Initially formed in 2007, as the solo recording project of Melbourne, Australia-based DJ and producer Benjamin Plant, Miami Horror eventually expanded into a full-fledged band with the addition Josh Moriarty (vocals, guitar), Daniel Whitechurch (bass, keys, guitar) and Kosta Theodosis (drums) — and with the release of 2008’s Bravado EP, 2010’s full-length debut Illumination and 2015’s All Possible Futures, the band established a sound that drew from Prince, New Order, Todd Rundgren and Pink Floyd, combined with contemporary electronic production techniques, including house and electro pop. Interestingly, the act’s most recent recorded output, 2017’s The Shapes EP was a decided change in sonic direction with the band’s sound being indebted to 80s pop and New Wave — in particular, Talking Heads, Blondie and the like.
Two years have passed since the acclaimed Australian indie electro pop act has released material and the act’s latest single, “Restless” finds the project returning to its collaborative and production-based roots. Plant champions this return to his roots as Miami Horror’s new incarnation. “The Shapes was always meant to be a one-off conceptual project, so once that was complete I began moving back towards the original creative process that Miami Horror started with; a simpler approach to production and a continued emphasize on outside vocalists.” Plant says. “For me, music has always been about completing a vision and trying to make something stand out. Allowing outside collaboration really opens me up to complete that vision without being restricted to my own skill set.”
Interestingly, “Restless” is a breezy and summery track centered around shimmering synths, Nile Rodgers-like funk guitar, hi-hat led drumming and a plaintive and sultry vocal contribution from Kevin Lavitt. And while retaining the slick, dance floor-friendly electronic production that has won Plant international acclaim, the song sounds indebted to 80s Quiet Storm R&B — in particular Cherelle’s “Saturday Love,” and Mtume’s “Juicy Love” immediately come to my mind, as the song has a similar sophisticated sexiness to it. “I love putting two people in a room that wouldn’t normally work together and seeing what comes of it,” Plant says of his collaboration with Lavitt.
Directed by Keenan Wetzel, the recently released sepia-toned video for “Restless” features an assortment of quirky characters coming together for tennis training and some meet-cute lust — before ending with a menacing and suggestive air. “When I heard ‘Restless’ I was struck with a nostalgic feeling of starting out a relationship; those first feelings of anxiety coupled with the uncertainty whether or not the attraction is mutual,” Keenan Wetzel says of his video treatment. “I wanted to take these familiar feelings and add Miami Horror’s style to create a bright but strange world for these young people to find each other. I have always been interested in 1970’s culture and how people turned to communities, often ritual-based, to find a sense of belonging. So the idea for the ‘Restless’ music video was to put a pair of young people into a tennis playing community where they were looking for meaning. Only, instead of finding purpose in this community, they find each other, which leads to both love and realization that the nature of the community was not going to give them any more sense of belonging.”
Over the past couple of months, I’ve written a bit about the acclaimed indie band Imperial Teen. Now, as you may recall, the act which is comprised of Roddy Bottum (guitar, vocals), a former member of Faith No More; Will Schwartz (guitar, vocals), who splits his time with hey willpower; Lynn Perko Truell, (drums, backing vocals), a former member of Sister Double Happiness, The Dicks and The Wrecks; and Jone Stebbins, a former member of The Wrecks originally formed in San Francisco in the mid 90s.
Their Steve McDonald-produced debut effort, 1996’s Seasick was released to praise from Spin Magazine, who went on to list it as their fourth best album of that year and from the New York Times. Building upon a growing profile, the band’s sophomore album, 1998’s What Is Not to Love found the band ambitiously expanding upon their sound and approach with the album’s material routinely clocking over six minutes — and album single “Yoo Hoo” appeared on the Jawbreaker soundtrack. The accompanying video featured the movie’s star Rose McGowan appearing alongside the band, and it was included as as special feature on the DVD. Additionally, the song was heard in the beginning of episodes of episodes of Numb3rs and Daria.
