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best-emerging-bands-artists





King of Nowhere go somewhere beautiful with "Real Men"

The song "Real Men" is a powerful coming out narrative that also serves as a sneak peak of King of Nowhere's upcoming album (King of Nowhere) to be released in January 2022. You can listen to the song directly below, just scroll over the graphic, Bandcamp embeds are sneaky that way! Note: their three previous full-to-fullish length records are embedded throughout the rest of this piece, in reverse order of date-of-release, to help you get boned up on King of Nowhere's past repertoire.

"Real Men" opens with a hushed tone and vivid imagery ("remember we were twelve / covered in mud, hopping downed trees") further intensified by the trappings of youth and fragility on display ("I teared up in my room, under blue curtains / with cartoon bugs on them") intensified further by the fear and confusion indirectly incited by the mud-covered childhood friend’s affection for our narrator who "hadn't learned just yet to recognize that kind of smile" even with his friend wearing a t-shirt with the printed slogan "real men wear pink" and all (to be fair, reading social cues isn’t the forte of most 12-year-olds) and if only we were all so lucky to have a precocious gender-norms-and-other-norms-questioning friend at such an impressionable age the world would probably be a better place.

But in "Real Men," composed by King of Nowhere's singer-songwriter-guitairst-producer Jesse French, the protagonist does have such a friend, and it seems to lead to an awakening, even if it didn’t take hold right in the moment because, in a tone tinged with regret, the lyrics describe how the song's 12-year-old-self reacted: "I said ‘it would suck to be gay’ and / welcome to the USA." At this point Jesse's voice falters and practically folds in on itself, with the music following suit, reduced to near total silence. But then, catharsis...



Up to this point the rhythm section of Dylan LaPointe and Vicente Hansen Atria (on bass and drums, respectively, and let's not forget the second guitarist known only as "Porter") have pushed the song along with a writing-in-my-journal-in-the-middle-of-the-night-with-a-flashlight-under-the-covers kind of vibe, with only a slight build in the first chorus to match the shift in perspective to the present day ("I'm sorry I never stood up and told you that you / you were as strong and bright as / I never wanted to be") but it's not until we reach the point where the song bottoms out as described above that it finds the courage to open itself up, and yes I'm describing recorded music as a sentient being and why not, jumping from a whisper to a lighter-waving guitar solo and a final-pent-up-emotional-dam-burst of a chorus, declaring "I'm sorry I never called you up and told you that you / you are an inspiration [...] I am so proud you made it / can't wait to open up like" at which point the song suddenly cuts off--which could be meant to indicate that the future is unwritten, and that the process of "opening up" is ongoing. (or maybe that the band ran out of tape. does anyone still record on tape?)

Final Thoughts: Maybe I'm reading into things here (hey that's what I barely get paid to do!) but one thing I think this song is telling us is that for our "reality" to change we first have to change some of our notions of what's deemed "real" in the first place (e.g. what is a "real man"?) and heck, even if you ignore the lyrics entirely "Real Men" may shake up your reality because between its tender, aching music and equally tender, aching vocals, and its butterfly-emerging-from-its-chrysalis climax, you're likely to find yourself all teary-eyed and gently sobbing under the duvet by the time it's all over. Unless you’re too hung up on masculine archetypes to allow yourself a good cry, that is. (Jason Lee)





Scam Avenue self-titled LP is a breakout break-up album

Last month the band Scam Avenue unveiled a long-playing record titled Scam Avenue and maybe you know how the whole self-titled thing is often shorthand for an intimately-revealing-or-even-autobiographical record which appears to apply here. At the very least, Scam Avenue is a marked departure from the pair of EPs they put out in 2015 and ‘16 (Mercury and Sailor, respectively) comprised mostly of hook-laden-lushly-produced-yet-minimalistic-coldwave-infused-electropop-with-a-guitar-peeking-through-every-now-and-again-songs-suffused-with-a-playful-sense-of-sensuously-inclined-tightly-coiled-sexual-tension which just happens to be a verbatim description of my favorite niche category to be found in the CD bins of Tower Records back in the day when physical media and highly-hyphenated genres ruled the roost.

