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.

Now, if you’ve been frequenting this site over the past four years or so, you’ve likely been made familiar with the Seattle, WA-based JOVM mainstays Shabazz Palaces. Interestingly, the act continues Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler’s long-held reputation for being exceedingly different that goes back to his days as a founding member of  the Grammy-winning Digable Planets, one of the more forward-thinking acts of their time. After Digable Planets broke up, Butler moved back to his hometown, where he met multi-instrumentalist Tendai “Baba” Maraire, the son of Dumisani Maraire and formed Shabazz Palaces.

Butler and Maraire quietly released two albums in 2009 — their self-titled debut and Of Light, which caught the attention of renowned indie label Sub Pop Records, who signed the band and released 2011’s Black Up, an effort release to critically applause across the blogosphere and major media outlets for its kaleidoscopic synth and heavy low-end based sound paired with Butler’s witty and incredibly dexterous flow. While continuing to cement Butler’s and Mariare’s reputation for crafting incredibly weird, psychedelic-tinged hip hop paired with Butler’s ridiculously dexterous flow,  2014’s Lese Majesty was a decided change in sonic direction with much of the material possessing an eerie cosmic glow; in fact, the best description I could come up with for the material was along the lines of intergalactic trap music. But along with the decided change of sonic direction, was a bold challenge to contemporary hip-hop artists. As Butler told the folks at NPR during an interview about Lese Majesty, “This endeavor that I pursue, that we all pursue in Shabazz Palaces, make no mistake, this is an attack. We’re trying to show off and really stunt on all other rappers and let them know that this is our style, this is what we do and we’re ready to put it up against anybody else’s stuff.”

Some time has passed since I’ve personally written about Shabazz Palaces; however, Butler spent part of last year on a reunion tour with the members of Digable Planets while Maraire had written and released music with a side project, Chimurenga Renaissance. But the duo managed to find time to write and record their Knife Knights (the production duo of Shabazz Palaces’ Butler and Eric Blood)-produced fifth, full-length effort Quazarz: Born On A Gangster Star, which is slated for a July 14, 2017 release through Sub Pop Records. As the members of Shabazz Palaces explain, their forthcoming album is a surreal yet politically-charged concept album that first introduces the listener to and then tells the tale of Quazarz, a sentient being from somewhere else, sent to be an observer and musical emissary, whose mission is to explore and chronicle the things he sees, experiences and thinks — and in some way it seems to echo the cult-classic film The Brother From Another Planet and Alexis De Tocqueville‘s Democracy in America; however, what our otherworldly emissary finds is a bizarre, cutthroat landscape of brutality, conformity, alternative facts, hypocrisy, greed, suffering, selfishness and death masquerading as patriotism and connectivity. And as result, Quazarz finds himself feeling increasingly uncomfortable and out  of place.

Quazarz: Born On A Gangster Star‘s first single “Shine A Light” continues the duo’s long-running collaboration with Thadillac, who contribute a lush, dusty, old-school soul-leaning arrangement featuring shimmering strings, a strutting bass line, warm psychedelic guitar blasts, shuffling drum beats, and a retro-futuristic-like hook consisting of distorted, vocoder-filtered vocals while Butler’s narrator describes a hellish, pre-apocalyptic world that feels much like our own; but it’s a world that the song’s narrator can’t fathom — and in some way he’s horrified and confused by everything he sees. I certainly couldn’t blame him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Currently comprised of founding members Beau Croxton (guitar, vocals) and Mike Groehler (production), along with Willie Mosto (guitar), Paul Truitt (keys/guitar), Forrest Hackenbrock (bass), and James Esposito (drums) — and a live horn section featuring Carter Yasutake, who’s played in the backing bands of David Byrne and St. Vincent and Charles Bradley; Jason Disu, who’s played in the backing bands of David Byrne and St. Vincent, and LCD Soundystem; and Noah Drielblatt, who’s played with Blitz the Ambassador, the members of the Brooklyn-based indie rock/garage rock/blues act Damn Jackals have received a bit of attention locally for a sound that draws from 70s Bowie, T. Rex, Johnny Thunders, The Stooges and Television — while to my ears nodding at The Black Keys, as you’ll hear on “Freezing Blues,” the latest single off the band’s soon-to-be released debut EP, That’s It.

And much like the classic rock and bluesy influences behind their sound, Damn Jackals’ latest barn burning single, as the band’s Beau Croxton explains is about “the type of cold, loneliness that reduces the heart to burning carnage and leaves the subject so crippled with emptiness and anger that he is rendered utterly unrecognizable.” And as a result, the song possesses an anthemic, arena rock-friendly hook that manages to express a boozy bitterness.

