Homeboy Sandman | Deafheaven | Rafiq Bhatia | Fraser Ross and the 04s | Helena Deland
Wow! Well, looking through the imagery below you might be forgiven for thinking I’d gone with a black and white visual identity for the site, with just Homeboy Sandman bucking the trend (as he is wont to do). I promise that’s not the case, these are simply the images I liked most of each artist.
When it comes to music choices, it was all supposed to be so easy this week. I saw I had new tracks from old favourites of mine, Tank and the Bangas, Janelle Monae, Father John Misty and Deafheaven to choose from… and they were all good too! Bish, bash, bosh, I just needed to find one more track. Alas, on my search for the missing final piece of course I came across a whole bunch of tracks that simply excited me more. It’s inevitable, I suppose, when you’re already aware of an artist’s work, that the new will always get your blood rushing that bit quicker.
In the end, only one of the above has made the cut this week; it’s not often I get the chance to gush over Black Metal so I’m taking the opportunity with both hands.
As is always the case, there were a number of tracks which made the long-list and have sadly not landed this week but I’ll hold on to them and, if they’re still doing it for me in the coming weeks, I’m sure they’ll get their turn.
That being the case, I very much hope you enjoy this week’s selections and make sure you check out the new Like This? Try These Spotify playlist which has all the recommended ‘reconnaissance’ tracks on it (link at the bottom of the article).
Now off you go…
1. The ‘Charm Offensive’ – Homeboy Sandman: ‘#NeverUseTheInternetAgain’
What I Know:
Queens rapper, Homeboy Sandman originally wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a lawyer. As it happens, he had a change of heart but his change of career clearly didn’t stop him from wanting to put right the wrongs in the world, as this diatribe against screen-time proves.
What I Like:
I estimated the other day that I probably listen to in excess of 250 songs per week, boiling them down to just five for this blog. So, as you can imagine, when I’m skipping through tracks, predominantly concentrating on breathing and doing a vague impression of being a productive member of society at the same time, I’m really looking for something that catches my attention; that stands out from the crowd.
Needless to say, the opening… should we call them ‘gasps’?… of #NeverUseTheInternetAgain did just that; like Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Big Love’ for an internet age obsessed by, shall we say, the more physical expressions of said love.
But, like I’m sure porn stars tell people all the time (honestly or otherwise), there’s more to this than just instant gratification.
Because what follows is a fresh funk beat and mad-prophet vocal delivery that falls somewhere between Mike D and Zach de la Rocha. Skip to the breakdown two-and-a-half minutes in and you’ll hear some chopped and screwed production skills that are right on point (if you’re looking for a really tangential reference, this element of the song reminds me of the outro to Blur’s On The Way To The Club) before some cool lounge jazz plays us out.
Put simply, #NeverUseTheInternetAgain is one of the most inventive slabs of pure funk fury you’ll hear all year. Although, as Mr. Sandman himself notes regarding internet journalism, “what your gonna find is that everyone who can’t get paid for it, does it online.” Too true, my friend. So perhaps you shouldn’t trust anything you read here.
2. The ‘Military Coup’ – Deafheaven: ‘Honeycomb’
What I Know:
One expects music as opaque as Black Metal to come from the darkened wilds of Scandinavia. So the uninitiated amongst you may be surprised to hear that Deafheaven hail from the sunny climes of San Francisco. But, they’re full of surprises, this band.
What I Like:
Honeycomb sounds like such a lovely name for a song doesn’t it? Like it could be some sort of late-60’s, hazy, Brigitte Bardot number. Don’t be fooled.
I originally got into Deafheaven when their 2013 album, Sunbather was released to critical acclaim. Enticed by lyrics such as:
I watched you lay on a towel in grass that exceeded the height of your legs
I gazed into reflective eyes
I cried against an ocean of light
Crippled by the cushion, I sank into sheets
Frozen by rose petal toes
…and the name of the record itself, I thought, ‘what better accompaniment to a relaxing loved-up fortnight spent on the beach. The wife might even enjoy it.’
How wrong I was, for Deafheaven – as much as they try to distance themselves from the genre – undeniably share many of the traits most commonly associated with Black Metal; not least of all, the vocal delivery of singer George Clarke.
And yet, Sunbather remained a companion on that trip and ever since because there is so much more to the band than simply screaming. I’ve oft been known to describe them as being “a bit like the Smiths with distortion” because I think the chord progressions and genuine melodies hidden deep in the mix are fundamentally brilliant and beautiful.
If you only listen to the first seven minutes of it (only!) you’ll find it difficult to comprehend the next part of this sentence but, I actually find the final four of this 11-minute epic incredibly moving – as if the band have even more seamlessly blended the opening two tracks from Sunbather, the violent Dream House and the wonderful Irresistible, into one coherent piece of work.
This track comes from the brilliantly-titled new album, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love which is due out on July 13.
3. The ‘Peaceful Protest’ – Rafiq Bhatia: ‘Before Our Eyes’
What I Know:
Bhatia is the guitar player in the frankly indefinable group Son Lux and on his recently-released solo record, Breaking English his sound is equally as elusive. More than his mother tongue, what Bhatia appears to be doing more often than not is disassembling his instrument – pushing his guitar to make new sounds and paint alluring, if often unforgiving, sonic landscapes.
