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.

New Video: Take an Animated Microscopic Journey to the Moon with JOVM Mainstays Cones

Throughout the course of this site’s nine-plus year history, I’ve written quite a bit about the  San Francisco-born, Los Angeles-based sibling duo Cones. And as you may recall, the duo which is comprised of Jonatan Rosen, an acclaimed, pop music influenced, hand-drawn animator, who has created music videos for the likes Toro y Moi, Eleanor Friedberger and Delicate Steve,  and played Johnny Thunders on the HBO series Vinyl; and Micheal Rosen, a classically trained pianist, commercial and film composer and experimental sound artist, can trace the origins of their band back to their stint playing together as members of New York-based indie act Icewater, an act that eventually became the session and touring band for Eleanor Friedberger’s New View. As the story goes, while touring with Friedberger, the Rosens began to conceptualize what their new project would sound like, ultimately deciding that their project would fuse Jonathan’s pop sensibilities with Michael’s lush, atmospheric soundscapes and keyboard-based instrumentation.

After releasing a string of critically applauded singles and the release of their debut EP, the duo went to a friend’s studio to collaborate with a producer for the first time. They recorded what they thought would be their full-length debut but ultimately, the duo decided to scrap that early effort, as it didn’t feel like a proper Cones album to them. So they went back to their home studio and started their full-length album from scratch. The end result is their highly-anticipated full-length debut Pictures of Pictures, which is slated for release next week through Dangerbird Records. 

“Moonstone,” Picture of Pictures’ latest single will further cement the duo’s reputation for carefully crafted and breezy psych pop that somehow manages to owe a debt to 70s AM rock. Centered around a hazy nostalgia and a soaring hook, their latest single — to my ears at least — seems like a seamless synthesis of Steely Dan and MGMT, but at its core the song is a swooning and delicate love song. 

Featuring line animation from the band’s Jonathan Rosen, the recently released video is a trippy and microscopic journey to and from the moon, while evoking the song’s aching longing. 

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Toronto-based electronic act Holy Fuck — Brian Borcherdt, Graham Walsh, Matt McQuaid and Matt Schultz — have developed a long-held reputation for playing by their own rules, frequently using miscellaneous instruments and non-instruments including a 35mm film synchronizer, toy keyboards and toy phaser guns to achieve electronic-sounding effects without the use of laptops, programmed backing tracks, splicing and so on. And perhaps more important, the act has never been overly concerned about chasing the limelight or any genre-based trend.
“Luxe” is the first batch of new material from the acclaimed Canadian electronic act since the release of 2017’s Bird Brains EP and interestingly, the single was born out of the quartet’s desire to revisit old and trusted methods of creating new material — primarily by experimenting live on the stage. Centered around a pulsating, minimal synth loop, shimmering and arpeggiated synths, thumping kick drum, the expansive song, which clocks in at a little over six minutes and bears a bit of a resemblance to Tour de France-era Kraftwerk can trace its origins back to a spontaneous encore jam at Luxembourg, Belgium. As the story goes, once they had the early elements of the track worked on in the studio, they sent it to to their good friend and casual musical mentor Kieran Hebden, best known as Four Tet, who picked the early version of “Luxe” as a standout. The Canadian quartet then invited Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor to contribute vocals. Taylor not only jumped at the opportunity but went to Jack White‘s Third Man Studio in Nashville to record his vocals on White’s 1947 Voice-O-Graph.

“Among more literal translations, ‘Luxe’ is the short form of Luxembourg – the city in which the nexus of the song was created,” the members of Holy Fuck explain in an extensive statement. “On this particular night, during soundcheck, we had a pulsing minimal synth loop we’d been tinkering around with. (We were listening to lots of TRAX Records stuff on that tour.) We decided that if the crowd demanded an encore we’d go for it. ‘Luxe’ was the result. Or – as it was then called on the live recorded MP3 – ‘Luxembourg Encore’. Once home from tour we took all the live demos back to the drawing board. We shared everything with our friend Kieran Hedben aka Four Tet. His always-intuitive advice was that he heard a great club track in his ‘very favorite thing here’: ‘Luxembourg Encore'”.

