All Ears

New Music: With ‘Mordechai,’ Khruangbin follows inner compass to success

Khruangbin

Attaining the title “DJ’s DJ” during the early 2000s, a certain heyday for San Francisco’s musical landscape, was one of the loftiest forms of a compliment any music presenter could attain. It meant You did You. Remaining tuned to that inner ear. Opting for feel over algorithm. Not an easy task.

Understanding the monetization of jungle and drum and bass on the horizon, comprehending the 2-step garage phenomenon, snickering at progressive house becoming a molly delivery system for the masses, and celebrating true-school hip-hop amidst the industry boom of shiny shirt rap. You know, the joints that ended with an explosion? Yeah. Those joints. Tuff landscape to maneuver.

It’s the same compass used by a little band out of Houston called Khruangbin (pronounced KRUNG-bin).
Yes. They did snatch their name from a Thai word that means airplane. Heard of them? Well, If you’ve caught some “groove adjacent” moments from the HBO show  ‘Barry” or started nodding your head to a funky-ass Dos Equis commercial, I think you have. Matter of fact their very Isley Brothers’ leaning ballad “Friday Morning” from 2018’s breakout “Con Todo El Mundo” just popped up on the latest Theo Parrish project “We Are All Gorgeous Monsterss,” track four. Their Venn diagrams, since being introduced to the world by DJ Bonobo, reads astronomical.

They backed up Wu-Tang at last year’s Desert Daze Music festival, and supposedly Jay-Z was spotted in a Los Angeles record store, buying up all their wax. What’s the deal? Boil it down to two things: They have a hyper-specific sound constantly getting tweaked with each project. And…well, guitarist Mark Speers gave it up best to The New York Times recently. “I’m also really, really stubborn. Like, let’s just do what we want to do. We’ve gotten to this point by doing what we like. Apparently, people like what we do. Let’s just keep doing that.”

See what I mean. Feel over algorithm.

Mordechai, released June 26th, finds the Houston trio adding their voices to every track for the first time.  Citing the vocal arrangements of War and Santana as reference points for the tweak. This time the arrangements cruise through post-disco, soulful blends that reference Roy Ayers and Sade while keeping that Thai Funk; a global melange of dub, soul, psych, French pop, and breakbeats as the main inspiration. Other groups bordering on the precipice of mainstream global bankability would keep the product vanilla boring. Not them.

The Texas-based power trio uses dub, elements of surf music, and psychedelia to spread a contemporary version of instrumental global music. Thai-funk, middle eastern styled vamps or disco to go strut; all interwoven components in their rhythmic assault. There is a timelessness that hypnotizes folks. Speer’s presence on guitar, even when going for it aggressively, comes off serenading in style. Lyrical, not over-embellished. No shredding. Call them ESG on shrooms….it’s a fair assessment. Guitarist Speer, bassist Laura Lee, and drummer Donald “DJ” Johnson, who played in the gospel band at St. John’s United Methodist Church in downtown Houston (the home church of Beyoncé, Solange and the rest of the Knowles family), collectively defer to their own inner compass. How?

At the close of 2018, a marathon year supporting their breakthrough album Con Todo El Mundo, adored by both fans and critics, they recorded an updated version of Vince Guaraldi’s’ “Christmastime Is Here.” The bottom-heavy, rhythmically enhanced take on the quintessential cool Yuletide joint was released just before their North American fall/winter tour. Challenged at the corner of art and commerce, this mindful band opted for craft. Personality.

“Hasta El Cielo” a dub disco version of their 2018 Con Todo El Mundo, was a Compass Point, Tom Tom Club-type left turn. It featured two bonus dubs by renowned Jamaican producer Scientist. Another conscious choice. Then earlier this year “Texas Sun”, the band’s collaborative EP with R&B singer Leon Bridges, debuted atop the Americana/Folk Albums list and reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Emerging Artists chart in February. Bridges, whose sound harks back to a ’60s soul motif, put on his best Marvin Gaye ‘lover man’ persona for the earworm caramel joint ‘C-Side” with the band showcasing their low-end frequency chops. Another unexpected left-turn to success. Both artists who hail from Texas, Bridges from San Antonio, bonded over the multiplicity in genres that swirl about their home state.

“Mordechai” pulls inspiration from Pakistan, Korea, and West Africa, incorporating strains of Indian chanting boxes and Congolese syncopated guitar. But more than anything, it reps their Houston.
An eclectic megalopolis-where country, trap, zydeco, or chopped and screwed textures-inspired their essence. Shaped that feel. Formed that inner ear.

Deerhoof’s ‘Future Teenage Cave Artists’ scrawls a calamitous fairy tale

Deerhoof

Deerhoof’s new album is about the end of the world. Climate change is irreversible, infrastructure has collapsed, death is dealt out undiscerningly, and a small band of hopeful youth persist to bring art back into whatever time the world has left. “Gonna paint an animal on a cave wall/Gonna leave it there forever while empires fall,” sings Satomi Matsuzaki. These are the Future Teenage Cave Artists.

“We always loved fairy tales,” says Greg Saunier, the band’s drummer and unofficial mouthpiece, though the world he and Matsuzaki sing about doesn’t feel much like a fairy tale anymore. It’s hard not to see it as an album about 2020, not least when the cover features a cartoon virus drawn by Matsuzaki. But the album, which the band worked on for “two or three years” before its release, was finished before 2020 really became 2020—before the COVID-19 pandemic, before the murder of George Floyd and subsequent unrest, before whatever is going to happen at this year’s elections.

“It was completely done before 2020 started, but you could see everything coming,” says Saunier. “I think the only thing that has surprised us is the rapidity of calamity after calamity.” 

Though the band mostly had climate change on their minds when coming up with the album’s concept, Saunier believes it’s a mistake to match the lyrics on Future Teenage Cave Artists with a specific cataclysm or current event.

