Category: singer/songwriters

Raymond James Mason is a Long Island, NY-born, Brooklyn-born trombonist and singer/songwriter. As the story goes, Mason picked up the trombone at a very young age, and as a teenager, he studied classical performance and jazz studies at my alma mater NYU, where he studied with Brian Lynch, Lenny Pickett, Alan Ferber and Elliot Mason. Upon graduating, Mason quickly became an in-demand musician, playing across a wide variety of genres; but he’s best known for being a member of renowned local Afrobeat act Antibalas, which eventually led to him becoming a member of the Daptone Records/Dunham Records in-house band, playing with the likes of Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Charles Bradley and the Menahan Street Band, Lee Fields and the The Expressions and many others. Additionally, Mason has performed and or recorded with the likes of Alicia Keys, David Byrne, Randy Newman, Erykah Badu, The Roots, Arcade Fire, Ed Sheeran, Janelle Monae, Lukas Graham, Nile Rodgers, Tame Impala, Maren Morris, Earth Wind and Fire, Mark Ronson and and more. Unsurprisingly, he very busy Mason learned from these artists while honing his own compositional and vocal skills, patiently waiting for his moment to step out in the spotlight.

Back in October 2016, Mason reached out to Daptone Records house band member, longtime friend and Dala Records founder Billy Aukstik to set up at a casual recording session. At the time, Aukstik was recording out of an old East Village brownstone basement, equipped with only a Tascam 388 8-track tape recorder and a few old ribbon microphones. Aukstik and Mason assembled an all-star squad of local soul musicians, including Alex Chakour, who has played with Charles Bradley and Sharon Jones; Freddy DeBoe, who has played with Charles Bradley and Sharon Jones; Joe Harrison, who has played with Nick Hakim and Charles Bradley; and Morgan Price, who has played with Antibalas to record a couple of Mason’s compositions — two of which wound up becoming the A and B sides of Mason’s solo debut, “Back When”/”No Clue.”

A side single “Back When” is a strutting and swaggering bit of a soul pop centered around an arrangement of Arp Omni bass synth, fuzzy guitar lines and a steady backbeat — and while thematically the song is a universal tale of lost opportunity and what could have beens, it’s a decidedly contemporary take on the Dala Records sound, as it nods at contemporary soul, hip-hop and psych pop in a way that brings Tame Impala, Nick Hakim and others to mind. “No Clue,” the B side single is centered around fuzzy power chords and a garage rock vibe, while thematically the song focuses on a dysfunctional and confusing relationship. Both singles reveal an an up-and-coming artist, who’s actively and earnestly pushing the sonic boundaries of soul.

 

 

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New Video: Acclaimed Singer/Songwriter Gerald Toto Releases a Cinematic and Symbolic Visual for “Away Alive”

Last year, I wrote about the acclaimed trio of Toto Bona Lokua, comprised of French-Antillean singer/songwriter Gerald Toto, Cameroonian jazz musician Richard Bona and Congolese singer/songwriter Lokua Kanza, and as you might recall, with the release of  2004’s, critically applauded sophomore effort Totobonalokua, the pan-African act received attention across world music circles for a sound and aesthetic that effortlessly blended several different traditions, cultures and languages; in fact, the album was a commercial success in France, despite very little promotion and no touring.

Since the release of Totobonalokua, the members of the trio have pursued a series of diverse solo projects, which kept them incredibly busy. Of course, because of the success of their sophomore album, the individual members of the trio would frequently be asked by fans and the press if they would be reuniting to write and record new material — or if they had any plans to tentatively do so. Although the individual member of the trio’s paths seldom crossed, they managed to stay in touch, and as the story goes Gerald Toto suggested that it might be time to reconvene the trio and try to write new material. Bona and Kanza quickly agreed and while it took some time to synchronize the schedules of three extremely prolific and busy artists, they found time to write and record their third full-length album Bondeko, which was released earlier this year through French record label Nø Førmat. (By the way, the album’s title is derived from the Lingala word for  “friendship” or “fraternity.”)

