Electronica Album Reviews

Arca: Kick I review – dissonance meets overground ambitions

The Venezuelan electronic innovator adds guests and party tunes to her trademark glitchy sounds

The Venezuela-born, Barcelona-based electronic innovator Arca has long made a feature of colliding sound-worlds and destabilising identities. Across three albums (four, if you’re counting the 62-minute track @@@@@) of mercurial productions, chaos and beauty have intertwined. Hand in hand with Arca’s fluid, writhing music have come inquiries into post-gender and non-binary selves.

KiCk I offers up an even broader palette than previously, while keeping up a steady diet of trademark dissonance alongside those slightly more overground ambitions. Stark album opener Nonbinary comes out fighting on behalf of “self-states”, while a handful of tracks plumb Arca’s Latinx heritage even more assiduously than previously: Mequetrefe is as close to pop as this artist has come; Riquiqui features a plethora of rhythmic Spanish voices over intricate clatter.

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Arca: KiCk i review – joyful sonic vision of what pop could be

Alejandra Ghersi’s new set is a subversive and mischievous fusion of aural fireworks and psychedelic lyricism aided by Björk, Shygirl, Rosalía and Sophie

Time, from Arca’s fourth album KiCk i, reduces a booming, bass-heavy 4/4 kick drum to a whisper that oscillates around Alejandra Ghersi’s blurry, anaesthetised words. “It’s time to let it out / And show the world,” she coos from a condemned space that evokes the atmosphere of a toilet stall at Berlin super-club Berghain. In the three years since her acclaimed 2017 album Arca, Ghersi has fallen in love and simultaneously found confidence from affirming her non-binary identity. If her previous album evoked a melancholy sci-fi opera set on a drifting space station, KiCk i is a live-streamed party, finding Ghersi at her most unrestrained, mischievous and joyful.

When something doesn’t work, the failure acts as a reminder of the complexity of existence. Perfection is not revolutionary, but change is

Related: How cruising, graveyards and swan songs inspired Arca’s new album

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Kevin Figes Quartet: Changing Times review – constantly fascinating

(Pig Records)
The multi-instrumentalist’s latest quartet recording is a mind-expanding feast for the ears

I didn’t think I was going to like this album at first, when greeted by the strains of an electronic sequencer. But this faded into a beautifully played flute solo. Then came some wordless chanting by two mysterious voices, leading to a horror-movie climax. As one piece followed another, the flute returned, this time apparently in an underground cavern. There were saxophones – baritone, alto and soprano, all impressively well played, and atmospheres, rhythms and textures that were constantly changing. It was fascinating. Even the bits that I couldn’t make head nor tail of were clearly the work of superb musicians.

Kevin Figes, who played all the saxophones, the flute and was one of the singing voices, composed all eight pieces. His first teacher was Elton Dea, saxophonist with the Soft Machine, who no doubt influenced his open attitude to music in general. The band is completed by Jim Blomfield on keyboards, bassist Thad Kelly, drummer Mark Whitlam and singer Emily Wright. I’m still intrigued by this music, even though parts continue to pass me by. Anyway, it does you good to stretch the ears from time to time.

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Nídia: Não Fales Nela Que a Mentes review – intimate introspection from Lisbon producer

Nídia shines in her new, more meditative album, showcasing a breadth of dance genres with a keen eye for emotion and turmoil

Conceived almost a decade ago, the Príncipe label burst out of Lisbon’s poorer outskirts and onto an international scene enriched by burgeoning global sounds. While the song Danza Kuduro and acts such as Buraka Som Sistema took kuduro to car sound-systems and festival tents worldwide, Príncipe were keen to expand on the genre’s potential and break down racist, sexist and classist barriers holding it back locally. There are hints of house, techno and hip-hop in their music but the African-diaspora sound of Príncipe primarily incorporates Angolan kizomba’s intoxicating rhythms, melodic tarraxinha and the more skeletal, hard-hitting tarraxo. Few on the roster capture the sheer breadth of these styles as well as Lisbon-via-Bordeaux producer Nídia, whose repertoire shines across party-starters and darker tracks. Following a joyous debut EP, her first album for the label landed in 2017, pulling no punches with its heady, high-octane batida.

