JOVM celebrates Joan Jett’s 63rd birthday.
Luke James (born Luke James Boyd) is a New Orleans-born singer/songwriter and actor, whose musical career started in earnest as a background vocalist for Tyrese, along with a classmate Quentin Spears. While with Tyrese, James and Spears met acclaimed production outfit The Underdogs, who worked with and mentored the duo, who performed, wrote and recorded as Luke & Q.
Through his connection with The Underdogs, the legendary Clive Davis signed James to J Records, where he wrote material for Chris Brown, Britney Spears and Justin Bieber. But by 2011, he released his debut mixtape, #Luke, which featured the critically acclaimed single “I Want You.” “I Want You” eventually earned James a Best R&B Performance Grammy nomination. He followed that up with his sophomore mixtape 2012’s Whispers in the Dark and his 2014 self-titled, full-length debut.
Since the release of his full-length debut, James released “Drip,” which was later remixed by A$AP Ferg and his critically applauded, breakthrough sophomore album, last year’s to feel love/d. The album which featured guest spots from BJ The Chicago Kid, Ro James, Big K.R.I.T., Kirk Franklin and Samoht, and production by Danja, Cobaine Ivory, Guitarboy, and Sir Dylan received a Best R&B Album Grammy nomination. The album helped James earn his third Grammy nomination while being the only independent release album in the category to land a nomination.
As an actor, James played Johnny Gill in BET’s 2017 TV biopic The New Edition Story. He has appeared in the Regina Hall and Will Packer film Little. He played Noah Brooks in FOX’s Star and he’s appeared in HBO’s smash hit series Insecure, as well as BET’s The Bobby Brown Story. Last year, he was in the third season of Showtime’s The Chi.
The multiple Grammy nominee will star in the Broadway play, Thoughts of a Colored Man, which will open at The John Golden Theatre on October 31, 2021 and run through March 2022. The limited engagement will be the first new play to open on Broadway in almost two years, as a result of pandemic-related shutdowns. The play explores a single day in Brooklyn with seven Black men discovering the extraordinary together through a blend of spoken word, slam poetry, rhythm and humor.
Adding to a busy year, James teamed up with Sam Hyken, Jacomo Bairos and their Miami-based 30 member orchestra Nu Deco Ensemble on A Live Sensation, a live re-imagining of his Grammy nominated sophomore album to feel love/d.
Slated for release on Friday, A Live Sensation was recorded at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County and was originally broadcast exclusively on BET as a benefit concert for the NAACP’s Backing the B.A.R. Initiative, with donations and funds going towards Black-owned bars and restaurants hurt as a result of pandemic-related shutdowns.
A Live Sensation will feature nine tracks from the live performance, which sees James blend his soulful vocals with Nu Deco Ensemble’s orchestral sound. The album features guest spots from Sensei Bueno and Samoht.
“‘A Live Sensation’ is a raw orchestral expression inspired by the verb: love. It is a live recorded offering to the world, taken from a film inspired by love,” Luke James says of the new album. Nu Deco Ensemble co-founder and conductor, and collaborator Jacomo Bairos adds “It feels cosmically aligned to once again collaborate with our friend – the sensational and truly creative Luke James. We all recognized his unbelievable talent as well his generous and collaborative spirit when we first met years ago, so to have him return to collaborate on a project that highlights his unique vision through his GRAMMY nominated album on such a dynamic and creative project simply means the world to us. We are blessed to share this moment together, bringing more beautiful and meaningful music experiences to such a wide audience.”
A Live Sensation‘s latest single is a re-imagining of to fee love/d‘s “shine on,” that pairs James’, Samoht’s and Sensei Bueno’s soulful and achingly vulnerable vocals with a breathtakingly gorgeous arrangement of soaring strings, shimmering guitar and twinkling Rhodes. The end result is a song that sounds enormous yet deeply intimate, while yearning heavenward with a rare, but profound sincerity.
