Category: experimental pop

New Video: Sylvia Black and Lydia Lunch Team Up for a Sultry and Noir-ish Visual for “Walking With Fire”

Born Sylvia Gordon, the New York-based singer/songwriter, bassist and producer Sylvia Black may be best known for her work as the frontwoman of the internationally acclaimed electro pop act K.U.D.U, as well as collaborations with the likes of The Black-Eyed Peas, Moby, William Orbit, Kelis, Spank Rock, The Knocks, and Telepopmusik.  Over the past couple of years, I’ve spilled quite a bit of virtual ink covering Gordon’s solo side project Betty Black, a project that received attention across the blogosphere for a sound that drew from an eclectic array of genres and sources including garage rock, Southern gothic blues, Ennio Morricone soundtracks and ambient electronica while thematically exploring love, lust, longing and obsession. 

The restlessly creative Gordon has also released material as Sylvia Black and her forthcoming Sylvia Black album Twilight Animals (Originals and Covers for Tortured Lovers), which is slated for an October 18, 2019 release find Gordon effortlessly hopping from electro pop, noir-ish jazz, Texan blues and twangy country and the sounds of Morocco and India. The first half of the album reportedly evokes a mysterious scene from a David Lynch film full of hazy and hallucinatory paranoia and unease while the album’s later half evokes the campiness and weirdness of a John Waters film. Overall the album is a mix of unique covers and interpretations of songs from the JOVM mainstay’s favorite artists including Fat White Family, JOVM mainstays The Horrors, Psychedelic Furs, Van Halen and Huey Lewis and the News among others. Of course, there are a bunch of originals — and some of the album’s original tracks finds the New York-based JOVM mainstay collaborating with the legendary No Wave artist Lydia Lunch. (In fact, the duo’s collaboration was so fruitful that they’ve also worked together on a full-length album.) 

Twilight Animals (Originals and Covers for Tortured Lovers)’ latest single is the slow-burning and noir-ish “Walking Through Fire,” a collaboration with the aforementioned Lydia Lunch that manages to evoke the work of David Lynch and Quentin Tarantino — or in other words, it’s all doomed detectives,  hazy cigarette smoke, femme fatales, double-crosses and triple-crosses and sultry, late night saxophone solos. Unsurprisingly, the recently released video, which was directed and shot by Sylvia Black is an equally sultry and apt take on the song; in fact, it looks like the opening credits for a classic film noir. 

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New Video: Crywolf’s Gorgeous and Unsettling Visual for “CEPHALØTUS”

Crywolf is the solo recording project of Los Angeles, CA-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumetnalist and producer Justin Phillips. When he started releasing music, he was practically homeless, living in a room the size of a closet and subsiding on food stamps. Since then, Phillips has come a long way — he has amassed millions of streams, headlined the second largest stage at Electric Forest and has received praise from the likes of Consequence of Sound, Alternative Press, Billboard, Nylon, Complex. 

Deriving its name from the Latin name of a small, carnivorous plant, Phillips’ latest Crywolf single “CEPHALØTUS” will further his growing reputation for sensual, enveloping and cinematic pop centered around a gorgeous and atmospheric production featuring shimmering guitar chords, Phillips’ reverb-drenched ethereal falsetto which expresses vulnerability and plaintive need paired with  dramatic bursts of industrial clang and clatter. The song possesses a surrealistic and painterly quality — while delving deep into the depths of its creator’s psyche. 

Phillips latest Crywolf album, widow [OBLIVIØN Pt. II] was released earlier this year, and he further cements his reputation or boundary pushing in all aspects of his art with the release of the “WIDOW” series, a short film that will be released in three parts — and unsurprisingly, the short film series is designed to compliment the music perfectly.  “Mabul [CEPHALOTUS Official Video), is technically the second part of the series and begins in media res, as we follow the video’s protagonist (Phillips), dressed like a priest and underwater, seemingly stuck in a purgatorial state, unable to move and unable to die. Much like the song, the visual is at simultaneously dream-like, haunting and unsettling. 

New Video: Introducing the Forward-Thinking Electro Pop of Sweden’s they owe us

Comprised of Rane and Kris, they owe us are a rather mysterious Swedish duo of outsiders, who found refuge in music. After a fortuitous meeting, the duo spent a year playing house parties, establishing a reputation for crafting music with disregards to rules and precedents.

