If we had to use one word to describe the Saturday Sampler March 10th edition, it would be vintage. There are several songs that beckon to bygone eras and others that are breathing new life into contemporary genres. Since this is Saturday, all of them will have you moving in some way. We get things started with a track that literally and figuratively will do exactly this.
ALCABEAN – “Running” (Copenhagen, Denmark)
RIYL: Cloud Nothings, Iceage, Joy Division
In less than a week, ALCABEAN‘s new EP, Head Down, will be released. If you don’t know who are, it’s time to learn about them. Formerly known as John Alcabean, the Danish four-piece are Central Europe’s answer to Cloud Nothings, Japandroids, and FIDLAR. In other words, they just make great rock ‘n roll and post-punk. When the two genres converge like they do on “Running”, you realize just how gifted the band are.
The bass line is right out of Joy Division’s catalogue, yet the song’s energetic nature is a product of this decade’s indie rock. The track, as such, is simultaneously dark and raucous, reflecting the group’s message about running away from one’s painful past. Running away from whatever memory pins us down while heading towards what is hopefully brighter passages. For Victor Schack, Julius Schack, Joachim Holmgaard, and Lucas Olierook, hopefully they’re running into the arms of a new batch of fans.
The Buttertones – “Baby C4” (Los Angeles, USA)
RIYL: Gogol Bordello, The Devil Makes Three, Man Man
Paging Quentin Tarantino: have your people get in touch with The Buttertones immediately, because you need their music in your next film. In fact, this Los Angeles-based band has a sound so fierce it’s only a matter of time before Tarantino loses his mind over them. One listen to their new “Baby C4” single and you’ll feel a spark ignite inside you. It will start deep inside your brain before electrifying every cell down to your can’t-stop-dancing feet.
What makes this tune so irresistible is its genre defying flair. Let’s be honest: The Buttertones are either magicians or musical scientists. There is no other way to describe how they fuse several different genre elements – like gypsy post-punk, old-school rock & roll, and even a hint of ska – and make it sound fresh and new. We definitely want some of whatever they were drinking or smoking when they recorded this tune. “Baby C4” has enough rambunctious energy to wake the dead.
Jalen N’Gonda – “I Guess That Makes Me A Loser” (Liverpool, England via Wheaton, MD, USA)
RIYL: Leon Bridges, Otis Redding, Al Green
Jalen N’Gonda was born to sing and perform. If you’ve ever watched him live, you would come away believing this observation. The American-born, UK-based artist is, alongside Leon Bridges and Samm Henshaw, assuming the soul and R&B mantle that once was occupied by Sam Cooke, Al Green, Otis Redding, and, more recently, Charles Bradley. Eventually, the rest of the world will understand why plenty of taste-makers, including ourselves, and festivals, such as Newport Folk Festival, are excited about his future. One listen to “I Guess That Makes Me A Loser” will also make you a believer.
The song is vintage soul and R&B, reminiscent of the smooth and graceful style that filled airwaves in the ’60s and ’70s. It’s a little groovy, a little funky, and 100% cool. And like the aforementioned legends, N’Gonda isn’t just relying on the music to carry him. He’s crafted a fantastic story about being lost and isolated from the rest of the world, including a loved one. It’s as if N’Gonda has written his own screenplay and condensed into three memorable minutes. More of his storytelling will be on display this summer, which is when his new EP is expected.
ILUKA – “Ritual” (Sydney, Australia)
RIYL: way better version of Meghan Trainor, Caroline Rose, Prom Queen
Nikki Thornburn – a.k.a. ILUKA – has developed a reputation for reinventing classic music into exhilarating modern anthems. Whether she was channeling her idols like Dolly Parton, Stevie Nicks, or Dusty Springfield, she turned the past into the future, such as the motown-soul tune “Sympathy”. Now as she prepares to release her fourth EP, she’s stepping more towards the present.
“Ritual” is arguably Thornburn’s most contemporary pop song. It’s not exactly 2018, as she still infuses some good old-fashion horns into the tune to give it a splash of the ’50s and ’60s. That said, it is unmistakably modern with its shimmering quality and infectious nature. But what really makes it a song for today are her lyrics, which tackle the cat-and-mouse “ritual” of relationships and hooking up. In her clever way, she’s essentially questioning why people have to be so traditional when getting together, specifically men asking women out. It’s 2018, the year women took charge of more things than just a date.
Thornburn’s new EP, Ritual, is out independently on April 6th.
Lithics – “Excuse Generator” (Portland, USA)
RIYL: Parquet Courts, Devo
Are you ready for some super jangly, hyper frenetic punk-pop? If you crave high intensity quirkiness, then “Excuse Generator” from Portland’s Lithics will hit your musical sweet spot. The Oregon band will release their Mating Surfaces album in May, but the energy of this tune has us wondering if we can wait that long. First off: how the hell did we miss their debut album a few years ago? There would be plenty of self-flagellation going on if we weren’t so spellbound by “Excuse Generator” and its weirdly mesmerizing appeal.
