Category Archives: featured music

GEMS Embrace the Mystical With Their Full Moon Singles Series

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Photos by Edric Chen

Every 28.5 days there’s a new full moon. That’s a fact that Cliff Usher and Lindsay Pitts of GEMS can offer up without consulting Google, having committed to releasing a new single with each lunar event. That tight production and release schedule has provided some unique challenges for the duo. (Usher cringes as he recalls mixing recent offering “Blow Out the Light” while lying sick on the floor thanks to a dodgy Korean sandwich.) But thematically, it was a perfect fit: their twilight pop is an appropriate soundtrack for moon’s waning and waxing. But perhaps even more importantly, the experiment satisfied the musicians on a very practical level.

“The project will probably come together as a collection of songs in some way,” Pitts says, seated at an outdoor café in downtown Los Angeles. “But for now we wanted to get back to the flow and momentum of putting a song out, interacting with people, and then putting another song out.”

But even with their eyes pointed toward the heavens, music has helped both Usher and Pitts overcome some very earthly concerns. As both explain, music has been one of the only things to provide a sense of stability while navigating both romantic snarls and defining their sense of belonging in an unstable world.

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London O’Connor Wants to Make Music for Interplanetary Travel

London O Connor

On O∆ , inventive beats and textures provide the foundation over which London O’Connor reflects on his upbringing, delivering lyrics that channel suburban boredom, the ups-and-downs of friendship, budding romance, and the pains of growing up. A kaleidoscope of tones and moods, O∆ never limits itself to a singular style or genre. Laid-back rhymes and hip-hop rhythms are flanked by ballads and easy-going electronic tracks. And even when he’s at his most heartfelt and vulnerable, O’Connor exudes an aura of cool. He’s been wearing the same yellow sweater for months now, which he says he plans to do until his music makes more money than his parents. It’s an outward representation of his commitment to his dreams.

O’Connor created O∆ in his bedroom after relocating from his hometown outside San Diego to the bustle of New York City. It took O’Connor two years to realize his vision for what O∆ should be: a sonic account of his coming of age.

We spoke with O’Connor about his work methods, his creative aims, and why he doesn’t write songs—he’s just trying to render his surroundings.

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Album of the Day: The Courtneys, “II”

The Courtneys are a rarity in contemporary surf rock. Where their counterparts—and, for that matter, their forerunners—are chiefly concerned with both brevity and blown-out instrumentals, The Courtneys are deliberate and unabashedly heartfelt. Underneath all the fuzz and reverb on their second album, The Courtneys II, are honest displays of emotion.

On the blissful “Tour,” the band is determined to remain optimistic, even during long periods of “slacking off and hitting the open road.” “If it’s in your heart, you’ll find a way,” they sing, “who you are and who you wanna be can take a long time.” Songs like “Virgo” and “25” use buoyant, punched-up slacker pop to explore feelings of isolation and the headaches of having a crush. And it’s not all growing pains and heartbreak; on “Lost Boys,” the trio schemes to find a vampire boyfriend with whom they can ride off into the sunset.

The Courtneys II arrives as the band themselves are on something of an ascent. In the three years since their self-titled debut, The Courtneys have signed with their dream label—New Zealand giant Flying Nun—and have netted slots opening for Tegan and Sara and Mac Demarco. In that context, II feels like a collage of moments, the band reviewing the highs and lows of their journey so far, with their eyes fixed firmly on the horizon.

Lauren Rearick

“I Hustle From Sunup to Sundown and Even Then I Need a Night Light”: Hezekiah’s Remarkable Comeback

Hezekiah

2016 was a tough year for the U.S. as a whole, marked by political unrest and the loss of many beloved public figures; for Philadelphia-based rapper, producer, and singer Hezekiah, it was just as eventful on a smaller scale, replete with professional triumphs and personal tragedy. His funky rock outfit, Johnny Popcorn, dropped their catchy, hard-hitting, anthemic opus Totem Poleand Hezekiah was struck with a sudden brain aneurysm that hospitalized him and (very briefly) limited his musical output.

For the past 20+ years, Hezekiah has been working to refine his own brand of soulful, progressive hip-hop. In addition to his solo work and Johnny Popcorn, Hezekiah is a co-founder of Beat Society, a legendary live beat event that was one of the first of its kind. In the early part of the 2000’s, Beat Society played host to then-up-and-coming producers such as Kanye West and Illmind, with a young Diplo serving as the in-house DJ.

Currently recovering from the aneurysm, Hezekiah is gearing up for the release of his newest, star-studded solo EP, GODS. We sat down with him to talk about his career and get insight into what his future holds.

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The Dark Sonic Evolution of Grails

Grails

Grails is a band shrouded in mystery. That’s not because of some great promotional effort, but because the seldom-touring and geographically far-flung outfit changes their style as they please. At various times in Grails’ discography, fans could point to the band as an experimental noise group, a heavy metal band, a free-jazz collective or a classical orchestra.

To hear co-founder Emil Amos tell it, that un-boxable and ever-shifting sound—Grails’ central mystery—is what has sustained his band for the past 18 years. The group’s latest album, Chalice Hymnal, trades some of the band’s darkly claustrophobic tendencies for majestic wide-open spaces. That’s about as fine a point one can put on an LP that dabbles in everything from krautrock to smooth jazz. Amos points to Italian and British “library music” as a prime influence for the album.

Still, the band continues to evolve. Its current modus operandi is propelled less by muscle than by a legitimately moving sense of sonic scale. “The way you transmute anger can become very subtle as you get older,” Amos tells me via telephone. He’s walking the streets near his home in Bushwick, the M train occasionally rattling by above him. “You start to perceive that there are other ways to be angry, and there are other ways to be impossibly dark.”

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