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: The Still Tide Releases an Intimate and Mischievous Visual for Shimmering and Introspective “Keep It”

Over the past couple of months, I’ve written a bit about Anna Morsett, an Olympia, WA-born, Denver-based singer/songwriter, musician and creative mastermind behind the up-and-coming indie rock act The Still Tide. And as you may recall, Morsett’s work as The Still Tide has largely been inspired by her experiences growing up in the Pacific Northwest, living in Brooklyn in her 20s and traveling the world as a guitar tech for the likes of critically applauded acts like Kaki King, The Tallest Man on Earth and The Devil Makes Three among others. As a solo artist, she has landed opening spots for Cat Power, Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats and Margaret Glaspy.

Her latest Still Tide EP Between Skies is slated for a January 20, 2020 release through Mod y Vi Records and the effort is largely inspired by the duality she regularly experiences as a magnetic frontwoman and a self-described introspective loner — with the material touching upon love, loss, opportunities won and lost and the closed doors of our lives. So far I’ve written about two of the EP’s previously released singles: The shimmering, The Smiths and Pretenders-like “Change of Address,” an introspective song centered around the sense of loss and defeat after the embittering end of a long-time relationship that also managed to be imbued with a sense of hope over new starts — and the swooning “On The Line,” a song was written about her own experiences of being in a long distance relationship that managed to capture the longing, ache, hope and anxiousness at their core.   

“Keep It,” the EP’s third and latest single continues a run of shimmering and introspective guitar pop, centered around sharp and infectious hooks, and earnest songwriting rooted in lived-in, personal experience. “‘Keep It’ is about a relationship running its course and the aftermath of the split; how these two try to sort themselves out afterwards,” shares Morsett. “The hope that despite all the mess of the breakup that we keep our hearts open, keep our health and carry ourselves well. I also tried to highlight that weird feeling of watching that person who was once YOUR person go through a tough time but knowing that it isn’t your place to help them through it anymore. That perhaps it’s almost unkind to try to intervene with help in that space of a breakup as helping may just prolong emotional pain. Especially if you were the one to cause it – to break it off –in the first place.”

Directed and produced by Jonah Hart, the recently released video for “Keep It” is an intimate look behind-the-scenes of the video’s filming and of a promotional photo shoot that finds Morsett stretching and morphing from introspective and shy loner to self-assured frontperson — but with a mischievous sense of humor. 

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I’ve written quite a bit about Swedish-born singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist producer and JOVM mainstay Sofia Härdig throughout the course of this site’s nine-plus year history. And as you may recall, the Swedish-born JOVM mainstay’s career began in earnest at a very young age:she began playing in bands when she nine and even began touring, eventually playing a solo set at CBGB’s. Years later, as an adult Härdig has been hailed the rocktronica queen of experimental music in her native Sweden, 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 about her approach 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, BoredomsFree Kitten’s Yoshimi P-We and Belle and Sebastian‘s Stevie Jackson. She’s also shared stages with No Wave pioneer Lydia LunchIkue Mori, John Tilbury and a list of others.

Härdig’s recently released, fourth album This Big Hushfinds 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 This 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”

Infatuation,” This Big Hush‘s fist single was written to pay homage to post-punk pioneers like Siouxsie and the Banshees — but the decidedly riff driven song seemed 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 said in press notes 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.”

Radiant Star,” This Big Hush‘s second single was slow-burning and jangling bit of guitar pop that brings Pretenders and the aforementioned Patti Smith to mind. “It was made during many endless nights,” Härdig says in press notes, “on my own and in my studio and also with the band on some more hectic days. Then a lot of other endless days and nights in the studio producing it. My own take of ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’; a song I learned as a 3-year old on the grand piano we inherited from my grandmother.”

“Silence,” This Big Hush‘s third and latest single is a slow-burning, lush song that recalls the emotional intensity and lyricism of Patti Smith and Nick Cave with an enormous arrangement centered around jangling guitars, twinkling keys, dramatic drumming, a soaring hook and a gospel-style backing vocal section and what may arguably be one of  Härdig’s most emotionally direct vocal performances in some time.

