Music Emissions Alternative Music Reviews Music Reviews For The Rest Of Us en-us Music Emissions 79 60 <![CDATA[ Erasure - Pop! The First 20 Hits (1992)]]> Subtitled, The First 20 Hits this compilation actually contains 21 tracks. That oddity can be explained by the fact that the last track is actually a remix of one of the other tracks on the album. Not that Erasure went in for multiple remixes of the same track in a desperate attempt (usually record company instigated) to prolong the shelf life of an earlier-released single. No Erasure, as the name of this albums suggests, were all about pop.

In particular, synth pop. Erasure were part of a swathe of bands in the mid-eighties onwards who released pop singles. Bands such as the Eurythmics, Tears for Fears, Depeche Mode and the Pet Shop Boys were all in there in the same mix. And like those bands, Erasure benefited and suffered from the same flaws and ultimately the same fate.

Once Vince Clarke had a falling out with the rest of Depeche Mode, he teamed up with Andy Bell to form Erasure. From 1986 right the way through until 1997, Erasure, despite having only three top twenty hits in the US, had a quite incredible unbroken streak of 24 top twenty hits in the UK. This made them, without doubt, one of the most successful singles chart bands of their age. And listening to the songs on this album, it is not hard to understand why. A succession of catchy, brief numbers, almost all of which have been a success on the dance floor, and none of them too complex or too deep and meaningful to deter the hordes of singles buying kids who lapped up Erasure with gusto.

And yet, Erasure evolved throughout this period. Initially, Andy Bell sounds very much like Alison Moyet, with whom Clarke had another act known as Yazoo. But gradually, as Bell gained in confidence, he developed his own style of singing, a kind of blue-eyed soul for the electronic age. This fitted in perfectly with the music. Twee synthesiser lines backed by faultless drum machines and additional synthesisers to create depth and texture. It was a musical form which almost defined the eighties and helped create an entire sub-culture. Along with Jimmy Sommerville of Bronski Beat and later the Communards, Andy Bell was among the first British musicians to achieve success in the mainstream as an openly gay man. Through Erasure, he became a gay icon and the support of the LGBT community helped sustain the popularity of Erasure.

As you would expect, all the early hits are here. Sometimes, placing a band's hits in chronological order on a compilation can be fraught with difficulty. But Erasure's success over such a long period enables this album to work. From early numbers such as "Oh, L'Amour" right through to the later single, a cover of ABBA's "Take a Chance on Me", Bell writes a number of catchy hits which, if you listen beneath the music, are full of humour and witty asides. Some might also comment on the almost consistent campness of many of the tracks, but so what. That is what Erasure were all about. And who can forget, or dismiss, the duo's best known numbers - the slathering "Love to Hate You" and the sixties soul tribute "A Little Respect", surely the band's finest hour.

However, the album's greatest strength is also its greatest weakness - it is a collection of twenty three-minute throwaway pop hits. Individually, each of these tracks has its charm, and some may even verge on greatness. But pop music was never designed to be listened to, twenty tracks at a time, end to end, at one sitting. Delve into this album when you want, but if you try to take it all it once, as you would normally listen to an album, you will end up being bored, inattentive and ultimately disappointed.

(Elektra 1992)
Reviewed on 2016-02-06 03:13:44 by Charles Martel]]>
<![CDATA[ Illz - Illz (2015)]]>

IIIz, pronounced (eyes) comes to us from California with a vibrant, indie-alternative EDM sound, topped with a hint of hip-hop. A very new flavor and sound that is easy to swallow. The band has been recording with Sen Dog of Cypress Hill and began playing their new self-titled album early this year.

The album opens with Get Away. Within a matter of seconds, you realize you are about to be lyrically hypnotized and taken on a journey with explosive beats and futuristic sound. With Sen Dog of Cypress Hill on the track, it is easily a favorite track.

I wasn’t too amped about the next track, The Light, but the female vocal and the positive message combined with the ambient sound in this track just kind of introduces us to the diversity of the band. You are now in cruise control on your journey with IIIz. You can ride this out for the next track Sugar.

The pace picks up with Retrospective. This track really gives the album life. There is a very well blended mix of sound here. Between the harmony in the male/female vocal, the guitar lead and the lead bass, now we have a bit of funk and things get interesting from here.

Rock out on the next few tracks. Color on the run is very much in your face and Want, is another high energized rocker. Epic Dreams bring back that classic alternative sound you missed when you boarded this flight. It is a melodic wind down with a familiar classic sound. Oh but don’t get comfortable, Manic Pixie is the “after party” of this journey. Manic Pixie truly embodies the energy and instrumental talent of this band.

I must say I’m impressed. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about this new take on sounds but in a new era of EDM, rock, pop, and hip hop, I must say IIIz has put together a well- balanced taste of all of it. It was definitely worth the journey and I’m sure this is only the beginning for IIIz. Lyrical content 3/5. Beats and energy, perfect 5/5.

(Hood and Talent 2015)
Reviewed on 2016-02-05 15:16:49 by ]]>
<![CDATA[ My Dad Is Dead - The Taller You Are The Shorter You Get (1989)]]> Perhaps one of the most stupid names I have ever heard form a band, apart from the names dickless kids at school thought up for their own bands, My Dad Is Dead is essentially a one man band. By the time The Taller You Are, the Shorter You Get was released, he/it had released a few albums on obscure vinyl labels to a stunning lack of commercial and critical acclaim in the US. Having heard several of his albums, which can all be downloaded from his own website free of charge (kudos to him for that), it can truly be said that this is the best of the bunch.

Musically, this is American post-punk, although by 1989 when this was released, post-punk was dying a death. The guitar work is reminiscent of bands like the Sound while the vocals are definitely Ian Curtis with an American accent. As would be expected, the songs deal with the less cheerful side of life but rarely gets too bleak, "Nothing Special", about a suicide-murder pact is the main exception.

