Throughout the course of this site’s decade-plus history, I’ve spilled copious amounts of virtual ink covering JOVM mainstays HAERTS. Tracing their origins back to a budding high school romance in Munich, the acclaimed indie pop act have evolved as its founding (and core) duo — Nini Fabi (vocals) and Benny Gebert (keys, guitar) — have evolved: HAERTS was formed when the duo met their now-former bandmates while studying at Berklee College of Music. And upon graduation, the quintet relocated to Brooklyn, where they quickly built up a profile and released their major label, self-titled, Jean-Philip Grobler-produced. full-length debut.
After a series of lineup changes, the JOVM mainstays settled to its current lineup — its founding and core duo — and relocated to the Upstate New York woods, where they wrote and recorded their sophomore album, 2018’s New Compassion. Since the release of New Compassion, Fabi and Gebert have fully embraced their multi-national roots by splitting time between Berlin and New York. Around the same time, the duo have found themselves fueled by a renewed spirit of collaboration with artists and visual artists they’ve long admired, including Grizzly Bear’s Ed Droste and Julian Klincewicz, who they worked with on POWER/LAND.
As you may recall, the duo’s third album Dream Nation is slated for a March 12, 2021 release, and reportedly the album’s material is marked by a sense of urgent intensity: Fabi and Gebert wrote the album over the course of about a month — and as soon as they finished, they recorded most of the album with their touring band during a week-long, live recording session in New York. Then they went to Los Angeles, where they put the finishing touches on the album and collaborated with Ed Droste on the album’s first single “For the Sky.”
Sonically, Dream Nation will continue to draw their long-held comparisons to Fleetwood Mac and First Aid Kit, but with subtle nods at Portishead and Lamb. “We went into the studio without setting limits or parameters other than that we wanted to make a record that moves you emotionally and physically,” Fabi and Gebert explain. “We wanted it to feel like an invitation into the strange and fantastical night time world, like the songs they play just before the lights come on, when the party is almost over, and the polish is gone.”
I’ve written about two of the album’s released singles:
The aforementioned “For the Sky.” Prominently featuring Fabi’s gorgeous vocals, shimmering guitars, persistent drumming, a soaring hook and a guest spot from Grizzly Bear’s Ed Droste, “For the Sky” continues a run of carefully crafted pop centered around lived-in lyricism.
“Shivering,” Dream Nation’s latest single is centered around an arpeggiated organ groove, stuttering four-on-the-floor, a shimmering guitar solo, jazz funk and disco vibes and Fabi’s gorgeous and plaintive vocals. But just under the sinuous, dance floor friendly surface, there’s something much darker — with the song subtly evoking the desperate attempt to get one’s quickly racing mind in check.
“The song came from this organ groove Benny came up with and the onomatopoeic quality of the word ‘Shivering’ itself,” HAERTS’ Fabi explains in press notes. “It’s about the obsession and attraction of the things which give us anxiety and disturb us. In a way it’s our soundtrack to a panic attack.”
Tracing their origins back to a budding high school romance in Munich, the acclaimed indie pop act and JOVM mainstays HAERTS have evolved as its founding (and core) duo — Nini Fabi (vocals) and Benny Gebert (keys, guitar) — have evolved: the duo met their bandmates while studying at Berklee College of Music. Upon graduation, the then-quintet relocated to Brooklyn, where they quickly built up a profile and released their major label, self-titled, Jean-Philip Growler-produced. full-length debut.
After a series of lineup changes, the JOVM mainstays have settled on its founding and core duo, Fabi and Gebert relocated to the Upstate New York woods, where they wrote and recorded their sophomore album, 2018’s New Compassion. Interestingly, since the release of New Compassion, Fabi and Gebert have embraced their multi-national roots by splitting their time between Berlin and New York. During that same period, they’ve been fueled by a renewed spirit of collaboration with artists and visual artists they’ve long admired, including Grizzly Bear’s Ed Droste and Julian Klincewicz, who they worked with on POWER/LAND.