What I Like:
Before Our Eyes is a soundclash of unprecedented proportions. From the percussion that introduces the piece to the Indian violins of Anjna Swaminathan, to the Radiohead-esque guitar line that joins as the song moves into its second half and builds towards a climax.
And let me be clear that, when I first listen to songs and select my shortlist for featuring on the blog, I mostly know nothing of the background to them so this is absolutely here on merit.
However, this is not just an interesting piece of music. It also very much has a message. You see, Bhatia traces his ancestry back to India by way of East Africa. So when Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, he had some concerns.
“As the American-born son of Muslim immigrants, Donald Trump’s election felt personal” he says. “Millions of Americans cast their votes for a hateful, corrupt demagogue who, among his innumerable horrifying statements, pledged to have people like my parents banned from entering this country.
“Such wide-spread tolerance of ideas like this didn’t appear overnight. In fact, it’s been growing in plain sight right before our eyes” hence the title of the song.
Undoubtedly, knowing this does add an additional layer to the track. It has to. Now the opening’s frantic polyrhythms become symbolic of the frustration he must feel at watching things unraveling in front of him and being powerless to stop it. Now the instrumentation and the way its tone becomes higher and more shrill feels defiant and provocative. Now the violins playing in canon, circling inwards on themselves towards the end feels like sighs of resignation.
It is a genuinely breath-taking composition from a stunning record, which is out now on Anti.
4. ‘Guerilla Warfare’ – Fraser Ross and the 04s: ‘Life is Magic, Here is my Rabbit’
What I Know:
New Zealand’s Fraser Ross is an alt-folk artist who released his first EP nearly a decade ago. His recently formed band, Fraser Ross and the 04s describe their sound as “part Afro-beat, part British-folk, and part good-time 80’s”, although it’s possible Ross’ most prized accolade is being described as ‘a Kiwi Billy Connolly’ by someone Scottish (I think they mean that sort of comment as a compliment up there).
What I Like:
That British Summer was excellent, wun it? For my part, I feel grateful and honoured that we got a whole three days of it. And I also feel grateful and honoured to have had Life is Magic, Here is my Rabbit as a near-constant companion during those heady days of slathering on the Factor 50 and wearing my sandals (over socks of course… we don’t want to be unhygienic now, do we?)
Right from the opening samba-esque percussion on this track, I’m transported to a place where they have at least four whole days of unabated UV rays; where, I imagine, the palm trees sway in the sweet breeze and sexy señoritas reel you in with matador eyes that hint of morals looser than Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s old belts. Somewhere like Skegness, probably.
And then there’s that Soukous-like guitar tone that sounds like it was nicked from Josh Rouse’s seminal El Turista record (which, incidentally, just compounds my misery at the sheer 80s blandness of Rouse’s recent, and somewhat ironically-titled, release Love in the Modern Age).
OK, at times, Ross’ vocal delivery lilts a little too close to a vaguely Francophone version of Vic and Bob’s Club Singer but his charm and energy captivate enough to fend off any sniggers such a comparison might bring.
The track comes from the album of the same name, which is due to be released in July.
5. The ‘Quiet Riot’ – Helena Deland: ‘There are a Thousand’
What I Know:
Montreal’s-own Helena Deland debuted in 2016 with her Drawing Room EP; a collection of songs that introduced a style of music that she has, herself, dubbed ‘sincere pop’. Now, having had some time to develop and refine that sound, she returns with a double-EP (has such a thing ever been done before?) Altogether Unaccompanied.
What I Like:
You don’t so much press play on There are a Thousand, as pluck it out of the air and be transported along with it while it floats by. Deland’s breathy vocals take the hand of the musical accompaniment and guide it through the ether as if bobbing on the breeze like a feather.
“I wrap and wrap and wrap my mind around it” says she as we, in turn, try to grasp exactly where this song may be going.
And then there is the wow moment as the verse turns to chorus just as the singer tells us “there are” indeed “a thousand of each of us here” and asks “how will we recognize each other, dear?”
Unrecognisable? Almost. The shift in tone and melody – backed up with the sweeping chords and back-up vocals drenched in reverb – is completely unexpected; the sort of transposition that you and I would only ever come up with because we hit the wrong note but which she makes seem almost classical in its artistry.
Such a slow, deliberate, orchestral build brings to mind the work of Julia Holter, Rufus Wainwright or Agnes Obel – high praise, indeed, to be compared to such accomplished musicians.
And so we reach a cease-fire for this week. You can find all of the tracks reviewed above in the 45 Revolutions per Minute playlist below or click to access the 45 RPM Playlist on Spotify itself.
For a full list of the current week’s Like This? Try These choices (updated weekly) click here.
If you like my choices (or even if you don’t), please engage in dialogue with me @45rpm_Reviews on Twitter.
The silence is broken again next week when I’ll return with five more selections for your consideration. Until then, thank you for reading and go in peace.