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.

Live Footage: Black Pumas Performs “Fire” on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon”

I’ve spilled quit a bit of virtual ink covering the Grammy Award-nominated Austin, TX-based soul act and JOVM mainstays, Black Pumas over the past year. Led by Grammy Award-winning producer, songwriter, guitarist and producer Adrian Quesada and San Fernando Valley-born singer/songwriter and guitarist Eric Burton, the acclaimed act can trace their origins back to 2017. Burton, who grew up singing in church and in musical theater, started busking at the Santa Monica pier, where he brought in a few hundred dollars and day and honing his performance skills. He then traveled through the Western states before deciding to settle down in Austin, setting up a busking spot on 6th Street and Congress, a prime location in the city’s downtown neighborhood for maximum exposure.  

Meanwhile, Quesada was looking to collaborate with someone new. He reached out to friends in Los Angeles and London — but nothing seemed to fit. Serendipitously, a mutual friend recommended Burton to Quesada, telling the Grammy Award-winning songwriter, guitarist and producer that Burton was the best singer he had ever heard. The two musicians connected but Burton took a while to respond. “My friends were like ‘Dude, you’re a mad man, you need to hit that guy back!’” Burton recalls. When Burton did call Quesada, he sang to him over the phone. “I loved his energy, his vibe, and I knew it would be incredible on record,” Quesada says. “From the moment I heard him on the phone, I was all about it.”

Last year, the duo along with a talented cast of collaborators released their breakthrough full-length debut. Along with that, the band had gone on a relentless tour schedule that brought their uplifting live show across North America and the European Union, including three separate stops in the New York area: The Knitting Factory, last May; Mercury Lounge, last July; and Brooklyn Bowl last September. Additionally, during that same period of time the band has made begun to make the rounds across the nationally televised talk show circuit, playing  Jimmy Kimmel Live, The Ellen Show and others.

Since the self-titled debut’s release, the album has sold 155,000+ album equivalents worldwide, with smash hit “Colors” hitting #1 on Adult Album Alternative (AAA) radio and has been streamed over 60 million times. And as I mentioned earlier, the band was nominated for a Best New Artist Grammy along with fellow JOVM mainstay Yola — losing out to Billie Eilish.

Black Pumas will be releasing a deluxe version of their breakthrough self-titled album, which will feature new artwork, previously unpublished in-studio and live performance photographs, as well as a bonus 7 inch featuring three previously unreleased originals, live-in studio versions of “Colors,” “October 33,” and “Confines;” a live version of “Know You Better,” recorded at C-Boys Heart & Soul, the Austin club, where the band first made a name for themselves; the band’s attention-grabbing covers of The Beatles‘ “Eleanor Rigby,” Death’s “Politicians in My Eyes,” Bobby “Blue” Bland‘s “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City,” and Tracy Chapman‘s “Fast Car,” which they premiered on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert last month.

Building upon their rapidly growing profile, the act was recently on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, where they performed one of my favorite songs off their self-titled album, the Muscle Shoals-like shuffle “Fire.”

New Audio: JOVM Mainstay TOBACCO Teams Up With Trent Reznor on the Menacing and Infectious “Babysitter”

Thomas Fec, a.k.a TOBACCO is a Pittsburgh-born and based producer, multi-instrumentalist and singer/songwriter, and throughout his two decade-plus music career, Fec has used analog synthesizers and tape machines to create a boundary-pushing sound that evokes a woozy and uneasy intertwining of tension, anxiety, bemusement and pleasure as the frontman and creative mastermind of Black Moth Super Rainbow, as a solo artist and through his production work. 

2016 saw the release of Fec’s fourth TOBACCO album Sweatbox Dynasty — and since then the JOVM mainstay has been incredibly busy. TOBACCO reconvened Black Moth Super Rainbow to write and record 2018’s Panic Blooms, which was supported with tours with The Stargazer Lilies and Nine Inch Nails. Last year saw the JOVM mainstay producing The Stargazer Lilies’ abrasive and trippy Occabot — and he collaborated with Aesop Rock in Malibu Ken, a project that released their critically applauded debut album. And additionally, TOBACCO penned the theme song to HBO’s Silicon Valley.