Building upon a growing profile, the Swedish duo’s full-length debut, Broken English & Sad Serenades is slated for a June 7, 2019 release and the album, which reportedly finds the duo reveling in unique arrangements such as homemade drums and old, analog synthesizers and draws from a wide and eclectic array of influences including The Beach Boys, Kraftwerk and others. The album’s latest single “Harvest Time” is centered around glitchy drum programming, blasts of scorching guitar, wobbling bass synth and plaintive vocals, and while adding their names to a growing list of Scandinavian acts, who specialize in left of center, forward-thinking pop including Lake Jons and others, the track is ultimately about tight hearts and high hopes about a new and better tomorrow.

Co-directed by the up-and-coming Swedish duo and Annie Hyrefeldt, the recently released video for “Harvest Time” is a gorgeously shot fever dream featuring two masked children chasing each other through the woods. When they come across an upright piano in the clearing, the kids play with it and menacingly pose around it before setting it on fire. Much like, the artists themselves, these two children show regard for rules or structure.

New Video: Lisel’s Gorgeous Visuals for Ethereal Debut Single “Ciphers”

Perhaps best known as one-half of the acclaimed JOVM mainstays Pavo Pavo, multi-instrumentalist, singer/songwriter, producer and experimental artist Eliza Bagg has spent the last few years developing a prolific career in her own rite, collaborating with Helado Negro, Julianna Barwick, John Zorn, and Caroline Shaw and performing in avant-garde operas by Meredith Monk with the L.A. Philharmonic.

Bagg has stepped out further as a solo artist with her latest recording project Lisel, which grew from Bagg’s desire to turn inwards as a way to get in touch with her own sense of authenticity. “I had found space in the classical world that made sense for me,” says Bagg, “but I realized I needed to make something that was truly mine, that sprung from my own voice.” Naturally, that realization led to a year-long writing and recording process with Bagg waking up every morning to spend time alone with just a microphone and her computer.

“My main instrument is my voice, not a keyboard or a guitar, so I wanted it to be the genesis of every song,” Bagg explains. “I was trying to use the resources I had within me, within my body, to make something that feels true about the way we live our lives now, in 2019. That’s why I wanted to focus on my voice-I wanted each song to be literally made out of me.”

Bagg’s debut Lisel single “Ciphers” is an ethereal song built around a spectral arrangement of shimmering synths, flute, glitchy beats and Bagg’s vocals, which manage to be intimate, crystalline and achingly tender — with a plaintive yearning. Directed by Jing Niu, the accompanying video is a hazy and feverish dream that emphasizes the song’s plaintive and yearning quality.

“The word cipher has two meanings — it can be a coded message, but it can also be an empty hole, a zero,” Bagg says of her latest single. “The song is about the haunting uncertainty in the pathways that have been set out before you, and realizing these courses have become more ambiguous and disorienting than you thought – at best entangled, at worst empty. There’s also, however, the glimmer of trying to find authenticity within that reality – the background choir serving as the basis for the song is simultaneously pure and glitchy, faulty but still true.” Adds Bagg, “The video is set in three surreal, manufactured landscapes: a celestial beach next to a reflection pool, a dark space where a shadow figure mimics and supports my movement, and a river of red silk. My identity is echoed in the pool and splintered in the shadow figure.”

 

I’ve written quite a bit about the Oakland, CA-based futuristic soul act and JOVM mainstays Bells Atlas over the past few years, and as you may may recall, the act which is comprised of Derek Barber (guitar) Geneva Harrison (drums, percussion, keys) Sandra Lawson-Ndu (vocals, percussion, keys) and Doug Stuart (bass, vocals, keys) have received attention across the blogosphere for a lush, kaleidoscopic sound that draws from indie rock, 90s R&B, Afro-pop, Afro-futurism, jazz, electro pop and experimental pop. Adding to a rapidly growing profile, the act has opened for Hiatus KaiyoteBADBADNOTGOODBilalMeshell NdegeocelloW. Kamau BellAngelique Kidjo and others, as well as Bermuda Triangle, the side project of Alabama Shakes‘ Brittany Howard. Along with that, they spent 2016 as the touring band for NPR’s Snap Judgement.

Last year, the act released the SALT AND SOAP EP, an effort inspired by cleansing rituals and preservation methods, with the understanding that when you’re not accustomed to releasing your most personal stories, the idea is then to take a moment to prepare for a shift — for a new way of being open. Interestingly, during the creative process for the EP and their full-length effort the mystic, which is slated for release later this week, the band stumbled upon a new songwriting process that incorporated the use of sampling grainy phone memo recordings of Geneva Harrison’s drumming as the bedrock of the material.

