Saturday, August 27, 2016

AWAS


(Nashville) AWAS, the new electronic future-pop duo from Nashville is led by songwriter/vocalist Ariel Hill & producer/composer Aaron Howard AKA Danny Melonz. In 2011 they met for the first time in a small overcrowded Nashville bar. Hill had just finished an intimate acoustic performance and Howard had just brought to attention that she had lipstick all over her face. Vague introductions and small talk were the only things exchanged between the pair as they went their separate ways not to speak again for the next 3 years. As fate revealed itself, Hill ended up at Howard's house in November of 2014, having been invited by his roommate to sit in on a session. It was there that she discovered an impressive, lengthy, and semi-secret catalogue of unreleased instrumentals idly sitting on his out of date desktop. Shortly after, AWAS was born.


AWAS is a mixture of swirling synths, flipped vinyl samples, live instrumentation, and vastly versatile but powerful vocals. Their live performances also stand to be as dynamic as the pair themselves. The nearly theatrical performance aspect of Hill and the contagiously high energy of Howard create an unlikely fascinating combination. After dropping two well-received singles AWAS have released their debut album!


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Sunday, August 14, 2016

Essence


Essence releases Black Wings, an album that reminds us why we are human


(Los Angeles) I often say that poetry is not dead, it is all around us but we just call it lyrics now. That applies in spades to Black Wings, the new album released this week by essence, the San Francisco-based Americana/folk/blues/rock/pop singer who goes only by her first (and given) name.  Back Wings is a deeply poetic and musically addictive quarry of the dissolution of essence’s decade-long marriage.  Listening to it is like orbiting the dark side of the moon:  you are joyfully lost in the eternity of the universe, but you are tethered to the shadows of the reality below. Either way, the experience is mystical and forever memorable.  It is no wonder that essence won the grand prize in the Lilith Talent Search and came in second, ahead of 20,000 other entrants, in the international Contest.


Black Wings is a dozen song that quarries the intimate agonies and lingering fossils of essence’s divorce. The songs are not in chronological order – they don’t proceed from discovering  her man’s unfaithfulness and the stages of pain to its finality.  Rather it mines her heart, following first this vein of pain and then that of determination and then the other of shock.  It is not a story as much as it is an epic poem told in folk, blues, rock and an echoing voice that ranges from belt to melancholy.
It is this quality of Black Wings that makes it so powerful – the music separates us from the logic of a narrative so we can live the journey of a devastated, but a resilient woman. “There goes the last piece of my heart” she sings in the first song, “1000 Pieces” warning us as we start this journey, “don’t ask me how/it’s all gonna end/the only thing/I’ve ever been sure of/ is closure’s just/another Hollywood trend”.

The title song, “Black Wings” opens the gateway to her – and many others’ – downfall: “I’m falling down hard for you…you are fucked up enough for me”, letting us know that she, like so many other women, are attracted to men who “are like cactus” but fulfill a need. She repeats the plea in “Camels and Diesel”, pleading “I’ll walk across the coals to you/but you won’t do the same/give me some fire”.

She delivers these pieces of her heart in a feast of musical styles. “1000 Pieces” is perfectly pitched folk pop carried with a brush drum beat, laced with organ flourishes and colored with echo. “Black Wings’ injects its emotional payload with a simple high-end plucked string that frames her voice like Carolyn Cardoza’s electrified ukulele does with  the vocals of jazz singer Irene Diaz. Clean and powerful.

The essence dives into deep blues-rock with “Camels and Diesel” led by a metal body resonator guitar, howling electrics and full drums pounding out a heartbeat, all scaffolding her urgent voice.

Later in “Fossils”, partially written with her four-year-old son, the big guitar comes out to drive home determination as essence proclaims she will love her husband  “when you’re dust/ and when your fossils turn to gasoline…but I will love you most when that car runs out of gasoline”, a point she emphasized earlier in “Camels and Diesel”:  “I think it’s time/you done give/back what you/stole”.

For me the musical high point of the album is “Headed North”, her escape maybe into heaven, maybe into hell, but it is what women all over the world do when the relationship they are in becomes unbearable. Blues rock of the highest order, “Headed North” pierces you with urgent, desperate guitar riffs as essence’s voice soars and she cries,  “heading north/don’t try to find me…sky hangs low overland/ smoking like a gun”. You pound your knee, snap your fingers and understand.