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Lorenzo Senni: Scatto Matto review I Ben Beaumont-Thomas’s album of the week

The Italian producer charges the euphoria of dancefloor anticipation with punk spirit in these joyous, poignant tracks

‘Where’s the drop?” This was a complaint often howled at festivals or in YouTube comment sections during the EDM years (usually by a hench guy in a vest), when mainstream dance was all about extreme peaks and troughs. They would get annoyed if a track just simmered without delivering a thunderous pay-off, accompanied by a blast of confetti, which in turn was annoying, because for many people the simmering – the coiling tension as a track builds or is allowed to just be – is the best bit.

Related: Sign up for the Sleeve Notes email: music news, bold reviews and unexpected extras

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Rock Album Reviews

Onslaught: “Generation Antichrist” Album Review

Time for some more killer thrash! Onslaught’s upcoming album, Generation Antichrist, is fast, intense, and filled with killer guitar solos.  Onslaught, formed back in 1982 in the United Kingdom, put out three albums before breaking up in 1991. The band reformed in 2005 and added another four albums to their name with Generation Antichrist being …

Onslaught: “Generation Antichrist” Album Review Read More »

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Jazz & Blues Album Reviews

Beth Hart – War In My Mind | Album Review

Beth Hart  War In My Mind

Provogue – 2019

12 tracks; 52 minutes


Beth Hart is hugely popular and regularly performs at big concert halls and festivals; I saw her perform myself at The Tampa Bay Blues Festival a couple of years ago. However, listening to this album it is hard to find any trace of actual blues in her music, so it seems strange that she is so frequently covered in blues magazines, and now here in Blues Blast. This review will, therefore, take as read that Beth’s album will be of minimal interest to blues aficionados but those whose tastes range more widely may well enjoy parts of the album and Beth’s many fans will be delighted by it.

The album was produced by Rob Cavallo (Green Day, My Chemical Romance, Dave Matthews Band, Goo Goo Dolls), a man that Beth had hoped to work with some fifteen years ago but the arrangement did not work out. Working from a download there was no information on the musicians on the disc but the range of instrumentation and depth of sound on some tracks suggests that a large number were involved. At the core of the music are Beth’s distinctive vocals and piano playing. Those familiar with Beth will know that she wears her heart on her sleeve and her songs are almost confessional. On this album she sings of relationships with her family as well as her well-documented struggles with addiction, the sleeve notes making clear that she feels that she has reached an age where she can accept herself as she is: “I’m comfortable with my darknesses, weirdnesses and things that I’m ashamed of – as well as all the things that make me feel good”. The songs here cover all those aspects.

“Bad Woman Blues” opens proceedings with a touch of gospel in the chorus vocals at the beginning before Beth’s pounding piano begins to drive the rocking tune along. Beth is the bad woman of the title: “I’m not your Momma, I’m not your wife”. The title track is a big production number with strings and dark lyrics about addiction. A solo double bass opens “Without Words In The Way” and that sets up a jazzy ballad with Beth’s breathy vibrato very clear in the uncluttered production. An anthemic ballad entitled “Let It Grow” has stirring lyrics about rising above life’s challenges before “Try A Little Harder” on which Beth goes rather over the top vocally, making the lyrics hard to grasp.

The piano-led “Sister Dear” is almost a letter of regret and an attempt at reconciliation with her sibling, another confessional song with Beth’s voice getting very wobbly towards the end. Musically “Spanish Lullabies” is different to the rest of the album with Spanish guitars and what could almost be the soundtrack to a Clint Eastwood movie. Talking of movies, the next track “Rub Me For Luck” builds into the sort of dramatic, over the top performance that you often get on James Bond soundtracks – maybe they should approach Beth for the next blockbuster? “Sugar Shack” is a pounding rocker with a very 80’s sounding sequencer riff (remember ZZ Top’s Eliminator?) before Beth gives us another lush ballad “Woman Down” in which she confesses to be love sick. The album concludes with two quieter songs: “Thankful” has an almost hymn-like quality as Beth gives thanks for everything she holds dear in life, the song building in intensity from solo piano to a touching finale; Beth claims not to be a hero, rather “I Need A Hero” in a final solo piano piece.

This album will definitely appeal to Beth’s legions of fans and will further enhance her reputation. However, as stated at the beginning, it is definitely not a blues record.

