Friday, November 20, 2020

Late 2020 Reviews: Electronica, Dreamgaze, Jazz, Slowcore, Psych, Indie, Glam, Pop

A combination of innovative original instrumental music focusing on keyboards and guitar serve as the primary entry point for this month's DaveCromwellWrites Feature. As this site continues to evolve, a greater appreciation for musicians composing and recording works that focus on art over repetitive commercial pursuits grows exponentially. That said, when a quality pop song emerges out of the seemingly endless sea of replication, that too will always find a place for close listen and evaluation here.

Holding true to the old axiom of how discovering one artist often leads you to another, Brian Charette finds his way onto this site following last month's deep dive into the music of Oz Noy. Noticing the high-quality, double-tiered Hammond B3 playing he contributed to Noy's “Looni Tooni” made it an easy decision to dig further into Brian's work.

A brand new full-length album “Like The Sun” is set for release on December 1, 2020 that features 13 mostly new original compositions. Recorded during the first months of lock down, these instrumental tracks forge a new hybrid sound that combine electronic beats with the richness of traditional organ sounds.

Opening cut “15 Minutes of Fame” lays out a funky robotic groove with a sharp, synthetic descending keyboard line surrounded by otherworldly textures. Lush, dreamy atmospherics alter the mood in-between in a most pleasurable way, before Brian's improvisational organ soloing commences. What's impressive is how nearly all of this record was recorded live in one take, reacting to random programming changes via the accompanying autogenerated beats and chords.

You can see and hear this happening live-in-that-moment via the below video (and 2nd album track) for “TimePiece.” Looking down on Brian's impressive rig of keyboards, samplers, drum machines and tone generators, the composer kicks off a mechanized beat and programmed chord progression. Taking to his highest-point mounted keyboard, sweetly piercing flute-like tones are the first to be played, establishing a central melody. Moving down one level to his mixer, audio samples and percussive bursts are initiated on the spot. As the song enters a defined chord change section, Brian drops to his third-tier down keyboard controller and unleashes some soulful organ improv. Check out this wonderful track here:


Third cut “Slasher” gets right to the warm organ tones, balancing that against slap-trappy percussion. After a minute another more synthetic keyboard texture emerges, providing counter-melodies to the organ running along simultaneously. Ascending otherworldly ambience serves up an appropriate coda.

While “Honeymoon Phase” continues that rough brush-stroke percussion, reverberated electric piano is introduced as a dueling keyboard element against the traditional B3 organ. Additional synthetic textures find their way into the mix as well, however it is the romantic chord selection and emotive playing that really shines through here.

Title track “Like The Sun” hits the ground running in full motion with a busy, angular sequence and syncopated percussive strokes marking out an interesting (and peculiar) pattern. Sampled voices materialize like Middle-Eastern prayer chants, and deep bass notes expand the sonic field into lower regions. Organs, synths, blips and bleeps all make appearances, adding an element of sci-fi to it all. There's even a bit of distorted-voice spoken word narration included in the final minute of this over six minute extravaganza.

Other cuts like “Mela's Cha Cha” position closer to more recognizable jazz-funk-soul hybrids, leaning more on buzzy brass synths for melody phrasing. However, there's always room for a few bars of rich, organ stylings and complimentary “outer space” ambiance.

Three Lights” blends emotive Hammond B3 organ jamming over top of a hypnotic calypso beat. “Break Tune” takes the beat into a more static direction, with a pattern and sound like a Nine Inch Nails intro. While additional icy synths and distressed vocal samples may also throw off a Reznor-like feel, alternating passages with soulful organ and jazz guitar accompaniment take the edge off any potential existential dread.

From Like to Love” introduces an even brassier synth as the melody instrument to build everything else around. Jazz inflections are the predominant voicings on chord phrasing while the blues scale is applied to solo forays.  “Creole” blends a variety of traditional organs with buzzy brass synths over a funky bass and percussion rhythm. While the bright synth tones Keith Emerson with ELP, the end out jam is pure Brian Auger's Oblivion Express.