With the writing and recording sessions focusing on spontaneity and even humor, the band aimed to craft music that managed to be cinematic yet deeply personal — all while allowing room to highlight each member’s individual skills and talent within the larger whole. Narratively and thematically, the album is a sci-fi fantasy of two first generation Nigerian-American women coming to terms with a mental health diagnosis — and at the same time, a universal exploration of how we make sense of reality. “It’s about a truth seeker and a skeptic trying to make sense of what’s mystical and what’s clinical,” the band’s Sandra Lawson-Ndu says in press notes. “The listener is made to consider the possibility of magic. Is it possible, for instance, that someone who navigates the world differently may have a deeper understanding of the universe? The mystic is a spectrum of deep emotionality, impulse, and even humour; a tool to explore the full dimension of our reality.” the mystic‘s latest single is the slow-burning and ethereal “Final Ceiling.” Centered around Lawson-Ndu’s dreamy cooing, shimmering synths and guitar and gently propulsive drumming, “Final Ceiling” evokes a hazy yet vividly remembered dream that lingers in your consciousness for hours.

The Oakland-based JOVM mainstays will be touring to support the mystic throughout May and June, and the tour includes a June 1, 2019 stop at C’mon Everybody. Check out the tour dates below.

TOUR DATES 

5.9 Los Angeles, CA The Satellite 
5.10 The Wayfarer Costa Mesa, CA 
5.11 Starline Social Club Oakland, CA 
5.16 Doug Fir Lounge Portland, OR 
5.17 Fisherman’s Village Festival Everett, WA 
5.18 Rhythm and Rye Olympia, WA 
5.19 The Auditorium Seattle, WA 
5.23 BSP Kingston Brooklyn, NYC 
5.24 Riverwalk Cafe and Music Bar Nashua, NH 
5.25 The Diving Bell Social Club Montreal, CA 
5.26 Columbus Theatre Providence, RI 
5.28 State House New Haven, CT 
5.30 Milkboy Philadelphia, PA 
5.31 Songbyrd Record Cafe and Music House Washington, DC 
6.1 C’mon Everybody Brooklyn, NYC 

Earlier this year, I wrote about J. Hacha De Zola, Rahway, NJ-born, Jersey City, NJ-based singer/songwriter and musician, who became a scientist and musician because of his father’s massive influence on his life. About a year within his Biochemistry, Ph.D. program, Hacha De Zola’s father died. Unfortunately, he had to quit school in order to support his mother and the rest of his family, but the situation presented him an opportunity to pursue his life long passion — music.

With the release of 2016’s Picaro Obscuro, the second of his two “urban junkyard” albums of that year, Hacha De Zola publicly insinuated that he might not continue on to make a third and that if he did, his plan was to “lighten up” the sound that he has previously described on some occasions as “boozegaze.” 2017’s Antipatico was the third album Hacha De Zola and his backing band had written and recorded in over two years — and with each successive album, Hacha De Zola increasingly found his own voice.

Hacha De Zola’s  John Agnello-produced fourth full-length album Icaro Nouveau is slated for a March 29, 2019 release through Caballo Negro Records and much like his previously released material, the New Jersey-born and-based singer/songwriter and his backing band employ his “reductive synthesis” method which involves,  “shooting the arrow and painting the bullseye around it.” Interestingly, the album’s material is also deeply influenced by the life and death of longtime collaborator, Ralph Carney, a saxophonist best known for working with the legendary Tom Waits. Carney not only served as a player but a spiritual guide and mentor for Hacha de Zola. “He was an integral part of this sound. He was my secret weapon,” Hacha de Zola says. “His horns were ever–present, as was his input. Not having him around for Icaro Nouveau was unsettling for me.”

Now, as you may recall, “On A Saturday,” found Hacha De Zola and his backing band drawing from old school barrio salsa but with a drunken wobble. Interestingly, Icaro Nouveau‘s latest single is the boozy and slow-burning blues, “Super Squeaky,” a track that sounds deeply indebted to Tom Waits and Bob Dylan among others.

I recently chatted with the Rahway-born, Jersey City-based singer/songwriter in an extensive and thoughtful email exchange about his science background, his eclectic influences, the “Urban Junkyard” sound, Ralph Carney’s influence on him and his work, the new single and much more. Check it out. 

