Exclusive Interview – Haiqeem

The following is an Independent Spotlight exclusive interview with the rising recording artist, Haiqeem. 

Haiqeem – Your forthcoming album is described as ‘hard rock’ and ‘postgrunge.’ How is this a departure from your previous work, work that has been described as within a ‘genre of its own?’

This upcoming record is a departure from the ‘genre of its own’ to something more secular, being that this time I actually relied on composing with a diatonic scale and avoided the dissonance and disharmonic sounds I was previously enthralled with. Needless to say, I drew inspiration from established genres I could I identify with rather then ‘making it up as I go’ as I had done before.

It’s intriguing that your debut effort was a ‘noise pop’ album. That’s a bold statement to make right out of the gate. What kind of music were you listening to that culminated in an effort like that?

At the time, I was listening to vintage pop, j-pop, grunge, and some nu-metal. Despite the normality of what I’d currently been listening to, I was then a member of a youth orchestra that brought the term “accidental” to mind – which is usually a stray note or a rest that does not fit into the key or time signature of the piece. Not surprisingly, I had the incandescent idea to make an album of ‘accidentals,’ breaking all of the rules. I was writing harmonies and melodies in different keys and attempt to mesh them together over a minor key dance beat composed by yours truly.

In February you debuted your angry alternative rock anthem, ‘Don’t Give A Damn.’ Talk about the inspiration for the new tune. It’s lyrically complex and defiant, certainly in a unique category of songwriting. Your accusatory words in the chorus, ‘Are you without sin?’ are poignant as well.

The inspiration for ‘Don’t Give A Damn’ came as a diary entry. Thus, I had recorded a demo a couple of years ago before pulling that one out of my brain last year. During the time when I wrote this track, I felt that my peers and co-workers, in my perspective, were floating through life as if they each were angels among the choir of a deity. The world was a perfect heaven where natural disasters, poverty, social conflict, etc, did not exist. Until the moment I arrived, representing the “Fallen,” so to speak. Regardless of where their biases may have originated, I came up with the self empowerment mantra, “Don’t Give A Damn,” because I feel that it’s harder to reach your goals when an individual is worried about ‘who doesn’t want to see them there.’ So, when I ask, “are you without sin,’ I’m echoing a Christian saying (despite the fact that I’m not Christian) that Jesus says “he that is without sin among you, let him cast a stone at her.” Another interpretation is that when you are pointing one finger, three are pointing back at yourself.

We can expect ‘Without My Permission’ this summer, the EP that contains the new single. Is the subject matter of the project unified under this umbrella of rebellion and angst? 

Indeed – quite unified. ‘Without my permission’ is actually a lyric from ‘Don’t Give A Damn.’ “Without my permission, will you decide it’s over now?”  This album, though slightly vintage sounding, is for the youth. The message I’m conveying here is that “nobody can do to you anything you won’t allow them to.” Of course, the banter of the drums, distorted guitar, and scathing lyrics screams rebellion and angst. I project my opinion in a positive light to help the dissatisfied move toward a change.

‘Don’t Give A Damn’ has been described as a ‘song for a new generation of angry citizens looking for a voice to express their frustration and discontent.’ Is your music political in this regard? Do you have an agenda that fuels these powerful emotions or something you’d want addressed?

My agenda is not outright to be interpreted as political, but it can be if that’s what the service calls for. The agenda that fuels my emotions is the disconnection between human kind – be that racial discrimination, sexism, or ageism; I need to be the spark that sets fire to the gasoline of “disconnection” to power the vehicle of what I refer to personally as “mankind maturity”. At this time in human history, it’s been quoted numerous times that this is ‘the best time to be alive,’ with our ‘world wide web’ and ‘cutting edge technology.’ Despite these willing servants, they are, in my opinion, part of the disconnection as human kind that we share as a whole. In ‘Don’t Give A Damn,’ after venting, “personally, I don’t give a damn about what you think I am,” I do move to pass the torch to the second party  – the “you,” and ask, “will you decide it’s over now?” Since we in this universe are all connected, it’s only right for that person to imagine themselves in your shoes.

