Throughout the course of last year, I wrote quite a bit about Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter Jonny Couch. Couch initially began his music career as a drummer, who played in a number of local punk bands before completely reinventing himself and his music career with 2016’s debut EP Animal Instinct, a soulful take on 80s synth pop that drew comparisons to the legendary Bryan Ferry while receiving praise from Louder Than War and High Times.
Last year saw the release of Couch’s Peter Mavrogeorgis-produced full-length debut Mystery Man, an effort that found the Brooklyn-based JOVM mainstay further establishing a sound that’s indebted to and influenced by power pop and New Wave. “My favorite bands are Cheap Trick and Buzzcocks,” Couch said in press notes. But he goes on to explain that his solo work is deeply influenced by Nick Lowe with elements of Duran Duran and The Psychedelic Furs.
Couch closes out 2020 with his latest single “Hideaway.” Released earlier this month, the single simultaneously marks the first bit of new, original material from the JOVM mainstay since the release of Mystery Man while continuing upon the synth-pop, power pop and New Wave-inspired sound that won him attention across the blogosphere. Featuring shimmering A Flock of Seagulls-like shimmering synths, twinkling keys, four-on-the-floor and the sort of anthemic hook that Phil Collins would love, “Hideaway” is a sweet love song centered around a classic pop trope: the desire to be in a sort of protective cocoon with your love, far from the madding crowd.
Alto is an emerging and mysterious British saxophonist and producer. His debut single “All Over You” is an upbeat and uplifting house music track, featuring a slick and shimmering production centered around twinkling keys, soulful vocals singing lyrics about longing and love paired with a catchy, pop-leaning alto saxophone hook. The end result is a track that manages to be radio friendly but with a club rocking thump.
With the release of last year’s debut EP Here Comes The Apex, the Rome-based jazz rock/jazz fusion trio The Apex — Francesco Carrreti (guitar, production). Francesco Ferilli (bass) and Danilo Ombres (drums) — quickly established a songwriting approach and sound inspired by Weather Report, Miles Davis, Robert Glasper, Squarepusher, Snarky Puppy and others.
While supporting their EP with live shows in and around Rome, the act spent the next year writing and working on the compositions that would eventually comprise their forthcoming full-length debut, Kick Me with arranger/producer Toni Armetta. The album’s latest single, the eponymously titled “The Apex” features guest spots from Javier Girotto (sax) and Banco del Mutuo Socorso’s Gianni Nocenzi. Interestingly enough, the expansive composition sonically — to my ears, at least — reminds me of a slick yet soulful synthesis of Nothing Like the Sun-era Sting, Return to Forever/the aforementioned Weather Report with a subtly prog bent.
Jim Casanova is a Paris-based experimental pop singer/songwriter, producer and mixing engineer. Casanova has been rather busy over the past year or so: he released his solo debut single “GTI” through London-based label Femme Culture. He has released a series of singles with Casanova Kidd, his collaboration with Raph Kidd — including “Guatemala,” which he recently remixed.
Casanova capped off a busy year with the release of his debut EP Canimorsus. The EP’s latest single “Le Vieux Monde,” feat. Serujío features lyrics and spoken word portions in Portuguese, French and English paired with a mid-tempo, hook-driven trap meets Caribbean production: shimmering synths, skittering beats and clang and clatter. Interestingly, the song is a slick balance of deliberate craft and inspired improvisation.
Sébastien Touraton is a French composer and pianist, who has begun to receive attention with his solo post-rock/post classical recording project heklAa. Earlier this year, Touraton released his latest album Pieces of You, Vol. 2: The Voices Work, an album of work centered around piano and choir.
“The Scent of Our Memories,” the brooding and cinematic, fourth single off Touraton’s latest heklAa album features twinkling and arpeggiated piano figures paired with a soaring and expressive chorus. Sonically, the track is centered around the sort of plaintive yearning that recalls Sigur Rōs.
