February may be the shortest month but my column inches remain the same and, if anything, I have as much cracking content to fit in as ever. I guess the issues to note this month are:-
1. How high the bar is being raised by so many of our artists; and
2. That there is fair bit of content this month from South of the Border.
I thought it was probably best to get as much of this ROI music imported into my wee column before Brexit imposes an import tax on music submissions from there and builds an internet wall so high, nothing non Nor’n Ir’n will ever make it through to my inbox again. Only kidding. I don’t need an excuse to highlight music from anywhere on this island.
►Chasing Felix – ‘Forever/Jonos’
Dublin Electronica 3 piece, Chasing Felix, are a relatively new band but surely, a listen to this ‘double A-side’ single would confirm they are not wet-behind-the-ears in terms of writing. They’ve been in other projects before, well, I have to assume so. ‘Forever/Jonos’ is too accomplished and mature to be written by spotty youths in their sweaty bedrooms. No. This speaks of guys who know what they are doing, perhaps more importantly, know what they want to do. This is mature electronic pop music. There is no attempt to kitchen sink either song, there is enough space there to let us enjoy the sounds they have created -already described as ‘mesmeric’ by those that have had the fortune of seeing the band live in their native city. Have to say though, being the vocals man that I am and always will be, that it is the strength of the vocals that sets this apart from some of the other, otherwise dull, electronica I am sent. The vocals are strident and have magnificent tone, which has not been sacrificed to fake some post-punk nihilism. For me, ‘Jonos’ especially is a strong song, with a big vocal hook, which is why I have used that track for you all to listen to. But check out both tracks for this exceptionally promising outfit.
►Malaika – ‘I Don’t Feel The Same’
The sad but unavoidable truth is that many of our most successful artists have to leave NI to become successful or, at the very least, to take their career to the next level. Belfast native, Malaika, is no different. Now residing in Leeds, the honey-voiced soul singer, is really starting to make waves. She was named as Best Jazz/Blues Act at the recent Unsigned Music Awards, has secured some high profile support slots (Jones, Mica Paris, Luke Friend) and was handpicked by Jamie Cullum to appear at the world renowned Montreal International Jazz Festival. Cullum himself describes Malaika as ‘a great, great talent’. And who am I to argue? She has been backed by BBC’s Introducing, the PRS Foundation and the Arts Council, and it is great to see young artists being helped to such an extent. This song was written for her by Grammy nominated songwriting team John Beck and Steve Chisanthou, and it really suits her voice and delivery. There’s a bit of a Ronson/Winehouse feel to the production/arrangement, but in no way is Malaika trying to imitate the late, great Winehouse – there’s none of the seediness or neediness that she exposed in her songs. Malaika is a bit more clean cut, but there is still a wistfulness to the lyric that Malaika interprets perfectly. It is really great to see another talent from our country make waves across the Irish Sea. It’s just a shame so may have to leave to do so. By the way, the video stars someone from some TV show called Emmerdale? Yeah. I haven’t heard of it either.
►Porphyry – ‘Rip Current
Other than being a Neoplatonic philosopher (yeah, I don’t know what that means either) and a type of igneous rock consisting of large-grained crystals (again, lost me), Porphyry is the artist name for Derry-based multi-instrumentalist Daryl Coyle. It is clear from just the first few moments of his debut single, ‘Rip Current’, that Coyle has a big vision for his music. He’s got all the tools and he’s darn well going to use them. Were I that talented I might feel a hankering to do the same. In essence, given my age I suppose, the closest form of reference I have for this breadth of musical canvas is Prog Rock, though this would be more like Prog Indie Pop to give it a more suitable, not-to-mention modern, moniker. And just like Prog Rock, some of it works for my ears and some of it doesn’t. But I like someone who dares to do something a bit different, rather than aping trends. The production suffers a little bit in comparison to the previous recordings I have reviewed, but that is more than likely a budget issue and I am not going to criticise any fledgling artist for having to stick to a budget. Anyway, while this is not entirely enthralling me, it is certainly interesting enough for me to remember the name because I reckon Porphyry has it in him to come up with something on down the line that will enthrall me. That’s the beauty of finding artists in their early stages and watching them develop. I clicked ‘like’ on his social media page to keep tabs on him. Why not do the same?
►Brass Phantoms – ‘Waiting Up’
Back down south again now for Dublin Post-Punk Indie Rockers, Brass Phantoms. I’ve reviewed them before for last year’s ‘City of Wolves’ single. I will always admit that, having grown up as a Rocker during the Post-Punk era of the early ’80’s, the spotty teenager with his ‘DC t-shirt that is still inside me is naturally disinclined to like anyone trying to resurrect those days. It’s not even that I didn’t like any of the music, it’s just that post-punk fans tended to have that condescending air about them as if their music had more validity than say, Heavy Rock. Their music was going to wash away my music apparently.
Fast forward to now and of course, guitar music of all genres is under threat from synthesized, pre-programmed, dance music. Therefore, it’s time to circle the wagons and protect guitar music; to protect the band ethos as opposed to the ‘producer featuring singer singing songs from a song factory’ ethos (yuck). But it’s not just that. Brass Phantoms are actually excellent at what they do. They are committed to it. They haven’t gone all Indie Pop and snuck a few sequencers in there to make them all ‘Bastille’. They are sticking to their guns and it is paying off, with an appearance at Other Voices at the end of 2016 and booked on the Ones to Watch series of shows for 2017. I can imagine they play an energetic set full of 3 minute buzz-saw riffed anthems. Hopefully they’ll get up this side of the border before the shutters come down.
►Stormzone – ‘Another Rainy Night’
Far being it from me, a has-been-that-never-was, to criticise NI’s premier Heavy Metal band but, trust me, it comes out of frustration not out of some need to seem like a know-all. My criticism is that, having released a truly outstanding album in ‘Seven Sins’ (review here), the momentum that Stromzone had built with the previous (also excellent ‘Three Kings’) album, seemed to dissipate. The heretofore well-oiled SZ machine seemed to grind to a halt at a time when I felt convinced they had an album good enough to really take them up a level. The album launch itself was a hit ‘n’ miss affair, the dalliance with a 3 guitar line-up was muddied thinking that produced a muddied sound, and where was the merchandise? Merchandise is where a band can make money, but there was none to be had. But hey. Bands are made up of human beings and human beings not only make mistakes, but they have lives and I understand as well as anyone how difficult that juggling act can be between home/work/music. End of criticism.
‘Another Rainy Night’ encapsulates all that is good about the ‘Seven Sins’ album. It is classic Heavy Metal. It is Queensryche in their pomp. The similarities are there – the style, the vocals, the fact that it is from a concept album. Those are not criticisms. Stormzone are not plagiarising anyone. They are channeling all that is good about Heavy Metal and avoiding being a caricature Heavy Metal band. Fantastic song with a fantastic video now to go along with it. So let’s just pretend the last year or so of inertia never happened, enjoy their return to the land of the living and hope the ball is starting to roll for them.