Name: Adam Bernard Home: Fairfield, Connecticut, United States About Me: Entertainment journalist w/ over a decade of experience. Lover of good music, fringe movies, day baseball & chicken shawarma. Nerdy, but awesome. See my complete profile
When the beat kicks in on Configa and HaStyle's "Wut You Got" it's love at first sound for anyone who's a fan of hip-hop. Your head will begin to nod, possibly without you even knowing it, and in addition to the insanely dope production provided by Configa, HaStyle spits some fantastic rhymes. Heck there's even a mention of "The Dunk," which is something every New York sports fan holds near and dear to their heart (John Starks is a legend!).
"Wut You Got" is a song that will remind even the most jaded hip-hop fan (i.e. me) of what they've always loved about the music of the culture. The only thing disappointing about it is that it isn't longer!
Much has been made of the offensively low payouts to artists from streaming services. Kendrick Lamar broke Spotify's single-day streaming record when To Pimp a Butterfly was released, yet those 9.6 million track plays netted him, according to Billboard estimates, a mere $44,160. During a three-month span on Pandora, Pharrell's "Happy" was streamed 43 million times, which led to an estimated $25,000 in earnings.
With these numbers in mind, Jay Z and a bunch of his friends relaunched Tidal with a promise to give more to the artists. Here's the problem: even if they found a way to triple artists' earnings from streaming, they would still just be tripling fractions of a penny. The fact of the matter is, there are fights worth putting your effort into, but streaming isn't one of them, especially if you're an indie artist.
This week’s edition of the NYC Scene Report features the triumphant returns of atmospheric electronic music duo The Mast, and the ever soulful Nat Osborn Band, as well as the emcee skills of Ciphurphace, and the latest from electro-pop duo Stranger Cat.
* The Mast's Pleasure Island was my favorite album of 2014, so you know I'm stoked that the atmospheric electronic music duo released more music yesterday, this time in the form of an EP that is simply titled 1.
1 was born from a series of improvisational sessions The Mast live-streamed from their studio. It's a very cool concept, and it worked out really nicely as a way of capturing the vibe of their live performances, which are nothing short of incredible.
Below is "1a," which is the first track on the EP. Click play, and let it take you far away from whatever my be on your mind.
* Moving from a 2014 favorite, to a 2013 fave, Nat Osborn Band's The King and the Clown came in first on my best albums of 2013 list, and after a few international tours, and a whole lot of life lived, the soulful, jazzy, funky, Osborn and his band are back with a three song EP simply titled Nat Osborn Band EP.
Produced by Alex Bilo, and mixed by Scott Jacoby, both of whom are longtime collaborators of Osborn's, the band recorded the rhythm tracks at the legendary NYC recording studio The Magic Shop.
Osborn remembers the session, saying, "It was a great scene. Lots of musicians who have played in the band, or are friends of the band but who weren't actually recording, were hanging in the studio adding to the vibe. David Bowie had just wrapped his record there, so there were tidbits of their sessions lying around, and that energy was still present."
The content of the EP is largely drawn from Osborn's personal life, this includes the song "Too Late," which he describes as, "A reflection of my feeling of watching revolution, and world changing events, happen from the comfort of a computer screen. It's largely a reaction to slacktivism, and as much a personal call as it is a public one.
Check out "Too Late," and catch Osborn and crew on their upcoming tour.
* What I’m about to tell you will blow a lot of minds who have been raised to think mixtapes are nothing more than compilation albums. DJ Grapla, and Space Lab emcee Ciphurphace, who have dubbed themselves swAZians aka The Asian Gang Starr, have released a mixtape that truly lives up to the title, as it's an actual mix!
The project, titled The "Bish Prees" Mixtape, features 22 Ciphurphace songs, and four Moonshine Burrito tracks, the latter being the collaborative effort between Ciphurphace and Jake Palumbo, all mixed and blended by DJ Grapla.
Ciphurphace remembers how the project came together, saying, "Several months ago, my DJ, Grapla, tagged me on a video post of this Korean cat being interviewed at a StarCraft Convention. The interviewer asks the Korean dude, 'Did you ever think you were gonna lose?' The response from the Korean dude was, 'Bitch please.' Asian translation – 'Bish prees.' The video is hilarious! Then one day we had a conversation about putting out a new mixtape and the first thing that came to mind was 'bish prees.' I was like 'Yoooo!!! Yooooo!!! Let's call it The 'Bish Prees' Mixtape!!!' Grapla loved it.
Check out the Moonshine Burrito track "Burrito Revival" off of The "Bish Prees" Mixtape, and enjoy some first class emceeing.
* Many believe great hardship produces great art. For Stranger Cat's Cat Martino, her great art has come from overcoming great hardship.
