Tag: Single Review

Los Angeles-born and-based singer/songwriter, guitarist, poet, essayist, visual artist, Dum Dum Records founder and head, and JOVM mainstay Taleen Kali (she/they) has made a career out of crafting romantic punk songs with a cosmic sound that features elements of shoegaze, psychedelia, and grunge that’s simultaneously dreamy and defiant. Kali has also been influenced by melodies and imagery from her Armenian heritage and her parents’ birthplaces of Lebanon and Ethiopia, managing to fuse her cultural heritage and identity with the sounds of the modern countercultures she grew up embracing and eventually exploring as a musician. 

Her poetry, essays and visual art have appeared in digital and internationally recognized publications including The OnionSpin MagazineRazorcakeLos Angeleno, and The Bushwick Review.

Kali’s music career started in earnest with a stint in Los Angeles-based band TÜLIPS. After TÜLIPS closed up shop in 2016, she stepped out into the limelight as a solo artist, eventually touring across the US with Ex Hex, Alice Bag and Seth Bogart

Her solo debut, 2018’s Kristin Kontrol-produced Soul Songs EP was recorded at Hollywood-based Sunset Sound Studios and was mixed by Machine’s Brad Laner. The EP, which found Kali’s riot grrl ethos maturing into a polished multifaceted punk sound with elements of noise pop and New Wave, was released to praise from BUST Magazine and Stereogum, who likened her sound to a contemporary BlondieSoul Songs was also included in Pitchfork‘s Guide to Summer Albums and LA Weekly‘s Best Indie Punk Albums. 

Kali and her backing band followed up with an unplugged version of the EP and covers of The Supremes‘ “Baby Love” and Garbage‘s “#1 Crush.” She also recorded a two-song pandemic project called Changing with her TÜLIPS-era producer Greg Katz.

Taleen Kali’s Jeff Schroeder and Josiah Mazzaschi-co-produced full-length debut Flower of Life is slated for a March 3, 2023 release through Kali’s Dum Dum Records. Sonically, the album reportedly sees the rising Los Angeles further cementing her fuzzy and noisy take on psych punk paired with vocals that run the range of femme punk and shoegaze siren. 

Over the course of this year, I’ve managed to write about two of the album’s released singles:

  • Album title track “Flower of Life,” a grungy psych punk ripper centered around fuzzy power chords, thunderous drumming, soaring organ chords and Kali’s sneering delivery paired with mosh pit friendly hooks and choruses that sonically was a bit of a synthesis of My Bloody Valentine and riot grrl punk. “‘Flower of Life’ was a spiritual concept I held onto for a long time before writing this song,” Kali explains in press notes. “The flower is a fractal, a cycle, ever blooming, ever decaying. 
  • Trash Talk“, a jangling Brit Pop-inspired anthem centered around a chugging motorik-like groove, fuzzy power chords, Kali’s unerring knack for rousingly anthemic hooks and a sneering “fuck off” attitude towards haters, trolls and toxic bullshit that almost anyone can relate to. “‘Trash Talk’ is a track that speaks out against haters, trolls, and toxic bullshit in the hope that it gives a voice to anybody who’s been silenced or worn down,” Kali explains. “I wanted to write a song that embodies my favorite jangly Brit-pop songs and the energy of ‘do no harm, but take no shit.'”

Flower of Life‘s third and latest single, the Too True-era Dum Dum Girls-like “Fine Line” is a gorgeous pop confection centered around shimmering and reverb-drenched guitars, a forceful and driving rhythm section paired with Kali’s plaintive delivery and her unerring knack for well, placed, rousingly anthemic hooks.

“‘Fine Line’ kicks off side B of the record. I wanted to explore the ways we feel marked by love and pain. How much of an impact the smallest of impressions can make. And how they can feel when they fade,” the JOVM mainstay explains. “I wrote this song in the summer of 2018 right when the last album Soul Songs was coming out. The process of putting out my first solo record was so strange and cathartic that a handful of new songs just came spilling out during that time, and this was the first one. I really wanted there to be a demarcation for side B of Flower of Life so ‘Fine Line’ is written in a minor key, setting the tone for the 2nd half of the album.”

Red Hot has been producing great music to promote diversity and equal access to health care since 1990. The first project was the Cole Porter tribute Red Hot + Blue, quickly followed by Red Hot + DanceNo AlternativeStolen Moments: Red Hot + Cool, and Red Hot + Rio. Over the past 15 years Red Hot produced two successful projects with Aaron and Bryce Dessner – Dark Was The Night and Day of the Dead – along with a tribute to Arthur Russell and several other projects. 