You’ve been based in Dallas, Texas throughout your career. You struggled to find bandmates there, though, and thus began your solo endeavors. Has the city been conducive to your creativity? Does it have an impact on your work?

Living here in Dallas has been a colorful experience from both spectrums. As easily as I can say I’ve had some of the best experiences of my life here, I can easily say I’ve had some of my worst. This town does have its share of history and clearly eclipses most American cities in that light. Here in Dallas, I get a high reception from the youth who are not professional musicians, and musicians that are slightly ahead of my generation. I am familiar with a few acts here in Dallas and we’ve brushed shoulders. However, in a town that’s trying to fiercely hold on to alternative country, ambient electro-[pop, and a waxing hip-hop scene; it’s hard for peers to want to exchange words with a musician who has grown up listening to world music, (j-pop/rock, Arabic pop, Nigerian pop) and rock from each spectrum of North America. I’m a trailblazer and not seeing eye to eye with my peers has been immensely conducive to my creativity, leaving me no choice other than to push the ticket.

Your music, while respected, hasn’t always been commercially viable. Is this something you want to change and adapt to, or do you not care? Or rather, don’t give a damn? 

I ‘don’t give a damn.’ Hah! No, I’m kidding. Of course everyone in my field has bills and I simply am working right now to find the middle ground while maintaining my honesty and creativity with commercial viability. I am willing to compromise a little in the near future as currently my superiors and networks are inferring that I should go “harder,” so to speak, to push the ticket into actual “metal.” But for starters, I’d like to finish the full length on a ‘poppier’ note. I guess that depends how I feel once we’re recording again.

Talk about your future endeavors. Do you want to tour the new record or expand your work outside of Texas? Or perhaps you’re heading back into the studio or taking a breathing period? 

At the moment we’re working to expand promo of ‘Don’t Give A Damn’ out of Texas. As we speak now, my hands are kind of tied at the moment because of ‘obligations.’ However, I’m due back in the studio shortly to finish the full length. So far, the rest of the world is tickled to hear it as they’ve been given samples, despite this single only being released in the United States. Keep your ears open and your eyes peeled, we should be announcing a tour soon.

The producer M. Yates assessed your abilities and helped this new record come to fruition. He’s Canadian, and the record was produced in Canada. What impact has international collaboration had on the sound of the EP? More so, how exactly did that process work if you’re in Texas?

I flew up to his studio and stayed in a Holiday Inn. M. Yates really brought me out, so to speak, with coaching and suggestions once I was in the front of the ‘SV-7 Mic.’ Having mostly recorded with the same people in the past, I was afraid that I might have been apprehensive, but he drew it right out of me, got to know me, and helped me deliver some of my best performances to date. I’m willing to work with him as long as he’s willing to work with me even though my personal list is ever expanding. It is the twenty-first century; there may be more then one way to skin a cat.

Finally, I love to ask this of all my interviewees on the Independent Spotlight. It’s always interesting to get insight into artists not only as content creators, but consumers as well. If we were to shuffle your iPod or Spotify, what five songs may show up?

Okay, shuffling Spotify now….

Outshine, Soundgarden
Behind These Hazel Eyes, Kelly Clarkson
Bitch, Better Have My Money, Rihanna
Dehumanized, Disturbed
Plush, Stone Temple Pilots

Connect With Haiqeem: 



Rousing Flow – Press Release – June 27, 2015



Introducing Rousing Flow & His Eclectic New Record, ‘Play Music’

Rousing Flow, the moniker of Arizona, Pheonix based artist Daniel Blanchard, has released his debut record, a lengthy collection of instrumentals by the name of ‘Play Music.’ Since its May 23 debut, the album has been remarkably well-received in the independent community as critics hail Blanchard’s innovative and unique work.

‘Play Music’ is a record of sophisticated simplicity. Despite its haunting soundscapes and occasionally rocking vibes, the album was recorded in a very barebones fashion. Blanchard utilized an old bass, his son’s cheap guitar, and Garageband software to build his vision. Garageband’s drum and synthesizer sequences were used for the backing, thus proving that quality is a manifestation of talent, not necessarily resources. A regular MIDI controller wasn’t even used, only a QWERTY keyboard.