The next moment of discovery came when Graham suggested the band scrap Brian’s vocals and give it to Alexis Taylor of Hot Chip. When we presented Alexis with the concept our reference notes to him, based around Brian’s temporary vocals, were ‘like an old sample you’d dig up off an old folk record… and approached more like a classic house track’. He responded, ‘We could try to record the vocal in a Voice O Graph booth (an obsolete 1940s coin operated phonograph booth) if we can access one…’. As far as we’re aware, there are only two in the world – one in Liverpool (that apparently doesn’t work anymore) and the other at Jack White’s Third Man studio in Nashville. And that is where Alexis sang ‘I’d like to scrap all of this and start over again.’ Fittingly, it was New Year’s Eve.”

With the release of their debut single “Visions of You,” feat. Electric Youth, the up-and-coming Stockholm and Los Angeles-based electronic production and electronic music artist duo ROOM8 — Ezra Reich and Nic Johns — quickly established a reputation for crafting a sound that draws from electro pop, electronic dance music and film soundtracks. Building upon a growing profile, the duo produced, wrote and/or cowrote a series of attention-grabbing singles including Electric Youth‘s “Without You” which was praised by NPR, as well as “No Hard Feelings,” feat. King Deco and “This Place Again,” feat. Polina, which received praise form Neon Gold, Huffington Post, Noisey, Blackbook, Flaunt and elsewhere. “Better Than Music,” a collaboration with acclaimed British electro pop artist Little Boots premiered on Billboard.

Now, as you may recall, this year has been an incredibly busy and productive year for the duo: they produced the score for the forthcoming motion picture Cuck and their latest album Transduction is slated for an October 11, 2019 release. Earlier this year, I wrote about the atmospheric and slow-burning “Only You.” Transduction‘s latest single is the shimmering and nostalgic “Jasmine Nights.” Centered around pulsating mini-moog basslines, shimmering synths and Jesika Miller’s delicate vocals and a soaring hook, the uptempo song manages to be cinematic while nodding at Stevie Nicks’Stand Back” — but at its core is an expression of devotion to a loved one in there time of need.

“‘Jasmine Night,’ was written at a time when a family member was battling a serious illness. Sometimes in Los Angeles, while you sit out at night, there is an incredible scent of jasmine that drifts through the air and canyons,” the duo explains.

 

 

 

 

 

Throughout the course of this site’s nine-plus year history, I’ve written quite a bit about Swedish-born singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist producer and JOVM mainstay Sofia Härdig. Härdig’s career began in earnest at a very young age: she began playin in bands when she was nine and even began touring, eventually playing a solo set at CBGB’s. As an adult Härdig has been hailed the rocktronica queen of experimental music, while developing an uncompromising commitment to a truthful artistic approach. “I find beauty in flaws and that which is not perfect is what excites me, I love the unusual, the unexpected, untrained and unplanned… I hope my music portrays that in its sound,” Härdig says in press notes.

Adding to a growing profile in her native Sweden and elsewhere, Härdig has collaborated with Swedish Grammy Award-winning acts The Hellacopters and Bob Hund, Boredoms, Free Kitten’s Yoshimi P-We and Belle and Sebastian‘s Stevie Jackson. She’s also shared stages with No Wave pioneer Lydia Lunch, Ikue Mori, John Tilbury and a list of others. 

Slated for a November 5, 2019 release, Härdig’s fourth album This Big Hush find the Swedish-born singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer and JOVM mainstay moving away from the deliberate electronic-based sound of her previous work and towards a gritty and raw, old-school rock sound. “I recorded this album with the band in less than three days live in Tambourine Studios in Malmö,Härdig says of the recording process for The Big Hush. “The vocals were all done in one day, a lot of them are even kept from the original live take. Part of the process is that my electronic demo making has become so thorough and time-consuming that they have been good enough to be released. Since they are out in the world and out of my system, I can break free and do something different with the band, and not the same thing all over again. We never play the same tempo, same length, they follow me where I lead them… this is THIS BIG HUSH”

While reportedly paying homage to post-punk pioneers like Siouxsie and and Banshees, The Big Hush‘s latest single “Infatuation” is a decidedly riff-driven track that sounds — to my ears, at least — like it was indebted to Ziggy Stardust-era Bowie, Marc Bolan/T. Rex and Horses-era Patti Smith, complete with an enormous, arena rock friendly hook.

