Some probably won’t be sure what to make of ToBy at first, the artist billed as an emcee out of Los Angeles, because ToBy isn’t just a rapper, he’s a vocalist with a wider ranger. His full-length debut pretty much offers that up, and while the cross-pollination of genres shifts boundaries within contemporary Hip-Hop, L’Esprit (Magnetic Moon), easily falls into R&B territories as well as offering up semblances of indie rock. “Boyfriend” is the subtle jam here that plays with dynamics, splattering distorted guitars around as his soft delivery which is raised just above a whisper. But he does revert back to basics, killing it with “2FUKKINCOCK,” sporting tough guy braggadocio over a demanding backdrop. Those hard-edged nuances are always offset by his softer side in “Want Me To Do,” a stormy track where it seems ToBy exposes his heart for all to see, where he sings & rhymes on. It’s definitely his more tender moments that take precedence on L’Esprit, and the ones that are most captivating. Whichever direction ToBy moves in, the end result still seizes the moment.
It’s been over 20 years now, but the prolific Chicago emcee Pugs Atomz continues to drop new material year after year. His latest offering, Test Drive (600 Block Records) is a release that will undoubtedly withstand the test of time. While it shares production from a variety of beat miners, the album remains cohesive from start to finish. Atomz opens with the title track, a laid-back affair featuring Awdazcate, and it cruises across a palm tree-filled city. That’s the imagery it gives off, and the animated video helps give off that same vibe. The acoustic guitar strumming chords leave it feeling breezy as backing vocals coo. The album shifts gears with “This Life Time” feat. Rockie Fresh and J. Arthur and the emcees all don’t seem to have time to waste. The beat though, it’s hard & direct but rocks with a head-nodding fervor. He gets down trading verses with Killah Priest and Chris Crack, also featuring DJ Intel on “Cadillac On Michigan” keeping with the album’s theme. It’s a banger as emcees volley rhymes. Atomz shines on “Malcolm 64” with a laidback flow over a melodic laidback beat and a few heady keyboard notes. Test Driver is that ish that’s layered with banger after banger.
I can appreciate things when they become…tricky. That’s what happens with Cleveland, Ohio’s Terrycloth a 4-piece that’s hard to pin down as necessarily being “one thing.” James Pequignot (vocals and bass), Stephen ‘Tebbs’ Karney (vocals and pedal steel guitar), Drew Maziasz (guitar, vocals), and John Panza (drums) all bring something unique to the band and it obviously shows with the group’s self-titled release. The sound the band creates may be rooted in post-punk but the members expound on it much further than that. Listening to “The Dancing Plague” as that pedal steel slide all throughout it with the rhythm section moving so frantically along, but it’s just might be Pequignot that gets my attention as he borrows & incorporates the Jerome Kern lyrics from his show tune “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” (popularized by The Platters and Nat King Cole) within his lyrics. It moves the track in a varied direction with a nod to the master craftsmen. But it’s “Weight Of The World” that captures my attention with horn play thrown in the mix by Antoine Canon & subtle backing vocals by Sophoulla Gibson. It’s dreamy, moves with stealth and even at its noisiest, remains silky smooth. Like I mentioned, the energy is pretty varied on this release but coalesces well together. Terrycloth is that shit.
Literally just landing on my lap is the debut by Coyote Reverie, which is the pairing of singer Meadow Eliz along with emcee Stresselbee. Hailing from Vermont, the group has just released its debut Imah this week. This time last year saw the release of Stresselbee & Friends but this time around Meadow Eliz offsets his rhymes. It’s a meeting of minds, and skill, between these two? Trading bars with one another over with catchy melodies & block rockin’ beats. “Don’t Wake Me Up” filled with horns against, organ, & wah-ing guitars as they volley words against one another. It isn’t all fun n’ games all the time though, as Coyote Reverie offers up “Blood On The Blade,” with a much darker timbre & melancholy vibe keeping things varied. It’s an album filled with 15-tracks of head-nodding beats with galvanizing lyricism.