“One thing that tends to happen in the news cycle is that we think of everything as isolated events,” he says. “The pandemic happened, then George Floyd was murdered, then a bunch of demonstrations happen. They aren’t isolated events. I don’t think these demonstrations would be happening if there weren’t this bottled-up rage.”

That might explain why no specific cataclysm is mentioned on the record. Matsuzaki’s lyrics tack toward abstraction; a typical lyric, from “New Orphan Asylum For Spirited Deerchildren,” goes: “Why would you shoot my Bambis? How could you shoot my Bambis?”

“I never asked [Satomi] what she meant,” says Saunier. “I don’t ask her for the answer. I don’t want the answer. It made me think of childhood—why would you crush my childhood?—but maybe she was just talking about sport hunting.”

The music is no less abstract, departing from the animated sound of records like The Milk Man or The Runners Four in favor of the rusty, diseased sounds of a post-human trash heap. The mix is bottomless, lo-fi and hi-fi sounds jostle uncomfortably, and the band members’ parts seem to collapse on each other.

Future Teenage Cave Artists was recorded remotely by the four band members, who all live in separate cities (Saunier’s in LA). The equipment used to record the band members’ parts varies drastically; Saunier recorded many of his drum parts on PhotoBooth, that goofy Mac plug-in one might use to take a selfie or a short video. It offers a solution to the problem of how to make an album during quarantine. The recording process is inextricable from the album’s sound and is part of what makes it so interesting.

Though the band’s planned tours were canceled, Deerhoof performed a livestream concert to promote Future Teenage Cave Artists. Saunier enjoyed the experience, citing his ability to see fans react in real-time to their music with text and emojis. But he’s not terribly optimistic about the post-pandemic music industry.

“[The pandemic] set a new expectation that the artist should do not only live free live streams but crappy free live streams,” he says. “Whoever already had good cameras or a good microphone home studio setup wins. Everybody else is sitting there in front of their iPhone with glitching Internet, and nobody’s getting paid for it.”

The inability to tour threatens to jeopardize Deerhoof’s livelihood and those of countless other bands—not to mention those of venue owners, 90% of which surveyed by the National Independent Venues Association this month said they would not survive the pandemic. Meanwhile, corporations profit off the desperation of musicians and music consumers. 

“Spotify is laughing all the way to the bank,” says Saunier. “The idea that now we’re all happy because we’re getting together via Zoom—whoever owns Zoom is also laughing all the way to the bank.”

I return to that lyric from the beginning of the album: “Gonna paint an animal on a cave wall/Gonna leave it there forever while empires fall.” Is Future Teenage Cave Artists the animal on the wall? Is Deerhoof trying to create a masterpiece to weather the sands of time?

Saunier dismisses the idea. “You don’t know if you’re going to be alive tomorrow, you might not wake up tomorrow,” he says. “What does the magic masterpiece status mean when your future is day to day?”

Out of the Crate: Revolutionary records to spin you into summer

Run the Jewels

With this past weekend, summer’s officially here—and while that may not mean dancing in the streets, you can certainly use some new protest and home listening energy. Here’s a roundup of things we’re spinning on our turntables. 

RUN THE JEWELS, RTJ4 (BMG)
Run The Jewels, the duo of Killer Mike and El-P, released their new album June 3—two days ahead of its planned release date, as a free download across all digital platforms. Tired and disgusted of seeing Black people murdered by police, RTJ4 immediately became the voice to what WE all saw and heard in Minneapolis, the murder of George Floyd on May 25th, killed in daylight, by Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, who knelt on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes while Floyd was handcuffed and lying face down, begging for his life, calling out for his deceased mother, and repeatedly saying “I can’t breathe.”
Arrested for allegedly using a counterfeit bill.

“You so numb you watch the cops choke out a man like me/Until my voice goes from a shriek to whisper—‘I’can’t breathe’/And you sit there in the house on couch and watch it on TV,” Killer Mike raps on “Walking in the Snow,” his voice tight. Speaking to the deaf ears of The White House.

This column is called “Out The Crate,” where we celebrate rare records, oddities, and re-issues on vinyl, cause records rule. But we’re breaking the rules today, specifically for RTJ4, as the world is different. The vinyl form will not be available until September, but since Jaime and Mike put one on massively “For The Culture,” we’re celebrating this record now.

In a note to their fans via social media the duo stated: “Fuck it, why wait? The world is infested with bullshit so here’s something raw to listen to while you deal with it all. We hope it brings you some joy. Stay safe and hopeful out there and thank you for giving 2 friends the chance to be heard and do what they love.”

RTJ4 bangs hard for 39 minutes, stockpiled with anger, drums, beats, horns, wordplay, and truth. Featuring collaborations with & contributions from Pharrell Williams, Zack de la Rocha, Mavis Staples, 2 Chainz, Josh Homme, DJ Premier, & more: It’s the real-time 12 steps to handling straight rage, our nation, devoid of order coming from the highest office in the land, needs. It’s Luther, our Obama Anger Translator, turned up way past 11, looking to slap the shit outta 45. Much like James Brown playing the Boston Garden, calming that city after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr, Run The Jewels showed up, Big. Killer Mike and El-P became immediately present for a community tired of seeing that same game being replayed without accountability.

“For me this is the only way I really know how to contribute to the human struggle and experience beyond just trying to be kind and aware and grow,” El-P said of releasing RTJ4 “for FREE for ANYONE who wants some music” in Rolling Stone. “It’s the only weapon i’m truly trained in and i’m grateful to have it.”

Run The Jewels have provided a list of organizations on their website that are fighting for justice, change, and equity in America, including their longtime allies the National Lawyers Guild which, amongst other things, provides legal representation for lawful protesters. You can download the album from there as well.

