All Ears

New Music: Afrikan Sciences takes an affecting electronic ‘Journey into Mr. Re’

Afrikan Sciences

Eric Porter, the self-taught electronic musician who records and performs mostly under the alias of Afrikan Sciences, seems concerned with the Zen-like practice of being these days.

With his new Journey into Mr. Re, Porter returns from his last release Centered, all the more grounded in a sense of rhythm in his austere compositions, focused on the unremembered peace found in minimalism. Clocking in at an hour and change, he takes just a little edge off the top, reducing the mood and tenor throughout the 13 track.

Selections “Life Projects” and “Surrogate Sketches” give the intense upbeat workouts he’s known for, but these elongated pieces drone, not smack. Sparse and cavernous is the preferred type of arrangement this time. “Whipping Spree” and “Belfast” attain ballast from their use of acoustic bass and piano right along the synths. The effect attaches gravity to the odd-time signatures Gilles Peterson and Georgia Anne Muldrow have recognized Porter for.

On past efforts, our attention would be focused on where those beats are gonna land. “The two, or the four? Wait, was that the one or the three?” Here, the intensity is walked back, a deeper foothold in the bass bin effect is activated, tweaked just a bit, for fullness of the moment. “Screen Time” uses that once chaotic beat—the way outliers feel making their way through this messy, complicated world—to alert how art cuts through the noise. Itʻs the beautiful struggle amplified.

Since Oct 2018, Porter’s been self-releasing projects at a swift pace, via Bandcamp, rejecting cut and dry genre distinctions. So much, in fact, his music has become a genre of its own. (Under another alias, The Camel Walk, his thunderous “Keep It Up” burns through five minutes of brimstone drums and plinking piano keys that point at some mystical ephemera swirling in the root. Even when Porter is winking, heʻs not joking.)

Using a portal of West London broken beat, house, techno and whatever new ideas he cooks up, these dispatches on sound gather no dust. And all the while co-piloting the vanguard electronic label Deepblak, Founded by Aybee, aka ArmonBazile, in Oakland. Porter’s compositions play on the side of eclectic energy to Aybee’s more or less straight on deconstruction of 4/4 music. Collaborating together or cooking apart, blood brothers in frequency, they stay steadfast pushing knobs and rhythms far left. Documenting all the hues Brown represents in amplified sound. Re-inventing what the center is, as they consistently move past it.

Porters been diligently building music as part of Les Graciés and WOOD // WORK Collective this past decade as well. Collaboration or not though, the focus remains pinprick sharp. Some choose Afrofuturism as a way to describe it.

He does not.

“Back in the day, we used to call forward-thinking music ‘that next shit,'” Porter stated on Bandcamp last year. “Then somewhere along the line many of us wanted to hone in on cultural identity as it related to progressive styles. But along the way, terminology gets bogged down and becomes a catch-all for things outside the norm, and eventually clichéd to a point where the innovators may disassociate. Personally, I will always stay on that new new, or next shit—the nexus of ancient and next.”

New Music: Transcendental dancing with Eris Drew’s ‘Fluids of Emotion’

Eris Drew

The first nanoseconds of an Eris Drew song or mixtape resemble the work of a maestro dramaturge. Everything—sound scratches, cutting in vocals, record manipulations over a breakbeat most times—happens at the front. Drew disdains giving warnings, it’s her way of saying, “Screw the algorithmic vanilla shit going on in corporatized tech and house music today.”

So get ready to be flushed into action. Utilizing turntable-only techniques such as doubles tricks and hot mixing, her lingual stamp rolls out in real-time. No need for a sophomoric normcore drop. Go grab a Coke with a turkey sando and run that intro back.

“It is as much about how I don’t use my samplers” Drew recently told Attack Magazine. “I don’t time stretch, use splicers, or “fix” the timing issues in my rhythm samples. I want the groove to be loose, like hip hop and the most vibrant hardcore tunes I love. So I keep the drummer’s timing and let the pitch change as I speed up and slow down the samples. To get my timing right I usually beat match the record to my song by hand, just like I would DJing live, and then hit record on my sampler. This way, even if I sample a square house beat it still isn’t perfectly on the grid.”

2019’s bomb-ass “Eris Drew’s mixtape Raving Disco Breaks Vol. 1” introduced this breakcore artist to a greater audience. Drew, the loving partner of DJ and producer Octo Octa, wove a blunt, strong narrative of embodiment, defiance and cultural transcendence on that mix. (They’ll both be performing at the T4T LUV NRG party, Fri/14 at Public Works)  Mixing disco house with broken beats, dropping Miami Bass jams with boogie keys, and blending rave tunes with diva vocals? Listen, that funk. The after-hours lock-in feel remained un-cut. Drew put it all on Front Street.

It’s a ginormous, witchy, earth-quaking seduction of a vibe she calls “Motherbeat.” Arriving at her consciousness while she was being driven home from a party, high on LSD in 1994, this is a rapturous divine feminine energy and ancient healing force. Captured in 120 minutes of dunking on your millennial “meh” approach to mixes.

Fluids of Emotion,” the three-song debut solo release, recorded at Eris Drew’s parents’ home in Chicago and mixed in the Interdimensional Laboratories in Detroit, stays relentlessly committed to that hallucinogenic spirit of rave and love while providing the moment-to-moment vitality of true breakcore. Loose, unquantized studio techniques make these songs—unlooped snippets of physical media—vibrant creations that have a soul and pulse.

“Instead of trying to innovate with new plug-ins and other technology, my approach is to make each song about something real and particular’ stated Drew during an interview earlier this year. “That is something which sets my songs apart from a lot of the hardcore and rave dance tracks which influence them. Think about the energy and intensity of hardcore and rave more than the individual sounds. Make your maniac hardcore out of anything you want, just like the originators did before you.”

