Brennan Heart and Jonathan Mendelsohn – Follow the Light

Brennan Heart and Jonathan Mendelsohn - Follow The Light

Ah, the melodic territory. Something I haven’t immersed myself in for the longest time. To return to this spectacular sub-genre, to a track composed by none other than the veteran, Brennan Heart, is an absolute honour. This is one of those moments where I feel blessed to have ears.

I would never have imagined that ‘Imaginary‘ (pun intended) could have a sweet little sibling. Mendelsohn’s vocals, in this particular song, gave me strong Coldplay and Maroon 5 vibes. If I ever heard this live, I’d like to say to the person next to me: “I promised I wouldn’t cry, but I did.” Mendelsohn’s vocals have a charming, soothing quality, yet the falsetto just brings out all the strongest emotions.

Of course, how could I forget the master behind the knobs, Brennan Heart? The notes in this track are not too squeaky, thanks to the jittery effect. Every segment, well timed; every transition, well planned.  Kicks, mild yet rich in flavour with a bit of coarseness, as though it were refined by the ups and downs of life.

I’m reviewing this in 2018, with the purest feelings of thanks to this magical duo.

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Headhunterz and Sub Zero Project – Our Church

Headhunterz and Sub Zero Project - Our Church

It seems that Heady has been back in the Hard Dance scene for quite a while now. Also been a while since I can honestly think “hoooly” when I listen to the intro to a track. Of course, there’s more than just that: The “kicks”, if I can call it that, are definitely something people might be surprised by.

The beginning was like a call to arms. I felt as though my spirit was marching into an alternate reality. The music video reminded me of what was in Heady’s first comeback song ‘Destiny‘, which had a pretty obvious reference to ‘Outlast‘. Except, this time, the church visuals matches the music perfectly. I know it sounds like I’m complimenting the visuals in the video, but if you can listen to a piece of music and feel as if it paints a picture of something very clearly, you know it’s done well. Also, the “kicks”: I’m not even sure it would be considered a Hardstyle kick. It’s more like a generic Hard Dance kick, with a Hardstyle ring or influence to it. Pumping a hard-hitting sound in it’s own special, muffled way. What a lovely surprise.

The downside for me, would be the Heady-style melody that comes in at around the 2.05 mark of the music video. Some might say that if you can recognise something from an artist, their own little trademark sound or style, then they’ve done a (good) job. However, times change, tastes change, people change, music evolves. I will give the same advice as I have in many blog posts I’ve done in the past: Do not use it as an excuse for non-improvement. I will admit that as a listener, there are things that I want to be kept the same, but I want to be excited by what I’m hearing too. Even a slight, miniscule change will do. I want Heady to give me something that says: “This is Heady, but it’s 2018 Heady.” Not: “Oh, it’s Heady again.” I think a lot of Hardstyle artists are afraid to tip that scale by even just a little bit, which is a shame.

Nightfall ft. MC Sik-Wit-It – Whispers of Twilight

Once again, I have emerged from my cave. Sometimes, I deprive myself of the music I love most so that I can come back to it and go absolutely crazy, but you should know that it takes a lot of stimulus to draw out a hermit who is so picky about music. My Hardstyle senses decided to make ‘Whispers of Twilight’ my lullaby for tonight, so I couldn’t resist writing about it.

After a few cricket noises, the track starts of with a connected string of long notes, held by a lady with a wonderful voice. Was it intentionally manipulated to sound unnaturally connected? Or did the lady take a super deep breath before she sang? I don’t know, but the technicalities don’t matter here. It was a risk that paid off. If this unsettling segment went on for too long or repeated too often, I would have gotten annoyed and lost interest early on. Thankfully, this unnatural vocal component only lasts briefly, allowing this segment to become an interesting intro that doesn’t turn people off for sounding too whiny.

This hint of artificiality from the beginning marks the beginning of an epic journey. I feel as if Nightfall wanted to sprinkle this handful of magical sand from the get go, causing his listeners to become unconscious and unable to comprehend the words that were sung. As the darkness descends and listeners fall “in the dark”, they slowly awaken in the alternate, magical realm. The main melody slowly begins to emerge amidst well-controlled variations of volume and compression: Subtle, balanced and not too frequent or drastic.

I would disagree with the part where the MC says “all hell breaks loose”. In fact, the imagery I conjured in my head was rather different: Drifting across the Sahara desert on a dark night, we marvel at the aurora lights. I can imagine the sound waves, reflecting or refracting navy, neon pink and violet lights across the night sky. Honestly, this track can light up any stage. The rich, ascending chords of the chorus are gracefully enveloped by the velvety kicks like mist around a pond. Of course, one must also acknowledge the amazing screeches, which are not too sharp because they are kept under control with the right amount of compression. As a whole, every element of this track is adequately balanced.

Hardstyle doesn’t have to always be about chaos or hell. It takes a lot of skill to produce a piece that is beautiful yet powerful at the same time. I don’t know if my interpretation and feelings towards this track goes against the composers’ or the MC’s intentions. All I can say is, this track is magnificent to my ears.