CAROLINE ROSE, SUPERSTAR (NEW WEST)
Way back in February I wasn’t planning on writing about this album. I was up late one night. Seth Meyers was on the flat screen, cold beer was getting it done, then some random off-blonde in red shades, and a red outfit for that matter, starts dancing around on stage, shuffling around like a sheepish robot. Now iʻm locked. This was the Caroline Rose debut on “Late Night With Seth Meyers.”

Looking somewhat uncomfortable (which I found out later was a role commitment) with this commerce game, you know. Live TV. Young woman “shaking it” and all that poop emoji. But this got different. There was something quite charming about the way she was camping it up…making us partially believe: By the Power of Grayskull ”Becky” canʻt dance. With her backing band, donning questionable thrift shop hipster-chic pieces, aiming at some grade of funk. All of this extra-ness got to me. I bit at the selling point. That girl is playing my jam.

Itʻs called fuckery.

I reached out to the publicist: “Hey, I just happened to catch Caroline Rose, unplanned, last nite. She was the coolest dork I’ve seen on late-nite TV in a minute. Music was catchy, far better than I expected. Solid hang.” She responded on brand: “That’s her vibe!”

Now since, NBC, Seth Meyer or Rose had the video removed. There is a new one at a club where she kinda seriously speaks into the mic about performing on television the first time “the weirdest experience of my whole life, now we all live in a simulated reality and we can’t tell what’s real and what is not.”
Rose proceeds to rock her “Becky” funk with band members still wearing questionable thrift shop Bammer fashions.

“Superstar’ is a pop-synth lark, with electro grooves and gender-neutral stories written, recorded and produced by Rose in her 10 by 12-foot home studio, as well as on a portable rig she’d set up in green rooms while on tour. But there is a long con going on here, a dissertation on gender roles and how they are treated and perceived in pop music. And THAT is probably worth buying the record for. The tunes are cool, but the message is on point if your antenna is up to get it.

Superstar is her sonic moment wanting to be Prince, hoping to sound like Dâm-Funk but eventually delivering some type of Jay-Som/FKA Twigs funkified hybrid.

None too shabby. She wrote, played every damn instrument, and engineered this all by her lonesome. Do yourself a favor and go down a YouTube k-hole and seek out her Noise Ordinance Studio sessions. Sis got chops for days. Dial-up the vid “Money,” and you will see this young woman, who is trying to get over on Superstar being a schlub, is actually a ridiculously talented musician. And if you canʻt see that, bub, you’re the fool. Get the album here

SYLVESTER, MIGHTY REAL: GREATEST DANCE HITS (CRAFT RECORDINGS)
It was the damn boogie heads. About 10 years ago, there were various parties around San Francisco one way or another loosely affiliated with the Mothership we like to refer to as Sweater Funk. From anyone of those assorted vinyl junkies—even the patrons who began stockpiling records from Rooky’s on Haight Street because of the boogie phenomenon—I started to hear this moonlit instrumental played in the deepest moments, the peak, of an event.

Or, after midnite at some Mission bar, equipped with a curmudgeonly DJ, where nobody was getting laid. Finally, at a happy hour I did with my buddy Mitch, he played the six-plus minute epic vocal jam “I Need Somebody To Love Tonight” by Sylvester to a packed dance floor on a Friday eve just past seven. Blown away, not even suspecting it was Sylvester, I took it all in. People broke off from their dance partners and just started moving in their own space. Magical, with that looming dark sparkle innit.

Produced by synth sorcerer and under-celebrated mastermind Patrick Cowley, the track’s insistent bass pattern, elusive drums, and solar system ephemera keep the half-time tempo feeling quicker than it is. Through this foggy rhapsody of interstellar drifting, Sylvester’s plea refuses to hide an ounce of pain.

Even the Sonar Kollectiv rework from 2007, with the dub emphasis pushed to the front of the mix, can’t shake that hurt, minus the vocals. That moody spirit shouldn’t move a crowd, but it does. The cold post-disco groove coupled with a melancholy Sylvester cooing those transparent blues, drives ffolk deeper, under the spell of isolation. And that’s just one of the brilliant tracks here. Get the album here.

JPQ, QUINTESSENCE, (TIDAL WAVES MUSIC)
With phasers squarely set on Funk-Funk, JPQ (Jimmy Person Quintet) was a short-lived soul & funk band from the Greensboro, North Carolina area who put out their only full-length release, Quintessence, in 1983 on Jam-A-Ditty Records. It became a sought-after private pressed Holy Grail within the record collecting community.

The entire album is filled with sexy, yet strong, vocals, groovy bass lines, and even cosmic/bluesy guitar touches. Those influences, George Benson, The Crusaders, as well as Marvin Gaye softly hover over the album. But as you witness on the drum-machine earworm ‘E-Jam Sammich’ this group had an ear toward the electro sounds emerging from outfits such as Newcleus and Kraftwerk. Quintessence is a rare odd duck of a forgotten treasure, deserving of new followers. Get the album here

ALBERT AYLER, NEW GRASS (THIRD MAN RECORDS)
When avant-garde jazz meets soul by way of musician Albert Ayler it arrives in a jagged, daredevil brand of Black music, giving zero fucks… New Grass, the 1968 album by Ayler, originally released by Impulse!, mixed his vocals and tenor sax playing with elements from R&B and other genres, including a soul horn section, backing singers, rock electric bass, and boogaloo drumming. This avant-jazz experimentation of soul music was “misunderstood’ at the time of its release, meeting a hostile reception from fans and critics alike, who accused Ayler of “selling out.” When in fact the record finds Ayler digging back into his R&B roots: He started his career playing saxophone with Chicago bluesman Little Walter.

