New Music | Friday Roll Out: Jim Ward, Sandy’s, Jasper The Vinyl Junkie, The Narcotix, iNTeLL x DLP, Arms & Armour, King Ropes

This week I’ve seen and heard a plethora of material that’s come my way, and nothing has surprised me more than iNTeLL x DLP’s newest, Computers For The Hood. As part of 2nd Generation Wu, he’s released an album earlier this year, Hereditary, which seems to capitalize on WU-heaviness utilizing recognizable samples (I found a digital version of the album sold on Icy Palms Records’ Bandcamp page sold for $1,000(?) With the new release I was expecting more of the same but if one person is using the past to slingshot himself into the future, it’s not iNTeLL. That means Computer For The Hood is a banger standing on its own merit. iNTeLL & Del the Funky Homosapien rip through “Horahh,” while he bounces happily with the clever Denzil Porter with “Entertainment.” “Beatside Staten” hits harder than most as he volleys rhymes with Eddie I. This is one of my favorites off the album. “The Owl Cry” holds a vintage-like aesthetic with thick beats, soulful bassline & looped backing vocals as iNTeLL rhymes alongside Ruste Juxx and Hip-Hop stalwart Ras Kass. iNTeLL x DLP kill it on Computers For The Hood.

Lifelong friendships sometimes go a long way as the life of The Narcotix can attest. Daughters of African immigrants, Becky Foinchas (keys, vocals) and Esther Quansah (guitar, bass, vocals) are the core of the group, rounded out by Adam Turay (guitar) and Jonathan Joseph (drums), has released its debut with Mommy Issues EP. The Narcotix is fixed on delivering something new and exquisite within the 6 song release, which is bound to the ethereal, never relinquishing its Nu soulfulness, and occasionally including funky rhythms. “Adonai” takes things a bit further though, including everything as well as African rhythms & lyricisms. It’s all melded together quite well with a feel that’s genuine. It’s supposed to be done this way. “Rebecca” drifts and sways with atmospheric effect. Harmonized vocals, keyboards swelling in and out, with what sounds like a constant triangle hit throughout. This is majestic in its delivery and fascinating. The Narcotix’ movements truly are interesting and listening to “John/Joseph” we all get an idea the band is simply scratching the surface with its compositions. This moves differently; seemingly shifting rhythms, beautiful melodies & harmonies, as guitars and keys gel together alongside one another. The band explores a number of ideas throughout this EP and I’m curious to see how far the band can go moving further into uncharted territories.

I’ll go out on a limb here and offer that not many are probably familiar with crate digger/DJ Jasper The Vinyl Junkie, but it doesn’t matter because he definitely knows his shit! With Vinyl Junkie Thangs (BBE Music), he compiles a double-LP release filled with the funk. There are a number of tracks throughout, obscure artists never heard of before and others recognizable. Whichever, whatever, any track bumped here is liable to cause hip sways, 70s dance moves, with 80s vibrations. “Funky Crookie,” by Exile One feat. Gordon Henderson is sure to keep everyone moving, never letting up on the rhythm with a bass groove that never lets up and a drummer that gets wicked. The horns in the distance and consistent guitar shouldn’t be ignored. It’s that track that makes your uncle yell, “GOT DAMN!” It’s that good. But there’s a wide array of music here and some of that funk takes a jazzy route like on “Cruisen” by Thomas Siffling, as keyboards sway through and the double-bass’ notes can’t be ignored. I’m especially surprised to find Mr. Scruff here with “Stockport Carnival” (7” edit version) but then again, I’m not. Piano, horns, wind instruments; they’re all wrapped around this composition that’s on another level completely. I’ve never heard this version of the song but today, I’m thankful for it. For those enthralled by the idea of digging in the crates, dig on this one because it’s a compilation full of artists that will get a party bouncing at every turn.

Cleveland, Ohio’s Arms & Armour takes a different approach to music. The group, made up of Lauren Voss (vocals, guitar, synth) and HIRAM-MAXIM drummer John Panza (drum machines, samples, synth), has a clear and idiosyncratic vision within its music compositions. The band’s music flows ethereally through a thick atmosphere that allows Arms & Armour the distinction of delivering sounds found nowhere else. The band has released a four-song EP in the form of Into This Wide Unknown, and while no two songs are the same, the duo never strays from being identifiably Arms & Armour. The otherworldly “Shapeshifter” never lands in one place, opting to move outside space and time. Voss’ vocals never step foot on terra firma, instead, rides crescent waves throughout the universe. “Apostasy” is tightly wound around synths & Panza’s rich drumbeats as Voss finds herself touching ground on mother earth, filled with calamity & strife. There’s nothing comfortable here; the air is thick with tension. Arms & Armour capitalize on the mood as things become even tenser with “House On Fire,” as the electronic rhythm moves through mountains and Voss, well, she commands with her powerful voice. “Wolfwoman” moves unexpectedly, much like the way Cevin Key & Nick Ogre created abstract walls of sound. We move along until we’re eventually captured by the rhythm. There’s nothing quite like Arms & Armour, and by the sounds of Into This Wide Unknown, no one will ever come close.

