Paul Denis – A Passing Storm

 Paul Denis – A Passing Storm

Paul Denis – A Passing Storm – Album Review

Been looking forward to getting this review out there for you fine people.  If you tuned into the last episode of the SBS Podcast, you’ve already heard a whole bunch of great things about the man behind the music, along with a double-shot sample of Paul Denis’ debut record, A Passing Storm.  First off…if you haven’t checked that episode out, do that here – but to catch you up to speed quickly, essentially Paul is like a great many of you out there…a man with a dream.  Throughout his life, he’s been the responsible family man and loving father, devoting his time to making sure their needs were met and as a result, kept the idea of making music on the backburner for many years – but he never let the dream die.  His ties to music remained incredibly strong…and even though he spent a long time as a listener, he never gave up the notion that one day he’d be able to put his own music out there in some way, shape or form.

And it’s in saying all that, that I’d like to announce…ladies & gentlemen…we got’em!  A Passing Storm quickly confirms what Paul has known all along…that the music has always existed inside him…that it’s just been waiting for the chance & opportunity to get out there & into the world – and now it has.  Surrounding himself with a fantastic cast of ace-musicians to help bring these songs to life, I can only imagine how ecstatic Paul must truly be with how this entire record came out sounding…it’s gorgeous.

Flipping through the radio stations in effort to find one that’s suitable for us all to listen to, the opening intro of “Message” begins with vocal samples & intentional static before it slides into fantastic string sounds and a brilliantly recorded answering-machine style sample from what we can assume is likely Paul’s own son to start the album.  Right off the bat, “Message” gives you something unique to listen to – A Passing Storm will remain staunchly diverse and versatile throughout its thirteen songs and evolve in spectacular ways, but there’s no argument about this first track – Paul has started this album with a seriously stunning tune.  The gradual building and flow of “Message” has such an enormously powerful and uplifting sound to it, swelling with an audible confidence before collapsing and vanishing completely into a crack of thunder that brings this first experience to a sudden ending, leaving just the sounds of the innocent answering-machine “Message” to finish the song on their own.  For a first impression…for an opening song…MAN is this a statement!  “Message” is brilliantly arranged and played to perfection.

“In The Afterlife (Part I)” rises up like the sunshine of a brand-new day.  Filled with flowing, dreamy string sounds, you can’t help but notice the incredible amount of imagination that goes into a composition like this.  You’ll find lots of potential for where Paul’s music could theoretically exist out there in the world…a song like this would be an excellent contribution to a film score.  While subtle, “In The Afterlife (Part I)” reveals its magic slowly, the attention to detail in this melody and the execution is top-notch all the way through, rising up to a truly majestic and awe-inspiring sound as it hits its full stride.  Certainly the kind of song that has tangibly captivating qualities and the structure in the composition really leads “In The Afterlife (Part I)” in all the right directions, expanding on the sound of “Message” and assisting the steady blooming of the beginning stages of A Passing Storm before heading into one of its most energetic, innovative, & up-tempo vibes with the next track to follow.

If you DID check out the last episode of the SBS Podcast, the first track you heard from A Passing Storm was called “30 Beacons Of Hope” – and I chose this one because it’s a seriously tight tune that perfectly represents the mix of progressive ideas in Paul’s music with a modern electro-twist in its movement that I’d imagine likely appeals to a whole lot of you fine people out there.  I’ll fully admit…”30 Beacons Of Hope” is somewhat of an anomaly on this particular record…it’s really got its own sound & approach in comparison to the rest and is certainly a jolt of energy that quickly bursts into A Passing Storm from where we’ve been and what we’ve already experienced in the album’s first two cuts.  But again, I’d imagine that this is quite a welcome sound in most of the ears out there…there’s great texture to this tune and wildly vibrant sounds that come bouncing out from the speakers on “30 Beacons Of Hope.”

Although Paul will occasionally hand off the vocal duties on this record, he also sings a decent tune himself, and he does so several times on this album, beginning with “Crazy Night.”  Of all the tracks he sings on, this first tune is probably my favorite of his performances…I loved the laidback & dreamy vibes of “Crazy Night” and felt like the added wonder you can hear supplied by his vocals complemented the idea perfectly and suited his own style extremely well.  Musically, he’s got all aces up his sleeve on this cut from A Passing Storm – the gentle melody in the tones of the guitars are fantastic, the steady kick of the drumbeats add just the right amount of structure and pulse into this sweet tune.  The surrounding string sounds, the smart effects on the vocals, the tender way that Paul sings the heartfelt lyrics of “Crazy Night” – it all adds up to a beautifully vivid experience that you feel like you can see in your mind clearly while you listen to the imagery in the words and enchanting flow of the music.

