J.M. Faupel – Still Breathing / The Smiles You’ll Never See Again – EP Reviews
First off – if you haven’t read through the latest interview on our pages with artist J.M. Faupel – make sure you hit that up at some point, because he’ll give you a few details & tasty tidbits that’ll give you added insight into these records through his own words. He’s got two solid examples of different sides of his personality between the two EPs, and a whole lot of genuine heart & passion clearly invested into both records he’s put out there; you get the alt-rock-driven edge that roars through the Still Breathing EP and a haunting new set of instrumentals on his latest EP, The Smiles You’ll Never See Again.
And you know what? Even as different as the two records may be – I didn’t find myself feeling like I was left with a preference for one over the other – they both have something entirely worthwhile to listen to. Gotta start somewhere though…and those that know me well enough know I’ve got an intense need for symmetry & a logical flow in what I’m writing if I can help it…so we’re going chronological today – let’s examine Still Breathing first & then we’ll get into the new stuff J.M.’s got goin’ on with his latest.
The Still Breathing EP starts out with a seriously impressive first experience – the music of the opening cut “Abandoned” is insanely cool and full of sonic texture designed for maximum impact. If you check out J.M.’s channel at YouTube, you’ll see lots of cover material that affirms the fact that the rap/rock combo and influence of powerfully dynamic bands like Breaking Benjamin & Linkin Park definitely plays a significant role in what’s led him to a lot of the sounds on Still Breathing. “Abandoned” is a perfect example of taking that influence and making it boldly his own with his own confident approach; the stylistic verse is delivered smoothly and the transition into the song’s most gigantic moments in the chorus have J.M. sounding at his absolute best right off the bat in this first track. It’s got hooks that are impossible to ignore – but why would you want to tune this out when you could turn it way, way UP instead & do the right thing by the ears on your face when you’re clearly capable of making the choice? For real…the moment this cut kicks-in just prior to the twenty-second mark, it just takes off from there with J.M. making his presence completely known where it counts most by exploding in the chorus and bringing the entire song to the next-level & beyond. The additional piano notes filling the melody, especially in spots like the breakdown around the 2:30 mark make an incredible difference…the female vocals sound equally fantastic – but what makes that moment work even more is the seriously insightful way that J.M. brings this cut back to full strength. Don’t get me wrong – we KNOW that final explosion is coming…what you won’t see coming is just how well that road back to the grand finale of “Abandoned” is constructed. The final chorus run through delivers as powerfully as you’d hope before it strips the mayhem away to end this first cut on a wonderfully low-key note as it transitions the energy into “Entries.”
Now…normally…I’m not sure that I’d recommend having a slower jam like “Entries” follow a wild cut like “Abandoned,” because make no mistake – this is a large switch in direction and very early on. That being said, there are two things that make us completely ready to take this track in:
- The flow out of “Abandoned” and into “Entries” is absolutely seamless.
- You’ve got ears. “Entries” is just a really, really damn good song.
J.M. sings with a genuinely humble approach on what I truly felt became the gem of the EP the more that I listened to “Entries.” For a dude that can clearly throw the switch and ROCK whenever he wants to – the change of sound and direction on “Entries” sparkles in sincerity and authentic emotion through its low-key movements. That blossoming into the chorus is once again extraordinary, the drum beats come in at a slow pace but thunderous in sound, cueing-in the next evolution of “Entries” as it continues to add strings into the next verse and become even more of a ballad before climbing into its most expressive moments with the added kick-drum beat guiding the way. Structure and a slow reveal are key features here…evolution and expansion play essential roles…J.M. straight-up mines this tune for all it’s worth and heads into the highlight instrumental section of the record at the most amped-up moments of “Entries” before it slips back into its stunning, isolated & intimate sound before the end.
Let me tell ya what I love about the way J.M. sings…or have a listen to how he’s approached “Superhero” featuring Vitoria Re and you can have a pass on reading the rest…because that performance will tell you more about how I feel about it than I’ll be able to do justice through any words I’ll write. I think he’s done an exceptional job of singing this song with an exceptional, free-flowing honesty in his performance; ultimately, I can hear that there could have been many ways to approach this tune and perhaps even round out a few corners potentially even more – but in my opinion, it would likely lose some of the magic. J.M. makes this song really find a unique strain of existence by taking that clearly presented melody in the music and making the most of it through his own stylistic twists on the mic. Complemented perfectly by the talented Vitoria Re – her voice has the perfect textures and qualities that really suit the energy, vibe and overall sound of the song, making for a noteworthy duet. That first climb-up in the vocals around the fifty second mark, pre-chorus, is where I get chills every time – I fully dig that moment and think it’s brilliantly written. The exit from the chorus back into the instrumentation makes for equally powerful moments, also adding in that definition between parts allowing for a switch in singers as Vitoria Re comes in to nail her part as well. Didn’t seem to matter which of the two were performing that pre-chorus moment – that was the real payoff for me every time I heard it…credit obviously to both vocalists for their incredible singing, but also credit to the writing – that’s a highly memorable part. It’s a single worthy tune…for the bulk of it, I’ve got next to zero complaints…but I did find ONE oddity in this track that was so out of left-field…
…like…who CUT ONE in the studio during the recording?
I’ve gotta be entirely honest and call it like I hear it…whatever that tiny addition is at 3:38 and 3:42 – left so wide open and in the space of the sparsest moments of the whole song, whatever that sound is genuinely sounds like someone ripped ass and farted not-so-subtly off to the side. What I’m wondering here…is how anyone out there might hear that differently? I know that’s obviously not WHAT it is…but being left out there so naked like that in the mix…I mean…you gotta admit, it kinda sounds like that visit with your unwanted uncle doesn’t it? Whoever it is or whatever it is cuts one final blast around 4:02 and the song rips back into place; the ultimate point being, it’s a noticeably odd inclusion on what’s otherwise more or less designed to flow smoothly into the ears without question – it stands out. Bizarre choice J.M.! I might have to ask about this moment when we do the video interview we’ve got set up with him for SBS Live This Week.
