Songwriters

On Psych-Jazz “Kensho ! EP,” The Growth Eternal Finds Quality Over Quantity

Tulsa native and L.A.-based psych-jazz auteur Byron Crenshaw unveils their second official work as The Growth Eternal. Clocking in at a brisk 10 minutes, Kensho ! EP, is a collection of six lovingly-crafted miniatures that offer, according to the artist, “…introspective sentiments on Black identity, love for the environment, social media anxieties, and more.” Crenshaw continues: “This EP comes from my direct experience, me trying to see and connect with my true nature. I hope it helps you like it helped me. If it does, that’s Kensho.”

Kensho is a Japanese word from the Zen tradition, roughly translated as “seeing one’s true nature.” And these six tracks, although just a taste, feel as if we’re getting a small but vivid glimpse into the artist’s inner world. The songs pulse with anxious and wobbly, pitch-shifted vocals; haunting, spiraling vocal harmonies; guitar fragments filtered through a broken kaleidoscope; skittering minimalist grooves, and elastic and jazzy bass lines reminiscent of L.A. jazz/R&B virtuoso Thundercat. In other words, it’s a view into a complicated yet fascinating musical world.

Here’s hoping that The Growth Eternal shares a fuller look at their true nature with listeners soon. A fuller sense of Kensho. Gabe Hernandez

   

Lionel Boy Oozes Laid-Back Melancholy On New Single "Mango Michelada"

Photo Credit: Basil Vargas 

Lionel Deguzman, the singer/songwriter mastermind behind Lionel Boy, hails from Hawaii, one of the chillest places on Earth. Clearly the laid-back island vibe stuck with him, even after his move to his current home base of Long Beach several years back, as the first single from his self-titled debut album (Out May 14th on Innovative Leisure) demonstrates. 

“Mango Michelada” delivers a satisfyingly chilled-out, mildly psychedelic downtempo groove, with a minimal but assured beat draped by gauzy synth pads, while the breezy male/female “call and response” vocals amp up the sense of absolute cool. Overall, the impression is of a track that falls somewhere with within rap, RnB, ambient and psychedelic music all at once. 

Lyrically, the track is a softly stream-of-consciousness recollection of a past love that ended in betrayal. “All my life I’m fuckin’ with savages/looking for love in the wrong places,” sings the female vocalist, at first by herself with only the synths framing her. When Lionel Boy joins in to double her, just as the full arrangement returns, it’s a genuinely relatable moment of emotion that make us eager to hear what Lionel Boy has in store for us with his coming debut. Gabe Hernandez

   

Fresh Cuts: “Barbara Ann” From Rosie Tucker’s New Album “Sucker Supreme.”

More signs the light is at the end of the tunnel for the pandemic comes in the form of “Barbara Ann,” the sprightly, confident, but also wistful lead-off track from LA indie rock artist Rosie Tucker

Beginning tentatively with crystalline guitar arpeggios over a bed of soft static and guitar line noise, the track quickly blooms into a melodic brew of pleasingly crunchy rhythm guitars, sweetly endearing alto lead vocals, and breezy but half-jaded “oohs” and “ahhs,” joined later by a subtly humming, retro monosynth line. 

It’s a proper “75 and sunny” highway driving track, but its energetic sound puts a polished sheen to an simultaneously earnest and jaded lyric, with the narrator addressing the titular Barbara Ann with lines like “the life you chose that sent you reeling/How did it go? How was it,” while also reassuring Barbara by mentioning that “with a Louisville Slugger/Under your side of the bed/No one’s gonna hurt you now.” It’s a delicate balancing act, mixing hurt with hope, but Rosie Tucker pulls it off nimbly. Gabe Hernandez

RIYL: Soccer Mommy, Phoebe Bridgers, Alvvays

BONUS: Check out the lyric video for “Barbara Ann” on YouTube below (courtesy Rosie Tucker)

 

   

Air Devi writes songs about moving and mosquitos

Air Devi is both a band and a person which is like a PJ Harvey kind of deal. And also like PJ Harvey, she's got some serious musical and songwriting chops. Air Devi, the person, is alternatiely know as Devi Majeske and she's a violinist, sitarist, guitarist, bass guitarist, keyboardist, and a fairly recent U. Penn grad who writes cool songs that come across pretty laid back at first but then get under your skin and into your heart and head. Like on the recent single “Mosquitos in the Backyard,” a song that floats by like a big marshmallow cloud and with images of “wash lines swaying” and “lush perfume hanging” to match. Except when you dig a little deeper it's not all strawberries and cream because the song appears to either be about contracting malaria and/or it's a pretty brutal take down of a pest and narcissist with lines like “you’ll feed on anything that breathes / you never loved anything." Another clever touch is how the choruses sound a little bit like a buzzing mosquito with the chopped-up guitar chords and circling bass line on the high strings so there's much to comtemplate here.

