FEATURE: A New Wave- Radio Adage




A New Wave



Radio Adage



OVER the last few years, I have documented a few ambitions and desires…

across these pages.  From albums to charities:  I plan on achieving them all given enough time and passion.  Whilst all of that will arrive in time, for now, I am looking at something very much needed at the moment:  A radio station that reflects the needs of all music-loving listening.  I feel radio is a form of entertainment that is declining- or less popular than it was years ago- and too many younger people are relying on the Internet and social media.  How many of us listen to the radio day-to-day?  I bet those who do listen to radio- in the majority at least- are going to be slightly ‘older’.  Music is something that unites us all- every one of us has an interest in it at least- and the most logical medium for fueling that desire should be radio.  It is the most efficient and disciplined way of ensuring a wide array of songs reaches a large listening audience.  The problem is this:  How many truly great radio stations exist?

I have always found local radio a rather depressing fare- I’m sure they are good local stations around- that play a very limited range of songs- with so many negatives and limitations.  Aside from local radio, there are the mainstream boys.  The B.B.C. stations- Radio 2, 1 and 6 Music- very much have a designated and particular audience.  As such, those stations have a particular sound and look:  Often those stations push away a large sector of listeners for some reason.  I have always found Radio 1 great when it comes to mainstream’s new artists- those that are just starting to ascend to the big leagues- but lackluster when it comes to older music and legendary acts.  Conversely, Radio 2 is great at proffering the existing order:  Perhaps not quite as effective when it comes the best and brightest new acts.  While Radio 2 showcases upcoming talent, I find the artists (they highlight and push) are Pop/Folk-based.  6 Music is perhaps the finest (of the B.B.C. stations) when it comes to covering the spread.  Ensuring older music is kept very much alive:  The guys and gals share their passion for music seven days a week.  Quite good at showcasing some stunning new musicians; here is a station with a bit more edge and variation.

Away from the B.B.C. stations- and the downsides most of the stations possess- there are some great (London-based) possibilities.  Away from the Pop-driven drivel (editiorialising a bit) of Magic F.M., Heart Radio and Capital F.M. – surely enough puerile crap for the teenage market- there are more reputable and impressive options.  Whilst X.F.M. has bitten the dust- re-branded as X Radio- there are drawbacks to this station.  I love the official website- eye-catching and informative; impressive and clear- there is some great music played, for sure.  The guitar-driven songs have a lot of quality but, given the narrow confines, lack that diversity and variation.  A lot of attention is given to its ‘star’ D.J., Chris Moyles.  Having ‘left’ Radio 1- the controversy-seeking D.J. was playing on borrowed time- the acquired tones of Moyles have transferred to X Radio.  I have always found him odious and obnoxiously loud:  Do you want your banner D.J. having these ‘qualities’?  Aside from the homogenised music, the roster of presenters on the station is not as appealing as they could be.  That leaves one other option:  The mighty and evergreen Absolute Radio.

There are negatives and issues with Absolute Radio.  They are a commercial station, and as such, have to interrupt the music with adverts- the most nauseating and irritating adverts across all the land.  The station dedicates too much time to the same kind of music.  Whilst Absolute Radio plays some exceptional sounds- across various decades and genres- there is still an issue with regards predictability.  They have a core/desired audience- the young listeners who want the edge of Radio 1 with the heart of Radio 2- and ensure the music played satisfies them.  You get a lot of the same acts cropping up- Coldplay, Foo Fighters and Blur- that conform to public tastes and needs.  The problem is, there is a whole world of music being overlooked.  Absolute Radio has sister stations- Absolute ‘80s, ‘90s etc.- that makes sure various decades are given a thorough investigation.  That is perhaps an issue:  Why create so many sub-stations for particular decades/genres?  There are enough hours in the day to give every decade and genre a good show- and ensure the playlists are not too samey and stilted.

Given my reticence, Absolute Radio boasts a huge amount of highs:  It is my favourite stations for a very good reason.  It is the music itself that impresses me:  You get a lot of depth and variation; so many classic tunes mixed alongside some rare gems.  Based in Soho- arguably the cultural centre of London- you can hear and feel the vibes of the city reflected in the presenters.  Energetic, funny and engaging:  Every day you tune in knowing you will smile and be entertained.  Perhaps not boasting enough diversity- in terms of race and age- you get D.J.s that have a huge passion for music and connect with the listener.  I love Frank Skinner’s show (Saturday mornings from 8) and find him peerless in terms of humour and surprise:  An enormously talented human that is insanely funny and sharp.  Andy Bush and Leona Graham are terrific D.J.s that gives me a good chuckle, too.  My favourite D.J. is Christian O’Connell:  Perhaps the station’s star hosting the flagship show (The Christian O’Connell Breakfast Show).  The team he has- Richey, Faye etc. – have a terrific bond and the banter is infectious.  Playing great music and bringing the listeners in- there are various competitions and phone-ins- it is the perfect way to kick-start the morning.  The way a radio show should sound:  More D.J.s need to listen to Christian O’Connell.  Absolute Radio has been the most influential radio station to me- long may their monarchy reign and inspire.

Aside from the two genuinely great- my view; others may disagree- stations, Absolute Radio and B.B.C. 6 Music, what else is there?  If you want to find a station that addresses the negatives of the aforementioned- Absolute’s lack of true range; B.B.C. 6 Music’s limitations- then you have a hard time.  Internet radio is a massive and busy jungle that offers enough choice.  What I find- when it comes to finding a broad station- is the narrowness and niche nature of the stations.  There are very few stations that incorporate the best elements of ‘mainstream’ radio- whilst stretching it out and bringing more listeners into the fold.  I love stations like Channel Radio- http://www.channelradio.co.uk- who seem to be leading the way for the underground.  The presenters here have a shared love for great music and diversity- covering genres like Jazz and Rock- and gave me the impetus for my own station:  Radio Adage.

Aside from some Absolute Radio similarities- a station beginning with the letter ‘a’ for one- there will be a lot of differences.  I love Radio X’s website- seems like a strange point- but is so detailed and informative- easy on the eye and great to navigate.  That will be the building block for Radio Adage:  Ensuring the homepage is equally impressive and brilliant.  The aim of the station is to have that mainstream/long-term appeal:  Not just confine itself to digital/underground realms.  Whilst it is important to have a core following- and broadcasting is its own reward- I want the station to have the chance to nestle alongside Absolute Radio and X Radio.  Here’s how I want it to look:



This is one of the most important foundations and considerations.  The voices (and faces) of radio:  It is crucial to get the mix right and have some likable and popular presenters.  The reason I love stations like Absolute Radio and Channel Radio is the inimitable mix of humour, passion and personality.  Absolute’ pillars like Christian O’Connell, Frank Skinner and Leona Graham have their own qualities and highs- the comedy and wonderfully rich voices (Leona on this one) – and this is something I want to capture (read: steal).  If the presenters for a station are not entertaining/warm; then you will not have a wide listenership and appeal.  One of the reasons I dislike so many stations (local radio particularly) the lack of good D.J.s.  Even X Radio has some great presenters- Absolute Radio and 6 Music are the finest- and it is paramount the people you hear on the station get the listeners hooked and keep coming back.  It is vital- when it comes to Adage Radio- to have diversity and quality there.  Probably starting out with a few D.J.s- I am trying to go for 10; it may be a little unrealistic- it is hoped more will join in time.  I want to find D.J.s that is funny, witty and passionate.  If I can find my own Frank Skinner and Christian O’Connell, then that would be ideal.  Essentially, I do not want D.J.s that is too young and inexperienced:  Personality is more important than age/youthfulness.

One of the things I want to do is have a better spread of races and gender.  Not positively discriminating- and trying to rebel against the lack of diversity in the entertainment industry- but modern radio is too white and ageist.  In addition to younger D.J.s- early-20s to mid-30s- I want to have some older shoulders.  Given the recent passing of Terry Wogan- a stalwart of radio and legend- it would be terrific to have an experienced D.J. on board.  I also want more women on the station.  There are stations that have a few female D.J.s, although not enough.  In that respect, more black and Asian faces need to be heard:  Not doing it for the sake of equality; it would give the station more depth and appeal.  The station will broadcast 24-hours a day, and as such, would probably (in the earliest days) sees some international D.J.s join.  Between the hours of 11pm and 6am (the last evening show and breakfast show) I want Australian and American D.J.s take over and broadcast.  Starting in Brisbane (and throughout Australia) I have a guy in mind:  By the same token, there are a couple of American options.  I want warmth and wit to sit alongside a genuine passion and flair for music.  D.J.s that has their ear to the ground of new music- those unsigned and on social media- would meet with presenters that know music’s history- willing to spin songs from the ‘50s and ‘60s.



This is the centerpiece of any radio station:  The music you play on a daily basis.  The reason I dislike some stations- and love others- is what they play.  The reason for getting this station going- aside from the need to fill a gap- is ensuring the best new music is featured- in addition to playing a better range of older material.  Aside from local radio and Internet brands:  Few radio stations feature music by brand-new artists.  I do not mean the acts that are coming through the mainstream- although they will feature too- but those without a record deal or trying to crack their way in.  Throughout the world, there are a wealth of terrific bands and acts that make waves across social media- they have to struggle to get radio play and attention.  It is not fair they have to rely on local radio- and its narrow listener-ship and potential- and there should be a platform for them to get their voices heard.

Aside from the brand-new music- they will get a big market-share of the playlists- it is vital to keep existing music in the forefront.  Whilst a lot of stations have to fit into a mould/target audience; I feel there is a lot of compartmentalisation and limitations.  The big boys of radio focus on guitar-driven music and Alternative sounds.  While you get a lot of great music played:  I find too few stations do not go far enough and negate certain genres.  There are plenty of great Jazz artists and terrific tracks from the ‘90s that are never played.  Why can you not put these on one station?  Some great stations do have sections dedicated to various genres/decades:  This can often mean listeners avoiding certain times.  It would be much wiser incorporating music together to get a more variegated and diverse playlist.



Each section/D.J. would have their own brand/sound.  I want each segment to have a very distinct feel and not all sound the same.  From the morning show to late-night shows:  The station will have originality and familiarity bonded together.  It is important new bands and artists are allowed to play/perform live- like local radio stations and Internet radio- in addition to existing artists.  While it may take time for Radio Adage to get clique and a name- thus meaning mainstay acts want to perform- there is no reason why international acts cannot feature.  You never hear many acts outside the U.K. performing on our radio stations.  Whether in the studio- or from their home locations- there needs to be more attention given to non-British artists.

Completions, phone-ins and listener interaction are vital, and because of this, the station will bring them in and involve people in the day-to-day processes.  Whilst ‘Adage will start as an Internet-only station- hopefully, it can become digital in time- the listeners will be able to call and join in the fun.  Some stations are slipshod when it comes to range and interesting features.  Radio Adage will go onto the street and highlight great local bars, attractions and things to watch.  I hope Radio Adage will find itself in London have quite a London-centric feel.  Vibing from the cosmopolitanism and diversity of the city:  There would be a good deal of features that brings the city and music together.  I want an annual concert- raising money for charity- to feature the best new acts coming through.  On the charity front, the station- and website particularly- would have charity initiatives and events happening regularly.  I want Radio Adage to be more about music.



With no studio booked/found yet, the early days of the station will be wherever is feasible and economical.  In time, I want to be based in London:  Preferably around Soho/Piccadilly; it would be in the beating heart of the city- not just confined to London.  The hope it to get the brand known across the U.S. and Australia- as far around the globe as possible.  It would be great to have a very modern and large-ish studio to give the station the breath and space it needs.  I understand a reality check and sense of confinement needs to happen in the fledgling days/weeks etc.  In time- and when the reputation is built- it would be great to have an established base in London.



To get the station started, there are going to be logistical challenges and a lot of planning.  Of course, things like broadcasting equipment, D.J.s and royalties- ensuring the music played has permission and is all legal- will be essential.  I am hoping a Kickstarter campaign can be launched to get the foundations built:  Meaning we can recruit some talent and make sure all the equipment/website/cores required are there and safe.  This year, I am confident we can get the station created- a rudimentary website built- and get broadcasting.  Naturally, it will take years to build that reputation and get among the big leagues- if it happens at all!  Just, for now, it is important to get feedback and see if the idea has legs.  I know so many people are turning away from radio- whether there is not enough range- and either listening to their own music or using social media (to find the best in new music).  Radio is still the logical way to hear all music and keep that passion going.  With digital music starting to be overtaken by physical release- the buying trends are starting to shift- perhaps there is dissatisfaction with the way music is broadcast/available.  I am not sure, but what I do know is too few radio stations have all the necessary boxes ticked- the spread of music and appeal of their D.J.s.



Knowing a bit about business- and the realities you must accept- Radio Adage will not ignite and be a big-time hitter this year- in fact, it may take many years in order for the station to transcend beyond the Internet.  The most important thing (in the early stages) is to get the stations going and get a loyal core cemented.  In time- and with the way radio is at the moment- the hope is Radio Adage will be a mainstream/above-the-parapet station that can keep growing and getting better.  I want a lot of D.J.s- more than 9 or 10 in time- that will reflect various audience sectors and tastes.  Forming into a cohesive and gilded station:  The aim is to create something that fills gaps and keeps music’s passion alive.  Whilst there are some phenomenal stations out there; few go deep enough when it comes to the music itself.  I feel there is room for Radio Adage due to the fact so many people- myself included in the list- for another participant in the pack.  We will have a ‘voice’ for the station- like Matt Berry for Absolute Radio- and create something both familiar and new.

It would be great to get people views, support and feedback:  See when this can become a reality and ideas the public have.  Of course, getting the bricks-and-mortar stages sorted- the soft/hardware sourced; getting everything in place- will take a long time (and quite a bit of money) so these early days are going to be rather unexciting (if essential).  Let me know your thoughts and help welcome in…

A new face for radio.

INTERVIEW: Nina Schofield





Nina Schofield 


AFTER a busy and productive 2015…

Nina Schofield is looking ahead and planning her moves for 2016.  One of the hardest working and most distinct artists in music:  I was excited to learn what was in store and what advice she would give to up-and-coming artists.  This year is going to see a lot of young solo artists emerge:  Each will have their own aims and ideas.  To my mind, Schofield is among the most arresting and distinct voices out there.  Inspired by a wide array of artists and genres- from Coldplay to Lana Del Rey- few others elicit quite the same range of emotions and reactions.  Make sure you keep your eyes on this Surrey-based artist…


Hi Nina.  I hope you are well.  How has your week been?

I am thank you!  It’s been good; I’m excited because my album is being mastered at the end of this week.  After a year of work on it I can’t wait to hear it!

It seems like 2016 is going to be a busy one for you.  What is the typical ‘day in the life’ for Nina Schofield?

I’d say there isn’t really a typical day because every day is different!  Recently I’ve been spending most of the day either in the studio recording final vocals or in a different studio working on the preliminary stages of a project; which is a bit of a secret for the moment!  In the evenings, I’ll be gigging- if it’s a weekend- and if it’s not then I’m probably watching Netflix and baking gluten-free goodies.

The past few weeks has seen some music legends depart. As a fellow musician, how has it affected you?

It’s been a really sad start to 2016.  David Bowie, in particular, was a big inspiration for me.  His song Life on Mars has always been one of my favourites and I’m not even sure how many songs it helped inspire me to write.  Life is short; all the clichés are there for a reason.  But you can look back at someone like Bowie and see how much he gave to music (and is still giving to music), and you can take inspiration from that too.



Looking back at 2015:  Which moments stand as personal highlights?

Going to Rotterdam and supporting Romeo (the Dutch boyband behind the song Coming Home) on their sold-out comeback show was incredible!  I got to meet another great artist, Alex Alexander and stay in a stunning place.  I felt very lucky.  Then moving forward to the latter part of the year, I was extremely fortunate to go on tour and support brilliant artists like Nell Bryden and Blair Dunlop- and work alongside incredibly talented musicians such as Leland Sklar.

Modern music is defined by long days and hard work- to make ends meet.  How do you keep the passion alive in that situation?

I’ve got to be honest:  Sometimes it’s really hard!  I don’t know any working musician who hasn’t had those days where they just think ‘what am I doing?!’  I am lucky to be surrounded by an incredibly supportive network of friends and family- a lot of whom work in the music industry themselves so they understand what I’m going through.  A quick phone call or text from one of them can turn a bad day around.  You know, there are really bad days and then there are really good days and there’s no balance.  It’s remembering those really good days (or moments) that keep fueling the fire.

I hear you have just finished putting down vocals for your forthcoming album.  Can you tell us something about it?

I can!  It has 11 tracks; its title is related to the front cover of each single I’ll be releasing up until it comes out (not giving the game away just yet).  I think it’s the most creative thing I’ve ever done!

In terms of your new material:  What subjects/themes have defined its creation?

It’s all about relationships but not just with other people:  It explores the relationship I have with myself as well. I hope that will be something others can relate to.  The whole album goes on a journey through 2 different relationships from start to finish… Well actually I suppose 3 if I’m also counting the one with myself!  It’s not all doom and gloom either:  There are happy moments, sad moments and everything in between; there’s even a song about me needing more money on there!

I know you rank Coldplay as influences.  Which other artists- from days past or today- inspire your music-making?

So many!  That’s what’s great about music:  You can keep discovering artists both old and new.  I love Phil Collins, Say Lou Lou:  Jet’s first album was one of my favourites growing up, as was Keane’s.  Right now I love Marina and the Diamonds and Tove Lo.

If you could pick your proudest musical achievement- a particular song or gig- what would it be?

I think that keep changes, but I’m really proud of a song on my new album called HIH which began as a piano/vocal; then a basic production by me and now has been brought to life by producer Jo Pereira.  I think it’s the most unique song I’ve ever done and it’s been great to watch it develop.

You are based near London.  Do you think there are more opportunities for musicians in the cities as opposed to anywhere else?

Yes, certainly in terms of the live music scene.  But if you have a computer and social media pages, then these days you can also reach a whole new audience just by going online.  You could technically stay at home for 10 years and have a successful career!  But where would the fun be in that?  There’s so much to be said for the live stage experience and how it moulds your craft.  On top of that, the more people you meet and the more places you go, the more likely you are to be inspired.

There will be some young artists inspired to follow in your footsteps.  What advice would you give them?

Keep developing, keep moving forward.  Don’t get stuck in one place, which is really easy to do, and keep yourself open to others opinions whilst not letting them define you.

If you could turn back time and offer your younger self some advice, what would it be?

Probably the advice I just gave above – I’d tell myself not to be afraid of taking risks creatively.  That’s a stage I’ve got to now but I think I had to go through some stuff before I could get here.

Last year you were picked up by Mystic Sons (a London-based P.R. company).  How did they make you feel?

Great!  It’s nice when someone else sees your vision and wants to be a part of it.  I felt like part of the team and I had creative control which is always really important to me.

Apart from yourself:  Which other artists would you recommend people check out?

Here are my current recommendations:  Tove Lo, Frances (Grow), Above and Beyond; Nico and Vinz and Marina and the Diamonds!  Check out all their most recent albums.

Finally- and for being a good egg- you can name any song you like; I’ll play it here…

Tove Lo – Moments.



Follow Nina Schofield














TRACK REVIEW: Too Many Zooz- Hollagraphik



Too Many Zooz







HOLLAGRAPHiK cover art

Hollagraphik is available at:


26th January, 2016



New York, U.S.A.


THROWING a wrench into the blog writing machine was never an option…

until my mind sort of froze today.  Unsure what to review, I remembered a great sound I came across:  That which emanated from New York’s Brass-House masters, Too Many Zooz.  Having caught these guys on YouTube- performing at New York City Subway where they regularly play their music- it seemed only apt to feature the boys.  Before I come to them, it gives me the chance to explore some new themes:  The music and artists of New York; Brass-House as a genre- looking at how some musicians are taking a unique approach to music-making/recognition.  When you want to explore the greatest sounds music has to offer- that are fascinating and stray away from the norm.- then you cannot go too far wrong looking at the major cities.  Most people have assumptions areas like London, Los Angeles and New York are fairly predictable:  You have bands and solo artists of varying sounds; nothing too unexpected to be honest.  The trouble is, the press- and the acts they assess/highlight- are just scratching the surface.  In terms of the most unique music, you have to dig a lot deeper.  Some of the most spectacular artists you will find are in the underground:  Quite literally when you think about New York’s Too Many Zooz.  The U.S. is a musical landscape us here (around the U.K.) hardly get to hear past mainstream press.  Unless you have a finger across all the most cutting-edge blogs around- mine hardly ranks alongside them- it is hard to see what America is producing at the moment.  Last year, I got to discover some great bands coming out of Los Angeles:  The city is always showcasing so many rich and colourful musicians.  A vibrant and fertile music hub:  It is an area of the globe that will continue to astonish this year.  Whilst California has few limits and barriers- the sheer breadth of music there is stunning- New York is even more astounding.  While the bands are about equal to Los Angeles’ best:  It is the less-than-traditional/solo acts that surpass their West Coast peers.  New York’s solo artists have that extra level of grit and passion:  I am not sure what it is; they just have a little bit more magic and passion to their sounds.  Having never been to either New York or Los Angeles- Orlando remains my only contact with the U.S.- I am gleaming and forming impressions based on my previous reviews.  New York is a humongous city that is seeing thousands of musicians try to make their way to public consciousness.  While it is near-impossible getting acclaim and long-term recognition among the mainstream stations and media; that is not to say it will not happen eventually.  Amidst the sheer wave of hungry bands, there are a few that are shouldering above their contemporaries.  Exocomet have been touted by Gigwise as one of the bands to watch closely.  Mixing The Velvet Underground with Bauhaus- how often have those two been spliced? – that forms an original and genuinely pleasing sound.  Elsewhere, High Waisted- having recorded some of their music in a haunted house whilst out of it on acid- are a lo-fi, Surf-Rock band that record on reel-to-reel and have a ‘60s vibe to their aesthetic.

