Sam O.B. and Miles Francis purvey a rare sort of pop music, one as whirringly complex as it is delightfully sweet. Though the two New York-based musicians deviate stylistically—Sam O.B.'s atmospheric tropicalia luxuriates in a loungy lavishness, while Francis' off-kilter avant-pop bounces with a syncopated ecstasy—their R&B-inflected sounds both sashay with a catchy confidence. Ahead of their performances on July 15 at Sunnyvale, the two like-minded artists took a moment to remix each other's biggest songs for us here at AdHoc and talk through their respective processes. We are really psyched to premiere their remixes, a playlist of all the tracks included can be found here.
Sam O.B.: What was the inspiration behind "You're A Star" (specifically lyrically)?
Miles Francis: The music came first with "You're a Star": I recorded the tom-toms for 4 minutes straight and built the song on top of it. The lyrics are sung from two angles: encouraged and pessimistic. I tried to articulate the crazy balancing act of being an artist right now. We commit our lives to music, but we also commit to getting our art out there no matter what, to working every day to become more established and well-known—all while retaining the genuine inspiration and motivation to create our songs in the first place. When the moment comes that you are "chosen," and the light is shining on you, you better be ready for it—because it turns out that every next step opens up a hundred more steps after it. All of this is to say: keep your head down and keep going, you're a star no matter what. That's the encouraging side of the song. If you focus so much on where you stand, where you're going, and seeking fleeting validation, it completely takes you away from what you're doing. That's where I wrote the song from, and the circular opening sentence inspired the rest of the lyrics: "All the things that I want to do with me hold back from doing the things I wanna do."
The Euglossine Bee is an insect whose burnished exoskeleton glints. Flitting in and out of their erratic pollination patterns, the bees adorn flora like jewelry, gilded and opalescent. Rather than collecting nectar from the orchids they visit, male Euglossine Bees instead apply pollen as a cologne, extending their opulence to the realm of the olfactory. Gainesville, Florida-based musician Tristan Whitehill, better known as Euglossine, makes music just as bedazzled as the homonymous hymenoptera. On Sharp Time, his latest record for Orange Milk, Whitehill further lavishes plush synth sounds and pathways, ladling redolent hums and stabs into viscous forms too slippery to crystallize. Perhaps most emblematic of Euglossine's indulgent meanderings and becomings, "Phenomenological Manifold" stages the insectile flutterings and shimmerings across its generous 13-minute runtime. Bedizened with plodding lounge guitar and trickling arpeggiation, the track offers a winding, multifaceted experience across sensations—the very manifold encounters with twinkling and resplendent phenomena that the song's title promises. Glossy and thick, Euglossine's sonics transmute into perfume, fragrant with luxury and luster fit for the ostentatious bees of the same name.
Euglossine's syrupy Sharp Time touches down on July 21 via Orange Milk.
Oliver Kalb has been making music under the name Bellows since 2011. He released Bellows' first album, the understated indie-folk-pop masterwork, As If To Say I Hate Daylight, while attending Bard College in 2011. That release, as well as 2014's Blue Breath—an album recorded while in search for a place to call home after graduating—established Kalb's skill as a lyricist and as an arranger. His most recent release, last year's Fist and Palm, is Bellows at its best, channeling new electronic influences into Kalb's intimate acoustics. Never one to shy away from self-criticism (as is perhaps most evident on Fist and Palm) it is no surprise that Kalb was willing to reveal his five favorite and five least favorite tracks of the many he has penned in Bellows' six-year history. Read on for Kalb's own thoughts on the process, and be sure to grab tickets to Bellows' July 15 show at Baby's All Right.
Oliver Kalb: I’ve been writing and self-recording music as Bellows for the last seven years. Recording is a pretty intense and life-consuming black hole process for me. When I’m recording an album, I listen to each of the songs obsessively, trying to iron out all the lyrical flaws and dips of the production, bouncing new mixes and walking around alone trying to imagine how each song can expand and develop in its recorded world. Sometimes this makes for really cool experiments, and songs I feel really proud of — when a lot of work goes into a song and it pays off, it’s cool to listen back years later, and hear the product of long periods of intense anxiety and labor live and breathe in a finished state. But other times, when I listen back to my own records, I’ll shudder at certain tracks. There are some songs I’ve released that I just totally hate, songs that make me feel really embarrassed when I hear them.
In the myopic world of self-recording, sometimes flaws that would be really obvious to someone listening with an untrained ear won’t be apparent to the actual person making the music. It’s very easy to get tunnel-vision when you’re working on an album, and think you’ve stumbled upon a really interesting and weird experiment, that to anyone else listening just sounds like a bunch of convoluted nonsense. I can hear some of my own songs, in hindsight, as really ugly kinks that might’ve been ironed out if I’d given myself some distance from the project. Years down the line from some of the records I’ve made, I’m able to see a little more clearly which experiments were successful and which were just kind of bad or confusing ideas, in need of an editor. So I decided to use this spot to explore what I think are my 5 best songs, and why I still respond to them after so many years, and then also what I think are my 5 worst songs, and why they’re bad, or at least why I don’t consider them good vehicles for conveying the ideas or feelings I hoped they would.
