Arthur Kay is an Oslo, Norway-based singer/songwriter, composer and keyboardist, who’s been a prominent member of his hometown for the better part of a decade, as the frontman of the galactic jazz act Dr. Kay and His Interstellar Tone Scientists and touring with the likes of Norwegian rapper Ivan Ave.
Interestingly, Kay will be stepping further into the spotlight as a solo artist with the release of his forthcoming self-titled, solo debut. Slated for an October 11, 2019 release, the EP finds Kay drawing from several disparate influences, at points channeling Thundercat, James Blake, and Sun Ra Arkestra. However, the EP’s latest single “Holiday Pay” is a decidedly house music influenced track, centered around layers of glistening and twinkling synths, cowbell-led percussion and an infectious hook. And while being a shimmering, summery club banger, “Holiday Pay” is celebration of Norwegian employers being required by law to pay employees a certain percentage of the previous year’s wages for you to use towards summer vacation time. It’s a much-needed contemporary worker’s anthem — and I’m sure that many hardworking Americans wish they’d have that.
“It’s a great example of how socialist ideas work really well in the Norwegian society,” Kay explains in press notes. “Your employer is ordered by law to hold on to 12% of your income through the year, and pay it to you every June, just before the summer holidays start. Forced savings, basically, but without any banks or cash stuffed under mattresses.” Kay adds, “I consider ‘Holiday Pay’ a modern day workers’ anthem, a song anybody with a steady job in Norway can relate to. A song you can shove in your freelancing friends’ faces. They may travel the world on a regular Wednesday, and work from a laptop in a bar in Tokyo in the middle of the night But if you have a steady job, you get the holiday pay in June.”
Over the first half of this year, I’ve written a bit about the Queens-based singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Matt Longo, the creative mastermind behind Thin Lear, a solo recording project largely inspired by the likes of Todd Rundgren, Shuggie Otis and Kate Bush. Longo’s latest Thin Lear album Wooden Cave is slated for release later this year, and as you may recall, album singles “The Guesthouse,” and “Death in a Field” were deeply indebted to different styles of 70s rock.
Wooden Cave‘s third and latest single is the delicate and almost spectral “Your Family.” Centered around a folk-like arrangement of twinkling piano, strummed guitar and Longo’s plaintive falsetto, the song is imbued with an aching and inconsolable sense of loss. Much like its predecessors, the song reveals a heart-on-the-sleeve earnestness paired with a careful and deliberate craftsmanship that ends with a simple yet profound mantra of self-acceptance. “It’s an orchestral track that explores the aftermath of losing a partner, the ensuing self-imposed exile and the struggle to re-emerge whole again,” Longo says in press notes.
Centered around the friendship and collaboration between its found members — Steven van Betten (vocals, guitar), Gregory Uhlmann (guitar, vocals), Marcus Hogsta (bass) and The Americans’ and HAIM’s Tim Carr (drums), the Los Angeles-based art rock/post-punk act Fell Runner has developed a reputation for a unique take on guitar rock. Imbued with a literary sensibility, the band pairs vibrant vocal harmonies and expressive polyrhythms influenced from their studies with Ghanian drum master Alfred Ledzekpo with an urgent and uninhibited air that comes from the improvisational nature of much of their work.
The Los Angeles-based band’s recently released sophomore album Talking finds the band branching out a bit from their initial influences, while crafting material that thematically touch upon themes of frustrated communication, failed language and dealing with one’s own shortcomings. Tracked live to tape in Tim Carr’s bedroom, the album also finds the band attempting to accurately capture the spontaneity and improvisational nature of their live sets. Talking‘s latest single “Same Way” is centered around a breezy, tropical-influenced arrangement centered around fluttering electronics, propulsive polyrhythm, a sinuous bass line and angular bursts of guitar — and while bearing an uncanny resemblance to Omega La La-era Rubblebucket, the song possesses a breakneck, improvisational quality in which after repeated listens, you feel that you can’t quite predict where the musicians will go next. Honestly, it’s one of more unusual and exciting indie rock songs I’ve heard in several months.
