Tag: Webster Hall

New Video: Rapidly Rising Early James Releases a Southern Gothic-Influenced Visual for Brooding “It Doesn’t Matter Now”

Early James is a Birmingham, AL-based singer/songwriter, guitarist and frontman of the Birmingham-based act Early James and The Latest. Along with bandmates James Mullis and Adrian Marmolejo, the act seamlessly meshes roots rock, the blues, early rock and classic country.  The band is Dan Auerbach’s latest singing to his Easy Eye Sound Records — and as the story goes, Auerbach decided he needed to produce James’ work after watching roughly two seconds of the Birmingham-based singer/songwriter and guitarist performing. “Every line has to mean something to him, personally. It’s not good enough to just write a good song, it needs to have a deeper meaning,” Auerbach says of working with James. “He’s unlike any person I’ve ever worked with. He’s not writing a song to be universal; he’s writing a song for him.”

Singing for My Supper, Early James’ full-length debut is slated for a March 13, 2020 release through Easy Eye Sound/Nonesuch Records.  Reportedly, the Dan Auberach and David “Fergie” Ferguson-produced debut features ten-wide ranging songs that span across blues, folk and old-timey pop crooning that are influenced by Fiona Apple, Tom Waits and the Southern Gothic poets — while being deeply personal, full of world weary wisdom and informed by lived-in experience.  

Singing for My Supper’s second and latest single “It Doesn’t Matter Now” tells a tale of a bitter breakup of a dramatic and dysfunctional relationship with recriminations and accusations and deliberately hurtful actions coming from both sides. Musically, the song is centered around a cinematic and brooding Chris Issak “Wicked Game” meets Mississippi Delta Blues arrangement — reverb drenched guitars, gently padded drumming, a sinuous bass line and James’ incredible vocals, which express the heartbreak, bitterness, pride, longing and ambivalence at the core of the song. 

Directed by Tim Hardman, the recently released video is a Southern Gothic-influenced visual that recalls Deliverance, A Time to Kill and others, as it stars James, his backing band and a collection of sideshow freaks and primarily set in and around a creepily beaten up cabin in the middle of nowhere. But the video’s protagonist are the sideshow freak couple, who inflict pain on each other — and gleefully enjoy it. “The subject matter for this song is pretty heavy. I felt there needed to be some aggression on screen but didn’t want it to play out like a typical break up,” Hardman told Billboard. “For some reason, Sideshow Bennie, whom I worked with several years ago, popped in my head. I looked him up and learned he was now working with a sidekick, Anna Fiametta. When I read how they met, I thought it was a funny story that would fit the song. The thought of them inflicting pain on each other, and the pleasure they receive from it, was intriguing. I pitched the idea to Early and I’m grateful he got it and trusted my vision for his song.”

New Audio: The Wood Brothers Return with a Zydeco-Tinged Meditation on Love and the Balance Between Darkness and Light

Last year, I spilled quite a bit of virtual ink covering the acclaimed folk/roots/Americana act and JOVM mainstays The Wood Brothers. Now, as you may recall, I caught the acclaimed trio at The Vic Theatre in Chicago, while they were touring to support their sixth, full-length album, 2018’s self-produced and recorded One Drop of Truth. At the time, I wasn’t familiar with them but their Vic Theatre set was so impressive that I quickly became a fan. 

Last year, the Nashville-based trio released another live album Live at the Fillmore, which further cemented their long-held reputation for live shows centered around performances that defy categorization: their delivery often seem to live at the intersection of arena rock energy and small theater intimacy, while boldly blurring the lines between folk, rock, blues, soul, funk, roots music, alt-country and Americana among other things. During a busy touring schedule, the trio found the time to write and record the highly-anticipated follow-up to One Drop of Truth, Kingdom In My Mind.

Throughout the band’s history together, the trio’s creative process would generally begin with the band writing songs before they got to the studio and then deliberately set out to record them. However, Kingdom In My Mind found the band beginning the process of writing and recording without initially realizing it: When they started, they all thought they were just simply breaking in and test driving their new Nashville recording studio/rehearsal space by tracking a series of extended, instrumental jam sessions.

“If we had known we were making a record, we probably would have been too self-conscious to play what we played,” Chris Wood reflects on the writing and recording process of their forthcoming album. “At the time, we just thought we were jamming to break in our new studio, so we felt free to explore all these different ways of playing together without worrying about form or structure. It was liberating.”