Within the first 10 seconds of single “Fluids,” her pocket of sound gets to work: vinyl wrinkles, scratches, vocal shards, and 808 drops all ride on a carpet of warm keys. Tempo mircotensions move about, vocal instructions bark, but it’s the turntablism that actually speaks. With the closer “So Much Love to Give,” we get a piece of upbeat hustle that fluctuates between house and breakbeat. It’s the sweet spot Drew and Octo Octa have been reclaiming for the past couple of years, swimming upstream, past the trends, distilling groove and mysticism.

“Transcendental Access Point” uses 4/4 identity and trippy melodies to deliver a vocal remembrance of someones first time smoking a “very special joint” laced with a little DMT,  taking in a harpsichord concert, where each note was “moving and dancing with an apparent individual and collective will.”
As mentioned in the liner notes, this debut is “proto-rave ecstasy music” in the most rawest, beautiful form.

T4T LUV NRG WITH ERIS DREW AND OCTO OCTA
Fri/14, 9:30pm-3:30am, $25
Public Works, SF
Tickets and more info here

As Afrobeat heroes Antibalas arrive, recalling a classic track

When Brooklyn’s Antibalas—widely renowned as one of America’s fiercest live Afrobeat bands—takes over The Bay for three gigs this weekend (Fri/4 and Sun/16 at The Independent and Sat/15 at The New Parish), they’ll be celebrating their globetrotting 20-year career and the release of new album The Fu Chronicles, full of their signature horns and ebb-and-flow drum swells, and working a unique kung fu theme. (The album was inspired by lead singer Duke Amayo’s kung fu dojo and the pre-gentrification days of Williamsburg.)

But in their long career, one classic Antibalas track sticks with me. You may have to sip an extra Red Stripe, waiting for their show encore, to witness this tiny piece of balladry they transformed into an anthem. The origins start with a children’s folk song from Ghana called “Che Che Koolay.” That humble seed put Antibalas label Daptone Records—home to both iconic and now deceased vocalists Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley—on the map to stay in 2004.

Antibalas, which means bulletproof in Spanish, was fashioned after Fela Kuti’s Africa 70 band and Eddie Palmieri’s Harlem River Drive Orchestra, and spun a cultural call to dance into a piece of music that levitated all over the world, speaking to several languages at once.

“Che Che Colé”, a 1969 Willie Colon-produced Hector Lavoie-sung invitation to dance from his Borinquen salsa album Cosa Nuestra, got flipped by Antibalas into a 12-inch banger of a tune, using a style inspired by Fela’s Nigerian Afrobeat with stinging vocals by Mayra Vega. The original B-side, a remix by Bosco Mann and Antibalas’ keyboardist Victor “Ticklah” Axelrod, removes most of the band’s parts and recasts the arrangement in the Makossa style of early-’70s Cameroon, by way of Jamaican dub.

What’s so special about that?

For starters, upon release, it was the streets and clubs—consumers not purveyors—that declared and made it a hit. Not radio play. Not streaming platforms. Not influencers. Live shows from the band and DJs in the know put the track in the ears of the people. Amplifying that thunderous intro, those talking drums, pushed up so loud in the mastering, DJ’s had to immediately EQ the record down from the previous one, to avoid blowing out the sound system, and going home early and broke from a gig.

No matter if you were in the Lower East Side near Houston Street in NYC, hustling about on a Friday night between nightclubs, galleries, bars and Katz Deli for upholding sustenance, at some point “Che Che Cole” leaped out, booming from the back of an Escalade. 3,000 miles away in SF, if it was a good Friday night, shown by a rhythmically proficient dance floor at Elbo Room on Valencia, “Che Che Cole” got played several times before the funk spilled out on the street just after 2 am.

Antibalas photo by Celine Pinget

According to Oliver Wang, author, host of Heatrocks Podcast, professor and OG San Francisco DJ who now resides in Los Angeles, the song uplifts so many brown folk, it’s inevitable those drums will carry cultural currency forward until infinity.

“The original “Che Che Cole” was done by Willie Colon, the salsa artist. And Willie Colon comes out of this moment in New York-Puerto Rican history, where Latin music and soul music have merged and now become, you know, quite miscegenated. And the song gets covered by Antibalas, which is another New York group an entire generation later, which are these people who are paying homage to Fela Kuti and other Afro-beat artists. It just seemed like a really fantastic collision” Wang said of the record. “And to me, that’s part of what soul does well, too, is to really bring together and embrace a very wide array of musical and cultural influences. If I could just add, I mean, the other thing, too, is that is that’s a very funky song.”

New Music: Bells Rang’s synth-rock makes a California Wave

Christopher Drellow of Bells Rang

What is “California Wave”? According to the Bells Rang, a local electronic rock group whose self-titled EP drops Fri/14, it’s a sound that’s perfect for blasting poolside in your survival bunker. Odd grouping seems to be the thing. With four songs clocking in at just under 30 minutes, the EP smacks of David Lynchian dramatics, quirky vocoder charm, and shadowy, crisp meter. This release ties together their taste for motoring rhythms and knobby synth work inspired by bands like NEU! and Suicide with the spectral mood of Dario Argento flick.

Band members Christopher Drellow, Andrew Livingston and Damon Magana spent months in cabins and rehearsal studios, using that isolation, honing their dark sparkle before tracking the result. “We would use every tool at our disposal: drum machines, synthesizers, guitars, consumables and exhaustion,” quipped Drellow. “We tried to stick to this idea of California Wave. If a song didn’t feel like whatever that means, we’d drop it.” While analog synth gets the preference, the EP shifts between West Coast psyche and goth groove, with simmering fervor lurking just beneath the surface.

There is no doubt Bells Rang would have enjoyed a fair shot at success in their own city, 30 years ago. Don’t get it twisted, their mope-core dream pop with post-punk accents deserves to be processed in the loneliest corner of Amado’s on February 15, at the release party. (The band also plays March 19 at DNA Lounge.) They’ve definitely got the music, the buzz, and the hazy new genre thing going for them.