With the release of their Jeff Berner-produced full-length debut, last year’s Unmask Whoever, the rising experimental/krautrockff act Activity, which is split between New York and Philadelphia — Grooms‘ Travis Johnson (vocals, sampler) and Steve Levine (drums), Field Mouse‘s Zoe Browne (bass) and Russian Baths‘ Jess Rees (guitar) — received attention across the blogosphere for an eerily minimalist and uneasy sound that saw the band pair modern production, electronic instrumentation and organic instrumentation. Thematically, the album’s material touched upon paranoia, exposed character flaws and the broader capacity for growth when an uneasy truth is laid bare.
In the lead-up to the album’s release, I managed to write about there of the album’s released singles:
- The atmospheric and uneasy, Geoff Barrow-like “Calls Your Name”
- The slow-burning and aching “Earth Angel“
- The decidedly krautrock-like “Nude Prince”
Sadly, Unmask Whoever was released within the first full week of pandemic-related lockdowns and as a result, the band wasn’t able to support their effort with a proper tour. But after a lengthy delay, the members of Activity will be embarking on a North American tour, which begins October 6, 2020 at Mercury Lounge. Tour dates are below — as always.
Along with the tour announcement, the JOVM mainstays released a new single, the eerily spectral and expansive “Text the Dead.” Centered around Travis Johnson’s achingly plaintive vocals, layers of percussive, almost polyrhythmic beats, mutilated samples, and atmospheric synths, the new single swoons from the weight of despair and inconsolable loss — with the tacit understanding that ghosts do linger, and that grief often comes in waves.
“My mom passed away in February. We had 24 days from when we found out she was sick with pancreatic cancer until she died. I still can’t process it honestly,” Activity’s Travis Johnson explains in press notes. “I remember her telling me over the phone, when I was losing it, ‘Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere.’ I knew how awful the diagnosis was but I didn’t want to tell her and I really tried to cling to her telling me that. Throughout the day, still, I’ll catch myself thinking ‘I should tell mom about this or that’ or ‘I wonder how my mom is doing’ and get out my phone to call or text or email her before I realize that I can’t talk to her, and that I can’t talk to her about how I can’t talk to her. Knocks the wind out of me and makes me feel insane every time. That’s a picture of her when she was probably about my age on the cover. It was built on samples I’d put together and really mutilated a long time ago and forgotten about. I was going through old stuff and found it and started singing the verse melody. Then we all added our parts and subtracted others, etc. It’s not a very ‘live’ song but we all came together on it still.”
10.06 New York NY @ Mercury Lounge
10.08 Boston MA @ Cafe 939
10.09 Philadelphia PA @ Ortlieb’s
10.10 Toronto ON @ Drake
10.11 Cleveland OH @ Mahall’s
10.12 Chicago IL @ Schubas
10.13 Minneapolis MN @ 7th St Entry
10.15 Milwaukee WI @ Cactus Club
10.19 Atlanta GA @ Masquerade
10.20 Carrboro NC @ Backroom Cat’s Cradle
10.21 Richmond VA @ The Camel
10.23 Lancaster PA @ Tigh Mary
10.24 Washington DC @ Pie Shop
Formed in Chicago back in 2019 and now currently based Portland, OR, the members of rising indie rock outfit Koalra quickly established a sound and songwriting approach indebted to 120 Minutes-era alt rock — in particular, The Cure, Dinosaur Jr., Ween, Sonic Youth, Boyracer, and The Thermals, as well as contemporaries like No Age, and Waaves.
Since their formation, the now Portland-based act have been remarkably prolific. They’ve released three albums and a handful of EPs, including 2019’s self-titled debut, last year’s The Wakes and this year’s Into The Everything, as well as a handful of EPs. Interestingly, Into The Everything, which featured “Water’s Push” found the rising indie rock act pushing their sound into New Wave territory.
