JAMES BAKIAN – EP Review: “Unstoppable”

James Bakian EP

There are so many talented musicians making really good music these days, but every so often we come upon one who stands above the crowd. James Bakian, a charismatic young singer/songwriter from London, UK, is such an artist. He’s only 14 years old, but possesses a phenomenal vocal styling with a maturity beyond his years. His love of music has been in his blood since he was a young child, and he wrote his first song “Oh Baby” at the age of six! He began studying piano at seven, and from that point on, he knew he wanted a career in music.

Drawing inspiration from some of his favorite artists like Maroon 5, Charlie Puth, Sam Smith, Ed Sheeran, Sia, Selena Gomez, Shawn Mendes, Justin Bieber and Drake, James has developed a singing style that fits his beautiful voice. In his bio, he explains his creative process:  “When the inspiration to write a song comes, I sit at the piano, a melody forms and then the lyrics flow! I write a lot about love and heartbreak but I’ve never been in love…yet! My dream is to keep writing and singing and for people to get to know and enjoy my music! One day I’d love to do a world tour.

James Bakian

James released a very respectable debut EP By Your Side in 2016, and at the end of 2017 he dropped his second EP Unstoppable. The new EP shows how much his vocals and songwriting have matured in less than two years. On the sultry title track “Unstoppable,” he effortlessly goes from a seductive croon to a yearning falsetto as he pledges his undying love, pleading for her not to hurt him. The warm synths and crisp percussion are beautiful and soothing, a perfect accompaniment to his superb vocals.

Most of his songs are piano-driven compositions, backed with lovely violin-heavy synths, gentle percussion and subtle guitar. On the melancholy “Ain’t Sure,” James emotionally declares “I ain’t sure if I want you more / I’m letting go / You’ve broken me, you tore me up I’m on the floor / I can’t believe how I ever thought you cared about me.”  “Colour” has him extolling the depth of his adoration, pleading for her to let him go if she can’t love him the way he loves her. The uptempo “Know You” features a softly pulsating dance beat, and the funky guitar in the outro is a nice touch. And as always, James’ vocals are flawlessly sublime.

Poison” is a terrific kiss-off song set to a thumping bass-driven dance beat. James rebukes a former lover who’s now toxic for him: “You’re poison, it hurts me. Don’t think I can take this. You destroyed me with your kiss. You gotta leave. I’ll make it, please right now.”  “Red Dress” has him mourning the loss of a girl he loved who’s now left him: “Oh there she goes off to where who knows? But all I know is that she’s gone. Never coming back. Disappeared from view.”

Unstoppable is a wonderful EP, and a fitting description for this supremely talented young man with a big, beautiful voice. James is an ambitious, hard-working guy, and just a few weeks after the release of Unstoppable, he dropped two new singles! I’m certain that his star will only grow brighter as his songwriting and vocal style continue to mature.

Connect with James:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music on  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on  iTunes

ANCA – EP Review: “Tomorrow in Sight”

ANCA album cover

Anca is a lovely young indie singer/songwriter from Sydney, Australia who released her equally lovely debut EP Tomorrow in Sight in December 2017. She writes heartfelt lyrics based partly on her own personal experiences, and sets them to delicate piano-driven melodies. She played piano and drums on all the tracks, with assistance from Ian Craig on guitar and JimmyJay Lovelace on bass.

Her folk-pop music style contains elements that at times remind me a tiny bit like Jewel, yet sounds totally fresh and original. In her bio info, Anca shares her feelings about the EP: “This is my debut EP of the best songs I wrote before turning 21. Recorded on the piano I grew up with, I am incredibly excited to share the music from this period of my life. After the release of this record, tomorrow is in sight with my adult songs coming next year!

Opening track “Trainwreck” sets the tone with a sweet piano riff and gently strummed electric guitar creating a mood that’s soothing, yet lighthearted. ANCA’s delicate vocals are enchanting as they skitter across the soundwaves. She explains the meaning of the song and its charming video:

Trainwreck is a song where I am laughing at myself for how terrible I am when it comes to dating. The particular story starts with me starting to see a guy and things going really well until we hang out and I have a few too many and make an absolute idiot out of myself. The video definitely goes overboard – I didn’t really break a glass in the original but the catastrophe level was pretty close! But hey, if you can’t laugh at yourself then what can you do? At least one of us found it funny!

