It’s probably fair to say that most would be filled with a sense of apprehension when faced with a fresh rap using Adele’s ubiquitous ‘Hello’. Granted, hip-hop artists have been making use of existing material as a backdrop for their own rhymes for years, and let’s take a moment to remember the remarkable use of Dido’s ‘Thank You’ on ‘Stan’, which arguably set the standard some fifteen years ago. So, when those oh-so recognisable piano notes kick in, there is an immediate sense of familiarity which sets the stage perfectly for 2G’z to deliver his freestyle flow which comes in almost immediately. This means that there’s no chance of making the mistake that it’s going to be Adele’s vocal gracing the track this time, and suddenly the expectation shifts from the anticipation of smoky soul to a more attentive anticipation where it feels as though something new and special is about to happen. As a result, the vocal delivery is sharp and punchy, filled with attitude and vitriol, and a flow that has powerful pauses that act as an emotional punctuation. At just two minutes, it’s short and (bitter)sweet, leaving the listener reeling from the personal depth unpacked from the rhymes that are delivered hard and fast.
‘Cthulhu Beckons!’ is the kind of track that will be sure to get your weekend started. With its wild wails and deep waves of synthy house beats, it grabs the attention from the start and refuses to let go until the very end. By the song’s mid point, the listener is assaulted with a barrage of insistent blares which create a hypnotic effect, before leading into a psychedelic tunnel towards a higher plan of consciousness. What really causes the song to stand out from the crowd is the way in which it uses such high energy without resorting to cliches or begging for attention. Instead, the care taken in the detail allows for the listener to either be washed away on its sonic waves, or focus their ears in more closely to pay attention to the more subtle elements that are there to be discovered. A discerning ear will find all kinds of special things going on – the way the bass plays against the beat, the rave tones that come in and out of focus, and the ebb and flow of the synth underbelly that lies beneath. While house can often be divisive, as connoisseurs often split off into their own preferred factions, this stands as a glorious celebration of all that is pure and enjoyable about acid inspired electro house music.
Twenty Two B bursts into life with new track ‘Karma Is A Bitch’. It’s funk, Jim, but not as we know it. Make no mistake, the guitars are packed with attitude, growling and screaming their catchy riffs, while that deep kick drum thunders beneath it all to keep everything locked in place. There are moments where the track’s tone seems to channel that aggressive, sexual tone that R.E.M. went for on 1994’s Monster, all glam and jumped up, full of testosterone and bravado. It’s something we don’t see so much of these days, and as a result ‘Karma Is A Bitch’ comes over as somewhat refreshing while at the same time in your face with its playful aggression. Throughout the track there are unmistakable moments that nod back to particular influences – there’s a healthy dose of Guns n Roses going on here (think ‘Welcome To The Jungle’) and that is all a big part of the bravado and masculinity that runs through it. In the end what we’re being given here is a big, bold, and blustering piece of funk rock that stands up and demands to be heard amongst all the other noise that surrounds it. It might not be breaking any boundaries, but it’s got plenty going for it to get heads bobbing and toes tapping.
Music and memories, two partners who can never be separated. Whatever we listen to, there will be those times when moments from the near or distant past will come back to us. The tone that runs through Tom Greer’s ‘Say It’ conjures up all kinds of memories associated with classic jazz sounds, creating a smoky atmosphere akin to the work of Miles Davis or Charles Mingus. The notes are easy going, drawn out, creating a gentle background for featured vocalist Sarah Wade to lay down her own notes. Add to that the scattered guitar notes which are laced with their own spiky distortion and the distant, unassuming brass tones, there’s a sense of being taken on a journey which may or may not have a defined route. To be sure, the destination is defined, and sometimes in sight, but ‘Say It’ is a song that takes great delight in taking the listener down a few alternative paths to stop and smell the roses along the way. Certainly, it’s a song that sits very firmly within its own category – metal heads and indie kids, move along – but it’s also a song that will have an appeal for those who get a kick out of those jazzy, laid back tones.
Daphne Willis has returned with her latest, Freaks Like Me. Hailing from Chigago and now operating out of Nashville, Willis’ own unique sound takes a classic R&B shape and remoulds it for her own purposes. Opening with title track ‘Freaks Like Me’, there is a laid back, woozy feel which also carries with it the suggestion that despite the apparently relaxed attitude, there is a whole lot bundled up in there. As someone who has spent some time battling her own personal demons, Daphne Willis happily presents her music into the public arena as a way of communicating not only her own journey of self discovery, but also to offer others the truth that there is always hope for all, no matter what they might be battling with. ‘Dopamine’ features some smoky and sultry tones, here with an up to the minute modern twist, channelling aspects of Sia’s vocal tone, and with a startlingly catchy melody to boot. Willis consistently succeeds to capture a real depth of emotion while restraining herself at the same time, never throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the listener to get her point across. ‘Somebody’s Someone’ is certainly the tearjerker on the record, with its emotional piano and lyrics that draw out the reality that everyone means something to someone. All the same, there are some real pop banger here too – ‘Lose Control’ offers a four to the floor beat that leads into one of the catchiest pop tracks you will have heard so far this year. Closing track ‘The Letter’ acts as the perfect conclusion to Freaks Like Me, a heartrending ballad packed with warm acoustic tones and a wistful thoughtfulness that sums up the overall feeling than runs through the album – warmth, attentiveness, and creativity.
