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