Blanchard’s story and motivation is what makes ‘Play Music’ the intriguing record that it is. He’s a forty-seven year old father and husband – his amazing family has been a continual catalyst for his creativity. In fact, the songs on ‘Play Music’ were very much designed to be sensual and soft, the soundtrack to Blanchard and his wife’s love life. “We’ve have been rediscovering each other during the last three years and it has been magical for us,” Blanchard explains. The intimacy of his inspiration becomes immediately evident as the instrumental set list is chock-full of introspective and beautiful melodies.

“Making this music has made me feel so alive and connected with a passionate purpose. I sincerely hope it will connect with people so I can keep creating more and feeling that amazing.” 

– Rousing Flow

‘Play Music’ came to life during a time when Blanchard left the safety of a regular paycheck for room to breathe. His endeavor is a true form of self-discovery and reinvention, one that has brought new color into his life. He’s working on music for meditation, belly dancing, and hypnosis as well, building upon his instrumental repertoire. The production of his music and the definition of his textures and atmospheres is what keeps Blanchard creative – a process he’d love to introduce other artists and musicians into in the future.

“This is a hypnotic and strongly sensual collection of instrumentals that have been very well composed, performed, and produced. Rousing Flow has developed his own niche and musical style, which is not easy to do in the instrumental genre.”

– The Faulkner Review

Currently, Blanchard is pursuing the promotion of Rousing Flow and ‘Play Music.’ Visitors to his website can enter the play room and receive exclusive content and a free unreleased track. The album is also available on every major digital music distribution and streaming outlet. ‘Play Music’ will also eventually be accompanied by the release of music videos, the first of which is currently in the works. Detailed information on Rousing Flow and where to find his music can be found below.

Rousing Flow’s ‘Play Music’ was produced by tochoose.us, Blanchard’s umbrella for the projects he creates with his wife.


Distribution Links:

iTunes: http://apple.co/1dycCK1

Amazon: http://amzn.to/1HUkx1d

Spotify: http://spoti.fi/1HU2hF0

Also available on Deezer, eMusic, Google Play, iHeartRadio, Medianet, Rdio, Rhapsody, and Xbox Live.

Social Networking:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RousingFlow

Twitter: @RousingFlow

Direct Email For Rousing Flow: rousingflow@rousingflow.com


Sakis Gouzonis – ‘A World At Peace’

Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.

In this edition of the Independent Spotlight we’re going to be digging into ‘A World At Peace,’ the eighth studio effort of Sakis Gouzonis, a rising musician in Greece. His previous seven efforts have garnered him a modest following online and throughout the world. This has in turn led to several distinctions and accolades for his work – He’s a very versed artist and a veteran in the industry. ‘A World At Peace’ attempts to expand on his extensive repertoire with new cinematic landscapes. How successful is the effort at maintaining the credibility Gouzonis has earned over the years? Let’s find out.

For subscribers of the Independent Spotlight, I can easily make a comparison between Gouzonis’ music and Dimension Nine, another instrumental electronica artist we featured. (On the Jukebox Podcast.) Dimension Nine had an excellent hand over instrumentation for video game design. Gouzonis’ work is akin to that; it has a retro, yet contemporary feel to its composition and the songs could most certainly score an eight bit video game.

What makes ‘A World At Peace’ intriguing is its attention to detail. These soundscapes that Gouzonis crafts feel authentic and original. ‘In Unity There Is True Strength’ feels defiant and intense, a superb introduction to the record. The strongest early effort is most certainly ‘Pearls of Wisdom,’ however – an infectious, catchy, and beautiful instrumental. All too often independent electronic artists’ music falls into a rut halfway through the record. It’s very difficult to maintain originality when you’re genre-limited by the tools you have access to. ‘A World At Peace’ finds a way to transcend its electronic nature and enter the realm of fine composition.