But as powerful as “Heading North” is musically - and emotionally, it is “Over My Head” that stops you in its tracks and makes you hit “repeat”. Bracketed almost whimsically with rhythm guitar and light, sophisticated percussion, essence sings from inside her memory of the time she encountered the woman that caused her the pain. “I walk the same steps as you/faded velvet corridor/I steal the smile from her face/the one meant for you….I don’t want to know/what happens next…who’s been lying in my bed”.

As you absorb that, essence takes you back to her childhood in “Roots”,  a history with divorced flower child parents who moved her so much she was in 14 schools by the 4th grade.  But somewhere in that childhood, she got the advice of her life and she tells us in the hard blues rock song “She Said” that spools out the words of a wise old woman and why she is strong enough to leave when she has to.

The album closes with the down and dirty piano-pounding folk blues rock “So Much Hell” which could be pulled from today’s headlines. “So much hell/in the world… now all I want is/one decent heart/to lie beside/while I fall/apart”. Don’t we all.

Back Wings is essence’s fifth album, including the children’s album A Dog Named Moo and His Friend Poo which features the delightful song “Everybody’s Gotta Butt”. Each one mines her heart and quarries the emotional fossils built up since the Summer of Love of her parents meeting. Becoming a single mother of two, still dealing with her children’s father, and succeeding in a music business so tough that many fail, is a testament to her determination, her resourcefulness and above all, her gift of poetic lyrics and music skill to convey them,  nurtured through darks days and light.

The product of this determination, resourcefulness and gift is one of the outstanding talents of our time, not just in folk and Americana, not just in rock and blues, not just in pop and children’s songs, but in the words that make us human. That is what Black Wings does: it reminds us why we are human.

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Saturday, July 2, 2016

Allison Iraheta & Halo Circus

Bunny by Halo Circus: a warrior’s anthem with a poet’s heart, and all American.

(Los Angeles) Bunny by Halo Circus may be the most important record of the year,  and perhaps the decade.

I don’t say that easily. I say it because Bunny by Halo Circus is not only a musical triumph, but it uniquely exemplifies and transcends the demographic and cultural change overtaking the United States, the emergence of a new American Latino generation. This change is a revolution of Millennia's and Allison Iraheta and her band Halo Circus is both the spear tip of that revolution and its future, present before us. Halo Circus sings in the key of the second largest Spanish-speaking nation in the world, the USA.

Allison Iraheta’s Latin blood has been hidden under the beats of American pop. Born to immigrants from El Salvador, she was raised on the mean streets of Compton, the creative cauldron of South LA, where she sang, took voice lessons and  performed at the local Latin electronics store, La CuraƧao. She entered and won the reality contest show QuinceaƱera: Mama Quiero Ser Artista” on Telemundo, singing in English and Spanish.That took her to American Idol where she was refashioned into a pop star, went all the way to the finals, and exited with a record contract that produced two Billboard charted pop albums.


Iraheta’s music sold but her power and heart were muffled, pushing against a pop straightjacket, trying to get out while all around her the American Latino Music revolution was moving forward.  Pioneer bands like Los Lobos and Ozomotli were joined by newcomers La Santa Cecelia, Chicano Batman, Pitbull and Gabby Moreno. Mashups & blends were on the radio, YouTube, iTunes and in the parks and plazas and venues of LA. The timing was right when she met double-platinum producer Matthew Hager,  who had worked with Duran Duran.  They formed the band Halo Circus and the  straightjacket came off, releasing the  cathartic, bilingual urgency that is the album Bunny by Halo Circus.

The eruption has been slow building, like a volcano ejecting steam while lava rises from its core.  Carefully road testing songs on stages  and online before releasing singles, Hager monitored Iraheta’s rising lava to free its power only when ready. The result, dropped June 24, 2016, is an album of 13 songs that blow the top off of the volcano.  With Bunny, Iraheta’s vocal lava joins and superheats the boiling rivers of cultural and political revolution rushing through cities, barrios, farms and the ballot boxes throughout America.  

In Bunny, Allison and her Grammy level band – Matthew Hager on bass, the atomic-powered former Jeff Beck drummer Veronica Bellino and master guitarist Brian Stead -- collect the hope and pain of the Mexican corrido, slams it into the terrifying power of  Halo Circus’s precisely calibrated  rock and injects into your ears with a howling, sighing, vocal hypodermic. You are intoxicated, addicted and energized in ways no mere chemical can accomplish.


