Flamethrower is available at:
29th March, 2016
THE last week has left me rather vexed by the…
general public. In the midst of the Stephen Fry furor- where he stated abuse victims need to be less self-pitying- it has made me wonder about social media; people in general- rather dampened my faith in humankind. It seems like an odd start to a music review, but shall remain. In that case, it is a classic case of overreaction and misinterpretation. Fry’s comments related, not to a general abuse-victims-need-to-get-over-themselves discussion, but something very specific. The outcry and hysteria that has greeted his comments- the vitriol and abuse hurled his way- proves Fry’s point- how society has become infantalised. I shall leave this argument aside- it boils the blood- but there is an ignorance that we can apply to music. There are too people that overlook artists based on social media numbers or early offerings. The mainstream stations are not pushing new music as much as they should: doggedly sticking with the tired-and-tested musicians of old. Local radio does it best to rectify this but they have small listening figures- and not surprising really. I often wonder how often people go beyond their comfort zones and investigate brand-new music. We have all become rather lazy and safe regarding music. I know music is not as reliable and stunning as past decades- we probably peaked in the ‘90s- but there are still so many fantastic acts and songs to be discovered. My featured artist is someone putting the edge, soul and magic into music. I have been a little harsh with regards the male solo artist. Too often I hear the same sort of musician: the acoustic strummer with whiny tales of getting their heart broken. To be fair; if you’ve heard one you’ve heard them all! The mainstream’s ‘best’ are hardly helping at all.
I myself have been guilty of narrowness and false assumptions: there are some wonderful artists if you are prepared to ferret about. If the girls are leading a charge- in terms of quality and ambitions- the boys are not giving up without a fight. I shall continue my point, but for now, let me introduce James Robb to you:
“With a voice and tone beyond his years, UK singer / songwriter James Robb is a young man on the rise. With original music rooted in his love for pop and r&b, Robb manages to captivate us with the authenticity of his songwriting, driven by his rich soulful voice. Raised in a musical family, Robb was quick to realise the importance of learning his craft as a songwriter and artist. He started to join writing sessions at an early age and performed a lot of gigs around his hometown Hitchin. In the past year Robb headlined gigs in Ibiza as well the UK, including performances at London Fashion Week and Gordon Ramsay restaurants.
James Robb has recently released ‘Flamethrower’, the first single taken from his forthcoming EP. Flamethrower is a track written by Robb and produced by Malaysian artist Kuizz. As for the meaning behind the song, James states ‘It is a song about being burned in a relationship. The horrible feeling when you know one of you cares more than the other, but you’re too attached to do anything about it. The song’s a release of all the frustrations in that moment. It’s definitely something I’ve experienced before and I know lots of other people have too.’
James Robb is currently in the studio recording his second EP set to be released later this year”.
It is impressive to see such consistency from a young musician that is able to grow and amaze with every fresh release. Flamethrower is a vivid title fleshed-out with ever starker musical missiles. The Hertfordshire native has been scolded and is not afraid to show the scars. Many songwriters talk about love’s burns- it is the most-common subject for discussion- and it can lead to quagmire, cliché and juvenilia. I guess heartache- being scorned and cut by a lover- is something that bonds many people. A well-oiled source of songs: not enough artists are doing something different in my mind. I feel so many musicians are moaning about things: imbuing so much blame and anger into music; it leaves me somewhat cold and annoyed. If you are going to be base your songs around love’s wars: at least take the time to do something new and inventive. Luckily, James Robb is not an artist that follows the herd. He is not someone (I hope) that would describe his career as a ‘journey’- the most nauseating, wanky form of pretension; get over yourselves, musicians- and has his feet planted on the floor. The intelligence and originality are reflected in Flamethrower. Taking influence from ‘60s/’70s Soul greats- the spirit of Sam Cooke hovers in some moments- together with current favourite Musiq Soulchild- you have a musician with a superb pedigree. Few can deny the improvement that has come into music the last few months. The last year was a somewhat spotty one for new material: this year is a lot more sturdy, varied and impressive. While social media users/the public are their reliable self- showing most love to the media-approved; ignoring those who toil and deserve more- I wonder whether things will change. James Robb is a perfect Exhibit A. The Hertfordshire star is an example of a musician who improves and evolves with every release. One of the most original and emotive voices in current music- with a lot more besides- he is someone that needs more exposure and opportunities. With a new E.P, in-the-works; it will be great to see Robb mature, expand and amaze. I have heard his early work and am amazed by the maturity and confidence throughout. In 2016, he seems even more assured and ripe: a musician that has grown so strong and determined. Even though his heart has been incinerated- charred to the point of ashes- that has not dampened his songwriting ability.
