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.

 

 

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.”)

Unsurprisingly, this year or so has been a very busy year for Gerald Toto, as he follows the release of Toto Bona Lokua’s third album with his forthcoming new album Sway, which is slated for an October 26, 2018 release, and from the album’s first single “Away Alive,” Toto will further cement his reputation for crafting infectious and breezy pop that’s enigmatic and 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 in a way that feels both familiar and new, but while encouraging the listen to slow down and to pay attention to the gentle sway of life’s rhythms every now and then.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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New Audio: Los Angeles’ Numb.er Returns with a Lysergic-Tinged Visuals and Sounds of “A Memory Stained”

Earlier this year, I wrote about Numb.er, the brainchild of Los Angeles, CA-based mastermind and primary songwriter, photographer and visual artist Jeff Fribourg, who’s probably best known as a founding member of psych rock/kraut rock band Froth. Now, as you may recall, Fribourg can trace the origins of his love affair with synthesizers to when he was leading Froth, and with his latest project, Fribourg fully explores both his deep love of synthesizers and his wildly eclectic influences and inclinations; in fact with Numb.er Fribourg’s work meshes elements of punk rock, post-punk, noise rock and shoegaze.

Goodbye, Fribourg’s latest Numb.er album was released earlier this year through renowned post punk label Felte Records, and the album’s first single “Numerical Depression” featured elements of 77-era punk, post-punk and noise punk in a way that sonically brought the likes of Wire, Nirvana, The Clash, Bauhaus, without resorting to mimicry and cliches. Interestingly, Goodbye’s latest single finds Fribourg seamlessly meshing 60s psych pop with synth-led New Wave and four-on-the-four drumming in a way that brings British psych rockers TOY to mind, but murkier and more foreboding while retaining Fribourg’s uncanny ability to craft an infectious hook. 

Directed by Matt Creed and edited by Chris Rice, the recently released video for “A Memory Stained” employs the use of creepy yet trippy found footage that emphasizes the lysergic quality of the song and its foreboding vibes.

 

Throughout this site’s 8 year history, I’ve written quite a bit about JOVM mainstay David Alexander, an internationally renowned Swedish-born singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer, best known for his solo electro pop/dream pop recording project Summer Heart. Now, as you may recall Alexander has received attention for being among the first wave of Sweden’s contemporary electro pop and dream pop movement with the likes of MoonbabiesThe Land BelowHey ElbowBlind Lake and Emerald Park,as well as for a sound that has been compared to CaribouWashed OutIn Ghost Colours-era Cut CopyPainted Palms and others.
Over the past year, I’ve written about a handful of singles from Alexander’s 12 Songs of Summer, a single of the month series that according to the Swedish-born singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer allows him to “show people what I am currently working on instead do what I was doing two years ago, which can be the case if you release an album. It’s definitely a way of challenging myself, thinking less and having more fun creating music!” Interestingly, 12 Songs of Summer‘s latest single “Ace of Pentacles” finds Alexander collaborating with Chicago-based electronic music artist and producer Elias Abid on a slow-burning and percussive production centered around ethereal vocals (which are chopped up at points), shimmering synths and a sinuous yet radio friendly hook — and while recalling Washed Out, the song manages to feel like the bitter come down of a love affair gone horribly wrong. While further cementing Alexander’s long-held reputation for crafting breezy synth pop, the song possesses an uncanny sober quality.
As the story goes, Abid and Alexander caught up in Abid’s new home of Chicago, the duo bonded over a mutual appreciation and admiration of each other’s work — and unsurprisingly, the duo quickly took the opportunity to bounce ideas off each other.  Speaking about their collaboration in press notes, Alexander said, “Both hanging out and working with Elias Abid was extremely inspiring. We shared the same work ethics and had similar ideas both when it came our craft but also in general. In a creative situation it’s worth a lot when you can comfortably put everything aside and focus on what’s important; the music. To me ‘Ace Of Pentacles’ ended up being about being open-minded and confident in yourself. About daring taking opportunities that are right in front of you.”
Abid adds “Besides creating some amazing ideas, what I appreciated the most out of hosting Summer Heart for his week in Chicago were the conversations we had between sessions. There was something that felt really familiar about the way he looked at life, relationships, music, art, etc.. His energy and approach as a creative person was inspiring and instilled a lot of confidence in my own process as a new artist. Not only did we create something we’re both proud of, we started a new friendship that I’m very grateful for!”

New Video: JOVM Mainstays Sextile Release an Industrial New Wave-Inspired Banger

Last year, I wrote quite a bit about the  Los Angeles, CA-based post-punk act Sextile, and as you may recall since the act’s inception in 2015, they’ve earned a devout following, as a result of an explosive live show and non-stop touring as both as an opener and as a headliner with the likes of A Place to Bury Strangers, Ty Segall, Thee Oh Sees, The Soft Moon, Ought, ADULT., The Chameleons, Modern English and others. Adding to a growing profile, they’ve also played sets at Bersekertown, Cloak & Dagger and Levitation Festivals.

