How we’d missed this performance of River Run by Sunbirds, I don’t know. I want to be in this band.
Filed under: Acoustic | Leave a Comment
Tags: River Run, Sunbirds
‘American (Fever) Dream’ is the third album from Seattle-based piano songsmith Aaron English. Over the past few years buzz has been steadily building in the states, and now it seems Aaron has set his sights on breaking through overseas; England for the English as it were.
The album is a consistent mish-mash of styles. Unfortunately it was delivered to me without any indication of tracklisting, so what follows will be a study of the songs alphabetically. Radical.
‘A Northern Sort of Silence’ opens with atmospheric white noise, reminiscent of Radiohead’s ‘Nice Dream’, before a circular plinky-plonky piano motif enters. Aaron’s vocal rumbles in the foreground, as a trampolining bass-line stabs away in the background. Primary focus here should be on the lyrics, which deserve special attention. Unlike a lot of singer-songwriters you will come across, Aaron’s lyrics have a real poetic quality, packed with nuance and flow. The words are delivered with a punch by confident falsetto in the choruses. The overall auditory package reminds me of a more polished older-brother of Semisonic’s ‘Pleasure EP’; there is a world-weariness, skewed with conviction. The musical strength of this song is in the groove, which is allowed to tacet in the last third, cutting down to choral backing vocals, enabling the piece to float away briefly before kicking back in.
‘Anthem’ starts awash with psychedelic backing vocals delivering dense chords. The main vocal encroaches heavily into Lou Reed territory, with English’s American drawl being highly pronounced. Acoustic guitars provide an energetic double-time backbeat, a four-to-the-floor kick drum underpinning sing-along “dum dum”s. The catchy scatting may be a cheap trick, but it works. Block vocals slide back in, and Aaron’s presumably trademark electric piano makes another appearance. The chorus works very well, a natural ebb and flow with everything moving freely in tandem that is stylistically interesting in contrast to the static verses
‘Believe’ starts well with a distant sample and drums that jump-start the track with an energetic forward momentum, but too soon we are in familiar Americana territory. Lyrically it is too limited, relying heavily on repetition. An eerie slide guitar hovers in the background like the ghost of a tiny bee. One feels that the electric piano could be used a bit more sparsely here, as it clouds the delicate texture somewhat.
In ‘Doves’ the piano feels more vital, and the swing tempo is a welcome change. It gives the album some breathing room, beginning with a sparse arangment. Backing vocals bark like a sympathetic mob. The atmospherics do not detract from the initial impact, and the melody meanders and wanders creating a sensation that is heartfelt, and never over-done. The lyric “I’m coming down like a dove” will no doubt raise a titter between the Shooting Stars fans amongst you, but the vocals here showcase how much more impressive Aaron’s voice is when it reaches the middle and higher registers, enthralling as the low, gravelly delivery is. This will no doubt be the highlight of the live shows.
‘God Bless You and Your Man’ is a bit of a mixed gem. I assume Aaron is not a great UB40 admirer. The press release likens this track to Van Morrison, so if you imagine those two acts fused you might get somewhere close to visualising this track. Once again English is in his higher register here, which feels more organic, the overall vocal timbre occasionally morphing into the lovechild of Robert Plant and Brandon Flowers for brief instances. Some of the lyrics rely on primary school rhyming, but it’s all delivered with feeling. The brass is tastefully arranged, and not the constant Ronson-esque barrage that I feared it would develop into. The upbeat organ tends to push the track too far into the novelty spectrum for it to be entirely convincing.
‘Peace’ is an apt title for this low-key piano number. There harmony follows standard pop progressions, but the vocal and lyrics are hugely engaging. Blasts of brass and wind add vitality and colour, cutting through the air like a military fanfare.
‘Sleight of Heart’ is a mood piece, propelled by groovy percussion and bass. Musically it is fairly static, so a more adventurous vocal melody would be appreciated here, but when Aaron goes for those big notes, there is a hint of Bono at his best. Synthy drip-drops in the background add more vibrancy to the texture, but it never moves too far away from the initial musical sentiment.
Light piano twinklings and low-passed drums add rhythmic definition to ‘The Name of this Song is a Secret’, which rounds off the album nicely.
‘American (Fever) Dream’ showcases a talent that is very real and proficient; he knows his strengths and he sticks to them. It would be good to see a bit more musical development, and maybe even a few pop hooks to allow the music to burrow into your brain, but what Aaron English has achieved here will surely fill you with much deserved admiration and respect.