Flamethrower is the latest track from a musician that shows so much variation and nuance. Sleeping With the Lights On was unveiled a few months ago and brims with radio-friendly hits and underground grit. The title track repeats its name with determination and intoxicating chant. Our hero is haunted by visions (of his sweetheart) and can’t get any rest. Backed by pattering percussion- relentless and powerful- you get some tender piano in the mix. A track that could comfortably sit on a Radio 1 playlist- and across a more credible station- it has universal appeal but something distinctly personal and meaningful. Every Day Is Golden has a catchiness and sense of reflection. Our man is down after a split- it seems the E.P. is a recounting of a bad split- but there is more optimism and light in this track. The composition breathes more easily and seems to have a skip in its step. Despite the pains and woes- the hero is unable to get over a break-up- you cannot help but be caught by the infectious spirit of the song. Within the E.P., you get to hear Robb explore pain and relationship cessation with maturity and defiance. Whilst the odd moment does see the protagonist wallow a bit too much: the overall feeling is of someone trying to work their way to better days. Backing these fight-against-the-tide sentiments; the compositions are constantly energised, direct and variegated. Tight and feet-moving beats are the constant: piano and electronics are added to augment and enthrone. With embers of Stevie Wonder coming through- especially in Every Day Is Golden– there is a nice mix of Soul legends and modern-day production values. That E.P. – to my mind- was primed towards the Radio 1 demographic- the 16-30 market, perhaps. The polished finish and lyrical style is aimed at the younger listener, largely. What Robb does/did with Sleeping With the Lights On is infuse the modern with classical. This is not an E.P. by a boyband member trying to prove himself. Flamethrower is another step from a young man that is getting better with each song. The E.P. had some rough edges and missed chances- could be a little rougher and tough; a little polished and cliché in places- but the signs are all good. Building on solid foundations- especially the honey-dripping voice- it seems Flamethrower is a sign of things to come. Keeping his core sound intact; instead there is an extra degree of confidence and quality. The song is not too reliant on predictable lyrical ideas- there is more thought and originality- whilst the composition has greater depth, nuance and appeal. I feel Flamethrower– and the forthcoming E.P. – will aim at a wider audience and show great promise. Robb was always excellent and promising from the very start. What we are seeing- and will see towards the end of the year- is another step forward and greater solidity. Flamethrower is (perhaps) the finest track Robb has created and he seems to be in rich form.
Having already accrued some great reviews and passionate feedback: I was determined to get into Flamethrower and see what all the fuss is about. The track begins with a little bit of mystery and mis-step. You would imagine a track called Flamethrower might start with blaze and attack. Contemplative and reflective notes- almost lullaby-like in their tenderness- ensures the opening moments are calm and composed. Lesser artists would rush in and show too much eagerness- too keen to lay their feelings on the line. “A heart of ice/a sacrifice” are the opening words: heralded by a punchy beat; Robb is in the spotlight and keen to lay down his thoughts. Surveying the wreckage- and the girl who broke his heart- his words are deployed with caress and attention. Never hurried or overly-emotive: you have a performance that drips with soul and beauty. Whilst the composition tightens and gets more teeth-baring: our hero ensures his voice is levelled and controlled. Channeling elements of Marvin Gaye and Robin Thicke in a very unique and personal way. At no point do you imagine those singers- you just get feint hints and impressions. I am amazed a white guy from the Home Counties can sound like a bona fide Soul singer. A lot of our ‘best’ examples- Sam Smith for one- sound forced and suffer ululation and over-emotion. Robb is one of those singers who sound completely natural and loveable.
