Author: William Ruben Helms

I'm a music blogger, critic and photographer, who has had articles and photos published in Premier Guitar Magazine, Brooklyn Magazine, 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.

GENTS is a Copenhagen, Denmark-based duo featuring Theis Vesterløkke and Niels Fejrskov Juhl, two longtime friends. And since their 2015 debut ep Embrace the Future, the duo have won a fanbase across their native Denmark and elsewhere of crafting hook-driven and hopeful music. Building upon a growing profile, the last year’s full-length debut About Time found the Danish duo redefining and expanding upon the sound that first caught them attention.

Over the course of the past year, the duo have toured across Europe and Russia, have written, recorded and released a double single and releasing new material that will further cement their growing reputation for crafting sentimental yet deeply optimistic music, rooted by a belief that music is most often a direct mode of expression of an open heart. Interestingly, the duo’s latest single “Emotional Facelift” is a plastic-coated track centered around plinking keys, atmospheric synths and vocals fed through autotune. Although being a bit prepackaged, the song thematically touches upon indecision, self-help, insincerity and apathy, ironically the song has a sincere and bittersweet quality,

“’Emotional Facelift’ deals with apathy and the shocking stress this can cause when you realize that you are completely emotionally callous.Everyone gets this feeling every now and then, and what you so desperately need in that situation is obviously an emotional facelift,” the Danish synth pop duo explained in press notes. “We wanted the track to sound as two-dimensional, simple and synthetic as possible, so any flaws and tiny imperfections were smoothened out. To us this creates this weirdly plastic-yet-humane and cute-yet-paranoid pop song – we absolutely love it, and we hope you will too.”

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New Video: Future Generations Hook-Driven 80s Synth Pop Take on Indie Rock

Currently comprised of longtime friends, including founding trio Eddie Gore (vocals, keys, guitar), Mike Sansevere (synths, guitar, percussion) and Eric Grossman (guitar), with newest members Devon Sheridan (bass), the Brooklyn-based indie act Future Generations can trace their origins to when its founding members met while attending Fordham University. The trio of Gore, Sansevere and Grossman wrote and recorded an EP that included their breakthrough single “Stars,” which caught the attention of Frenchkiss Records before they had finished school. And as a trio, they also quickly wrote and recorded their 2016 full-length, self-titled debut. Interestingly, Sheridan, was invited to join the band after Gore met him while waiting in line at a school dance — while Wells was a lucky Craigslist find. 

After graduating, the members of Future Generations moved to Brooklyn, where they quickly split their time between music, their day jobs and hanging out — and live together. “Some people might think, ‘Don’t you guys get sick of each other?’ But even though we live together and work on music together and tour together, I don’t ever feel like I’ve had too much of anybody,” Gore says in press notes. As he notes, the Future Generations home life is always kept colorful by the band members’ varying obsessions. “Eric loves good food, he’s always cooking these very intricate things for us,” says Gore. As for the others, “Devon is always illegally streaming NBA games and Dylan is very talented when it comes to betting on horse races.”

Released earlier this year, the Brooklyn-based indie quintet’s Justin Garish-produced sophomore album Landscape is the first recorded output with the band’s full-lineup finds the band expanding upon their sound with some free-form, mischievous experimentation that included recording guitar riffs and guitar lines from the receiving end of phone calls, using a vintage synthesizer called the Fun Machine, building percussion tracks by sampling a batch of drum circle recordings with a deliberate attention to a greater emotional intensity — while retaining the pop-leaning, hook-driven sensibility that won the band attention across the blogosphere. “The title partly came from ending the first significant relationship of my life, and with the band’s move to Brooklyn, we were all put into this world we’d never experienced—living on our own and navigating the landscape of being in New York City,” the band’s Eddie Gore explains in press notes. Making this album was the most creative time we’d ever experienced together,” Gore adds. “I remember after the ninth day of recording, we were all walking to the subway together to go home, and we just stopped and looked at each other like, ‘This is crazy, what’s happening here.’ It was this euphoric experience; the energy in the studio was completely palpable.”

Landscape’s latest single is album title track “Landscape,” a track centered around a lush, arpeggiated synth line, propulsive yet skittering percussion and a rousingly infectious hook that nods a bit of post-punk, 80s synth rock and contemporary indie rock but with an earnest look at themselves, their lives and their relationships as they get older — and as life becomes much more uncertain and confusing.

