Tag Archives: Stones Throw Records

Album of the Day: Kiefer, “Happysad”

For all the subgenres that have emerged from the Los Angeles beat scene, Kiefer Shackelford has forged a path totally unique from that of his peers. As a trained jazz pianist deeply involved in the Stones Throw world, Shackelford has a take on electronic music that merges the chopped-up soul of J Dilla with the expressive soloing of McCoy Tyner.

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How Funk Artist Prophet Went From Cult Status to Comeback Kid

Prophet

Photos by Michael Spears

Prophet is the very definition of a cult artist. In 1984, the multi-instrumentalist self-released 1,000 copies of an album called Right On Time, which failed to garner any industry traction at the time, but gradually became a prime score for record collectors.

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On “Tokorats,” Jonti Spins Personal Pain Into Resonant Triumph

Jonti
There are two starkly different versions of Jonti’s new album, Tokorats. There’s the album you’ll hear, available now via Stones Throw, and there’s the album no one will. Back in 2011, after Jonti released both his debut full-length Twirligig and Sine & Moon—an album of refined four-track recordings, originally debuted on a Stones Throw podcast—the Australia-based musician attempted to create Twirligig’s sister record, a companion piece of sorts. But where Twirligig exists in quick spurts—short songs, jam-packed with ideas—Tokorats was meant to be exploratory, a different beast built from the same structure.

“I thought it was gonna be a quick record released shortly after Twirligig,” he says. “But then, I released Twirligig, and it just seemed like I needed to find some change to build up the sound again. I needed to work a bit more and look a bit deeper.” While Sine & Moon, which followed Twirligig, is technically an official Jonti release, its laid-back tone and homespun sound—it’s culled from tracks Jonti recorded before and around the release of Twirligig—makes it feel more like a demo.

The process of creating Tokorats involved hundreds of demos, sketches, and do-overs. Jonti had a version of the album in the bag shortly after Twirligig, which established the musician as an exciting up-and-comer on Stones Throw’s predominantly hip-hop-leaning roster. That album was a warped take on psychedelic pop—a little bit of the Beach Boys, some Sgt. Pepper’s era Beatles, held together by the influence of hip-hop producers like J Dilla and Madlib.

For Tokorats, Jonti’s goal was to build on the song fragments and quick-bursting ideas that populated Twirligig, but to evolve them into something bigger. If his debut was a focused portrait, Tokorats was meant to be an impressionistic landscape. “I was just trying to open up my world sonically,” he says. “I wanted more space. I wanted the songs to be longer, to open up and spread out, flowing without sharp turns. I was trying to do a bunch of different stuff.”

That urge to explore only grew after Jonti took the initial Tokorats demos out on the road. Touring the world as an opener for Gotye, Jonti would play the new songs every night, and, after his set, watch the way the crowd responded to the headliner’s music. What he saw and experienced pushed him to explore something that was both more expansive and more optimistic. “I was playing with all of these amazing acts and I didn’t really feel like I was adding anything,” he says. “I couldn’t seem to get the music to translate to those environments. I eventually realized that I had to take a step back and rethink where I was headed with music.”

That pause allowed Jonti to re-evaluate his purpose as a musician. The world around him was clouded with negativity and hate, and his first version of Tokorats began to feel more noise in an already caustic conversation. “The original [Tokorats] is very aggressive, a lot more sinister. It’s a lot more bitter,” he says. “I really felt uncomfortable putting that out there, so I wanted to make something that I felt was adding something in the right direction, energy-wise.”

Jonti

Tokorats is, ultimately, a hopeful record, even if the lyrics don’t always reflect that sentiment. According to Jonti, the album’s first single, “Sleeping & Falling,” “was about a breakup; a long-distance relationship that didn’t work. But you can hear my ex’s voice in there.” Instead of being a mournful ode to love lost, the song instead scans as a testament to the power of human change and growth. It’s bittersweet—change always is—but instead of dwelling on the darkness, that song—and Tokorats as a whole—takes self-examination seriously.

