New Music | Friday Roll Out: Rob Sonic, illuminati hotties, Work Party, Psalm One, Kima Otung, Hovvdy, Ministry, JOATA

While I’ve lost touch with the music of Chicago’s Hologram Kizzie, a/k/a Psalm One, throughout the years, but she’s drop a new track now & again and when she does, the fire is still burning bright. After 12 albums, the force is still strong with this one as the laidback “Yams (Demo)” attests. Demo? Yeah, the chilled rhythm & keys allow her to easily flow, with focused rhymes, as the young chemist by trade, grinds hard cooking up much more than we all probably know about. Yeah, Psalm One for the win.

From time to time, JOATA surprises with a new single now and again. Here he drops the new “JUNY,” an ode to his mom, coming from a Borinquen culture, always worried about her young Juny. Here JOATA counters how he’s able to fly, and it’s his turn to return the favor, recounting walking through snow, working for pennies, all the while pregnant at a young age. There’s an obvious story but the mechanical beat, ethereal harmonies, strengthened melodies, this is what it’s all about. We can all see him motherfucking fly.

The young Nigerian-born Kima Otung is out to make a splash no matter what anything thinks or says. That seems to be obvious from listening to her new EP, Note To Self, a powerful display, balanced by R&B rhythms and soulful vocal deliveries. It’s evident from the opener “I’m Cute” her self-love and infatuation with life is infectious. Sure she’s going to find comparisons to R&B’s reigning diva but it doesn’t matter because here, it’s about Kima. The music surrounding it all is insanely catchy & danceable that’s more than capable to get the party started. The change comes with “Monster,” where it’s much more comparable to a Timberlake/Timbaland composition than anything else we may be reaching for as Kima shows versatility. It’s even more obvious on the slower “Runaways,” a grandiose track fitted well with around her voice. Kima Otung is obviously a powerhouse of a voice.

I’ve offered it up in the past but there’s something quite charming about Hovvdy and its musical compositions. Throughout the years the band’s slowcore sound has evolved into what it is today, and that’s something that still remains dreamy but with much more maturity by pop music standards. The duo of Charlie Martin and Will Taylor is able to draw listeners in with just a subdued vocal/acoustic guitar delivery (“Sometimes,”), a much more experimental-pop explosiveness (“Hope”),  or even erupting through songs like the harmonizing beauty that is the title track. In any form we chose to receive Hovvdy on True Love (Grand Stand Music), we’re always going to fall in love with how melodies collide against one another, voices ring out in unison, and simply how crafty each track can be.

Realizing what’s missing in music is probably the first thing an artist needs to figure out before starting a band. The second is probably adjusting its sound to fit the need. Or, figuring things out can just go out the window and instruments can collide against one another, figuring things out along the way. For those more in tune with the creative aspects of their souls, the latter is the usual approach, and to be honest, it should be the only way to move.

Created out of the demise of War Brides, Chicago’s Work Party pulls no punches straight out of the gate with its debut, My Best Days Are Behind Me (Triple Eye Industries). There doesn’t seem to be any feeling out process as far as the album goes, it’s straight to business, and that’s the group’s business model that seems to take the approach of kicking ass and chewing bubblegum. Yeah, you guessed it, Work Party is all out of bubblegum. That in of itself may be a good thing as well considering the band doesn’t water anything down with forced cheery melodies, or happy-go-lucky rhythms. Instead, the band takes on a no-nonsense 90s approach to music, incorporating thunderous rhythms, an F you attitude, loud abrasive guitars, and a maniacal vocal delivery.

Mad up of guitarist Grant Craig, vocalist Tristan Widloe, his brother Justin Widloe on bass, and drummer Brandon Syph, Work Party’s unbridled delivery is as fiery as those that came before it. Of course, there’s a slew of influences anyone could cite but where’s the fun in that. This is all about discovery right now and Work Party hits all the right spots. From the opening “Drunk Conference Call,” the rhythm is relentless and uncompromising as the band moves in unison throughout. After about 20 listens you may discover those subliminal handclaps that somehow make their way into the mix. Hell yes! Tristan Widloe sounds like a madman possessed. “Average White Man,” may sound like something you’ve heard before but it’s refreshing as the band pummels through, destroying everything in its path, all the while as the world around them crumbles. But it’s the band’s “Real Charmer,” with aggressive harmonies, unrelenting pummeling, and Grant Craig’s guitar that allow for memorability. Musically, the band is noisily riveting, relentlessly turning up the volume to eleven on their collective instruments, seeing where the music goes. “Crawl Home” is probably my favorite track (aside from halfway through “NFG” where Tristan’s storytelling gets my full attention) as Work Party literally vibes around a repetitive rhythm, building around it with vocals & guitar before it dissipates into the ether.