Throughout the course of this site’s decade-plus history, I’ve spilled quite a bit of virtual ink covering the acclaimed New York-based Grammy Award-nominated, electro pop duo and longtime JOVM mainstays Sofi Tukker. Sofi Tukker — Sophie Hawley-Weld and Tucker Halpern — can trace their origins to when the duo met while studying at Brown University and since their formation, they’ve been widely celebrated for crafting an inclusive, global take on electro pop/dance pop centered around self-empower, unity and liberation.
The longtime JOVM mainstays cap off 2020 with a new single “Caröl Von Holz,” which finds them collaborating with HOLZBLÄSER, a.k.a. Holz. The collaboration has rather unique origins: HOLZBLÄSER initially emerged as a mysterious member of the Freak Fam, a devoted community that has emerged around the New York-based duo’s daily DJ set livestreams.
After some time, HOLZBLÄSER began sending the members of Sofi Tukker edits of their songs, featuring his dryly German accented vocals. Hawley-Weld and Halpern loved his work so much that they began to include his edits into their DJ sets — and it eventually grew into a collaboration between the trio. The end result is a swaggering, fierce as fuck, house music take on a beloved Christmas classic — “The Carol of the Bells,” with a tweeter and woofer rocking temp. House music all night long, even during Christmas.
“Never did we ever think we would do a Christmas song, let alone a Christmas song with a mysterious stranger over email. But when in 2020!” The members of Sofi Tukker share in press notes.
Stockholm-based doom metal/stoner rock act Spelljammer — currently, Niklas Olsson (vocals, bass), Robert Sorling (guitar) and Jonatan Remsbo (drums) have crafted a unique sound centered around a long-held penchant for massive, sludgy power chord riff-driven dirges with dramatic interludes.
2015’s Ancient of Days was the Stockholm-based act’s third release — and in many ways it was a rebirth of sorts: it was the band’s first recorded output as a trio and sonically the album represented a decided move towards a heavier, doom metal-leaning sound. Lyrically, the album was inspired by Swedish author and Nobel laureate Harry Martinson’s epic poem “Aniara,” in which a spaceship leaving an uninhabitable Earth is hurtled off course, sending its thousands of passengers on a steady course in the wrong direction — and there’s nothing they can do about it. The poem ends with the spaceship’s passengers dying as the ship continues on its journey through the vast nothingness of the solar system.
Spelljammer’s fourth release, Abyssal Trip is the first bit of new material from the acclaimed Swedish act in over five years, and the album reportedly finds the band bridging their earlier desert rock/stoner rock leanings with their more recent massive, slow-burning sludgy riffs. And while continuing Olsson’s long-held obsession with pondering the vastness of everything, Abyssal Trip derives its name from the perpetually dark, cold, oxygen-free zone at the bottom of the ocean. The album’s six songs manage to embody that bleak and dark realm with rumbling and oozing guitars and dramatic melodic interludes. But unlike its predecessors, the album finds the band crafting material that slowly unfurls, which gives the proceedings a hypnotic quality.
“The lyrical themes we address, like the ultimate doom of man, and the search and longing for new and better worlds, are still there,” Olsson says. “The concept of something undiscovered out there in vast emptiness is pretty much always present.”
Clocking in at a little under 7:30, “Lake,” Abyssal Trip’s expansive first single is centered around alternating sections of crushing, sludgy doom-laden dirge and menacing galloping thrash, a gorgeously shimmering, melodic break and a scorching guitar solo — and it’s all held together by mosh pit friendly hooks. “Lake” manages to find Spelljammer crafting a song that evokes the vastness and and power of a brewing storm over an enormous body of water — and the smallness and powerlessness of humanity.
