Meddling Medley: Wicca Woo, Kojey Radical, and Trails and Ways

29 May

Context can sometimes change the feeling of a song. Today, I describe three songs, and give them their own context, which may subvert your expectations.

Wicca Woo – “Detached”

THE SCENE: You are at a rowdy house party, this song comes on. The crowd is sparse and has quieted down, because most people have moved outside to the pool. A drunken man makes a subtle pass at you, prompting you to move away from the kitchen, where people keep going to refill their drinks. You glumly look around to see if anyone you know is nearby, but you only see that polite but disinterested girl wearing a baseball cap that greeted you earlier. You approach her to begin a new conversation, but she doesn’t realize you are headed her way and turns to leave. As you watch her walk in the opposite direction, credits roll over your face.

THE SONG: Living up to its title, “Detached” is unobtrusive. It could be on in the background for hours and that subtle bass line would keep me relaxed. The vocals are muffled in a strained whisper, but that, too, feels faraway and enrapturing. Fitting as a somber and ambiguous film ending.

Wicca Woo’s debut EP, Woo Wicca, is out now.

Kojey Radical – “Bambu”

THE SCENE: This video.

THE SONG: We don’t usually feature rap, but the audiovisual experience here is worth too much to not cover. The meaning behind it all is limitless: the lyrics, music production, images, and actions therein, all have moving purpose. The words are thought-provoking and delivered like a beat poem, emphasizing certain syllables specifically. My favorite line is “Can’t see the truth when it’s six feet deep.” This takes ‘burying the truth’ to a completely new level; explaining that it is six feet under suggests that not only are we hiding it, we murdered it and got rid of the body. This then brings to mind the very beginning of the track, when Kojey “used to walk past the cemetery” when he went to spend time with friends, imagining the lives they wanted. Oh, the irony: simultaneously, names like Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Freddie Gray spring to mind. Our own law enforcement erased their lives, and by extension, their truth, but we won’t allow the Truth to be completely extinguished.

For more information on Kojey Radical, follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Trails and Ways – “Jacaranda”

THE SCENE: You take a hike with friends through Griffith Park, but it is years ago, before the drought. The mountains are lush with foliage and flowers, at points creating pockets of shade where the path gets narrow, and occasionally leading to large clearings with soft grass to sit on. Everyone generally takes part in tomfoolery, undoubtedly including climbing a Jacaranda tree.

THE SONG: I love hiking at Griffith Park myself, so I’ll admit that wanting to see it not starved of water is more of a fantasy than anything. But I also don’t think Jacarandas grow on mountains, so this whole scenario is based on a falsehood. Either way, if we ever get any rainfall, I would honor the renewed flora with this track. It is so bright that you need shades, sunblock, and a hat to protect yourself from the UV rays. Like most of what Trails and Ways creates, it is also as catchy as Yogi Berra. And the cherry on top is obviously the fact that they made the word “Jacaranda” work so smoothly in a song. Magnificent.

Trails and Ways are releasing their debut LP, Pathology, this Tuesday, 6/2. Pre-order it here. Find more information about Trails and Ways on their website, and be sure to follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and tumblr.

Bridging Ears Back to Soul

24 May

Leon Bridges

When I first heard Leon Bridges my immediate reaction was that Sam Cooke had come back from the dead. I’m serious. The black-and-white soul sound sent me back to that magical moment when I first explored the inception of Soul music: the early 1960s sounds of names like Cooke, Wilson, and King. Then, I shook myself out of this initial daze. Sam Cooke – A man widely regarded as one of the finest vocalists of all time!?! How could I make such a wild comparison? But, as I took more time to listen to some tracks off Bridges’ soon-to-be-released debut album Coming Home, I realized that the comparison, while lofty, was not ridiculous. Bridges’ voice “sends me” to the soul-saturated sounds of the early 60s, and, while it may not in full bring back the mainstream popularity of slow horns and vocal harmonies, the music is certainly bridging that sounds to the ears of soul ingénues.

Bridges, who was born in Atlanta and now resides in Fort Worth, reached viral success with his song “Coming Home,” which caught the ears of several and helped him secure a record deal with Columbia Records. The overflowing bucket of talent that Bridges exuded did not stay hidden for long. With the help of Austin Jenkins and Joshua Block from White Denim, Bridges recorded his first few tracks – employing the aid of vocalists and bands that helped complement the 60s sound. His renown and success will only skyrocket with his release in June.

Coming Home” immediately takes on the feel of “You Send Me” with tastes of “A Change is Gonna Come,” and Bridges soft croon, a smoother Hozier (to make a modern comparison), has a rich Gospel feel to it that is just the right kind of sweet, not mawkish and not overpowering – it’s a voice that you can sink into, like silky gelato. The song itself is classic early Motown. It is carried by a bluesy piano and guitar mixed with traditional percussion. It is not difficult to imagine Sam Cooke or Otis Redding singing this song, and Bridges’ voice is not really a step down; heck, I am almost willing to go so far to exclaim that Bridges parallels the singers in a sense. Not too shabby.