Filed under: Album Review, Americana | 3 Comments
Jazz musician Bill Ortiz’ list of credentials is an impressive read; Destiny’s Child, Tito Puente, Herbie Hancock, Lauryn Hill, Quincy Jones and Beyonce all make an appearance. With stars of this level of aptitude vying for his talents you’d be forgiven for displaying a sense of dubiety as to whether or not his solo efforts will be up to scratch.
Taken from the recently released ‘From Where I Stand’, ‘Ease My Mind’ is a soulful slice of R&B the showcases precisely why he is held in such high regard by his contemporaries.
From the churning introduction you are aware that you’re never going to wander too far from a comfortable listening experience, but it is within the intricacies of the composition that you will discover the real gold.
The main momentum of the groove is kept in order by a chugging wah-wah guitar and solid percussive backbeat; a perpetual spine from which the other musicians can freely explore the melodic depths of their instruments. The off-centre and oft dissonant chord stabs provided by the keys enable Bill’s signature trumpet to meander across the musical landscape, never quite coming to the fore with a vital motif or progression, but constantly painting colour and vibrancy into the arrangement.
The chromatic, frog-leaping bebop bass line acts as a dynamic counterpoint to the vocals, which remain as laidback and chilled as the musical bed upon which they rest.
There are times when the melodic lines seem a trifle cluttered, but the relative sparseness of the parts ensures that there is always room for the music to breathe. At the end the trumpet is finally given a chance to shine and the Ortiz stamp is at last plastered on the track.
‘Ease My Mind’ isn’t a classic ‘single’ as such; there are no major hooks to speak of, either musically or lyrically. It seems more of a mood piece, intent on evoking a sense of wistful desire, which it certainly succeeds in doing.
Bill can be found touring with Santana in Europe and the UK in the summer of 2010, and you can hear more of his work at www.myspace.com/billortizmusic
Filed under: Single Review | 2 Comments
Tags: Bill Ortiz, Ease My Mind
Amanda Abizaid’s name might not be instantly familiar in good old Blighty, but her vocal talents may well ring as few bells to a certain demographic; namely fans of hit TV shows Smallville, One Tree Hill, and Charmed. Her appearances on these programmes have gained her mass appraisal in America, so chances are that reviews of her new album ‘This Life’ (Released September 15th 2010) shall continue with the same unbridled positivity.
Opener ‘Blue Star Red Sky’ bursts straight in with an effortless sense of cool; vocal stabs and circular beats providing the backdrop to a Beck-esque slice of conversational drawl. Dub bass underpins a swirling cloud of voice, samples and sax. The melodies are strong and performed with an ounce of nonchalance, and the applied distortion recalls The Breeders.
‘Wash Me’ starts on safer ground; acoustic guitars twang, and untreated vocals evoke a more graspable singer-songwriter ethic. The draping of melody over Americana-tinted harmony is not unlike Weezer, although the post-punk undertones bring the results closer to PJ Harvey or Meredith Brooks. Cluttered beats and glittering guitars add to a Bollywood ending, the juxtaposition of Indie ballad and Bangra soundtrack working superbly competently. The Americana tradition is continued in “Undivided”, but this time accentuated by fluttering flutes and staccato keyboard brass that add colouration to the otherwise static rock set up.
“Believe It” comes as a welcome change; a wistful country-and-western barroom ballad that is oddly reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ and a Shania Twain tear jerker. It’s a very effective piece; the subtle harmonic modulations allowing the music to maintain momentum, while the meandering piano ensures that the backing is allowed to flex and shimmer underneath a powerfully understated vocal.
“How Can I Explain” begins with a mix of trippy delayed brass and prison harmonica, underpinned by an equally mesmerising drum groove. The arrangements here are far more intricate than we have yet seen; melody atop melody creating a soothing and satisfying wash of texture that acts as a creative counterbalance to the chugging rhythm, which is the spine of a song that could well be an Indie anthem in another universe.
Title track “This Life” is the centre piece of the album; it’s musically accessible (capoed open-chords, rim shots and big choruses), as well as lyrically gripping (big American clichés, emotional turmoil), and these combined factors indicate that this will be the one to watch (or listen) out for underscoring some turbulent high school relationship. It’s pretty flawless…and just plain pretty. But more importantly it showcases Amanda’s real skill and song-writing talent.
“How Much We’re Alike” reprises the trip-hop circular drumming, twangy guitars and flatteringly flitting fluttery flutes, but introduces a new device; layered vocal harmonies. The vocals on the album are all strong, but the block choral parts show another side to Amanda’s voice: its depth of timbre and flexibility.