“Blinding Eyes” is just a freakin’ great tune with a ton of memorable highlights in it. From the powerful movement & definition in the structure’s loud/quiet dynamics, to the exceptional lyrics, vocals and hooks in the chorus – “Blinding Eyes” has a lot to offer the ol’ ears. J.M. kind of reminds me of Scott Anderson of Finger Eleven on this tune…even the sound of the song itself pretty much qualifies as what could be one of the better F11 tunes. J.M. really finds his strengths in the choruses of his material – I pretty much always think he sounds good or great between the different approaches he takes as a singer – but I think he always undeniably brings it when the song calls on him most to do it. So even though he’s crushing it on “Blinding Eyes” at all times essentially – he still finds a way to raise the stakes and get even more from himself when it comes to the big-big moments. I really appreciate the confidence he’s got when it comes to his vocals and think the commitment he has to his material leads to the stunning execution and focused performances he commands. “Blinding Eyes” is exceptionally strong, heavy on the alt-rock and ready to roar to life whenever given the opportunity to do so. Lyrically, I think “Blinding Eyes” might have been the highlight of the set for me as well…I really dig “Entries” for that same element…I’m not interested in splitting the tie between the two for something like that when they’re two completely different gears, sentiments & intentions…but yeah, both real highlights for the words of Faupel. The flow of “Blinding Eyes” is massively powerful and effective – when it comes to this tune, he’s got the JUICE and you can tell he’s feeling every second of this cut.
Bringing back “Superhero” in an acoustic variation for the end of the EP, J.M.’s done a great job of identifying one of the record’s most accessible tunes and putting it out there in multiple ways to catch the attention. I’ll put it to you this way…having it come out sounding successful in both forms speaks to the strength in the songwriting and how it’s able to translate, adapt, & thrive in two completely different gears & energies. If you pinned me right down to the mat, I’d probably side with the electric version due to the raw power it has when it shifts in its electrified sound between verse & chorus…but I fully support this second version as being the variation on “Superhero” that reveals the grace & beauty potentially hidden in between the lines and roar of the original, bringing it right to the forefront of our attention. Vitoria Re lends a real assist in making that happen, sounding bold and beautiful with her voice drifting perfectly into the added string sounds in the atmosphere. Satisfying end to the Still Breathing EP and with the two versions being so massively different in their end results, shouldn’t affect how quickly you’ll try to wear this song out…it can withstand the heat of repetition.
But then, I’d argue that all of this can. Excellent job on the debut EP.
I wouldn’t want to take a single thing away from the songs he’s written on Still Breathing and the way he’s performed them…there’s such fantastic kinetic energy running through that EP.
That being said…what he achieved on The Smiles You’ll Never See Again was nothing short of breathtaking. He mentions in the interview we just did with J.M. that it would be “super dangerous, on my part, to assume fans of Still Breathing will just listen to The Smiles You’ll Never See Again and not do a double take” – and he’s certainly correct about that, they undoubtedly will. Is everyone going to respond to this new EP as positively as I do? No. But he knows that. It’s just a completely different style of music that some people really ‘get’ and others really don’t…we’re not talking the flashy choruses and monumental moments of the Still Breathing EP – we’re as stripped-down and vulnerable as it gets in instrumental/ambient terrain…and MAN is it INCREDIBLE. Consider me to be one of the people that DOES ‘get’ it…because I absolutely loved every second of The Smiles You’ll Never See Again and wish it could pretty much go on forever. The intricate guitar work is jaw-dropping, the melody of “Olive Branch: Death Of Mind” is absolutely amazing…the harmonic roll that J.M. goes on, the way he uses the body of the guitars and natural sound of the strings to his advantage…I mean, what about this song ISN’T mind-blowing? I mentioned in our interview that it reminded me of that intricate, gentle nature of the music of Mimicking Birds and I certainly stand by that…I think “Olive Branch: Death Of Mind” is damn near one of the most gorgeous instrumentals I’ve ever personally heard, truly. Did I do a double-take in switching from the rock-flavored sound of Still Breathing to The Smiles You’ll Never See Again? At least, if not a triple or quadruple-take…it’s that dramatic of a switch – but this is where you also recognize that J.M. is in this whole music-thing for many more reasons than to just do any one thing – that he’s revealed himself to be a genuine artist in pursuit of specific goals…another aspect he’s referenced somewhat in the interview when talking about this record. I mentioned you should read that right? Okay good. Point being – he’s put himself out there MASSIVELY as an artist in creating a song like “Olive Branch: Death Of Mind” after rocking so convincingly on the record prior – but I’d suspect that this is a risk that could certainly be worth taking and likely revealed the many benefits of finding that courage to go in an entirely new direction. It can be incredibly freeing…and I’d imagine that J.M. has felt that by now, which will likely lead him to even more creative breakthroughs over the years to follow…believe me, this guy’s just getting warmed up and he’s already kicking all the ass.
It’ll be interesting to hear where J.M. goes from here, to say the very least. He’s clearly a versatile musician open to multiple directions of sound and limited only by his own imagination, which so far, through the range of styles between songs on his two EPs, has proven to be somewhat limitless. I’d always expect something new and fresh from an artist like this…best believe I’ll be listening to whatever J.M. comes up with in the future – he’s got an insightfully innovative approach that will always bring something new to the table and something enticing to the ears.
Find out more about J.M. Faupel from his official pages below!
Official Website: https://jmfaupel.wixsite.com/faupelmusic