EP Review: His Master’s Voice The Devils Blues- Woman

His Master's Voice The Devils Blues Woman EP Cover
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I first heard of His Master’s Voice when Mathias Hallberg reviewed Into Orbit’s latest album release show. I had been in the South Island at a sporting event, and came back to Mathias raving about this bluesy band from Auckland.

Needing to make up for missing the show, I made a point of seeing the band next time they visited Wellington, and Mathias was 100% right. They’re damn good.

The band sent me Woman yesterday. I’ve been playing it on repeat non-stop since.

His Master's Voice - The Devils Blues. Family of Strangers Tour. Valhalla, Wellington

Image: Will Not Fade

Take the blues and revive them with dosage of danger. Add filthy southern rock riffs. Swirl in a generous serving of Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple. Drop in a few drugs. And then, amidst the swirling haze, you will find you have produced His Master’s Voice.

They play with such a swagger. Whether laying down a doomy groove, or ripping into a fast-paced swing section, the music is saturated with infectious feel.

My personal favourite is first track, “Burning” – a slow burner with a smooth, rolling riff. That is, until frontman Jesse Sorenson cries out “Come the groove!” And that’s exactly what happens. It all kicks in. If the bass line doesn’t get you moving then wait til the tambourines start ashakin’ and the primal drums kick in. And then, just to send you over the edge, we have a guitar solo.

There is no denying how much Black Sabbath have influenced His Master’s Voice’s sound. The title track on this EP reminds me of “Electric Wizard”. Sorenson channels his inner-Ozzy as he wails over a sweetly picked guitar melody. The rest of the band joins in, and the soaring guitars and organs elevate the music to the next level.

The only problem with Woman is the duration. 20 minutes is not enough! But I’ve been playing it on repeat and I can’t see myself tiring of these songs anytime soon. But honestly, what more do you need? Groovy blues with a heavy edge. Music that will possess you to dance. It’s just fantastic.

His Master’s Blues have pulled it off again, and Woman comes with my highest of recommendations.

His Master's Voice - The Devils Blues. Family of Strangers Tour. Valhalla, Wellington

Image: Will Not Fade

Woman is due out digitally on Bandcamp on 1 October 2017, and will also be available through the usual streaming platforms. The CD will be available at the EP release show at The King’s Arms on October 28th.

His Master’s Voice links:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thedevilsblues
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thedevilsbluesnz/
Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/thedevilsbluesnz
Bandcamp: www.hismastersvoice.bandcamp.com
Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/brando28
Reverbnation: https://www.reverbnation.com/hismastersvoice
Merch: www.thedevilsmerch.com

His Master’s Voice are:

Jesse Sorensen – Vocals and Guitar
Brandon Bott – Bass
Az Burns – Guitar
Renè Harvey – Drums
(Plus Paul Lawrence – Keys on ‘Evil’ and ‘Woman’)

 

Words and photos by Joseph James

EP Review: Masters Of This Land – Self Titled

Masters Of This Land
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Masters Of This Land is a post-rock/electronica duo from Cairo (closely linked to another act Go! Save The Hostages!). The two members, Amir and Youssef use guitar, bass, synth, a drum machine and a sampler to create relaxing downtempo music.

An interesting bent to this band is that they use their music to satirize the Egyptian government, as well as current nationalist movements around the world (Trump and Brexit were two examples that Amir offered). I can’t pretend that I am aware of the current situation in Egypt, but Amir has filled me in on some recent history, mentioning a 2013 Military coup following from rule by a Muslim Brotherhood.

This political theme is surprising. The imagery of aggression and power contrasts sharply against the mild downtempo music.

On one hand we see some strong satire of the current regime. The Masters Of This Land eagle symbol found on the album cover is based on the Roman SPQR eagle, a symbol of domination. The EP was released on the anniversary of the Egyptian Revolution of 1952, when the military first took control. Amir shared that the band name was taken from a quote by a recent post-coup Justice Minister who was a former judge. Translated, what he said was that the judges were “masters of this land, and everyone else are slaves” (reference). The band name, symbol and release date are all pointed attacks on the government through ironic mimicry – an answer to the government’s “brain-melting propaganda”, as Amir put it.

