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.

 

Although they’ve proudly boasted of their long-held reputation for crafting left of center pop and adhering to doing things in their own way, the Gothenburg, Sweden-based pop act Little Dragon, comprised of Yukimi Nagano (vocals), Hakan Wirenstarnd (keys), Fredrik Wallin (bass) and Erik Bodin (drums), have managed to achieve an enviable level of mainstream success and recognition: 2014’s full-length effort Nabuma Rubberband received a Grammy nomination and they’ve developed a reputation for being a highly sought-after collaborative unit, as they’ve worked with an impressive array of genre-defying, difficult to pigeon-hole artists and acts including BADBADNOTGOODGorillaz, SBTRKT, Flying Lotus, Kaytranada, Big Boi, De La Soul, DJ Shadow, Tinashe, Mac Miller, Future, Raphael Saadiq, Faith Evans and many more.

The acclaimed Swedish pop act can trace their origins back to when they would meet up after school to jam and play A Tribe Called Quest and Alice Coltrane records and reportedly the band’s forthcoming album New Me, Same Us finds the band going back to the basics and falling back in love with their instruments while crafting some of what may arguably be the most focused material of their growing catalog. Interestingly, the material thematically touches upon transitions, longing and saying goodbye. And as a result, it may also be among the most reflective and thoughtful of their careers. “We are all on our own personal journeys, full of chance, yet still we stand united with stories we believe in, that make us who are we are.”

The album which was entirely self-produced and recorded at the acclaimed Swedish pop act’s home-built Gothenburg-based studio “has been the most collaborative for us yet, which might sound weird considering we’ve been making music together for all these years, but we worked hard at being honest, finding the courage to let go of our egos and be pieces of something bigger,” the members of Little Dragon explain in press notes. Centered around shimming synth arpeggios, a sinuous bass line, propulsive polyrhythm  an infectious two-step inducing hook and Nagano’s soulful crooning, “Hold On,” Same Me, New Us‘ sultry first single manages to recall Fragile-era Cherrelle, with subtle house music flourishes.

The song as the band explains is a centered around a message about breaking away and moving on. It started out as a slick house track but transformed once Fred played the base through it and we all worked it together,” the band explains. “It became something raw and soulful. It’s a simple groove that makes us dance. We can’t wait to play it live because once we play it live it most certainly will change again.”

The acclaimed Swedish pop act will be embarking on a headlining international tour throughout the bulk of the Spring. The tour includes a two-night stand at Brooklyn Steel — April 17, 2020 and April 18, 2020. The April 18 show is already sold out. Check out the tour dates below.

2020 TOUR DATES
Mar 09 Stockholm, Sweden – Berns
Mar 10 Copenhagen, Denmark – VEGA *SOLD OUT
Mar 12 Berlin, Germany – Festsaal Kreuzberg
Mar 13 Warsaw, Poland – Niebo
Mar 15 Prague, Czech Republic – Roxy
Mar 16 Vienna, Austria – Flex
Mar 18 Zurich, Switzerland – Mascotte
Mar 19 Milan, Italy – Santeria Toscana 31
Mar 21 Brussels, Belgium – Botanique
Mar 23 Amsterdam, Netherlands – Melkweg
Mar 25 Paris, France – Gaîté Lyrique
Mar 26 London, UK – 02 Brixton Academy
Apr 15 Washington, DC – 9:30 Club
Apr 17 Brooklyn, NY – Brooklyn Steel
Apr 18 Brooklyn, NY – Brooklyn Steel *SOLD OUT
Apr 20 Philadelphia, PA – Union Transfer
Apr 21 New Haven, CT – College Street Music Hall
Apr 22 Boston, MA – Paradise Rock Club
Apr 24 Montreal, QC – Corona Theatre
Apr 25 Toronto, ON – Danforth Music Hall
Apr 27 Detroit, MI – Majestic Theater
Apr 28 Chicago, IL – The Vic Theatre
Apr 29 Minneapolis, MN – First Avenue
May 01 Denver, CO – Ogden Theatre
May 02 Salt Lake City, UT – The Complex
May 04 Seattle, WA – Showbox *SOLD OUT
May 05 Vancouver, BC – Commodore Ballroom
May 06 Portland, OR – Roseland Theatre
May 08 Oakland, CA – Fox Theater
May 09 Los Angeles, CA – Palladium
May 11 Santa Ana, CA – Observatory OC
May 12 San Diego, CA – House of Blues
May 16 Guadalajara, MX – Corona Capital Guadalajara
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Live Footage: Marcus King Teams Up with Dan Auerbach on a Live Acoustic Rendition of “Break” at Easy Eye Studio

