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Vow of Volition Make the Final Round of the Battle for Warped Tour

The Vans Warped Tour was the first festival for many of us back in the day. As young'ns, it's likely we didn't necessarily think about all that went into figuring out the bands to book and play the whole shebang. Part of that process, at least locally, seems to be through a series "battle of the bands" style competitions specifically for landing a spot on the fest. Quite a few Portland bands have been furiously playing against one another for said spot, and djent/prog metal act Vow of Volition are one of the acts that made it to the finals.

Warped Tour was always the type of festival that included much in the realm of pop punk, punk punk, emo and metal, so Vow of Volition's advancement to the final round is no surprise. Their incredibly technical, at times jazzy metal stands out in Portland's pretty linear popular music scene, and is much worthy of the attention its getting.

Those that want to support Vow of Volition in driving home the permanent spot can go to the Battle for Warped Tour finals Saturday at the Hawthorne Theatre.

   

Singled out: MAVI and MIKE spit fire on new Alchemist EP

 “Look, this thing of ours, the way it’s going, it’d be better if we could admit to each other, these are painful, stressful times.” — Silvio Manfred Dante

The Alchemist is something like the equivalent of a consigliere in the world of hip hop having worked largely behind-the-scenes for the past several decades as a super-prolific producer and beatmaker, providing dusty-groove beats for legendary rap kingpins like Mobb Deep, Nas, Ghostface Killah, Lil Wayne, Kendrick Lamar, Eminem and Freddie Gibbs—the latter of which released a full-album collab with the Alchemist in 2020 called Alfredo, an album-length meditation on being a Black Godfather, peep the album’s cover art, that’s been deemed “pretty much an instant classic”). 

For his latest project, the LA-based hip hop consigliere appears to have consulted his extensive Rolodex of close contacts and called in a few favors seeking guest emcees willing to collaborate on two EPs released under his own name (and more to come, one hopes) with the emcees ranging from established names to underground-up-and-comers but all equally skilled in performing verbal acrobatics.

The first installment of This Thing Of Ours (its title phrase the literal English translation of “La Cost Nostra”) dropped in late April with four tracks featuring the likes of Earl Sweatshirt, Navy Blue (see his previous Deli mag featured HERE), Pink Siifu, Boldy James, Sideshow, Maxo, and Tony Soprano—sorry to say James Gandolfini hasn’t been reincarnated, but his dialogue as the panic-attack-prone boss has been as sampled across a couple tracks here—resulting in a tight ten minutes of dizzying bars and euphoric, blunted beats (the inclusion of instrumentals for all four tracks stretches the running time to 20 minutes).

Released just over a week ago, This Thing Of Ours 2 (ALC Records) follows the format established by The Godfather Part II in splitting its action between two locales—except instead of New York and Sicily in this case it’s New York and the Motor City—with the opening two tracks narrated by two of New York’s finest young emcees, MAVI and MIKE (both are fans of ALL CAPS) and OK the former may have returned to his native Charlotte, North Carolina earlier this year but he’ll be back, we believe, because like Silvio Dante is known to say “Just when I thought I was out…they pull me back in.” Anyway the two emcees set a moody and mindful tone (but still with mucho energy) on the first part of the EP that musically and lyrically echoes the post-golden-age laments of latter day mafiosi and street-level scrappers alike.

On the opening track “Miracle Baby” (see the music video up top) MAVI bobs and weaves between multiple mood swings—equivalent to Michael Corleone in Godfather Part II caught up between triumph and tragedy—spitting lines full of bravado one moment (“stop taking so much seriously / I'm taking all that's given to me”) and mournful sorrow the next (“a waiting fate there to sneer at me / I talk sometimes just knowing my phone the only one listening”) but always demonstrating total control with a masterful head-spinning flow (which is a perfect fit for the head-in-the-clouds “cloud rap” musical backing) built  on rapid-fire-machine-gun multisyllabic rhymes intercut with chopper-style-triplet-time-scat-rapping (“civilly, liberally…” etc.) all-the-while keeping it playful (“I just put my hoe through college, Lori Loughlin”) and taking no prisoners (“How we feel toward domestic terrorists? Prepared for them”). 

Track number two features MIKE on the mic (featured HERE in a Deli profile from back in June) who rides a loping, J Dilla type looped beat (RIP J Dilla, the Detroit-based godfather of soulsy lo-fi-hip-hop as you likely already know and if you don’t know, now you know) matching his flow expertly to the beat with the Alchemist laying forlorn female vocals and a distant lonely trumpet m over the top for maximum effect, and MIKE’s lyrics fully vibe with the overall vibe of course with lines that again sound like could’ve been penned by a depressed gangster.