“We weren’t performing songs,” Oliver adds. “We were just improvising and letting the music dictate everything. Somebody would start playing, and then we’d all jump into the groove with them and see where it went. Normally when recording, you’re thinking about your parts and your performances, but with these sessions, we were just reacting to each other and having fun in the moment.”

After listening to their jams, the members of the band realized that they captured something undeniably alive and uninhibited. Much like a sculptor, Chris Wood took those sprawling improvised recordings and began to carefully chisel out verses, choruses, bridges and solos until distinctive songs began to take shape. From there, the band divvied up the material that spoke to them most and began writing lyrics both separately and together.

Thematically the album is an extensive meditation and reckoning with circumstance, mortality and human nature centered around vivid, almost novelistic character studies and unflinching self-examination. The material’s cast of characters all attempt to find strength and solace in accepting what lies beyond our limited control, ultimately pondering how we find contentment and peace in a confusing, chaotic and frightening world. “We all have these little kingdoms inside of our minds,” the band’s Chris Wood says in press notes.  “And without really planning it out, the songs on this album all ended up exploring that idea in some way or another. They look at the ways we deal with our dreams and our regrets and our fears and our loves. They look at the stories we tell ourselves and the ways we balance the darkness and the light.”

But while the lyrics dig into deep philosophical territory, the arrangements draw from a broad sonic and stylistic spectrum. Last year, I wrote about the slow-burning, Dr. John/New Orleans-like jazz ballad “Alabaster,” a song centered around an empathetic portrait of a woman, who has broken free of her old life and relocated far away for a much-needed fresh start. And while featuring an incredibly novelistic attention to detail, the song manages to feel improvised yet simultaneously crafted. Kingdom In My Mind‘s second single was the slow-burning country blues “Cry Over Nothing,” a meditation on the ego, perspective and fate told with a playfully fatalistic sensibility. Sometimes, even the sky is against you — and there ain’t a thing you can do about it. The album’s third single “Little Bit Sweet” was centered around some of the material’s first batch of improvised instrumentation from the early jam sessions that birthed it. Centered around a bouncy bass line and shimmering guitars, the song is part old-timey lament and part world-weary sigh focusing on mortality, the passing of time and getting older, and the impermanent nature of all things. And yet through the tears and heartache, there’s a sense of acceptance and awe of the things that the song’s narrator can’t understand. It just is — and sometimes it’s wonderful because of that.

The Wood Brothers begin the new year with Kingdom in My Mind’s fourth and latest single, the zydeco-tinged stomp “The One I Love” is a meditation on love, and the search for the balance between darkness and light. The song seems to suggest that balance can be found in something seemingly small yet so very vital to all of us — those we love. When our world seems so bleak, so uncertain and so devoid of hope or kindness, we should all take comfort and solace in hopefully having someone who loves and supports us, who will be by our side. It may be rare but man, when we find it, it’s special. 

New Video: Greg Dulli Pays Homage to Bob Fosse’s “All That Jazz” in Cinematically Shot Visual for “Pantomina”

Best known as the founding member, frontman and creative mastermind behind JOVM mainstays The Afghan Whigs and The Twilight Singers, Greg Dulli has a well-established reputation as a poet laureate of the bizarre whims and cruel tangents of desire and all things dark and brooding.

Although Dulli has been involved in a number of projects during his 30+ year recording career, his first solo full-length album under his own name Random Desire is slated for a February 21, 2020 release through Royal Cream/BMG. Random Desire can trace its origins to the aftermath of The Afghan Whigs’ most recent album, 2017’s critically applauded In Spades: Patrick Keeler was about to take a short sabbatical from the band to record and tour with his other band, The Raconteurs. Dulli’s longtime collaborator and bandmate John Curley went back to school. And the band’s longtime guitarist Dave Rosser tragically died after a battle with colon cancer.

So Dulli returned to his teenaged bedroom roots, finding inspiration through the model of legendary, one-man, multi-instrumentalist band visionaries like Prince and Todd Rundgren with the Hamilton, OH-born, Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter writing and playing almost every part of the album — from piano and bass lines to drums. Much like he’s always done throughout his career, the music came first and the lyrics completed later. Written and recorded in several different locations including Dulli’s Silver Lake home; Crestline, CA, in the mountains above San Bernardino; and New Orleans — with the bulk of the album being done at Christopher Thorne’s Joshua Tree, CA-based studio.  While Dulli handled most of the album’s instrumental duties, he managed to collaborate with an all-star cast of musicians including his Afghan Whigs bandmates Jon Skibic (guitar) and multi-instrumentalist Rick G. Nelson, his Twilight Singers bandmate Mathias Schneeberger, Dr. Stephen Patt (pedal steel and upright bass) and Queens of the Stone Age‘s and The Mars Volta‘s Jon Theodore (drums).