In the intervening years Scam Avenue released but a single single—a song called “Jailbird” with lyrics about “the history you now disown” and “a crisis of your very own” (so long, flirtatious electropop!) featuring some of the moodiest saxophone interludes (played by Stephen Chen of San Fermin fame) to be heard this side of Tears For Fears' early repertoire, played atop a downbeat, descending chord progression and a skittering breakbeat style rhythm, culminating in a tremulous upper-register sax cry sustained for the better part of 30 seconds that all taken together could lead even Roland Orzabal towards a call to check in and make sure you’re doing ok—a song that (as it turns out) served as a fitting precursor to the new album and which is fittingly included on said album.  

So it’s no surprise to learn that the band’s principle-but-not-only-songwriter-plus-producer-guitarist-synthesist Laurence Kim had been through some stuff in the preceding years (and hey haven’t we all!) which he himself describes with admirable candor on the band’s Bandcamp page: “I had been in a relationship with someone and it came to an end. That was the inspiration for about half of the songs on the album. In addition, I had already been working on some other songs, which were in various stages of completion. So the album wasn’t conceived as a break-up album, but it could be viewed in that way. Each song can be seen as an expression of some aspect of that central theme.” 

So there you have it and kudos to the band for not putting out any music in the interim because who really who wants to hear a bunch of I’m-so-happy-and-fulfilled-in-my-current-long-term-stable-relationship songs. Scam Avenue has instead admirably jumped straight from the coy, flirtatious phase of romanic infatuation depicted on their initial EPs to the post-breakup-baroque-electro-indie-rock cri de coeur statement of their debut full-length, a worthy new entry to the canon of classic break-up albums like Frank Sinatra’s In the Wee Small Hours, Joni Mitchell’s Blue, Kanye West’s 808s & Heartbreak, and Kermit the Frog’s Unpigged. And hey, I bet you didn’t know that the birth of the LP format as a medium for popular music owes its existence to a certain fedora-wearin’ mafia-lovin’ artist’s desire to explore and express the various facets of post-separation bereavement and if you don’t believe it I recommend you watch the enlightening video below.

Back to Scam Avenue, you can tell that this album’s gonna be a a melancholic headtrip from its very opening moments when “Fevers Fade” fades in on a burbling, circling synth arpeggio complete with knob-twisting timbral warping (*insert joke here about romantic withdrawal and knob-twisting*) which I’d say is musical semaphore for “help I’m stuck deep inside the folds of my own grey matter but hold up it’s not so bad in here and not so bad retreating from the world at large and just tripping out on my own emotional fluctuations and whatever else I got laying around” (the track’s duration is exactly 4:20 if you get my gist and I’m guessing that you do) an impression only enhanced with the layer-by-layer entrance of Nate Smith’s dead-eyed disco beat and Julie Rozansky’s goth-funk bassline and singer Devery Doleman’s airy falsetto haltingly reciting the opening lines (“blood / in the water / falls / like a flower / feels like fate / fevers fade”) after which even more layers of swirling synths and choppy rhythm guitar and plinky piano melody and bass guitar lead parts are introduced before the song folds back in on itself, ending back where it started with the isolated arpeggio line.

It’s really quite the low-key tour de force so it was a wise sequencing decision on Scam Avenue’s part to follow it up with the floaty-retro-dream-poppy ballad “To the Quick,” a song that’ll make you wanna go Julee Cruising Into The Night and maybe I should mention here the highly-relevant fact that Devery and Julie also play together in a Twin Peaks/David Lynch-themed band called F*ck You, Tammy (if you've seen Twin Peaks: The Return you’ll get it) which seems to have strongly informed this song because it's got some strong Roadhouse vibes for sure. 