It’s been a few years since anyone has seen a new full-length release from Xenia Rubinos, five years to be exact, but in between, she’s been working. A lot. We could look at any given time to find her on tour, performing songs off of her last Black Terry Cat, as well as Magic Trix. Rubinos also found time to release a number of singles (2017’s “Levitating,” 2019’s Clash cover “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” and “DIOSA vs. BUGEISHA”) as well as collaborating with Helado Negro last year (“I Fell In Love”). But this isn’t a history lesson, it’s a look into the new album, Una Rosa (ANTI-) which has the artist searching for new ways to deliver her compositions. Co-produced with her longtime drummer / percussionist Marco Buccelli, both seem to find interesting meeting grounds throughout the new album.
There are moments throughout Una Rosa that are quite…chilling. Sometimes it’s in different ways; within break-up songs and also about loss, stereotypes, racism, and cultural identity. With one song in particular, “Ay Hombre,” Rubinos utilizes autotune, singing in English backed by percussion and keyboard drones, “I wanna believe in love/can you believe in love” before hitting the language & rhythm shift for this heartfelt unrequited love song. Here she bears all that she can. She sings in old Spanish ways; heartbroken, tattered & torn, leaving the pieces of her heart strewn on the ground. The track is accented or rather augmented by, Yasser Tejeda’s nimble guitar work. It helps to give off that old school delivery, songs our grandparents would sing on late weekends, inebriated with their brothers & sisters until sunrise. This is where pain & emotion is felt from beginning to end. The same could be said for the mostly instrumental title track, soothing with Domenica Fossati’s atmospheric flute throughout as Rubinos hums along to its melody at points. Classic would be the lost word to associate the song with as the electronic bassline eventually buzzes alongside and keyboards writhe underneath. But it’s the electronic vibe of these songs that are unmistakable. While there’s a Latinx feel to the tracks, the electro sound permeates through, but it’s most notable within the hum of “Sacude” where again, she begins in English but changes languages a minute and a half in. Her words ring tensely, and when she sings “Sacude, sacude, a Dios que me ayude,” we all look for that strength within, even when we need help. But it’s the feel of the track that allows for the power throughout her words. The Salsa portion is briefly included for good measure.
The electro-shock from song to song shouldn’t be ignored but it isn’t the only thing that should be the focal point. There are a number of instances throughout, but Rubinos gives listeners what they’re familiar with as well, as heavy grooves bounce around “Working All The Time.” Her word phrasing can sometimes be lightning-fast, outworking the pace of the song morphing it into somewhat of a club anthem. Rubinos gets her point across here, a threat in so many ways. “Cógelo Suave” drops those deep bass rhythms as well as the music itself takes on a life of its own ending with a sample of a graduation salutation there.
Xenia Rubinos proves to be more than just one thing and “Don’t Put Me In Red” lets everyone know she shouldn’t be boxed in. Stereotypical views should be cast aside. They’re demeaning and not what she’s about. She sings it clearly calling it out with, “Ask me where I’m going, don’t ask me where I’m from/I speak in three languages, you barely speak one/kids you put in cages look like they can be my sons/you forget we were here when the west was won” and “I’m so spicy, you don’t like me.” It’s evident misperceptions are everyone else’s problems, not hers. It’s clever, to say the least. She returns with another break-up song in “Worst Behavior,” delivered without malice. The subtleness of her lyrics could confound some, offering “I wish you all the best/never want to hear your voice or see you again/now we’re happily never after” as a not-so-subtle response to “let’s be friends.” The guitar is intriguing, as is the heady groove throughout the song that listeners will constantly find solace within…in one way or another.
There are so many emotions throughout the album, like the quiet explosiveness of “Did My Best,” dealing with so much loss and attempting to cope within. It’s sometimes harsh & abrasive but completely footed in reality. Then there’s the sultriness of “Si Llego,” the crossover reversal we could all expect to be the reason many babies are born 9 months from now. It’s a love song with an abundance of animal attractions. A different kind of favorite.