For what it’s worth, I’ve never been opposed to change; it’s a requirement for anyone. For everyone. Without change there’s no growth, and without growth we shrivel up and die. I’ve watched it happen to many people and for some artists, it’s difficult to watch the downward spiral and see that artistically, they’re a shadow of their former selves. Artists bounce back though. It doesn’t always happen but when it does it’s usually a sigh of relief for everyone.

I was a fan of Sparta, that was until the band released last year’s Trust The River. It seemed the power the band thrived on was hovering on mediocrity and the songs didn’t hit like previous releases. Given there was a 14-year gap between the record and the band’s Threes but even still, no, it didn’t cut the same. Hesitancy almost got the best of me when news of Daggers (Dine Alone Records) came, the solo debut by Jim Ward, Sparta’s front man. I sat there hoped for the best but obviously prepared for the worst.

Ward’s musical antics on his release may not provide the same bite we’ve all come to love on early Sparta releases but here, things aren’t disappointing and I’m thankful for it. He opens with “Day By Day” with acoustically guitars driving it alongside Ward’s “You would be crazier, crazier to hope that the wrongs will right themselves/then to believe in your own life, and go leave it for someone else…” where his words express feelings of never giving up before the explosion of instruments shift the dynamics into quick bombast. The song moves at under two minutes, and that’s just fine. The stuttering abrasion of guitars deliver a sonic change on “Blink Twice,” as Ward tosses around loads of melody throughout the track. The drums, hit hard as Ward howls out “If you’re alright!” working around the strength of all the instruments. After this, things get…tricky.

Discerning listeners have diverging views on certain artists and with “Electric Life” I can’t help but make lazy journalistic comparisons. Names like “Bono” and “The Edge,” come to mind here and it can’t be avoided. The melody is distinctive and similar, not to any specific song but in delivery. If someone can’t imagine “Larry Mullens” & “Adam Clayton” as the rhythm plays on, well then I can’t help you. Ward’s background “Oh’s” are flagrant facsimiles but don’t get me wrong here, this is probably one of the best songs U2 never wrote. Although I’m not sure if the band’s lengthy shadow would reach far enough for infringement. But I can listen to the song often.

If you think Jim Ward can’t get down like he used to then I think listening to “I Got A Secret” is in order. The musician sings along with War On Women’s Shawna Potter. Both musicians rip through this with nary a look in their collective rearview mirror from beginning to end. It’s an explosive, heat filled banger of a track filled with fury and intensity. THIS is what I needed as they scream and howl to the very end. Hell. Yes. “Keep On Failure” turns the tide somewhat, moving at a mid-tempo speed but Ward never relinquishes the distortion pedal used all through. The song’s melody is addictive, and the harmonies he provides fit perfectly well within the mix. At just over four minutes and thirty seconds, this is song we’d all like to go on just a little more.  

“Paper Fish” leaves the angst at the front door and allows the melody through melancholia to slip on by into the crowd for a pogo-induced jam for adults to get into. It’s possible I’m getting a little softer as I age but the song is performed with delicate finesse, and never eschews clear and concise songwriting. But I question “Polygraph” on its originality as Ward culls from mid-90s post-hardcore. It’s not a bad number – albeit a bit dated – but I can’t imagine anyone tearing him apart for it. He rallies around a well-oiled rhythm as it collides with his vocal melody to a relentless end. There are certain similarities on “Foreign Currency” that I find familiarities with others as well, but that’s a story for another time.

I honestly don’t think Jim Ward suffers from an identity crisis here, with Daggers he’s offered up an album with songs that seem to be showered with his own influences. For the most part, I wouldn’t since I’m certain I’ll be listening again going forward. Jim Ward isn’t a fly-by-night, he’s here to stay.

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We’re all set in our ways, most of the time eschewing the undiscovered for something much more familiar. For the most part, people balk at change, they don’t want it. We saw it happen this past election as government offices were partly destroyed and threats of recalls took over news airways. But I digress. It’s all about discovering something new and finding oneself up for a challenge. This is what life should like, constantly changing and never allowing yourself to live in stagnation.

