Teach for America rarely inspires rap careers. But then again, it’s rare to find a rapper like Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo, a.k.a. Sammus. Upon graduating college and taking a position with TFA in Houston, Lumumba-Kasongo noticed her classroom was full of brilliant kids, but they weren’t connecting with her lessons. “It was like they knew all the lyrics to these rap songs but couldn't put the pieces together for some of the math stuff I was teaching,” she said. “So I thought, maybe if I made rap music about how dope it is to be a nerd, they will love it.” Over time, these playful classroom raps have morphed into a full-fledged creative outlet where Enongo tackles more "grown-up" issues, using her platform to touch on topics such as sexual agency, nerddom, and mental health in bracingly honest fashion.
After her time in Houston was up, Lumumba-Kasongo moved to Ithaca New York to persue a Ph.D at Cornell University, all the while continuing to amass a dedicated fanbase as an artist. Later this month, she’ll release Pieces of Space on Don Giovanni. Entirely self-produced, the LP features a slew of eclectic guests ranging from fellow hip-hop weirdoHomeboy Sandman to label mate Izzy True.
We spoke with Lumumba-Kasongo about school, punk, hip-hop, and the politics and responsibilites thereof. Catch her record release gig at Alphaville on 10/28 with Sad13, Vagabon, and Alter.
AdHoc: The upcoming album is your first on Don Giovanni and the first hip hop album they’ve released. How did that relationship come to be?
Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo: I learned about [Don Giovanni label head] Joe Steinhardt being in Ithaca New York through Izzy True. Then I was like, "Oh wait, this guy is also a post-doc at Cornell? And is running this really successful label?" So we ended up meeting at the beginning of this year, and I basically talked to him about my plans moving forward. Initially, I wanted to drop this album in March and he said, "That's not a good idea. You should wait and drop something that introduces people to you in a progression," since my last album was a Nerdcore project. In that yearlong period, the people coming to me were coming to me since they loved Metroid. He was like, "Before you drop your magnum opus, you should think about something that bridges the gap." Once we had that conversation, the next question was, “Who do you want your audience to be?” I said explicitly, "I want it to be people that go to punk shows." After that conversation, Don Giovanni seemed like the right home because the ideologies aligned. We have the same DIY ethos and in terms of caring about social justice issues. And then the audience was there since it's primarily a punk rock label.
David Lynch once said of the song “Blue Velvet”, “there was something mysterious about it. It made me think about things. And the first things I thought about were lawns—lawns and the neighborhood.” It’s the same sort of mystery that intrigues guitarist Simon Hanes and his cinematic project Tredici Bacci. Hanes has long been obsessed with film soundtracks coming out of 1960s/70s Europe, and it shows -- the music is noir, mysterious, otherworldly, and deeply nostalgic. While one could safely assume that Tredici Bacci’s debut LP, Amore Per Tutti, was written and released in Western Europe forty years ago, it’s the synthesis of musical styles across time and geography that brings the music to life. On “Drowned (featuring Jennifer Charles)”, the Elysian Fields vocalist’s foreboding performance is met with Spaghetti-western whistles, a muted trumpet, and even an accordion line. It’s a chanteuse and guitarist in a dim club, perhaps a spotlight paints their shadows softly swaying on the stage, crooning for lost love and a broken heart.
Peering deeply into the depths of the music of Listening Woman, you will find a balance of harmoniously uplifting ballads and ferociously chaotic breakdowns. Dismantling any preconceived notion of songwriting, Listening Woman builds ingeniously maniacal compositions only to slip further into their own deconstruction. Getting Mystic, their new release on OSR Tapes, is a fascinating journey into another world, and as the album title suggests a truly mystical experience. Listening Woman stretch beyond the roles of musicians and transform into conjurers of transcendental experience. The playfully demented music video for “Room Divider” directed by Ariana Ratner perfectly mirrors the bizarre nature of their music. Filled with strange decorations, warped visuals, and odd interactions with objects, “Room Divider” is a fantastical trip into the melted minds of Listening Woman.
Just in time for winter to set in and magnify the isolation and stress of living in New York City, Leapling have returned with a meandering, summery gem of a track. "Tunnelvision" is taken from the band's forthcoming Killing Time EP, which is composed of songs that were in contention to be on Leapling's June LP Suspended Animation. The song is a breezy exploration of ennui and drifting through life as the days blend together via (you guessed it) tunnel vision. Leapling's trademark brand of thoughtfully composed experimental pop is stripped back here—according to Dan Arnes, the mastermind behind Leapling, the EP is an intentional experiment in minimalism, with every track performed and recorded by Arnes himself for the first time. "Tunnelvision" is a very successful exercise in that regard: sparse power pop guitar lines lazily jangle along to a steady plodding drum beat for the duration of the song. The song never falters, steadily striding along at the right pace and constantly evolving along its course—an impressive feat for a 6+ minute long composition, and the mark of a songwriter who has truly come into his own.
