I would be hard pressed to think of a more prominent DIY figure of the decade than the Tune-Yards. Grimes managed to go from garageband wizard to magazine-covering pop star within roughly the same span of time, but I’d argue that she took the opportunity to step into a completely different league, streamlining her sound along the way (a great decision, mind you). I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life also sees a little bit of an evolution to sharper and tighter sensibilities, but Merrill Garbus and her collaborator Nate Brenner remain in their relentlessly unique niche, any extra fans coming as a result of sheer will.
Garbus’ DJ booth dabbling is probably the most striking change. Heart Attack plucks some tense piano chords and quickly some classic yards hand-claps and a driving bass-line are off to the races. Single Look at Your Hands is the most direct the band has ever sounded with the shiny synths, drum machines, and a kick-ass chorus, whereas closer Free bludgeons with some well tuned distortion.
The DJ-isms aren’t the only highlights. Now as Then sees Garbus whip out an arsenal of backing vocals on the line “don’t trust me that I won’t take all the money and run.” Over the prodding beat, she smolders like all hell.
Politically, Garbus strikes mostly the right chord. Rather than empty finger pointing and call-outs, she chooses to analyze the contemporary issue of politicians talking past each other with facts leaving the room. “Fan the fire or face the crowd,” she says on ABC 123, showcasing Tr*mp’s inability to participate in discourse. The title also looms in various spots on the project, highlighting the increasing urgency with which these debates seem to loom over our heads.
“Colonizer” is certainly a major misstep. It’s excruciatingly difficult to criticize yourself on your own track and Garbus doesn’t do herself any favors here. Being a white women who’s gone on a quest of racial education (read: sounds like performative allyship but ok), she lays into herself(?) with the line “I use my white woman’s voice to tell stories of travels with African men.” It’s just a bit too steeped in irony as she pokes fun at white women who fetishize black men, while delivering said line over an African-Influenced musical landscape. Coming from someone who just lifted a Jackson 5 song title, this comes across as a rather hamfisted self-critique.
I’m more of the practice of forgiving musicians who attempt to speak on issues and don’t exactly nail it. Look at Kendrick Lamar’s misstep on last year’s Humble “I’m so fucking sick and tired of the photoshop” or Garbus’s own blunder on Whokill’s Gangsta “What’s a boy to do if he’ll never be a rasta.” It’s better than ignoring the facts as the people we’re forced to put in office so often do, one message that Garbus flawlessly locks down elsewhere.
TDE signs responsibly and SiR is no exception. When he locks in, he really nails it, conjuring a classy, balmy R&B sound that tosses pitched up sample and breathy trumpets into a more electronically induced rhythm section–exactly what modern listeners are itching for. November sees some immediate success with the heart of the project hitting from tracks three to five. The backside tapers off a little bit with some overly sluggish material, but there’s a place for SiR in the top-tier if he continues to grow.
Something Foreign, D’Evils, Something New–one of the smoothest trios of tracks in recent memory. On the former, a lilting piano line smokes throughout as SiR begins rapping, eventually leading up to that huge falsetto moment: “tryin to keep it humble in a world full of egos, gangster and evil.” D’Evils sees a bouncy beat and a sly sample, before Something New delivers another smoldering chorus toting offering from similarly bred Etta Jones.
Part of what makes SiR great proves to be his downfall on the project’s weaker moments. He delivers so far back on the beat it’s ridiculous and that mellow attitude eventually proves to be a hindrance. “Better” taps into SiR’s emotional strengths as he sings completely openly about a past love interest: “she just wanted to love me.” In the outro, a robotic voice asks if he really wants to delete this transmission. In an age where the difference between our text drafts and our finished messages tends to be drastic, this strikes an especially relatable chord.
Unfortunately, this is a bit stifled by his excessive moodiness. The drum beat that opens is super slow and open and SiR’s effected voice barely reaches beyond a whisper. He maybe reaches a bit out of his comfort zone when he delivers “just wanted to love me,” but one line doesn’t make a great chorus.
Save these overly laid-back moments, SiR oozes potential. Give him time and that trio of brilliance will turn into a whole album.
A glance at Hanna Benn’s resume wouldn’t necessarily lead one in any specific direction in terms of genre or sound–she’s touched upon in basically everything this side of 1900 including Alice Coltrane, Gospel, and a five hour immersive opera experience (no, not Einstein on the Beach). Somehow, however, all these experiences seem to come into play on the densely packed Unfasten EP.
The work holds somewhat of an enveloping, ambient connotation, yet rhythm is very much part of the equation–most obviously on Divide: Sing Persist which features layers of hand-percussion, but even the more meditative moments find a sense of propulsion with flourishing vocal cornucopias.
Although the influences are steeped in a bit of an academic connotation, her soundcloud hashtag of #classicalcrossover certainly holds truth. The rhythmic drive doesn’t test the patience too ferociously and the electronic music nods also help satisfy the more college radio-oriented ear drums. The end of the EP truly epitomizes this wide reaching array of appeal as light and airy strings complement a kelly lee owens style bass line, with Benn’s smoldering voice piercing the middle ground.
Benn’s done it all and the Unfasten EP is a testament to her ability to step into a new lane, with a new timeline and audience while also carrying those experiences with her. Most importantly, it feels effortless–a rare talent, not to be understated.