*****

But can SF bands rise up and conquer the world like they used to, with support systems eroding on every front? Lacking the proper number of spaces to rehearse, record, and play, many 2020 bands can barely scrape together a tour of SF neighborhood dives to perform in. The City’s tech-obsessed, ‘disruptor culture’ has gutted the public arts, opting to cash billion-dollar real-estate deals instead. This is stale news, but we’re still just feeling the effects. Legendary groups like The Tubes and The Units, who started their keyboard-driven success in SF warehouse spaces and went on to international fame, would not stand a chance today.

With the announcement last week that John Vanderslice’s analog recording studio Tiny Telephone was closing its San Francisco location due to “the rising cost of running a small business in a city knocked out of economic whack,” according to The San Francisco Chronicle, the city loses a crucial resource. Located at 1458 A San Bruno Ave, Tiny Telephone began in a quiet corner of San Francisco’s Mission District in 1997, providing a homey, affordable space for local musicians and visiting ones to make records. (Bells Rang was recorded in Drellow’s home studio, increasingly the only pricey option for SF bands.)

Adding to this downer news cycle, the long-running Mission District club Amnesia announced earlier this year it also would-be closing, ceasing operations indefinitely on Feb. 29. The snug live music venue has been a neighborhood bar-gathering space for over 100 years. Before 853 Valencia was Amnesia it was the Chameleon, a dive punk-rock bar that booked local and international talent, simultaneously.

According to KQED, Amnesia’s closure follows the recent shut down of SoMa dance club Mezzanine, which held its last show on New Year’s Eve after 17 years in business. The owners of Mezzanine’s Jessie Street building plan to convert it into office spaces and increase the rent by 600 percent—in 2018, one of the building’s owners told KQED, by way of explanation, “It’s just economics.” Also in 2018, underground rock club the Hemlock Tavern shut its doors to make room for new development.

While it’s promising that venues like Amado’s (formerly Viracocha) and DNA Lounge are hanging on, we’re losing live venues and resources faster than new ones are coming along. Go support your local talent, before “economics” kill the show.

BELLS RANG
Sat/15, $10-$12
Amado’s, SF
Tickets and more info here

New music: Jeff Parker’s ‘Suite for Max Brown’ is jazz for a digital world

Jeff Parker

The concepts which evolved into Suite For Max Brown, prolific guitarist Jeff Parker’s tribute to his mother, were engineered during his fall 2018 residency at the Headlands Center for the Arts in Sausalito. Parker, a member of Chicago-based experimental rock outfits Tortoise, Isotope 217, and the recently reunited Chicago Underground Quartet, juggles modernity with antiquated forms of what Miles Davis once called social music: Presenting a 21st century Romare Bearden-type jazz collage IRL.

Using digital cut-ups, Parker tweaks pre-recorded improv jam sessions into the future, highlighting the past 50 years of progressive Black music. With swelling acknowledgments to John and Alice Coltrane “out” and “free-jazz” archetypes, Guru-era “Jazzamatazz,” and two different strains of Madlibs’ ingenuity swing—”L.O.V.E.” and “You & I (Madlib’s Love Phase Mix)” from 2003 and his Yesterdays New Quintet series—this 11-song movement highlights the culture through a refracted jazz lens. You can paint the bravery in the hue of Chicago savage. It gave birth to the avant-garde Art Ensemble of Chicago, attracted Sun Ra to live there for a spell, gave birth to a ‘sane’ Kanye, and unleashed the blues and house music on the world. Meditate on that résumé. Now breathe.

Hey… The third coast gets it. Risk continually breeds a soaring musical IQ, and uncommon artistic DNA is forever embedded in creativity. So Parker, master guitar player, and musician of all stripes—post-rock, jazz, fusion—goes into the lab. Samples music from his library of recordings. Chops ’em up, making loops and beats in his spare time.

Just think for a second: Would Mingus, Art Blakey or Sonny Sharrock start dicing up drum breaks and bass lines, if provided the technology in their heyday? Why not. Itʻs about achieving the sound you hear in your head. Nobody played like Miles before Miles and so, he changed music. Several times.

So, like his International Anthem labelmate Makaya McCraven, Parkerʻs made editing part of the narrative. Flexing acoustic spontaneity with chaos. Making knotty beats. Bringing a post/deconstructed new language of syncopation into the jazz realm. This type of reheat philosophy helped propel the upstart indie label into winning the 2020 Label Of The Year honors from Gilles Petersonsʻ Worldwide Awards, placing the Chicago disruptor in good company along LAʻs Flying Lotus-run Brainfeeder (2012) and First Word Records out of London (2019).

“Fusion Swirl” and “Go Away”, two songs embedded with a “keep it moving” bass line and a densely compacted Elvin Jones-type drum uproar, start to differ as they progress. Parker goes one-man-band fanatical, running electric and bass guitar duties, samplers, percussion, and vocals, on “Fusion Swirl.” It’s briefly front-loaded with caterwauling, guiros, and clangs—then its hullaballoo comes to a halt midsong. Letting the guitar drone take over, casting some kinda Sonic Youth sorcery of the mellow, leading us appropriately into the ambient warrior heart of the John Coltrane cover, “After The Rain.” If you’ve had a shit week like the rest of the planet, and need a sec to emote, it’ll trigger big salty ones falling from your eyes.

Whereas in “Go Away,” which features Paul Bryan on bass and vocals, McCraven rinsing the bejesus outta the drum kit, and Parker handling electric guitar, we get a popcorn-seat-view to an outfit running ʻtings. Enraptured in the throes of rhythmic ecstasy, hand claps, color chords on the guitar, and chants of “Go Away” from the players. It’s it a free-jazz blitzkrieg of a session.

All of this leads to the best track, “Max Brown,” 10 minutes in heaven that just flies by. The 1970s Stevie Wonder analog synth complexion, encased within a subdued Soulquarians mellow bounce, trumpet and sax solo pleasantly overlapping, hitting a solemn, communal moment.

