New Music: Friday Roll Out! Damien Jurado, Man Man, Esh & The Isolations, GORO 3:16, Artson, Deerhoof, Gregory Pepper, and more

Another week rolls right on by and I’m sure most sometimes have no sense of what day it is, as if it matters. Joking with a publicist, he offered up that the other day he thought, “Thank God it’s…wait, what day is it?” Now while I understand the sentiment, I’m able to keep track of days because apparently, I’m what they actually consider an “essential worker.” I don’t take my job lightly, and I have to make sure I’m on point because well, there are other essentials that depend on me doing my job correctly. Lately, there’s been no margin for error. But this is really about all of us trying to get through this thing called “life.” Yes, you see what I did there? I quoted Prince and there’s a method to my madness there.

For the most part, I’ve never understood cover songs and/or cover albums. A number of new artists come across my desk with their renditions of songs made popular by others. Unless it’s something that’s turned into a song that makes it your own (i.e. Gary Jules “Mad World”), I’m never in agreement with covers. So what comes across my desk but yet another cover album. This time around though, it’s Joan As Policewoman’s Cover Two (PIAS). Now while I’ve enjoyed Joan Wasser projects in the past (Dam Builders, Black Beetle), I’m on the fence with the new release. The band covers Prince’s “Kiss” and the melody is obvious there vocally, although varied, and while the music radically differs, I can still get down with it. “Spread” though, I’m on the opposite end of that. While the original Outkast number juxtaposes quick-tongued verses over a melancholic vibe, here the laconic delivery is too depressing to enjoy. The rendition of the Strokes’ “Under Control,” led by a piano, is wickedly beautiful though. I can listen to it over and over. But then we’re hit with Michael McDonald’s “I Keep Forgetting” which I just want to forget altogether. Joan is hitting and missing here but there are a few more positives like Blur’s “Out Of Time, Neil Young’s “On The Beach,” and “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” sung by Stockard  Channing.

Artson returns with a new album in tow, Brown Fist Emoji, and as always raps with headstrong positivity. Along for the ride are a number of artists for what’s considered a four-way collaboration with the likes of MC RedCloud, PJ Vegas, and Crystle Lightning. Now while this may be a collaborative effort, there are others along for the ride. The album’s title alone is suggestive, and Artson has never allowed his Native American roots to take a backseat to who or what he is. The album’s opening “Rise Up,” which features Ras Kass alongside Artson and RedCloud, is literally a call for not only those with Native backgrounds but for all those to throw up a brown fist from an array of cultures. Even his pronunciation and enunciation in Spanish is perfectly delivered. Chino XL and Ras Kass both expound on the idea surrounding the track and all flow perfectly together. The starkness of tracks like “Down To Ride” are simple enough and allow Crystle Lightning, RedCloud, and Artson to volley their words around one another with that old school boom-bap. The chunky thickness of “It’s Like That,” with RedCloud, PJ Vegas, and Crystle, creates that 80s imagery with a musical backdrop that harks to days of Night Rider while the rappers seem to have a good time here wrapping their words around urban life. I can’t lie here, I like Artson and what he does but occasionally, the music is mired in throwback vibes in abundance. While I’m a fan, I’m not certain it would translate well with new fans. Eh, I’m just going to bounce that “So Cal.” Hell yeah.

The recently featured Gregory Pepper released an album just a few months ago but returns with an assortment of tracks – 52 to be exact – on The Complete “Dad Years” Recordings 2017 – 2018. Of course, he set out to do what only a few artists like Delly Everyday and Artson have done or attempted to; write one song a week for a year. Of course, this pales in comparison to anything written by Pollard who knocks out this amount of songs probably every week, but that’s beside the point. Some of these songs made it onto I Know Now Why You Cry (Fake Four Inc.), of course, fleshed together differently raging with guitars but still, brilliant. Those would be songs like “Good Call,” “Sublime Sun Tattoo,” and “Worrier Spirit” to name a few. There’s an array of songs many of us have to choose from, like the heady “The Early Stuff” or the hairless sweetness of “Shaved Gorilla.” Did I mention, there are 52 songs to choose from! Sr. Pepper has a way of doing things, whether it’s the completely pop-enthused concoctions siphoned together from the most delectable fruits much like “I, Parasite” or throwing caution to the wind on the heavy-hitting “Buddy, I’m A Jerk” where he’s able to insert sweet harmonies throughout it. No matter which direction Pepper finds himself heading, it’s genuine with semblances of stark raving madness. Or genius. They’re interchangeable.

Now as we begin our new month, as the keys are let loose(r) on this lockdown, with normalcy still kept at bay for fear of having history repeat itself, we sit with an array of artists fiending for your attention. And rightly so.

Rediscovery is such a beautiful thing. One might be exposed to familiarity or hit with something completely different. It all depends on perspective. 16 years could go by and what you found back then showed promise but was filled with howls within a creative bliss. Fast-forward to the present and what lands in front of you may be quite different.