The album starts of with the cracking instrumental "For Lack of a Better Word" and goes downhill from there. Occasionally, it rises above the morass of poorer songs, such as with "What Can I Do", but two good songs on an album which so often serves only to disappoint is not a good listening experience. To be fair, the songs are not that bad, but at times, they just fail to live up to expectations. Sometimes the guitars come across as just too tinny and amateurish, such as on "Too Far Gone". That must be deliberate for on other tracks, notably "The Big Picture" the guitars are well-balanced and powerful.

However, the main problem with the album is the lyrics. Most of the time they are weak to put it mildly, but occasionally they get so bad that they become utterly cringeworthy. Take this non-rhyming, made-it-up-as-I-go-along mess which starts "Seven Years" for example:

I've got the keys in my hand/And I'm not just talking./I'll take to the road/And I won't stop driving/Until I put a thousand miles/Between you and me./You don't think I'll do it/ But you don't really know for sure./Neither do I./That's why I've got to try.

That kind of ruins the theme behind the track, that a relationship which last seven years is not something that can so easily be discarded, no matter how bad it has become.

In fact, the instrumentals (and the long passages of instrumental work) are by far the best parts of the album. There are some good melodies lurking in there and in the hands of a more competent lyricist and a decent producer this could have been an album with a reputation. Instead, it is an album with a couple of highlights and a lot more tracks with unrealised potential.

(Homestead 1989)
Reviewed on 2016-02-04 01:58:59 by Charles Martel]]>
<![CDATA[ Mel Monaco - Single Again (2016)]]> Canadian Mel Monaco’s latest release, “Single Again”, will surprise many. Fans who have followed her steady rise in the indie music world won’t be taken aback, but newcomers and novices to this talented performer will be pleasantly surprised by her powerful and emotive pipes, deceptively simple songwriting, and inventive musical arrangements. One can certainly be excused for glancing at her pictures, song title, and believing she offers more of the same vacuous pop we’ve been subjected to for a decade or more with diminishing melodic returns. If so, move past that assumption, click play and bask in the glow of a truly formative talent.

One of the song’s strongest musical qualities is its appealing bombast. The thunderous rhythm section work is, nonetheless, light on its feet and swings impressively. It imbues the track with a chest-beating quality quite appropriate for the song. “Single Again” strikes an assertive tone from the outset and suggests, by sheer energy alone, to be a declaration of independence recovered and possibility regained. The drumming, in particular, gives the song a hard-hitting pulse and helps push the tempo in inventive ways.

Monaco’s vocal has raw, impassioned bluesy power, but she’s isn’t some bucket of blood belter, ala Janis Joplin. Her vocals have a deceptively subtlety able to conjure atmosphere with scat singing alone and, even if an enormous part of the track’s success is due to her ability to match the instrumental strength note for note, she thoroughly inhabits the lyric and expresses it in a deeply credible, dramatic manner.

Monaco embodies the DIY ethic so many rising artists are forced to adopt in challenging times, but while “Single Again” can rightly be consider quite “homemade”, there’s no lack of professionalism in its presentation. The production helps explode the song’s potential and its quasi-classical muscle helps ensure the track will linger in the memory long after its final note fades.

(Self Released 2016)
Reviewed on 2016-02-03 16:17:29 by ]]>
<![CDATA[ Burned Out, Still Glowing - Image Is Imaginary (2016)]]> Burned Out, Still Glowing (BOSG) is comprised of Lennon Cantwell on guitar and vocals, Stephanie Brettman on drums and percussion, and William Coburn III on bass. The sometimes soft, sometimes intense vocal stylings of Cantwell keeps the listener engaged and drives the music in unexpected ways. The, often intricate, guitar compliments the subtle bass and ever changing percussion which reflects the lyrical material expertly.


BOSG's album “Image is Imaginary” begins with “Walkinghorse.” The vocals mirror the guitar line beautifully at the start, before bursting into a colourful dichotomy of melodic electric guitar, complimented by bass and talented drums with scratchy and cacophonous vocals. The percussion oscillates between appropriately quiet and loud without being overwhelming. The drum line is excellently crafted and reflects the melody in a way rarely seen in popular music. The guitar and bass lines intertwine seamlessly, and, while not sounding forced or difficult, display excellent technical skills. Often when Cantwell is singing, I find his voice to be a whine. However, when he starts grating his voice, and pushing the limits of conventional singing, I find the music quite interesting and engaging. But, the five track album can barely distinguish each track from the other. Thematically different, yet stylistically similar, with cadences occurring in almost identical patterns within each song, the climax of each track is painfully predictable. The talent of BOSG is obvious, yet they need to use their sound to create original tracks, and not fall prey to the same stylistic gag every time. They have clearly developed a sound for themselves but need to push the creative barrier to keep themselves from becoming boring.


“Image is Imaginary” suggests a completely insular world view inside one’s own head. The concept of image as imagination becomes confusing if you consider everything seen as an image. However, if they refer to images as visuals which have been modified, then it makes complete sense; they would belong to the world of imagination. Images on the television, for instance, could be considered part of the world of imagination. They have been actualized in art and edited for viewing. I’m not entirely sure what the band is going for with this album title. Their song “The Clown” would almost fit into this theme, since clowns are a concept and belong to the world of imagination, not just by their appearance, but also through their behaviour and how people expect them to behave. “A Fool For Truth” fits into this theme if, for no other reason, by contrast alone. However, “Walkinghorse,” and “If You Want To Be A Man” hardly fit into this thematic scheme in any obvious manner. BOSG is a band worth paying attention too. I feel their creative limits have further to go, but their album “Image is Imaginary” is worth a listen. 

( 2016)
Reviewed on 2016-02-02 23:16:44 by ]]>
<![CDATA[ Bad Mary - We Could Have Saved The World (2016)]]> Bad Mary. After impressing fans and critics alike with the energized and credibly authentic Killing Dinosaurs EP, the band took little time in constructing six more sizable and sneering numbers for their newest effort. We Could Have Saved The World has a title that catches and, more importantly, the substance to back it all up.