On “Red Flags” Anca muses on whether she should open herself up to a possible relationship: “I could be wrong, maybe I should let you in“, yet she has reservations, afraid of being hurt: “Red flags run from my eyes. I know it’s hard to see when you’re so high.” The track features a beautiful little guitar riff, accompanied by subtle piano and gently pummeling drums.

Learning to Let Go” has her coming to terms with the pain caused by a failed relationship and moving on: “Learning to let go was the hardest thing I’ve ever known.” Continuing on that theme, Anca closes the door on any hope of a reconciliation on “Talk About It.” “Why don’t you run away. I don’t know why you want to talk about it. I know why I don’t want to talk about it. You’re not gonna change my mind.” And though the song is clearly pop-oriented, her vocals at times have a bit of a hip hop quality in their cadence.

Anca turns somber on the haunting “Hey Anna,” addressing the pain and despair of someone having the unattainable goal to be perfect: “Hey Anna, get out of my head. You made your point, I heard what you said. / What the mirror shows, is someone I don’t know. You know I’d give anything to be perfect.” But then she sings an emotional tribute to the strength and inspiration she gains from her grandma on the folk ballad “Nana’s Song.” “When I’m with you, I don’t have to be afraid. If I cry, you chase the monsters away. When I’m with you, I don’t have to wear a mask. If I tried, you see right through it anyway.”

It’s an uplifting finish to a fine EP that takes us on Anca’s journey of self-discovery and life lessons learned. I hope she delivers on her promise of new music very soon.

Connect with ANCA:  Website / Facebook / Instagram
Stream her music on Spotify or Apple Music  and purchase on iTunes or Bandcamp

MAX KOFFLER – Album Review: “GAMES”

games album cover

Max Koffler is an indie musician from Berlin, Germany who’s been actively making music since his teens, when he formed a band called Kerosin. In 2004 he decided to go solo, and after touring in Korea for a while, he released a respectable debut album Taboo in 2008. He subsequently spent a long while writing and recording songs for what would become his second album GAMES, which he released in March of 2017.

Incorporating an eclectic mix of music genres and styles, including alternative rock, pop, EDM, and jazz, GAMES really showcases Max’s journey and growth as a musician. The maturity of his songwriting is exemplified by more complex melodies, song structures, lyrics and instrumentation, as well as stronger vocals. With 14 tracks, the album’s a real tour de force, with contributions by Seoulmates (a German group that was formed to support Max on his Korean tour), Max’s brother Hanno (who’s an accomplished actor), and a group of musicians who, along with Max, were involved in the workshop Mix With The Masters, conducted by the famed music producer Jimmy Douglass (Led Zeppelin, Aretha Franklin, Foreigner, Justin Timberlake, Pharrell, Jay-Z).

The opening track “Choose Your Fate” was just released as a single on New Years Day. It’s an upbeat synth-pop song that celebrates Max’s love for Berlin, and the inspiration it gives him to be the best person he can be. Swirling synths and a mellow bass line are set to a slow, catchy dance beat, making for a pleasing listen. The video, which was posted on YouTube in March 2017, shows Max walking around various sites in Berlin (a magnificent city rich in history and culture that I visited many years ago, and can attest to it’s beauty and charm).

One of my favorite tracks is “Europaroma,” a charming ode to the multi-culturalism of Europe. Shimmery synths set to a languid dubstep beat, and lyrics sung in Italian, French and English by Max’s smooth and sometimes auto-tuned vocals, make for a delightful feel-good song. “Limits” has a mesmerizing synth-driven dance beat with Max’s echoed vocals that are occasionally electronically altered, and the mysterious “The Fire is Yours” features a captivating guitar riff and fuzzy synths set to a hypnotic EDM beat that intensifies as the song progresses. Max repeats the lyric “Harmful you are to me.”

Max turns up the energy on the frenetic “Love Songs,” an infectiously catchy rock song that aims straight for the hips. I love the lyric “I don’t like love songs, but I love you.” “Shake Hands” is another fast-paced rock song loaded with synths, and featuring a great guitar riff and Max’s sung and whispered vocals. The anthemic “The Boldest Cats” has a joyous folk-rock vibe, with lovely acoustic guitar, organ and just the right amount of drums. Max’s earnest vocals are backed by an incredibly pleasing chorus sung by a group of musicians from Mix With The Masters. “Big Chart” and “Purple” are excellent pop-rock tracks with jangly guitars and deep bass lines, and featuring sublime backing vocals by Seoulmates.

