking around the commercial side of your FM dial.

This track really captures the energy of Hughie Mac Sings Some Great Songs, Pt. 3 profoundly. Mac is never afraid to take on the challenges that come with covering some of them most important songs ever written in the history of pop music, and with “Let’s Get Away,” we get to experience the full scope of his vocal palate without the source material’s historical value clouding our analysis of the song. I’ve been a lifelong Sinatra fan, but I don’t necessarily think about him when I listen to this single. I’m taken aback by the lyricism and drawn into Mac’s web of melodic grooves without ever thinking about the story behind the song that’s being played for me in real-time. I’m not even close to kidding when I say that this is one of the most refined skills that any recording artist could ever hope to possess.

Say what you will about contemporary pop music, but as far as I’m concerned, Hughie Mac is doing more than a good job of keeping things interesting from the underground and beyond with songs like “Let’s Get Away.” We’re living in one of the most incredibly diverse times for music and the people who make it, and though there’s no shortage of smart young songwriters making a big impact in 2019, it’s guys like Mac who embody the spirit of pop better than anyone else on the planet, transcending age, race, gender and culture. He’s undyingly committed to his craft, and as a result of his devotion, we’re treated to some of the strongest musicality we’re heard since the original version of this song first saw release so long ago.

Joshua Beach

Monday, March 11, 2019

Sprout EP, Luxury Single by Stephanie Rose

You hear some singers for the first time and know, beyond doubt, they are born for song. These are the sort of singers who wear music like a loose garment, as natural as breathing itself, and treat every word with the same gravity no matter the composer. Stephanie Rose has long since proven she is that caliber of singer, but her new EP release Spout, the second in her young career, catapults her into rarified air. The EP’s six songs shows her mettle tackling various types of modern country, but also a willingness to overturn the expectations of newcomers and reminding them that country music is an elastic, rather than static, thing. She has a keen-eyed acumen for looking past the surface of her subjects and a skill for storytelling we hear from few performers of her ilk. This is the sound of a gifted artist willing to take chances, but still more than capable of entertaining the masses.

Stephanie Rose is in full control of the first song, “Sprout”, from the moment her voice rises out of the mix. She sounds energized by both the song’s sentiments and musical performance surrounding her, but demonstrates the loose yet well placed consideration for never overstating herself. Everything she does fits the song. This is further away, nominally, from a typical country style than the EP’s later songs, but the organ and horns added into the song only make it more enjoyable rather than sounding like needless and arbitrary touches. Horns aren’t unheard of in country music, but you nevertheless should admire the daring in attempting to reintroduce them to modern audiences.

“Rusted Love” has songwriting showing how Rose can write about well worn topics with her own voice and she has an eye for telling imagery capable of opening a song’s meaning for listeners. The best songs, invariably, allow listeners to form their own personal associations, however, and though much of Sprout is written from a presumably autobiographical slant, Rose is never so nakedly specific about her life that it breaks the songwriting spell. “Rusted Love” is an excellent example of a song that might resonate in different ways with very different people. The drumming is a big reason for the song’s dramatic push, but it has strong dynamics that draw you in.

The song “Luxury” is quite unlike the two preceding numbers. There’s no striding rock beat or horns – instead, there’s a level of intimacy present here Rose never aspires to in the first two numbers. She takes us into the life of a family living on the financial margins and preserving through it thanks to their love for one another – there’s no easy answers offered up in this song and Rose’s voice confronts the its details and subject matter with a wide ranging emotional vocal.

“Same Old Same Old” is a lot more light hearted, by far, and has a balance between sensitivity and wry detachment that I like, but it wouldn’t be nearly as successful without such an on point arrangement. The bare bones tempo, harmonica and guitar, and instantly memorable chorus are greater than the sum of their individual parts. Sprout shows how to write and recording a meaningful EP release while making it sound easy. Anyone who knows music and songwriting well understands, of course, these six songs are the result of much effort, experience, years of honing a craft, making the necessary connections with sympathetic collaborators, but Stephanie Rose makes it all come across like these songs were there all along and only waiting for her to arrive and give them voice. It’s the highest compliment I can give and worth every syllable.

Joshua Beach