Wednesday, December 17, 2014

CD Review: Fractal Control's 'Disconnection Equals Freedom'

Fractal Control
Disconnection Equals Freedom

Links: YouTube, SoundCloud

Fractal Control is Mike Louttit's new release of instrumental rock/metal, surf psych, and avant-garde stylings that are somewhat futuristic, but never dull. The Ohio-native wrestles with technological advances leaving real humanity in a social quandary. Regardless of the message, the mostly instrumental release contains seven thought-provoking tunes. The piano-driven, "Already Ourselves," is an instrumental ode to humanity that contains brief atmospheric washes and an artificial intelligence voice that describes an introspective analysis of life. "Awakened And Aware" opens with a mind-numbing, instrumental guitar, bass and drum composition with metal aspects abounding. The instrumental tune contains glittering guitar work, punchy melodies, and a driving rhythm that is full of aggression. "Retrace" contains a drowned-out guitar or bass solo that is very improvisational or avant-garde. It does not contain any other instrumentation. It sheds the metal characteristics of other songs and it is relatively short at only one-and-a-half-minutes.  "Hidden Truth" begins with a psych, surf rock instrumental that goes into a finger-frenzied, guitar experience that is rich with sparkling guitar notes in true rock fashion. There are robotic, spoken words near the end of the song. Overall, Fractal Control does a great job awakening the human spirit with Disconnection Equals Freedom. The music is great for fans of instrumental rock, experimental, new age, improvisational, and contemporary ambient sounds. 5 Stars (out of 5). ~ Matthew Forss

Thursday, December 11, 2014

CD Review: Vasily Evhimovich's 'Hurdy Gurdy, Accordion, and Vasily Evhimovich'

Vasily Evhimovich
Hurdy Gurdy, Accordion, and Vasily Evhimovich
Sketis Music

Vasily Evhimovich is a talented vocalist, accordion player, and hurdy-gurdy specialist on his latest recording, Hurdy Gurdy, Accordion, and Vasily Evhimovich. Vasily brings in a few other vocalists for acapella singing. Most of the time, Vasily plays the accordion or hurdy-gurdy along with the vocal segments. Based on the Volga River, Vasily recorded the album in his studio workshop. The folk songs originate from the Oka River region, as well as Belgorod, Northern Russia, Siberia, and Tatarstan. The drone of the accordion or hurdy-gurdy provide contemplative and entrancing moments between purely vocal parts. Over seventy-minutes of music and nineteen songs round out the album. The song titles are translated in Russian and English on the album back. Fans of Russian vocal music, folk music, and traditional instruments will find it most satisfying. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Stranniki's 'Light Moon'

Light Moon
Sketis Music

Stranniki is a Russian folk group that resurrects Slavic folklore songs by utilizing an array of folk music instruments and ancient melodies. The vocals are often arranged like chants with several singers singing at once in a choral fashion. The result is a sound akin to Finland's Varttina. The instruments are performed in a very artistic manner by paying close attention to historic styles and folk arrangements. Besides vocals, there is a gusli, okarina, jaleika, whistle, bansuri, bawu, kalyuka, quena, kaval, gajde, guitar, bass, drums, and assorted percussion. The contemporary instruments are a great companion to the traditional instruments. Each tune is fresh and inventive. There are only forty-two minutes of music on the album, but it is never boring. Fans of folk music, Slavic and Russian vocal music, traditional instruments, and contemporary Russian music will love the history presented by Stranniki. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Baraka's Double-Disc 'Shams'

Shams [2-CD]
Sketis Music

The Latvian band, Baraka, brings us a double-disc release of music celebrating the contemporary styles of Tajikistan. However, the music incorporates the help of Latvian, Russian, Tajiki, Lebanese, Nepalese, and Afghani musicians for a truly world music result. The Farsi or Tajiki vocals are used sparingly in ballads, folk songs, and jazzy songs throughout. There is a strong element of world jazz and lounge music, but some of the songs incorporate more of a Middle Eastern vein. Nevertheless, there is something for everyone here--from hip hop vocals to swaying jazz and funky Tajiki melodies. The songs are all very solid compositions with clear vocals and instrumental splendor. There are some traditional instruments, including the iconic dutar, setor, rubab, sitar, duduk, dilraba, and saz. The contemporary sounds stem from keyboards, guitars, bass, piano, and horns. Baraka does a great job blending the past with the present by not resorting to ho-hum melodies and rhythms, but rather bringing to life various instruments and styles indigenous to the Central Asian Republics, the Middle East, and Western Europe and Russia. Nearly two-hours of music are included with liner notes. ~ Matthew Forss  

