Sebastian Azul – Spotify Singles

 Sebastian Azul – Spotify Singles

Sebastian Azul – Singles Review

Much like the music an artist makes, you can understand everything a lot more if you just listen.  You’d think this would be the obvious part of a music-reviewer’s job…yet so few actually DO that, it’s embarrassing to read them more often than not.  I’ve made those comments several times over the years – nothing that way has changed; even Rolling Stone has somehow managed to get less descriptive, less involved, less substance-based, and less invested in the artists/bands/music they write about – which is actually quite stunning given that I’d already assumed they just stopped caring nearly fifteen or so years ago altogether.  If you could all see the notes I get from countless artists & bands that simply take the time to say thank-you for LISTENING – you’d honestly be amazed…shocked more likely.  Like anything else we do as humans – if you’re doing something because you truly love it, it’s not even work – I love listening to music of all kinds, always have, always will – it’s no struggle for me to push play.  That being said, a lot of WHY reviewers get so soured & stale over time is because they go through the motions…they don’t involve themselves personally in what they listen to or access what it is about what they’re hearing that affects them…they don’t take that two seconds or so that it takes to type a name into Google and just SEE what might come up!  Of course, I feel like anyone doing that is missing out.  Slighting themselves even.  Especially if they consider themselves a wordsmith or truly to be in love with the craft of writing – dig DEEP – get in there, find out details, get involved – make it REAL – and listen.

Challenging myself to write better articles not too long ago, I tried to expand on our reviews by including these long intros like the one you’re reading, while you’re wondering how it might relate to an artist like Sebastian Azul and his music.  Part of it was for the artists/bands – and heck, part of it was for ME – not gonna lie, there’s a total self-serving factor that drives me not just to write, but to write as well as I can and put that pressure on my peers to do the same.  Researching independent bands & artists & their music…finding out what made them tick…how that related to the songs being written…these things matter don’t they?  I like to think so.  Although again, if we’re going by the quality & care the scene so regularly receives from music-journalism…I’d almost assume I was alone in thinking that way if it wasn’t for the scores of correspondence I receive from thankful artists that understand a little bit of effort can make all the difference in the world.  Whether it’s through social-media, online information, liner notes from an album, some dude’s cousin in a band you know…the information is out there, trust me on that.

A lot of the times I like to test the fence and see what an artist is all about…just by listening.  Sometimes that means listening to silence before the moment happens…that special moment where an artist will let their guard down a bit and reveal a part of themselves.  And from there, you can take the tiniest of threads and pull just ever so slightly to start unraveling the full story on someone…if you’re careful…if you’re really listening.  I received Sebastian Azul’s singles for the first time on the 14th and answered a couple logistical questions no different to getting any other record from any of you out there as things started to proceed.  Followed by a couple days of silence, which is also pretty standard, sometimes permanent throughout the entire process.  And then on the 17th, there it was:

“How’s everything going?”

And in the back of my head, the answer is ‘great – I gotcha!’ – because this is where it starts.  This is where I start to get a look beyond any promo materials or information I have gotten and REALLY start to get to know the REAL Sebastian.  I’m obviously not going to reveal the entire private conversation between us – but suffice it to say, I learned a ton about him.  He’s a man with real integrity and heart.  He’s over-excitable in all the right ways and enthusiastic about the music he’s making – these are good things.  Incidentally, I always do my best to provide the most ultimately generic answer in response to a “How is everything going” because I know the real question is – HAVE YOU LISTENED TO ME YET?  It’s the most polite way of asking without asking…but when you’ve been doing this as long as I have, you know what that question really means, every time.  So I wait.  I answer with a “Good!” or something non-committal…and I wait…to see what comes next.  Could be agitated, could be frustrated with me, could be completely chill – every artist & person out there gets to make the conscious choice on how they want to interact & respond, you feel me?  So what ARE those natural tendencies?  What makes a person tick?  How much enthusiasm is there Sebastian Azul?  That’s what that next response will tell me.

