Azwel – The Drifting Game

 Azwel – The Drifting Game

Azwel – The Drifting Game – Album Review

It’s been about four years since we first learned about the music of Azwel and interviewed its main man behind the music, Jason Perrillo on our pages here.  It’s been about two years since the release of their previous record called XV, or one if you count the most recent compilation called Nifty Fifty that came out in the last quarter of 2022.  If you’ve been tuning into the SBS Podcast throughout the years, you know that we’ve been proudly spinning some of the tracks we’ve purloined from out yonder on the ol’ internet as well – but it’s probably about time we actually reviewed one of their records on this site of ours, wouldn’t you say?  And what better place to start than the one that’s coming out November 1st?

The Drifting Game opens up with its title-track, launching you into the set-list with a dose of instantly inviting and warm acoustic-based sound.  No stranger to the process with a massive catalog to prove it, Azwel has been putting out records since like…what…2006?  Somewhere around there?  Jason knows what he wants to get out of his sound and what he wants to put out there for the world to hear, and it’s fair to say you can expect a professional approach & a whole lot of crafted artistry in the songwriting you’ll find.  “The Drifting Game” starts the record with dreamy vibes and vibrant instrumentation in the mix for ya – it genuinely sounds like an opening song, know what I mean?  Like, you can practically picture this track starting up a show live from the stage – “The Drifting Game” features clever layers of vocals & harmonies, sweetened hooks for the chorus, and a sound that’s got real appeal and allure to it.

As far as I’ve seen online, “Roleplaying” is the track that’s been floated online in advance of the official release of The Drifting Game – and it makes for a good choice as a single.  I’m a big fan of what I hear in the chorus of this cut as far as the main hooks are concerned, and Jason does an exceptional job singing this second song on his new record as well.  How about that breakdown too?  Right smack in the middle of “Roleplaying,” you get a really clean listen to Jason’s voice & vocal melody at the heart of this song, and then as the instrumentation comes back, you gotta love how smooth everything sounds and how enticing the whole vibe truly is.  It’s a fairly full mix to some degree – everything you’ll hear is somewhat on an equal playing field, which I suppose might make it a bit tougher to appreciate a few of the dynamics that are involved, but if you’re paying attention and really listening, there shouldn’t be an issue.  It’s kind of got a similarly playful bounce to the verses like you’d find in a track like “Coffee And TV” by Blur from back in the day…the sound is different of course, but some of ya will know what I’m getting at in that comparison.  In any event, I feel like if you weren’t immediately sold on “The Drifting Game” as the album began, there’s a solid chance that “Roleplaying” will win over any last hold-outs.  It’s got that perfect balance between sweet melody and the hazy sway of Pop that no one can resist.

Great keys in the mix at the beginning of “Happy Mistakes” as Azwel starts to weave its tapestry of contrasting emotions.  Listen to the way everything sharpens up around the 1:15 mark though will ya?  I probably would have enjoyed this tune well enough if had stayed in its low-key energy at the start, but it was a genuine surprise to hear the bass & drums come in to raise the stakes this track.  Arguably, there’s a bit more art involved in this tune on a structural level…like, there are hooks don’t get me wrong, but you can feel like they’re less of a priority in a song like this one, at least in my opinion.  What I can tell ya for a certain fact that we can all agree on universally, is that the guitar solo that comes in around the four minute mark absolutely crushes – from the texture to the tone, it’s a massive highlights and would go on to remain one of my favorite moments on the record altogether, even after multiple spins through it over this past week or so.  That’d be one of those ‘not so much what you play as it is how you play it’ type moments – the solo itself isn’t overly complex, but the way Jason has played it is truly remarkable.

“Broken Reflections” is decent.  Keep in mind, I have the inherent bias of being an Azwel fan – so it’d be extremely rare for me to feel like I’d want to turn something off or skip to the next track, you feel me?  That being said, I think we’re all partial to this or that, even in the music of the bands & artists we love the most.  I don’t mind “Broken Reflections” – and YOU might even love it!  It’s not really the part of Azwel that I’d say I’m really tuning in for personally, but as I always say on these pages of ours, as long as you’re giving the material everything you’ve got, you put yourself in a position where any tune could become someone’s favorite.  I really dig the way the finale comes about in a gradual way on “Broken Reflections” and feel like the main fireworks of this song are right there in the end – that’s where I find myself the most interested in this cut, but I’d also be the first to tell ya that it’s as tight as any other tune on the album too.  Azwel knows how to execute on a professional level, there’s never any doubt about that…so from there, it’s really all just a matter of personal taste and what resonates the most with each of us as individuals.  It’s somewhat like what you’d get in a cross between The Strokes and Keane I’d say.