These beat-driven arrangements were first touched upon by Parker on his 2016 release, The New Breed, a tribute to his late father who passed away while the record was being made. “The New Breed was a clothing store he owned when I was a kid, a store in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where I was born. I thought it would be nice this time to dedicate something to my mom while she’s still here to see it. I wish that my father could have been around to hear the tribute that I made for him. The picture on the cover of Max Brown is of my mom when she was nineteen.”

As a means of making this, too, a blessing of a record, he involves his child, Ruby, to vocalize on the opener “Build A Nest,” that smacks of Lifehacker wisdom. Hearing the 17-year-old ease-out “Build a nest and watch the world go by slow,” you get triggered to immediately study the regal cover photo of Parkerʻs Mom, Maxine Brown. At that moment both projects align, illuminating the notion of home.

Noise Pop’s latest round showcases newcomers

Earlier this month Noise Pop, the annual independent music festival that takes place in San Francisco the week of February 24-March 1, announced its fourth wave of performers. With the exception of Washed Out, who will be performing a DJ set at California Academy of Sciences on February 20, this group of announced artists is performing in a supporting role.

But let’s be very clear, that’s not a comment on their talent. In the same respect that Noise Pop has purposely booked its most diverse roster of artists in its history, the festival maintained and doubled down on how vast the talent bench runs. Many festivals book names, few promote future stars. That’s what we have here.

Established in 1993 with just one over-capacity show at the former Kennel Club on Divisadero Street (now the Independent), Noise Pop has featured early career performances by The White Stripes, Modest Mouse, Joanna Newsom, The Flaming Lips, Death Cab for Cutie, Grimes, and more.

As shown by the first wave of announced performers in October, promoters have opened the fest up to more diverse offerings. Booking Raphael Saadiq, Maya Jane Coles, Suzi Analogue, Sudan Archives, Jamila Woods, and Shigeto Live Ensemble, among the two dozen acts named, supports the idea of reaching a broader audience beyond indie rock aficionados. It’s a slate that smacks of Mutek SF, perhaps catering to a similar demographic. The weeklong festival, held at various venues throughout the Bay Area, are selling early bird badges now, priced from $129 to $850.

Other artists in the first wave announcements include San Francisco-based rock n’ roll band The Stone Foxes, Latinx avant-pop artist Helado Negro, Canadian house producer Jacques Greene, indie-pop band Lower Dens, and soul-jazz group The Greyboy All-stars, among many others.

Here are some artists from Noise Pop’s fourth wave you’d do well to catch:

KILLS BIRDS
Los Angeles based outfit Kills Birds received a magnanimous co-sign from an indie rock queen before they had track ONE played for the public. Upon first listen to the band’s 2017 song “Worthy Girl” Kim Gordon proclaimed it “hot as fuck” and gave the band permission to make that proclamation public. That’s the type of swag sammich that could derail any up and coming pedestrian band.

Kills Birds, who maintain an edge with the promise of ripping your fucking head off within nanoseconds, used the compliment to just come harder. Kim Gordon. Never lie.

According to its website, the band started as a secret project between vocalist Nina Ljeti and guitarist Jacob Loeb and Kills Birds evolved into a band when bass player Fielder Thomas and drummer Bosh Rothman joined in 2017. Shortly after, the band began performing around Los Angeles. With Nina’s urgent and raw stage presence and Jacob’s feral guitar melodies, anchored by Bosh and Fielder’s monstrous drums and bass, the band quickly generated buzz for their thrilling and unpredictable live performances. In 2018, they recorded their debut album with Justin Raisen in only eight hours, to capture the magnetism that their live shows are known for. So go see them already, fool.

And the addition of goats running around in the Jesus Did video, what a flex, is the weird/dope move a band operating on this frequency is more than capable of.

WASHED OUT
Earnest Weatherly Greene Jr’s breakthrough meta-feels jam from 2011 “Feel It All Around” was far more than opening audio wallpaper for the “aging-hipster” sketch comedy show “Portlandia.”

Just listen and immediately youʻll get around to it. Washed Out remains an audio/visual chameleon, a millennial  “Beck” type who surprises folks on the regular who  wind up shrugging in disbelief with
“I didn’t know dude was carrying that card” type aplomb.

Mister Mellow from 2017, a debut record for the influential Stonesthrow imprint, run and owned by LA’s Peanut Butter Wolf, saw the multi-instrumentalist make deep runs in 4/4 musical directions like a vet.
The track “Get Lost”, produced by Greene and mixed by Cole MGN, is partly wanting to be house/part exquisite sampling sleight of hand. It maintains a lush and expansive veneer while his typical altered and distorted vocal delivery style, one generally found in dream-pop, moves about the tinkling of bells and soaring/descending atmospherics.

The accompanying video, directed by psychedelic animator Harvey Benschoter with single artwork done by Braulio Amado, is an eye-popping collection of people and objects that seem to be lifted from glossy 1980’s magazine advertisements. From cutting to and fro and zooming in and out, these images not only come to life…They remain in constant absurdist motion.

With this type of cleverness at work, catching his DJ set February 20 at California Academy of Sciences should be a priority.

VICTORIA CANAL
When I stumbled across the video “Drama (Live on a Wurly [aka Wurlitzer]) “from Victoria Canal I got immediately drawn in by the minimal presentation of a song I had never heard before. It’s like a postcard from a friend you never met. The hopscotch word placement from this young musician just phrasing outline shapes to this mysterious song, kept me stuck.

I’m a sucker for some keys now.

The interplay with the onset film crew……Way beyond fetching. And then, at a snail’s pace, the camera pans. I realize that Victoria Canal, the LA-based Spanish-American singer-songwriter, who is bisexual, was born without her right forearm. Blown away, Fam.

