Brooklyn music

Sinkane: “How Sweet Is Your Love” (KUTX Live at Scholz Garten)

We’re still recovering from the flood of foreign artists that turned our fair city (and Scholz Garten) into an international exhibition last week. And if that worldwide melting pot of genres is best embodied by any SXSW 2024 performer, multi-instrumentalist Ahmed Gallab definitely makes the short list.

Born in London, Gallab spent a chunk of his childhood in Sudan and the remaining rearing in Ohio. The Buckeye State’s rich punk culture rubbed off on Gallab, whose multi-faceted talents and one-of-a-kind musical perspective led to session work with the likes of Caribou, of Montreal, and Yeasayer. Through his solo focus Sinkane, Gallab was able to refine his kitchen sink of sounds, but a dozen years down the line from their debut record MARS, we haven’t heard a lot of new studio stuff from them on this side of the pandemic.

Well, with the release of Sinkane’s eighth LP We Belong on April 5th, we know exactly what we’ll be sinkin’ our teeth into next month. And that cross-genre sense of acceptance was strong when Sinkane wrapped up our the morning’s live lineup last Friday at Scholz Garten. A shining specimen of modern gospel soul spiced up with that idiosyncratic Sinkane twist, the new album’s second installment, “How Sweet Is Your Love” was a solid standout of their live set. Oh, how sweet it was…

Kassa Overall: “Make My Way Back Home” (KUTX Live at Scholz Garten)

Shoutout to everyone who caught our Scholz Garten live series last week for SXSW, either in person or over the airwaves! But if you didn’t turn out or tune in, don’t fret; we’re taking the next few days to recap some key performances.

Starting off today with Brooklyn’s Kassa Overall. This Grammy nominee is about as expert as it gets when it comes to drumming, yet by stepping behind the mic or into the producer’s chair, Kassa’s not just sequestered to the rhythm section. After landing a real KO on last May’s ANIMALS LP, Kassa Overall came in hot last Thursday at Scholz with his sonic supercollider of jazz and hip-hop.

Starting off at 11AM, the set’s energy was a real pre-noon pick-me-up. Auxiliary percussion, keys, and pair of saxes rounded out these retro arrangements for some truly magical moments, like the band’s rendition of “Make My Way Back Home”. Let’s just hope that Kassa Overall makes their way back to Austin sooner rather than later.

ISTA: “Do What Feels Right”

Down here in the South we like to brag that “everything’s bigger in Texas”. And while that’s true for a lot of things, up in NYC they consistently keep their collectives nice and large.So it’s worth bringing up Brooklyn’s ISTA, who solidified their lineup as a seven-piece in early 2020 and have since sewn together the threads between psych, rock, funk, and punk. With each new single, ISTA’s world of whimsy Big Apple earworms have only dug deeper, and with the recent release of their eponymous full-length, they’ve been effortlessly amalgamated into an idiosyncratic introduction. This baker’s dozen of driving pedal-heavy, vocal-harmony heaven is an absolute hoot from front to back, but if you want to mainline a hedonistic sense of freedom, mid-workweek, well, just “Do What Feels Right”. Like a just-unearthed lost tape from Laugh-In‘s counterculture vault, the visuals for “Do What Feels Right” perfectly complement the track’s fluid and frenetic dedication to the love of fun. And based on that alone, we’ve got a good feeling that ISTA’s the type to keep any party going and push it right into its prime

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Sami Stevens: “Tonight”

When a songwriter relocates to a metropolitan music hub, they often do so with the hope that that their new surroundings will inspire a higher level of artistry, that the scene will spark something not yet uncovered. But the reality is that, with some rare exceptions, the passion, perspective, and potential that separate the best from the rest all arrived long before relocation. So sure, keyboardist-singer Sami Stevens resides in Brooklyn, but her adolescent exposure to bucolic depression in rural Maine and subsequent attempt to understand that morbid underbelly within an otherwise majestic landscape arguably outweighs anything else in terms of personal outlook. Those nuanced viewpoints complement a love of complex jazz, soul, and folk characters like Carole King, Sarah Vaughan, Minnie Riperton, Donny Hathaway, Joni Mitchell for a bittersweet blend of ’60s/’70s sounds. And on top of those foundations, Stevens has an incredible set of pipes, which’ve made her stand out even in BK’s bustling performance culture. And yet outside of some turn-of-the-’20s collaborations with saxophonist Kazemde George, Sami hasn’t really shared any solo material offstage…until now. Sami Stevens’ solo studio career dawns next Friday with her debut full-length Morning an eleven-piece portrait of life as Stevens sees it. Conceptually informed by a degree in Psychology and sonically enhanced by its counterpart in Jazz Performance, the once-sparse arrangements on Morning crest over the horizon anew with vibrant orchestral flourishes that match Stevens’ idiosyncratic reflections. On the LP’s latest offering “Tonight”, Sami seats you right in the swing set and nudges you through a three-and-a-half minute cycle of delicate instrumentation, perfectly-subtle percussion, progressive chord structures and Stevens’ one-of-a-kind featherweight falsetto.