The piano & drumbeat combination of “Hide Yourself” was absolutely spectacular.  Overall, I felt like this was a seriously interesting tune on A Passing Storm and likely one of my own personal favorite ideas on the record when it comes right down to it.  Paul identifies as more of a songwriter than a singer when it comes right down to it…considering that, I think he certainly does a commendable job on the songs that he does sing on throughout this record.  “Hide Yourself” is one that he’s taken the vocal duties on; admittedly, it might have a few rougher edges than the others he sings by comparison…BUT…I’d also argue that he’s taken on a really ambitious melody on this tune that’s complemented by the honesty of the performance and how they relate to the intentions of the lyrics.  End result being that it’s hard to argue that this track didn’t hit the mark dead-on really.  “Hide Yourself” is full of vulnerable, raw & open emotions…to have a performance that recognizes the fragility of isolation like Paul does when he sings this tune ends up really working in his favor I think.  Bottom line is that whether or not you feel like the right effects have been chosen for the vocals, or if the tone works for you – it’s almost all a secondary factor…the pace and flow, the performance itself, is seriously captivating.  Personally I really dig the sound of the effects on the verse, loved the falsetto ideas in the chorus and keeping the lyrics simplified, distant and highly expressive…I think “Hide Yourself” is one of the most memorable tunes on the album.  The drumbeats are excellent, the way the entire song springs to life around ninety-seconds in is perfect, the bold evolution to this song and the contrast in the fragile vocal sounds really worked for me.

“Ginette” is an instrumental song strong enough to battle it out confidently for the number one spot in my heart when it comes to this record…I mean c’mon, this is gorgeous and absolutely stunning in sound.  Sometimes there’s not much more that can be said other than ‘perfection’ – and this is where that applies.  You could hear a pin drop in the studio here every time this song came on – “Ginette” is exquisitely beautiful, graceful and compelling to listen to.  For an instrumental tune, “Ginette” speaks volumes – the writing and execution is among the finest your ears are going to find, pure & simple.  As many memorable moments as there truly ARE throughout A Passing Storm…it’s nearly impossible for my ears to not recognize this track as potentially the ultimate highlight on the whole album for me.  “Ginette” is as flawless as flawless gets; the sincerity of this melody is absolutely spellbinding.  The piano parts are so brilliantly bold, moving and graceful…I honestly couldn’t get enough of “Ginette” – it’s strong enough to move you to tears and easily one of the most emotionally powerful tracks I’ve heard in years.  When it’s full, it’s exceptional…when it adds sounds to the atmosphere, it feels like it just has more & more to offer – but notice just how equally stunning a song like “Ginette” is when elements are removed as well, like around the ninety-second mark before it builds back up to the second-half of the song…or the isolated and stark ending…I cannot possibly say enough about this song & the contribution it makes to the album as a whole and what an unforgettable moment it truly provides smack dab in the middle of A Passing Storm.

As far as I’ve seen on his social media & pages out there on the internet, “Stars” is the lead-single from this record.  Paul takes on the vocals here once again…for a guy that considers himself more of a player than singer – he really puts in a solid turn on the mic here.  Maybe a couple spots here & there that could be argued back & forth…but I’d keep every one of those moments if it meant I got to keep the rest.  He’ll likely remind you of Bowie when it comes to his vocals in a few moments throughout “Stars”…which of course, is never a bad thing.  It’s written in a more like…I dunno…Coldplay-ballad-style than what you’d expect from Bowie, but the combination of styles really works here.  I feel like there’s a real honesty in the way that Paul sings that’s bound to connect to a lot of hearts & minds out there…”Stars” definitely has the potential to be the favorite on this record for many people out there.  These are hooks that are almost universally accessible…the kind of killer melody that goes straight for the heartstrings unapologetically, looking to resonate in the emotions, thoughts & feelings of all who listen and truly hear what this song is all about.  Good choice for a single though, “Stars” would likely be a highlight moment for many on this record…I think there’s a lot here hooks-wise for people to grab onto, from the gravelly & raspy low-end of the vocals in the verse to the brighter & bolder melody sought out in the chorus, all the way to the way the structure evolves, expands and envelops.

