best-emerging-bands-artists

Navy Blue "Song of Sage: Post Panic!"

Depending on your existing knowledge of skate culture, streetwear, and Frank Ocean minutia you may or may not know Navy Blue by the name of Sage Elsesser. Under his birth name he achieved teenage/early adulthood renown as a professional skateboarder sponsored by such obscure niche brands as Supreme and Converse before branching out into modeling, sneaker design, and art direction, then going on to appear on Frank Ocean’s Blonde and collaborate musically with his roomie Earl Sweatshirt, which makes sense given their shared taste for blunted beats and razor-sharp lyrics and laid back but tongue twisting flows. Today Elsesser draws more than occasional comparisons to legends like Dilla (RIP) and Doom (RIP) which is enough to make the rest of us reassess our five-year plans.

On Song of Sage: Post Panic!, his second full-length released under Navy Blue, the moniker is linked (“I been feeling Navy Blue just like my father’s cigarettes," referring to a now-obscure brand of British cigarettes) in one single turn of phrase to familial heritage and chemical addiction and struggles with depression which just happen to be a few of the recurring themes on the album. Across eighteen tracks of introspective, incantatory raps and equally incantatory, trance-inducing production, Song of Sage bridges the gap between the blues and hip hop with its emotional power and musical aesthetics. It would be interesting to test the theory but I bet open-minded fans of old-school Hill Country blues artists (see Mississippi Fred McDowell, Junior Kimbrough, Rosa Lee Hill, R.L. Burnside) would get into this album intuitively given their overlap in mesmerizing grooves and plaintive vocals and heady vibes.

Tracks on the album like “Tired", “Post Panic!” and “Self Harm,” with their unsparing accounts of trauma and its PTSD-inflicted aftermath, act as mental health mic checks (in high demand these days) but by the final track the light at the end of the toll tunnel shines on our guide with hard-won “tears of joy / my pain fixed.” Further musical solace is provided throughout Song of Sage, which some Internet heads have deemed the best produced album of 2020, with production duties shared by Animoss, Bori, Nicholas Craven, Evidence, Jacob Rochester, Alexander Spit, Chuck Strangers, and Roper Williams, alongside five tracks produced by Navy Blue himself.

Throughout the album Navy Blue has seemingly no fear when it comes to exposing open-wounded vulnerability like on “Moment Hung” where he dives straight into the troubling ambiguity of its title vacillating between states of grace, resignation, rage, and pacification just in its opening bars--“I’m moving graciously through all the nonsense / I was complacent when this shit was toxic / fuck all these racists they getting their tops split / your lucky day ‘cause I’m not with it / never fazed by a white critic [that's me, admittedly] crucial / most this shit not unusual”--going on to lament the by-now-tragically-routine dehumanization of bodycam/cell phone public lynchings that “televise the demise” of “our fathers, our aunties and uncles.”

Despite this painful subject matter, the Ryosuke Tanzawa directed music video for the song features Mr. Blue taking his adorable pooch for a walk down a snow-covered Brooklyn block and across a neighborhood park while massaging the doggie’s ears, and listeners' ears, with a melodious flow backed by a buttery Natalie Cole-sampled track produced by Jacob Rochester. Taken together the music, lyrics, and video are a beautifully executed example of the centuries-old tradition of signifyin(g) where familiar one-to-one associations and seemingly incompatible impulses are mashed up and subverted and inverted, using the language of the oppressor as a means of subverting the language of white supremacy itself. In other words, it’s complicated, just like real life.