The singer-songwriter—who lived in Germany, China, Japan, Dubai and Spain before settling in the US—told the Huffington Post late last year, her global upbringing has influenced her music as much as her disability and sexuality have. At the same time, she’s also conscious of the fact that mainstream pop has been slow to spotlight both LGBTQartists and artists with disabilities.

“I’ve always seen [my identity] as a unique opportunity, really,” Canal said. “I used to shy away from the word [‘disabled’] and all the things it implied. But as I’ve grown up and lived a few more years, I’ve met a community of people who embody strength. ‘Disabled,’ to me, actually has a totally different connotation. To me, it means strong or resilient, determined, hopeful.”

TRÉ BURT
A singer-songwriter and Americana artist from Sacramento—and recent signee to John Prine’s Oh Boy label—Tré Burt makes you immediately stop what you are doing, get real quiet, and take in the quiet magic that appears when he lets that creaky voice do its duty as a master storyteller. Burt, who credits much of his music career being created by happenstance encounters, the kind of stuff you see in movies but rarely experienced in life, reflects that unrehearsed serendipity through his ever-evocative vocal intonation.

ANGELICA GARCIA
Angelica Garcia grew up in a musical and multigenerational home, filled with ranchera music always playing. With Mexican and Salvadoran roots in the San Gabriel Valley, east of Los Angeles, Garcia’s music is a “mental scrapbook” of her journey for listeners, and for herself, conveying the feeling of being split between two identities. If “It Don’t Hinder Me’ from her most recent release Cha Cha Palace out on Spacebomb Records, is an indication of the fierce vocal presence she’s capable of, Lorde and Billie Ellish need to be put on notice.

NOISE POP Festival runs February 24-March 1 at various San Francisco venues. More info here.

New Music: Werkha strikes dance floor gold with ‘The Rigour’

Werkha

Widespread critical acclaim on releases from Yazmin Lacey, Kaidi Tatham, and Children of Zeus made underground and mainstream heads around the world acknowledge First Word Records in 2018. For 16 years this London-based imprint has steadily provided an IRL version of where urban music is at. If that means bass-heavy beats meet jazz, soul, and hip-hop in the most austere British club culture way, then that’s what’s up. Talent changes trends. Ask First Word. That’s how they became named Label of the Year by the highly influential Gilles Peterson Worldwide Awards in 2019.

Tom Leah records and performs under the moniker Werkha and hails from Manchester originally. After releasing his début EP back in 2012, he followed it up with a series of records for Brighton-imprint Tru Thoughts, including an album in 2015, Colours Of A Red Brick Raft, and co-writing/producing Bryony Jarman-Pinto’s début album in 2019.

Leah has rounded out his many-sided blend of electronics, broken beat, soul and jazz into The Rigour. Ever the consummate keyboard player, his début on First Word epitomizes quality British club music. This tight and loose red cupper of a house party is produced with careful signs that Werkha is quite comfortable getting his fingers innit, constantly refining his craft. No matter the context, grooves move without regurgitated duplication.

All five tracks hit on point, with sole identity. DJs know, some EPs will pack on throwaways to fill things out. On The Rigour, not one bammer track resides in the lot. More than just a new school futuristic bruk producer ( you can hear sprinkles of those West London seeds planted by Dego, Kaidi Tatham, IG Culture and so on), he’s established himself as an in-demand working musician, producer, remixer and arranger who retains a firm grasp on numerous sub-genres of dance music.

From deep house swing, forward-mashing boogie or hip-hop presentation that evokes a head-nod procedural, this is know-how coming from a revisionist jazz perspective. Being plucked to tour with Bonobo at age 22—while receiving praise from Peterson early—fueled his drive.

Werkha’s 2014 hit “Lapwing” displayed great promise. Rearranged sax tones, gurgled bass lines, assorted guitar chords, lyrical Fender Rhodes stretches and chopped up vocal patterns made this a heavyweight jam…That hit someplace between James Blake dance productions and early Sam Shepard aka Floating Points compositions.

Dope… but not singular. Even the charming “Yoga Teacher Gone Rogue” music video could not take attention away from the similarities.

Fast-forward to “Generation X”—the bouncy opener to The Rigour—and it seems Leahʻs concentration is on energy first, dance floor second. The synth attack remains plentiful, bass tones land like space ships and kick drum snare combos stay present in your middle ear. Flush with strings from Simran Singh, joy becomes the movement. “The Key” a disco smasher according to Leah, has proper cowbell, “low-slung head-nodding funkʻ and proper Emcee accompaniment from Berry Blacc.

Both “Swing Thru” and “In Sunny Gʻ give a proper neck-snapping from the bass-weight, but “Favourite Corner” a humid bag of swag, cracks on with accented guitar licks, ephemeral strings, and punched-up breakbeats designed for two-stepping all nite long.

Such a playful listen. Hear more Werkha here.

All Ears: 17 music releases to look forward to in 2020

Tokimonsta's new album drops February 20

Between embargoes and secret release dates that see artists dropping projects when a Twitter trend is to their benefit, it’s a little perplexing assembling a strong list of music projects that accelerate the concept of “sound forward.” Hence, there is some GOOD music coming that I can’t talk about. Embargo is a dirty, dirty word.

But this list, 17 for 2020, proves great projects are on the books too.

Alland Byallo, Dilatant (January 17th)
Alland Byallo, the California-born-and-raised DJ-producer, returns in 2020 with his second release in the past five months. Dilatant is a “drummy but musical broken beat deep house kinda thing, with a deadly Rhodes solo from wildly talented Jazz pianist Matt Paull” according to the producer.

You’d be wise to give it a listen. Byallo, a founding member of [KONTROL], the seminal 2000s monthly party at the EndUp which introduced San Francisco to the minimal techno sounds flowing from Berlin, was a strong influence not just on this event, but for eventually attracting MutekSF. Get on that Dilatant, ahead of the curve. More info here.

