Author: William Ruben Helms

I'm a music blogger, critic and photographer, who has had articles and photos published in The New York Press, New York Magazine's Vulture Blog, Ins&Outs Magazine, The Noise Beneath the Apple, Glide Magazine, The Whiskey Dregs Magazine and others.

 

Currently comprised of its Riga, Latvia-born, Brooklyn, NY-base founding duo Kerry Kaleja and Eric Jayk and recent recruits Rebecca Silber (bass) and Luca Bertalgia (drums), the Brooklyn-based glam rock act Astra the 22s can trace their origins back to 2011 when Kaleja and Jayk first met. As the story goes, Kaleja was looking for guitar lessons and stumbled onto Jayk’s Craigslist ad. Interestingly, at the time Jayk was a touring member of Wildstreet.

Three years later, Kaleja and Jayk started collaborating full-time, writing and recording music that drew from an eclectic set of influences including The Kills, Michael Jackson, Nine Inch Nails and Blondie among others. And with the release of their 2014 debut EP Blue Venom, the duo received attention across the Baltic region, playing at Vilnius Music Week, the Gaizin Kalns Festival and the KLANG! Rock Festival, and performed at the Gold Microphone Awards, one of Latvia’s biggest music award shows. Although both Kaleja and Jayk relocated to Williamsburg last year, where they recruited the band’s newest members their debut EP Blue Venom and their forthcoming sophomore EP Paris Love were primarily written while the band’s founding duo were living apart with one member in Riga and the other in Brooklyn; however, the band’s newest material may be the most self-assured and arena rock friendly work they’ve completed to date while the material thematically explores sex, narcissism love, art and war on a personal and global level.

The EP’s latest single, EP title track “Paris Love” is a sensual and swaggering song featuring an enormous, arena rock friendly sound — power chords upon power chords, propulsive and forceful drumming, sultry vocals and a rousingly anthemic hook. Structurally, the song manages to draw from radio friendly, 90s grunge and electro rock — think of Garbage, Nine Inch Nails and others –as quiet verses lead the way for the aforementioned anthemic hooks but with a sleek yet unfussy, contemporary sheen.

 

With the release of her Johannes Berglund-prodcued, 2011 full-length debut and 2015’s Perfect Storm, the Stockholm, Sweden-based singer/songwriter and electronic pop artist Ester Ideskog, best known as Vanbot quickly established a reputation for crafting ethereal, hook-driven and deeply thoughtful synth-based pop. Ideskog’s soon-to-be released third, full-length effort Siberia will continue her ongoing collaboration with Berglund, who’s best known for his work with The Knife and I Break Horses while being a subtle change in sonic and thematic direction, influenced by a train trip through the Siberian tundra, a trip that was meant to free her and Berglund from the endless choices that the modern recording studio frequently provides, the curiosity of seeing what happens with your songwriting process when you change the patterns you’ve developed. But it may have also been fueled by a desire to escape the mundane, to be in motion and to upset the status quo — even if in a subtle fashion.

Now, if you’ve been frequenting this site over the past couple of months, you may recall that I wrote about Siberia‘s first single “Collide (Krasnoyarsk),” a brooding, Kate Bush-like atmospheric pop track featuring thumping beats, shimmering arpeggio synths and industrial clang and clatter within an infectious, hook-driven song that reminded me of Niki and the Dove and Moonbabies. The album’s third single “Close Enough (Ulan Bator)” pairs Ideskog’s ethereal and plaintive vocals with a slick, dance floor-friendly production featuring twinkling synths, electronic bleeps and bloops, stuttering drum programming and a soaring hook to create a sound that manages to nod a bit at Kraftwerk‘s Trans Europe Express with the beats mimicking both the sound of metal on metal and the propulsive motion of the train; but paired with intimate and confessional lyrics focusing on an almost insatiable desire to love and to be loved in return.

 

 

 

Originally founded in 2009 as a duo by founding members Sarah Kinlaw and Bryan Keller, Jr., the Brooklyn-based indie rock act SOFTSPOT has gradually evolved into a quartet of friends and fellow musicians with a history of collaborating with each other and wild, almost unfettered creativity; in fact in 2012, Kinlaw and Keller recruited long-time friends and renowned musicians Blake Bateh, a member of JOVM mainstays Bambara (drums), who joined the band for the recording of MASS and Jonathan Campelo, a member of Pill (synths), who joined the band during the tour to support MASS.