With the release of the first two singles “Shambhala” and “Darts,” the up-and-coming Dublin, Ireland-based experimental rock/psych rock sextet Fat Pablo quickly emerged into their homeland’s busy music scene, essentially carving a new musical niche for themselves with a sound that some have described as recalling Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Grizzly Bear.
Fat Pablo’s latest single “Ganki” is a gauzy and woozy bit of psychedelia centered around a propulsive bass line, layers of shimmering guitars within an expansive song structure that finds the band carefully walking a tightrope between anthemic urgency and slow-burning pensiveness in a way that reminds me of JOVM mainstays Caveman. “Ganki took a good while for us to write. We went back to the drawing board a few times with this one as it was tough to merge the urgency at the beginning of the song with the mellowness of the latter half,” the band explains in press notes. “We think we’ve found a nice balance where you get the best of both worlds. We try not to act as a one trick pony, but rather an acre of unicorns.”
Over the past couple of years, I’ve written quite bit about the Los Angeles, CA-based JOVM mainstays Here Lies Man, and as you may recall, the act which was founded by Marcos Garcia and Geoff Man has received attention across the blogosphere for a sound that seamlessly bridges Fela Kuti Afrobeat grooves with classic Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin-era, power chord-fueled rock.
The Los Angeles-based JOVM mainstay’s sophomore album, last year’s You Will Know Nothing found the band refining and expanding their sound. “We’re very conscious of how the rhythms service the riffs. Tony Iommi’s innovation was to make the riff the organizing principle of a song,” the band’s Marcos Garcia explained in press notes. “We are talking the same approach but employing a different organizing principle: For Iommi, it was the blues, for us to comes directly from Africa.” The album also found the band focusing on writing catchier, much more anthemic songs with thematically conceptualized lyrics focusing on states of being and consciousness. Additionally, they aimed for slicker production values than its predecessor. “We wanted to go deeper with the sonic experience. Even though it sounds more hi-fi than the first record, it was important that it didn’t sound too polished,” Garcia added.
Sonically, the material was composed with music theory in mind — interludes between songs were written and recorded with them specifically being 2/3rds to 3/4ths of the tempo of the song proceeding it. “The reason it breaks down to 2 over 3 or 3 over 4 is that everything in the music rhythmically corresponds to a set of mathematical algorithms known as the clave. The clave is an ancient organizing rhythmic principle developed in Africa,” Here Lies Man’s Geoff Mann explains in press notes.
Slated for an August 16, 2019 release through RidingEasy Records, the forthcoming mini-album No Ground to Walk Upon finds the band continuing the aesthetic they’ve developed through their first two albums but conceptually the material is essentially the soundtrack to an imaginary movie with each song being the score for a key scene of that movie. The mini-album’s swaggering and strutting, first single “Clad in Silver” is centered around buzzing power chords, propulsive Afro-Caribbean rhythms and punchily delivered lyrics within an expansive, hallucinogenic song structure. As the band explains in press notes, the mini-album’s lead single “is the soundtrack snippet of a journey to the imaginary place called home, which can never be arrived at. With every step, the character imagines getting closer, bu it is a hallucination that fades in and out of perception.”
The renowned indie soul label Daptone Records was founded back in 2001 when its founders, Gabriel Roth and Neal Sugarman wanted to build a new home for their bands’ respective releases after Desco Records folded. Shortly, after label’s founding, Roth, Sugarman, Charles Bradley and Sharon Jones and a collection of artists found an unassuming, beaten up, two family 19th Century brownstone in Bushwick, Brooklyn that would eventually become the home to their new label and their famed House of Soul Studios. And through the release of 50 full-length albums and about 100 singles on 45RPM, the Brooklyn-based soul label built a globally recognized reputation for its discerning tastes and uncompromising standards of quality, realizing exceptionally well-crafted and thoughtful soul records, made by a close family of musicians, who share a common musical philosophy, vocabulary and integrity.