Like I said…I’m not here to reveal an entire private conversation from behind the scenes; but why all this was so important to me this time around was because, if you have a look at Sebastian’s pages & social-media & whatnot…if you LISTEN to his music – you’ll see that he’s more than on the right-side of the people out there – in fact, he makes music to raise awareness of mental & neurological disorders.  That’s about as humble and altruistic of a pursuit in music as an artist could ever undertake.  All I wanted to confirm, in my own crazy ways & methods, was that the sincerity was there and that it wasn’t just all a whole bunch of clever marketing and smartly written bios supplying the information – I wanted that confirmation that Sebastian had his whole head & heart in the game.  I feel like I got that from our conversations behind the scenes…he’s an extremely humble and very genuine guy…inspiring really.  And I suppose if nothing else, the fact that he’s here on our pages today should be enough confirmation to know that I felt like I found what I was looking for in Sebastian’s words – what he’s doing is important –   there are a lot of people out there that will certainly benefit from listening to the music he makes.

So let’s do that.

I’ve got a whole list of singles to check out here.  I started with a cut called “Mental Health Warriors” – which, by title alone, should give you a great sense of where Sebastian’s mindset, intentions, and ambitions are at.  Set in a brilliantly dramatic & intense, theatrically-inspired sound with strings and a subtle beat driving the music, you get a whole mix of vocalists guest-starring on this first tune.  From the excellent first verse of rap bars spit out in a combination of knowledge-bombs and stunning confidence – things immediately sound fantastic and generally remain that way.  I think the subsequent vocals that come in are equally excellent – I think the singing in the hooks has great tone and I thought the second verse, which is rapped in German Deutsche, was 100% awesome.  If I had any concerns whatsoever about this first experience…it’s probably the main hook itself – the title being sung, “Mental Health Warriors” – try this for yourself right now and say it twice out loud real quick; it’s a mouthful right?  Don’t get me wrong – I feel like the female vocals do the best that can be done with it – but there’s no doubt about the complexity of trying to sing that line and/or make it work as the main hook – that’s a challenge for this song which might be difficult to overcome.  In the end, I felt like it worked…but just barely; you really can feel that near struggle to keep up & keep that flow rolling in the hooks, and I completely understand why that is.  That being said, the main advantages of having a title/line like that being repeated, is that it does create an anthem-like statement – “Mental Health Warriors” does come along with quite an epic sound, complete with its own narrator and vocalists that are clearly giving it everything they got.  Words are on-point…there’s much more to love about this first experience than there would ever be to pick apart – & as far as uniqueness is concerned, there’s a TON here on display.  Immediately you can tell by “Mental Health Warriors” that Sebastian isn’t looking to do what’s just been done before – it’s far from a typical tune – but as a result, seriously engaging and interesting to listen to.

Not to dive back into the intro I wrote, but real quickly, again, why it was important to reveal that sincerity in Sebastian was to assist in understanding the music.  There’s an odd effect that takes place inside of the realm of ‘music with a purpose’ or ‘intent to inform’ – and that’s usually a case of what can feel preachy, pretentious, or even worse – both.  But if you understand the heart of someone’s intentions, like I was able to get some insight into in talking with Sebastian – sometimes that can all be put to rest.  So like, take a song like “I Know A Place” for example…which I think has a lot going-on in its favor and a couple spots that could use the benefit of understanding that sincerity of Sebastian’s musical mission.  On the one hand, the music is immaculate – love it really…it’s really well produced & put together, spectacular & subtle shifting dynamics that are never too aggressive – he’s got the right amount of intensity & melody combined to make this an extremely inviting sound.  Vocally, I feel the same way about the pattern of the flow…there’s a really brilliant melody-line being explored on “I Know A Place” that has exceptional smoothness to it.  Now…that being said, where people end up with that perception that things go overboard or become pretentious or preachy, is when words that aren’t typically used in a song show up – of which, in information-based material, are everywhere.  So you see, this is where those intentions become a key factor; it’s because we know that Sebastian is using his powers for good that these more lyrically awkward moments of contrast are more readily accepted.  And don’t get me wrong – I love the words personally when it comes to “I Know A Place” – I think this is a really well written, poetic, and informative tune…but that juxtaposition between the smoothness of the sound of the music and the amount of information being supplied to us is something you’ll notice at times.  Like that verse around the three-minute mark is a tough one to make work; again, I think the female vocals find a tremendous spirit & energy that makes it come together, but it’s a real close call.  In terms of subject matter and intentions however – “I Know A Place” is a beautiful song at its core, 100%.  It comes from a tale of one of the darkest times of Sebastian’s life, flooded by the light of loved ones when he needed it most.  Definitely the kind of vibe, sound, and message combination that people will reach for when they need it too – and ultimately, that’s exactly why Sebastian Azul is making the music he makes for us all along.

