Tag Archives: r&B

Frank Moka Shares a Hook with a Message on “Nation Time”

Frank Moka, “Nation Time” (self-released)

Frank Moka is a Dallas-based percussionist who, as a member of The Funky Knuckles, has played with artists like Erykah Badu and Stanley Clarke.  His new track, “Nation Time”, is a tight blending of hook with message; groove with theory.  Starting off like the feel good hit of the summer, its glistening, sunny piano chords and straight, snappy rhythm making you wish you had that cabriolet, the lyrics kick in and demand your attention – “now you got your shit together/what are you gonna do?” the opening question/salvo.  While the song continues to feel airy and light, weighty topics abound:  race, (comm)unity, police brutality, misogyny – the message is woven, and it’s impossible to ignore the pattern.  With a title that seems to reference Amiri Baraka and/or Joe McPhee (I don’t know if it is intentional), this should maybe not be surprising.

On his SoundCloud page, Moka describes the song as “a Hip Hop/Pop track with a very powerful message”, and he is being understated.  Along with other new artists like Jamila Woods, Frank Moka shows that songs with undeniable hooks need not also be vapid.  Points can be made while the groove moves you – open the windows, drop the top, and spread the word.  In addition to SoundCloud, you can follow Frank Moka on fbook and the twitt.  Here’s hoping for more from him soon.

The (Soul Train) Line Forms Here – “Street Level”, from Galaxians, Bumps

Galaxians, ‘Street Level’ (Youth Club Sounds)

Hailing from Leeds, UK, Galaxians are Jed Skinner (synthesizers, programming) and Matt Woodward (acoustic drums, more programming), together with vocalist Emma Mason.  They’ve been releasing records since 2012, and I feel a bit disappointed in myself, to be honest, to have only just discovered them, courtesy of storming new joint, “Street Level”.

Released as part of a collaboration between Leeds-based label, Youth Club Sounds, and promoters, Super Friendz, “Street Level” is a movin’, groovin’, burning 80s throwback r&b/electro-disco jam.  Like a riposte to the classic D-Train track, “You’re the One for Me”, Mason roars the opposite while standing on the shoulders of greats like Evelyn ‘Champagne’ King and Teena Marie (the group’s site also references Gwen Guthrie…we can dig it).  Behind and all around her, a driving beat, slippery bass and squishy leads – the arrangement is fantastically dense.  It’ll put a smile on your face after a hard day, even if you’re a weekend girl or guy (look it up, young’uns).  Get up and dance…dance, I said.

“Street Level”, as well as other Galaxians cuts, can be found on the Super Friendz/Youth Club Sounds “Collaborationz” (so many zeds!) mixtape, which can listen to here and purchase on the Galaxians’ bandcamp page (where you can also check they’re upcoming live dates).  Hail Galaxians on fbook and the twitt.

Review: Pheeyownah, zero9zero9 EP

Pheeyownah, zero9zero9 EP (Labrador, 6/10/16)

Great new soul/r&b/pop from Pheeyownah, a Stockholm, Sweden-based singer and multi-instrumentalist.

She’s also an artist and dancer, and movement, atmosphere and expression is everywhere in evidence on her new ep, zero9zero9.  Synthesized melodies swirl and sway betwixt and between multi-tracked vocals and churning rhythms in a manner similar, in style and tone, to Fade to Mind crew standout Kelela and other modern soul artists like Sza.  Where those artists have a foot in both psychotropic “modern r&b” stylings and 80s/90s throwback rhythms (Janet Jackson, vocally, often seems a particular influence), Pheeyownah also folds in trip hop’s hypnotic, liquid soul and rhythmic ominousness – early Bjork (highlight “Mountain Peak, Sea Deep”, in particular, seems unearthed from a Nellie Hooper vault), bands like Massive Attack, GusGus and Lamb cast long shadows.