Jay Walter & The Rectifiers – Rectification! | Album Review

Jay Walter & The Rectifiers – Rectification


self release

11 songs time – 47:59

Yes Margaret real blues based on The Chicago blues sound and other blues influences does exist. By golly Jay Walter and The Rectifiers actually do live up to the build up of their promo sheet. Unlike some other bands that tout themselves as playing authentic blues but put out nothing but rock songs declaring themselves as bluesmen, here’s a band from Minnesota of all places dishing out the genuine item with dedication and talent to spare. Jay Walter Wilkins and company deliver the goods. Jay is a natural on vocals and expressive on the harmonica. He wrote all the lyrics and wrote or co-wrote all the music excluding the one cover song. He has enlisted solid musicians and co-produced along with John Franken.

Throughout the music drips with authenticity without sounding like copycats. They draw from the wellspring of the blues greats that went before them while making the music sound vibrant and fresh. “Rectifier Man” ponders about the use of vintage equipment, blues men of old while working in a love sentiment. All gears click right from the get-go and Jay’s splendid blues voice and harmonica playing take you to the Chicago in your head.

The easy rollin’ blues of “Hitchin’ 94” muses on hitch hiking on I-94. “The Legend” paints a picture of a somewhat phony music “star” using a super infectious guitar riff. Jay stretches out on harp over Bruce McCabe’s “tinkling” piano and the usual guitar goodness of John Franken and Dan Schwalbe on the upbeat “Mean Hearted Woman”. The band toughens up their approach a bit on the muscular Chicago Blues of “You Saw Me See You”.

The slow blues of “Lies and Secrets” is a good change of pace. It owes much to the classic tortured blues tomes of days gone by. It’s back to more upbeat blues sounds on “Early Saturday Morning(Worky’s Song)”. John Schroder’s sturdy bass pattern supports the Chicago groove of “Sweet Lovely”. The hep cat jive of “Con Man” is made more enticing with the addition of boogie-woogie piano and rockabilly-ish guitar.

The lone cover Jimmy Reed’s “Gonna Find My Baby” stays true to the master’s easy loping style. Bringing down the curtain is the swinging instrumental “On The Beam” that let’s Jay’s harmonica skills shine.

Jay’s voice has the spot on blues attitude to give these tunes authenticity. That carries through to his tough harp skills and his hand-picked crop of first rate musicians from the Twin Cities blues scene. If you have a hankering for fresh sounding blues that owes a debt to the masters, you just can’t go wrong here.

Jerry Velona – About Funk in Time | Album Review

Jerry Velona – About Funk in Time



CD: 14 Songs, 54 Minutes

Styles: Blues Covers, Soul, Funk, R&B

About Funk in Time, the new album from New Jersey’s Jerry Velona, is the kind of CD that might be featured in a sequel to The Wedding Singer. His multitalented ensemble (check the liner notes for the full list of performers) plays music that’s colorful, fun, entertaining, and a tad bit goofy. On three original compositions and eleven blues, soul, funk and R&B covers, Velona and company go all out on the instrumentation. However, Jerry’s vocals are an acquired taste. He does all right on “It’s Alright,” a terrific sing-along, and “She’s So Good to Me” ain’t bad, either. However, he’s just not a crooner. Witness his version of “I Have Dreamed” by Rodgers and Hammerstein. Sound familiar? It’s from The King and I – the original Broadway production, not the movie. Jerry tries his best, but all the magic’s in the background, not the microphone. He’s at his best when performing his own material, such as “Dope Springs Eternal” (a meditation on his less-than-stellar love life) and “Tight Little Suit,” a tight little ditty about road rage. Overall, this release is a must-have for fans, but those who’ve never heard of Mr. Velona might be at a loss.

Jerry certainly boasts an impressive curriculum vitae. His voice has been used in radio and TV commercials, a cartoon pilot and the song “At Last (There’s You)” from the documentary film Lifestyles of the Poor and Unknown.  His songs have been used on MTV Cribs as well as an HBO special, and have received significant international airplay. He won a Billboard songwriting award for “Hip Hop No More.” “Dream Girl,” another of his original works, reached #20 on the smooth jazz charts.

Velona is determined to not let his life experience go unrecorded. About this new album, he says, “I’m hoping to connect the generations with some of this great music, as it has connected my personal life. The energy and universal positive spirit that the songs engender still motivate and excite me.  I’ve loved them my whole life, and I think the music deserves attention from a younger audience, many of whom are not that familiar with their rich musical heritage.”

Jerry Velona offers a musical map for a life well-traveled and lived. And, as he says with a smile, “You can dance to it!”

The Spectaculars – Let’s Hear Us, Now! | Album Review

The Spectaculars – Let’s Hear Us, Now!