This year has been a very busy one for Gerald Toto, as he followed the release of Toto Bona Lokua’s third album with his latest solo album Sway, and from the album’s first single “Away Alive,” Toto will further cement his reputation for crafting infectious and breezy pop that’s mischievously difficult to categorize. In fact, “Away Alive” is centered around a languid and tropical groove, featuring gently strummed guitar, brief bursts of arpeggiated synths and an infectious hook paired with Toto’s yearning falsetto. Sonically the song hints at Tropicalia, Bossa nova, 70s soul, Afro pop, French pop and folk while not being one thing in particular; but perhaps more important, the song encouragers the listener to slow down and pay close attention to gentle sway of life’s rhythms every now and then. 

Produced by Paris-baed company La Sucrerie and directed by R&D, the recently released — and incredibly cinematic — video follows Toto as he wanders about the desert. Speaking about the video, Toto says “The desert is an allegorical dream. An inner space where one seems initially lost, without reference or bearings, before finding, within, an anchor point from which to walk. With a heart open to all encounters.”

New Video: Gothic Tropic Releases Sci Fi Inspired Visuals for Swooning “Your Soul”

Los Angeles, CA-born and-based singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Cecila Della Peruti is the creative mastermind behind the acclaimed indie rock project Gothic Tropic, and as you may recall, Peruti has also spent stints as member of the touring bands for Beck, Charli XCX, Børns, Poppy and others. With the release of last year’s full-length debut Fast or Feast, Peruti received attention for crafting hook-driven, New Wave-inspired tracks like  “Stronger,” and the lush and atmospheric “How Life Goes” which explored themes of empowerment, strength in vulnerability, moving forward from the breakup of romantic relationships and the difficulties of getting older and growing up. 

Interestingly, “Your Soul,” Fast or Feast’s fourth single manages to further cement Peruti’s growing reputation for crafting a hook driven songs, centered by punchy guitar chords, swirling synths and a propulsive rhythm section within an urgent and swooning song detailing a relationship that’s inching towards an awkward yet inevitable end that the song’s narrator doesn’t want to see happen. 

Directed and written by Peruti, the gorgeously cinematic and trippy visuals for “Your Soul” is set set during the impending death of the sun, just as it’s about to envelope the entire planet — and it follows a young boy, who discovers that his purpose is to be one of the “Children of the Sun,” the last of a supernatural lineage of gifted children, whose presence sedates morals for a more blissful end. As Peruti explains in press notes, “I’m a sci-fi/fantasy fanatic, so as I was putting this elaborate idea together knowing full well my budget and logistics, it was challenging to rely completely on Matisse and practical effects and circumstances to get the concept across. Everyone who worked on the video are my friends and collaborators, and I’m so lucky to have found young Matisse and his family. This VIP alien-angel character needed to be reverent without pride or ego, which I think Matisse completely owned. This was my first set, and I’m excited to keep going writing and directing, it’s been a fixation for a while.”
After working in the studio with Daniele Luppi, who has worked with Danger Mouse, Parquet Courts and Red Hot Chili Peppers; Alex Goose, who has worked with Weezer; and Carlos de la Garza, who has worked with Cherry Glazerr, Paramore and The Naked and the Famous, Peruti is expecting to release new material sometime next year. We’ll be on the lookout for it. 

New Audio: Weeknight’s Anthemic Take on Post-Punk

Initially formed as a duo featuring founding members, longtime partners an co-frontpeople Andy Simmons and Holly MacGibbon, the Brooklyn-based dark pop/post-punk act Weeknight received attention with the release of 2014’s full-length debut Post Everything.  And as the story goes, after playing hundreds of shows to support Post Everything including touring with Phantogram, Bear in Heaven, Frankie Rose, Moonface, School of Seven Bells, and Crystal Stilts, the duo returned home and began to write the material that wound up eventually comprising their forthcoming sophomore album Dead Beat Creep, which is slated for a February 1, 2019 release through Dead Stare Records. 
Written at the duo’s Bushwick home studio and recorded during the bleak winter of 2017 at House Under Magic Studios with co-producer and engineer Danny Taylor, the recording sessions for the album found the band expanding into a quartet with the addition of Russell Hymowitz (bass) and Jasper Berg (drums). And while inspired by the disillusionment of the 2016 election and profound loss and grief, the album’s material finds the band imposing limitations as they were writing and recording, as the band’s Andy Simmons explains in press notes: “We would only use analog gear and we would only write parts that we would be able to play live.” 