The opening sound of the guitars on “Without You I Can’t Breathe” are freakin’ immaculate, straight-up.  Every song has to go somewhere – I get that; but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want just a bit more of the beginning of this song to come on back at some point…it’s really quite the stunning beginning and immediately catches your attention.  As the vibe shifts into its up-tempo main rhythm & melody, you’re introduced to a whole host of vibrantly inviting & welcoming sounds, embodying the spirit of this love-song impressively.  You’ve got a highlight performance from the Aliz Smith on this tune – she sounds absolutely amazing and as refreshingly energetic as she is professionally controlled – her vocals tones are bright, bold, beautiful, and warm.  You’ll also discover vocals in Portuguese, which is actually Sebastian’s own native language and further audible proof of not just the all-inclusive messages that he’s got in his music, but also how he’s made a conscious effort to bring in other voices, languages, styles, and sounds into what he’s creating.  “Without You I Can’t Breathe” is a highlight example of the heights that collaboration can soar to; I think the addition of the Portuguese rap brings a ton of uniqueness to the song, I think the hooks are brilliantly strong and beautifully sung, and I think the structure & sound of this song has a ton of single-worthy accessibility that’ll pull people in to listen.

Where things get tougher is on “Alicia” – I’ll have to be a bit of the bad guy here.  First off – the intentions of this song are 100% beautiful – it’s actually dedicated to Sebastian’s daughter – which I mean, c’mon – how awesome is that?  I always dig it when people put themselves into their music on this kind of personal level and that’s a major part of the appeal in all of Sebastian’s songs when it comes right down to it, but perhaps more-so when it comes this close to home, know what I mean?  There’s zero doubt about the amount of sweetness that comes with a song like this…and at the end of the day, I think that’s going to be what carries this song to a victory in most people’s assessment, and rightly so.  I’m on that side myself…there’s so much love in this song that at the end of the day, even though I feel like it’s got a couple quirks, I still dig the vast majority of everything I’m hearing.  The writing is fantastic, the music is as bright & beautiful as ever – I think the piano-led melody is truly stunning and the beat gives it a perfect energy surrounding it to cheer up the entire vibe.  Vocally, we’ve got a more mixed result here…which makes parts of this song tougher at points where you want that sweetness to be the dominant factor.  Like, in those opening verses, there are layers of the vocals that are knocking it RIGHT OUT OF THE PARK – like, really, really, really good stuff happening.  And from what I can hear and separate in my mind as I’m listening…one key layer that’s missing that brightness & spark, which of course, ends up having an effect on the overall result of them all combined.  That being said, it’s one of the middle layers, so ultimately, what’s on the surface and closest to our ears is the best representation of the melody and strongest, most vibrant part of the performance…it’s one of those tough calls to make where you’ve gotta stand back from the material and either take that one layer too many out, or hustle someone back into the booth to smooth those few moments out as much as can be done.  For the most part though, to be clear, I think what you’ll hear is fantastic once again from the vocals overall; and I think what’s probably most surprising about “Alicia” is the switch from female to male vocals at around the 2:10-ish mark.  I think the humble way that the male dude sings his part is wonderful – and I think it also further draws out the sweetness of the main hooks when they show up again afterwards.  Love that Sebastian has clearly put samples of “Alicia” into the mix as well…I mean, I’m assuming that’s who we’re hearing laughing and playing throughout the background of this tune…I suppose it could be a random sample, but that really doesn’t strike me as the way a guy like Azul would go about this.  Either way – it’s a great addition to the atmosphere of the upbeat & beautiful sounds on “Alicia” for sure.