Reputante are a Brooklyn band that are a modernised version of Joy Division- in no small part due to their lead’s deep and sonorous voice- and are causing excitement.  Throw in (among hundreds) Jack + Eliza and there is variation and plenty of potential to be unearthed.  That is all well and good- those acts have commercial appeal and are hugely impressive- yet I think we can go a little bit further.  Take a trip away from the studios and basement-recorded sounds of New York and you will find something even better.  Too Many Zooz may play and seduce the New York Subway crowds:  They are a trio that is more than a novelty act for the YouTube generation.  It is not often I get to talk about Brass-House- a genre fusion that you wouldn’t think would work- but it has got me very excited.  In Britain we had something (or still do) called Acid-Brass music:  The mingling of traditional Acid and Brass elements, it is a strange and wonderful chemical blend.  Too Many Zooz throws away the vocals and studio trickery and seduce with their staggering musicianship.  Having first encountered these guys via YouTube- a short clip of them entertaining the morning commuters- I could not believe what was coming through.  A cartoonish blend of vivid sounds and strange ideas:  The sounds emitting from their instruments are psychotropic and mind-blowing; incredible vivid and insanely catchy.  It is impossible to be within a 100-mile radius of Too Many Zooz and not find your feet involuntarily- and with no regard for dignity and gravity- flailing and dancing to the strange-world symphonies of the New York clan.  Designed to bring sunshine, colour and amazement to the world- few bands have such a universal and thoughtful approach- they have amassed a huge legion of fans.  I have never witnessed a group like Too Many Zooz.  In the U.K., we do not really have an equivalent, so it is hard to see where their competition lies.  Brass-House is a sub-genre that should inspire other acts to follow suit.  Maybe New York has quite a few sound-alike bands- again, the limitations of the media- but I’d like to think Too Many  Zoozs are in a class of their own.  When it comes to authority, genius and variety:  There are no other acts that get close to matching them.  In sheer musical terms- they amaze without vocals and any other band member- the boys shift ideas and tones from song-to-song.  Hollagraphik is a new song I was keen to investigate as it is the here-and-now of where they are.  An exploration into the terrifying, beautiful and mesmeric, it is a song that is extremely hard to define and pin down- just as well I choose it, right!?  As I type this- listening to Absolute Radio online- Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are a-Changing and I could not imagine a group more different:  Could you draw a line between Dylan and Too Many Zoozs?  Whilst a young Dylan enthralled Greenwich Village- his stomping ground when he arrived in the city in ’61- our ‘Zooz boys have their milieu and distinct gig venue.  As this year kicks off, few U.K. sources will be looking at Too Many Zooz:  It is a shame, because the three-piece are amazing musicians that deserve huge respect.

If you happen to be new to Too Many Zooz, you will want to hear where they have come from.  F Note was released a couple of years ago and was one of the first E.P.s from the trio.  Mixing the experimental Jazz sounds of Mile Davis, Charles Mingus and John Coltrane:  Their five-track collection blends in the limitless sway and recklessness of House music.  Bonding romance and texture with drugged-out, drunken abandon and you have a collection that saw them stand aside from their contemporaries.  Noda is perhaps the finest cut from the E.P.:  A circus procession that asks you to stamp your feet and march to the rhythm of the drums.  A call-to-arms and clarion call:  A song that provokes all manner of images and dream sequences.

The Fanimals E.P. was released after (F Note) and shows a continuation of that musicianship and quality.  If anything- marking an evolution between the recordings- the New York group sound even more freewheelin’, kinetic and ambitious.  Perhaps the interim performances- honing their craft and gauging crowd reaction- ensured the E.P. brimmed with quality and nuance.  The production values and musical themes do not stray too far from F Note’s gauntlet.  What you get are additional passions and new genres ideas.  Salsa, Bossa Nova and Latin ideas are tossed into the melting point.  Limbo is a song that is much more danceable and intoxicating than anything they had recorded previously.  A veritable orgy of dark satin and late-night coming-together:  There is something sexual and positively- charged about the song.  House of the Glass Red I is a standout that really takes you in House music.  Reminding me of the anthems of the genre’s heyday:  The boys simulate that sound through their instruments and make the listener cast their mind back to when music had that limitless potential.  Bounding beats and strange vibrations- the sound of a cricket playing a digeridoo- you have a song that inflames the senses and stands as the band’s most electrifying moment (up to that point).  Having quite a defined and specialised sound; it is hard for the boys to take huge leaps- without compromising their uniqueness and core.

Holographik has that hard-to-achieve blend of accessible and experimental.  Perhaps not as experimental as Fanimals E.P. but not as accessible as F Note:  Here is a song that unites the trio’s previous work and updates their music for 2016.  The guys show evolution and development in addition to familiarity and consistency.  Their existing fans will love what they hear across the track- it is has been online for a while but available for digital download at the moment- and enjoy the fresh ideas and themes explored.  I know a new album is planned for 2016:  It will be the first opportunity for the boys to break away from E.P.s and produce something longer and more in-depth.  I am not sure whether existing songs will feature across the album- or if it will be only new songs- but I am confident the resultant record will be immense.  Too Many Zooz are an act that defy quality expectations and have never missed a step.  If their album- the campaign they are launching right now- does not reach its target it will be a sad thing for music.  Since their earliest days, there have been no limits and boundaries to their sound.  An act that immerses the listener and takes them somewhere mystical:  This year is going to be a productive and exciting one for the New York boys.

Having obsessed- perhaps ‘familiarised’ is a more apt word- my ears to the music of Too Many Zooz, I was half-expecting something that harked back to their past days.  I loved the trio’s early E.P.s and thought- as the song was recorded a little while ago- Hollagraphik is a fresh track on the scene that shows where the boys are now.  If anything, the song shows progressiveness and a new stage for Too Many Zooz.  Pulsing electronics open the track and show a slight departure for the group.  Many would expect a teasing beat or slow-building brass coda to open things:  Here we get something direct that sounds like an Electronica/Acid track.  That percussive stamp plays in the background- the hollow taps and heartbeat slams- creating something strangely focused and natural.  After that initial surprise- and how authoritatively Too Many Zooz are right from the get-go-their more ‘traditional’ blends come to roost.  Those tip-toeing and tripping horns swagger in and add colour to the dark carnivore elements.  At this stage, I began to wonder what inspired the song- and where that title stems from- so your mind will race and conspire.  If you listen to Too Many Zooz, you do not have vocals and lyrics to shed life:  They are essentially like a Jazz act whereby the music alone does the speaking.  For that reason, it is quite a different challenge reviewing them:  You have to gain impressions from the music and what it is trying to say.  Instantly, you hear the confidence and tight-knitted bond Too Many Zooz share.  The clear and stunning production values make the instruments crisp and alive- without making them too polished and commercial.  Having released songs like Spocktopus and 20/20 this month, it seems 2016 is shaping to be a very productive one for the trio.  Hollagraphik has so many ideas and strands to it; you need multiple listens just to get to the bottom of it.  As a Jazz fan- and a follower of Miles Davis’ finest creations- you get elements of Kind of Blue and Birth of the Cool blending together.  The former’s lush and thought-provoking introspectiveness sits with the latter’s Bee-Bop cigarette-smoking suaveness.  What the New York trio do is evoke memories of revolutionary ‘50s Jazz and something almost Disney-esque.  The elephantic and trumpeting sound- that has Hip-Hop/Rap swagger- melts with a cartoon-like fantastical phantasmagoria that takes the breath away.  Whilst constrained and disciplined- at this stage anyway- there are so many elements and layers built into the music.  Being Too Many Zooz, the energy levels never drop and you find yourself moving your head:  Helpless to resist the alluring charm and dance of Hollagraphik.  That warping and punctuated brass-and-electronic sound is joined by dizzying brass- the evocative animated sound- and something distinctly Miles Davis-esque.  If anything, Sketches of Spain acts as a bigger influence (than Birth of the Cool and Kind of Blue).  Like Sketches of Spain, here you have something that brims with lyricism and gracefulness.  That album boasted transcending adagios and something akin to modern art.  Vibrant and filled with life- the timbres, tonalities and harmonic structures seems new to Jazz in 1960- you can see parallels within Hollagraphik.  A stunning narrative that has romanticism and exceptional command of the instruments:  I was amazed by how shades of Saeta, Solea and Will o’ the Wisp– from Sketches of Spain– blend into a modern spectrum of Subway grit and street-level electioneering.  Unsure as to the true inspiration for the song, you are taken on a weird voyage of the New York streets.  Colourful and head-spinning- you struggle to comprehend the possibilities and magnitude of the sound- you try to capture as much as possible.

The sound of 21st century music mixes with ‘60s Jazz in an orgy of the demented.  Romance and passion sit with the (electronic) sound of a barking dog.  A wide-eyed chatter joins wordless vocals- almost acting as characters within the song’s storyline- to give the track some danger and streetlight uncertainty.  Snaking and slippery trumpet lines slither alongside blood-rush electronics:  A modal groove-cum-cutting razor that evokes a myriad amount of dreams and insights.  The chaos, fog and paradoxical nature of the compositional has another influence:  Milles Davis’ Bitches Brew.  I hate to bring up Davis so often- it is apropos here- but that experimental nature can be compared to the Jazz godfather.  Joining Jazz-Rock together with Brass-House and Electronica would be ridiculous in lesser hands.  It is testament to Too Many Zooz’s shared talent- and the telekinetic nature of their performances- that everything comes together so well.  Those shuddering and spectral judders- that cut through the atmosphere like a chainsaw-wielding murder- are calmed by brass which becomes fevered towards the conclusion.  Breathless and evading the law, the brass becomes frantic and terrified:  It tees the song up to deliver a confident and cool-as-crap conclusion.  At this point, I get evocations of ‘90s Acid and the club songs of the time.  Whilst there is modernity and 2016 in the song- a song that could translate to the clubs of New York- it is the elements of the past that come to the foreground.  In addition to Miles Davis- the comingling of his accessible and experimental highs- you have insights into 1990s glory.  Whilst some may perceive Hollagraphik may be interpreted as a voyage into an addled and troubled mind- the song has a very emotional and haunted sound- there is such a busy and itinerant sound to the song.  In my mind- every listener will have their own interpretation- I look at the nighttime sounds and smells of New York.  I saw a lone character- perhaps worst for wear after a heavy night- seduced and suffocated by the neon lights and loneliness of the streets.  Maybe something strange lurks in the shadows:  A hat-wearing killer that is stalking the hero as he tries to evade his fate.  By the closing stages- the most vivid and urgent moment of the song- all the musical elements and genres pollinate into an explosion of near-apocalyptic possibilities.

It is hard to know where to begin with Too Many Zooz with regards to their qualities and genius.  Having been unfamiliar with them until last year, I have been making up for lost time.  Against a music scene that has too much rigidity:  The New York trio are a hurricane of fresh air that pack an enormous amount of mystery, drama, dance and multifariousness.  Hollagraphik is one of the most arresting and immediate songs the lads have ever crafted.  Perhaps their most diverse, atmospheric and accomplished songs:  You will not believe how stunning the song is upon first listen.  Given further investigation, various shades and ideas come to the fore.  A truly nuanced and incredible statement:  If this is the way the trio are going to develop in 2016, I sorely hope their album gets funded.  It is no faint praise comparing Too Many Zooz to Miles Davis:  One of the most iconic musicians in all of history.  The New York trio is renowned for their beyond-the-point-of-believability performances and wondrous connection.  Having seen clips playing across New York train stations- reveling in the freedom of their surroundings and vibes from commuters- many would wonder whether they would sound as pure and natural in the studio.  Never loading their sound with shiny gloss and trickery:  You have the replication of their live performances against the control and discipline of a studio setting.  Sounding live and bare- but with enough shine to ensure there is that additional quality- the boys would not have been able to make this track work if they were playing in the underground.  Bringing all those ideas, instruments and sound effects together required a studio setting:  For that reason, Hollagraphik is one of their most essential and impressive unveilings.  It will be fascinating to see how the song is performed live- whether the guys will bring singers and other musicians in- but I hope the trio comes to London.  I am excited to see where this year takes New York’s master:  Hollagraphik is the finest statement from a group that become more beguiling as time elapses.

If you have not made Too Many Zooz part of your life, make sure you change this.  If you wanted to find bands as starting points:  I guess the likes of Madness and The Specials would be close enough.  That duo has a mix of brass and abandon- wrapped around Ska and Reggae sounds- that have inspired and captivated the music world.  To be honest, it is quite a vague comparison because Too Many Zooz are so unique.  Having digged some of the New Yorkers’ previous work- and what a spectrum and sense of spectacular they have- Hollagraphik will please existing acolytes and draw in new admirers.  It is hard enough finding originality in music; let alone something that is exciting and enduring.  In the U.K., I have been seeking bands that do things differently to the rest of the world.  You know, something that recalls the giddy heights of the ‘90s:  Music that makes you feel wistful but is genuinely forward-thinking.  While it may be a hard ask, the terms of my conditions are quite open:  Just rebel against the conformist and vanilla-dull restraints so many are all too happy to embrace.  Perhaps the likes of me- who review music and proclaim the best and brightest- are not exempt from responsibility.  I suppose we have become so familiarised with a certain musical sound- and desensitised to its predictability- when something new does come about, it takes a while for it to get true recognition.  It is perhaps ironic that New York’s Too Many Zoozs are an underground act- that are making waves across the city- but am performing as far and wide as they can.  Maybe Brass-House is a genre that will take a while to be exploited.  A singular and impossible-to-define act, they are in the process of funding their debut album.  If you go to https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1013202534/too-many-zooz-needs-your-help-to-complete-their-de , make sure you donate some money to an act that deserve the chance to shine.  While their $100,000 budget may seem a lot:  It is the price you pay to hear music of exceptional calibre and grasp.  In the meantime- and whether they will hit their target- the boys are seeing how Hollagraphik fares.  The guys play Brooklyn Bowl today and a chance for New York’s finest borough- certainly when it comes to the most forward-thinking music- to be cast under the spell of Too Many Zooz.  The trio has produced an impressive- and hugely consistent- body of work that deserves a lot of appreciation and sharing.  Before I come to the end, it is worth revisiting those motifs of New York music, Brass-House and the diversification of sounds.  America’s centre for great music- my words you understand- New York is perhaps the most essential place to find the finest acts around.

I love London to death- and the immense amount of wonderful musicians we have- but New York has an extra edge.  In terms of sheer size- New York could swallow London like a Mento- there seems to be that variety and spice we are lacking.  Hard to explain, New York’s five boroughs- Manhattan, The Bronx, Brooklyn, Staten Island and Queens- are producing as much scintillating music as anywhere else.  While Staten Island and Queens may be lesser gods when it comes to musical genius- there are some fine acts emerging here, mind- it is the likes of Brooklyn and Manhattan that are housing some truly special musicians.  As Too Many Zooz prepares to enthrall Brooklyn, I am determined to spend more time seeking what New York has to offer.  A mind-boggling and Herculean feat:  The rewards of such passionate investigation are going to be huge.  When you get past the skin-deep and easy-to-define mass of acts coming out- even New York has a lot of stereotypical and bland acts- there is so much richness and wonder to be discovered.  You do not need to be a genius to know that originality is what defines a truly special act/band.  I have had my fill- and my brain has been numbed by- so many samey Rock bands and bland-as-butter Pop artists that leave a rather metallic aftertaste.  A man who loves a wealth of genres; the time has come to start proffering the artists that dare to be different.  Too Many Zooz’s brass-cum-House cocktails have seen them gain thousands of supporters across social media.  Their Subway performances are the thing of legends:  Just see these boys play and you will not believe what you are seeing!  The colourful and sense-altering world of Too Many Zooz is a place we all need to visit and remain.  Up until this point, I had not really encountered anyone who played Brass-House.  I love oldskool (forgive me using that world) House and the Acid-House artists of old.  In today’s market you hardly hear many House acts- with that munch quality and endeavor- emerge:  Fewer blend House elements with other genres to be fair.  Matt Doe, Leo P. and King of Sludge are a brotherhood that are going to be conquering the music world soon enough.  So many musicians do not take the trouble to variegate their sounds and stretch the limits of their musical ambitions.  Variety being the spice of life and all, how can anyone not fall for the quirky and feet-moving bliss of Too Many Zooz?  Take the opportunity to donate to their album campaign and ensure the guys have a platform to get their music out there.  I wanted to review the trio to get (or try to) their brand heard in the U.K.  While the guys have British support, they are still really an act with an American majority (of fans).  Hollagraphik is a statement from a three-piece that have a very clear and wonderful future ahead.  If you do one thing today…

DISCOVER this unstoppable musical juggernaut.



Follow Too Many Zooz











TRACK REVIEW: MissDefiant- Venus and Mars






Venus and Mars





Venus and Mars is available from February 5th.

Pop; Electro.-Pop


London, U.K.


I can never claim to be the biggest fan of mainstream Pop music…

but I am always looking for artists that lend credibility and quality to the genre.  Away from the powerhouse/big chorus artists- Katy Perry, Rachel Platten etc.- there are a range of upcoming Pop acts that provide a mix of passion and subtlety:  Songs that do not grab you by the throat at every opportunity.  I shall come to my featured act soon, but for now, it is worth looking at female Pop acts:  Leading into investigation of the general Pop market- finishing off with a word on the importance of upbeat/futuristic sounds.  Being a big fan of the heavier side of music- Rock and Alternative especially- I do not often dip into the Pop market.  I find a lot of the modern, mainstream sounds to be quite particular and basic.  Too many artists process their vocals heavily and stuff songs with easy hooks and inane choruses.  It is a hard graft to pen a catchy song, mind:  If you are able to do so with some intelligence and grace; so much the better.  Far too often we get a new Pop act arrives and the same thing happens:  Their songs are over-produced and mindlessly simple.  That music never sticks in the imagination and you are left feeling a bit cold.  While acts such as Justin Bieber are starting to find form- and gain genuine credibility- acts like Rachel Platten- mentioned above- are displaying the ignorance and worst traits of Pop music.  With music that relies on cliché subjects and a lack of identity.  Whilst the music (and choruses) is big enough to stand an atomic bomb:  Listeners want their Pop artists more rounded and unique.  The songwriters and artists that will distinguish themselves- stand away from the faceless clan that are coming through- are those that mix emotions, sub-genres and ideas into a cohesive whole.  You can have big choruses and something emphatic- it can rally and inspire all listeners- but you need to be smart and offer the public depth and a bit of range.  MissDefiant- on paper at the very least- may sound like your average Pop duo and provoke the same thoughts:  They are going to be Katy Perry/Taylor Swift-esque and only appeal to fans of those artists.

