Category: indie soul

Live Footage: ATO Sessions: Nick Hakim “Bet She Looks Like You”

Up until relatively recently, it had been some since I had written about the Washington, DC-born, Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter and guitarist Nick Hakim; however, 2017 looks to be a big year for the renowned singer/songwriter as his much-anticipated full-length debut Green Twins is slated for a May 19, 2017 release through ATO Records — and if you had stumbled across this site earlier today, you’d remember that Hakim is currently on tour to build up buzz for the new material until its release.

Interestingly enough, as the story goes, Hakim can trace the origins of the material of Green Twins to when armed with the masters for his first two EPs Where Will We Go Part 1 and Where Will We Go Part 2, the DC-born singer/songwriter and guitarist relocated from Boston, where he was based at the time to Brooklyn. And as soon as he got himself settled, he spent his spare time fleshing out incomplete songs and writing and recording sketches and lyrics using his phone’s voice memo app and a four-track cassette recorder. He then took his new, demo’d material to various studios in NYC, Philadelphia and London, where he built up the material with a number of engineers, including frequent collaborator Andrew Sarlo (bass, engineering and production), who were tasked with keeping the original spirit and essence of the material intact as much as humanly possible.

As Andrew Sarlo explained in press notes about the writing and recording process for Green Twins, for many artists, a demo typically serves an extremely rough sketch of what the song could eventually become and sound; however, with the Hakim, the general sense is that the demos are much more like building a holy temple — and as a result, as a producer and engineer, he was tasked to clean, furnish and prepare entrants for a religious experience. Thematically speaking, the material on the album reportedly focuses on unique and rather particular aspects of his life with the bulk of the songs based on specific things he was thinking and feeling at the time he was writing and composing. And as a result, the album consists of a series of different self-portraits — and in a similar fashion to Vincent Van Gogh’s famed self-portraits, the album’s song captures the artist sometimes in broad strokes but frequently in subtle gradations of mood, tone and feeling. Hakim adds, “I also felt the need to push my creativity in a different way than I had on the EPs,” The record draws from influences spanning Robert Wyatt, Marvin Gaye and Shuggie Otis to My Bloody Valentine. We wanted to imagine what it would have sounded like if RZA had produced a Portishead album. We experimented with engineering techniques from Phil Spector and Al Green’s Back Up Train, drum programming from RZA and Outkast, and we were listening to a lot of The Impressions, John Lennon, Wu-Tang, Madlib and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.”

While in town for an intimate and sold out show at Union Pool, Hakim and his backing band recorded a live version of the spectral and achingly confessional “Bet She Looks Like You” for the ATO Sessions at Bushwick’s Market Hotel — and while conveying a visceral heartache and longing, paired with a Quiet Storm-like groove, the song, with repeated listens somehow manages to nod at Marvin Gaye, Bilal and Roy Orbison, thanks in part to his incredibly tight backing band. Speaking of the great Roy Orbison, the live footage is shot in a gorgeous, film noir-like black and white, much like Roy Orbison and Friends: A Night in Black and White.

Comprised of three siblings, twins Alexis (bass) and Zandy Fitzgerald (guitar), along with their brother Darius (drums) and cousin Jasmine Mullen (vocals, guitar), The New Respects are a Nashville, TN-based blues rock act, that has been heavily influenced by the gospel music they were surrounded by — but also by a healthy amount of secular and pop artists including Aretha Franklin, Alabama Shakes, John Mayer and others. Produced by Leagues‘ Jermey Lutito, the Nashville, TN-based quartet’s debut EP Here Comes Trouble is slated for a March 10, 2017 release through Credential Recordings and with the release of the EP’s first single “Trouble,” which has seen recent placements on ESPN’s Major League Soccer coverage, Fox Sports’ Road To The Octagon and TNT’s NBA coverage, as well as praise from NPR World Music Cafe‘s Jewly Hight. And unsurprisingly, as a result, The New Respects’ debut EP may arguably be one of the most highly-anticipated EPs of the first few months of 2017.