Be not afeared – this is a good thing.  Senses are worked overtime across the ep’s four tracks, while there’s even a hint of a dancefloor banger unfurling in the insistent closer, “Cold Black Deserts”.  Three of these tracks look to have been self-released previously on the Under the Dock ep, but have now been repackaged by fantastic Swedish label Labrador; hopefully, they’ll reach a wider audience.

zero9zero9 is out now.  Check out more about Pheeyownah on fbook and her site.  You can also find her prior, self-relead eps, on iTunes (“Pretty Lights”, from 2012’s City ep, is well worth a listen for a glimpse of a lighter side to her musical persona).

New Music: Jamila Woods, Heavn

Jamila Woods “Heavn” (Closed Sessions)

Jamila Woods is a Chicago-based poet, educator, playwright, and community activist.  As if that weren’t enough, she’s also a singer possessed of an airy, languid voice that is the centerpiece of a fantastic new track, called “Heavn”.

Woods enters cooing modified lyrics from The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven”, calling for a “trick” that “makes you love someone”; that “makes the winters warm”.  The response is a paean to the joy of lasting love, free of (and in the face of) societal constructs and restrictions.  Taking a hand, Woods leads a dynastic journey to a past where “great-great-great-great-great-great” grandparents “didn’t need a ring or a broom” to make their love eternal, the refrain “I don’t want to run away with you/I want to live our life right, here” providing comfort.

The track is a welcome throwback to the early days of the so-called ‘neo-soul’ movement, at the intersection of spoken word and hip hop.  “Heavn” glides along a looped, propulsive tribe vibe instrumental sampled from The Roots’ Dilla Joints cut, “Eve”, the mix reminding me of personal favorites like Ambersunshower, touching down via a prolonged outro.  Transportive.

“Heavn” looks to be the title track of Wood’s forthcoming, debut record on Closed Sessions.  Can’t wait to hear more of this.  You can do the following thing on fbook, her site, and SoundCloud.

Review: Nao, February 15 ep

Nao, February 15 ep (Little Tokyo Recordings, 05/01/2015)

Sophomore release from the London-based singer/writer/producer, released on her own Little Tokyo Recordings label.

Nao is another in a line of new artists putting modern production touches over largely 80s-indebted r&b workouts.  Her voice, much like AlunaGeorge’s Aluna Francis, inhabits a perky, helium-fueled upper register – yes, there will be pitch shifting, but it doesn’t get too distracting.  While not a thundering, break the glass diva á la Mary J. or a soft, come hither crooner like Sade, her voice slinks in, around, and through a groove, still commanding attention through weight of charisma.

The arrangements here walk a fine line between the poppier, hook-laden dance music of AG and Disclosure and the more esoteric, narcotic r&b of artists like Kelela, SZA and Jessy Lanza.  There’s lots going on in these tracks including, notable to these two ears, the use of “natural” instrumentation in the mix (check the Sade-meets-Rick James bass line in “Golden”); more recently, the province of neo-soul revivalists. Each song clocks in at a very radio friendly run time, but there are open spaces throughout which leave room for interpretation – whether live or via remix – that make them more than merely ear candy.

Highlights include the transmogrified Zapp/Roger electrofunk (complete with what sounds like electric cowbell!) of “Inside/Outside” and the psychedelic soul of Prince-infused “Apple Cherry” (the name alone…).  For my money, though, the gold to mine from this particular vein is found in lighter tracks, including lovely ballad “It’s You” and, er, “Golden”.

The February 15 ep is available now on iTunes, and gets a vinyl release July 6, courtesy of Dummy Records.

Check out Nao on Facebook, her site and Soundcloud.

New Music: Petite Noir, Chess

Petite Noir “Chess” (Domino)

I don’t know/but you’re taking me for a fool…”  So begins the new track from the South African artist Yannick Ilunga, who records as Petite Noir (oui, je sais), dropped last week on his Facebook page.

Prior efforts, including standout tracks like “Disappear” and “’Til We Ghosts”, worked with space – echoing, crooned vocals wound ’round a distinctive sound palette.  The voice was not to be ignored however – from deep baritone to sly midrange, it was striking, Ilunga preferring to sing the melody at a slight tangent to the backing music.

