best-emerging-bands-artists

Singled Out: Kendra Morris explores "This Life" and "Who We Are"

Over the past year-ish Kendra Morris has released one soulful-funky-R&B banger after another. And since we’re currently in the midst of a “singles round-up” phase here at DeliCorp (honestly these themes are chosen willy-nilly by our barbiturate-addicted CEO, the Colonial Clive Fowley, but we find a way to make them work regardless) it’s appropriate that we provide a round up of Ms. Morris’ recent singles output on the occasion of her recent 45-rpm release “This Life”/“Who We Are” (available on opaque red vinyl!) on the Dayton, Ohio-based Colemine Records (Dayton being the ancestral home to everyone from Bootsy Collins to Lakeside to Ohio Players and thus a fitting home to the Funk Music Hall of Fame & Exhibition Center) the A-side of which is laid-back, mid-tempo number called “This Life” which simmers at a rolling boil for its nearly-four-minute-run-time whilst utilizing a series of gambling metaphors (“I believe / if I lay myself on the table / just like an ace of spades / needs a queen to win / will you let me in?”) to describe the willy-nilly tossing of one’s heart across the Big Craps Table Of Life And Love And Everything Else. 

So yeah “This Life” is a great koo-koo kinda tune that one could easily imagine Frank Sinatra covering at his last engagement at the Sands (ain’t so far from “That’s Life” to “This Life” baby) but being a b-side kinda guy myself the real standout to my ears is “Who We Are” (both are co-written and co-arranged by Ms. Morris’ songwriting partner Jeremy Page) because it’s one of those burn-the-house-down-to-the-ground kinda songs that (unless you’re Peggy Lee) will lift you up to the heavens (peep those two-part harmonies around the two-minute mark) but then break you down again when the tune breaks down to a funeral organ accompanied by full choir that’ll have you sobbing into your Purell hand-sanitizing-wipe as Kendra repeatedly inquires “What is left to be living in?” and as the world disintegrates before our very eyes it’s a question on a lotta minds these days, baby, and most of all it’s that voice that puts the heavy emotion across and makes it appealing because Kendra’s obviously adept at belting it out to the cheap seats but with sentiments that are anything but cheap. 



But don’t get it twisted because Kendra Morris can put across sunnier material too with great conviction like slow-ride phunk of “Catch the Sun,” a single released a month ago in collaboration with “the world’s only synth and soul record label and production team” known as Eraserhood Sound with the sweetly nostalgic “When We Would Ride” as the b-side. and then nevermind the 2018 single just flat out called “Summertime” with a video shot at Coney Island.

And when you check out her repertoire it makes sense that Kendra got her earliest musical education from her parents’ Ruth Copeland and Chaka Khan records, but rest assured that what you see and hear above doesn’t cover all this lady’s capable of as made clear by her being the only artist ever to tour with/collaborate with/and be remixed by Dennis Coffey, DJ Premier, and Scarlett Johansson (please let them all collaborate one day as Kennis PreemoJo) so clearly she’s got some serious range. Oh and she’s got Wu-Tang/MF Doom connections too having contributed vocals to the Czarface Meets Metal Face and Czarface Meets Ghostface projects (plus Ms. Morris even animated and directed a music video for the former record) so just in case you think you’re cool Kendra’s ready to take you to school. (Jason Lee)

   

Singled Out: "Love Bomb" by Phranque

“Love Bomb” is a title utilized by musical artists ranging from N*E*R*D to Nick Cave (with Grinderman) from British-reality-show-girl-group Girls Aloud to Korean-reality-show-girl-group Fromis_9 which isn’t really that surprising because the phrase itself lends itself to a wide range of interpretations whether it’s used to say something like “I’m gonna bomb you with my love bomb, baby” which sounds like a Zep-era Robert Plant lyric if there were a few more baby’s added at the end, but then it could also be used in a song about bombing with an attempted romantic connection, or about how obsessive love can be a destructive force, or about how amorous feelings can fall from the sky seemingly without warning.