Only years later, way after the wrangle, did historians and fans come to enjoy the tuff veneer of this free-spirited music disrupting the structure of soul and then putting those elements back into some approximation of pop. As stated by Third Man Records: “New Grass deserves reconsideration, if not for the heavy grooves and surprising arrangements, then for its bravery in challenging norms of the time; by the ’60s, jazz was well-accepted as a uniquely American art form, while soul as a genre was very much still seen as primitive. Ayler melds them together and creates something novel, adventurous, and completely his own.” Get the album here

EUGENE MCDANIELS, OUTLAW (REAL GONE MUSIC)
Among a certain set, Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse by singer-songwriter Eugene “Gene” McDaniels is a much-desired collector’s item. Running the table on soul, funk, jazz, and even folk led to hip-hop artists Pete Rock, Q-Tip, and Earl Sweatshirt and numerous others sampling the project, making it a greater pluck between rare-groove heads. His previous record Outlaw, an addictive blend of soul, jazz, folk, and rock grooves played by Ron Carter, Eric Weissberg, and Hugh McCracken, featuring production handled by Joel Dorn, runs a close second.

The writer of soul and jazz staples “Compared to What” and Roberta Flacks “Feel Like Making Love,”
McDaniels first broke through in the early ‘60s with pop-soul hits like “A Hundred Pounds of Clay.”
Then by the time McDaniels recorded his 1970’s Outlaw and rechristened himself “the left rev mc d”, the radicalized performer emerged. As stated in the liner notes: “One sees Middle America’s worst nightmare coming to life. There’s the badass Reverend Lee himself holding a bible. Righteous Susan Jane in a jean jacket and black French resistance turtleneck is wielding a machine gun, and McDaniels’ then-wife Ramona appears as a soul sister with cross your heart Viva Zapata! Ammo belts. At the forefront is a large human skull, just in case you didn’t already get the message.”

The Nixon White House got offended by the lyrics to “Silent Majority” (“Silent Majority is calling out loud to you and me from Arlington Cemetery”) that either Spiro Agnew or Nixon’s Chief of Staff personally called Atlantic records, asking them to stop working with McDaniels. One quick listen to “Cherrystones,” you understand that Mc Daniels is all about sparking that needed revolution and fighting the power. Get the album here.

New Music: An array of excellent sounds to discover (and artists to support)

Ras G, RIP

Here we are halfway through 2020, with so much to keep an attentive eye on that you might walk into the shower fully clothed. For real. That shit happened. Pretty much the only consistently good thing going is the monthly Bandcamp Fridays—this Friday, July 3, midnight to midnight PST, the platform is waiving its share of sales money to support artists impacted by Covid-19. We have some suggestions:

RAS G, RAW FRUIT VOL. 5 & 6 
There is nothing quite like hearing beats-collagist Ras G ride James Brown’s funk-blues across the Nebula. “Doberman In the Cadillac” does just that. As a Black man or just a human being in general, you get instant connectedness in the funkiest, soulful encoded communicative way. 2020’s been such a shit show you ALMOST forget we lost this visionary last year on July 31. ‘Raw Fruit Vol. 5 & 6’ may be sold out in vinyl on Bandcamp, but go seek out some other titles on the platform if you’re into physical media, or tell your friends to get the digital. Seek out other stellar Rap G works.  It will make you feel good. Protected. And you’ll be helping his Shorter family. Get it here.

YAYA BEY, MADISON TAPES
Comfort. That’s what gets evoked looking at the slipper convention happening on the cover art of this project. Madison Tapes seems to be in the cultural zeitgeist of the now, making music that is full of conversations overflowing. (Peep that new Theo Parrish “We Are Gorgeous Monsterrs” NOT on Bandcamp for context.) Come for the deconstructed, yet very “blunt” active R&B and stay for the attitude. Full of jokes, sick burns, and philosophy—as the daughter of hip-hop pioneer Grand Daddy I. U., Bey has been surrounded by music since childhood, and it shows. Greatness purrs underneath the come-and-go casualness. Get it here.

OHMME, FANTASIZE YOUR GHOST
Ohmme, the Chicago duo made up of Sima Cunningham and Macie Stewart, came up with a majority of Fantasize Your Ghost touring. It asks a lot of questions and could give a shit if it’s catchy while moving forward like a shark, dragging guitar drone along for the pursuit. This deeply talented duo is not swinging for the podhole glory of Spotify, more like the gnarly truth of Bandcamp. Jessi Roti of The Chicago Reader lays it all out succinctly: “The ten muscular tracks on Fantasize Your Ghost showcase the band’s intrepid spirit and clever control over their instruments, while their lyrics explore what it means and how it feels when you’ve become a stranger to the life you once knew. Meaningful relationships run their course and empty out; places and things you’ve built an identity around stop feeling significant. The album’s 40 minutes succinctly evoke the anger, clarity, pain, and joy that can come if you accept what comes next.” Get it here.

CHRISTELLE BOFALE, “ORIGAMI DREAMS”
Music, trends, ideas, and voices all come at cha pretty damn quick these days. Christelle Bofale, the Austin-based singer-songwriter will absolutely redirect your mood—into a good one at that—within the span over a couple suspended notes. According to her Bandcamp bio: She’s the first US born kid in her family, the rich heritage of the Congo is deeply rooted in her upbringing and relationship with sounds. As a songwriter, she infuses hints of the Congo into various aspects of her music, bridging the musical influences of the diaspora with juxtaposed elements of indie rock, soul, and jazz respectively. “Origami Dreams,” a track from here debut EP Swim team, is the moment you never want to leave. Breathy, but still backed up with voice, brain, presence, arrangement. Just listen to it. Weightless guitar tangents and lush, aquatic soundscapes are a vital part of what embodies her work, which deserves discovery. Get it here.

TORO Y MOI, “ORDINARY GUY” (FEATURING MATTSON 2)
+ CAUSERS OF THIS (INSTRUMENTALS)
Chaz Bundick’s Toro y Moi project and frequent collaborators Mattson 2 have covered “Ordinary Guy,” the closing track on Latin soul artist Joe Bataan’s 1967 debut Gypsy Woman. Proceeds go to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. “[Joe Bataan’s] music first caught my ear back in 2009 when Ryan Kattner of Man Man played it for me,” Toro y Moi said in a statement. “I was immediately hooked by Joe’s music because, to me, he represented the impossible—he felt so comfortable in his skin and he had so much confidence and appeal.” Get it here.