“I built this song on a riff that I really loved, building up a groove and then adding backing vocals and playing percussion with whatever I found lying around in the studio and studio kitchen,” the Swedish-born JOVM mainstay says of the song’s creation. “I used film reels, a serving bowl from IKEA, egg, yar, a knife and fork, to creating an overall feeling of skating down Sunset Boulevard in a Mohikan with a ghetto blaster on your shoulder.”

 

New Video: Ether Feather Releases a Surreal Italian Thriller-Inspired Visual for Expansive Album Single “New Abyss”

Ether Feather is a Los Angeles-based trio featuring an acclaimed and highly-regarded collection of musicians: the band’s creative mastermind Dylan Ryan (vocals, drums) has played with the likes of Man Man, Cursive, Red Kraoyla and others; Tim Young (guitar) is currently a member of the Late Late Show with James Corden house band with extensive experience as a session player, playing with the likes of Todd Rundgren, Mike Patton and Fiona Apple; and JOVM mainstay Sylvia Black, an acclaimed solo artist, who has collaborated with Telepopmusik, Lydia Lunch, The Black-Eyed Peas and others.

The Los Angeles-based trio can trace its origins to a previous project, which featured Ryan and Young, SAND, which released two albums.  “By the time I started writing the third SAND record, it became clear the music was shifting from the Mahavishnu-esque, mid 70’s-fusion to more part-oriented structures and the songs seemed to want vocals,” Ryan says of the gradual shift from SAND to Ether Feather. Encouraged by engineer Andrew Murdock, the members of Ether Feather fully embraced the stylistic shift and recorded their debut EP, 2017’s Other Memory.  “Ether Feather is definitely a band where we can try weirder stuff and stretch out creatively in ways that may not be appropriate in other musical situations,” Ryan adds. “We can mix and blend aesthetics and make hard turns. Tim was in the Pacific Northwest during the first wave of grunge and brings something very different from me to the table, having come up in the late 90’s Chicago No Wave/Free Jazz/Metal scene.”

After touring to support the EP with the likes of Cursive and Minus the Bear, the members of Ether Feather further honed their sound — with the result being their recently released full-length debut Devil – Shadowless – Hand. Last month, I wrote about “Cayenne,” a track that was one part desert/stoner rock, one part alt rock, one part grunge rock as it was centered around a dream-like melody for its verse, sludgy power chords during its anthemic hook and a guitar solo that recalls Pearl Jam‘s Evenflow. “New Abyss,” the album’s latest single is an trippy and expansive track that’s one part free-flowing jazz fusion, one part prog rock, and one part psych rock freakout — and while revealing some extraordinary musicianship and a telepathic sort of simpatico, the song will further cement the act’s genre-defying sound and approach. Written and directed by Matt Hewitt, the recently released video for “New Abyss” stars the band in a surreal, feverish, Italian thriller-inspired visual full of paranoiac dread, dopplegangers, and unease. 

Lyric Video: Clipping.’s Menacing “La Mala Ordina”

Over the past few years of this site’s nine-plus year history, I’ve written quite a bit about the Los Angeles-based industrial hip hop/experimental hip hop trio Clipping. The act, which is comprised of production duo Jonathan Snipes and William Hutson and emcee Daveed Diggs never expected to achieve anything near critical or commercial success: their earliest releases were centered around Snipes’ and Hutson’s sparse and abrasive productions featuring industrial clang, clink and clatter and samples of field recordings paired with Diggs’ rapid-fire, narrative-drigven flow, full of surrealistic, brutally violent imagery and swaggering braggadocio. 

Their full-length debut, 2013’s Midcity caught the attention of Sub Pop Records, who over the past decade have developed a reputation for releasing the work of a diverse array of artists including Debo Band, Shabazz Palaces, GOAT, Daughn Gibson. Sub Pop signed the Los Angeles-based trio and released 2014’s clipping. an effort that received attention across the blogosphere, including here. 