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

CD Review: The Grass Harp's 2-CD Self-Release

The Grass Harp
The Grass Harp [2-CD]
Sketis Music

The folk music of Western Russia is diverse from a vocal and instrumental perspective. The Grass Harp proves music is a thing of beauty with the release of their new double-CD, self-titled album. There are Finno-Ugric leanings to to the music, as well as musical styles from Moldavian, German, Russian, and West African regions. Stefan Charisius is a teacher and composer with playing abilities on the kora, as well as Maria Korepanova on vocals, Matthia Schneider-Hollek on computer programming, Andrej Mikhajlov on percussion and wind instruments, Leonid Immenich on accordion, and Sergej Misjurev on other instruments. The blend of delicate rhythms, melodies, and instrumental interactions are beautiful, improvisational, and historic. It seems as if the music from centuries ago comes alive throughout both album discs in a very organic and trouble-free manner. There are metallic sounds, crystalline noises, and animal-like sounds that emanate from the various instruments. The vocal traditions are definitely of the folk music variety with various chants and tunes presented in a rather abrupt and solid way. Fans of Russian folk, Finno-Ugric musical styles, vocal traditions, shamanic styles, and music with a sort of fusion backbone will love The Grass Harp. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Algambra's Self-Titled Release

Sketis Music

Algambra is a Russian music group with a knack for improvisational and instrumental styles that incorporate South Asian, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and contemporary forms of fusion in one exciting package. The primary instrument is the hang, which is a metallic idiophone in the shape of a UFO that is played with hands and it is an instrument that was invented only fifteen years ago in Switzerland. The hang sounds are multi-faceted and sound similar to the udu, ghatam, and steel pan instruments. The sounds are fluid and softer than a steel pan, but a great accompaniment for the other instruments on the album, including the harp, cello, caisa, guitar, and assorted percussion. The album is mostly instrumental; except for "Made In India." The music is sparkling, bubbling, and entrancing with new age, improvisational, and avant-garde arrangements that are very likable and a welcome addition to and world music percussion collection. If anything, buy it for the hang. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Vasily Vecher's 'Siberia Land - Russian Traditional Songs Of The Western Siberia'

Vasily Vecher
Siberia Land - Russian Traditional Songs Of The Western Siberia
Sketis Music

Named after St. Basil's Day Eve, one of the most popular Russian traditional feasts, Vasily Vecher perform and study the culture of Western Siberia's peasant culture from the 16th to 18th centuries. The music contained herein is purely vocal without any instrumental accompaniment. Anyone interested in world chants, liturgical compositions, European folk music, and Slavic singing traditions, in addition to Siberian and Russian musical styles, will love it. The entire album is nearly fifty-five minutes long. It is a mix of solo and group vocal accompaniment. The songs are sung in Russian with English title translations on the back cover. There are Cyrillic Russian notes and lyrics throughout the liner booklet. This is a great ethnomusicological recording of historic significance, since it highlights the musical and vocal traditions of a bygone-era, but it is produced in a contemporary time. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Artem Uzunov's 'Let's Do It - Darbuka Stories'

