New Music | Friday Roll Out: Negro Justice, Stanley, Sonic Youth

Slower weeks, I welcome them. It allows me to play catchup, work on other things that I need to take care of things that have fallen to the wayside. This is the first intro I’ve offered up in a while because no one wants to read a rant, including me. There are big things coming soon and we’re excited about it. It’s a change of pace but one filled with familiarity some may enjoy. That’s all we’re going to offer…for now.

Out today is a new single, or rather an unreleased single, recorded back before the turn of the century in 1997. The Brooklyn, NY band Stanley was the trio of Phil Doucet (guitar, vocals), David Kramer (bass), and Mark Levy before fate blew them all to different corners of the world. The band recorded two albums worth of material that would be its Clobbered debut and the unreleased follow-up The Decorator. I’ve touted this group for years because well, it was rock unhinged with no fucks ever given. “Quickdraw” offers a look into the band’s prowess with its instruments; guitars start & stop at the drop of a dime as powerful drumming can’t be slighted or ignored. Was this music something that I ever wanted? Well, it was something that I needed.

Much of our lives is based on referral and recommendation, no matter whatever way it’s received. That can’t be refuted. Occasionally there are artists that hit differently, always forcing listeners to pay attention. But we can’t hear what we don’t know of, and this is why we should cherish our friends that move on the same wavelengths that we do.

Does anyone remember their first time? The first step, first day of school, first kiss, first job? Well, it may be high time some familiarize themselves with Chosen Family. It’s the first full-length release by Christin L Brown, known to listeners as Nashville’s own Negro Justice. It’s rare to hear something as smooth or laid back but hitting with a fervor – an energy – that promotes something altogether positive. Chosen Family is like that relative, the one that with every step, every strut, moves with a coolness you’ll never have. It slides from track to track with a silky effortlessness, but I think I’m getting way ahead of myself here.

The album provides a full 17 tracks(!) and there’s never a lull throughout it. The album boasts production by Calcutta Beats, Aaron Dethrage, and Just VIBEZ, and while it doesn’t happen often, each beatsmith seems to gel well with the next. But Negro Justice delivers heady lyricism meshed with realism so well, he shines with just about whatever backdrop he’s offered. With the jazzy R&B effort of “No Throwaways (feat. Amber Woodhouse),” his metaphors aren’t obvious, and it sets the tone of the album because he knows there are “no throwaways.” It isn’t braggadocio, it’s a simple fact as we soon realize. On “Work In The Morning” Negro volleys rhymes with Corduroy Clemens and while the music is expressive with pianos dictating the brooding timbre, lyrically it shifts offering a gritty reality. It’s literal work, offering a daily 9-5 grind that’s one’s day to day truth, and when he spits “If I can’t reach the stars I’m going to grab a ladder and climb towards them/black lives don’t matter, nothing we did was that important” we get the point. No handouts, no freebies, and we all have “to work in the morning.” The struggle isn’t just real, it’s always going to be there.

It’s on the self-reflective “Justice The Abstract (feat. HB Mandella)” where we get more of an idea of who he is as an artist. There’s a respect for past generations, and we get an ode to ATCQ! The rhythm is tightly wound yet loose, allowing both emcees to easily flow on mics. But it’s “Room Fulla Elephants” that’s surprising. Negro Justice is definitely cut from a different cloth, and it shows here when he rhymes “The hills are alive, Julie Andrews with the harmonies/I heard the sound of your music and audibly it was odd to me.” It’s unexpected and who in their right mind uses musical theater/films as a reference? Justice does, that’s who! It sparks more curiosity than anything else. By the time we reach “Cherry Limeade (feat. Amber Woodhouse),” we’ve moved through a variety of emotions, sounds, and vibes all held together by Negro Justice. Here though we get that strong sense of love, family, unity, and commitment. Part song, part interlude, it gorgeously captures Negro Justice. It’s the almost 5-minute-long title track outro that’s heartfelt. With a recording of his father mixed within, his comparison to his own patriarch will have listeners wiping tears from their eyes.

We gave it away early on about Chosen Family, a loose, laid-back affair crawling with emotion and heartfelt reality.  A favorite that should be yours immediately after your first listen.

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As the years continue to drift over us all, we realize there are some things we’ll never have again. It’s fine because that’s how we grow, that’s how we evolve as a species through change. It’s been over a decade since Sonic Youth’s final opus, The Eternal and it’s pretty clear we’re never going to receive another album from the band but again, that’s ok. Lee Ranaldo had been releasing music of his own almost concurrently along with SY, Thurston Moore’s By The Fire (recorded with SY drummer Steve Shelley) was one of 2020’s best albums of the year, and Kim Gordon just released her first solo album in 2019 (although she’s had a number of other projects she’s worked on.) But this isn’t a history lesson or a closed-casket ceremony on Sonic Youth, nope, it’s something else.

Just released today is In/Out/In (Three Lobed Recordings), over 40 minutes of Sonic Youth music, recorded between 2000-2010. Initially, expectations were set low because with post-breakup releases, we’re never sure what we’re going to receive. Jam sessions? Low quality demos? It could be just about anything. In Sonic Youth’s case though, for the most part, it seems songs are unfinished instrumental works the band was still attempting to flesh out. The opening “Basement Contender” is a breezy SY pop track as only the band is capable of concocting. It’s light on the dissonance and drifts around for over 9 and a half minutes. It goes without saying, this is better than what most bands release and could have been great song. The lengthiness of the track is barely noticeable as well, that’s how good it is. “In _ Out,” the only non-instrumental with Gordon’s cooing, plays with harmonics (for those that are uninitiated, think “Bull In Heather”). Here Shelley rhythm seems to drive this song into western territory as guitars shimmer overhead.

“Machine” is the shortest of tracks here and yes, this is probably what anyone and EVERYONE can digest, with dissonant guitars loosely playing off one another as Shelley provides the explosive backdrop. Seems the song needs very little aside from a vocal track and was on the verge of completion. The rhythm is exquisite with guitars are in synch and loud so what else could you possibly need? Now “Social Static” is probably for the discerning Sonic Youth fan because here the band freely does what it does, allowing the feedback of its guitars to flow, letting the rhythm find its own pace, while not giving a rat’s ass what anyone thinks. It’s more along the lines of noisy & cacophonic free jazz. It’s almost 12 minutes, completely unblemished and distinct. The album closes with “Out _ In,” possible one the band’s more challenging works. Over 12 minutes, the band capitalizes off a melody and plays with it for all its worth. Again, time is relative, and you won’t notice or even need to pay attention to how long the track is. The guitar work is great, and Gordon & Shelley truly deliver on the rhythm, allowing Ranaldo and Moore to colorfully paint a vivid picture throughout.

If you haven’t realized it yet, In/Out/In comes as a great surprise for a band that ended all too soon. Sure the band was together for 30 years but still, by the looks of their individual output, there could have been more.

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