Una Rosa is filled with an exponential amount of creative bursts that can hardly be contained. The trinity of Xenia Rubinos music has been exposed. I’m curious to see what’s to follow next.
There are times where I’m not sure what should or could be called a debut release. When a group has a name shift, is that a fresh start and we should all forget the name it once assumed or any of its former accomplishments. Seems like the makings of a catch-22, 23, or 24 but in any case, it shouldn’t matter because this is the here and now, there’s no moving backward, only steps towards progressions into uncharted territories.
Enter: Namesake, a band of musicians (Patrick Phillips, Josh Wehle, and Paul Lizaragga) who previously performed together along with Tyson Moore before leaving the band during the 2020 pandemic. The remaining members soldiered on with a new name and a style evolving from its previous output. The band wears its punk influences flagrantly on its proverbial sleeve, eschewing all things unnecessary for punch, surrounded by melody, driving guitars, and Patrick Phillips’ interesting delivery; a combination of spoken/sung, lyrics always in key. The 12 tracks throughout the band’s Redeeming Features (Get Better Records). From the very start, “I’m Sick” grabs your attention, and you just know it’s that clean guitar melody with its chords quickly driving the track the rest of the band embellishes on. To say this song is catchy AF would probably be an understatement. As guitar notes shimmer in the atmosphere, you’ll almost forget Phillips’ feelings of being so overwhelmed as the song rages, juxtaposed against his lyrics.
It seems there are different aspects to the band music/sound that, although Namesake never loses its identity. The catchy & misty “In Dreams” finds the band utilizing more backing harmonies throughout and cooing vocals. Songs revolve around guitars and on “Deliver” it’s apparent as the track opens with its melody and the song is developed around it. It’s clean & concise. But it’s “The Brink,” a massive epic that’s a beast of a track that becomes a bit more dramatic, as the band plays a bit with dynamics. The song almost sounds as if almost collapsing under its own weight but there are rays of sunlight occasionally peeking through those shadowy clouds surrounding it. I’m intrigued by “Need To Quit” where there’s a moment, drums seem off but at the one-minute and twenty-four-second mark it’s only a quick rhythm change. Yes, I find myself repeating the same cycle over and over again. I find solace in both “What Gives You The Right” and “Out Loud” for two separate reasons; “What Gives You The Right” is punchy, direct, catchy, and gives listeners the idea it’s moving in one direction and forks in the road to another while “Out Loud” is a clever pop song masquerading as a punk song and completely inviting. With “Out Loud” though, Phillips is open with himself, what he’s gone through, and the struggle with his own emotions. “Reconcile and say it out loud” are words he belts out and can do nothing more but stand up and fucking applaud him. This is possibly my favorite track on this album. He’s honest and that’s hard to come by.
Redeeming Features is Namesake heading in a new direction. It’s probably the same path the band was on previously but the members are still focused and well, discovering new things within the music and themselves. Did I mention I can stand and applaud? Yeah, I did, but let’s do it again!
When some of Texas’ own favorite sons are on a roll again releasing albums, singles, etc, it’s time to stand up and take note. No, really. Stand the fuck up and pay attention. Sure the band created a ruckus back in the 90s, but they weren’t done yet, resurfacing in 2015 for a new album. The noise masters of guitarist Kevin Whitley, bassist Owen McMahon, and drummer Brent Prager once again lit the sticks of dynamite and for 2015’s 2 YNFYNYTY and later with 2019’s Immaculada High. Oh, yeah, it’s Cherubs we’re referring to here.
The band stirs things up this year with its latest release SLO BLO 4 FRNZ & SXY (Relapse Records), an EP’s worth of five proper songs, augmented with 33 RPM versions of the same tracks. Of course, the band’s unique brand of cacophony is always accentuated by a wall of guitars and deep bottom end, but taking those songs and reimagined through a varied speed? It’s ingenious and I really can’t remember the last time I came across anything of the sort. But I’m getting ahead of myself as I normally tend to.
