Album Review: Switchfoot ‘Where the Light Shines Through’

switchfoot-where-the-light-shines-through-compressed“Because Hope deserves an anthem” echoes through the U2esque intro that builds into the first track of the latest album ‘Where the Light Shines Through’ (WTLST) by Californian group Switchfoot.
Imagine creating an album with this at the heart! Would the task almost feel so overwhelming that it would cripple you with fear? Switchfoot have climbed into the challenge like a surfer floating into a crushing barrel wave for the first time.They have respected the power of the wave and the result is the most personal group of songs about hope and struggle that the band have brought us.

This is the first focused album since 2011’s ‘Vice Verses’ album. In between was the soundtrack to 2014’s surf rockumentary ‘Fading West’ and while this was released as an album it couldn’t really be taken in context without the accompanying movie.

WTLST builds on the Switchfoot sound that the band has developed since leaving their major label and going on their own, and honestly, this is great. The band has merged into one body that would sound odd without the other components, as we start to hear more of the influences of Jerome and his library of sound that he brings and Drew’s colour that is added to each song. This is a band that has found it’s voice, and in the process has found it’s soul.

The album is scattered with songs that are filled with lyrical hope. They easily connect to the heart and settle in your mind as a reminder of a renewed way of thinking about the situation you’re in. The title track ‘Where the Light Shines Through’ has a chorus that has a sentiment that echoes throughout the album – “Because your scars, Shine light night stars, Yeah your wounds are where the light shines through.”  It is raw in it’s emotion but honest in it’s approach.

Some of the most beautiful moments are raised up from confronting the realness and the pain that the open wound may feel like for some people. Lyrics like “Pain gives birth to the promised land” from ‘I Won’t Let You Go’ or “I hear the shame of my accuser, but it ain’t you” from ‘The Day that I found God’ confront realness and pain and there is beauty in that. Then album turns from the hurt and only seeing the light from a distance, to a journey of chasing it and healing from it. “I want to start healing healing“.

One of the highlights of the album is the track ‘Live it Well,’ a real anthem and a song that will be a stadium hit this summer. This track throws back a level of responsibility onto us. How are we going to live this life knowing that every breath that you take is a miracle?

While we’re on the subject of tours: This year Switchfoot will tour with international rap and hip-hop sensation and billboard chart topper Lecrae. Lecrae makes a guest appearance on the track ‘Looking for America’ as the discussion turns to a nation that has been crippled by fear and entitlement.

As a bonus track it’s wonderful to hear ‘Light and Heavy,’ a song that was written 7 years ago for the annual Heavy and Light event held by To Write Love on Her Arms .This organisation exists to bring to light the often forgotten or hidden topic of depression and self harm , and although the track is a different feel to the rest of the album (as it’s a bonus track) it’s certainly a worthy track considering the theme flowing through this album.

The world is in need of Hope. It seems to be getting darker and while there are many aspects of life that make the world seem a smaller place, there are places where the light doesn’t shine and they seem separated from the rest of the world; This is where the broken live and as these areas hear albums like this, a new hope is birthed and this is where the light shines through.
The world certainly needs more albums like this.

I’ll leave the final words to Jon Foreman, Switchfoot’s lead singer:

We sing because we’re alive. We sing because we’re broken. We sing because we refuse to believe that hatred is stronger than love. We sing because melodies begin where words fail. We sing because the wound is where the light shines through. We sing because hope deserves an anthem. – Jon



Album Review: Sacha Vee ‘Rising One E.P.’

Don’t you love it when you’re chilling out in a cafe or bar and the conversation lulls, and instead of sitting in that ‘awkward silence’ you find your head bouncing to the great tunes that are playing in the background? And better still, when you realise that it’s an artist that you have never heard before.
Now you have a problem – you have been bitten by the new tunes bug.

When I first heard Sacha Vee I really wanted to hear more.

The Rising One E.P. is a great snapshot of Sasha’s range and talent and almost a perfect sample of what she has to offer.
Sacha Vee isn’t just some flash in the pan type of Jazz inspired vocalist. She has the melodies, the right tone, and the soul funk sensitivity of greater and more well known artists. In fact Sacha could easily handle any tunes of artists such as N’dea Davenport (Brand New Heavies), Erykah Badu and Jill Scott. Sacha’s style sits somewhere between Erykah Badu’s breakthrough album ‘Baduizm‘ and Jill Scott’s ‘Who is Jill Scott‘. The fact that Sacha is able to be compared favorably to two of Soul/Funk/Jazz greatest albums and artists should be something that excites the listener. You’re not  listening to some second rate vocal here. This is quality.