The key to this wicked cocktail is Iraheta’s voice, a finely tuned instrument that seduces you with world-weariness in the brief “He promises the Moon”, sends you screaming toward the sun in “Nothing At All” and then pulls you back gently into an orbit around the dark side of the moon in the mysterious “Far From Eden”.  Hager – who both produced the album and plays bass on it  - strips down the music in  “Yo Me Voy” while the Allison wrings your heart out  and then builds it back up to a volcanic climax, obliterating octave lines as she rises and soars.

But Iraheta comes back down to earth hard in “All I Have”, co-written with Hager. “She had the car, the condo, the kids/until it all came crashing down….she’s on the street fighting for tomorrow…I know that hope isn’t a plan” Iraheta sings, wondering “where we go for tomorrow”.

Where she goes is to “Verdad”, with its martial like music evoking the marching armies of many women on the street fighting for tomorrow.  Reinforced by a Mexican accordion and reveling in Bellino’s sophisticated and deceptively simple drumming, it halts to allow the howling Iraheta to downshift for a moment of calm before the pace accelerates.  For many, the metaphorical pinnacle of Halo Circus may be the English-language “Guns In His Hands”, where Iraheta directly confronts the barriers to personal life and social change.  Augmented masterfully by Victory Mori on classical guitar and Janeen Rae Heller on the musical saw, the song bluntly faces the reality: “I can barely hold you in/You come at me with guns in your hands/and tell me to dance….And I’m getting tired of this”.

The gloves come fully off in “Band Aid” written by Iraheta, Hager and their long-time friend and inspiration Paul Williams. “We want a revolution/a short cut to solution/no we really need a cure…we’re human after all/we are taught the awful art of being small.” She proclaims denouncing the band aid of her pop past and raising the flag of revolt. “Band Aid” is the anthem of  a warrior and a leader of change that reflects back to the early days of the Chicana Movement.

This is music for the Pan-American generation.  This is music to fight to , music to love to, to dance the dance of national evolution and walk the picket lines of social change. But it is also music from a deep heart that orders you to strip yourself naked of fear, cloth yourself with love and hope and put an Immigrant banner across your chest.  It both stakes out the new territory of metallic alt pop rock in the expanding genre of American Latino Music and moves it to a new level of demand and emotion. Where La Santa Cecilia's “ICE” lays bare the injustice of deportation, Bunny provides the angry power to fight it.

In this Bunny does not bridge  the lines of language and culture; it shows us that they have been erased.  It says we are young, we are music, we rock together, we love together, we hurt together, we are one together regardless of where our parents came from, regardless of where we came from. And it says we must fight together for our future . This is a warrior’s anthem, but one with a poet’s heart,  a combination that is uniquely Latin and All-American.



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Patrick O'Heffernan
@Music FridayLive!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Kikagaku Moyo


Photo Credit: Kentaro
(New York) Kikagaku Moyo (translation: "geometric patterns") was formed in Tokyo in the Summer of 2012 by Go Kurosawa and Tomo Katsurada. Their music incorporates elements of classical Indian music, Krautrock, Traditional Folk, and 70s Rock. Kikagaku Moyo calls their sound psychedelic because it encompasses a broad spectrum of influence, but most importantly their music is about freedom of the mind and body and building a bridge between the supernatural and the present; improvisation is a key element to their sound.
The band released their first self-titled album in 2013 on Cosmic Eye Records / Sound Effect Records before touring Australia with the native Aussie band Dreamtime. By April 2014 Kikagaku Moyo had released Mammatus Clouds on cassette via Sky Lantern Records and recorded their second LP Forest of Lost Children which was released in May 2014 by Beyond Beyond is Beyond records. The band toured the U.S. at the same time sharing bills with Moon Duo, Eternal Tapestry, White Manna, Life Coach, and the Myrrors. They played at Austin Psych Fest and L.A. Psych Fest to high acclaim.

