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Nearly three years since the release of 'Not Utopia' and former Violet Hour vocalist and prolific solo artist/collaborator Doris Brendel continues her partnership with ex-Cenobyte/ex-Primary Slave guitarist Lee Dunham for a new album, 'Upside Down World'. With songs characterised, once again, by genre-hopping eclecticism, it's as varied a listen as their 2012 full-length. However, some notable changes and progression are evident throughout. First, gone are the sampled drums of 'Not Utopia', in favour of using an actual sticksman. That's the first axiomatic distinction to be made, and Steve Clark's playing has been captured nicely in all its analogue glory. In fact, there's a distinctly warm, analogue sound to the whole production, at the skilled hand of Lee himself, thus instrumentations and vocals sound organic and alive throughout, and with just the right amount of studio polish so as not to detract from its analogue essence. In an age all too often defined and marred by clinical, over-produced works, it's always refreshing to encounter an album that actually sounds like real people playing real music.

Doris' raspy/husky-edged vocals are perhaps what ties together this album with the last, although it's testament to her expressive voice in that her singing is wholly malleable within the context of the varying instrumentations over which she sings. Be it rock, metal, pop, folk, funk, or soul, or a fusion of any of those, her voice is so stylistically adaptable in the most subtly cunning of ways. I think it comes down to the fact that if you have the ability to express that much emotion through your voice then you're able to not only ride the moods of each of the instrumentations, but also embellish them with a greater affective depth. This, Doris does ever so well, on each and every track on the album.

Song-wise, as I already noted, it's all about sonic heterogeneity once again. But there's been some progression here too, with a healthy dose of rock/metal idioms that rear their head throughout certain tracks. This manifests most emphatically during 'Slap Me and You Die'. In fact, some cheekily introduced distorted guitar in the fade-out of 'Adored' is a precursor to the rocked up 'Slap Me...' which, midway through, takes the heaviness up a few notches with an unexpected, though befitting and most welcome, lengthy instrumental passage of prog-metal innovation, flavoured with Maiden-esque guitars that follow a Metallica/'One' style segue. A new subgenre of 'Doris Metal' perhaps? Perhaps not, although it's an example of the widened palette both Lee and Doris are working within on this new album, and indicative of the progression within their compositional proclivities. And indicative of Lee's metal roots - you can't repress those metal tendencies for too long!

But, of course, 'Upside Down World' is all about stylistic diversity in essence, so beyond the greater rock/metal bias of certain tracks, there are numbers such as the more commercially accessible, hit-potential, 'Accessorise' (this album's 'Going Out', if you will), a bouncy electro-pop-rock tune with melodies that'll invade your psyche and reside there forevermore. The piano-centric 'Tumbling Away' and 'Adored' provide vocally soulful, balladic fodder, while the harmonica-infused, acoustic guitar-based title track eschews melancholia for a more optimistically inclined soulful pop/folk piece. 'A Little Act of Defiance' is as good a song as has ever been written, ever - a minimalistic, melancholic piano-based intro is built upon with vocals, strings, guitars, bass, drums etc. as it's neatly worked into a crescendo of increasing emotional intensities, complete with a few progressive twists. Atmospherically epic is the only way to describe this track. Then there's the album closer, 'Life is a Mushroom', with instrumental sonics and vocal diversity that match the erraticism of its title - 70s reggae, funk and ska-esque passages all blend into an amusingly deranged whole.

There's a whole lot more, of course, on an album that's pleasingly expansive with each of the varying moods and emotions it engenders, and I could ramble on for another few hundred words, yet still not do justice to its musically wondrous charms. That can only be attained through the listening experience... so what are you waiting for? Buy this album now and allow yourself to become immersed by its emotionally profound core. Oh, and it seems to keep getting better and better with each listen so, despite its accessibility, it's also a bit of a grower. The best kind of album, I say. Maybe if I waited another couple of months, I'd have to award this full marks!
Sky Rocket Records
Review by Mark Holmes
20th April 2015
1) The Devil Closed the Door On Me
2) Adored
3) Slap Me and You Die
4) Accessorise
5) Tumbling Away
6) A Little Act of Defiance
7) Upsidedown World
8) Still Running
9) Life is a Mushroom
"With songs characterised, once again, by genre-hopping eclecticism, it's as varied a listen as their 2012 full-length."