This is the story behind Stranger Cat’s full length debut, In The Wilderness. The album features music crafted by the duo of Martino and Sven Britt that is simultaneously dark, and triumphant. It's dark in that it covers an especially difficult time in Martino's life. It's triumphant in that the writing of album helped get her out of that difficult time.
That time was the summer of 2012, during which Martino says, "I was living a bad dream, or a good country song. I lost my man, I lost my job, had no money to live on. I could barely make music, save for some simple sounds into my microphone and loop pedal, which offered some comfort. I was smoking heavily, drinking a lot of vodka from my freezer, and taking pills just to sleep with all the pain (of a neuromuscular illness)."
An old friend saw what she was going through and brought her out to Northern California. Martino remembers, "She picked me up from SFO airport, got one sight of my sorry, sleepless, smoky ass, and said, 'That's it, I'm taking you to the ocean before anything else.' She drove us straight to these massive cliffs with the sea beyond and we tore our clothes off and ran in. It was a beyond-baptismal and joyful catharsis. A memory of that is where 'Unzip Your Skin' emerged from."
Give "Unzip Your Skin" a listen right here.
For more of the best of NYC’s indie music scene, come back next Wednesday, and check out the archives for previous columns.
Welcome to your weekly dose of pop world musings. Covering all things pop culture, this week Pop Shots is hitting you with some Billboard singles chart analysis. The reigning queen of the universe, Taylor Swift, currently has THREE songs in the top 30, but since everyone already knows how I feel about her (that "queen of the universe" thing was pretty subtle, right?), I'm going to take a look at some of the non-Taylor Swift songs on the chart. The chart positions I’m using are from this past Thursday, and since this is Pop Shots, you know everything is seasoned with a little bit of attitude.
3) Maroon 5 - Sugar
“Sugar” is a song that’s grown on me. Unlike the last handful of Maroon 5 singles, it didn’t initially grab me, maybe because it’s almost too joyous, but that being said, there isn’t much of a point in fighting happiness, so eventually I started turning up “Sugar” when it came on the radio. That’s still pretty much where I am with this song. It’s good, not great, but definitely a solid happy pop tune for the spring. Part of the reason it’s so high on the chart is the video, which has been played over 328 million times on YouTube. The clip is fun, creative, and really captures the vibe of the song.
4) Fetty Wap - Trap Queen
I really thought we’d reached the bottom of the barrel with Rae Sremmurd, and ILOVEMAKONNEN, but nope, now we have Fetty Wap’s “Trap Queen,” and even though he clearly can’t sing, for some God unknown reason people are buying the song. As all of you know, Auto-Tune is a computer program that can make almost anyone sound like they can sing. This is what makes it so amazing that someone like Fetty Wap can exist, as even with Auto-Tune he sounds absolutely awful. This should really be an In Living Color skit starring Tommy Davidson. I still have yet to be able to make through the entire song.
14) Nick Jonas - Chains
When Nick Jonas first debuted as a solo artist I had to write a review of his album for Soul Train’s website. I was really surprised with how good it was. Unlike a multitude of former boy band singers who have attempted to cross genres, Jonas has actually succeeded in doing so. His songwriting is more mature than Justin Timberlake’s, and although he may not have the vocal range of the former NSYNC member, he knows his limitations, and works within them to create some really good music. “Chains” is yet another worthy addition to his growing catalog of hits.
24) Tove Lo - Talking Body
Nobody does pop music as well as Swedes, and one of their most recent gifts to the US pop scene is Tove Lo. I will admit I’m a bit biased, as I interviewed her before she became famous over here, but one of the reasons I interviewed her was because I saw this coming. There’s a rawness to her writing that brings forth an undeniable honesty. She also knows how to write a really catchy song, which is why ever since “Talking Body” was released I’ve been quietly singing the lyric, “Day drunk into the night” everywhere I go. Thankfully, no one has tried to stage an intervention... yet.
31) Kelly Clarkson - Heartbeat Song
I expected better from Kelly Clarkson. “Heartbeat Song” isn’t terrible, but it’s stereotypical, and the chorus is so blunt that it lacks any sort of artistic creativity. With artists like Taylor Swift around, this kind of song is clearly second tier. Clarkson is a really talented singer, and she’s given us some great music over the years, “Heartbeat Song,” however, is just some paint-by-numbers pop shlock, and she can do better. For someone who’s distanced herself from her American Idol past, this sounds very much like an American Idol type of song.
88) LunchMoney Lewis - Bills
Chris Rock once joked that “Mo Money Mo Problems” was one of the least relatable songs ever made. LunchMoney Lewis’ “Bills” is the complete antithesis of that, as he sings about working hard to pay his bills, and put food on the table. Personally, I don’t know what I love more, the fact that there’s a song about paying your bills, or that it’s sung by a man who goes by the name LunchMoney Lewis. This one’s anthemic for anyone who’s working hard, and the video is just as fantastic as the song.