Or (stick with me here!) a “love bomb” could refer to how love has been weaponized by the capitalist-imperialist elite to subjugate and indoctrinate "the sheeple" who are compelled to pair off into nuclear family units (kinda like nuclear bomb fallout shelters!) thus helping to mitigate the threat of a collective uprising against the ruling class while also acting as the driving force behind capitalist structures of exploitation and continuous economic expansion (because if you’re truly in love you’re gonna rush out and buy that new washer-dryer set on sale at Best Buy!) but hey it’s just a theory.

But it’s a theory I feel like Phranque may be on board with (not to be confused with lesbian folk singer Phranc!) on his/her/their/its newest single called (wait for it…) “Love Bomb” which contains lyrics like “the greatest love ever known / re-wire the brain and forfeit the soul” and “turn the toxic swan song upside down / carve your favorite amputee / blast away the world we see / liquid metal heart / from your love bomb” and look I didn’t say all the lyrics make perfect sense but you get the gist of what Phranque’s maybe trying to say.

Lest you miss the subtleties in the lyrics, the music of “Love Bomb” gets across a similar subtext of capitalistic false consciousness with its shiny musical surfaces (the propulsive garage-rock riffage) acting as a sweet candy-coating for the darker stuff underneath like the spooky-sounding organ (perfect for Halloween!) and the doomy chord progression (the bridge section in particular!) not to mention the lyrics.

So just imagine if ZZ Top had suddenly gone goth in the ‘80s right in the middle of their MTV-friendly Eliminator phase and you’re in the ballpark at least. But even more than ZZ Top the band “Love Bomb” reminds me of most of all is Blue Öyster Cult because if you took out “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” from that one scene in the original Halloween (1978) where it’s playing on the car radio as Jamie Lee Curtis and that other chick are driving around and smoking weed before the latter gets turned into chopped liver by Michael Myers and replaced it with the Phranque song under discussion I think it’d work pretty well.

And come to think of it some of their other songs remind me a bit of Blue Öyster Cult too because much like Long Island’s finest AOR rockers—BÖC are best known to the youth of today as an SNL punchline but back in the day they were cool enough to hang with Patti Smith—Phranque are not afraid to inject dark vibes and synthy textures into their sturdy rock tunes (check out “Mick & Keith Forever” off his/their last full-length 13 (La Cosa Nostra), or “Sea Winds” off Butcher the Scapegoat and peep those Blue Öystery vocal harmonies while you’re at it—nor afraid to inject some serious weirdness into the mix because Phranque’s albums are full of trippy instrumental interludes and other left-field touches. And hey maybe someday they’ll cover BÖC’s ”Joan Crawford” (1981) because that’s some crazy-ass shiz too but let’s just hope Phranque never becomes the butt of any cowbell-related future memes (stick to the maracas fellas!) featuring Christopher Walken. (Jason Lee)

   

Lovelorn wants to know "What's Yr Damage"?

As clearly indicated by its title, What’s Yr Damage (6131 Records)the debut LP by Philly-purveyors-of-psychotronic-rock Lovelorn clearly pays tribute to two iconic ‘80s bands—the first of which being Big Fun whose one-and-only Stateside hit came in 1988 with “Teenage Suicide (Don’t Do It),” the bombastic-dance-pop-with-a-social-message classic featured in the homicidal-high-school-rom-com Heathers (the second greatest movie ever made!) with its iconic catch phrase “What’s your damage?”; and the second of which being Black Flag, the iconic California hardcore-sters whose debut LP Damaged (1981) served as a paganistic paean to teenage alienation and craving (“Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie!”) with squalls of squalid guitar courtesy of Greg Ginnwhich isn't to dismiss the other influences at play here (industrial, shoegaze, dream pop, trip hop, who knows what else!) and despite being released two months ago it still sounds pretty darn good.

