best-emerging-bands-artists

Mars Rodriguez: Up until "The End"

Mars Rodriguez is an independently-operating, Los-Angeles-based, Nicaraguan-American singer-songwriter-producer-multi-instrumentalist and so far her early releases are living up to that multi-hyphenate description. Mars released her first full-length last September, Don't Wait for Nothing, and over its 30 minutes you never have to wait too long for some new sonic wrinkle or other musical ingredient to be thrown into the mix which makes for a compelling and propulsive listening experience. And while I may be reading too much into things here, I could see how this restlessness could possibly derive in part from being part of a population displaced by political crisis and state violence.

If forced to come up with my own original hyphenate to describe Mars Rodriguez's music I think I'd go with "Café-Tacuba-meets-Shirley-Manson-meets-Massive Attack" because that at least hints at the stylistic eclecticism and the multilingualism and the mix of grungy guitar, power pop melodies, trip hop ambience, dub- and psych-inspired production, rock-en-espanol rhythms and drum machine rhythms. It's one of those albums meant to be taken in all at once in full, a continuous sonic journey.

Take the album-opening instrumental track "Tous Les Jours" for example, which starts off with almost a full minute of ambient planetarium-style celestial sounds before launching into a funky percussion loop that wouldn't sound out of place in a Chemical Brothers song and then a fuzzed-out zig-zagging melody that brings to mind Radiohead's "Myxomatosis" or it does to my mind at least. After a minute or two the fuzzone starts to disintegrate and get swallowed up by swirling echo effects. Then the whole thing topples and transforms into a slower, stripped down groove--but with vibrating tones and reverb-drenched voices still hovering overhead before fading out to sounds of distorted radio signals and sine waves.

From there each subsequent song on Don't Wait for Nothing explore a new direction or two. One of these directions is the "potential pop crossover hit" and there would seem to be at least a couple on the album--like "Now" with it's singalong refrain and motivational message and steady build to a big finish--but always with a quirky touch or two to keep it more on the alternative side of things. Mars's new single released on Friday ("The End") continues down this path of pop music with frayed edges--evoking Brian Eno one moment and Republica the next, with the listener exhorted to "exit your mind". And with all this talk of ends and exits, here's to new beginnings because I'll bet Mars Rodriguez has some more interesting ideas in store. (Jason Lee)

   

Anastasia Coope releases "Norma Ray" into the wild

Here at Deli Enterprises Inc. we don’t cover nearly enough of the freak folk. And so to make amends we present the debut single out today by Anastasia Coope called “Norma Ray.”

Or not. Because there’s really no obvious label to apply to this music (plus who am I to gauge the level of freakiness?) which is an encouraging thing to say about any new artist. About the best way I can come up to describe the sound of “Norma Ray” is to say it's like if Liz Phair went in a more experimental ambient post-rock direction early in her career (or later in her career). Or like if PJ Harvey made a psychedelic acoustic album produced by Brian Eno. Or like if Joanna Newsom hired Jane Birkin, Kate Bush, and Diamanda Galas as backing vocalists and gave them an echo box and told them to imitate a flock of seagulls. No, not the band, actual seagulls. Or like if…well, just listen to the song below and insert your own scenario because I don’t get paid by the musical simile sorry to say.

Anyway we have it straight from Anastasia herself that she “draws from influences such as Vashti Bunyan, Family Fodder, David Berman, Animal Collective, and early electronic composers in the vein of Daphne Oram” and that she's also way into “Stereolab, the Everly Brothers, Steve Reich, Neu!, Pylon, Silver Jews, Spacemen 3, Faust, Broadcast, and many more” which means there is probably some more interesting music coming down the pike because that's quite a list. (editors note: see the Purple Mountains/David Berman ((RIP)) cover version appended at the bottom of this entry)

Anastasia goes on to explain she “began writing music in a serious sense when quarantine began” and that she “continued this endeavor throughout my first year at Pratt Institute where I study painting.” Which points to some interesting parallels between some of Ms. Coope's paintings with their oversized pointillistic portraiture (check out some of the paintings here) and the musical architecture of “Norma Ray” with its swarm of pinging echoes moving across the stereo spectrum like dots against an open-skied horizon created by faraway avian creatures in flight. And speaking of avian creatures in flight, I feel like this must be something like what bats hear when navigating by bio sonar aka “echolocation” and hey there’s a good name for this musical style or we could go with batcore instead. (did I say seagulls before well nevermind)