“Pantomina,” Random Desire‘s swaggering and self-assured first single is centered around layers of buzzing power chords, a handclap-led hook and lyrics that alternate between sardonic, desperately lonely, and triumphant — often within a turn of a phrase.  Much like his acclaimed work with The Afghan Whigs and The Twilight Singers, the new single delves into the psyche and emotions of a deeply fucked up, dysfunctional narrator with fucked up, dysfunctional relationships — but there’s also a hard fought, world-weary wisdom at its core.

Directed by longtime Afghan Whigs visual collaborator Philip Harder, who stars as Bob Fosse, along with dancers, Paula Vasquez Alzate, Desare Cox, Elayana Waxse, Maggie Zepp, LaTanya Cannaday, Karen Yang, Mia Bird and Reyona Elkins, the recently released and gorgeously shot video for “Pantomina” captures the life behind-the-scenes and on-stage with an intimacy and familiarity of  performer, before going to the frenetically shot performance and the collapse, then death of its hard-living, harder working choreographer protagonist. As Greg Dulli says in press notes. the video “is a homage to the movie All That Jazz. ‘Pantomina’ feels like a show tune to me.”

Throughout the course of this site’s nearly 10 year history — we turn 10 in June — I’ve managed to spill quite a bit of virtual ink covering the critically applauded, Grammy Award-wining singer/songwriter, bassist and JOVM mainstay artist Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner. Bruner has long been a Brainfeeder Records cornerstone, releasing critically applauded material including  Golden Age of Apocalypse, 2013’s Apocalypse, 2015’s The Beyond/Where Giants Roam EP and 2017’s Drunk while also establishing himself as a highly sough-after collaborator, contributing to Kamasi Washington’s aptly titled 2015 effort, The Epic and to Kendrick Lamar‘s 2016 commercial and critical smash hit, the Grammy Award winning To Pimp A Butterfly. And in 2018, he teamed up with Flying Lotus to compose an original score for an episode of Donald Glover’s Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning TV series Atlanta.

Drunk, Bruner’s most recent album was conceived and written as an epic journey into the bizarre, hilarious and sometimes dark mind of the Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter and bassist, but importantly, the album represented a major career transition — from virtuoso bassist and collaborator, to globally recognized star while further cementing his reputation for arguably being one of the past decade’s most unique, genre-defying voices. Thundercat’s fourth full-length album, the Flying Lotus-produced It Is What It Is is slated for an April 3, 2020 release through Brainfeeder Records. Much like its immediate predecessor, the album features a who’s who list of collaborators and guest spots from the likes of Ty Dolla $ign, Childish Gambino, Lil B, Kamasi Washington, The Internet‘s Steve Lacy, Slave‘s Steve Arrington, BADBADNOTGOOD, Louis Cole and Zack Fox among others.

“This album is about love, loss, life and the ups and downs that come with that,” Bruner says in press notes. “It’s a bit tongue-in-cheek, but at different points in life you come across places that you don’t necessarily understand… some things just aren’t meant to be understood.”

“Black Qualls,” It Is What It Is‘ first single finds Bruner teaming up with Slave’s Steve Arrington and The Internet’s Steve Lacy on a strutting and strolling pimp bop, centered around Bruner’s imitable and dexterous bass lines, four-on-the-floor drumming and a sinuous hook. And as result, the song manages to be a bit of classic Thundercat that finds the JOVM mainstay lovingly highlighting his influences in a mischievously anachronistic fashion: in some way, it sounds as though it could have been on Slave’s Just a Touch of Love and any of Thundercat’s albums simultaneously. But importantly, the song touches on something deeply personal and familiar to me — what it means and feels to be, as the great Nina Simone once sang “young, gifted and Black.” And as Bruner adds, “What it feels like to be in this position right now… the weird ins and outs, we’re talking about those feelings… Part of me knew this [track] was where Steve [Arrington] left us.”

The song emerged from writing sessions with Lacy, whom Thundercat describes as “the physical incarnate of Ohio Players in one person: he is genuinely one funky ass dude.”