 

Afrikan Sciences, 02022020 (February 2)
Damn. Listening to an Afrikan Sciences advance promo is the equivalent of living in the future, high on your ancestors’ memory pills decoding that talking drum. Shout out to Watchmen. Listen, I incessantly write about Eric Porter because he’s the truth. Those arrangements, NOBODY is making electronic music like that now. Period. So I will keep on.

For over a decade he’s re-contextualized the genres of house, techno and breakbeat with fluid arrangements that slip in and out of just one classification. The Brooklyn-based, electronic music producer uses minor chord dissonance, oblique disruptions, and tempo rigidity, to communicate how outliers move about in this world. Cinematic, Experimental and Dancefloor are the colors he often paints in.

02022020, which will be self-released on his Student Body Presents label, is no exception. Porter remains steadfast. Not all House music needs to snap to an uninterrupted 4/4 beat. Want proof? Cop this release on Bandcamp Feb 2 and then go see him perform Feb 8th with Sassacyprigo at dweller: Make Techno Black Again, Bossa Nova Civic Club in Brooklyn, New York. More info here.

 

Khruangbin & Leon Bridges Texas Sun (February 7)
Flush in the apex of their live show, playing “August 10,ʻ from 2018’s Con Todo El Mundo, (which kept them on tour for 130 dates), Khruangbin’s experimentation can’t help but veer into the salacious classic “Night Nurse” by Gregory Isaacs—ransforming the 1982 rub-a-dub call for personal attention into another quick-witted sound pastiche by the trio. To quote Denzel Washington in full Malcolm X voice: “This is what they do.”

Given the opportunity, guitarist Mark Speer, bassist Laura Lee and drummer Donald “DJ” Johnson will flex that crate-digging nerd card and show out.

On tour, Khruangbin and singer-songwriter Leon Bridges crossed paths during a run of shows stretching from Los Angeles and New York. Although their musical styles together may differ, there remained a connection. Subtleties that mesh. Did I mention both hail from Texas? Khruangbin from Houston. Bridges from Fort Worth. It’s in the DNA. When a Khruangbin session produced a song that seemed like it could compliment Bridges’ voice, the band sent it over. Bridges returned the track with his vocals the very next day. Entering a studio together, with only B-side hopes in mind, the session guided itself, indicating the project had legs for a bigger outcome.

Texas Sun adds one more layer to the Khruangbin deep stock. “C-Side,” a laidback track comprised of plinking guitar lines, simmering polyrhythms, and comfy tones on vibes, sees the group return to “cooler than you” mystique. More info here.

 

Steve Spacek, Houses (February 7)
Steve Spacek, AKA Steve White, has a new record coming in early February. Houses will land via Black Focus Records on February 7th. Containing 13 tracks with Detroit influences, White produced the entire LP using an iPhone and iPad. Steve White is a UK producer and one-third of the electronic music band Spacek. In the past, he has collaborated with the likes of J Dilla, Raphael Saadiq, and Common. He released his last album, Natural Sci-Fi, in 2018. More info here.

 

Gil Scott-Heron and Makaya McCraven, We’re New Again—A Re-imagining by Makaya McCraven (February 7)

Makaya McCraven, a vital new voice in modern jazz, reinterprets  I’m New Here, the thirteenth—and last —studio album from iconic musician, poet, and author Gil Scott-Heron. The release will follow in the footsteps of Jamie xx’s highly acclaimed 2011 remix album We’re New Here and will be McCraven’s first release of 2020, after the huge global acclaim heaped upon his 2018 album Universal Beings. McCraven, described by New York Times as a “Chicago-based drummer, producer, and beatmaker, [who] has quietly become one of the best arguments for jazz’s vitality.” More info here.

 

Yazmin Lacey, Not Today Mate (TBA)
There is an immediate ice-water through the veins sensation every time the Nottingham-based singer Yazmin Lacey unfurls her raspy, burnt-caramel-sweet voice. 2018’s discovery When The Sun Dips 90 Degrees EP,  packed lyrical phrasing, part Badu attitudinal, but all candid and quotable. That unruffled UK “sort it” swag traveled around the globe. Her latest single “Not Today Mate” continues further down the Soulquarian mellow-direct presentation. As always, no cheap or flashy vocal acrobatics here, just grown folk measured pace.

Lacey dishes up her much-adored silky vocals over an evergreen instrumental produced by Jake Milliner, giving us a potent taste of what to expect from her forthcoming EP, due imminently via Own Your Own Records. This Brownswood Future Bubblers graduate remains a shining avatar for the UK’s Jazz movement: a young, Black woman creating her own reality. More info here.

 

David Walters, Soleil Kreyol (February 7)
Creole is a culture that crosses oceans, connects continents and allows; Africa, America, Europe and the Caribbean to converse in the universal language of music, dance, and carnival. Scattered around the globe, these different Creole cultures once found a crossing point where they were first represented: New York. It was this inspiration that pushed David Walters to make such a late-night cool début of an album. Walters was mentioned by Gilles Peterson as an artist to look out for in 2020 on BBC Radio. More info here.

 

Moses Boyd, Dark Matter (February 14)
Rewind to 2018. Alive In The East, a 10-track, 45-minute free-jazz kinetic sermon from saxophonist Binker Golding and drummer Moses Boyd deal their future-funk to a boisterous audience who incessantly provides hoots, churls, and hollers. Recorded in June 2017 at the influential Total Refreshment Centre, north-east London, it’s the UK jazz renaissance happening in real-time.

Fast-forward to 2020, Moses Boyd is finally releasing his début solo album and we are quite stoked about it. Adding the title of composer, songwriter, and arranger to his skill set over the years, he’s won a MOBO and Jazz FM award, toured with Sampha and Kelsey Lu, drummed on Sons of Kemet’s Mercury-nominated album Your Queen Is A Reptile and recorded with DJ Lag on “MY POWER” for Beyoncé’s official soundtrack for The Lion King: The Gift.

A dude been busy, really busy, getting official.