Spex-Tone Records


CD: 11 Songs, 47 Minutes

Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues Rock, All Original Songs  

When it comes to certain bands, their names are as iconic as their music. The Doors. The Who. Fleetwood Mac. Diarrhea Planet (okay, not that last one, but it was an actual band). Whether consciously or subconsciously, names create expectations. If you name your band The Spectaculars, you’d better deliver. Fortunately, this veteran Milwaukee family ensemble, boasting thirty-plus years on the blues scene, delivers in spades – especially on instrumentation. Their vocals show their age, but no matter when blistering guitar, reverberating bass, zesty keyboards and dynamite drums are at full throttle. On their latest album, they demand: Let’s Hear Us, Now! They’re ready to take their place in the contemporary electric blues rock hall of fame. They present eleven original songs that might make listeners’ speakers blow. From start to finish, their energy is relentless, even on slow numbers like the heartfelt “Surrogate Blues.”

Founded in 1986, The Spectaculars consist of patriarch Leon Olson on bass, his son Mike on drums, his son Eric on guitar, Joe Loeffelholz on guitar and vocals, and Rob Waters on keyboards. Anexis Olson guest stars on background vocals for track ten.

Kicking things off is “Mean Old Woman,” a groovy ballad about what happens when love goes sour: “She don’t pretend to like me. It’s time to move her out.” For our narrator, however, his partner won’t leave without a price. He wonders what he did wrong. “Was it the booze? Weed? Staying out all night? Lying? Cheat[ing]? I don’t think that’s right…” With a lover like this, who needs an enemy? Next comes a sing-along, “What Was I Thinking,” a Chicago-style takedown of a hookup. Perhaps our hero was thinking after all, but with a different part of his body. Too bad he wound up in the county jail. Rob Waters’ tongue-in-cheek keys inspire smiles. “Lost Another Friend” laments a more tragic loss than an “unfollow” on Facebook, and “Sleepless Night” brings the late, great Sean Costello to mind. It commands attention on all fronts. So does “Power,” with the best vocals and angsty vibes all around. Who among us hasn’t felt the need for autonomy, or at least a little validation from the boss? Check out the guitar solo. It’s a scorcher.

The real standout, though, is “Surrogate Blues.” It’s a slow ballad that’ll bludgeon all of your emotional capacities at once: joy, sorrow, pride, humility, pain and triumph. “You called me Papa. That suited me fine. All of those moments etched in my mind…” As much stock as we put in lineage, family history, and biological descendants, sometimes it’s the ones we rear, not just the ones we birth, that have the most impact. “You called me Papa, too short a time.” If that doesn’t wrench your heart, it needs oil.

Last but not least comes “That’s a Track, Jack!” Indeed. This instrumental might result in shaking walls, raucous cheers, and partygoers dancing on tables. What a fantastic closer!

What’s in a name? The Spectaculars nearly live up to theirs on blues rock fit for a king.

The Proven Ones – You Ain’t Done | Album Review

The Proven Ones – You Ain’t Done

Gulf Coast Records


12 tracks

The Proven Ones are Jimi Bott on drums and percussion, Willie J. Campbell on bass, Anthony Geraci on all things keyed, Kid Ramos on guitar, and Brian Templeton on vocals and harp.  Also appearing on trumpet is Joe “Mack” McCarthy and on tenor sax is Chris Mercer; they shared the horn arrangements.  Mike Zito adds acoustic guitars and backing vocals on a few tracks and LaRhonda Steele also does some backing vocals.

“Get Love” is a big, hard rocking cut with a short and cool intro prior to it.  Templeton sings with raw emotion and Ramos blazes on his guitar. “Gone To Stay” follows with some slick horn arrangements added for fun.  It’s a mid-tempo, rock-a-billy meets late ‘70’s rocker that has a good groove. The title track is up next, a strident blues rocker with horns, organ and a big guitar sound. There are some great solos here and Steele’s backing vocals are a good addition. “Already Gone” has a twangy, southern rock feel to it in Templeton’s vocals and Ramo’s guitar. “Whom My Soul Loves” features guest vocalist Ruthie Foster fronting the band with Templeton. The song really has a feeling like The Band for me.  Great keyboard work by Geraci along with the impressive vocals by Foster and Templeton make this special, and the horns and guitar are also well done which makes things even better. The song builds to an emotional and impassioned conclusion- well done!

