KAZE – EP Review: “No Filter”

Being the EclecticMusicLover, it goes without saying that I’m fond of artists and bands whose music style is – well, eclectic. The Manchester, UK band KAZE certainly fits that description. Their sound is so varied and interesting that it’s pointless to try and categorize it into any particular genre. When listening to their debut EP No Filter, I hear elements of pop, folk, jazz, shoegaze, and even alternative rock – sometimes all in one song. They list Fleetwood Mac, The Beatles, The Cardigans and Amy Winehouse as some of their main influences, but I also hear a bit of classic, old-school torch song vibe that gives their music a unique quality that makes for an incredibly pleasing and compelling listen.

KAZE

Formed by Graham McCusker and Amy Webber in February 2016, they chose the name KAZE because it means “wind” in Japanese – the interpretation of which they leave to their listeners. In addition to Amy on vocals and Graham on keyboards and backing vocals, the band line-up includes Thomas Fripp on guitar, Dan Peate on bass and Jonathan Needham on drums.

KAZE Band

They released No Filter in March 2017 with a sold out gig at The Castle in Manchester. The EP was produced by Colin Towns (Ivor Novello songwriting judge/BAFTA nominated composer), engineered by Toby Wood (Lord Of The Rings/associate EMMY Award winner) and mixed by Adriano Buffone (Kubb/Avicii/Jessie Ware).

The jazz-infused first single from the EP “Pinned On You” opens with a discordant mix of instruments, perfectly conveying the feelings expressed in the lyrics about having your life turned upside down by the realization that the person you love just doesn’t feel the same about you: “I pinned all my hopes on you, but just as I fell, you told me you’re not into me too. I pictured a life with you, but bright as you were, you just couldn’t come into me too.” Amy’s strong, impassioned vocals are backed by sharp percussion and a sturdy bass line that add power to the song’s message. The complex, nuanced instrumentals bring new surprises with each listen, and the jazzy piano riff and tasty electric guitar solo in the bridge are terrific.

Feel” sets a contrasting tone, with a lovely, contemplative piano melody and smooth instrumentals. Amy’s vocals are sublime, at one point sounding a bit like Barbra Streisand when her voice soars in the bridge. I especially love the backing chorus on this track. The band employs only an acoustic guitar on the poignant ballad “Unfamiliar Room.” With a hint of melancholy in her voice, Amy sings about the anxiety of undergoing potentially life-changing medical procedures: “Knowing looks and a brief smile. Waiting for news that won’t beguile. All shapes and sizes, some sad too soon, in this unfamiliar waiting room. Pressure digging in, jazz chords and they sing, while my body’s being screwed.” The song was inspired by Graham’s own experience with chemotherapy treatments.

Things turn upbeat on “Come Away,” a breezy song about leaving one’s problems behind and starting on a new life adventure with someone special: “Quit your job, pack your bag, are you ready for a life you’ve never had?  Grab your stuff and lock the door, we’re going somewhere you’ve never been before. Come away, come away, run away with me.”  KAZE expertly fuses pop, rock and jazz elements, all building to a fantastic crescendo at the end.

No Filter is a stellar debut effort, and I suspect we’ll be hearing more great music from KAZE in the near future.

Connect with KAZE:  Website /  Facebook /  Twitter /  Instagram

Stream their music:  Spotify /  Soundcloud

Purchase:  Bandcamp

EP Review: JORDAN HERBERT – “Just Recently”

Jordan Herbert is a talented, soulful young singer/songwriter from Northampton, UK. In 2016, Jordan’s released his debut EP Roots to wide acclaim, reaching #6 on the iTunes Singer/Songwriter charts. Throughout the rest of the year, Jordan and his five-piece band, which includes musicians Harley-Joe Arnold, Jason Smith, Sam Thorne and Tony Young, toured extensively throughout the UK to promote the EP and build a fan base. In February, Jordan released a follow-up EP Just Recently through Spoilt Brat Records (what a great name for a label!) and it’s brilliant and beautiful.