Directed by Kenny Polyak and Drew Lewis, the recently released video for “Landscape” mischievously draws from the opening sequences of bad 80s and 90s sitcoms — particularly Full House, Family Matters, and Perfect Strangers. As the band says of the video treatment ““You know that feeling when you’re two hours into a YouTube session and you come across a legendary Sizzler commercial from the 90s and you decide your next music video has to be a tribute to it? Thats how this all got started.”

Raymond James Mason is a Long Island, NY-born, Brooklyn-born trombonist and singer/songwriter. As the story goes, Mason picked up the trombone at a very young age, and as a teenager, he studied classical performance and jazz studies at my alma mater NYU, where he studied with Brian Lynch, Lenny Pickett, Alan Ferber and Elliot Mason. Upon graduating, Mason quickly became an in-demand musician, playing across a wide variety of genres; but he’s best known for being a member of renowned local Afrobeat act Antibalas, which eventually led to him becoming a member of the Daptone Records/Dunham Records in-house band, playing with the likes of Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Charles Bradley and the Menahan Street Band, Lee Fields and the The Expressions and many others. Additionally, Mason has performed and or recorded with the likes of Alicia Keys, David Byrne, Randy Newman, Erykah Badu, The Roots, Arcade Fire, Ed Sheeran, Janelle Monae, Lukas Graham, Nile Rodgers, Tame Impala, Maren Morris, Earth Wind and Fire, Mark Ronson and and more. Unsurprisingly, he very busy Mason learned from these artists while honing his own compositional and vocal skills, patiently waiting for his moment to step out in the spotlight.

Back in October 2016, Mason reached out to Daptone Records house band member, longtime friend and Dala Records founder Billy Aukstik to set up at a casual recording session. At the time, Aukstik was recording out of an old East Village brownstone basement, equipped with only a Tascam 388 8-track tape recorder and a few old ribbon microphones. Aukstik and Mason assembled an all-star squad of local soul musicians, including Alex Chakour, who has played with Charles Bradley and Sharon Jones; Freddy DeBoe, who has played with Charles Bradley and Sharon Jones; Joe Harrison, who has played with Nick Hakim and Charles Bradley; and Morgan Price, who has played with Antibalas to record a couple of Mason’s compositions — two of which wound up becoming the A and B sides of Mason’s solo debut, “Back When”/”No Clue.”

A side single “Back When” is a strutting and swaggering bit of a soul pop centered around an arrangement of Arp Omni bass synth, fuzzy guitar lines and a steady backbeat — and while thematically the song is a universal tale of lost opportunity and what could have beens, it’s a decidedly contemporary take on the Dala Records sound, as it nods at contemporary soul, hip-hop and psych pop in a way that brings Tame Impala, Nick Hakim and others to mind. “No Clue,” the B side single is centered around fuzzy power chords and a garage rock vibe, while thematically the song focuses on a dysfunctional and confusing relationship. Both singles reveal an an up-and-coming artist, who’s actively and earnestly pushing the sonic boundaries of soul.

 

 

Centered around the collaboration between singer/songwriter Gina Leonard and producer and guitarist Tom Freyer, the acclaimed Bristol, UK-based electro pop/trip hop act The Desert can trace their origins to when Freyer had produced some of Leonard’s solo work. And as the story goes, the duo quickly hit upon a formula of Freyer taking the songs that Leonard had initially written with an acoustic guitar and adding layers of electronics and lush, detailed production.

With the release of “Just Get High,” the first single off last year’s debut EP Playing Dead, the act received airplay on BBC Radio 1, BBC Radio 6 and Radio X. And with the release of further tracks off the EP, the British electro pop/trip hop, the act received attention across the blogosphere and elsewhere for a sound that some have described as being a mix between Little Dragon and Portishead. Building upon a growing profile, the act’s sophomore EP was released last week, and from the EP’s first single “Gone,” the act has revealed a decided evolution of their sound and approach while retaining the cinematic quality that first won them attention; however, the song possessed a desperate, urgent air with a hint of uneasy hope.  The EP’s latest single “Distract Me” is a much more intimate, sensual track centered around a hauntingly sparse arrangement of strummed guitar, plinking, jazz-like piano, Leonard’s achingly plaintive vocals — with synths and electronics added towards the last third. In some way, the EP’s latest track manages to remind me of the film noir-ish tone of Goldfrapp’s Tales of Us.