Over the last handful of months, I’ve managed to write a bit about the rapidly rising Greenville, SC-born, Nashville-based singer/songwriter and guitarist, Marcus King. King is a fourth generation musician, who has followed in his family’s footsteps by becoming a musician and singer/songwriter of note itself.  Playing professionally since he was 11, King was discovered after a video of him performing at Norman’s Rare Guitars went viral. Now 23, King  has been performing for the past 15 years, establishing himself as a world class guitarist, vocalist and highly sought-after session player.

Since 2015, King has been relentlessly touring with his backing band The Marcus King Band — Jack Ryan (drums), Stephen Campbell (bass), Justin Johnson (trumpet, trombone) and Dean Mitchell (sax, still guitar) — playing 140 dates live shows last year alone. Adding to a breakthrough year, King and his backing band have played on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, made his debut at The Grand Ole Opry — and he opened for Chris Stapleton during his last US arena tour, playing in front of 17,000 people every night.

King’s Dan Auerbach-produced full-length debut El Dorado was released earlier this month through Fantasy Records. And as you may recall, King’s debut continues his successful (and ongoing) collaboration with Auberach, which began with “How Long.” El Dorado was cowritten with the acclaimed singer/songwriter, guitarist and producer over three days at his Nashville-based Easy Eye Sound Studio. Much like Grammy Award-nominated, JOVM mainstay Yola’s Walk Through Fire, King’s debut is a contemporary sonic exploration of classic rock, blues, southern R&B and country soul.

“Marcus is known by so many as a phenom guitar player, and rightfully so,” Dan Auerbach says of his time working with Marcus King. “He’s regularly the best player in the room, hands down. I was equally blown away by the way he can sing — so effortless, so soulful, straight to the heart. He’s a naturally gifted writer too, which was clear right away. Everything for him is so innate — that’s why he can always go right to the heart of a song and connect in a deeper way. He’s really one of a king and I’m proud I got to work alongside him on this record.”

Last year, I wrote about three of El Dorado‘s singles: the slow-burning, one part Muscle Shoals soul, one part Southern rock, one part R&B, one part classic blues “Wildflowers and Wine,” the Slowhand-era Eric Clapton and Texas Flood-era Stevie Ray Vaughan-like “Say You Will,” and the Curtis Mayfield and 70s Motown-like “One Day She’s Here.” And earlier this month, I wrote about a gorgeous, live acoustic session of album single “Beautiful Stranger,” a drinking and love song centered around a familiar and age-old tale: lost and lonely souls in a dimly lit bar, desperately hoping to find that beautiful stranger before last call.

The latest footage from that live session is a slow-burning acoustic version of album single “Break.” As King explains the song tells a story about two dysfunctional and hurting people in a dysfunctional relationship in which they don’t know how to love — and worse, yet, in which one person knows they’ll do something to hurt the other, and the second person knows that they’ll be devastated by the actions of their lover. As a result, the song — and in turn, it’s narrator — are achingly self-aware and bittersweet, as its centered around a darkly ironic desire and acknowledgement: that if your heart was going to be broken anyway, at least let it be me. Much like its immediate predecessor, the song manages to portrait a familiar scenario with an unflinching honesty and empathy. 

 

Casey Meehan is a Chicago area mainstay best known for his work with Chicago Mixtape, a weekly curated playlist of the best music shows happening in and around the Chicagoland area. Over the past month or so, I’ve written about Meehan’s latest music project Sy Somebody, and as you mayrecall the project can trace its origins to a a conversation he had with Father John Misty‘s David Vandervelde. Vandervelde introduced Meehan to his bandmate Eli Thompson and the trio began discussing the possibility of making a record together.