The video for “The Flower Tree” opens in what I assume is Daniel Bachman’s house. A camera pans across a lightly-decorated mantel, scanning across art, photographs, burnt sage, and a crab handling a cigarette, before fading into a mesmerizing live rendering of the piece, a cut from his upcoming self-titled album. As anyone familiar with Bachman knows, his performances are profoundly moving, rooted in the hypnotic finger-picking patterns of the American primitive tradition. A life-long student of older American music and history, Bachman could not have had a more perfect genesis for the Appalachia-influenced style of guitar playing. Born near Fredericksburg, Virginia, he has since become more or less a fixture of North Carolina’s triangle area. At its most basic, "The Flower Tree" is a country-blues song, but characterizing the piece as such does a disservice to its intricacy. Drone elements become more central, as do violent and varied strums, all of which points to Bachman's ever-developing compositional prowess.
“He died at New York Presbyterian—no one came to visit him,” ends “N.Y. Presbyterian,” the second song on Mommy’s debut LP Songs About Children (for the inimitable Toxic State Records). Mommy draws from many traditions, most notably Japanese hardcore and noisecore. Mike Caiazzo’s scathing, relentless words sound like they’re being delivered through a cheese grater; this guttural voice foregrounds Tye Miller’s noise-crusted bass and Ian Graye’s pummeling drums. While the band’s stage antics sometimes border on the cartoonish, lyrically things couldn’t be more serious. Documenting slices of life from Caiazzo’s time in and out of hospitals and other insidious institutions devoted to helping “at-risk individuals,” Songs of Children is a heavy listen, grounded in the very real failings of mental health establishments at large. Though Mommy has shared bills with Burning Spirits pioneers Death Side, the group's sounds are less anthemic and definitely less positive, coming more from the school of Gai, The Swankys, or Ghoul. Still, few bands have sounded exactly like Mommy, and even fewer have addressed these themes with such an unflinching eye.
As an active member of the Philly music scene and previous drummer for Alex G, Scotty Leitch has proven to be prolific songwriter in his own right. Perfoming under the name Shelf Life, Leitch shares his third full-length, Spirit Bear, a heartfelt collection of songs that exude a rare kind of warmth. With noteworthy collaborative songwriting and vocals from his friends—Cleo Tucker of Girlpool, members of Arthur Shea, and Eli Sheppard aka Yung Sham, to name a few—Leitch crafts his most meditative work yet. Amidst the cacophonous guitar distortion time seems to move slowly, allowing one to reflect on uneasy qualms. Spirit Bear is a work that uplifts and helps collect jumbled thoughts.
Spirit Bear is out now as a self-release. You can stream it below.
Lauren Morgan used to sit in front of Jordan Shih in their high school Latin class in Florida, not knowing that the two would start playing music together in the years to come. Upon graduating from Florida State University, Morgan became a Blossom Parks Condominiums landlord in Orlando. At the end of her work days taking care of the shady property, Morgan would meet up with Shih, who himself would have just finished a grueling shift at an AT&T call center. The duo then began writing the simple yet moving pop songs that would birth their collaborative project, SALES.
With the help of their friends Guillermo Casanova and Alana Questell, the duo put out their first single, “Renee,” a yearning number, three years ago. Soon, people of the internet were hooked on SALES: with their songs featured on popular Vines and their curation of YouTube channels, the group has kept fans itching to hear Morgan’s mesmerizing vocals over infectious guitar hooks.
How did you first get involved with music?
Lauren Morgan: I took piano lessons when I was young—but I really wanted to play guitar. My parents made me take piano first. [In high school,] I met Jordan, who was on a totally different trajectory.
Jordan Shih: My background is in electronic music and production. I didn't pick up a guitar until I started SALES. But I really enjoyed growing as a musician with the project. I was at a point where I was burnt out with electronic music—mainly because there was tons of amazing electronic music coming out at the time, 2010. I was like, "Shit you know, I'm not that great." I gotta do something [else].