With that said, Man Man, the project lead by Ryan Kattner, known to the world as Honus Honus, has just released its sixth album Dream Hunting In The Valley Of The In-Between (Sub Pop). This right here, may not be what we all want but it’s what we all need, stuck within this COVID cultural wasteland. From humble musical beginnings, Honus Honus has literally honed his Man Man into a beast of a band, fitting songs like “Cloud Nein” with clever wordplay, a hodgepodge of instrumentation. The band has always been confrontationally direct in delivery and things haven’t changed. What begins with dark undertones quickly breaks through into sunshine led by Honus’ piano, accentuated with horns and guitars, filtered with harmonies and gruff melodic vocals. All this just in one song? Yes indeed.

There is a multitude of ideas within the musical psyche the band possesses, much like “On The Mend,” with images of klezmer peering through, played with gypsy finesse and abandon. But for me, it’s the marimba movements that are captivating on “Lonely Beuys” and when Honus sings “We live for the angle/Worship Bermuda Triangle” you get the idea there’s a grift coming somewhere soon. And the song moves like a number from a musical, with deep dramaticism at every turn. “Future Peg” is filled with more of that loose marimba playing but here there’s more pop enthusiasm…but did I mention that marimba?

And then there’s the stark “Swan” where we find Honus Honus sitting alone at his piano singing along with it, matching its key and melody. While the song only plays for a minute and 20 seconds, it’s emotional and pulls so much from just two instruments here. But this isn’t the end there’s much more to take from the 17-song release, there’s beauty in “Animal Attraction,” humor in “The Prettiest Song In The World,” and amazing movements in the minute-long title track closer. Dream hunting In the Valley Of The In-Between leaves me wanting more, so much more but I’m also left thankful to receive this body of work.

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There have been moments, early on in my writing, where I struggled to figure out certain things when I wasn’t familiar with an artist. At one point it was even suggested to feign knowledge because it would question my credibility as a writer, and it wouldn’t be a good look for the brand. But I write to the beat of my own drum and honesty has gotten me more than faking it in order to make it.

With that said, I wasn’t very familiar with Esh & The Isolations. While Esh The Monolith is a name I’ve heard in passing, still, the music wasn’t anything I knew. The new album Idiot Fingerz (Four Finger Distro) is easy to relate to with the music completely accessible and catchy AF! That doesn’t always translate into a mass-market because let’s face it, the mainstream is a fickle bitch. What Esh & The Isolations are able to get across here is an instant gratification for an internet-induced population. I can already imagine eyebrows raised with questioning skepticism but my point is probably missed.

Esh is thoroughly influenced by 80s and 90s sci-fi, industrial music, mixing iconic pop culture references with thick aspects of grime, boom-bap, and trap into his 2020 vision of Hip-Hop. “Costanza Wallet” utilizes the dirtbag Costanza’s character was, with a thick wallet uncomfortably stuffed, large enough to cause bodily pain (see: Seinfeld). The idea mirrors modern-day culture of excess and when Esh says, “How much money do you need before that Costanza wallet fucks your back up?” we understand, finance supersedes pain & suffering. While Esch is clever with his wordplay, he’s direct in his delivery. “Rich Parents” delivers cynicism directed at privileged youth, over a repetitive yet catchy beat while “I Am Nothing” misleads at first sight. While we may think it’s self-deprecating in title alone, it’s more of a love song, to whom I’m still not sure but clear lyrical delivery along with a backdrop that crescendos and eventually change its dynamics, it’s quite riveting.

There’s diversity within the 14 tracks here and there’s no better example here than on the frantic “Don’t Freak Out!!!” The group moves quickly around a synth beat drawn out of the Terminator soundtrack and you just don’t want it to end.  It’s an idea that doesn’t end there, changing the delivery a bit throughout the rest of the album but all the while remaining grounded and concise in cohesion.

No bullshit, Idiot Fingerz is an album that demands repeated listens again and again. It may be a style you’ve heard in passing, it may allow you to reminisce over things you’ve long forgotten, but one thing it will do is get stuck in your ear and you’ll be forced to spin it again. Trust me, it isn’t a bad thing.

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The probabilities of remaining a loyal fan for over 20 years sometimes seem surreal in distinct moments of clarity. But when you look back at what you have stored away; personal collection of music from artists compiled throughout the years and there are those few that are favorites. The aged albums may still hold up after the dust is brushed off. It’s consistency, it’s music that delivers something every single time.

Damien Jurado has been releasing music for 25 years now and while I’ve side-stepped away from his music at times, I always find myself returning back to the albums by the singer-songwriter. His 2018 release, The Horizon Just Laughed, was an amazing piece of work that I just couldn’t get enough of. Simply beautiful which was followed by In The Shape Of A Storm, again, just as commanding. And now we move forward with his new offering What’s New, Tomboy? (Mama Bird Recording Co.) and I wonder, like his 2003 release, Where Shall You Take Me?