Artem Uzunov
Let's Do It - Darbuka Stories
Sketis Music

This is a percussionist's dream. Artem Uzunov brings out the best of percussion utilizing a host of instruments in his repertoire, including the darbuka, dhol, cajon, dohola, bendir, riq, sagats, duduk, brazilian percussion, and guitar. There are twenty-one tracks with heart-pounding, bellydance-moving, and toe-tapping compositions that are primarily instrumental with only a few indiscriminate vocals thrown in. Each song is typically three to four-minutes long. The combination of darbuka and assorted instruments provides a more complex and deep rhythm section that is never boring or dull.  Some tunes are more involved musically than others, but that doesn't make the others less important. Fans of darbuka percussion, Arabic music, Middle Eastern music, and instrumental tunes will love Artem Uzunov's latest release. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Carol Saboya, Antonio Adolfo, and Hendrik Meurkens' 'Copa Village'

Carol Saboya, Antonio Adolfo, and Hendrik Meurkens
Copa Village
AAM Music

With decades of Brazilian musical experiences between Carol, Antonio, and Hendrik, the group knows how to bring subtle, fresh, and original musical experiences to light with their latest release honoring classic bossa nova melodies and rhythms on Copa Village. Carol's vocals are joined by Antonio's piano skills and Hendrik's harmonica and vibraphone mastery. Of course, the bass, drums, percussion, and guitars round out the instrumental line-up. The entire album glistens with South American tones and jazzy melodies. The smooth rhythms are crystalline, infectious, and celebratory with nothing awry or amiss. There are a hint of 1950's/60's sounds; especially on "The Girl From Ipanema," "Copa Village," and "Show De Bola." The eleven track release is full of exciting grooves and compositions that are perfect for lounging, relaxing, and parties. The whole release is bubbly and addictive. Get addicted today! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Kasse Mady Diabate's 'Kirike'

Kasse Mady Diabate
Six Degrees Records

Mali's heralded griot, Kasse Mady Diabate, comes from a very musical region of West Africa and possesses a lengthy musical resume working with the Orchestre Regional Super Mande de Kangaba, Ibrahima Sylla, Ketama, Toumani Diabate, and Taj Mahal. Kasse Mady sings in Bambara--the primary language of southern Mali. For nearly five decades, Kasse Mady has been creating music with griot praise-songs and rootsy folk idioms without resorting to shiny pop confections. Kasse Mady is joined by Makan Badje Tounkara on ngoni, Lansine Kouyate on balafon, Ballake Sissoko on kora, and Vincent Segal on cello. The entire group creates a chamber-like musical result that is poignant and intimate. At times, the instruments take turns rattling listeners into a frenzy, but in a rather reserved manner. This is a very mature recording showing great depth and knowledge of griot music and world fusion. Anyone into West African music should acquire Kirike. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: The Druids' 'Freedom'

The Druids

The Irish group, The Druids, are an energetic, Celtic folk group inspired by Irish ballads and history. The folksy leanings are ripe with characteristic melodies and rhythms inherent in Irish folk music. The male vocals are very engaging. Some of the best songs on the album are, "The Sky Over Ireland," "Why Can't I Be A Rebel," "Hey Paddy," "Martin O' Halloran," "The Rathbride Column," and "God Save Ireland." There are solo vocals, but oftentimes, the other band members chime in for a more dramatic result. The lyrical content revolves around issues of freedom in every day life that pertain not only to Ireland, but other countries, too. The liner notes offer extensive information on each song. Fans of bluegrass, old time, folk, storytelling songs, patriotic ballads, and historic songs will love The Druids' latest release. Freedom begins and ends with The Druids! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Ali Khattab's 'Sin Pais'

Ali Khattab
Sin Pais
Nesma Music

Egyptian composer, vocalist and guitarist, Ali Khattab, brings us a rousing mix of world fusion imbibed with an African, Arabic, and Andalusian presence. The flamenco-type melodies and instrumentation are mostly instrumental throughout, but Ali adds some vocals. There are Arabic forms, tangos, rumba, Sufi trance, and other indistinct musical qualities that add a blend of intense rhythms and contemplative tones. The music is created with the oud, violin, flute, double bass, duff, darbuca, palmas, req, and cajon. The most important aspect of the album is the origins of the music are multi-factoral and heavily influenced by various world music traditions. However, the music tends to flow very well without sounding disorderly or out-of-place. Ali succeeds with Sin Pais without any complaints here. ~ Matthew Forss

Monday, December 8, 2014

CD Review: The Armory's 'Rediscover'