Jordan Herbert

The four-track EP showcases Jordan’s abilities as both a superb wordsmith and vocalist, not to mention the great musicianship of his band. The title track “Just Recently” kicks things off in a big way with exuberant jazzy guitars, funky bass and a healthy dose of drums and crashing cymbals. Jordan vocals are captivating as he passionately croons the hopeful lyrics:

The way it’s looking now, I’ve been running around, chasing dreams I know that just can’t come true. And I’ve been running around and puttin’ it down, makin’ a sound, standing around with my head in the clouds, I was screaming it loud and I hope you can scream it too. Just recently I’ve, got it stuck in my mind, and I cant let go no no, it’s playing games in my mind.”

Next up is the sublime “How Could You” – to my ears is as close to perfection as a song can be. Floating above what sounds like an extended organ riff with snare drum are delicate guitars of varying texture and nuance, accompanied by Jordan’s intoxicating vocals that reach in and grab hold of your soul. This song is gorgeous. With pain in his voice, he sings:

How could you still end up getting it wrong, movin’ along without you. See lately, I’ve been thinking about you lately. Is there something that can save me? ‘Cause I’m done and I’ve quit foolin’ around.”

The pace quickens at around four minutes, with a flourish of guitars and vocals that are at once both sad and beautiful. The video for the song is fantastic. Shot in black and white and directed, produced and edited by Pete Cobbe, the video shows Jordan singing the song with his guitarist playing beside him in front of a black background. They’re the only things visible, conveying a poignant sense of aloneness.

Don’t You Worry” brings a return to the upbeat jazzy vibe of the first track, with an irresistible groove and funky guitar riffs. This song is just begging to be performed in a nightclub! Things take a more serious turn on the lovely folk-infused ballad “You,” a bittersweet song about trying to hold on to a relationship that’s falling apart. “When you feel like you’re not strong, just know that I’ll keep on holding on. When I’m fallin’ I keep calling I can’t get through.

Just Recently is a terrific EP, and I give it two big thumbs up! Every song is wonderful, and with only four songs, it leaves me wanting more. Guess I’ll have to wait for Jordan’s next release.

Connect with Jordan: Facebook /  Twitter  /  Instagram

Stream his music on Spotify  and purchase on iTunes or Amazon

Artist Spotlight – Sherpa

Well, here I am, once again reviewing another band from Europe, a wellspring of so much great music. The latest is Sherpa, a unique indie hip-hop/rock band from Bergen, Norway.  As with many international bands, Sherpa’s sound is a fusion of music influences from multiple cultures and genres: hip hop, indie rock, 70’s Persian, funk and jazz. As the band states, their infectious, high-energy music style is “a conglomeration of music from the seven mountains, hovering in a place between Gorillaz and The Roots.”

I spoke by e-mail with band frontman Babak Ziai, who was born in Tehran, Iran after the 1979 revolution.  He stated that his parents were very liberal and didn’t want to live under the theocratic government, so they emigrated to Norway.  Being an aspiring musician and lover of hip hop, he joined forces with Norwegian guitarist Johannes Vaage to form Sherpa in 2012. They subsequently added two musicians from the Bergen indie rock and jazz music scene – bassist Nils Henrik Sagvåg and drummer Tore Ljøkelsøy – to complete the band lineup.

Ziai explained that they wanted to create music that wasn’t bound by one specific genre, but rather fusing different genres to create an original eclectic sound that is raw and beautiful, using live musical instruments, and anchored in hip hop, indie and jazz.  When I asked Ziai how they chose the name “Sherpa” he explained that “Bergen is surrounded by seven mountains [it’s known as the city of seven mountains] and sherpas go places where the average man does not go. Sherpa literally means ‘man from the East’ and has a mystical esoteric aspect to it.”

Though Sherpa has released only a handful of songs, they’re all awesome. One of their first hits was “Rabbit,” an incredibly catchy tune with funky bass and jazzy hip hop beats, plus a bit of reggae vibe thrown in. Would not have expected such a funky song to come from a Norwegian/Persian band but I love it! Wishing it was longer, I kept hitting replay. It’s the kind of song they could jam with for 15 minutes at a concert.