Earlier this year, the JOVM mainstay released his first batch of solo material since Sweatbox Dynasty, the “Hungry Eyes”/”Can’t Count On Her” 7 inch which featured the Pittsburgh-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer’s woozy and scuzzy take on Eric Carmen’s Franke Previte and John DeNicola co-written smash hit “Hungry Eyes.” But as it turned out, the “Hungry Eyes”/”Can’t Count On Her” 7 inch may have been a bit of a preview of the JOVM mainstay’s forthcoming full-length Hot Wet & Sassy,

Slated for an October 30, 2020 release through Ghostly International, Hot Wet & Sassy reportedly oozes with anti-love, self-hate and disappointment in others — while further refining the pop impulses that have underpinned his unique sound — blown out, bass, fuzzy analog synths, drum machines and Fec’s analog gurgle and hiss. “I feel like it’s the most I’ve been able to refine what I’m doing,” says Fec. “For the past decade I’ve had this motherfxcker on my shoulder that makes me pick away at structure and melody. Purposely covering up moments because I can. That really came to a peak on Sweatbox. So I wanted the opposite this time. Write the songs without ripping them in half. I went from ‘what would the Butthole Surfers do?’ to ‘what would Cyndi Lauper do?’”

Interestingly, the album’s second and latest single “Babysitter” finds Fec teaming up with Nine Inch Nails’ mastermind Trent Reznor — and the end result is a deranged and unsettling lurch between a menacingly saccharine bridge and what sounds like someone gleefully running a  rusty manual lawnmower through someone’s carpet. In other words:  hot hi-hats, thumping toms battle against scorched synths and gurgling and bubbling hiss and distortion. And yet, the song strangely enough manages to have some of the most accessible, pop-leaning hooks of Fec’s career. “This was new for me, but I wanted to write a song that was everything I am and have been, and then like one notch further. Trent was the notch further,” adds Fec.

New Audio: Funk Legend Steve Arrington Gives Us Advice on Getting Through These Dark Times

Steve Arrington is a Dayton, OH-born and-based singer/songwriter and drummer, who got his start with the acclaimed Dayton-based funk and soul act Slave in the 70s, eventually becoming best known for being the lead singer on the act’s smash hits “Watching You,” and “Just a Touch of Love.” Continuing an incredible run of success, Arrington went solo, releasing a handful of albums before leaving the secular music world in 1991 to focus on spiritual and ministerial work. 

An impressive and eclectic array of artists have drawn influence from Arrington’s with artists like Jay-Z, A Tribe Called Quest, Pharrell, 2Pac, Snoop Dogg, LL Cool J, Mariah Carey, N.W.A. and a lengthy list of others sampling his work in Slave and as a solo artist. 

Arrington returned to secular music in 2009 with the release of that year’s Pure Thang, which he followed up with 2013’s collaborative album with Dam-Funk, Higher, released through Stones Throw Records. Additionally during the past decade, the Dayton-born and-based has had a number of attention-grabbing  guest spots with the aforementioned Snoop Dogg, Kool Moe Dee, George Clinton, and Thundercat. 

Slated for a September 18, 2020 release through Stones Throw Records, Down To The Lowest Terms: The Soul Sessions is the funk legend’s first solo album in 11 years — and the album reportedly sees Arrington finding peace with himself and God while casting an easygoing but still razor-sharp critical eye on the world around him. The album’s second and latest single “Soulful I Need That In My Life” is a slow-burning, Quiet Storm-like pimp strut centered around twinkling and gurgling synths, a sinuous bass line, plucked bursts of guitar, and Arrington’s imitable crooning. While bearing a resemblance to Arrington’s famous work in Slave, the song offers prescriptive advice for listeners in at time of uncertainty, stress and despair — “downshift,” and slow it down. “Some nice, soulful music is going to bring some peace to this time of trouble and stress,” the funk legend says in press notes. And you know what? I suspect he’s right. 