Since their formation, the label has sold over a million records from their roster of artists including JOVM mainstays Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, The Budos Band, Antibalas, Menahan Street Band, The Sugarman 3 and Naomi Shelton. Although many of the label’s artists have never quite achieved mainstream pop status, the label’s roster have managed to influence artists and labels around the world, including the likes of Amy Winehouse, who worked with The Dap Kings on her seminal album Back to Black, as well as Mark Ronson and Jay-Z, who have tapped the label’s sound for some of their biggest hits.
Daptone’s 100th 45RPM release is slated for a June 28, 2019 release. And interestingly, the A-side single “Hey Brother,” which is credited to the Daptone Family features a a historic and unprecedented collaboration of the label’s roster of incredible talent, including the late and beloved monarchs of the soul, Charles Bradley and Sharon Jones, as well as Saun & Starr, The Frightnrs, James Hunter, Naomi Shelton, Amayo and Lee Fields performing together for the first and only time on record. The single finds each of those artists singing a powerful and much-needed message of righteousness and brotherhood over a What’s Going On Marvin Gaye-era like groove played by members of The Dap Kings and Menahan Street Band.
Written and recorded by The Frightnrs, “Hey Brother (Do Unto Others)” initially appeared on their acclaimed full-length debut, Nothing More to Say. With the band’s Dan Klein tragic death from ALS just before the album’s release, the label and its artists felt it would be both a thank you to the label’s deeply devoted fans and a fitting tribute to Klein to re-imagine the track as a soulful, All-Star team-like collaboration. Sadly, in the aftermath of the deaths of Charles Bradley, Dan Klein, Cliff Driver and Sharon Jones, the single has become a meditative and loving tribute to all of the artists they’ve lost in a tremendously short period of time.
“Everybody seemed to really love the idea of being together on a record like that,” Gabriel Roth recently told Billboard. “Every one of those singers that I asked, after I explained what we were trying to do. they really jumped through hoops to try to make it happen.”
Back in 2017, I wrote a bit about the Brighton, UK/London, UK-based indie rock trio Johnny Kills. And as you may recall, the act which is comprised of sibilngs Tim (guitar, vocals) and Lewis Lloyd Kimmings (bass, keys, vocals), and their best friend and Cameron Gipp (guitar, vocals), quickly received attention across the blogosphere and elsewhere for a sound that draws from surf rock, garage rock and Brit pop with the release of two early demos “Take It Easy” and “Maybe Next Year,” and the release of official singles “Let’s Talk About Me,” “My Shirt Guy Is High” and “End Game” with drummer Fin S. Woolfson.
Now while it’s been a while since I’ve personally written about them, the band has been rather busy working on their forthcoming debut EP, slated or a Fall release through Killing Moon Records. The EP’s first official single is the off-kilter and anthemic “I Feel Like.” Centered around fuzzy and distorted, angular guitar lines, stomping drumming and propulsive, post punk-like bass line and a rousingly anthemic hook, the Blur-like track captures the panic and unease of early adulthood, with the recognition that growing responsibilities and obligations and an uneasy reality are just around the corner. And in some way, the song possesses a deeply cynical, fucked up air. In fact, as a result, the song may arguably be the darkest and most cynical of the up-and-coming British act’s growing catalog. “‘I Feel Like’ is a about a cynic begrudgingly accepting the fact that love is probably a pretty important part of life,” the band’s Tim Kimmings explains in press notes.
Comprised of singer/songwriter Inara George and seven time Grammy Award-winning producer and multi-instrumentalist Greg Kurstin, who has worked with the likes of Sia, Adele, Beck, Kendrick Lamar, Foo Fighters and Paul McCartney, the Los Angeles-based indie pop act the bird and the bee can trace their origins to when they met while working on George’s 2005 solo debut All Rise. Bonding over a mutual love of 80s pop and rock, the duo decided to continue to work together in a jazz-influenced electro pop project.
The Los Angeles indie pop duo’s debut EP Again and Again and Again and Again was released in late 2006. They quickly followed that up with their self-titled full-length debut in early 2007 — and with their earliest releases George and Kurstin quickly developed a reputation for bringing a breezy elegance to their work, which finds them putting their own idiosyncratic twist on time-bending indie pop.