Interestingly, the album’s latest single “Holes In My Head” manages to bring classic 4AD post-punk to mind as the track is centered around a moody arrangement featuring shimmering and arpeggiated synths, an angular and propulsive bass line, delay pedal effected guitars, dramatic drumming and a rousingly anthemic hook –with a clean, studio polish. However, the song was written for Holly MacGibbons’ father, who died last year after a decade struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. It was written from his perspective, and says what I imagined he would have wanted to say to me if he was able to,” the band’s Holly MacGibbons explains in press notes. 

 

Brad Byrd is a Los Angeles-based indie rock/indie folk singer/songwriter, who after years of suffering through alcohol addiction and depression, started his music career in earnest in 2003 and since then he’s received attention both locally and nationally with teh release of his first two full-length albums — 2005’s The Ever Changing Picture and 2011’s Mental Photograph. Building upon a growing profile, Byrd released a string of singles collaborating with Warren Huart, and he had his music appear in TV shows including  The New Girl, Happy Endings, American Housewife, Ben & Kate, and Keeping Up with the KardashiansAdditionally, he’s shared stages with Bobby Long, Mike Doughty, Son Volt‘s Jay Farrar, Jurassic 5 and others. Now, if you’ve been frequenting this site for some time, you may recall that I wrote about “1000 Pink Balloons” off Byrd’s third, full-length album Highest Mountain, a soulful and introspective that focuses on self-discovery and the strength of letting go centered around a catchy hook that sort of recalled The Church.

Interestingly, the first bit of new material from Byrd since the release of Highest Mountain is a slow-burning, atmospheric take on one of my favorite Cure songs “Lovesong” that manages to retain the song’s aching longing while giving it a subtle country vibe.

 

 

Live Footage: Charlotte Lawrence Performs “Sleep Talking” on Vevo DSCVR

Charlotte Lawrence is an up-and-coming, 18 year-old, Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter and model who quickly rose to national prominence with the release of her debut single last year, which amassed over 16 million streams. Building upon a rapidly growing profile, Lawrence released her debut EP Young which she followed up with a tour with Lauv, viral hit collaborations with Nina Nesbitt and Sasha Sloan.

Now, as you may recall Vevo DSCVR is Vevo’s emerging artist platform that curates the best up-and-coming artists — acts that the site believes will have a significant impact on the future — to perform their best material. Vevo has a lengthy history of promoting emerging artists and helping them break through to new and wider audiences; in fact, past alumni of the Vevo DSCVR series has included Jack Garratt,James Bay, Years & Years, Wolf Alice, Sam Smith, Jorja Smith, Maggie Rogers, Alessia Cara and Ella Eyre among others. This past year has seen Vevo DSCVR inviting up-and-coming pop artists Billie Eilish, Bülow and Donna Missal — and continuing with a big year, they recently invited Charlotte Lawrence, who performed “Sleep Talking,” a mid-tempo pop song in which its narrator discovers that her lover has been messing around on her — by talking in his sleep. At the core of the song is a bitter sense of heartache and betrayal, wrapped around a slick and infectious hook. 