Air Devi draws from diverse musical roots ranging from first-wave punk to Bollywood soundtracks to bedroom singer-songwriter pop to folkie psychedelia but there’s one recurring motif to my ears in how she/they often combine a blissed out vibe in the music and vocals with lyrics that are a series of sharply observed slices-of-life and streams-of-consciousness--pulling from disperate stands of thought and stands of identity and even from different languages with code-switching into French and Gujarati on a handful of songs. 

The latter Indo-language is heard on “Move Without Place," a song that rotates gracefully between styles—the Gujarati comes at the end of a sequence that moves first from ambient indie pop to a syncopated baggy beat with a Bollywood-like vocal melody and then Air Devi wondering aloud “Am I colonizable? Capitalizable?” when everything suddenly stops for a split-second and a bell chimes and then it goes into what sounds like traditional Hindustani music complete with dholak drumming, which is simlilar to a tabla but double-headed, and electric guitar and entrancing ornamented singing but then it all unwinds down to a single repeated guitar note and then back to the syncopated beat with the amibient indie pop backing and back around again. The restless musical arrangement perfectly captures the theme of the song to "move without place [and] make my own space" even if one's skin and the whole world itself is "splintered" and "sensitive."

It's all equally visceral and heady stuff--a dialectic that can be applied to much of Air Devi's music in my humble opinion. But you can make up your own mind by listening to the two aforementioned singles and then 2020’s Swanning About EP above ("No Clearances" is a particuarly lovely statement of purpose). And if you need more you can check out earlier singles like "Standoffish" and "Alchemist" and the stripped-down DIY of 2018's Chicken Nuggies & Rosé EP with some of its contents later rearranged in full-band form on Swanning such as "My Landlord Is An Asshole!" and who can really argue with a sentiment like that. And then, if that's not enough, you can dig into Air Devi's Soundcloud page and find even earlier works like the anti-Putin diss track "Kremlin Bop" that doubles as a Ramones-like sing-a-long with the title perhaps even being an homage to said band. 


But hey let’s not fixate on the past because cheap nostalgia is so 2020. And plus it'll be even more interesting to see and hear what Air Devi does next. (Jason Lee)

 

   

Ghost Funk Orchestra soundtracks the "Asphalt Homeland"

If the long awaited Cagney & Lacey movie ever comes to fruition (sorry, I don't consider the TV movies canon) I'm going to immediately start an online petition to make "Asphalt Homeland" the opening credit music--played as the camera slowly pans over the asphalt homeland of Lower Midtown Manhattan until landing on our two sometimes harried but always resolutely determined lady detectives. And sure, the new single by Ghost Funk Orchestra is a good deal less boob-tube bouncy and peppy than the original TV theme song, but that's good because it'll help Cagney & Lacey make the transition to the big screen with the help of some dramatic, cinematic music.

Of course this isn't to imply that bandleader/songwriter/arranger/producer Seth Applebaum only writes music appropriate for a Cagney & Lacey type show. To the contrary, Seth is a one-man "library music" machine whose music could just as easily be used to score urban dramas, medical dramas, gangster epics, or even wild comedies and super action films but with a distinct golden-era approach harkening back to a time when jazz and funk and rock and Latin music and psychedelic music (and many other genres besides) often shared equal space on a single soundtrack.

Take the song called "Fuzzy Logic" for example (see video above) which stays true to its title by rejecting Boolean either/or logic in favor of multiplicity and suggestive ambiguity. It starts off sounding like the dramatic opening moments to a classic spy soundtrack or a caper movie with its dissonant stabs of brass and syncopated hi-hat cymbal--not to mention how the music video's use of color gels and multiple exposure give it a strong Bond pre-credit sequence vibe--before sliding into a groove that's laid back enough to be Sade-approved but with some vaguely uneasy lyrics (and a brief Bill Withers "I know" interlude, may he rest in peace) sung to enchanting effect by regular vocal collaborator Romi Hanoch (PowerSnap). And then about one minute in the song takes another turn with a breakdown section featuring flamenco-style clapping and dub-like echo and surf guitar reverb before circling back to the second verse and then later ending with a concise but still pretty epic solo outro traded between baritone sax and flute.

Seriously, put this song on in the car next time you're cruising around and it's guaranteed to make you feel like a total badass even if you're just heading to 7-11. Or put on almost any GFO song because they rarely skimp on the funkiness, the ghostliness, or the intricate orchestrations. And did I say "one-man show"? In reality, Ghost Funk Orchestra is more like a ten-to-twelve-man-and-woman machine because you know it can't be easy making music this elaborate alone and especially not if you plan to play live. And by the way seeing GFO live is a wonderful thing that will presumably happen again someday soon. 


So, if you lack familiarity with the Ghost Funk prior to "Asphalt Homeland," their most recent full-length An Ode To Escapism (2020) is a good place. The album features a shift array of musical emotional hues that still manage to flow together as a continuous whole--more that fulfilling the promise of the album's title. And just case you happen to forget the stated purpose of the album while listening there's an intermittent GPS Lady voiceover reminding you that "as long as your headphones are on...you're safe, and hidden" and it never hurts to be reminded of that. (Jason Lee)