As the story goes, Meehan eventually began sending demos to Vandervelde. Those demos thematically contemplated the mysteries and complexities of the human condition within the larger cosmos — but written as though an omnipotent, unseen person or narrator was in control. Writing material in such a fashion, actually inspired Meehan to name the project Sy Somebody.

Meehan, Vandervelde and Thompson then recruited an All-Star cast of collaborators including Jeremy Enigk‘s and The Intelligence‘s Kaanan Tupper, Richard Swift’s The Weepies’, Everest’s and Pedro The Lion’s Frank Lenz, Bobby Bare Jr.’s Mr. Jimmy, The O’My’s, and Chance the Rapper‘s Maceo Haymes and Chance’s Social Experiment’s and Santah‘s Vivian McConnel to flesh out the material that eventually coalesced into the project’s soon-to-be full-length debut Life is Cruel, Let’s Be Friends, which is slated for release on Friday.

Zookeeper,Life is Cruel, Let’s Be Friends‘ second single was a grunge-like track, centered around fuzzy power chords, a propulsive rhythm and Meehan’s world-weary delivery, rooted in the frustrations and pressures of adult life. “Idle Minds,” Life is Cruel, Let’s Be Friends’ third single was a disco-tinged affair featuring The O’My’s Maceo Vidal-Haymes that recalled The Rolling Stones‘ “Emotional Rescue,” but while deceptively capturing the neurotic obsessions of a lonely and anxious man, who endlessly replays his mistakes in his mind — with the realization that he’s always been at fault. “Ready To Go” is the shimmering final single off the soon-to-be released album, centered around atmospheric synths, layers of shimmering and distorted power chords, dramatic drumming and Meehan’s plaintive vocals expressing a desire to escape — whether it’s someplace tropical, in your rosy, nostalgia-tinged memories or to another planet. Being a human is often a weird and shitty experience, and if you haven’t felt the desperate desire to get off the spinning wheel of insanity, desperation and bullshit, maybe you need to talk to someone.

New Audio: Monophonics Release a Swooning and Shimmering Ballad

Since their formation, the Bay Area-based soul outfit Monophonics — Austin Bohlman (drums), Ian McDonald (guitar, backing vocals), Ryan Scott (trumpet, backing vocals, percussion), Max Ramey (bass) and Kelly Finnigan (lead vocals, keys) –have developed an approach that continues in the classic and beloved tradition of Stax Records, Muscle Shoals, Daptone Records and Dunham Records: much like their influences, the Bay Area soul outfit’s material is centered by an incredibly cinematic sound that draws heavily from classic soul, heavy funk, psych rock  recorded on vintage analog recording gear. This is paired with a healthy amount of old-fashion woodshedding, crafting and McDonald’s and Finnigan’s late night overdubs and studio work. “We’re from the same school as the producers from the studios we love. We use the tools that we have to make the best records we can,” the band says in press notes. 

Monophonics’ third full-length album It’s Only Us is slated for a March 13, 2020 release though Colemine Records. While the album will further cement their long-held reputation for being an act that’s keen to creating and playing a heavier and edgier version of classic soul, and for arguably being one of the Bay Area’s best classic soul-inspired acts, the album reportedly is a reflection of what the band sees as the current, troubling direction of our world. Thematically, the album touches upon much-needed messages of unity in a fractious and divisive world, strength, resilience and acceptance. Also, sonically, It’s Only Us reportedly finds the rising soul act gently refining their signature sound with a healthy dose of new and warmer textures. 

Last year, I wrote about “Chances,” It’s Only Us’ lush and uptempo bit of two-step inducing soul that sounds like a crate digger’s dream of stumbling across some obscure and dusty Northern soul or classic American soul from the mid 60s. But at its core, the song warned empathetic lovers to think twice about giving that straying lover another chance, making the song an aching and age-old tale of the difficulties of saying goodbye to a no-good lover — even when it’s absolutely necessary.  It’s Only Us’ second and latest single, album title track “It’s Only Us” is a lush and swooning track, centered around an achingly gorgeous brass line, shimmering keys and guitars, a sinuous bass line and Finnigan’s soulful and vulnerable crooning — and while being both subtly psychedelic and cinematic in a way that recalls Curtis Mayfield, Issac Hayes and others, the song, as the band’s Kelly Finnigan explains “is about the first time you tell someone you love them. It’s that moment in life so many of us have had where we make ourselves our most vulnerable. While on the outside, it has the qualities of a traditional love song, underneath it is an anthem for humanity. Right now, we are witnessing a time where so many people feel polarized and there is a divisive mood in the country. inside the story is a message of unity, trust and acceptance that goes beyond falling in love.” 