The JOVM’s mainstays third, full-length album Dream Nation is slated for a March 12, 2021 release, and reportedly, the album’s material is marked by a sense of urgent intensity: Fabi and Gebert wrote the album over the course of about a month — and then they recorded most of the album with their touring band during a week-long, live recording session in New York. They then went to Los Angeles, where they put the finishing touches on the album and collaborated with Ed Droste on the album’s first single “For the Sky.” (More on that later.)
Sonically, Dream Nation finds the usual comparisons to Fleetwood Mac and First Aid Kit, making way for subtle nods at Portishead and Lamb. “We went into the studio without setting limits or parameters other than that we wanted to make a record that moves you emotionally and physically,” Fabi and Gebert explain. “We wanted it to feel like an invitation into the strange and fantastical night time world, like the songs they play just before the lights come on, when the party is almost over, and the polish is gone.”
Late last year, I wrote about “For the Sky.” Featuring Fabi’s ethereal and plaintive vocalists shimmering guitars, persistent drumming, a soaring hook and a guest spot from Grizzly Bear’s Ed Droste, “For the Sky” continues a run of carefully crafted pop that references Fleetwood Mac centered around lyrics that come from lived-in experience.
“‘For the Sky’ came from a dream I had when I first found out that I was pregnant, which was the catalyst and beginning of writing the new music,” HAERTS explained in press notes. “When we finished the demo for the song I kept hearing Ed’s voice and just thought he would sound amazing on it. We didn’t know him at the time, but were such fans. When we reached out we honestly thought we’d never hear from him. But we did and we went into the studio in LA, and ended up recording it just singing together in a room. Now that feels like such a nostalgic notion. But even then it was special. It was that feeling you get when you sing with somebody and something just clicks. And it’s especially crazy when you sing with a vocal force as Ed. I wish everybody could sing together more and feel that.”
The album’s second and latest single “It’s Too Late” is a glistening, hook-driven pop confection that sonically — to my ears, at least — is a slick synthesis of Fleetwood Mac, Shuggie Otis, Avalon-era Roxy Music, and disco centered around Fabi’s gorgeous, plaintive vocals.
Directed by their frequent visual collaborator Julian Klincewicz, the recently released video for “It’s Too Late” is a lo-fi, hazy, fever dream through Los Angeles that follows HAERTS’ Fabi as she struts, walks and flirts with the camera. But as the band’s Gerbert explained to PAPER, the video captured both the sensual and dangerous energy of nighttime in Los Angeles: “We filmed the video with Julian during one of the craziest nights in LA. It was all about Nini walking through the empty streets of the city. We wanted it to be a journey through the night, both physically and emotionally, and also capture some of that night time energy of LA. At some point during the shoot I was in a parking lot with a friend, when someone came running towards us with a gun. Luckily, we were able to get away unharmed and we finished the video that night. It was definitely a huge shock. I guess we captured the night time in more ways than we set out to.”
Since their formation back in 2010, the Seattle-based indie electro pop act Jupe Jupe — My Young (vocals, synths), Bryan Manzo (guitar, bass, sax), Patrick Partington (guitar), and Jarrod Arbini (drums, percussion) — have released four albums Invaders, Reduction in Drag, Crooked Kisses,and Lonely Creatures, which have helped to firmly establish the act’s sound: dance floor, synth-led, post-punk informed by synth pop and Americana.
Jupe Jupe’s Matt Bayles-produced Nightfall EP was released earlier, and the EP continues their ongoing collaboration with Bayles, who also produced and engineered their last full-length album. Meticulously written over the course of the preceeding year, the five song EP finds the band adding soulful saxophone to material that thematically focuses on yearning and desire.
Over the course of this past year, I’ve written about two of the EP’s singles:
The New Order-like “Leave You Lonely.” The accompanying video meshed three different visual styles – line animation, live footage shot in high contrast negative and a lyric video in a way that draws comparisons to a-ha’s “Take On Me” to mind.