Created by Stones Throw founder Peanut Butter Wolf and Jamma D, “Soulful I Need That In My Life” the song can trace its origins to when the song’s producer Jamma D ran into Wolf at the label’s Gold Line Bar during the early states of the album. Wolf invited Jamma D to share some beats. And after sending a bunch of beats over, Jamma was surprised to hear that the funk legend wanted to use a beat for the album.“A few months after that I was behind the board in a studio watching Steve in the booth write, record, and ad-lib the entire jam in about 3 hours.” Jamma D says. “It was the pleasure of a lifetime to bear witness to the funk in its purest undiluted form, the INVADE is upon you!”

Formed back in 201t6, the Brooklyn-based act No Swoon — Tasha Abbott (vocals, guitar) and Zack Nestel-Patt (synths) — have received attention across the blogosphere for a sound that meshes elements of dream pop, shoegaze, post-punk and ethereal wave. Now, if you’ve been frequenting this site over the past year, you may recall that the JOVM mainstays have added their names to a growing list of acts like BLACKSTONE RNGRS, Lightfoils that have been pushing the sonic and aesthetic boundaries of shoegaze and dream pop as far as they possibly could.

2018’s EP 1 was written in Los Angeles during a self-imposed exile from the East Coast. For Abbott, a native of Ontario, CA, the idea was to get back to her geographic and musical roots: she spent a great deal of time driving around the suburbs listening to the goth and New Wave that her mom played in the car when Abbott was a little girl  (Bauhaus, Love and Rockets, New Order) and the indie rock and punk rock of her teenage years (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The White Stripes). Last year’s s Jorge Elbrecht-produced, self-titled full-length debut firmly established their sound. And while being ambitious and urgent, the material thematically touched upon the confusion, frustration and uncertainty of our zeitgeist with narrators seeking answers to questions that may never be easily resolved.

Of course, much like countless acts across the world, the Brooklyn-based shoegazers had plans for a national tour to support their self-titled debut — but because of COVID-19 pandemic-related lockdowns and restrictions, those plans have been indefinitely scrapped. In the meantime, the band will be releasing a digital zine Cancelled Tour The Zine, which will highlight the bands and artists No Swoon would have toured with during their Spring 2020 tour.

Along with that, they released “Otherside (Demo).” Written, recorded and produced through social distancing guidelines, the track is the first bit of new song that the band since the release of their full-length debut — and it’s part of a batch of material that the band has been working on. Featuring Mitski’s touring drummer Jonathan Smith, “Otherside” is a slow-burning track centered around shimmering guitars, Abbot’s ethereal crooning, fuzzy synths and a soaring hook. But at its core is a yearning and unquenchable desire for something just out of reach, whether it be the small things that make us all so very much human like touch, sex, companionship — or the end to this period of pandemic disease, death, economic ruin and uncertainty.

100% of the proceeds from the single and the Canceled Tour The Zine electronic zine will go to National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), a collection of the country’s over 1,300 independent music venues fighting to survive through this period of historic uncertainty. Music is arguably one of America’s greatest exports — and perhaps even more importantly on a local level, your local music venue gives back in many more ways economically than what you may be aware. Livelihoods are on the line, here.

 

 

 

 

New Video: JOVM Mainstay Washed Out Teams Up with Caroline Koning for an Intimate Meditation on Longing and Touch in the Age of COVID-19

Throughout the course of this site’s ten year history, I’ve spilled quite a bit of ink covering Ernest Greene, a Perry, GA-born, Athens, GA-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer, best known as the creative mastermind behind the acclaimed synth pop/chillwave act Washed Out.  The project can trace it origins back to around 2009: After earning an undergraduate degree and a Master of Library and Information Sciences degree from the University of Georgia, Greene was unable to find a job as a librarian. Greene moved back in his parents and began writing and producing material in his bedroom studio as well as with a local electro pop act Bedroom.