Advanced Dealer and Kutski – Killscreen

Advanced Dealer and Kutski - Killscreen

I’ve always associated the name Kutski with UK or Happy Hardcore and never expected him to produce something slightly darker. Looks like I was wrong. Kutski’s collaboration with Advanced Dealer, titled ‘Killscreen’, is filled with a flurry of effective combos that hit some targets nicely. Although I wouldn’t say the track is completely flawless, I did think it was a decent track.

Let’s start by talking about MIDI sounds. I think MIDI sounds are more likely to be enjoyed by an older crowd that has played games which make those sounds when they were very young, because it evokes nostalgic feelings. I can applaud Advanced Dealer and Kutski for creating original MIDI melodies. However, I can’t help but think that the MIDI melody should make reference to actual games at some point of the track. After all, I was able to feel more joy from listening to a Hardstyle track like ‘Game Over’, which makes a direct and obvious reference to Tetris.

The other element that bothered me in this track was the fact that Advanced Dealer and Kutski decided to distort, repeat or tune a vocal snippet and a siren, then turn it into notes of its melodic segments. The melody was enjoyable, but not when those sounds were repeated in such frequent succession. I think they should have made things less harsh and forceful, because it takes away the fun it started off with. Or, at least make the transition from fun to sinister a bit smoother.

Now that I’m up to the fun part, let’s talk about the positive aspects of this track. Around the one-minute mark, I could instantly identify a Kutski style and the speed added excitement. Apparently, the vocal snippets and sirens actually sound less annoying when the track is sped up. Perhaps it’s because I was more able to identify those sounds as a vocal snippet or siren when it was at a much slower tempo and the brevity of these effects made things forgivable. Or, perhaps I’m just a biased Hardcore lover who finds tracks at a faster tempo more energetic. Who knows?

Do I have any complaints about the kicks? Nope. In fact, I adore how its trails are followed by the Mario-ate-a-mushroom MIDI effects. Around the 3.05 mark, it sounds as if the kicks and MIDI effects have tug-of-war, before exploding into the Hardcore kicks reverted to the initial tempo.

I would look forward to hearing more Kutski collaborations with Traxtorm artists. Alas, I have a feeling that it would be a rarity and that’s what makes this track quite noteworthy.

B-Front and Alpha2 ft. Snowflake – Lost

B-Front and Alpha 2 ft. Snowflake - Lost

To hear such a title from B-Front and Alpha2 was something I didn’t expect. As soon as I hit play, the sombre intro gave me an indication that this was going to be interesting. In fact, it didn’t disappoint, for what it had to offer gave me an emotional experience.

The majority of the track consists of dark kicks. Its depth and low pitch adds weight to the track and keeps it grounded, allowing it to match the piano and wispy vocal echoes perfectly. The vocals serve a somewhat important purpose despite their muffled and minimal involvement. In fact, its hardly audible quality is what makes this track universal. No matter where you’re from or what language you speak, hearing those vocals sing in that tone instantly evokes a feeling of sadness.

B-Front and Alpha2 maintain a balance between intense impact and soft cries of sorrow, soothing their listeners despite their use of contrasting effects. Although there will be times when you feel lost in a deep sea of troubles, you’ll still find solace from music that conveys your feelings perfectly. I consider this to be one of those tracks.

Hard Attakk – Nasty Bass

Hard Attakk - Nasty Bass

When I first heard the this song on Unleashed 034 and heard the chorus, I instantly thought of ‘Carol of the Bells‘ and wondered whether Hard Attakk got their inspiration from that piece. After all, even Zatox turned to classical music for ideas and Da Tweekaz certainly didn’t mind snatching a cradle melody. It’s always great when you can find links between different genres. Of course, what’s even more satisfying is knowing that it can be turned into utterly devastating monstrosity.

The kicks for this piece are quite abrupt and the tempo is just a little bit faster than the usual Hardstyle tempo, which is cool for those who have an appetite for fast impact. On top of that, the radio edit wastes no time with bringing its listeners straight into the crux. You can sense the impending evil even when the chorus melody is in its phase of decompression.

What I also love about this track is the way Hard Attakk brings in about three or four different kick variations, featured in brief intervals right before the next breakdown. Each of these are special in their own way, but the track would have been quite messy if the intervals were longer than what they were in the radio edit. In addition, the original kick that was used for this track is charming enough to leave me entranced. This led me to wonder whether the little segments of these kicks were a way of displaying the kick development process: How it evolved into its final, chosen form.

Get dirty, get gritty and get your gabber gear ready. Kick up some dust with this nasty bass and don’t miss out on the fun!

PS – I may be a bit late to the party, but as I always say, better late than never!

Deorro – Five Hours

The original mix. The amazing track that formed the solid foundation; the one that started it all. There are so many beautiful aspects about this track and yet, its simplicity allows me to summarise its greatness in one word: Balance. I love the way this track was mastered.

When you first listen to how Deorro builds up the wobbling sounds, you can hear how it could have gone wrong but didn’t. He could have gone louder and deafened us all, he could have just made that the recurring element of the entire track, but no. Deorro morphs it into something light and bouncy, smoothly, as though it were simply a matter of turning¬† a single knob. It’s not too sharp, not too high-pitched, not too ear-piercing, just right.