And with that, my time is up for the week, but I'll be back next week with more shots on all things pop.
Fjer's 2014 EP, Beautiful Home, made my "Best of 2014" list. After checking out "Stairs," which is the second single off of the EP, I think you'll understand why.
On "Stairs" Fjer pushes her downtempo electro-soul a bit uptempo, and her hauntingly beautiful vocals are as hypnotic as ever.
Speaking of things that are haunting, and hypnotic, the video for "Stairs" is a really creative clip that you won't be able to take your eyes off of, and may take multiple viewings to fully dissect. That's alright with me, though, as this is a song I spun multiple times before any video had been released.
This week’s edition of the NYC Scene Report features a new sound from Stroamata lead singer Dara Eagle, the electro-rock of Born Cages, some genre expanding hip-hop from PitchBlak Brass Band, and a little bit of house music from electronic music duo Perdido Key.
* Dara Eagle might be best known as the frontwoman of Stroamata, a Brooklyn based rock band which has kick ass performances that include sound activated lighting. This is why I was a little surprised to learn her first solo effort is just her and a ukulele.
Eagle says of the unusual choice of instrument, “I don't like to stick to one instrument in my songwriting because each one has something different to offer a song. When I was a kid I took piano lessons, and started writing on that. As a teenager I added guitar, (and) switched over to it for a while. I picked up the ukulele one year, and couldn't put it down. I picked back up my middle school trumpet. I have a viola around I'll get to one of these days.”
Eagle's solo EP, which is titled My Sense of Reality: Vision One, is a stripped down, emotional set of songs that clearly comes from a personal place. While this sometimes calls for softer vocals, her rock roots can still be heard on songs such as “To Tune,” and “Fate My Friend,” the latter you can check out right here. If you dig it, consider picking up the EP on bandcamp.
* Sometimes you become a fan of a band after just one listen. That’s what happened to me when I clicked play on Born Cages’ “I Just Want The Truth, Baby.” The song is the lead single off of the electro-rock group’s upcoming debut album, I’m Glad I’m Not Me, which is due out June 2nd, and the track is downright intoxicating.
The ominous, almost NIN-like, bass line parallels the album’s theme of embracing NYC disillusionment, which the band describes as the dependence of being told your mere existence in the city is a sign of having “made it,” yet still feeling alone while in one of the most densely populated places on the planet.
“I Just Want The Truth Baby” reportedly sets the tone for the rest of the album, as the band mixes rock, electronic music, dance, and alternative, to create a sound that’s simultaneously new, and nostalgic.
Check out the song, and hear why Born Cages, who will be on this year’s Warped Tour, should be on your radar.
* A lot of people complain about a lack of creativity in hip-hop. Truth be told, those people simply aren’t looking very hard. In NYC alone we have a plethora of artists, and groups, who are doing groundbreaking work. One such group is Brooklyn’s PitchBlak Brass Band.
PitchBlak Brass Band is a ten piece collective of musicians with disparate musical backgrounds who have come together under the umbrella of hip-hop.
This past week the group released “Like Us,” which is the first single off of the as-yet-untitled follow up to their 2013 album, You See Us. If you’re sensing an “us” theme here, you’re not alone, but since the “us” in this case is them, and they are dope, it’s cool to be all about the “us.” (Did I make that sentence as confusing as humanly possible while still being grammatically correct? Awesome!)
Give a listen to “Like Us.” It’s a big track, and you can expect more big things from PitchBlak Brass Band throughout the year.
* Not a lot is know about NYC electronic music duo Perdido Key, but they've reportedly spent quite a lot of time in the city's underground club scene doing everything from spinning in illegal Brooklyn DIY venues, to raving in an abandoned Chinese restaurant. That unique nightlife vibe is something the two producers have captured with their recently released debut EP, Lost Is Found.
From house, to techno, Perdido Key are all about making people move, and creating a good time. The title track is an example of this, as it's pure inspiration to get out of your seat and onto the dance floor, even if that dance floor may not be of the traditional kind.
Who needs tradition, though, when you can have your dance music with a little flavor? Check out "Lost Is Found," and get lost in some electronic music that has a soul.
For more of the best of NYC’s indie music scene, come back next Wednesday, and check out the archives for previous columns.
B-Listers are a select group of artists that were featured in my Artist Of The Week series that ran every Monday from April of '06 to April of '11. All of these artists have two things in common; extreme talent, and a flight path far too under the radar for my liking. They took on the title of B-Listers as they embraced being featured by me, Adam B. Check out the AOTW Archives for all the interviews.