“My Friend” is another touching ballad; yet again conversational and slightly simplistic, but the dynamic build gives it a sense of musical depth that rounds off the album. One feels that there is more musical ground that could be covered here, especially as it clocks in at 03:45, finishing just when it feels like the song is about to lift into new sonic territory.
All in all “This Life” is a solid release. By no means is it ground breaking, but the song-craft and musicianship is impressive, and most importantly Amanda’s voice remains the salient reason for her mass-appeal, and it is to be assumed that the album will be snapped up by those who recognise her talents.
Filed under: Album Review | 1 Comment
Tags: Amanda Abazaid, This Life
After self-releasing two very limited edition singles last year, Young Rebel Set return with an EP full of new material which showcases the depth to the band’s songwriting canon & demonstrates why they’re so hotly tipped for this year. The self-produced EP is set for release through the band’s own label – Our Broadcast – and ‘Won’t Get Up Again’ is mixed by Mike Crossey (Arctic Monkeys, The Coral).
The seven-piece are also making live favourite “Borders” available for free exclusively via this official link: http://youngrebelset.mp3signup.com/
Young Rebel Set are currently on a mammoth UK tour which sees them take in 24 venues over March & April that will steadily build on the buzz that has been spilling over from the North East into the rest of the UK.
Breaking out of their own native scene where they’ve built a huge following, Young Rebel Set’s songs are the sound of disenchanted, literate, working class young men in Northern Britain in 2010, looking for a means of escape through the music they love. Fronted by Matty Chipchase, all seven members of the band have been friends since school and include two sets of brothers, further cementing the gang spirit.
‘Wont Get Up Again’ is another outstanding anthem from Young Rebel Set, blending the band’s love of folk and punk into a rousing tale of stumbling down the wrong path. Their love for Dylan can be seen on ‘Bagatelle’ which highlights the more delicate side of Chipchase’s vocals and the band’s subtle musicianship. And with ‘Rosie’ they tell the story of a woman trying to change her wayward ways. Matty’s strong accent is as ever present, and these songs could come from nowhere else but the North East of England, adding to the band’s collective charm and individuality.
Tue 13th April – The Rainbow, Birmingham
Wed 14th April – Ruby Lounge, Manchester
Thu 15th April – Aldephi, Hull
Fri 16th April – Barfly, Cardiff
Sat 17th April – Lennons, Southampton
Sun 18th April – Oakford Social, Reading (Free show)
Mon 19th April – Barfly, London
Wed 21st April – Music Café, Leicester
Fri 30th April – Independent, Sunderland
Sat 1st May – Live @ Leeds Festival, Leeds
Filed under: Single Review | Leave a Comment
Tags: Young Rebel Set
Øya Festival won the Green ‘n’ Clean Award at the European Festival Awards and now officially the greenest festival in Europe, has added The National, Air, Fucked Up, Trash Talk and Imperial State Electric to its growing line up.
Last December, Øya was named Oslo’s greenest business in 2009 by Grønn Hverdag (Green Living), a network of people, groups and organizations working together to raise consciousness about environmental choices in everyday life.
Øya is held in a medieval park, a picturesque spot surrounded by sandy beaches, the Oslo Fjords, the green Ekeberg Hill and the Oslo skyline. Rooted deep in history, the medieval park is also the place where the capital of Norway was founded a thousand years ago. For 4 days in the middle of August, the Medieval Park in Oslo is transformed into an arena for musical, visual and cross-cultural performances. The Øya Festival is an energetic and symbiotic experience with a unique atmosphere and audience that bares resemblance to none other.
Amidst the festival area of trees, green grass and water, the festival is well equipped with stages, shopping streets and small shops serving food and drink. The site creates an exciting rendezvous between nature and culture, being just a short walk from the city centre of Oslo.
10th-14th August 2010 – Middelalderparken, Oslo
M.I.A (US), Pavement (US), Iggy & The Stooges (US), Paul Weller (UK), LCD Soundsystem (US), Robyn (SW), Tony Allen (NG), Big Boi (US), La Roux (UK), The XX (UK), Q – Tip (US), Marina & The Diamonds (UK), Local Natives (US), Jonsi (of Sigur Ros) (ICD), Panda Bear (US), Miike Snow (SW), Sleigh Bells (US), Tune-Yards (US), Kind Midas Sound (UK), Girls (US), Fools Gold (US), Raekwon (US), Cymbals Eat Guitars (US), The Gaslight Anthem (US), Major Lazer (US/UK), Lindstrøm & Christabelle (NO), Converge (US), Surfer Blood (US),
Serena Maneesh (NO), Casiokids (NO)
Filed under: News, Single Review | Leave a Comment
Tags: Øya Festival