Imperial Teen eventually left Universal Records and signed with Merge Records, who released their third album, 2002’s Steve McDonald and Anna Waronker co-produced effort, On. The album’s lead single “Ivanka” received airplay — and they spent a portion of the year touring with The Breeders. Interestingly, that tour include a stop at famed Hoboken club Maxwell’s, which was recorded and released a few months later as Live at Maxwell’s. Shortly after, the band’s Will Schwartz teamed up with Tomo Yasuda for Schwartz’s dance music side project hey willpower, which released their self-titled debut EP in 2005. And by 2007, the members of Imperial Teen returned with two shows at that year’s SXSW and their fourth album, The Hair the TV the Baby and the Band, which landed at #38 on Rolling Stone‘s Best Albums list that year.
Since the release of the band’s fifth album, 2012’s Feel the Sound, the members of the band have relocated to different parts of the country, with members in New York, Denver, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Understandably, the geographical locations and distances can make it extremely difficult to write and record music on a regular basis — but the members of the acclaimed indie rock act reconvened to write and record their forthcoming, sixth album Now We Are Timeless.
Slated for a July 12, 2019 release through their longtime label home, Merge Records, the band’s sixth album will further cement their long-held reputation for crafting deeply personal material that offered a view into the bandmember’s individual lives, complete with victories, losses, aspirations, where they were emotionally and personally — while thematically, the material touches upon time, movement, averting and succumbing to crisis, dealing with and accepting loss and pain.
The album’s first single “We Do What We Do Best” was a swaggering, arena rock friendly track centered around an enormous hook and equally enormous power chords, buzzing synths, a propulsive rhythm section, a lysergic guitar solo paired with stream-of-consciousness lyrics delivered with a mischievous and ironic aplomb. The album’s second single “Walkaway” was more like 120 Minutes alt rock-inspired dream pop, centered around a soaring hook and plaintive vocals and personal, lived-in experience — the sensation of feeling simultaneously connected and disconnected from those you love. Interestingly, “Don’t Want to Let You Go” is a murky yet anthemic pop song featuring propulsive drum programming, shimmering and arpeggiated synths, explosive bursts of fuzzy power chords and an enormous, shout-along worthy hook– and while bearing a resemblance to early Garbage, the track is imbued with a sense of inconsolable loss — and its initial denial, then begrudging acceptance.
Earlier this year, I wrote about the French-Congolese electro pop act TSHEGUE, and as you may recall the act — Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo-born, Paris-based frontwoman Faty Fy Savanet and bandmate, Cuban-French producer Nicolas ‘Dakou’ Dacunha — derives its name from a childhood nickname given to Savanet, a Congolese slang term for the boys who gather on Kinshasha’s streets, and the act can trace its origins to when Savanet was introduced to Dacunha.
Their debut EP, 2017’s Survivor thematically explored the challenges faced by the African Diaspora paired with Dacunha’s forward-thinking, hypnotic, club-banging productions which features elements of Afropunk, garage rock and electro-clash. Survivor EP was championed by the likes of Mura Masa and Noisey, which led to a growing international profile. And adding to a growing profile, the video for “Munapoto,” which was shot on the Ivory Coast received a UK Music Video Award nomination alongside videos for tUnE-YaRdS and Chaka Khan.
The Telema EP, the much-anticipated follow-up to Survivor EP was released earlier this month, and from EP single “The Wheel,” the duo further cemented their growing reputation or crafting swaggering, forward-thinking, genre snd style-blurring bangers. Centered around a percussive production featuring ricocheting industrial clang and clatter, stuttering tweeter and woofer rocking beats, explosive blasts of bass synth and Savanet’s commanding flow, the song — to my ears, at least — bore a resemblance to JOVM mainstays Kokoko! but with a punk rock flair.
Telema EP’s second attention single “M’Benga Bila” features a hypnotic, genre-blurring production that’s one part trap, one part grime, one part electroclash, one part club anthem centered around a hypnotic production featuring looped shimmering guitar, thumping tweeter and woofer rocking beats, brief blasts of bluesy electric guitar, and wobbling and arpeggiated synths. Savanet’s self-assured, commanding flow paired with a call-and-response vocal section during the song’s rousing hook imbue the song with the urgency of our sociopolitical moment as it’s both a call to action and an expression of weary frustration and bitter rage. Interestingly, the track’s title translates from Savanet’s native Lingala into English as “Call the Police!” And as the band explains ‘It’s a protest, a scream from a society that still struggles to accommodate the differences and the freedoms of all. The threat ‘I’m gonna call the cops!’ for us represents a systematic formula, which too often forces the point of rupture between two people, the end of a dialgoue.”