New Video: Perth Australia’s Methyl Ethel Releases Their Most Pop-Leaning and Accessible Track to Date

Jake Webb is a Perth, Australia-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer, best known for his acclaimed solo recording project Methyl Ethel, which features backing touring bandmembers Thom Stewart, Chris Wright, Lyndon Blue and Jacob Diamond.  Over the past few years Webb has seen tremendous commercial and critical success. “Ubu,” became an ARIA Accredited Gold single earlier this year, after landing at #4 on Triple J’s 2017 Hottest 100. They’ve amassed over 25 million Spotify streams — and all of their tour dates across Australia and the UK have been sold out since 2016. Although Webb and company have achieved such success in a relatively short period of time, the project began as a personal challenge as Webb explains in press notes.  “I wanted to see if I could write, record and release some music before the band I was in at the time finished doing the same. I did and subsequently withdrew from some close friends. Relationships were severed. I severed some even closer ones. This was all played out in such a public away, as it invariably does, so I withdrew more. My first album Oh Inhuman Spectacle became the ‘why me?/fuck you/sorry’ album that I wrote as a confused coping mechanism. It helped and I enjoyed it. I continued the introspective journaling with the follow-up, Everything is Forgotten. For me, that album said ‘who cares? all your emotions are irrational and meaningless anyway.’ 

“This year, I found myself in the same city, alone in a room tasked with writing an album to be heard, not as an outlet for personal grievances. I decided to find closure with Triage. The question this time around is ‘what is important? What requires attention?’ I think It’s about living with secrets. Secrets cause the problems. They call them white lies, little things used to manipulate people for the greater good. It’s a triage of truths to maintain an artifice. A poem by T.S Elliot that I referenced on the first EP I recorded says it best:

“To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.”

Everyone is older, people have moved on. I receive text messages from old friends looking to reconnect. I have a masochistic social complex in so far as I enjoy the company of others, but self-imposed solitude and exile are exciting and useful to me. Its like method acting, which isn’t too far removed from the emotional memory I see people drawing upon every day. I challenge the idea of friendship and trust. I think because I am untrustworthy. At least I’m honest about that.” As a result, Webb’s forthcoming, third full-length album Triage which is slated for a February 15, 2019 release through 4AD Records — and the album, which comes after his 30th birthday, is reportedly a much more reflective album, thematically focusing on time and its passing, of getting older and only sometimes becoming more mature, of the lies we have to keep to keep on getting by and so on.

“Real Tight,” Triage’s latest single is a bit of a departure from Webb’s previously released work as it’s arguably the most pop-leaning and the most emotionally-direct he’s ever written, thanks to swelling and soaring hooks, shimmering and arpeggiated synths, chiming reverb-heavy guitars and a propulsive groove and while nodding at 80s pop like Prince and others, the song’s narrator finds himself making an urgent and desperate plea to someone he cherishes; but emotionally, the song is jumble of guilt, devotion, fear and uncertainty.

Directed by Matt Sav, the recently released video riffs a bit off the video for Janet Jackson’s “The Pleasure Principle,” as a boom box carrying Webb walks into an empty studio to sing and dance along to the music he decides to play but it’s interspersed with psychedelic visuals that emphasize the song’s ambivalence and plaintive need.

Splitting their time between Stockholm, Sweden and Olso, Norway, the acclaimed dream pop trio Postiljonen, featuring Norwegian-born Mia Brox Bøe and Swedish-born Daniel Sjörs and Joel Nostrum Holm quickly received national and international with the release of 2013’s full-length debut Skyer; in fact, the album was nominated for Best Pop album in the prestigious Swedish Award P3 Guld — and as a result, of the growing buzz surrounding the band, they wound up going on several tours across Sweden, the European Union, Asia and the US with stops on the festival circuit. 2016’s sophomore album Reverie, which was influneced by California winds, Chinese gardens, late Lost in Translation-like nights in Tokyo and Swedish forests received raputous praise with Cocteau Twins‘ and Bella Union Records‘ label head Simon Raymonde nominating “The Open Road” as one of the best songs of that year.