Dark Matter, out Feb 14 on his Exodus imprint, will feature guests Joe Armon-Jones and Nubya Garcia Among others. “Shades Of You” the first single, featuring British vocalist Poppy Ajudha points to a new direction for the artist on this project. Boyd says: “I still love jazz, but this is something different. There’s been no pressure or expectation of anything. There was no immediate need to do anything, so I was really free. A very liberating experience. It’s a very produced record. Many different sounds, setups, places, and music taken from different places and sessions but I feel like finally, it sounds like I’m a producer that also plays jazz.” More info here.

 

Agrio, La Murga EP (February 14)
Agrio is a duo from Madrid, Spain consisting of guitar & drums. They write instrumental songs with powerful riffs, beats, and melodies. While not easy to pin down, the twisted and scuzzy runs, psyche rock meets prog journeys from the upcoming La Murga EP will blow your wig back. No seriously, it will. Situated between grunge and post-rock, these three cuts rip. Slated for release February 14th on  San Francisco’s Broken Clover Record imprint, label boss Mickey Darius assures us the upstart, started in 2018 “is in the business of birthing freaky records, wearing hearts on sleeves, turning it all the way up & fighting the good fight. Staying left of center always.” More info here.

 

Sunny Jain, Wild Wild East (February 21)
Sourcing musical inspiration from the scores of Bollywood classics to Spaghetti Westerns, Indian folk to jazz improvisation, and South Asian languages to English prose to express the immigrant experience as one navigates the terrain of what it means to be “American.” Sunny Jain, a Brooklyn-based musician, and composer, the son of immigrants from India, draws upon his family history of migration for vision, employing rhythmic shifts, dissolving soundscapes, and the interplay of structure and experimentation to represent the heartbreak and triumph within the South Asian diaspora.

Wild Wild East explores the American myth of westward expansion using various sounds and traditions. It’s a rich sonic text. More info here.

 

Caribou, Suddenly (February 28)
When Dan Snaith put his first track in five years as Caribou on YouTube last December, an avid fan commented: “not bad for a guy with a math Ph.D.”.

You canʻt make this shit up people.

The new album, Suddenly, out on Merge Records February 28, full of warmth and Technicolor, bears and swerves left just for kicks. Songs drop out and morph into something else entirely just as they’re hitting their stride, while samples, chopped up, burst out of nowhere. “Home” a welcome comeback, leaving fans yearning for more, sees the Canadian polymath return with collage type jittery arrangements. More info here.

 

Best Coast, Always Tomorrow (late February)
Los Angeles rock duo Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno of Best Coast teased their long-awaited return in 2020 with their new track, “For the First Time” last November. The song comes with their signature surf-rock essence and a feeling of ’80s nostalgia. They are still “completing work” on the new album, and will kick off a tour in support during late February. More info here.

 

Lyra Pramuk, Fountain (March 20)
Displaying how the limits of the human voice can be restructured, avant-pop artist Lyra Pramuk joins Icelandic label Bedroom Community with her début album, Fountain. Described as futuristic-folk music, the seven tracks on the album were manufactured entirely with Pramuk’s own voice being redesigned by electronic production methods.

Pramuk is known for her vocal collaborations with Holly Herndon and Colin Self. The title of her début album is derived from her family name which means “well spring” or “fountain” in Czech. ‘Fountain’ was mixed by her twin brother, Ben. “Tendril,” with its broad sweeping harmonics, indicates this is a game-changing special project, not to miss. More info here.

 

Tokimonsta, Oasis Nocturno (March 20)
Jennifer Lee, who records, performs and produces under the moniker of TOKiMONSTA, is a classically trained pianist from Los Angeles, who started working on beat production while in college when she participated in workshops by LeimertPark’s Project Blowed and Low-End Theory. Along the way, she became the first female producer to have records released on Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder imprint.

Fast-forward to 2020, she’s a Grammy-nominated artist, producer, creative visionary and Young Art Records label boss.

Her new album, Oasis Nocturno, the second act to her last album Lune Rouge, finds TOKiMONSTA making broad and refined production choices. “Fried For The Night” featuring Dreamville’s EarthGang is a beat-driven track featuring a blissed-out melody accompanied by a surreal Technicolor landscape in the video. More info here.

 

Thundercat, It Is What It Is (April 3)
It Is What It Is follows Thundercat‘s game-changing third album Drunk from 2017, that completed his transition from virtuoso bassist to bona fide star and cemented his reputation as a unique voice that transcends genre. “This album is about love, loss, life and the ups and downs that come with that,” stated the charming musician and Tokyo enthusiast “It’s a bit tongue-in-cheek, but at different points in life you come across places that you don’t necessarily understand… some things just aren’t meant to be understood.”

The rowdy ‘fonk’ of “Black Qualls” is classic Thundercat, teaming up with Steve Lacy of The Internet and funk icon Steve Arrington. Thundercat knows where he comes from and always pays respect to the artists who inspired his nonconformist artistry.  Discovering Arrington’s output in his late teens, Bruner says he fell in love with his music immediately: “The tone of the bass, the way his stuff feels and moves, it resonated through my whole body.” More info here.

 

Moses Sumney, græ (May 15)
With his producer hat cocked to the side, Moses Sumney constructed a fusion expanding début on 2017ʻs Aromanticism. Touched with unhappy Radiohead sprinkles, Maxwell-meets-D’Angelo falsettos, and cosmic journeying, led by Thundercat on bass, establishes the fact this young Black iconoclastic is more than a mood.

Sumney is the damn movement.

His new, generous album græ, 20 tracks total, allows his staggering voice to traverse alt-rock dramatics and hopped up free-jazz terrain. Once again he looks to involve all the compositional grand gestures we expect from a “Warm Jets” Eno or an “Inner City Life” Goldie. grae is one to check, fer sure. More info here.

