Saturday, May 20, 2017
Three years after dropping the excellent two-part EP 'Where Will We Go', singer-songwriter Nick Hakim has released his twelve-track debut full-length 'Green Twins'. The 26-year-old Washington D.C native graduated Berklee College of Music in Boston before relocating to Brooklyn in 2013 and it's here that he seems to have truly found his own voice.
On the new album, the soul influences are still there, but more layers, reverb and distortion have been added into the musical cauldron by Hakim and collaborator/Berklee classmate Andrew Sarlo. In "Roller Skates", Hakim has created a trippy soundscape with echoes of a late Beatles period/early solo career John Lennon. On "Bet She Looks Like You" he whips up a frothy, mad bartender cocktail of Motown, Hendrix with a pinch of country. The result is beautiful and gutsy.
The superb, tragic-comic animated video accompanying "Roller Skates" so perfectly compliments the song one would think Hakim and Kansas-based director/musician Micah Buzan were in the same room when it was made.
Fellow Brooklyn artist creative Terence Nance directed the video for "Bet She Looks Like You". I personally don't feel this clip serves the song well. But to each their own.
Tonight he's performing at Rock & Roll Hotel in D.C.
October 14: ALC Festival in Austin.
June 9: the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles.
June 12: Amoeba Records, L.A.
In early November he returns to the UK for five shows.
Other interesting facts: His mother is from Peru, his father is from Chile. Both of his brothers are musicians. He teaches and mentors kids and teens in NYC. He has spoken openly about struggling in school where he was placed in special ed classes from second to tenth grade, in great part due to his dyslexia.
Monday, May 15, 2017
The annual extravaganza known as The Eurovision Song Contest Grand Final took place Saturday night in Kiev, Ukraine. Portugal's contestant 27-year-old Salvador Sobral's beautiful performance of his sister Luisa Sobral's lovely composition "Amar Pelos Dois" won first place. A far cry from the uptempo pop or power ballad type of entry which usually wins the ESC, it was nevertheless an early favorite among both juries and viewers in the 42 participating countries. A soft, cabaret style, vintage Brazilian jazz flavored song (Antonio Carlos Jobim-meets-Billie Holiday), it clearly moved those listening in the arena and in front of their TVs at home. A wild card, a dark horse, but a worthy winner.
My personal favorite in the race however was the runner up, Bulgaria's superb entry "Beautiful Mess", performed by 17-year-old vocalist Kristian Kostov. Born in Moscow to a Bulgarian father and a Kazakh mother, he was singing from the age of six as well as competing in contests in Russia. In 2015 he came second in the fourth season of X Factor Bulgaria and was signed to Bulgarian record label Virginia Records.
One of the five co-writers of Kostov's almost-winner is listed as Alexander V. Blay, better known as Danish artist Alex Vargas whom I first blogged about in 2014, before he became a big name in Denmark. "Beautiful Mess" has a distinct Vargas touch to it, so much so that it's hard to believe he didn't pen it on his own. Kostov has stated he is a dedicated Vargas fan; it would be interesting to see them perform the song together live at some point.
The official clip was directed by renowned Bulgarian music video producer Liusi Ilarionov. The shoot required 35 actors and lasted more than 20 hours. The result is powerful and bears a great resemblance to one of my all-time favorite videos, "Iron" from 2011 by Yoann Lemoine aka Woodkid. It also recalls Lemoine's stunning 2012 clip accompanying "Take Care" by Drake ft. Rihanna.
My three blog entries about Alex Vargas:
My blog entry about Woodkid/Yoann Lemoine:
Saturday, May 6, 2017
In 2012 at age twenty-three, Haley Johnsen was a contestant on American Idol Season 11. Since then, the west-of-Portland, Oregon native has become a bona fide singer-songwriter, releasing the stellar debut EP 'Through the Blue' in 2014 and playing venues in the North-West.
Her most recent single is "Feel the Water". On March 8 in Portland, she offered up a sublime, stripped down acoustic version of this outstanding song as part of the ongoing concert series Sofar.
Another flawless live performance is "Broken Open", track # 5 on 'Through the Blue': the video was Johnsen's submission for a coveted spot on National Public Radio's renowned Tiny Desk Concert series. Though she failed to get accepted this time around, I'm guessing NPR host/Tiny Desk creator Bob Boilen invites her to do a set on the show as soon as word gets around about this superb artist who not only is blessed with an astounding voice, but is also a highly gifted songwriter. Be sure to listen to all of her songs on Bandcamp.
I'm also posting Johnsen's beautiful cover of one of her personal favorites, the 1971 hit "If" by L.A. band Bread, a classic which she manages to make her very own, never an easy feat when covering originals.
There are currently five dates scheduled in Oregon and Washington between May and September plus one gig at the Hard Rock Cafe in Pittsburgh June 30.
Sunday, April 23, 2017
|Albarn & Hewlett (Vanity Fair, August 2013)|
One of the most anticipated full-lengths of 2017 drops April 28: 'Humanz' is the first Gorillaz album since 2010/11 ('The Fall') from Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett, both just turned 49 years old.
