Born in Wichita Kansas, JJ McGuigan is a songwriter focused on “lyrical creation.” His latest EP titled “Dissociative” showcases his songwriting ability. What’s refreshing about JJ’s music is that he isn’t just another one man band trying to mediocrely do too many things himself. He sticks to what he’s good at and does it well, leaving other parts of the song to be handled by those with corresponding skill sets. “Dissociative” strikes me as quality and “grown up” alternative rock for people who have grown out of teen angst but still grapple with emotions. The guitar tone has a really nice clean and bright shine to it without any abrasive elements. Some tracks like “Letter” have a mellow, echoey vibe which is kind of relaxing. My favorite track on the EP is probably “Home,” which is peppy and features some highly creative guitar work.
I don’t know much about S-EM-C other than that she’s a “recording artist specializing in Hip-Hop, R&B and Pop.” I had a good feeling about her new single “On the Go” (Blackhawk Records) when I saw that the cover featured the Delorean from the original Back to the Future. The production quality of “On the Go” is exceptional for an indie hip hop song. What I most enjoyed about this track was the backing music, which was smooth and entrancing, almost hypnotic at times. Not the kind of hypnotic that puts you to sleep, but the sort of late night trance you can get into on the dance floor with the right music playing. S-EM-C is also a capable rapper and able to keep the pace with occasionally complex beats.
For a bit of background:
Kobi Arad, a professional Israeli-American musician who resides in New York, performs and composes in such noted NYC establishments as Blue Note, Jazz at Lincoln Center and City Winery. Kobi has collaborated with Stevie Wonder (a co-production with Stevie Wonder’s manager, Stephanie Andrews and Stevie himself.) Kobi obtained a Doctorate in Music from the New England Conservatory and has released over 20 self-titled CDs. He has participated in different aired panels and interviews on IBA (Israeli national radio). In 2014, Kobi Arad received an award from the Israeli government for special excellence in Jazz and creative improvisation. Recently, Claes Nobel requested that Arad assemble 21 Grammy winners and nominees and produce them in Los Angeles with a band called Ganda Boys. His song ‘Forever’ recently won Silver Medal for Exceptional Achievement from Global Music Awards.
Kobi’s latest endeavor is his new CD “Ellington Upside Down,” which is something of a worthy musical homage to the late great Duke Ellington. It doesn’t take much listening to recognize that Arad is an excellent piano player and professional composer. What I’m also impressed by though is the recording technique, which manages to capture an authentic 20th century Jazz ambiance. A lot of people can produce great sounding jazz music, but these songs actually feel like you’re there experiencing the real thing. They have an organic, analog quality to them. Musically, Kobi works the keys with precision and lightning speed. This is a very high quality release and an admirable tribute that lives up to the name it’s intended to honor.
Aaron Beri, an Australian-based singer/songwriter, recently released and is promoting his debut album, Avalanche. The album itself features nine tracks, but we’ll be focusing on the lead song, “Connected.” It’s reverberating, spacey synthpop but with more of an R&B twist. The best way to describe it would be if you combined Erasure’s music with a contemporary Top 40 pop vocalist. Beri is clearly a professional quality singer and isn’t shy about singing about personal subjects like the delicate intricacies of relationships. when discussing his album he reveals that he “named it Avalanche as the tracks are about the cold and destructive side of love.” Knowing this is key to understanding the song, Connected. It’s naturally the first track on the album, because forming a strong connection with someone is often the first stage of a relationship. The Avalanche comes later, and if the connection forged was/is strong enough…the love will endure the collapse.
Often times when I review albums from certain genres I don’t normally have much familiarity with, I have to try and put myself in the artist’s shoes, imagine their target audience and try to get a feel for what it is they’re going for and to what extent they’re achieving their desired sound. However, in the case of Canadian based singer/songwriter Ed Roman’s new album “Red Omen,” I don’t really have to do any of that because his music is the sort of thing I actually like and listen to. He describes it as an “earthy, funky and magical mix of music,” which seems accurate to me. It comes across as “funky folk.” It’s occasionally fun, sometimes serious/sad but always down to earth and above all…well made.
Side note: When I saw the name “Ed Roman” I thought it seemed familiar, because I remembered a somewhat infamous guitar maker with the same name ( he died several years ago.) This is not the same guy obviously.