Lately, the act has been busy working on new material and playing their first batch of live shows across the UK — and for their live shows, Leonard and Freyer have recruited Ryan Rogers (bass) and Jonny Parry (drums, electronics).

 

 

Live Session: Bells Atlas on Audiotree Live

Now, over the past couple of years, I’ve written quite a bit about the Oakland, CA-based futuristic soul act Bells Atlas. And as you may recall, the act which is comprised of Derek Barber (guitar) Geneva Harrison (drums, percussion, keys) Sandra Lawson-Ndu (vocals, percussion, keys) and Doug Stuart (bass, vocals, keys) of Derek Barber (guitar) Geneva Harrison (drums, percussion, keys) Sandra Lawson-Ndu (vocals, percussion, keys) and Doug Stuart (bass, vocals, keys)  have received attention for a forward-thinking, kaleidoscopic and lush sound that draws from indie rock, 90s R&B, Afro pop, Afro-futurism, jazz, electro pop and experimental pop. Adding to a rapidly growing profile, the members of the Oakland-based act has opened for the likes of Hiatus Kaiyote, Badbadnotgood, Bilal, Meshell Ndegeocello, W. Kamau Bell, Angelique Kidjo and others, as well as Bermuda Triangle, the side project of Alabama Shakes‘ Brittany Howard. Along with that, they spent 2016 as the touring band for NPR’s Snap Judgement.

Released earlier this year, the acclaimed futuristic soul act’s latest EP SALT AND SOAP is inspired by cleansing rituals and preservation methods, with the understanding that when you’re not accustomed to releasing your most personal stories, the idea is then to take a moment to prepare for a shift — for a new way of being open. Interestingly, during the creative process for their latest EP, the band stumbled upon a new songwriting process that incorporated the use of sampling grainy phone memo recordings of Geneva Harrison drumming as the bedrock of each song of the EP — and in turn, their full-length album The Mystic, which is slated for a March 2019 release. Focusing on spontaneity and sometimes even humor, the aim developed into writing music that was cinematic yet personal while highlighting each member’s individual skills and talent within the larger whole.

A few weeks ago the members of Bells Atlas were invited to Audiotree Live to do a live session centered around the material of the SALT AND SOAP EP including “Downpour,” a paradoxically slick yet lo-fi, lush and lysergic groove-driven track that recalled Drakkar Nowhere, Pavo Pavo and Erykah Badu; “Be Brave,” a sinuous and fluidic track centered around an incredibly dexterous and percolating bass line, driving percussion and rapidly morphing tone and time changes; the incredibly sultry “NCAT,” centered around shimmering and bubbling arpeggiated synths, stuttering drumming and a rolling bass, as well as two other tracks I haven’t written about — “Overshare” and “Find Where You Rise.” Throughout the live session, the material proves to be a perfect foil for Lawson-Ndu’s vocals, which manage to express a visceral vulnerability and human need, awe, strength and resiliency within a turn of a phrase.

Interestingly, during the session the band’s Lawson-Ndu speaks about her own deep, personal experience and love of sci-fi and fantasy and how they’ve influenced her to consider those genres through the experiences of being a woman of color.

New Video: Chicago’s Lightfoils Release a Lyrical and Meditative Video for “Summer Nights”

Over the past few weeks I’ve written quite a bit about the Chicago, IL-based shoegazer act Lightfoils. And as you may recall, the band, which is comprised of Jane Zabeth Nicholson (vocals), Neil Yodname (guitar), Zeeshan Abbasi (guitar), Cory Osborne (bass) and John Rungger (drums) has developed a reputation for pushing the boundaries of shoegaze with a unique and sophisticated take on the genre, as heard of 2014’s critically applauded Hierarchy.

The band’s long-awaited, forthcoming album Chambers will be self-released by the band, both for the autonomy and the ability to be intimately involved in all aspects of the album’s production and promotion — and with the album’s first single “Summer Nights, ” the first bit of new material since the release of Hierarchy finds the Chicago-based shoegazers fully commanded the sound they’ve developed with a swaggering self-assuredness, as the band pairs layers of lushly shimmering and chiming guitars with a propulsive, hip-hop like rhythm section and soaring hooks while Zabeth Nicholson’s ethereal vocals float over the mix, expressing deep longing. And while anthemic, the gorgeous track manages to possess the wistful feel of a summer night, complete with the knowledge that a bitterly cold winter is coming.