One the other hand we have the wonderful music, which doesn’t invoke thoughts of defiance in the slightest.

Tranquil notes play over rigid electronic patterns. Glitchy beats coincide with serene swells. Acoustic and electronic marry and together they create sounds of peace.

Some of the song names are interesting. “C_LORRI”, full of spacey, sci-fi noises, is named after the file name of the first photo of Pluto that the New Horizons probe sent back to earth. “This She-Wolf Is A Gift To My Kinsmen”, with its music box intro, ethereal coos (possibly an e-bow?) clucky synth parts, was the first recorded sentence in (Old) English, written in Anglo-Saxon runes. “Factory 221” was the codename of the area where the Chinese developed atomic weapons in the 50s/60s.

Writing an EP full of relaxing electronic music is an unusual method of protest, but still something I can endorse. I’m a fan of political music, and have always loved the punk ethos of using music as a vehicle to stand up against injustice. And in a weird way it has worked. OK, so this short EP isn’t going to single-handedly overthrow any corrupt governments, but it has at least made me more aware of what is going on in Egypt.

I don’t wish for any of this to be misconstrued as racist. As I said before, I am largely ignorant to the happenings of the various Arab nations throughout recent years. But I do feel compelled to share when I hear stories of rebelling against oppression and injustice.

Politics aside, Masters Of This Land features some great music, perfect for relaxing to. Instrumental projects are open to interpretation, but this one features some fascinating content if you choose to delve deep. If not, never mind, the music stands up on its own as both calming and interesting.


Masters Of This Land links:

Album Review: Bandina ié – Synekdoke

Bandina ié - Synecdoche cover
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Copenhagen quintet Bandina ié have spent a long time working on their début album, Synekdoke. Six whole years for six tracks. Spending an average of a whole year on each track is either a sign of stupidity or great attention to detail.
Named after the Charlie Kaufman movie “Synecdoche, New York”, the album feels light and summery.
The introductory title track feels ambient and ephemeral, with light guitar picking, electronic swells, and tapping on the drum cymbals that sound like cicadas chirping in the trees. It doesn’t feel so much like a song, but serves to set a relaxing tone for the album.
“Arjuna” is fantastic. Everything about it makes me think of carefree dancing – the great groove, the way I picture fingers jumping off the strings on the fretboard, the way the drumsticks bounce off the rims of the drums, the way the shaker rattles in time to the beat. It’s a wonderful song, reminiscent of Dorena.
Likewise, “Solipsisten” warms my heart. Sweet guitar picking, a strong beat with a shaker and ambient swells combine to create a thing of beauty.
The reason I love this album so much is because it sounds so fun and lighthearted. I picture a fantasy scene with elves and fairies partying it up in a forest clearing, fireflies spiraling around them, and everyone having the time of their lives.
Not every track is a fun fairy tale soundtrack. A few are more ambient, and “Kazuaya” features a dangerous rhythm that comes close to a rave track. “Ophavet” opens and closes with clinking wooden wind chimes and rustling in the bushes, but features a down-tempo bassline between. But overall the album still sounds like an adventure in the wilderness.
Too much instrumental music is sad and gloomy. And as much as I love heavy music, the music that Bandina ié writes makes me want to celebrate life in a way that few other post-rock songs inspire me to do.
Bandina ié - Synecdoche
Synekdoke is available now (digitally and on vinyl) through Stella Polaris Music.

Bandina ié links:

Bandina ié is:

Johan Carøe (guitars):
Rasmus Boesgaard (guitars)
Simon Ulstrup (bass)
Mads Michelsen (drums, percussion)
Emil Duvier (piano, synthesizers)
Joseph James

Album Review: Living Colour – Shade

Living Colour Shade cover
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It’s a shame that Living Colour haven’t been seen as current since the 90’s because they are immensely talented. But the eight year gap between albums has removed them from the limelight.