Slated for an April 7, 2017 release through Arrowhawk Records, the label home of Bambara, Cinemechanica and White LacesClearing is the first recorded effort featuring the band’s current lineup and the album finds the band refining their sound and songwriting approach. Now, if you had been frequenting this site for a while, you may recall that I wrote about Clearing‘s first single “Abalone,” a spectral yet tense and urgent song that featured a tightly syncopated rhythm section, shimmering guitar lines and twinkling synths paired with Kinlaw’s gorgeous and ethereal vocals. The album’s second and latest single “Heat Seeker” continues in a similar vein as its predecessor but manages to sound as though it draws from New Wave, 80s synth pop and prog rock as the band pairs slashing guitar attack with propulsive metronomic-like drumming, Kinlaw’s plaintive and ethereal vocals, twisting, turning and shimmering synths and a soaring hook within a gently morphing song structure. And much like “Abalone,” Clearing‘s latest “Heat Seeker” possesses a hauntingly spectral quality but there’s an underlying tenseness at its core, stemming from the difficulties and frustrations in attaining true and lasting connection with others, while revealing a song with a novelistic approach to its narrator’s psychological makeup.

 

 

Comprised of Boston, MA-born, New York-based composer and songwriter Jake Zavracky and Vancouver Island, BC-born, New York-based Elizabeth LeBaron, the New York-based dream pop duo The Dream Eaters can trace their origins back to 2015. After playing and touring in obscurity in several bands both in his hometown of Boston and New York, Jake Zavracky decided to give up the musician’s life, and for a period of time he was working in a Brooklyn dive bar, when he met Elizabeth LeBaron, another bartender, who had recently relocated to New York. Discovering that they were both musicians, they found an instant connection and began collaborating together — although initially, Zavracky had written songs for LeBaron to sing. However, upon the realization that their harmonies helped to create a wholly unique sound, that draws from dream pop, shoegaze, psych pop, folk and rock, they recognized that they needed to write and perform as a unit.

Initially writing and performing as Jake And Elizabeth, Zavracky and LeBaron saw a rapidly growing profile; however, as they began to further refine their sound, they felt that they needed to rebrand themselves, eventually performing as The Dream Eaters. And in fact, 2016 saw the release of their self-produced, debut EP as The Dream Eaters, Five Little Pills — and interestingly enough, the EP proved to be precursor of the bare-bone production and sparse yet hauntingly gorgeous sound of “Dead On The Inside,” the first single off the duo’s soon-to-be released full-length debut, We Are A Curse. Thematically speaking, the duo notes that the song focuses on coming unmoored and getting lost, and walking around with the realization that you’re living in a murky, anxious and unforgiving dream, evoking what many of us feel living in this surreal political climate; and while being a gorgeous and understated protest song, there’s an underlying sense of resolve and determination to survive and overcome the dark days ahead.

As far as the single, sonically speaking, the duo pairs LeBaron’s lilting and effortless vocals with gently strummed folk-like guitar and chiming percussion with a soaring hook which displays the duo’s stunning harmonizing. And while bearing a resemblance to Moonbabies’ Wizards on the Beach, the song manages to sound as though it draws from Nick Drake and Crosby, Stills, and Nash-era folk

 

New Video: The Anthemic, M83-Channeling Sound of Finnish-born, Spanish-based Producer Future Ark

Tero Heikkinen is Helsinki, Finland-born, Seville, Spain-based composer, who has a lengthy career composing music for short films, documentaries and modern dance pieces; however, his solo recording project Future Ark is a sonic departure from his previous work, the project finds Heikkinen employing the use of experimental and contemporary sound design and electronic production techniques, with bits of organic instrumentation while drawing from a diverse array of styles including downtempo, ambient and synthwave.

Heikkinen’s Future Ark debut Joy was deeply inspired by the birth of his second son, which was a roller coaster ride of positive emotions. And as a result, the EP’s first single and EP opening track “Pacific Highway” features an effortlessly slick production consisting of undulating and shimmering synths, skittering percussion, propulsive drum beats, a soaring, anthemic, M83-like hook and an otherworldly, cosmic sheen — while evoking the buzzing enthusiasm and sense of discovery on a trip to someplace completely new.

Because the composition has a summery feel, the recently released music video consists of videos of fan shot footage of beaches from Spain and elsewhere across the world, and in some way the video manages to evoke the hope and excitement that people all over the world feel about summer.