As I mentioned in my review of Killing Dinosaurs, Bad Mary is a multi-generational outfit, with musicians ranging in age and backrounds to a surprising degree. This would seem to equate to a lack of chemistry or direction, but one of the great things about punk has always been the simplicity of its overall mission statement; pissed off with instruments. There's more to Bad Mary than that, of course, and We Could Have Saved The World does venture out a bit at times into less aggressive and by-the-books punk. Not early, though. "Creeper" is about as prototypical genre material as I've ever heard, but the chorus lends a more paced melody, contrasting the speed of the track as a whole. "Marz Attaqx" is the centerpiece of the album, with overlapped vocals and piqued energy fused into catchy hooks and a standard-yet-superb closing flourish. The middle tracks are where Bad Mary explore a bit; "Trouble" broods where it could just flail, pacing itself while frontwoman Amanda Mac squeezes varied melodies and moods from her pipes. "Cloud 9" is by far the most experimental in the context of a purebred punk record. You could almost call this an alternative-country ballad, but there is still an overriding punk vibe to the grooves and patient tempo. Maybe it's in the lyrics, optimistically pessimistic as they are (or vice-versa).

This set strikes a little harder, faster and has much more staying power than Killing Dinosaurs, a great sign for a band who inhabits a soundscape that isn't exactly known for progression. That may be a biased opinion, but it would have been just as easy (or easier) for Bad Mary to simply churn out a nostalgic punk history lesson and let it stand as that. Instead, the various influences of the band along with the dynamic vocals of Mac allowed themselves to break the mold just enough. This not only makes We Could Have Saved The World the bands best work to date, but it makes it stand apart in an overcrowded nostalgia-punk scene.
(Independent 2016)
Reviewed on 2016-02-02 16:22:16 by Kevin Sellers]]>
<![CDATA[ Simon - Belong (2016)]]> Simon is the name of a band, not a person. And they have been around a long time - since 1997 in fact. There have been several hiatuses (hiati?) during that period, but they have returned with a new album and a sound that is distinctly different from what passes as indie rock these days. Ok, it may be retro but don't we all need a look back every now and again. After a year when, for the first time since records began, "old" music outsold "new" music, there is clearly a lot to be said for retro.

Belong is released on vinyl only and this too is a nod to the retro, as well as the growing revival in interest in vinyl. Yet Simon are no hipsters- like me they are too old for that. But this is music which is ideally suited to an analog sound. There is a distinct early eighties feel to the music. Like many, particularly British bands of the era, the choppy reggae-influenced guitar sounds dominate. But, as the band clearly demonstrate, especially on "Never Stops", there is more than one string to their bow or, in the case of that particular song, more than one valve on a horn.

The first two tracks sit well together, displaying their influence of post-punk bands like Fischer-Z. In fact, were it not for the difference in vocal tone, I could have sworn it was John Watts on the opening track, "You Can Never Go Too Far". And that is something I have not said in a long time. Yet, it is all change for the third track, "The Time Is Always Now", which has a more rock-oriented feel to it. If this is Simon showing their diversity then they have convinced me. An acoustic led number, "The Sky and the Sand and the Sea" has a smooth slide guitar which gives an almost Hawaiian atmosphere, suitable for the subject matter. Some bands would have overdone it, with sound effects of segulls squawking or something but Simon are more subtle - and it works better.

But these tracks are just an interlude. "Way Out" returns with the reggae sounding guitar and the early eighties post punk sound as the rhythm guitar cascades on heavy echo. The title track has a similarly evocative guitar sound. There is something distinctly refreshing about hearing a contemporary band playing music effortlessly without pretension. "Imitation Man" follows in a similar vein, but a different style of post punk, synthesiser-led, milder and less jagged despite a rousing guitar solo, whereas its predecessor, "Everybody Smiles", has the feel of Britpop which the band claim as a major influence.

Perhaps the most Britpop of all the tracks is "Some Came Running" which almost could have featured on a Suede album were it not for the less-tortured vocals. And then, just in case anyone felt that Simon could not do it, "Sahara" almost feels as if the band were channelling emo at the time they recorded it, though without the "oh shit why can't I get laid" vibe of that particular genre. Simon are collectively too old for that. Lyrically, the band focuses on the passage of time and the uncertainty it brings and this contributes to the charm of the album. It is as if the angst and anger of the post punks has grown up and found its new focus in life and the future. Nowhere is this better exemplified than on the final track, "Survive Yourself" which tackles these themes head on without ever descending into mawkishness.

Simon have crafted an album in Belong which is, at the same time, looking back to a glorious musical period in the early eighties and also firmly rooted in contemporary sound and style. Too often bands who look back end up being mere copyists, mimicking the period they hark back to without providing anything original. Simon have avoided that trap with some skill. My only doubt is the vinyl only format. I can see why, and applaud it. But if Simon wish to attract a new audience they may have to accept that multi-format, including CD and download, is going to have to be the way forward.

(Self-Released 2016)
Reviewed on 2016-02-02 01:58:48 by Charles Martel]]>
<![CDATA[ Fades - Breaking Through The Walls (2016)]]> London quintet FADES (all capslock please) commence their debut EP, Breaking through the Walls with a firm statement - a reverb heavy powerchord. What follows is a six track EP which sees FADES take you across London with sounds which are reminiscent of pretty much every local pub band you have ever watched. Breaking through the Walls is an EP which breaks no new ground but does what it does competetently and without a great deal of fuss.

It would be fair to say that FADES have released an EP which will add to the growing reputation of London as a thriving music city. But it will not enhance that reputation. There is nothing about any of the tracks which would turn any fan of generic indie rock away from the band. But then again, there is nothing here which is going to make the rememberance of the band an easy task, and create within you the desire to hunt down more of their work.