In addition to the cover, Toro y Moi released an instrumental version of his 2010 debut Causers of This.
The album, which was noted by critics at the time of its release to fit comfortably between Small Black, Washed Out, Gold Panda, Neon Indian, with a clear nod to producers like J Dilla and Flying Lotus, had a large impact on music in South Carolina, Bundick’s birthplace, over the decade following its release. The state had previously been known mainly for country and roots rock: Chaz changed all that. The city of Berkeley, California, where he currently reside, named June 27 “Chaz Bundick Day” in honor of Toro Y Moi’s contribution to arts and music in 2017. Causers of This caused a lot to happen. Get it here.


FOTOMACHINE, ECSTASY AND LITTLE MACHINES
Fotonachine’s “BBoy,” an overflowing mood—optimism and elation by way of expansive synths, acid basslines, bubble gum keyboard play, and tripped up breakbeats, recently appeared on Josey Rebelle’s excellent Josey in Space mix compilation. A new release from the London producer—who’s mostly released music in the past as Photomachine—gets an opportunity to shine beyond just one dope track.

Part of the UK’s electronic music circuit for at least a decade, Fotomachine has focused much of his recent activity in recent years behind the scenes at Technicolour, the Ninja Tune imprint that he heads up.
(Octo Octa’s quintessential late ’90s feel of idealism EP, “For Lovers” from 2019 was released by Technicolor.) But when Fotomachine emerges to the forefront, subtle acknowledgments towards Derrick May get voiced. Shouts to Shawn Reynaldo, one of the best to do it for music journalism period, for alerting others about this solo joint. As he writes: “‘Fetish'” is one of the record’s clear standouts, a synthy, analog chugger whose smudgy sonics and confident strut remind me of fellow UK producer Funkineven. Get it here.

LAFAWNDAH, “YOU, AT THE END”
Anytime Lafawndah, aka Yasmine Dubois, decides to put art into the world, get in line. Put on your mask. It’s going to be worth the wait. Moreover, anytime an artist self-describes their upcoming project “torch songs for when it rains ash, creation ballads for when the earth turns inside out”…Shit. That’s a Bat-Signal in the sky. “You, at The End,” from upcoming The Fifth Season album sees Lafawndah collaborate with UK jazz musicians Theon Cross (tuba) andNathaniel Cross (trombone) for moody acoustic heady arrangements. The lyrics come from a Kate Tempest poem about a misfit harnessing immense, world-shattering powers. Indulge in these charming, fetching yarns. Doom can be oh so romantic. Get it here.

MUSEIK, “JUSTICE MATTERS”
Created from watching the Uprising in 2020. We were lucky to have Museik reach out to us. Here are some thoughts about the song from the artist: “After watching the recent struggles of black people fighting for equality, I was reminded of my own journey as a Black man. After watching it all play out, I was tired, angry, and frustrated. I didn’t know what to say or do. I turned to my sampler to help me speak my mind. The emotional speeches by Killer Mike and Tamika Mallory spoke to me. They translate the energy felt by myself, and the millions of black people who have been discriminated against for years. The voice of Jane Elliot during her ‘Blue Eyes & Brown Eyes exercise,’ was a fitting way to end the track. She has done great work in highlighting the detrimental impact of racism. Their voices take a central role in ‘Justice Matters.’ All proceeds from the sale of this music will be donated to Black-affiliated charities. It’s everyone against racism. Black lives have always mattered. Justice, and equality, matters. Love, MUSEiK.” Get it here.

Diving into Sespool’s genre-agnostic indie rap

Sespool

Before Rin Tin Tiger, Westwood & Willow, Pericardium, or the weird-ass Christmas album, he was Sespool—the “SES” coming from his initials, Sean E. Sullivan. The music he released under the name in the mid-‘00s is gone now, along with 50 million other songs wiped from the earth during MySpace’s disastrous server migration last year. But Sullivan’s revived the moniker as of late, and he describes his new music as the sum of all his musical obsessions in the interim: folk, heavy metal, progressive rock, alternative rock, and especially hip hop.

Sullivan’s been a hip-hop head since childhood: sneaking a listen to Coolio behind his parents’ backs, falling in love with the mid-‘00s hyphy wave, obsessing over Young Thug and Travis Scott as mainstream rap mutated into weirder, more futuristic forms over the last decade.

His new single “Newsflash” represents this genre-agnostic moment in rap. The beat is recognizably hip-hop, but the guitars could come from a mid-1990s alt-rock radio ballad, and its ever-mutating hook of a vocal track could fit on a ‘60s British Invasion single if you swapped out the 808s for guitars and live drums. There’s even a synth preset that sounds a little like the one on Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill.” The whole thing’s over in two minutes.

“The amount of exposure to music we have now is almost too much,” he says. “It’s like ‘I really want to listen to that Led Zeppelin album from 1973, let me just pull it up,’ and on the exact same app, you can go and find some local band’s mixtape they put out two weeks ago. I think it’s made people more open-minded towards music and also made the music itself much more fluid.”

For most of Sullivan’s career as a musician, solo music was a secondary concern. His brother Kevin is a singer-songwriter who records as Field Medic and recently received a coveted deal with Run for Cover Records. They performed together first as Westwood & Willow, then as Rin Tin Tiger when drummer Andrew Skewes-Cox began to sit in at shows. They even made a Christmas album together featuring “Bay Bells,” a hyphy novelty that nonetheless helped Sean realize he could rap.

Kevin moved to LA in 2017, leaving Rin Tin Tiger unspokenly defunct. “Andrew and I had no interest in leaving the Bay,” Sean says. “And when the songwriter wants to go, he gets to go.”