Directed by Sacha Barbin, the recently released and gorgeously shot video for “M’Benga Bila” was filmed Paris’ 18th arrondissement’s Goutte D’Or area, one of the city’s most multicultural neighborhoods, which coincidentally is where TSHEGUE’s Faty Sy Savanet has called home. The video is a partial tribute to acclaimed French director Leos Carax’s 1986 cult film Mauvais Sang as the video focuses on shady, underworld activities.
Over the past couple of years of this site’s nine year history, I’ve written quite a bit about the internationally renowned Algerian Tuareg pioneers of Desert Blues and JOVM mainstays Tinariwen. The act can trace its origins back to the late 1970s when the band’s founding member, Ibrahim Ag Alhabib (guitar) joined a small group of Tuareg rebels living in refugee camps in Libya and Algeria. The rebels Ag Alhabib hooked up with had been influenced by radical chaabi protest music of groups like Nass El Ghiwane and Jil Jilala, Algerian pop rai, and western artists like Elvis Presley, Led Zeppelin, Carlos Santana, Dire Straits, Jimi Hendrix, Boney M, and Bob Marley — and they started writing music that meshed the traditional folk music of their people with Western rock, reggae and blues-leaning arrangements.
Upon relocating to Tamanrasset, Algeria, Ag Alhabib started a band with Alhassane Ag Touhami and brothers Inteyeden Ag Ablil and Liya Ag Ablil that had played traditional Taureg music at various weddings, parties and other occasions across both Algeria and Libya. As the story goes, when the quartet had started, they didn’t have a name; but people across the region, who had seen them play had begun calling them Kel Tinariwen, which in the Tamashek language (the tongue of the Taureg people) translates roughly as “The People of the Deserts” or “The Desert Boys.”
In 1980, Libyan dictator, Muammar Gaddafi issued a decree inviting all young Tuareg men, who were living illegally in Libya to receive full military training, as part of his dream of forming a Saharan regiment, comprised of the best young Tuareg fighters to further his territorial ambitions in Chad, Niger, and elsewhere across Northern Africa. Al Alhabib and his bandmates answered the call and received military training. Whether or not the founding members of the band truly believed in Gaddafi’s military ambitions would be difficult to say — but on a practical level, a steady paycheck to support yourself and your family certainly is an enticement. Five years later, Ag Alhabib, Ag Touhami and the Ag Ablil brothers answered a similar call by leaders of the Libyan Tuareg movement, who desired an autonomous homeland for their people, and wound up meeting fellow musicians Keddou Ag Ossade, Mohammed Ag Itlale (a.k.a “Japonais”), Sweiloum Ag Alhousseyni, Abouhadid Ag Alhousseyni, and Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni — all who had sang and played guitar. At this point, the initial lineup was completed and the members of the collective began writing songs about the issues and concerns of their people.
Then the members of the band built a makeshift studio, vowing to to record and distribute music for free to anyone, who supplied them a blank cassette tape. Within a short period of time, the band’s cassette tapes were highly sought-after and were popularly traded throughout Saharan Africa.
In 1989 the collective had left Libya and relocated to Ag Alhabib’s birthplace of Tessalit, Mali; but by the next year, Mail’s Tuareg population revolted against the Malian government — with some members of the collective participating as rebel fighters in that conflict. After the Tamanrasset Accords were reached and agreed upon in early 1991, the members of Tinariwen, who had fought in the conflict had left the military and devoted themselves to their music full-time. In R1992, some of the members of the band went to Abidjan, Ivory Coast to record a cassette at JBZ Studios, which they followed up with extensive gigs for their fellow Tuaregs across Saharan Africa, which helped furthered the reputation they had developed primarily by word-of-mouth.