Vice Beats is a Bristol UK-based producer, who has released material as a solo artist alongside collaborations with the likes of Gardna, Great Scott, Panacea, Replife, The Scribes through his own label EQ Music. Through a series of various collaborative projects, Vice Beats has shared stages with Scroobius Pip, Speech Debelle, Lazy Habits and Paper Tiger among others.

Dilla: The Timeless Tribute, the Bristol-based producer and artist’s forthcoming album is the culmination of over six years of work: As the story goes, after hearing “Suite For Ma Dukes” by Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, Vice Beats was inspired to create his own tribute to the legendary and beloved J. Dilla by crafting compositions that meshed classical, hip-hop, soul and jazz. Featuring a eclectic cast of musicians and artist from all around the world, brought together through their collective love of Dilla and hip-hop, the album finds the rising British producer and artist teaming up with Don’t Sleep’s Audiosnax (vocal cuts, production), Greg Blackman (vocals), Thalassic (sax, flute), Vince Martin (violin) Brotherman, Jaz Kahina, Nutty P, Oracy, Habitus,  Joe Publik, Soundsci‘s Audessy, Distantstarr, Risskant, Toddy and a list of folks from the US, Australia, Brazil, Holland and elsewhere taking some well-loved Dilla compositions and creating new compositions or reworking material through a variety of styles. Reportedly, the album which is slated for a February 7, 2020 release through HHV and Fat Beats — on what would have been J. Dilla’s 46th birthday — has created a bit of buzz among tastemakers as being a highly original take on Dilla’s work, making it a cliche-defying tribute album.

Of course, all the proceeds from the album will be going to the Detroit-based James Dewitt Yancey Foundation, an organization that works with young musicians, offering them musical opportunities — while continuing to build upon Dilla’s legacy. Interestingly, the foundation is also close to Vice Beats’ heart, as the Bristol-based producer and artist has an extensive background in community youth music work in the UK.

Dilla: The Timeless Tribute‘s latest single is the upbeat yet thoughtful “Bring It Back.” Centered around Vice Beats’  J. Dilla-inspired rework, which features tweeter and woofer rocking beats and a soulful vocal sample, the track finds the Bristol-based producer collaborating with two London-based emcees Jaz Kahina and Nutty P. Throughout the song, the emcees reminiscing about their past while exploring their relationship with discovering self-love and acceptance. Of course, naturally the song — naturally — find the pair of emerging London-based emcees openly talking about Dilla’s massive influence on them and on hip-hop in general. But more importantly, the song is rooted in the sort of much-needed, hard-fought and harder-won experience and wisdom that you generally won’t hear in our age of increasingly superficial, prepackaged, mainstream music.

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Sunbather is an emerging Brisbane, Australia-based dream pop duo featuring OKBADLANDS‘ Sally Latter (vocals, bass) and Mike Todman (guitar) that can trace its origins to when its core duo — and housemates — started sharing small ideas in the converted basement studio of their windowless, mostly soundproofed apartment. Experiments with guitar layers for melodic texture and vocal harmonies were initially meant to encourage each other in different roles from the previous work, and eventually led to the material which would comprise their Aidan Hogg-produced five song debut EP, Brown Bread slated for release later this year.

“Softly Spoken,” the duo’s woozy debut single and the EP’s first single features Good Boy‘s and Future Haunts‘ Stu McKenzie (drums). Centered around shimmering layers of guitar, Latter’s plaintive vocals, a sinuous bass line, propulsive and upbeat drumming, and a soaring hook, “Softly Spoken” is a lush, shoegazey take on dream pop with a cinematic quality that reminds me a bit of Still CornersSlow Air and Soft Calvary’s full-length debut.

