Reviews by ReviewYou
Asher Quinn “Love is the Only Prayer”
The U.K.’s Asher Quinn is an eclectic new age and spiritual music performer. Love Is The Only Prayer was originally released in 1997 on the New World Music label, and now on Asher’s own label, Singing Stone Music, Love Is The Only Prayer is a mystical journey through classical religious and spiritual traditions with glorious female and male vocals reminiscent of anything produced by Enigma, Ancient Future, or Deep Forest.
The album’s title track, “Love Is The Only Prayer,” is a lengthy epic running over sixteen minutes long. However, the time goes by quickly as the opening melody weaves through a catchy and paradoxical universe with male and female vocals reciting parts of the title throughout in a trance-like delivery. The music is distinctly new age with symphonic strings, guitar, marching-rhythm drum work, and soaring flutes. The strikingly operatic “Adoro Te” is a perfect interlude without instrumental accompaniment for a limited time of only thirty seconds. The upbeat, female-led “Hymn of the Universe” is a sacred anthem with a good rhythm and backup vocals, and female lead vocals similar to anyone from Celtic Woman.
“Shakespeare” includes a short reading in English as spoken word before Asher begins singing with electronic accompaniment, strings, steel drum, and female vocals on “Prayer for the World”. Asher’s voice is somewhere between R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe and Ed Kowalczyk, the former lead singer of Live. “Love’s Philosophy” is another spoken word piece by Asher before operatic segments with electronic washes and a meditative drum rhythm enter and takes the total run to over thirteen minutes. The drum rhythm and instrumentation is somewhat like Enigma’s worldwide hit, “Return to Innocence”. The operatic parts are fine, but may be best suited for another song.
The very short “Gayan” is only nine seconds long, but it is the perfect prelude to the English-lyric track, “Love Call”. The slower melody and Asher’s vocals backed by flute and guitar almost suggest a Spanish influence. If “Love Call” is the most beautiful track on the album, then it is also the most enjoyable. The combination of Asher’s voice, light percussion, and melodic rhythm is engaging enough for anyone within earshot. The “Moon” is another nine second track that repeats the phrase ‘The moon is coming…The moon is coming.’ Coincidentally, the next track is titled, “The Moon Is Coming”. On this track, the keyboard rules, and little in the way of outside percussion drives it. The music is fairly simple, yet engaging enough for the listener to keep listening. The last track, “An Angel Watching Over You,” seems like an ode to the heavens. The keyboards create a soft backdrop, while the acoustic guitar makes a few bright notes of ear-pleasure. The final track is somber, but provides a glimmer of hope for the future with varying degrees of dark and light tones with a cascading musical device. The end of the song is analogous to the end of a film with all the feelings of pleasure, hope, and despair in the world.
Asher’s Love Is The Only Prayer is a musical journey of heavenly proportions with brief accents of Latin language, Spanish guitar, Mediterranean rhythms, new age vocals, and inspirational melodies. The only quibble is the use of operatic vocals on “Love’s Philosophy,” as the instruments on the track do not require the use of vocals. Still, Asher has a way of producing quality results. This is highly recommended for fans of new age, spiritual, and instrumental music.
Review by Matthew Forss
Rating: 4 Stars (out of 5)
Erwilian “Midwinter’s Night (Live)”
The Seattle-based folk-tet Erwilian is an acoustic, new age, and fusion music group that incorporates a range of instruments, melodies, and rhythms into their work and draws upon European and Christmas instrumental overtones in their album Midwinter’s Night. Midwinter’s Night features live cuts from the 2008-2009 winter season performed by founding members Scott Melton and Jordan Buetow, and Bethel Melton, Jeff Reed, and Bill Bowser, and Robert Schuweiler
The opening instrumental track, “In Convivio”, begins with applause from the audience, which quickly dissolves into a jovial medley on recorder, guitar, dulcimer, mandola, and bouzouki. The latter part of the song heads into the historically French tune, “Ding Dong Merrily On High”, with a spirited element of Medieval minstrelsy and equal amount of pleasurable charm for the ears. The only vocals occur at the end of the song, and are a few spoken words that allude to the upcoming Christmas season. This is not distracting, and adds to the spontaneity of the live performance.