Here Comes Trouble‘s second and latest single “Money” is a gritty yet funky and soulful that not only displays The New Respect’s genre-defying sound — a sound which effortlessly meshes blues, arena rock, pop and hip-hop; but it also reveals a band that has an uncanny ability to write an swaggering and anthemic, power chord friendly hook paired with a sinuous bass line, a darting yet funky guitar line, thunderous drumming and Mullen’s powerhouse, pop belter vocals. Sonically speaking “Money” will likely remind listeners of The Black Keys, Robert Randolph and The Family Band and others and while that would be a fair comparison, lyrically the song has struck me as an ironic take on “If I Was a Rich Girl” that not only points out that being filthy rich won’t buy you more time, nor would it buy you much in the way of happiness.  In fact, the song suggests two things that seem to be an anathema in our consumer world — that having money and a lot of possessions actually distracts you from life’s true purpose: to love someone else and to be here now.

Directed by Ry Cox, the artfully shot, recently released music video follows the members of the band as they break into the home of some rich guy as he’s away to play music and invite friends and other associates to the house, along with footage of the band languidly enjoying the fruits of greed and power as they sing the song’s hook. And while being kind of trippy, the video ends with the band disappearing before the rich man’s return.

The quartet will be opening for Robert and The Family Band throughout March. Check out tour dates below.


Supporting Robert Randolph & The Family Band

3/15 — Cincinnati, OH @ The Ballroom @ Taft

3/16 — Cleveland, OH @ Beachland Ballroom

3/17 — Chicago, IL @ Lincoln Hall

3/18 — Madison, WI @ Majestic

3/20 — Kansas City, MO @ Knuckleheads

3/22 — Fort Collins, CO @ Aggie

3/24 — Boulder, CO @ Fox Theatre

3/25 — Denver, CO @ Gothic Theatre

3/26 — Aspen, CO @ Belly Up

Perhaps best known as a member of Charles Bradley’s backing band The Extraordinaires, the late, great Sharon Jones’ backing band The Dap Kings, Lee Fields’ backing band, The Expressions, Antibalas and The Budos Band, who has also collaborated with Mark Ronson and others, the Chicago, IL-born, New York-based trumpeter Billy Aukstik began writing his own soul-inspired compositions and founded Brooklyn-based indie soul label Dala Records. And since founding the label, Aukstik has produced the debut efforts of a handful of locally-based artists including singer/songwriter, John Fatum, The Rad Trads, Michael Harlen, Patrick Sargent and Camellia Hartman, as well as his own solo work under the moniker Billy the Kid.

Dala Records’ latest rlease “Breathing Hard (Over You)”/”Honey Bee” is a split 7 inch single featuring labelmates Camellia Hartman and its founder Aukstik, backed by the Dala Records house band, The Soulful Saints. Hartman is an East Village-born and raised vocalist and multi-instrumentalist, who as a child studied the Suzuki method on violin, bass and guitar at rock ‘n’ roll day camp, trombone in middle school band and a capella in high school — and her contribution to the split 7 inch, “Breathing Hard (Over You)” was recorded and mixed on an 8 track tape machine, which further emphasizes the classic Motown meets Northern soul production. And while making the song sound as though it could have been released as a 45rpm single back in 1964, the production manages to give Hartman’s tender yet playfully coquettish vocals room to express an aching yet somewhat girlish longing and desire.

Aukstik’s contribution “Honey Bee” is a twangy, slow-burning, 70s AM rock meets Muscle Shoals-leaning bit of soul that features Aukstik’s tender falsetto over an arrangement featuring lap steel guitar, Farfisa organ, Maestro Rhythm King drum machine, fuzzy guitar chords and a sinuous hook — and while nodding at psych rock, the song to my years reminds me a bit of Sandra Rhodes’ sadly forgotten Muscle Shoals meets Nashville solo debut, Where’s Your Love Been.






Now, if you had been frequenting this site over the last part of 2016, you may recall coming across a post on the Oakland, CA-based soul pop quintet Bells Atlas. Comprised of Derek Barber (guitar) Geneva Harrison (drums, percussion, keys) Sandra Lawson-Ndu (vocals, percussion, keys) and Doug Stuart (bass, vocals, keys), the quintet specializes in a sound that’s kaleidoscopic, lushly layered and difficult to pigeonhole as it incorporates elements of indie rock, Afro pop jazz and electro pop. Their trippy, shimmering and atmospheric “Spec and Bubbles” revealed a song that structurally owed a debt to  Hiatus Kaiyote as the song consisted of several, twisting and morphing sections held together by stuttering drumming, a sinuous bass line and Lawson-Ndu’s sultry cooing.

