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Alternative Album Review: "Present" by Paul Iwan

Karl is a longtime freelancer who's passionate about music, art, and writing.

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Overall Album Impressions

Paul Iwan's Present is a collection of emotionally deep, expressive songs that explore all the complexities and struggles that we face in our lives. The album is anchored by Paul Iwan’s richly emotive, distinctive voice and rounded out with a musical backing that effectively mirrors the feelings and intensity in the lyrics.

For me, Paul Iwan’s voice is the stand out feature of this album. It is an instrument that can delicately stroke or howl with passion as it leaps through its range. As a singer, Paul Iwan can express everything from melancholy ache to triumphant power. His vocal strength and expression allows him to dig deeply into the emotions in the lyrics.

The lyrics that Paul Iwan has crafted on Present are another strong feature. He is able to cut to the heart of the situations about which he’s writing and lay them out in clean, clear language. There are some unique images that are woven into the words and he’s got a good grasp of how to express feelings in an effective way.

The musical backing on Present deepens the expressive nature of the music. It has been tastefully chosen to add more layers of feeling to the vocals and lyrics without overwhelming them. Like varnish on a painting, the sonic elements of the music come together to increase its depth and richness, letting all of its beauty shine through.

My Favourite Songs Analyzed

“Loss” opens as a steady sonic swell is joined by popping, throbbing drums and tightly shifting synth chords moving below tripping high piano notes. The chords undulate and the guitar tumbles in descending lines.

Paul Iwan’s voice aches and emotes, carrying the expressive lyrics. The vocal melody is gentle but full of a certain mournful quality as the drums guide the music. I am drawn to the way that Paul Iwan’s voice belts out the hurt, dreaming vocal melody.

The sonic elements gain energy as sparkling synths ripple through the music over the throbbing drums and dense bass. Rapidly shivering piano and the battering drums drive the song on as the guitar grits out in a bright line.

The narrator of this song about loss and the journeys that we all take through our lives. As the song begins, the narrator exhorts the other person in the song to “keep your eyes on the road, let’s travel.” He talks of how “our departed’ are waiting down the road and adds “don’t be scared of the night, they will guide you.” Our narrator warns that “before too long” the departed will hypnotize you. He says that he was “under a spell” as he watched the song’s subject crawl

Our storyteller talks about how he felt the other person go quickly but “the departed” gave them “something to raise your soul to life.” There’s pain as our narrator says that the other person promised not to leave him “now there’s a shadow by my side.” He says that he lost the other person to the night and he can’t let them go. He asks if they’re “here with me” and concludes that in the end “all that matters is that I was with you.”

Soothing, melancholy piano plays a softly touching melody to open “Further Away.” The melody feels airy but pained as it moves through the music. An accelerating drumbeat joins Paul Iwan’s expressive, potent voice as it carries a soaring melody that leaps out over the heavy drums.

Paul Iwan’s emotive voice arcs up and effectively adds more energy to the music. The dark drama below increases while quick, hard bursts of sound coalesce as the guitar skirls around the pulsing of the percussion, The vocal melody flies up above the battering drums and howling guitars. Bursting guitar moves over the steady drums as the vocals tremble, full of intense emotion before the song ends.

Our storyteller talks about how he’s “going through the motions” and they can’t “stop the falling.” He goes on to say that he is “here but not here” and that panic is always close by. The panic keeps him from the song’s subject. The narrator cries out that he just wants the truth but it is “getting further away, pulling further away.” He adds that events from the past are still “echoing…shadowed” in his body. As our narrator clings to the fear, it keeps him apart from the other person.

“Present” starts off as a creaking, shifting sound adds a worried feeling to the music, sweeping between stereo channels. Paul Iwan’s strong voice is showcased well here as the guitar plays an undulating drift of notes. The guitar melody doubles the vocal melody as it moves between shadows and light.

The guitar ebbs and flows below Paul Iwan’s’s lush vocals, deep with feeling. The lyrics are full of their own power but the most impressive part of this song is Paul Iwan’s one-of-a-kind voice. 


This is a story about being in and holding on to the present. The narrator talks about how he sometimes forgets to “trust in the rise and fall” and can’t make a connection to “the feeling that started it all.” As he shuts his eyes, he feels the world fall away and realizes that “I’m here, yes I’m still here.” As the narrator feels “sunlight flooding my senses” he returns to the present and “I am whole.”

A strumming, driving electric guitar along with a choppy pulsation come in to add some form to the music as “Hurt” begins. Paul Iwan’s voice comes in, full of his usual expressiveness and energy as it jumps above the strumming guitar.

The vocal melody is dynamic and tremulous as flashing, dancing organ-like synth flits and dances. There’s a powerful bass growl chugging guitar supporting Paul Iwan’s dynamic vocals as they move through their wide range.

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The chorus has a warm, shimmering feeling as the vocal melody vaults and cascades. Paul Iwan can really let rip and he does so here as the driving drums and bass launch the music onwards, imbuing it with forward motion. The drums throb and the track ends on choppy, chugging sound.