 

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Photo Credit: Robin Souma

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WRH: If I remember it correctly, your father had a massive impact on your life, as he had a key role influencing your decision to study Biochemistry – and that music has been a lifelong passion for you. Have your studies influenced your work and approach at all? How?

J. Hacha De Zola: My old man was both a terrifying and wonderful kinda guy. He inspired a lot of different vibes in me – some good – some not so good. But a couple of the core values he instilled in me as part of living an “observed life” is to be informed and always ask questions. To observe, learn and question everything. To think critically about things that matter to you such art, music, science, life, etc. To me these things are all part of the same cloth; the arts and sciences. Music is truly a science in of itself. The opposite is also true; science can be quite musical, particularly biochemistry, where you have this orchestrated dance of biomolecules, such as helicases, polymerases and ligases as in the example of DNA replication, all working together in a very methodical way, every component doing its own part for the benefit of the whole – in a way that’s very musical. While my music may seem to be fairly chaotic at times, there is a real methodical approach that I follow to create it. It’s the same way with approaching any kind of science where you have an idea or a question you want to flesh out, so you follow a thought-out plan to execute it as elegantly as possible. It’s a bit like playing chess at times, the fewer moves you make to reach a checkmate, and then the more elegant you are in your methods.

 WRH: Who are your influences?

Hacha De Zola: I love everything – I have spent a life time studying and listening to everything that has ever passed by my ears. I felt I had to truly understand music, its place in time, and where I could possibly take it with my own approach. To me everything is relevant and possibly even useful to me in terms of musical ideas I may want to pursue. I don’t like to limit myself in any way in terms of musical styles so I have always kept my ears open to new experiences. However, the first music I ever heard as a child was Latin music, particularly Afro-Cuban music, guys like Perez Prado, Benny More, and Arsenio Rodriquez. At one point as I grew older, I started to listening to what most teens who wanted nothing to do with their parents, would listen to; rock, punk, pop, or even metal which I eventually grew out of as I wanted to learn more about music itself. I wanted to understand the most fundamental roots of all those forms and arrived at the blues. I started out as a guitar player with no interest in being a “vocalist” at all. I started lifting licks off guys like Lightnin’ Hopkins, Mississippi John Hurt, Junior Kimbrough and others. From there I started getting into R&B (Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, Ruby & the Romantics), soul music (Al Green, Sam Cooke, Donny Hathaway), funk (Sly Stone, Parliament Funkadelic) and eventually jazz (Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Moondog, etc). Later on in life, as in most recently, I have started noticed the Latin music influence on just about every genre of music today, and this has bought me back to appreciate the music of my parents, the first music I have ever heard. Taken all together, I feel that in not limiting my musical tastes has led me to be a better songwriter, musician and artist as a whole. As a vocalist and/or performer, I have some very specific influences or folks that I admire and incorporate a bit of who they are into what I do. Folks like Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Captain Beefheart, Nick Cave, Eric Burdon, Lee Hazlewood, Serge Gainsbourg, Leonard Cohen and of course, Tom Waits. The guys are all very strong leading men. I hope to be one as well one day when I grow up! (ha!). Lyrically I borrow (or steal) from the greats! Poets and writers like Arthur Rimbaud, Charles Baudelaire, Samuel Coleridge, Daniil Kharms, William S, Burroughs, H.P. Lovecraft, and so many others… 

WRH: Who are you listening to right now?

Hacha De Zola: Let’s see what’s on my record player at the moment…

Just last night it was: Lucha Reyes, Stelvio Cipriani, Juan d’Arienzo, Kris Kristofferson – Oh and Princess Nokia – I love her – I think She’s great….

WRH: Over the course of a couple of albums and EPs, you’ve established a sound that you’ve dubbed “Urban Junkyard.” How would you describe that sound to someone, who’s completely unaware of you and your work?

Hacha De Zola: I feel fortunate to have been born and raised in a very diverse urban environment where I was exposed to many cultures and musical traditions/styles. Growing up in an “Urban” environment has enriched my life as an artist and has been a huge part of my musical journey. Cities, at least in my experience, are the most diverse of places where many different cultures, art, music and food collide to weave a truly rich tapestry. “Junkyard” because I am often selecting utilitarian forms or fragments or bits of music and disrupting them and re-constituting them in some way. Kind of like what Marcel Duchamp did with his “ready-mades” where an ordinary object is taken, reconfigured and elevated to the dignity of a work of art by the mere choice of an artist. These are composite structures or as in my case, musical compositions derived from existing musical forms – hence “Urban Junkyard.”