A collaboration with renowned French, world music ensemble Lo’Jo helped expand the band’s profile outside Saharan Africa. They also played a live set at Africa Oye, one of the UK’s largest African music/African Diaspora festival. Building on the increasing buzz, the band released their full-length debut The Radio Tisdas Sessions, which was their first recorded effort to be released outside of Saharan Africa. Interestingly, since their formation back in the late 70s, the collective have gone through a series of lineup changes, gradually incorporating younger generations of Tuareg musicians, many who haven’t seen the military conflicts that their elders have, including bassist Eyadou Ag Leche, percussionist Said Ag Ayad, guitarist Elaga Ag Hamid, guitarist Abdallah Ag Lamida, and vocalists Wonou Walet Sidati and the Walet Oumar sisters.
Despite their lineup changes, Tinariwen has become internationally known, as a result of regular touring across the European Union, North America, Japan and Australia, frequently playing some of the world’s biggest festivals and biggest music venues and clubs. But one thing has been consistent throughout — they’ve continued with a sound that evokes the harsh and surreal beauty of their homeland, centered around the poetry and wisdom of a rough and tumble, proud and rebellious people, whose old-fashioned way of life is rapidly disappearing as a result of technology and encroaching Westernization.
Additionally, a contentious and bloody series of infighting and wars between the various religious and ethnic groups across the region have splintered several nations throughout the region — including most recently Mali and Libya, where members of Tinariwen have proudly called home at various points of the band’s history. Unsurprisingly, the band’s last full-length effort, 2017’s Elwan (which translates into English as “The Elephants”) thematically focuses on the impact of Westernization and technology has had on their people and their way of life, their exile as a result of the religious and ethnic infighting that has destroyed their homeland, their longing for their ancestral homeland, the uncertain future of their homeland — and the tacit understanding that some of the band members may never see their homeland ever again.
Slated for a September 6, 2019 release through Anti- Records, the acclaimed JOVM mainstays’ forthcoming album Amadjar reportedly is as close as listeners can get to the proverbial soul of the band as it was recorded in a natural setting. Accompanied by their French production team, who arrive in an old camper can that has been converted into a makeshift studio, the Saharan Africa JOVM mainstays’ journey to the Mauritanian capital of Nouakchott takes about 12 days or so. Every evening, the caravan stopped to set up camp and the band went to work under the stars to prepare for the recording sessions, talking through things, and letting their guitar motifs, thoughts and long buried songs come. Then, during a final two-week camp in the desert around Nouakchott, the band, joined by The Mauritanian griotte Noura Mint Seymali and her guitarist husband, Jeiche Ould Chigaly, recorded their songs under large tent in a few live takes, without headphones or effects.
Once recorded, a host of Western musicians added additional instrumentation including the Bad Seeds’ Warren Ellis, who contributed violin; Micah Nelson, the son of the legendary Willie Nelson and a member of Neil Young’s backing band, contributed mandolin and charango; Sunn O)))’s Stephen O’Malley contributes guitar; Cass McCombs, who contributes guitar; and Rodophe Burger.
Lyrically and thematically, the album explores the continuing political, social, humanitarian and environmental problems faced in their home country of Mali and continues Tinariwen’s pursuit to highlight the plight and issues of their people through their music. The album continues the band’s ongoing work of highlighting the plight of the Tuareg community — from the collapse of infrastructure and public services, climate change and the ongoing political and military conflicts that have plagued their homeland since it gained independence in 1960.
Interestingly, Amadjar’s latest single is the gorgeous, acoustic track “Taqkal Tarha.” Centered around a shimmering and looping acoustic guitar line, a propulsive bass line, percussion that evokes a galloping horse and call and response vocals paired with Micah Nelson’s playing, the song manages to be an effortless synthesis of an ancient sound — one that’s older than time itself, with something far more contemporary (albeit subtly so).
Last month, I wrote about the Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, electronic music artist and electronic music producer, Luna Shadows. The Los Angeles-based artist has developed a reputation for a staunchly DIY approach, as she writes, performs, records, produces, edits and engineers every single note of her work — and for crafting sultry, melancholy pop that Billboard has called “. . . refreshingly soulful and haunting . ..” Her work has also been compared by some as Lana Del Ray taking Lorde to the beach.
So far Luna Shadows work has amassed over 35 million Spotify streams, with tracks landing on tastemaker playlists like New Music Friday, Indie Pop, Weekend Beats and Weekly Buzz, reaching #7 on the US Charts and #18 on the Global Viral Charts. Building upon a growing profile, the Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, electronic music artist and electronic music producer has also received airplay on radio stations worldwide, including KROQ, BBC Radio 1 and Beats 1 — and she played a sold out, live debut show at renowned Los Angeles indie music showcase School Night. Amazingly, she has done that without the support of a label.