Abyssal Trip is slated for a February 26, 2021 release through RidingE
Virak is a rapidly rising house DJ and producer. Since 2006, Virak has spun in some of the world’s most prestigious and important bars and clubs, frequently sharing bills with Sven Vath, Marco Carola, Richy Ahmed, and others:
As a producer, he has released a handful of singles through a number of different labels, including the attention-grabbing “Sugar,” which was released through Adesso Music.
Born Vito Lucente, the Italian-Belgian house music and producer and DJ, best known as Junior Jack has had a lengthy career that traces back to the 90s: Lucente’s earliest days features collaborations with Eric Imhauser crafting Eurodance and with synth pop/hip-hop act Benny B.
By 1995, Lucente abandoned Eurodance and began experimenting with house music under the moniker Mr. Jack, which would morph into Junior Jack. Lucente had quickly amassed enviable success with a handful of UK Top 40 singles that included “My Feeling,” “Thrill Me (Such A Thrill),” “E Samba,” “Dare Me (Stupidisco) and “Da Hype,” which featured guest vocals from The Cure‘s Robert Smith. Lucente’s Junior Jack debut Trust It was released to critical acclaim.
While developing a reputation for crafting smash hits, Lucente simultaneously developed a reputation as a remixer, reworking songs by Whitney Houston, Moby, Bob Sinclar and Utada among others.
Lucente’s fifth release on his Adesso Music label finds the Italian-Belgian house music producer and DJ reworking Virak’s “Sugar.” Centered around skittering beats and percussion, shimmering synth arpeggios, a motorik groove and soulful vocals and a euphoric hook, the Junior Jack rework of “Sugar” is a sultry, deep house take on the original — with a crowd pleasing accessibility.
Jean-Pierre “Jupiter” Bokondji is a Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo-born and-based bandleader, songwriter and percussionist. Bokondji’s grandmother was a traditional healer, who got introduced him to music by having him attend religious ceremonies and funerals, which he later would play percussion. His father was a Congolese diplomat, who received a post at the Congolese embassy in East Berlin — and as a result, the family relocated to Germany.
While in Germany Bokondji started his first band Der Neger, an act that meshed the Mongo music of his native Congo with the European rock of his German-born bandmates. When his father’s post ended, the family returned to Kinshasa in the 1980s. Upon his family’s return, Bokondji traveled around the country listening to the music of the country’s different tribes, eventually developing and honing his own style and sound. In 1984, he formed a band called Bongofolk — and in 1990, he formed his best known and longest running band Okwess International, which currently features Staff Benda Bilili’s Montana (drums), Yendé (bass), Eric (guitar), Richard (guitar) and Blaise (vocals).
In the years immediately after their formation, the members of Jupiter & Okwess toured across Africa, playing a crowd-pleasing mix of Afropop, traditional Congolese rhythms, funk and rock paired with strong sociopolitical messages that Bokondji has dubbed “bofenia rock.” But unfortunately, as they saw increased popularity, a bloody civil war broke out in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Some of the band’s members fled to Europe as a result of the war; however, Bokondji remained in Kinshasa. And as the war died down, the Congolese songwriter, bandleader and percussionist saw a resurgence of his popularity.
Bokondji was featured in the 2006 documentary filmJupiter’s Dance. The film brought him to the attention of British producers and musicians — and it lead to him joining the Africa Express tour and to major stops across the global festival circuit, including Glastonbury Festival and Way Out West. Adding to a rapidly growing international profile, the act released their long-awaited full-length debut, 2013’s Hotel Univers.
The Kinshasa-based act’s sophomore effort, 2018’s Kin Sonic finds the members of the band further expanding their sound outside of their homeland, incorporating elements of modern, contemporary music. As a result of the album’s popularity, Bokondji and company played 180 dates across the globe, including performing in the Paris production of Abderrahmane Sissako and Damon Albarn’s opera Le Vol du Boli.
