NEW MUSIC: FRIDAY ROLL OUT! with Iguana Death Cult, Black Marble, Hemlock Ernst & Kenny Segal, Dan Melchior Group, London Afrobeat Collective, Ness Heads, Seven Kingdoms

We’ve entered the 4th quarter of the year and releases are still going strong. It seems labels are pushing artists forward but there are a number of self-releases hitting the streets as well. This week I’m feeling the overload trying to get a handle on things here, but then yesterday I was hit with something I wish I had more time to spend on. And no, I’m not referring to that Kanye album.

That leads me to the London Afrobeat Collective. Now there’s an abundance of Afrobeat on this side of the hemisphere (Souljazz Orchestra, Antibalas, Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra, etc.) but this is my first interaction with this group, although the band has releases that date back to almost a decade. The group just released its politically charged Humans and it’s astounding. The powerful female lead is an added plus there! Ok, I mentioned them, now get at it!

Attempting to make any connection to other musical outlet is a complete waste of time. That is if you’re focused on seeking any correlation between Future Islands and Hemlock Ernst. The only thing both share is the vocalist; one Sam Herring. Two different outlets of musical release in two genres. For some time now there have been sporadic appearances of Hemlock Ernst performances unless you head on over to Soundcloud. Or, just Spotify singles and guest appearances.

So now we have the debut album by Hemlock Ernst & Kenny Segal, who provides the beats for Back At The House (Ruby Yacht). To be honest, both artists are able to meld and blend easily with one another, as styles easily compliment one another. For the most part, Segal’s laid back compositions are cleverly timbred with lovelorn vibes. That juxtaposed against Ernst’s raspy delivery of prose, is easily addictive.

As they open with “North To South,” guitars lead the way with repeated samples as Ernst wraps his metaphors as if he’s lost in a dream with a keen sense of direction. It’s far from nonsensical but the background vocals add an adventurous charm to the song. Then there are moments when you’re not sure where something is going as Ernst sings “He say, she say, she say, he say, he say” before the beat comes in. The two are juxtaposed against one another but it seems to work. Noticeably include are odes to those that came before him. His delivery is much different, but he takes lines from the Sugar Hill Gang to open the track before switching it with abstract lyricism. “Addicted Youth” cleverly masks words once uttered by Rakim, singing that same phrase in the background “I was a fiend…before I became a teen.” But the music…Kenny Segal’s laidback composition compliments Ernst’s deliver as keyboards and guitars have an unassuming chill factor, with string samples bouncing in and out. But the two can rattle and shake things up as well.

“Down” showcases Hemlock Ernst’s frenetic vocal delivery with shifting dynamics and strings held together by subtlety, all the while keeping the song completely atmospheric. The title track’s ocean-sized feel, opening with sounds conjuring up imagery of calm waters. Hemlock Ernst capitalizes on that adding to it with his words that reminisce about sea life, sand, and the “salty air.” It makes it that much easier to fall in love with Ernst’s vocal interplay wrapped around Segal’s thoughtful compositions.

It’s easy to understand how and why Hemlock Ernst has aligned himself with R.A.P. Ferreira (formerly Milo) as both rappers piece together prose uncommonly found within Hip-Hop circles, forcing listeners to think. Hard. Hemlock Ernst has raised the bar with his full-length debut. It’s seriously unlikely that anyone else will come close to catching up at this point.

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There’s a hodgepodge of sounds delivered by the Dutch-bred quintet, so much I don’t know where to begin. The one thing about Iguana Death Cult though is the penchant for writing a catchy fucking melody and appeasing anyone who listens to the group. The band just released its sophomore release, Nude Casino (Innovative Leisure), which follows up 2017’s The First Stirrings Of Hideous Insect Life. While the band’s first long-player was rougher around its edges, the band seems to have perfected the sound of its pseudo surf rocking psychedelia channeled through a garage rock base. Don’t get me wrong, Insect Life was a good release but it held moments that were derivative, sometimes sounding like RFTC directed by Joe Strummer. Oh, how things change.