 

 

 

 

Now, if you’ve been frequenting this over the past few years, you’ve come across several posts featuring JOVM mainstay artist Rhythm Scholar, who has developed a reputation for being both incredibly prolific and for a series of genre-mashing remixes stuffed to the gills with both obscure and recognizable samples that are reminiscent of  Paul’s Boutique-era Beastie Boys and Girl Talk. He’s also developed reputation for releasing a series of more straightforward and traditional-leaning remixes, including a breezy and jazzy remix of A Tribe Called Quest’s “Can I Kick It?” consisting of cascading organs, strummed guitar, double bass, warm blasts of funky horn and swirling electronics and a breezy, lounge funk/lounge jazz leaning remix of Tribe’s “Bonita Applebum.” 

Rhythm Scholar returns with a remix of DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince’s 1991 smash-hit “Summertime” and while retaining Will Smith‘s cool delivery and the song’s overall nostalgia-tinged Roy Ayers-like vibe the remix adds bits and snippets of samples from Kool and The Gang, Dexter Wansel, James Brown, Dave Grusin, The Eagles and a few other hidden gems, including some soulfully meandering keys and boom-bap beats.

 

 

Now, if you’ve been frequenting this site over the course of the past year, you may recall that although Johan Angergård may be best known as a member of renowned Swedish electro pop acts Djustin, Club 8 and Acid House Kings, as well as the founder and heard of renowned  Stockholm, Sweden-based electro pop label Labrador Records. But interestingly enough, Angergård has had an accomplished solo career, as he’s released several albums with his solo recording project  The Legends — including 2009’s noise pop-leaning self-titled effort and 2015’s It’s Love, which featured lead single “Keep Him.” Last year was an extremely busy year for Angergård as Djustin and Club 8 released long-awaited albums and he released two original singles “Cocaine” feat. Maria Usbeck, “Summer In The City (Living Is For Somebody Else)” and a cover of The Chainsmokers smash-hit “Roses” feat. Rozes with his solo recording project. Those first three tracks wound up revealing a decided change of sonic direction for him and The Legends as his sound went towards a swaggering, neon-colored, retro-futuristic sound reminiscent of 80s Giorgio MoroderComputerworld-era Kraftwerk, early house and Holy Ghost!’s Crime Cutz as heavily vocoder-processed vocals are paired with tweeter and woofer rocking 808s, processed cowbell and layers of arpeggio synths; and in fact, the cocksure “Cash” and the dance floor and boom-box rocking “In Love With Myself,” the two most recently released singles off his recently released album Nightshift. 

“Riding The Wave,” is the latest single off Nightshift and sonically speaking, while the song continues the neon-colored, retro-futuristic vibe of the preceding singles, “Riding The Wave” manages to sound like a Giorgio Moroder-leaning take on Harold Faltermeyer‘s “Axel F,” and as a result, the song possesses a late night, coke and strobe-like fueled sensuality.

 

 

New Video: The Gorgeous and Mournful Visuals for Gabriel Garzón-Montano’s “My Balloon”

Gabriel Garzón-Montano is a critically applauded, Brooklyn-born and-based singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who has received attention for a genre-defying take on contemporary soul and pop, as his work draws from his French-Columbian-American heritage, Bach, cumbia, funk and soul, and the wild, adventurous multiculturalism familiar to a native New Yorker; but arguably one of the biggest influences on his work and his career was his mother, who was a member of the Philip Glass Ensemble in the 1990s. And as Garzón-Montano has publicly mentioned, his mother is the main reason he loves music, and her rigorous, classical instruction along with her painstaking attention to detail, managed to influence his own creative process.

Garzón-Montano’s long-awaited full-length effort Jardín was released earlier this year and it comes on the heels of a three year period of rather intense touring, writing, revising and recording that interestingly enough began his 2014 debut EP Bishouné: Alma del Hula, which caught the attention of Lenny Kravitz, who invited the Brooklyn-born-and-based multi-instrumentalist and singer/songwriter to open for him during his European tour that year. Adding to a rapidly growing profile, Garzón-Montano’s “6 8” was sampled on Drake‘s If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late, which led to tours with Glass Animals and his renowned Stones Throw Records labelmate Mayer Hawthorne.