The JOVM mainstay will be embarking on a lengthy international tour that includes a March 24, 2020 stop at Webster Hall. Check out the tour dates below. 

Tour Dates:

2/28     Vancouver, BC – Vogue Theatre

2/29     Portland, OR – PDX Jazz Festival 

3/02     Seattle, WA – Showbox SoDo

3/03     Arcata, CA – Van Duzer Theatre

3/04     Chico, CA – Senator Theatre

3/06     Oakland, CA – Fox Theater

3/07     Los Angeles, CA – The Wiltern

3/08     Santa Ana, CA – The Observatory North Park

3/10     Phoenix, AZ – The Van Buren

3/12     Denver, CO – Ogden Theatre

3/13     Omaha, NE – Slowdown

3/14     Minneapolis, MN – The Fillmore

3/15     Chicago, IL – Riviera Theatre

3/17     Detroit, MI – Majestic Theatre

3/18     Toronto, ON – Queen Elizabeth Theatre

3/19     Montreal, QC – Corona Theatre

3/21     Boston, MA – House of Blues

3/22     Philadelphia, PA – The Fillmore

3/24     New York, NY – Webster Hall

3/28     Silver Spring, MD – The Fillmore Silver Spring

3/29     Knoxville, TN – Big Ears Festival

3/31     Nashville, TN – Marathon Music Works

4/1       Asheville, NC – The Orange Peel

4/2       Atlanta, GA – Variety Playhouse

4/9       London, UK – Roundhouse

4/11     Manchester, UK – Academy

4/14     Amsterdam, NL – Paradiso

4/15     Paris, FR – Elysée Montmartre

4/17     Berlin, DE – Astra

 

New Video: JOVM Mainstays Atmosphere Release a Gorgeous and Cinematic Visual for Shimmering and Introspective “Love Each Other”

I’ve written quite a bit about the critically applauded and commercially successful Minneapolis, MN-based hip-hop act and JOVM mainstays Atmosphere over the course of this site’s almost 10 year history.  Formed over 20 years ago, the Minneapolis-based JOVM mainstays have a long-held reputation for pushing the boundaries of what hip-hop should sound like and concern itself with thematically — especially as its founding (and core) duo Slug and Ant find themselves with adult responsibilities and concerns, and inching towards middle age. 

2018’s Mi Vida Local thematically found the pair grappling with their own mortality — and more importantly, the anxiety and fear of one’s powerlessness in a mad and dangerous world. Now, as you may recall, the duo closed out last year with the surprise release of their seventh and latest album Whenever. The new album thematically finds the duo continuing to struggle with their mortality and frailties, while figuring out what it means to grow up and grow old gracefully within hip-hop, as well as the need to balance protecting your enemies and soul without glowering and bitter cynicism. 

Whenever’s first single “Bde Maka Ska,” sonically continues in the vein of Mi Vida Local: centered around a bluesy and dusty production featuring twinkling keys, fuzzy wah wah pedaled guitar and a gospel choir-like backing vocal, the song’s narrator takes tock of his own life an decisions, while yearning for peace and serenity in a mad, mad, mad world. And at its core, is the profound realization that in life, sometimes have to stop pushing, stop forcing and stop fighting against the tide, and accept that the universe lets things happen (or not) at their own pace. “Lovely,” the album’s second single continued with the bluesy productions but paired with anxious and skittering percussion, looping blasts of bluesy guitar, big boom bap beats and Nikki Jean‘s soulful hook. Throughout Slug’s conflicted narrator speaks about feeling the swooning sense of hope of love while confronting his own insecurities, frailties and heard-earned (and rarely wanted) cynicism. 

“Love Each Other,” Whenever’s third single is centered around a soulful, J. Dilla-esque production, featuring shimmering guitar, twinkling keys and boom-bap beats while Slug rhymes about love and its complications through the eyes of a conflicted and dysfunctional narrator, full of anxieties, self-loathing, self-doubt and uncertainty. His doubts are  ironically emphasized through a confusing and uncertain affair in which love and lust are hopelessly intertwined —  and throughout the song, the song’s narrator  wonders if they even know or like each other.  (If you’ve been there before the feelings of confusion, shame, uncertainty and discomfort the song evokes should feel familiar.  