Deriving their name from a playful, Anglophile nod towards the famed physicist Issac Newton, the Paris-based electro pop act Isaac Delusion was formed back in 2010 by its core duo, longtime friends Loïc Fleury (vocals, guitar) and Jules Paco (keys). Shortly after their formation, the project expanded to incorporate a rotating cast of musicians and collaborators. Interestingly, with the release of 2014’s self-titled debut effort, the Paris-based act began to receive attention for a sound that meshed acoustic instrumentation with electronics — while nodding a bit at dream pop.

Building upon the growing buzz surrounding them in the French electro pop scene, the act toured extensively across France and Europe to support their full-length debut. The band’s sophomore effort  2017’s Rust & Gold found the duo shifting away from ethereal and atmospheric dream pop and leaning heavily towards more soulful rhythms, tangible emotions and insightful observations on love and the human condition.

Since the release of the French electro pop act’s first two albums, they’ve amassed over 500,000 Spotify streams a month, played Pitchfork Paris, as well as sold-out headlining shows at venues like  L’Olympia and Elysee Montmarte. Now, as you may recall, the duo’s third album uplifters is slated for release this Friday through Microqlima Records, and the album reportedly is centered around a misplaced nostalgia for a long-passed youth (which is fitting for the act’s core duo, as they’ve inched into their 30s). As a result, the material is imbued with a longing for the freedom and unguarded honesty of their younger selves — and reset for the missed opportunities you can never get back. And much like its predecessors, the material off uplifters is primarily written and sung in English with a handful of songs written and sung in their native French.

Last month, I wrote about “pas habitude,” a breezy synth pop song centered around shimmering synth arpeggios, plaintive and dreamy vocals, a sinuous bass line and an infectious, razor sharp hook  — and yet, the song’s breeziness is at best superficial, as the song possesses a bittersweet heartache and nostalgia for a seemingly simpler past. Coincidentally, “pas habitude” is one of the few album tracks written and sung in the duo’s native French. Interestingly, the album’s latest track “disorder” is a taut yet breezy track centered around a disco-like bass line, shimmering synth arpeggios, four-on-the-floor drumming and plaintive falsetto vocals that finds the duo recalling Random Access Memories-era Daft Punk.

“Like natural laws, order can rise from chaos,” the duo says in press notes. “We sometimes need to follow our intuitions and desires, even when they seem to lead towards dangerous ground.”

The duo will be playing a handful of European dates in 2020. Check out the tour dates below.

 

LIVE DATES
25 February LONDON Omeara
28 February KÖLN Artheater
29 February BERLIN Bi Nuu
 2 March HAMBURG Nichtspeicher
 4 March AMSTERDAM Paradiso Upstairs
 6 March BRUSSELS Botanique
 7 March LAUSANNE Les Docks

New Audio: Omar Souleyman Releases a Mesmerizing, Club Banging, Love Song

Omar Souleyman is a Tell Tamer, Syria-born, Istanbul, Turkey-based Sunni Arab vocalist, whose music career started in earnest back in 1994 when began as a part-time wedding singer. His overall sound has largely been influenced by  the incredibly diverse milieu of Northeastern Syria — and as a result, Souleyman and a rotating cast of musicians and producers he has worked with since his early days have found a way to draw from and mesh the sounds and themes of the Kurdish, the Ashuris, the Turks, the Iraqis and the larger Arabic world in a way that’s both familiar and novel. Since then, Souleyman has become the region’s pioneer of dance floor friendly wedding music. 

Amazingly since 1994, Souleyman has managed to be wildly prolific, releasing well over 500 studio and live albums with about 80% of those releases made at weddings. Most of those recordings were first presented to the newlywed couple, and then later copied and sold at local kiosks. Now, as you may recall Souleyman has released four compilation albums and three full-length albums of original material: 2006’s Highway to Hassake, 2009’s Dabke 2020, 2010’s Jazeera Nights, 2011’s Haflat Gharbia: The Western Concerts and 2011’s Leh Jani,  2013’s Wenu Wenu, 2015’s Bahdeni Nami and 2017’s To Syria, with Love — and all of those albums have not only brought the sounds and grooves of the Middle East to the West, his recorded output has helped to expand the Tell Tamer-born, Istanbul-based vocalist’s profile internationally. 