The bring Avalon-era Roxy Music-like ‘How Could We Both Be In Love.” Directed by Dirty Sidewalks‘ Erik Foster, the accompanying moody visual seems to draw from French nouvelle vague and 80s MTV.
Earlier this year, I set up an interview with the members of Jupe Jupe to discuss their Nightfall EP, their influences, the videos for the aforementioned “Leave You Lonely” and “How Could Be In Love,” and how they were all getting along during the pandemic in a rather prototypical JOVM Q&A session. I received the band’s responses a few days after George Floyd’s tragic murder at the hands of Minneapolis police. Understandably, as a Black man, Floyd’s death hit close to home. With police brutaliy, police reform, the Black Lives Matter movement and protests brewing up in major cities across the world, I initially wanted to ask the band a handful of questions related to those particular topics. Unfortunately, those follow-up questions never came up and the Q&A languished in my email inbox for months – without explanation to anyone.
2020 has been difficult. But with Joe Biden’s and Kamala Harris’ Election Day victory over Donald Trump has given me some hope. We have an incoming administration that will be competent, caring and will do everything in their power to make things right through policy and action.
In the meantime, check out the EP and the interview below:
WRH: Since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, festivals have been postponed or cancelled outright, artists of all stripes have postponed, rescheduled or cancelled tour dates – and there are a number of artists, who have rescheduled releases of new material. You released a new EP shortly before the pandemic. How has COVID-19 impacted you and your career?
Jupe Jupe: Like so many other bands, we’ve had to cancel quite a few shows following the COVID outbreak. We luckily had our Nightfall EP release show before the lockdowns began, but the only “live” performance we’ve done since February was a live-stream benefit show to help support out-of-work employees at a local club. It was a blast playing again, though we look forward to in-person audiences! We wonder if live streaming will be the norm for bands until next year at least.
Despite the pandemic situation, the EP still received quite a bit of college-station airplay and press coverage, which we’re happy about. Given the scary times everyone is going through, we’re not sweating the lack of live performances. We’ll just ride it out like everyone else. We also hope that the smaller music venues can survive this—that’s something we’re definitely concerned about.
WRH: How have you been holding up? What have you been doing to keep busy? Binge watching anything?
Jarrod Arbini: It varies from day to day, but I’ve finally gotten around to doing some of those home improvements. After 14 years, the refrigerator ice and water dispenser hookup has finally been accomplished. And I’ve discovered a new love for video games!
So before COVID, say that I decided to fly into Seattle. Where would I go to eat and drink, if I wanted to meet and be around locals?
Bryan Manzo: Seattle is a really fun place to visit. It kind of depends on what you’re into or what you’re looking for. When people visit me I tend to offer lots of restaurants, bars, or clubs, but the thing that people seem the most into is just being outside. It’s really remarkable how green the city is. We have mountains to the east and west. Water, water everywhere and forests so thick they’re dark during the day. It’s like Endor. Honestly, I can’t even believe I’m writing this because I’m not really into that. So for me, I guess I’d say the weed stores.
What’s your favorite venue to see shows in Seattle? Why?
PP: I think my favorite venue for larger shows is The Showbox. It fits around 1100 people, the sound is terrific, and pretty much everywhere you stand is a great spot—whether you want to be right up front or in back watching from one of the venue’s bars, which I usually opt for.
JA: Yeah, The Showbox for sure.
How did you get into music?
PP: My older brothers were music-heads, and they turned me on to The Beatles, The Kinks, The Who, The Monkees, Led Zeppelin, and lots of 70’s progressive stuff when I was a little kid. Through my teenage years, I was addicted to a small AM station in Seattle called KJET. That’s how I discovered bands like The Cure, XTC, Psychedelic Furs, The Smiths, and tons of other bands you couldn’t hear on regular FM radio in Seattle. When I first learned guitar at 14, I wanted to be like Pete Townshend—windmilling and leaping around.