Directed by the band’s long-time visual collaborator Tomas Aksamit, the video stars Atmosphere’s Slug and Ant, Dawson Ehlke and Brielle Carmichael. Shot in a gorgeously cinematic black and white, the video follows a young man at a swanky gathering, desperate to find love. But is it all a dream? A figment of his imagination? We’ll let you decide. 

New Audio: Acclaimed Jazz Drummer, Beatmaker, and Producer Makaya McCraven Reinterprets Gil Scott-Heron’s “I’m New Here”

Gil Scott-Heron was a Chicago-born, New York-based poet, author, spoken word artist, singer/songwriter and musician, best known for his critically applauded and influential spoken word work in the ’70s and ’80s, which managed to fuse elements of jazz, blues and soul paired with lyrics that focused on race an other sociopolitical concerns. Much ink has been spilled on how Scott-Heron’s Pieces of a Man, which features his most famous, most well-known piece “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” and Winter in America have influenced hip-hop and neo-soul.

In the last decade of  his life, Scott-Heron battled drug addiction and had several stints in prison;  however, he still managed to be a remarkably prolific artist, recording, writing and touring when he was able. Interestingly, the Chicago-born, New York-based poet, author, spoken word artist, singer/songwriter and musician’s last album, Richard Russell-produced  I’m New Here was first conceptualized in 2005 and was recorded in a series of recording sessions that started in January 2008. Released in 2010, the critically applauded I’m New Here was Scott-Heron’s first album in 13 years. Arguably, the most personal albums of his lengthy and influential career, I’m New Here featured introspective and confessional lyrics touching upon and expressing themes of regret, reconciliation, redemption, pride, dignity, defiance and acceptance paired with sparse arrangements and a minimalist production.

During the last year of his life, the influential, Chicago-born, New York-based poet, author, spoken word artist, singer/songwriter and musician finished work on a memoir and returned to the studio with Richard Russell to record stripped down versions of some of his best known material. Both the memoir and the material, which was released as Nothing New was released posthumously on what would have been Scott-Heron’s 65th birthday.

Makaya McCraven is a Paris-born Chicago-based jazz drummer, beatmaker and producer, who has released a run of critically applauded, genre-defying and re-defining albums that includes 2017’s Highly Rare, 2018’s Where We Come From (Chicago x London Mixtape) and 2018’s Universal Beings through Chicago-based International Anthem Records. Interestingly, Highly Rare caught the attention of XL Recordings’ Richard Russell, who recruited the acclaimed Chicago-based drummer, beatmaker and producer to re-imagine Gil Scott-Heron’s I’m New Here.  Slated for a February 7, 2020 release through XL Recordings, We’re New Again marks the second full-length interpretation of the album, following Jamie xx’s remix, 2011’s We’re New Here. (Coincidentally, We’re New Again will be released exactly a decade to the day of the original’s release.)

McCraven’s We’re New Again places the original I’m New Here sessions in a new context. using samples collected from McCraven’s improvised live sessions with new wave Chicago jazz musicians and vintage samples taken from the acclaimed Paris-born, Chicago-based drummer, beatmaker and producer’s parents’ recordings.  It’s meant to reconnect Scott-Heron with his birthplace and hometown, as well as a lineage of jazz and blues that perfectly compliments the Chicago-born legendary artist’s imitable voice.

Clocking in at about 74 seconds, I’m New Here album track “Where Did The Night Go” is a hauntingly sparse and uneasy track in which Scott-Heron’s grizzled baritone recites half-sung, half-spoken observations on insomnia, loneliness, desperation and writer’s block. We’re New Again’s first single finds McCraven pairing the legendary and influential artist’s imitable vocals with a sample from Stephen McCraven Quartet’s “Silhouette of Eric,” gorgeous, fluttering flute and thumping boom-bap meets bop jazz-like drumming.  And while giving an eerie and uneasy track a subtle bit of warmth, McCraven’s take manages to feel deceptively anachronistic, as though it could have been recorded during the Pieces of a Man or Winter in America sessions. 

New Audio: JOVM Mainstays The Wood Brothers Release a Bittersweet Meditation on Mortality

Over the better part of the past year, I’ve written quite a bit about the acclaimed folk/roots/Americana act and JOVM mainstays The Wood Brothers. And as you may recall, the act which is comprised of  Boulder, CO-born and currently Nashville-based siblings Chris Wood (upright bass, electric bass, vocals) and Oliver Wood (acoustic guitar, electric guitar, vocals), and multi-instrumentalist Jano Rix, can trace some of the of origins of the act and their musical careers to when Chris and Oliver were children: Their father, a molecular biologist, frequently performed old folk and roots music songs at family gatherings and campfires and their mother, a poet, instilled a passion for storytelling and turn of phrase.  As children and teens, they bonded over a mutual love of bluesmen like Jimmy Reed and Lightinn’ Hopkins; however, as they got older, their musical and professional paths would wildly diverge.