When Diggs went on to star in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s smash-hit musical Hamilton,winning a Tony Award for his dual roles of Thomas Jefferson and Marquis de Lafayette, the act was on an informal hiatus. But during that time, the members of the acclaimed JOVM mainstays reconvened to write and record 2016’s critically applauded effort Splendor & Misery, a Sci-Fi dystopian concept album that is futuristic and yet describes our increasingly frightening and bizarre present.

Clipping’s fourth album (and third through Sub Pop), There Existed an Addiction to Blood is slated for an October 18, 2019 release, and the album, which features guest spots from Ed Balloon, La Chat, Counterfeit Madison and Pedestrian Deposit finds the acclaimed act interpreting another rap splinter sect through their own singular lens — in this case, horrorcore, a purposefully absurdist and significant sub-genre that flourished for a brief   few moments in the mid 1990s. Some of its pioneers included Brotha Lynch Hung, Gravediggaz, which featured The RZA — and it included seminal releases from Geto Boys, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and pretty much most of Memphis cassette tape rap. Interestingly, There Existed an Addiction to Blood is partially inspired by Ganja & Hess, the 1973 vampire cult classic, regarded as one of the highlights of the Blaxploitation era — the title is derived from the film and the members of the acclaimed JOVM mainstays sampled part of the score on the album.

Last month, I wrote about the menacing and cinematic “Nothing Is Safe.” Centered around plinking, anxiety-inducing keys and arpeggiated synths, the eerie, horror movie-like production allows enough space for Diggs’ complex, multi-syllabic and dense flow to comfortably unfurl and narrate a tense, paranoiac dread-filled tale about a trap house under siege by a rival gang. Diggs’ narrative is so descriptive and hyper realistic that you can fear the horror of the narrator as he sees his homey get gunned down, feel the bullets whiz past you and hear the chandelier smash into the floor. In this universe, death is a constant, inescapable and malevolent force. And while lovingly employing the tropes of gangsta rap and horror films, complete with doomed and fatalistic characters and scenarios, the track finds the trio expanding upon their sound in a way that nods at Geto Boys’ hallucinogenic “My Mind Playing Tricks On Me.” “La Mala Ordina,” There Existed an Addiction to Blood’s latest single features Diggs, The Rita, Benny The Butcher and Elcamino spitting rhymes full of mayhem, copious gore, street gangsta shit and hustling over a sparse and menacing production featuring twinkling and arpeggiated keys, buzzing bass synths and tweeter and woofer rocking boom bap beats. Sonically and lyrically, the track is part Mobb Deep (at the moment, I’m reminded of “Get It Twisted”) part DMX (uh, everything he’s ever really done). part horror film and it may arguably be the most menacing, mayhem and viciousness-filled hip hop song I’ve come across all year. 

New Video: Chicago’s The Hecks Release a “Flashdance”-Inspired Visual for Album Single “Flash”

Formed back in 2012 as a duo featuring founding members members Andy Mosiman (guitar, vocals) and Zach Herbert (drums, percussion), the Chicago-based indie act The Hecks recorded their 2016 self-titled debut with recording engineer and guitarist Dave Vetteraino. And by the following year, Vetteraino joined the band as a full-time member. 

Now, as you may recall the band’s forthcoming and long-awaited sophomore album My Star has taken three years to write and record. After recording an early version of the album in 2017, the band started playing live shows with Jeff Grauper (synths, keys). The members of the band found that Graupner’s synth playing added some welcomed heft and swagger to their new material. The band reworked and re-arranged much of the material they originally wrote in 2017 to accommodate Graupner. But while they were reworking the material, the band decided that to completely scrap the early recordings, eventually rebuilding the material to further incorporate Graupner and his skills. And as a result, My Star is reportedly a decided leap forward sonically for the band, as the album’s material draws from Manscape-era Wire, Paisley Park nu-funk, and abstract new wave and art rock.

Album single “So 4 Real” was a jagged bit of post-punk, centered around a motorik-like groove, squiggling blasts of synth and Mosiman’s plaintive vocals. And while nodding at XTC (“Mayor of Simpleton” specifically comes to mind) and Amoral-era Violens, the track was essentially a swooning and soulful love song that sounds as though it should be the part of the soundtrack of a quirky, 80s rom-com. “Flash,” My Star is an angular, neurotic take on XTC-like post punk featuring squiggling bursts of neon-tinged synths, propulsive syncopated drumming and lyrics delivered with an ironic sort of detachment. And yet, it evokes the rapid-fire heartbeat of the anxious and desperately in love.  