It’s tough to not compare these tunes from track-to-track, which is kind of what’s ironic about listening to a song like “I’m The Girl,” which is ultimately about pointing out just how many comparisons & assumptions we make about people.  On the positive-side of things, it’s a brilliantly empowering and informative tune with a genuine point of view – the words and message of “I’m The Girl” is without question some of the best you’ll find on this record and perhaps the most direct at the same time.  It’s a real call to stand up & embrace the person that you are – we’re all ‘the girl’ to some degree, and we can all relate to what’s being said at multiple points, no matter what your background is.  But if you’ve struggled with acceptance personally, lyrically, this track is a powerful message to empower people to be who they are, regardless of what anyone out there says or thinks – and that’s more than admirable.  Vocally, I have my ups/downs with this track…the modern-day filter…I dunno…I think the more natural sounds that are revealed further down the road capture the power of the emotion better when the effects are dialed-back or au natural, but I’ll admit, the confidence continually comes through.  I also think that, perhaps unintentional as it may be, there’s humbleness to not having every single moment of the vocals on this particular track come out 100% flawless…thematically, it ends up fitting the lyrics spot-on because it’s not perfect – and that that’s OK.  In fact, it’s better than okay…it makes complete sense.

“I Am The Boy (They Don’t Understand)” is a duet featuring Sebastian’s son.  You see what I’m saying people?  What a great guy this is.  It’s just so rare & remarkable to find an artist with as much of their heart involved in their music as you’ll find with this guy…I’ve definitely got a lot of love & respect for the way that Azul approaches everything with such natural authenticity & such good intentions.  Very much the opposite perspective that you get from the other gender on “I’m The Girl” – but paired together here to display the similarities between them; the resulting combination of the two songs again, leading us to realize that so many of us struggle with the same realities and obstacles placed in our way.  Musically, moments like where the violins come in to meet the piano melody are completely powerful – and I love the drums that are all over this tune.  Sebastian’s son Dominic does a great job – I’ve got no issues there; Sebastian himself, well, maybe a few questionable moments here & there when it comes to the singing.  I think lyrically here, especially in the later female-led verses, that’s where the metering starts to wander a bit too far from the beat from line to line – and that’s something that Sebastian can definitely examine for the future.  He’s got the music flowing so smoothly all the time – it’s time to find that way to keep the lyricism on the same path in that sense…which might come right down to getting out the ruler and measuring out the distance between syllables from line to line if necessary – but it’s the only audible piece of the puzzle that’s missing quite often, on this tune and in others.  It’s that delicate balance between saying exactly what you want to say and not compromising the meaning too much by finding words that are close enough, but fit that pace, flow, and metering.  Without it, it’s similar to the effect of a car driving on square wheels…you feel that churning and effort to reach the melody, which ends up having to be contorted quickly in effort to keep up with the amount of words, either too many or too few, in the process.  As far as what’s being said however, I think both “I’m The Girl” and “I Am The Boy (They Don’t Understand)” are saying important things people need to hear.

“Hang In There” needs some work for sure by comparison to the rest.  Musically, as always, I feel like Sebastian’s got a good track here.  In guest-star Precila’s voice, I can hear the potential and I can hear that she can definitely sing; mix-wise, I think she’s slightly hampered from the reverb on her voice and the all-too-familiar flow of the vocal-melody on this tune, which is essentially a much slower version of something from the Backstreet Boys catalog.  The reverb dulls the spark she could potentially bring to this tune…the melody I have no problem with, it’s different enough to still make it through.  But yeah, interesting choice on the mix of this tune…I think there’s a lot that could be done with this to draw out its intended sweetness a lot more, because you can really hear it’s there in the music and the impressively vibrant sounds coming from the lefts & rights.  Precila does a good job…I think the song overall is a bit more chill in many ways by comparison, so it’s a hard energy & environment to thrive in, but I felt like she’s done what she could as best she could do it; production-wise, she just needs a bit of an assist with the mix drawing out that beautiful & soulful sound as opposed to suppressing it so much.