Hopefully their new album Shade will do something to redeem this because Living Colour deserve more attention. The quartet is composed of some of the best players I’ve seen. They take the best of rock, blues, hip-hop, metal, soul, jazz and funk, and combine it into brilliant music with a conscience.

Chuck Berry Tribute Band

Corey Glover. Photo by Will Not Fade

We already had a taste of the album earlier in the year with two covers featured on Shade. One is a cover of Robert Johnson’s “Preachin’ Blues”. This is the song that really laid the tone for the record, giving the band inspiration to take a bluesy direction. “What better way to talk to the world than through the blues?” vocalist Corey Glover asks. “We recorded ‘Preachin’ Blues’ several times to jump start the project and that got everybody fired up. After that, we were ready. Shade, in its final outcome, is more of a deconstruction of the blues than an interpretation. It was the idiom that gave us our voice.” The guitars are especially grunty on this track, and singer Cory Glover’s voice packs a punch.

The other cover is a rendition of Notorious BIG’s “Who Shot Ya?”, which the band put a hard rock spin on. They selected the song partly because Glover is a massive Biggie fan, but also because it raises questions about how prevalent gun violence is in America.

Rounding off the cover hat-trick is Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues”. The verses sound similar to the original with softly cooed vocals and light funky groove, but the rest is hard rocking. Gaye’s original was a commentary on the way of life for Americans at the time. Things appeared bleak, accentuated by the then-current war in Vietnam. Listening to the lyrics made me reflect on how the issues could be construed as just as relevant more than 30 years on.

Including so many covers is an interesting move. Almost a quarter of the songs on the album were written by other people – not something I would expect from such accomplished musicians. But it works, with the band placing their own mark squarely on each cover.

Vernon Reid has long been regarded as a guitar legend. His work on this album is punchy and dangerous. He’s a force to be reckoned with. And Corey Glover’s powerful voice matches him every step of the way. The two of them often pretend to bicker on stage, but their partnership is what gives the music that X factor.

Living Colour Powerstation Auckland

Vernon Reid and Corey Glover. Photo taken by Will Not Fade at Living Colour’s Auckland show earlier this year

“Come On” is brilliant. The softer verses played on guitar by messing with the pickup contrast against the grunty choruses. We also hear glitches in a deconstructed beat, verging on dubstep territory. I attribute this inclusion to drummer Will Calhoun. Earlier in the year Calhoun told me about growing up during the birth of hip-hop, when drum machines were at their height of prominence. He had played around with drum machines and effects, trying to elicit alien sounds out of drums, much in the same way that Hendrix drew otherworldly sounds out of his guitar.

To continue the Hendrix inspiration, the track “Invisible” pays homage to drummer Buddy Miles, who played in Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys. Miles was a friend of the band, who attended all of their Chicago shows when Living Colour started out.

“Always Wrong” is a more tender moment on the album, showing Corey’s diversity as a singer. By contrast, “Pattern In Time” reminds me of 1990’s “Time’s Up”, with a direct, thrashy feel.

Doug Wimbish lays down beautifully funky bass lines in “Blak Out”. The groove steps up for “Who’s That”, which includes trumpet and organ, taking me back to the Trombone Shorty show I went to a few weeks ago. Then, just to top things off, George Clinton lends his touch to album closer “Two Sides”.

Living Colour Powerstation Auckland

Image: Will Not Fade

As always, Living Colour continue with the political content. Some obvious example include the hip-hop inspired “Program”, which explores how reliable the media are these days, in an age of click bait and fake news; or Biggie’s “Who Shot Ya?” which looks at gun violence, especially the way it is framed visually in the music video. And it’s great to see that the band stands by their values regardless of the current political climate. Shade has taken a long time to write, starting back when Barack Obama was in office. So sure, some songs may be in reaction to an orange man living in a white house, but Living Colour will always campaign for human rights despite who is in power.