We are quick to judge artists; when you dig deeper, MissDefiant have a lot more to them than meets the eye.  While they have those Pop staples in their stable- contagious sounds and polished production- they manage to present contrasts and surprise.  Their songs do not simply rely on well-trodden subjects- hearts broken and fighting against the world at large- while their music has a great blend of Electronica and Pop ideals.  At the one moment they can be restrained and melodic:  The next, they rise to euphoric heights and sparkle with intensity and purpose.  Jordan Cather and Emily Rose Adams are striking to witness- not just in the flesh but through the speakers- and have a look and sound that is ready-made for the mainstream market.  Venus and Mars is forthcoming and shows what they are all about:  More confident and alive than ever; it is a song impossible to ignore and not be affected by.  The girls’ social media numbers are climbing at the moment- they will increase as their new single is unveiled- and there are big hopes for this year.  If you consider the Pop market- the artists out there and the great duos- you have a few choices available.  I have stated my ’objections’ to the likes of Ed Sheeran and his type:  Music that lacks necessary nuance, range and staying power.  I know he has his fans- and has collected enough awards along the way- but I always look for something less rote and sugary.  There seems to be a calculated effort to make his music appeal to a very distinct market:  The pre-teen girls and everyone else seems exempt.  I may be off the mark, but with Sheeran, the music is too limited and not all-inclusive.  Lyrics that are a bit plodding and over-worn:  Music that lacks depth and necessary inspiration means his albums are for a particular time and place.  MissDefiant are a powerhouse that certainly cannot be accused of soppiness and lacking any depth.  Their compositions and songs are capable of lifting through the atmosphere and eliciting big emotion- whilst appealing more to a teenage audience.  Bringing in club shades and Electro.-Pop- inspired by the likes of Calvin Harris and Mark Ronson- and you have a duo that are rounded, original and ambitious.  Too many new artists forget to create something upbeat and future-looking.  What I crave in music- aside from a lot of other aspects- is music that gets me stood to attention and provokes something positive.  That does not have to come at the expense of texture and quality:  It is easy enough to create an upbeat song that massages the brain along the way.  Our London duo team up with producer Mike Tournier and pen music that not only grabs the club-goers but those who prefer their music Rock-tinged and a little more developed.  The girls are aiming for big things this year and it will be interesting to see if they come up with an E.P. or album.  Their range of songs already out there shows MissDefiant are more than your run-of-the-mill Pop act:  They have the potential to cross boundaries and get their sounds heard by a wider audience.

If you are fresh to Miss Defiant- like I am alas- it is always worth having a look at their previous numbers.  In terms of the girls’ influences, the below artists feature:

Lady Gaga, Charli XCX, Rita Ora, Die Antwoord, Katy Perry, Crystal Castles, Madonna, Tinie Tempah, Lana Del Rey, Ellie Goulding, Havana Brown, Fuse ODG, Mark Ronson, will.i.am, Calvin Harris, Swedish House Mafia

Those balking at the idea of a Rita Ora-cum-Katy Perry sound will take a deep breath:  There are elements of Mark Ronson and Swedish House Mafia that means their music is not a girls-only sound.  Empowerment and defiance are themes that sit alongside sensitive unveilings and lyrics with plenty of heart.  Venus and Mars is their most assured and fascinating number to date:  It builds on their early promise and stands up to repeated listens and scrutiny.

Mess With You was an early number- released last year- that saw futuristic vocals present rather saucy lyrics.  Our girls want to mess with (the hero) and are rather candid in their ambitions and intentions.  Not allowing any double-meaning or doubt to come in:  The lyrics are pretty direct and do not leave much to the imagination.  The composition spars blipping electronics with rushing highs that give the song a constant energy and persistence.

Get Out!  has another strong and memorable chorus that sees the girls speaking to a suitor or subject:  That desire for them to get away and leave it presented with verve and passion.  Like Mess With You, Get Out! contains some processed vocals and relies on a (deliberately) robotic sound to provide urgency and an edginess into the fold.

  Innocent showed another leap forward and the girls bring in something more subtle and introspective.  Not completely ballad-y- the song still has plenty of energy and attack- the vocals are less processed and it allows their voices to sound more natural and free.  Looks can be deceiving and the song’s subject- who has perhaps not been completely free from blame- has been put under the microscope.

The girls seem to be growing stronger with each release and demonstrating personality and originality.  In their earlier numbers, I found there was perhaps a committee-led ambition to have them fit into a particular hole.  While the songs stand in the memory and have quality, the voices were being distilled and there was too much emphasis on the composition.  By the time Innocent arrived, you get a greater sense of roundness and depth.  The duo always sound exciting and uplifting:  Their music never dips into blandness and is always capable of eliciting a reaction.  Innocent was their most authoritative and assured song that has led to Venus and Mars.  Taking another step forward, the music is at its very peak.  Recalling the ‘Girl Power’ Pop of the ‘90s- and the wave of acts that followed The Spice Girls- there are clear and unfettered vocals.  The production values are still polished but this does not come at the expense of emotion and quality.  The girls sound more open and confident here:  The vocals really flourish and the composition is their most diverse and compelling.  Employing elements of Disco and Pop into Electro.-Pop strands means you have MissDefiant’s defining statement.

Venus and Mars begins with a twinkling and star-gazing sound that is backed by ethereal vocals.  Ensuring the song wastes no time getting into the head:  You have an instancy and magic that means you are curious to hear what comes next.  Before too long- and an unexpected move from the duo- comes in the form a big beat that takes the song into Electro.-Pop/club territory.  Not too imposing- but pressing enough to get the feet moving- you have instant contrast that sends the thoughts in different directions.  Following that breezy and cosmic beginning:  Here is a sound much more urgent and intense.  Reminding me of some ‘90s Pop/Dance acts- everyone from Madison Avenue to All Saints- there is a very modern and contemporary essentialness to the opening.  I mentioned MissDefiant were influenced by hit-makers such as Calvin Harris, Mark Ronson and Swedish House Mafia:  Their influence is felt in these opening exchanges.  Previous numbers from the duos have seen female-heavy influences come to the fore- subjects looking at sexual hook-up and rebelling against no-good guys- but the composition here suggests something gender-neutral and more universal.  Straying away from pure Pop:  That hard-and-heavy blend will hook in the most steely of listeners.  Just as you start to predict where the song will lead, our heroine arrives at the mark with her voice sweet and passionate.  “Hit me like a falling star” shows someone in love and under the spell of a particular man- my interpretation anyway.  Wanting (her subject) to point her to where they are:  Here you have declarative and direct words that see a young heart that is in the grip of passion.  That said- and given the song’s title- my mind was looking at alternatives.  Perhaps the song relates to getting away and escaping life’s stresses:  Using Venus and Mars as far-off destinations one could retreat to.  The first minute-or-so sees that subtle but powerful composition- a steady beat keeps the energy levels high- and key words repeated.  Ensuring the lyrics are easily remembered- and can inspire sing-along chants and accessibility- there is a certainty hypnotic charm to the vocals.  Light and airy on the one hand; there is plenty of urgency and soulfulness at work.  Once more- and catching you off guard- the song suddenly steps up a gear and explodes into life.  Those beats become heavier and the electronic swathes- that were under-the-radar at once- fizz and crackle with life and motivation.  Taking its sound into Dance/Electro.-Pop territory, you get hooked by the intensity and catchiness of the unfolding drama.  Our lead wants that falling star to hit her- the repeated words “Say something” suggests there is a need for communication- and there are frustrations among desire.  Maybe the hero is being too cagey and not letting his feelings out freely.

While there’s that tangible passion and desire- from our lead at the very least- perhaps the lines of communication are blurred and the two parties are on different wavelengths.  Maybe I am over-analysing yet that is the nature of the song:  Its simply-but-complex contradictions inspire deeper thoughts and investigations.  It is perhaps the unflinching and indefatigable energy of the song that will mark Venus and Mars out.  Never overly-powerful or generic in its sound:  The composition bubbles and explodes with smiles and dance-floor ambitions.  Uniting sub-genres and decades into a heady and nourishing blend- that is strong enough to convert Pop deniers and skeptics- those repeatable codas ensure listeners will be quoting the lyrics and singing in unity.  After the snowballing codas- where the vocal has a charming mix of Kylie Minogue and Ellie Goulding- the song expands and offers new lyrical insight.  Our girl wants her heart touched and the man to be more honest with her.  Asking where the two should begin- there is a sense this is a new romance starting to bloom- it is hard not to picture astral and intergalactic scenes- given the song’s title.  With its heart pure and a smile always at hand- despite the frustrations at work- it is a rather innocent and original take on love and finding common ground.  Too many peers employ clichéd words and cloying sentiments inside one-dimensional compositions- topped off with boring-as-crap vocals.  There is no such fate for MissDefiant who ensure every second of Venus and Mars provides something interesting and different.  One who has been nervous assessing a Pop song- and has preconceived notions as to its sound- was hugely surprised and impressed by their talent and ability.  Riding that insatiable and thirst-quenching backdrop; our lead wants to be lifted from gravity and discover a rare intensity.  The song’s title- when you think about it simply- refers to women being from Venus; men being from Mars.  The 1990s self-help/relationship guide from U.S. author John Gray was a huge best-selling work.  Promoting practical ways to improve communication in relationships, the girls have extrapolated ideas and cores from the book:  Venus and Mars sees two lovers with barriers that need overcoming.  Maybe here- through the song; following the arc of Gray’s work- there are problems that need resolving or stumbling block:  The hero might have one idea of things (that calls for action) whereas our heroine might want a talk-based solution.  I am not sure, but one thing is clear:  That combustibility and desire never relinquishes from start to finish.  Eliciting so much upbeat energy- ensuring the song has cross-party appeal- you will not be able to refute the power and urgency of an immaculately-produced Pop gem.  The final moments see that chorus coming back in once more and a tantilsling beat brings proceedings down.  By that final second you never relinquish that smile and find yourself coming back to the song and playing it over and over.

Few Pop acts have that nuance and memorability sorely lacking from the modern scene.  Too many acts are obsessed with heartache and love:  Putting these well-worn issues around vague and slight sounds.  I have been looking around for a great Electro.-Pop act that calms my reticence with regards Pop’s abilities.  MissDefiant have always been a strong proposition- I am glad the vocals are more natural here- and have hit their stride on Venus and Mars.  Gone are the processed vocals and here is something much more appealing and developed.  The girls have honed that knack of mixing universal themes inside compositions that have a nice blend of grittiness and sweetness.  I cannot wait to hear an E.P. as Venus and Mars surely will have a starring role.  Developing and improving as singers and writers:  I feel tracks such as Innocent and Mess With You will feature too.  It not only shows the differences and sides to their music but how they have evolved over the past year.  I have not been excited about Pop music for a while so am glad MissDefiant have arrived on the scene.  Cather and Adams are a duo that has a stunning connection and a tightness that comes through in their music.  I am not sure whether Venus and Mars was penned solely by the girls- or whether there were a few cooks in the mix- but you can hear that identity and honest come through.  The duo is not merely plodding out a committee-approved song that will get chart approval.  Whatever the inspiration behind the lyrics you have to tip your hat to the song’s intensity, consistency and originality.  Balking against the tired and limited nature of some Pop music- that tends to rule charts and minds- you have a song that gives the genre a much-needed kick in the arse.  When the song is released on February 5th, ensure you take time to discover a wonderful song from a talented new act.

I am glad to have discovered MissDefiant as I had some trepidation at first.  The Pop market is a hard one to crack and there are so many players out there.  The public seem to be rather hard to pin down.  Whilst some artists have risen to prominence without deserving it- shall not mention particular names- others have had to struggle for recognition.  Too many artists pitch their sounds to narrow audiences a particular type of consumer.  The pre-teen market is an important one for sure:  Acts emerging seem to fit in by either sounding juvenile or producing something sugar-sweet and bland.  Maybe that simplicity and lack of imagination speaks to an audience sector who do not look for depth and nuance in their music.  There is that desire to discover something immediate and uncomplicated. Attention spans are shorter; few younger listeners take time to discover what music has already given them- they are all about the here-and-now.  Pop music also provides a sense of identity for a lot of listeners (especially young girl).  Because of this, the likes of Katy Perry and Rhianna have grown in popularity and prominence.  Songs that look at defying the odds and fighting adversity appeal to young minds that struggle with the demands and realities of the modern world.  It is vital we have artists that speak to (and for) young girls and resonate with them.  The trouble is, too many Pop artists play in this arena and tend to push away other listeners.  I do not think Pop is a market reserved for younger audiences- and those that want something disposable- so more artists need to look at what they are doing.  There are too many bland and saccharine acts emerging:  I would happily embrace Pop music were I to hear more diversity, energy and quality.  Perhaps I am being over-demanding:  It is just I grow tired of the milquetoast and timid artist.  Those that try to subvert that image come off as clunky and a little cringe-worthy.  Once in a while you come across a Pop act that provides what you are looking for:  Reaches further and gives music that ticks all the boxes.  MissDefiant started their careers confidently but were still looking for their voices.  The likes of Robot, Mess With You and Get Out! have their charms and pack a punch:  It is hard to ignore the intent and authority the girls have.  Lots of Pop acts process their vocals if they do not have strong pipes:  Our girls have great voices and it is great to hear them unhampered and singing proud.  Innocent was the most intriguing move of the girls’ career that saw them at their natural and stunning height.  Venus and Mars takes things even further and mix all their sounds and elements together.

A tune that has some grit and hardness among the sweetness- that contrast of emotions makes it so fascinating- you are given elements of ‘90s Pop and the current mainstream acts.  Before concluding, I wanted to come back to the Pop market and the importance of bigger, upbeat sounds.  If you are tired of the vanilla and serotonin-reducing crop that come through- we hear them across radio all day long- then you will be seeking acts that do things very differently.  A lot of our new Pop artists focus too heavily on emotions and heartbreak:  This is a tradable commodity but far too many acts do not break from these confines.  If you look about the mainstream at the moment and think:  How many current Pop artists really linger in the mind?  There is a very real danger Pop will start to limit itself to the very young and exclude the more mature.  Our up-and-coming musicians are being too swayed and inspired by Rock/Alternative because Pop does not provide any appealing alternative.  If you look hard enough, there are a band of young artists that are putting more thought and diversity into their songs.  You are not going to balkanise audiences by neglecting issues of love and emotion:  So long as you cover them at some point, you can still win and retain hearts and minds.  The genre needs a credibility boost, so MissDefiant seem to have arrived at the right time.  They have the image and sound that can easily be picked up by teenage audiences.  When you look beyond that, you have a duo that produces well-crafted, fun and imaginative songs.  Their sapling cuts boasted enough sass and force to ensure listeners were never bored and underwhelmed.  If anything, the last few weeks/months has seen the girls up their game and hit their stride.  This all bodes well for a prosperous and exciting 2016 for Jordan Cather and Emily Rose Adams.  I am not sure if there is a new E.P. coming soon- or whether a fresh single will drop first- but we all will be looking to see how the London-based girls progress.  Venus and Mars is a song that you will want to snap up and hold close.  Those who are rather nervous with regards Pop- I can be included in this summation- should not fear MissDefiant.  They have plenty of quality and ambition that means they could well be a feature across festivals and radio stations before too long.  Take a peek into the girls’ past and see a young duo…

WHO is a serious act to watch closely.


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FiFi Rong



THE next few weeks will see me fervently try to interview some of…

the hottest musicians around.  Last year, I was lucky enough to discover the rare talents of FiFi Rong.  Bowled over by her invention and way of working:  This year will see her create more music and unveil a brand-new E.P.  In a music scene that has too much staleness and rigidity:  Artists like FiFi Rong are a commodity that needs to be promoted and savoured.  Keen to catch up with her- and reflect on the year just past- I asked her about music plans and her heritage; who inspires her sounds- and what music means to her…


Hi Fifi.  I hope you are well.  How was your Christmas and New Year?

It was great thanks!  It was restful and I just did what I love doing the most throughout the holidays

I believe you a planning a PledgeMusic campaign for your next E.P.  What can you tell us about that?

Yes, I’m running PledgeMusic campaign again for my new E.P. Forbidden Desire as I really loved the interactive experience of the campaign for my last E.P.  The process of making music is the part I enjoy the most and sharing it with people (who like my music) is the best experience ever.  This time, I’m running the campaign for one month only.  I’m adding in some additional exclusive one-off items whilst making some of the items from the last campaign available again- for those who missed it last time and for those who are new to me 🙂

In terms of your style and image; it is very unique.  Was there any particular person that inspired that image, or was it always a personal choice?

My thinking was to introduce some eastern culture in a western, modernised way:  I merge those Chinese elements in little doses into my imagination and experiment with things.  So I guess it’s a personal thing, but I haven’t thought about it so much… it just happened.

The music you make also has a very original and stunning sound.  Which artists/musicians have influenced you and were important as a child?

I was born into a Chinese music background with built-in Chinese Opera and Folk music programming.  Whatever I do now I can naturally blend in those elements to any degree.  So I play around with it.  Growing up, I definitely discovered myself liking dark, dreamy and deep music such as Pink Floyd, Cocteau Twins etc.

You were born in Beijing.  How does the music scene in China differ to that of the U.K.?

I have no idea.  When I left, I was close to the underground Rock scene there:  Some great, passionate (but struggling) musicians as opposed to Pop stars on the other end of the spectrum.  I’m not sure what happened after that.  When I go back now, performing there (I think) people accept uniqueness more.  The U.K. has a rich music culture (although it is saturated):  Fast-changing; it is still one the coolest place.  There’s certain moodiness about it that I like that makes me want to stay in and make music- more so than other places.

London (where Fifi is based) is a vibrant and busy music centre.  How important is the city with regards your creative process and success?

I’m ignorant of the world outside my studio.  I started off here- since my first production and song- and haven’t paid much attention to the changing world as music makes time go fast and make life linear and simple.  It would certainly be harder to focus on music if there was hot sun and beach outside my window.  I also like the freedom that I can be myself here: Straightforward, little judgement; it’s a great environment for me to create.

Congratulations on a great 2015.  Any particular highlights?  Do you think your best music is still ahead of you?

Yes, my last E.P. Violently Silently was definitely a highlight and the first time running a PledgeMusic campaign was thrilling and fun!  The launch show at The Garage was wicked.  The China tour was immense as well.  I have been making my best music in preparation for my next full-length album.  That would be the best so far:  However I need to prepare my audiences with this coming E.P. (Forbidden Desire) first, which is pretty close to what you will get from me.

When it comes to the coming year- in addition to the new E.P. – are there any other plans in mind?

I have a small tour in the U.K. and several good shows booked in E.U.  Mainly, I will be crafting the album just mentioned, and give it my all.

With regards the music you have already produced.  Which song has meant the most to you, either creatively or personally?

I taught myself to produce on my little Mac. many years ago.  I honestly didn’t know what I was doing or listening to, but Wrong was mostly done in the first year of my music mileage.   I’m pretty impressed thinking “How did I do that?”  by not knowing anything.  I loved Hurt Outta Sudden, I Need the World to End; Ever Rising Sun and Time.  The beauty I see mainly comes from non-thinking and pure innocence.  I’m also proud of Since When as I tried many (many) attempts at its production.  It is a track of very good balance:  Creativity and conventionality; technicality and experimentation.  There’s no shortcut or much luck when it comes to this track.  All of my tracks have their own stories:  I love all of them but once it’s released they belong to the world.  I no longer feel attached but I’m more-so (attached) to the ones I’m doing now.

You have studied at university and produce your own music.  Do you think it is important to have that control when it comes to your music, and how important have your studies been with regards your creative process?

I studied Economics and Sociology for my first degree and then Media Management as a Masters.  The little PhD I did was to do with music- but on the sociology side of things.

I don’t think I would be doing music if I didn’t start off producing music.  It’s absolutely critical and defining for me to have control of my sound.  I can’t imagine having other’s sound on my music.

Music is a basic instinct to me.  Everything seems written in my sub-consciousness already:  I just need to get it out.  Music theory is important with regards arrangement of course but I just taught myself:  It’s not rocket science, but I really wouldn’t want to study music at uni.  I would have died from frustration.  Nonetheless, my studies in business-related subjects were incredibly valuable:  That how I have managed to hold my own ground.

Are there any other musicians/acts out there you would recommend to people?

Sad-Sic- an artist I have collaborated with- has a unique sound.  When I said ‘unique’, I mean it… It’s hard to find these days!  He’s got a new album out and is keeping it low-key.  Still Parade- I came across last year- has amazing songs and sound.  They’re a German band:  Very inspiring.  Island is (a group) I found out about yesterday:  It’s not the first time I heard this kind of stuff but I really love the vibe.  Their drums are especially divine.

Your music mixes various genres and sounds- including Electronica and Pop.  Which artists were important with regards shaping your sound?

Like I said, my music comes from an unconscious, non-thinking place.  I don’t really think about it although people like to compare me with what they know of.  I love a massive range of music from all kinds of artists but my all-time favourite would be Cocteau Twins and D’Angelo- they are the only ones I can say I like almost all the stuff they did.

I love how unique your vocals, music and lyrics are.  Is there one particular element- lyrics, music or vocals- that are most important or is it the combination of the three?

Lyrics are most important to me as they happen from the effort of my mind.  Whilst my music and vocal delivery come from a place beyond my mind and thoughts; they are probably most unfamiliar to other people who are new to my cross-cultural style of singing in English- with a hint Chinese traditional tonality.

Finally, and for being such a good sport, you can name any song and I will play it here… 

The new track I did as a gift to people:  Lost in Space Music




Support FiFi Rong’s PledgeMusic campaign (from January 29th):



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TRACK REVIEW: Scout Killers- Rip Me Apart



Scout Killers



Rip Me Apart





March 28th, 2016

Rock; Alternative


Bristol/Bath, U.K.