 

Noname (TBA)
Who freaking knows why Chicago rapper Noname remains secretive and reluctant to engage in discourse about her new project online. Those “tweets from the streets” helped her last two albums, Telefone and Room 25 become bangers among the public at large. Last November she did give information via Twitter on her upcoming follow-up to Room 25 in her special way. “I don’t really talk about my music much on here,” she wrote. “But I’m dropping an album in 2020 if anybody’s interested.”

We are interested. Along with what seems to be her performing at Coachella in April as well. More info here.

New music: Orion Sun brings winter warmth with ‘Ne me quitte pas’

Orion Sun

Here we are, dead-ass in the January winter of a new decade. Maybe at the brink of war? And the future, like clockwork, Googles up a new vessel of artistic creation we may be speaking of next December amidst list season. The one-woman project Orion Sun by the Jersey-born Philly based singer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist Tiffany Majette, got activated to play instruments after seeing Lauryn Hill with a guitar. Not Jimi Hendrix.

Orion Sun

At the end of Orion Sun’s self-crafted video “Ne Me Quitte Pas” (Don’t Leave Me), we see a vibrant 23-year-old, young black creative, sculpting stop motion animation, to go with her snare heavy, boom-bap ode to finding a kindred soul. And still taking a beat to pet her cat. It’s a fleeting moment that speaks without words. The tune is deeply wired with beaming refrains, lo-fi beats that pop with ’90s hip-hop minimalism, and lyrics fueled by humanity. Underscoring all the feels of sorting life shit out, on your own.

The project first came into light with the mixtape “A Collection of Fleeting Moments and Daydreams” and she proceeded to drop singles that combined all her talents throughout 2018. An inner circle, word-of-mouth type situation which eventually took her solo-with-laptop and electric guitar performance to earn a slot at the Jay-Z Made in America festival which allowed the project to grow into a seven-piece live band with keys, drums, guitars, and vocalists.

Majette says this single is about: “falling in love unexpectedly & feeling like it’s too good to be true but actually it’s good and true. This feeling was proof to me that good things can happen to people who feel ugly inside.”

This artist possesses calm, poised phrasing, unhurried lethal precision, like any Digable Planets emcee, when rapping. But on this melodic vocal stroll, her production wonderworld distills a blend of James Blake type confessional lyrics and Georgia-Anne Muldrow bombastic low-end slaps. Emo-swag, dressed in crisp snare hits, takes the win here.

For thriller ‘Uncut Gems,’ an electronic soundtrack of erupting chakras

Adam Sandler in 'Uncut Gems'

Daniel Lopatin, AKA electronic musician Oneohtrix Point Never, teams up with directors Josh and Benny Safdie a second time to deliver a supernaturalistic score, which documents the inner dreams of the sociopathic New Yorker dirtball Howard “Bling” Ratner—whose idea of a good time would give the rest of humanity a clenched sphincter—played convincingly by Adam Sandler, his best work since Punch Drunk Love, in the morality crime thriller (of sorts) Uncut Gems. You can hear it here.

Ratner, a charismatic jeweler always on the lookout for the next big score, gets and stays high on the jack of adrenaline. Lopatin, who won a soundtrack award at Cannes Film Festival for his earlier collaboration with the Safties, 2017’s Good Time (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack), fills this movie with prog-laden, new-agey sounds—erupting chakras—to communicate terror and unease for ill-advised activities by Sandler. Recognizing that horror movie animated strings created for jump cuts are washed, Lopatin and The Safdiesʻ, using a hefty dose of Tangerine Dream and Vangelis influence to lord over this orchestration of self-sabotage, create brainwave synth-squelch that deliver an ultramodern version of sonic head-fuckery.

This cheat code exploits planetary sci-fi sounds, not for wonderment or intellectual expanse, but for the blues of Ratnersʻ diseased soul-that, you canʻt stop rooting for. In the same way composer, John Williams crafted the triumphant sound of a never-ending Star Wars franchise, Oneohtrix Point Never has manufactured a new pathway of documenting crime thriller soundtracks, that are equal parts heady acid-trip and demonic freak-out.

Gurgling Moog synthesizers, John Carpenter-stylized dread chord progressions, and wobbly electronic music patterns now creep the bejesus out of cinephiles digesting plot. Lopatin, this time around, is making a legit run at Johnny Greenwoodʻs There Will be Blood frenetic soundtrack construction.

Daniel Lopatin

Shot in the diamond district, with boisterous cross talk, cell phones going off every second and loud deals getting undone, the sound-mix cracks about with Robert Altman dialogue confusion and John Cassavetes weird, rude improvisation. Leaving viewers the task of figuring out characters by their first behavior. You can fill in the blanks, by piecing together breakneck dialogue later.

Darius Khondji, the iconic Iranian-French cinematographer, known for his work on Seven by David Fincher and more recently Boon Joon Hoʻs Okja, frames pushy in-your-face New Yorker essence like Spike Lee circa ’89. Rhythm, not accuracy, takes precedent in the Safdie film world.

Sporting a cast filled with characters within characters—NBA champion Kevin Garnett, Eric Bogosian, Lakeith Stanfield, Idina Menzel, Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye, Julia Fox and NYC sports radio royalty Mike Lupica—Gems distills the speedy, Bizzaro-hustler energy that is New York City.

Lopatin, whoʻs collaborated in the past with James Blake and Ishmael Butler from Digable Planets and contributed to Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring from 2013, makes a euphoric, chaotic and bipolar score, synched to character meltdowns, and the ambient fallout of synthesized chaos that befalls our protagonist.

Lay this soundtrack over any hard-scrabble crime thriller made in NYC from the 70ʻs—The French Connection on down—it kills. This union of low-life and high-tech sensation isnʻt new. Revisit William Friedkinʻs feel-bad thriller from 1977 Sorcerer, and Vangelis shall home deliver all the meta-bad creepies you can handle from Roy Scheider. Whether uncomfortable intensity is your bag or not, Lopatin hijacks our ears and senses, making it difficult to pull away from this heart-attack bag of gut-punches.