Though it was released in October of 2016, Fraternal Twin’s Homeworlding is a record for Summer 2017. The contented feeling of the album’s breezy guitar lines and sweet vocals is contrasted by the overarching sense of yearning—for truth? for acceptance? for peace?—conveyed by the lyrics and chopped-up compositions. “The day won’t come / until I’m ready for it / so I don’t beg,” sings Tom Christie on “Big Dipper." We live in a world of unresolved conflict, but as Christie ultimately concedes, we have the ability to make it happen—this is, when we’re ready.
In the “Big Dipper” video, premiering on AdHoc today, Christie strums, sings, and stares in a nondescript wooded area. Directed and edited by Jake Lazovick, the clip captures the record’s conflicted feeling with emotive shots and deft editing. At the song’s apex, the video juxtaposes a leaf floating downstream with a tight shot of Christie’s deadpan face beneath the sky, reinforcing the anxious contentedness of a life adrift.
Some of the best writers are the laconic ones, the ones who sculpt with sparsity, whose instruments imbricate themselves just as deeply into silence as they do into sound. On In the Young Shadow of Girls in Flower, quietly released earlier this year on Houston's Sutra label, Barry Elkanick of Chalk plays, sings, and composes with a concise conviction, a muted and minimalist virtuosity. The cassette, barely over 20 minutes and decidedly sparse, feels infinitely spacious as its seven tracks yawn and stretch and palpitate into each other. From the chamber of lush guitar strumming of "Harmony in Red" to the plush synth territories mapped out by "Plateau," Chalk inscribes hollow spaces where resonating instruments and Elkanick's muffled vocals alike accrete into a sonic terrain as milky and commodious as his visual work. When Elkanick delivers the hooking question-chorus of "Dark Seam," the unintelligibility of his words colors the haptic indeterminacy of the record's landscape itself: it's impossible to tell whether Elkanick is talking about a "dark seam," a "dark scene," or a "dark seem." On the track, seeming becomes a scene becomes a seam that swathes sign and sound and silence into a space of pure feeling. For a record whose coy title warps that of Proust's second volume of his enormous opus InSearch of Lost Time, In the Young Shadow of Girls in Flower condenses the bourgeouis loquacity of one of modernism's foremost belletrists into something more tactile in its immediacy, something dry of excess yet impossibly sticky—something that coats the hands. Like chalk, perhaps.
Find the remaining cassettes of the limited release here, and stream the record in full below.
Katie Von Schleicher: Sam Evian's "Big Car" taps into a thread of writing I've become obsessed with, the evocation of humanity through its counterpoint with machines. There's Fritz Lang's 1927 German expressionist classic Metropolis, a thundering fever dream, and there's the psycho-regressive relationship I have to my laptop, but lying in perfect balance between the two, we have the car song. The perfect within-the-car song is epitomized by a masculinity I can only view from afar, and is perhaps best demystified in the writing of a woman. The song's delivery must be nonchalant, the stakes very high. At its heart, it's an unplumbed well of emotion within a structure that feels nothing and has the propensity to kill: a man in a car. It holds this potential, a kinetic energy that somehow, through the right song, suggests eternity. If you're thinking I'm an asshole right now, perhaps the car song's poetry can't be put into words.
I've been trying to write this song, but Sam beat me to it, or rather, he added to a very specific cache of gorgeous tunes. My favorite is "Big Black Car" by Big Star, a laconic skate on a precipice maybe only the listener can see. I spend a happy eternity with the verse: "Driving in my big black car / nothing can go wrong." Leading up to the chorus, the chords get mildly exciting, just enough to drop me in a complete static as Chilton sings, "Nothing can hurt me / nothing can touch me / why should I care? / driving's a gas / it ain't gonna last." It feels like intimacy, nothing can hurt me, but it disappears quickly: it ain't gonna last. It's akin to a moment when someone opens up to you, just briefly, before they close in upon themselves again. Why is that beautiful? Why is it sorrowfully so? Reminds me of Rebecca Solnit's writing on sad songs, her generosity toward them: "There is a voluptuous pleasure in all that sadness, and I wonder where it comes from, because as we usually construe the world, sadness and pleasure should be far apart."
Last time I was at a Sam Evian show, as he sang the first line of "Big Car," "I remember / when I started to let go," my friend turned to me and said that he'd already been had by those words. It's a brilliant opening, an optimism that persists until it doesn't, until the refrain catches me on "is it over now?" Then you remember the finite stuff you're made of, reflected back at you from a hunk of metal surging down the coast. Why a car? Maybe because of all the things we can do in them. It's one of the more conscious ways we can run away from something.
Listen to Katie's new track "Sell it Back" below and get tickets to her August 4 show with Sam Evian here.