And here’s a fun fact you probably won’t care about but I’ll share it anyway—the first post-Covid lockdown gig that I attended was seeing F*ck You, Tammy in mid-May 2021 playing outdoors in rural Pennsylvania in front of a drive-in movie screen as part of a weekend long tribute to (and viewing of) David Lynch’s filmic oeuvre at the Mahoning Drive-In Theater (the only drive-in in the world still screening 35-mm movies on the regular for all you b-movie cineastes out there) and lemme tell you it was a gig both wonderful and strange. 

Anyway it’s probably clear by now that I’m starting to lose concentration and anyway you don’t need me to spell out the rest of Scam Avenue for you (the band or the album) so just move on to the heart-rending harmonies of the six-minute-plus “Destroyer” which I’d say is one of the best aching-with-longing-indie-pop-epics since Lush’s “Desire Lines” (ok ok I’ll stop now) and keep going. And if you have any more questions I recommend you head out to the nearest forest clearing and throw some stones at a bunch of empty bottles. (Jason Lee)

photo by Ebru Yildiz

 





Knifeplay go straight for the emotional jugular on new single "Hurt Someone"

Between the name of the band and the name of their new single (released just today!) and the photo above and the video below, I’m not sure I’d wanna meet Knifeplay alone in a dark alley.

But I would wanna listen to “Hurt Someone” alone in a dark alley because it's perfect music for a dark isolated place (whether interior or exterior) but at the same time perfect music for a place that’s ethereal and womb-like and otherworldly, with the steam rising up from a gutter nearby that catches the blue and pink light cast by neon signs just outside the alley while also diffusing the glow of dancing red and orange flames burning in the multiple unattended garbage bins that dot the landscape of Philly's grittier neighborhoods, or at least they do if you believe what you see in the movies, like in pretty much every Rocky movie where there’s at least one flaming garbage bin to be seen in the requisite jogging-through-the-streets-to-the-strains-of-horn-driven-disco scene.

You can probably tell I’m going for a cinematic vision here and it makes sense because Knifeplay makes widescreen-worthy life soundtracks with layer-upon-layer of oceanic guitars and hovering strings/synths and rhythms like a steady undertow that’ll make you wanna swim out to sea so far away that the rest of the world fades away from view. (or it’ll make you wanna hang out in a dark alley at night, I really need to pick one metaphor and stick with it!)

Anyway, Knifeplay is a six-piece made up of Alex, Johnny, Jack, John, Max, and Tj (no, I have no idea how to pronounce the latter) and according to the official press release released by their record label Born Loser Records it’stheir first new piece of music in nearly three years. Engineered by Philadelphia’s Jeff Zeigler, Hurt Someone offers a dark yet empathetic view of a character who fits right in with the world they’ve crafted in song since their early EPs” and there you have it.

And while you’re at it, you should head to your nearest streaming service asap and check out the single's B-side as well (“Ornament”) which is hardly ornamental because if the A-side is ethereal and amniotic, this instrumental B-side is the side that’ll actually make you feel like you're about to be stabbed to death in a back alley because the track ratchets up the nervous tension with a delicious-yet-demented-sounding dissonance until it builds up and up and up to an almost (almost) unbearable climax and then suddenly jump-cuts to black. (Jason Lee)





Single premiere: Climates take us to the "End of Nights"

—>>> CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO CLIMATES’ NEW SINGLE “END OF NIGHTS” RELEASED TODAY!!! <<<—

In 1999 Universal Pictures released an apocalyptic-themed thriller starring Arnold Schwarzenegger called End of Days that the Washington Post panned as “all fire-and-brimstone bunk, a tired compendium of involuntary crucifixions, grim messages carved into human flesh, fly buzzings, ominous choral chants on the soundtrack and at least one head twisting.” 