The Bay Area quintet’s latest single “NCAT” will further cement their burgeoning reputation for crafting slow-burning, atmospheric and soulful pop as the song consists of shimmering and bubbling arpeggio synths, stuttering drumming and a rolling bass line paired with Lawson-Ndu’s sultry yet ethereal vocals. And by far, the song may arguably be the sexiest song they’ve released to date, as Lawson-Ndu’s vocals express a visceral, vulnerability and human need — and in some way, the song nods at Quiet Storm-era R&B, Snoop Dogg‘s “Sexual Eruption” and the aforementioned Hiatus Kaiyote.



Comprised of founding member, bandleader and primary arranger Leon Michels (saxophone), Homer Steinweiss (drums), Nick Movshon (bass), Thomas Brenneck (guitar), Sean Solomon (guitar), Tobias Pazner (keyboards), Michael Leonhart (trumpet) and Todd Simon (trumpet), the El Michels AffairT is a Brooklyn-based All-Star, instrumental soul act featuring members from several renowned acts including The Arcs, Menahan Street Band, The Shacks, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, and Lee Fields and the Expressions. After the release of their 2005 debut Sounding Out the City, the band was paired with Raekwon for a concert organized by Scion  and it eventually led to a tour that featured several members of the Wu-Tang Clan. Interestingly, touring with the members of the Wu-Tang led to the band’s sophomore effort Enter the 37th Chamber, an effort that consisted of soul-based, instrumental interpretations of the Wu-Tang Clan’s influential debut Enter the 36 Chambers. 

Unsurprisingly, Enter the 37th Chamber has introduced the band and its members to a much wider audience, while being their most commercially successful effort to date. Although the members of El Michels Affair had been busy with their primary gigs, they reconvened to record Return To The 37th Chamber, the highly-anticipated follow- up to Enter the 37th Chamber — and reportedly while reinterpreting and arranging Wu-Tang songs for a live band, Return to the 37th Chamber also pays homage to RZA‘s imitable, hazy production; in fact, Michels in his role as producer, recorded the album straight to analog tape, sometimes hitting six generations of tape before it was ready for mixing. Adding to the album’s overall sound, the material possesses the occasional psychedelic flourish, John Carpenter-like synths, power chord-friendly guitar work, the enormous horn sections and traditional Chinese instrumentation in place of most of the vocals — or in other words, the material balances RZA’s imitable and influential aesthetic with El Michels Affair’s burgeoning reputation for cinematic and swaggering soul.

As far as the material on the new album, the renowned instrumental soul act tackles some of the Wu’s beloved classics such as “4th Chamber” and “Wu Tang Ain’t Nuthin ta Fuck Wit,” as well as deeper cuts like Ol’ Dirty Bastard‘s “Snakes,” Raekwon’s “Verbal Intercourse,” and Wu-Tang’s contribution to St. Ide’s legendary early 90s ad campaign, “Shaolin Brew.” And unlike the previous album, the band invites some of their Big Crown Records labelmates to contribute guest spots; in fact, the first single off the “Tearz”/”Verbal Intercourse” 7 inch — and first single off the forthcoming album features Lee Fields and The Shacks’ Shannon Wise contributing vocals for the El Michels Affair rendition of “Tearz,” a rendition that pays as much homage to the Wendy Rene sample as it does to the Wu Tang while being subtly psychedelic.




New Audio: Nick Hakim Returns with His Spectral Take on Singer/Songwriter Soul

With the release of Where Will We Go Part 1 and Where Will We Go Part 2, the Washington, DC-born, Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter Nick Hakim quickly established a national and international profile for a sound that effortlessly blurs genres as it possesses elements of classic soul, the blues, the soulful troubadour tradition of Van Morrison and others with hauntingly spectral electronic production and a soul-bearing, confessional intimacy.

Now, it’s been some time since I’ve written about him; however, Hakim has been busy writing and recording the material that would eventually comprise his forthcoming full-length debut Green Twins, which is slated for a May 19, 2017 release through ATO Records. Interestingly, Hakim can trace the origins of Green Twins’ material to when armed with the masters for Where Will We Go Part 1 and Where Will We Go Part 2, the Washington, DC-born singer/songwriter relocated from Boston to where he was based at the time to Brooklyn. And as soon as he moved, he spent his time fleshing out incomplete songs, writing and recording sketches and lyrics on voice memos and a four-track cassette recorder. The Washington, DC-born, Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter then took his demo’d material to studios in NYC, Philadelphia and London and built upon them with a number of engineers, including Andrew Sarlo (bass, engineering and production), who were tasked with keeping the original spirit and essence of the songs intact. As Sarlo explained in press notes, for many artists, a demo usually serves as a rough sketch of what the song could eventually become; however, for Hakim, the feeling is that the demos are much more like creating a temple — and as a result, you simply clean, furnish and prepare entrants for a profoundly religious experience.