All I kept thinking every time “Running Out Of Time” came on was ‘THANK-YOU Paul!’  For real – how many artists out there are making records like this right now?  NOT ENOUGH is the only right answer.  How incredibly satisfying is this to listen to though?  It’s the instrumental equivalent of a perfect meal!  The dramatic and theatrical, orchestral and intense structure & arrangement of this instrumental is nothing short of straight-up amazing to listen to.  This is that tune where you realize just how much potential exists for Paul’s music out there…you can practically envision this song supporting onscreen visuals from everything from an old James T. Kirk episode of Star Trek to being the pivotal soundtrack supporting Westworld onscreen today.  The structure and writing here are freakin’ tremendous!  “Running Out Of Time” is one seriously well-timed and professionally played song…the skill in the composition and the resulting execution lacks absolutely NOTHING – this is high quality entertainment.  Give this track some real credit where credit is due though…not only is it an absolute riot to listen to – “Running Out Of Time” is also one of the most complex, creative and wildly imaginative tunes that you’ll find in the lineup of songs on this album.  If you were busy dreaming along with songs like “Ginette” and “Stars” – “Running Out Of Time” is the tune that will completely jolt your system & snap you back to attention with the intensity of the music racing along in time with your pulse as you listen to it.

Dialing it back for a more intimate & personal moment, “I Am With Friends” is probably the most playful song on the record.  If I’m being entirely truthful…I was right on the fence with this one; loved the song, but I questioned at times as to whether or not this particular album was the right fit for it.  What I appreciate about “I Am With Friends” is the innocent & humble sound of the sweetness in this melody Paul’s created, and how it serves to lighten up the atmosphere of the record as a whole – people dig that kind of break every once in a while when the majority of the material on an album like A Passing Storm demands a lot of your attention to really absorb & get the most out of – this track allows for a quaint break from the seriousness & emotion that lines much of this record.  I hear a tune & melody like “I Am With Friends” and appreciate the fact that Paul can write happy songs just as well as the emotionally heavier stuff…and again, I don’t want anyone to get me wrong here – it’s a shiny & bright tune that definitely hits the mark of its intentions…just somewhat of a noticeable sound in comparison to the rest of the songs on A Passing Storm.  Some will appreciate it more than others…the reality of including a song like “I Am With Friends” is that it could very well be the ‘watercooler’ moment of the entire record and be debated between people as to whether or not this record was the spot to include it, or if it should perhaps been saved for the next time around…most importantly though, they won’t be indifferent.  And I’d suspect most people would agree with the assessment here…it’s no knock on the song itself, the song is sweet, well-intentioned and executed as well as any other ultimately…does it fit the lineup of A Passing Storm?  Time will tell if this lighthearted moment will settle into the flow of the record…as of right now, even with the amount of relentless spins I’ve given to this album, it always stood out to me as a track that might have best served Paul’s music as a separate single or gateway into the next album.

Because that IS a thing right Paul?  One can only hope there are plans for a next record after hearing all this!

The underlying seriousness & maturity of the writing on this album comes back in-full with “Pelican V” – which is certainly one of the record’s most ambitious tunes.  In a chilled-out blues-rock style, the guitar tones definitely end up stealing the show on this tune, though there are many solid moments in the adventure along the way.  I felt like I wasn’t entirely sure of the vocals as they began, but as they found their strengths as the song played on, there are some enormous highlights in the latter-half of this tune.  In terms of what grabs people instantly, the accessibility factor shrinks a bit here with “Pelican V” – this will certainly appeal to fans of the genres I mentioned and the musicians out there, as for the average listener, its generally a bit meatier than most can absorb at first.  That ain’t a knock on you fantastic music-fans out there…if you’re reading these pages we already know you’re ready to rock & roll with more complex concepts, ideas, and instrumentation – I’m talking about the person that throws on the Top-40 stations…that’s a harder sell with a song like “Pelican V.”  Thankfully, that’s NOT what songs should be designed or written for – and that’s ultimately what the REPEAT function is for…you might not notice just how much “Pelican V” hits the mark at first, but this is one of the tracks on this album that’s likely going to hold up extremely strongly over time.  The more you hear it, the more you get out of it – which is largely true of this entire album as a whole, but it certainly applies to “Pelican V” individually as well…you could go back & listen to this tune time & again and always get something new out of the experience.