Jupiter & Okwess’s latest EP Bolingo serves as follow-up to Kin Sonic while providing listeners a taste of what to expect for their forthcoming, third full-length album, slated for an April 2021 release. In the meantime, the Mario Caldato, Jr-recorded effort finds the Congolese act meshing a unique array of sounds across the African Diaspora from traditional African music, disco, jazz, New Orleans brass, samba and even soul while still remaining committed to sociopolitically conscious lyrics and a strong sense of purpose.
The EP’s latest single, EP title track “Bolingo” is a sonic departure from the bonefia rock they’ve established, with the band playing a shuffling and breezy samba featuring shimmering acoustic guitar, shuffling rhythms, soaring call and response vocals featuring Brazilian vocalist Rogê, and a gorgeous flute solo coda. Complete with infectious hooks, the song is centered around a simple yet very powerful message — love is our purpose. Material things don’t teach you anything about life; love does. And although, the Trump Administration’s miserable term is ending in a month, we all still feel like we’re in the end days — and we need to be reminded of the hope and power of love right now.
Daniell Fridell is a multi-instrumentalist and producer with a deep background in jazz, funk, soul and Balkan music. Throughout his lengthy professional career, Fridell has played and produced material for albums, commercials, TV and theater while residing in Denmark and Sweden. As a result of his work, the currently Sweden-based Fridell has toured across the European Union, Africa and the US.
Fridell’s latest project Cumbiasound draws from Colombian cumbia and Peruvian chic with elements of reggae, Balkan folk, Afrobeat, sou and jazz added to the mix. Cumbiasound can trace its origins back to 2010 when Fridell was first introduced to cumbia. “2010 I heard cumbia the first time while standing outside of a supermarket eating ice cream,” Fridell explains in press notes. “It was blazing hot and all of a sudden this music came out of the speakers. ‘What’s that?’ I asked and the rest is history. A true love affair.”
Earlier this year, Fridell released his Cumbiasound debut, Vol. 1: Instrumentales, a critically applauded effort that found the Swedish-based multi-instrumentalist and producer collaborating with Erik Axelsson (trombone, euphonium) that received attention across the blogosphere for being a blissful bit of escapism — and for being an oddity in our increasingly globalized world. South American cumbia convincingly done by Swedes and other Scandinavians? Uh, why not?
Fridell caps off a successful year with his sophomore Cumbiasound EP, Cosas del Universo. The EP, which sees Fridell collaborating with vocalists Boogie Castillo, Lis Flores Varela and José Pereelanga and frequent collaborator Erik Axellsson continues where its predecessor started off — but while digging deeper into several different styles of cumbia paired with 70s Palenque rhythms.
Interestingly, many of the collaborations on the five song EP can be traced back a couple of decades before: Fridell first met Chilean-born, Swedish-based emcee and vocalist Boogie Castillo in the mid-90s, when Castillo was a member of Helsingborg, Sweden-based hip-hop act DOSS. They managed to meet again in 2012 and they collaborated on a couple of early Cumbiasound tracks, including Fridell’s Cumbiasound debut “Calzones Largos,” which was released on the net label Caballito. Considering it a great time to get together to finish old ideas and create new music, Fridelll and Castillo wanted some additional flavor on the EP, so they recruited Lis Flores Varela to contribute her vocals.
Simultaneously, Fridell had been working with Congolese vocalist José Pereelanga on a number of different occasions and invited the Congolese vocalist to broaden the effort’s overall sound. Fridell and his collaborators are hoping that with Cosas del Universo, they have crafted material that can appeal to a broad audience — while adding a Scandinavian twist.
“Maz Paz,” Cosas del Universo’s first single is a breezy yet dance floor friendly anthem centered around shuffling, Latin polyrhythms, a looping and fluttering flute line, an Afrobeat-inspired guitar line, a sinuous bass line and an infectious hook. Boogie Castillo and Lis Flores Varela contribute impressive and inspired turns rhyming and singing to the mix. “Maz Paz” finds the act crafting an infectious and funky bit of cumbia with a globalist and genre-defying bent.