So, like, “Norma Ray” is a cool headphone listen for sure and it may even serve as good bio-sonar training for aspiring vampires. But the unorthodox vocal sounds are grounded by acoustic guitar backing and a small choir of overdubbed voices singing incantatory phrases in unison meaning this song could be used to ward off vampires and vampire bats too maybe. Quoting from Anastasia's bandcamp page the combined effect is both “disruptive and whimsical” and that's pretty dead-on, much like a tragicomic mime who experiences love and loss with a ragtag traveling circus or better yet a moonstruck Pierrot. And speaking of Pierrot Lunaire the seductive sonic disorientation of "Norma Ray" is mirrored in the song's lyrics with its opening image of reflective surfaces (“maybe five screens will do what she wants them too”) a line that's repeated and refracted through a new melodic contour followed by additional shards of impressionistic imagery and interior thoughts.

In conclusion, you can take your pick whether the song is more like a Kate Bush fever dream or a gaggle of vampire bats or a transitional Fellini movie or a ritual of mystical incantation or the musings of a moonstruck clown--or maybe if we're judging by the title it's an imagined dialogue between the nearly-titular labor activist and surrealist painter/photographer May Ray because why not. (editor's note: remember, you don't get paid per simile or metaphor) But whatever. The real takeaway is that Anastasia Coope paints a vivid, memorable picture in just under two minutes even if you can’t quite make out what the picture represents which is probably why I used/abused the word "like" eleven times in the text above. (Jason Lee)

 
   

Pan Arcadia video premiere of "Drag It Out"

Based on the music video below--presented here for the very first time anywhere, a DELI exclusive premiered in collaboration with our new DELI TV affiliate--the young men of Pan Arcadia give off a strong Meet Me In The Bathroom vibe. And bigger picture, this music video brings to mind New York City’s long and storied history of black-jacketed miscreants and misanthropes who are all still too lovable not to love like Lou Reed or the Ramones or the Strokes for example. So maybe it’s no coincidence that all the aforementioned artists also liked to hang out on NYC rooftops, especially with some beer and a pack of smokes handy.

 

And not only did they hang out on rooftops in their formative years but there's a less noted but equally important shared trait between Lou Reed, the Ramones, the Strokes, et al. in that they were all also (or still are) great pop songwriters, at least when they wanted to be, with a proven track record for creating just the right mix of earworm melodies and lyrical phrases backed by musical textures and rhythms and bottom end (bass is the place) to produce an undeniable physical and mental frission in the listener even when, or especially when, joined with abrasive sounds and attitude.

So not to put too much pressure on the gentlemen of Pan Arcadia, but they seem to have a knack for joining these elements together in an appealing way too. Take the song "Drag It Out" for example, taken from their debut EP Weeks Ago that's available on all and I mean all platforms, which does anything but drag itself out. In fact after the reverse fade-in it leaps straight into the main guitar hook (warning: this melody will get stuck in your head after a couple listens) played first with stripped down rhythm section backing and then with full on rawk energy before quickly bringing things down again along with some self-reflective lyrics and phased guitar chords in the background. But then things start ramping up again with some palm-muted guitar arpeggios moving into the pre-chorus where it's declared "we can drink until the dawn" and I'm grateful for that and then launching into a full-throated chorus featuring the title phrase with backed by a Greek chorus from the other band members which then transitions into a brief guitar solo featuring a tasty opening lick and then back to another iteration of the whole enchilada and then the big ending which ends on an unexpected major chord. And all this in just over three minutes. Welcome to Songwriting 101.

"Drag It Out" is also a good example of the classic songwriting trick of combining downbeat sentiments with unbeat music and as revealed to the Deli by one of the band members from an undisclosed location (possibly the location pictured above, the rumored hideaway and work space of Pan Arcadia): "The song’s about wanting to extend something past its time: a night, relationship, human existence etc and dragging it out for drags sake--a feeling that was all around us last year stuck in a box with the world going to shite" and I couldn't have said it better myself. Here's another song off the EP.