Shopping generally splatter a lot of desirable ingredients on the wall. Between the meandering string counterpoint and the barked-out new wave choruses, their songs float in a fun way with a little splash of tension. “The Official Body” could use a bit more blending, however, as the songs tend to remain muddy and undercooked, making for a bit of a dull 30 minutes.
Right out of the gate, the group doesn’t lock into anything substantial, as the big London Calling sounding bass line seems to only underpin disorganization. The lyrics jumble some themes of how the education system has its failures, “what they teach us, procrastination,” but then it feels like the group has run out of material around two minutes in so they lazily pick through a guitar solo for a while. Besides occasional shifts in tempo, this is essentially the band’s brand for the first five tracks.
Discover luckily adds another element in the form of a lilting synth line helps them carry on in a slightly more fleshed out sound–especially considering the jagged guitar chords and the layers of backing vocals–but this comes after five forgettable arrangements in a row and what follows is an immediate return to autopilot.
The lyrics seems to be similarly unrefined and unfocused. Create Yourself is an ironic take on self care in the consumer market place, “Are you the same product?” but the constant bounce between “Create Yourself, control yourself” then “I know what I like, and I like what I know” must’ve gone over better in someone’s head.
Perhaps there’s potential for them, but the need to amp up the songwriting should be conveyed in all caps.
Having seen Soren Roi play Montreal last weekend, their live work emphasizes a quick, violent collection of textures. Percussive layers pile up on one another, crafting a dark, kaleidoscopic terrain of ever-shifting shapes and static. On occasion, a filter sucks all the excess noise out of the room to re-articulate the dark, primitive energy that underpins any noisy melodic units that may appear.
Hand Dug Borehole sees a solid, quick collection of this spirit with a slightly more subdued execution, appropriate for more casual home listening than their revved up live energy. Mandorla opens with electric whips highlighting the lightly punchy low-end, a blow torch of static eventually coming in to cake the soundscape in fuzzy intensity. Odg slows down a bit as snare and bass cathartically flirt, accompanied by ominous high-end drones. The energy picks up a bit at the end with swomp jumping into a more hyper-intensive tempo and The Benefits of Doubt seeing more anger in the direct and mean bass line.
Soren Roi was a bit more exciting in the live setting and thinking of the likes of Clark or Blanck Mass, the songwriting doesn’t necessarily reach into a territory unmarked, but these five tracks each offer a unique blend of noise and techno-induced drive–a worthy start to the year in underground electronics.
If People Like You sees Michi Tassey backed by a large but nimble crew of improvisation geared instrumentalists, her solo project Nature Shots chooses to suck all of the air out of the room. “Foreclosure” holds a minimal, crystalline aura of sound throughout, to the point where the blues inspired guitar downstrokes of what is the word for… cut through the air like knives.
The void-inducing space of the work is appropriate for the subject-matter. Opening with “Three,” Tassey addresses the listener like they’re terminally ill: “doctors say you have two months and the hospice nurse…falls asleep and your family has picked a place for the service as you lay there wide awake.” An electronic glitch sounds, then guitar picked in a canyon of reverb. Although a passive listen may leave the impression of an album verging on the edge of ambient music, it’s lyrical moments like this that cast a new light on the ruminating sounds in the background.
Tassey does bear all on the six-minute centerpiece that drives home her thought process on the album. In her interview with Allston Pudding, Tassey says: “A lot of people who are told that God exists in one point in their life but don’t really ‘do that thing’ will still pray in times of crisis because it’s the last hope.” As the aforementioned guitar carries a tension into the room, a mother and daughter beg to understand why the daughter is going to die. “Haven’t I served you all these years” the mother asks as the daughter hopes to comfort her mother while also pleading “I don’t want to die.” In tragedy, we put aside our beliefs and beg for whatever decision was made to be reversed. It’s a bold, but relatable theme to an album and Tassey’s subtle but effective musical choices articulate that feeling of hopeless pleading.
I don’t like the term mumble rap. For many the division of rap is strong, with listeners split over whether or not Migos are innovators of an important new culture or trash. Maxo Kream takes a side on his debut album: “Remember back when music had content and metaphors/Way before the mumble nonsense and poppin’ handlebars.”
Ironically, I can think of one rather prominent mumble rap anthem that features more of an extended metaphor than Kream does anywhere on this tape (ALL MY FRIENDS ARE DEAD). Kream also doesn’t exactly separate himself from the mumble rap ilk between his production choices and tracks like “Grannie,” which feature one flow throughout. This gets us into the strengths of the work, however, as Kream talks straight, no-bullshit about his life and struggles in a sonic palette that works both sides of the mumble rap war.
Besides the Tame Impala wielding Pop Another, Kream sticks to an updated southern-fried sound, with slow tempo electronic darkness, trap bass and high-hats, and lilting melodies complementing his powerful but agile flow. His bars run for miles addressing some of the usual suspects: life of crime, family values, dealing with a system stacked against you (“In court gettin’ judged by a twelve whites/Who never had to struggle in they God damn life”). But he’s at his best when he gets into the super vivid detailing.
On “Roaches” he highlights the night when the Houston Hurricane hit and he was out of town: “40 missed calls, she was callin’ all night/Said there’s no more food and lights and she been fightin’ for her life.” Kream the storyteller doesn’t fluff up his life with metaphors, rather just sticking to blunt-force realism.
Kream’s got talents that could get him somewhere. Punken sounds fresh and ready to take on a wide slew of audiences. It’s not game-changing, but an uptick in hook writing might get him there in the future.