Tag: Daniel Johnston

New Audio: JOVM Mainstays Brownout Releases a Swaggering Arena Rock Friendly Single

Over the course of this site’s nearly ten-year history — yes, ten years! — I’ve spilled quite a bit of virtual ink covering the critically applauded, Austin, TX-based Latin funk-based outfit and JOVM mainstays Brownout. Now, as may recall the act was formed over a decade ago as a side project that has composed and arranged music that at points evokes the likes of WAR, Cymande and Funkadelic that features members of the Grammy Award-winning Latin funk act Grupo Fantasma. Interestingly, during that same period of time, the project has managed to evolve into its own unique, critically applauded effort, completely separate from the members primary gigs — while having a long-held reputation as being a highly sought-after backing band, collaborating with GZA, Prince, Daniel Johnston and Bernie Worrell.

Adding to a growing profile, the act has toured across the national festival circuit, playing at Bonnaroo, High Sierra Music Festival, Pickathon, Bear Creek Musical Festival, Utopia Festival, Pachanga Fest, and others in support of the act’s handful of EPs and their six full-length albums — 2008’s Homenaje, 2009’s Aguilas and Cobras, 2012’s Oozy, 2015’s Brownout Presents: Brown Sabbath,  2016’s Brownout Presents: Brown Sabbath, Vol. II and 2018’s Brownout Presents: Fear of a Brown Planet.  

Slated for a March 6, 2020 release through Fat Beats Records, the Steve Berlin-produced Berlin Sessions is the Austin-based JOVM mainstays’ full-length album of original material from the band in over eight years. Interestingly, while the album continues an ongoing collaboration with Berlin, it’s also the first album of original material featuring lead vocalist Alex Marrero, who collaborated with the band on the band’s successful Brown Sabbath albums. Sonically, the album reportedly finds the band drawing from and meshing a multitude of sounds and genres including rock, psych rock, Latin funk and breakbeat. 

The album evolved shortly after the Fear of a Brown Planet sessions. Recorded during hot Texas summer afternoons in Beto Martinez’s Buda, TX-based Lechehouse Music Studio, many of the album’s takes were recorded with the AC off — and with the temperature well past the 90s. And as a result, the sessions captured the enthusiasm, sweat and swiftness of a band eager to record their first batch of new, original material in close to a decade. “The ideas came swift and there was much experimentation in recording techniques and instrument usage,” Brownout’s Beto Martinez says in press notes. “Steve Berlin was very hands on with implementing new sounds and tones through effects or otherwise. I not only played on the record but recorded it at the same time. After placing mics and setting the recording gear, I had to play parts I had either just written or just learned all while watching meters and the tape machine to make sure it was all recording correctly with Steve Berlin sitting directly behind me. It was a nerve wracking and trying experience, yet a very fulfilling learning process.”

With the addition of Marrero as the band’s full-time vocalist, Brownout’s material features a lyrical depth and themes that the instrumental albums simply didn’t exude.  “As I started writing lyrics for Berlin Sessions, I noticed there were more abstract yet universal themes,” Brownout’s Alex Marrero says in press notes. “Writing in a way that doesn’t spell everything out directly. They can mean anything to anyone depending on what they need it to. Although seemingly ambiguous, all the songs ended up having a lyrical thread and thematic connection of stepping outside of your physical realm and connecting to a more universal energy.  Fighting for your individuality. Healing and processing our human emotions, connections and turmoil with a sense of awareness that we are still connected to something outside of what we consider ‘physical reality.’ It’s about overcoming your problems, the cards you’ve been dealt in life or just enhancing your personal connections by acknowledging we cannot be defined strictly by how the material world has laid ‘reality’ out to us; especially not societal norms and expectations. There is a bigger truth we just keep forgetting to look at. I don’t mean religion, I mean energy.”

The swaggering, arena rock friendly “Somewhere To Go” is Berlin Session’s first single. Centered around a propulsive and funky groove, the enormous horn section that they’re known for and Latin percussion, the song is an uplifting anthem that the band says is about tackling complacency by taking chances. 

Brownout will be celebrating the Berlin Sessions album release with a pair of shows at Austin’s 3TEN ACL Live on March 6, 2020 and March 7, 2020 with more national dates to be announced. “I think the history and evolution of this band is being captured and showcased well in our live shows,” Brownout’s Alex Marrero says in press notes. “We’re perfecting the marriage of the instrumental catalog of the band and the newer material where I can step away from the percussion and serve as full-on front man for the songs that require it. It makes for an exciting live performance.”

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Currently comprised of Gilbert Elorreaga, Mark Gonzales, Greg Gonzalez, Josh Levy, Sweet Lou, Beto Martinez, Adrian Quesada, John Speice and Alex Marrero, the Austin, TX-based act Brownout was formed ten years as a side project featuring members of the Grammy Award-winning Latin funk act Grupo Fantasma, but interestingly enough, the project has evolved into its own as a unique effort, separate from the members’ primary gigs. Over the past few years, the act has garnered critical praise — they won their third Austin Music Award last year, while composing and arranging work that’s unflinchingly progressive while evoking the influences of WAR, Cymande and Funkadelic. Unsurprisingly, the members of Brownout have been a highly-sought after backing band,  who have collaborated with GZA, Prince, Daniel Johnston and Bernie Worrell, and adding to a growing profile, they’ve made appearances across the major festival circuit, including Bonnaroo, High Sierra Music Festival, Pickathon, Bear Creek Musical Festival, Utopia Festival, Pachanga Fest, and others.