Their new single “The Mind,” released in May 2016, is a hyperkinetic gem of danceable hip hop that examines the chaos of the mind. “It’s an interaction, a fracture in alignment between cultures like the Pharoahs and the Mayans. A place in our thoughts like Zion. Pure like the crystals in your tears when your cryin’. Gravity is holding you down, but you’re flyin’ and definin’. Chains will bring you back like a lion.  Time is changing like the state of your mind.”

The song opens with a brief funky bass guitar riff, then explodes into crushing hip hop beats, heavy bass and jazzy brass. Ziai raps at a rapid-fire pace and, halfway through, Persian music influences are introduced, creating a rich, complex sound that is quite exhilarating.  The video, filmed in London’s busy Camden Market, has Ziai singing the song while walking through the crowded market, further emphasizing the song’s frenetic intensity.

Another fine new track “Mantra” features exuberant synth-pop interspersed with segments of rapid-fire rapping in the style of the virtual band Gorillaz.

Sherpa is working on new music and plans to release their debut studio album in Spring 2017, and I can’t wait! Support these guys by following on Facebook and Twitter, and listening to their music on Soundcloud.

Album Review: The Autumn Stones – “Escapists”

I stumbled upon the Canadian band The Autumn Stones a while back on Twitter, so had to check out their music. I was immediately struck by their amazingly compelling sound that’s retro, yet fresh, with an 80’s vibe. Perhaps it’s the lively sax that’s heavily featured in their songs, or the fact that they seem to channel The Smiths or Blow Monkeys a bit in their style, but their music is definitely current.

Formed in 2010, The Autumn Stones have been though several personnel changes – not uncommon with bands – and are now comprised of Ciaran Megahey (vocals, lead guitar), Gary Butler (saxophones, guitar) and Marcus Tamm (bass). Their sophomore album Escapists dropped in July 2015, four years after their excellent debut album Companions of the Flame.  (Michael Newton played bass and Matthew McLaughlin hit the drums on Escapists, but have since left the band.)

According to Megahey in an interview for the website Pop Matters, “Lyrically, Escapists is a celebration of life, love and liberty. It’s also a flick to the nose of naughty faith-based ideologies.  Although that may sound super-heavy and serious, we aren’t delivering sermons—just trying to give people a compelling listening experience.”  He added that the addition of saxophonist Butler gives their songs on Escapists more character and nuance.

Regarding that amazing sax, Butler explained to The Quietus, “Our sound is the sum of many parts. We’re very early-alt rock influenced but at the same time we keep our feet firmly planted in modern subgenres, especially dream pop.”

Three singles included on the album were released in 2014, prior to the album’s launch a year later. The first, “End of Faith,” is brilliant. The subtle yet topically relevant lyrics – “This is the end of faith/the poisonous talk enslaved/freedom at last/chains of the past/what took so long to write this song,” – are expressed through Megahey’s smoldering vocals, and empowered by gorgeous, throbbing guitars reminiscent of Johnny Marr’s jangly riffs in “How Soon is Now?”, plus Butler’s assertive, wailing saxophone.


Their most recently-released single “Endless War” has a catchy, uptempo melody. The combination of both shredded and gentle guitars, punctuated by rapid-paced sax, contrast with the song’s darker lyrics “Gotta endless war on our hands.”

One of my favorite tracks on the album, “Time Is a River,” has a mellower, jazzy vibe, with nimble guitar riffs and funky sax that still manage to keep the energy level high.

“In With the Out Crowd” and “Dark Age” keep the jazzy energy flowing, while the track “Sweet Libertine” slows things down to a languid pace with acoustic guitar and mellow sax. The beguiling “Ooh La La,” another of my favorites, seems to channel early 80’s Smokey Robinson, as does “Creatures,” with their gentle, jangly guitar and wobbly sax.
You can learn more about the Autumn Stones on their website. Follow them on Twitter and listen to their music on Soundcloud or Spotify, or purchase on itunes.
A special thanks to Alison Waddell for the use of her photo.