It’s safe to say there’s nothing safe about My Best Days Are Behind me, refreshingly blending 90s noise with 2000s blissful abandon, and pissing all over it with a 2021 middle finger in the air. The band is all in when it comes to creating its music, as well it should be but what makes this one stand out from the rest, well, Work Party did this for Work Party, not for you, me, or anyone else listening.

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Should we all be concerned with aging musicians and how they continue to create the same kind of music they’ve worked on for decades? Well, if this was everyone’s approach, the Rolling Stones would have died a timely death a couple of decades ago. But we’re not here to lambast an artist’s reasoning or measure they’ve taken to create another album, we’re here to understand, focus, and listen to these creative outbursts.

So yes, Ministry has withstood the test of time through its misunderstood early 80s vibe, the 90s, the 00s, the 10s, and now through the 2020s. Now in 2021, Al Jourgensen, the only original member, and brainchild behind the band return with the 15th album, Moral Hygiene (Nuclear Blast Records). In essence, the album remains consistent with the industrial metallic sound it’s honed since 1992’s Psalm 69: The Way To Succeed And The Way To Suck Eggs, and within that time influenced a host of new bands that could never hold a candle to Ministry and what it does. 2018’s AmeriKKKant was possibly the band’s most revealing, as Jourgensen took direct shots at Trump and his right-wing flunkies. Ministry has never shied away from showing its views throughout the years, but this is where Jourgensen called them out for all to see and hear.

This time around, Ministry isn’t avoiding the obvious as the country moves through confusion, misinformation, all through an odd political climate. Given, things were strange before the new year started but it’s gotten even stranger. The metallic “Good Trouble” feeds off of American trauma, with Jourgensen asking “Do you feel defeated/you feel depressed?” with a call to action to “stop the unrest” because “the world is a mess.” No one probably expects the haunting sounds of a harmonica in the background that clearly changes the musical landscape of the song. The sound of “Disinformation” is cataclysmic. It blends sampled news items, fiery riffing, Jourgensen’s distorted & angry vocals give everyone a sense of relief, offering what everyone is thinking about today’s society. Yeah, Jourgensen still sounds as menacing as he did 30 years ago. That hasn’t seemed to change.

It’s good to hear ex-Dead Kennedys vocalist Jello Biafra is thrown back in the mix, with lead vocals on “Sabotage Sex.” Biafra understands the complexities of the music Ministry evokes with its frenetic pace, and his vocals always turn Ministry into something quite unique. His lyricism is clear with words like, “A body cam shows body slam/attain traffic ticket leads to Bang! Bang! Bang!” The self-identifying anarchist is clear here.

Ministry isn’t averse to creating memorable tracks though, and the disheartening “Believe Me” throws in catchy melodies throughout it. The irony of it isn’t missed as Jourgensen’s words move through a political landscape of “lies, deception & betrayal.” Catchy & melancholic as well. But it’s the bass groove of “Death Toll” where I find solace within. It’s an instrumental track with an evangelical Christian pastor riding the country of Covid-19 “in the name of Jesus” much like televangelist Kenneth Copeland attempted, as well as a number of other pastors attempted, before dying of the virus. It’s the virus of many pastors across the land attempting to utilize Covid-19 for their own gain. Ministry just points out the obvious. The song swells as Ministry blends it to a close with “TV Song (Right Around The Corner Mix),” filled with more samples and political outtakes on this frenetic journey. It haphazardly makes all the sense in the world.

Listeners are a fickle bunch; what’s hot today is cold tomorrow but thankfully, with Ministry, it all comes full circle. They’re the industrial band, the metal outfit, the noisy group that parents always hate, but that’s ok. We’re not always supposed to walk the same path our parents did, and Moral Hygiene should show listeners they have a voice they need to use when confronted with issues they may not agree on. One thing we can see eye-to-eye on though is that Ministry is here, and we should enjoy them for the next couple of decades as well because the band is uncompromising.

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On occasion, there is that one band that allows those good feelings to flow through you. Of course, I know there’s more than one group that gets people going that way and that’s fine. Art can drive us to tears or it can fill us with joy but so long as it moves our emotions, that’s what matters in the end. There are bands that never disappoint and there are some that do, on a regular basis.