My Young: My father is a guitarist and came from a family of musicians. He used to play and sing 60’s folk songs and other old hits like “Ghost Riders in the Sky” to us when we were little kids. When I was 12, I started a punk/new-wave band with my pals in Denver called the Bloody Ear Muffs. I’ve been in various bands since then.
JA: There was always music in our house and from an early age, the drums were fascinating to me. Once I was able to join the 5th grade symphonic band, I was hooked. I bought my first drum kit in the 7th grade and found being in a band and sharing my passion for music with like-minded individuals to be so satisfying.
PP: I gravitate toward a lot of British bands from the 80’s—OMD, New Order, and The Cure. Plus hooky 60’s music.
MY: In addition to the obvious synthpop and post-punk influences, I get inspiration from a larger bag of artists like Jean-Michel Jarre, Kraftwerk, the 90’s WARP catalog, 70’s glam, and 60’s artists like The Kinks, Pink Floyd, Roy Orbison, and The Zombies. And of course, James Bond themes.
JA: Anything with a hook and I’m in!
WRH: Who are you listening to right now?
PP: I’ve been listening to Gorillaz, The Clash, and early Who lately. Wham! and Erasure when I want to be in a good mood quickly. Usually I just shuffle playlists so that I’m surprised. I also listen to First Wave on SiriusXM Radio—I’ve heard all of it, but it’s comforting in these uncertain times.
JA: During COVID, I’ve been trying to run more, and for my run mix I’ve recently added The Magic Group, lots of Kaiser Chiefs, The Goldbergs, and some Tame Impala. To take the edge off some of my ongoing periods of anxiety, I’ve actually been turning toward smooth 60’s Motown stuff with the likes of The Temptations and The Four Tops, among others.
WRH: Are there any acts from Seattle that the outside world should know now and doesn’t? Why?
BM: Yes. There’s a band called The NitWitz. They’re 11 and 12 year olds. One of the members is my kid. Another one of the members is My’s kid. Someone please discover them and get them OUT OF MY GARAGE BECAUSE IT’S SO LOUD! Also, they’re kind of funny.
WRH: How would you describe your sound to those unfamiliar with Jupe Jupe?
Jupe Jupe: We describe our music as dark yet danceable—a “noir cocktail” of crooning vocals over pulsing beats, with guitars and sax that cut across washes of synth.
PP: When people ask me personally what we’re like, I say we try to sound like an updated version of our 80’s new-wave influences.
JA: Definitely a more current take on an 80’s-type vibe. Quite a mixed bag really, but it works!
WRH: Your latest EP, Nightfall continues the band’s ongoing collaboration with Matt Bayles. How has it been to work with him?
Jupe Jupe: Matt’s done an amazing job recording and mixing our last two albums, Nightfall and Lonely Creatures. Though he’s produced many harder bands (Mastadon, He Whose OX Is Gored, Murder City Devils, etc.), he gets our sound completely and we generally don’t have to give him much input, especially when it comes to how he mixes the songs. We bring the tunes in fully written, so that we can get straight into recording. He’s a serious, no-nonsense guy in the studio—and he definitely doesn’t put up with less-than-stellar performances!
WRH: The EP’s material thematically focuses on yearning and desire. How much of the material comes from personal experience – or that from someone you know?
Jupe Jupe: We usually write the lyrics as a group. Though it takes longer this way than it would with one person doing all the heavy lifting, we feel like we end up with stronger material. Everyone’s input is probably based on their own experiences, but we usually don’t go into it with an individual’s specific story in mind (“Hey, this thing happened to me—let’s write a song about it”). We might offer anecdotes that lend themselves to a song, but after the music is written, we pick subject matter that we think will work best with the vibe. For this batch of songs, “yearning and desire” seemed to fit really well!
While much of the EP’s material continues the synth-based, hook-driven sound that has won you attention across the blogosphere and elsewhere, EP single “How Could We Both Be in Love” features the addition of saxophone. It may arguably be the most Avalon-era Roxy Music track of the EP – and it’s one of my favorite off the entire EP. How much did Roxy Music influence it? What’s the song about?