As you trek your way through this album, you’re met with continual surprises. At the halfway point, ‘Bringing Light To Darkness’ offers up one of the most complex and rewarding experiences of the collection. The intensity of ‘Darkness’ then subsides for the atmospheric, uplifting ‘This Night Is Wonderful.’ That brings me to an important note: this music feels remarkably emotional. For a long-winded, entirely instrumental electronic effort, ‘A World At Peace’ conveys incredible emotion in its delivery. ‘Feel This Precious Moment’ is an elegant example of that. It’s a haunting track that’s surprisingly inviting and soulful as can be.

I should also touch on the production quality of this album. It’s superb. Gouzonis’ work flowed off my studio monitors blissfully and was suited to a quality sound system. The instrumentation is well mixed, well organized, and well performed. In the nearly two hours I spent with ‘A World At Peace,’ I remained in awe at its exceptional production. The closing of the record, ‘Glory,’ has a wonderful sense of finality as well, ending the collection on a high note.

The songs on ‘A World At Peace’ are mesmerizing, tactful, and gorgeous. It’s an effort that defies the norms of its genre and stands poignant and continually compelling. With that said, I didn’t find the songs painting portraits of film in my mind. The electronic nature of the instrumentation lends itself much better to vintage video games. ‘Glory’ would be a deafening success if applied to an early Metroid or Mega Man game. That’s not even a critique; the music just seems far more suited for the environment of a quality game versus a film. In any case, go listen to ‘A World At Peace.’ It’ll knock your socks off if you dig independent composers who truly understand and thrive on electronic composition. Gouzonis’ eighth effort is a triumph of originality and nostalgia.

Check him out online: http://www.sakisgouzonis.com/home.html

Seth Balestrieri – ‘Our Song (Boston Strong)’

Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.

On this month’s episode on the Jukebox podcast, I went on a five minute soap-box about how important music is to create change, peace, and promote healthy communities. This evening’s Independent Spotlight artist is doing just that. His name is Seth Balestrieri, he’s a twenty-six year old singer songwriter from Massachusetts. On July 15, he’ll be releasing ‘Our Song (Boston Strong,)’ a track dedicated to those who have struggled in the tragic aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombing. We’re getting an early listen of the track to take a peek at it.

Balestrieri explained to me that he wrote the song partially from the perspective of someone in the midst of this chaos who may be too young to fully comprehend what is happening. It’s an intriguing perspective to take, perhaps one that we don’t think about as often. Can you imagine how damaging something like the Boston Bombing can be in the life of a young person? It’s heartbreaking to think about, but Balestrieri tackles it elegantly and poignantly.

‘Boston Strong’ is exactly what it needs to be. Eloquent, inspirational, and heartfelt. Beautiful instrumentation and string sections cascade around Balestrieri in a haunting production. His lyrics are honest, his voice, amazing. ‘Remember there is peace in our song,’ he croons over a series of vocal harmonies that seem to create a mountain of triumph over evil. The bombing of the Boston Marathon was an act of pure evil, a disgusting display by one of the most troubled people in our country. This song, however, seems resilient and powerful, rising above both the anger and confusion that must result from this sort of event.

‘Our Song (Boston Strong)’ is a gorgeous piece of work. I love Balestrieri’s effort to reach out to his community and begin to mend some horrific wounds. The independent music community needs more artists like this and this song remains proof that within music, we all can find a level of peace. It’s a healing force stronger than most.

Voice in the Attic – ‘Over’

Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.

It’s always nice to feature an artist on the Independent Spotlight from the opposite side of the pond. Voice in the Attic, the moniker of BC Bogey, splits his time between Cologne, Germany, and London. He’s a critically acclaimed musician and wordsmith with an expansive repertoire of previous work and accolades. ‘Over’ is the debut release of his Voice in the Attic project, an atmospheric and folksy tune exhibiting his prowess.

Bogey has a deep, murky voice that accents his simplistic folk style quite well. His delivery is emotional and intense with an aura of mystery surrounding it. ‘Over’ is an introspective song, something Bogey describes as ‘metaphysical certainty’ as a result of a childhood near-death experience. In said experience, he saw the light that he’s referring to in ‘Over.’ This level of personal emotion makes ‘Over’ the haunting track that it is. It feels seamless, reserved, and carefree. It’s such a sad number. It is, though, sadness that feels peaceful and positive.