From the slower “Coming Home” to the early Marvin Gaye-esque “Better Man.” The song features a literal doo-wop backdrop that is combined with a sweet horn section. It is almost minimalistic in its approach, and perhaps that is what I like so much about Bridges and his throwback tunes. In a musical world dominated by heavy electronics where artist after artist attempts to impress with eclectic sounds and instrumentation, Bridges takes a more traditional approach, fitting a wonderful track into a little more than two minutes.

Bridges is an artist worth tracking. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, or his Website.

Bhi Bhiman has both Rhythm and Reason

21 May

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Back in April of 2012 I came across a magical cover of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” done by a Sri Lankan-American folk-rock singer/songwriter named Bhi Bhiman. To say I was hooked is an understatement. Bhiman’s powerful vocals blew me away, and I spread the word about Bhiman to whoever was listening. It is now 3 years later – somehow; gosh, time moves by quickly – and Bhiman just released his new album Rhythm & Reason, which is a continued testament to how amazingly talented he is. Thus, on the heels of this release, I will make an impassioned plea to many wonderful people who read this blog consistently. Spread the word of Bhi Bhiman. Simply put, more people need to know about this voice.

Bhiman released a self-titled album to much critical fan-fare in 2012, and it featured several tracks that accentuated his deep croon and acoustic stylings. His new album is similar in its intentions: blow you away with well-written folk rock tunes that are sung with ardor and boldness. The tracks move gracefully, blues-tinged and melody-soaked; each featuring Bhiman’s unique stylings. One such song is “Moving to Brussels,” which, while itself is a classic Bhiman track, was recently provided with a humorous video with a cameo from Key & Peele star Keegan-Michael Key.

Key plays a good J.K. Simmons impression with his volatile music lesson for Bhiman. The “Whiplash”-inspired video is hilarious. It does speak for itself, so I will let it do so … play the video now! It doesn’t hurt that “Moving to Brussels” is an energetic folk hit that moves with an infectious effervescence that draws you in. Key doesn’t hurt.

And, if you need some more Bhiman convincing, here is my favorite track by the musician. It is called “Crime of Passion” and while it is not from the new album it is still worth a listen, or two, or three!

Out of this World

20 May

willie j healey“’Subterraneans’ is mostly instrumental, with brief, obscure lyrics sung near the song’s end,” describes the Wikipedia page for David Bowie’s “Subterraneans,” off of his 1986 album, Low. Take away the part about the lyrics only being at the end, and I think that statement is very close to being accurate about the Willie J Healey track of the same name. It has all of those elements: scarcity, brevity, and obscurity, but uses them in very different ways- ways that don’t bring back memories of the Cold War.

Healey’s opens up with a cool guitar melody as he runs in the dark toward an unknown destination. The song’s instrumentation is very minimal, but also deliberate enough to make sense for the video to be shot in slo-mo. It is made up of scenes that Healey had always wanted to make, including a cake scene that brings to mind a certain chubby young hero, Bruce Bogtrotter. (Go Bruce!) This video, though, has a desolate strangeness to it that makes it slightly less family friendly than Matilda. The most telling lyrics are delivered with very careful precision: “We’re sub-terran-e-ans; society’s a-li-ens.” There is a detached, outsider feel amongst the characters in the video as well; they are all in their own world, and it looks as though Plain Jane really is looking for something more exciting than a birthday party in a van. Though, I can’t think of anything that could top that.

Willie J Healey’s debut EP, HD Malibu, is out now. For more information, find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Soundcloud.

Body of Songs: the Heart with Dave Okumu

15 May

Dave okumuCurated by BBC Radio 1’s Gemma Cairney and composer Llywelyn ap Myrddin, Body of Songs is a project that explores the human body through music. The Music Court will profile each track in the compilation. The final four tracks will be announced this summer, and an album will follow. The concept is described best on their website:

“A collection of 10 songs by some of the UK’s most talented artists, inspired by the body’s organs.

Hidden from view, suctioned together in dark flesh, the organs are the core of our physical functioning, and our emotional and feeling world.

Each artist explores an organ with the help of experts, to find out how it works and unlock its mysteries and myths. Along the way they ask profound questions about their own lives; about illness and disease, and age and suffering.”

More information can be found at bodyofsongs.co.uk.

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At face value, it seems as though the heart would be the obvious choice for what organ to study and showcase as part of Body of Songs. But this isn’t any old project. These artists sit down with doctors and researchers to learn more about their organ of choice and make a piece of music that truly embodies it. So rather than hearing a throwaway love song, Dave Okumu takes this opportunity to thank his heart for continuing to beat after being electrocuted.

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