“Awareness In Power” is a great musical response to the way that Sebastian’s music has been responded to.  At the end of the day, he’s a pioneer in many ways…and it’s because of that, he’ll have to learn a bit of patience to go with his over-enthusiastic tendencies…because like the beginning of this song will point out, most of what he makes ‘doesn’t fit the format’ – and as disparaging as that fact may be, it is still indeed, a fact.  “Awareness In Power” is a response to that in the sense that it’s likely one of the most accessible sounds & songs of this entire set – almost a dare to radio-stations out there to play this one, because that would be the right thing to do with a vibe like this.  It’s not a typical single by any stretch…you won’t find easy to digest hooks here, but you will find completely interesting & compelling sounds at literally every second throughout “Awareness In Power.”  People will likely need some time to absorb or catch up to the ideas & concepts he’s putting forth.  From the music to the microphone, I think this track is a seriously exceptional cut and confident sound; personally, I like the mix on this one and how you likely won’t be able to catch every single word on this tune at first or maybe even ever – vocals are being used much more like an instrument here to add to this melody & vibe…and I felt like the end results came out with resounding confidence and brilliantly unique textures to every second.  Incredible character in the vocals of this song and a real intensity to “Awareness In Power” that’s unlike anything else we’ve heard from Sebastian Azul to this point in the set…a real rad switch in the sound.

“Fighter” flexes multiple ideas inside of one song, which is a large part of what’s got the odds stacked against Sebastian on a commercial level…certainly no problem with that here on these pages, but overall, there’s no doubt that he’s asking people to think about the music they listen to much more than they’re normally accustomed to both thematically and structurally speaking.  That being said, the sum total of the experience here reveals some extremely awesome ideas individually as this song moves from part to part.  You’ll get some 90’s inspired vocal hooks, some absolute highlight bars of Rap on the first verse, theatrical narration, and really clever singing in the middle of this tune as well…there’s a lot going on here that demands attention, but each element of this song has its own captivating role to play.  I think in terms of whether it all makes sense together or not is probably more up for debate when it comes to “Fighter” more than any other track, but I think each part of this song comes with such a lively performance from all concerned that it’s strong enough to pull people in from multiple access points.  For me, it was all about that middle part…right around the 1:30 mark…that verse is absolutely awesome and so incredibly unique vocally.  If anything, you’ll find that the vocals supply the majority of the changes in direction & sound of this particular cut…”Fighter” remains pretty stoic & solid beat-wise.

“Cyborg In Love” is a well-intentioned melody that gets away from Sebastian and his crew here.  As sweet as any artist or band might ever be, I still gotta keep it real & call it as I hear it…and there’s no doubt that we’ve got some vocals that aren’t quite reaching the required tones to make this song work here.  This is where again, you start to recognize how the intentions of Sebastian’s mission can often be tougher to examine objectively as the creator – there’s no question that he’s doing his best to include anyone & everyone that wants to be involved, which is admirable to say the least – but it will come down to a question of what’s being put out there and whether or not that’s the best foot forward all the time.  As tough as it might be to put a song into the can or let it hit the cutting room floor, as artists, sometimes we still need to make that call on a commercial level – IF that’s what you’re going for.  If the intention is just to celebrate the making of music and having fun and including every family member & friend you got – then there’s no problem with a cut like “Cyborg In Love.”  The more low-key parts of the vocals come out alright…the harder they’re pushed, the more strain and contrasting tone you’ll find, which creates a slightly jarring/grating effect rather than the intended melodic one.  Take a beat, take a breath, relax the ol’ shoulders…and bring the beauty out in this song…that’s my recommendation here.  Bizarre in the sense that we heard guest-star Aliz Smith on “Without You I Can’t Breathe” and I felt like she had the complete opposite results on the microphone when it came to her performance…almost like we’ve got two entirely different personas from her between the two songs altogether.

Musically & melody-wise, I think “Watching You” has a great rhythm & flow to it with some of the most innovative & inventive sounds from Sebastian rolling through the core of this cut.  Vocal melody is right on the money – and the pace of this tune is completely addictive both musically & lyrically throughout the bulk of this song’s length.  Dig the effects on the vocals a lot on this tune, but perhaps more than anything else, you can just really hear how much more adherent this flow is to the metering.  Adding elements like the saxophone into “Watching You” brought even more character & personality in the music to the surface.  The final female vocals…tone-wise I like’em…pace-wise, likely due to the brighter sound of her voice, you can notice this particular section needs just a couple more words to really keep that same smoothness of the metering flowing like water as it was before, but not so far off the mark that it’s off-putting in any way.  Was it a necessary final switch to make?  Maybe, maybe-not – we’ll probably all reach different conclusions on that one; personally I was already more than happy with what I had heard on this imaginative & colorful cut…for me that last transition wasn’t necessarily a step too far, but not one that I’m sure added to the experience either…hard to say.  Bottom line is, there’s nothing so out of place that would cause you to turn this one down by any means – “Watching You” has a really impressive rhythm & flow that keeps the energy & enticing sounds coming at you at all times.