The instrumentation couldn’t be more perfect for the subject matter. It’s a very brief acoustic backing with sparse string sections. I enjoy the brevity of the sonic landscape; it makes it feel more genuine and focuses on Bogey’s beautiful lyrics. It shines the spotlight where it deserves to be and doesn’t feel pretentious or forced. It feels very honest.

‘Over’ is a superb little track and I love where Bogey is going with this Voice in the Attic schtick. With that said, I’m not sure a whole record of that would remain sufficiently interesting. I hope the rest of the endeavor fleshes out a full-fledged record, one that ‘Over’ will most certainly be a poignant highlight of. Keep tabs on Voice in the Attic – he’s an act going places and I can’t wait to see where he ventures next.

Listen to the new track: https://voiceintheattic.bandcamp.com/releases

Matthew Schultz (ft. Jim Jones) – ‘We Own The Night’

Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.

In this evening’s edition of the Independent Spotlight, we’re getting a sneak peek at a track that’ll be dropping on June 27. The single is ‘We Own The Night,’ a track by the rising star Matthew Shultz. The new tune also features Jim Jones, the well-known hip hop legend. Schultz has exploded across social media with thousands of followers and his work with Jones has been widely praised. This new track is the latest offering from the two. Is the new single any good? Let’s find out.

The production of ‘We Own The Night’ is marvelous. Tight beats and a solid mix accent both Jones and Schultz quite well. Jones takes the reigns and really makes the track as infectious as it is. Schultz remains withdrawn until his searing solo – a brief, but elegant exhibition of his skill. The two clash in beautiful harmony, soaked in atmospheric synth sections and autotune.

As I listened to ‘We Own The Night’ half a dozen times, I noticed something intriguing. It sounds very similar to something akin to a Kanye West song. Schultz employs production that aligns closely with West’s later works, especially in regard to the autotuned choruses and the way the back-up vocals cascade over one another. I mean this as a very high compliment: I adore West and think he’s a genius. ‘We Own The Night’ sounds like a track off the cutting room floor of ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.’

What I find truly compelling about this song is the unlikely collaboration between a multi-faceted producet/guitarist and an industry veteran rapper. It’s a duo that highlights the best of both their worlds. The sharp production value is complemented by extraordinary performances that don’t feel contrived or narcissistic. (The latter of which is a pretty big problem with hip hop right now.) Check out ‘We Own The Night’ when it drops next week. It’s one of the better indie tracks of the summer and it’s sure to continue Matthew Schultz’ rise in the community.

Follow Matthew Schultz online and keep up to date with him:


Empire of Gold – ‘Raw’

Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.

Earlier this week on the Independent Spotlight, I highlighted an artist who’s doing an incredible job pushing Garageband to the limits to create mind bending instrumentals. It would seem that this week brings us another artist boasting similar brevity: Empire of Gold, the moniker of Michael Dole. His first solo EP, ‘Raw,’ is a five track collection that ‘defies modern production techniques and shows listeners a musician who has raw, unedited talent.’ That’s a tall order to fill. How does ‘Raw’ stack up?

‘What Are You Waiting For?’ introduces the record in exactly the way you’d expect it to: hounding electric guitars, thundering percussion, and hodgepodge production accumulate into the giant sonic mess that is Empire of Gold. I mean that in a good way; it’s a chaotic experience that still seems to remain organized and well conducted. This is the grunge you know and love from the early 1990s – powerchord tracks with blistering distortion and warped vocals.

One thing came to mind immediately in the first few tracks of ‘Raw.’ This music would be utterly fantastic performed live; I bet this concert would be a hell of a time. It has good old rock and roll vibes mixed powerfully with grunge and alternative influence. The explosive ‘Burning Bridges’ melds the pathways between Dole’s electric mayhem and acoustic prowess. I really dig this atmospheric, moody number.