The musicianship and focus in the execution of this record is certainly not to be underestimated.  Paul and his band of studio cohorts are CRUSHING IT on this album, perhaps never more-so than on the title track itself, “A Passing Storm.”  I mean…c’mon…if you’re a fan of progressive music, guitar gods like Satriani and Vai, instrumental tunes that kick not just some but ALL of the ass – then this is the tune for YOU.  I’m often extra critical when it comes to an album’s centerpiece…many times I find them to be the most ambitious tunes of a record…and many times, more than I can count, those ambitions can overtake the results and artists/bands of all kinds tend to miss the mark on their statement tune.  Almost unsurprising at this point on A Passing Storm – Paul has risen to the occasion here and let loose one of the most captivating & gripping cuts on the record…the energy & skill on display here ROCKS.  I’d easily put this cut right up there with the best of the best on this record – the groove of “A Passing Storm” is so entirely addictive and enticing to listen to that it was like I couldn’t find enough volume on my stereo to turn this song up loud enough for ALL my neighbors to listen to.  Between the keys, the drums, and the guitars…I mean C’MON people – this should be everything you want to hear in an instrumental or in a song, period.  The energy is off the charts on “A Passing Storm” – loved every second…this is gripping, fun and outright EXCITING to listen to.

The other track we played on the SBS Podcast just the other day, was the emotionally powerful anthem called “So Much I Miss You.”  There is…hmm…well let’s just say this – there is an incredible story behind this song…one that details the ambitions, sentiments and journey that Paul has been on – I highly recommend having a read through his notes on his official homepage because it’ll speak much more strongly on behalf of this song than anything I could ever write to support it.  And that’s not for lack of trying, I assure you – I absolutely love this tune and think it’s a serious highlight on A Passing Storm.  I’m never afraid or shy to admit just how much of a sucker I am for a great ballad or melody – and “So Much I Miss You” ticks just about every box on what I love in the writing and execution of lighters-up Rock.  Who CAN resist a track like this?  Honestly…those are bulletproof hooks and the singing on this track is a fantastic match for the music’s every move & every expression in the emotion of the lyrics.  Personally, I love the extended intro on the way into “So Much I Miss You” and how naturally it slides right into its main ideas after switching through so many clips, samples and snippets of sound just before.  No doubt about it in my mind though – that’s just about as much as you can ever ask of a song inside the writing, melody and overall execution of “So Much I Miss You.”  From its vivid lyrical imagery providing real insight into the life of the man behind the music, it’s a gorgeous mix of melancholy written in tribute to those loved & lost along the way.  The sincerity dripping from the music & stunning harmonics of the verse leads perfectly right into the bold but heartbreaking emotion expressed in the lyrics of the chorus.  Without a doubt, one of the most powerful moments you’ll find on A Passing Storm.

“In The Afterlife (Part II)” brings the record to a truly powerful conclusion.  A lot of what I really loved about this entire record was just how ambitious it was and how far it reaches creatively & artistically from beginning to end…the culmination of which, is boldly on display in this final tune.  On a technical level, I absolutely loved the way that this song was sung…there’s real style & skill, character & sincerity in the vocals that creates an undeniably powerful & memorable ending to A Passing Storm.  Towards the three-minute mark, the vocals SOMEHOW find another level to rise up to – again, just on a technical level you can hear how much skill and talent exists in this voice…but in terms of the performance, it’s breathtaking, nothing whatsoever is held back and the commitment, focus, & emotional-precision in the approach is something you can truly hear.  That connection between the words and the vocals has been more than established – they’re symbiotic and it sounds amazing; it concludes the emotional themes & concepts that this record committed to from its very beginning and brings beautiful closure to the entire experience…for both us as listeners, and I’d suspect Paul as well as an artist.  It was an incredible journey to get this written, recorded, created and put out there…it’s gotta be amazing to have done it all finally & for real, after all this time.

Phenomenal effort and a true achievement in 2018 – A Passing Storm is an album that really reaches for different ideas than the rest of what’s out there right now and gorgeously embraces their uniqueness.  I truly can’t imagine what it’s like to be Paul Denis right now…if I was him, I’d have to guess that I’d be walking on cloud nine, absolutely astounded, stunned and proud of what’s been accomplished…because this record is FULL of amazing moments of genuine emotion, real sincerity, and true imagination.  To hear it all come back so stunning, so captivating, so well-executed…after so long waiting and wondering IF something like this could or even WOULD be accomplished in his lifetime…how amazing would that first time listening BE for him?  Incredible!  What an amazing and truly inspiring tale of a man that always knew the music was inside him just waiting for that moment to come out & shine for the world.

And now that he’s here & we know what he’s capable of – I for one, hope he never goes away.

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