 

Along these same lines of colliding impulses and emotions, it’s no mistake that the crossroads is the storied origin of the blues, as in the famous Mississippi crossroads where Robert Johnson made his famous Faustian bargain, serves as a stand-in for all the deals with the devil made in the nation's history and bringing us to our current state of affairs. On Song of Sage Navy Blue deals with all kinds of crossroads especially those moving across space and time. For example take the opening track “Dreams Of A Distant Journey” with a hook evoking the tangled roots of uprooted peoples, linked to the Yoruban veneration of sacred points of intersection as preserved in Afro-Caribbean religious traditions

I got a fam in Santiago, I got a fam in Tennessee
Child of Ogun his spirit walk amongst the trees
Proper dearest came from Nashville, it’s Choctaw in me
It’s Choctaw in me

Moving from spatial crossroads to temporal crossroads on “1491,” the legacy of Christopher Columbus’s so-called discovery of the Americas is traced forward to its echoes in the present--a crossroads reaching across centuries that's yet to be transcended. But in the meantime and in these mean times, at least we have music like Navy Blue's as a way to transcend and to acknowledge all those who are simultaneously bleeding. 

 

   

2020 Year In Review: Fiona Silver

Forgive me, dear reader, for I am still willfully stuck in "2020 Year In Review" mode and refuse to believe that 2021 has even begun yet. Not without reason obviously. So let's agree to decree the past week as the messy afterbirth of 2020 and now officially move on to the actual start of 2021 if nobody minds. And let's pray we're not dealing with evil twin years because a conjoined 2020/2021 would no doubt make those creepy twins from the Overlook Hotel look like nothing more than adorable "cousins...identical cousins." And on that note we recommend you listen to "2020," a song released by Fiona Silver near the end of the year, to help us usher it out the door and into oblivion: 

Fittingly for its subject, the song is a blooze-rockin' gutbucket punch to the gut but just think what it's doing for your abs. Fiona's lyrics liken the year just past...whoops I mean about to pass...to a petty thief (maybe a slumlord too judging by imagery in the video) and then to a leather daddy who likes to play rough. It all builds to a frenetic guitar solo and a sound collage of news reports laying out some of the lowlights of the year before thankfully wrapping up with a final rousing chorus.

Speaking of all things fit for a masochist, back in the halcyon days of January 2020 Ms. Silver released what turned out to be an oracular track for January of this year called "Violence" whose lyrics describe abuse and its aftermath ("My sweet Lord, you bring me down / swinging low sweet chariot of sound / violence, I hit the ground [...] will you come and dig me out / six feet under no voice left to shout / pushing daisies I'm home sweet home") but this song comes swaddled in a funky uptown arrangement with a strong Daptone vibe which creates quite the interesting juxtaposition. Check out the live rendition below with full-on horn section and wah-wah pedal in full effect.  

"Violence" could soon also be found on Fiona's Hostage of Love EP released on Valentine's Day appropriately enough. These five songs are plenty enough for our guitarist-songwriter-chanteuse to show off her range--the slow burning title track being one example and the mid-tempo groover "Hot Tears" being another. Now, this may be wishful thinking and at the risk of jinxing it, here's hoping 2021 shows us some of its range soon by getting as far the f*** away from 2020 as humanly and humanely possible. (Jason Lee)

   

2020 Year in Review: Death Valley Girls

This writer is still stuck in "2020 Year In Review" mode because this writer refuses to believe that 2021 has even begun yet. Let's agree this past week was merely the afterbirth of 2020 and move on to the real start of the year next week mmm'kay? And let's pray we're not dealing with evil 2020/2021 twins because I'm guessing they'd make those twins from The Shining look like nothing more than the "cousins...identical cousins" from The Patty Duke Show. Anyway, here's one of my fave rekkids from last year I mean this year:

Artist: Death Valley Girls
Record: Under the Spell of Joy

Imagine if the Manson Girls had talked Charlie out of that whole Tate-LaBianca nonsense and instead wrote a bunch of cool songs and talked Mr. Helter Skelter into murdering his guitar parts instead of writing drivel like “Look At Your Game Girl” and then enrolled as a group in some EST seminars and you may have ended up with something like this album rather than a bunch of dead bodies. On the Death Valley Girls’s fourth full-length, frontwoman Bonnie Bloomgarden and company subtly expand their sonic palette with a mix of funhouse organ and guitar, fevered sax squalls, motivational mantras (a children’s choir is even brought into service!) and a clutch of songs that put the “mesmerism” back into “mesmerizing.”