Yesterday, was World AIDS Day. And to commemorate the occasion, Red Hot reissued their acclaimed Fela Kuti tribute, Red Hot + Riot, which featured contributions from D’Angelo, Questlove, Femi Kuti, Talib Kweli, Sade, the late Tony Allen, Macy Gray, Nile Rodgers, Jorge Ben Jor, Baaba Maal, Meshell Ndegeocello, Dead Prez, Kelis, the late Roy Hargrove, Archie Shepp and many others 20 years after the compilation’s original release. (On a personal note, 20 years ago I was interning at FHM Magazine. I received a press copy of Red Hot + Riot Fela Kuti tribute, and that album was my introduction to both Fela and to Afrobeat.)

The 20th anniversary reissue is remastered and features two hours of bonus material, including a previously unreleased cover of “Sorrow Tears & Blood” by Bilal, an acoustic version of “Trouble Sleep” with Baaba Maal accompanied by the late and legendary kora player Kaouding Cissoko, and an extended version of Sade’s “By Your Side” by Stuart Matthewman. The original release had to be heavily edited to fit the time limit of a physical CD, and the reissue also features a wealth of bonus material, including extended versions of many album tracks, along with early mixes, acapallas, instrumentals, and much more.

And lastly, the folks at Red Hot have released the album on digital streaming platforms for the first time ever.

Just to refresh your memories a bit: Fela Kuti was — and still is — one of the most important African musicians, bandleaders and activists of his time. Sadly, Kuti died at age 58 in 1997 of causes related to HIV/AIDS, two years before Red Hot began the project.

The idea for the Red Hot Fela tribute came from Questlove during sessions for Red Hot’s Gershwin tribute compilation, which featured a collaboration between The Roots and the late and legendary Bobby Womack. Questlove suggested that Red Hot do a cover of Sly Stone’s There’s a Riot Goin On but they couldn’t secure the rights.

The ongoing HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa, along with a love of Fela Kuti’s work transformed the project into what we now know. Red Hot secured the rights to Fela’s music, as well as his master recordings, which allowed for both covers and sampling. Questlove kicked things off with a superstar session at Electric Lady Studios covering “Water Get No Enemy,” with a band led by D’Angelo and Fela’s son Femi Kuti, along with members of the Soultronics — James Posner, Pino Pallodino and the aforementioned D’Angelo and Questlove — and Femi’s backing band Positive Force. Nile Rodgers, Macy Gray and Erykah Badu joined the session, although Badu’s vocal didn’t make the final mix. Red Hot producer Beco Dranoff brought in legendary Brazilian artist Jorge Ben Jor to the session a bit too late to join in, but he recorded the basic track of what would become “Shuffering and Shmiling” in another room at Electric Lady overseen by producer Andres Levin.

Red Hot spent the the next two years recording material around the world and at the Fun Machine studio that Andres Levin built in the SoHo office of Funny Garbage, the digital design company co-founded and run by Red Hot’s co-founder and creative director John Carlin. Coincidentally, the Baaba Maal session for Trouble Sleep,” the first session at Fun Machine was on September 10, 2001. 24 hours later, the World Trade Center, which could be seen from the studio windows was attacked. It was a tragic and tumultuous time, but the recordings continued and by the end of the year, there was a joyous celebration of Fela’s music and life about to be released.


The 20th anniversary of Red Hot + Riot is a cause for celebration, but also a sober reflection on the continued devastation of HIV/AIDS, particularly as Sub-Saharan Africa is disproportionately affected by the HIV epidemic: Sub-Saharan Africa currently accounts for 71% of people living with HIV, a devastating reality where 75% of global HIV-related deaths and 65% of new infections occur. I think these numbers will give you a better sense of HIVs impact on Sub-Saharan Africa: Of the 38.3 million people living with HIV worldwide, 27.3 million are in Sub-Saharan Africa. 7.8 million of the 27.3 million infected people are in South Africa, including 6,.3 million young adults and children. 11% of the global population is in Africa but it accounts for over 71% of the global impact in terms of infections and mortality.

The stigma around men who have sex with other men, women’s lack of resources and agency and the vilification of sex workers and drug addicts halt all progress that can be made to aid the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Frequently, ignorance is used to distance the culture from undesirable and uncomfortable topics like intimate partner violence, sex education, the LGBQT+ community and women’s lack of agency and access to proper care.