On the new track, Ilunga adds falsetto to his vocal range, but the voice (while still commanding) is more part of a jam-packed sound scape than pushed to the fore.  In fact, “Chess” features a sometimes overwhelming smorgasbord of tastes and genres as it grows across it’s 6 minute plus run time:  the intertwining staccato guitar lines and stuttering percussion are reminiscent of past work, but also invited to the party are shards of house music and a wailing electric guitar, all pushed ‘to eleven’ – with an ending not a million miles away from the Brazilian percussion freakout at the end of Doves’ “There Goes the Fear”. The result could have been a mess, but isn’t; in fact, it’s compelling (check the interplay between the melody lines at round 5:30 – it’s infectious).

While perhaps a tad more commercial sounding than prior efforts, Ilunga seems to be finding a way to place his distinctive sound within the pop orbit without being sucked in by the weight of its inherent banality; hopefully, someone out there will notice, so we all have something decent to listen to on the radio.

Taken from forthcoming ep, “The King of Anxiety”, which can be preordered here.

Album Review: The Juan MacLean, In a Dream

The Juan MacLean, In a Dream (DFArecords, 9/16/14)

Electronic music tends to mine its past when crafting its present.  “New” sounds tend to be an amalgamation of sounds that came before, perhaps presented in a new way or via novel platform; often mutated by what came in between.  Dreams are, similarly, a subconscious manifestation of memories of past experiences, morphed by our current reaction to an emotional and/or physical state.

The new album by The Juan MacLean is called In a Dream, and it conjures many Ghosts of Dance Music past.  As with the duo’s earlier releases – which recalled, variously, Chicago house, new wave, techno and disco – the sonic touchstones here are plentiful.  A partial list of those I noted upon repeat listening include: early Madonna and mid-80s NYC new wave/dance music in general (“You Were a Runaway”); Temperamental-era Everything But the Girl (“Here I Am”, “Charlotte”); New Order (the guitar line at the 1:16 mark of “Love Stops Here”, the glassy, Technique-sounding synths in “Here I Am”); and early new wave (the intro and boy/girl response vocals of “I’ve Waited for So Long” recalls Human League).  Several of the album’s highlights – the sublime “A Simple Design”, centerpiece “Love Stops Here”, “Running Back to You” and closer “The Sun Will Never Set On Our Love” – are satisfying combinations of these influences.

In fact, the album I kept coming back to while listening to In a Dream was Ministry’s much derided (by the band – I personally love it still) debut, With Sympathy.  A trio of Dream’s cuts, “Running”, “Design” and “Runaway” very much recall the sound and feeling of that record, with vocalist Nancy Whang often sounding a bit like Shay Jones (backing vocalist on Sympathy’s “I Wanted to Tell Her”).  “Running” takes it a step further; Sympathy synth lines welded onto a tune recalling the lush 80s R&B of labels like Tabu Records – the SOS Band meets pre-heroin Ministry!  Naturellement!

The album is no mere nostalgia trip, however – it is as timely as it is timeless; taking cues from the past to shape the present.  It is a beautiful marriage of lush, sweeping electronic wistfulness with darkly romantic lyrics, delivered by Whang (fantastic throughout) in a way that brings back the classic (somewhat detached) club diva.  The sequencing is also spot on, with opener “Space is the Place” bookended by “The Sun Will Never Set On Our Love”.  The latter – with its imperious, Vangelis(y) opening chords and titular, epic proclamation (here referring to love’s survival in the face of ecologic apocalypse, rather than empire-building) – could have been a fine centerpiece, but the ending refrain of sending love “in a rocket shape/send it out in space” provides the perfect coda to what is certainly one of this year’s best releases.

Highlights include: “Running Back to You”; “The Sun Will Never Set On Our Love”; “A Simple Design”; “Here I Am”).