Most of the EP is standard indie rock fayre. "Before My Eyes" begins and, predictably ends, with about forty seconds of an acoustic intro but then ploughs into a standard rock riff before slipping into an almost prog drop-down, complete with atmospheric synthesiser in the background. The only track which stands out is "The Killing Floor" (not a cover of the Howlin' Wolf classic) which has a snappy bass line and a choppy guitar which really sounds more interesting than everything else on the EP. Even the closer, "Everybody Knows" which ought to be the point where the band stamp their mark, like a cliffhanger, is not what it ought to be. It is almost as if Doves meet Thom Yorke and yet, as an attempt to come across as different from the rest of the album, just leaves you feeling perplexed as to why it is here at all.

The rest is all put together from a kit you can order on eBay and assemble in your own garage. There is a tendency to go for the alto vocal break in the middle, such as on "I've Been away Too Long" and "The Killing Floor", just before the guitar solo, but that of itself is not something which would cause you to remember the band. At times the lyrics, while never pretending to aspire to a literary artform, are cringeworthy in their clichés, such as during the opening exchanges of "Before My Eyes" -

"I was standing looking out to sea/The waves came over me"


If you like your indie rock straight from the shelf, then this is for you. The band know what they are doing and the production is smooth, leaving enough rough edges on to remind you this is indie. But that is not enough. There is nothing original in here and nothing to hold the attention. FADES are going to have to step out of their comfort zone if they are going to make a career out of this.

(Self-Released 2016)
Reviewed on 2016-01-31 02:30:17 by Charles Martel]]>
<![CDATA[ Jim Wellman - Dawn To Dusk (2016)]]> Jim Wellman incorporates elements of funk, acid jazz, and funk to create an unique album in “Dawn to Dusk.” The musical skill of Jim Wellman is obvious. However, this album is so crisp it borders on boring. The album lacks passion and that little something which separates it from others in their genre. While Wellman may have successful developed a genre hybrid, it comes across as calculated elevator music. It could easily fall into the background. 


“Lucy” is an upbeat track filled with silky smooth female vocals. The brass section punctuates the song nimbly amongst a myriad of drums and other percussive instruments which bounce the song along genially. However, this song does nothing but sooth. There is nothing here to question, or to force the listener to consider. “Lucy” is the equivalent of bubble gum. You enjoy it, isn’t easy to chew, it doesn’t demand much of your taste buds and after a while you’re done with it. I will say in favour of “Lucy” it carries an excellent Latin vibe amongst the song’s mesh of musical genres. “Lucy” appears to be about evolution and referring to “Lucy,” the skeleton of a female Australopithecus afarensis, which supports the theory of human evolution that bipedalism preceded an increase in brain size. The song follows the development of human evolution, from writing to war to travel and consumerism. As interesting as the song is lyrically, it becomes overwhelmed by the repetitive percussion section and overwhelming instrumentation. There is so much happening musically, the lyrics take a back seat. The guitar solo is ripe with talent, however it does not stand out enough to be significant. 


“Probably Good” has interesting lyrics describing some moral ambiguity in the pursuit of wealth. However, these provoking lyrics are lost against a mundane background. The instrumentation is very similar to “Lucy” and other songs on the album. The percussion section maintain an upbeat and complex rhythm pattern while the vocals follow a fairly simple melody line. This contrast works well in lulling the listener into submission. It is evident the musicians on this track are talented but they don’t appear to be pushing any boundaries with their music, they aren’t creating something new or unique. 


While it may be easy to let “Dawn to Dusk” fade into the background, this album is worth enjoying on any of its various levels. The lyrics are incredibly powerful and provocative, the music is layered and intertwines in complex and interesting ways. Listeners could enjoy each song by focusing on different instruments and experience something new each time. 

( 2016)
Reviewed on 2016-01-29 15:03:22 by ]]>
<![CDATA[ Bad Reed - Bad Reed (2015)]]> Bad Reed is a band made of many genres without bowing to one. They have elements of rock, metal, progressive and pop. Their subject matter is the right mixture between being emotionally specific and abstract enough to be generally relatable. While this makes the band sound like a hodgepodge, they actually synthesize these various musical elements excellently into one coherent sound. Costa Chatzis on percussion implements excellent rhythmic patterns to keep the listener engaged and keeps the songs from becoming tedious and familiar. Austin Sharpe on bass and Graham Walker on guitar are so synchronized it’s easy to forget there are multiple musicians playing and engaging with each other. The musical layering is so tight and well organized it is as if the song were played on one super instrument. 


Bad Reed’s self titled EP begins slowly, with soothing instrumentation. But “Slackjaw Romance” develops into an emotionally packed song wrought with competing melodies and intertwined rhythms. The drum lines are interesting and engaging and much more developed than the typical rock rhythm which have lulled most of us into boredom’s comfortable and familiar sway. “Casava” is more forceful with driving chords which propel the chorus forward. However, the bridge takes the song down by several notches and uses this intermediary time to showcase the bands’ ability to create music without being overwhelming and overt. Bad Reed layer the music and tease us into comfort until reaching a climax of intensity before ending the song abruptly. With their obvious musical talent both lyrically and musically, I question the abrupt ending employed in “Cassava.” Good endings are often more important than beginnings, as it is the last thing the listener hears and the last chance the artist has to make a lasting impression. This abrupt ending was not altogether unexpected, nor is it original. I would have enjoyed the song more thoroughly if they had developed a well thought out and conclusive ending. In this industry, silence is as overrated as noise. This abrupt ending sounds like laziness more than it does a fitting and ingenious ending to the song. “Punch It” follows the same cadence pattern throughout the song and only varies during the solos. I found this song predictable and it ends as forgettably as it begins. However, the vocalist, Sydney Sollazzo, has an engaging voice and although she doesn’t display much range, her talent is captivating. Her use of synthesizer is moderate and fits in tightly with the other instruments. She does not over use it, but could definitely afford to push the instruments’ limits more. Sollazzo’s use of multiple voicing is well timed and helps build the songs into something engaging and unique. Altogether, Bad Reed have clearly found a sound which fits the strengths of each band member and which have resulted in an unique and vibrant sound. I look forward to hearing how Bad Reed push the limits of their sound and musical talents. 