“Milinda” starts the second half and Ramos gives us some pretty slide work to kick it off. More country/southern rock mixed in here; Templeton sings with good feeling as Ramos’ guitar and Geraci’s piano offer apt support. We get a bit of a Santana groove going with “Nothing Left to Live.” The guitar lead and percussion have some African-Latin influences and the horns really blare! “She’ll Never Know” is up next, a slower blues rocker with good horns and backing vocals; Templeton lays it out vocally for al to enjoy and Ramos gives us some pretty licks, too. Up next is “I Ain’t Good For Nothing;” here Mike ZIto takes on the lead vocals while Templeton delivers some harp for us to enjoy.  The vocals are a bit thinner and I don’t think compare favorably in comparison to the rest of the album.  Trumpet, sax and piano also give solid solos here and the guitar work remains stoically solid. “Fallen” is a darker blues rocker blending guitar, horns, and piano into a great sound as Templeton gives a really passionate performance and Steel is there in fine support, too. “Favorite Dress” concludes the album with more well done music.  Templeton sings with emotion and power, the guitar is spot on, the piano work is top notch and the horns are once more excellent.  It’s a really good conclusion to a really good set of tunes- they were all great!

Mike Zito and the folks at Gulf Coast Records have produced a fine blues rock album that leans way more to the rock side than blues with this all-star ensemble of musicians. The sound is exceptional, the musicianship is outstanding and the songs are first rate.  I really enjoyed this disc- it’s really some good, kick-ass rocking blues!

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Pop Album Reviews

Dream Wife: So When You Gonna… review – a punk band that still sounds like one

(Lucky Number)
The London-based trio’s second album is an enjoyably jagged, ambitious cacophony

Dream Wife are a very modern rock band: they sing about queer love, miscarriage and misogyny; they work with an all-female recording team; and they have a podcast. And yet the London-based trio’s music recalls lost nights at midweek indie clubs and Karen O’s fingerless gloves. The follow-up to their self-titled 2018 debut continues to blend 2000s guitar bands with yelping riot grrrl while sounding surprisingly new, stripping back their earlier post-punk atmospherics to bring Icelandic singer Rakel Mjöll’s storytelling to the fore.

They career through a wide range of moods – coquettish, horny, craving approval, irony – with a zeal you rarely hear in other bands. Occasionally those stories can come across as a little juvenile, but where they lack finesse (and, indeed, it’s great to hear a punk band that still sounds like one, the edges unsmoothed), they make up for in ambition. Old Flame is a smouldering, Robyn-inspired lament for lost love; the title track is a tantrum about wanting to make out; and the album ends with After the Rain, a moving pro-choice piano ballad. “Serve it, smash it, win it, own it”, they pout on electroclash-esque single Sports! An exuberant racket.

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Buju Banton: Upside Down 2020 review – as good as he’s ever been

(Roc Nation/Gargamel)
The controversial reggae star returns with a majestic howl of rage and an inspired mix of dancehall, roots and rock

Buju Banton is the 90s Bob Marley in Jamaica. In the UK, it feels necessary to recall his miserably homophobic single Boom Bye Bye, which cast a poisonous pall over his nascent international career in 1992. Banton wrote it aged 15, half the age Eric Clapton was when he ranted about “keeping Britain white”. But we don’t read about Clapton’s racist drivel in every review and interview. Adult Clapton was given a pass that teenage Banton never got. White privilege? Perhaps.

Yet although Banton renounced homophobia, and has now deleted the song from his catalogue, he was still performing it in 2007. And while there are dozens of Buju lyrics on Genius, only one has over 100,000 views. Its squalid allure endures. It shadows his later, conscious work.

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Paul Weller: On Sunset review – a mellower modfather

The Changingman reveals his spiritual side on his funky, shimmering 15th solo album

When you think of Paul Weller, you do not picture him on Hollywood’s notorious Sunset Strip. Baked either by the sun or lurid neon, a tourist hell trading on successive eras of American nightlife notoriety – 40s gangsters, 80s hair metallers – it is not the sort of locale where anyone, let alone a scion of precision-cut, post-mod cultural rectitude, should find inspiration.

And yet his 15th solo album, On Sunset, finds the now 62-year-old Weller taking in the avenue on a visit to his son. The years dissolve around him. The Jam played the Whiskey a Go Go in 1977 – punk-enervated modernists sorely disappointed to find a California hippie pall clinging to the area.

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