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Album Review

SPAZA – ‘UPRIZE!’ [Album Review]

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The fight against the apartheid regime in South Africa came to a violent climax with the Soweto 1976 uprising, a catastrophe that was finally heard around the world. It marked a change in the social stew that would bubble and boil until the release of Nelson Mandela two decades later, whereupon the entire political situation was reversed and sanity finally prevailed.

The South African avant-garde jazz collective known as SPAZA made waves with their 2019 debut, and this time they agreed to provide the soundtrack to the upcoming UPRIZE! film chronicling the turbulent political uprising, using only snippets and images from the unfinished movie, not an easy task. Recorded over a three-day period in an apartment in Yeoville, the scenes were projected onto the living room wall where the “indoor field recording” occurred, and the group improvised live by reacting to what they saw as a collective unit. The final product sounds anything but improvised which makes the music all that much more incredible.

The music itself shifts between smooth jazz, avant-garde bursts of emotion, and soundbite snippets from the film, creating an unsettling portrait of the time in question. The album opens with “Bantu Education” which is led by an ominous horn and an eerie chorus of lost souls, and the quotes from the film set us up with the treatment of the people and their lack of education. This motif is reprised on successive tracks where that monstrous horn highlights various aspects of the struggle, from the fear and slave mentality to regaining their pride as a people and ultimate liberation, including just how much impact the movement had on the future and whether or not the apartheid was wiped out or simply shifted into more accessible territory.

Songs like “Sizwile,” “Solomon Tsietsi Khotso,” and “Xolile Mosi” are awash with moody vocals, snaking basslines, meticulous attacks on djembe, and an overwhelming melancholy that is hard to shake long after listening. With such intense and real subject matter, it would be difficult to see the sun through the clouds, and SPAZA captures the chaotic time with class and delicate handling of the cause versus the solution, all the while making it entertaining (as much as such serious music can be).

More than merely an audio film reel of real and extreme human history, the group manage to bring life to the iconic images that sent shockwaves through the world on the 16th of June 1976 (when the clash came to a furious head), and bring in the atmosphere and emotion with a deft hand. Picturing them watching the disturbing images as they created the music from scratch gives the album a vibrancy and urgency rarely seen in modern music, and ultimately brings the project to life.

Spaza by Andy Mkosi Tumba Makonga

Even without the film as a backdrop, UPRIZE! is a fantastic jazz album in the vein of Freddie Hubbard, another legend that lent his avant-garde leanings to social and political struggles. But knowing the history of the subject matter, the music here is unnerving and gives a lot to ponder as it melts into your psyche. With a distinctly South African flavour, UPRIZE! looks to become a future classic both locally and internationally, and the film, naturally, can only be seen as an important document of a vile time in human history that deserves to be faced, discussed, and dealt with. This is a catharsis of the highest level, and it is incredibly special.

UPRIZE! Track Listing:

1. Bantu Education
2. Sizwile
3. Mangaliso Sobukwe
4. Solomon Tsietsi Khotso
5. The Black Consciousness Movement
6. Banna Ba Batsumi
7. Bayasiphazamisa
8. Xolile Mosi
9. We Got A Lot A Work To Do

Run Time: 43 minutes
Release Date: October 16, 2020
Record Label: Mushroom Hour Half Hour

Album Review

Blind Channel – ‘Exit Emotions’ [Album Review]

While ‘Exit Emotions’ (Century Media Records) contains many of the tropes from the golden age of nu-metal, it still feels refreshing. Blind Channel continue to move from strength to strength.

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Blind Channel ‘Exit Emotions’ album artwork
Blind Channel ‘Exit Emotions’ album artwork

Cast your minds back to 2021; it was a dark time for humanity, with the entirety of the world still gripped by the COVID-19 pandemic, countries going in and out of lockdowns, and the entertainment industry being brought to its knees. Yet, in the midst of all of this, mankind fought on, with some events managing to take place. One of these was Eurovision, which has delivered, over the years, some incredible winners and given lesser-known artists global recognition. 2021 saw Måneskin take the crown, but on their heels was Finland’s own Blind Channel in sixth place with their song “Dark Side.”

The Finnish nu-metalers already had a handful of records to their name but it was Lifestyles of the Sick and Dangerous that contained their aforementioned Eurovision entry and made the world really sit up and take notice. With its mix of metal, hip-hop, synth and a touch of glam, it was a breath of fresh air from the European region better known for its output of, let’s say, the (much) heavier side of metal.