Opening track “Hypnagogia” sets the tone with its cascading layers of sound enveloping the listener in the liminal state of its title--a word for the twilight consciousness between wakefulness and sleep--a state that holds sway more or less to the last track with its declaration that “life is but a dream / that is really happening.” A kinda concept album about joy made by a gothy garage-psych band previously drawn to all things dark and spooky it’s unsurprising that DVG doesn’t offer up too many bromides here--”You will survive / while you’re alive” is pragmatic uplift--but the joy on offer *is* unhesitating and unadulterated. Best of all UTSOJ manages to capture something akin to the blissful state I’ve experienced alongside many others at DVG’s incredible live shows. And that’s a joyous thing indeed. (Jason Lee)

photo credit: Abby Banks

 

   

Hannah Hausman debuts with sweet indie-pop single "will i ever feel like this again?"

Hannah Hausman steps into 2021 with a bit more spark than others: her debut single “will i ever feel like this again?” is an indie-pop bliss composition led by a distinctive vocal delivery, both soft and assertive. Both bouncy, a bit dreamy, and even sugary, “will i ever feel like this again?” is a track for many moods and a promise that Hausman won’t fit into just any mold, a versatile artist debuting honestly. From its lush production and layering to the emotion embedded in the song’s theme of love singular, it is pop for a new decade just underway; stream “will i ever feel like this again?” below to start your weekend right. - René Cobar

   

Egg Drop Soup: "Eat Snacks and Bleed"

Band Name: Egg Drop Soup

Vital stats: EDS is an inyourface, unapologetic, all-womxn alt-punk trio...preparing for the end of the patriarchy (source: official bio)

Latest release: Five-track “Eat Snacks and Bleed” EP released on Christmas Day, no doubt sending Hallmark movies everywhere scuttling into the shadows and hiding for the rest of the winter

One sentence EP review: EDS have taken their scrappy punk tunes into new territory with injections of doom metal, power pop, and psych rock which should provide listeners with years of immunity to all things lame and oppressive


Two songs & music videos that a generation ago would be all over college radio and 120 Minutes and Alternative Nation and probably would have the band opening for L7 by now: “Hard To Hold On” and the non-EP single “Subdivision”

 

First track of the new EP described in real time in one long run-on sentence: The opening minute of “Rank Heavy Metal Parking Lot” certainly lives up to its name, or maybe it’s more like the sound of rifling through an older brother’s or cool uncle’s record collection: starting with some lighter-waving Eddie-esque Eruptions and soon switching over to some Paranoidish head-banging power chords before settling into a more typical mid-tempo Sabbath stomp, but then when the vocals enter the song goes a little bit sideways into spacey psych-rocklandia with lyrics about hands and eyes and heads and beds shuffled into unlikely configurations ending with a repeated refrain about “waiting a lifetime” and seriously this song is starting to remind me of the Breeders’ “Safari” with its righteous riffage and brief bout of shreddage (Tanya D!) and hypnotic reverb-laden Deal sister harmonizing (a song whose music video is an homage to Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” hmm...) and then finally we’re back to the faster second riff and it’s all done in less than three minutes—all of which reminds me of the brace-faced redhead with the red cup in the actual movie “Heavy Metal Parking Lot” (go out and track down a bootleg copy on VHS if you haven’t seen it already) who says she wants to jump Rob Halford’s bones—purr purr sweetly deluded and extremely wasted feathered redheaded girl—and really when you think about it this song seems like it should be her soundtrack what with its frenzied hormonal drive and addled thoughts and unfulfilled longings, with our hero bravely making her way in the boyzone of the rank heavy metal hesher parking lot on her own terms and with unrestrained agency; I’ll bet that the red cup girl turned out just fine even if it took a lifetime. (Jason Lee)