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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Be Not A-Frayed

13 May
This album art is beyond incredible.

This album art is beyond incredible.

OIM Records is a new label based in the Bay area, with a mission to take the Oakland music scene to the next level. Helmed by experts in all three cornerstones of the industry- promoter Sarah Sexton (Oaktown Indie Mayhem), musician Angelica Tavella (Nyx), and producer Jeff Saltzman (The Killers’s Hot Fuss, Blondie’s Panic of Girls)- OIM is already proving to be a cool label to watch. They have put together a compilation of local artists that has caught my attention, and the track from Waterstrider can’t be beat.

The artists all got a chance to record with Saltzman, and the boys and girl of Waterstrider had a particularly entertaining time. There was a clash of lifestyles in the studio, with lead singer Nate Salman pushing the vegetarian health foods agenda on Saltzman, who apparently has an allegiance to gas station cuisine. His philosophy is always minimalist, evidenced by his satisfaction with what I can only imagine is a lot of 7-Eleven taquitos, but it also translates into how he is in the studio. “He doesn’t go overboard on gear, instead just trying to get good performances and interesting tones,” says Salman. It certainly shows on “Frayed,” which is a beautiful collision of a few isolated rhythms. The vocals, drums, and guitar are the backbone and when the synth dives in, even more facets of the song come to the forefront. And when you add in the lyrics, emotion oozes out, as in the line, “I’m awash in dew-laden desire.”

OIM Vol. 1 will be released on 6/23. For more information on OIM Records, visit their website, Facebook, and Twitter. Waterstrider also have a new album, Nowhere Now, which is out now. For more information on Waterstrider, visit their website, Facebook, Twitter, and Soundcloud.

Not feeling any sadness for Simon MacHale’s debut album, Let Down Those Old Defences

12 May

Simon MacHaleComplexity is sexy. Nothing is as pleasurable as the feeling when you’ve just discovered or solved something that you’ve been thinking about for some time. This applies in the most vague ways, whether you’ve “figured out” one of your co-workers, or solved a crime, you always get that smug sense of satisfaction. I hope it isn’t too forward to say, but I find Irish songwriter Simon MacHale very complex. I’m usually pretty good at shoehorning a band’s sound into one made-up-but-understandable genre, but this time I’m truly stumped. It is too large to fit into any genre or genre-hybrid. In MacHale’s debut album, Let Down Those Old Defences, there are dashes of anti-folk and processed pop with drum machines and vocal performances that will surprise you. The lyricism is tangible, not empty and full of wispy ideas and generalizations. The best summary of the artistry demonstrated on Let Down Those Old Defences is the audiovisual experience of “If I Cannot Have You.”

“A modern take on the classic melancholy of a fantasist: sad pleasure and dolorous joy,” MacHale says of the track. Almost every time he sang the word “sadness,” it was new, both in emotional intensity and sonic ingenuity, making it one of the most interesting vocal progressions I have ever heard. The entire video was made from still images of two stuffed mice in a dollhouse, which created the perfect context for the song. The relationship is well executed, with thorough depth of the depravity of the protagonist. The painting, specifically, is a very powerful symbol. He vandalizes it as part of the destructive coping mechanism that he and the narrator share, but he doesn’t physically destroy it. Instead he paints over it, streaking black all over, but maintaining the original portrait outline. If the obsessive behavior wasn’t already evident from the lyrics, now it was front and center.

As perfectly as the video comes together, it may be surprising to know that MacHale initially was inclined to reject this concept, opting for a more singular storyline. He stressed the importance of the solitude depicted in the lyrics, but the video director, Bob Gallagher, had other ideas. Given the pre-arrangement of the dollhouse that they were using as the set, he was able to craft a story that allow the video and the song to work together successfully. “For instance the baby’s room was already totally decorated,” explained Gallagher, “so I thought placing the adults there with a notably absent baby could be powerful and dramatic.” The minor chord progressions also give the song an eerie feel, creating an expectation that something bad is going to happen, despite the happy first few scenes. After all, the first line is “I’m feeling so much sadness for you,” though it’s difficult to predict the ensuing mania.

Simon MacHales’s debut album, Let Down Those Old Defences, is out now. For more information on MacHale, visit his website, Facebook, and Twitter.

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