Five outstanding songs from Albarn and his co-writers have been released to whet our appetites: "Saturnz Barz", "We Got the Power", "Andromeda", "Ascension" and "Let Me Out".
In addition, Hewlett's superb video Spirit House featuring the virtual animated band members Noodle, Russell Hobbs, Murdoc Niccals and 2-D was published March 23 to accompany "Saturnz Barz".
The 20-track album is a cornucopia of guest performances: Vince Staples, Peven Everett, Popcaan, De La Soul, Grace Jones, D.R.A.M, Anthony Hamilton, Mavis Staples, Pusha T, Benjamin Clementine, and more. The 26-track deluxe version also features Rag 'n' Bone Man, among others. (Nearly all of the contributing artists also co-wrote their respective tracks.)
Summer and fall tour: Fifteen North American dates are on the schedule; many of the shows have sold out. Upcoming: One show at Rough Trade in Brooklyn April 25. Note: The UK 'Demon Dayz' event June 10 in Margate is apparently close to sold out.
Saturday, April 15, 2017
The eagerly awaited self-titled debut EP from Sarah McLaughlin aka Bishop Briggs dropped April 14. The six-song collection includes two new outstanding tracks, "Dark Side" and "Fire" from the 24-year-old singer-songwriter.
Born in London to Scottish parents, McLaughlin grew up in Tokyo and Hong Kong with her family, before moving to Los Angeles on her own at age 18. Enrolling in college at the renowned Musicians Institute while doggedly playing small venues for four years plus paid off in 2015 when former Interscope A&R man George Robertson heard her singing one night, an event that led to the debut single "Wild Horses".
2016 was a bona fide pinch-myself-I-must-be-dreaming time for the artist: the hit single "River", opening for Cold Play, recording "So Tied Up" with Cold War Kids, performing on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, as well as countless print and video interviews.
Interestingly, in the interview clips, she comes across as a bubbly young woman with a solid Southern California intonation, a persona that contrasts with her less-than-sunny music and lyrics. And then there's that voice: belting like the best of soul/blues/rock greats, yet also at times turning it down several notches for a more spooky-alt vibe, this gifted vocalist has created a highly intriguing sound, one she has stated was essentially developed as early as during her childhood years in Japan. singing karaoke and being a member of a gospel choir.
Today and next weekend Bishop Briggs will be playing at Coachella. On her busy tour schedule are a string of dates the U.S.. She has one gig in Toronto May 3 plus two shows in Australia July 20 & 21.
No proper videos yet for "Dark Side" and "Fire", but here's hoping they're in the works.
Friday, April 7, 2017
|Alexander, Emil, Joachim, March 2017|
A video for "Deja Vu", the first single from Danish trio Scarlet Pleasure's next full-length (release date TBA), is out now. Shot in Nice, France by Copenhagen based director Ryan Løkken, the clip has the feel of a baby boomer era 8mm home movie. The track is one of the band's best, with lead singer Emil Goll once again channeling Michael Jackson, a thumping bass and synth bouncing along with his vocals.
A few shows in Denmark are scheduled for November; surprisingly, so far, no summer festival appearances have been announced for Emil, bassist Alexander Malone and drummer Joachim Dencker, but check Songkick or their FB page now and then.
UPDATE April 19: Scarlet Pleasure have just been added to this year´s seven-city Grøn Koncert bill. The popular Danish summer festival tour kicks off in Copenhagen July 20 and likewise wraps up in Copenhagen July 30. All proceeds have for 35 years gone to the Muskelsvindfonden [Muscular Dystrophy Fund].
https://itunes.apple.com/dk/album/deja-vu-single/id1214497777 (iTunes Denmark)
Saturday, April 1, 2017
Toronto based Allan Rayman dropped his debut full-length 'Hotel Allan' before getting signed to Communion Records (co-founded by Ben Lovett of Mumford and Sons); the label released his thirteen-song sophomore album 'Roadhouse 01' February 24.
Two stellar videos were made to accompany the superb tracks "13" and "25.22"; they were given the intriguing titles Verona's Obsession and The Cage, respectively. The first clip was directed by Gabriel Adelman, the second by Steph Verschuren; both are fellow Toronto creatives.
Together, Rayman's haunting music & clips take the listener/viewer to a strange and enticing place, one that might feature a modern era Robert Johnson in a David Lynch film, traveling all the way from the Mississippi Delta to Lost Springs, Wyoming from where the singer-songwriter is said to hail.
The singer-songwriter kicked off a North American tour late last month; he's playing at the Constellation Room in Santa Ana, CA tonight. One summer festival gig Friday July 28 has also been added to the schedule: the three-day Way Home Arts and Music Festival at the Burl's Creek Event Grounds in Oro-Medonte, about 40 miles north of Toronto. (On the same bill are top acts such as Frank Ocean, Flume, Imagine Dragons, Schoolboy Q, Rag 'n Bone Man and many more.)