MY: Bryan and I started playing music together in an Austin prog band called Maximum Coherence During Flying, in which Bryan played both guitar and sax. We always wanted to bring it back into our songs, but kept forgetting to do it. For the Nightfall EP, Bryan proposed how it would add a new element to the direction we were already heading in. We’re both huge Roxy Music fans (especially their first four records), and it was exciting and inspiring to bring it back into the mix.
PP: Essentially, that song is about being in a relationship with a narcissist.
How did the videos for “How Could We Both Be in Love” and “Leave You Lonely” come about?
Jupe Jupe: For “How Could We Both Be in Love,” we teamed up with our friend Erik Foster of the great Seattle band, Dirty Sidewalks. He directed our last two videos and he’s always done a spectacular job. We usually start by sending him a rough mix and the lyrics, then discussing some broad ideas over beers. For this video, we really didn’t have to offer any guidance. He’s extremely creative and talented at matching the vibe of the video to the song. He did some great stop-motion and visual effects—he always surprises us. It’s an awesome partnership.
”Leave You Lonely” was created by two of our band members, Bryan and Jarrod, using a combination of hand drawings, still photos, lyric text, and shifting color palettes to capture the movement and feel of the song.
WRH: The band has been together for a decade now, which is an eternity in contemporary music. What do you ascribe to your longevity? What advice, if any do you have for bands trying to make a name for themselves?
PP: We’re all best friends and we’ve worked together in various bands over the past 20 years, so we know each other’s strengths and idiosyncrasies really well. Plus, with that type of history, it’s easier to be honest—as opposed to walking on eggshells with someone you don’t know well. Apart from music, we just like hanging out!
As far as advice for bands trying to make a name, I’d say figure out your sound, and continue to evolve it! Don’t worry about what’s popular or the next trend. Hopefully you can break through the clutter by sticking to your convictions and continuing to improve as a band. Also, it helps to share band duties—rather than one person doing all the writing, promo, booking, etc. It makes it much more fun and keeps everyone invested. And when you play live, be sure to promote the hell out of every show and make sure the other bands on the bill do too.
JA: I think our longevity is due to the lack of inter-band drama and a shared love of music and playing live. It also helps that everyone brings a different expertise and perspective to the group —outside of the actual music. This really helps us to get through all the less-than-glamorous band duties that come along with being a musician.
What’s next for you?
Jupe Jupe: Bryan and My are currently working on new song ideas individually, and we check in with each other for a “virtual” band happy hour once a week. We’re really just playing things by ear during the pandemic—it’s difficult to make concrete plans right now, but we know for sure we’ll be releasing new music eventually!
Seattle-based indie electro pop act Jupe Jupe, which features My Young (vocals, synths), Bryan Manzo (guitar, bass, sax), Patrick Partington (guitar) and Jarrod Arbini (drums, percussion) have released four albums since their formation 2010 — Invaders, Reduction in Drag, Crooked Kisses, and Lonely Creatures — that have firmly established their sound: an infectious, dance floor friendly sound influenced by post-punk, synth pop and Americana. Adding to a growing profile, the act has collaborated with the likes of The Afghan Whigs‘ Rick G. Nelson, Lusine, Mike Simonetti, Erik Blood and a number of others on their remix album Cut Up Kisses.
Released earlier this year, the Seattle-based quartet’s Matt Bayles-produced Nightfall EP was recorded at Seattle-based Studio Litho and continues their ongoing collaboration with Bayles, who produced and engineered their last album. Meticulously written over the course of a year, the five song EP features five hook-driven upbeat yet simultaneously melancholy songs that thematically focuses on yearning and desire — with the addition of a saxophone to their sound.