If you haven’t guessed it by now, Nude Casino doesn’t disappoint. From beginning to end. The band opens with the brief “Prelude” which doesn’t offer much, before exploding through its title track. There’s energy here, in abundance! The band’s jangle sounds remarkably influenced by American Country, but not the current crop of bullshit filtered through the airwaves. No, this is more akin to the greatness that was a young and dangerous Johnny Cash. The song is so fucking nice I have to play it twice. Singer/guitarist Jeroen Reek sings without restraint but to be honest, it seems like he does so on every other track here as well. The track allows space for Reek, although he doesn’t need it because there’s clarity throughout the song. Track to track, the band doesn’t disappoint, as the melody of “Bright Lights” is captivating and could be as repetitive as it wants to be because this song is life! But it’s when the band tosses in semblances of krautrock on “Carnal Beat Machine” and blending it with its own signature style, this is where things start to get interestingly challenging, and I’m all about the challenges. There’s a punk ethos within the band’s own framework, which enables them to move seamlessly through other subgenres. Even when the band steps outside of its own stylings on “Tuesday’s Lament,” it doesn’t matter because the band doesn’t need to shed its skin constantly. Instead, the Iguana Death Cult blends the track into its own sound to fit the band’s need, not the other way around.

Then there’s the anthemic “Chinatown,” where anyone can imagine the band performing with its own penchant for a post-punk ethos. Nothing though, quite prepares you for the closing “Castles In The Sky.” The clear and concise direction of the song gives it anthemic value here. The subtle interplay between the dueling guitars is amazing. As it plays with one performing the obvious melody, the other colorfully embellishes upon it. At almost 5-minutes, I didn’t want it to end but alas, it does.

I’m not certain if there’s anything left to say about the boys from the Netherlands because they’ve allowed Nude Casino to do say all that needs to be said about the band. It really is that good.

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There’s something to be said about Hip-Hop from a mainstream perspective; for the most part, it’s nonsensical gibberish you can barely understand over beats that miss the boom and the bap, revolving around cyclical bland beats. There are those that rise above the rest but they’re far and few in-between.

Enter Ness Heads, the young vocalist from Chicago known to her friends and family as Vanessa Ortiz. Releasing her new Numb E.P., she allows her music to showcase the different aspects of her voice, whether she’s rapping or singing. We live within an era where an artist has the capability to move between genres, which is what Ness does here. Ness doesn’t fit within the current crop of rappers as “Pull Me Up” attests. She sings over an ethereal bassline accentuated with mechanical beats and keys before she begins ‘rapping,’ although the melody of her singing is prevalent throughout. The same could be said on the sweet timbred “Glowing” and it isn’t ever a detriment to the song itself. Ok, I’ll say it, I’m digging it. Ness uses her voice to the best of her capability, probably even surpassing her own expectations. (disclaimer: The song shares a similarity to “XO Tour Llif3” but without the pretentiousness and weak lyricism.)

But I did mention she sings so “Lost” isn’t a surprise; no raps, just Ness Heads singing over an acoustic guitar with the occasional percussion added. It’s the prominent altered backing vocals that capture attention though, adding a charm to the track. “My Own Enemy” she brings all the sultriness within the song, which is also accentuated by the beauty of the musical backdrop here. All this before “Make Me Feel” drops, with Ness’ voice dubbed over itself allowing the harmonies to take effect. Is this a love song? A break-up track? It’s fascinatingly addictive.

With Numb, I’m not sure where I’m left, all I know is that I’m left with a story that should have had more to it. I’m left wanting more from Ness Heads, the Hip-Hop head from Chicago that has a penchant for electronic music and does whatever she wants. And that’s a beautiful thing.

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On Black Marble’s third long-player, Chris Stewart, who records under the pseudonym, has found his place in music and solidifies his project with a selection of songs that attest, this isn’t a fluke or a cheesy-rendition of 80’s synth-pop. By all means, Black Marble is undoubtedly synth-pop but the compositions on Bigger Than Life (Sacred Bones) are beautiful pieces of work stitched together a mélange of melodic tones and sounds filled with melodicism.  

While Black Marble begins this latest offering with songs that are soothing (“Never Tell,” “Daily Driver”), the formula within the writing process seems to be direct and concise, leaving each track in a realm of the ethereal & atmospheric. It’s when we get a bit further along (“Feels”) where Black Marble tugs at heartstrings, sometimes juxtaposing his own self-deprecation with the backdrop of his music that gorgeously intertwines his words alongside its melody. The party continues (“Grey Eyeliner”) where Stewart is able to piece together catchy rhythms and melody within his electronic noodling, layering some percussive sounds throughout. As soon as it begins, it seems like it’s over with its sudden end.