Thematically speaking, the material on the album focuses on particular aspects o this life. As Hakim mentions in press notes, a lot of the material is based on what he was thinking at that very moment, and in many ways the album consists of a series of self-portraits. “I also felt the need to push my creativity in a different way than I had on the EPs,” Hakim says in press notes. “The record draws from influences spanning Robert Wyatt, Marvin Gaye and Shuggie Otis to My Bloody Valentine. We wanted to imagine what it would have sounded like if RZA had produced a Portishead album. We experimented with engineering techniques from Phil Spector and Al Green’s Back Up Train, drum programming from RZA and Outkast, and we were listening to a lot of The Impressions, John Lennon, Wu-Tang, Madlib and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.” And as soon as you hear the album’s first single “Bet She Looks Like You,” the confessional and intimate songwriting remains, as it’s soul-bearing to a point of being heartbreakingly visceral; but it manages to be a subtle expansion upon his sound — the song manages to remain hauntingly spectral while possessing an equally subtle, bluesy swagger.

Featuring brothers Alix, Miles and Reece Melendrez and schoolmate Matt Mumician, Decorator  is an up-and-coming Los Angeles, CA-based indie rock/indie soul quartet, who publicly claim a rather wide and diverse array of influences that include the music the Melenderez Brothers heard quite a deal of while growing up — Jimi Hendrix, The Isley Brothers, Bob Marley and contemporary acts like Lauryn Hill, Wu-Tang Clan, Gorillaz and others. And interestingly enough, the project which attribute their name from a famous Frank Zappa quote “without music to decorate it, time is just a bunch of boring production headlines or dates by which bills must be paid” can trace their origins to when the Melendrez Brothers taught themselves how to play covers of the songs they heard so much growing up. As high schoolers, the Melendrez Brothers began writing their own music — and their folks drove them to school night gigs in which they played in bars they weren’t even be allowed in without their gear.


Wanting to master their instruments and to do their own thing, the Melendrez Brothers enrolled themselves at Silverlake Conservatory of Music, founded by Red Hot Chili Peppers‘ Flea, where they met and befriended fellow student Mumician and started writing music together. However, it took several years before the band took their music out of garage rehearsals and house parties and were able to concentrate on their music full-time, as the band’s youngest member, Reece Melendrez honored his promise to his folks to graduate from high school before making music a full-time effort.

With the release of their 2014 self-released debut EP Transit, the band quickly received a growing local profile and fanbase, including their first headlining set at the renowned Troubadour, thanks in part to a sound that draws equally from classic soul, indie rock, contemporary pop and neo soul — and in a way that manages to be uncompromisingly difficult to pigeonhole. The Los Angeles-based quartet’s latest single sonically speaking seems to owe an equal debt to Tame Impala‘s Currents, the Cascine Records roster, Neon Indian and 80s synth soul as the quartet pairs shimmering and undulating synths with a sinuous groove, an infectious hook and Miles Melendez’s sultry falsetto.  Lyrically, the song’s vulnerable narrator admits to be run around in circles by an unrequited and cruel love interest, with whom he feels desperately and inexplicably pulled towards — and as much as he wants to pull away, to move forward with his life, he feels trapped in a vicious and unfulfilling circle. Certainly, what’s remarkable to me about this band is the fact that their material manages to possess a maturity and self-assuredness that belies their youth.






Gabriel Garzón-Montano is a Brooklyn-born-and-based singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, whose aesthetic and influence reflect not just his French-Colombian heritage and the wild, multiculturalism that’s familiar to a native New Yorker, as his own music draws from Bach sonatas, cumbia, funk, soul, but also the influence of his mother, who was a member of the Philip Glass Ensemble in the 1990s. As Garzón-Montano explains in press notes his mother is the reason he loves music, and her rigorous classical instruction along with her painstaking attention to detail, which influenced his creative process.