In conclusion I recommend you keep an eye on these boys because they may be up to something. Like they were about a month ago when Pan Arcadia partnered with the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund to present two days of streaming live music featuring several dozen artists all to raise money and help Save the Scene. So, you see, underneath the black leather and the nice hair and the rooftop partying you just know these guys are cool like Fonzie in every sense and that they know how to write a song. (Jason Lee)

   

El Michels Affair mark the start of Yeti Season

A couple years ago I got a chance to see Yeti: Giant of the 20th Century on the big screen—a film first released in 1977 to capitalize on the recent hit King Kong remake starring Jessica Lange—and boy I'm glad I did. An Italian film production shot in Canada and then poorly dubbed into English, Yeti: Got2C tells the familiar story of what happens when boy meets Yeti, grandfather of boy attempts to exploit Yeti as corporate mascot, sister of boy inadvertently seduces Yeti after brushing up against his gigantic nipple, gang of miscreants frame Yeti for murder and get the public to call for his head, Yeti gets fed up and ransacks Toronto, dog belonging to boy saves Yeti from gang of miscreants, boy and dog run across field towards each other in slow motion and meet in final ecstatic embrace. The End.

I'm sharing this absurd movie synopsis not only because the album discussed here also has “Yeti” in its name or because now I know you want to watch it immediately, but also because I bet that if El Michels Affair could go back in time that they would end up happy and well-compensated by writing soundtracks for movies just like this one--tho' not only Yeti-sploitation movies of course but also Spaghetti Westerns and Italo giallo shockers and conspiracy thrillers and Kung-Fu/martial arts movies of course, plus writing music to go with whatever other movie genres and trends are popular at the drive-in at the time. And conversely I could see the 70s Italian Yeti entering the El Michels Affair universe because if you took the super funky opening theme song to Yeti: Giant of the 20th Century (called "Yeti" and credited to The Yetians, naturally) and slipped it onto an El Michels Affair album then I think I'd probably be none the wiser and you could even do that with some of the other music from the soundtrack too.

Likewise, if you took the cover image from the 1977 "Yeti" 45-rpm promotional vinyl single (thank you, Internet) which features our hulking hero positioned in such a way that he appears either to be dancing or to be squatting and about to take a Yeti sized dump (the weird almost sheepish expression I dunno) with the words “funky disco sound” superimposed over his hairy crotch (talk about potentially funky in more way than one) all set against the backdrop of a blue-tinted, badly blown-up photograph of the Yeti's ancestral home on a rocky mountain somewhere, and then if you told me this was the cover image to the new EMA album I would totally believe you because the soundtrack song cover image fits so perfectly with the playful cut-and-paste aesthetic of EMA's music plus it's vaguely psychedelic feel (on this new album especially) and equally with EMA's sly sense of humor and the pure kick-assitude of the band's "funky disco sound," so that when you peep the real cover below it's more than a little uncanny how there's a blueish, cartoonish backdrop there too with yellow lettering and how the Yetis are both in a similarly off-center foregrounded position and how in both images it clearly looks like a man in a Yeti suit. The only major difference I see between the two record covers is that the Yeti in the EMA version has a kid in his arms and its the kid who is possibly dancing. 

Really and truly, I'm trying to avoid spreading conspiracy theories in this space about purported connections between this film and this album, but it's not easy when you find so much overwhelming evidence and plus you know how people today love their conspiracies so maybe I should write a book or something.

And sure ok, the band's namesake leader, arranger, producer and multi-instrumentalist Leon Michels has shared an origin story for the album’s title with another magazine that shall remain nameless and the story doesn't involve Yeti: Giant of the 20th Century. Still, I’m not convinced, because who tells the truth in the pages of the Rolling Stone anyway? But even if Leon Michels isn't a time-traveler in real life I can see why he would call his music "cinematic soul" because there's such a kinship to my ears between the sounds on the album and some of the sounds I've heard not only in Italian film music but also in soundtracks from Bollywood and Nollywood and other global film industries making productions designed to be polyglot, and aimed at multi-lingual and multi-ethnic audiences. So perhaps no mistake that from around the late '60s to maybe the early '80s a good number of these soundtracks pointed the way to a nascent "world music" sensibliity based on globe-spanning eclecticism, but at the same time equally based on a bedrock of melodic hooks and funk grooves and tight arrangements.