Their Self-titled record and Mammatus Clouds were later re-released on 12” vinyl by Captcha records in the U.S. and Cardinal Fuzz Records in the UK. The band toured the UK in the fall of 2014 to support these releases which ended up selling out in a matter of days. In 2015, Kikagaku Moyo released several split 7” records, the first with Kinski on God Unknown Records and a self-released split with Moon Duo. This was followed by a 35 day tour across Europe with sold out dates in Berlin, London, Paris, Porto, Lisbon, Barcelona, and Geneva. They appeared at Eindhoven Psych Lab and Duna Jam - the band has earned their reputation as fierce and captivating performers.


Photo credit: Maximilian Teucher

Like a long journey, House In The Tall Grass unfolds itself through many layers. Existing fans of Kikagaku Moyo will be comforted by the soft vocals harmonies and warm sitar, but what sets this release apart is the refinement of the band’s songwriting and their delicate execution. Side A begins with a pair of traveling songs where the interplay between the vocals, guitar, and sitar lift and suspend the listener on an unexpected journey. The patient listener is rewarded with tracks such as “Trad” and “Silver Owl” which demonstrate the masterful balance the band has between soft and loud; chaos and order, or being both cold and tender at the same time.


House in the Tall Grass, recorded between October and December of 2015 at Tsubame Studio where it was mixed, mastered, and produced by Yui Kimijima, takes the listener by the hand on a satisfying quest through destinations both familiar and unknown. It is a natural step forward for the band and perhaps the most refined example of their style to date.


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Athena

Athena lets the sunshine in for her first US album: Inspired, transformative, flawless talent.
(Los Angeles) If you were fortunate enough to be at one of Athena’s performances in Hollywood over the past year where she road-tested the songs for her first US-produced EP, Ready for the Sun, Part 1, cherish those memories because it will be a blockbuster and you were a witness to history.   One of the finest female voices on the planet and clearly one of the best songwriters, Athena lights up your ears with sunshine, pain and love in the new EP.

Both in her live performances and in her recordings, the Greek-English singer and environmental and children’s champion combines, honesty, vulnerability and confidence in every note, singing to you about  experiences and emotions that are simultaneously personal and universal. Produced by Ethan Allen (Sheryl Crow, Gram Rabbit, The Cult) at Santa Monica’s legendary Village Studios, Part 1 opens with the lilting and hooky  “You Bring Me Luck”, proclaiming that you are so natural/so magical, a good description for her uncanny ability to stretch her voice from a beaming smile to a soaring shout of joy.

Moving on to “Everything to me”, Athena warns of rain, her voice sailing as if driven by a solar wind. You are pulled along with her and  can’t resist humming the chorus. No wonder, when you consider the stellar talent she assembled to produce Ready for the Sun, Part 1: Deron Johnson (Miles Davis), Jimmy Paxson (Stevie Nicks), Michael Ward (Ben Harper) and Jonathan Flaugher (Ryan Adams).


Then the sun goes down and the stars rise with the song “Stronger”, where Athena can shoot for the stars as a lover lit up the night. A universal theme but a poignant chapter of Athena’s story, deftly shaped with her voice and Allen’s production. Then “Autopilot” takes a sharp turn both musically and emotionally, asking – no, demanding -  “Can you hear what you sound like/Can you hear how you complain, lamenting opportunities lost because of excuses and fear.  No excuses for Athena, as she moves the poetic lyrics along with a sophisticated muted drum beat and whistling between the chorus and the verse.  You tap your feet, but you also think about the message.


The final song, All of You,  illuminates her vocal painting skill, conjuring up images in lines like  I’m in love with your edges/Those cracks and your broken tattoo. She has found her love and she is crazy, as they’ll tell her.  But this is only Part 1 and we know the story will go on.

Athena’s past albums, both in English and Greek, have  showcased  her voice and her sharp songwriting, but in Ready for the Sun, Part 1, she took the time and put in the work to go beyond those talents.  Athena creates not just music, but an intimate relationship with listeners.  You can almost see Athena’s voice emerging from your speakers wearing a smile of love, a frown of concern or a glow of joy. Ready for the Sun, Part 1 is her confession to you, a narrative of a piece of her heart that she gives you in confidence.

Artists from around the world flock to sun-drenched Los Angeles to mix with its talent pool, work with its producers and play in its many venues for its vast audiences. But only the best succeed. Los Angeles demands more than great singing and songwriting; it demands inspired, transformative, flawless talent. This is what Athena gives us in Ready for the Sun, Part 1. She is indeed, ready for the sun.


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LA. Correspondent
Patrick O'Heffernan
@Music FridayLive!