The brothers remain on good terms and talk almost every day, and they floated the idea of reuniting in October to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the “Haunted Hoedown” Halloween parties the brothers regularly threw at Bottom of the Hill. But the breakup of Rin Tin Tiger marked the beginning of a fallow period in Sean’s life and musical career. 

He put music aside, writing reviews of junk food products for a site called The Impulsive Buy. Then he went through a breakup with his girlfriend of five years, recounted harrowingly on his first Sespool full-length, last year’s (This Love Is) Eternal. 

“Literally the week that it happened, I was like, ‘I can’t be writing about food anymore,’” Sullivan says. “‘I have to make music, I have to write about this.’”

(This Love Is) Eternal is lo-fi and crudely mixed, and Sullivan’s singing and rapping aren’t as smoothly integrated as they are on “Newsflash.” It’s the product of a necessary bloodletting rather than an auteur’s desire to make an earth-shattering masterpiece, but Sullivan has no regrets about how it turned out. 

“Looking back on it now, I think I’ve definitely grown as an artist. I think I’ve grown as a producer, I’ve gotten better at what I’ve done, but that story was so important for me to tell that it needed to happen.”

Sullivan has an EP in the wings, which he’s calling Before the Fog Covers Me. He describes it as having a stronger prog-metal influence than his past work, which seems strange but isn’t even the first time he’s fused prog and rap; his teenage band Pericardium cited Pink Floyd and Porcupine Tree as influences but occasionally worked with a rapper named David Flores.

He originally intended to release it this summer and play a few shows to promote it, possibly with a drummer. But he’s tentative about declaring an official release date due to the ongoing pandemic. 

“I’m kind of trying to think of ways to elevate the release a little bit to make it something to to show how proud of it I am,” he says. “I feel like this new product I’m working on is like my true sound. It takes together my 15 years of making music and puts it all out there. So I’m pumped.”

New Music: With ‘Move Out,’ SUMif drops a rousing synth command

SUMif. Photo by Kelly Mason

When the creative juices get ignited, possibilities ARE unlimited. Words pogo directly to and from the ole ticker.

So instantly after Steph Wells, of the San Francisco-based electropop project SUMif—a name pinched from an Excel function—states “Why can’t we have a conversation, every time you say her name you’re putting me through hell again” against incremental guitar chord structures, hand-claps, and an I’m over it tone, it feels like these aren’t just lyrics. It’s life.

Our protagonist, known for her emulative dance-pop sound structures, gets her point across, using winsome, contemporary arrangements that seem inspired by Scandinavian pop artists Tove Lo, Sigrid, and MØ. A storm is brewing under the fabrication of a smile, and that snappy-ass beat.

“Move on, move out aren’t you sick of the couch” a weighty, peeved chorus written by Wells evokes a call to action for anybody stuck on the crumb cushion snack boat, trying to catch some Zzz every damn night.

“Move Out,” the new synth bauble from Wells, who by her own account “is just now inching toward equilibrium after a whirlwind romance, and a rousing awakening,” notifies listeners of the oncoming song suite chronicling her agonizing fling with bold emotionality and steamy narratives. It’s the first release from this collection of songs, which will feature a pair of singles, “Collide” and “Want Me,” leading the way to SUMif’s debut album later this year.

Wells, who has played the main stage at SF Pride and at the Folsom Street Fair in the past, asserts that her current single is an honest account of how new love motivated this queer creative to urge her paramour into flipping the page, with the quickness.

“I met someone who changed my world, and made me look at love and connection through a new lens,” Steph acknowledges. “It was crazy and romantic, but it felt real. I didn’t care if I got hurt—she could have had all of me.”

“Move Out” will be officially released on June 26th. Previously, SUMif has released 18 singles and two EPs, including the hit “Lay Down.” She is definitely on the move and one to watch.

New Music: Chroma’s ‘Source of Nurture’ comp features East Bay faves

When Chroma—the NYC collective and creative agency that advocates for centering the work and experience of womxn of color—reached out to DJ-producers Lara Sarkissian and 8ULENTINA, along with 23 other artists to compile a compilation financially benefiting Black activist organizations, the East Bay Club Chai founders offered up a techno track called “Pendulum” in solidarity.

The track was released on the Source of Nurture compilation earlier this month, a collection comprised wholly of works by womxn of color artists. Source of Nuture runs the gamut of bass music, hip-hop, techno, dance hall, and R&B, and highlights the talents of Lafawndah, Charlotte Dos Santos, COQUETA, Kelsey Lu, and so many other talented creatives—while also calling attention to the experiences of Black folks, especially Black queer, trans, nonbinary folks and Black women-frontline fighters of change. It simultaneously aligns with the Black Lives Matter movement, undocumented and immigrant communities, and essential workers.

In the past, Chroma has drawn attention to the refugees at the US-Mexico border, with its “Protect People Not Borders” project, and manufactured a climate crisis incubator. But now, in this current plight, they’ve focused their attention in compiling this 24-song release, as a fundraising initiative with 100% of the proceeds going directly to Equality for Flatbush, Undocu Workers Fund, The Movement for Black Lives Fund, and Black Trans Femmes in the Arts.

It’s been a busy stretch for Club Chai’s Sarkissian and 8ULENTINA. Both artists came together in 2014 to cultivate safe spaces for trans and women-identifying individuals working at the intersection of electronic music and diasporic traditions—meeting the needs of Oakland’s queer, black and brown folks.

On May 1st the duo released their split EP, “On My Way,” consisting of four tracks moving about trance and revisionist breakcore. Inspired by whereabouts on either side of the Bay Bridge that have been poignant for each of the artists over the years, the project focuses more on feel than the dance floor.

Later on in the month, Club Chai took over the Boiler Room platform’s “Streaming From Isolation” series, showcasing global club culture at a time when dance floors are nonexistent. Continuing in their tradition of upbeat, attacking snares, “Pendulum” rolls out patterns that are dance floor-intense, transforming the moment far from the lights and sweat.