“Every song has some weird meaning for a family member or something,” he says. “If you knew what was happening, it’d make a lot more sense.” With Tokorats, Jonti leaves just enough mystery to remain interesting, but shares enough to make the album his most introspective, and his most human It’s insular yet expansive, lonely yet embracing. It was a long time coming, but, ultimately, for both artist and audience, it was worth the wait. “It took a few years but I got it to a finish point,” he says, concluding, “And I was pretty proud of it.”

Will Schube

Sudan Archives Isn’t Your Average Violinist

Sudan-Archives-600-0

When Sudan Archives left Cincinnati, Ohio to follow her dreams, she traveled light. She brought just a few outfits, and her violin. The daughter of a preacher, the musician grew up attending church several times a week, which perhaps made her leap of faith towards the City of Angels a little easier. The decision was key for her professional and personal development—she knew her brand of experimental music was worth the risk.

“When I made the move to leave my parents’ house, it was my first time on an airplane. I really had to believe in myself because, I was doing all these things I’d never done before,” Archives says. “When will I ever get this opportunity again?”

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Album of the Day: Washed Out, “Mister Mellow”

It’s been nearly four years since Ernest Greene released Paracosm, his sophomore album as Washed Out. On its nine tracks, the Georgia musician—known for his hazy electro-pop—pushed himself to become a better songwriter. The results were especially enjoyable, which led to more critical acclaim for Greene, who seemed determined to distance himself from chillwave, a subgenre he helped define with his 2009 breakthrough single, “Feel It All Around,” which is also the theme song to IFC comedy series Portlandia. Greene’s new album, Mister Mellow, is yet another departure for him: here, he reflects on what it means to be a young adult in these trying times.

That topic hits home for the 34-year-old Greene, though he doesn’t take it too seriously. “The album guides the listener through the highs and lows of this often ridiculous struggle,” says an album description on label Stones Throw’s website. To convey the absurdity of everyday life, Greene litters Mister Mellow with oddball samples, twisting the cuts to make them sound even crazier. On “Zonked” and “I’ve Been Daydreaming My Entire Life,” in particular, the manipulated effects add moments of levity, defusing the gravity of such a weighty topic.

Humor aside, Mister Mellow contains some of Greene’s best work to date, as he drifts into new sonic territory without completely giving up his core approach. See “Hard to Say Goodbye,” where the musician blends woozy vocals and a foot-stomping house beat, eschewing his usual oceanic vibe for the club’s dark corners and colorful lights.

Overall, Mister Mellow is the sound of confidence, a testament to a man who’s eager to experiment and have fun while doing so. Sure, some of these tracks are delivered with a wink and an elbow, but there’s no denying the sincerity by which he conveys his message. Life is tough, but you can still have a good time.

Andrew Martin

Vex Ruffin’s New Album Is About Being Bored At Work

Vex Ruffin

When Vex Ruffin dropped his self-titled debut album on Stones Throw in 2013, the optimism and euphoria that usually comes with releasing a record was quickly quashed. “I toured Europe off it and nothing really happened so it was kinda a bummer,” says the Chino Hills, California-based Ruffin, whose self-taught style blends punk’s DIY ethos with hip-hop’s sample- and loop-digging culture to create songs that are eerie, yet funky, and topped with his own hypnotically sullen vocals.

Dismayed with the lack of reaction to his album, Ruffin halted his musical ambitions, went back to his day job at UPS, and consigned himself to the graveyard shift.

But during those late-night grind sessions, ideas started to form in Ruffin’s head, and he began to use the monotony of his job as inspiration for a new record. Appropriately titled Conveyor, the vibe of the album starts out deliberately gray and gloomy—a palette mirrored by its cover artwork—and opens with our bleary-eyed protagonist literally driving home from an 11-hour night shift at work. As the songs chug along, Ruffin’s loop-based beats interlock like cogs in an all-consuming machine, until a form of acceptance comes with the album’s closing title track. “I guess it really doesn’t matter,” Ruffin croons, before realizing, “I guess what really matters is what’s inside.” It’s a deft end to a project that, listened from start to finish, reveals itself to be a subtle masterwork of mood.