When I interviewed Calhoun earlier in the year I raised that Living Colour often include social commentary in their work. He proudly agreed, sharing that “some of our songs deal with gender, discrimination, chauvinism, bullying, and those kinds of things. We write songs based upon what we experience in life. That’s what’s most fun about being a member of Living Colour… Our music and lyrics are very present and relevant. And we hope that the music reaches people and might be. As an artist you always want to have present impact upon your audience.”

Living Colour by Travis Shinn (Shade)

Image: Travis Shinn

Shade is heavy. No doubt about it.  When you think back to the band’s iconic track, the searing “Cult of Personality”, it makes a lot of sense. When I saw the band live in Auckland earlier in the year many of the songs felt like full-on thrash metal tunes. Of course the myriad of other genres work their way into the music, but Living Colour

The track “Program” commences with a sample of an interview with rapper Scarface. He’s humming the riff to “Cult of Personality”, trying to remember the name of the band who plays it. “Living fucking Colour!” he remarks when the interviewer tells him, “find me another rock band, seriously!”, implying that Living Colour are the only band that truly rock out.

There was never any doubt in my mind that Shade would deliver. The four musicians in the band are such talented veterans of rock. I’ve had the privilege of seeing both Living Colour and another band featuring guitarist Vernon Reid and singer Corey Glover this year, making my anticipation all the more real. And just like I expected, they nail it. The music is powerful in many ways, musically and thematically. I hope that Shade reinstates Living Colour back in place as rock legends.

Living Colour Powerstation Auckland

Doug Wimbish. Photo by Will Not Fade

Living Colour links:

Website: http://www.livingcolour.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LivingColour/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LivingColour

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCBp5wftf7WswgIko42GUfWQ

 

Joseph James

EP Review: Chalk Hands – Burrows & Other Hideouts

Chalk Hands Burrows and Other Hideouts Cover
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Brighton crew Chalk Hands are newcomers in the scene, channeling the likes of Pianos Become The Teeth, Caspian and Envy to offer two songs in a mixed screamo/post-rock style on their début release, Burrows & Other Hideouts.

First song “Burrows” commences with a solemn, softly picked guitar passage, before transforming into a monster. It’s a blistering, furious ode to paranoia and deception, with heavy passages alternating against instrumental segments. The instrumental parts provide breathing room, a break from the anger. But strong emotions dominate the entire way through.

Likewise, “Arms” kicks off strong, offering intense catharsis. It’s a sombre affair. Gang vocals deliver the line “weakness is no curse”, but self-doubt still rings through.

The intense style of music draws strong comparison to modern hardcore acts like Octaves and Defeater, with instrumental post-rock elements breaking up the songs, similar to Winters Dust. The energetic delivery makes the songs seem short. They are fast paced with busy drumming, but the songs both last longer than your average hardcore jam.

Following the idiom of quality over quantity, Chalk Hands offer a short, furious taster of things to come in the vein of many other modern hardcore acts, yet stand out enough to avoid becoming clichéd.

Chalk Hands Burrows and Other Hideouts


Burrows & Other Hideouts will be released on the 25th of August through Future Void Records, available as a digital download, CD or tape.


Chalk Hands links:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/chalkhandsmusic

Bandcamp: https://chalkhands.bandcamp.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/chalkhandsofficial/

Joseph James

 

Album Review: Brad Couture – Lower Tones

Brad Couture Lower Tones
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Lower Tones is the first full length album from New Hampshire-based composer Brad Couture (his sixth release if you count his earlier works under the name Sleevenotes).

Couture’s serene cinematic tunes are perfect for relaxing to. I’ve played it often in the evenings lately, and find Lower Tones helps me to unwind brilliantly at the end of a busy day. It’s the soundtrack to sitting curled up in a warm blanket with a steaming mug clasped between your hands.

Well, it could be the soundtrack to whatever you choose really. Herein lies the appeal of instrumental music – the interpretation sits with the listener. Couture has licensed music to clients including The History Channel, ESPN, and Monster Energy, so his abilities clearly transcend mere playing around for a hobby.

