Indian singer/songwriter Arnab Sengupta of Sydney, AU has just released his third album Leap of Faith. He describes his style as “a crossover of jazz and pop, with shades of funk, R&B, rock and classical, brining a fresh approach to contemporary songwriting.” The underlying theme is “the journey of personal discovery and self-expansion.”
Sengupta is an alumni of the acclaimed Berklee College of Music in Boston, and currently works as a vocal coach and session singer. In putting together this album, Sengupta sought the help of fellow Airgigs session players, along with musicians he met through Berklee. Guitar and keyboards were recorded at Sengupta’s Sydney home, with the vocals tracked by engineer Zak Karolic.
“Face in the Crowd” quickly establishes Sengupta’s voice as high and elastic, somewhat like Stevie Wonder. Melodic and compelling, often multi-tracked, you can easily see how he became a vocal teacher and backing singer. Musically the drums are at triple time, with the genre landing somewhere within jazz rock. It’s structurally sophisticated and jumps unexpectedly all over the place, a bit like Zappa’s Grand Wazoo jazz ensemble. The cheesy keyboards are a little surprising, especially when combined with real horns.
“This Way” is based on a smoky organ vamp. Sengupta sings in a somewhat lower register this time, but again with a Stevie Wonder lilt. The interplay between the keyboard and guitar, panned left and right, makes for a mellow and inviting arrangement, with an active baseline in the pocket behind Sengupta’s vocals. There are great solos on both guitar and saxophone, and the vocal overdubs build quite thrillingly toward the end: there’s more singing in just this one song than in many entire albums!
“Alone but not Lonely” starts with a melodic and complex jazz guitar intro. Weirdly, there are also vinyl record pops and tics: not the kind most artists use for a short retro feel, but actual pops that distract from the music. Was this song mastered from a record? At any rate this is one of the more “operatic” cuts, with Sengupta singing to the rafters like an off-Broadway show tune.
“Drudgery Train” is both a jazz-folk guitar masterwork and a fun vocal tune that would fit nicely on a children’s record. As before, Sengupta has melodies and singing ideas to burn, sometimes with vocals matching the guitar melodies note for note.
The title track “Leap of Faith” takes a leap into Prog territory, with off-beat rhythms, audacious chord changes and wild, all-out vocals. The electric guitar matches many of the vocal melodies. This is a track that starts big - or even HUGE - and just gets bigger. Sengupta’s intentions here are anything but modest! That it all holds together is a continuous miracle.
“Perfect Line” has cocktail-jazz piano and standup-sounding bass. Sengupta sings in his higher register, and by this time it’s no shock that he matches the instruments perfectly in pitch and tonality. “Set in Stone” ends the album with more jazz-prog melodies, leading to a final, torch song vocal from Sengupta, capped off with some scatting.
I’ve been throwing the word “jazz” around in regards to this music, but as Sengupta stated at the beginning, it’s really a fresh approach to songwriting, and totally worth checking out!
Mt. Seaside is a Swedish band that consists of Benito Skarp, Adam Thybeck and Jonatan Björkman. Their music encompasses a sound that ranges from emo music, ‘80s pop, country and classic rock with their latest release Sorry, Something, Summer. For the most part, their music sounds very ambient with some spoken word vocals thrown in. With lyrics that paint a picture of the four seasons, the band says that the songwriting comes from a very personal place and you can see that immediately with the band’s opener “Christmas” where the protagonist talks about the death of a lover and meeting up with their mom and lighting a candle for their lost one. From the get-go, the poignant storytelling will definitely leave listeners feeling moved.
On “Christmas,” some synths start off this track alongside some guitars, bass and a drumming machine. There are also some spoken word vocals. The ambient music offsets the poetry performance, making for a compelling execution. The guitar solo on this song soars with feeling. I thought the music sounded very atmospheric, something great to relax to. Wall-to-wall guitars come in in earnest at the start of “Little Hand Says Its Time to Rock’n’Roll.” I felt that I could get lost in the sounds. The melodies sounded great. Once the vocals came in, the music came together to great effect. I was instantly reminded of emo/punk bands from the '90s and ‘00s. This really brings me back to that era. Some bluesy bass starts off “Sylvia.” Next, some spoken word vocals come in. The music in the backdrop is smooth and soothing at the same time. Next, the combined vocal harmonies come in. The sound was melodious and I felt myself lulled by the harmonies and melodies. The band heavily makes use of synths here.