From the opening notes of ‘Wanderlilly’, Race To Neptune’s Oh Contraire immediately brings up memories of classic, washed out shoegaze. The swirling, slacker guitar tones offer a gentle nod to Sonic Youth, which gradually build as the track progresses to create a wall of sound that wraps the listener in a warm comforting embrace. It’s the evocative chorus on the guitars that creates such an impact, offering a sense of nostalgia while also keeping its feet firmly in the here and now, looking straight ahead and ready to take you into the unknown future. Race To Neptune don’t just stick to one formula either – ‘Elysian Fields’ brings in acoustic tones that add a sensitivity with the bite of BritPop, while ‘Bulletful Of Piss’ takes a similar direction while unleashing a whole load of epic, indie guitars which screech and wail like there’s no tomorrow. What makes Race To Neptune’s sound on Oh Contraire is their remarkable ability to blend together such delicate tones with a restrained snarl often sitting underneath. Moments present themselves when a particular guitar riff will bubble up to the surface like a pan of boiling water, not least on ‘Iron Satire’, which draws on the classic tones of early Coldplay and Suede. Not wanting to pigeon hole the record too much, but any fans of mid nineties indie and Britpop, and lovers of grunge are going to find plenty to like on Oh Contraire.
Music, as we know, has an incredible power to transport us to new and wonderful places. Just as the way in which a certain smell can bring back memories long forgotten, so often certain sounds and tones do the same thing. Admittedly, this is subjective. We all come from different places, have all been shaped by different experiences, and as such the way we are moved and influenced by these things is going to be different from one person to the next. I say this because when I sat down to listen to Kyrre Bjørdal Sæther’s ‘Lost In Love’, all kinds of memories came flooding back to me. There is something in Sæther’s tone and production that manages to look back to a classic rock sound, while adding to it a modern feel that makes sure it is never simply treading over old ground. As a result, ‘Lost In Love’ is an entirely accessible rock anthem that immediately feels familiar and enjoyable, while also firmly recognises that we are all very much in the here and now, all moving forward into new things. From the opening notes, there is a brooding darkness, with its long guitar notes and deep piano which provides a solid underbelly to the song. Kyrre Bjørdal Sæther’s voice has a softness and sensitivity that draws the listener in with a welcoming tone, gradually leading into a chorus that is soaring, uplifting, and the kind of melody that will latch itself in your head and have you humming it to yourself for the rest of the day.
With his own particular brand of smooth R&B with a splash of soul, Doc Jazz teams up with Toy Matthews to bring us ‘It Takes Love’. Laid back with an effortless cool, it’s a track that welcomes you into its warm embrace and offers the opportunity to stop for a while and be gently serenaded. Just like that feeling you get when you get home to a place of warmth after a long day out in the cold, Doc Jazz keeps it as chilled out as possible. It’s not a song that is in a hurry, but one that takes its time and allows for the chance to pause for a moment and consider all that has gone on in the day, and then to appreciate the finer things in life that we don’t always notice in the midst of the mad rush of the day to day. Add to it all some real classic throwback tones that will bring up all kinds of musical memories, and you’ll find that what you’ve been given is a kind of comfort blanket made for music. Sometimes we don’t need music to break new ground or force us to be challenged – sometimes we just need a song to be sung to us that leaves us with the sense that maybe everything is all going to be alright.
Brutal and blistering, Sordid Party Time’s Uprising Now! offers a modern metal sound that will shake you to your core. With its growling, screeching guitars and darkly guttural vocals, the six tracks on offer rattle along at an insane pace with insistence and creativity. Opening with ‘Fun Game’ the band’s sound firmly establishes itself from the start and does a sterling job of sorting the wheat from the chaff. Pretenders beware, this is not for those of a nervous disposition or anyone who merely dabbles with metal. As a result, the first track acts as a signpost – abandon hope all ye who enter here! ‘Motivation Of The Blind’ continues with the same pace, this time with spikier guitars that threaten to burst the listener’s eardrums. Meanwhile, the thundering drums drag the track along like a wild animal with its newly captured prey, as though returning to its terrifying lair to satisfy its thirst for blood. There are also moments of alternative tones that appear, such as the glacial wash of the guitar notes on ‘Freak Show’ and mathy rhythm of ‘Spiral’. Make no mistake, this will be a real treat for those who like their metal with an experimental twist and love a strong, doomy vocal.
Seattle based Hip Hop artist SaeMonae produces her own brand of rhythms and rhymes as a way of connecting with the listener, covering a range of issues from personal experience and wider social concerns. We ran a few questions her way to dig a bit deeper and find out a bit more about what makes her tick and influences her flow.
Crossradar: How did you get started in music, and what drives you to continue?