And so thank goodness that El Michels Affair is out here in 2021 making cinematic soul soundtracks for these modern times, because I'm not really quite comfortable going back to the movies yet, and EMA's music makes it easy to create movies in your head. Like on the 2020 release Adult Themes which--fair warning, be prepared to take its title literally--provides the listener with a series of sweeping, pulsing musical themes to an imaginary film of the sexy variety, probably quite similar to the movies that would run for months on end in Times Square until Deep Throat came along and got the mafia involved, that could provoke your mind to make some movies that will fully solve the mind-body paradox once and for all. But if that sounds too taxing then I'd recommendYeti Season instead, because to my ears it aspires to a more spiritually-inclined form of elevation that's ideal for creating critical-hit Oscar-bait movies in your head. But just to be clear, the funk is still in effect on Yeti Season. It's just a little more mellow overall and also the funk gets mixed to intriguing effect with everything from a stately overture played by Turkish-American qanun master Tamer Pinarbasi ("Fazed Out") to some exquisite and emotive singing by Piya Malik (Say She She) on four tracks to some strong doses of the Turkish psych pop and folk rock styles that served as one of the musical inspirations to the project according to Michels himself.

So in closing this all makes me think that fake soundtrack music should be more widespread today--not only for the benefit of movie-in-our-heads makers but also for composers because the fake soundtrack is a great concept to inspire stretching out and exploring new sounds and new creative pathways and who knows maybe new career opportunities too. For even if El Michels Affair has a lock on not-faking-the-funk on film right now, it can't last forever. And when it ends, who will write disco funk anthems for future generations and for future sad-eyed Yetis if not you? (Jason Lee)

   

Stas THEE Boss shares new content

Stas THEE Boss kept impressively busy in 2020 by releasing two impressive EPs, guesting on the most recent single (“Mega Church”) by space-rap commanders Shabazz Palaces, and oh yeah moving from her native Seattle to Brooklyn. Pretty impressive for a year otherwise marked by pestilence, political and social turmoil, soy sauce challenges and toilet paper wars. 

As one half of the now defunct THEESatisfaction—whose legacy includes 2 LPs on Sub Pop and a truly slept on EP called Sandra Bollocks Black Baby—the rapper, producer, beatmaker, and Black Constellation collectivist has continued her explorations across a range of musical territories ranging from breakup albums to instrumental records, but never straying too far from her trademark futurist vibes and polysyllabic rhymes (well, not on the instrumental records) and sharp sense of humor. 

On her first EP of 2020, On the Quarner, Stas THEE Boss gifts the listener with a Miles Davis-referencing tone poem weaving together 12 miniature compositions into one seamless piece of music chock full of blissed out beats and head spinning bars and livestreaming memes and Liquid Swords samples and Earl Sweatshirt song quotations and unsolicited invitations to a blind date at the Cheesecake Factory, and on her second EP, recorded after moving to Brooklyn, the listener is presented with woozy psychedelic-soul grooves and seductive vocals, mostly sung rather than rapped as indicated by its exclamatory title, Sang Stasia! 

While you may expect all this activity to merit a day off come 2021, on New Years Day she posted a new single which I’m going to go ahead and declare the party jam of the year called “Pandemy Stimmy.” Rapping alongside Nappy Nina and over a pared down steel drum and drum machine beat Stas lays out her demands to the new administration: “Joe Biden better run the bag / the cabinet better be black” then goes on to advocate that they “abolish the prisons and feds” plus the “Nazis and Confederates” and who can argue with any of this. And also, who can say romance and politics don’t mix when Stas pulls off “politicking for bread [with] a poly bitch in my bed.”

Even now Stas THEE Boss is still out on the campaign trail—dropping a new track on Bandcamp just the week before last called “Pretty Boy in Spring Colors” which sounds to my ears ready made for On the Quarner 2 (hey, I can dream) and then earlier this week a new video appeared for one of the mini-compositions from Quarner itself called “Penny” featuring Stas as an astronaut floating in space (see video at top of page) or perhaps on a soundstage in St. Petersburg, Russia if its closing credits are on the level. So here’s to wishing Stas THEE Boss safe travels both to and from other spheres and a continued busy 2021 and welcome to Brooklyn... (Jason Lee)