Co-directed by the members of the band and Brian Cook, the recently released video for “Summer Nights” meant to evoke the nostalgia for summer, the longing many of us feel once it passes — and in a subtle way, the recognition that the years and the time are flying by. Featuring footage shot by each member of the band, the video is partially an exploration of Chicago and the surrounding wilderness. As the band explains in press notes, the juxtaposition between the urban and wilderness scenes are meant to capture the paradoxical nature of city life — and the desire to both embrace and escape. Jane Zabeth Nicholson’s superimposed and spectral figure gives it all a film noir-ish like vibe. 

New Video: Acclaimed Singer/Songwriter Gerald Toto Releases a Cinematic and Symbolic Visual for “Away Alive”

Last year, I wrote about the acclaimed trio of Toto Bona Lokua, comprised of French-Antillean singer/songwriter Gerald Toto, Cameroonian jazz musician Richard Bona and Congolese singer/songwriter Lokua Kanza, and as you might recall, with the release of  2004’s, critically applauded sophomore effort Totobonalokua, the pan-African act received attention across world music circles for a sound and aesthetic that effortlessly blended several different traditions, cultures and languages; in fact, the album was a commercial success in France, despite very little promotion and no touring.

Since the release of Totobonalokua, the members of the trio have pursued a series of diverse solo projects, which kept them incredibly busy. Of course, because of the success of their sophomore album, the individual members of the trio would frequently be asked by fans and the press if they would be reuniting to write and record new material — or if they had any plans to tentatively do so. Although the individual member of the trio’s paths seldom crossed, they managed to stay in touch, and as the story goes Gerald Toto suggested that it might be time to reconvene the trio and try to write new material. Bona and Kanza quickly agreed and while it took some time to synchronize the schedules of three extremely prolific and busy artists, they found time to write and record their third full-length album Bondeko, which was released earlier this year through French record label Nø Førmat. (By the way, the album’s title is derived from the Lingala word for  “friendship” or “fraternity.”)

This year has been a very busy one for Gerald Toto, as he followed the release of Toto Bona Lokua’s third album with his latest solo album Sway, and from the album’s first single “Away Alive,” Toto will further cement his reputation for crafting infectious and breezy pop that’s mischievously difficult to categorize. In fact, “Away Alive” is centered around a languid and tropical groove, featuring gently strummed guitar, brief bursts of arpeggiated synths and an infectious hook paired with Toto’s yearning falsetto. Sonically the song hints at Tropicalia, Bossa nova, 70s soul, Afro pop, French pop and folk while not being one thing in particular; but perhaps more important, the song encouragers the listener to slow down and pay close attention to gentle sway of life’s rhythms every now and then. 

Produced by Paris-baed company La Sucrerie and directed by R&D, the recently released — and incredibly cinematic — video follows Toto as he wanders about the desert. Speaking about the video, Toto says “The desert is an allegorical dream. An inner space where one seems initially lost, without reference or bearings, before finding, within, an anchor point from which to walk. With a heart open to all encounters.”

New Video: Perth Australia’s The Money War Release an Intimate, Behind the Scenes, Life on the Road-like Video for “Hey Now”

Earlier this year, I wrote about the Perth, Australia-based dream pop/indie pop/indie rock duo The Money War, and as you may recall, the act which is comprised of Rainy Day Women’s Dylan Ollivierre and  Warning Birds’ Carmen Pepper can trace its origins to a road trip that the pair took across the US in late 2015. Inspired by the trip, they recorded a ton of iPhone demos. And as the story goes, after a chance meeting with producers Thom Monahan and Arne Frager in a San Francisco dive bar, the duo were convinced of the value of their demos together, and began working on an album.

Last year saw the release of their debut EP and to support the effort, they spent the better part of that year touring with Holy Holy and Meg Mac, and then went on a headlining national tour during December. EP single “Recall,” was the fifth most played song on Triple J Radio, and as result they had received a growing national profile in their homeland; but interestingly enough, they also received attention Stateside with airplay on SiriusXM, KEXP, CJAM FM, KXRN, WLKK and college radio. The duo’s highly-anticipated full-length debut is slated for release early next year, and the album’s first single was the Still Corners-like “Hollywood,” was a moody and cinematic track inspired by a difficult year the duo had in which someone close to each individual had died. “There’s a hospital in Perth called Hollywood, and I was pondered its ironic name,” Olliviere says in press notes. “We were in LA when I got the news that a family member was passing away, and the lyrics started forming from there. We wanted the song to sound like a moving and we took production cues from that idea.”