With Exit Emotions, Blind Channel now have their eyes focused on bigger things. Whilst they have broken through to the mainstream beyond their borders, it’s not enough for the six-piece, as they explore what it means to truly be on the global stage.

Exit Emotions kicks in hard with “Where’s the Exit,” with its distorted nu-metal beat laced with some techno elements followed swiftly by distorted vocals mixing rap and metal styles seamlessly. Dual vocalists Joel Hokka and Niko Moilanen bounce off each other in a symbiotic way, indicating how in tune with each other these guys can be. “Where’s the Exit” feels like it throws everything the band can portray at the wall from their varying influences, and while, on paper, a mix of metal, rock, hip hop, techno, and synth, if difficult to get right, Blind Channel nail it with absolute precision. Several songs on this record follow this formula, like “Deadzone,” “Wolves of California,” and “XOXO” (amongst others), and if the entirety of the record kept to this, whilst fun to listen to, it would run the risk of becoming samey. Thankfully, Blind Channel does mix things up throughout.

Blind Channel, photo by Christian Ripkens

Blind Channel, photo by Christian Ripkens

Keeping it Surreal” maintains a relatively heavy approach but dials it back a tad to give the hip-hop elements more of a chance to shine and deliver a more emotional element with the band, highlighting the surrealness of their current position. This is followed by the extra-emotional “Die Another Day.” The tune opens with a piano melody and slows the entire pace of the record, and moves into ballad territory. Hokka and Moilanen are accompanied by RØRY, ensuring the sensitive lyrics portrayed are emphasized to the max. Despite the relative negativity of the lyrics, the trio somehow makes this extra melancholy tune drive forward positive feelings.

Exit Emotions is a great follow-up to Lifestyles of the Sick and Dangerous, and although it contains many of the tried and tested tropes of what was delivered in the golden age of nu-metal, it still feels refreshing. The band has gone from strength to strength since their respectable placement at 2021’s Eurovision, which demonstrates they have lots more to offer than just their hit song “Dark Side.”

Read our interview with Joel Hokka and Niko Moilanen at last year’s Download 20.

Exit Emotions Track Listing:

1. Where’s the Exit
2. Deadzone
W3. olves of California
4. XOXO
5. Keeping it Surreal
6. Die Another Day
7. Phobia
8. Happy Doomsday
9. Red Tail Lights
10. Not You Bro
11. Flatline
12. One Last Time… Again

Run Time: 35:15
Release Date: March 1, 2024
Record Label: Century Media Records

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Album Review

The Western Civilization – ‘Fractions of a Whole’ [Album Review]

The Western Civilization delivers expressive vocals and a wealth of stylistic aromas with an existential richness on ‘Fractions of a Whole.’

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The Western Civilization ‘Fractions of a Whole’ album artwork
The Western Civilization ‘Fractions of a Whole’ album artwork

It was the Greek philosopher Aristotle who said, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Applied to Texas-based indie-rock outfit The Western Civilization, the adage refers to the chemistry between Rachel Hansbro and Reggie O’Farrell, a chemistry on display in their recently released album, Fractions of a Whole.

Speaking about the album, Hansbro says, “The new songs were inspired by the amazing people who are part of my chosen family. Reggie has always been good at reminding me of the positive things. (He is) another voice saying, ‘Hey, it’s going to be okay.’”

Reggie O’Farrell and Rachel Hansbro first met while playing in separate bands. A friendship developed, resulting in two albums and performances at the Vans Warped Tour, SXSW, Halifax Pop Explosion, and, most importantly, an artistic alliance that survived a variety of obstacles.

Revolving around Hansbro and O’Farrell, The Western Civilization is a collaborative project with a rotating cast of musicians and collaborators who expose the actuality of Aristotle’s dictum.

The album opens with “Noctambulism,” a floating, folk-rock song with hints of Americana flowing through it. Driven by a sparkling piano topped by the voices of Hansbro and O’Farrell merging, the melody wafts and undulates like drifting clouds across the sky.

High points embrace “Bible Verses for Kids,” which reveals elusive Celtic flavors, a bit like The Cranberries. A rolling snare gives the rhythm a galloping motion as layered harmonies infuse the lyrics with choir-like textures verging on grandness.

A personal favorite because of Hansbro’s deliciously casual vocals, “Fool” resembles a child’s nursery rhyme reimagined as indie-rock – dreamy, drawling, almost discordant vocals riding over loose, garage rock harmonics. The imperfect, raggedy feel of the tune makes it wondrously genuine and gratifying.