Max sings a love song to the Korean capital he fondly remembers on the uplifting rock ballad “Saranghae Seoul.” The last line of the song is poignant and hopeful: “I know there’s a second half you miss, but one day you will kiss what’s lying north of you.” On the brief but moving track “May I Ask,” Max implores a loved one to let him know if she still has feelings for him: “You decide if I shall live or starve from lovelessness. And so I say, may I ask if you still want me the way you once promised?

Max incorporates jazz influences on the last three tracks, starting with the captivating “Watergum.” The delicate guitars and keyboards on this track are really nice. “Long Lost Land” has a mellow, early 60’s jazzy feel with a bluesy bass riff, subtle piano and gently crashing cymbals. Max’s vocals are particularly good, as he scats in a falsetto later in the song. And the backing vocals by Seoulmates are lovely, as always. The arresting album closer “Wenn” features beautiful piano keys and synths, and an enthralling guitar riff  floating above a skittering bass line. Max’s brother Hanno vocals are captivating as he sings the German lyrics.

GAMES is a wonderful album, filled with songs that require a deeper listen to fully appreciate all the subtle elements Max incorporates into his music. I find that the songs get better with each listen, and am totally smitten by the whole affair!

Connect with Max:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Apple Music / Deezer
Purchase:  iTunes 

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 – The Condriacs

It’s back to the UK for a spotlight on The Condriacs, a singer/songwriting duo from Essex who make some really fine folk-pop music. The Condriacs are close friends Peter Spicer and Tony Slaven, who began writing songs together a couple of years ago, but decided to take their music more seriously in late 2015, when they began recording tracks. Spicer, who’s been making music since he was 14, plays guitar, while Slaven vocalizes their beautiful, compelling lyrics. As the guys explained in an interview with Michelle Ward on Brentwood, Essex radio station Phoenix 98FM in April 2016, they love great lyrics, especially by some of their favorite songwriters Chris Stapleton, Billy Joel and James Taylor, from whom they draw inspiration in penning their own exceptional lyrics. As for their interesting name, their wives came up with that moniker.

The Condriacs have recorded a number of songs, and are working toward producing a full -length album as time and funds permit. Spicer told me it’s a painfully slow process, but so far, they have five songs that will be on their debut album, and they’re working on two more they hope to record in the coming month. Their well-crafted songs are soothing, yet maintain enough of an edgy quality to keep from sounding too pop.

“When You’re Gone” is a lovely but sad ballad that speaks to the heartache and loneliness resulting from a lost love. With strong vulnerability in his vocals, Slaven laments “All I want is just another moment, a minute when I can feel your love. I wanna spend a whole day with you, really. How can I love you baby when you’re gone?”  Spicer’s smooth guitar and the accompanying piano, violin and gentle drums beautifully complement Slaven’s heartfelt vocals, which at times remind me of fellow Brit Rod Stewart.

The gorgeous “Devil’s Mist” is a standout track and my personal favorite. The first few opening musical notes can make or break a song for me, and in “Devil’s Mist” they’re positively captivating. The song’s arrangement and rich instrumentation are perfect from start to finish. Lyrically, the song is about hurt and betrayal over a failed relationship, and such powerful words they are:

“Raging nights, rumbling skies, lighting strikes me, I’m paralyzed. War with words that really hurt. We’ve just dragged up the past and dirt. When that red mist covers me, have to set that devil free. The open road where the air is free, brings me back to you. Why do you leave me in the pouring rain? Always running, never take the blame? I assume you’re OK, ’cause I’ve lost my rage.”

“I’ll Take it All” is a beguiling, upbeat song about life, love and hope. The track was just released as a single in Asia in August.

Another standout is “Run Run Run.” This remix has bit more synth-heavy vibe than the other tracks.

Here’s a lovely acoustic performance of the tender ballad “Can’t You See.” It really showcases the guys’ warmth and authenticity, not to mention Slaven’s wonderful a capella vocals.

I look forward to hearing what these fellows come up with next. Show them support by following on Twitter, liking on Facebook and subscribing to their YouTube channel.  They do not yet have music available for purchase, but it can be streamed on Soundcloud.