A struggle with one’s internal demons is what plays out in this song for me. The narrator is addressing another person and saying “never thought that swallowing your anger would one day overspill.” He talks about how the other person will “push it down…choke it down” to stop the suffering and “everything will disappear.” He warns that then their thoughts might leave them “standing here.”

Our storyteller asks the other person not to let it hurt them and to tell him what they’re seeing. He states that they don’t know “if you’re coming or going” and states that they just watched their minds go. Again the narrator speaks of the person pushing and holding down to try and stop the suffering. He concludes by saying that “you used to be an open book, when you felt the pain and we still stood.”

“Hunter” begins as glittering, crystalline notes sparkle out over the smoothly throbbing bass and steady drum heartbeat. Paul Iwan’s voice is caressing and gentle, carrying a melody that trembles but grows in power. The guitar howls out in an impassioned line as the vocal melody soars, carried by Paul Iwan’s expressive and flexible voice.

There’s a minor key twist in the vocal melody as a choir moves behind it and the drums keep throbbing and guiding the music. The guitar cries out again, matching the power and emotion in the strong vocals, while the drums and bass shape the music. Cascades of sparkling light fall and the song ends on a dramatic choral background that flows out until silence falls.

To me this song is an exploration of anger as it manifests itself in the mind. Our narrator talks about how the anger is “dragging me under all over again.” He adds that it’s always close “preying on fear, somewhere within.” The narrator talks about hearing “screams in the silence” and being unable to escape. The narrator says that he sees “flashes of violence turn into flames.”

Our storyteller talks of how the feeling is burning “deep inside of me” and how it holds him. He points out that he sometimes “feels the pain delayed” and at other times wishes that he couldn’t wait for “the hunter inside my head.” As he concludes, the narrator talks about how he feels “my blood pulsing…my rage rising.” He concludes that sometimes he wishes he could "erase the hunter inside my head.”

Trickling, round synths tumble through the music over a growing drumbeat that launches the music forward to start “Ley Lines.” The guitar growls in a deep, snarling line as minor key synth notes circle over the battering drums.

The synth shines sharply through the tide of powerful, deep guitar that effectively adds thick shadows to the music. The glittering synths dance through the snarling power around them and a warmer feeling fills the track. Flashing, medium-high synths carry a brighter feeling melody that spins and shines over the tidal power of the guitar and into silence.

“Control” opens as resonant, echoing synth with a metallic feeling throbs behind Paul Iwan’s gentle, aching vocals along with elevated piano notes. The song launches into an angular, aggressive guitar pattern over charging drums and bass. Paul Iwan's wide-ranging voice carries the melody upwards in a rising arc over the dynamic guitar storm that slashes underneath his soaring words.

The song drifts into a segment in which fragile, elevated piano notes contrast with deep guitar growl and thundering drums. The song launches into a widely leaping guitar pattern cut with shining, delicate piano notes. I am drawn to the way that Paul Iwan’s voice flies upwards, imbued with deep expression and emotion. The song fades on a repeating, deep synth pattern as the final verse moves through.

This is a song exploring a struggle with what I read as anxiety and depression. Our narrator talks about how the the anxiety disappears when “I face the fear.” He talks about how he’s “still here” and in control. There’s a tinge of bitterness as our narrator sees “the truth I could have lived” and his mistakes and deceits but now “the tape is erasing, my history replaced.”

There’s a sense of some relief as he discusses how he can just “be” now because “waiting is no longer part of me.” The storyteller repeats the mantra that he’s still there and has control. For now he can breathe but on the edges, he feels panic returning as he retreats inside to "darkness beyond my reach.”

Guitar strums in, matching Paul Iwan’s caressing and melancholy voice to bring “Mono” to life. The vocals accentuate the wandering melody that slowly unfolds to softly touch the ears. The vocals are soft, slipping and sibilant as the guitar doubles the vocal melody. A buzzing drone moves behind the other sonic elements to add texture.

Paul Iwan’s voice is deeply expressive as the music grows in strength, throbbing as it begins to crescendo. The drums pulsate and the steady, gritty guitar starts to gain even more energy. The music swells as the vocals grow in intensity. The guitar and drums climb into a whirling maelstrom of sound, strings and piano deepening the music’s energy before sliding into quiet.

Sometimes there’s a fundamental disconnect between two people that can’t be bridged, so it must break apart. This song explores this idea. Our storyteller talks about standing on the edge as “tomorrow’s not far away." He's got to finally “face the conclusion” that he has to leave. He adds that he wants to “go the distance” and take his plan “all the way.”

An unknown “they” want him to take it easy on himself and "now I’m stood in place” as it all “falls away.” Now his “memories have faded, stories of my life.” He knows that “when it comes to judgment” he’s not going to see eye to eye with the person he’s addressing because “I see in mono, you in glorious stereo.” As the song ends, he asks the simple question of “how can we see things the same if we don’t see things the same?”

Conclusion

Present is one of those albums in which all of the varying elements work cohesively to create a strong end result. The way in which Paul Iwan’s impressive voice interacts with his thoughtful lyrics and the carefully crafted musical backing makes Present an engaging, ear-grabbing listening experience.

© 2022 Karl Magi

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