Across the album’s ten tracks the duo of Anna and Patrick place these disparate sonic fragments into close proximity like tectonic plates colliding and coalescing and forming into massive land masses and, I mean, just take a listen to the album’s second track “Sickness Reward,” which kicks off with an ambient Cabaret Voltaire-y soundscape (R.I.P. Richard H. Kirk) that's soon overlaid with a massive industrial-disco beat and heavy synth, and then stripped down to a minimal electro-pop groove when the vocals first enter, and then built back up again but with a growing sense of sonic disorder seeping in around the edges (the manic guitar, the power-drill synth) and be sure to check out the music video too (dir. Daniel Fried) which opens with a flipped Cannon Films logothe production studio that put out the greatest piece of cinema ever Ninja III: The Domination (don’t worry, it doesn’t matter if you’ve seen the first two) and I’m hoping the eventual sequel to this video sees the field-and-track athletes inexplicably attacked by a crazed ninja but I digress. 

Anyway, this is a record that really creates its own lane. And likewise for the lyrical content which addresses such serious topics as eating disorders, mental illness, and creating one's own lane (shades of Big Fun again and yes I know I know) but which also captures pure desire in the starkest of terms (“Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie”) or as Lovelorn themselves put on it on "Tiger," the final track of What’s Yr Damage: “I justify what I want / I already waited too long.” (Jason Lee)

   

Austin City Locals, Weekend One: Bat City’s Best

After months of impatient waiting — tantalized by lineup announcements, tormented by rumors of cancellations and pending permits — Austin City Limits is finally upon us. A slightly less star-studded lineup than usual has drawn more than its fair share of criticism, but here at The Deli Austin (and across the city at large) that is cause for celebration.  
Now more than ever, leading local luminaries and hopeful aspirants alike need support and an opportunity to rebound from a truly devastating 18 months. With ACL 2021, C3 Presents has provided that platform: over the course of two weekends, 25+ local (and quasi-local) acts will be showcasing their considerable talents all over Zilker Park. The Grammy-nominated Black Pumas will surely be the biggest draw, but don’t understand the appeal of Dayglow’s warm, fuzzy pop or MISSIO’s woozy, bass-driven alt-electro-hop either. With hundreds of millions of plays on streaming services rewarded with high-profile afternoon spots, we have no doubts that these local favorites’ adoring audiences will turn out in droves.
 
But we’re more interested in the more under-the-radar the acts for whom this opportunity is the culmination of years of blood, sweat and tears (rather than a remarkable and glorious homecoming), and for whom ACL 2021 could be the springboard to launch into the stratosphere of success with which Austin artists so frequently flirt, but all-too-rarely achieve.
 
We are beyond excited to witness these five local artists (and so many others) seize their moment. Play your part. Get to Zilker early. Buy merch. Give back to the community and the culture that has built our city into this tremendous mecca of music, and see for yourself why we are the Live Music Capital of the World.

Audic Empire — Friday at 1:00PM, Tito’s Handmade Vodka Stage
Armed with a decade’s worth of mellow, reggae-tinged jams, Audic Empire will be kicking off the festivities in style on the Tito’s Vodka Stage (Friday at 1:00PM — we know it’s early, but security is also notoriously more lax when it comes to daytime doobies).


Loosen ya limbs and lose yourself in a cloud of ganja smoke as these long-time Flamingo Cantina favorites unleash their signature strain of effervescent reggae-rock on an adoring hometown crowd. High-octane tracks like “Come and Toke It” showcase frontman Ronnie Bowen’s smooth hip-hop sensibility (and more than a sprinkling of Bradley Nowell) alongs with sharp solos from guitarist Travis Brown, while the hypnotically up-beat bounce behind “Don’t Wait Up” is sure to seduce audiences across Zilker into the skank pit (not what it sounds like), where frustration and negativity melt away into the liquid sunshine floating out of the speakers.