Tragically, young women and girls bear the brunt of the impact from cultural silence and their pain and misfortune is passed onto future generations. The HIV/AIDS epidemic’s root is the intersection of structural and cultural setbacks in awareness, acceptance, understanding and treatment. 

Red Hot celebrates the 20th anniversary reissue by sharing the expanded album’s first single, “Sorrow Tears and Blood,” off the bonus material, a joyous yet righteous, pan-African Diasporic take on the original that sees its talented crew of collaborators — Bilal, Zap Mama and Common — seamlessly meshing elements of jazz, neo-soul, hip-hop and Afrobeat. As Black folk — hell, as people — we need to be concerned with what’s going on in the Motherland, the very cradle of all of us.


New Audio: Belgian Duo Portland Releases an Atmospheric Ode to Heartbreak and Resolve

Belgian indie pop duo Portland — Jente Pironet and Sarah Pepels — can trace their origins back to when the duo lived at the same student housing unit while studying at Hasselt, Belgium‘s PXL Music School. The duo also a shared the same love of music with a specific soft spot for Elliott Smith. In fact, the project’s name is a nod to Smith’s hometown. From the start, it was clear that the duo had a palpable chemistry: Their voices blend and complement each other perfectly.

The duo took part in and won several local talent competitions before signing to [PIAS] back in 2018. Their full-length debut, 2019’s Your Colours Will Stain was released to critical and commercial acclaim with the album peaking at #6 on the Belgian album charts, thanks to success of the melancholy and dreamy sound of singles like “Killer’s Mind, “Ally Ally” and “You Misread Me.” Adding to a growing profile, the Belgian pop duo made the rounds of the national and international touring circuit with sets at Rock Werchter, Pukklepop, and The Great Escape, as well as several festivals across the Benelux region (Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg) and France.

Earlier this year, the duo relocated to the UK to record their highly-anticipated, 12-song, sophomore album Departures with Oliver Baystom. Slated for a March 17, 2023 release, the album reportedly sees the duo growing into their own as performers and songwriters. The material is more direct and to the point, while displaying more intricate melodies and arrangements. Casting aside the need to show off their vocal range or tricks on every song, the duo let the songs guide them to find the perfect tone and harmonies to complement the melodies and rhythms. The end result is an album of moving, beautiful and dream-like music.

Departures‘ latest single, the Sarah Pepels-penned “Stardust” is a slow-burning and beguiling song featuring an atmospheric and brooding arrangement of organ, keys and woodwinds. Pepels’ delicate vocal gently tiptoes through the arrangement, with the song and vocalist slowly growing louder and gaining confidence while getting to the song’s chorus. The song is rooted in deeply personal yet universal experience: lost love, lives turned upside down and putting the pieces of a broken life and heart back together while being a celebration of one’s inner strength and resolve.

“In January 2021, I was heartbroken, I had to leave a lot of memories and a part of my life, my love, behind,” Portland’s Sarah Pepels explains. “I didn’t know where to go, but I knew, I had to write music to put those thoughts and heavy emotions into. I needed to be alone, so I went cat-sitting at my niece’s apartment. I locked myself up for four days with nothing but the warmth and company of the furry kittens. It turned out to be a very intense and cathartic journey. And so ‘Stardust, a song that means the world to me, was born.”

M. Byrd is a German-born and based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalists and producer, who can trace the origins of music career, and his passion for music to when he was small: When Byrd was three, he played drums in front of the TV. Eventually, he found his dad’s guitar. Encouraged by a teacher, he picked up electric guitar and attended countless roots jam sessions at local joints. Influenced by Alice Coltrane, Tom Petty, Elliott Smith and David Lynch, Byrd began writing his own material.

The German-born and-based artist turned heads back in 2020 with the release of “Mountain” and “Morning Sun,” tracks that amassed millions of streams and praise from Ones to Watch, Earmilk, Atwood Magazine and several others while firmly cementing his sound and approach: Byrd’s work pairs intensely personal songwriting with shoegazer textures and pop accessibility.

At the end of 2020, Byrd along with producer Eugen Koop holed up in Detmold, Germany in a WWII-era British Corps squash hall, turned recording studio, where they worked on The Seed, the German artist’s forthcoming, full-length debut, an effort that sees Byrd personally playing guitar, synths and bass. The album’s material reportedly draws you in to inspire your own evolution. As Byrd says ““When you listen to the album, I hope you feel like you can grow with me. Maybe you’ll find confidence in yourself. We’re planting this thought with The Seed.

