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Seal – Seal IV

Seal IV is proof that after a lengthy layaway, this once dread-locked crooner still has the knack for writing transcending music that is as equally appealing, as its capacity to move.

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Where does one go after winning a Grammy? It is, after all, the supposed pinnacle of a musician’s career; the plateau in which conventional types are ultimately judged by in the end. Winning one means endless praise from super neat music magazines, critical acclaim, giant posters in the most remote corners of the world and the tag “Grammy Winning Artist” that will forever be a prefix to their name. Seal is no stranger to this experience, in 1995 his track “Kiss From a Rose” featured in the movie Batman Forever (the beginning of the end of the ‘Batman’ franchise) and propelled him into the musical stratosphere, landing him Grammys for Record & Song of the Year and Best Male Pop Vocal. This was his peak – at least commercially speaking, because when you’ve hit the very top, the only place to go is down (a word of warning for you Mr. Mayer, make sure you reserve your seat next to Ms. Jones in the “depressed artist dealing with after-Grammy slump” clinic; you can share a room with long staying residents Ms. Keys and Ms. Furtado – I could go own, its endless).

It has taken nearly 9 years, 5 since his last release, but it appears as if Seal has finally shed away that Grammy fat and produced an album that has the potential to once again, hoist him into the upper echelon of adult contemporary artists. The gawkily titled Seal IV is perhaps his premium blend of R&B, dance beat tunes, pop melodies and love ballads; an album that boasts ooh-la-la and plenty of hip-shaking potential.

“Get it Together” is a grand number, suave and club savvy, it features Seal’s distinctive voice over a well distributed dance beat that spends periods hushed beneath the vocals, splitting time as the track’s main component. His voice is without doubt a great asset, in “Love’s Divine”, the instruments are mostly subdued, tracked to keep rhythm while his vast enlightening pipes rain down like the drought’s end. It is a familiar trend throughout this release, the one quality that shines far above the rest and soaks in attention grabbing ability. In “Waiting for You”, Seal lets the instruments do some talking; a spidery bass line coupled with blaring orchestral horn work make it the album’s prime instrumental offering, but not surprisingly, kept vital by Seal’s soulful vocal front.

Few can doubt his ability to compose radio accessible adult contemporary charms, he (along with producer Trevor Horn) writes as well for the dance floor as he does for the bedroom. Seal IV is proof that after a lengthy layaway, this once dread-locked crooner still has the knack for writing transcending music that is as equally appealing, as its capacity to move. It takes awhile to achieve post-critical-acclaim success; some take years to once again reach that level, some never do. Let’s just hope that Seal doesn’t win another Grammy anytime soon.

(Warner Bros.)

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Berwanger – Watching a Garden Die

Josh Berwanger continues to evolve as a songwriter

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At the height of Vagrant Records’ early success in the late 90s, the label was buoyed by the incredible draw of their two biggest names- The Get Up Kids and Saves the Day. And while those two bands took a chunk of the notoriety, there were plenty of great bands that called the label home. One of those bands was The Anniversary. The Lawrence, Kansas band shared musical similarities with both TGUK and Saves the Day, but were unafraid to branch off into slightly more synthesised terrain that gave their songs an added element. Coupled with their super easy to digest harmonies and fantastic male/female vocals, songs like “The D in Detroit” still has a place in countless “favorite playlists” all these years later.

Since their initial break-up, guitarist and vocalist Josh Berwanger has been busy writing and recording a bevy of music under the moniker Berwanger. His recent discography is a talented kaleidoscope of songs that traverse genres from folk and indie, to more rock and straight forward singer/songwriter fare. There was plenty to like on his 2016 album Exorcism Rock, an album that delved into a little bit of psychedelia and fuzzed out indie rock. His 2017 album And the Star Invaders saw a gradual move away from the more electrified to the imaginative kind of singer/songwriter we’ve seen from the likes of Devendra Banhart. True to form, Berwanger continues to evolve as a songwriter, and his latest, Watching A Garden Die, is the next chapter in his thriving songwriter cabinet.

The gloomily titled record is mostly upbeat and diverse. While he may have shown a kinship to indie/folk songwriting of the Banharts and Obersts of the world previously, Watching a Garden Die features the kind of seasoned and more classic toned work you’d find on a Crosby, Stills & Nash record, or even a Paul Simon record. Songs like the softly, almost whispered “Even the Darkness Doesn’t Know”, and quietly moody, introspective “Paper Blues” (until that electric guitar solo hits) harks back to a time long ago of unfettered hair and soulful folk music. The album’s best moment is probably a combination of the wistful, pedal-steel toned Americana of “When I Was Young” and the equally effective, spacey indie rock of “The Business of Living”. The latter giving Grandaddy a run for their money in that music department. These two songs in particular showcase an artist fully aware and capable of his abilities to craft music that’s personal but exhibits the kind of draw you want from a record this close to the heart.

The album doesn’t have the more ruckus moments Berwanger exhibited in his earlier work (outside of perhaps, the more upbeat power-pop, new wavy “Bad Vibrations”). At times the album takes just a few listens to grab you. But when you listen to songs like the spritely “Friday Night” and the somber reflection of the twangy “I Keep Telling Myself” a few times more, you find the depth of the record. There are elements that reveal themselves on the second, third, fourth listen, and that’s rewarding.

Berwanger’s songwriting ability was never in doubt, and his new material continues to expand his songwriting reach. Watching a Garden Die, while not a frantic effort, is quiet composure.

(Wiretap Records)

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Reviews

Fences – Failure Sculptures

Failure Sculptures is a steady outing

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Christopher Mansfield, under his alter-ego, Fences, has made himself well known through the collaborations with Macklemore and Tegan & Sara. It’s set him up with well-deserved excitement for his new album Failure Sculptures. The genre of pop scores a good reputation with artists like Fences. I wouldn’t necessarily categorize this album as pop, but Failure Sculptures has catchy songs that will appeal to a large scale, however it keeps the integrity of accomplished music. Each song provides a story that allows you to drift into your own thoughts. He also uses idioms like there is no tomorrow.

“A Mission” is a lower-toned song that launches the album with an echoing sound of voice and guitar, and it sets an example of the whimsical type of music that is shown throughout the album. Mansfield has a way with words and was definitely listening in English class. A+ for storytelling. OK, you twisted my arm, I’ll point out some idioms: “body sways like trees in a storm” sung in “Paper Route” and “lately I just pass by like a cloud” heard in “Brass Band”. It’s a great way to paint a picture in your listeners head.  

“Same Blues” exposes a folk side to Fences. It has a lovely addition of cello in the background. It is enchanting and flows so well, which makes a terrific inclusion to the album. The plucking and acoustic sound of “Wooden Dove” has a powerful effect, and suits the song well. It follows the theme of echoes and storytelling. Although “War Kid” is a song about divorce, it is a pleasant way to end the album, and it features more idioms; “tears falling like bombs“.

This type of music allows you to drift and flow in and out of your own thoughts. It’s a friendly haunting and emotionally driven set of songs (and don’t forget about the idioms), and while it is quite predictable in a pleasant way, Failure Sculptures is a steady outing.

(GRNDVW)

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