Shortly after posting Washed Out material on his MySpace page, the Perry-born, Athens-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer was discovered and championed by a number of influential blogs, who compared his sound to Neon Indian and Memory Tapes. He released his first two Washed Out EPs in rapid-fire fashion in August and September of that year. Building upon a growing profile, 2010 saw Greene continue the amazing momentum of the previous year: he played that year’s Pitchfork Music Festival and “Feel It All Around” became the opening theme song for the acclaimed TV series Portlanadia.

In early 2011, Greene signed with Sub Pop Records, who released his his full-length debut Within and Without, an album of icy yet plaintive synth pop to critical applause and commercial success: the album peaked at #26 on the Billboard 200 and #89 on the UK Albums Chart. He ended a breakthrough 2011 by co-curating that year’s ATP Nightmare Before Christmas in Minehead, UK with Battles. 

Greene’s sophomore Washed Out album 2013’s Paracosm was a decided change in sonic direction, as it featured a warmer, tropical-inspired sound that paired organic instrumentation with electronic production — all while retaining the ethereal quality of his previously released material.  

2017’s Cole M.G.N. co-produced Mister Mellow was released through renowned hip-hop label Stones Throw Records, and the album took on a bit of a J. Dilla-esque beatmaking feel. Since the release of Mister Mellow, Greene released a handful of singles including “Face Up” as part of Adult Swim’s applauded Singles Series. Earlier this year, the Perry-born, Athens-based artist released “Too Late,”  a swooning yet bittersweet bit of synth pop centered around layers of arpeggiated synths, stuttering beats, Greene’s ethereal and plaintive vocals and a soaring hook — but with a subtly Mediterranean feel.

As it turns out, “Too Late” was unofficially the first single off Greene’s highly-anticipated and long-awaited fourth album Purple Noon. Written, recorded by Greene with mixing handled by frequent collaborator Ben H. Allen, the album’s production followed a brief stint of writing with other artists — most notably writing with Sudan Archives on her debut Athena. Those collaborations allowed Green to explore R&B and modern pop and those sounds have made their way into Purple Noon‘s material. Not only is the material reportedly the brightest and more robust sounds he’s ever worked out; it’s also a decided step forward: unlike his previous released work, the vocals are placed front and center at the mix, with slower tempos, bolder, harder-hitting beats and a more comprehensive dynamic depth.

Deriving its name from Rene Clement’s 1960 film Purple Noon, which was based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Talented Mister Ripley, the album’s material is deeply inspired by the coastlines of the Mediterranean — with Greene paying tribute to region’s island-based culture, elegance and old-world charm. But the surroundings serve as the backdrop to stories of passion love and loss — with a deeper, perhaps more urgent emotional intensity: the album’s first single “Too Late” is a tale of a first meet, with all the confused and swooning emotions that come about. Continuing in that same vein, Purple Noon‘s second single “Time To Walk Away” told the story of a the disintegration of  relationship with an aching sense of loss, confusion and longing. 

“Paralyzed” Purple Noon’s third and latest single continues in a a similar vein — brooding, shimmering yet ethereal synth pop with twinkling keys, thumping beats and subtle Mediterranean flavor through the addition of fluttering flute. Greene’s plaintive vocals sing lyrics detailing the power of love and lust with an ache and longing that should feel familiar to all who have been there before. 

Directed by acclaimed fashion film director Caroline Koning and shot in her native Holland, the recently released video follows a real-life couple Shay and Dories in their most unguarded and intimate moments, conveying love, lust and longing with a simple look, a smile, a touch of the hand. Considering how dangerous human touch is during an age of pandemic, the video will bring back memories of far simpler times — of intimate moments we all may have had with lovers and even with random hookups. 

“Human contact, and something as simple as a touch, has new meaning in the context of today,” Caroline Koning explains in press notes. “These special times make the viewing experience of physical togetherness a different one, and I wanted to tap into that sentiment in a pure way. The couple we follow in the film capture this simplicity beautifully, and what we see on screen all happened very organically. Encapsulating a perhaps general longing for closeness through a very unpretentious narrative gives this spot a natural honesty that I think visualizes the track in a strong manner.”
 