The band does a 180, going for an acoustic number here as the acoustic guitar and harmonica sound out on “19.” The lead male vocals come through, sounding emotionally powerful. This song definitely takes flight with mood and feeling. More reverb come in as some fuzzy guitars enter on “First Of Spring.” Next, some emo-inspired vocals arrive for a clearly contagious and upbeat sound. The singing is layered with some scream-o vocals, which gave this a somewhat heavier vibe. The keys and synths here are a great addition. Fast rhythms on the guitar come in on “Last October.” Next, the lead male vocals are executed in a rap-like sequence. Some beats and electronic riffs gain traction here. I was immediately getting emo/punk rock grooves on this track. The band chooses to close the album with this moving finale.
Though the band says they never have played a show together and that they don’t have a drummer but are looking for one, I think they were able to accomplish a lot with what resources they have. Recorded in Skarp’s parent’s basement, this proved to be a home recording through and through, and the sound that comes across can at times sound lo-fi, but with this sense is a captivating raw element that will definitely point to the band’s live sound once they get the chance to show their stuff to a live crowd. The band’s atmospheric, cool tones and words makes this a worthwhile listen, so be sure you give this a spin today!
WILD JIM & COMPANY is a band from Phoenix, Arizona that recently released their debut album BACK HOME. They describe it as a western indie soundtrack. “It's a Spanglish folky cowboy expedition through the American Southwest. I took what Linda Ronstadt, Marty Robbins and Calexico did and made my own pop twist.”
The album contains eleven songs and certainly does feel like a journey. “Eiza” opens the album and this vast chant comes over you. It sort of sounds like an ancient ritual and is quite grand. The song takes a quick turn once a solo acoustic guitar comes into the mix with vocals. Other elements start to seep in including very soothing vocal harmonies. The steady kick starts to make the song feel like a sing-along around a campfire. I found it to be a very original sounding song and was excited to hear what else would lie ahead.
“Lie To You” has a little more traditional structure. The song is upbeat, brings in the Americana spirit and is also quite catchy. There’s a good amount of instrumentation like guitar, bass and drums but the banjo was the cherry on top. The song locks onto some great grooves and feels very open and free at points.
“Tengo Miedo” is sung in Spanish. I didn’t understand the meaning of the words but this is an infectious song. The grooves are rock solid but the vocal melodies were memorable. Sleek guitar patterns combine with eclectic percussion elements making for one great song.
There’s clearly a different singer on the more melancholy “Back Home.” The distant and hazy dream of a song reminds me of Mazzy Star but the spirit of it has more of an Americana flavor. “Twywyhfb” might be near impossible to pronounce but is another well done song. The song, similar to the previous one, is very catchy. There are male and female vocals on this song and it gives an in depth encounter of being on a college campus and finding a romantic interest.
“Canción Para Stevie” has a classic Mexican flavor to it. The song is dynamic and I loved the way it swayed back and forth between distorted bass and soft acoustic guitar. There are two vocalists again and they knock it out of the park. Interestingly, the song has a rock oriented alternative sounding chorus.
“Morenci” is much more experimental than what came before. It’s a slow burn of soundscape. I felt like sipping on wine by a beautiful sunset when listening to “Racecar.” It’s a calming song but also like many others quite catchy. The album progresses with “I Do” which is sort of an Americana inspired ode to marriage while “Gonna Be Ok” is a fairly stripped back song. Last up is “Miner’s Lullaby” and is a sweet and tender ballad. On this song the male and female vocals might be the best sounding on the album.
I loved this album. There’s a lot to appreciate here between the exceptional songwriting and delivery. Perhaps more importantly is that the album feels like a journey just like it intended. Highly recommended.
Every week we mention a couple of artists that are worth your time to check out that were not featured in our weekly reviews.
Artist Album Rating
Mark Rolfe Every Setting Sun. 4.0
Junk Bandit Junk Bandit 3.8
Alaurian Breathe 3.7
Daire Heffernan. Wasters 3.9
Sore Shoulders. Built to Burn 3.5
Audio Bloom is a two-piece band from Wellington, NZ that recently released their debut four-song self-titled EP Audio Bloom. Their music is rock oriented, fairly sparse and accessible.
