New Music: Friday Roll Out! With Bobby Conn, Moaning, TXTMS, Bulls

Many people are trapped in their homes. Mostly of their own volition, but many without any other options. Yes, the coronavirus has disrupted lives and businesses and will certainly continue to do so months from now. We all feel for everyone’s lives that have been turned upside down but we’re ALL in this mess together. There isn’t one person in the world that has not been affected by it, including me.

I want to say I’ve been able to just stay home, listen to music and write but the fact of the matter is, we all have responsibilities and mine have pretty much tripled. Of course, I have to apologize if I haven’t responded back to anyone, as it’s been pretty hectic. A random playlist has been going at the moment and Jeff Buckley’s “Last Goodbye” just came on. Foreshadowing? I hope not but nothing is written in stone here. In any case, let’s just keep moving forward as we live through a moment in history that we’ll remember forever.

By way of the Bay Area and Brooklyn, comes a collision of sound, a bi-coastal affair that has been a couple of years in the making but has finally come to fruition. This comes in the form of a 4 song self-titled E.P (Audio Recon/Dora Dorovitch).

TXTMS is the collaborative project by both west coast emcee One Werd and NY denizen Dan Dillinger with both rappers volleying lyrics back and forth over One Werd’s glitch-laden production. The release is littered with dope beats and clever wordplay, beginning with “Ashes” where One takes the lead, making room for Dillinger to close. But the duo also includes a few guest spots, which allows the recordings a bit more dexterity.

Gajah, shares verses on the haunting “Paying The Price” where the timbre floats in and out of somberness and anger. This one here might be my favorite of the bunch, with a vocal chorus that’s addictively hypnotic. But TXTMS shake things up with “Breaking Point Equation” which features Dephyant & Emcee Graffiti with an aggressive guitar swell that refrains from bringing us all the nookie and has every emcee’s vehemence front and center.

The release is rounded out with “I Can’t Believe It” with guest Megabusive. The scattershot glitch works well within the context here allowing space for each rapper to breathe life with the bars they spit.

As quickly as TXTMS begins here is as quick as it comes to a close. It’s brief and straight to the point but, and there’s usually a ‘but,’ the duo should go a little deeper with its next release. Four tracks on its self-titled debut didn’t give me enough. I want more, much more. But I guess they’ve done their job here, leaving me waiting to see what comes next.

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It would seem some names sometimes aren’t in need of introduction but then again, the world may have jaunted past one and it needs to be shouted from rooftops again and again. Now while there are those that have made excruciatingly amazing work throughout the years, they have remained forgotten, succumbing to obscurity. It happens.

Although there has been an 8-year absence from music, Bobby Conn’s name should be one that more people are familiar with but unfortunately are not. With Conn’s latest offering, Recovery (Tapete), he’s purposeful on how he’s delivering his music and message. Opening with the title track, it revolves around a funky bassline with jazz leanings as he mouths the notes off it as well. The track is airy, breezing through briskly. It may come across as a jam session, but it’s deliberate and focused, building around it with guitars and keyboards.

Through Conn’s own admission, he takes sounds of the past to embellish the songs on Recovery, giving us all a sense of remembrance from track to track. “Disposable Future” takes from 80s and 90s over-the-top pop culture, obsessing lyrically with things we don’t necessarily have a true need for while the funktified backdrop journeys through it with loads of harmonies drenched in a melody rife with keys, guitars, and strings. It moves into the slower-paced “Good Old Days,” which opens with a drum beat similar to a single made famous by The Ronettes. He fills the song with backing harmonies throughout it, and while the ghost of Spector may linger momentarily, it doesn’t permeate throughout it. Midway through there’s a transformation into something completely different, rendering the song into a medley of sorts.

Conn doesn’t stick to any one particular musical formula from track to track, and on “No Grownups,” he mines territory for something much more grandiose while sharing displeasure for those around him. “Brother” is a more direct pop song where his vehemence is duly noted wrapped around catchy melodies while “On The Nose” finds Conn falling into art-rock trappings before pulling himself out into something larger than life. “Disaster” itself again finds Conn moving into ostentatious ground, and if this is any indication, it’s where he should stay. It’s where he seems most comfortable and to be honest, it’s where he holds my attention.

Recovery has a lot more hits than misses and we can see/hear where he’s been throughout the years. Wat does Conn need? Well, he takes chances at any given moment but I’d really like to hear him get epically overambitious with his next release because that is where he shines.

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There’s a lot of racket coming out of Texas lately and I’m not sure what to make of it. Are musicians discovering the cataclysmic sounds of the 90s, when bands endlessly toured the country, embraced by adoring fans at 1 AM shows? It could be a possibility with so many outfits delivering unique sounds while owing much to their predecessors.