The motorik beat and Teutonic rhythm of “7th St. Busker” may be the closest track on the album fitting Brian's own self-description of “Kraftwerk meets Harlem juke joint.” Even the alternating synth textures have a “Trans-Europe Express” feel to them. An unexpected child's voice appears near the very end, adding one more twist to it.

An easy groove organ melody line over clearly defined chord progression introduces “Robot Heart.” Things become more “robotic” further in with an arpeggiated sequence, ice-alien keyboard stabs, high-hat tick percussion and mysterious voice samples. Final track “57 Chevy” builds off a funk heavy beat and three essential keyboard parts. A basic two-chord pattern of reverbed electric piano, soulful organ soloing over top of that, and a change section that features rising chords and low-end percussion.

Overall, this is a truly wonderful instrumental album that delivers a wide compositional and sonic range, perfect for the many moods we all experience throughout the course of each day.

Connect with Brian at his Official Website and Facebook Page for Info on how to acquire this New Album, as well as all his other work.

*  *  *  *  *

Musician Afonso Dorido is a Portuguese artist who creates instrumental music under the name Homem em Catarse (which translates to “Man In Catharsis”). Earlier this year he released a 10 track album titled “sem palavras / cem palavras” (in English - “without words / hundred words”) that delves into a heady mix of dreamgaze, ambient, slowcore, classical and emotional musical styles. Primarily a guitarist, this artist also creates on piano, synths, bass-guitar and bits of percussion. The album's producer/mixer also added percussion on a number of tracks, and a string section is used at times as well.

The album opens with a two-minute gentle piano-only rumination poetically titled “You were just a little leaf.” Slow, measured four note arpeggio chords establish an introspective progression, as tender melodies are played on the higher-toned keys.

However, it is with following track “Hey Vini!” that we are introduced to the ambient, psychedelic dreamgaze promised in promotional descriptions. Moving to guitar here, Afonso opens with an electrified diffusive wash, then switching to placid open-note chords. Bringing in percussionist (and producer) Pedro Sousa creates a more solid foundation and complimentary rhythm section with Afonso's additional bass guitar work. The track seems to float on air, with it's multiple layers of reverberation – bringing to mind the dual guitar work of Robert Smith and Porl Thompson on classic-era Cure songs. Returning to that gazey sound only hinted at in the intro, a new layer of extended-tone, quick-strummed, e-bow style guitar textures flood the sonic spectrum, leading out to one more open-note-chord coda.

A pattern of short, steady, plinking sounds introduces “Hotel Saturnyo” as deep, reverberated guitar notes roll out a slower melody over top. Percussion soon enters the mix with additional guitars layering on in a more urgent manner. Using a digital delay on guitar riffs create the sensation of many guitars playing at the same time (something U2's The Edge is famous for), and this technique is employed here as well. The pace is quicker though, with deeper bass guitar moving underneath at a more defined pace. Synth strings arrive to enhance the tracks final minute, adding another majestic layer.

Slow moving guitar twang give fourth cut “I remember yourself when I can't remember” a dreamy western feel, that's part Spanish Classical Guitar and part American Cowboy. Adding a rapid strum layer at mid-point pulls things over into dreamgaze and psychedelic territory.

Sticking with the slowcore premise and progression, “Marie Bonheur” serves up it's glacial pace through double guitar layers of strummed chords and bright guitar figures over top. Carefully paired percussion and bass guitar enters the mix, creating the base for multiple layers of emotional guitar melodies. The final minute adds a gorgeous violin and cello string arrangement lifting it all into the realm of classical.

Returning to solo piano, Afonso presents a lovely progression and melody on “Calle del Amour” (Love Street). There's an almost Christmas feel to this one, with it's stark impressions of a landscape that might possibly play best in the month of December.