The title track, “Midwinter’s Night”, is another great instrumental tune with soaring sounds and a catchy musical progression. The baritone guitar and soprano recorder carried the tune without fault. Light percussion provides a well-rounded mix of sounds, moods, instruments, and melodies, and the end of the song’s spoken word interplay pokes fun about the age of some of the musicians. The opening moments of “South Prairie Rain” are well composed and aesthetically pleasing. The mix of baritone guitar, alto recorder, mandola, and bouzouki are never overdone or poorly played. The extreme catchiness of the song inspires a sense of contemplation, class, and nostalgia from 16th century Europe.
The Spanish-Portuguese song, “Villancicos”, continues the historical approach to the music, drawing upon the 16th century melodies of Spain and Portugal. “Villancicos” was a term used in the 20th century that is literally translated as “Christmas Carols”. The giddy rhythm with guitar and recorder accompaniment provides a sound definitely not unlike the guitar and flute ensembles of the South American Andes Mountains with a mix of Spanish flamenco and Balkan Gypsy or Klezmer music thrown in. An audible “1…2…3…4” is used a few times throughout the song to indicate musical time.
“Wandering” contains the longest spoken word introduction, but it not much more than one minute, and clarifies any confusion as to the origins of the song. As the name suggests, “Wandering” is a lilting tune of guitar and soprano recorder that is quite reflective and moving at the same time, and he slower tempo of the first half picks up some speed by the end. The traditional tune, “Billy In The Lowground/Swinging On A Gate”, is a shining moment for the hammered dulcimer and mandolin. The most moving song, “Calling Birds”, is an anthem for the hammered dulcimer. The beautiful melodies contained a crystalline quality of musicianship so catchy and brilliant tears of joy are sure to follow.
“Memories” is tinged with a Latin-folk tone that met the shores of Scotland and Ireland. This instrumental song evokes an element of mystery, global travel, and pure fun. “A-Wassailing” is a contemporary rendition of “God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen”, before the song moves into a poppy medley of hammered dulcimer, recorder, mandolin, and baritone guitar. The final two tracks, “This Little Babe” and “Gigues”, are popular takes on other former Christmas tunes, such as “What Child Is This?” and “I Saw Three Ships”, respectively. The rousing finish leads to a thankful applause.
The strengths of Erwilian’s musicianship shine through on instruments, melodies, and historical origins and traditions. The contemporary folk sounds could also be construed as modern medieval music. Whatever it is called, Midwinter’s Night is a classic recording with folksy melodies and instrumentation without any singing. Live recordings often produce mixed results, but Erwilian’s playing abilities are anything but inconsistent. The intros and outros feature little in the way of random or meaningless dialog, and the eleven songs and over fifty-minutes of music provide a worthwhile listening experience. Erwilian will certainly be enjoyed by fans of Christmas, New Age, Celtic, Folk, and Instrumental music.
Review by Matthew Forss
Rating: 5 Stars (out of 5)
Tammer Gad “Robot 2054″
Tammer Gad’s seemingly otherworldly band with a name straight out of the intergalactic abyss is akin to a futuristic journey of spacey trip-hop. Robot 2054 is an electronic trip-hop album that explores the spacey side of life with tracks from the outer reaches of human existence. Tammer Gad is a US-based electronic music group with member’s identities shrouded in secrecy. Could it be an alien government cover-up? Time will tell. Though, the secret of the music is revealed in the unearthly trip-hop sounds of Robot 2054.