2019 looks to be a big year for Luna Shadows. She recently began collaborating with two highly-acclaimed, mainstream indie pop producers Now Now‘s Brad Hale and The Naked and Famous‘ Thom Powers to help shoulder the production and editing load — and she signed to +1 Records, who released her first single of the year, “lowercase.” Centered around a sleek production featuring tweeter and woofer rocking beats, shimmering and arpeggiated synths, chopped up vocal samples, twinkling keys, Luna Shadow’s plaintive and sultry vocals and an enormous hook, the track was imbued with the bitterness, heartache and confusion of a dysfunctional relationship full of power plays and accusation.
Featuring tweeter and woofer rocking beats, shimmering and atmospheric synths paired with Luna Shadows’ sultry delivery, her latest single “god.drugs.u” continues a run of slickly produced, trap-inspired songs — but at the core of the song is a plaintive and unfulfilled yearning.
“Sometimes, I find that it’s easier to identify what something isn’t rather than describing what it is. “god.drugs.u” is essentially a process of elimination love song which breaks down my personal experience of love, one which is most often rooted in present moments rather than chemical or spiritual experiences,” Luna Shadows explains. “It isn’t a declaration of what anyone else should feel, it’s simply a personal reflection on my experience of love which is very here and now. I am a person who spends a lot of time stuck in the past and worrying about the future, so the moments where I am truly present best represent my experience of love and serenity. This song is a meditation on the moments where I’ve looked at someone (or some place) and felt a deep sense of peace & fulfillment, if only for a split second.”
Produced by Kitty Disco and Ride or Cry Co., the recently released video for “god.drugs.u” was directed, produced, styled, edited and stars a nearly exclusively female-identifying cast and crew and members of the LBTQ+ community. Stylistically shot at Venice Skatepark, the video is a celebration of Californian skateboard culture through the lens of fashion, inclusivity, authenticity and diversity starring five local skateboarders — Briana King, Victoria Taylor, Hilary Shanks, Jennifer Charlene and Claire Weaver. “Los Angeles is a place that represents unconditional love to me. This city has been here for me when my whole world came crashing down. Like the other installments in my video series, I wanted this visual to be an ode to an iconic LA location presented in a brand new light,” Luna Shadows explains in press notes.
“The concept of skateboarding came to mind – a risk-taking, safety-defying sport in which the rider cannot afford to focus on anything other than the present moment – a sentiment that sits comfortably with the lyrics,” Luna Shadows continues. “I’ve loved skateboarding since I was a young girl but always felt excluded from the culture, so this video was an effort to be more inclusive & to showcase one of many versions of femininity which does not conform to the tradition image of skateboarding.”
I’ve written quite a bit about the New York-based electro funk/neo-disco production and artist and longtime JOVM mainstays Holy Ghost! over the years, and as you may recall, l, with the release of the their first three full-length albums — 2011’s self-titled debut, 2013’s Dynamics and 2014’s remix album Work For Hire — the duo, which is comprised of Alex Frankel and Nicholas Millhiser received attention nationally and internationally. Building upon a growing profile, the duo have remixed the work of Katy Perry, LCD Soundsystem, Moby and a lengthy list of others; made national TV appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and The Late Show with David Letterman; toured with the legendary New Order; and played sets at some of this country’s and the world’s biggest festivals including Coachella, Outside Lands, Primavera Sound and Bonnaroo.
Work, the duo’s first batch of new, original material in over five years reportedly finds Frankel and Millhiser attempting to revisit the freedom of expectations that was suffered through their earliest recorded output — and interestingly, the proverbial return to form partially stemmed from circumstances: the duo dismantled their basement Brooklyn studio and relocated to a small room that a few musician friends of theirs were renting about a doctor’s office (coincidentally, the same address where they mixed their full-length debut). Because of the room’s limited space, they pared their extensive gear collection down to two synths — a Yamaha CS-80 and a Mini Moog. “Not necessarily the bare necessities, but what would make for the most interesting limited palette,” says Millhiser. “David Bowiedidn’t have every fucking synthesizer on earth to make Low. He had two. And that’s one of my favorite synth records of all time.”