‘You (Shouted the Worst You Could Do)’ pushes an acoustic guitar and Dole’s lyrics into the spotlight. He’s not a particularly strong vocalist; he seems to fall out of key and has some trouble finding his feet throughout the songs. With that said, nobody ever accused Kurt Cobain of being an American Idol, either. It’s a genre that feeds off of emotional, distraught delivery. Empire of Gold’s music feels genuine and ‘You (Shouted the Worst You Could Do) is the best song on ‘Raw’ as a result.

‘Hot, Damn’ continues Dole’s jaunt through self-deprecating lyrics and grumbling. It’s actually a really sweet, even bluesy track, however, one that offers a stark contrast from the rest of the record. I absolutely love the electric riff that accompanies Dole; the song had me tapping along and really getting into it.

Though distorted chaos is always fun, I’d argue Empire of Gold is at its strongest when Dole breaks out the acoustic guitar. The final track, ‘Help Me,’ elegantly culminates the entirety of ‘Raw.’ From the soft acoustic intro to the howling chorus and electric solo, ‘Help Me’ demands your attention until the final moments of the record.

‘Raw’ is an incredibly good rock/grunge effort. The indie scene doesn’t see too much of this content, nor does the Independent Spotlight. So many bands approach grunge in a contemporary setting with immense pretension. (I’m looking at you, whole city of Portland. We both know those glasses aren’t prescription. Or you, Wicker Park, in Dole’s own town.) Empire of Gold’s endeavor is real and honest, not hipstery or gimmicky.

Listen to the record on Spotify: https://play.spotify.com/album/0y0NvhVNv7aafEgiLuFsxF

Rousing Flow – ‘Play Music’

Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.

Readers of the Independent Spotlight know that Garageband is my go-to when I refer to shoddy self-production, particularly in the hip-hop community. For all of the shots I fire at it, however, I do understand its potential. It’s a remarkably good digital audio workstation for a beginner that has versatility unparalleled in comparative suites. Hell, I learned my way around recording in Garageband and both the Twin Thieves records and the first two Underground Oceans records used it. Why am I rambling about Garageband? Well, it’s an integral part of Rousing Flow’s sound.

When Rousing Flow prefaced his record for me, he explained that it was an endeavor consisting of his old bass, his son’s cheap guitar, and Garageband. He’s distributed the record across all digital platforms and a few of the tracks have picked up serious steam. (Try 110,000 spins on one.) Thus, Rousing Flow pushes the boundaries of its simplistic workstation to create a compelling instrumental effort weighing in at a lengthy twelve tracks. The album is ‘Play Music.’

First, let’s hammer out what is good about ‘Play Music.’ As aforementioned, the effort doesn’t sound like it was recorded in Garageband. Tight percussion accents slick guitar and bass banter and atmospheric synths envelope each track in mystery. The songs are lengthy and seem to be divided into movements of sorts: you’ll often find songs like ‘Intimate Heat’ and ‘As I Please’ breaking jams down into segments that alternate. (The latter is one of the best exhibitions of Flow’s skills on the bass.)

Genre-wise, ‘Play Music’ seems to hop between a handful of influences. The bass can be quite funky, as can the beats. Almost every track is soaked in heavy reverb, creating varied soundscapes throughout. ‘Trust Me’ does an impressively good job of creating a western-like landscape that distorted, moody guitar sifts through note by note. Some tracks build even more elaborate experimental vibes, such as the elegant ‘Handprint.’

Nothing on ‘Play Music’ is going to get you riled up or anxious. It’s a very soothing, melodic record that feels introspective in nature, as if Rousing Flow is telling sonic stories without any words. Sometimes hints of rock and roll peek out from behind the trees, as is the case on the epic ‘Not Yet.’ String sections also accompany Flow from time to time. Having experimented with synthesizers extensively in the past on Garageband, I can vouch for its versatility in this regard. Some of the preset instrumentation in that DAW rivals much better paid suites. Rousing Flow uses everything to his advantage and ‘Play Music’ is a triumph of simplicity. It only goes to show that the program doesn’t make the musician.