The album’s opener, “2054”, features a crackle of thunder, a slow, gently sweeping piano rhythm, and electric bells. The rather slow and uninspiring opening sounds take on life with electronic undulations and a spacey beat approximately forty-seconds into the track. The rest of the track features an array of cosmic sounds on keyboards and Moog synthesizer. The sounds of Alpha, Waldeck, Zero 7, and Air are not too far behind. The bouncy and groovy trip-hop wanderings of the South American lounge jazz-inspired track, “Space Coast”, has no relation to Florida’s eastern coast of the same name. It is an infectious groove with fluttering flute sounds, pulsating electronic sounds, and a killer bass hook. The instrumental “Space Coast” is a superb track with radiant and sparkling electronic sounds characteristic of Tipsy’s Buzzz with a dash of Röyskopp’s Melody A.M.
“In Orbit” opens with an upright bass medley before cascading right into a shimmering trip beat. The piano and upright bass give the track ajazz-focused sound without reverting to a classical or soft jazz rendition. “Digital Clocks” is a masterpiece with sporadic spoken word vocals about alien intelligence and technologies. In fact, “Digital Clocks” is the only track with any kind of vocals on Robot 2054. The beat is littered with little bursts of gurgles, bloops, and flutters, similar to Speedometer’s Private.
The latter half of the album diverges a bit. The techno-dance beat of “Robot” mimics the sounds of metallic objects moving synchronously and is faster than all of the tracks on Robot 2054. “Robot” is almost two different tracks by how the percussion and dance beats are positioned. Though, the futuristic and metallic sounds of the latter half signify Tammer Gad’s distinctive musical abilities.
“The Man With No Name” features an acoustic guitar introduction with a Latin or flamenco-type rhythm, and the addition of the piano suggests a Cuban bolero or son musical style as inspiration. The addition of strings and a horn section provides unmistakable proof for some kind of Latin or South American musical connection. The latter half includes a busy combination of instruments and styles that are all played at the same time, highlighting the downside of incorporating so many different instruments by creating a conflicting listening experience. For example, the house-type beat, horns, piano, guitar, and drums at the end of the track illustrate a clear sound departure from the more spacey, trip-hop sounds of the previous tracks.
Tammer Gad’s space-driven, trip-hop sound adventures are an amazing and slightly eclectic mix of tracks from the outer reaches of Earth’s sounds. The almost complete lack of vocals provides a gateway for the electronic sounds to shine on almost every track. The weaknesses of the final track are fortunately overshadowed by the previous five song. Notably, the short twenty-three-minute running length of Robot 2054 and only six tracks may be a bit of a turn-off, but at least Tammer Gad produces an incredible and unforgettable musical journey.
Review by Matthew Forss
Carrie Armitage “The Spirit of The Times”
Carrie Armitage is a Canadian singer-songwriter with a proclivity for ecological-consciousness and peace activism. Carrie’s recent release, The Spirit of The Times, is a fairly candid take on the global awareness and preservation for the Earth’s vanishing resources. Carrie’s awareness of Earth’s impending plight is a musical message of electronica with varying shades of jazz, trip-hop, house, and lounge. The ambient beat of electronica and her vocals carry the song’s highs and lows from the darkest depths of Earth’s inner core through the vast darkness of intergalactic space.
The Spirit of The Times opens with “Great Floating World”, which is a percussive song with a beat resembling flowing water. The song is led by Carrie’s vocals about the precarious nature of Earth’s ecological balance. A spry piano medley is interspersed with haunting, symphonic vocals and a few spoken words. In short, Earth’s buoyancy in the greater universe is in turmoil. The most non-electronic song on the album is “Time To Find It”. The snare drum beat, somber piano playing, and Carrie’s pressing vocals about finding something before it is too late is a song without a clearly-defined theme, but the snare drum-marching rhythm suggests a song about finding an alternative solution to war.
“Water” is an anthem about water preservation on a global scale. The vocals are backed by gospel singers, a trip-hop piano beat, and spoken word phrases about the properties of water. “No Words Only Love” is a jazz-influenced romp through the electronic ether of the universe. The non-sensical, almost frenetic, vocals match the scat-vocal techniques indicative of jazz-pop standards from the mid-twentieth century. The electronic sounds have the musical ingredients for a potentially good song by the French-electronic group, Air. “What Do You Think” takes an angle on responsibility, civility, and social action. The gospel-esque backup singers and rhythmic overtones lighten the listening mood and evokes a contemplative response about the environment.