“The lyrics to the song explore the small details that make up a life shared and are a reflection on the need to be gentle with one another,” the band’s Sally Latter explains in press notes.

Formed back in 2007, the electro pop act Mint Julep is comprised of multi-instrumentalist and composer Keith Kenniff, who has composed material for film and has written and recorded as Helios and Goldmund, and his singer-songwriter and ambient electronic music artist wife Hollie Kenniff.  The synth pop act can trace its origins as both a decided departure from Kenniff’s more ambient leaning work and as a trial run of their home studio. And with the release of their earliest material — 2008’s limited run Songs About Snow, 2010’s Adorn EP, 2011’s Save Your Season and 2014’s Broken Devotion EP — the duo firmly established their sound, a sound centered by Hollie Kenniff’s seductive vocals, soaring choruses, Keith Kenniff’s shimmering synth work, towering guitars and slick hooks.  “When Hollie and I set out to do something, I wanted to find some way to incorporate her vocals into a slightly different style, rather than just write similar material to my solo work and lay her vocals over top,” the duo’s Keith Kenniff says on the duo’s Facebook page. “I had the need to write something that had some distorted guitars, loud drums and was a little bolder than what I had previously done. We messed around with a track one night (which became ‘Stay’) and it was a fun process, so we just kept writing more songs so we could do a project together.”

“Hollie grew up listening to a lot of industrial music and we both listened to a lot of punk but also growing up a lot in the late ’70s and ‘80s we both have a lot of pop music from the time in our blood,” Keith Kenniff explains in press notes. “We both listen to a lot of IDM and electronic music as well so I feel like our music is a marriage of those different things, song elements from pop influences mixed with production from the more instrumental and experimental side of things.” 

Slated for a January 31, 2020 release through Western Vinyl, Mint Julep’s forthcoming album Stray Fantasies will further cement the Boston-based husband-and-wife synth pop duo’s long-held reputation for crafting shimmering, hook-driven pop confections seemingly indebted to 80s synth pop that thematically focusing on vulnerability, insecurity and other related issues to affairs of the heart.  Now, as you may recall, earlier this month, I wrote about album title track “Stray Fantasies,” a swooning and shimmering club friendly bop that sounded as thought it could have been part of Stranger Things soundtrack, while evoking the lingering wooziness of a new love. “Escape,” Stray Fantasies‘ latest single continues a run of shimmering synth pop but unlike it’s predecessor, it’s a slow-burning and atmospheric song with an expansive cinematic quality paired with heartbreakingly earnest songwriting. 

 

Late last year, I wrote about the somewhat mysterious yet emerging French electronic music artist and producer LutchamaK. Like countless others, the emerging French artist grew up as an avid and passionate music fan, who listened to — and loved — an eclectic array of music, including hip-hop, dub, classical, rock, techno and others. Interestingly enough, the mysterious French artist’s work is deeply influenced by techno — but while nodding at other styles and genres: his first two EPs featured, which he managed to create during such breaks at his day job, featured material that effortlessly meshed techno, house and EDM.

9th Forest” off the Goth in the Shell EP was a slickly produced, propulsive house-leaning techno track centered around tweeter and woofer rocking beats and arpeggiated synths that recalled JOVM mainstay Boys Noize and Octo Octa, but with a self-assured swagger. LutchamaK begins 2020 continuing a run of slickly produced, swaggering, club friendly house music with his latest single “Later On.” Much like its predecessor, the track is centered around tweeter and woofer rocking beats, shimmering synth arpeggios and a sample of a seductive female vocal — but “Later On” features a decidedly minimalist production reminiscent of Kraftwerk‘s Tour de France.