Highlights on ‘Play Music’ include ‘Note Yet,’ ‘Leather Impact,’ ‘Warm Breath,’ and the lengthy ‘In Haze,’ the track that has garnered significant recognition online. ‘In Haze’ reminds me of something off ‘McCartney,’ Paul McCartney’s debut solo record which experimented with very similar instrumental styles.

Now, onto the ‘not so good.’ Fortunately, there isn’t much of it. ‘Play Music’ is a well executed collection of songs that feels intelligent and creative as can be. With that said, it becomes far too comfortable with itself and many of the songs blend together. It’s hard to differentiate one from the other and many songs feel like pieces of one larger track. In terms of continuity, it makes the hour-long experience flow well. In regard to making the album consistently interesting, this causes it to falter and lose drive at times. It probably could have been suited better by eight or nine tracks rather than twelve.

The production of ‘Play Music’ is pretty sharp for the most part. I was impressed by the experience and it was well at home on my professional studio monitors. A few pieces do feel under-produced, however, and the electric guitar in particular feels underwhelming and too bassy at times. The quality of the percussion is impeccable, though, and I can’t differentiate it between a live drum recording and a machine. (It’s probably the latter, at least, judging by the info I got from Rousing Flow.)

‘Play Music’ is a fantastic record well worth your time if you enjoy grooving instrumentals. It’s an effort that slides itself into familiarity after a time, but I suspect Rousing Flow will amend that in his next release. For a debut, it’s difficult to beat and I commend Flow’s ability to take simplistic software and equipment and create such an elaborate, massive sound.

Check out Rousing Flow on Sound Cloud: https://soundcloud.com/rousing-flow

Seldom – ‘Damaged’

Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.

In this edition of the Independent Spotlight, we’re going to be taking a peek at the band Seldom, a five-piece rock outfit from Houston, Texas. Their debut record, ‘Damaged,’ was successfully crowdfunded and was accompanied by a lengthy regional tour. Now, Seldom is already back in the studio hammering out their sophomore release. ‘Damaged’ is a very ambitious endeavor. Each of the nine tracks attempts to create emotional and varied landscapes across a variety of genre inspirations. The band claims to shift between powerhouse rock and punk and touching ballads with tact and ease. How does ‘Damaged’ stack up? 

As soon as you dig into ‘Damaged,’ you’re met with a familiar sound. ‘Legacy’ opens up the album with a driving rocker. Seldom occupies that mainstream space in between hard rock and metal. It has some of the instrumental intricacies of soft-metal, but its range stays within the realm of hard rock. (Think Rise Against.) ‘Awoke to Darkness’ has thundering percussion and a fantastic electric guitar riff that elevates itself into an intense rocker.

Lyrically, most of these tracks make ‘Damaged’ feel like a breakup record. ‘Cancer’ compares the subject to poison that gets under the vocalists skin, an unnecessary burden he’s desperate to shed. I like the sonic experimentation on ‘Cancer;’ it toys with fluctuating intensity and remains poignant at its lower, softer points. ‘Plastic Idols’ digs its teeth into the punk influence the band claims, elegantly combining it with the sound they establish earlier in the record with something much more akin to punk. It’s a dark, gritty song that feels angrier, which is actually a good thing. This is music they feel. It isn’t forced.

‘Over & Over’ is the first true ‘ballad’ of the album, a welcome sound after five tracks of demanding rock. The acoustic, atmospheric nature of this song is hauntingly beautiful, bringing the lead vocals and lyricism into the forefront. There’s even a bit of a simplistic string section, accentuating the emotional delivery of ‘Over & Over.’ It’s the strongest track of the first half of ‘Damaged,’ exhibiting exceptional songwriting and range.

At this point, it’s also worth touching on the production of this album. Perhaps as a result of funding via their Kickstarter, ‘Damaged’ sounds excellent. It wafted from my studio superbly throughout the two hours I spent with it. Listening to it on professional audio equipment was a very rewarding experience, something I can’t say for many acts I review. The cataclysmic nature of the end of ‘Over & Over’ blew me away on a quality sound system.