Although serving as the long-awaited follow up to 2015’s Recreational Love, the bird and the bee’s fifth album, Interpreting the Masters, Vol. 2: A Tribute to Van Halen actually closely follows 2010’s critically applauded Interpreting the Masters, Vol. 1: A Tribute to Hall & Oates. And while Van Halen‘s most anthemic and beloved work may initially seem like an unlikely vessel for the Los Angeles-based duo’s sound and approach, George and Kurstin are both lifelong fans of David Lee Roth-era Van Halen. As the story goes back in 2007, George caught her first-ever Van Halen show, during the first tour to feature David Lee Roth as the band’s frontman since 1985. George was so charmed by Roth’s presence, that after that show, she approached Kurstin about writing a song for Roth. The end result was the swooning serenade “Diamond Dave,” which appeared on their 2008 sophomore album Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future. “We asked him to be in the video, but instead he signed a picture and gave me the yellow top hat he’d worn at the show I saw, which I thought was very sweet,” George says in press notes. “When we were trying to figure out who to cover for the second volume of Interpreting the Masters, we were both a little bit like, ‘Oh my god, can we really do it?’ But then we just went for it.”
Slated for an August 2, 2019 release through No Expectations/Release Me Records, the duo’s fifth album features an impressive backing band of guest musicians including Justin Meldal Johnsen (bass), who has worked with Beck and Nine Inch Nails; Joey Waronker (drums), who has worked with R.E.M and Elliott Smith; and Omar Hakim (drums), who has worked with the David Bowie and Miles Davis assisting the duo in making familiar David Lee Roth-era Van Halen anthems completely their own, imbuing even the most over-the-top tracks with a slinky intimacy.
Interestingly, for Kurstin, an accomplished jazz pianist, who once studied with Jaki Byard, a pianist that once played in Charles Mingus‘ band, one of the greatest challenges he had translating Eddie Van Halen’s virtuoso guitar work into piano arrangements that kept some of the spirit and vibe of the original. “I know there’s a jazz influence with the Van Halen brothers, so I tried to channel some of the things that I felt might’ve influenced Eddie,” Kurstin notes. “In a way ‘Eruption’ is almost like a piece of classical music, so I mostly treated it that way as I interpreted it for piano,” he adds, referring to the iconic instrumental guitar solo from Van Halen’s self-titled debut.
While creating arrangements around Eddie Van Halen’s guitar work will reveal the duo’s ingenuity and playfulness as interpreters and arrangers paired with a deeply nuanced reading of the material, which is influenced by their deep and profound emotional connection to the band.“I remember being 10-years-old and seeing their videos and feeling both excited and totally terrified—I responded to them in this very visceral way,” George says in press notes. Kurstin, who also is a lifelong fan, actually got a chance to work with Eddie Van Halen in the early 80s when the Grammy Award-winning producer and multi-instrumentalist was a 12 year-old member of Dweezil Zappa’s band. “I got to hang out with him in the studio and go backstage when Van Halen played The Forum, which was a really big moment for my younger self,” Kurstin recalls.
Interpreting the Masters, Vol. 2: A Tribute to Van Halen‘s first single is the duo’s “Panama,” which finds the them turning the beloved, power chord-based arena rock anthem into a sultry club banger, centered around shimmering and arpeggiated synths, bright blasts of twinkling piano and cowbell, a wobbling Bootsy Collins-like bass line and George’s sensual vocal delivery. The album’s second single “Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love” is a slinky New Wave-like take on the original, centered around an angular and propulsive bass line, atmospheric electronics, shimmering and arpeggiated synths and while bearing an uncanny resemblance to New Order and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the track is imbued with a feverish quality.
While much of Van Halen’s material, whether it was David Lee Roth-era or Sammy Hagar-era is seemingly familiar to the point of well-worn, the first two singles off Interpreting the Masters, Vol. 2: A Tribute to Van Halen finds the duo crafting a loving and thoughtful take on beloved material. And they manage to do so in a way that retains familiar elements but within a playful, post-modern, decidedly feminist fashion.
The bird and the bee will be embarking on a 15 date North American tour throughout the summer, and the tour will include an August 17, 2019 stop at Elsewhere. Check out the rest of the tour dates below.