Adding to a rapidly rising international profile, Souleyman has played sets at some of the world’s biggest festivals, including Paredes de Coura, a Caribou co-curated ATP Festival, ATP Nightmare Before Christmas, Bonnaroo, Roskilde Festival, Mostly Jazz, Funk and Soul Festival, Pukkelpop Festival, Electric Picnic,  Treefort Music Festival — and oddly enough, one of the strangest House of Vans bills I’ve ever seen, in which he opened for Future Islands. And before I forget, he’s also collaborated with Bjork, contributing vocals for three remixes, which appear on an Biophilia.

Deriving its title for the Arabic word “how” or more literally “which color,” Shlon, which is slated for a November 22, 2019 release through Mad Decent/Because Music is the first batch of new material from Souleyman in a couple of years. The forthcoming album featres double keyboard work from Hasan Alo, a fellow native of the Hasaka region of Northeastern Syria, who has recently been active in Dubai’s vibrant nightlife scene, a well as saz work from Azad Salih, a fellow Syrian, who currently resides in Mardin, Turkey. The album also finds the Tell Tamer-born, Istanbul-based vocalist continuing his longtime collaboration with Syrian-born, Turkish-based lyricst Moussa Al Mardood, who the wrote most of the album’s lyrics spontaneously during the recording sessions.

Unsurprisingly, his fourth album is vintage Omar Souleyman — 6 songs which mesh the dabke and baladi music of music beloved by the Lebanese, Jordanians, Syrians, the Kurdish and Iraqis with thumping, synth-led techno — but at its core, the material is comprised of swooning tales of devotion, adoration and love. Now, as you may recall Shlon’s first single was the propulsive, club banging “Layle,” which was centered around Alo’s dexterous and dense layers of synth arpeggios, tweeter and woofer rocking polyrhythmic beats and Souleyman’s imitable vocals. But at its core, the song is a slick synthesis of classically-inspired poetry and modern production.  The album’s second and latest single “Shi Tirdin,” which translates into English as “What Do You Wish For?” is a high energy, club banger featuring mesmerizing layers of synth arpeggios and thumping beats and fluttering synths. And while continuing the album’s overall vibe of meshing techno and dabke music, the track is a swooning declaration of devotion, in which the song’s narrator readily offers his love anything she wishes for. 

New Audio: JOVM Mainstays clipping and Shabazz Palaces Team Up on a Trippy and Swaggering New Single

I’ve written quite a bit about the Los Angeles-based hip-hop trio Clipping over the past few years of this site’s nine-plus year history. And as you may recall, the act — production duo Jonathan Snipes and William Hutson and frontperson Daveed Diggs — initially released material without the expectation of receiving commercial or critical success: their earliest releases were built 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 driven flow, which is full of surrealistically brutal and violent imagery and swaggering braggadocio.

Sub Pop Records signed the Los Angeles-based trio and released 2014’s clpping. 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 latest full-length, There Existed an Addiction to Blood was released last month, and the album which features guest spots from Ed Balloon, La Chat, Counterfeit Madison and Pedestrian Deposit and a list of others interpreting horrorcore, a purposefully absurdist and significant sub-genre of hip hop pioneered by Brotha Lynch Hung, Gravediggaz, which featured The RZA and featured seminal releases from Geto Boys, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and pretty much most of Memphis cassette tape rap during the mid 1990s. And while drawing from the horrorcore movement of the mid 90s, the album is also 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.

Interestingly, back in 2017 clipping was commissioned to create a song for a This American Life episode about Afrofuturism. The end result was “The Deep,” a dark sci-fi tale about the underwater-dwelling descendants of African women thrown off slave ships, based on the mythology created by Detroit-based electronic group Drexciya. The song earned the JOVM mainstays a Hugo Award nomination last year — and they constructed a sound installation based on the single at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. 