Score new music on Juneteenth—and support NAACP Legal Fund

Brooklyn-via-Oakland's Nappy Nina

Once again leaping to action when leaders, politicians, and other music platforms continually remain tone-deaf and tardy in response, Bandcamp will be donating 100 percent of its revenue on Juneteenth (June 19th) to the NAACP in solidarity with recent protests against police racism and brutality. CEO Ethan Diamond made the announcement on Monday, adding that the Oakland-based music sales site would repeat the practice annually while also allocating an additional $30,000 per year to partner with organizations that fight for racial justice and create opportunities for people of color.

Juneteenth is recognized as the date of emancipation—June 19th, 1865—for the last remaining enslaved African Americans in the Confederacy, two and a half years after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

“The recent killings of George Floyd, Tony McDade, Sean Reed, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and the ongoing state-sanctioned violence against black people in the U.S. and around the world are horrific tragedies,” Diamond said. “We stand with those rightfully demanding justice, equality, and change, and people of color everywhere who live with racism every single day, including many of our fellow employees and artists and fans in the Bandcamp community.”

So here are some suggestions on what to purchase. Your money is helping, and alive at this moment. Fight The Power!

NAPPY NINA, 30 BAG
Dropping a wordplay buffet to commemorate her 30th orbit around the globe, Oakland’s Nappy Nina, who currently resides in the Republic of Brooklyn, makes ’30 Bag’ is a well-needed win for us. Beats, rhymes, flows, frequencies all collide for the perfect amalgam, presenting this emcee, here and present, taking on all comers. Yeah, the cameo on Yaeji’s major-label debut earlier this year was cute, proper introduction for some, but one listen to this bounce-n-bump release—make space and time for the heady bomb “Modestly”—things become automatically crystal. Nappy Nina is nobody’s side piece. Happy belated to the one who loves grilled cheese sandwiches and is a connoisseur of trees.

MOODYMANN, “TAKEN AWAY”
Opting for Black authenticity and controlling his image over cookie-cutter mundane tropes has been Moodyman’s objective since day one. With a preference to self-reference black music (1996’s “I Can’t Kick This Feeling When It Hits” sampling Chic into the ground to remind all of y’all who started this shit) he along with fellow Detroiters Theo Parrish and Rick Wilhite administer record nerd cues within the sermon of a song, putting those who need it on notice about who built the foundation EDM wobbles on today. The backs of disenfranchised folk, who got used up and discarded like a facial mask.

San Francisco, I don’t need to tell you how the city flips out when Moodymann comes to touch down for a gig. Shit gets cray, the right way. Just know this. The next time the media tries to pass him off as some type of ‘weird behavior’ DJ, producer, or presenter? Think of the loudmouth DJ David Guetta who at one point a couple of years ago claimed to bring house music to America. For shame, Davey.

Naah, Mang. Moodymann just doing himself, Kenny Dixon, Jr. And we should all trust THAT truth.

GEORGIA ANNE MULDROW, “COWRIE WALTZ/JYOTI”
Acclaimed Grammy-nominated singer, songwriter, producer, multi-instrumentalist, and culture protector Georgia Anne Muldrow returns in 2020 with her solo jazz project, Jyoti, the nickname bestowed upon her by the late great Alice Coltrane. Always outspoken, and universally respected she is the creative you want to hear insights from and engage with during good and difficult times.

“Cowrie Waltz” from her upcoming release in August, is a mid-tempo jazz stepper, drenched in history, patience, and love. The album also features two Charlie Mingus compositions that Georgia remixed for the album, “Bemoanable Lady Geemix” and “Fabus Foo Geemix,” both commissioned by Jason Moran and The Kennedy Center in 2017, a project that manifested into a live performance entitled “Muldrow Meets Mingus” which just re-aired on NPR.

THE DU-RITES, “JHERI CURL”
Just in time to pick you up from all the heaviness abound is the duo consisting of J-Zone and Pablo Martin aka The Du-Rites, coming with all the signifiers and qualifiers in doo-rags, pillowcases, and activator spray. “Jheri Curl’ is only joking in its vocal stretches. The grooves, from an organ, snare drum, guitar picking, and timbales are straight Meter vibes attacking your good foot. We need this!

KING BRITT, BACK2BLACK
It took me a second to chase down this project. When you are King Britt—DJ, composer, producer royalty, and assistant teaching professor at UCSD in the Computer Music Department—there are many projects to meander through. But this, on Black Catalogue for his first full EP, “Back2Black” is the one worthy of the search. A bit more steppy, experimental, and introspective in the techno vein, it’s a deep reminder of how much a trailblazer and in-the-minute massive talent King Britt remains, 30-plus years in the game.
Still, The Don. Now if we could just get a dance floor open to blare it… Oh, and go seek out Monty Luke’s Hard Work Not Hype LP that Britt co-produced as well.

JENIFA MAYANJA, “SEEDS ALTERNATE VERSIONS PART ONE”
Very new to this artist’s work so I can only speak on feel. But after the first couple of listens, “Alternate Versions Part One,” which spans three tracks and ,according to Jenifa Mayanja, “illustrates all the many alternate creative universes where my tracks live,” these compositions hit like a happy ghost who moonlights in atmospheric rendering on the side. What does that mean? These songs feel very experienced and lend themselves to, in their older age, just hooking off for that groove stretch. Imagine it’s a sweltering night and “The Calling” comes on, all of a sudden breezes just gust for days. Mayanja has found the right balance between whimsy and correct…..and I don’t want that one-two combo to ever end.