“I guess the purpose for me is always the same, to make the best song I can,” the emerging French producer and electronic music artist wrote to me in an email. “It  has to move me somehow, to please me so much that I want to share with everybody else. [I’m] hoping this track would get big smiles and make heads and feet move. :)”

New Video: JOVM Mainstays Yumi Zouma Releases a Gorgeous and Heartfelt Visual for Shimmering Pop Confection “Cool For A Second”

Originally formed in  Christchurch, New Zealand, the internationally acclaimed synth pop act Yumi Zouma, currently features members spread out across the globe with Josh Burgess (guitar, vocals) based in New York, Charlie Ryder (guitar, bass, keys) based in London and Christie Simpson (vocals, keys) based in Christchurch. Writing and recording by email out of necessity, the band initially wasn’t meant to be a live project but over the years, they’ve received praise across the blogosphere and international outlets for a breezy yet bittersweet, 80s synth pop inspired sound centered around Christie Simpson’s ethereal and achingly tender vocals.

Now, as you may recall, the acclaimed indie electro pop act signed to Polyvinyl Record Co. late last year, and to celebrate the occasion, they released the self-produced single “Right Track/Wrong Man,” an upbeat, disco-tinged meditation on the closure gained by accepting that it’s time to move on and forward. Yumi Zouma begin 2020 with the announcement that the band will be releasing their highly-anticipated third full-length album, the self-produced Truth or Consequence on March 13, 2020 through their new label home. Thematically, the album focuses on distance — both real and metaphorically, with the album’s material touching upon romantic and platonic heartbreak, real and imagined emotional distance, disillusionment and being out of reach. 

Interestingly, along with the announcement of their third album, the JOVM mainstays released their latest single, Truth or Consequence’s first official single “Cool For A Second.”  Christie Simpson’s ethereal, wisp-like vocals effortlessly glide over softly padded beats and shimmering synth arpeggios and soaring hooks. While being simultaneously melancholy and hopeful, the song is centered around the idea that life doesn’t always provide answers nor closure and captures the release that comes from saying the truth — even if only to oneself.   

Yumi Zouma’s Charlie Rider explains in press notes that the song was almost scrapped for a B-side before becoming a single. “The song was demoed in Los Angeles and then long forgotten, destined for the scrap heap. A spark of inspiration from Josh in the introduction reestablished that for us, the most conspicuous of melodies are often hidden in modest beginnings.”

Directed by Nick Mckk, the recently released video for “Cool For A Second” stars Benji Mazzone and Yumi Zouma’s Christie Simpson. Fittingly, the cinematically shot accompanying video seems to recall classic 80s movies — but with a seemingly soft focus.  Centered around the central pair of the boy and woman, we see a relationship that’s profoundly affectionate, intimate and familiar. Throughout, there’s a sense that they’re dealing with something monumental in which there’s no real closer — and yet, they have each other to lean on. 

New Video: Introducing the Shimmering and Infectious Retro-futuristic Pop of London’s Planet 1999

Planet 1999 is a rapid rising London-based trio that specializes in melancholic yet dance floor friendly songs that mesh elements of 90s shoegaze with bubble gum pop, at points referencing Cocteau Twins, labelmate Hannah Diamond and others. Since their debut last year, the members of Planet 1999 have been busy: the trio co-wrote and co-produced Charli XCX’s “February 2017” off her most recent album Charli; played their live debut with Hannah Diamond; and they’ve been busy putting the finishing touches upon their forthcoming — and highly-anticipated — debut EP Devotion which is slated for release on March 6, 2020.

Their debut single “Spell” was a more of a slow-burning ballad; however, the London-based trio’s latest single “Party” is a decidedly upbeat track, centered around shimmering synth arpeggios, thumping boom-bap beats, plaintive and ethereal vocals and an infectious hook. Simultaneously recalling Stereo MCs and JOVM mainstays Yumi Zouma, the track is a dance floor friendly, sugary pop confection that the band says is an ode to “taking a break from a party to go outside and look at the stars.”  

The recently released video by Aidan Zamiri and Eamonn Freel, features the members of the rapidly rising London-based act and cameos from PC Music label head A.G. Cook and Zippy, the band’s mascot designed by visual artist Leon Sandler. The video finds the members of the band performing in and exploring surreal yet evolving 3D landscapes created by Eammon Freel. Much like its accompanying song, the video is mischievously anachronistic, bringing to mind synth pop and dance music videos from the late 80s and early 90s. “We wanted to make a video that felt as cool and surreal as the song,” explains director Aidan Zamiri. “I think it’s the perfect starting point to enter the world of Planet 1999”.