‘Hey Sugar‘ is a perfect example of how Sacha is able to draw upon a musical knowledge filled with great artists and make it hers. This song is just one of those songs that just grabs your attention. It has it all – it’s laid back, it’s soulful, it’s funky and it’s well crafted. What makes this even better is that ‘GING’, the following track, gives you a more upbeat version of the same. It’s almost a bit of old acid jazz styled sounds reminiscent of the classics including The Brand New Heavies, Cloud 9 and Jessica Lauren.

‘Heavy Load’ brings Sacha into a heavy beat influenced R&B track that cruises and flows on a solid beat. It’s very mainstream in it’s approach and I can’t help but think of artist like Aaliyah, Moloko and TLC with it’s ‘a little bit retro’ sound over the top of a modern R&B infected beat.

Sacha Vee is your next cafe or chill album.

The equation is quite simple.
If you have a upmarket cafe…. buy this EP
If you have a chilled out bar or cool restaurant… buy this EP
If you want something to just have a few cocktails with… buy this EP
If you just like to chill out and relax… buy this EP.

When the pop world is getting more and more about antics than artistry, it’s good to hear we have the option of quality in what we choose to listen too in our down time.

This is certainly a ‘Rising One’ to watch

Album Review – Corban Samuels ‘Resonate’

Some song writers are poets that tell stories to a musicial back drop.
Some song writers are musicians who’s only aim is to get you to dance or to rock or to sway.
Sam Reed, the creator of the enigmatic ‘Corban Samuels’, isn’t really either. Sam should be considered a cinematic songwriter.
Sam’s off centre songwriting flair was highlighted with his Death to Birth (I & II) EP’s . Through music Corban Samuels made you feel uneasy, almost even scared at the darkness… Almost like when you had seen your first horror or thriller movie and you had to force yourself to say ‘Candyman’ three times into the mirror. In your head you knew you would be okay, but for some reason everything in your body told you not to!!!

Corban Samuels is going a different direction with this album. Those familiar with his work will still recognise his Indie style which brings in new sounds and textures that you weren’t expecting to hear in an electronic genre.
Resonate is certainly a ‘happier’ album than what Death to Birth gave us, but be warned this doesn’t mean that it’s going to be comfortable.
Corban Samuels becomes an old gypsy storyteller as he weaves you into the story that he begins to slowly unwind using only music. There are clashes in chords and odd piano tinges and motifs that run through the album that often make you wince and move uncomfortably in your seat. You don’t need to wait long for the uneasiness of the album to land. In the first track you are welcomed with a bright sunrise pad that is warm and beckoning, followed by some chords that float harmoniously underneath before the quirkiness of a busy piano that is a bit off the flow of the rest of the track. It was almost like a bumblebee frantically trying to collect pollen over the sound of the sun rising over a flower bed or someone viewing the awakening farm and the busy-ness start to happen as people get about the day… all the while the sun and nature do their job and slowly come to life.
It’s natural once you translate it into a cinematic world, but without such a picture you are left wondering.
Corban Samuels forces you to translate music into pictures, and in a way you kind of have to to make it all make sense.

So what do you call this style of music?
It’s been likened to Trip-hop but it doesn’t really fit neatly into that genre as it’s too clean to sit besides the likes of Portishead, Bjork, Tricky and DJ shadow… It’s either not enough ‘trip’ or not enough ‘hop’.
I would call it Cinematic trip-pop.
I think the market here would be to create Cinematic soundscapes with everyday things happening as the music tells the story of what is happening… the narrator is the music.
It’s a nice change of pace for Corban Samuels and it was great to be able to hear music I felt I could listen to in the dark or with people around without fear of being stabbed by my own dread.
I would like to see a bit more of a departure from the moody and cinematic and really just let the music be there to create an environment for people to relax to and just nod their heads to the beat of some chilled out tunes. I wonder if Corban Samuels knows how to relax and have fun, or does he need more of Sam Reed in his head?
There are glimpses of what could be a start of this with ‘Bells at Midnight’ (featuring soulUnite) – a nicely laid beat with a hip hop sensitive bell tone over top. There just needs to be a bit more of a chance for the listener to relax and let the music resonate rather than have the music prod them for attention.

It’s certainly going to be interesting to see where Corban Samuels will take us to next…
I guess that will be the next chapter of the Corban Samuels story, stay tuned!

Album Review: Joseph & Maia ‘Sorrento’

Sometimes magic just happens.