I like to think Urban Junkyard as my own musical movement. It’s a deconstructionist approach to not just music but also of poetry and lyricism, where I draw from the past, from existing musical or even lyrical forms, and then blow them up or break them down to their most basic forms. The resulting fragments are allowed to spontaneously or semi spontaneously re-form in order to create my own musical language. The result hopefully has a vibe, a look, a sound and a feeling that hopefully sounds uniquely like me. It’s a feeling that I have built “brick by brick”. On Icaro Nouveau, you may hear a Cha-Cha-Cha track at one moment and then a Spaghetti western-ish track to a bolero in the next. I am more interested in musical ideas than merely musical genres. This “Urban Junkyard” approach creates a new vocabulary from an older one which has lead me to another way to make records. I have always wanted to dismantle any excessive loyalty to any particular musical idea and look for the more fundamental or primal aspects that might lie just below the surface – to me that’s what “Urban Junkyard” is all about.

 

WRH: For the bulk of your Urban Junkyard work, you collaborated with the late Ralph Carney. How did that come about? How influential was he on you and your work? Was it difficult to continue without someone who played such a massive role in your creative process?


Hacha De Zola: I love and miss Ralph…

It was just after the release of my first record Escape From Fat Kat City, when I found myself writing furiously, losing my mind and holed up in some downtown Los Angeles motel for several weeks. The plan was to do all the writing in LA, and then meet up with a bunch of friends up in Portland, Oregon to start recording the new record which would become Picaro Obscuro. I had recently read that Ralph had just moved to PDX at the time and I thought “let me shoot him an email!” I grew up listening to Ralph’s playing, particularly on the Tom Waits records he played on, namely Rain Dogs. I also had Big Time on [a] cassette tape which I had absolutely worn out. I wanted to send him a well-placed, polite email in hopes he would actually work with me. I knew that Ralph had a particular love for bass saxophone which was all over several choice cuts on my first record. I had sent him one of those tracks to which he immediately responded via email with a single line “Is that a bass sax?!” – It was at that point I knew I had Ralph’s attention and before long we were in correspondence back and forth. A couple of weeks later, I found myself in a studio with Ralph and another longtime Tom Waits collaborator, musical saw player/multi-instrumentalist David Coulter. I was totally star struck by the experience and got a little “fanboy-ish” on Ralph who instantly made fun of me for it! Ralph didn’t like anyone making a fuss over him – He was so down to Earth and was always quick with a joke and a laugh. It was great fun meeting, working and hanging out with two brilliant musicians like Ralph and David. Ralph and I continued to become friends and got to know each other, talking online, writing and trading tracks via email over the course of the next few years. We would share a lot of our personal woes and artistic/musical frustrations. He became a bit of a mentor to me and I would always go to him when I was stuck or unsure about a particular piece of music. Ralph was my secret weapon. I could always trust him to take a track up a quantum level. I never told him what to do, he immediately knew what the track needed to truly elevate the music. There were many moments where my confidence was shaken, and Ralph would always be there to remind me to trust my instincts. “When the going gets weird – the WEIRDO gets WEIRDER!” which was something he would always tell me. He bought the best out of me and would always tell me to never be afraid of being who I am. He loved what I was trying to accomplish with this whole “Urban Junkyard” thing, he understood it and he was truly at the core of helping me develop what that idea means to me and its overall sound. I was absolutely devastated and heartbroken when I heard of his untimely passing. I lost my dear friend, collaborator and mentor. It was unsettling for me to even attempt to make a new record without his guidance. There were moments in the studio when I felt uneasy, shaken, and unsure but then I could feel him in the room. I could hear him in my head saying “Dude! Don’t be afraid to be weird! Just be yourself and the rest will come!” – The last thing he told me the last time we spoke was “Keep working on your bad self, never stop. Good things will come if you let it, keep showing up and keep doing the work! I love you Brother!” – I love Ralph, I’ll never forget him, and I think of him every day.

 WRH: Your forthcoming album Icaro Nouveau finds you working with acclaimed producer John Agnello. How did that come about? How was it like to work with him?