Koalra’s fourth album Love Songs To Remind Us That We Can’t Stand Each Other is a collection of love songs inspired by the disenchantment of our current sociopolitical climate. The album is sparked by a lineup change and the change of location. The album’s latest single “Sight Unseen” continues a run of 4AD Records inspired material centered around atmospheric synths, angular guitars, a propulsive rhythm section and plaintive vocals. Thematically, the song focuses on some familiar and universal themes — nostalgia over a youthful yet major love that’s been long lost.
The recently released video features fittingly nostalgic footage by Len Elders that captures young people hanging out and goofing off in seemingly much simpler times.
Throughout the course of this site’s 11-plus year history, Permanent Records’ and RidingEasy Records‘ ongoing collaborative proto-metal and pre-stoner rock compilation series from the 1960s and 1970s, Brown Acid have been regularly featured. Now, as you may recall, each individual edition of the ongoing series is centered around RidingEasy Records founder Daniel Hal’s and Permanent Records co-owner Lance Barresi’s extensive, painstaking research and curation with Hall and Barresi spending a great deal of time attempting to track down the artists behind these great yet sadly under-appreciated tunes.
Frequently those bands haven’t written, played or recorded together in 30 or 40 years — but Barresi and Hall encourage the bands to take part in the compilation process. “All of (these songs) could’ve been hits given the right circumstances. But for one reason or another most of these songs fell flat and were forgotten,” Lance Barresi explains in press notes. “However, time has been kind in my opinion and I think these songs are as good now or better than they ever were.”
Having the original artists participate as much as humanly possible in the compilation process can give the artists and their songs a real second chance at the attention they had the misfortune of missing all of those years ago. And of course, for critics, audiophiles and fans alike, the material on the Brown Acid series will do three very important things:
- introduce listeners to some great, sadly under-appreciated tunes that fucking rip or will melt your face right off
- fill in the gaps of what was going on in and around regional, national and even international underground scenes during the 60s and 70s
- push the boundaries of proto-metal, proto-stoner rock, metal and stoner rock in new directions.
The 13th edition of the Brown Acid series, Brown Acid: The Thirteenth Trip is fittingly slated for an October 31, 2021 release. Continuing in the path of its 12 predecessors, The Thirteenth Trip sees Barresi and Hall somehow digging even deeper into a very deep well of material recorded throughout the 60s and 70s — and discovering tunes still rip and rip hard.
Last month, I wrote about The Thirteenth Trip‘s first single, the hard charging and groovy, arena rock friendly ripper “Run Run” by Montreal-based outfit Max. Technically credited as Gary Del Vecchio with Max — not the band from Montreal — the compilation’s second single “Buzzin” begins with what sounds like an in-studio party full of guffaws, yelps and chatter and is centered around a Led Zeppelin “Heartbreaker“-like funky blues riff, rollicking rhythmic changes and a chugging bass line. Simply put “Buzzin'” is a party-starting anthem.
JOVM celebrates Nile Rodgers’ 69th birthday.
With the release of their full-length debut, 2014’s Dogging, Sydney-based punk act Low Life — at the time, a trio featuring Mitch Tolman, Cristian O’Sullivan and Greg Alfaro — quickly exploded into both the national and international scenes.
The Aussie act’s sophomore album, 2019’s Downer Edn (read as Downer Edition) was written and recorded over a two year period and found the band expanding from the trio of Tolman, O’Sullivan and Alfaro to a quintet with the addition of Oily Boys‘ and Orion‘s Dizzy Daldal (guitar) and Yuta Matsumura (guitar), who actually rejoined the band. The lineup change allowed Tolman to be a full-time vocalist. But along with that, the band went through a decided change in sonic direction towards a much more post-punk/New Wave-inspired sound.
Building upon a growing profile, the Aussie outfit’s highly-anticipated third album From Squats to Lots: The Agony & XTC of Low Life is slated for a November 5, 2021 release through Goner Records in North America, ALTER in the UK and the European Union and Lulu’s in Australia. The band has a lengthy statement on the album, “Notes on How To Listen To The Agony and XTC of Low Life,” which you can check out below:
NOTES ON HOW TO LISTEN TO The AGONY AND XTC OF LOW LIFE:
1. Some records hit you with an instant impression of timeless brilliance, and Low Life’s Dogging is one of those records, what the wise call “an instant classic”.