New Video: The Sensual Visuals and Sounds of French Electro Pop Act Juveniles Latest Single “Someone Better”

With the release of their 2012 debut EP We Are Young through renowned French electronic music label Kitsune Records, the-then French electronic production and artist duo Juveniles, which featured Thibault Doray and its sole remaining member Jean-Sylvan Le Gouic, best known as Jean Sylvain quickly received attention for slick, hypermodern, super-computerized, dance floor-friendly productions. Building upon a rapidly growing profile among electronic music circles, the duo released their 2013 Yuksek-produced full-length debut, which expanded the then-duo’s profile across the European Union, Southeast Asia, China and South America.

Since the release of the project’s full-length debut, the project has gone through several significant changes — Doray left the project, leaving it solely under the helm of Sylvain and his sophomore full-length effort Without Warning, which officially was released today through Paradis/Capitol Records finds Sylvain releasing music on a new label after several years with Kitsune Records. Produced and recorded by Joakim at Crowdspacer Studios here in NYC, Without Warning finds the French electronic music artist going through a radical change in sonic direction and approach as he abandons the fully computerized sound of his previously released work to embrace a much more human approach, complete with organic instrumentation, featuring contributions from The Juan Maclean’s, Holy Ghost!’s and Yeasayer’s Christopher Berry (drums) and Big Data’s Ben Campbell (bass), along with pre-digital and traditional mixing and production techniques.

Without Warning’s latest single “Someone Better” features a sinuous and propulsive bass line paired with blocks of arpeggio organ and synth chords, four-on-the-floor drumming, and Sylvain’s sensual and seductive crooning with some of the sharpest, most dance-floor friendly hooks I’ve heard in quite some time. And while arguably being one of the warmest, most soulful, the French electronic music artist has released to date, the song clearly draws from classic disco, bearing a resemblance to Cheryl Lynn’s “Got To Be Real,” Sylvester’s “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” but with a subtly modern production sheen.

Produced by Rodrigo Huarte, the recently released music video for “Someone Better” is comprised of a behind the scenes look at anti-hero cop movie in which its main character has a highly-stylized and dramatic love affair with a presumed “hooker with a heart of gold” type character and while the actors “on screen” play up a steamy relationship that they clearly don’t have — at various points, you can tell that both actors are wondering when they’re getting paid or thinking about what they’re doing once the scene is finally over — behind the scenes, two members of the crew, discretely hook up as the rest of the crew films the movie’s key love scene.

With the release of their first two full-length albums 2012’s self-titled debut and 2014’s Adorn, the Canadian experimental pop/ambient electro pop/dream duo You’ll Never Get To Heaven — comprised of Alice Hansen, a classically trained pianist and violinist and Chuck Blazevic, a studio obsessed tone-sculptor and monome performer — quickly received attention nationally and internationally for a staunchly DIY/independent ethos and for lush, deeply textured compositions that are roomy enough for Hansen’s ethereal cooing.

And as a result of their growing profile, they caught the attention of Yellow K Records, the label home of Eskimeaux and Japanese Breakfast, who officially released the band’s third full-length effort Images today. And while the album’s fourth and latest single “White Light” will further their reputation for crafting lush and textured pop, it offers a subtle expansion into their sound as the slow-burning single features gently swirling electronics, twinkling synths and percussion, brief bursts of industrial clang and clatter to create a fever dream-like vibe — in which the narrator and the listener can’t quite discern if they’re completely asleep and or dreaming or awake and hallucinating.

Interestingly, while the Canadian dream pop duo have in the past been rather reclusive,  they’re currently planning their first European and north American gigs to support Images over the course of the Spring and Summer of this year, so be on the lookout; however, in the meantime, if you’re in Ontario over the next few weeks, you can catch them live. Check out dates below.

Tour Dates
03/31/17 – London, ON – First Spiritualist Church
04/07/17 – Toronto, ON – The Baby G
04/16/17 – Ottawa, ON – Le Temporaire
04/18/17 – Sarnia, ON – Refined Fool Brewing
04/19/17 – Hamilton, ON – The Casbah

Julian Japser is a San Diego, CA-born, Los Angeles, CA-based singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, who has publicly describes his own sound as being a 21st century Steely Dan or a lapsed Todd Rundgren after he had crossed paths with Ariel Pink — and although maybe to some that may be true, to my ears “2AM,  Chinatown” and “I Don’t Mind,” the first two singles off his forthcoming 2AM, Chinatown/I Don’t Mind EP remind me quite a bit of Oracular Spectacular-era MGMT, Tame Impala and Milagres as both singles possess soaring and infectious hooks, swaggering strutting vibes and a funky bass line; however, both singles thematically focus on a desperate and gnawing loneliness and isolation — in particular “2AM, Chinatown” has its narrator reminiscing over a lover he hasn’t seen or spoken to in some time, and as a result, the lonely narrator of the song is desperate to connect with that lover or with anyone really, as long as he felt some connection with someone, even if it were brief. “I Don’t Mind” possesses a funky, 70sAM rock feel that evokes a lazy morning with a lover — the sort in which limbs and sheets are hopelessly entangled and entwined, and you spend much of the day making love and chatting about all manner of things big and small. And as a result, it’s the sexiest song of the two; but underneath the surface there’s this sense of all things coming to its inevitable conclusion. All things lead to the same result — the endless search to not be as lonely as you were before, and both songs capture that with an uncanny verisimilitude.