Thankfully, illuminati hotties avoid those pitfalls and always bring the goods from single to single, and album to album. With the new Let Me Do One More (Snack Shack Tracks/Hopeless Records), an album rife with pop delicacies and infectious sweetness. Sarah Tudzin is, in every sense of the words, the driving force behind illuminati hotties and from the get-go, she pulls out all the stops in the frenzied poppy bounce of “Pool Hopping.” Catchy guitar notes & chords swirl in, out, and around the track with her hypnotic vocal delivery. Candy-coated sweetness all throughout the track that’ll have you hitting that repeat button for end-of-summertime fun. But it isn’t all about driving pop songs though, although illuminati hotties are surely capable of filling an album with them. “u v v p” which features Buck Meek, Big Thief’s resident guitarist, could have been written in the early 60s with its Ronettes-like appeal although, with all the harmonies in the background, you might confuse one-part with a Theremin and at this point, I’m still not sure if it’s an instrument or vocal part. This alone is intriguing! But there’s more, and if you order right now you’ll receive a collection of slower jams with more appeal than an orange.

The mechanical beat of “Protector” is accentuated by low-registered guitars and Tudzin’s cooing vocals alleviate all that’s wrong around us, wrapping us all in a blanket that’s warm and inviting. The song eventually builds around the melody with atmospheric effects in the background, elevating it into wondrous territories. Although “Threatening Each Other re: Capitalism” opens with loud guitars, it plays a bit with dynamics slowing things down a bit with quieter moments, and it’s insanely good. Although if there’s anything that should truly draw listeners in, it’s when Tudzin is at the most vulnerable with “Growth.” Its somberness is strangely appealing with Tudzin’s melancholic delivery & lyrics, solely driven by an acoustic guitar. This right here is risky but it pays off in the end. It’s not everything illuminati hotties has to offer because her punk aesthetic and style are merged within songs as well. Take a listen to “MMMOOOAAAAAYAYA” and you’ll hear & feel it! It’s different, filling things with harsher notes and adding them to catchy melodies. Even the pop-punk of “Knead” delivers that infectious rhythm & melody that no one can ignore. This is the perfect song. Period.

With Let Me Do One More, there’s so much to take in as the band doesn’t stick to one particular formula but always remaining cohesive from track to track, and Tudzin is probably one of the most overlooked songwriters within the last couple of years. That should change now with this album. One of the best of the year? Yeah, without a doubt.

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Artists may sometimes fall into multiple categories, morphing throughout the years, evolving, and taking on new forms. Art itself is subjective, and some may disagree but they’re wrong. Period. But attempting to maneuver within popular music while creating art, is a problem for many although there are some that continue working within the confines of a medium waiting for the world to catch up.

Enter the world of Rob Sonic, who has lived and breathed Hip-Hop since coming of age? With a healthy dose of a catalog, with Sonic Sum, the group he once fronted, solo releases, as well as Hail Mary Mallon with Aesop Rock and DJ Big Wiz. Sonic steps out on his own again with the new Latrinalia (Sky Pimps), his latest album which he’s teased in early 2021 as well as 2020 with a couple of single releases. “Latrinalia” is another word for art, but more specifically, graffiti made in latrines or on bathroom walls, which he addresses on the title track with similes & metaphors. The track itself, much like a lot of Sonic’s music is dark and brooding, and considering the album is self-produced in its entirety, it fits his style, cadence, and delivery. The lone dirge of the upright bassline that opens the track allows for mystery, and we’re kept in the dark where this is heading until Sonic speaks. The track oddly closes out with a quick sample of The Cars? That threw me off there but if you’re not in by the time this song hits, you’re missing the entire point. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

With Rob Sonic, yes, he always seems larger than life, and the music he creates is fitting, tempered with artful lyricism that occasionally speaks in tongues, through the heart of a poet. Sonic hasn’t forgotten how to cleverly piece words together, through abstract collection of ideas that always make sense in the end. Couple that with the music he’s sewn together with it, and your in for something quite unique. “Mints” creeps in with melodic hums before Sonic begins winding his words around the infectious beat, with a kaleidoscope of imagery throughout. It pulls you down the rabbit hole without need of any pharmaceuticals. I keep going back for the same psychological mind-fuck and I get it every time. The feverish “Off Broadway featuring Aesop Rock” follows, as the emcees trade lyrical barbs with one another as both keep pace with the song’s pace, both at different speeds but easily kept in time. It’s off Broadway from their perspectives? Quite possibly. The brevity of the upbeat “Grimace” suits Rob Sonic just fine here as he spits a multitude of quick-witted phrases but somehow it just works to his benefit from start to end. But it’s “Hammer Of Chaos” that’s intriguing here, with its deep bass and Sonic’s quick wit, beginning things within story mode and quickly morphs into his stylized prose.

Literally, there’s no one quite like Rob Sonic and with Latrinalia, Sonic is unapologetically himself, twisting phrases at every turn, forcing listeners to actually think about what he’s presenting throughout. Whether you get it or not, Rob’s not waiting around for anyone and moving forward. Stop falling behind and keep up.

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