At the height of the folk-indie movement of the early 90s there were bands that became legends within the the genre. These bands, including The Jayhawks, Uncle Tupelo and Golden Smog, created the Americana or Alt-country movement. These were artists that paved the way for the likes of Counting Crows, The Gin Blossoms and Blues Traveller. It was an era of great music with great melody, great heart and singability without the cheesy sub-pop that often ruins a good tune.

I have been listening to ‘Sorrento’ by Joseph and Maia, and these songs could have been a part of this great music era in the indie scene. This duo have a freedom in their music that could turn into something big. They have split from their label and are now doing it as independents.

‘Sorrento’ starts off with the title track and you’re immediately confronted with the beat up front before a dirty guitar strums over top. It gives no clue to the wonderful harmonies that introduce the lyrics to us. It’s a perfect alt-folk pop tune that builds nicely into the chorus, and leads nicely to the next track ‘On my way.’ This picks up on the Alt-country vein and it’s done with near perfection.

Part of the new found freedom is a real sincere honesty. This is shown as ‘Will I Ever’ begins with a solitary single acoustic guitar before Joseph sings “I don’t know what I believe in, no not anymore”. This beautiful song starts off tenderly before the full band come in with a great organ pad underneath and a slide guitar adding colour over top. Often with songs like this the artist is tempted to keep it low and slow and I’m glad this duo didn’t with this song.

“Sleep while you can babe… it’s cold outside and I can hear the rain”  could be the perfect start to a night in with someone you love by a warm open fire. It’s when your mind wanders to places like this it makes you realise that this is no longer about just a song but how the song has connected with a time and place. The music has connected with you and ironically ‘Sleep’ is the perfect way to finish off a busy day. It’s a beautiful song with a lullaby quality that just works well.

I love it when independent albums punch above their weight. There is no marketing and fanfare… only good music and good performance to draw you in. It’s the word of mouth that draws the crowd.
‘Sorrento’ is a beautifully crafted album that is well thought out. It’s Alt-country that is perfectly packaged in a way that highlights the song as something that fits in with life. It fills the gaps in our lives like a warm coffee, you realise how much you need it when you smell the wonderful scent wafting through the house.

Music has a way of connecting and ‘Sorrento’ does this is a wonderfully refreshing way.

Album Review: Luke Thompson ‘Strum Strum’ E.P.

It’s true to say that your soul responds to music. Some music excites you and some music calms you. Some music brings back memories and some creates them. Luke’s latest EP is the kind of music that just calms your soul. In fact, the first time I heard it I felt myself just relax as I sat in the sun and sipped on a well made latte.

The ‘Strum Strum’ EP starts off with the well crafted track ‘Keep Rolling on’ and I can’t help but think of great artists such as James Taylor who write with such an amazing balance of melody and catchy turn of phrase that you can’t help but be drawn into the story. It’s almost like the music calls and beckons you to listen.

‘Oh Christina’ follows on perfectly from where ‘Keep Rolling on’ has left, with some great colour added by some wonderfully placed and well timed harmonies that sit over top. ‘The Climb and fall’ has a real country rock 70s feel that wouldn’t have been out of place with legendary bands such as the Eagles. The harmonies over top that help highlight and drive forward the melody are spot on. It just shows that Luke doesn’t have to lay down a ballad every time he writes a song, and it’s refreshing to hear something a bit different as a whole album of purely ballads wouldn’t have highlighted and showcased just how good Luke is as a songwriter.

Luke’s a good enough songwriter to let his music stand on it’s own merits and while the style of music isn’t anything revolutionary or new it’s the quality and the high standard of it that is worth taking the time to listen to.
Luke’s music has a way of slowing life down, it’s music that demands you to just sit and listen. It’s almost like time stands still for just a moment as Luke tells his story as part of this musical journey.

Music doesn’t have to be revolutionary to change the world… it just has to be good enough to make you stop and enjoy it.

Album Review: Ashlinn Gray ‘Self Titled E.P.’

Singer Songwriter Ashlinn Gray

Singer Songwriter Ashlinn Gray

By far the best part of my job as a reviewer isn’t hearing new music from big artists, although it’s fun to hear the progression of an artist. The best part of being a reviewer is hearing an artist that is new and has the potential to do amazing things. With this in mind I found myself excited to be listening to South African Born singer Ashlinn Gray for the first time with her first single ‘Battleships.’ Not only is it a catchy tune but it’s a slightly new take on the whole female singer songwriter patter that we hear and expect on the radio.