FOR today’s investigation I get to come back to a band…

that provided much excitement in 2016.  I have been searching for great bands this year- among the throng of rather bland ones- and seeing which ones will be making big moves this year.  I have been reading a lot of articles that make predictions about new music.  There is a fear the best of the ‘new acts’ coming through- those on the ‘ones to watch’ lists- are rather unspectacular and overrated.  When I look around the promised artists for this year:  There is a bit of suspicion there will be some disappointment and familiarity.  I feel the media is too quick to proclaim artists based on rather shonky foundations.  Rather than looking for forward-thinking and ambitious artists- which sound different and rebel again the middle-ground- the press tend to look at acts that fit into pre-defined moulds and expectations.  While the likes of B.B.C. have tipped a couple of good acts:  There is still a depression lack of genuine musicians coming through.  Another report I read- cannot remember the website- stated Rock music is well and truly dead.  Whilst there is some truth in the fact- it is not as explosive and stunning as it once was- there are some great new acts emerging.  I think the problem arising when you look at the sheer number of artists out there.  Given the music that has come before- the huge array and invention- it is harder to create something truly original.  Rock and Alternative are genres that have so many participants- each of them doing their own thing- it is very difficult to reinvent the wheel.  You can find some quality but when it comes to doing something truly unique:  How easy is it going to be to find that?  We (as music lovers) have high expectations of our new musicians.  It is unrealistic to expect something world-beating from every musician you come across.  If you lower your expectations to realistic levels:  There are some artists poking through that are going to shake music up.  I mention Scout Killers- no muted praise at all you understand- as they’re an act that are gaining a lot of momentum.  Within the sardine can of the Rock/Alternative market:  These boys rank alongside the best and brightest groups coming though right now.   Scott Cox, Beau Stevens, Julien Morrez; Josh Ellis and Chris Phillips are the scout-killing boys that have been playing for a little while now.  Looking at them- and the fact they originate from the Bristol/Bath areas- gets me thinking about the geography of our best bands.  I have been spending a lot of time- as I will this and next week- investigating London acts and how well they are doing.  Whilst the capital is spawning some tremendous solo artists, there are few stand-out bands coming along.  I find the best U.K. bands are stemming from parts other than London: The focus has shifted to other parts of the U.K.  Away from Manchester and Liverpool- two areas that are still giving us so many good bands- the likes of Bristol and Bath are showcasing some terrific talent.  Looking at Bristol- and the great artists playing there- the likes of Spectres, Idles and Trust Fund are definitely worth watching.  Rebecca Clements, Turbowolf and Groan Dogs make up a list that sees variation and ambition in spades.  Last year I had the chance to look at Stand Your Ground:  The five-track E.P. saw our heroes create something enduring and hugely exciting.  Focused, tight and bursting with epic tunes:  It showcased maturity, depth and musical intelligence.  There has been a bit of a gap between recordings:  Glad to say the boys are back with a new single.  Before I get to that, it is worth looking at what the future heralds.  With the likes of The Family Rain- a promising band coming out of Bath- growing in status:  More eyes will train themselves the way of Bath and Bristol.  London is still that nirvana for performance and critical attention:  I hope the quintet will come and play here and give the crowds a chance to witness their music in the flesh.

At the moment I am formulating a radio station:  The intention being to play brand-new music alongside classics and lesser-heard gems.  Inspired by a lack of radio variation- few stations champion unsigned acts- I feel the likes of Scout Killers deserve greater exposure.  Away from social media and the like- SoundCloud and YouTube- there are scant chances to hear their ilk across the airwaves.  Perhaps it would be too subjective playing new musicians on radio:  You have to draw the line somewhere and so many acts would still miss out.  That said, there is a chance begging I feel:  Our best and most inspiring bands are not being given a platform to get their sounds heard by a wider audience.  Those problems may not be reconciled quickly:  For now we just have to appreciate chance discoveries and ensure we keep promoting great acts.  Scout Killers are going to be releasing their new album this year and it will give audiences a chance to see how they have developed and progressed.  Having cemented a solid and crowd-pleasing sound across previous released- their E.P. and singles- I would not expect too much change.  What you get from the Bristol/Bath collective are well-defined songs that have universality alongside personality.  Those central performances- well rehearsed and compelling throughout- prove just how passionate the band is and how much they want to succeed.  Too many bands arrive and do not put the necessary graft and work in:  You start to wonder whether they want to inspire and stick around in music.  Scout Killers have an honesty and hard work ethic that singles them out as serious players this year.  If you want a divining rod that leads you to water- rather than the arid desert that some media outlets guide you to- social media still has some potential.  Not as disciplined and organised as it should be- another issue that gets me ranting freely- it is a good way of discovering great artists.  Scout Killers will be busy this year releasing material and taking it on the road.  If you are a fan of the best Indie/Rock/Alternative has to offer; ensure you take time to check out these guys.

Scout Killers have been performing for a few years now and already produced an album and E.P.  In terms of their evolution, one should look back at Stand Your Ground– their latest record that was unveiled last year.  The title track shows those atmospheric and magisterial vocals soar over a nervy and building composition.  Militaristic drums keep the pace and intensity at fever-pitch.  The guitars wail with carnivorous intent whilst the band evoke memories of early-Oasis and the vocals reach exhilarating highs.  A song that crawls and bays at will:  Few listeners can deny the intent and ambition from a band completely in control.  Defiant and against-the-world:  It is an anthem that inspires fists-aloft proclamation and chorusing.  Elsewhere, Time and Again provides Acoustic blends and lightness into the E.P.  After an intriguing introduction you are witness to one of the most cinematic and memorable tracks from the boys.  Gorgeous and romantic in places:  The vocal comes in and shows our hero at his most sensitive and restrained.  Looking at pain, splits and heartache:  That darkness and weight is on his mind throughout the song.  Being Scout Killers, you never know how the song will develop.  Keeping things just below the level of ‘combustible’:  It is a track that has U.S. strains to it- the likes of Counting Crows and Pearl Jam can be heard- that will appeal to a wide audience.  Those Eddie Vedder-esque vocals come out in the finale, Cease and Resist.  Judas Priest-esque guitar squeals back a track that is the band’s Hell-fire mandate.  Animalistic and savage:  You have a song that is packed with meaty riffs and spectacular noise.  In the grip of an out-and-out epic; you get lost in the impassioned performance and immersive lyrics.

Rip Me Apart unites the band’s previous work- more in common with their E.P. rather than earlier album- and takes their music a step further.  The intensity of Cease and Resist is in there:  The boys incorporate subtlety and emotion into a song that has a lot of layers and fascination.  Our lead’s voice is more developed unique- fewer touches of Vedder in there- but still retains that gravel and potency.  The band themselves seem ever more bonded and unified- such a tight and hypnotic performance- whereas the song mixes urgency and nuance.  The first play hits you hard and true:  You need a few spins before all the components and sides coalesce truly.  Scout Killers seem imbued with ambitions of success and longevity.  They have not created a new song that sticks to their sound and does not move it along.  The five-piece have infused new lyrical bents into the mix- whilst keeping the subjects of heartache and pain in there- whereas the composition is among their most inventive and festival-ready.  At the heart of everything is the originality and desire.  I have mentioned bands like Pearl Jam and Oasis, although to be honest, there are the faintest of touches.  If you like your bands to be their own boss- and owe a debt to no one- then keep your peepers on Scout Killers.


Rip Me Apart is a six-and-a-bit minute of fascination.  The warped and echoed electronics- sort of an ultrasonic cosmic sound- gets the hairs standing up right from the outset.  Almost tripping into Electronic territory- that would be an interesting avenue! – our front-man is teed-up by a percussive smash and guitar strike.  Keeping the composition supportive and guiding- rather than an immediate blitzkrieg- it gives the vocals a chance to shine.  Those inimitable and chocolate-rich tones- Eddie Vedder still has influence yet our man sounds more himself here- give importance and emphasis to the lyrics.  Initial feelings look at “endless lies”, broken ribs and blackened eyes.  That violence and chaotic unfolding provoke instant images and speculation.  Our hero looks for meaning- the “truth untold” will never be known- with anxiety and uncertainty here.  That vibrating and echoey vibe keeps the song dangerous and unnerving.  Ensuring every listener cannot escape the unfolding drama- and the soul-weighing predicament our hero is facing- the band unify and sound completely in-step.  The percussion has tribal elements and a bellicose undertone.  There are pattering beats and pulsating electronics entangled in a rapturous seduction.  Riding a charge, our hero is being eaten alive and feeling the force of some harsh premonitions.  There is a girl that is at the forefront:  Whether a former girlfriend or a current love; our man is trying to escape hurt and pain.  Maybe there has been some breakdown and a parting of the waves- a rather harsh and acrimonious split- where he feels “that rage again”.  Walking into the “lion’s den”; there are epic images and huge emotions at work.  Clearly, there are some big issues and problems between the two.  I started to wonder what is being assessed- these visions and predictions- and start to pick the lyrics apart.  Ensuring the lyrics resonate and get inside the head:  Our hero produces one of his most entrancing vocal performances.  Keeping his emotions in check, they soon expand to biblical heights.  Proclaiming “This is the end!” you get a sky-scarping performance that turns the volume up to 11.  The band combines in an orgy of metal, skin and fire:  A startling and head-splitting commingling that comes as a shock.  Properly evoking the intensity of emotions- and the fracturing of relations- you have that explosion and howling execrating.  One of the most immediate and unforgettable musical gestation I have heard in a long while.  Just as you think the song will collapse in a breathless heap; the mood dips down and the calm arrives once more.  Whether sarcastic or plain fed-up, our hero directs his words:  “Hello there, good to see you again” as his thoughts turn to the regretful and accusatory side of things.  It is clear this girl has caused scars and irreparable damage.  In his mind now and again:  Our boy is glad she got hers- maybe justice or a new lover- in the end.  It is a fascinating few lines that make me wonder how the girl is faring.  Maybe life has caught up with her and she is being punished- getting a taste of her own medicine- or maybe there is genuine intent in the words.  Perhaps our hero has been self-immolating and not been free from culpability.  Maybe his sweetheart has moved on and has a new life:  This is causing him some peace at the very least.

Given the intensity that preceded these words:  One suspects there’s some cynicism and irony in the lines.  In need of answers, that quest for truth keeps coming through the mist.  Living “a lie” there is that need for détente and reconciliation.  Lying awake by unanswered questions- why things broke up and what went wrong- our hero cannot keep “asking why”.  Maybe he has kept his distance and being restrained so far.  When the composition erupts and that vocal ignites:  You cannot help but hear that pain and torment come to the surface.  Wanting to march to her house and demand explanations:  You start to sympathise with his plight and feel recrimination towards the heroine.  The girl made our man a boy- that regression to a fearful and uncertain state- and has taken so much.  Making him choose avenues he did not want to explore- and breaking his heart into the bargain- the issue of deceit is given fresh voice and new initiative.  I love how the song has a quiet-loud dynamic that runs through it:  Reminding me of Grunge masters like Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden; you are transported to the ’90 and that heyday of rebellion and leadership.  Scout Killers sound like a genuine article:  They do not copycat any band; instead, they evoke their memory through their own spectrum.  Our hero wants to change places with the girl:  Give her a chance to see how he feels and how she has put him in the ground.  The deathly hallows and haunted spirits hover around:  There is no retreating from the anger and vitriol emerging.  Being ripped apart like a carcass in the noonday sun:  Every time that demonic vocal brims with pain; you feel helpless to resist its power.  The band is consistently impressive and gilded throughout.  Those rifled percussion notes are backed by concrete and lightning-strike guitars.  The bass drives the song and keeps everything disciplined.  That warping and pulsing electronic beat keeps its voice heard:  The combination of instruments and ideas gives Rip Me Apart endless wonder and depth.  Few bands go in heavy and hard and do so authoritatively.  By the closing moments- as that chorus comes in again and the final words expelled- you start to wonder how things worked out.

The boys of Scout Killers have created their most combustible and astonishing moments to date.  Bringing in all their previous sounds- from their album to E.P. flairs- you have a song that highlights their core strengths:  That unique and fire-brand sound; the originality and innovation alongside the tightness of the band.  Our lead has his velvet and atmospheric voice at its very peak:  Recalling painful and regretful unfolding; you have a song that would sound much weaker in anyone else’s hands.  Able to softly inspire and seduce:  That voice explodes and roars with intensity and huge passion.  Few singers have such a breadth and quality to their voice.  A vocal capable of making everything sound fascinating and compelling:  I can think of few other singers that leave such an impression on the mind.  Kudos goes to the rest of the band who are at their finest too.  The guitars mix intense rage with something settled and composed.  Perfectly bonded and intuitive:  The guys have that connection and passion for one another that translates into a mesmeric jam.  The percussion provides bullets, storms and beating hearts: A cornucopia of emotions and colours; the drums add so much spark and nuance to the song.  Ensuring the bass guides proceedings and ties it all together:  You have a performance that augments the song’s qualities and inspires the band to up their game.  Altogether, Scout Killers are at their most adventurous and stunning.  The production on Rip Me Apart allows all the elements and ideas to come together.  Never mixing anything low or missing anything out:  Here is a production that perfectly bonds the cinematic and emotional polemics into something focused and dramatic.  Whether Rip Me Apart will be an album lead-off- or a song lower down the mix- it is sure to have some serious radio play and fan support.  Huge congratulations to a phenomenal band that becomes stronger and more amazing by the year.  It is clear 2016 will be a year that will see them ascend to some rather giddy heights.  Do not be surprised to see the lads gracing the stages of Glastonbury and Camden Rocks Festival very soon.

It seems Scout Killers grow in confidence and commitment with every fresh release.  Although Rip Me Apart is not accessible to the public for a couple of months:  People should prepare themselves for something quite special.  If you are an older fan of the band- and have followed their progress from the early days- there will be familiar touches and pleasing consistency.  Not changing-up their sound too much- instead bringing in new subject matter and urgency- you will be excited to hear the guys at the top of their game.  Anyone new to the five-piece will find that blend of ubiquity and uniqueness.  A sound that could easily slide into the festival rotations- and find itself played across mainstream radio- their songs dig deeper and sound like nobody else.  I started by contemplating the state of Rock music and the proclamations made by the media.  Whilst the likes of B.B.C. are hardly gospel when it comes to the up-and-coming best:  They do provide a useful guide to what this country is producing.  This year- when it comes to said lists- has not seen too many bands feature across them.  I am not sure whether there has been a dip in interest- people starting to turn to solo acts- but there is a little fatigue for sure.  Maybe the sheer number of bands coming through has exhausted public attentions.  The mainstream has hardly given us too much this last year:  The best music from last year was (largely) created by solo acts.  Aside from the likes of Blur and Royal Headache- creating two of 2015’s finest albums- it has been the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Courtney Barnett and Jamie xx were the big hitters.  Perhaps our newer (mainstream) bands were too caricaturing and generic:  Sticking to familiarity is not the best way to gain reputation and longevity.  Even the new solo acts coming through- the sort tipped for greatness this year- seem too honed-in and safe.  Perhaps there is trepidation and a need to fit into boxes:  If you have a radio-friendly sound- that can get you airplay at least- it is wiser than being too unique and original.  I don’t know, but what I do now is that music needs more progression and boldness.  The solo acts I mentioned- Jamie xx etc. – made immense albums that showed individuality and incredible talent.  More musicians need to follow their leads- not literally; more a guidance- and make albums that impress those who prefer their music with colour and nuance.  In the band market, we still find too many acts who do not want to do anything nee.  Scout Killers are going about business a little differently.  Taking tried-and-tested Indie/Alternative sounds as a basis- they have some clear influences- they make music that is very much particular to them.  I can see them doing some good things this year.  Whether they will be touring across the U.K. – or keeping things fairly local- I am not certain.  What is clear is their musical development and intentions.  Rip Me Apart is their latest (and brightest) statement that will inspire other bands coming along.  Whilst their best days are still ahead of them- they’re a band constantly improving- all the signs are very encouraging.

Tight and measured; catchy yet emotive:  The five-piece have nailed all the key considerations (with regards penning a great song).  That anthemic quality lingers within introspection and anxiety:  Here is a group that understands what it takes to connect with an audience.  Before I get this review completed, I wanted to circle back to the Bath/Bristol bands coming out.  I have stated how hegemony belongs to London- when it comes to the best of new music- and a lot of attention is focused here.  If you want to discover the freshest and most impressive bands about; you’d do well to look further north.  Whilst Bath and Bristol (the latter especially) have birthed classics band such as Portishead, Massive Attack and The Cortinas:  The cities are seeing a new breed coming through.  Perhaps not as experimental as the listed- not with regards Trip-Hop/Electronica at least- there are some fantastic Rock and Alternative bands compelling me.  I have been looking around the radio and the Internet for a band I can invest in:  Something special that offers potential for long-time output and curiosity.  I have grown tired- as have many others- of the mass-produced bands coming out.  Every one of them seems to be tipped as ‘The Next Big Thing’ and is frankly quite depressing.  I understand how much competition there is out there- and how hard it is to stand out in a packed music industry- but the media needs to calm down slightly.  If you look at Scout Killers, you have a band that has that potential:  The guys have the ammunition to be performing for many years to come.  The boys do not seem too bothered- at this stage, it seems- with getting their names in every magazine and on every station.  They are forging their music and making encouraging steps.  It may be a few years down the line, but I can see Scout Killers being a festival proposition.  Against the charge of riff-heavy artists coming out- that provide little soul and depth- you have a group that have more emotion and sides to their art.  If you have not heard Stand Your Ground– go back and listen to that E.P. – you should be excited for Rip Me Apart.  It is a glimpse into their album- I think there is one due this year- and shows new confidence and inspiration.  Stronger than they have ever heard:  I can see the guys featuring across Radio 6 Music very soon (as a permanent fixture).  In the modern climate, that is a…

VERY impressive feat indeed.


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TRACK REVIEW: The Updraft Imperative- Pieces of My Past



The Updraft Imperative



Pieces of My Past





Pieces of My Past will be available soon.

Christian-Rock; Rock; Alternative


Brisbane, Australia


THIS is the second time I am with the Brisbane-based…

Christian-Rock band.  In the first review for the band- when assessing their debut album Chair– I was impressed by the quality and sound of the music.  Far away from what I expected it was not what you’d call ‘typical Christian-Rock’.  My previous exposure- like a lot of people I guess- comes from television and media examples.  The odd band here and there that would be described as Christian-Rock.  The music being played by these bands is defined by its optimistic and faith espousal:  Never really winning you with its sound or hardness; the music is often bland and segregated- not designed to capture non-believers; more designed for the converted and confirmed.  That is all very well- making music for Christians- about your love or God- but it doesn’t have to be that way: Christian-Rock does not have to be just faith; foreign to those who think differently.  Take me, for example.  I am a confirmed and committed atheists (no human, event or circumstance will change that) and will never believe in God yet I am a huge fan of The Updraft Imperative.  Having listened to other Christian-Rock bands- mainly based out of the U.S. – I was off-put and cold.  I forget their names- there was a tortured pun or church-related name involved- yet the music was always the same:  Acoustic-based and overly-gleeful; subjects don’t stray far from belief and its power.  It is great having faith and holding onto something you believe in:  If you’re a religious musician- and have that platform and aim- then why not aim further and wider?  Beyond the churches and Sunday concerts; past the clandestine venues- when do we hear Christian-Rock bands?  Perhaps it is a societal fault:  There are some snobbiness and discrimination while people are not willing to embrace the music without even hearing it.  Perhaps that is true; yet there is an opportunity at hand:  Playing electric guitar- and infusing Rock and grit into your sound- does not betray belief.  It is not an affront to anti-religious sentiment.  Keep the messages true and you are not offending anyone or selling-out the Christian faith.  Before I end this point- and mention Australian music- let me introduce our featured band:

Formed in their school days in the country town of Dalby, Queensland, Josh and Murray’s friendship spans over 20 years.  In the time during and after high school they both honed and refined their individual and distinct musical styles.  In 2009, having both moved to Brisbane, the pair decided to get together to write a selection of songs, encompassing both their unique musical styles and their passion for honest, challenging lyrics.  Known simply as ‘Updraft’, the pair recorded a rough 10 track EP, ‘Reflections’. Recording took place in Murray’s garage on an old analogue recording desk and an even older, more unreliable free computer – with Murray both recording and playing guitar, bass and drums.  Laura (Murray’s wife) commented that the resulting demo “sounded much better than it should” due entirely to the low tech facilities available to them at that time.  By late 2012, Josh and Murray had been joined by Pete on drums.  With the full support of their families, the trio made the brave decision to self-fund the professional recording of an album – using some tracks from the earlier demo ‘Reflections’ in addition to some new tracks written as a three piece.  While recording ‘Chair’, the band decided their name needed more impact. ‘Updraft’ was a direct reference to Isaiah 40:31 – ‘… but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.’  To stress the bands shared belief that as Christians, we should always be seeking and working towards something higher, a name that gave a strong reminder of this was agreed. And so, ‘The Updraft Imperative’ was born.  The 10 track album, ‘Chair’ was recorded over a four week period and produced by James North.  The band credit James for both his brilliant recording and production skills, but perhaps more importantly for his understanding of what the trio wanted to convey through the album and his direction in how to achieve this while also reflecting and capturing their unique style.  ‘Chair’ was released in December 2012.  With their significant background of support through live performance and leading worship, The Updraft Imperative album tracks were included for airplay on local stations in Australia.  In June 2014, the band were offered support in promoting their music in the UK.  A whirlwind of airplay, radio interviews and album reviews has ensued, not only on the UK, but worldwide.  The storm of media attention happening overseas has stirred further interest back home.”