The German artist’s latest single “Over You/Over Me” features Byrd’s plaintive and balmy vocals floating over a textured, shoegazer-like soundscape paired with a motorik groove and an enormous hook. Much like his previously released work, the new single is rooted in a bright, hopeful sense of the future.

“I dreamt there were snakes all over my apartment,” Byrd recalls. “A snake is a symbol for drastic change in your life and you’re repressing it. There’s a lot of change for  me.  I’m  starting  to  be  a  full-time  musician.  There’s  still  a  pandemic.  I  tried  to  dress  up  this darkness nicely. I talked to a friend who is into interpreting dreams, and she said that snakes in dreams meant that I was going through a profound change in my life. I remembered a quote I once read in an essay by Freud:  ‘A  dream  is  the  liberation  of  the  spirit  from  the  pressure  of  external  nature,  a detachment of the soul from the restraints of matter.”

The Seed is slated for release next year through Nettwerk Music Group.

Boulder, CO-based roots reggae outfit Policulture specializes in music that attempts to bridge the gap between generations and unite all under one sound — heavy drum and bass, roots riddims and a melodic horn section paired with conscious, thought-provoking lyrics. Their last album, 2018’s Mountains to Cross featured the two-step inducing, love song “Heart & Soul,” a song centered around shuffling riddims, an enormous horn line and James Searl’s effortless crooning.

Joel “J. Dubby” Scanlon remixed “Heart & Soul” and turned it into a percussive and dubby bop that retains some of the elements of the original — namely, some of the more powerful lyrics of the original, the roots riddims and the enormous horn section. The J. Dubby remix manages to be a loving tribute to both reggae and dub.

Michael Odokara-Okigbo is an emerging Nigerian-American singer/songwriter and producer, who writes and performs under the moniker Michael O. His latest single, the Harvey Mason, Jr. co-produced “Japa” derives its title from the Yoruba slang word “to flee,” a reference to the many Africans across the continent, forced to seek out a better life in the West. The song is also a story of survival — and a story about the foundation and creation of America.

Featuring skittering African-inspired beats, glistening and atmospheric synths, bursts of strummed guitar and a razor sharp hook paired with Odokara-Okibgo’s sultry yet plaintive deliver, “Japa” is a breezy and slickly produced bop rooted in a deeply universal message of survival — and hope. We should all remember that folks everywhere are struggling, and many are resorting to the most difficult decision imaginable: picking up their entire life and going someplace they’ve never known for the hope of a better life. Many of our — and here, I refer to those in America, Canada, the UK and so on — ancestors have done the same.

“Japa” will appear on Odokara-Okibgo’s forthcoming EP, slated for release next year.

Odokara-Okigbo is also the founder of NKENNE, the first African language learning app. Founded to create solidarity and as an avenue for the global African Diaspora to connect to their roots through language and technology, the Nigerian-American artist and producer has won the 2022 Gorham Saving Bank Emerging Business Award. He has also received a grant from MusiCares COVID-19 relief program, which has helped him jumpstart his app and his EP.

Me.Kai is a singer/songwriter and guitarist, who began her career busking on Santa Barbara‘s streets covering an eclectic array of artists including Ella Fitzgerald and Dua Lipa, among others. Gradually transitioning from cover artist to solo artist, she became a staple in her hometown’s music scene, collaborating with of Area 51, Everything’s Fine, and a number of up-and-coming producers, including Gold Man and Burko. She has developed and honed a genre-blending style and sound that draws from Janis Joplin and Stevie Nicks, and her love of bass heavy, indie electro pop.

Some of her songs have landed on Insomniac’s In/Rotation Label list, and several high-profile Spotify playlists. She has also had some of her work appear in the Netflix series All American. Building upon a growing profile, the Santa Barbara-based artist plans to be very busy: a number of collaborations with popular EDM producers and her debut EP are slated to on the horizon in the upcoming months.

But in the meantime, her latest single “Bump in the Night,” is a sultry and accessible bop centered around the Santa Barbara-based artist’s coquettish, come hither delivery and a breezy production featuring looping and glistening guitars, wobbling tweeter and woofer rattling low end, dancehall-like riddims and twinkling synths. Seemingly drawing from contemporary pop, dancehall and Quiet Storm soul, “Bump in the Night” is a song full of carnal longing and desire with a narrator boldly expressing that she has sexual needs that need to be fulfilled — tonight.

Springfield, MO-based Molly Healy is a singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, who may arguably be best known for being a longtime fiddle player for the Ozark Mountain Daredevils. In 2015, Healy stepped out into the spotlight as a solo artist after the purchase of a looping pedal.