As a little kid, Halloween was a time to imagine, cause mischief, and terrorize the normally terrifying power of the adults. Unidentified sounds become perverse, infernal. Listening to CDs of stock "scary sounds" and infernal covers—and more recently, John Carpenter—has always been an integral part of a truly spooky October. A cool, autumnal aesthetic prevails in coffee, muffins, and reverb-washed esoterica. For Geographic North's Halloween compilation Death On The Hour, Moon Diagrams replaces the fractal arpeggios of "Tubular Bells" with a wave of saxophones on "Omegaplex." A side project of Deerhunter's Moses Archuleta, Moon Diagrams has worked with Geographic North once before, for his debut release Care Package. The cassette was part of the equally seasonal series Sketches For Winter. Deerhunter's guitarist, Lockett Pundt, also released a cassette with Geographic North as Lotus Plaza. — Ross Devlin
The ideal Halloween tune should be both haunting and mischievous, transporting the listener to a mindset that sends chills down their spine. On his contribution to Death On The Hour, celebrating the ghoulish holiday, David Jacober, a founding member of the late, great Dope Body, is able to do just that. Having released two LPs on Baltimore-based label FriendsRecords, Jacober has established himself as an artist with a knack for crafting incessantly catchy bedroom pop songs. “Elly Kedward” continues in the same vein, albeit with a much spookier touch. An ode to the ghost that inspired the Blair Witch Project, “Elly Kedward” is a lo-fi yet maximalist composition, blurring the lines between horror movie soundtrack and club banger. Jacober toys with disorienting electronics and rattling percussion adeptly, compiling them on one another to form a tension filled track. — Dylan Farrell
Death On The Hour is out today on Geographic North. Listen to the whole 11-track compilation below.
This article appears in AdHoc Issue 14. You can pick up a copy at AdHoc shows around NYC. If you'd like to order a copy, you can do so here for a physical edition; you can download the PDF here. You can also find physical copies at the following locations in New York City:
Academy Records, Greenpoint
Artbook @ MoMA PS1, Long Island City
Cafe Grumpy, Greenpoint
Commend, Lower East Side
Coop 87, Greenpoint
LIC Corner Cafe, Long Island City
Little Skips, Bushwick
Printed Matter, Chelsea
Spoonbill & Sugartown, Williamsburg
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Who is Gary Wilson? It’s a question Beck fans likely asked twenty years ago, when he namechecked Wilson on “Where It’s At.” It’s one Stones Throw Records devotees likely asked in 2004, when the label—hitherto known for hip-hop-oriented releases by Peanut Butter Wolf and Madlib—put out Wilson’s cosmic funk LP, Mary Had Brown Hair. And it’s something young Californians likely ask now when they see the bewigged, mess-making, 62-year-old Wilson on local bills with Ariel Pink.
The upstate New York-born, San Diego-based performer recently released the slick, libidinous LP It’s Friday Night with Gary Wilson, his tenth album since reviving a long-dormant career in 2003. Full of terminology and love interests—such as a mysterious woman named Linda—that have been recurring in Wilson’s work for decades, It’s Friday Night adds more layers to the existing Gary Wilson story, one that effectively began with Wilson’s self-recorded, self-released breakthrough LP, You Think You Really Know Me. When it came out in 1977, that scattered collection of keyboard-led pop songs betrayed a bewildering array of influences, from saccharine kitsch to twelve-tone composition. Alongside it, he developed a singular style of experimental performance full of peculiar costumes and messy stage antics.
The precocious Wilson studied cello and bass—as well as jazz, classical, and modern composition— throughout his childhood, while nurturing an interest in what he describes as “extreme art.” By the time he graduated high school, he’d played bass in lounge bands, shredded in the rock group Lord Fuzz, and compared notes with a surprisingly receptive John Cage, whom he met after looking up the legendary composer in the phonebook. You Think You Really Know Me, which he released when he was 23, brought those divergent interests together; according to the artist, it was also the moment when he “became” Gary Wilson—the same Gary Wilson that, forty years on, is still dancing provocatively with mannequins on stage and releasing bizarre, self-recorded pop LPs like It’s Friday Night.
Robert Rauschenberg once said that he tries to act in the gap between art and life. Does Gary Wilson exist somewhere between the two as well? After speaking to Wilson on the phone about the various stages of his artistic development, I’d argue that he’s gone ahead and eliminated those boundaries completely. Where many artists seek to create a distance between public persona and private self—assuming a new name, putting on a new look—there seemed to be little difference between the “Gary Wilson” I’d seen on stage and the verbose yet obtuse man I spoke with. When It’s Friday Night with Gary Wilson, it’s Friday night with the artist, the man, the story, the music, all at once.
AdHoc: You play at different types of venues with different types of audiences, from lounge music bars to DIY spaces. Do you cater your performance to the situation at hand?
Gary Wilson: You gauge things. I’ve always done both [lounge music standards and original music]. My dad worked at IBM in the daytime, and then worked four to five nights a week playing standup bass with a quartet. You get into a working band, and you do your original stuff also.
Now, the restaurant crowd, the hotel crowd—none of those people know who “Gary Wilson” is. I’m a sideman for a guy in his 80s who does Johnny Mathis and Nat King Cole. Just recently, I was playing with a lounge band, then I had to do a show with Black Lips and Ariel Pink down the street; I had to rush from playing conventional, Great American Songbook standards to doing a Gary Wilson show. I used to do that in small towns sometimes: I’d be covered in milk or flour from a daytime park show and then put a tuxedo on and start playing some sophisticated jazz-pop. The combination keeps me balanced: one extreme to the next.