Anyhow, Ed Roman’s “Red Omen” is a gem of an album. The title track is probably my second favorite song on it. It reminds me a little bit of quirky 90′s indie pop songs and stuff like The Aquabats. It is creative, fun, and impressively performed by the standards of this genre of music. Another standout track is “time itself” with it’s psychedelic backing that almost gives you the actual sensation of traveling in time (I can only speculate.) The best song though is “I Wish the Wolfman Was Back,” which should be an instant classic. Great work by Ed Roman. I enjoyed this music thoroughly and expect to hear more about this guy in the future.
Buni Milani’s new single “Ride” has an almost 80′s power girl rock or new wave vibe, which is interesting because Buni recently released a project that was called “The New Wave” (which may or not have anything to do with new wave music from the 80s.) The backing music is commanding and action packed. Producer Spider Deuce did a great job in putting all this together to form a solid track. Milani for her part carries the song well. Her vocals come off as passionate and emotive enough to engage the listener and make them feel like they are right there along for the ride.
One thing that impressed me right off the bat with Henry Metal’s “The Maestro Abides” is how authentic it is. This captures the exact sound of metal as I remember it was when I liked it in the late 80′s, early 90s. Listening to the track “Rock N’ Roll Rebel” made me feel like I was transported back to a late summer evening in 1989 watching Return of the Living Dead II on HBO, enjoying some pop secret microvave popcorn. Henry Metal’s music is refreshingly melodic in a way that most metal isn’t today. The vocals on “The Maestro Abides” are expressive and emotive.
When listening, one understands that the artist here doesn’t merely “like” metal but actually understands metal and how to achieve the precise tone technically at every level. Often times bands and solo artists might be influenced by a particular genre, but their attempt to emulate or channel the sound ultimately spins off into something similar but not quite what they were going for (although sometimes still great.) What Henry Metal manages to do is what every artist aspires to. He actually achieves the sound he appears to be striving for and does it quite proficiently.
Alexander Howard’s new single “Mount Rushmore” is set for July 4th release. According to Alexander, the song loosely follows the events of an eventful and boisterous night in Las Vegas, with the participants trying to maintain a “stone face” while downing “$3 shots of nameless whiskey.” This track is radio ready, and it is definitely a peppy party jam. i could actually picture this being played in casinos and becoming some kind of contemporary Vegas pop classic. The style of the song is noteworthy as well. It’s action packed and Howard sings impressively, his vocals maneuvering complicated rhythms with perfect timing while maintaining his poise and upbeat personality. Setting aside the carefree subject matter, this is what well-made, intelligent pop music sounds like.
Andrew Mancilla’s new album “Subtractive Color” is an impressive pop endeavor. The first song, “Rewire” is well placed as an opening track, as it builds quickly and the electronic energy kicks in. His vocals are goo too, like really good. In fact I’d be willing to bet he’s a better natural singer and has much more talent than most of the existing pop stars that populate the genre he’s looking to infiltrate. The more I listened to his album the more I appreciated how artistic it is. While it has elements of R&B, it is not defined by them. A lot of these jams are upbeat combine qualitie of 80′s pop with a few different contemporary styles. The song “Tell Her” (probably my favorite track on the album) is a great example of this. Overall, this album is excellent.
Dublin, Ireland based Hip hop artist Mythill Grim’s new track “Comfortable” has an avant garde quality to it. He manages to to avoid the mistakes other rappers make. He doesn’t come across as overly flashy or flamboyant and his style is relatively nuanced and low key (coincidentally a producer who goes by the name Lowkey is credited with the production.) Rather than being a tryhard that promotes a transparently frivolous image of himself, Grim focuses on substantive lyrics which tell a dark and brooding story. “Comfortable” is refreshingly serious and thought provoking compared to most hip hop I come across. It is a very personal song. Mythill’s flow is smooth and his tone is that of a slightly jaded lover or friend but one who is still coherent enough to explain his perspective logically and clearly.
As the opening title credits and aesthetics to the video suggest, this is almost more of a short art film than a music video. In fact, if there were no music at all it would still pass for a pretty interesting little abstract horror movie. The color usage is intentionally bleak, at times almost reminiscent of gritty horror films set in children’s insane asylums. It utilizes a lot of “glitch” type 80s and 90s effects but only subtly. It never really goes into full on “vaporwave” territory. It’s tough to find any real flaws with this other than it would be great if it were longer, due to the nature of the storylike presentation. However, it states that this is only part I, so it’s likely there will be more unfolding here over time. Grim is just keeping us hanging and waiting for the next installment of this jam.