 
Nané — Friday at 1:00PM, Lady Bird Stage
First set time of the festival and we already have conflicts. Thanks C3 for getting that out of the way early. Nothing gold can stay. Those less tempted by Audic Empire’s fleeting promise of carefree youthfulness will find their own thrills during Nane’s woozy, bluesy set. Simultaneously slick and profoundly vulnerable, vocal virtuoso Daniel Sahad spearheads this thrilling six-piece outfit with psychedelic flair.


 Whether mourning love’s decay on neo-soul slow-burner “Ladybird” or half-moaning punk-infused angst on the pounding, pulsing anthem “Seventeen,” Sahad bleeds personality and exudes emotion with endearing abandon — and without drowning out the equally-incredible contributions of his tight and talented band, whose roster includes keyboardist JaRon Marshall (of Black Pumas fame) and fellow UT graduate and longtime collaborator Ian Green.


 

 
Nané is a young band with exceptional talent. They are adventurous and nostalgic, polished and raw, gritty and smooth — and barely a month into their first ever tour. As the group sheds the sonic skin of some more blatant inspirations (Black Pumas and Bloc Party stand out) to refine and define their sound, Nané is poised and primed for the limelight.


 

 

Primo the Alien — Friday W1 at 1:45PM

The 1980s are back with a vengeance. Between a bewildering revival for parachute pants and mullets and a frustrating rise in conservative politics, that might not be a good thing.

Thankfully, Primo the Alien is on a one-woman mission to ensure that glorious decade (which gave us the Talking Heads, Nintendo game systems, Do the Right Thing, MTV and so much more) is immortalized for the right reasons. Her glittery, gleaming brand of synth-pop reimagines and revitalizes the ‘80s as they could have been, as they should have been: bright, fun, sparkly, sexy.

 

 Merging Kavinsky’s infrared retro-wave aesthetic with CHVRCHES’ relentless, unabashedly pop energy, Primo effortlessly melds genres and generations, breathing new life into sounds that somehow still feel futuristic 30-odd years later. Maybe she really is from another dimension. Maybe, if we’re lucky, she’ll take us back with her.

Sir Woman — Saturday at 1:00PM, Tito’s Handmade Vodka Stage

What started as a means for escape and exploration for Wild Child frontwoman Kelsey Wilson quickly built momentum, snowballing out of control and into our hearts, minds and most beloved stages.
Leaving her band’s folksy limitations and lonely lamentations behind (at least temporarily), Wilson turned her talents toward funk and r&b, where she finds herself empowered to express herself in new and uplifting ways under a new moniker.

  

 The response has been deafening: with only a few singles under her belt, Wilson’s new project Sir Woman won Best New Act at the 2020 Austin Music Awards. New single “Blame It On The Water” is a particular standout, the joyful, jazzy break-up song from a woman ready for a new beginning.  Her set promises to be a joyful celebration of life, love and liberation.


 

Deezie Brown — Sunday at 12:15PM, Miller Lite Stage 

Backed by a Bastrop-rooted family with a profound generational love for Southern hip-hop (and connections to Houston hero/Smithville native DJ Screw), Deezie Brown has quickly and not-so-quietly hurdled past his competition to the forefront of the vibrant (and largely underestimated) Austin hip-hop community.
Over the course of three years and three albums, Deezie has drawn inspiration from and contributed to (in equal parts) the mythology of Southern hip-hop with a series of concept albums, all of which fit into a larger universe (his “Fifth Wheel Fairytale”) and message surrounding the possibility of imagination, and the imagination of possibility.

 
Though individual tracks like “Drive” or the Chris Bosh-featuring “Imitate” are immediate earworms, Deezie’s most cohesive project is recent collaboration with charismatic R&B smooth-talker Jake Lloyd, The Geto Gala EP, which spurns egotistic posturing and one-upmanship to invite audiences everywhere to a blue-collar celebration of a bright past and a brighter future.