The Armory

Links: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, SoundCloud

The Armory is an Atlanta-based indie rock band comprised of Sean Wheeler and Marc Harris on lead vocals, Ben Harris on bass and vocals, as well as guitarists, John Patton and Ricky Free. Together, the group forms a compelling and entertaining form of rock music with a pop vein and alternative leanings led by crunchy and symphonic guitar arrangements. The static-driven rock vocals of "If I Ever" prove the band has what it takes to bring a song to life. "Stay" contains a heady mix of crunchy rock guitar arrangements and great vocals not too unlike Three Days Grace and Splender. "Peter Piper" adds a heavier mix of rock vocals and guitars that are not as cohesive and enjoyable as other tunes on the album. "Rediscover" opens with a plaintive, acoustic guitar melody and clear, emotive vocals. Half-way through the song, heavier rock arrangements and vocals take over and end the song on a solid note. The nine-track release is a solid effort with a generous dose of rock riffs and melodies that are not too dissimilar from Three Days Grace and Splender. 4.5 Stars (out of 5) ~ Matthew Forss

Thursday, December 4, 2014

CD Review: Vozvraschenie's 'Spring Land'

Spring Land 
Sketis Music

The best in contemporary Russian rock 'n' roll is alive and well in Vozvraschenie's newest release, Spring Land. The eleven-track release contains heady vocals and gorgeous rock melodies with guitars, bass, percussion, and assorted instrumentation of ocarina, igil, jaw-harp, mandolin, virtual instruments, and others. It is rare every song on an album is great, but Spring Land proves it's possible. From the opening, driving melody of "Kapel" to the Celtic-rock and punk-inspired sounds of "Skomoroshya Dolya," Vozvraschenie is comfortable in any genre and style. However, rock and pop sounds are the primary influence here. There are a few displays of rock guitar splendor, but Vozvraschenie do their best to stick to solid, catchy rock grooves that are unforgettable. "Kapel" and "Zodchy" are two of the best tracks of any artist in any genre to come out this year. The mix of guitars, flute sounds, assorted strings, and the buzzing, electric bagpipe effects of the zhaleyka aerophone on "Zodchy" are definitely worthwhile. All the songs are in Russian. However, every song is excellent irregardless of language barriers. Anyone into Russian folk/rock will love it. One of the best recordings of 2014. ~ Matthew Forss

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

CD Review: Violette's 'Falling Strong'

Falling Strong

A native, French chanteuse, Violette brings together warm song of incredible complexity and life with swirling piano melodies and somewhat bluesy, pop song creations on her latest release, Falling Strong. Now based in Brooklyn, Violette does not stray too far from her French song origins. There are classical, jazz, pop, rock, and folk elements throughout. Each song is catchy and beautifully-executed with vocals as sweet as sugar and melodies as fluid as a babbling brook. With vocals akin to Michelle Branch and Norah Jones, Violette knows how to evoke images of love, happiness, and hope with lyrical stories. Fans of piano, pop, rock, ballads, and a few French-lyric songs will love Violette's latest offering. The album is so good it should be 'falling' up the charts! ~ Matthew Forss

Digital/Vinyl Review: Nihkil P. Yerawadekar & Low Mentality's 'Reel It In'

Nikhil P. Yerawadekar & Low Mentality
Reel It In
3rd Generation

Brooklyn-based beatmeister, Nikhil P. Yerawadekar and his group, Low Mentality, release a two-song release inspired by the edgy, psych-infused beats of West Africa, the Caribbean, and East African funk. The result is a heady, beat-driven and classic, funk-laden tune, "Reel It In," which features a rollicking rhythm and North American funk beat that is jazzy, classy, and timeless. Nikhil is joined by Pavel Kogan-Liakhov on guitar, Chauncey Yearwood on percussion and vocals, Omar Little on trumpet, keyboard and samples, Timothy Allen on bass and vocals, and James Windsor-Wells on drums and vocals. The sub-five-minute track contains enough beats, sounds, and melodies to keep you on your toes...literally. The second track, "Vultures," is also sub-five-minutes in length, but it more aligned to North American funk and psych elements. Still, the same West African and East African influences are present throughout. All of the vocals are in English, but they are not too prevalent. The entire recording is under ten minutes long, but it only serves as a glimpse into the complete musical capabilities of Nikhil P. Yerawadekar and Low Mentality. Own it today on vinyl or as a digital release! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Therianthrope's Self-Titled Release