Fortunately, Climates’ new single “End of Nights” has nothing to do with this movie (not even one head twisting!) but still it provides an interesting point of comparison. Whereas Y2K-era-end-of-the-world scenarios tended to be big, loud and stoopid (e.g., Satan trying to impregnate one of the hottie high-school witches from The Craft in order to spawn the Anti-Christ) in 2021 as depicted by Climates in fitting-to-the-times form, we’ve come to realize that the apocalypse may be a little more quiet and insidious, to the point where it may have already started (“I feel apocalyptic at night / and I sleep fine”) and anyway it may be time for a good house-cleaning (“pick up pieces / take them to the morning / waiting on sunrise”) especially for those among us that stand to lose the most (“watching all your empires thriving / hope the walls are high enough where you sleep”) who may finally be held accountable for their excesses (it’s beyond the scope of this piece, but you may wanna check out the Red Bull Music Academy article linked here on apocalyptic themes in ‘90s hip hop, which were plentiful, in terms of how these themes tied into racial injustice and societal reckoning).

Returning to Climates, personally, I consider “End of Nights” to be a worthy new entry into the established canon of doomsday songs—songs that often make one think hey the end times could actually be kinda sublime in a goodbye-cruel-world-let's-throw-ourselves-into-the-abyss kind of way, or even straight-up exciting-and-energizing-in-a-wiping-the-slate-clean-and-starting-over kind of way—joining the likes of David Bowie’s “Five Years,” Prince’s “1999,” and heck even Nena’s “99 Luftballons” if you’re up for a new-wavey doomsday and who isn’t. In fact, I'd say Climates combines elements from all these aforementioned musical approaches to the apocalypse because “End of Nights” brings together a nervy new-wave vibe (the band could write earworm pop hooks in their sleep apparently) with Five Years-style wistfulness alongside a 1999-ish drive to party 'til the wheels fall off as in “something perfect / if only for a moment / end on a high note.”

In other words, we're talking levels here folks. “End of Nights” opens with a catchy crunchy note-bending guitar riff played by the band's newest member whose name is Mitch (we’re on a first-name basis here!) soon joined by a pulsing rhythm section and the chiming opaque tones of the band’s other guitarist Molly (aww, Mitch ’n’ Molly!) and already you’re given some idea of Climates’ gift for mashing up sparkly pop and post-punk grit (there’s a reason they refer to their music as “glitter grunge”) a compelling contrast that’s only reinforced by bassist/vocalist Theadora’s twisty, melodic basslines and her airy-yet-penetrating pipes with her voice swathed in warm reverb (production/engineering duties are filled by the dream-pop-team of Digo & Jennica from the band Colatura) and from there on the song moves through multiple build-ups and breakdowns (the guitar intro reappears later, but enmeshed under many more musical layers) and it all feels highly cinematic even if there’s no ominous choral chants (but there are some nice harmonies!) 

Speaking of levels, I had a nice conversation with Theadora recently which greatly informed everything I've had to say about the song so far, and she used this striking phrase describing “End of Nights” as being about “clarity as things get darker” (levels!) and that really unlocked the whole song for me ("darkness as enlightenment” is one of the most appropriately-twisted optimistic takes on recent times I can imagine). So, besides the whole apocalyptic angle, you can also take “End of Nights” as being about the night itself, and more specifically, the fellowship of nighthawks and “creative people who thrive at night” (makes sense to me as I sit here at 4am finishing up this writeup) who already understood all about “darkness resetting things, making things truer” before the rest of the world caught on, living an after-hours existence at the “end of the world” in the sense of existing at the figurative end or edge of the world, off the grid, under the radar, otherwise removed from daytime’s demands and rituals. 