Well, this time around we find Jurado comfortably nestled within a hodgepodge of sweet melodies he wraps his own instruments around. Opening with “Birds Tricked Into The Trees,” this guitar driven number allows the music to take on a life of its own. The jangly guitars aren’t over the top and are subdued by the rhythm section, allowing the lone keyboard to add an ethereal melody alongside it. But it’s Jurado’s subdued vocal delivery that adds to the charm here. When he wants, he can be a masterful storyteller and here his imagery seems both literal and figurative here. It’s difficult to get past the beauty of this one song along because it’s, well, beautifully composed (note: I’ve moved in circles around this number, roughly 20 times). But as I move forward and the acoustically drive “Ochoa,” Jurado is in his element, picking away at notes as a haunting keyboard creeps in, allowing the melancholia’s sublime delivery to drift away. It’s beyond words in its perfection.

Jurado is very specific in what he does although I’ve been attempting to answer my own questions here on the why, of his choosing to focus a song around “Alice Hyatt”, a character in the film Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. It’s a beautiful song of course but as I attempt to tie in the characterization of Alice, I’d probably be reaching further than I should, misinterpreting it all. But its “When You Were Few” that allows the rumination between songs and artists of a different nature. The wind instrument included here for some reason brings me to Dinosaur Jr.’s “Thumb.” It’s only for a moment but it remains there as the soft percussion here allows Jurado’s guitars in the distance and ambient quality, not as background noise but prevalent although distanced.

I’m probably the most unqualified person to discuss What’s New, Tomboy? because I don’t think I have the ability to be impartial. With that said, we have another year with yet another Damien Jurado album that’s filled with perfect song structures and clever melodicism throughout. Yeah, I said it.

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There are distinct differences between art and mainstream and at times it’s clear which side of the fence certain things are found where they comfortably fit. The new 4-song self-titled release (Roach Collection) by GORO 3:16 falls somewhere within art categorization simply because there’s no way we’d find it cleverly nestled between EMINEM and Kendrick Lamar. Nope. GORO 3:16, made up of rappers Ersatz Splynter and Oscar Goldman are two unlikely emcees spitting verbose lyrics around beats, well, that you probably wouldn’t find anyone else working with.

If that doesn’t beat all, the duo seem to have a fascination with GORO, the four-armed fighter of Mortal Kombat fame. 3:16? We’ll get to that. The opening track, named after the group name itself, is led by a melodica repeating the same notes over an over again while both emcees volley words against one another. Melodica? Yeah, a melodica. It’s catchy and quite original because who in their right mind would use the instrument to base their rhymes off of? GORO 3:16 that’s who. They end the track with wrestler Steve Austin quoting a bible verse around kicking ass. Told you we’d get to it.

“Van Gogh” is the track though, melding Econoline ideas along with the artistic persona himself as we witness the “Van go” and calling Ersatz “Van Gogh.” The breathy background vocals allow the track’s airy quality to permeate through it. All that while the quick-tongued, piano-driven “Home” continues moving from city to city in that same tour van with visions grandeur usually stifled by lack of everything.

GORO 3:16 is onto something here with its debut release and ends with promise. The sky’s the limit from here on end.

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There comes a time I’m sure when you simply must throw caution to the wind and share what’s been building within that beating heart. Some never have that opportunity staying in lanes and never hitting that road less traveled. It’s sad really but it happens.

This is one thing Deerhoof has never suffered from because well, they’re Deerhoof. Since 1994, the band has been pushing boundaries of its experimental noise-punk and today they surprise everyone with the surprising Surprise Symphonies, a 16 song release only available through Bandcamp. It’s more of what we would expect from the band; short noisy bursts of sweet melodies, filtered through intricacies but the band’s brevity is often offset with lengthy numbers as well. The 7-minute plus “Strawberry Bananas” takes on a life all its own with a number of stop/starts, sugary sweetness, and changing rhythms. This is liable to make the most conservative individual holler a, “hell motherfuckin’ yeah.”

But if it really boils down to it, “Symphony #1” and “Symphony #2” are worth the price of admission alone. The band lets the instruments blend in and out of one another, shifting through psychedelic hidden chambers, piecing together oddities that are perfect in every scope. As is “You Will Regret” where guitars take listeners on a journey they may not be familiar with but will enjoy the ride nonetheless.

Surprise Symphonies lands just about a month ahead of Deerhoof’s next release at the end of the month, Future Teenage Cave Artists. I mean come on, who the hell do they think they are, GBV? As I listen to “Jorge B.S. Friend” and “Aho Bomb” all I’m thinking is whatever man, let’s just embrace the majestic artistry.

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