Washed Out has also announced Purple Noon Nights, a culmination of four months of new tracks and visuals leading up to the new album’s release over four nights this weekend. Beginning this Thursday, August 6th and ending on Sunday, August 9th at 8:30 pm ET/5:30 pm PT each night, Washed Out’s Ernest Greene will be hosting a different Purple Noon-related event each night:
 

Thursday, 8/6: Purple Noon listening party
Friday, 8/7: the Washed Out live band’s first live-streamed concert, performing selected tracks from Purple Noon along with highlights from his catalog
Saturday, 8/8: Q&A with fans via @realwashedout’s Instagram Live account
Sunday, 8/9: Greene will host the sixth in his popular Magic Hour Mix DJ sets, with this set focusing on the Washed Outcatalog
 
The listening party, full band set, and Magic Hour DJ set will be broadcast live from Washed Out’s YouTube, Facebook, Instagram TV, and Twitch accounts.
 

Lyric Video: Seattle’s Deep Sea Diver Releases an Anthemic and Vulnerable New Single

Led by its accomplished, Los Angeles-born, Seattle-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and frontperson Jessica Dobson, the Seattle-based indie rock act Deep Sea Diver can trace its origins back to when Dobson was 19: Dobson, who has had stints  playing with a who’s who list of contemporary acts, including Beck, Conor Oberst, Spoon, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The Shins signed with Atlantic Records. And while with Atlantic Records, Dobsons wrote and recorded two albums that she wasn’t completely satisfied with — and Atlantic ultimately shelved the material and dropped her from the label. 

After leaving Atlantic, Dobson wrote and recorded her official solo debut EP New Caves under the name Deep Sea Diver. The project expanded to a full-fledged band with the addition of John Raines (bass) Dobson’s spouse Peter Mansen (drums), Garrett Gue (bass), and Elliot Jackson (guitar, synth), who helped to flesh out the project’s sound. Since then the band has released two albums — 2012’s self-released debut History Speaks, 2014’s Always Waiting EP and 2016’s acclaimed Secrets. 

Slated for an October 16, 2020 release through High Beam Records/ATO Records, Deep Sea Diver’s third album Impossible Dream follows a busy year of touring with Wilco and Joseph. The album’s sonic and emotional expanse reportedly stems from a period of sometimes brutal self-examination — a process that began for Dobson, not long after the Seattle-based indie quartet finished touring to support Secrets. “We went into the studio pretty quickly after the tour ended, and I sort of hit a wall where I was feeling very detached from making music, and unable to find joy in it,” Dobson recalls in press notes. “I realized I had to try to rediscover my voice as a songwriter, and figure out the vocabulary for what I needed to say on this album.”

Stepping back from music and the studio, Dobson focused on dealing with the depression she had been struggling with, and soon started volunteering for Aurora Commons, a  drop-in center for unhoused people, most whom are drug-dependent and frequently engage in street-survival-based sex work. “I spent a lot of time with the women who frequent the Commons, and it taught me a new depth of empathy,” she says. “They’re people who don’t have the luxury of going back to a home at the end of the day and hiding behind those four walls, so they’re sort of forced to be vulnerable with what their needs are. Talking with them and listening to them really freed me up to start writing about things I’d never written about before in my songs.”

Co-produced by Dobson and Andy D. Park and recorded at Seattle’s Studio X and The Hall of Justice, Impossible Weight finds Dobson and company digging far deeper emotionally than ever before — and pairing it with a bigger, more grandiose sound. While revealing Dobson’s dexterous and powerful guitar work, the album’s lush textures and mercurial arrangements allow room for Dobson to fully demonstrate her vocal range in a way that she hadn’t before. “’I’d never produced a record before and I started out with low expectations for myself, but at some point I realized, ‘I can do this,’” Dobson recalls. “I decided to completely trust my voice and make really bold decisions in all my production calls—just push everything to the absolute outer edges.” 