For myself personally, I didn’t even get ten seconds into “A Space For Two” before I knew that THIS song was the kind of cut I always hope to find somewhere on an Azwel record.  You can just feel the beauty in this track from the very start, and I felt like Jason couldn’t have gotten anything more outta this song than he already did.  “A Space For Two” is one of those tunes that really merges a classic & timeless vibe with that modern Indie-Rock sincerity so many of us find irresistible…I was sold long before the guitar solo came along.  That main hook of the chorus when Jason sings “when the last of it all comes down” is exceptional by every conceivable definition.  To me, that’s kind of always been the magic of Azwel at its finest…Perrillo knows exactly how to create melodies and tones that connect to our hearts & minds, and you can hear that at work in the way he sings “A Space For Two,” and the guitar that eventually comes into play.  You feel the emotion and the weight of conviction…it’s the sound of a guy that is feeling the moment every bit as much as we are on our side of the speakers, you follow me?  I genuinely think he’s got an all-out timeless tune with “A Space For Two” – this track is powerfully moving & all-out gorgeous.

“Beyond An Orchestration” sharpens the clarity of the sound in production and makes great use of the space in tandem.  I’ve always appreciated that Azwel doesn’t always go for easy-to-digest mainstream hooks inside of every single tune, even though it’s plenty clear that a songwriter like Perrillo clearly could if he felt so inclined.  To my ears, it’s always sounded like the craft and the art has been more important to Jason, and his music in Azwel seems to really reflect an authentic love of the game overall that keeps him honest with his material.  He goes where the music takes him, and I feel like his natural instincts continually lead him to victories defined in various ways.  When it comes to “Beyond An Orchestration,” you kind of have to sit back, listen, and really marvel at the thoughtful degree of art he’s put on display here.  It’s a really well written tune to begin with, but the performance-minded approach he takes to the execution of this idea is what brings out the best in it.  I don’t know that I’d expect this song to make the instant impact something like “Roleplaying” or even “A Space For Two” would with most people – at least at first – but with time & repetition, I think listeners will recognize what a strong addition to the lineup “Beyond An Orchestration” really is & become more attached as they listen to it.  Great cinematic-style emotion to this tune that’s very vivid and clear; like you can see it as you hear it.

“Unstoppable” also possesses that universal sound ears will be able to instantly recognize.  I don’t know if I’d necessarily say it ended up being one of my own personal favorites on this particular record, but I’d still be looking at “Unstoppable” as a potential single regardless.  And don’t get it twisted – I still totally dig it – I’m just saying that I’m more in the realm of “A Space For Two” personally is all, that’s where I’m at.  Would I put on “Unstoppable” and ever skip ahead to the next track?  Heck no!  Never happened, not even once, not even long after I became familiar with the album’s lineup.  It’s a great tune by many measures, and quite honestly delivers what’s sure to be one of the most memorable hooks you’ll find in any corner of The Drifting Game.  The verses were already completely enticing to listen to, but you’ll know what I’m talking about when you hear the chorus – it’s the kind of melody/words that’ll stick with ya long after you’ve stopped listening & you’ll probably be singing this for weeks after you pushed play.  I suppose this is what I was getting at earlier on though when I was telling you that Jason could write a track like “Unstoppable” at every opportunity if that’s what he wanted to do – and there’s no question in my mind that he’d have a long string of spectacular hits in the court of public opinion if he chose to go that route – but personally, I think he’s got a lot more art inside his ideas to offer the world and that’s the part of Azwel that keeps this project eternally unique.  I’d readily tell ya that “Unstoppable” is a freakin’ great tune – I’d never say otherwise.  Do I think Jason could fall out of bed and write a song like this with the skills he has?  Yes.  Yes I do.  That doesn’t make it any less irresistible in the final results we hear.  In fact, I’d guarantee this will be one of the songs he gets the most positive comments towards.  No shame in that y’all – that’s the effect of universal sound that has the ability to pull us all in to listen.