Most people don’t think post-punk of this caliber can actually be hypnotic. That’s understandable. You don’t expect to fall into a flailing trance when you hear off-kilter riffs like this. But that’s where Lithics excels: they keep you in suspense by not adhering to the predictable verse-verse-chorus-bridge formula. They keep your focus locked into a small yet cozy chamber where the unconventional tones bounce off the walls around you. We don’t know much about the band, but we know this: we really want to experience their live show. If their energy is this unbridled in the studio, we can only imagine how wild they are in concert. Fortunately they will be touring the U.S. in June with Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks so we can find out then.
The Nick Moss Band – “Lesson to Learn” (Chicago, USA)
RIYL: The Blues Brothers, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Josh Hoyer & Soul Colossal
You know what comes to mind when you hear “Lesson to Learn” from The Nick Moss Band: The Blues Brothers. For those of you old enough to get that reference, you’ll want to don some sunglasses and a black fedora while you dance your ass off to this Chicago band. You don’t have to know the movie (or know anything about Chicago’s legendary blues scene) to appreciate this tune – trust us; you’ll love it even if the names Jake and Elwood mean nothing to you. The thing you recognize instantly about this tune is its authenticity: its gritty, sweaty, roadside pool hall rawness makes you its pupil as it schools you in its truth. If this song were a person, it would have a stoic “Man, I’ve seen some shit” look in its eyes.
The smokin’ harmonica (courtesy of famed New Jersey artist Dennis Gruenling) on the intro sets the tone. Then the instruction begins when Nick Moss lays down those whiskey-soaked vocals. This guy is the real deal, having honed his skills over the last 20 years on 13 albums. You’re forgiven for being late to the party, but whatever you do, get your hands on his newest album, The High Cost of Low Living. The title alone warrants an approving nod; the content inside deserves every accolade you can throw its way. So queue up this scorcher of a tune, put on your shades, and – as Jake Blues would say – “Hit it!”
So Below – “Visions” (Auckland, New Zealand)
RIYL: BROODS, BANKS, The Naked and Famous
While Lorde and, to a lesser extent, Ladyhawke steal most of the headlines when people talk about the great woman singers and artists from New Zealand, the small south Pacific country is teeming with talent. One of them is Madeline North, who is better known as So Below and has occupied this space several times. Yes, she’s an electronic-alt-pop artist, but unlike her contemporaries the young Kiwi allows her words to enchant as oppose to the music. This is all revealed on “Visions”.
The production work is stellar, staying in the background and creating a gripping, suspenseful atmosphere. North’s haunting vocals fill the gaps, slowly luring us into her mind to see what she sees and the thoughts that dominate her every waking moment. The song isn’t merely the longing on a woman for someone else – it is the maturation of an artist who understands that the most gripping stories are the ones that people cannot see.
“Visions” is from So Below’s new EP, II, which is out now.
Sofi Tukker – “Baby I’m A Queen” (New York City, USA)
RIYL: The Raveonettes, The Kills, Phantogram
It has been fascinating to watch Sophie Hawley-Weld and Tucker Halpern’s project Sofi Tukker grow and evolve. They started off as a raucous, off-the-wall (literally read this), electronic duo to a full-fledged music outfit. They haven’t completely done away with the beats and synths, but they’ve added a whole lot more grit, edge, and darkness, which are revealed on “Baby I’m A Queen”.
This alternative electro-rock number is reminiscent of the grime-infused alt-rock of The Raveonettes and The Kills. Halpern’s guitar sears through the blackness like lightning illuminating a stormy night. His riffs are supported by some terrific production work, which echo like thunder once the strikes have occurred. Hawley-Weld’s vocals, meanwhile, are more distant than they’ve ever been, chanting in the background like the voice that speaks to us in our most vulnerable states. Her story, though, is one of resilience and persistence, a quiet anthem for today’s underdog.
Sofi Tukker’s debut album, Treehouse, arrives April 13th. Pre-orders available here. This could be the year that the duo really take off.
Ulrika Spacek – “Lord Luck” (London, England)
RIYL: Pavement meets My Bloody Valentine
Record Story Day is always a music lover’s dream. This year Ulrika Spacek is offering something special in the form of a five-song EP called Suggestive Learning. On that album is the dreamy “Lord Luck” single. It’s not technically a “dream rock” song, though their signature style (a kind of low-key shoegaze garage rock) does have mellow undercurrents. Much mellower. The whole experience is akin to having a tripped-out episode around the campfire where you start to see images emerging from the flames. Yeah, the song has that same hallucinating effect.
Then again, Ulrika Spacek have been weaving spells on us for over two years, which is when they released their debut effort, The Album Paranoia. Since then, our admiration for this group has grown along with their popularity.
Ulrika Spacek are Rhys Edwards (vocals/guitar), Rhys Williams (guitar), Joseph Stone (guitar/keys), Ben White (bass), and Callum Brown (drums).
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