I will return to the band at the end of this section, but for now, to end my point- with regards the rigidness of Christian-Rock.  There is this fear about the music:  If it is too Rock/Alternative-based does that water-down its aim?  The design of Christian music- and anything that plays in this genre- is to promote faith and belief by giving thanks and praise to God- without trying to preach and judge.  Faith is a powerful thing yet there is power to be gained:  By making the music more captivating and popular- thus drawing in more ears and eyes- you are likely to succeed and certainly get more listening.  Unless you are Bob Dylan, an acoustic guitar (and a voice) leaves you restricted- something the modern music scene is forgetting.  It is 2016 and you have to go further.  Even Dylan understood ‘going electric’ was the way forward.  You cannot be stuck in the past (Christian music has this stuffy and middle-aged image still).  What impressed me about The Updraft Imperative- aside from their cool name and the quality of their music- was its contemporary sound.  They are not stuffy or boring; they are not insanely happy and saccharine- acts like The Polyphonic Spree can come across as such.  Chair is an album that is very faith-orientated- promotes the effects and redemptiveness of belief- and very true.  Its music and projection go further by rivalling the best of the Rock scene.  Masters of music’s finest components- a catchy and big chorus; tight and compelling performances; nuanced songs- the album stunned me.  The only reason I marked it ‘low’- or lower than most reviews- is its religious messages.  Those messages promulgate strength and joy; giving and togetherness.  The God-directed effuse- the faith-will-conquer-all mandates- were not quite potent enough to change my thinking and get into my heart.  That is a minor flaw:  The album and the band are filled with majestic layers and plus-points.  Arriving with new material (insights into what their new L.P. will contain) it is great to have them back- I shall reflect on that soon.  Before I get to the band- and their past work and current movements- it is worth mentioning Australian music.  Being based in Brisbane- one of the hottest and most fervent Australian music hub- it is worth looking around.  In terms of the Brisbane music scene past and present; some great bands have surfaced:  Powderfinger and The Saints; The Go-Betweens and The Veronicas; The Riptides and The Grates.  Away from the Queensland city it is Melbourne that leads the way:  They are producing some fantastic and varied sounds.  From The Temper Trap to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds; there are some fantastic sounds happening there.  In the U.K. and outside Australia, a lot of our exposure to the Australian music scene comes from T.V. shows like Neighbours and Home and Away.  Totally Mild are one of Melbourne’s best current bands:  Their dreamy Electro.-cum-Pop blends have captivated critics; they are one of the world’s best bands.  Over in Sydney, Rock bands like Royal Headache are emerging.  The city has produced acts like INXS, AC/DC and The Vines.  Australia is showing itself to be the secret diamond:  The country producing the best new music and the finest new sounds.  Totally Mild and Royal Headache are perfect examples.  With The Updraft Imperative revitalising and showcasing Christian-Rock’s potential- and a wealth of great Alternative acts coming through- the country is really shining; mixing-it-up with the U.K. and U.S.’s best.  There is clearly a great mood and wave coming through; a rich vein of form- more eyes should be trained here.  Too many media eyes are focused on Britain and America and ignore less-obvious areas (their folly!).  The Updraft Imperative have shown- not just in Brisbane terms, but globally- how good they are and what diversity can be found- they are the finest Christian-Rock band on the scene.  After a terrific debut album, I was keen to investigate their new sounds and see what is in their mind.

The boys’ previous work (Chair) is the best comparison piece:  I wanted to see how they have evolved and changed and how the new material stacks up.  The album was a bold and brave testament:  The band mixed U.S. Rock elements- hints of Bruce Springsteen and Queens of the Stone Age- with some Classic-Rock elements.  There were some ‘Australian elements’ to the music- local bands and native sounds- yet it was mainly U.K./U.S.-based Rock bands that came through.  When it comes to the sound that was laid-out on the album, there were heady and weaving riffs with strong-armed percussion work.  Compositions changed composure and delineation and caught the listener by surprise.  So much depth and originality; a lot of flair and passion, the performances were consistently electrifying and tight.  You could hear the kinship and closeness:  The songs were well-rehearsed and solid.  Everything sounded immaculate and not overdone and polished.  The lyrics mixed Christian themes with the universality of love.  What defined the album- in my mind anyway- was that mix of doubt and hope and the uncertainties of faith.  In a lot of ways- when it comes to the new track- the boys are back in business.  All the motifs and components remain:  They have not radically altered their sensibilities to fit into market expectations and moulds.  The greatest leap is their confidence and performances.  The new song sound bolder and more assured.  The boys are even more confident and I am not sure what has caused this.  Maybe motivated by momentum- and their wave of support- there is an extra layer/level at work.  In that same sense, the performances are more emphatic and developed.  The guitars fuse genres and sounds- they did on the album but do so more abundantly here- and pull it off with aplomb.  There is Grunge and Desert-Rock licks; great little ticks and lines:  The best guitar work of the band’s career.  In addition, the percussion work is more rhythmic and potent with more fills and emotion- perfectly augmenting the track.  The vocals are full-bodied and more determined:  That sense of campaign and convert comes through like every word is utterly crucial.  You cannot deny that force in every note.  This bodes well for a future album as the music is at it most exciting- the boys get better with age and time.

Pieces of My Past is instantly memorable:  The initial notes and moments hit the mark and get right inside the mind.  The opening moments are a cascade of flowing strings and teasing percussion- the introduction settles in and builds the atmosphere.  There is an underlying sense of funk and dance; something quite toe-tapping and exciting.  Mixing Jazz and Funk elements with some Rock and Pop sounds- it is a complex and mesmeric beginning.  Building from these simple (yet hugely gripping) notes, the song expands as our hero comes to the mic.  It is unclear who he is talking to- as the ‘you’ in the lyrics could be a friend or lover; someone offering advice- yet it seems like there is some conflict.  Given the song’s explanation- and what Josh has disclosed- it seems to fit right in:  There’s a doubter and detractor:  Someone who is putting pressure at our hero’s feet.  Our man needs to find his own way and he will win his own battles.  There is a lot of doubt and hardship ahead:  Some testing times and need to find answers; find God’s grace in their own manner.  From the new Christian’s point-of-view, there is a lot of judgement and expectation:  They do not realise it is not that easy to find answers and sort things out- they need support and not judgement.  The opening lines reveal these concerns:  “You look at me/and you say that I need to change things in my life/so I can be free”.  It is not as easy all that:  As our hero explains- they want him to “pull out the bad” and put good in its place- that is an over-simplification.  We are hearing the subjective voices- those that seem naïve and judgement- those resonant and disappointed tones come through.  The vocal is alive and determined; soulful and spiked cleverly layered and punctuated to add maximum effect.  The hero- from the point of the recent Christian- has a broken spirit and wants to be able to see the light- he is not able to reconcile these issues at the moment.  There are self-doubts and hesitancy; introspection and examination:  The need for God to guide the way and find his love and grace.  Before you start predicting where the song might head and where the composition leads, there is spectral and (rather Doctor Who theme-sounding) snake; something that slithers and weaves- tied with a rushing and funky guitar line.  The combination is hugely effective.  Instantly bonding Rock hardness with something spiritual and haunting here is the sonic representation- those doubts and conspiring thoughts- unleashed in a multifarious and wonderful moment.  Vivid images and metaphors are unveiled- never employing cliché or faux-emotion- as our hero lays his heart out in the spirit of the song’s subject.  There are pieces of the past on the floor that he cannot sweep up.  With too much to sort out- before he can obtain transcendence and deliverance- epiphany is not that simple and easy.  Our man is on his knees; he wants to find answers and a light:  He is struggling to battle through the darkness whilst desiring a higher plain.  The past is a powerful force and its ghosts linger on.  It is hard to rebuild your life; simply change everything.  Non-Christians can find relatability and familiarity:  We all have been in a situation where we need to find change and transformation- the battle is always hard.  Pieces of My Past is troubled and doubtful:  Our man looks inside himself and does not need “another voice” in his head.  There’s too much chaos and chatter; he needs peace and solace so he can find direction and peace.  The song really showcases the band’s musical flair.  Not contented to lay-out a simple and generic coda, the guitars rapture and yowl:  There are jump riffs and scratches whilst the drum skittles and punches.  Compacted and dangerous; psychedelic and entranced, the composition mutates and variates.  All of this keeps the song alive and unpredictable.  Amidst the scenes of pain and doubts- our man confesses every day is a struggle; a battle in a sense- the guitars trip and vibrate; the percussion hisses and swaggers.  The band are not your average Christian-Rock band- I know they are influenced by the likes of Rage Against the Machine and Queens of the Stone Age- and show this diversity and Rock love.  Keeping the song urgent and dizzying- that will appeal to fans of the above- they do not lose sight of the core:  Those doubts and fears with the need to discover God’s light and find direction.  You can sense that desperation and desire:  The need to find God and meaning is almost a sexual frustration; an aching passion comes out.  In the closing stages, the vocal becomes more dramatic and wracked:  Our hero is bleeding-out his heart to the full.  That soulfulness-cum-restraint is a stunning blend.  Supported by his brothers-in-arms, the song never loses its passion.  Little shades of Crowded House comes out- whether consciously or not; the vocal has a Finn-esque quality- as the track concludes and leaves you impressed.


The music world is in need of a shake-up:  Getting out of the traditional mindset and embracing something different and fresh.  A lot of modern bands tend to be young- early-20s-mid-30s- and play certain genres (ordinarily Alternative, Rock, Indie; and variations on these genres).  The Updraft Imperative are a good case in point:  A band that are distinct and new; are not the tried-and-tested formula.  The boys aren’t exactly ‘getting-on’ in years- they are still gazelle-like in energy- yet are over their younger days (phrased that as diplomatically as I could muster).  This maturity and experience work wonders; comes out in their music- their combined years create rich and instructive tracks; inspirational and deep moments- that we can all embrace.  Not concerned with media expectations and conforming to an ideal; they are fun guys having a ball- making music they love; paens to faith and its power- they should compel many up-coming bands.  Re-writing the rules of Christian-Rock, they have the cross-border appeal:  Strong enough to break through barriers- faith and music- to reach new audiences.  Their latest cut shows they have lost none of their drive:  That common touch is still firm; their endless endeavor and quality is here.  Perhaps a step-up from Chair’s best- the boys sound more confident and tight; inspired and motivated- they have been driven by success and support.  The media attention and fan-love has spurred them; lead to creative explosions- this duo of songs is just the beginning.  What amazes me about the band- and continues to do so- is their balance of sounds; their integrity and passion and how much music means to them.  From following them on Twitter and Facebook I know how much they love their fans and how productive they are- radio interviews and new gigs; fresh writing sessions and jams.  The boys have affection for their fans and a great manager behind them:  The music reflects those elements of trust and joy; ambition and urgency.  Having spoken with Murray (the band’s guitarist) in a brief- but technically fraught- video chat; he is pumped and ready.  The band have experienced some upheaval- including a split with their long-time drummer, Pete- and had to stay strong.  In the face of adversity and uncertainty, the boys are looking ahead:  They have re-hired and galvanised- looking to get into the studio and unveil their sophomore album.  On that subject:  The irons are still in the fire whilst the songs are being penned.  We shall know more in time.  With Pieces of My Past forthcoming, they both continue- and subsequently break-away from- Chair and its terrific sound.  That album mixed hard-hitting compositions with multi-part messages- faith and God’s love; broken love and relations; simple homespun pleasures- but here they are venturing into new territory.  Those compositional elements are all there:  That fantastic genre-fuse and cross-pollination, yet the boys sound like stronger songwriters.

Buoyed and driven by their previous success they are clearly on a natural high.  Whilst their latest track is more emotional/passion-led- and play a slightly softer side- that is not to say their upcoming songs will be like this- Chair contained calmer moments and I’m sure their new album will, too.  It is left for me to end on two notes:  Those touched-on in the introduction (Australian music and Christian-Rock).  Australia is the world’s most surprising musical country:  Not in a bad way; it just seems like a revival happening- cities Melbourne and Sydney are producing some stunning bands.  Not just your generic and tired acts (the Melbourne/Sydney bands) are more ambitious and substantive; varied and spectacular- going deeper and further than their peers.  In the Rock and Punk arenas; some young and hungry bands are emerging- Royal Headache (not so young) are the leaders.  When it comes to Electro.-Pop and synth-led sounds, some tremendous female-led artists are popping-up- normally found in Melbourne.  I am not sure what it is about the cities and why you find certain music in each, yet I am glad there is such fervency- in Melbourne, Sydney and the bigger cities- as it is setting the music world alight.  The media are being forced to take note; widen their scope and sights- and give their respects to Australia.  Away from the more ‘obvious’ locations, the likes of Brisbane are starting to emerge and showcasing some of music’s most hard-working and forward-thinking musicians.  The Updraft Imperative are on a noble charge; they are improving by the release- their new track show just that.  Pieces of My Past possess plenty of emotion and softness; some openness and vulnerability- those emphatic and spirited riffs/compositions take charge.  That is why I love the band- well one reason anyway- and their music: they subvert expectations; seamlessly blend Rock swagger with words of faith and love; hope and heartache.  I think a lot of people have preconceived notions of Christian-Rock and have been misled by its big players- that idea of sappy and uninteresting songs; rather cliché image/make-up.  The Updraft Imperative are not your sweater-wearing, guitar-totting ‘preachers’:  Strumming aimlessly and grinning aimlessly with no real point.  The Brisbane boys are a genuine Rock band:  They have that authority and desire; their niche is the Christian message- it is not preached or heavy-handed; it is blended into the mix- so you would barely notice.  That is the biggest asset the band possesses:  On the one hand they appeal to fellow Christians- and have a sermonising edge to the music- yet their music digs deeper and unites all.  It goes beyond the borders of religion and belief.  Months ago- when I reviewed Chair– there was no hyperbole; just shock and stun:  I knew a great band was upon us; something very special indeed.  I left my atheism at the door and did not go in single-minded:  That openness led to great revelation and joy through music I would not normally have uncovered.  Whilst my religious views are not changed- you do not need to be a Christian to understand the music’s appeal- my musical outlook has been radicalised:  I have been compelled to dig into the genre and unearth fellow Christian-Rock gems to see what else is out there.  The Updraft Imperative should foster a surge of like-minded bands:  Those unwilling to follow their example are foolish indeed!  The band’s social media ranks are growing as their fan-base is expanding- their media portfolio is looking mighty fine.  The boys may be seeing a membership switch- and losing their drumming comrade- however the music sounds at its most exhilarating: Pieces of My Past is their best statement; phenomenally assured and compelling- a song that demands repeated plays just to get to the bottom of them.  There is some secrecy at the moment- as to when the new album will be ready- but one thing is for sure:  There will be new music and it will be fantastic.  Staying close to Chair’s hallmarks- the mix of sounds and themes; those incredible performances- there is a notable quality increase and a bit more passion and energy.  The band have never sounded as alive and ready.  I know the future holds interviews and gigs; recording sessions and plans- an exciting time to get involved.  The Updrafters- the name given to the band’s fans- want your recruitment and are looking for your love.  On the evidence put forth- and with Chair’s wonder still winning hearts and minds- why would…

YOU refuse them?



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TRACK REVIEW: Oxygyn- Corrode










Corrode is available at:


December 23rd, 2015





FOLLOWING a rather exhaustive review of London-based Reggae artist…

Natty: I now find myself assessing an act at the other end of the spectrum.  Just starting their life in music; their progression has just begun.  Whilst Oxygyn have a little bit of information on social media, it is their new single that will do the explaining- I shall come to this later.  Before I do, I wanted to discuss the Pop end of the market; acts comprised of siblings- completing with a bit about international sounds.  One of my biggest disappointments from last year was the lack of genuinely impressive Pop music emerging from the scene.  When it came to the mainstream, there was really not a lot to recommend.  Although they are seen as mainstream favourites- and influence my featured act- the likes of James Bay and Ed Sheeran were still being played to death.  Whilst I appreciate those artists have cache and respect: I find their music to be as flimsy and unspectacular as any around.  Not delving deep and offering anything original and enduring; it was quite a fallow year for the Pop artists.  Away from those examples, there was a bit more luck.  In the underground, a few great acts emerged: Likely to translate to the mainstream soon, there was a little bit of hope.  Away from the solo artists of Pop, I find duos and (Pop) bands to be more effective and nuanced.  Perhaps capable of creating more depth and quality in their music: I feel there will be a shift towards these acts this coming year.  Whilst 2016 has started quite promisingly- a lot of great new artists to see- the past year was a little bit ho-hum.  Pop is a commodity that is always going to be a staple of radio and the charts: It accounts for a large market share and appeals to younger music lovers.  Whilst Pop may be losing some of its past glory, if you dig hard enough, you can find some terrific acts.  I think what is lacking- with regards the vague and meagre Pop artists- is they stick to the same subjects and do not really expand their horizons.  Whilst the majority still concentrates on love and the vicissitudes of life- drawing from their personal experiences and day-to-day- it is the vocals and compositions that trouble me most.  So few voices out there stun you and offer anything more than a mouthpiece for their words.  The compositions occasionally stray into ambitious territory: Predominantly you have music that does not stick in the mind and seldom demands repeated listens.  My featured act is a young proposition that play the good side of Pop.  Whilst they have influences like Bay and Sheeran: Their sound has more in common with Daughter and Broods (much more credible and quality-assured artists) that has interested me hugely.  Before I bring up a new point, let me introduce them to you:

Oxygyn is a band composed of sibling duo Kurt and Katia Abela. The songs released by the band are written by Kurt and composed by Janelle Borg. They are inspired by the likes of Ed Sheeran, James Bay, Daughter, and Broods; due to the intense emotion they portray using their music.  Their dream is to share their experiences and emotions through song and this band is the medium through which this process will occur. Follow for info about upcoming new songs, music videos, and more.

Emotions and intensity are words that can easily be applied to the music of Oxygyn: A stunning duo that has a great sound already crafted.  Whilst they are at their sapling stage, I can hear the promise there and how far they can go.  When encountering them- their composer Janelle Borg brought them to my attention- I was fascinated by the brother-sister bond.  Few Pop acts have siblings among their ranks and it got me thinking.  From Kings of Leon to the Maccabees: Music has quite a few recognisable bands comprised of siblings.  I have mused on the subject before: When looking at duos I stated those in relationships/were close had a truly unique sound.  Maybe it is that natural understanding and closeness that results in stunning music.  Compared to other duos/bands- that do not feature loved ones/relatives- you get something a lot more intimate and engaging.  Oxygyn not only have a stunning sound already formed: Kurt and Katia have that simpatico and history that translates into their music.  Whilst it can be a hard dynamic to sustain- some bands go the way of Oasis when it comes to bickering and turmoil- it can also galvanise the act and ensure long-term success.  Whilst sweethearts and lovers (in a duo) may split and go their separate ways: There is a more indelible and secure bond between siblings.  From the faux-siblings of music- The White Stripes for instance- to the mainstream players like First Aid Kit; there are some wonderful examples to be found.  In previous reviews, I have been lucky enough to take my sights out of the U.K. and investigate some tremendous artists.  Whereas most of my non-U.K. reviews take me to Canada and the U.S.: Now I have an opportunity to go to Malta and the musicians emerging there.  Over the last year, the likes of Dana McKeon and Cryptic Street have come under my radar.  One of the most compelling up-and-coming music nations in the world: More attention and respect needs to be directed towards Malta.  Perhaps the media has its hands full with British and American artists: If they took a chance to expand their horizons they could discover some wonderful music from less-than-obvious sources.  I am not sure what the music scene is like in Malta- compared to here in Britain but there is a great connection and bond between artists.  Keen to support one another and promote the country at large: You have a nation that is producing some of music’s most scintillating artists.  Those Pop wonders- like McKeon and Surrey-based Chess Galea- are now joined by Oxygyn.  The duo’s new single sounds like a science formula starring to develop: Oxygyn and Corrode have a scientific basis and the music offered forth mixes combustibility with a chemical reaction that is hard to ignore.  I know the duo is going to be planning gigs into this year- let’s hope they get to London soon- and it will be fascinating to see how they develop and expand.  With an assured and hugely memorable song under their belt: It is only a matter of time before the siblings are planning an E.P. or album.  I find too few Pop artists go that extra mile and strays far away from the pack: Oxygyn have no such issues and have that early promise that is so rare these days.  With instant appeal and filled with atmosphere and intensity: A perfect unity that marks them as one of the acts to watch into 2016.