I’d also probably take “Unstoppable” before “No Exit” too if I’m being truthful with ya.  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Again, there’s no drop in the quality of Azwel’s execution, so it’s really about what does or doesn’t resonate with you on a personal level.  I like it…I’m not like, gonna write my cousin overseas and say they have to stop whatever they’re doing to listen to “No Exit,” but it’s still a good tune.  I went back & forth about how I felt about this particular cut, and I still feel like I’m likely being too harsh on it – it’s good, it’s good!  There, I said it.  Hearing Jason really belt out his vocals is probably the highlight for me here…he makes “No Exit” sound like it’d be a genuinely fun song to play live, and it’s a pretty bulletproof tune that would be hard to levy any substantial complaints about – and I’m not the guy that’s gonna just create conflict where none is required.  It’s tough to make an album of fourteen songs and not experience some highs & lows in terms of what we like most.  I feel like there’s a good chance that in a couple of months, I might even feel completely different about “No Exit” or how necessary its inclusion into this album could be…this seems like the kind of song that’ll grow on me for sure.  As of the time I’m writing this, I feel like it’s decent…”No Exit” is a reliable tune without question, and I feel like it’s memorable too…there are lots of positive aspects to it that can’t be ignored.

I’ve said a million times on these pages of ours that there is but a mere handful of perfect records with more than twelve songs on’em…and that anything longer than that, chances are you’ll find a spot here & there that could potentially have been adjusted for the benefit of the album.  It takes a harsh degree of objectivity that’s extremely tough to apply as an artist – you put all that time into making something special, and who would want that to end up on the cutting room floor?  Like, to me, looking at this lineup of tunes objectively, I’d probably have cut “Quiet Birthday Ballad” – and again, I’m not even saying that I don’t like the song, the song is fine.  Does it further The Drifting Game overall?  I’m likely not as convinced about that.  Azwel doesn’t tend to release a lot of songs outside of albums and EPs as far as I can tell…but yeah…I’d probably switch things up a little and maybe put out a track like this on its own in between projects or new records, which should take the pressure off that next upcoming release as well.  Execution-wise, “Quiet Birthday Ballad” is stellar, so again, don’t get me wrong – good tune, but the question is whether or not the album could have tightened up a little bit or the flow might have benefitted by not necessarily including everything…and I suppose we’ll never really know the answer to that.  The beauty & melody we love from this band is completely present in “Quiet Birthday Ballad,” but the inspired spark we love in Azwel isn’t quite as noticeable in this tune…I guess that’s what I’m sayin.’

Sometimes consistency can practically become an enemy in the art of creation, know what I mean?  Azwel is so freakishly consistent across the board that it can be tougher for the material to break through in the way that it truly should, especially in the context of a longer album.  Like, I look at a song like “At My Own Admission” and I feel like this song should probably be more of a moment in time than it feels like it becomes at this particular point in the lineup.  All-in-all, I just don’t want to see anything on a record like this get ignored or not get its full due credit for being as well-written/performed as these songs are.  “At My Own Admission” has a good degree of fluidity to it that I feel like people will like, even if it seems like it might be a bit too gentle in sound to get listeners excited to come right back to it for another listen.  The hooks are tangible though…and that could very well prove to be enough – time will tell the true story when it comes right down to it.  I’d say that “At My Own Admission” earns my attention the most over the course of the last minute within its solos/instrumental finale, but that’s not to take anything away from the way Jason sings this tune either.  Sometimes music can be so “content” or laidback that it simply becomes tougher to feel like we NEED to hear a song again, but tracks like “At My Own Admission” end up being much more mood-dependent – you’ll know exactly when you want to reach for a song like this, and when you feel like that’s the case, it’ll be there to deliver what you want.

Love me or hate me, you always know where I stand and that I’m tellin’ ya how I really feel.  I’d be the first to tell ya that I was a little worried about “The Aftermath” being a bit too sleepy at this section of the record on that initial spin through The Drifting Game – but I absolutely loved the uniqueness of the way Jason’s designed the verses in this song.  So…sure…maybe the energy is way dialed back and low-key at first, but the level of fascination increases & compensates for that perfectly, and then right about when I was questioning whether or not Azwel needed to pick things up a bit, the chorus breaks through like a breath of fresh air when it was truly needed most.  Beyond that – LISTEN to the way this song fills in around the 3:30 mark too – it’s magnificent!  If anything, I ended up feeling like “The Aftermath” just had a more complex spot in the set-list to fill.  No complaints from me here though…not that I’ve really been making any to begin with if you’ve been following along closely with what I’ve had to say…but yeah – “The Aftermath” is a real gem on this record that is a highlight on both main sides of Azwel’s dynamics.  From the delicate melodies at the start, to the expanded brightness and warmth of the chorus, you get a range of sound that connects from every angle on “The Aftermath” – and that final transition into the instrumentation around the 3:30 mark is truly the cherry on top.  Memorable hooks, welcoming sound, positive message…there’s a lot to like and/or love about “The Aftermath,” and I suspect we’ll all feel that way about it.  Jason’s songwriting is truly stunning on this tune; it’s a highlight in the Azwel catalog.