When they were young men, Oliver Wood relocated to Atlanta, where he picked up gigs in playing guitar in a number of local cover bands before landing a spot in Tinsley Ellis‘ backing band. At Ellis’ behest Oliver Wood began to sing — and shortly after that, he founded King Johnson, a hard-touring band that released six albums of blues-tinged R&B, funk and country over the next 12 years of his life. Meanwhile, Chris Wood studied jazz bass at the New England Conservatory of Music, and upon graduation relocated to New York where he co-founded the critically applauded Medeski Martin & Wood (MMW), an act that quickly became one of the stalwarts of the ’90s downtown New York jazz and experimental music scenes.

After pursuing separate and rather disparate musical careers for close to two decades, Oliver’s King Johnson and Chris’ Martin Medeski and Wood played on the same bill at a North Carolina show. During Martin Medeski and Wood’s set, Oliver sat in with his brother’s band. And as the story goes, the brothers instantly realized that they needed to be playing music together. Shortly after that set, the brothers recorded a batch of Oliver’s songs, which channeled the shared musical heroes of their youth while showcasing their own individual strengths — Oliver’s songwriting and Chris’ forward-thinking, adventurous musicianship. An early batch of demos landed The Wood Brothers a deal with Blue Note Records, who released their 2006 John Medeski-produced debut, Ways Not To Lose, a critically applauded effort that was Amazon.com’s editors’ number 1 pick for folk and made NPR’s “Overlooked 11” list.

Building upon a buzz-worthy profile, the act released 2008’s Loaded and 2009’s covers EP, Up Above My Head before moving on to Nashville’s Southern Ground Artists, who released 2011’s Smoke Ring Halo, 2012’s Live Volume One: Sky High and Live Volume Two: Nail and Tooth and 2013’s Buddy Miller-produced The Muse. Shortly after the release of The Muse, the members of the trio relocated to Nashville, marking the first time that Chris and Oliver Wood have lived in the same city in several decades. 2015’s Paradise was the first album in which all three members of the band shared songwriting credits, as they were all in the same city to work on and refine material. They followed that up with another live album, 2017’s Live at the Barn.

Last year, I caught the acclaimed trio at The Vic Theatre in Chicago, during their tour to support their sixth, full-length album, the self-produced and recorded One Drop of Truth. And although at the time, I wasn’t familiar with them before the set, they proved their reputation for being one of the best touring bands in contemporary music to me during that set. Now, as you may recall, earlier this year, the acclaimed Nashville-based trio released another live album, Live at the Fillmore, which was recorded over the course of a two night stand at San Francisco’s historic music venue. The album further cemented their long-held reputation for live shows centered around performances that defy easy categorization — their delivery seems to lives at the intersection of arena rock energy and small theater intimacy, all while blurring the lines between folk, rock, blues, soul, funk and Americana. In between a busy touring schedule, the trio found the time to write and record the highly-anticipated follow-up to One Drop of Truth, Kingdom In My Mind.

Throughout the band’s history together, the trio’s creative process would generally begin with the band writing songs before they got to the studio and then deliberately set out to record them. However, Kingdom In My Mind found the band beginning the process of writing and recording without initially realizing it: When they started, they all thought they were just simply breaking in and test driving their new Nashville recording studio/rehearsal space by tracking a series of extended, instrumental jam sessions. 

“If we had known we were making a record, we probably would have been too self-conscious to play what we played,” Chris Wood reflects on the writing and recording process of their forthcoming album. “At the time, we just thought we were jamming to break in our new studio, so we felt free to explore all these different ways of playing together without worrying about form or structure. It was liberating.”

“We weren’t performing songs,” Oliver adds. “We were just improvising and letting the music dictate everything. Somebody would start playing, and then we’d all jump into the groove with them and see where it went. Normally when recording, you’re thinking about your parts and your performances, but with these sessions, we were just reacting to each other and having fun in the moment.”