There are no wild notes or needless screeching. For that reason, Flamethrower remains essential and impressive to the very end. Our hero has waited in the “pouring rain”. You can picture the scenes as they are spoken. Unsure of where culpability lies- who is to blame for the break-up- you readily sympathise with our lead. He seems so honest and open in his performance it is hard to cast aspersions his way. The girl is burning our man without consideration or humanity. “It hurts” seems like an understatement under the circumstances. Asking the same questions- why she does not want the relationship to last- you get multi-layered vocals and something hugely alluring. Robb lets his voice glide and cascade like a caramel waterfall. It is hard to get sucked into the voice and ignore the composition and vocal. As they stand, there is a real economy and memorability to them. The beats remain sparse yet effective. The production values are exceptional, which means the vocal can stand up top without detriment to the other components. Flamethrower is a very contemporary track. It is the sound of 2016 but is not a lamentable Pop-based, chart-friendly write-off. Like Justin Bieber and Zayn- two artists you didn’t think I’d be applauding- there is a seamlessness and authority. You have a young man that has a Pop basis but offers much more depth and appeal than his contemporaries. Ensuring the lyrics are simple and easy-to-recall- the image of being burned is a particular standout- it will appeal to listeners of all ages and tastes. The universality- the lyrical themes and easy-to-digest vocals- is matched by a clear nod to masters of Soul. Those who yearn for the days of Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye will find much to love in Robb’s rich and luxuriant tones. Such obvious songs- that have very clear meanings- can often be bogged down in a wave of predictable lyrics and forgettable vocals. Not the case with Flamethrower. The inspiration comes from a very raw and painful place. Rather than lace the track with accusation and vitriol: you have a very considered and disciplined performance that leaves you rooting for the hero. I am not sure how things worked out between the duo- and whether reconciliation arrived- but you cannot help but wonder. A centerpiece and lead-off from the forthcoming E.P.: James Robb is hitting his peak form right now. Maybe his best moments are still ahead but you have to tip your hat to his progress and evolution. Social media/press backing has clearly sparked something in Robb: a young artist that is hungry for success and longevity. If he keeps creating tracks like this, who would ever bet against him?
Kuizz (a Malaysian artist) has come to the producer’s chair and brought the best from the Hitchin boy. Ensuring Flamethrower is not too gleaming and slick- but not too bare and sparse- a fine balance has been struck. The only thing I would suggest- and not a slight on either party- is to indulge the composition a little more. Robb’s vocals are exceptional but even finer when coupled with an atmospheric and dramatic score. At times, Flamethrower relied too heavily on Robb’s assured voice. Expanding the electronics and heightening the beats; a piano lift and a bit more crescendo- give the song that extra bit of primacy and teeth. That is a minor qualm in a mass of positives. Any oversites are sure to be ironed-out and straightened (when the E.P. arrives). Flamethrower is a wonderful example of where James Robb is now: standing tall and determined to grow bigger and bolder.
Flamethrower confirms James Robb’s arrival in the world of music. I will be exited to hear what Robb’s E.P. contains: I know so much passion and self has gone into it. The lead-off single is not a self-pitying testament of a down-trodden soul. It is filled with fire and purity; there is hope and strength- someone that recognises the pain but wants to move past it. In today’s scene, you’d struggle to find too many (young, especially) artists that tackle love’s stresses with that much dignity and self-respect. As the weeks go by, I am finding more and more wonderful musicians. I am one of those people that gets safe and happy immersed in bygone music: the artists and albums that are reliable and established. While new music can never reach the dizzying heights of the ‘glory days’- to me; 1988-2003- we should not give in and just shrug the shoulders. Sure; there are hordes of acts emerging by the week. Having to do battle with so many rivals- in a disorganised social media sea- we are starting to see some future stars emerge. 2015 was not the best for music and it led me to be rather dismissive and pessimistic. I am seeing a lot more quality and consistency through the first-third of 2016. James Robb is someone we need to keep our eyes on and lend support. I know it can be a difficult quandary: so many musicians are coming out: how can I be sure Robb is not overlooked? Flamethrower is a song that should be saved and added to playlists. Keep it somewhere safe and make sure it is (at the very least) in the back of your mind. Bookmark Robb’s social media pages and follow his progression- the E.P. is not far away- and do not let him pass you by. It seems the Hitchin-based musician is in no short supply of followers. The social media numbers are solid and rising: his P.R. agencies are promoting (Flamethrower) with aplomb and passion. In wider terms; radio and the media are lending their praise to the cause: recognising what a proposition is in our midst. It is great discovering an artist that hails from outside London- only just in this case- and I wonder whether James Robb will relocate. The Staves, Enter Shikari and Friendly Fires hail from Hertfordshire: Gallows and Deep Purple can be added to that list. Not many Hertfordshire natives actually remain there. The lure of London- and other, similarly-heeled cities- is too powerful and potent. I know Robb has some important gigs in the pipeline: how long until he is seduced to London, Manchester or farther afield? That is down to him but I feel like there is a real opportunity ahead. The public need a collective slap and have their eyes opened to some stunning music. It is hard navigating the choppy waters of music: there is so much out there it can be a daunting challenge. Whether we can overcome this hurdle- and create a more organised and disciplined way or working- that is for another day. James Robb draws together the Soul heights of the ‘70s with something contemporary and fresh. Never indebted to anyone, we have a singer that is at his very peak. I feel things can only get better and stronger. Flamethrower is a dazzling song from a young man that wants to show the music world what he is made of. If you have any sense at all…
YOU won’t deny him.
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