Once the track goes the usual House tempo, Deorro maintains the steadiness of the melody, keeps the pitch just right, and places a layer of vocal snippets on top of the smooth tune. Unlike certain producers who run out of their creativity juices and end up having the same elements repeated excessively, Deorro knows when to put a pause. A smooth instrumental bassline gets introduced, reminiscent of styles in a Daft Punk era. Although it is occasionally modified to create some sort of dribbly bass effect, it remains at the bottom of the layers of sound; the player in the background; the base. There’s no need for it to overtake any element for listeners to appreciate it. In fact, it fits in so nicely with everything else that without it, the track would lose its grooviness.

The original mix of ‘Five Hours’ is ideal for those who want something they can tap to, nod to, or move their shoulders to. A clear glass of sparkling water amongst muddy pools. Chillax and enjoy the ride.

PS – Here’s why I dislike the Chris Brown version: I find it difficult to imagine one element of this song without the other, which is why I think everything else that gets added to it should achieve the same effect. Otherwise, it just wrecks the preestablished consistency and becomes a distraction. I don’t think Chris Brown’s rap doesn’t blend in well, which is why I hardly consider it as an enhancement or necessity to Deorro’s original composition.

TeddyLoid ft. Vocaloid IA – Shooting Star

It sounds so natural, it scares me, but delights me at the same time. Innovative technology has advanced rapidly enough for new Vocaloids, which are basically electronically generated vocals, to keep appearing in Japan’s E/DM scene. As they keep topping Oricon charts, they have attracted a multitude of talented producers. I thought they would be a passing fad, but when I finally heard an Electro Trance Vocaloid track that doesn’t sound robotic, I was blown away.

In the past, I’ve always thought that the main weakness of Vocaloid is that they sound horribly unnatural. However, I just had to include ‘Shooting Star’ in this blog because, unlike many others, producer TeddyLoid actually bothered to make the Vocaloid sound more natural. I no longer had to force myself to accept the artificiality for the sake of acknowledging a well-composed melody like many others. Instead, I could just listen to it and appreciate every aspect of it, just as I would appreciate any of my favourite tunes.

TeddyLoid knows exactly what makes E/DM and J-Pop fans tick. With typical elements you’d expect to find in any electro trance track, seamlesss transitions and euphoric melodies, it won’t be hard to lose yourself and dance, unless you’re sick of the mainstream stuff. In fact, I woudn’t be surprised to hear similar elements in tracks from other major E/DM labels or pop labels. However, if you don’t mind having a guilty bite from the poison apple every now and then, IA can be your pink lady.

There are English versions of Vocaloids, but they sound a bit more awkward than their Japanese originals, which is probably why they aren’t used by Western producers very often yet. Nevertheless, this track does make me think that a music industry filled with artificial singers, singing in a way that people can swallow more comfortably, is not that far away. Who knows? An English or American company is probably developing another brand of vocal generators right now.

Lion Babe – Where Do We Go

Would you ever combine Disco House with Hip Hop and Trap percussions? If your answer is no, this track by Lion Babe will break all those fictional musical barriers and exceed all expectations. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think this combination would be possible!

Imagine being on a dance floor and hearing the disco elements, reminiscing about those good, old golden times. Then, something about the additional layer of percussion begins creeping in the minds of the unsuspecting dancers…and poof! A brand new creation. The transition between each of these layers, these features of distinctly different genres, is absolutely flawless. In fact, it sounds almost natural, as though they have been mixed together in this pot of rainbow delight for many years.

If you don’t mind having a funky funk every now and then, or if you’re looking for something fresher than the prince, Lion Babe will tell you where to go and you’ll know what to do. Dance, baby, dance!

PS – I really wish this could be one of the tracks that people could dance or sing to for the Aussie Mardi Gras Parade tomorrow!

 

Nightfall – Distorted Reality

The Nightfall duo, DJ Jeffrey and producer Sven, were signed to Fusion quite recently. Around the time ‘Distorted Reality’ was released on the 2nd of November 2015, it also managed to gain the support of Digital Punk on Unleashed 032.

Compared to Nightfall’s first EP release with Fusion, ‘Boom Like’ and ‘No Surrender’, ‘Distorted Reality’ is a pretty big improvement. To make a specific example, their first EP placed too much reliance overpowering, high-pitched melodic segments. Fortunately, ‘Distorted Reality’s melody was more twisted and compressed, allowing the powerful kicks to have the attention they deserve. There were even moments where Nightfall isolated elements or turned it down to create suspense, before bringing up the volume to create an impact. This is a rather simple effect to apply, and some may think of it as a cliche. However, I think the dark force contained within the track had such a strong ability to engage its audience, that they could easily let that slide. I know I’d just be super keen to get to the point where everything is at its loudest whenever that happens. Nightfall certainly knows how to keep the party people on a hook!

Side note: I thought I already wrote about this track, but I didn’t! I was so sure that I even did a search on my own blog to make sure. Usually, when I repeat something a lot, I have every intention of writing about it afterwards. I was probably either too busy or just forgot about it. Anyway, I’m glad I remembered!