Battleships has a great little story attached to it as it’s not only the first single that Ashlinn has released (that will certainly help propeller her career) but it was the first song that she had ever written. How great is that?
Even at the tender age of 17 Ashlinn is showing a depth of sophistication that is well beyond her years. It would be easy for someone of her age and experience to bring out just a simple ballad laden E.P. with just a simple acoustic guitar and her well rounded vocals and be happy with it, but Ashlinn has proven she is beyond settling for mediocrity. She surrounds herself with a great band and has developed a sound that sits perfectly within an uptempo pop folk sound and power ballad.

Ashlinn has a voice that is both raw and powerful and yet shows such tenderness in emotion and a connection that again is beyond her years. We live on a planet where a majority of 17 year old kids are happy to sit at home in front of a screen of some sort and the only connection being made is via tweets and social media posts. Ashlinn is working hard balancing her school work and growing a career. Ashlinn, despite the life balance, is still able to connect on a deeper level. Songs like ‘Risking it All’ and ‘Closer Now’ show both the power and the tenderness possessed by someone so young and it’s intriguing.

I love how the E.P. ends with the track ‘Sugar Coated Lemons’ a great pop laced single that has a positive outlook to when life doesn’t go as expected. And while this fun little ditty could be seen as just another nice little pop song it shows the drive and the sense of motivation that Ashlinn has towards her fellow man. Ashlinn wants to connect, she wants to inspire, and she wants to motivate.

It seems that Ashlinn is already thinking bigger than herself already, and the wonderful thing is that if she’s creating this level of quality and depth of song writing now just imagine what she could accomplish. Imagine if Ashlinn inspired others like her to do the same. This world could be a much better place. Thank Goodness for that!

Album Review: Heath McNease ‘Fort Wayne’ (Songs inspired by the film)

Heath McNease – Fort Wayne

Let’s face it, some people are just creative.

You know the type. They are the kind of people who just do things, not because they are trying to create something new or even cutting edge but just because they had an idea in their head and they figured they were the best person to get the job done.
Heath McNease is one of those guys. Growing up in South Georgia Heath has successfully tried his hand at rap and hip-hop, indie, folk and now acting and directing… the guy is over the top creative and it’s fun to watch.

Heath brings us ‘Fort Wayne’ a soundtrack of sorts (or at least a musical companion to the film of the same name).

Fort Wayne is a movie that tells the awkward story of an up and coming musician that is stuck in Fort Wayne who is struggling to find  his place in the entertainment word and discover who he is under all the masks and music.
The album ‘Fort Wayne (songs inspired by the film)’ is actually a lovely back drop to the sparseness of the film. The film is filled with travelling and time alone for the main character… and so it is with the music for this album, lots of destination songs.

Songs like ‘Georgia’ ‘Eastbound 94’ and ‘Coleridge’ are all songs that paint a picture of the journey, and the really great thing about the style of Heaths writing for this album is that you don’t need to have seen the film to get a picture in your head about the journey the main character is taking. It’s a lonely journey, it’s a journey filled with shadows and rain. Self discovery.
One of the best destination songs is ‘Upper Right’ in which Heath sings “Cause I dream of Upper right USA”. While many of these destination songs are folky and filled with space and shadow, ‘Upper Right’ starts to add some of Heaths trade mark play on words and symbolism “I dream of Lower Left USA , and you dream of Lower Right” – Heath is best when he’s at his most playful.

One of the things about albums like this are they are so topical to the film they are released to be along side is that there is often not much variation in style. However I think Heath is able to add enough into the mix that he is able to get it to sit as maybe a new modern take on the dark, ambient folk style of music that bands like American Music club or Grant Lee Buffalo made popular.

As an album I think this sticks pretty close to the brief ‘Songs inspired by the Film’s

Some times it’s great when an artist surpises you, Heath did this with his indie/folk album ‘The Weight of glory’ songs that were inspired by the works of C.S. Lewis, and then again with ‘The weight of Glory – the second edition’ an even better album blending the indie/folk style of the first album with a strong remixed rap and hip-hop again focusing on C.S. Lewis.

I think we forget that this album comes at the end of a busy time for Heath…. not only did he write, act and direct the film ‘Fort Wayne’ but he also did ALL the music for it also… he did it all.
It’s easy to be unimpressed with an album that doesn’t make us laugh or sing along too as some of Heaths other albums have done, as he leaves you wondering by how symbolic he was actually trying to be with his clever play on words.
So take this album as it is… and album of songs inspired by the film ‘Fort Wayne’ – a dark atmospheric folk album, that is filled with discovery and destination.
While the rain is running down your window, turn on this album and let your mind get taken away… a place of solitude.