And then…


…WHERE did THIS come from?  Hidden here towards the end of the set, “If I Knew Then…What I Know Now” comes completely out of left field and hits the mark like Robin Hood splitting the arrow!  Like, I literally just scratched my head in wonder & amazement here – because I’ve heard some great things in these singles so far, but this song took it right to that next-level in just about every possible way.  Helps that I’m a melody-guy though…and there’s no doubt about the fact that “If I Knew Then…What I Know Now” has so much that it’ll melt the heart right out of your speakers – I mean, the sincerity of this song just connects straight to your soul here.  Musically, without a doubt, my favorite of the set – I think the piano-led melody is exquisite, the guitars and violins that come along with it are equally amazing – it’s purely remarkable to listen to this song and experience the way this whole beat works itself right into your heart.  If we’re talking hooks – straight-up, I’d probably have to hand this song the award for top honors there as well – the main singing on “If I Knew Then…What I Know Now” is so innocent, humble, sweet, angelic, graceful…like, words don’t do her performance the justice she deserves.  That’s a time-stopping moment where you sit in listen in genuine awe of what’s clearly audible perfection – that’s as strong as a hook can be in such a delicate & tender style…absolutely STUNNING.  The violin solo in the middle of the song, flexing the musicianship & instrumentation that you’ll so often find in these songs – ALSO amazing and an essential part of this powerfully emotional experience; and Rap-wise, not a single issue – the metering & flow is spot-on, but so is the sincerity, energy, and overall sound – everyone’s so impressively focused and well-suited for this song that you can’t help but hear just how much a track like “If I Knew Then…What I Know Now” stands at the top of a mountain of its own, planting a flag of victory that we can all clearly see – this is a truly stunning achievement and great song in Sebastian’s catalog of singles.

The final cut I’ve got here is “Pass The Mic (If You Wanna Know) [Reloaded]” – how (many) {brackets} & [multiple] parts of a <title> do we need here bro?  Let’s be real.  Toughest spot in the set to find success for me personally after what I’d just witnessed with “If I Knew Then…What I Know Now” – but still multiple points of redemption and reasons to dig this last track.  Intensity for one – that never quits on “Pass The Mic (If You Wanna Know) [Reloaded]” – I have the feeling on multiple spins with its long-length and repetitive thread in the synth-melody of the music that this one might wear out more quickly over time in comparison to some of the rest, but I think the violins might once again just save that from happening with the stunning sound they provide to add some variation into this tune where it needed it most.  Vocally, I love the mob-style sound of the opening bars – it’s almost like an army of voices coming at you from all sides, all representing different thoughts, feelings, and emotions we experience & can relate to.  The main hook…is…strange…but in my opinion, actually works really well – like I know I’m going to be doin’ stuff around the studio for the next week or so at least and be singing “Pass the mic” and the chorus melody to myself in my head or along with my stereo bumpin’ it.  No lie though – for me, the real magic of this last cut was in the third minute where the instrumentation gets the majority of the spotlight & clever vocal effects come in overtop to assist and declare Sebastian’s intentions once more.

Those intentions are good ones.  He’s done a lot here for awareness of all kinds of things from ADHD to Tourettes, depression, anxiety, and so much more…all to a massively varied set of sounds and singles that confidently take him in all kinds of different directions, offering listeners something unique in each and every track that comes on.  He puts heart, thought, and sincere effort into his music…all in hopes to bring more attention to subjects & themes that could all truly use an assist like that and a champion out there that can help amplify their cause & call for action like Sebastian is.  Full salute to the guy for not just doing what he loves, but by also making the most out of his passion by using it for the greater good of us all.

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