Avaaz Records

They call it Indian surf music, which is an appropriate term after a few short listens to the new album, Therianthrope. The music is produced by a talented world music fusion quintet based in the San Diego area. The group plays guitars, tabla, and assorted percussion. The music flows effortlessly through sound and ocean waves with such ease and melancholy that every song is unforgettable. The instrumental tunes are soft and supple and frenzied in other parts. However, the result is the same: every song is amazing. The songs are even imaginatively-titled, including "Eight-Dollar Watermelon," "Wolfman Vs. You," "Canary In A Bitcoin Mine," "Am I A Merman," and "Unicorn Tranquilizer." The songs are not psychedelic with electronic embellishments and endless dance beats. Instead, the instrumentation is rather clear, dreamy, rhythmic, and fusion-inspired with a good degree of improvisational qualities. Everyone should like this one. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Susan McKeown's 'Belong'

Susan McKeown

Irish-born and North American-based, Susan McKeown presents us with indelible folk song constructions wrapped effortlessly around a poignant lyrical palette of roots and blues-inspired material for a truly remarkable release. Susan's vocals are accompanied by a few guest singers, including Declan O'Rourke and James Maddock. The instrumental accompaniment is what you would expect a laid-back folk sound to contain, including the mellotron, Hammond organ, bass, drums, guitars, Wurlitzer, percussion, strings, banjo, and others. Susan's approach to songwriting and performing is very enchanting and memorable. The musical licks, riffs, and chords stick with you long after the song ceases. It is rare every song is good on an album, but this one is an exception. Susan's voice is a combination of bluesy, Anne Weiss, the UK's Katie Melua, and alt-pop's, Leona Naess. Fans of clear vocals and various instruments in a folk, roots, and alternative pop setting will love Belong. In fact, it 'belongs' is every musical collection! ~ Matthew Forss  

Monday, December 1, 2014

CD Review: Manika Kaur's 'I Bow To You Waheguru'

Manika Kaur
I Bow To You Waheguru
United Sound

The supercharged beats of kirtan dance music are reduced here to cinematic and serene morsels of cosmic and spiritual beauty that are best categorized as new age and world music fusion. Manika Kaur's Australian and United Arab Emirates roots bring a spirited mix to the music that is inherently Sikhism with strings, light percussion, and sweeping arrangements. Manika's sweet and light vocals are a perfect addition to the music foundation. This is the first album I've observed with a cinematic appeal to kirtan music. The result is an album of seven awe-inspiring tunes that bring to light Indian, neo-classical, South Asian, and European musical arrangements in a calm and engaging package. Fans of vocal music, kirtan, Indian music, and new age tunes will love Manika Kaur's latest offering. It's guilt-free and blissful.  ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Super Hi-Fi's 'Yule Analog, Vol. 1'

Super Hi-Fi
Yule Analog, Vol. 1

Super Hi-Fi dub-masters are back and in a celebratory mood for the upcoming holiday season with the release of their latest venture, Yule Analog, Vol. 1. The instrumental release spreads a bit of holiday cheer in all the right ways. There are fluid beats, jazzy horns, dubby noises, and psych-sensibilities throughout the ten-track release, which is available as a digital release. These guys put a new spin on the Christmas season with familiar and iconic tunes reinvented, including, "We Three Kings," "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear (2 versions)," "Little Drummer Boy," "Go Tell It On The Mountain (2 versions)," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," "Auld Lang Syne," and one of the dubbiest, horn-driven, and reggae-infectious song imaginable ("Yule Analog"). The upbeat songs are sure to drive everyone into a happy frenzy. Put this on for your holiday party and you won't need any eggnog. It's that good. ~ Matthew Forss