"war on the rise, if you sure it wasn't like us / born in the plight, we was torn from the right stuff"

"I used to take the 4 or the 5 to explore from this gauntlet / make sure we alive, it's not a corpse I was caught in"

And speaking of J Dilla at this point the EP transitions over to Motown starting off with the posse track “Flying Spirit” featuring four artists on Danny Brown’s new Detroit-centric record label Bruiser Brigade with J.U.S., Fat Ray, and Bruiser Wolf mixing it up with Danny himself (J.U.S.: “it only take a knife to turn you to a flyin' spirit, like Casper the Ghost / me and Brown on collards dumpin' blunts in the ghost”) which comes across like a more demented “Scenario” (especially the closing verse by Bruiser Wolf with its breathless Busta Rhyme-ish manic intensity) and hey by the way “Bruiser Brigade” is a name taken from Danny Brown’s decade-old XXX (call it XL these days) easily one of the best hip hop albums of the last ten years in my highly non-authoritative book.

The EP finally comes to a close jury under a dozen minutes later with its two shortest tracks (each clocking at under two minutes) the first being “Wildstyle” by Zelooperz (a Bruiser Brigader not featured on the preceding posse track) who throws his voice like a demented ventriloquist so put this track on the hi-fi Halloween night to scare the crap out of trick-or-treating brats harassing you for free Pixie Sticks. 

And then finally it’s full circle back to LA (Compton, specifically) for Vince Staples’ “6 Five Heartbeats” and yeah it’s freakin’ Vince Staples so you know it’s good (even where short in duration and mellow in disposition) and I gotta at least the opening line “you had a blog, we had Berettas” (I don’t care what some fool posting on Genius says the lyric is, he clearly says “blog”)) with Vince going on to call out keyboard gangsters and other fakers (“How is every single rapper been a dopeman?”) before going on to pine for true love and true crime and don’t worry Mr. Staples I’m no consigliere (fake or otherwise) just a humble blogger writing criminally long-winded sentences. (Jason Lee)

photo by: Wyeth Collins


 

   

Singled Out: Kendra Morris explores "This Life" and "Who We Are"

Over the past year-ish Kendra Morris has released one soulful-funky-R&B banger after another. And since we’re currently in the midst of a “singles round-up” phase here at DeliCorp (honestly these themes are chosen willy-nilly by our barbiturate-addicted CEO, the Colonial Clive Fowley, but we find a way to make them work regardless) it’s appropriate that we provide a round up of Ms. Morris’ recent singles output on the occasion of her recent 45-rpm release “This Life”/“Who We Are” (available on opaque red vinyl!) on the Dayton, Ohio-based Colemine Records (Dayton being the ancestral home to everyone from Bootsy Collins to Lakeside to Ohio Players and thus a fitting home to the Funk Music Hall of Fame & Exhibition Center) the A-side of which is laid-back, mid-tempo number called “This Life” which simmers at a rolling boil for its nearly-four-minute-run-time whilst utilizing a series of gambling metaphors (“I believe / if I lay myself on the table / just like an ace of spades / needs a queen to win / will you let me in?”) to describe the willy-nilly tossing of one’s heart across the Big Craps Table Of Life And Love And Everything Else. 

So yeah “This Life” is a great koo-koo kinda tune that one could easily imagine Frank Sinatra covering at his last engagement at the Sands (ain’t so far from “That’s Life” to “This Life” baby) but being a b-side kinda guy myself the real standout to my ears is “Who We Are” (both are co-written and co-arranged by Ms. Morris’ songwriting partner Jeremy Page) because it’s one of those burn-the-house-down-to-the-ground kinda songs that (unless you’re Peggy Lee) will lift you up to the heavens (peep those two-part harmonies around the two-minute mark) but then break you down again when the tune breaks down to a funeral organ accompanied by full choir that’ll have you sobbing into your Purell hand-sanitizing-wipe as Kendra repeatedly inquires “What is left to be living in?” and as the world disintegrates before our very eyes it’s a question on a lotta minds these days, baby, and most of all it’s that voice that puts the heavy emotion across and makes it appealing because Kendra’s obviously adept at belting it out to the cheap seats but with sentiments that are anything but cheap. 