2. From Squats to Lots: The Agony and the XTC of Low Life is more like their second album Downer Edn (read Edition), a little more withdrawn, a little more textured. Complex. Rich. Which is to say: you’re going to need some time with it.
3. Some show, some grow. Low Life have done both. This one is a grower. Spend some time with this one. It’s got that nuanced flavour. Don’t guzzle. Sip. Savour.
4. Sip it, and sense the recurring brilliance of Mitch Tolman’s lyrics, exploring the usual territory of gutter life, lad life, punk life, low life. The dirge. Disgust and shame in white Australia. Council housing, bills piled to the neck, substance abuse and rehabilitation, the fallen lads and lasses who stood too close to the flame, loss and loneliness, from squats to lots. Un-Australian gutter symphony.
5. There is a celebration of resilience and that’s a central theme of this record and a time like ours needs a record like Agony & XTC. Low times are coming through, but if you’re low they won’t get to you.
6. Iggy Pop’s Bowie produced studio rock masterpieces The Idiot and Lust For Life are important reference points to the 3rd album sounds of Low Life. Here comes success!
7. The Agony and Ecstasy is a 1985 novel by Irving Stone about the life of Italian Renaissance painter Michelangelo. Stone wrote another novel about the single eared painter Vincent Van Gogh called Lust For Life. This synchronicity hit me.
8. Iggy and the Stooges are a pretty safe reference for Low Life (and all good rock music). Iggy and the Stooges are a low life’s Michelangelo, but solo Iggy like Lust for Life is a better reference for this particular incarnation of Low Life, which is to say they are studio rock albums.
9. Bowie later referred to this period of his life as profoundly nihilistic. But Iggy looked at it as the period of his life that saved him from an early grave. This confrontation is Low life lore.
10. Let’s stick to this, because there’s something about this era of Bowie that makes sense with Low Life’s new album, particularly Low. One should never miss the Low in our new album from Low Life. Producer and studio boss Mickey Grossman has the ear for the Low, and he has carved out a little statue of David right here.
11. Mickey’s ears are recording, mixing and producing the best of Sydney, most notably the Oily Boys Cro Memory Grin. A great companion record to this one. Use Agony & XTC AFTER Oily Boys. Not on an empty stomach, and don’t try to operate heavy machinery (bobcat, bulldozer etc).
12. The relationship between Low Life and Sydney hardcore should not be understated, but it also shouldn’t guide how to listen to Agony & XTC. This is not austere, disciplined music.
13. Think, like, if Poison Idea were given the kind of studio time and budget as Happy Mondays. You wouldn’t play it to a teenager. It’s not for children. This is a mature flavour, one for the adults who have had to contend with failure and hardship, medical bills and disappointed family members, betrayed lovers and worrisome growths, police brutality and tooth decay, humiliating bowels and collapsed septums, detoxing and drying out, for those who have seen themselves as corrupted and putrid and unloveable, for those who endure all of this and aren’t willing to lie down and cop it sweet: Low Life are still here and they ain’t going nowhere.
NOTES ON HOW NOT TO LISTEN TO AGONY AND XTC OF LOW LIFE:
1. Don’t think of shoe-gaze. It suggests a safe passage to 90’s reminiscences, a vogue style of our time, but nothing to do with Low Life style. Low Life style is always of its time. The content changes. Agony & XTC shares weight of records like My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless and Slowdive’s Kebab, records that were laboured on after the songs were recorded, songs that were written as they were recorded.
2. We can call these “studio albums” as opposed to albums built in the heat of live performance. Studio albums from the 90’s are called shoe-gaze by some journalist nerds, but we know better than to use words like this.