And finally, speaking of The End Of The World as an actual geographic place…when I mentioned to Theadora how her band’s music strongly evokes actual physical spaces in my mind, or simply space itself (how perfect is the name Climates then?!) what with their songs’ highly ambient, environmental atmospherics and the tangible sense of open space that you can often hear in their songs (composing her songs on bass has something to do with this as Theadora revealed to me, given how it leaves so much open space to work around, and suddenly I feel like listening to some King Tubby tracks) a sense of open space that makes me think these songs would be perfect for the soundtrack of a road movie, especially one with its protagonists traveling through the American Southwest, and as it turns out, Theadora loves this part of the country and its vast, wide-open landscapes, inclined as she is to take cross-country road trips whenever given the chance, and as it also turns out, the cover image of “End of Nights” is a shot of the night sky taken in Arizona by her truck-driver friend Keith Blevins, a friend she met at a Loves Travel Stop somewhere in the Western US (the cover image was edited by Theadora adding the superimposed sunrise, again, layers!) a guy who's also a photographer who captures evocative images of "for spacious skies and purple mountain majesties" alongside his other big-rig adventures, and then add on top of all this the cover image of the band's 2020 single “Super 8” which was taken in Sedona, Arizona, an image shot by Keira who also happens to be Climates' drummer (Sedona, in particular, is a fave place of Theadora's natch) and it just goes to show how powerfully music can communicate deep-seated associations and emotions and even specific places and landscapes and climates, especially when you've already somewhat on the same wavelength as your audience. Cool.

It’s just these kinds of unexpected synchronicities that tend to reveal themselves late into the night when the layers of the mundane world are peeled away. And so I’ll close here by declaring Climates to be a 21st century indie rock reincarnation of Arizona-based story-song master and country music giant Marty Robbins (harmonies! reverb! moodiness! wide-open landscapes!) which is a thought that would only occur to me at 5 in the morning, and more importantly, I’ll encourage you, dear reader, to click the link at the top of this page and go listen to the new song by Theadora, Molly, Mitch, and Keira before the apocalypse hits so you better snap to it. (Jason Lee)

photo credit (top of page): Francis McNeill

 





Fiona Silver unveils her "Swoon" song and you're sure to swoon too

This past weekend Fiona Silver released her latest single (most of the profiles written to date about the native-New-Yorker-turned-bottle-blond-R&B-and-soul-belter refer to her as a “spitfire” so I’m going to resist that trend oh whoops..) and it’s another corker, a contemporary throwback closing-credits-ready mood piece with some seriously soulful feels (the track was recorded in Atlanta with Randy Michael as co-writer and producer) that’s something like a classic girl group number sans the girl group and it's very appropriately titled “Swoon.”

And by feels I mean it’s an aching atmospheric ballad full of gently caressed drums, shivering strings, mellow groove low end, mournful organ chords, and crying electric guitar (dig that heavy reverb and tremolo not to mention the subtle yet sublime note bends in the solo). And that’s even leaving out the classic-Americana-high-lonesome-style-whistling towards the end, all of which echoes the lyrical content about “deep black skies” and “cry[ing] lovebirds” and the like. And in the chorus, when Ms. Silver reveals that “everyday / from midnight to noon / autumn to June / you make my heart swoon,” not only do you actually believe it but you also feel it because this song is a straight-up declaration of lovesick blues that’s more along the lines of Hank Williams than Doris Day when it comes to coping with the blues (tho' the latter could get a bit emo when she was down for it).

And hell, I’m down for it. In fact I’m sincerely hoping that “Swoon” is the first advance single from an album (or an EP, I'll even take an EP) to be titled Staring Pensively Into Your Whiskey Tumbler While Thinking About What Could Have Been, Or What Still Might Be, Against All Odds, Because You’re A Hopeless Dreamer That Way. Because who couldn’t use an album by that title right now or any time really...

…which is precisely why artists like Fiona Silver (or Lou Ann Barton, or Bettye LaVette, or...maybe just check out Brooklyn-based Dala Records' roster for more contemporary examples) are still necessary in this world, artists who write songs for cutting a rug at the juke joint on a Saturday night and songs for chain smoking Lucky Strikes alone at the kitchen table on a Sunday morning, songs that evoke and update the universal sentiments of dance-ready R&B and good time rock ’n’ roll and gutbucket blooz for modern types who're still cool for cats. (Jason Lee)

photo credit: Michael Lavine; HMUA: Paige Campbell 

 

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