How to Slip Away is a strange, sparse collection of music from Brooklyn-via-Vermont musician Zach Phillips. On "Fucking Up," perhaps the track most emblematic of the delightful quirkiness of the record, Phillips enlists friend and one-time Jib Kidder collaborator Sean Schuster-Craig for a ditty whose rushed, atonal monophonic guitar does sound—after all—a little fucked up. Its an oddball assemblage of fucking up, replete with kinky chord stylings and abrupt starts, stops, and hiccups along its minute-and-a-half runtime. At points a polemic against everything from mosquitos to superheroes, a very brief history of fucking up, and an autobiography of Phillips' experiences with fucking up, "Fucking Up" never really finds a center—or even a destination. Which is to say, it can't stop fucking up. The off-kilter track, despite its falterings and bizarre structure, is wonderful, an addictive bright spot in Phillips' goofy yet endearing How to Slip Away. If the goal was to make a bad song through confusion and profanity, Phillips and company fucked up big time.
Don't shelve The Vacant Lots in a vintage store. The New York two piece's music might sound nostalgic, but their punk energy and musicianship is anything but stale. On their second LP Endless Night, the group channels the spirit of influences like Suicide (whose late frontman Alan Vega's unmistakeable vocals feature on closing track, "Suicide Note") while traveling into untapped sonic territory with custom effect pedals and distinct arrangements. Ahead of their improvisatory live show June 30 at Sunnyvale, Jared Artaud and Brian MacFadyen caught up with AdHoc to talk Alan Vega, sonic tradition, and staying punk in 2017.
AdHoc: You collaborated with Alan Vega of Suicide recently. How was it working with such an iconic musician?
JARED ARTAUD: There are few people you meet in this world that change your life forever. Alan was doubtlessly one of them for me. Here he was in his 70s working at his art every day. Writing, drawing, painting, singing, recording. He was an unstoppable force. It was infinitely inspiring working with him. No matter what medium he used, his filter and vision would shine through: for instance, you could see the force and violence and spontaneity in his drawings that reminded me of his singing and performance style. Just spending time together and talking about music and art will always be some of the most lasting and memorable experiences of my life. There was something egoless and selfless about Alan that I found refreshing. He remained true to his art until the very end.
I was actually one of the last people to see him before he died. I went over to his apartment in Manhattan to listen to Endless Night together since he was planning on writing lyrics and singing on "Suicide Note." He wouldn’t talk about himself unless you asked him to. He would always ask you how you were feeling and would always ask you about your life. His support and mentorship really was powerful. Seeing Alan’s process firsthand and experiencing the way he executed his art really was something else. I got to work with him and co-produce his final album IT, and it’s an incredible record. However, it’s a shame that someone has to die before they get some of the kind of recognition they rightly deserve.
Everything about "Catching an L" is oversaturated. From the overexposed colors that bleed in and out of the dizzying video to the meandering horn that blares over a whirlwind drum performance, the first song off Greg Fox's upcoming full-length The Gradual Progression projects a sonic and visual landscape as engaging as it is overwhelming. The result is, quite literally, a trip: the video depicts a 4-wheeler excursion across a rocky apline landscape, and the track doesn't sound much different. Synths jab, cymbals shriek, and unidentifiable sounds shiver in and out of the frame as a loungy horn skronk seems to conduct the assemblage.
It's an enthralling, overstimulating peek into Greg Fox's world, an ever-expanding cosmos soon to be slipping into free jazz and black metal on the upcoming Ex Eye album, a collaboration with saxophonist Colin Stetson. With its honk and propulsion, "Catching an L" forecasts both the freewheeling experimentation of Greg Fox's solo work and the abstract heaviness of Ex Eye. It's a colorful and hallucinatory transmission from one of experimental music's foremost technicians.
Catch Greg Fox play with Ex Eye at Saint Vitus August 8 for one of the jazzy metal four-piece's first shows ever, and be sure to prepare by listening to the groups self-titled debut, out now on Relapse.
Princess Nokia flexes on "G.O.A.T." And she deserves it, too: coming off the explosive 1992 mixtape and riding high on a worldwide fanbase cemented by a blistering world tour, the New York rapper has earned a ride on her own coattails. And if the accompanying video for "G.O.A.T.," Destiny Frasqueri's first track since 1992, is any indication, Princess Nokia is enjoying her life at the top. Lounging on the three-wheel Polaris Slingshot as comfortably as she luxuriates over Wally West's icy throne of a beat, Frasqueri issues one-liners like edicts from a gold-bedecked (and gold-betoothed) monarch. Clad in "skinny jeans and a studded belt," Princess Nokia reminds us that she's become "that weird girl that's running shit."
When she stares at the camera and declares that she "changed rap forever, man," it's no coincidence that she includes the word "man." Eyes directed at the male-dominated, patriarchal industry, Frasqueri sets her sights on label bosses and other suits that stifle and marginalize femme voices, and brandishes normative signifiers of both masculinity and femininity to explode them both. Atop the rubble s(p)its Princess Nokia, festooned with a Yankees Cap and Air Force 1s.