( 2015)
Reviewed on 2016-01-29 15:00:55 by ]]>
<![CDATA[ Johnny Kidd & The Pirates - The Very Best Of (2008)]]> If asked, most people would assume that the first British band to reach No. 1 in the UK singles charts with a song they wrote themselves, and the first British band to have a No. 1 single in the US would be the Beatles. And yet, most people would therefore be wrong. Both those achievements go to Johnny Kidd and the Pirates with their stunning song, "Shakin' All Over", a number which crackles with latent and unexpressable sexual tension. This was 1960 after all. And yet, for all their early success, Johnny Kidd and the Pirates were eventually swept away by the tide of what became known as the British invasion.

What impresses most on this massive 56 track two-CD compilation is the innovation and diversity of their earlier work. Not for Johnny Kidd and the Pirates the sort of bubblegum teenage stuff of Chuck Berry. Instead, this more gritty, closer to the edge and more, well more British. Their later work does, it is true, tend to mimic the British Invasion stuff, sounding more like the Dave Clark Five or the Kinks and tending to veer away from their R&B roots. For instance, the 1965 reissue of "Shakin' All Over" is not a patch on the original, but this was in some ways to be expected as the record company drove the band towards a more commercial sound in an attempt to make some money. "Jealous Girl" is perhaps the most obvious example and could have been released by any one of a dozen British bands of the era.

What one quickly realises on listening to this album is just how influential Johnny Kidd and the Pirates were on those who followed after them. The Who were originally planning to have Roger Daltrey play guitar as well as sing, but seeing Johhny Kidd and the Pirates, changed their mind. The solo singer and sole guitarist was a formula followed by many bands subsequently, including acts such as Led Zeppelin. And lest you think this a mere coincidence, the early Led Zeppelin sets (when they were playing as the New Yardbirds) were full of Johnny Kidd and the Pirates covers including "Shakin' All Over", "Hungry for Love" and "I'll Never Get Over You". Motorhead (together with Girlschool) covered "Please Don't Touch". The number of bands who have covered Johnny Kidd and the Pirates' songs stretches into the hundreds

In addition, the thratricality of their stage performances with Kidd dressing as a pirate complete with eyepatch (which he always wore professionally) was later copied by bands as diverse as Paul Revere and the Raiders, Alice Cooper and Adam and the Ants. At the time this was revolutionary - as revolutionary as Elvis's hip wiggling or P.J. Proby splitting his trousers on stage - for it moved popular music away from the idea of mere music and into the realms of a primitive kind of multi-media in the band's stage performances and Kidd's public persona.

What is also evident is that the band did not get the recognition they deserved. Pioneers of a sound which later proved seminal, others got the acclaim often by riding on the back of influences from Johnny Kidd and the Pirates. The second CD here probably exemplifies that because it contains songs which are just not up to the mark, and is far inferior to the earlier tracks contained on the first CD. But there is always the sense that this was Kidd's music. He was a prolific and talented songwriter as well as as a gifted vocalist, both of which are often overlooked in the more sugary period of the band's existence.

There is always going to be a certain sense of what may have been which bedevils any attempt to answer this question. Johnny Kidd died in a car crash in 1966. Pirates' bassist Nick Simper survived to become the original bassist of Deep Purple, but though the Pirates continued without Kidd, the energy had gone. What is left is some of the finest British R&B you will hear, and almost all of it is on this CD.

(EMI 2008)
Reviewed on 2016-01-27 01:59:09 by Charles Martel]]>
<![CDATA[ Curtis Mayfield - Curtis (1970)]]> In 1970 America was facing a number of serious social problems. Mired in the Vietnam War, society was split and anti-war demonstrations were becoming more vociferous. The Civil Rights initiative seemed to have stalled and black Americans were becoming impatient with the slow pace of progress. America's president at the time was a crook and a liar and looming on the horizon was the oil crisis, Watergate, Kent State and the economic downturn.

Almost as if scripted, Curtis Mayfield's debut album was a cry to put aside the differences which are made to separate us in favour of the unity which we all, as part of the human race, share. And he did it with an opening track which basically announced that because we are all arseholes we are all going to Hell, irrespective of our race and religion. What a way to kick off a debut album!

Mayfield's sognwriting is strong and purposeful and is matched by his guitar palying which on this album is absolutely matchless. Growing out of the dirty, gritty Chicago soul style, Mayfield makes his own musical statement. Veering from a highly charged, raunchy number like the classic "Move on Up" with that hammering five minute jam in the middle, to smooth sounding tracks like "The Makings of You", Mayfield displays his versatility for all to see. This is the start of something new, musically and socially.

Many of the tracks on the album burst out into a similar sort of extended jam in the middle. It is indeed a hallmark of the album that so much of it is dominated by some heavy funk which breaks up the lyrical elements of the album. Horns blaring and that guitar chopping over a funky bassline and some clever drumming, tablas and others mixed in. And then there is a harp. Mayfield certainly knew how to grab the attention of the listener. You are kept busy following the music as it winds its way around. "Wild and Free" features string and horn arrangements which many other artists would have died for (or even killed for).

The killer track is, of course, the classic "Move on Up". The principal single, albeit in seriously shortened form, it is a masterpiece of the style of soul/funk which Mayfield came to personify. That horn riff is one of the most compelling musical motifs you will find in a lifetime of looking.

But in the end what dominates the album is the message. "We the People Who Are Darker than Blue" sets out an agenda for racial harmony in which the lead is taken by blacks - a kind of call to let bygones be bygones. "Miss Black America" is at heart a gorgeous love song, but you can't help getting the feeling that there is a touch of irony which is so subtle it is almost missed - why are we worrying about racially segregated beauty pageants when there are much more important issues of racial segregation to worry about?