Now, as you may recall, I wrote about the shimmering, New Order-like “Leave You Lonely,” a decidedly ambitious and cinematic pop confection that expresses an aching yearning. Centered around a sinuous bass line, four-on-the floor drumming, shimmering synth arpeggios, plaintive vocals, an anthemic hook, and a mournful saxophone line, “How Could We Both Be In Love” continues a run of brooding yet disco-tinged pop confections. But unlike its immediate predecessor, the track sonically manages to bring Avalon-era Roxy Music and Duran Duran to mind while evoking late night, noir-ish vibes. The recently released video by Dirty Sidewalks’ Erik Foster is an incredibly stylish and moody visual that nods at French nouvelle vague and 80s MTV.
Fronted by its Cleveland-born, Salt Lake City-based founder, frontman and creative mastermind, singer/songwriter Adam Klopp, the rising indie pop act Choir Boy derives its name from an insult that was given to Klopp in his early teens when he fronted some of his earliest bands. Given Klopp’s religious upbringing and angelic voice, the insult at the time, may have been both fair and fitting.
After graduating high school, Klopp left Ohio for college in Utah. Although, his college career was short-lived, he left religion behind and quickly integrated into Provo’s and Salt Lake City’s underground music and art scenes, eventually starting Choir Boy. With the release of the project’s full-length debut, 2016’s Passive With Desire, Klopp’s work drew comparisons to Scott Walker, Kate Bush and Talk Talk.
Klopp’s Choir Boy debut won the attention of Dais Records, and building upon a growing profile, he released “Sunday Light” in 2018, which was followed by a reissue of Passive With Desire on vinyl and CD. Recently, Klopp has filled out the band with a permanent lineup: Chaz Costello (bass, sax), Jeff Kleinman (keys) and Michael Paulson (guitar). Each member has brought their unique influences to the table, helping to develop subtly more dynamic sound for the band — one in which, there’s a bit of post-punk grit and 80s-influenced swing to the mix.
Slated for a May 8, 2020 release, Choir Boy’s sophomore album Gathering Swans is the first bit of recorded output with the band’s new lineup. And importantly, while seemingly drawing from Roxy Music/Bryan Ferry, The Cleaners from Venusand others, the material features Klopp’s achingly earnest and angelic falsetto, expressing those emotions that are particularly difficult to name.
The album’s first single is the dance floor friendly “Complainer.” Centered around shimmering synth arpeggios, some industrial-like drum machine and organic drumming, a looping and shimmering guitar line, an ehe enormous and rousingly anthemic hook and Klopp’s achingly tender falsetto, the song — to my ears, at least — seems like a synthesis between Meat Is Murder-era The Smiths, Tears for Fears and contemporaries like Washed Out. Interestingly, Klopp explains that the song “marked a shift in lyrical tone from previous releases. While many of our earlier songs serve as flowery lamentations of loss and grief, ‘Complainer’ snakily examines the self absorption of sadness. The opening line Oh my life was something I privately uttered while stewing over daily anxieties. It became comical to me that I would express my self pity like that, in earnest when my struggles seemed so relatively tame. The song continues, It’s a phrase so funny when it’s spoken so sincere. But it’s not that bad, I’ve never really had it worse. I’m just a complainer. ‘Complainer’ multi-tasks as a pop song and a reminder to keep my privilege in check.”
Directed by the members of Choir Boy, edited by Choir Boy’s Adam Klopp and featuring an action cameo by Sam Rodriguez, the recently released video for “Complainer” is a decidedly lo-fi, fittingly 80s-inspired visual split between footage of the band playing the song in random locations while mischievously revealing the band’s involvement in a seedy, back alley, Fight Club-like fighting ring.
Initially starting his music career under a deliberate and international cloak of mystery Kidepo, the Ugandan-born singer/songwriter Jonah Mutono stepped out into the spotlight under his own name with the release of his debut single “Shoulders,” an achingly intimate pop song that was one part diary entry of the painfully lonely and one part yearning daydream about suddenly stumbling upon long-lasting love that reminded me — a little bit– of Jef Barbara‘s “Song for the Loveshy” and Avalon-era Roxy Music.