Synthesizer pulses, sparse mechanized percussion and bass guitar set the tone for “Yo La Tengo” (I Have It). In contrast, natural electric guitar figures are played with an emotive quality, adding warmth to the proceedings. Guitars progressively occupy the sonic field, converting what began somewhat automated into a more overall organic feel. The addition of chorused voices in the closing moments creates a final uplifting sensation.

Rising up out of silence comes a pizzicato struck guitar pattern on what seems appropriate for a track titled “Martian Dances.” With that rhythm established, a more traditional rock bass-guitar and drum segment commences. Dueling guitars emerge with one playing digital delayed notes and the other rough-hewn textures. A strong melody develops out front, before the rhythm-section drops out, leaving clearly defined guitar notes remaining against the initial pizzicato design. The cycle repeats, leading up to a grand finale finish of guitar pageantry.
Clocking in at over six and a half minutes, “In the Sea” serves as the longest track on the album. As this length might suggest, ample room is provided for extended, ambient passages that build slowly over time. With gentle guitar strokes over spacious synthesizer washes, a stuttering percussive pulse marks out elongated time while extended guitar tones create a reverential atmosphere.

Final entry “Little birds house” closes out the record with a stark, hallway-reverbed piano musing. Despite it's brevity, there is a strong melody running through it, and serves as an appropriate ending to this beguiling album.

*  *  *  *  *

Detailed interviews, record reviews and live show recaps on Astoria, Queens NY based pop-rockers GIFTSHOP has been chronicled here on this site numerous times over the last few years. Now they are back with a brand new song and video for their latest track “Stylish Junkie.” With each member recording their part remotely (as these current trying times advise), modern technology (a positive product of our current age) delivers a slick and professional sounding track. Taking equal care to shoot the songs accompanying video, an homage to pink and pastel 80's era MTV video lore is playfully represented.

A clarion ring of chiming guitar figures slowly rises in volume from the distance, with alternating mid-toned plucked strings adding dueling counterpart. An abrupt halt of that allows for drums to stand alone with a 1-2 x 4 beat. Chugging bass guitar joins in with the dominant progression, as high-hat cymbals add percussive force. Explosive power chords are the next element to emerge, creating an overall distinctive power-pop sheen. With the arrival of Meghan's vocals, the repeated song title comes complete with hook-tag-line “beep beep” that suggests David Bowie's similarly clever use of that audio punctuation on the hit song “Fashion.”

The vocals are impeccably delivered, recorded and mixed, with double-harmony enhancements at just the right moments – like on the final introductory “stylish” before the first verse. As for that verse, Damian's lyrics juxtapose fashion sense and drug-fueled decadence, with lines like “where do you find the clothes you wear?” and “Tiny Monkey, has you passing out on the 5 – how do you even stay alive?” Again, the vocals are doubled and harmonized on key hook “Stay Alive!” which also benefits from crunchy guitar chord placement.

Understanding the general lightness of pop music, room is allowed for a touch of humor and clever word-play with the lyric “ Fashion Victim, you put the outer in underwear.” Much like anthems Pat Benatar served up to the MTV generation throughout the 80's, key vocal passage (and lyric) “You belong to the night” proposes nocturnal outcast cool. “To the night” is repeated with multiple vocal inflections (and harmony layers), as sonics swirl with more dense layers now churning underneath.

The final minute pairs vocal lines “I'm feeling too high now” against “I wanna come down now” in a layered tour-de-force that revisits Bowie's tragic protagonist in “Space Oddity.” However, where Bowie's character quietly drifted away, an intense culmination of passionate vocals, shearing guitars and forceful rhythm-section advocates an alternative outcome here.

Follow GIFTSHOP on all of their Social Media:  Official Website - Facebook - Instagram

Previous DaveCromwellWrites Features on GIFTSHOP can be found here - here - here - here - here - here - here and here.

*  *  *  *  *