Slated for a Friday release through West End Records, the forthcoming album’s material will continue the duo’s long-held reputation for crafting each sound from scratch with an unapologetic, exacting precision — and it’s their analog approach to electronic music that heavily informs the songwriting, production and sound of the album. Interestingly, album single “Escape From Los Angeles” was centered by shimmering and arpeggiated synths, a motorik groove, ethereal crooning, thumping beats and a sinuous yet infectious hook — while seemingly indebted to From Here to Eternity . . . And Back-era Giorgio Moroder and Kraftwerk. Interestingly, Work‘s latest single “Do This” is another straightforward club banger that meshes early hip-hop, house music and disco in a way that recalls Sugarhill Gang, Nile Rodgers and Pet Shop Boys— thanks in part to arpeggiated synths, a sinuous bass line, a two-step inducing hook and plaintive vocals.
Directed by the duo, the recently released video for “Do This” was shot on 16mm film by Jesse Cain and follows the entire process of recording and making a vinyl album, from the recording sessions at James Murphy’s Plantain Studios, to mastering at Heba Kadry’s Brooklyn-based mastering suite, to cutting the master disk with Bob Weston in Chicago, to pressing and packaging at RTI Pressing and finally to Amoeba Records in Los Angeles. It’s a behind the scenes look at the entire process revealing the professionalism and dedication of dozens of hard-working people that’s actually inspired by the famous Sesame Street “Making Crayons” segment. Originally aired in the early 80s, the clip made a deep impression on the members of Holy Ghost! “We wanted to document the ancient and very special process of making vinyl, from recording and mixing all the way to packaging and store delivery,” Frankel explains.
Over the past few years, I’ve written a bit about the legendary, Chicago-born singer, actress, and civil rights activist Mavis Staples and throughout a music career that has spanned over eight decades, several different genres and styles as a member of The Staple Singers and as a solo artist, Staples has had achieved commercial and critical success, as well as a proverbial boatload of accolades. Staples has been nominated for eight Grammy Awards with the Staples Singers, winning one — a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 2004. She received a Grammy nod for a collaboration with Bob Dylan. And as a solo artist, she’s been nominated for five Grammys, winning two — Best Americana Album for 2010’s You Are Not Alone and a Best American Roots Performance for 2015’s”See That My Grave Is Kept Clean.” The legendary, Chicago-born vocalist has also been nominated for 11 Blues Music Awards, winning nine, including Album of the Year for 2004’s Have A Little Faith, which featured Song of the Year and album title track “Have A Little Faith.” She’s also won three Soul Blues Female Artist Awards — one in 2004 and back to back wins in 2017 and 2018. And let’s not forget that Mavis was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a member of The Staple Singers in 1999, was a Kennedy Center Honoree in 2016 and inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2017.
Staples turns 80 next month — July 10, 2019 — and while many artists at her age and with her achievements would have understandably begun to slow down, the legendary vocalist has managed to be wildly prolific, releasing three, critically applauded albums in her late 70s with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy. Her latest album, the Ben Harper written and produced, We Get By was released by her longtime label home Anti- Records a few weeks ago, and as the legendary vocalist says in press notes, “When I first started reading the lyrics Ben wrote for me, I said to myself, ‘My God, he’s saying everything that needs to be said right now. But the songs were also true to my journey and the stories I’ve been singing all my life. There’s a spirituality and an honesty to Ben’s writing that took me back to church.”
“I come from a family of Mavis fans,” the multi-Grammy nominated and multi-Grammy winning Ben Harper explains in press notes, “so her music has been woven into the fabric of my life from the very start. When I got the call for this gig, it felt like my entire career, everything I’d ever written, had been pre-production for this.”
The imitable Mavis Staples was recently on CBS This Morning’s Saturday Sessions where she and her backing band performed the uplifting album title track”We Get By.” Naturally, the track is what Staples has long specialized in: heartfelt, uplifting spirituals centered around lived-in experience — particularly, finding some way to survive in a difficult and uneasy world with your dignity, sanity and spiritual life intact.