If you are new to Oxygyn then it is hard to compare Corrode with anything else: This is their first cut and their fledgling steps into music.  Whilst they are inspired by the likes of Ed Sheeran, Daughter and Broods; the duo very much have their own sound and merely employ faint shades of the aforementioned.  If you are inclined towards any of the above artists you will find a lot to enjoy and recommend.  Broods are a New Zealand that gained acclaimed from their 2014 album, Evergreen.  Bringing Indie shades into their agenda: The album’s textured vocals and brother-sister bond struck a lot of reviews: Many noting how the emotional lyrics and nuanced sounds appeal to those who want music that is more than skin deep.  Whilst a lot of their contemporaries promote wafer-thin compositions and no depth: Broods managed to create an album chock-full of stunning compositions and personally relatable themes.  Oxygyn have that same connection, artistry and sound that the New Zealand duo create.  Daughter and Ed Sheeran are other influences.  Daughter- especially on their sophomore album, Not to Disappear– brings in more assertion and articulation to the fore.  The songs- compared to the debut album- have cross-genre appeal- Indie and Alternative sounds gave the album edge and depth.  Oxygyn have a similar make-up when it comes to their songs: You get the layered sound and personality burning through in addition to sounds that are not just confined to the Pop market.

It is best to use these guides and examples as just that.  Judge Oxygyn on their own merits and discover a duo that is (actually) quite hard to compare with anyone else.  It is clear the duo will be planning an E.P. and it will be fantastic to see what direction they take.  Whether they expand and mix genres together will be anyone’s guess.  What I do know is the quality will be consistent and they will explore new themes and ideas- keeping their core sound intact and ensuring they do not lose their focus.

Starting with an emotive and stately piano: The listener is at once stood to attention and offered something quite haunted and still.  Possessing beauty and passion, Corrode begins with plenty of purpose and directness.  When our heroine comes to the microphone, you get words from a troubled soul.  “Skin grew tired” from voices coming and “creeping in”.  Whether referencing herself- and some internal turmoil that leaves it marks- or someone else I am not sure.  When the words “across my chest” are brought in; the song has that first-hand and personal nature to it.  In these early phases, there is some obliqueness and indirectness with regards the lyrics’ origins.  Whether a relationship has broken down or friends have betrayed our heroine, it is hard to pinpoint an exact paramour in the early exchanges.  The story starts to unfold and you get some vivid images and stark emotions.  It is thanks to Katia’s soulful and impressive performance- few Pop vocalists have the same ability and sound as she does- that gives Corrode such a huge weight and sense of purpose.  The subject matter does not stray too far from the emotive and scarred arena: It is a song that would sound cheap and insincere were there any false emotions and needless light-heartedness.  Because of the raw nature of the song- and the stunningly real performance laid out- it is impossible not to be affected and enveloped by the song (in a good way).  Backed by that intense and gorgeous piano sound: You have a song that sends chills to the spine and gets inside the brain.  As our heroine tries to light a flame- looking for gasoline she comes away empty- you get the impression of a young woman that is struggling to move on and gain what she wants from life.  Perhaps overcome by anxiety and heartbreak; each listener will have their own interpretation and speculate as to the true nature of the lyrics.  Joining with her brother, you have a duel vocal that adds intensity, breathlessness and additional shivers to the foreground.  Having loved like soldiers at war- the scars are bleeding and the wounds fresh- you have big statements and images from a duo that want to make impressions and leave a mark.  While some of the lyrics may stray into the tried-and-tested side of things- other artists have used the same metaphors and ideas- the way Oxygyn present them stands them aside.  Not only are their vocals and performances more impressive and resonant: It is the way they deliver their lines that give Corrode such an intensity and depth.  Whereas peers of the mainstream- the fly-by-night Pop acts emerging- have clichés a-plenty and a lack of grit: We have a duo that has the credibility and talent of the best Indie acts out there.  Ghosts are on the mind and there are memories that are hard to forget.  I get ideas of love and romance as the song starts to move along.  Still plagued by sadness and suffocation- our heroine tries to speak but her lips will not part- you are dragged ever-deeper into a song that recounts a very bleak occurrence.

Keeping events level-headed and hopeful- it is never too depressing or heavy-handed- it means Corrode will have listeners coming back for more- trying to get to the bottom of the lyrics.  Our heroine has had her heart manipulated and thrown away: It seems like a particular man has led her astray and taken a part of her soul.  Ensuring that ‘hero’ is given a dressing-down; the lyrics are impressively mature and memorable.  Having been written by Kurt; it is impressive to hear a male writer pen a song for a female voice.  If you did not know who wrote the lyrics you would assume it was scribed by a female: The fact the lines have such authority and reality are a testament to Kurt’s lyrical abilities.  That said, there is a universality that means both genders- and all ages for that matter- can extrapolate and appreciate the sentiments being poured out.  It is when the duo combines in the chorus- and the soldiers of love’s wars lead a charge- you get the biggest emotional hit.  Eliciting the qualities, directness and emotion of Daughter and Broods- two acts that are influences of Oxygyn- you have a track that surpasses the efforts of the majority of the Pop market.  Keeping that composition simple and background- allowing the vocals to reign and pervade- Janelle Borg has written a backdrop that perfectly highlights the “struggle for survival” and the ghosts that swirl around the song.  Leaving her soul behind: your heart goes out to the heroine as her voice keeps its composition to recall a part of her life she’d rather forget.  Every second that elapses sheds new light and revelations: Keeping those lyrics open-ended enough- simple phrases that have plenty of effectiveness- you have a song that could be documenting struggles we all face.  Making sure Corrode is not too personal- thus pushing some listeners away- there is that universality that all great songs are made of.  The glass heart- that one suspects is shattered- is showing its age and the skin is fatigued.  You cannot escape the suffocation and intensity from our heroine: The way that voice looks for comfort and answers among a gentle and tear-dropping piano line.  Oxygyn are at their strongest and most compelling when their voices are married together: The siblings’ tones complement one another and provide different shades that fully exploit the lyrics’ meanings.  By the closing stages, you still wonder who has caused this umbrage- if it was a former lover or a friend that has been dishonest- and no listener will be able to suppress emotions when they hear the song.  Being a first single, one suspect Oxygyn will expand their sounds and subjects on further releases: Bigger compositions and bring in new instrumental elements.  On a debut release, you need something that has simplicity and honesty to it.  Oxygyn have created a song that could soundtrack a million broken heart moments: There’s relatability and personality mixing with passion and the quest for closure.

Ensuring Corrode does all its title promises- a heart and soul that is depleted and damaged- the lyrics, composition and vocals all have to be just right.  The production polishes the song without making it soulless and mass-produced.  Those vocals are allowed to sit high in the mix and ensure none of the lyrics pass the listener by.  That said, the composition does not get mixed too low and is given an opportunity to impress and seduce.  Congratulations must be given to Borg for penning a composition that has great familiarity: Pop and Indie lovers will find much to admire in that mix of grandeur and bare-naked emotion.  There’s depth and wisdom in the notes: Spades of fearfulness and yearning that gives the lyrics the rudder and backing they require.  Kurt Abela’s lyrics provide a great and new perspective on the capriciousness of love and the deceit effects: The way a heart can be damaged beyond simple words and easy repair.  While there is universality in the lyrics, they also have a distinctly female perspective.  Few male writers have the ability to write like this: Being Katia’s brother, it is hardly surprising he can write a song that reflects his sister’s pain.  Maybe the song is a passage from Kurt’s life- he is the one who has experienced the troubles- but that is the beauty of the song.  Katia’s lead vocals have an atmosphere, occasion and heartbreak to them.  Sounding completely dedicated to the subject matter: It is one of the most singular and impressive vocal performances I have heard for a long time.  Kurt provides evocative and supportive vocals in the chorus to augment that urgency and intensity.  What you have here is a duo with a very bold first step: A song that shows a lot of promise and quality from one of Malta’s best up-and-coming duos.

One of the best things about reviewing is looking at artists that are just starting out: Helping to support those initial steps is rewarding and exciting to see.  Not being the biggest Pop fan in the world, I am always filled with trepidation when faced with a Pop act: What to say and how to approach the review can be quite challenging.  Whilst it is perhaps the male solo acts of Pop that elicit the weakest response in me: Thankfully, the duos are bands are creating stronger and more immediate music.  Injecting that necessary atmosphere, emotion and diversity into their sounds: What Oxygyn provides is something a lot stronger and nuanced than the majority of their peers.  We need dispensability and throw-away- my words rather than anyone else’s- when it comes to music: The trouble is there’s far too much of it on the current scene.  Too many artists come in safe and into that mould: Sounds that could score a Heart Radio playlist or fill column inches in Q Magazine.  The trouble is; music consumers- those who appreciate great music- want something a lot more daring and adventurous than that.  I appreciate the likes of Bay and Sheeran have their audience but that does not mean the music is going to be any good.  I am a fan of Daughters- an act that inspires Oxygyn- and gladly our Maltese duo has that necessary passion and quality.  I am seeking Pop acts that reappraise my cynicism: Corrode is a song that is got inside the head and ranks alongside the most promising tracks I have heard all year.  The connection and understanding of Kurt and Katia Abela- with composition by fellow musician Janelle Borg- results in music that will appeal to a wide range of listeners.  Not just confined to pure Pop fans- that like things more comforting and familiar- there is plenty to recommend here.  I wonder whether the duo will go and record an E.P. this year: I can see Corrode being a lead-off track and setting out the stall quite wonderfully.  That will be down to Oxygyn but it remains: This duo is going to be making a lot more music to come.  It is so rewarding being on the ground floor with regards an act’s career: Looking at those early songs and seeing how they are likely to progress.  The duos market is throwing some fantastic possibilities into the music centrifuge.  The relations and connection between the players mean the ensuing music has that strength, understanding and closeness to it.  I never get tired of seeing the stunning two-pieces we are witness to: I always come away (from reviewing them) with a bigger sense of satisfaction and hopefulness.  Few brother/sister duos are evident in new music, so it makes Oxygyn a revelation and rarity.

I would urge media outlets, reviewers and radio stations to play close attention to music emerging from Malta.  It may not be the most obvious source for great music, but that would be short-sighted: So many of our future heroes are playing in the country right now.  Maybe Malta- the radio stations and media- is not as extensive as here in the U.K.  I find a lot of Maltese acts are coming to the U.K.: Reviewers assume (therefore) they are British are do not often look at the country they came from.  Boasting some of our best and brightest Pop artists; there holds a consistency and range that has deeply impressed me.  There are Internet radio stations- Channell Radio among them- that are doing their bit to promote music coming out of Malta.  I guess it is hard to focus on music from every country: You have to draw the line and focus more on what is coming out of your home territory.  Let us hope Oxygyn change perspectives and inspire more people to think more clearly and widely with regards their music choices.  Not just because of their origins but the music they are providing.  Corrode is a track that will not rust or tarnish in any sense: It blends honest and everyday emotion with plenty of depth and originality.  In a market where they are ruthlessly efficient artists- keen to tick boxes and fit into marketing surveys- who reveal debts and dues to other stars: It is refreshing to see an act that is very much looking for respect.  Too many musicians have that X Factor-esque sound that is cloying and anodyne: Artists that push the envelope and broaden their scope are always going to gain more approval and adulation.  Let’s hope this year sees more acts like Oxygyn emerge: A brother-sister force that have plenty more songs in them.  Corrode has been played across 89.7 Bay (a Maltese radio station) and is doing great business in Malta.  Garnering some serious views across YouTube; you have a sound that has serious clout and a lot of promise.  I hope they manage to translate across to the U.K. and U.S. this year as their sound mixes elements of Daughters and Cryptic Street- country-mates that have a tremendous sound- into something wonderfully pleasing that stands up to multiple plays.  Check out this Mosta-based act and a Pop act that are worthy…

OF a long and successful career.



Follow Oxygn











ALBUM REVIEW: Natty and the Rebelship- Release the Fear



Natty and the Rebelship



Release the Fear




Release the Fear is available from 29th February (digital).  The physical release is out on March 18th.

Reggae; Soul; Future-Roots


London, U.K.


I’m Alive9.6

SS I Luv U (Reprise)9.5



Change (feat. Alborosie and Busy Signal)- 9.5

Motherland- 9.5

Stand Up (In Love) – 9.7

King Had a Dream9.6

Gaia- 9.6

Things I’ve Done– 9.6

Release the Fear (feat. George the Poet)- 9.8


I’m Alive; Rainclouds; Stand Up (In Love); King Had a Dream; Release the Fear


Release the Fear


ASSESSING an artist that has already established themselves on…


the scene is always a little daunting.  Having had some notable backing behind them: It is to me to try and do something different and stand-out.  When it comes to Natty (and his Rebelship), press and critics have been keen to add their praise and plaudits.  I shall come to him soon, but for now, I wanted to look at the genres of Reggae and Future-Soul: Moving onto the subjects of peace and love (in music) and diversification of sounds.  It is not often I get to investigate an artist that mixes Reggae and Soul music together.  My last out-and-out Soul review was Leon Bridges: My Reggae experience does not tend to stray far and wide, alas.  The mainstream has some great Reggae artists working away although few make it to the charts and radio playlists.  Occasionally, stations like Radio 1 and B.B.C. 6 Music will feature a great new Reggae artist: There is still a focus on Indie, Alternative and Rock sounds.  Maybe it (Reggae) is seen as a niche genre and something that is restricted to die-hard fans: This is a mistake, as there is so much joy and potential to be found in the genre.  Perhaps the big festivals and stations do not pay enough attention to Reggae and Soul- not as much as they should anyway- but if you dig long enough; you get to discover artists that are changing the way we perceive music.  I have always adored Reggae for its positivity and hopefulness.  Whilst a lot of the best (and most genuine) Reggae artists emerge from Jamaica and the U.S.; there are some fantastic British examples making their way through.  Historically, this country has produced the likes of Aswad- a great group that still get plenty of airplay- Desmond Dekker and Eddy Grant: A veritable trinity of wonderful acts that have had a great impact on the music scene.  Even bands like The Police, The Clash and Madness employ Reggae vibes and its messages to maximise their own impact.  Those Caribbean sounds have a great reputation and history:  It seems there are fewer Reggae artists playing then at any other time.  Compared to the ‘90s, for instance, it seems like there has been a slight dip.  That said, the likes of O. Rappa, Kiko Bun and Fat Freddy’s Drop are brothers that keep that flame burning bright.  I guess British Reggae is viewed a watered-down counterpart to the authentic Jamaican sounds we all know and love.  Less a strong-rum Malibu cocktail: Perhaps a low-alcohol equivalent that does not elicit the same sort of kick and aftertaste.  Lloyd Brown- when waxing lyrical with Young Voices in 2013- tried to assess the issue:

Reggae has almost been outsourced to the point that it has been embraced by artists of all races, and I have no qualms with that because the music is all about ‘one love’ which Bob Marley sang about. But within our own Caribbean community here in the UK, I don’t think British reggae is seen as standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the reggae output from Jamaica”.

Before I continue my point, let me introduce the wonderful Natty:

“Hailing from North London Natty grew up surrounded by an eclectic mix of sounds from Neil Young to Bob Marley. Although interested enough in music to write songs from an early age it was while working in Sphere Studios, Battersea that he really discovered his talent. By day he was engineering for some of the biggest names in pop music, and by night this gave him the inspiration to nurture his own sounds.

Soon he garnered a devout following from his open mic sessions and Vibes and Pressure nights which have seen the likes of Ben Howard, Ed Sheeran, Wretch32, Dawn Penn etc perform.

The success of his debut Album “Man Like I” captivated the well-deserved attention of the uk media and press (see attached). It went on to establishing Natty as a well-respected songwriter and festival favourite across Europe and Japan, where had a number 1 hit with the single ‘Badman’.

TV Highlights include performing on Later with Jools Holland, ITV News and The BBC Electric Proms. Collaborations include work with Nitin Sawhney, Roots Manuva, Tony Allen, Busy Signal etc”.

Alongside his Rebelship- Bob Marley had The Wailers; Natty has his own backing brethren- you have an artist that is going to give British Reggae a much-needed kick.  There is truth to the fact British Reggae does not get just recognition: There is too much attention on other genres; stations and media sources are not pushing it quite as hard as they should.  Natty has become popular because of his quality and exceptional talent.  Perhaps it is his cross-genre pollination that makes Reggae more accessible and tangible to the masses.  Using Reggae as a base- its vibes and messages- he mixes in Soul sounds and (what he calls) Future-Roots measures.  Music suffers from a lack of overt positivity and redemptiveness.  Too many musicians are self-investigating and heartbroken when they present their music.  Whilst it is important to provide something personal and relatable to the audience- often involving relationship breakdown and stress- the music lover seeks something brighter and more hopeful.  If you think about it hard: How many bands/acts make music that preaches love, unity and strength?  Pop mainstream give a very muted and poor show of it- the big choruses and generic lyrics- so the torch has been picked up by Natty and his contemporaries.  Urging people connect to the world around them and make positive changes: Few can deny what a forward-thinking and original artist we have here.  The north London legend has already produced a critically-acclaimed album and is working on his brand- having parted ways with a major label recently.  Release the Fear is an album that makes you forget the strife and turmoil surrounding the world: Concentrating on hopefulness and love; we have a record that is perfect for the modern times.  Few artists are diverse and wide-ranging when it comes to their sounds and lyrics.  Natty and the Rebelship do not just stick with the classic ‘60s-‘70s revolutionary vibe- although that is a building block they work from- but give it a contemporary vibe.  Free of production tricks and polish- concentrating on a raw and real sound- Natty is a lyricist that has a sharp mind and a pure pen.  His lyrics do not suffer cliché and insincerity: You have a writer in touch with the world who funnels his uplifted soul through the transom of blissful Reggae and sweet-leaf purity.  There is jaggedness and something harder among the sun-kissed atmospheres: A musician who does not confine himself and has an exceptional breadth.  With his ambitions and grasp perfectly represented throughout Release the Fear: Here is an artist that is going to be a huge name in 2016.

Many of you will be new to Natty and the Rebel Ship.  Even if you are a keen Reggae/Soul fan, perhaps our London hero is a new addition to your consciousness.  In terms of his influences and heroes, the list below is a good starting point:

Lee Perry, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, Neil Young, Fela Kuti, Yellowman, Finley Quaye, Prince, Burning Spear, D’Angelo, The Streets, Miles Davis, Sly Stone, Dillinga, Curtis Mayfield, Big Yout, Van Morrisson, Nitin Sawhney, Velvet Underground, Supercat, James Brown, Roots Manuva, Pink Floyd, Common, Slum Village, Bob Dylan, The Clash, David Bowie, Sizzla, Joy Division, Oumou Sangare… and the rest

Quite a wide and varied list from a man who grew up with some of music’s finest names.  Distinct and original, it is hard to compare Natty with anyone directly: Take the names above as a guide and arrive at your own conclusions.  Essentially, we get a compassionate mingling of ‘60s-‘70s Reggae revolution with some modern-day street-level messages.  If you love artists such as George the Poet- who appears on Release the Fear– and Bob Marley then you will find much to love here: The album (and Natty himself) has so many sides and colours few listeners will be immune to what he offers forth.

In terms of progressions and shifts; the ensuing time between albums has seen the young hero grows in confidence and direction.  Release the Fear is the most eye-catching representation of Natty’s Reggae-Soul marriage: More revolutionary and progressive than previous releases; it sees our man at the peak of his powers.  Publications and critics have noticed how sharp and focused Natty is.  On his debut album- subsequent releases in-between- there was that promise and originality: If anything Natty sounds more confident and intent than ever.  Perhaps enforced by the dissolving nature of peace- the recent terrorist attacks have influenced a lot of musicians- Natty has stepped-up and penned songs that implore for peace.  Against the forces of malice and repression we need a musician that gives guidance and comfort: Release the Fear is an album that provides an alternate soundtrack to the dislocation of the modern world.  Mixing political messages against traditional unity and hopefulness: A collection of tracks that shows Natty at his very best.  The Rebelship sound even tighter and more authoritative too.  Having gained touring experience and performance galvaisation: This has resulted in music that sounds more nuances and strong than their debut days cuts.  Natty has separated from the big labels and is working on his own brand.  It will be fascinating to see what 2016 holds for him and how Natty evolves: Perhaps a new E.P. or album will arrive later in the year?