Hacha De Zola: Oh, John’s a local guy! He’s originally a Bensonhurst, Brooklyn guy, but transplanted himself and the family over in Jersey City many years ago. The Jersey City arts and music community/scene is very close knit. Everyone knows each other, parties, and hangs out together fairly often. I remember seeing John around many of the art events in town but was always a little too shy to say hello. After my third LP, Antipatico, I wanted step up the effort production wise and thought to myself “Hell! Let’s write “Don Angello” a nice email and see if he would be interested in sitting in the producers chair for this next one!” which would eventually become this record “Icaro Nouveau”. I figured what do I have to lose? What’s the worst he could say?! No!? – To my delight, John hit me right back and was so generous with his “Sure – let’s talk!” response! John Agnello is a lovely wonderful man, to know John is to love him. He’s a real community guy, always there to lend a hand or sage advice or even rattle your cage a bit if ya need to get it together! I was pretty floored to think that the same guy who produced so many of my favorite records that I listened to during my formative years as a kid, is now producing my new record!Working with John was great! His attention to detail is amazing, I remember laying down some vocals for a particular track and he was in the control room writing down all the lyrics just for the sake of trying to get the best performance out of me as possible. He would really push me to work hard as well as all of the session guys in order to get the best out of us. He motivated us big time and in a way, you really wanted to give John the best because of the kind way he would motivate you – ya just didn’t want to let him down. After seeing the way he ran the sessions, I knew without a doubt that we were going to walk away with something truly special. Working with him was so much fun – there was never a dull moment! We have become really good friends since and go bowling on a fairly regular basis! I love the guy and lemme tell ya, the dude can roll!!

 

WRH: You have a unique songwriting process that you’ve referred to “reductive synthesis” in which songs aren’t fully written before you and your backing band arrive at the studio; instead, there seems to be a lot of improvisation and you kind of let the tape run, allowing the musicians (and presumably yourself) quite a bit of creative leeway. You go on to say that you’ll then peel back the various layers to fashion a song from what was recorded. How do you know when you have a finished song? And considering the unique creative process, how do you recreate that live?

Hacha De Zola: I like to inject a certain amount of uncertainty into my song writing process which can be a little risky at times because you never know what you are going to end up with. I never sit down and tell myself, “I’m going to write a song about this” or “I’m going to write a rock or a folk song.” That sort of approach bores me to be quite frank. I am more interested in musical concepts or ideas. I would rather borrow or steal a structure from an existing musical form of interest, break it up and then recombine it. I’ll sit at the board next to a producer like John Agnello and then bring in my cabal of musical associates. I honestly let the session players do whatever they want over these structures and just have them all throw the kitchen sink at it. Allow them to take ownership of the track for a moment. I am an enabler and enjoy that role! Maybe I’ll have a Jazz bebop trumpet player come in, I’ll have a Bulgarian folk music player or tuba player or a rock guitarist come in and just let ‘em go for it. While it may not sound like the most efficient way to run a recording session, efficiency is not what I’m worried about here. I never know what we will end up with and that’s part of the “voodoo” behind this approach. Sometimes you just might stumble across something special that was totally unexpected. So how is it a “reductive synthesis”? Once everyone is finished recording their parts, I’ll go back and listen. It is said that sculpture is a reductive art form where a large mass of stone is reduced or carved down to form a structure or form that is aesthetically pleasing. “I saw the angle in the marble and carved until I set her free” – I use a very similar approach when forming the “music” that will make up the “song”. Somewhere in that tangled mass of tracks, I will hear a song that wants to be set free. I don’t get to decide when a song is “done” but rather the song itself will tell me exactly what it needs – it tells me when its done. I never write a song about a subject but rather, the song itself tells me what it’s about. I will take a raw track, just full of noise and sound, and peel away the layers until the song is free to take on a life of its own. The music gets put together first, then the lyrics are completed next. I usually form the words to the harmony and melody later. In terms of the live show, most bands or musicians often have a set- live repertoire of songs that they have been playing for a long time that eventually will be taken into the studio to be recorded. I actually work in the opposite direction, the songs are formed in the studio first and from there the finished, “freed” song is then charted out and handed over to the folks in the band for the live show. I have developed two different kinds of the “live” show, solo J Hacha, which is an acoustic solo type thing performing songs that lend themselves to that kind of format, and then there’s the theatrical, full big band live show, complete with horn sections, percussive elements, live singers, etc.

 WRH: Icaro Nouveau’s latest single is this slow-burning Bob Dylan meets Tom Waits-like “Super Squeaky.” Can you tell us a bit about what inspired the song and what it’s about?