Throughout the course of this site’s history, I’ve written quite a bit about the Austin-based act, and as you may know, the band has released five full-length albums: 2008’s Homenaje, 2009’s Aguilas and Cobras, 2012’s Oozy, 2015’s Brownout Presents: Brown Sabbath and 2016’s Brownout Presents: Brown Sabbath, Vol. II — with their last two albums Latin funk interpretations and re-imaginings of the legendary work of Black Sabbath. Of course, during their run together, Brownout has released a handful of EPs, including 2017’s critically applauded Over the Covers, their first batch of original material in some time.

As a child of the 80s, hip-hop was a nothing short of a revelation to me and countless others. Every day after school, I practically ran home to catch Yo! MTV Raps with Ed Lover and Dr. Dre and BET’s Rap City and during the weekends I’d catch Yo! MTV Raps with the legendary Fab 5 Freddy  — all to catch Run DMC, LL Cool J, Big Daddy Kane, MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, Biz Markie, Das EFX, A Tribe Called Quest, X Clan and Public Enemy among an incredibly lengthy list. (Admittedly, I didn’t watch Rap City as much. Even as a kid, I hated their host and I found their overall production values to be incredible cheap. Plus, I really loathed how they almost always managed to either cut to a commercial or the end credits during the middle of a fucking song — and it was always during your favorite jam. Always.) 28 years ago, Public Enemy released their seminal album Fear of a Black Planet, and unsurprisingly, the album wound up profoundly influencing the future founding members of Grupo Fantasma/Brownout. The band’s Greg Gonzalez (bass) remembers how a kid back in junior high school hipped him to the fact that Public Enemy’s “Bring the Noise” was built on James Brown samples. As a teenager, Beto Martinez (guitar) speaks fondly of alternating between hip-hop and metal tapes on his walkman (much like me). And Adrian Quesada remembers falling in love with Public Enemy and their sound at an early age. “When I got into hip-hop, I was looking for this aggressive outlet . . .,” Quesada says in press notes, “and I didn’t even understand what they were pissed off about, because I was twelve and lived in Laredo . . . but I loved it, and I felt angry along with them.”

So as true children of the 80s and 90s, the members of Brownout, with the influence and encouragement of Fat Beats‘ Records Joseph Abajian have tackled Public Enemy’s Fear of a Black Planet — with their own unique take on the legendary material and sound. And although they were eager to get back to work on new, original material, they couldn’t pass up the opportunity to pay homage to one of their favorite acts. As Abajian says in press notes “I thought their sound would work covering Public Enemy songs.” He adds “it was good to know they were P.E. fans . .  We came up with a track listing and they went to work.”

Understandably, translating sample-based music to a live band turned out to be more challenging than everyone anticipated. Quesada tried to get into the heads of the legendary production team the Bomb Squad in order to reinterpret Public Enemy’s work. “Imagine the Bomb Squad going back in time and getting the J.B.’s in the studio and setting up a couple analog synths and then playing those songs.” And while some songs closely hew to the original, other songs use the breakbeats as a jumping-off point for Mark “Speedy” Gonzales’ horn arrangements, synth work by Peter Stopchinski and DJ Trackstar‘s turntablism. “Our approach is never in the tribute sense,” Adrian Quesada explains. “We’ve always taken it and made it our own, whether it’s the Brown Sabbath thing or this Public Enemy thing.”

Fear of a Brown Planet comes on the heels of several Brown Sabbath tours, and while being an incredibly tight and funky band, the members of the band are incredibly psyched to bring revolutionary music to the people, especially in light of both the current   social climate and that they’re not particularly known for having an overt political agenda. “If there’s any way that we can use the already political and protest nature [of P.E.’s music], we would like to try,” Beto says. “The album’s title, Fear of Brown Planet is definitely a relevant idea today and we’re not afraid to put it out there, because we want to speak out.”

Fear of a Brown Planet‘s first single is Brownout’s take on “Fight the Power,” and while retaining the breakbeats that you’ll remember fondly, their instrumental take is a funky JB’s meets Booker T-like jam, centered around an incredible horn line, bursts of analog synth and sinuous guitar line. As a result, Brownout’s take is warmly familiar but without being a carbon copy; in fact, they manage to breathe a much different life into the song without erasing its revolutionary sound or its righteous fury. Check out how it compares to the original below.

 

Co-founded by Brian Harding and Amalie Braun back in 2011, indie pop duo Ex-Cops became blogosphere darlings with the release of their first two albums True Hallucinations and Daggers; in fact, the duo receive praise from the likes of Pitchfork, Vogue, MTV, StereogumBillboard, CNN, GawkerInterviewNylon, and Rolling Stone. Adding to a growing profile, the duo has had their music appear in a number of renowned TV shows including ShamelessStalkerAll Saints and others. And as a result of the attention the band has received over the years, Harding and Braun have worked with Ariel Pink, Daniel Johnston, and Billy Corgan, among others.

Harding’s solo side project Blond Ambition is a bit of a sonic departure as you’ll hear on the project’s debut single “Shasta.” As I was told in press notes, the project’s sound is a sugary confection of E.S.G., slinky Liquid Liquid and 77 Dead — and although that may well be true, to my ears I hear quite a bit of Station to Station and Low-era Bowie and 70s funk as congo-led percussion is paired with slinky bass line, bursts of ambient synths, a loose and boozy guitar solo with Harding’s falsetto. And while being breezy, percussive and summery, the song manages to be a sultry come on  to a object of affection/desire/lust.