Jardín was recorded with his mentor, analog recording guru Henry Hirsch at Waterfront Studios in Hudson, NY last year and during the recording sessions Garzón-Montano tracked drums, bass, guitar, piano and synths directly to 2-inch tape, and then added percussion, digital programming and several layers of his own vocals to create the album’s overall lush sound — a sound that reportedly nods at Stevie Wonder‘s Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants. “I wanted to make music that would remind people how beautiful life is – how delicate their hearts are. A garden is full of life, and growth, and beauty. I named the album Jardín hoping for it to create a space for healing when people put it on. I’ve always wanted to make music that is healing, comforting, and funky,” Garzón-Montano explained in press notes. Naturally, our current sociopolitical climate has influenced a great deal of the material on the album, as thematically it focuses on the struggles and uncertainties of living in America but it’s balanced our by its equal focus on the complications and joys of love.

Earlier this year, I wrote about Jardín’s first single “Crawl,” a single that effortlessly meshed hip-hop, 90s neo-soul and contemporary pop with a slick production consisting of ambient synths, twinkling keys, a wobbling bass line, tweeter and woofer rattling beats, and a sharp and swaggering hook are paired with Garzón-Montano’s sultry vocals. The album’s second and latest single “My Balloon” continues in a similar vein as twinkling keys, shimmering guitar, a sinuous bass line, glitchy electronics and shuffling beats are paired with Garzón-Montano’s sultry vocals — tinged with the aching regret of a confusing relationship with someone who isn’t quite on the same emotional or mental space as you are. And while the song’s narrator seems to proudly suggest that he’ll move on with his life, there’s a sense that it’s nothing more than hurt pride — and that he knows the lingering possibility of what should have been and what could have been will be a part of his life for some time.

Directed by Santiago Carrasquailla, the recently released music video for “My Balloon” was filmed with a painterly quality on location in Cartagena and Las Islas del Rosario, Colombia. As Garzón-Montano says of the video’s concept, “It’s a series of portraits of a heartbroken couple who are in beautiful places at the wrong time.” And as a result, the video possesses a similar wistful ache for something beautiful that should have been and could have been, if both people weren’t so fucked up.

 

Ward White is a Los Angeles, CA-based singer/songwriter and guitarist, who is arguably best known for his work as one-half of the critically applauded chamber pop duo McGinty and White, which features Joe McGinty, a former member of Psychedelic Furs, and the creator of The Loser’s Lounge tribute series; in fact, the duo’s debut effort together received praise from  The New Yorker and The New York Press.  And while a member of McGinty and White, White has quietly developed a reputation as a solo artist of note as 2013’s Bob and 2015’s Ward White is the Matador were released to critical praise from iTunesNew York Magazine, Magnet Magazine and CMJ for a songwriting approach and sound that has been compared favorably to Scott Walker (one of the great and sadly under-appreciated songwriters of the past 50 years or so), 1970s  David Bowie, T. Rex and others.

 

Now, if you’ve been frequenting this site over the course of 2015, you may recall that I had written about White’s Ward White is the Matador, an album that while clearly drawing from 70s classic rock and AM rock, also possessed an experimental art rock sheen. And while unquestionably, a very New York rock sound, at points the material lyrically and thematically covered things that we become conscious of as we get older — that life is increasingly about a series of loss; that most relationships throughout one’s life will inevitably end; and of a rapidly disappearing New York into eccentrics and lunatics, and improbable situations.

It’s been a while since I’ve written about White, and as it turns out, White has been rather busy. Over the past couple of years, Ward has relocated from Brooklyn to Los Angeles — and his soon-to-be released tenth full-length album As Consolation chronicles his relocation to the West Coast; in fact, the album’s first single “Dude” will further cement his reputation for crafting 70s AM radio friendly rock in the veins of the aforementioned Scott Walker, David Bowie, T. Rex and Roxy Music — with a winking and witty irony; but under the surface is the hazy confusion of being disconnected, of being a stranger in an even stranger place that you can’t quite figure out with people who seem completely alien to you. And as a result, the song evokes the recognition of not fitting in — while wondering if people are looking at you with disapproval and disdain because you can’t quite tell.

 

 

Live Footage: King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard Perform a Wild, Psych Rock Freakout on Conan

Over the past couple of months, I’ve written a bit about the Melbourne, Australia-based psych rock sextet King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard. Comprised of Stu Mackenzie (vocals, guitar, and flute), Ambrose Kenny Smith (synths, harmonica), Cook Craig (guitar), Joey Walker (guitar), Lucas Skinner (bass), Eric Moore (drums) and Michael Cavanagh (drums), the Australian psych rock sextet have developed a reputation for incredibly energetic live shows and for being incredibly prolific, as they’ve released 10 full-length, studio albums since 2012 — and with each album, the band has revealed themselves to have a relentlessly experimental song and songwriting approach; in fact, their earliest releases blended elements of 60s surf rock, garage rock and psych rock and their later work featuring elements of film scores, prog rock, folk, soul, Krautrock, heavy metal and proto-metal.