SaeMonae: The dream of a career in music took form for me in 3rd grade. In my elementary years, I would pretend to be my favourite artist at the time. Artist like Snoop Dogg, Andre 3000, and Da Brat. Back then, my bedroom was Madison Square Garden and I was performing for a sold out crowd every night. I believe this helped me realise that I too, could make great music. Envisioning myself on a stage at an early age helped me get to where I am at now. It was like I was auditioning for the future, so when the actual time came, I was a natural. After that, I began to manifest my own ideas about what it meant to be a superstar and what kinds of things superstars do.
Listening to music is one of the most intimate experiences one can have. It’s like being able to sit with and talk to your favourite people in the world. You feel high, loved, and unstoppable when surrounded by the creativity of these people much like you do when surrounded by family, friends, and loved ones. I feel unstoppable when I’m surrounded by music. What keeps me inspired is the search to create my own sound that makes my own hairs stand up! I am constantly searching for new ways to express myself through lyrics. It’s interesting to try to find new ways to sing about a universal topic. Like singing about love. How can I write about love in a way that has not been talked about before? Music is entertainment, but it’s also a learning tool. So I look for subjects that are uncommon in conversation and try to include them in my music. When I would listen to artist like 2pac and Outkast, I would read their lyrics and then go look up what they were talking about. I strive to write lyrics that make my listeners do the same. One of the songs I released last year, “#SayHerName”, was that for me. It was my introduction to the national rap scene so it was important for me that I led with a message. I feel extremely blessed that a protest song about police brutality against black women was able to chart in the Top 10 independently. There aren’t many artists that can say that.
CR: Are there any interesting facts about you that hardly anyone else knows?
SM: I still have an imaginary friend, but much like friendships between actual people, we don’t talk very often. I mainly call on this friend when I need reassurance on something someone may have said to me or when I need advice. Or if I’m feeling down and sad and no one else is around, this friend manages to come through with positive words. I’ll sometimes talk to them out loud while I’m getting dressed, asking what should I wear. By this time in our conversations, I’m dancing in the mirror and have gone through about 3 outfits! It’s sad that kids are told to grow up and act their age because most imaginary friends die in the process. My imaginary friend evolved with me and pays me visits from time to time.
CR: What has been your biggest challenge…and how did you overcome it?
SM: The biggest challenges that I’ve had to face so far, have been learning to write what I want to say and not what I think others want to hear. And also learning how to balance my creative space with the business side of music. In regards to writing lyrics that are true to myself, when I started listening to Kendrick Lamar, I began to let my hair down (literally and figuratively) in my writing process. My lyrics became more personal because I wanted to write about what I knew best, which is SaeMonae! I related to a lot of things Kendrick was saying in his songs. For example, not being one for the corruption in the street but unable to escape it either. Or being seen as an average person, despite my dreams being bigger than my local community. I remember while I was in high school, a friend at the time asked me to sell some weed for them. I turned the offer down because I was concerned about the consequence. But I was also concerned about the impact it would have on my community. What if I got caught? Who was I going to sell to? That was around the time I began really focusing on developing myself as an artist. So I began writing my feelings down, writing poetry and lyrics, and recognising that despite some of the current popular music, my music needed to reflect my values and my experiences for it to be authentic and true to who I am.
It wasn’t until my second year at Washington State that I met ASHES the CHOSEN, a Seattle Hip Hop artist, and began to learn about the music industry from real experiences. Before meeting him, the only knowledge I had on the music industry had came from XXL, The Source magazines and YouTube. I also did not know anyone directly in the music industry, just people who had home studios and was doing what I was doing; watching YouTube tutorials. Once I started working with ASHES the CHOSEN and Shirin E., head of operations at SmG Music, I got a face to face experience of proper etiquette in recording studios. I began learning how to organise my writing. I also learned about the various song structures, like 12 bar blues and AABA. These were structures that I had heard before I just was unaware of their names. As of right now I am a part time student and part time artist, so I have had to create a schedule that allows me to be a student half of the day and an artist the rest.
CR: Who are your heroes? Why do they rock your world?
SM: My grandmother is my first and biggest heroine! She’s helped me develop many skills that have allowed me to create the world I want to live in. She had me meditating before I knew what mediation was. We would create vision boards together to help me gain clarity of my goals and my purpose. She gave me the kind of education that couldn’t be learned from a book. Back then I thought she was crazy for all this, but I’ve since recognized the wisdom in her approach. Biggest thing of all though is she has made me feel loved, always.
CR: What do you have coming up next?
SM: I will be releasing my debut EP, Dirty PolitiKKKs,a project that I have been working on throughout my years at Washington State. I can’t wait to release this project because not only have I been waiting for this moment to share my story with the world, but also because this is music the world needs. I believe it’s going to make people want to dance but also make people think about the conditions of the world.
In May, I will be graduating from Washington State University with my Bachelors degree. Post graduation, I don’t have many concrete plans, but I would like to move to L.A. I have always wanted to live in California somewhere, be surrounded by the sun all the time. Washington experiences all the different seasons, so I am tired of the snow and rain. I’m looking forward to relaxing and not having to wake up to go to class!