Ooooooo!  There we go!  Right as I felt like I could hear the magic I was looking for on “Lancaster Excursion,” we get the horns coming in for an assist that took it up a whole level beyond expectation!  Then to hear the piano come out with such passion, sincerity, and melody combined…I’m loving that too!  The vocals you’ll hear in “Lancaster Excursion” are really just vocalizations, but as you’ll find me saying countless times on these pages of ours, more often than not, those can be extremely effective, which they prove to be here in this Azwel tune.  I mean…I’d go as far as to say that not only was “Lancaster Excursion” one of the most welcome surprises I found in this lineup of songs, but I’d also say that it was easily one of my favorites on The Drifting Game too.  It’s a real case of a song having everything it needed to have in my opinion.  It’s comforting, inviting, endearing – charming really – I couldn’t take my ears off this tune and felt like this instrumentally-based cut has that real magic of Azwel at its finest melodically.  When things are right in the realm of music, it’s something that we can all collectively feel as we listen – and that’s the real key here.  Sure, “Lancaster Excursion” might be low-key in energy in a comparative way to other cuts I wasn’t as fond of…sure it might be understated as a track could possibly ever be when it comes right down to it – but you FEEL that connection to every ticking second and the LIFE in this song’s veins.  It reminds me a lot of music by Beirut on the first couple of records, and I’d be willing to bet an extended version of this song would be unforgettable played live.

Awesome to hear such strong material in the final quarter of this record.  “Guilty All The Way” is likely to be another universally agreed upon tune from The Drifting Game…the only thing I’m not sure about is whether there’s another way to listen to this track that would have a person somehow not enjoying it!  For real – I think it’s probably one of the easiest cuts on the whole album to like or love.  Does that make it a single?  Honestly, I don’t know!  I mean, it should considering that universal vibes usually make for a strong candidate in that regard…but I’d probably still go with something like “Unstoppable” before this for some reason or another…not sure if I can actually pin that down any better as to why.  That being said, Azwel’s got a completely killer hook buried even further into this tune, somewhere around the 2:30 mark long after you’ve already been given a wealth of reasons to dig this song before it appears.  Will we take another reason to love “Guilty All The Way” though?  Of course!  Why not!  Every hook is welcome here in these ears of mine, and I’m sure you’ll feel the same.  Great warmth in the bass here, stellar sparkle in the guitars, crisp drums, stunning vocals…this is another heckin’ perfect track to add to the Azwel catalog, and another unquestionable audible victory on this album that I wouldn’t dare to suggest any changes to.  If there was a way to somehow get more outta this song than we’re currently hearing, you know I’d tell ya…but the reality is, Jason has got this track nailed down tight as tight can be.

“The Longest Day Of Your Life” wraps up the album conclusively with another solid melody.  Lyrically it’s somewhat a reflection of what living is like overall…”The Longest Day Of Your Life” likely referring to the similarities we find in our day to day routines.  It’s a quality last cut though…gentle, delicate, beautiful – Jason’s vocals are as remarkable as ever at the end of The Drifting Game too…lots to love about this last track for sure.  Did it make for a better ending than say, “The Aftermath” might have?  Who knows…I probably shouldn’t dive into pointless hypotheticals given that the album has already been laid out and this is the order you’ll find it in when it gets its official release this November 1st.  I ain’t unhappy with the way The Drifting Game ends – how about that?  How about I just say that, and leave it at that – y’all happy?  Us critical-types tend to needlessly overcomplicate things when we’re not too careful, and I’ve probably done a bunch of that throughout this review myself.  It happens.  The reality is, from start to finish, if you’re an Azwel fan, I can’t imagine there’d be any reason you wouldn’t want to spin this record, and if you’re just discovering the band, there’s plenty of reasons worth tuning in for throughout this lineup.  Jason’s a multi-talented musician without a doubt, and a gifted songwriter to the nth degree – it’s always a pleasure to listen to what he’s come up with next.  The Drifting Game has the ups & downs naturally found in any album (especially them longer ones folks!) but the vast majority of the material sparkles & shines with quality ideas, moving melodies, and the brilliantly crafted songwriting that has built the longevity of Azwel’s music throughout the years, and will keep it flowing in the future.

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