December 2007


Reviewed by Julian Wilson

Bronn Journey/Christmas Rose

Given that this is the season for bland, cookie-cutter Christmas albums, what a breath of fresh air it is to hear a Yuletide-themed CD that takes a different approach to paying tribute to the holiday. Christmas Rose is an album consisting of New Age instrumentals, mainly the sound of Bronn Journey and his harp. The gently plucked strings of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” and “Still, Still, Still” produce sweet, ethereal tones that elevate these classic compositions to another level. “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” adds gorgeously soaring flute, and “Still, Still, Still” is spiced by angelic operatic singing.

Some of the Christmas pieces on here are even unfamiliar to me. Much credit should be given to Journey for not sticking with the obvious. “Once in Royal David’s City” and “Pat-a-Pan” are not commonly heard Christmas compositions, and their inclusion here adds a bolt of newness that is emotionally stirring. But, familiar or not, Journey’s delicate, dreamy harp playing makes these songs seem as if they were just written yesterday. “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear” is particularly beautiful, conjuring images of snow falling on the ground as Journey carries us into his own winter wonderland.

http://www.bronnjourney.com

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Reviewed by Julian Wilson

iCande/SOPO

If the album cover looks like something out of the late ’80s-early ’90s R&B and hip-hop scene, it’s probably no coincidence. After all, one of the tracks here is called “Boy Toy,” a term that Madonna popularized during the ’80s. Given that everything old is new again, iCande are on target in appealing to both teenagers (their energetic, slickly-produced girl pop and drop-dead gorgeous looks have mass appeal to adolescents of both sexes) and their parents (who’ll be able to hear the influences of old-school rap and and electro-pop in their music).

Coincidence or not, the hip-hop initial cut “The Opener” reminded me so much of the KLF that I stopped to check my watch to see if it was 3 a.m. again. Synthesizers play a heavy role in iCande’s songs, and they’re used here in a more retro fashion than their contemporaries. “Jealous” and “Blah Blah Girl” are blooming with bouncy, charming keyboard rhythms, closer to Bananarama than any of today’s R&B superstars. 

http://icandemusic.com

Reviewed by Julian Wilson

Jessa Young/Orange Roses

Jessa Young skirts the boundary between pop and electronica, between Adult Contemporary and folk as well. Like Kate Bush or Bjork, she is an artist that honestly cannot be placed into a specific corner; she is neither here nor there. What she does have is quite an elegant voice, one that is organic yet ethereal, dreamy yet grounded in reality. She’s a quirky mixture of polar opposites, and that’s what makes Orange Roses among the year’s most peculiar and continuously engaging discs.

The driving piano rhythms of “Fairytale” and the title track do recall a certain Tori Amos in mind; however, Young doesn’t have Amos’ melancholia, and we are grateful for that because there are too many Amos-alikes at it is. There are moments, too, especially when her singing soars, that she is reminiscent of Kate Bush. The enigmatic “Lady of the Lake” opens with an atmospheric spoken-word intro that evolves into the mellow, moody electronica that Bjork specializes in. But there is a Celtic flavor to Young’s singing that makes the material fresh and alive.

http://www.jessayoung.com

 

Reviewed by Julian Wilson

Mario Konrad/Spirit Cave

The ambient landscapes of Mario Konrad is music that is actually better experienced than heard. In other words, this is a record that you should take on a journey, especially one in isolation. Playing this album in the woods, it became the soundtrack of my adventure; it made me feel one with nature and the stripped-down world around me. It’s ironic how sounds that are the product of high technology can bring us closer to the primitive environment around us. The 13:52 long “Some Distant Shadows” will always remind me of the rain falling on the rooftops of my cabin; alone there in the evening, you can sense the slightly ominous synth tones that Konrad is aiming for on this track. As it progresses, when the tribal rhythms kick in, it gives off a very intense, cinematic sensation that stays with you.

The spacey “The Spirits Dance” continues Konrad’s taste for film-score drama; it has a thumping, urgent beat that could be used for a Ridley Scott picture. Konrad utilizes phantom voices on “A Ritual Ceremony” to creepy effect. However, what probably stands out on Spirit Cave the most for me is the percussion, especially on “Deep Cave Dreaming,” wherein the drums have a 3-D effect that almost gives you the feeling that percussionists have invaded your private space.

http://www.mariokonrad.com