Like all the solo instrumentalists who submit their work to me, Couture possesses an unfair amount of talent. Mastering one instrument is hard enough. Being able to play a variety of instruments, arrange them in a compelling way, and record them in a home studio is just showing off.

The music is predominantly soft and subtle, as one would expect from an ambient cinematic project. Couture relies heavily on piano and synths to weave an aural tapestry, before employing other instruments to enhance the music.

Cello offers a rich bass sound that synth or bass guitar cannot replicate the same way. Acoustic and electric guitars also help to colour the music, with the distant scorching guitar solo featuring in “Driving Through The Golden Hour” taking the cake for one of the finer moments of the album.

“Restland” is my album highlight, purely due to how evocative I find it. A deep warm hum sounds replicates a conch shell. Violin sets a solemn scene, with light pads and percussion adding gravitas before making space for sparse piano notes. I can picture viking warships setting out on a voyage to distant lands far across the ocean.

If well crafted ambient music for relaxation sounds like you then look no further than Brad Couture. He has done a stellar job with this release and you owe it to yourself to unwind to his music.


Brad Couture links:

Bandcamp: https://bradcouture.bandcamp.com/

Website: http://www.bcouturemusic.com/

Facebook: facebook.com/bcouturemusic

Twitter: twitter.com/bcouturemusic

 

Joseph James

Album Review: Rise Against – Wolves

Rise Against Wolves
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The classification of punk music is totally subjective. What do The Ramones, The Clash and The Sex Pistols share in common? Who’s more punk out of Blink 182 or the Rage Against The Machine? To me, the two essential elements of good punk music are speed and political content.

Rise Against have both. Since discovering them in my early teens, they have long been one of my favourite bands. I’ve seen them more than any other international act (Powerstation 2009, Big Day Out 2010, Logan Campbell Centre 2011, and opening for Foo Fighters 2015), and they also take up the most space in my record collection (alongside Biffy Clyro).

But to be honest, I wasn’t so keen on their latest album. I won’t go so far as to say they sold-out, but Appeal To Reason signaled a tipping point for the band once they had signed to a major label, and since then their sound became steadily more accessible. This culminated in their last release, The Black Market, lacking the edge that the band once had.

Thankfully, album number eight, Wolves, feels more raw than the polished radio-rock that the band had churned out over the past few releases. I doubt we will ever hear a true return to their hardcore roots, but the pop sheen on this record is thankfully less noticeable. I didn’t have high hopes on first listen, having not thought much of their previous record, but thankfully Wolves proved instantly likable.

It’s the same familiar Rise Against. They’ve transcended their underground roots to create a melodic-hardcore-come-arena-rock style that has boosted them to prominence. And I do not begrudge them for their success. But I do feel that a special connection to the band has been lost since they started gaining more dominance on the airwaves.

I stated before that I think political content is a vital aspect of good punk music. Rise Against have always toed the line well in this regard – writing lyrics that allude to their personal and political values without being overt enough to ostracize their increasingly mainstream fan base. Just a handful of topics they’ve touched on in the past include treatment of animals (many of the band members are vegan), people (refugees, the LGBT community) and the fallout of war (including the impacts on both soldiers and civilians involved).

In his typical fashion, on Wolves singer Tim McIlrath cries out against injustice with a fervent fire. One could attribute inspiration to a certain orange-tinted world leader, but in reality corruption and oppression will always exist, regardless of who runs the government. Wolves features a theme of rallying the people to stand as one against ambiguous powers-that-be. Both relevant and vague enough for most people to relate to. And how can one not be drawn to that call to humanity that all of us possess?

Plus they have lots of “whoas”. “Whoas” are freaking awesome, and the perfect invitation from a band to have you sing along. Just ask The Casualties.

I find it hard to define my overall verdict. Wolves is actually great. I love Rise Against, and will always hold them dear as an important building block in my musical education. But I’m not sure that I needed another album from them. I like Wolves, but chances are high that  if I’m hoping for my Rise Against fix I will overlook it and reach for one of their older records.

 

Joseph James