Now happily released from his day job duties, we spoke to Ruffin about getting musical ideas while being stuck at work, collaborating with old school hip-hop personality Fab 5 Freddy, and how the cult ‘80s Death Comet Crew album inspired his own music.

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The Koreatown Oddity Seizes the Day on “Finna Be Past Tense”

Artwork from Koreatown Oddity‘s Yesterday’s News.

Artwork from Koreatown Oddity‘s Yesterday’s News.

The latest video from LA rapper Koreatown Oddity opens on a note of harrowing tension. Instead of his trademark wolfman mask, the lyricist appears in the clip for “Yesterday’s News” wearing a blindfold with the word ‘FAITH’ scrawled across it. He’s standing in between his parents, whose faces are grim and expressionless. As the camera slowly pulls back, the reason for their stoicism becomes clear: A white man has a shotgun aimed at Koreatown Oddity’s head. “Get your paper, meet your maker / Before they take ya, hurry up and create something,” goes the song’s hook, “’cause you can be the shit today / and yesterday’s news tomorrow.” It’s familiar advice—to make the most of each day—but in the context of the video, it feels terrifyingly urgent.

“My dad reminds me every time we link up,” says the rapper, born Dominque Purdy. “‘A lot of people aren’t going to make it to tomorrow.’ It sounds corny, because people are brainwashed to think concepts like that are corny, but it’s true. Especially after 2016—people are like, ‘It’s been such a horrible year, all these people dying.’ But this shit happens every fucking day in every year.”

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Album of the Day: MNDSGN, “Body Wash”

If Ringgo Ancheta had a superpower, it would most likely be the ability to transform himself into musical vibrations. Recording under the name MNDSGN (pronounced “mind design”), his personality seems to disappear completely into his music, drifting through space on some distant astral plane. So the concept behind Ancheta’s new album, Body Wash, comes as little surprise: It’s about a homeless man who meets a mysterious woman, who gives him shelter and instructs him to bathe with a body wash that transports him to an alternate dimension.

Sonically, Body Wash is a 16-track synth-funk album that bears a strong kinship with the work of singer/rapper Anderson .Paak. Both artists pull from ’80s R&B, tweaking it slightly so it connects with modern-day listeners. Ancheta took his artist name from a lyric on Nas’s 1996 song “Affirmative Action” (“My mind is seeing through ya design like blind fury…”), and grew up on a commune, the child of a Filipino revolutionary and Ivy League neuroscientist. That experience opened his eyes to a wide variety of both sonic and social perspectives, giving him the kind of nuanced viewpoint necessary to create music that’s both familiar and esoteric.

Even when it’s conjuring visions of an early ‘80s roller rink, Body Wash feels distinct. Songs like “Cosmic Perspective” and “Alluptoyou” have the kind of shark-skin suit/champagne soul upon which Death Row Records built a rap empire in the mid ‘90s, as well as the “Computer Blue”-era techno-soul that Andre 3000 mined to great benefit on 2003’s The Love Below. Vocally, Archeta isn’t as polished: On “Alluptoyou,” in particular, his vocals are run through a heavy electronic filter, giving them an almost robotic quality.

“Ya Own Way,” “Transmissionnn,” and “Lather” are exuberant homages; all three tracks open with crystallized breaks, a la Zapp and Roger Troutman’s 1986 classic “Computer Love.” Simmering keytars and noodling synthesizers run up and down the scales, and the entire song builds to a euphoric end. But even if you’re not aware of the album’s nostalgic reference points, Body Wash is still fresh and exciting, built on a sensual, transformative sounds.

“Searchin’” is the album’s true home-run; the song is billed as a three-act play (“4 That Familiar Feelin’,” “4 Sumthin’ New,” “4 Nothin Else”), demonstrating the wide scope of Archeta’s artistic vision. Closing out with toe-tapping melodic G-funk, these are ambitious tracks that ultimately hit the mark.

On Body Wash, Archeta drifts deep into the crates, returning with something resonant and ambitious. He aims for the stars, doing his best to transcend his art and personal existence, making a joyous LP. This is a moment for celebration—a cosmic dance jam.

Marcus K. Dowling