Hacha De Zola: To be honest, I am never really sure what a song is about going in. I only get to know what a song is about once I begin to write it which is when it tells me what it is about. As far as im concerned, songs should always be open to interpretation. But if I had to take a guess, this is a song about being at the end of your rope. It’s about being resigned to one’s fate for better or worse. It’s a song about compunction, owning up to your own hubris, and about coming “clean” hence the title “Super Squeaky”. I have suffered a number of failed bad relationships perhaps (story of my life). I’ll go ahead and say I’m likely to blame for all of it. Ok I’m definitely to blame for all of it (lol). This song contains many of those kind of themes — heartbreak, hangovers, loss, moving on and hopefully redemption.

WRH: What’s next for you?

Hacha De Zola: I’ll never know! I take it day by day mostly! But I must say that it will likely involve developing this “Urban Junkyard” thing even further- perfecting it – honing it. I have so many artistic aspirations that I would love to explore. Some of these include film, theatre, and performance art. The music will always play a central role which comes first and foremost but I would like to do more. I am constantly writing new songs and thinking of new directions to take the music. Not too long ago I released a synthy- All Spanish dream-pop EP Syn Illusión. Maybe I’ll make a mumble rap-trap EP (lol) next or maybe even a reggaeton record (???). One of the best things about being an independent artist is that I can do whatever I damn well please! Not everyone will understand it but I’m ok with that! After the last few years, making these records and meeting so many spectacular players and artists, I have been really blessed with so many opportunities to take the art up to a new level. I would really love to take the live show on the big road, develop it further and make it as theatrical as possible. I would love to write an opera or a play/theatre piece. I would love to direct or have a hand in directing a film.  As an artist, the sky is the limit, I love pushing boundaries and will keep doing so till I can’t anymore. All I can say is that I am excited about art, music and what is to come. Life is good and I’m blessed to be able to be doing this right now. Thank you!

 

New Video: Hush Pup Returns with Ethereal Visuals for Shimmering EP Single “Oasis”

Earlier this year, I wrote about Hush Pup, an experimental pop/synth pop act, which splits their time between Toronto, Ontario, Canada and Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Featuring core duo Ida Maidstone (vocals, Yamaha synths, Casio synths, Beat Finder) and Fizzy (bass, EFX, Beat Finder II) with contributions from Torrie Seager (guitar), the Canadian act describes their music as sounding “a lot like driving at night through the board game Candyland — soft cotton candy trees brush up against windows of your glass car, as you ride towards a friend’s cabin nearby the molasses swamp.”

The band’s latest efforts the Flower Power EP and Panacea, a romantic film-inspired album will be released next week through Lone Hand Records, and as you may recall the Beach House, Anemone and 4AD Records-like “The Hours” was centered around a shimmering and looping guitar line, propulsive beats, Maidstone’s ethereal vocals, a soaring hook and equally ethereal synths. Continuing in a similar, ethereal vein, the act’s latest single “Oasis” is centered around shimmering and undulating synths, propulsive beats, a looping and shimmering guitar line paired with Maidstone’s vocals ethereally floating over a fever dream-like soundscape. 

Filmed, edited, and conceptualized by Mike Perreira, the recently released video for “Oasis” features some experimental footage of water and other particles overlaid with old footage of the band from a music video that never came to fruition. The editing was kept fairly loose in order to let the natural light and movement come together organically, so that the video resembled a dream, further emphasizing the ethereal nature of the song. 

New Video: Miles Francis Releases a Cinematic and Surreal Video for EP Single “I Could Use Your Love”

Throughout the course of this site’s almost nine history, I’ve written quite a bit about the New York-based multi-instrumentalist and singer/songwriter Miles Francis, who has had stints as a member of JOVM mainstays Superhuman Happiness and Antibalas, and as the frontman of Afrobeat/Afropop-inspired collective EMEFE. The 26 year-old, New York-based multi-instrumentalist and singer/songwriter has also collaborated with an impressive and diverse array of artists including Arcade Fire,  Mark Ronson, Sharon Jones, Amber Mark, Angelique Kidjo, Allen Toussaint, TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe, Arcade Fire’s Will Butler and others — all before stepping out on his own as a solo artist. 

