Released on Valentine’s Day, Ups & Downs of Love is a new mixtape from a Buffalo, NY based hip hop artist going by the name Conscious. As the title suggests, the songs thematically alternate between the high, euphoric aspects of love and the downtrodden episodes of heartbreak and depression. The production quality here is pretty good, though I prefer the vocal effects on some tracks more than others. Let Me In particularly stands out as one of the best tracks on here, with the vocals coming through smoothly and crisply and not tinkered with very much. That’s the point in listening to this where I felt like, “Wow, this guy really has something here.”
As far as the instrumental backing, the final track You & Me is my favorite. It features a bouncy, dreamlike synth beat, reminiscent of video game music. This mixtape fuses elements of hip hop, R&B and pop. Conscious seems like he’s on the right track with this mixtape. Artistically, creating a themed album in which the songs act as components within an overall structure which itself is part of the art, is a good move. It adds a dimension of vision and thoughtfulness that you don’t often see in any plain old mixtape.
A Cave in the Inside is the latest album from Present Paradox, an artist located in Dortmund, Germany. This music could best be described as avant garde pop or maybe ambient pop. The songs have a warm analog quality to them, featuring some subtle noise and hiss that enhance the recording and contribute to the overall ambiance. I could tell right away with the psychedelic intro to the first track, Nightwalk, that this album was going to be right up my alley, and the rest of the song did not disappoint. In fact, the song builds into something even better as it goes on, adding drums and vocals into to the mix. Lots of times this kind of music can be ruined by out of place or obnoxious vocals, but in this case the vocals had just the right tone and effects. The singer has the right voice, without any annoying quirks or attitude. The artist took the song exactly where I expected (and wanted it to go,) right smack dab into a psychedelic, kaleidoscopic dreamland.
The album has a very 60′s feel to it, with theatrically titled songs like Magical Twist and Masquerade, which musically could be compared to bands like The Pretty Things. I suppose younger people might relate it to a more contemporary sound like early Radiohead or even Muse, but I’m not a huge fan of those bands, and in my opinion these songs are better and have a more authentic artistic feel. The title track, A Cave In the Inside definitely gives off a contemporary, European flavored indie pop vibe. I very much enjoyed this album, and I highly recommend it.
Originally from Pittsburgh, and having walked away from a career in engineering, Matt Westin would have seemed to be an rather unlikely prospect for country music artist. Yet here he is. Admittedly I was expecting something rather cliche when I came upon his new single Our Redneck of the Woods, (from his debut album, Legacy) but while it does contain some familiar country music tropes about what rednecks like, the song and lyrics are much more detailed and actually pretty epic. With choice lines like “If a politician came out here right now, we might hook his ass up to a plow,” this track has potential to be a hit. It is just one of those songs where you listen and could imagine it being played everywhere, due to the catchy zingers. Musically speaking, the guitar work here is very good, as it is on most country albums, with lots of delightful twang and note bending. Westin is a capable singer, his relatively deep and authoritative voice matching the confident tone of the song. This is a worthwhile country song with highly entertaining lyrics.
Wilmington, Delaware based gospel and R&B singer Dan Kenneth’s latest song, From the Heart is aptly titled work of passion. Kenneth really does sing as if he means it, and you can feel the emotion in every note. With the vocals out front up against a minimalistic piano backing, he doesn’t hide anything in this mix. He lays it all out there for you. Like most gospel singers, this guy has a great voice and uses it to its maximum potential. What’s really refreshing about this release though is that there are no gimmicks, no fake attitude and no posturing. From the Heart has a genuine quality about it that’s missing in so much of today’s music.
Skeletons is a new single from Ezla, (an artist originally from Texas but now based in Nashville.) Ezla describes her music as “hypnotic pop,” and Skeletons absolutely lives up to this characterization. I would add that the both the song and video have a certain lounge music quality. In fact, Ezla’s style comes across as that of a 21st century, indie lounge singer. Her music is assertive and delivered with the sass of a strong female personality, yet always with a smile. The atmosphere is dark and brooding, like an out of the way night club you visit when you’re up to no good. Her voice is naturally sensual, and easy on the ears. It would in fact be very easy to be hypnotized by this music.
At first glance, you might think contemporary singer/songwriter Ashley J is just another pretty pop music performer, but she actually earned a BA degree in Business Law. She really can sing, too. Her latest single, “Satisfied” is a kind of elegant pop song, featuring a light and cerebral backing track. It has an avant garde quality, aided by her celestial voice and Aphrodite-like command of the heavens. This song has more in common with Björk than with Jessica Simpson or Britney Spears, and that is a good thing. Ashley J exhibits some real potential here.
Jarel Portman’s new track, Runaway Blues (from the album, Supersonic) is an awesome rock/blues song which has a psychedelic quality to it, particularly the backing instrumentals. The guitars have a late 60s-early 70s kind of tone, reminiscent of bands like The Pretty Things. Seriously, the vibrato on this jam is killer. The song features some solid vocals also, especially considering this kind of music is difficult to sing well. Performed with passion and impeccable timing, Runaway Blues comes off like the work of veteran musical pros. Expect to hear more stuff from this guy.
Fiesta is a new single from Canadian bass/house duo, Diemetic. It’s an upbeat, party jam that mixes elements of hip hop and dance. It kind of reminds me of a lot of those old 90′s dance mix cds like Club Mix 96. The music is just very fun and lively. It actually gives you energy and puts out a very positive and carefree vibe that’s lacking in so much of today’s artistry. The production on this track is impressive, pretty much major label quality. The song also isn’t overly repetitive. It’s fairly dynamic, with a lot frequent changes throughout the track to keep things fresh and keep the action going.
Band of the Hawk is back with another impressive jam and great example of collaboration done effectively. Dunno Wut To Believe In is a politically charged song which deals loosely with the current political climate and some of the hot button social issues of our time that never quite seem to go away. Setting aside the song’s message, these are all very skilled rappers. There are multiple artists affiliated with this song, so it’s tough to tell who’s who to give proper shoutouts and recognition, but what’s interesting is that they each have distinctive delivery styles, and even the tone of voice is substantially different…which adds something to the song. My favorite section is probably the middle one which features lyrics like Livin’ in the screenshot culture, snakes and vultures. The rapper in this segment is particularly crisp in his timing and diction. These guys all work well together though, and each adds a component to the track giving it another dimension.
Singer-Songwriter Nina Söderquist has released a new ballad. It’s performed as a duet featuring Nina and fellow singer Björn Skifs. As you may be able to ascertain from the title, it’s a song about a couple breaking up, with the mistakes having made by each partner being too much for the relationship to overcome, and it’s time to call it quits or “see it through” (to its conclusion I imagine.) One great thing about this song, is that these are two very talented, professional singers. This type of music is not easy to perform unless you really know what you’re doing. You just can’t fake your way through these kinds of vocals, the way one can with other styles of music. The pacing of the song is mellow but not depressing (even with the song’s bleak theme.) This track reminds me of the great light rock classic duets of the 70′s and 80′s. Nina and Björn have done an excellent job with this.