“Hey Now,” the second and latest single off the up-and-coming Australian duo’s debut album is a breezy and cinematic track that recalls 120 Minutes-era MTV alt rock — but with an infectiously anthemic hook that makes the song sound as though it would be the perfect addition to anyone’s road trip playlist. And while further cementing their reputation for crafting breezy, hook driven indie rock, the song has an underlying bittersweet quality.  As the band’s Dylan Olliviere explains “is about making a commitment to someone and being ecstatic about it but also realising that you’re in a very different position to where you thought you’d be when you reached that milestone. Life usually takes a different course than you anticipated and doesn’t always match the set of ideals you once held. I like how the line ‘time is coming for us baby’ can be interpreted in different ways depending on how you look at it. It’s kind of a romantic yet bittersweet sentiment.” 

Shot and edited by the members of The Money War, the recently released video for “Hey Now” is an an intimate “life on the road of a touring band” styled video that’s split between the band playing in front of audiences in Los Angeles, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, goofing off and traveling around the world with stops that include a bridge crossing at Tasmania’s Cataract Gorge, beach huts in Fremantle, Australian Rules Football on a Perth beach, and riding in a van, crossing the American West. 

Comprised of founding duo Maja (guitar, vocals) and Andreas (guitar, vocals) along with Samuel (drums), the Stockholm, Sweden-based shoegazers Star Horse can trace their origins back to 2011 when the band’s founding duo met while in Toyko. And as the story goes, Maja and Andreas bonded over a mutual desire to create a sound based around their love of 90s shoegaze. When they returned to Stockolm, they recruited Andreas and Samuel — and while each member individually has dissimilar tastes and preferences, they used the Twin Peaks soundtrack as a common musical thread to create their sound and aesthetic.

Interestingly, since their formation, the Stockholm-based quartet has been considered at the forefront of their homeland’s shoegaze/dream pop scene, developing a developing a devoted international fanbase — and for most of their history, they’ve done it all in a completely DIY fashion, releasing three EPs and a handful of singles through their own label Haxrummet Records. Additionally, along with Follow the Sea, they created the local DIY noise rock/shoegazer festival Fuzztival.

Since, the release of the highly praised single “Slower Now,” the band has been holed up in the studio, finishing up their highly-anticipated full-length debut You Said Forever, which is slated for a February 15, 2019 release through Startracks Records. The album’s latest single is the slow-burning epic track “Albatross” which clocks in at a little under 9 minutes and is centered around shimmering guitar chords and ethereal vocals. And while recalling A Storm in Heaven-era The Verve, the track manages to be melancholic but yearning.

 

 

 

 

Now, over the course of this site’s eight-plus year history, I’ve written quite a bit about the New York-based dance music collective ESCORT. And as you may recall, the act which features founding duo and production team Eugene Cho and Dan Balls and Adeline Michele as members of a core group of anywhere from five to 17 has received attention for a sound that’s indebted to disco, house music and soul — and for a live show that has made them a must-see act; in fact, the members of ESCORT have played some of North America’s biggest festivals, including Sasquatch Festival, Okeechobee Festival Montreal Jazz Festival, Full Moon Festival and others — and have shared stages with The Internet, Charles Bradley, Digable Planets, De La Soul and Cody ChesnuTT.

Now, as you may recall, things have been busy in the ESCORT universe: Adeline recently released her self-titled, full-length debut while her primary gig has released singles — and their last single “Slide,” which was co-written by denitia and sene‘s Denitia was centered around a buoyant bass line, shimmering synths, some Nile Rodgers-like guitar and Adeline Michele’s sultry vocals manages to recall Chaka Khan and Rufus“Ain’t Nobody,” making it a sort of 80s synth funk-inspired skating rink banger. The acclaimed act’s latest single “Josephine” finds them returning to their roots — a subtly modern take on classic 70s disco centered around an incredible vocalist; but in this case, the song is an anthemic, club-banging biography of the legendary Josephine Baker that manages to recalls Giorgio Moroder‘s legendary work with Donna Summer.