Healy’s solo debut, 2015’s Nightbirds saw her crafting material that blended her voice and strings together into atmospheric and experimental, orchestral folk. Since Nightbirds‘ release, Healy has released two more albums, 2017’s Human, and 2019’s Circles, which have revealed a restlessly experimental songwriter, expanding upon and refining her sound and approach.

The Springfield, MO-based artist’s recently released third album, Lotus may very well be her most ambitious effort to date. Influenced by an eclectic array of artists including Radiohead, Andrew Bird, Zoe Keating, and Rasputina, the album’s material pairs lush string arrangements with beats and electronic production. Some songs feature a full choir and/or orchestral arrangements — and Healy’s daughter joints in on electric guitar for a track.

Lotus‘ latest single “Us and Them” is one-part 70s orchestral disco, one-part orchestral chamber pop, one-part psych soul, centered around a dance floor friendly groove and Healy’s ethereal and sultry cooing. But like countless dance music-related songs before it, “Us and Them” is rooted in incisive political commentary, informed by our unusually heightened moment: in this case, the polarization of political ideas and the dangers it creates for all of us.

Andrea Aguilar is a Venezuelan-born, New York-based signer/songwriter, arranger and visual artist. Growing up in a deeply musical family, Aguilar started writing her own songs when she was just six. Around the same time, she developed an interest in the visual arts, and specializes in acrylic painting.

As a singer/songwriter and musician, Aguilar’s work draws from dream pop, alternative pop and electro pop. Her work is frequently sees her expressing raw emotions through melancholic metaphors, dreamy atmospherics paired with ethereal melodies.

Last year, the Venezuelan-born, New York-based artist graduated from Berklee College of Music with a degree in composition and music business. To date, Aguilar has collaborated on a number of projects as a singer/songwriter, co-producer and/or illustrator, including with her own music: Each song of hers features a cover with her artwork, along with videos directed and edited by her.

Aguilar’s second and latest single,”Pociones,” is her first Spanish language song. Centered around the Venezuelan-born, New York-based artist’s beguilingly ethereal delivery paired with glistening and atmospheric synths, a propulsive backbeat and a soaring, euphoria-inducing hook, the swooning and”Pociones” brings to mind JOVM mainstays Still Corners. While seemingly rooted in a wistful and aching nostalgia, the song evokes the sweet feeling of being in love, as though a spell has secretly been cast on the listener.

New Audio: Montreal’s Bodywash Shares a Meditation on Loss and Hope

Montreal-based shoegazers Bodywash — Chris Steward and Rosie Long Dector — can trace their origins back to when the pair met while attending McGill University. But when they met, the pair didn’t immediately share a common musical language: Steward grew up in London listening to celestial dream pop while Dector grew up in Toronto listening to folk and Canadiana. The music they began writing together saw the pair bridging their influences, and with the release of 2016’s self-titled EP and 2019’s full-length debut, Comforter Steward and Rector firmly establishing slow-burning and dreamy material centered around ethereal vocals, intricate guitar lines and pulsating synths.

When touring to support their full-length debut was cut short by the pandemic, Long Decter and Steward used the unexpected hiatus to write. And they wound up writing material that was darker, more experimental and more invigorating than the material on Comforter. Last year, they took the songs into the studio with longtime drummer Ryan White and The Besnard Lakes‘ Jace Lasek, who helped record and engineer the album, which will be released through Light Organ Records.

“Kind of Light,” the forthcoming album’s first single is an expansive track that begins with a slow-burning and elegiac intro featuring glistening organs and a skittering yet propulsive kick pattern that slowly builds up and breaks into a high energy, boom bap-like breakbeat paired with scorching guitar squealing and wobbling bass synths. Front and center is Long Decter’s ethereal and achingly plaintive vocals express profound, heart-wrenching despair, and hope. The song suggests that while loss is natural and expected, there can be hope; that there are only a handful of things that in our lives that are truly permanent — and that for the most part, it can get better.

“I wrote ‘Kind of Light’ in bed,” Long Decter says. ““It was the fall of 2018 and Chris and I were both going through experiences of learning not to trust what feels like home. He sent me a plugin for a new organ sound, suggesting it might provide inspiration. I sent him back chords, a kick pattern, and some vocals about trying to pull your legs back; trying to take your energy out of the wreckage and put it into yourself. The process of deciding what’s worth keeping, what can be reworked and what gets tossed in the fire. A process that is devastating and also weirdly invigorating, because you can see new possibilities opening up in front of you. And you can start to look for light somewhere else.”