It’s what I imagine happened here with Bulls, the Fort Worth, TX trio of musicians delivering a certain amount of aggression in these uncertain times. Then We Die (Reptilian Records) is the band’s full-length debut and the band delivered a full-frontal assault within the confines of 10 blistering tracks. The bottom end is heavily accentuated with rhythmic thrusts that seem to protrude from every musical orifice. Kicking things off with “Seismic,” the band never lets up, shoving a repetitive beat down our throats but we’re the better for it. Dissonant guitar play hovers over Ricky Del Toro’s ghostly vocal howls. But it’s on “Strapped” where the band gets much more riveting as the rhythm section is completely unrelenting and there are moments Del Toro’s vocals harmonize with instruments. It works. Really well. When he sings, “Rise and shine motherfucker / did you sleep? / did you sleep well?” I want to respond, “No Ricky, I never sleep well” and this song will probably never allow me to either.

The Bulls are an exercise in noise that’s an acquired taste, and my buds were made for this shit! The band is masterful at repetition without being repetitious, they’re able to create abrasive walls of sound and control the chaos that ensues. The band occasionally allows the art to flow in and out of its music, much like on “Conveyor,” which shows the group isn’t just about slamming instruments into your senses. The band plays with dynamics here, powering through when necessary. It continues with, “Hart,” which lets listeners know this outfit isn’t a one-trick pony. The track is much quieter, allowing the melody to work its magic, backed by gorgeous guitar notes and a hypnotic rhythm before changing the dynamics, exploding close to the 3-minute mark. Surprisingly, the track isn’t out of place here and is quite refreshing.

And then it’s back to normal. The band can work a rhythm and keep one entertained with just a couple of notes like the way “Fragile” opens for nearly a minute. Those deep bass notes grab hold immediately and have me screaming “fuck YES!” Now while they’re not the WU, they definitely bring that motherfucking ruckus. The band is imaginative with “Calico” having you believe you’re in for a slow sludge fest until the band shifts gears in a blink of an eye.

This right here, this Then We Die, will undoubtedly be added to the soundtrack of my life. Just when you thought you’ve heard it all….no. These Bulls come along and rip you a new one. I for one, I’m the better for it.

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Is synth-pop making a comeback? Did it ever really leave? Will scribes run around in search of clever taglines or comparisons whenever mentioning a group that’s synth-heavy? Will I ever stop questioning questions that come up? Probably not. That’s my answer to all these questions.

Moaning returns with its second full-length release Uneasy Laughter (Sub Pop), expounding on the sound they’ve already mastered with 2018’s self-titled debut, although it was a bit more guitar-oriented. With the band’s new release, they’ve moved further away from utilizing guitars and go heavier on synths.

With Moaning, what’s old is new, and what’s new here is quite fascinating. The L.A. band is another group that takes its influences and transcends reality, allowing the songs to take form and shape all its own. From the get-go, there shouldn’t be any doubt cast on the trio of Sean Solomon (vox/guitar), Pascal Stevenson (bass/keys), and Andrew MacKelvie (drums) with what they’ve concocted here. They’ve done the imaginable; combined 80s and 90s synth-driven influences and cleverly warped it within the confines of 2020. Each instrument may be easily distinguishable but when combined, create lush and epic rushes of sound. “Stranger” is completely captivating and it’s Solomon’s monotone vocal delivery that’s so inviting as guitars and keyboards clash against one another, caterwauling in the most beautiful of ways. And Stevenson’s bass and the steadiness of Mackelvie’s percussive hands are simply haunting.

But I find the need to backtrack to the opening “Ego,” and this is where the band obviously shines with deep bass notes from guitars leading the way, accentuated with washes of keyboards, beautifully incorporating Solomon’s vocal melodies/harmonies. It may be the album’s opener but it is most definitely the pièce de résistance. Or am I getting ahead of myself? Possibly but no one is keeping score.

Taking this album in, it’s easy to find yourself captivated and enthralled with Solomon’s voice, as he never strains to hit any notes and allows his voice to flow the way God intended it to: naturally. “Connect The Dots” conveys it as keys sweep throughout the track with gorgeous effect. It’s so easy to lose oneself within the track itself. The band’s closing “Say Something” is no different and you’d wish it would go on without end.

Moaning leaves me at a loss after listening to Uneasy Laughter. The album is beauty unhinged, a catastrophic miracle of pleasure, or just something that’s as close to perfect as we can find. Here we have witnessed the creation of one of the most astounding pieces of art this year. Yes, Moaning should be proud of the beast it has unleashed.

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