Interestingly, over that same year period, the act has gone through a massive lineup change that finds the act writing, recording and performing as a duo featuring Brady Keehn and Melissa Scaduto. Naturally, as a result of the lineup changes, Kehn and Scaduto have radically reinvented their sound with a move towards synths with minimal use of guitar; in fact, on their recently released EP, EP3, the duo use a KORG MS-10 sequencer, a Fender Stratocaster, a LinnDrum and various other percussion-based instruments to craft a decidedly industrial synth-based sound. Additionally, the duo cite futurist Luigi Russolo’s The Art of Noises as an influence on their approach, as their sound and songwriting is meant to evoke and mirror the chaos and brutality of the industrial era. EP single “Spun” was centered around explosive squealing bursts of guitar, scorching synths, thumping beats, industrial clang and clatter and a motorik-ike groove, and it some way the song found the band meshing  the aesthetics of Gang of Four and classic DFA Records (i.e., early LCD Soundsystem and Echoes-era The Rapture) while hinting a bit at Bay City Rollers‘ “Saturday Night,” thanks to its punchily delivered vocals.  “Disco,” EP 3’s latest single may argaubly be the most dance floor friendly song they’ve ever released as it sonically brings Yaz’s “Situation,” New Order’s “Blue Monday” and Ministry to mind, as it’s centered around a production of layers arpeggiated synths, industrial clang and clatter and a motorik groove — but lyrically, as the duo note,t he song’s lyrics focus on the lack of time to do anything productive or constructive, DIY spaces being shut down, gun control and constant media propaganda in a way that evokes our increasingly cynical, paranoid and uncertain world.  Civilization as we know it is collapsing before our eyes, and we might as well dance, dance, dance, dance, dance.

Keehn and Scaduto directed the video and as they mention in press notes, visually and aesthetically, the slickly shot black and white treatment was deeply influenced by the New German Wave.

New Audio: London’s White Lies Releases a Moody and Epic New Single from Forthcoming Album

Slated for a February 1, 2019 release through [PIAS] Recordings, the acclaimed London-based indie trio White Lies, comprised of Harry McVeigh (lead vocals, guitar), Charles Cave (bass, backing vocals) and Jack Lawrence-Brown (drums) will be marking their tenth anniversary as a band — and interestingly, the album reportedly finds the band pushing their sound and aesthetic in new directions with the addition of personal, and at times deeply intimate lyrics written by the band’s Charles Cave. Unlike the preceding albums, the writing and recording process was a Transatlantic one that included a trip to Los Angeles, where they worked on new material with Ed Bueller, who produced the band’s chart-topping debut To Lose My Life and their third album Big TV. Throughout the process, the band enlisted past associates and collaborators to assist on the proceedings including engineer James Brown, who has worked with Arctic Monkeys and Foo Fighters; the renowned producer Flood, who contributes synths and keys on a couple of tracks; and Grammy Award-winning Alan Moulder, who has worked with Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails and The Killers to mix the album. 

Clocking in at a little over 7 and a half minutes, the album’s latest single “Time to Give” may arguably be among the most ambitious songs the band has released, as the track is centered around a lush yet moody arrangement of shimmering synths, a sinuous bass line that’s part of a propulsive, motorik groove and soaring, arena rock-friendly hooks paired with McVeigh’s sonorous baritone. And while nodding a bit at Snow Patrol and others, the song seems to focus on a dysfunctional and abusive relationship from a real an lived-in place; in fact, it’s so real that as a result, the song bristles with bitterness, confusion and hurt. 

Last month, I wrote about Evalyn, an up-and-coming Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter whose soon-to-be released Salvation EP thematically explores the seven deadly sins, while also being centered around the concept of trying to find something to save you from yourself and the world — whether it be a religion or a cult or anything else you might worship. Now, as you may recall, EP single “Big Bad City” featured an arena rock-like production consisting of thumping beats, shimmering and arpeggiated synths, a sinuous bass line and a soaring hook. And while possessing the emotional heft of an old school spiritual, the song was one examination of pride — in particular, an unapologetic passion for a sinful, greedy and vapid way of life.

Interestingly, the EP’s latest single “A Pill to Crush” reveals an artist who readily experiments with her sound and songwriting as the track manages to subtly hint at 60s psych pop as its centered around a trippy production of bubbling and wobbling synths, shimmering and reverb-drenched guitar chords paired with the Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter’s dreamily distracted vocals (which are distorted at various points). And while the song is arguably the most expansive and mind-altering of the up-and-coming artist’s growing catalog, the song lyrically finds its narrator bitterly describing a relationship in which the other person treats you like a pill they can crush and eventually discard — and the feelings of wrath that being rejected and treated poorly can engender.

Led by sibling duo and founding members David (guitar, vocals) and Rylee Taggart (synth, vocals) along with Joey Kane (drums) and Ryan Wiles (bass, guitar, vocals), the Wakefield, Quebec, Canada-based quartet Rebelle quickly received a national profile with the release of the genre-bending “Hide,” which landed on CBC Searchlight’s Top 10 for consecutive weeks and eventually landed on Spotify Canada’s New Music Friday playlist. Building upon a growing profile in their native Canada, the band’s latest single “Still Pretty” finds the band’s sound meshing elements of synth-led New Wave with an intro that recalls The Fixx’s “Red Skies at Night,” rousing, arena rock friendly hooks, power chords and a gritty grunge rock-like vocal within a radio friendly yet expansive song structure.

New Audio: JOVM Mainstay Ron Gallo Returns with a New Wave-like Meditation on Unity

Throughout the past couple of years, I’ve written a quite a bit about Ron Gallo, a  Philadelphia-born, Nashville-based singer/songwriter and guitarist and JOVM mainstay, whose musical career began in earnest with an eight year stint as the frontman […]