This reissued CD features a number of additional tracks which, if truth be told, do not really seem to add much to the mix. Six of them are demos and two of them are backing tracks and while the demos offer interesting insights into the development of Mayfield's style, the backing tracks are rather superfluous. Never mind. The original album is still a classic of its kind and one which is well worth investigating, assuming of course, you have not already

(Curtom 1970)
Reviewed on 2016-01-25 02:03:21 by Charles Martel]]>
<![CDATA[ RhymeSight - Broke & Dedicated (2015)]]> He opens with ‘Reach Out' which is a mellow, well composed, track, with a simple, yet satisfying hook. The lyrics roll out genuinely and the vibe sets the stage for that classic hip-hop sound we all miss. Tracks like "Time" ‘Where I came from" and "Genesis" show a more personal introspect side of RhymeSight, which really shows how mature this lyricist is, and with featured artist, DK aka Wayne Watts, the track "Time" really stands out. "Where I came from" featuring August Alsina, has a lot of potential to be a break through track. Alsina's hook is melodic and puts a motivational mood on Rhyme Sight's lyrical story of his trials and tribulations. The Poetic interpretation break as the 2nd verse is exceptionally raw and really takes this track to another level. I would have liked the arrangement on that verse to allow him to outshine the beat at that point.

"Genisis " really shows us the level of maturity in the album with RhymeSight giving shouts out to the great Talib Kwali and KRS One, taking us back to his first moments on the mic. "Father's Day" is probably one of, If not the most, introspect track on the album. RhymeSight gives you raw, lyrically emotional rhymes from the heart that many can relate to. It is a message that probably resonates with many of our youth. "Broke and Dedicated", the EP, is perfectly placed near the closing of the album , and really gives you a rougher more aggressive flow, showing the ambition of the young MC and his dedication which I'm sure we will see more of.

With 14 tracks and 2 bonuses, the album does not leave much to be desired. With diverse and relevant lyrical content coming in at a satisfying 4 out of 5, beats and energy at 3 out of 5 this exceptionally talented young lyricist is moving into his place in hip hop. I could have done without the bonus tracks due to that fact they really did not mesh with the vibe I had going, but lyrically, you don't want to miss out. The kid has talent and real future ahead of him.

Written by DeAija Maxwell

(Ill Society Entertainment 2015)
Reviewed on 2016-01-23 09:43:16 by Brian Rutherford]]>
<![CDATA[ Mind The Journey - Color In The Gray Machine (2016)]]> Connecticut-born and Boston-centered, Spencer Sabo (aka Mind The Journey) is a New England young man with a mind for alternate musical pathways. With a history behind the drumkit and a longing to bring to life his own fleshed out compositions, Sabo birthed Mind The Journey as a project to do exactly that. After an earlier EP brought some attention and a platform for live performances with guest musicians, Sabo released Color In The Gray Machine, his project's debut LP, at the beginning of 2016.

Completely produced in his own makeshift studio (which may or may not be a computer and keyboard), Color In The Gray Machine is extremely...alternative. The sheer amount of influences to be pulled from the 12-track experience are too extensive and varied to either list or pinpoint as "try if you likes". With apparently minimal equipment and maximum inspiration, Sabo creates songs that, taken together, defy categorization and invite the listener who enjoys variety. And a great beat. Indeed, his backround as a percussionist is clear to see across the record; one finds the grooves of tracks like the bouncy, spacey "Interdimensional Romance" or the psuedo-"Saturday Night Fever" disco of "Dancing in the Sun" to be their most appealing aspects. However, look closer and find an experienced knob-smith who makes a lot happen with a canvas of sounds. The phasing melodies of "Rose Colored Glasses", an album highlight to be sure, are concocted with distorted, almost 60's Psychedelic flair.  Another cut that stands out sharply is "Dream Demon", which gets dirty with a more straightforward grungy rock sound that reminds me of The Pixies or even Radiohead

Each track on Color In The Gray Machine is an island, presenting a different combination of beats, grooves, melodies and sound effects, capably compiled and mixed into enjoyable and entertaining songs. A few "what was that?" moments aside, this is the sort of under-the-radar-over-your-head effort that demands a very specific audience without making too heavy a demand. It simply exists, in all its spaced-out, minimalized, alternative, (sometimes) nostalgic glory, and would appreciate the careful and attentive ear of fans of catchy electronic-based rock. Emphasis on the spaced-out. Some of this album could be the soundtrack of the peak of an LSD trip.

(Independent 2016)
Reviewed on 2016-01-21 19:48:01 by Kevin Sellers]]>
<![CDATA[ Moonsorrow - Kivenkantaja (2003)]]> When I first heard this, downloaded from Limewire years ago, I found it pretty interesting and gradually it grew on me. In the end I decided to buy it. I now have to wonder whether the tracks I heard on Limewire were the same. There are several differences to what I recall (which I admit was a couple of months back now). First off, there is a lot more growling than I recall. Now I am not a great fan of this vocal style, indeed, it is the main thing which puts me off most metal. Thankfully, the growling is relatively light, if you know what I mean, more throaty whisper than ground glass and laryngitis. Second, there seems to be a lot more synthesiser in it than I recall. In places, it even seems to mimic the twinkling of Keith Emerson of his mid-ELP days. Oh, my God! I've bought a prog album!

In reality, it is nowhere near as bad as that sort of description might suggest. The band use a variety of instruments to create atmosphere, ranging from mouth harps to accordions. They also make extensive use of folk melody, especially what seems to be traditional Finnish folk melodies. This is when the album is at its best - atmosphere, melody and rhythm without ever descending into formula or stereotype. For this reason, it will come as no surprise that the more acoustic, female-sung "Matkan Lopussa" (At the Journey's End) is the best track.

And yes, the album is entirely in Finnish. The sleeve notes do contain full English translations but I find those to be seriously distracting. After all, it is often the case that the imagery which is used in one language does not survive a straight translation so well. Take this from "Raunioilla" (At the Ruins):

"Under the growing moon there drifted a whisper with a distant stream./Waves beating restlessly the tired rain-lashed shore."

This probably works better in Finnish but comes across as rather forced in English.

Unfortunately, you cannot ignore the underlying theme. And that is perhaps the biggest problem with the album. Now Scandinavians may have cornered the market with this type of epic metal, but that is no excuse for prancing around pretending to be Vikings. The photograph on the inside cover has the band decked out in pseudo-Viking gear with a few swords and shields to boot. Thankfully, if they were thinking of wearing horned helmets someone with more sense convinced them it would not be such a good idea.