Produced by the members of The Hecks and featuring a video wall and lamination by Studio Super, the recently released video for “Flash” is a decidedly 80s-inspired, VHS-tape recorded affair as there are references to Flashdance and 80s MTV. It’s a feverish pop fantasy of a bunch of average white guys, who have big dreams — that sadly may never happen. “We stumbled through the whole thing and just leaned in on what was working. The end result reads like the contents of a VHS tape mailed to the president of Columbia Records from some kids from Valparaiso, Indiana, who got grounded right after filming because mom found an empty bottle of poppers in the basement,” The Hecks say in a statement. “Some forgotten relic of an aspiring nobody’s pop fantasy.” 

New Video: Up-and-Coming Swedish-born Singer Songwriter BERG Releases Haunting Visuals for Shimmering and Brooding “What If”

Born in Stockholm to a Swedish father and American mother, the London-based Swedish-American singer/songwriterAlexandra Berglöf, a.k.a BERG grew up on a houseboat on the Swedish island of Djurgården. When Berglöf turned five, she began intensive piano lessons under the strict supervision of a Romanian concert pianist. And by the time she was 13, Berglöf was performing all over Stockholm. While studying to join a piano conservatory, she was simultaneously scouted by pop producers for her vocals; however, after a family tragedy, Berglöf left Sweden and music behind for some time. 

As an adult,. Berglöf relocated to London, where she used music as both a form of escape and as a coping mechanism. She also met her producer and collaborator The Horrors’ Faris Badwan. And with Badwan’s help Berglöf began to explore the disguises and facades we wear and the various sides of ourselves that we die from ourselves and others. Starting off as internal dialogue, BERG’s lyrics are rooted in honest moments of self-reflection. Through her music she hopes to create a world and soundscape that invites listeners to unlock and face the stories that they’ve buried. 

Berglöf’s BERG debut album Fake Love was released earlier this year, and the album pairs Padwans’ ethereal and dream-like production with Berglöf’s gorgeous vocals. Thematically the album’s material explores our international conversations and the constant battles and crises we have within ourselves. “I tend to only show my light to others. I hide my flaws, mistakes and falls, then beat myself up about it,” Berglöf says in press notes. “Maybe by exposing some of those truths, I can stop others from feeling so alone in their darkness.”

Interestingly, “What If,” BERG’s debut single and the album’s first is a sparsely arranged  , Mazzy Star-like track centered around shimmering guitars, gently padded drums and Berglöf’s gorgeous and ethereal vocals. But at the core of the song is a sense of regret over missed chances from cowardice, stupidity, self-doubt and bad timing — including unspoken love. And in some way the song asks the listener an important question: what if you weren’t bound by fear and could reveal how you really feel, would you be where you are right now? How would your life be different?  

Directed by Connor Carver-Carter, the recently released video follows a couple frozen in time at various points in their history together with each particular scene referencing a painting. Each person within the relationship are suffering through an internal struggle, which impacts themselves and their relationships — and throughout you can see the unease, uncertainty and despair as seen through their lack of contact and communication. 

Live Footage: Black Pumas Cover a Beatles Classic at Arlyn Studios Austin TX

Throughout the course of this past year, I’ve written quite a bit about the acclaimed Austin, TX-based soul act, Black Pumas. And as you may recall, the act which is led by Grammy-winning producer, songwriter and guitarist Adrian Quesada and 27 year old singer/songwriter Eric Burton and features a cast of collaborators can trace its origins to when Burton, an attention-grabbing street perform busked his way to Los Angeles to Austin, where he met Quesada.

Black Pumas released their self-titled debut effort earlier this year, and building upon the rapidly growing buzz surrounding them. the act has been relentlessly touring, winning fans and critics over with a powerhouse live show. Interestingly, The Beatles “Eleanor Rigby” has become both a staple of their live set and a fan favorite — and while their rendition turns the song into an expansive bit of bluesy, psych soul, it plumbs the depth of the original’s existential despair.