The EP starts with “Vikings” and is a bit of a slow burn of a song. There’s a 4/4 beat and waves of distortion drip off the guitar. The verse is sung in an easy octave range for the vocalist to hit but he really belts it out once the second verse arrives. There are many transitions in the song but I appreciated the mix of alternative, grunge and classic rock influences.
“Lollipop” is next and the energy increases. The song revolves around a couple distorted major and minor chords, a solid drum beat but most importantly the spirit in which it’s delivered. This song in particular reminded me of The PIxies. The song has that raw punk energy but it is also just a fun time. By the time you get to the end of the song the duo is rocking out. Great song and the arguable highlight.
“Big Red Beast Face” is another good one. There’s some danger and attitude which partially came from the palm muted guitar patterns. I have to admit The PIxies came to mind again on this song but when the chorus came I was thinking more of a classic rock band. I have no idea what “big red beast face” means but it sounds good when sung. Last up is “Drunk” which is less than two minutes. It’s a straight garage rock/punk song delivered with some passion and power.
The whole EP comes in under ten minutes long. It goes by fast but the songs were enough to be impressive and get a sense of what the band is up to. The songs felt loose and more of a playful and fun punk spirit than an angry one. Some of the vocals are a little off key but in this case it works because of the punk rock ethos. As I mentioned The Pixies came to mind but I would also include Minutemen and Guided by Voices in the equation.
Overall, this is a solid EP which displays some talent from the band. Hopefully, this is just the first of many and I look forward to hearing where they go from here.
Szabotage was a project born in mid-2020 to bring their giant rock/metal/punk sound straight to you. Consisting of Victor Szabo (guitars), James Phillips (vocals), Mike Dykeman (bass) and Grant Moynes (drums), the band consistently brings a larger-than-life hard rock and metal sound to audiences. On their debut release Six-Pack, thunderous drums, a hard-hitting wall of guitars and demented screaming vocals creates a definitively heavy sound. From start to finish the band has created something fans of Black Sabbath, Faith No More, the Blizzard of Ozz, Tool, Gojira, Anthrax and Opeth will be drawn to.
Six-Pack starts off with “Mistakes Were Made,” where huge rumbling guitars and bass reels in the sound at the start of this track. The sound is definitely hard-hitting and energetic. Once Phillips’ vocals came in, the hard rock and metal vibes were obvious. The scream-o vocals added a grittiness to the overall sounds that I thought was a great addition. Some sirens sound out at the start of “Channeling,” which sounds very ominous. Next, some raw and exciting bass comes in for a great effect. The music overall was very amped and moving. I was getting some outright punk immediately. It was a lot of fun to listen to. The band changes up the energy of this piece for a very acoustic vibe on “Are We Machines?” I liked how the band is able to show us different sides to their music-making through these eclectic songs.
Up next is “Joyride,” where a punk and emo sound come from the melee of instrumentals that strut to the start of this track. I enjoyed the bouncy rhythms and jaunty tune. This is definitely rock n’ roll at its best. I was instantly reminded of rock music during the ‘90s and ‘00s. The tune on “Sinn Fein” is fast and furious. The band kicks up their vibes up a notch with this heavy metal and aggressive hard rock song. The energy and stamina of the band was fantastic. Some sparse reverb-drenched guitars jumpstart the start of “Fremont.” Next, some drums and percussion come in with what turns out to be a slow burning song. Once the vocals come in, this goes on to clinch this. The band chooses to close the album with this emotional anthem that goes from soft to hard-hitting at a drop of a hat.
The members of Szabotage have yet to play in a room together and that is mainly due to lockdowns and geographical separation, but you’d never know it if you gave their debut EP a listen. This exciting array of their talent shows off the band’s penchant for creating an aggressive and heavy sound with elements of prog and punk that definitely produce a good many headbanger moments. With a sound that will get you riled up in no time, if you’re into the aforementioned genres, then this might be for you. This was a great introduction to the band’s sound and I look forward to seeing more soon!
Matt Malone is a musician from Santa Fe, New Mexico. We at Divide and Conquer reviewed his previous release Handle back in 2020 and he is now back with a new release entitled The Frontlines. The style is similar but there are some changes in mood and theme.