Sub Pop will be releasing “The Deep” on vinyl and as a digital download globally on November 29. Both the vinyl and digital versions include two previously unreleased tracks “Drownt” and “Aquacode Databreaks,” a collaboration with fellow JOVM mainstays Shabazz Palaces. Centered around an abrasive, industrial-leaning production featuring clang and clatter and glistening synth arpeggios, the track features two of hip-hop’s most dexterous and dense lyricists creating a fantastical world full of blinged out mermaids flossing. dancing — and most importantly being defiantly, boldly black as fuck. 

Interestingly, the 12″ single comes on the heels of the release of The Deep, a novella by two-time Astounding Award-nominated author Rivers Solomon with clipping credited as co-authors,. inspired by the title track and published by Saga Press. 

Over the course of this past year, I’ve written a bit about the Asheville, NC-based goth/post-punk act Secret Shame. And as you may recall, the act — Lena (vocals), Nathan (drums), Nikki (guitar), Matthew (bass) and Billie (guitar) — formed back in 2016 and can trace their origins to the desperate need that all of its members felt to create. “If I couldn’t sing or play music, I would tear my skin off.” the band’s front person Lena explains in press notes. Shortly after their formation, the band released their self-titled debut EP, which quickly established the band’s dark and atmospheric sound paired with lyrics that thematically touch upon issues of domestic abuse, mental health, political and social dissatisfaction and frustration. 

Secret Shame’s highly-anticipated full-length debut Dark Synthetics was released earlier this year to critical acclaim — while further establishing an enormous, reverb-heavy sound that seemed to be influenced by  Siouxsie and the Banshees and 4AD Records. Interestingly, album single “Calm” was a perfect example of that sound, while featuring driving rhythms, razor sharp hooks and Lean’s vocals slashing through and cutting through the moody and hazy mix. And underpinning the song was an emotional urgency that came from lived-in, personal experience. “There’s not a single word I didn’t write from the pit of my stomach,” Lena says in press notes. “The entire record- even though the song dynamics change- has one solid emotion, which is the struggle of inner turmoil and being trapped inside yourself. It’s the feeling of holding a scream in the back of your throat.” She adds, “Some people avoid writing music that puts them in a vulnerable place, but that’s the place I’m trying to get into, That’s where you’re your most raw and hopefully people will be able to experience it through you. There’s nothing else like it.”

Building upon the growing momentum the band has received since the release of their full-length debut, the members of Secret Shame have toured to support the new album, which included an apt Friday the 13th stop at The Broadway and a Halloween set that featured Joy Division covers.  Along with that, Secret Shame recently announced a series of remixes of Dark Synthetic material that they’ll be releasing over the next few months, as they return to the studio to record new music slated for release next year. The first remix finds XOR turning the guitar-led “Calm” into an icy and industrial synth banger, centered around shimmering synth arpeggios, stuttering beats while retaining the song’s intensity, vulnerability and ache, and Lena’s powerhouse vocals.

Ferrari Garden is a mysterious yet emerging synth pop act. The act’s second single “Bridge” is swaggering and self-assured track, centered around layers of arpeggiated synths, thumping beats, wobbling low and alluring vocals  — and while being simultaneously slickly produced and soulful, the track which manages to subtly recall 80s synth pop like Nu Shooz‘ “I Can’t Wait” was written around some deeply personal, lived-in, existential experience.

“I think about fate, acceptance and inner struggle a lot. ‘Bridge’ is about the inner struggle to accept one’s face,” Ferrari Garden explains via email. “I first began writing the lyrics for ‘Bridge’ while getting ready for bed in the winter of 2018. I was in my thesis year at OCAD at the time and was feeling very isolated and overworked. I guess that subconsciously, I was looking for distractions.

“Art school is a strange world – one which I never felt I quite fit into – and I was beginning to question my place there and as an artist.” Ferrari Garden adds. “Writing this song allowed for respite from the world around me, and showed me a brand new world I could build inside myself. That kind of power is both liberating and intimidating.”