I’m Alive is the leading single from Release the Fear.  Tumbling and rainfall guitar notes give a passionate and tender start to a song that instantly makes you smile.  Patterning and intent percussion drives the song forward as it builds and expands into something quite beautiful.  That blissful and inimitable voice comes into the fray as that composition continues to press and compel.  Lyrics see rude boys on the side of the road- there is “music in the air”- as our man celebrates the simplicity of being alive.  Against the turmoil and unpredictability of the modern world, we have a redemptive and transcendent opener that is overtly hopeful and positive.  Spiritual and faith-inspiring; you get smiling faces and a joyous atmosphere.  Kaleidoscopic voices and hand-claps bring the song up to heavingly heights: The listener will be intoxicated by the sweet smoke and embracing sounds Natty offers.  Backed by his brothers-in-arms- who give the song huge warmth and affection- you transport yourself into the song.  Contemporary-sounding- the composition has an element of modern-day Folk- mixes with the spirit of ‘60s Reggae.  Our hero promotes dancing and peace; togetherness and a sense of thanks.  The hero goes out marching by day- dancing the night away- and wants to keep the spirit burning bright.  When the sun comes up we are all going to dance: Such a unique and wonderful message that emanates from the speakers.  The harmony and togetherness is needed in this life: Few people take time to reach out and unify their voices.  Our hero knows people fight to survive and struggle: Let us celebrate the fact we are living and breathing.  It may seem like an a worn-out cliché- a Facebook post that we all see on our timelines- but there is a universal truth to be discovered.  Kicking Release the Fear off with a tremendous track: I’m Alive is as pure and celebratory as any Natty track there has ever been.  A catchy and head-spinning chorus melts with a deliriously sun-seeking composition that makes the most haunted souls feel uplifted and better.

SS I Luv U (Reprise) starts off soft and gentle before becoming racier and more urgent.  Our hero wants to take the people on a trip across the globe.  Continuing the soul-freeing messages of I’m Alive: Here we have a song that perhaps speaks to a sweetheart or lover.  A certain girl may be in his mind and inspiring the words pouring forth.  With his voice entranced and deliciously pure; the track is hugely evocative and nuanced.  Away from the stresses of life- away from time and space itself- there is that need to emigrate and go somewhere warmer and more settled.  Maybe headed to Africa or a Jamaican beach I am not sure: Each listener is given the chance to imagine their own story-line.  Urging rebellion to an extent- forget the bank loans and hassles of everyday life- Natty implores overthrown and fighting the oppression of modern society.  Few people have that strength to just throw the bad things away and find something more positive.  I get embers of Bob Marley and Lee Perry- disparate names that seem to come together here- as Natty’s rich and expressive voice brings huge life to the lyrics.  Killers are on the screen and the world seems like a confusing place.  Channeling the needs and fears of many- wanting to get away from all the violence and upset we see- our hero has his sights on warmer climes.  It is here where perhaps Natty’s voice is at its most flying and uplifting.  Wordless chorusing causes shivers and immense purity as the composition offers racing beats and elliptical strings.  A song that perfectly represents what we face today- the fear and lying that pervades society- every listener will take inspiration from the messages here.  On board his Rebelship, our hero wants to take everyone with him: It’s a trip you are delighted to take.

   Rainclouds begins with a rousing and emotive piano line that puts me in mind of Carole King’s Tapestry: I half-expected to hear I Feel the Earth Move or It’s Too Late play.  Whereas previous tracks have used Reggae-vibed guitars and percussion to kick the songs off: Here we get something more soulful and emotional.  A gorgeous and immersive introduction sounds leads to a pulsing beat- like a heartbeat that gets inside the head- and an urgent vocal.  Natty looks at the generational gaps and misunderstandings.  The older people feel like the young’s (ways) are wrong and “aren’t real”.  Perhaps looking at the war and hatred that is unfolding- how the world is becoming more oppressive and fraught- there is that desire to regress to simpler times.  Maybe this generation is leading the world down a bad path- not employing the ethics and morals of past days- and our man cries for peace.  Bringing some Pop and Electro.-Soul elements into the fold- there are touches of James Blake in the vocals and compositional sound- give the album a new direction and side.  Searching inside his soul; the hero looks up and sees rain clouds: The sun is sorely missing from the sky it seems.  Wanting something more positive and hopeful; you get lost in the building mood and compelling vocal performance.  Perhaps the most heartfelt and affecting vocals on the album: This is a song that sees anxieties and fears brought vividly to life.  Never allowing the song to become morbid and depressive: The backing vocals and insistent beat ensures those Reggae flavours add positivity and dance to the mix.  Presenting important issues and concerns- the world is moving too fast- we all need to take more time out and slow down a bit.  Packing another irresistible and sing-along chorus- that is sure to be shouted by festival crowds across the world- Natty fears the world is becoming too crowded and fast-moving.  We do not take time to “read between the lines” and look out for our fellow man- a vital declaration we should all take note of.

   Streetlights starts with some tenderness before exploding into life.  That fast-paced and charged composition gives the song such urgency and impact.  Our hero waits for his girl to go “downtown” and see the sites.  Purity and passion is at the forefront once more: The desire to take his sweetheart dancing and reconnect with the world around them.  As is familiar in Natty’s songs: There is a fear technology and the modern world is taking away human connection and spirituality.  Few of us take our eyes from phones and social media: If you get out into the world and get back to life; you will get so much more from it.  A racing and frantic vocal shows just how meaningful and important the words are: Streetlights is the album’s most bracing and (perhaps) important moments.  Hard-hitting and swaggering; there is such an immense force and weight to the music.  Once more the vocals are enraptured and highly captivating- the backing vocals are especially commendable- as the song gets stronger and more assured.  The beats and electronics are harder and street-wise than previous numbers- straying away from ‘60s Reggae sounds to offer something more contemporary- that will bring in more young listeners and a wider audience.  Natty offers an intriguing proposition: For one night, let’s rally against convention and change things for the better.  If we pull down the road signs- would people get in their cars? – and disconnect cables would we all still talk?  Perhaps modern life has taken away the joys of simplicity and pure communication.  Inspiring people to sit under the stars and unshackle the constraints of modern life: We are too dependent on unimportant things and rarely reconnect with fellow man.  If we watch the sun rise and “talk about life” it would make things so much better.  Whilst it may be impossible to switch modern life off completely- and lead an almost Aboriginal existence- it is possible to embrace the simpler elements of existence.  A song that is free from cynicism and doubts; you have a musical moment that perfectly represents Natty’s mandates and political ideals.  Few modern artists keep Reggae’s purity and hopefulness alive- there is too much negativity to be heard- so it is refreshing and stunning to hear Natty and the Rebelship burn so fiercely.

Change brings Alborosie and Busy Signal into the mix as the song looks at changes being felt.  The seasons change and pregnancy brings new life into the world.  Everywhere we look there are transformations and reconfigurations to be found.  Bringing in new voices and aspects gives the album some variation and collaborative spirit.  It is wonderful to hear Alborosie and Busy Signal’s varied tones breathe new life into the album.  Whilst Natty is stunning when leading the charge: Change is a good thing and this applies to the music itself.  Whilst not bemoaning the fact things change; the song states obvious facts we cannot ignore.  Change doesn’t come in a day- as the chorus lets it be known- and it is another song that promotes positive thinking and progression.  Whilst the world is not ideal and perfect, we can all affect some change for the better: It may take time but every time the world spins round something changes.  The celebratory horns mix with ruffled beats to give the song such a fervent kick and sense of endeavor.  With new days “on the horizon”, you are spellbound by the fast-flowing vocals and blissful composition.  A song that is perfect for summer festivals and uplifting the crowds: You find yourself captivated by the song’s spirit and start to sing along.  Hardship is attested and brought in: Our leads look to change the world and bring about equal rights.  Politically and socially aware; we have a song that wants to make positive changes in the world.  We need to be patient and embrace the small transformations that occur daily.  It is here where we get one of the most unexpected and mobile compositions.  Ranging from calm and collected lows to rapturous highs; the music stops, starts and swoops: A sensational and wondrous sound that keeps the listener invested and hooked throughout.

Starting with intriguing strings and a slow build: Motherland returns the album to the pure roots of Reggae.  Our man wants to escape the small world and ignite a fire.  Feeling trapped and smothered by the way life moves- the stresses and miseries we all face- the future maybe looks a little hazy.  Being called lazy by some of his friends and contemporaries: It seems like the hero wants to return to Africa and build a protective vest.  Wanting something more homely and familiar, you are caught in a vocal that has such a peaceful purity to it.  Maybe the rabble of British life is causing some anxiety and heartache: Setting his sights back to the homeland you have a soul-baring anthem that has its heart in Babylon.  The composition has a unique voice and charm to it: Slight clatters and odd motifs give the lyrics such a drive and perfect backing.  Supportive vocals give a choir-like/gospel grace to the song and make it such a stunning sense of purpose and pride.  Motherland’s proclamation repeated- this world being small and uncertain- is something that becomes a mission statement for Release the Fear.  We all experience the walls closing in and feeling so insignificant: If we could go anywhere we wanted; we perhaps wouldn’t stay where we are.  I am not sure what Natty’s lineage and heritage is- there are African roots for sure- but there is that need to return to the continent and life a simpler life.  Providing a thought-provoking and sensational centerpiece to the album: Few songs across the record leave such a huge impression.  Its simplicity and memorability ensure that it will be another one of those fan favourite tracks.

Delighted beats and hazy strings welcome Stand Up (In Love) and give the positivity back to the album.  A blackbird is outside Natty’s window: Everything seems pure and beautiful against the site of a new morning.  A merry and transcendent that shows our hero let his voice reign with love.  Whatever happens and wherever he is his girl’s face is right there.  We have all felt the spell and drunken power of a great love: Few artists represent it with such a candid and uplifting sense of wonder.  The celebratory and life-affirming core of Reggae expands and explodes in a song of delight and thanks.  Our boy does not want to control the girl and control: There will be other men but nobody gives her what he does.  Happy and contented in his skin; there’s that comfort and pride that is an irresistible force of nature.  Whereas Motherland was a song that looked inside a haunted soul: Stand Up (In Love) transposes those emotions to give something hugely positive and free from constraints.  Expansive, open and proud you get dragged into the delicious blend of sounds and voices.  A riotous celebration of life’s purity: Here is an anthem that recalls the greatest artists from Reggae’s past.  Natty’s soulful voice gives so much richness and emotion to a song that forces smiles and compels the listener to move their feet.  Such a delightful and festival-like song: Nobody will be able to refute the glory and cheer that comes through in every note.  A short (and very sweet) song that I would definitely recommend as a single release.

King Had a Dream is perhaps the most political moment from the album.  Starting with soft and passionate strings- one of the most memorable and beautiful introductions across Release the Fear– it is stunning to see such an about-face.  After the festivities of the previous number; Natty shows how inventive and diverse he is- each song sounds perfect alongside one another and there is never a sense the album is unfocused and scattershot.  Building from its proud and noble standing: The composition begins to settle to allow the vocal to come.  Our man will be “walking in the street tonight” and evoking the messages of Martin Luther King.  Whilst it may seem like an unrealistic ambition- to connect fully with every human you meet- Natty is determined to give peace and connection a chance.  In a world where there is so much inequality and bigotry we all need to reconnect with people.  London has a reputation for being a little cold and distant- stranger will not talk to one another for example- and perhaps Natty is feeling the pinch.  Affected by the impersonal and inhuman nature of the streets: He needs to feel like humanity can rule again and change the world.  Sitting alongside a hero of his; Natty wants to fly across the U.S. (and the world) and follow those immense footsteps.  If one man can do so much for the world- his effect and leadership affected huge change- our London hero wants to make changes too.  That nature of change and betterment are themes that keep coming through across Release the Fear.  Representing the voices of people everywhere- who feel like they cannot effect movement and improvement- Natty stands tall and sets his gaze across the globe.  With a child’s voice adding to the poignancy and inter-generational togetherness- not sure if it is Natty’s child on record- you have emotion and beauty that is impossible to escape.  Natty wants to see Babylon’s brotherly spirit and peace emit its bliss across the world.  Natty dreams of a time when guns are silenced and hosepipes are turned off- against innocent people and protesters.  Everyone from John Lennon to Bob Dylan has yearned for a world that promotes peace and love: Will we ever live to see a day when it becomes a reality?  While there may be rampant gun violence across the U.S. and other parts: The hero is fed up with the bloodshed and hatred that we see on the news on a weekly basis.

  Gaia is a surprise little beauty that fades in and instantly evokes something hugely uplifting.  The sun is on the horizon and there is moonshine “in our eyes”.  Immediately our hero feels “high” and holy: Up there in the sky here is another song that sees our lead caught in the blizzard of purity and love.  Perhaps entranced by a new love and connection- a girl is definitely in the mind- you cannot help but get lost in a song that channels such positivity and affection.  Gorgeous guitar licks and rousing brass gives the Soul-cum-Reggae blends such a conviction and nuance.  “You got to summon up the spirit now” is repeated like a bellicose chorus: Imploring people to look inside themselves and be who they are meant to be.  Too many people are limited and confined because of life: Here is a song that brings back the early days glory of Eddie Grant, Curtis Mayfield and Bob Marley.  On some album tracks that is such a modern vibe and contemporary relatability: Songs that will appeal to young listeners and chart-hungry music fans.  On Gaia you have a song that will resonate more with older/wiser listeners: Those that have affection for Reggae and are familiar with its golden history.  Contrasting these tastes and diversity across the album does not make it weaker or suffer:  There’s a distinct consistency and personality that comes across in every song.  Was the album too samey and one-directional you would be bored after the half-way mark: As it is Natty ensures every track offers something unique and daring.

Things I’ve Done is a penultimate track that begins with a skip and echoed introduction.  Part-moody, part-skipping; you are fascinated to hear what will come next.  Growing and flowering by the second it is one of the most intriguing and assured introductions on the album.  Natty wants his child to listen to the story with an “open heart and mind”.  The best of him; the hero is given strength because he is a lover and father.  Having been living blind, he now “wants to see”.  Ills and crimes of the past have been a black mark that he is trying to erase.  Confessional and open; you have a song that shows the scars and is impressively earnest.  Natty wants to redeem himself to an extent and get absolution.  With that voice raw and direct the song will get inside the head and make every listener reflect.  Perhaps life throws obstacles and challenges to Natty: The way he dealt with some of them are not to be applauded.  Lies and heartache sit alongside fights and running with the boys.  A soldier “fighting for his life”; Natty needs his girl by his side- a compatriot that can help make his life better.  Few artists tend to put their soul out there in such an affecting way: Things I’ve Done is perhaps Release the Fear’s most open and personal statement from a man trying to better himself.  Once more you get some wonderful backing vocals and wonderful set of lyrics.  Amazingly consistent and focused, the composition once more stands aside: Such a wonderful thing, you get gentility and tenderness among something much more flowing and ramshackle.  Tying all the heartache, concerns and apologies together: Natty shows what a pure and open soul he has and how he is willing to make up for the mistakes of the past.

George the Poet- a London-born Spoken Word genius- comes to join Natty on the final track.  The title track gets underway with passionate strings and a real positive mood.  Cool-edged and intent; Natty looks at the sun and sea early on: Wanting to wash away his sins there is that need for improvement and shedding old skin.  There is uncertainty to be heard- not sure what is below or above- but that need to release the fear is paramount.  Perhaps the past has been a struggle and there have been too many setbacks: Now our lead has ambitions to the horizon.  “Ships go by without a sound” and feet are planted to the ground.  Our hero might be too timid to dive in and grab life by the shoulders.  Here we see a musician that is castigating past hesitancy and embracing a more daring way of life.  It doesn’t matter what has happened in the past- quite a set of stories to hear I am sure- but the focus is on the present.  Wanting to be a better man and see more of the world: The entire album’s themes are concentrated and reflected on a song that ends things with a massive high.  So relaxed and controlled, it is a song that seeps into the soul and rattles around the head.  George the Poet adds impressive backing that ensures the song always has that immediacy and quality throughout.  Embracing his faith and escaping the fear: Natty seems at peace and completely dedicated to what is to come.  Perhaps signaling new music and direction- will we see another release this year? – perhaps there will be less anxiety and more positivity across a new record.  Transcending from a boy to a man; you feel that evolution and growth as the song comes to its close.  George the Poet adds his vocals to give narration: There is a lot we can’t control; George is a pastor that gives guidance and pure truth.  It will be exciting to see where this energy and inspiration takes Natty next.  If Release the Fear’s title track points in any direction it is this: Plenty of life-affirming music will come.  Being the longest track on the album- a 10-minute symphony that is a masterclass in expression and motivation- you get Jazz calm (embers of Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue) sits with experimental Reggae and Soul.  It stands as the album’s highlight because it carries its weight and potency from beginning to end.  The extended and inspired composition gives so much weight and atmosphere to a track that constantly drives and aims for a higher truth.  Being a Miles Davis fan I love the Jazz interludes and that evocation of Kind of Blue/Birth of the Cool.  The song dips and rises to give it unexpectedness and mystery to the final bars.  Growing in intensity and motivation; no listener will be able to step away: Hooked into the drama and busy composition that becomes more wonderful by the moment.

Such a confident and spectacular album we have here: Natty and the Rebelship have created their finest work to date and album that deserves an immense amount of attention.  Whilst some media sources have already added their words- and proclaimed its wonder and influence- I was amazed by how deep, varied and consistent the album is.  Already marking itself as one of 2016’s finest albums; Natty has evolved as an artist and is at his most assured and confident.  He has scars and doubts but wants to (and everyone else) to embrace peace and come together.  Release the Fear is an album whose heart lies in the Reggae days of the 1960s: Where there was hope for change and a need to overthrow negativity and oppression through the medium of song.  By no means a distant relative or weaker thing: Release the Fear sounds like it could have been created by Reggae legends of the time.  Ensuring the music mixes in contemporary edges- collaborators and the production values- you have a work from an artist that is among the world’s most impressive and peerless writers.  Few artists are doing what he does- fewer do it as well- and that is to be applauded.  I know Natty will be touring this year and that will be great to see: So many of the tracks are destined to be sung by crowds and get people united.  That is the purpose of the album: Inspire people and get them to think more deeply about the world around them.  Anything that strives for that- and achieves it with ease- should be promoted and shared far and wide.  Let’s hope the media promulgate a work of bliss that deserves to be heard by everyone.

Release the Fear follows from where Man Like I left off: Expanding on that debut promise we have a sophomore release that burns with strength, courage and a call for unity.  Having found myself focusing on bands and solo artists- who play similar sounds- it is great to discover something genuinely new and fresh.  I am a fan of the legendary Reggae artists like Bob Marley.  I love the ‘60s and ‘70s revolutionary acts that paved the way for modern Reggae as it is.  If you take those ‘90s Reggae artists- Aswad among them- they may not have the same reputation and respect as the forefathers of the genre.  Perhaps the heyday of Reggae was during the ‘60s and ‘70s: I feel there is a perfect opportunity to reignite the form and get our modern-day representatives in the spotlight.  It is true there is an inequality and ignorance when it comes to Reggae: Few mainstream sources promote it and people are missing out on something wonderful.  Leading the vanguard; the likes of Natty and the Rebel Ship are showing just what can be achieved.  Among those hypnotic and universal messages are compositions that bring in so many ideas and wonderful touches.  If you were to name three British Reggae artists, you might have the hardest task: There are so many great acts that are struggling to get their name heard.  Maybe it is an issue that will never be rectified.  For now, we have an inspirational musician that is among Britain’s most promising young Reggae artists.  Bringing in Soul and Pop together- to give his Future Roots gospels depth and beauty- it is impossible to ignore the quality and nuance of the music.  Those tunes strike you when you first hear them: The positive messages and stunning performances get straight into the soul.  Upon further listens you discover new insights and layers: Music that demands devoted attention and fond consideration.  For people who prefer their music with upbeat messages and positive ambitions, then look no further.  Natty and the Rebel Ship have already toured some of this country’s big festivals- Glastonbury and Secret Garden Party among them- and joined Ziggy Marley on the U.S. stage.  Radio stations like Radio 1 and 2 have latched onto an artist of immense talent: Our hero has performed on Later… with Jools Holland into the bargain.  No mean feat for a musician that has not been performing all that long- compared to a lot of the legends of music.