His previous release focused on a breakup as some albums tend to do. As with all things, time passes and life goes on. Malone mentions “The songs are introspective and autobiographical, and the album's theme is that of reflection but also that of starting a new chapter and leaving something behind in pursuit of something new. It's an optimistic album about starting a new adventure, while reluctantly yet inevitably departing from a beautiful, and at times tumultuous, chapter in my life.” That sounds like the perfect followup to a breakup album to my ears.
The album starts with the title track “The Frontlines.” This ong revolves around warm acoustic guitar, standup bass and banjo. It’s a warm inviting song even though it rests on a bed of melancholy. The vocals sound fantastic here. I loved it when the banjo comes in which gives a subtle lift in emotion. There’s also some well done organ and lead guitar that comes in toward the end. Again it’s very subtle but effective.
The energy rises on “Wait Forever” which is an Americana influenced song. There’s some great guitar work and just a great groove in general. I liked the song as soon as I heard it. The song builds with more layers and feels more and more motivational as it progresses.
“Silver Hills” is a beautiful song. There’s a swing to the music that is made with the guitar and bass. The song doesn't need drums. The cherry on top is the slide steel guitar which adds an additional layer of emotional resonance. In this case it feels like solace. The warmth is comforting to the point there’s a stillness to it.
“Letter for Leaving” brings the energy back but the emotional tone stays similar. The mix of emotions like nostalgia, melancholy and gratitude seep through the music. Banjo is back as well. This song might have the most memorable hook but that’s arguable.
Malone continues to hit it out of the park with solid songwriting on “Five String.” The intricate interplay between the instruments works wonders. It’s fluid and this song contains some exceptional vocal delivery. “Hedge My Bets” felt like the most single worthy song in the batch and is a full sounding arrangement.
The theme Malone talks about of starting a new adventure is most realized on the closer “Never Going Back.” There are some very joyful moments in this song. I loved what was happening with the strings around the one-minute mark. It’s an orchestral song with some beautiful ambient moments. The pads that dissolve in the verse around the three-minute mark sound just about perfect. When Malone sings “I’m never going back” you believe him. In fact he seems optimistic about the future.
The production and recording quality was exceptional. This is a case where the high quality recordings let the emotions pour through. Overall, I thought this was a great release that was tender, heartfelt and honest. Take a listen.
From Boston, MA, Good & You ? are a band that have been friends since high school. They recently released e.p. I which is their debut. It’s an instrumental release with the band showcasing some serious technical skill.
They start with “Ponzu Scheme” which quickly gets underway. The band immediately demonstrates they can play with the best of them. They sound very much in the pocket and the guitarist is just absolutely going off on lead. The bass and drums create a syncopated rhythm which gives the whole a lot of energy. There’s a quick breakdown around the one-and-a-half-minute mark. They pick up steam and an intense onslaught of sound. The quick shifts in timing are also something that impressed me. Awesome opener.
The song “All my boys smoke Newports” continues to showcase the fast and effective skills of the band. The first thirty seconds rock hard. They sort of settle into a verse with the guitar giving the rhythm section some pace. The band moves quickly and doesn't settle on a riff too long. There’s a fantastic groove around towards the end where the band goes all out.
“Hot outdoor shower” continues with the energy the band established. The bass drum sounds huge on this song. They find a number of grooves and work variations of that sound. By this point I was picking up more and more of the guitar's signature sound. He definitely has this circular-like lead thing happening. A lot of the complex lead playing feels hypnotic.
“Protecting Peter” might be the highlight. Aesthetically the groove on this song just spoke to me. It’s a little ethereal and even atmospheric at points. That being said the band rocks hard here and finds some of their pop-punk style mixed with tasteful experimentation.
They close in spectacular fashion with “Happy Birthday Oswald.” The band sounds metal at moments here and pulls off a number of crescendos that sound huge. There’s also something interesting happening around a minute-and-thirty-seconds in.
The band recorded their release DIY style and as an engineer I can say they did a great job. My only minor critique is that I thought the bass drum was at times a little overwhelming.
Overall, this band is very solid release. The band is off to a great start and can play really well. So well in fact I wasn’t missing the vocals. Take a listen.