But don’t get it twisted because Kendra Morris can put across sunnier material too with great conviction like slow-ride phunk of “Catch the Sun,” a single released a month ago in collaboration with “the world’s only synth and soul record label and production team” known as Eraserhood Sound with the sweetly nostalgic “When We Would Ride” as the b-side. and then nevermind the 2018 single just flat out called “Summertime” with a video shot at Coney Island.

And when you check out her repertoire it makes sense that Kendra got her earliest musical education from her parents’ Ruth Copeland and Chaka Khan records, but rest assured that what you see and hear above doesn’t cover all this lady’s capable of as made clear by her being the only artist ever to tour with/collaborate with/and be remixed by Dennis Coffey, DJ Premier, and Scarlett Johansson (please let them all collaborate one day as Kennis PreemoJo) so clearly she’s got some serious range. Oh and she’s got Wu-Tang/MF Doom connections too having contributed vocals to the Czarface Meets Metal Face and Czarface Meets Ghostface projects (plus Ms. Morris even animated and directed a music video for the former record) so just in case you think you’re cool Kendra’s ready to take you to school. (Jason Lee)

   

Singled Out: "Love Bomb" by Phranque

“Love Bomb” is a title utilized by musical artists ranging from N*E*R*D to Nick Cave (with Grinderman) from British-reality-show-girl-group Girls Aloud to Korean-reality-show-girl-group Fromis_9 which isn’t really that surprising because the phrase itself lends itself to a wide range of interpretations whether it’s used to say something like “I’m gonna bomb you with my love bomb, baby” which sounds like a Zep-era Robert Plant lyric if there were a few more baby’s added at the end, but then it could also be used in a song about bombing with an attempted romantic connection, or about how obsessive love can be a destructive force, or about how amorous feelings can fall from the sky seemingly without warning.

Or (stick with me here!) a “love bomb” could refer to how love has been weaponized by the capitalist-imperialist elite to subjugate and indoctrinate "the sheeple" who are compelled to pair off into nuclear family units (kinda like nuclear bomb fallout shelters!) thus helping to mitigate the threat of a collective uprising against the ruling class while also acting as the driving force behind capitalist structures of exploitation and continuous economic expansion (because if you’re truly in love you’re gonna rush out and buy that new washer-dryer set on sale at Best Buy!) but hey it’s just a theory.

But it’s a theory I feel like Phranque may be on board with (not to be confused with lesbian folk singer Phranc!) on his/her/their/its newest single called (wait for it…) “Love Bomb” which contains lyrics like “the greatest love ever known / re-wire the brain and forfeit the soul” and “turn the toxic swan song upside down / carve your favorite amputee / blast away the world we see / liquid metal heart / from your love bomb” and look I didn’t say all the lyrics make perfect sense but you get the gist of what Phranque’s maybe trying to say.

Lest you miss the subtleties in the lyrics, the music of “Love Bomb” gets across a similar subtext of capitalistic false consciousness with its shiny musical surfaces (the propulsive garage-rock riffage) acting as a sweet candy-coating for the darker stuff underneath like the spooky-sounding organ (perfect for Halloween!) and the doomy chord progression (the bridge section in particular!) not to mention the lyrics.

So just imagine if ZZ Top had suddenly gone goth in the ‘80s right in the middle of their MTV-friendly Eliminator phase and you’re in the ballpark at least. But even more than ZZ Top the band “Love Bomb” reminds me of most of all is Blue Öyster Cult because if you took out “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” from that one scene in the original Halloween (1978) where it’s playing on the car radio as Jamie Lee Curtis and that other chick are driving around and smoking weed before the latter gets turned into chopped liver by Michael Myers and replaced it with the Phranque song under discussion I think it’d work pretty well.

And come to think of it some of their other songs remind me a bit of Blue Öyster Cult too because much like Long Island’s finest AOR rockers—BÖC are best known to the youth of today as an SNL punchline but back in the day they were cool enough to hang with Patti Smith—Phranque are not afraid to inject dark vibes and synthy textures into their sturdy rock tunes (check out “Mick & Keith Forever” off his/their last full-length 13 (La Cosa Nostra), or “Sea Winds” off Butcher the Scapegoat and peep those Blue Öystery vocal harmonies while you’re at it—nor afraid to inject some serious weirdness into the mix because Phranque’s albums are full of trippy instrumental interludes and other left-field touches. And hey maybe someday they’ll cover BÖC’s ”Joan Crawford” (1981) because that’s some crazy-ass shiz too but let’s just hope Phranque never becomes the butt of any cowbell-related future memes (stick to the maracas fellas!) featuring Christopher Walken. (Jason Lee)