‘Watch Me Fall’ tricks the listener into believing they’re getting another ballad. The well performed acoustic guitar at the beginning of the tune is quickly abandoned for an earth-shattering track. I like the fusion of the two styles and the acoustic returns regularly as the song rises and falls. ‘Ozymandias’ is the most ‘metal’ of the nine tracks with hammering distortion and fast-paced bass. The instrumentation on ‘Damaged’ is noteworthy, too. The drummer in particular is quite a fantastic musician; these songs never miss a beat and he sits in the mix perfectly.

‘Wasting Away’ and the title track close out the album. The former track is somewhat unmemorable – it sounds too much like the rest of the record. The title track is eclectic, however, and feels like a culmination of the whole record’s journey. It has a sense of finality that the other tracks don’t, making it a suitable ending to ‘Damaged.’

‘Damaged’ is a very good record for what it is. Seldom doesn’t experiment too much with their sound – what you get on ‘Legacy’ is more or less what you’ll end up with nine tracks later. There are a few hidden gems like ‘Over & Over,’ though, that polish the record. With that said, it’s too long. Their sound feels repetitive after half a dozen tracks and each song is very similar to the last. Seldom would have been far better served by an EP of five or six tracks instead of nine. ‘Damaged’ is still an excellent effort very much worth your time; it just meanders a bit too much in a sound it gets too comfortable with. Hopefully that’s a kink that’ll be straightened out on ‘Black Mirror,’ their next endeavor.

L Neff – ‘The Way It Is’

Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.

In this edition of the Independent Spotlight, we’re going to be taking a peek at ‘The Way It Is,’ a new record from the rising indie hip hop artist, L Neff. He’s a veteran in the game, tracing his hip hop and performance roots back to early childhood. Since then, Neff has embraced the modern age of technology to the fullest, clocking in thousands of virtual spins and fans across his platform of work. Though fans may already be familiar with ‘The Way It Is,’ this review is of the most recent edition of the record, a fully remastered rendition of the collection.

If there’s one thing that can be said for Neff’s sound, it’s that he’s crafted a very original one. All eight of these tracks are distinct and compelling in their own regard. On the production end, the recent mastering job has prepared the set beautifully; it can stand its own against any other studio effort and its excellent mixes wafted from my studio for nearly two hours. ‘Big Man’ introduces Neff in a bombastic fashion, but the party really begins on the infectious ‘I Keep Flyin.’

Very much in the vein of many hip hop acts, Neff invited a whole slew of buddies along for the ride – most of the tracks have guest features. These features do a remarkably good job of accentuating Neff without stealing his thunder, and again, ‘I Keep Flyin’ is a superb example of this. Primo Starr and Marka’s presences on the track round it out nicely.

‘Street Life’ is probably the strongest effort on the record that doesn’t include a guest feature. The production is beautiful, pulling elegant elements from hip hop and pop to manifest a fantastic soundscape. Neff exercises extreme professionalism over his verses; he effortlessly slips from one to the next with poise and tact. His music doesn’t feel ostentatious, either. Tracks like ‘Street Life’ offer insight into his own life quite interestingly.

‘All You Need,’ a track featuring Church, offers one of the more melodic and memorable experiences in the collection. I love the use of sparse autotuned vocal pieces; it’s technique that when used properly, can be effective and expressive. ‘4 Tha Hood’ blends pianos, haunting back up vocals, brass sections, and tight beats into one cascading wave of hip hop.

As you wind down into the final moments of ‘The Way It Is,’ you’re met with continual surprises. The simplistic ‘Who Dat’ draws Neff’s performance to the forefront. On ‘Can’t Back Down,’ the stunning Anna gifts Neff an invaluable service: this track is gorgeous. Finally, ‘I Know’ combines the powerhouse Dominant with Neff for a cataclysmic performance.

I sincerely enjoyed ‘The Way It Is.’ It’s a very good indie hip hop record that plays to the strengths of each featured artist on their respective tracks. Thus, the experience that is offered feels varied and consistently engaging. It’s eight tracks of serious hip hop well worth your time.

Listen to the record: http://www.neffnation.com/discography/the-way-it-is-album/