Proselytism,” the closing track, travels on light, migrant surfaces as Hansbro’s soft, breathy vocals imbue the lyrics with subtle, eccentric whimsy, a kind of didactic reflection.

Expressive vocals, along with a wealth of stylistic aromas, invest Fractions of a Whole with an existential richness.

The Western Civilization in 2022, photo by Jack Potts

The Western Civilization in 2022, photo by Jack Potts

Fractions of a Whole Track Listing:

1. Noctambulism
2. Stitches (read our song review)
3. Bible Verses for Kids
4. She’s by the Sea
5. If You’re Lucky
6. Fool
7. My Mess
8. The Snake and The Saint
9. The Ocean’s on the Rise
10. Proselytism

Run Time: 42:18
Release Date: February 16, 2024
Record Label: Independent

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Album Review

Two Faces West – ‘Postcards From Lonely Places’ [Album Review]

Two Faces West knows how to play blues rock. On ‘Postcards From Lonely Places’ they’re at their best when pumping out nasty, swaggering, trash-laced melodies.

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Two Faces West ‘Postcards From Lonely Places’ album artwork
Two Faces West ‘Postcards From Lonely Places’ album artwork

Denver, Colorado-based blues rock trio Two Faces West released their debut album, Postcards From Lonely Places, in the middle of last year. The album’s title discloses a singular theme: stories of American lives and the daily grind of life experienced, in all its glories and defeats, tragedies and triumphs.

Produced by Glenn Sawyer and Rich Veltrop, the album was initially intended to be an EP but grew into an album after a change in personnel.

The band explains, “If Postcards From Lonely Places seems like a stylistic mess, it probably is just that. This album was originally conceived as a 5 song EP and slated for release in early 2020. Vince Carmellini joined Two Faces West in 2019, and the new line-up decided to write five additional songs. The result is a group of songs with essentially a very dynamic group of songwriters and players, with different flavors and moods.”

Made up of Kurt Ashmore (vocals, guitar, sax, banjo), Mick Knudsen (drums, vocals), and Vince Carmellini (bass, organ, vocals), Two Faces West’s sound merges rootsy blues rock, rock, and hints of funk into what the band calls ‘crankin’ rock and blues.’

Of the 12 tracks on the album, entry points include opener “Ain’t Got a Clue,” riding a funked-out rhythm topped by skiffing guitars and dramatic flourishes of braying brass. Because of its familiar, irresistible funk flavors, the song grabs listeners’ attention.

Rolling out on a cool drum shuffle, “Vegas at 3AM” features dark, dirty guitars giving off grimy tones as Ashmore vocals imbue the lyrics with cautionary timbres. The mood of the song conjures up suggestions of ZZ Top, especially in the solo section, highlighted by sleazy, virtuoso licks.

Hot Tamale Baby” ramps things up with its scorching textures of galloping blues-rock, radiating retro-infused energy. A personal favorite because of its muddy, growling guitars and Elvis-like vocals, reminiscent of “Jailhouse Rock,” “Brand New Suit” struts the pure essence of down-and-dirty blues rock.

Another grinder, “Moonshiners,” travels on a deep, gritty bassline and Mitch Mitchell-like percussion as Ashmore’s raspy vocals give the lyrics the dangerous savors of whiskey bootleggers. Whereas “Dirty Ol’ Man” snarls and grimaces on murky, sliding guitars that ride an austere, pummeling rhythm.

Freedom,” a live track recorded at The Bluebird in January 2020, recalls the grand live performances of Humble Pie, oozing low-slung, smoldering, bluesy surfaces and a jam band atmosphere.

Two Faces West knows how to play blues rock: they’re at their best when pumping out nasty, swaggering, trash-laced melodies.

Two Faces West, photo by Perks Photography

Two Faces West, photo by Perks Photography

Postcards From Lonely Places Track Listing:

1. Ain’t Got a Clue
2. Vegas at 3AM
3. Hot Tamale Baby
4. The Ballad of Jerry Davis
5. Rocks Like a Country Song
6. Mountain Sunrise
7. Brand New Suit
8. Moonshiners
9. Late Night
10. Spinnin’ Circles
11. Dirty Ol’ Man
12. Freedom (Live at the Bluebird 01/02/2020)

Run Time: 56:33
Release Date: June 16, 2023
Record Label: Independent

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