After listening to their jams, the members of the band realized that they captured something undeniably alive and uninhibited. Much like a sculptor, Chris Wood took those sprawling improvised recordings and began to carefully chisel out verses, choruses, bridges and solos until distinctive songs began to take shape. From there, the band divvied up the material that spoke to them most and began writing lyrics both separately and together.

Thematically the album is an extensive meditation and reckoning with circumstance, mortality and human nature centered around vivid, almost novelistic character studies and unflinching self-examination. The material’s cast of characters all attempt to find strength and solace in accepting what lies beyond our limited control, ultimately pondering how we find contentment and peace in a confusing, chaotic and frightening world. “We all have these little kingdoms inside of our minds,” the band’s Chris Wood says in press notes.  “And without really planning it out, the songs on this album all ended up exploring that idea in some way or another. They look at the ways we deal with our dreams and our regrets and our fears and our loves. They look at the stories we tell ourselves and the ways we balance the darkness and the light.”

But while the lyrics dig into deep philosophical territory, the arrangements draw from a broad sonic and stylistic spectrum. Earlier this year, I wrote about the slow-burning, Dr. John/New Orleans-like jazz ballad “Alabaster,” a song centered around an empathetic portrait of a woman, who has broken free of her old life and relocated far away for a much-needed fresh start. And while featuring an incredibly novelistic attention to detail, the song manages to feel improvised yet simultaneously crafted. Kingdom In My Mind‘s second single was the slow-burning country blues “Cry Over Nothing,” a meditation on the ego, perspective and fate told with a playfully fatalistic sensibility. Sometimes, even the sky is against you — and there ain’t a thing you can do about it. 

The album’s third and latest single “Little Bit Sweet” interestingly enough features soTme of the album’s first bit of improvised instrumentation from those early jam sessions. Centered around a bouncy bass line and shimmering guitars, the song is part old-timey lament and part world-weary sigh focusing on mortality, the passing of time and getting older, and the impermanent nature of all things. And yet through the tears and heartache, there’s a sense of acceptance and awe of the things that the song’s narrator can’t understand. It just is — and sometimes it’s wonderful because of that. 

New Video: JOVM Mainstays Atmosphere Return with a Symbolic and Cinematic Visual for “Lovely”

I’ve written quite a bit about the critically applauded and commercially successful Minneapolis, MN-based hip-hop act and JOVM mainstays Atmosphere over the course of this site’s nine-plus year history. Formed over 20 years ago, the Minneapolis-based JOVM mainstays have a long-held reputation for pushing the boundaries of what hip-hop should sound like and concern itself with thematically — especially as its founding duo Slug and Ant have inched towards middle age with adult responsibilities and concerns. 

Last year’s Mi Vida Local thematically found the pair grappling with their own mortality — and the anxiety and fear of one’s powerlessness in a mad and dangerous world. The duo’s seventh and latest album Whenever was suddenly released last week, and the album thematically finds the duo continuing to struggle with their morality and frailties, figuring out what it means to grow up and grow old gracefully within hip-hop, the need to balance protecting your energies and soul without glowering and bitter cynicism. 

“Bde Maka Ska,” the first single off Whenever sonically continues in the vein of Mi Vida Local with the track being centered around a bluesy and dusty production featuring twinkling keys, fuzzy, wah wah pedaled guitar, a gospel choir-like backing vocal — with its narrator taking stock of his own life and decisions, while yearning for peace and serenity in a mad, mad, mad world. But at its core is the profound realization that in life sometime we have to let go and stop pushing, and accept that the universe will let things happen at its own pace. 

“Lovely,” Whenever’s second and latest single pairs an anxious and skittering percussion with a dusty and bluesy production with arpeggiated synths and organs, looping blasts of bluesy guitar and big boom bap beats and Nikki Jean’s soulful hook while Slug rhymes about stumbling upon a profound love but while feeling the swooning sense of hope it brings, his narrator also confronts his own insecurities, frailties — but also hard-earned (and rarely wanted) cynicism of life experience. 

The recently released video for “Lovely” continues the duo’s ongoing collaboration with director and filmmaker Tomas Askamit. And much like its immediate predecessor, the video is cinematically and symbolic: we see a coffin floating into a church, Slug being fitted for a black suit, heartbroken and grieving friends and family at a funeral, Nikki Jean dressed in white as a fellow mourner. The video ends with a grave being dug and Nikki Jean throwing a handful of dirt over the coffin. Ultimately,  the video is a commentary on life, death, loss and grief.