 

 

Over the past couple of years, the world renowned soul label, Daptone Records. the label home of the late (and great) Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, has released a series of albums documenting and preserving the spirituals, gospel and church-based music from the Mississippi River Delta region — in particular, the small rural town of Como, MS located in the northern Hill Country, about 50 miles south of Memphis, TN. Historically speaking, the small Northern Mississippi, rural town has long struggled with the legacy of slavery, segregation, discrimination, agricultural decline; however, Como has simultaneously been known as a creative hotbed of sorts, as Fred McDowell, Jessie Mae Hemphill, Napoleon Strickland, Othar Turner, Luther Perkins (best known as Johnny Cash’s guitarist), Joe Henderson and a lengthy list of others have claimed roots in Como, MS.

Now, earlier this year, you may recall that I wrote about The Walker Family Singers’ Jesus Gave Me Water,” off the familial unit’s debut effort, Panola County Spirit. Comprised of Raymond and Joella Walker, three of their four daughters, Alberta, Patricia and Delouse and their two sons Robert and Booby, the well-regarded gospel quintet not only have a long-held history of preaching and singing the gospel that goes back several generations, the patriarch of the family, Raymond at one point was so well-regarded as a vocalist, that he was once recruited by both Fred McDowell and the legendary Sam Cooke to back them on tour for what would have been a rather significant amount of money. And although seemingly apocryphal, as the story goes, Raymond Walker refused unless McDowell and Cooke gave up singing the blues and took up gospel. McDowell refused and the rest is history. . .

Daptone Records gospel music series continues with Move Upstairs, the forthcoming  effort from the Como, MS-based gospel trio The Como Mamas, slated for a May 19, 2017 release. Comprised of Ester Mae Smith and siblings Angelia Taylor and Della Daniels, the trio have been singing together in church since they were children. Much like Como’s other renowned musicians and vocalists, Della and Angelia come from a distinguished line of musicians themselves — their grandfather would frequently play music on their porch with a group of musicians that included the aforementioned Fred McDowell. In fact, the sisters remember when the famed folklorist and writer Alan Lomax, best known for his Land Where The Blues Was Born, stopped by their home in 1959 to record some of these jam sessions.  Now, interestingly enough with their appearance on The Voices of Panola County: Como Now! and their Get an Understanding, the trio quickly established themselves as an up-and-coming, powerhouse act in contemporary gospel. Interestingly enough, I actually caught the trio play their first show outside of their hometown at the legendary Apollo Theater as part of the Daptone Super Soul Revue back in 2015, an incredible showcase that featured many of the labels top names including Charles Bradley, the aforementioned Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Antibalas and others.

Naturally, taking advantage of the ladies time in New York, the folks at Daptone invited them to the House of Soul Studios to record with a backing band featuring some of the best musicians in their immense stable of musicians — including Jimmy Hill, Thomas Brenneck, Homer Steinweiss and Bosco Mann, who came together as The Glorifiers Band for the Move Upstairs session.

Album title track and first single “Move Upstairs” possesses a raw, dusty, classic blues and R&B-leaning sound — and by that think of Bo Diddley “and Muddy Waters’ Muddy Waters Folk Singer and others — that’s so incredibly period specific, that it sounds as though it were written and recorded sometime in 1947-1954 or so and was somehow surreptitiously discovered by an obsessive record collector. As as the actual song, a churning and propulsive arrangement consisting of guitar, drums and organ that’s comfortable and roomy enough for the Como Mamas using call and response vocals, to belt and shout with joy about how God’s love set them free from life’s drudgery and suffering.  And it’s a song that shuffles and struts as it does so.

Of course, unsurprisingly, much like the Walker Family Singers’ “Jesus Gave Me Water,” the Como Mamas’ makes an obvious yet forceful suggestion — that the the Blues, Rock ‘N’ Roll, R&B and hip-hop can trace their origins in some fashion to the gospels, spirituals and folk music of the Mississippi Delta while actively preserving some of America’s musical traditions.