 

 

Live Footage: King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard on Live on KEXP

The genre-defying Aussie psych rock act and JOVM mainstays King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard released five albums in a wildly prolific burst in 2017 — with each album managing to be in a completely different genre and style. Naturally, such a feat helped to cement the band’s reputation for being restlessly prolific and experimental. So for a band known for being like clockwork when it comes to releasing new material, last year’s lack of new material sticks out as anomaly. However, in fairness to the members of the band, they spent part of last year on a busy world tour that featured a headlining set at Desert Daze and three-sold out nights at Brooklyn Steel, one of the larger venues they had played at the time in the States — until their Rumsey Playfield show with Stonefield and Orb back in August. 

This year finds the acclaimed and wildly prolific Aussie psych rock at speeding up the pace. Earlier this year, they released the boogie blues-tinged Fishing for Fishes and in August, they released their second album of the year and their 15th album overall, Infest the Rats’ Nest. Now, as you may recall, Infest the Rats Nest featured what may arguably be the most pared down lineup of their entire creative output: the band’s creative mastermind Stu McKenzie (vocals, guitar, bass), Joey Walker (guitar, bass), and Michael Cavanaugh (drums) with the band’s remaining members busy with prior commitments.  The reduced lineup allowed the band to focus on crafting together arrangements with a pummeling and feral ferocity inspired by McKenzie’s long-held love of thrash metal — in particular, Metallica, Black Sabbath, and Rammstein.

King Gizzard’s 15th album, sonically and thematically is a radical and unexpected departure from its most immediate predecessor: the album’s material may arguably be the darkest and bleakest efforts they’ve released to date, as the band seethes with disgust and contempt over the human race’s myopia, stupidity and greed. At its core, is the acknowledgement that we’re all blindly marching lockstep to our annihilation —  and maybe we deserve it. 

During the band’s last North American tour, they stopped by KEXP to record a live session, which featured material off Infest the Rats Nest that included the Black Sabbath-like “Mars for the Rich,” the pummeling Slayer-like “Venusian 1,” “Venusian 2,” and “Hell” and the Ride the Lighting-era Metallica-like “Perihelion.” The live footage is not just a taste of their amazing live show, it’s a reminder that King Gizzard may be one of the best indie bands in the world — their dexterous musicianship allows the band the versatility to play anything with a self-assuredness and pitch-perfect accuracy. 

New Audio: Marcus King Releases an Effortless and Soulful Ballad

Marcus King is a young, rapidly rising, Greenville, SC-born, Nashville-based singer/songwriter and guitarist. The Greenville-born, Nashville-based is a fourth generation musician, who followed in his family’s footsteps. Playing professionally since he was 11, King was discovered after a video of him performing at Norman’s Rare Guitars went viral. At 23, King has been performing for the past 15 years, establishing himself as a world class guitarist and vocalist. 

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 over the course of the past year. 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 recently opened for Chris Stapleton during his last US arena tour, playing in front of 17,000 people every night.  

Building upon a rapidly rising profile, King’s highly-anticipated, Dan Auerbach-produced full-length debut El Dorado is slated for a January 17, 2020 release through Fantasy Recordings. Continuing their previous successful collaboration together, “How Long,” King’s full-length debut was co-written with Auerbach over three days at his Easy Eye Sound studio — and reportedly, the album 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.” 

Interestingly, El Dorado’s second and latest single “Wildflowers and Wine” is a slow-burning track that’s one part Muscle Shoals soul, one part Southern rock, one part R&B and one part classic blues centered around a lush arrangement of twinkling keys, a soulful backing vocal section and a sinuous bass pair line paired with King’s vocals. And while being clearly indebted to 70s AM radio, the song manages to be a carefully crafted and self-assured bit of soulful pop, which manages to belie King’s relative youth while being a perfect vehicle for a his blues-tinged guitar work and his exceptional and effortlessly soulful vocals.