Now, as you may recall, Miles Francis’ debut EP Swimmers was released last year, and the album which was written in the back of tour vans and hotel rooms while on the road. Eventually recorded in his basement studio, the EP’s material thematically captures the mood and vibe of someone in their early to mid-20s, attempting to figure out themselves and the extremely complicated and ambivalent world they’ll continually confront as an adult; how they fit into that world; and the struggle to figure out the purpose and meaning of their own lives. Interestingly, Swimmers put the New York-based singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist on the local and national map for crafting hook-driven, left field pop inspired by Bowie, Sly Stone, J. Dilla, Talking Heads, D’Angelo, Paul McCartney, Fela Kuti and Prince among others. 

Self-recorded with Francis recording each instrumental part in an organic, old school-inspired fashion in his basement studio and released last week, Miles Francis’ sophomore solo EP Doves finds him continuing to craft hook-driven, left field pop — but with a wider emotional palette. And while each song on the EP has its own unique sound, they manage to fall under an overall thematic and creative umbrella of sorts. The EP’s latest single, “I Could Use Your Love” is centered around a breezy and infectious hook, twinkling blasts of guitar, buzzing bass synths, stuttering beats and Francis’ plaintive and sultry vocals. Sonically, the song sounds like a slick and seamless synthesis of late period Beatles, Talking Heads, Prince and Afropop, but with a post-modern sensibility. Much  like the rest of the EP is based around the inner dialogue that we all have on a daily basis that brings up and down — in this case, evoking the desperation and longing inspired by profound loneliness. 

Directed by long-time collaborator Charles Bidet, the recently released video for “I Could Use Your Love” continues a run of cinematically shot and surreal treatments — with Francis surrounded by shadowy figures, who perform with him in a gorgeous performance space. In one way, the shadowy figures can be seen as a representation of the protagonist’s neurotic fears, doubts and loneliness. 

New Video: Acclaimed Antillean-French Singer-Songwriter Gerald Toto Releases a Sensual Video for “You Got Me”

Born in France, the Antillean-French singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Gerald Toto’s parents were tax officials; however, they were ardent and obsessive music lovers and their vinyl collection, which featured American soul, Afro-Caribbean dance music, Congolese soukous and Cameroonian makossa was essential listening to a young Toto. By the time Toto was ten, he picked up guitar and bass. And by the time, he was in college, he used a student loan to finance the building of a home studio, with which he quickly became an intrinsic part of the French underground music scene, as a pioneering wold music artist and producer. 

Toto has collaborated with a diverse and eclectic array of artists including Algerian rai singer Faudel, Parisian act Nouvelle Vague and Middle Eastern electro futurists Smadi; but it was his breakthrough collaboration with French-Antillean singer/songwriter Gerald Toto, Cameroonian jazz musician Richard Bona Toto Bona Lokua that led to two internationally applauded albums — 2005’s commercially successful, self-titled debut and 2017’s well-received Bondeko — all while each individual member was busy with their own diverse series of projects both solo and with other artists. 

Last year was a very busy year for the Antillean-French singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist: Toto Bona Lokua released their third full-length album and he released a solo album, Sway — both which were released through Nø Førmat. Now, as you may recall, album single “Away” was centered around a languid and tropical groove, gently strummed guitar, brief bursts of arpeggiated synths and an infectious hook paired with Toto’s yearning falsetto. Sonically speaking, the song further cemented the acclaimed Antillean-French’s reputation for crafting breezy and mischievously difficult to categorize pop that draws from Tropicalia, Bossa nova, 70s soul, Afro pop, French pop and folk, while encouraging the listener to slow down a bit to pay attention to the gentle sway of life’s natural rhythms.  Interestingly, the album’s latest single “You Got Me” continues in a similar vein as its predecessor —  breezy and infectious pop; but at its core, the song is thematically centered around desire, longing and profound loneliness. 

Created by Cannes-nominated French agency Temple Caché, the recently released video features sensual and humorous depictions of mundane daily gestures — cooking, sunbathing, a cat grooming itself, a young couple in a stolen moment in their car. But within these small moments, each character within the video is actually longing for something that they may not be able to receive. As Toto says in press notes about the video, “The sensualist acidulated video for ‘You Got Me’, through the depiction of seemingly anodyne daily gestures like cooking, sunbathing, a cat grooming himself; reveals the life of the inhabitants of a neighbourhood soaked with desire, pleasure & stolen moments, often in connection with nature. But under the luscious joy of the colours, humour & earthiness, surfaces a sense of longing and loneliness. As in cooking, love and the romantic relationship require generosity, presence and time. We must make ourselves consciously available, consent to the vulnerability of laying bare and let go.”