It does not take long either for the music to strengthen the impression that this is all about marauding in longships, heroic warriors and pagan gods. And if you could understand the lyrics you would know it from, for instance, "Tyuulen Tytär/Soturin Tie":

"Warrior, a hero, bearer of the golden cloak./Into battle, into death,/On the path to the city of the gods"

Frankly, there is something faintly ridiculous about this.

What in the end saves the album, from an English speaker's standpoint, is that you cannot understand the lyrics. Musically this has a lot of positive qualities - it is well-executed, atmospheric and (growling apart) well sung. As long as you can set aside the almost Python-esque obsession with Viking stereotypes, this album is worth having.

(Spikefarm 2003)
Reviewed on 2016-01-21 01:59:20 by Charles Martel]]>
<![CDATA[ Nic Nassuet - Eleutherios (2015)]]> Nassuet provides a hard rock flavor accessible to those, who think there's too much noise and distortion in what passes for metal and post-punk these days. The more I listen, I start to think about the quieter moments on Led Zeppelin albums. His vocal skills are diverse. He can switch from an Alice Cooper growl to an easy going croon. It makes for a good listening experience. This change in vocal styles works on Immured at 5:56, the second longest cut. It's a style with good possiblities. He can be haunting and powerful, but he's never abrasive. The music is packaged as folk. Capitol Records marketed the Beatles Rubber Soul as folk rock, but it was much more. Nic may very well appeal to folkies. It seems his niche is for hard rockers, looking for a slight change of pace.  He stays in the spectrum of hard rock. He performs in a grand tradition of hard rock acts, who evolved into prog territory. It's all good. 

It's glad he's not taking all these elements in the direction of ho-hum arena rock or soulless pop. I'm not ready to say he's another David Bowie, ready to reinvent himself at the drop of a playlist. But he's far from a one-note artist. His strengths are bound to reveal themselves on subsequent recordings. In the meantime, we can enjoy this record. It offers rewards on repeat listens. It's solid rock. Credit is due for the winning short tracks. "Cross and Crown" is a winner" at 2:25. "The Giver' is about a minute longer, and it's beauty makes it my favorite track. "Down" shows he can pick up the tempo, and it shows some artsy touches, which make it melodic and rocking. It's another shortie, putting him in the grand tradition of rock. It's Chuck Berry's "Roll Over Beethoven" in the Teens. Keep the good times coming. 

(Dolor 2015)
Reviewed on 2016-01-20 10:56:43 by ]]>
<![CDATA[ The Maension - Aevolution (2015)]]> The Maension. You can still find that review (of their Introspection EP), and the last line written rings true today. Eight years later and their fanbase has indeed grown, as has their footprint across the United States and internationally as well. With big-name touring partners and increasingly well received material, The Maension are perhaps one of the most prominent unsigned metal bands today. Recently taking our latest "Unsigned and Wound Up" contest was yet another triumph for the band, and Aevolution, their latest LP, was the catalyst for the victory no doubt.

The sound is difficult to pin down, mixing the swirling and melodically up-and-down riffage of Tool with a thick backdrop more reminiscent of Deftones and vocals that, while not particularly ear-catching, vary in style from rough to smooth. There's so damn much going on on Aevolution that it's easy to miss the core strength of the band; putting down a great foundation and building on it with the occassionally grabbing melody, riff or lyric. There's a feeling of stretching the limits on this record, and whether or not said limits are truly stretched is more a relative perspective. It just feels that way, from the bouncy and erratic "Absolution" to the ambitious drive and stop-start of "Retrospection". In a twist that surprised/disturbed me to some degree, veteran vocalist/scapegoat/target of ridicule Fred Durst shows up on "Chrysalis" to layer some more straightforward anger over what the song already focuses on. It's a brave move because it's too easy to question the band's motives; is this just a case of using a big name to grab attention? Or does it work? I suppose that depends, like the bulk of what I've heard from The Maension to date, on a unique set of preferences a listener most likely needs to truly get into this stuff.

So, what's the final verdict? Mostly positive and nothing short of outstanding, as Aevolution provides a mixture of what works mainstream and what bubbles underground in a way that I don't think is intentional at all. I just think the DIY roots that the band began with are still prominent in their collective mentality, no matter how many fans they earn or how many big name acts they hit the road with. There's appeal in the material that stretches beyond a "try if you like -----" example; you simply have to be a fan of heavier music, take a listen and see how it hits you. The Maension are, as a result of their mixture of influences and individual contributions, unique amongst their peers in my opinion. And that's your cue.
(Independent 2015)
Reviewed on 2016-01-19 19:29:40 by Kevin Sellers]]>
<![CDATA[ Midwest Soul Xchange - New American Century (2016)]]> Bright and breezy is the best way to describe the debut album, New American Century by Wisconsin-Arizona duo Midwest Soul Xchange. This may bill itself as a work of folk-rock Americana but it is more than that. The guitar lines owe more to classic rock than country, and the male harmonies hark back to days when girls wore pigtails and flounced around in bobbysox and pleated skirts. If that is the impression the opener, "Set a Course for Common Worlds", engenders, it would not be far from the reality though it would fail to tell the full story.

Of course, it would not be out of place to mention the country influence as well. But even on "Roots", the most country influenced song of all, that strummed guitar which opens the track is quickly replaced as the dominant sound by an electronically derived orchestral arrangement. Likewise, the guitar which opens "Truth Attention" may sound like it was taken from an Ennio Morricone score to a Sergio Leone spaghetti western, but it quickly slides into the accompaniment of an atmospheric synthesiser before turning more urban in derivation with its slightly distorted bass and throbbing rhythm.