New Music: I, Ced maps the funky zigs and zags of modern romance

I, Ced

Los Angeles artist I, Ced, who’s been a fixture on the session musician track since leaving St. Louis, Missouri in 2001 and arriving in SoCal, keeps his name and ability in great regard amid that city’s progressive soul community. Not an easy task. Within a certain domain, one could argue he’s actually the “worst kept secret,” opposite of what’s listed in his album press material and liner notes. Influential folks such as Shafiq Husayn and Dam-Funk work with him. Knowing what he does. Along with other creators and aficionados of modern soul music.

When you have a distinct acuity—covering production, studio mixing, keys, and vocals—your name circulates. The right people speak it. Jean Grae & Quelle Chris, Coultrane, Jimetta Rose, Myron & E., André Cymone, and a bunch of others, know exactly who he is. Some kinda connective tissue that will give your project that “IT” soul stamp.

Where his 2016 What Are We Looking For? captured the production essence of ’70s soul, Gamble and Huff Philadelphia International era, on his new Interpretations I, Ced documents the zig and zag of modern romance to a fusion of rhythm and blues, rap vocals, funk, disco, and synthesized percussion. This debut long-player for Los Angeles imprint MoFunk Records grinds, and clicks along, using hand-claps, four on the floor beats, and vocals engulfed in polyphonic choruses, these arrangements stretch out into carnivalesque wonder, at dream haze pace.

I, Ced’s association with MoFunk started when label boss, singer, and emcee XL Middleton (who has become a cornerstone since the long-running Los Angeles club night Funkmosphere ended) released a remix of I, Ced’s “Percu” single. Something fit. Soul-driven harmonics—in the vein of Donny Hathaway and vintage Stevie Wonder conjoined to bassline bump—made this sound collaboration slap with a bit more purpose, allocating sturdy context for the blunt lyrics and sped up Roland TR-808 drum machine blues.

Now, on Interpretations, Coultrain, Leon Sylvers IV, Erik Rico, Jimetta Rose, Zackey Force Funk, and Moniquea, all top-flight veterans in the LA progressive soul aggregate, move about songs with all-star acumen. Distilling cameos, contributing to the fabric, just showing up with all-star professionalism. Understanding this is I, Ced’s close-up.

On the uptempo banger “Call Me Up,” Ced makes a tuff bassline the centerpiece, adding Steve Arrington type lead vocals into the arrangement, fashioning squiggly synthy accents on the corners, reminiscent of classic Minneapolis Prince origins. Toss in Michael MacDonald foggy harmonic background runs, the ones featured on classic Steely Dan. With plucky, free-flowing passages, skirting outside the bass line breakdown mid-song, these sturdy, masterful grooves run the track all the way live. Through 12 neo-funk tracks, Ced drives that sleek and glossy indentation home.

New Music: Five revitalizing mixes to fortify your spirit

Celebrate Prince's birthday month with the Soul Slam mix.

With so much in the world to process these days, let’s just listen. Fight The Power, People.

EMMA-JEAN THACKRAY, “CRACK MAGAZINE SUNDAY MIX”
Emma-Jean Thackray wears many musical hats. Composer, producer, multi-instrumentalist, singer, bandleader, and DJ, she can put in work with the London Symphony Orchestra and host a most eclectic show on her Worldwide FM time slot, putting on a clinic with trumpet and quartet, sorted.
Settle into a gorgeous collection of tones, colors, and vibes while Thackray puts her foot innit.
It’s the most proper introduction to this serious artist who you will be hearing much more from in the future.

SOUL SLAM, “PURPLE MIX”
The Soul Slam party would have taken place this month, celebrating the 62’nd birthday of Prince. The Bay Area’s legendary dance party features selections by Prince & his Disciples, Sheila E, The Time, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Vanity 6 & Madhouse, The Family and so many more. In the past DJ Spinna has headlined and kept everybody moving to Housequake and What A Beautiful Night. In that honor here is THE PURPLE MIX by King Most & Marky, both resident DJs of the party, who remain West Coast elite presenters. Kicking it off with “Gigolos Get Lonely Too,” its a deep hang of a mix for a one-word icon of an artist who encapsulated multi-hyphenate designation starting with the 1978 debut record For You.

BROWN AMY, BOILER ROOM ‘STREAMING FROM ISOLATION’ MIX
Chulita Vinyl and Hard French resident DJ Brown Amy has been spinning and producing events for nine years, and collecting records for 15 years. Her recent mix for Club Chai’s Streaming From Isolation is a high octane breakbeat, house, and techno-affair that just won’t stop. Think of it as an espresso for your ears. The kids would declare on the dance floor “this shit is dope”. Get a taste and keep it pushing, people…

KEMISTRY & STORM, DJ KICKS “25-YEAR CELEBRATION”
This is the one. Sure Roni Size, Goldie, LTJ Bukem held their respective moments on the breakbeat mountain, but let’s face it. This DJ KICKS mix, released before Kemistry’s tragic freak death in 1999, made this music, this culture stand at attention. Get hypnotized and bathe in the glorious bass bin grumble. Kemistry & Storm DJ-Kicks has been re-mastered and re-issued and retains no dust. Shamefully, the first time Kemistry & Storm went to a specialist record shop in London, they were practically laughed off the premises. DJ-Kicks: Kemistry & Storm hit the shelves just three-months before chemistry passed. Still the only drum & bass entry in the mixed series, it’s widely considered one of the greatest mixes in the genre’s history. Here’s a reminder of why. RIP Kemistry.

KAYSOUL, “KALTBLUT MAGAZINE MIX”
DJ/producer Katlego Matseke aka KaySoul, the first DJ to reach out to 48hills and actually ask how to get their mix mentioned in this column (thx KaySoul), started his career in 2010 in Johannesburg’s East Rand. While listing that he draws influence from the likes Larry Heard and Fred Everything, that burgeoning South Africa scene produced house and techno talents Black Coffee and Culoe De Song. As you take in this slippery smooth mix, keeping that head-nod in full motion for about an hour, remember where you first heard Kaysoul. He’s next.