Garzón-Montano’s long-awaited full-length effort Jardín comes on the heels of a three year period of intense touring, writing and recording. The 2014 release of his debut EP Bishouné: Alma del Hula caught the attention of Lenny Kravitz, who invited the Brooklyn-born-and-based multi-instrumentalist and singer/songwriter to open for him during that year’s European tour. After playing Wembley Arena, Garzón-Montano received a call notifying him that his song “6 8” would be sampled on Drake‘s If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late — and as a result, Garzón-Montano quickly found himself with a rapidly growing international profile, which resulted in tours opening for Glass Animals and his renowned Stones Throw Records labelmate Mayer Hawthorne.

Jardín was recorded with his mentor, analog recording guru Henry Hirsch at Waterfront Studios in Hudson, NY last year and during the recording sessions Garzón-Montano tracked drums, bass, guitar, piano and synths directly to 2-inch tape, and then added percussion, digital programming and several layers of his own vocals to create the album’s overall lush sound — a sound that reportedly nods at Stevie Wonder‘s Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants. As Garzón-Montano explains in press notes “I wanted to make music that would remind people how beautiful life is – how delicate their hearts are. A garden is full of life, and growth, and beauty. I named the album Jardín hoping for it to create a space for healing when people put it on. I’ve always wanted to make music that is healing, comforting, and funky.” But just underneath the surface may arguably be some of the Brooklyn-born-and-based singer/songwriter and multi-instruemtalist’s most politically charged material he’s written to date, as the songs on the album reportedly focus on the struggles and uncertainties of living in America today, the complications and joys of love, and so on.

Jardín’s first single “Crawl” reveals a sound that effortlessly meshes hip-hop, 90s neo-soul and contemporary pop as ambient synths, tweeter and woofer rattling beats, twinkling keys, a wobbling bass line and Garzón-Montano’s sultry vocals are wrapped around an infectious, swaggering and carefully crafted hook and slick production.



New Video: The Furious Funky and Punk Rock-Inspired Soul Sounds of Omaha’s High Up

Featuring sibling and founding duo Christine Fink (vocals) and renowned singer/songwriter Orenda Fink, arguably be known for her stint in Azure Ray and for a solo career, along with Greg Elasser, Josh Soto and Eric Ohlsson, the Omaha, NE-based punk/soul/funk collective High Up can trace its origins to when its frontwoman Christine Fink would perform at local karaoke bars across Muscle Shoals, AL. As the story goes the first time that Orenda Fink caught her sister sing at nearby Sheffield, AL’s Old Town Tavern, Orenda was blown away by how Christine brought the entire house down. Several years later, Christine moved to Omaha to be closer to her sister Orenda — and Orenda began to see that no matter where her sister performed, the crowd turned into putty in her hands — with people lining up to buy her drinks, shake her hand or make requests of their favorite soul songs.

However, after a while Christine began to feel depressed and aimless as her life became an increasingly dreary shuffle between uninspiring minimum wage jobs and the thrill of her weekend performances wore off. One night, the siblings had a conversation about the future– particularly Christine’s future — and Orenda insisted that her sister should try to pursue a career in music, as performing for people was what made her the happiest.

After several discussions the Fink Sisters decided to start their own band with the premise that sonically speaking the project would draw from a variety of influences including Janis Joplin, Sam Cooke and the Muscle Shoals sound, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, The Velvet Underground — and doing so in a way that would showcase Christine’s soulful pop belter vocals and Orenda’s carefully crafted songwriting. The Finks then recruited Elasser, Soto and Ohlsson to further flesh out the project’s sound. And to my ears at least, the band’s sound as you’ll hear on their latest single “Two Weeks” off their soon-to-be released self-titled EP manages to sound like Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” but filtered through furious Muscle Shoals-meets James Brown funk, and a bit of ska for good measure. Adding to the fury behind the song, the song’s narrator speaks of a specific situation that should feel familiar to anyone, who has slaved at a miserable job — the ecstatic joy of telling your employer “Fuck you! I quit!”

And although the narrator admits that being broke and not knowing when you’ll see money sucks, being reminded of your dignity and self respect is a powerful thing — and that going out there without a safety net and risking everything to achieve your dreams is an admirable thing. Interestingly, the recently released music video follows a protagonist, who quits a miserable job to pursue a music career but in her own way, following her own vision.