"Sun Dried" goes even further. There may be a banjo in there but the dominant features are a twirling synthesiser, slide guitar and mantra-like vocals which lead into the main body of the song. Unexpected openings are what Midwest Soul Xchange seem to thrive on. The opening of "Revolt of the Guards" is pure Jon Lord; "Kings among Kings" utilises an accordion to accompany a track which sounds like it could have come straight from the miserablist songbook of Sixteen Horsepower; "Occupy the Piper" begins with the sound of a crowd chanting. "She Flies" and "The Return" are, by contrast, perhaps the most conventional of all.

Much as it is hard to pin down influences, varied as they are, it is equally hard to pigeonhole the music. The description the band themselves give is insufficient to cover the breadth and variety of what is on offer. This is one of those rare vocal albums where the lyrics do not matter - the band could almost sing gibberish nonsense and the music (of which the voice and harmonies form a part) would carry it through. Tempo and rhythm all seem secondary. This is music which seems to flow naturally from the landscape; it all just seems to suited to any environment in which you may care to appreciate it.

The biggest disappointment on the album is "Has Anybody Seen Bob" which sounds as if it was an idea brought across from another band or an earlier set of recordings which were abandoned as unsuitable. Yet perhaps the best is left to last "Four Score and Seven to Go" has an atmospheric sound which slowly builds into a majestic track. The only problem is that it seems to short to get in all that Midwest Soul Xchange wish to do.

New American Century is one of those albums which is suitable to play anywhere, any time, any mood. It encapsulates an entire range of emotions. It is easy and enjoyable to listen to without slipping back into mere wallpaper music. It has innovation and familiarity written across it. There is not much more one could ask from an album

(Self-Released 2016)
Reviewed on 2016-01-19 01:59:29 by Charles Martel]]>
<![CDATA[ Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky - Swan Lake (1976)]]> When I've been asked about works by Tchaikovsky, and I mention Swan Lake, I get an enthusiastic response. The title may have slipped the other person's mind, but everyone has heard at least parts of this ballet at various times. It takes two hours, 35 minutes to listen to all 55 songs. It's well worth the time it takes. It keeps drawing you in for more contemplation. And there's just a sense of power, which comes out through the speakers. In the midst of all the beauty, one can lose sight of what a sad tale this is. Even in the sad stories there are moments of joy and inspiration. The entrance horns alone bring a sense of excitment. And the shifts in the tempo are majestic and hypnotic. The music makes for a treatise on grace, beauty and love. This work is the composer's best. I'm open to listening to other albums to make a comparison. From what I've heard so far, this stands at the top. It brings the most pleasure, as long as I'm not thinking too much of the difficulties the princess experiences. 

The slower moments are a good chance to catch one's breath, when things speed up again. There's always the chance to just contemplate the beauty of the playing at one time and to appreciate the composer's vision. Classical music at its best covers the spectre of human emotion with triumph ringing from the playing. It becomes a tonic to liven up one's day as much as a chance to focus on narrative. The music endures because of a desire in humanity to have something much greater in culture. Tax dollars may always help keep classical music stations and symphonies afloat to some degree. I'm glad there's outlets in the commercial music world via streaming, downloads and even antiquated means to enjoy these recordings. This music is bound to continue to live and thrive in some capacity. 

(EMI 1976)
Reviewed on 2016-01-17 15:36:21 by ]]>
<![CDATA[ Angela Burns - So That You Can Feel Better (mixtape) (2016)]]> Admitting that your new album release is actually mixtape is a brave move. It could easily backfire with people dismissing it as something put together from odd scraps and leftovers. Indeed, it is hard to evaluate "So That You Can Feel Better as a whole, so different are the offerings contained in it. It is as if it is a portfolio in itself - a summary of the artist's work to show to people what she is capable of. It would be easy to dismiss this as a gimmick were it not for the obvious fact that Angela Burns is a talented and versatile singer-songwriter. The only way to treat this, therefore, is not as an album but more like a compilation of new material and do something I rarely do - go through it track by track.

"All Together" which opens the album has something of a split personality. It opens like a Goth, middles like an RnB track and seems to go off key in a really strange section around two minutes forty five in. Burns' vocals go from full-throated and strong, then double tracked, to the sort of feeble, breathy posturing which passes for singing by failed RnB divas. It actually seems like it is a mixtape or a mash up in itself. And to close it off there is a fruity guitar line which sounds like someone else but you cannot remember who.

"It's Sad" sounds like a live performance. It is much slower, piano led with a plaintiff violin weaving across the song. It is more coherent than its predecessor and has an overall better performance - Burns proves she can hit high notes for one thing. If it is a live performance it gets better marks than a single take in a studio because, to be honest, the production quality is poor. "Napoleon" is drawn from the same stock - probably the same session/performance - but has a much more rock ambience to it, led by a squealing guitar line and dominated by more double track vocals.

"Shame Game" also opens with a piano fugue. It remains just voice and piano right the way through, though there are more double tracked vocals. It sounds like a work unfinished. "Haunting" starts off with a heavy sounding guitar then quickly slips back into another piano led song. And while the guitar never leaves the scene, its frequent reappearances sometimes jar with the texture of the song at each point. The title track is perhaps the weakest on the album. The vocal is halfway between singing and rap and swings first closer to one, then to the other. It does not work as well as might have been anticipated and the dreamy segment half way through is misplaced.

"Give It Back" is much better. Burns uses her voice to its greatest effect and the balance between the instruments is at its best and has the clearest and strongest lyric on the whole album. The final track, "Roots" is subtitled a scratch track. It is the most innovative song on the album and has a sinister sound like a children's nursery rhyme written and played by Chucky. It also has a far superior production than most of the other tracks.

The prevalence of double tracked vocals on virtually every track makes me feel that Ms Burns lacks confidence in her vocals. This should not be the case. She has a fine voice, especially when she moves away from the breathy sound. The production is also not good enough. Yet despite these seeming negatives, there is a lot here. Angela Burns' talent is still the unfinished article. The album shows the talent with the rough edges not filed off. It is clear what she is trying to do and it is to be hoped that she succeeds better with her next release.

(Self-Released 2016)
Reviewed on 2016-01-17 03:05:19 by Charles Martel]]>