 
Poetic, principled and profound, Deezie Brown’s music is a testament to the vitality—living, breathing, evolving—of the South’s legacy, a reminder that the region does indeed still have “Sumn’ To Say” and his performance will be as much a coronation as celebration.

 
   

Catherine Moan sets off a "Chain Reaction"



Months previous to the release of her debut full-length Chain Reaction (Born Losers Records), the first time I heard Catherine Moan’s music was with the song “Drop It!” whose refrain goes: “sway in time, it’s so sweet / drop down low and feel the heat / keep it down low / drop it, drop it feel the heat / drop it feel the heat, drop it feel the heat / drop it, drop it, drop it, drop it / drop it feel the heat” and I was immediately struck by how Ms. Moan had taken the sentiment behind Snoop Dogg’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot” (due credit to Lil’ Wayne) and removed both the simile and the spare, ultra-vivid production work—replacing it instead with a neon smear of pulsing analog synths and 80s-esque drum programming (“new retro wave” the kids call it) with the requested acts of “drop[ping] it” and “feel[ing] the heat” (not to mention “keep[ing] this fire burning / ’til the records stop turning”) framed as invitations rather than commands, supported by a bopping electro-lullaby vibe with the song’s only hint of conflict coming in the bridge: “now that we can finally breathe / c’mon and drop that ass / and dance with me.

It was the perfect summer jam and needless to say I was hooked, especially after witnessing the music video which simulates the feel of an ‘80s video dating profile. But then something funny happened. The more I listened, the more I detected a ghostly undertow to the song. Maybe it was the icy pinprick synths in the chorus. Or the airy dissociated-sounding vocals, like being seduced by someone when under ether (hello, Andrea True Connection!) or how the musical arrangement feels like John Carpenter wrote a major-key disco song for one of his soundtracks.

But far from detracting from the song this only deepened my appreciation because, for my money, it’s just this distinctively different kind of tension that makes “Drop It!” and the album it appears on now so oddly alluring—because over seven subsequent tracks Chain Reaction doubles down on the mood-altering mashup of ecstatic release and confining unease and emotional blunting a.k.a. “waning of affect” if you wanna get all postmodern about it (on the latter point, one song on the album revolves around the repeated phrase “I can’t feel a thing” while the chorus of another informs the listener “I want to feel nothing / I want to see nothing”).

And not that you asked but when it comes to cinematic associations evoked by Chain Reaction for me it’s Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner all the way. Because imho all these songs would fit perfectly at a Los Angeles discotheque and lounge circa 2019 as imagined in 1982 (natch!) perfectly capturing the retro-future sound of pop music in a society overtaken by rampant technology, alienation, and environmental degradation (but also, new methods of connection and new avenues of pleasure, so call it a draw!) which leads its citizenry to question what it even means to be “human” anymore (who could imagine such a place!) and where pop music serves both as a crucial mirror-to-society and escapist release (like how Harrison Ford reportedly loved singing “More, More, More” in his downtime). And then seeing Ms. Moan perform her first NYC live show on a rooftop on the first night that Tropical Storm Elsa brought torrential rains to the city (the Our Wicked Lady roof is covered, but still I'm surprised and impressed the show went on) really sealed the deal.

Plus on “Drop It!” in particular I get the feeling Ms. Moan is actually role-playing as a “basic pleasure model” replicant-as-pop-artist à la Daryl Hannah’s Pris character (who shoulda been in a goth band in the movie with her perfect punky raccoon look, or maybe they cut those scenes out) but a basic pleasure model who will gladly crush your windpipe between her thighs when the time’s right—plus you gotta admit “feel the beat / in your heartbeat” is a brilliantly cyborg-y song lyric but hey what do I know—while the other songs on Chain Reaction likewise bring to mind a distinctly “glowing neon signs reflecting off glass surfaces and slicked concrete streets of an urban dis/pleasure district”, with the next track “Wasted” upping the moody-pop stakes with a faded-in intro that could easily be a Vangelis outtake from the Blade Runner soundtrack.