Interestingly, for Dobson redefining the limits of her artistry goes hand-in-hand with deeper identity issues that came up while Dobson and her bandmates were working on the band’s third album. “I was adopted and just recently met my birth mother, and found out that I’m half-Mexican and half-Jewish,” Deep Sea Diver’s frontperson explains. “Discovering my heritage and learning things about myself that I never knew before really fed into that question of ‘Where do I belong?’” Simultaneously, Dobson rediscovered the sense of possibility, adventure and joy that she first felt when she started out as a 19 year-old.  “I think being signed at such a young age messed me up in terms of the expectations I put on myself,” she says. “Somewhere along the way I lost confidence in my own vision, but after making this record I feel a much larger freedom to go in whatever direction I want with my music.”  

With Impossible Weight, Dobson hopes that others might reclaim a similar sense of freedom in their emotional lives. “Especially right now when the world is in disarray and there’s so much fear, I want this record to give people room to feel whatever they need to feel,” she says. “I hope it helps them recognize that it’s okay to fall apart, and that they’re meant to let others in instead of trying to work through everything on their own. Because the point is that the impossible weight isn’t yours to carry alone—that’s why it’s impossible.”

Impossible Weight’s third and latest single “Lights Out” is a track that’s defiant and anthemic, yet delicate and vulnerable, centered around a slick production, Dobson’s expressive work, thunderous and propulsive rhythm section, enormous, raise-your-beer-in-the-air and shout along worthy hooks and Dobson’s equally expressive vocals alternating between an achingly tender croon and a self-assured defiant growl. And while reminding me a bit of Bad Bad Hats and Nicole Atkins, “Lights Out” features a narrator expresses her needs with a bold and fearless vulnerability. “‘Lights Out’ was written around the time I hit that wall when we first started working on the record; it’s about fumbling through the darkness and knowing I damn well need help getting out,” Dobson explains. 

The recently released lyric video was created by Dobson and features the guitar tablature for the song as the notes are being played. 

James Chatburn · Jewellery And Gold

I’ve written a quite a bit about the Sydney-born, Berlin-based singer/songwriter and producer James Chatburn over the past five years or so. With the release of his first two EPs and a string of critically applauded, commercially successful collaborations — including Aussie hip-hop act Hilltop Hoods‘ certified Gold single “Higher,” Chatburn quickly established himself as an in-demand songwriter and producer, and one of indie soul’s rising talents, developing and honing a sound that features elements of soul, blues, electro pop and neo soul.

Chatburn’s highly-anticipated full-length debut, Faible is slated for release later this year, and the album reportedly finds the Sydney-born, Berlin-based artist further cementing the warm, soulful sound that has won him attention internationally  — but while pushing his sound in a subtly psychedelic direction: the album’s material sonically is influenced by Unknown Mortal Orchestra, D’Angelo, Donny Hathaway, and Shuggie Otis among others. Earlier this year, I wrote about album single “In My House,” a warm and vibey two-step inducing track centered around introspective songwriting. “Jewellery and Gold,” Faible‘s latest single continues a run of vibey and dusty neo-soul featuring twinkling, old-timey keys propulsive boom bap-like breakbeats, a sinuous bass line and Chatburn’s effortlessly soulful crooning.

Interestingly, the song may be among the funniest, most tongue-in-cheek leaning song he’s written, as the song finds him — er, his narrator — looking forward to a future where he’s flush with cash and all of his issues would just dissolve, because — well, money.  Those of us, who have worked hard to live check-to-check understand that one implicitly.

“It started off as a noughties Pharrell/Neptunesy kind of vibe, but then I replaced the original synth with a piano and I decided to go for this throwback soul feeling, coming back to this Neptunes vibe in part c,” Chatburn says of his latest single. “As an indie artist I don’t live off much money, but sometimes I think, damn it would be nice to have a little more, even if I know that’s not gonna solve anything.”