Cherubs open with distortion on “Die Robbin’,” an explosive monster of a song as soon as the band hits on a melody wrapped in dissonance. While Whitley’s vocals are audible, we can’t always make sense of his words through the din of noise, but that’s ok! It’s the song as a whole that we want to hear. There’s always sweetness in the chaos as the thick & tar-ish upheaval of the rhythm section always remains in control. But on “A Pair Of Pear Tarts,” the band’s hellish & frenetic delivery is what gets everyone’s attention. Whitley’s dissonant notes throughout are infectious. The beauty within the sonic oblivion continues song after relentless song, only to receive a reprieve with “Sooey Pig (sad),” as the band brings out acoustic instruments, moving in a different, albeit softer direction, sliding across guitar strings. But we still hear the power within, it can never be denied. Now the rest of this release, it’s probably what anyone would expect; still here is the ever-present sound of cacophony yet, um, slower. It gives the songs a different feel altogether as some of the grooves feel as if they’re extended even though they’re exactly the same songs. Piquing curiosity though was “Sooey Pig (Sad)” which does sound completely bizarre, morphed into something almost unrecognizable. Humorous even.
Fans get a little more Cherubs through SLO BLO 4 FRNZ & SXY, and while it may not be a proper full-length, it does the trick whetting appetites. The 33 rpm versions, are a bit odd but gives us all something else to chew on.
A deep slumber. Electronic music always seems to do this when it’s encountered. Listeners & fans, like myself, are awakened from a sleep so strong it borders on death. I’m not going to sit here and offer that it’s every artist because honestly, it’s not. You can’t play one or two notes throughout a 4-minute track and call it music. It’s just you playing one or two notes. On the other hand, there are those that create a collection of manipulated sounds utilizing a colorful palette of inventiveness, with an outcome that’s bold.
While this isn’t Adrian Bertolone’s – the artist behind Icky Reels – first foray in music, he cut his proverbial teeth with Cleveland’s Jerk. It was a noise band once described as “trying to make Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music sound like Pet Sounds.” While the new album Plips (Tygr Rawwk) serves as my introduction, it’s clear to see & hear that the artist who now calls Buffalo, NY home, shares an album tempered with a colorful palette of sound ingenuity. While Icky Reels focuses mostly on head nodding, fist-pumping rhythms, the music is inclusive of the morose & saddening, much like “At The Bar.” The track drifts in and out with additional samples & noisy aspects but one can’t but help imagined a lonely patron nursing a drink. It’s quite possibly the soundtrack to the lives of many. Or maybe it’s the watery “Future” that shifts halfway through that blanket everything around it. These tracks stand apart from the rest because of their differences but remain as part of Icky Reels’ musical personality. But that’s not to disregard the “fist pump” I previously mentioned.
I find myself enraptured with “Ed B,” which has a beat that makes me move. For that first minute, it’s hard and direct, surrounded by staticky vinyl & samples right before it morphs & tapers out, coating with that same blanket but here the beat remains the focal point even when it’s silenced. But it hits again embellished with more melody and sounds before it tapers off again and returns. At over six and a half minutes, the track seems to fly by… and you’ll want more. You’ll get more right with “Moonlight Pixel,” filled with 80s-like electronic gaming sounds that are embroidered over the first half of the music. But it’s the funky rhythm that’s infectious as the song takes on a secondary identity making it seem like a 2 for 1 deal. There’s so much to take in with Plips, like the house/dance-infused “Nurved” which will make older heads want to hit the club like they used to. That and “Saturday What,” set off like the soundtrack to club party antics fueled by mescaline without a care in the world. Yeah, that’s what’s up.
With Plips, Icky Reels is intriguing and shows far more flexibility with sound than many of his contemporaries do today. The sounds set the mood for just about any situation and fit right in. Chill, dance, work; play it at any given time, the album is colorful and textured, and Icky Reels does a brilliant job at piecing it all together for one imaginative ride.