There are moments where Stewart seems to surpass his own expectations, or rather, my own. The title track’s bassline is infectious and pulls the song into its own direction, keeping it devoid of anything unnecessary as the electronic beats are all that seem to be needed. His words sounds like those of a recluse, where he continues his own story (“Shoulder”) where he sings of giving up “everything” and not looking over his “shoulder for love.” Some may find that odd, while others that share some of those same urges, can understand.

Black Marble is a complicated beast, maybe not musically but Stewart’s lyricism is thoughtful and fits well within the context of his music. It’s easy to fall in love with Bigger Than Life, as Black Marble speaks to everyone’s base instincts.

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I wasn’t sure of what to make of the spandex-clad Seven Kingdoms…ok, that’s a lie. I judged a book by its cover here and looking at the leopard print, bandanas, chains, fanny packs, and wraparound sunglasses it was clear as day: 80s-inspired hair band(?) I then wondered if things like that, and the Easter Bunny, do exist. Well, Seven Kingdoms does but I’m not sure strictly classifying the group like that is a fair assessment.

The band records and releases music through the members own means as well as utilizing crowdfunding. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though, and neither is the group’s latest offering, the new Empty Eyes E.P. The band is made up of dueling guitarists Camden Cruz & Kevin Byrd, drummer Keith Byrd, bassist Aaron Sluss, and vocalist Sabrina Valentine. The Floridian band is without a doubt, POWERFUL. While they may dress the part with 80s inspiration, the music dons a different tone, thrashing at times and completely filling songs with riffing and vocals that stand apart from the pack. The title track has both guitarists wailing away while Valentine sings like she’s always belonged on stage. And she does. “Monster” is exactly what its namesake is, a monstrosity of a song that doesn’t hold anything back. Seven Kingdoms doesn’t stray away from creating what is prerequisite with most metal bands: the lonesome ballad. “Valonquar” fits in as such. What was unexpected though was the cover of Heart’s “Barracuda.” Is the song done justifiably? Fuck yes. Does it sound better than the original? Quite possibly you little fuckers. Would I listen to Empty Eyes again? Well, I have and I’m officially on the Seven Kingdoms bandwagon!

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Well, if you know, you just know. If you don’t know, you’re simply assed out and just slap yourself silly. Dan Melchior has been a staple of underground garage rock since, well, the beginning of time. I jest, but to say Melchior has a healthy catalog of music is downplaying the successful exchange of music compiled throughout the years. Dan Melchior’s  Broke Review is a group that has shaken and stirred recollection into some, but now we have the Dan Melchior Group!

What we have here with his 2xLP Ruins (Heel Turn Records) is a fascinating display of loosely constructed tracks that form together like Voltron getting ready to go into battle. That’s every track unto itself. “Black Hat” follows a singular rhythm with his guitar embellishments throughout it as well as his distorted vocal delivery, but it’s “Hey Ya,” not an Outkast cover, that’s hypnotizing. The droning keyboard along with his stuttering guitar makes this song, and while there isn’t much to his lyricism on this track, it’s fucking magical. Many tracks here follow the same pattern of repetition, but the songs never become repetitious, Melchior offers freshness here. Even when it seems like his compositions like “I’m Here” sounds like it’s going to be a plodding mess, he changes things up with dissonance and a change in melody. You’ll understand why it takes 2 LPs to fill out the songs, when they mostly clock in at 4.5 to almost hitting the 8 -minute mark! “Police Dog” goes on for 6 mins and 48 seconds and you won’t even take notice because the way it moves with its addictive bassline and dissonant guitars, you’ll want it to go on forever! But when the title track hits, it’s more of the same, yet we all welcome its singularity!

There’s so much offered up here to dig into like “Dirty Deal Blues,” where we all know what Melchior holds a deep love of. But he’s not one not to experiment because “Trees” is layered with dissonance, and much more. Not many are willing to take a chance but leave it to Melchior to do so. He does it and so much more here on Ruins, which throws conventionality right out the window.

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