3. Studio albums are excessive and, at the same time, so empty. Agony & XTC, Loveless, Kebab, Rumours: excessive! And empty. This is not to suggest this is Low Lite, some throwback, soft. A band like Low Life can make an overproduced studio rock album without having to use the word shoe-gaze. So, don’t think studio albums mean anything especially 90’s. Don’t look back.
4. Let’s lose these distasteful labels, like “shoe-gaze”, “rehab rock”, “stab”, “guitar OD overdrive”, “western Sydney wonder”. They can fade out. A low life was once referred to as a vagabond. Who uses this term today? Nobody. Language can murder. Words can die. Kill ‘em all!
The album’s first single “Agony & XTC” is a breakneck ripper that brings The Sisters of Mercy and Chain of Flowers to mind: shimmering and reverb-drenched power chords paired with a world weary and heartbroken snarl.
Directed by Nathan Lewis, the recently released video for “Agony & XTC” captures a frenetic night out in the band’s native Sydney. But underneath it all, are desperate and bored young people.
Rising Jakarta, Indonesia-born and-based singer/songwriter and pop artist Afgan was raised listening to Stevie Wonder, Whitney Houston and Brian McKnight — and as a very shy boy, he found solace in music, slowly gaining confidence in quiet karaoke rooms. Interestingly, for the Jakarta-born and-based artist, music has always been an equal synergy of far-flung global inspirations paired with a devotion to proudly showcasing his heritage through nods to Indonesian pop.
Since the 2008 release of his full-length debut Confession No. 1, the rising Indonesian pop artist has released five solo albums, countless number one hits and has amassed over 44 million Spotify streams with over 1 million listeners across 79 countries — just in 2019. In the past three years, Afgan has played sold-out shows across Southeastern Asia including a set at Korea’s Yuseong Hot Springs Festival in front of 30,000 and an appearance at Singapore‘s Hyperplay Festival alongside Nick Jonas. The rising Jakarta-born and-based artist has managed to score a bevy of industry awards — and building upon a growing profile, he made his Stateside debut at a Sofar Sounds show in San Francisco.
Released earlier this year, Afgan’s sixth album Wallflower sees the Indonesian pop artist making a foray into the global scene. The album derives its title from his favorite movie, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower and his deep connection to the film’s soft-spoken protagonist Charlie, played by Loghan Lerman. Afgan told NME, “I just relate so much with the main character and felt like my personality had a similar quality with him.” He continues “I looked up the meaning behind the word [wallflower] and felt like okay, that’s actually a good description of me and I want to own that part of myself.”
Thematically, the album, is influenced and informed by the rising Indonesian pop artist’s own tumultuous relationship and battles with his mental health. Much of the album lyrically is inspired by some of the self-help books that have helped him in drier times. “I‘ve been battling anxiety and panic attacks for years, so I wrote “Hurt Me Like You” about it,” Afgan explains. “Nobody can hurt me more than my own self. I really want to change the stigma around mental health, and in Indonesia, it’s still considered a taboo to talk about it. If we became more happy and at peace with ourselves, I think everything would be better.”
Adding to a growing global profile, the album features “M.I.A.,” a collaboration with Hong Kong-based multi-hyphenate Jackson Wong. The collaboration can trace its origins to a chance meeting between the two artists after Afgan played at 2019’s V Live Awards in Seoul. But in the meantime, the rising Jakarta-born and-based artist has released a remix of the sultry Quiet Storm-inspired, Troy Taylor-produced “Touch Me” that features a guest spot from Robin Thicke while retaining the swooning yearning at the core of the song.
`”‘Touch Me’ is a song with a dark and sexy beat that tells the story of one’s physical attraction at first glance, and how that touch may trigger a series of feelings,” Afgan explains. “Usually, these kind of messages are hard to communicate in Bahasa Indonesia, so this is my first time translating these feelings into a song as I’m now singing in English. This was a challenge for me but I am relieved and happy with the result.”