This is my first meeting with Sandy’s, group out of the San Francisco area that creates larger-than-life pop songs that owe much to extravagant 70s songwriting. The band has a handful of albums and EPs, with the last being 2018’s Chime. The band has released its follow-up, this year’s Magic Mind (Royal Oakie Records) which does what it’s supposed to: energize anyone within range through it’s a fantastically edgy journey. Given the 70s were half a century ago, Sandy’s’ intentness of revitalizing the music from an all but a forgotten era is promising.

Magic Mind is rife with harmonizing vocals and expansive musical landscapes that deliver catchy melodies all throughout, beginning with “Dimension IV” which iss literally out of this world that seems to land in two parts 3/4th of the way through. Regardless, it’s beautiful, as horns cascade alongside guitars and heavy-handed drums. But it’s “Sami” that exposes everything that marks Sandy’s as a heavy hitter in the songwriting department. There’s an exquisite McCartney-esque bass throb as Alexi Glickman’s voice coos through the track yanking at every available melody throughout additional vocals harmonize in the background. This is what was unexpected and needed at this very moment. The group is never at a lack for melody and clever songwriting, and while the band may follow its musical journey through a certain era, Sandy’s is footed well within the 21st century. It’s difficult not to fall in love with “Standing On The Water,” which wraps the song around keyboards as the members all build around it and the backing vocals unapologetically dominates things here.

Songs like “Ghost Lake” slowly drift in calm waters, driven by guitar/bass/keyboard notes as the drums holds everything together. But it’s “Collapsing Star” that reeks of melancholia and beauty. It shifts dynamics with lightly raging guitar interplay but never strays far from the band’s identifiable sound.

With its 9-track Magic Mind, Sandy’s makes it much too easy to fall in love with the style and grace it delivers. The album is rich with songwriting we haven’t heard in quite some time, as the band lavishly parades around with a tightly honed album. Stick around for the band’s ending title track. You just may fall in love with the 8 minute and 30-second opus.

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“I will live in Montana. And I will marry a round American woman and raise rabbits, and she will cook them for me. And I will have a pickup truck… maybe even a “recreational vehicle.” And drive from state to state. Do they let you do that?” These were lines uttered by Sam Neill, capturing the essence of Captain Borodin in The Search For Red October. This was probably the first time I paid attention to a film’s lines, and it’s probably just one of two things I’ve ever known of Montana. That, and Ranges, a friend’s instrumental outfit out of Bozeman.

As it so happens, King Ropes, also from Montana – specifically Bozeman as well – has released its third album, Way Out West (Big And Just Little) a pastiche of sounds that glistens through the muck and mire, giving listeners something…different. Through the 10 tracks that fill the album the band literally walks and moves with familiarity but rips through songs through kaleidoscopic vision, dusty desert plains, and sometimes through chilly snow filled landscapes. It seems King Ropes truly does defy classification, beginning with the infectious “Big Man On TV,” a rump shaking and infectious track reveling in psychedelia as guitars & drums provide trance-inducing rhythms as Dave Hollier throws his voice through distorted effects as he sing, tossing around abstract lyricism that makes sense of the senseless. Thoughts and ideas shift around what he sees. The track is set to get your attention and it does just that. “Magical Floating Eye” follows with similar enthusiasm and when we hear Hollier sing, there’s still so much innocence found in his voice and he’s quite captivating as he doubles his voice but not the lyrics itself. It’s clever wordplay melding two sets together at one point as drummer Jeff Jensen and bassist Ben Roth, consistently provide that irresistible rhythm.

As I mentioned, King Ropes isn’t classifiably one thing as some movements we can reference back to those Warhol/Basquiat days of NY art rock, filtered through the band’s musical third eye. Songs like “Needles,” and even “Halfway Did,” show semblances of years past while keeping a firm footing in 2021. “Needles” though alters the band’s musical reality shifting through its guitar-drums-bass setup, allowing piano notes and strings to drive the song to a close. With “Laser Beam” the band doesn’t flagrantly showcase its ability to toss around background harmonies, but we hear it right after Hollier opens the song with “I fell down and hit my head and everything changed.” Utilizing more of it could have gone in the band’s favor but the trio eschews it in favor of escalating guitar fuckery, which is just fine. As the album closes, I find solace in the lo-fi acoustic feel of “As If I’d Have The Chance,” where Hollier sings to just weathered guitar, highlighted by electric guitar notes as it dissipates into thin air. It’s soft and tender, echoing vulnerability. But it’s the pensive 6+ minutes of “Petulant Child,” led by piano with additional conversational vocals, that seems to place the past year into a perspective everyone and anyone can relate to. Its melancholia closes with a string arrangement and it’s possibly my favorite song of the year.

Way Out West defies expectation. It’s a refreshing release that moves unlike any other and that in itself is challenging. King Ropes is clearly ahead of its time. They just have to wait for the rest of the world to catch up.

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