“The Twisting and Turning” is a whirling sound of jazzy-piano vocals with some percussion and electronic tones. The vocals seem a bit restrained, but it is nothing out of the ordinary for this type of music. “Into The Sublime” is not necessarily melodic, because the rhythm follows a more avante-garde, jazz standard pattern. However, the layered vocals at the end of the song are confusing and repetitious. Meanwhile, “The Spirit of The Times” continues the languid jazzy presence. Carrie’s spoken word parts excel on this track. The spoken word and mostly non-sensical lyrics on “It’s Up to Us” proclaims that love is a universal trait that should be shared. The song title is repeated throughout the song amid a trip-hop, electronic beat resembling the music of downtempo pioneers Alpha or Waldeck. “Watershed” sounds like something out of Ireland’s Ronan Hardiman’s symphonic and piano repertoire. The drippy electronic sounds, haunting vocals, and ethereal chants evoke the sounds of Enigma or Tangerine Dream’s instrumental works.
Carrie’s love for the environment is definitely an inspirational and critical topic to consider on a musical level. Still, her vocal delivery may be best suited for the spoken word genre. Carrie’s singing is passionate and beautiful, but it seems to work the best in the more jazz-centered songs. She foregoes melody for the message in some instances, but also creates moments where the dynamic electronic sounds and sheer amount of aural colors are stunning. The Spirit of The Times is a very good work of avante-garde or eco-trip-hop.
Review by Matthew Forss
Vast Days “Metatonic”
Finland’s Ali Kesanto is the brainchild behind Metatonic, the debut record from Vast Days. The electronic soundscapes of Metatonic are headed by Ali’s fine grasp of what electronic trip-hop music should be. It is one-hundred-percent unadulterated song textures with an instrumental backbone from a digital age. Ali’s understanding of electronic and video game music, and film soundtracks allows a greater dimension of musical creativity and inspiration. Ali is joined by Washington, D.C.-based vocalist, Yoko K., and Australia’s Kathleen Procter-Moore on mezzo-soprano vocals.
The opening track, “Return Physical”, begins with deep electronic tones from a kantele, an ancient Scandinavian zither. The plucked kantele sounds give way to the trip-hop beat with Ali’s breathy vocals and a submarine sonar sound mixing in from time to time. The music is well-structured and progresses without monotony by incorporating brooding electronic washes with the tinny kantele. “Elsewhere” bubbles with a gloomy beat and then enters a new dimension with the addition of Kathleen’s mezzo-soprano voice.
“Nian” is a shorter track at two-and-a-half-minutes, and is probably named after a beast from Chinese mythology that is sensitive to light and noise. Fittingly, the music is relatively reserved and uses a combination of electronic washes and swishes with piano interludes. “Poures” opens with an ambient soundscape that fades quickly into piano accompaniment and Ali’s breathy vocals, posing similarities with several songs on Hooverphonic’s Blue Wonder Power Milk. “Flyer” has an arrangement that provides an Enigma-like ambiance and accentuates the vocals superbly.
The back half of “Predicament” features a breath-taking piece of symphonic excellence and is wrought with electronic brilliance all-around. The piano introduction of “Structures” picks up the pace with a melodic and spacey beat that is nothing short of absolute intelligence. Ali’s carefully executed vocals and sparkling electronic additives resembling particles of falling glass easily set “Structures” apart as the best track on Metatonic. The final track, “The New Now”, begins as a dramatic instrumental interlude and develops with a film score feel.
Ali Kesanto’s Metatonic encapsulates the essence of a classic trip-hop recording and sets an example for others in the genre. A harmonious album such as this is rare, using the right proportions of voice, instrument, and tone. The running length of forty-two minutes should not be a deterrent for any fan craving must-have trip-hop music. Metatonic is one of the best trip-hop albums of the decade!
Review by Matthew Forss