It just goes to show what the music does to people: That peerless quality and ubiquitous songbook has been taken to heart by so many people.  It is sad when an artist- clearly adored and respected in music circles- does not get quite the same recognition as lesser contemporaries.  Natty has a great reputation and let’s hope Release the Fear does just that: Critics and radio stations need to stop being hesitant and celebrate Reggae a lot more.  Even if you are not a big fan of the genre; you cannot deny how effective and lovable Natty’s music it: It transcends boundaries and does not confine itself to aficionados.  Bringing the likes of George the Poet into the throng: Natty has created an album that has contemporary relevance but harks back to the glory days of Reggae.  Those revolution messages of the ’60s are given fresh voice by an artist who wants to change things for the better.  The messages of unity and hope-against-adversity are commodities not often traded in the modern scene: We all need to embrace a musician who is offering positivity against a backdrop of uncertainty.  Were it just skin-deep- the lyrics captured the imagination to an extent- it may be hard to fully embrace the music on offer.  Natty’s distinct and soul-calming voice adds another dimension: Throw in a kinetic and mesmeric band performance and you have yet another side to the music.  Compositions that unify Soul and African sounds into a boiling bot of headiness and transcendent smoke: A recipe that is going to give a flavourless scene the spice and sugar it sorely needs.  Natty has grown in confidence and ability since his debut album- that was assured and fantastic anyway- and the extensive touring has brought in new collaborators and influences.  Release the Fear is such a solid and wonderful listen because the band have been performing together extensively throughout 2015.  That well-rehearsed and traveled sound means the songs are alive and stunning throughout: There are no loose ends and weak performances to be heard on the album.  I know 2016 will be a bumper year for the London hero.  Having gained the backing of mainstream stations and festivals; it is only a matter of time before his music gains acolytes and disciples.  There are a lot of up-and-coming Reggae/Soul artists looking for a chance to shine and get their voice heard.  Perhaps looking for an icon they can follow: Natty is an artist that will lead a charge and see Reggae get the recognition it deserves.  Paradigm-shifting and progressive; we have a rare talent that should be given a lot more attention.  It is only left for me to implore people to get Release the Fear upon its release.  Few albums arrive that take the negativeness and fears of the world and reconfigure them into something positive and comforting.  There are fears and anxieties to be heard on the album- as Natty looks at the broken world around him- but the encouragement of unity and togetherness is an impressive and much-needed injection.  For those looking for music that provides direction and purity then look no further.  If you want an artist that has long-term potential and a wonderful vision…



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Track Reviews: Universal Thee- Speaker / Hounds



Universal Thee



Speaker / Hounds


9.5/10 and 9.4/10



Speaker is available at:


Hounds is available at:


18th January, 2016


December, 2015

Rock; Alternative; Indie


Edinburgh, U.K.


BY returning to Scottish Rock/Indie band Universal Thee…

I get to see a wonderful blend of Alternative sounds; some perfect kinetics.  Before expanding more on the Edinburgh-based band, I have the chance to look at consistency and development in bands; the boy-girl dynamics- finishing off with the great bands emerging from Scotland.  Being a busy week of reviewing- across multiple genres and acts- I will get a chance to witness a variety of artists.  Some are just starting out whilst others are making their next (impressive) steps.  I have mentioned this in past reviews- when it comes to consistency and development among musicians- but there are still a lot of fly-by-night artists coming out.   It seems that so many ‘heralded’ artists- those held in high esteem by music publications and radio stations- impress you at first: As time elapses, their (once magic) qualities seem more explicable and unspectacular.  I think music consumers- and the press for that matter- become seduced too quickly: If an artist sounds a bit different or special; we are so keen to put musicians on a pedestal and create standards they cannot live up to.  This seems to be a big issue with bands: So many get huge plaudits and are compared to the next so-and-such: Invariably that act fails to meet the expectations that have been set.  I love discovering musicians that overcome the hurdles and keep on playing.  Music is a capricious and unsympathetic industry at times- where the best and brightest can find it impossibly challenging- so any musician that endures should be applauded.  Once bands (and other musicians) get past that debut-album/E.P. stage of their careers; from there they have the opportunity to develop/change their sound- having won the approval of fans and the press.  If you have a truly unique and wonderful sound straight away- few artists manage to achieve this- then changing things slightly can lead to renewed passion and inspiration.  Before I continue on this point- and mention one or two others- let me introduce my featured act:

James Russell (guitar & vocals)

Lisa Russell (vocals)

Robin Spivey (guitar)

Andrew Perrie (bass)

Matt Grieve (drums)

 “Universal Thee formed in 2010 as a trio with a faulty Macbook for a drummer. This remained the case for over two years. Only in March 2012 did they perform their first ever gig with a drummer. At least 8 people were in attendance. Things change however and by the end of March 2014 they had recorded and released their critically acclaimed slacker rock album “Back to Earth”.  With a range of songs and styles, the five-piece, led by husband and wife, James and Lisa Russell, provide a Pixies-esque loud-quiet-loud dynamic, mixing slacker rock, grunge and indie pop. It is James talent for writing catchy melodies delivered by beautiful male/female harmonies, matched with Robin’s ability to create diverse and powerful lead guitar hooks, that ensures listeners will be singing their songs for days. Although their music gives a nod to their many interesting and diverse influences such as Ash, Pixies, Weezer and Queens of the Stone Age (amongst others), fans and bloggers agree that they genuinely have their own new, distinct and exciting sound. The blog site musicmusingsandsuch sought to describe their sound, stating: “as well as melody, there is a great deal of exciting noise; this combination, combined with male and female (lead) vocals, elicits an almost-Grunge/Punk splendour, rarely attempted in the 21st century”.  February 2016 will see the release of their sophmore album “All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace” sees the band make a natural progression in their sound, with a more focused, more intense record evolving throughout the recording process as Universal Thee embrace the nuances of a bigger polished production as well as an increased level of complexity to their songwriting.  The result is a record that captures all of their most positive skills as a band, constructing songs with an immediacy which is difficult to achieve, as contagious harmonies are married with memorable melodies and wonderfully crafted musicianship. Album opener ‘Why’ leads from the front, setting the tone for an album that contains ten tracks of glowing, uplifting alt-pop. Harnessing the influences of bands such as Teenage Fanclub, Pixies and current favourites Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, ‘Why’ features the band’s compelling guitar licks, boy/girl harmonies and ear-worm like choruses. ‘Xang’ and ‘Sail Away’ exhibit a grittier side to their songwriting, while forthcoming single Speaker has the potential to capture the imagination of a much wider audience.  Having all studied at Dundee University, James Russell (guitar & vocals), Lisa Russell (vocals), Robin Spivey(guitar) Andrew Perrie (bass) formed the band in Edinburgh, with Matt Grieve (drums) a recent addition. Universal Thee have been building their name north of the border playing a number of shows supporting the likes of Ded Rabbit as well as an appearance on the pyramid stage at the Kelburn Garden Party Festival. With more tours planned over the coming months, a debut London show in the works and the forthcoming release of their brand new album, 2016 is looking like a year where Universal Thee will spread their wings even further afield.  All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace by Universal Thee is out 19th February 2016 via Eventual Heirs Records

Having spoken to the husband-and-wife team of James and Lisa Russell- the voices behind Universal Thee- I know the band has undergone changes recently.  Currently welcoming  a new member- there has been a change in the ranks- the Scottish band are readying to present their latest album to the masses.  Having been a huge fan of Back to Earth; the intriguingly-titled All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace will be unleashed on February 19th.  I know how much Back to Earth meant to the guys: It was their debut album and a fully-fledged chance to present their music to the fans.  Having spent a lot of time, money and sweat making that record: It gained the plaudits (after some hard graft) it deserved and saw them capture the ears of some very important media outlets.  When it came to their sophomore album the guys have brought in new influences- bands such as Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin (one of the all-time best band names) and embraced old favourites (the likes of Pixies and Teenage Fanclub).  The confidence across the new album shows the five-piece have grown and developed their music: They were fantastic to start but have brought in new lyrical themes and added new dimensions.  Whilst not a total sonic about-face; All Watched Over’ is an album that will draw in new fans and sees new sides to Universal Thee.  Aside from the gorgeous guitar licks and stunning band interplay- one of the most harmonious and tight-knit group out there- you have that indelible bond of Lisa and James.  Being a husband-and-wife attack you would expect there to be a natural connection and understanding: They are one of the most exciting vocal duos I have heard in a long time.  Their tones seem perfect to the subject matter and whilst Lisa provides that mix of sweet-and-strong; James’ unique tones give passion and danger to the songs.  Being inspired by the likes of Pixies there are shades of Kim Deal (the band’s former bass player) and Black Francis (the band’s leader) in the sounds of Universal Thee.  Whilst perhaps not as psychotic and demented as Pixies; you have a band that perfectly blends U.S. Grunge/Alternative of the ‘80s and marries that to a blend of U.K. and American influences.  Few bands have a girl-boy duo up-front- few bands actually have one girl surrounding by boys- so it is refreshing to witness a band like Universal Thee.  Aside from bands I have reviewed- like False Advertising and Shaydes- it is rare to see female tones lead a male-heavy group.  I think music needs to take inspiration from the likes of Universal Thee.  A truly special and original act emerging: Make sure you follow Edinburgh’s finest Alternative act and where they are headed.  With the new album forthcoming- a couple of its songs available to the public- we have a tantilising glimpse into a wonderful creation.  Those changes- in personnel and sound- have not deterred or hurt the band in any way.  Universal Thee sound more inspired and urgent than at any other time: I predict they will be growing stronger and more nuanced with every subsequent release.  Around Scotland, there are some terrific bands playing.  I recently reviewed The Fables: A tremendous band that has the Punk spirit of Sex Pistols and The Clash.  Elsewhere, the likes of Ded Rabbit (who Universal Thee plays alongside frequently) are showing what the country is capable of.  With eyes locked to England for new music (of the U.K.), more people need to crane their necks to this nation’s most promising arena.  Scotland has always flown under-the-radar in a sense: Critics and music magazines tend to be too obsessed with other parts of the U.K.  If the likes of Universal Thee have proven anything it’s how wrong they were: Let’s hope 2016 will see a more all-inclusive and unifying patronage.





Many have noted- that have heard the new material- how evolving Universal Thee are.  The band has not lost their original sound and core: Adding new elements and emotions to the blend; we have a more rounded and nuanced sound across their latest album.  The five-piece are inspired by the following:

Pixies, Metric, Ash, The Cribs, Deus, Dinosaur Jr; Weezer, Cable, Stapleton, Neutral Milk Hotel; Of Montreal, Pavement; Frightened Rabbit, QOTSA and Grandaddy

If you are inclined towards any of these bands then you will find much to love in Universal Thee.  What is the biggest change- from their debut to sophomore album- is the new influences and sounds they bring in.  Whilst Back to Earth had a lot of Pixies elements to it- especially the twin vocals- now the band has expanded and broadened the vocals and sound more original.  The compositions bring in ‘90s elements and the grittiness of Alternative.  Not dropping their sunniness and uplifting moments; the band’s latest songs are even more memorable and sing-along than their debut days.  Whether it was the result of a band huddle- wondering what they next steps should be- but the songwriting is incredibly varied, emotive and impressive.  On their debut they were hugely impressive and confident: What we have this year is a band that is at the top of their game.  This all bodes well for the future of the Edinburgh band.

Speaker is the band’s latest single and sees one of their most memorable and vivid music videos- I believe it was an immense amount of fun to make!  Make sure you check the video out as it is a hugely memorable and captivating one.  The track itself begins with an orgasmic explosion of guitars, bass and percussion.  The band get out of the traps like a greyhound on fire: There is huge weight, speed and catchiness in the initial notes that showcase the new production values.  Both polished and raw; you have an introduction that sounds like nothing they have produced.  An ombudsman between their old and new sounds: Speaker is a vibrant and snaking beast right from the first seconds.  Ensuring the listener is allowed to imagine and speculate as to what is coming next.  Such an explosion and riot of sound; few will be able to ignore the hypnotic and swaggering sound of a band full of intention and direction.  It is said (by the hero and heroine) that they’re in love with a speaker- showing the charming and unique side of their lyrics- which makes you daydream and picture the words as they unfold.  Both Lisa and James join vocals immediately to give a unified charge that sees them at their most together and compelling.  It is said “You know it might just blow your mind” which gets me wondering about the origins of the song.  Whether the ‘speaker’ of the song represents the band’s song- and that tune will blow your mind- I am not sure.  It is fascinating to investigate words that have some obliqueness to them.  Caught gormless by the wonderful video- its speaker-headed lead is on a date that does not go well- I got recollections of Coffee + TV (some of the elements from that video are here) and that creativity and originality translate into the song.  Whereas previous numbers have perhaps started with some nerves or slow-build; that is not the case here: From the introduction to the first verse, the band does not miss a beat or lose momentum.  With the band whipping a wonderful composition- blending melodic Alternative shades with something snarling and attacking- you have a parabond of U.S. and U.K. elements early on.  It is the dynamics and blends of compositional elements that push the vocals and give the song such an addictive and fresh sound.  Little touches of Weezer’s debut album come out- that intelligent songwriting and insatiable sound- that will please fanboys of the ‘90s- whilst recruiting new listeners and younger audiences.   Throughout Speaker the five-piece repeat words- being in love with a speaker for one- that makes it a catchy and impossible-to-ignore song.  Not cynically designed for chanting and easy sing-along; instead, you have a song that recognises and highlights its strengths.

When the band sing “There is more to life than I can see”- among the rapture of notes and that wonderful chorus- it brings in new perspective and meanings.  Being a band that mixes direct with byzantine- making their songs immediate and open-for-interpretation- listeners will have their own perspectives of Speaker.  In the first case, I got impressions of music love and the passion musicians have: How music obsesses the mind and is the most important thing.  When new lines and directions are brought in, my mind starts to broaden.  Words of emergency and late-night rabble blend into a song that is huge on hooks and uplift.  Whilst the song’s nature might look at some seedier and emotive areas; you cannot deny how head-infusing and unforgettable the song is.  That chorus is just the start of things: The wonderfully vibrant and passionate vocals sit with a tight and punchy composition.  This is the kind of song that is likely to be a live favourite.  You can see crowds united in song as the song pummels out of the speakers.  That said, there’s universality and melody that means it is going to be in-demand across radio stations around the U.K.  I hope the band ensure they push the song further than local radio- London’s biggest boys will want to hear it- as they have crafted one of their most memorable and stunning tracks ever.  Bringing in elements of early-days Pixies- candid and vivid stories that melt the strange and everyday together- with something uniquely their own.  Here is a band that sounds more in love with music than ever before.  As the final notes play you still wonder what the true meaning of the song is- something I will have to press the band about.  The accompanying music video sees the speaker-headed hero make his way to a nightclub: Promptly vomiting (rather artlessly) into a toilet, it brings all the chaos, drunkenness and love-gone-wrong regret the song suggests.  The video’s creativity and budget show how much faith the band has in the song.  Throwing down a gauntlet- and suggesting how great their latest album will be- it is perhaps the band’s most accomplished and ‘together’ song.  The composition mixes lovely drum fills/runs with some catchy riffs and assured bass work- keeping the song together and driving those vocals.  Up top, you have our leads that sound like they are completely in love with the song: Such refreshing and smiling vocals give the song the authority and performance it richly deserves.

Whereas Speaker is the band’s latest single; Hounds is a song that is available as a download.  Showing an instant diversion from Speaker; Hounds is a song that is equally impressive.  Beginning with a sharp and buzzing guitar riff- one that gets to the point and marks its intentions- the song wastes no time getting people involved.  Words that see our leads feeling paralyzed and helpless again get the mind wondering and guessing.  Perhaps some of the production mix the vocal too low- some of the words are a little hard to capture- but the abiding impression is ensuring that composition and vocal firepower reigns hard and makes its mark.  What I get from Hounds is how confident Universal Thee sound.  Paranoid and cashed-in lies come into a song that deals with tough emotions and something quite personal to the band.  Whether a reference to events in their lives- or something less direct- you have a performance that explodes with giddiness and directness.  Lisa Russell’s yelped punctuation is one of the most addictive and memorable elements of the song- that malleable and distinct voice add loads of nuance, heart and wonder to every line.  When Lisa and James combine you get a confident and scintillating performance from a band that is at their very peak.  Special commendation must be given to the composition that is given a lot of attention and detail.  The guitars employ lots of shades and ideas that give the sound such variety and potential.  Too many bands get hooked on easy riffs and to-the-gut punch.  Universal Thee are among the most intelligent and considerate bands around.  Their music has so many touches and ideas that will leave the listener hitting the ‘play’ button again.  One of Universal Thee’s greatest tricks is repeating lines and vocals to enforce the song’s meanings and catchiness.  Never compromising quality for simple sing-along; once more the band presents a song that has enormous repeatability and radio play potential.  Hounds will appeal to the more credible and cutting-edge stations.  Certain mantras and motifs- the line “Do you what you want to do”- mix inside a song that intrigues and allows every listener to arrive at their own conclusion and extrapolate their own meanings.  Bringing new influences and ideas into their songwriting: Universal Thee are more alive, diverse and meaningful than ever before.  Hounds is a perfect example of what All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace will possess.

Uniting the melodic uplift of Back to Earth with a renewed intensity and purpose: I am bowled over by how together and nuanced the band is.  When their album is released next month it will give fans a chance to see how Universal Thee have developed and progressed.  Their polished and terrific production sound allows the wonderful vocal and band interplay to really shine and capture the imagination.  The songwriting is at its most inspired and original and the entire band are tremendously tight and impassioned.  Make sure you get All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace when it is released: An album that marks the five-piece as a name to watch very closely.

It is going to be exciting to see what All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace sounds like.  With Speaker gaining a lot of attention- one of the best songs the band has created- there is no way the album will not impress and bring in new fans.  The band’s debut album showed just how assured, compact and talented they were: No fillers of weak moments; what you got was an authoritative statement from a hungry young band.  On their sophomore cut that ante has been upped and you get more colour, emotion and subject matter coming through: If anything, the newest material is more immediate and compelling.  Hounds and Speaker are too rare cuts of musical beef that drip with blood, gristle and headiness: A musical experience that will not escape the head in a hurry.  I know- from speaking with the band- how close the guys are and the friendships they have.  Having met and formed in their university days; what we have in 2016 is a band that are among music’s tightest and most exciting.  For fans of the Universal Thee’s earliest work you will not be disappointed: Those Pixies-cum-Teenage Fanclub elements are burning bright yet the guys sound more original and fresh now.  I hope the five-piece have a chance to come to London- I have been meaning to get to Edinburgh to see them- and it will give the capital a chance to embrace a band that would sound at home here.  London has some terrific bands emerging but none sound quite like our Russell-led quintet.  If you thought their album title was fascinating; that only really tells half the story: Delve deep and you discover songs that not only reflect everyday concerns but delve deep into the soul.  Led by the charming boy-girl interplay of James and Lisa Russell- with superb backing from the rest of the band- you have music that is of the highest order.  I have become fatigued listening to bands that tread the same water and seem uninspired: The play-as-loud-as-you-can four-piece that seems directionless and obsessed with stadium-sized choruses.  It is great having arena ambitions: If those huge choruses and energies are not concentrated and say anything worthwhile you will not capture the imagination and get inside the head.  What Universal Thee does is provide music that not only bristles with emotion and passion- two words that are apt under the circumstances- but provide quirky tales and introduce some rather odd characters.  Not just playing the same themes as everyone else- heartbreak and inner-inspections- you have a lyrics book that has so much diversity and wonderful storytelling.

Our Scottish five-piece (across the new album) sees them progress their sound: More complex and focused; it sees polished production give the songs big atmosphere and tonnes of nuance.  Still uplifting and insanely catchy- elements that were evident on their debut album- All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace is even grittier and wide-ranging than Back to Earth.  Embracing new audiences and stretching their horizons: What we have is a natural evolution and new ambitions.  I know there has been a London show mooted- shall have to get onto that- and the band are looking ahead to another album- they will want to concentrate on promoting this one before they leap ahead.  I know the Edinburgh band has faced financial struggles and creative doubts- whether their new material was as sharp and mesmeric as could be- and they should have no fears.  Having grown and galvanised over the last year; it seems like 2016 will be their year: I would not be surprised to hear their latest cuts make their way onto the playlists of the nation’s most influential radio stations.  I hear so few bands that break-away from that all-boy/all-girl dynamic (the latter is a rarity in fact) and mix genders.  If you have female and male tones it gives the music more depth, richness and range.  It is all well having a front-man/woman providing vocals; how varied and surprising are the songs going to be?  If you broaden the palette and bring in another voice, you have so more space and potential when it comes to songwriting.  You do not have to make the songs so restricted and singular (by doing this).  Universal Thee is a band that exploit the twin voices they have in music that contrast soul-uplift and something rather haunting and teeth-baring.  Few bands in the modern climate manage to survive years down the line so it is impressive and a relief Universal Thee has overcome the obstacles and natural barriers the industry throws- growing stronger and more inspired as they go along.  I have mentioned how solo artists are being touted and emphasised this year- when it comes to critical acclaim and expectations- so we need those amazing bands to steal back some focus.  Too much stagnation and lacking inspiration have taken the microphone from the bands and given it to the solo players.  Let us hope All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace is an album that bands should look at and take note of: It is how a record should be made and how it should affect you.  Hitting the brain, soul and heart: Congratulations to the intrepid five-piece and what they have achieved.  Speaker and Hounds are two sides to a record that surely will not disappoint.  More gritty, hard-hitting and variegated than ever: Our brave and electrifying band are on a quest to gain new ground and fans.  Given the quality they are putting out there; it will not be long until they are on the tongues of everyone.  Get involved with music (and a band) that will…

BLOW your mind and make you smile.



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