“Chasing Stars,” is the first bit of new material from the acclimed Scandinavian trio — and it’s the first taste from their highly-anticipated third, full-length album, which is currently slated for release sometime next year through Hybris Records. Much like their preceeding efforts, the members of Postilijonen holed themselves in an isolated cabin in the remote Swedish woods. As the members of the band explain in press notes, “When making music for Postiljonen, it has always just been us three locked away in a cabin in the middle of nowhere, really. The whole world of Postiljonen is so personal to us and it is a world that we created between the three of us.” The new single will further cement the Scandinavian trio’s growing reptuation for crafting a swooning and achingly nostalgic take on dream pop while expanding upon the sound that has won them national and international attention. Centered around a breezy yet cinematic, 80s-inspired production featuring arpeggiated and shimmering synths, a motorik-like groove, a jazzy but power chord-based guitar solo, soaring hooks and Brox Bøe’s soaring vocals, the song sonically manages to recall John Parr‘s “St. Elmo’s Fire,” as well as Yumi Zouma‘s and St. Lucia’s euphoric synth pop, complete with a lush studio sheen.

But underneath the studio sheen, the song is a buoyant and feverish day dream. As the band explains in press notes, ‘Chasing Stars’ is about the longing for that someone who you used to be very close to. While the lyrics might come across very heartbreaking – there’s still a sense of underlying hope that someday somewhere you’ll be together again, chasing stars. It’s nostalgic as always. It’s the chasing that is the magic and essence, forget about the reaching. We actually started writing this song three years ago but it couldn’t come at a better time for us.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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New Video: JOVM Mainstays Holy Wars Release a Socially Conscious, Horror Film Inspired Visual for “Born Dark”

Last year, I had written quite a bit about Holy Wars, led by Connecticut-born, Los Angeles, CA-based singer/songwriter Kat Leon, and as you may recall, Leon initially developed a reputation for writing material that focused largely on her obsessions with death and the occult as one-half the of the Los Angeles-based electro pop act Sad Robot. Leon’s critically applauded Holy Wars debut Mother Father was influenced by some of the darkest days of her life — when she was reeling from the sudden losses of her mother and father, who both died within months of each other. Building upon the attention she received here and elsewhere with Mother Father, Leon’s latest Holy Wars single “Born Dark” was produced by AFI’s Hunter Burgan, and while arguably being among the slickest produced singles she’s released, the arena rock friendly, hook-driven track is centered by propulsive tribal drumming, buzzing power chords and Leon’s pop star-like powerhouse vocals — and sonically the song manages to nod at Nine Inch Nails, Garbage and Siouxsie and the Banshees in a self-assured and ambitious fashion.

The track reportedly finds Leon going back to her roots — literally — as she explores the very moment of her birth, with the possibility that she may have been a bit of a bad seed, if not devilish, complete with a “don’t give a single fuck” swagger. Interestingly, the recently released video, directed by Kat Leon and Mel Hummel stars Leon as a murderous femme fatale/Barbie doll-type, pointing at the unrealistic representations of what women are supposed to be, act and look.

As Leon explains in press notes, “Growing up, little girls were given fashion dolls to play with as an expectation of what ‘women’ were supposed to look like and act like. It was an unrealistic representation of what we actually are and early on there were no variety to these dolls. There were no gothic or ‘darker’ dolls for years, or gender bending or anything other than what that skinny, blonde bubbly doll represented… the subtle brainwashing of our society. ‘Born Dark’ starts with the original pageant beauty queen doll but this doll carries a dark secret… she is a seductive killer with a thirst for blood. It all starts where the crown is given to another doll and our Born Dark Beauty grabs her first kill for the crown. The journey continues with each character introduced furthering the story of just how dark this doll is. Playing on the dark nature of the song, we decided to go with an overall moody, edgy and vintage vibe for the video starting with the French foreign film introduction to the song. The music video blends the reality between doll vs. human with foreshadowing and FX where the audience is left to question what is real and who is the true ‘character’ in this thriller. The murders are shown in a way where you aren’t sure of just who exactly the true killer is. Is the doll a figment of Kat’s imagination or the other way around?”