To which you may rightly say: “Theories, schmeries! What does Catherine herself say about the record, her creative process and sources of inspiration?” Well, lucky for you, I asked and she answered, generously filling in some of the details and, no, Blade Runner was never mentioned. Ms. Moan describes her creative process thusly: 

“I write and record off of feelings and whims. Rather than going into a song with a planned idea it usually starts from a melody or lyric I hummed and came up with in the shower or on a walk. And from there it is a playful and chaotic binge of making all kinds of arrangements of sounds and melodies. I'll sit there with my microphone and sing/speak/shout all kinds of quips and lines in different rhythms and styles until something clicks and it all falls into place. And this process goes on until I can't stop dancing around my room until i'm out of breath. It's a style of creativity that I feel is very true to my hyperactive and energetic personality…there's something about spontaneity and randomness that I think can really bring ideas out of thin air and really tap into where I am at the moment.”

And ok none of this sounds very cyborg-like but instead more human than human which hey that’s a good thing and I’m just picturing this process unfolding with a song like “Body Work” as it builds from a reflective electro-ballad (“I get overwhelmed from the start”) to a bedroom-dancing-crescendo during the chorus (“I can’t feel a thing / ‘cause I’m over it all”) which all taps into one overarching theme of the album described by Catherine as “coping with an unnatural amount of alone time with yourself and your body and specifically the places my own mind went from being beside myself too long” which is all pretty damn relatable given the recent past. 

But when it comes to the creative tools she used to make the album I’m on slightly firmer ground given that the songs on Chain Reaction were created using a “tight selection of gear…using a KORG Minilogue, my pink Fender Mustang, a humble Shure SM58, and a handful of VSTs” and judging from a couple demo videos I viewed on the Minilogue it’s especially good at producing the ethereal, shimmering timbres favored by Vangelis and the Yamama CS-80 used on the Blade Runner soundtrack so there ya go. 

Moving from keyboard patches to skin grafts, on “Skin Graft” Ms. Moan elaborates her Cartesian thematics further on a song she describes as being “about [my own] frequent hospital visits and health issues” plus “reacting to a permanent scar I had just acquired on my chin from falling HARD off my skateboard,” but that also comes from “the perspective of elective surgeries people go through with to alter their appearance or ‘fix’ parts of their bodies they don't agree with.” 

“The lyrics ‘scars on my face / stitches cut across / take them away…bind them down’ is a reflection on gender identity and a disassociation and conflict between secondary sex characteristics and androgyny. And more specifically the compulsion to want to change those things to find comfort albeit through drastic, painful, medical procedures like breast reduction [or] full on top surgery [whereas] the chorus ‘I want to feel nothing I want to see nothing’ is very self explanatory…an honest and blunt vocalization of the conflict and the wish to cease and desist any self hatred / body confusion” which raises an interesting if accidental parallel between the song and the movie because they both revolve around being in a state of ontological crisis—a crisis provoked when long-standing, dominant binaries (male/female, human/non-human) are violated and thus challenged which is a brave but risky thing to do—though at least this state of crisis is set to a catchy disco beat which makes for the best kind of crisis.

It’s all enough to make you wanna switch your mind and body onto autopilot (another running theme on the album!) which is addressed head-on in the album’s penultimate track “Lucky Lobotomy” (“Turn myself into the cerebral authorities. Lock me out, toss the key”) which is about how “all the privilege and agency that comes with having a sentient mind can be overwhelming because your thoughts will just go to such unhealthy and painful places that wind up hurting you and god forbid others. But luckily it’s a lovely track so you’re unlikely to suffer any permanent damage. 

In closing I’d say that Catherine Moan’s I-wanna-be-sedated-synth-pop bangers on Chain Reaction are perfect for turning off your mind and floating downstream (despite some heavy, heady ideas as inspiration) or for dancing madly in the middle of the street not giving a damn what anyone thinks because all these moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. (Jason Lee)