Mutono begins the new year with the Lil Silva and Al Carlson co-produced “Circulation.” Centered around Mutono’s achingly tender vocals, skittering beats, chopped up vocal samples, layers of shimmering and arpeggiated synths and atmospheric electronics, the song manages to be an anxious confession of love — the sort in which you may not be able to express, discuss or openly admit out of fear of rumor mongering, rejection and of bodily harm by others. And as a result, the song possesses an underlying tension that’s palpably uneasy.
Continuing an ongoing collaboration with director Isaac Eastgate, the recently released video for “Circulation” was filmed in a gorgeous, cinematic black and white in Mutono’s native Uganda. We follow two young men, walking silently through a small village. Interestingly enough, they’re walking completely in tune to the music before suddenly moving like zombies during the song’s hook. But throughout the video, there’s a sense of something deeply unspoken between the two — an intimacy and familiarity that’s expressed through a much more physical dance routine between the two.
“We filmed this video last year in Uganda, near a place that’s very important to me. The piece is about tension – physical and emotional – and in this particular case, political,” Mutono says in press notes. “There is little kindness and space given to queer stories in that corner of the world. It was astounding that we got to be there and capture this. All I can really draw from is my own experience and this is a big part of that story for me.
“Isaac [Eastgate, the director] and I wanted to create a scene that evoked something quite universal – that rudimentary magnetism and connection that we crave. The lyrics I wrote as a physical manifestation of this feeling, but I wanted to contrast the video to where they hardly touch at all.”
Starting his music career under a deliberate and intentional cloak of mystery as Kidepo, the Ugandan-born singer/songwriter Jonah Mutono finally steps out into the spotlight by releasing material under his own name. Mutono’s debut single “Shoulders,” is an achingly intimate pop song that’s one part diary entry of the painfully lonely and one part longing daydream about stumbling upon long-lasting love. Centered around an atmospheric production featuring stuttering, tweeter and woofer rocking beats, synth arpeggios and Mutono’s plaintive vocals, expressing an aching yearning that reminds me a bit of Jef Barbara’s “Song for the Loveshy” and Avalon-era Roxy Music.
Directed by Isaac Eastgate, the recently released video follows Mutuno in an empty and abandoned subway car. Accompanied by only the train conductor, who’s just barely out of frame, the video is a reminder of how loneliness can make you desperate long for even the smallest bit of connection with another. “We are so lonely these days,” Mutono explains in press notes. “This old school sex therapist I stan, Dr. Ruth, talks about how she worries that Millennials aren’t finding lasting connections. In my experience, that’s on point. A woman put her head on my shoulder in a NY subway train — and it became a daydream about the rest of my life. I still secretly want an ever after, despite life having taught me otherwise. With ‘Shoulders’ I wanted to capture that feeling of big love in spite of that.”
With “Hedonistic Dread,” which has received over 50,000 Spotify streams since its release, the Chicago-based act Bum Chic has began to receive some attention nationally. Building on that momentum, the act’s latest single, the Dream of the Blue Turtles and Nothing Like the Sun-era Sting and Roxy Music-like “Late Last Night” further cements their jazz-tinged sound, as the song is centered around expressive sax soloing, driving drums, atmospheric synths, a sinuous hook and plaintive vocals. Adding to the overall bluesy, late night feel the song thematically touches upon excess, nostalgia, stress and chasing a lost sense of fulfillment in an empty and materialistic world.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve written a bit about Ivan Howard a prolific singer/songwriter,who has spent extensive stints writing, recording and touring with The Rosebuds, fronting the acclaimed indie supergroup GAYNGS, releasing material with his alter-ego Howard Ivans — and writing for Kanye West and Bon Iver. Late last year, Howard wound up in his Portland home with an unusual quiet patch in his schedule. However, as the story goes, that quiet patch didn’t last very long.
