Kelsey Warren has been around the block, having fronted a long-running and successful rock band based on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. But Blak Emoji, the current face of Kelsey Warren, is something entirely different and new–both for Warren himself and for the listener weary of monotonous music trends.
Warren is capable of plenty: He studied jazz guitar, classical voice and music theory at the University of Miami, and has played and sung in every possible context, as leader, sideman and hired gun around New York City. Blak Emoji is where he puts it all together for himself, mixing his tendencies as a brainy, substantive and complex writer with a fixation on synth sounds.
Blak Emoji songs are rarely simple and compact, but neither are they droning and repetitive like so much contemporary electronic music. One might fit in at the club, another as a morning pump-up song in your earbuds on the way to work or class, another as a bedroom jam, but as as rule they pack complexity without forcing it. The common denominator is Warren’s effortless vocals, which might closest recall Seal. Whether over electroboogie-inspired dance music or a sweet ballad, Warren’s smooth voice makes every track pop perfection.
Joined by bass/synth player Chris Gaskell, drummer Max Tholenaar-Maples and keyboardist Sylvana Joyce, Warren has made Blak Emoji his focus as a musician, tying together his longtime interest in alt-rock (think Nine Inch Nails, Bjork) with a more recently kindled romance with dance beats.
Blak Emoji, which Warren began in 2015, will release its debut EP, Intro, in early 2017. It’s likely to be music the like of which you haven’t heard in some time, if ever — and that’s precisely how Blak Emoji wants it.
Ghettoblaster recently caught up with Warren to discuss some of 2016s most complex and perfect records. This is what he was digging on.
WE GOT IT FROM HERE – A TRIBE CALLED QUEST (Spotify)
This album holds up to the extremely high standards of their first three albums. Phife is fully represented and Q-Tip stays true to the group’s classic sound while perfectly blending today’s modern sonic and topical elements comfortably. This album is straight up instant classic and a must listen. So many great tracks here on 2016’s biggest surprise addiction.
BLOND – FRANK OCEAN (Spotify)
Damn this was worth the wait. Frank blessed us with a brilliant avant garde soul journey to the next level. It’s sooooo good. Blond is out there and in there at the same time, hypnotic and beautiful. Not for the pop charts but a sonic treat for your ears and heart. I can’t stop playing this.
ATROCITY EXHIBITION – DANNY BROWN (Spotify)
Danny’s style in general is just on another level. He’s always been left of center or “that MC” up for the musical challenge. I’m sure you haven’t heard an album like this in a long time, especially in hip hop. Some of these beats are so brilliantly crazy but Brown makes them sound easy the way he flows. It’s a rap album that sound’s closer to Joy Division or NIN than Desiigner.
FLASH IN THE PAN – GUM (Spotify)
I was turned on to Gum this year. I thought it sounded a bit like Tame Impala, then I was embarrassed when I found out Gum is basically Jay Watson FROM Tame Impala. Following Kevin Parker’s psychedelic electronic lead, Gum is its own animal, a bit more lo-fi with the beats and style. Those chords, those sounds, this album. It’s insanely great. I think I may have listened to it every day for a month straight.
YES LAWD! – NxWORRIES (Spotify)
This is the best studio album Anderson Paak has recorded in my opinion. Nxworries is like aural soul food. Knxledge’s old school “diamond in the back” Madlib styled production mixed with Paak’s soulful voice is like peanut butter and jelly. There’s something about Paak that reminds me of Bobby Womack for this generation.
LEMONADE – BEYONCE
For being one of the biggest pop stars on the planet, Beyonce is pretty ballsy and risk taking. Her last two albums are both bold artistic statements while still remaining catchy. She sounds like an angel who is pissed off and out of fucks to give here which I why I love it so much. Lemonade is once again a testament that Beyonce isn’t the average pop star with a bunch of hit singles, she’s a full blown album artist. So many styles here and she nails them all sounding comfortable on a James Blake, Just Blaze or a Jack White track. Masterpiece, girl power.
BLACK TERRY CAT – XENIA RUBINOS (Spotify)
Xenia is so friggin awesome, an immensely talented artist with jazz sensibility and indie wit. And she fully puts on blast the life and times of being a person (woman) of color during the days we’re claiming to “make america great again” (dios mio). She has a vibe like Joni Mitchell, Esperanza and Erykah all in one body. Shout out to Xenia who was also part of that super cool “Pop Life” Prince cover featuring Neon Indian earlier this year!
ROJUS – LEON VYNEHALL (Spotify)
I’m not a huge deep house head or EDM guy but once in awhile that special album comes along that’s a meditative sonic trip. Like Jamie XX last year and Disclosure previously, Leon Vynehall is that guy for me this year. Rojus is like my morning or night time therapy via headphones. I love the vibe, ambient, house, hypnotic groove and colorful chords. Rojus puts you in a trance but you’re either dancing on the dance floor or inside your head. By far my favorite electro dance release this year
DIDN’T YOU MY DEAR – JANITA (Spotify)
Janita is one of my favorite singer/songwriters and vocalists at the moment. Didn’t You My Dear is full of strong well crafted pop songs. It was originally released last year but was re-released in 2016 with a few bonus goodies. Janita is a captivating artist and this amazing body of work speaks volumes: her voice, style, the band, and these SONGS though! Pure, emotional and vivid. She’s on the level of a PJ Harvey or Joni Mitchell. Blake Morgan shines with perfection production here for a musical marriage that’s as tight and classic as Cassandra Wilson and Craig Street. This album still blows me away.
BLACKSTAR – DAVID BOWIE (Spotify)
I’m sure I’m not the only one who listened to this differently after his unexpected transition. It’s so inspiring that this man was still at the top of his game after recording for over 40 plus years. His previous album before this one, The Next Day, was baddass as well. You can stock this next to classic Bowie art rock releases and it’s just as good. Subtle, smooth and genius. And it’s SO NYC. I cried that morning upon hearing that Bowie, one of my heroes has passed. The second and only other time I cried this year was a few months later when I found out my other main idol, Prince passed away. Some great music came out this year but man, fuck 2016!
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