Drew Kay is an artist hailing from Aliceville, AL. Expose the Dark is his first solo album. Kay explains “The album began as a simple exploration of what was possible with recording only vocals and acoustic guitar on an iPhone and seeing how far the sound could be pushed to compete with studio projects. As the album grew, more instrumentation and sounds were employed during the mixing process to extend the scope outside of just simple guitar and vocal.” I have to say this is probably the best iPhone recording I’ve heard.
Thematically the album explores the darker side as the title suggests. Suffice it to say the album deals with trying times. The album begins with “Into Darkness” and there’s a stillness to the music. It’s intimate, heartfelt and almost like he is inviting the darkness when he sings “Darkness is my closest friend.” There are multiple vocals at points and the song is dark but is quite beautiful as well. This felt like a highlight to me.
“Prisoner 666” definitely feels like it goes deeper into the darkness. On top of the guitar is a subtle atmosphere that gives an enhanced introspective quality. There are some occasional whispers but the focal point is the lead vocals. The vocals are deceptively catchy and memorable.
“Nothing is Nothing” is a little warmer but still melancholy and intimate. It’s a minimal song and it relies heavily on the vocal performance. Kay delivers the goods here. He shows off some of his range when he confidently exclaims “I’m not giving in.”
“A Letter to Charlie Pace” is a change in pace. I wasn’t expecting the piano. This song reminded me of a song you might hear from Coldplay. There’s a lot of reverb on this song which makes it feel like it’s being played in a cosmic arena. Kay belts it out here. This is a tearjerker of a ballad but there’s definitely a cathartic element here especially when he sings “I’m alive.” There’s also what sounds like a spoken word sample.
“The Everdark, Pt. 1” has some surprises. There are drums on this song which was a welcome addition to give the album a little more energy. This song felt similar to something you might hear from Pink Floyd.
I have to admit the title “I Never Meant for You to Hear This Song (Or Maybe I Did)” made me laugh. The song itself is just guitar and vocals. It’s a slow moving song that’s very melancholy. “The Death of Irial” starts with some atmosphere and another spoken word sample. The reverb is back and even more is applied here to the point where it felt like it was just reverb tails. It’s an extremely cinematic, poetic and dramatic song.
There’s a dichotomy on this album. “A Letter to Charlie Pace” and “The Death of Irial” felt very different from the other material. It’s cosmic, massive in scope and cinematic. I’m not sure it worked as well with the other material which was intimate in a way where you felt like you were standing next to the artist. It felt like two opposite ends of the spectrum.
There’s a lot to appreciate here. The first two songs were very strong in my opinion with some solid songs after that. Some of which felt like they worked better as standalone pieces. I was impressed by the songwriting and thought Kay was a strong vocalist. Recommended.
Ronald B. Noble is an artist based in Toronto, Ontario. With his debut EP Water Street, Noble blitzes us with his sound. Right from the get-go, once you hit play, you are met with his vocals that sound very laidback and soothing. The instrumentals are for the most part very sparse. Alongside the beats comes stripped back bass and guitars.
Water Street opens up with the title track “Water Street” where some rumbling bass comes in as well as some percussive beats. Noble’s voice was laid back. It gave this song a relaxed and soothing flavor. The sparse guitars also went on to make the sounds. I was definitely feeling the vibes here. Up next is “Funk Night,” which comes right in with an immediate sound. The sound of keys come in as well as some funky beats. The beats seem very distracting here. It didn’t help that Noble’s voice sounded a little buried in the recording. A little more fidelity would’ve helped.
Some more beats, synths and keys gain traction on “On Broadway.” Once Noble’s vocals arrive, the music really seemed to come together. Noble coos and croons with a happening vibe. I enjoyed his performance and style here. “The Albion” was a change of pace. This was a piano ballad. As Noble belts out his vocals here, you get the sense that this track comes from a personal place for the artist. He sings with great emotion and the song was definitely filled with a great atmosphere and a good way for the artist to close the EP.
Recorded in his home office, Water Street definitely comes across as a bedroom project. Using the resources at hand, Noble has made an interesting record packed with mood and feeling as well as an intimate vibe. My only critique is that it might behoove the artist if he enlists a live drummer onto the project. At times, the digital beats sounded distracting and even oftentimes overrode the vocals. Having live drums could help with this. But if you’re looking for something to chill out to or to just set the mood to your evening, be sure to give this a spin. You’ll no doubt feel better for it!
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