Howard found himself reconnecting with longtime friends Robert Rogan and Brian Weeks. “We met my freshman year of college. Brian heard I could sing, and cornered me in a stairway til I sang “Let Love Rule.” We ended up in our first band together, and he helped me realize that life wasn’t all basketball. I might be ok at music, too.” Howard recalls in press notes. Weeks introduced Howard to Rogan, and the three became close, with Weeks eventually joining Ivans in The Rosebuds as a touring musician, in between stints in Wilmington indie bands with Rogan. Coincidentally, around the same time that Howard reconnected with his old friends, Rogan and Weeks had begun working on a new project together. “We recorded 11 songs with scratch vocal tracks, but neither Robert nor I were completely comfortable singing on them,” Brian Weeks says in press notes. Rogan and Weeks decided to send the tracks they worked on to Howard — with the hopes of getting his take on the material.
“When they asked me to sing on ‘Run,’ I originally said ‘You don’t need me, just get Robert,’ admits Howard. “I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes and I liked Robert’s voice. But they kept pushing and I figured, it’s just one song.” Of course, it’s rarely just one song. Once Robert heard Ivan’s take, he insisted he sing them all. “It was like somebody said ‘Here’s a CD of Greatest Hits of this genre of music without vocals that no one’s ever heard,” Howard explains. “Surprise! You get to sing them!’” The end result is the trio’s latest collaborative project together De La Noche.
De La Noche can trace its origins to Rogan and Weeks’ adopted hometown of Wilmington, NC. During the middle of 2015 Rogan found himself rudderless. He had gone through a divorce and found that he had a lot of time on his hands — with few distractions. He began playing around and writing material. Feeling isolated, Rogan contacted his pal Weeks to collaborate on material that they wanted to feel closer to the 80s synth pop they’d grown up adoring than the guitar-driven indie rock bands they’ve long played in. Unsurprisingly, Howard, whose solo work also draws from 80s synth pop and soul, found it easy to slip his imitable vocals into the material Rogan and Weeks had been working on. “I tried to let the music dictate the sentiment of each song and just created a character that could fill all these melodic parts,” Howard explains in press notes.
When asked about how De La Noche differs from his other projects, Howard says that ‘with most of my other projects, I’m the one that usually starts the song, travels with it the long road, and grinds it out ’till it’s finished. By the end, even though I love the songs, I still get tired of them — or they take on a different meaning from the struggles I was going through at the time. With the De La Noche, I just came in 2/3 of the way there. The songs were already written, and Matt Douglas of The Mountain Goats fame had already played his guest sax licks all over it. All I did was just sing them with my slant.” That slight bit of emotional distance from the material reportedly allowed Howard to take a far more adventurous approach in his vocal delivery.
The project’s full-length debut Blue Days, Black Nights is slated for an August 23, 2019 release through Get Loud Recordings, and as you may recall, last month I wrote about the album’s slinky opener and first single “Avenues,” a track that to my ears was one part Quiet Storm R&B and one part Manifesto and Avalon-era Roxy Music. “Dreams,” Blue Days, Black Nights‘ latest single continues in a similar vein as its immediate predecessor — slinky and sultry Quiet Storm R&B-inspired pop centered by shimmering guitars, atmospheric synths, twinkling keys, thumping beats and Howard’s plaintive vocals. And the addition of vocoder effected vocals on the song’s hook completes the retro vibes.
Interestingly, the song may arguably be the most emotionally ambivalent of the album’s singles so far — while seemingly upbeat, there’s an undercurrent of uncertainty, bitterness and loneliness that gives the song a razor sharp edge. “This song was written during the darkest period of my life,” De La Noche’s Robert Rogan recalls. “It was like someone muted the sun out just over top of me. Like, ‘Fuck you, Robert.’ The only time that was really bearable was when I was unconscious and dreaming. I hated waking up. The fact that the song sounds upbeat and optimistic is intentionally ironic. Which in turn actually turned the song into something more positive in the end. Maybe I was subconsciously telling myself to hold on? Actually now I look forward to getting up every day. I just went back to daydreaming now like I used to do before that long winter.”