Released earlier this year, the band’s tenth studio album Flying Microtonal Banana found the band delving deeper into trance-inducing done, non-Western musical scales and metronomic rhythms — and in fact, the sound on that album is so profoundly unique and evolved, that it required the members of the band to reinvent their own instruments after they began experimenting with a custom microtonal guitar, made for the band’s frontman Stu Mackenzie. As the band mentioned in press notes on Flying Microtonal Banana they found particular inspiration from the movable frets of a Turkish instrument, the bağlama, a classical lute — and three guitars and a bass were customized for the band to explore wildly different scales and a new set of musical notes not normally heard in Western music. They then customized a keyboard and a mouth organ. Additionally, the material on the album finds the and incorporating the use of a Turkish horn called a zurna, which looks a bit like a clarinet but because it’s a double-reeded instrument, the possess a wobbly sound that Mackenzie says “blends perfectly with the secret notes on the guitar.”

Album single “Rattlesnake” paired a chugging, motorik-like groove and anthemic, chant-worthy hook; but while clearly drawing from prog rock, Krautrock, psych rock, heavy psych, stoner rock and even space rock, the song finds the band putting a familiar Western sound into a decidedly Eastern context — and as a result, it’s not only a wild, mind-altering spin on something familiar and seemingly done to death and then some, while possessing a familiar acid-tinged yet alien, otherworldly sound.

Unsurprisingly, the Melbourne-based psych rockers will follow up on one of the trippiest and more unique sounding albums I’ve heard this year with Murder Of The Universe, a concept album meant to end all concept albums, as the material thematically concerns itself with the downfall of man and the death of the planet — and it evokes the greater sense of fear that we’re foolishly inching closer to our own destruction. As the band’s Stu Mackenzie explains “We’re living in dystopian times that are pretty scary and it’s hard not to reflect that in our music. It’s almost unavoidable. Some scientists predict that the downfall of humanity is just as likely to come at the hands of Artificial Intelligence, as it is war or viruses or climate change. But these are fascinating times too. Human beings are visual creatures – vision is our primary instinct, and this is very much a visual, descriptive, bleak record. While the tone is definitely apocalyptic, it is not necessarily purely a mirror of the current state of humanity. It’s about new non-linear narratives.”

Structurally, Murder of the Universe’s tracks are separated into three chapters and the album’s first single “Chapter 3: Han-Tyumi and the Murder of the Universe” is an epic, 13 minute, shape-shifting, face-melting prog rock song that evokes Biblical visions of the apocalypse — enormous mushroom clouds, pools of fire and blood, death and unceasing war, poverty and misery, featuring a cyborg, who desperately longs to be alive, to simply be.

The Melbourne, Australia-based psych rock band was recently on Conan to perform “Lord of Lightning” is a trippy track that meshes 60s heavy psych rock and prog rock, featuring some blistering guitar work — and it manages to feel like a wild, hallucinogenic freak out while maintaining their reputation to be defiantly, joyously difficult to pigeonhole.

New Video: The Retro-futuristic 80s Visuals and Synth Funk Sounds of Aida’s “Let’s Ride”

Aida is a French-born singer/songwriter who with the release of “Let’s Ride” off her soon-to-be released debut EP, My Retrospective has received attention for a neon bright, funk sound reminiscent of 80s synth funk — i.e., The Whispers “And The Beat Goes On,” “It’s A Love Thing,” and “Rock Steady,” Tuxedo’s self-titled debut, Dam-Funk, Blood Orange, Chaka Khan’s “I Feel For You” and others; in fact, “Let’s Ride” which features a slick, dance floor-friendly electro funk production by Fresco Klüb consisting of cascading and propulsive arpeggio synth chords, enormous, tweeter and woofer rocking beats from Fresco Klüb paired with Aida’s effortlessly soulful and coquettish vocals.

Directed by Xavier Cantin-Lemieux of La Maison Bald Man, the recently released music video consists of pitch-perfect 80s-inspired visuals that cut between Aida going to a local bodega to make a phone call, where she watches a music video featuring three bathing suit-clad dancers on a studio-designed beach, and Aida riding her scooter through a Tron-like landscape; but as the video gets to the hook, it becomes darker, suggesting that Aida is an assassin on an important mission — and she does so with a cool, detached, efficiency.