Softee: “U + Me (WDYT)”

As progressive as some parts of the US purport to be, it can be insanely easy to not fit within the cog-work of traditional Western values. And without access to proper support, that absence of belonging can tragically lead some “outcasts” to take drastic measures – destruction towards themselves or others. It’s a human condition, plain and simple. But the ability to recognize that placeless-ness and understand its origins (often by gesturing broadly at our increasingly complicated society) before allocating that uncertainty into a nuanced piece of art that perhaps makes others feel more accepted? That’s divine.

Dating back to its origins in the late-’70s days of Studio 54 disco domination, electronic music has consistently provided a safe haven for “alternative lifestyles”. Even if the performers themselves aren’t explicitly part of the counterculture, the innate desire to dance our troubles away on a welcoming dance floor has created a shared identity for lovers of all things four-to-the-floor. That about brings us to Moorhead, Minnesota songwriter Nina Grollman, better known by her stage name Softee.

When Softee relocated to Brooklyn just under a decade ago, her unapologetic queerness and undyingly creative personality began to make a lot more sense. Already primed to be a pop star, Softee made her studio debut with her August 2019 EP Slow Melt, and impressively kept the momentum with another batch of ten infectious tunes via Keep On the following year. Softee’s racked up some admirable streaming numbers since then, but she sure as hell hasn’t lost sight of her music’s empathetic potential for anyone losing sleep over rampant emotions.

With that, Softee is set to reemerge anew and stronger than ever with her sophomore full-length Natural. As seen in the macabre, medieval imagery of the various single artwork, Softee is picking up where Beyoncé’s Renaissance left off by axing regressive representation and re-establishing the dance floor as a harmless melting pot of all human behavior. In teaming up with Berlin’s Sweetbbyj, Natural is enhanced by an extra Eurodance aesthetic over which Softee goes hard. It’s like a mixtape of all the best electronic styles swirled together by Softee’s virtuosic vocal performance and sanguine synth work. Hear for yourself on Natural‘s latest offering “U + Me (WDYT)”, whose “Apache”-esque breakbeat, instant classic of a hook, and wah-drenched funk rhythm guitar all make the bed for Softee to uphold the prowess of pre-millenium electro-pop-R&B queens like Robyn or Janet Jackson. So…what do you think?

Lost Weekend: “Soft, Summer Rain”

For much of the English-speaking world, the genre we call “New Wave” can be pretty easily categorized. However it’s worth noting that this late ’70s/early ’80s post-punk pop movement wasn’t actually the original “new wave”. That title goes to the little ’60s Brazilian post-samba sensation known as “Bossa nova“. Of course, the very best Bossa came out a half century back. But that hasn’t kept contemporary innovators out of Bossa nova’s seductive currents; take for example Brooklyn’s Erik Laroi, who uses the classic, sandy sound as a transcontinental bridge between modern indie and the golden age of baroque pop. Under the handle Lost Weekend, this David Gilmour-reminiscent singer-guitarist is soon set to share a dozen such indie-bossa-pop bops on his debut LP Memorias. Like an audio-only lucid dream, Memorias transports you to different times and places throughout these incredibly-calculated arrangements, which were fastidiously pieced together over a two-year bicoastal recording period. And today Lost Weekend’s given us an early forecast for Memorias ahead of the record release next Friday, one that features Mascott frontwoman Kendall Jane Meade on vocal harmonies. In a four-and-a-half minute trickle of tranquility, “Soft, Summer Rain” swells with flailing flutes, lightning-tight trumpets, and elegiac electric piano, from which you won’t want to dry off.

Say She She: “Pink Roses”

Girl groups of the 1970s. By definition, they don’t make ’em like they used to. But considering the enduring energy of golden era disco-R&B icons like Chic, Rufus, and The Supremes, someone’s gotta step up to the plate and carry the torch, right? Fortunately, three of Brooklyn’s finest continue to keep that five-decade-old disco-funk fire alive.

Spearheaded by Chicano Batman alum Piya Malik, 79.5 veteran Nya Gazelle Brown, and relative newcomer Sabrina Mileo Cunningham, Say She She adds a bit of extra heat to discodelic’s existing girlish grace. Say She She’s 4:3 ratio of instrumentalists to vocalists makes for some really fun arrangements and dynamics, not to mention plenty of killer karaoke tracks to try out harmonies on.

Amidst their ascent to the Big Apple’s crowning stem, Say She She just shared their debut album Prism last month. At just under thirty minutes, this 8-track will transport you straight back to the turn of the ’70s/’80s decade (as will their latest single “Wrap Myself Up In Your Love”, which just dropped last Tuesday), albeit with contemporary psych-soul and electro-lo-fi sensibilities. But as we kick off 2022’s holiday gauntlet, we recommend a wholesome sprig of Prism spring for your Thanksgiving cornucopia. Produced by Chicano Batman center Bardo Martinez, “Pink Roses” packs an emotional post-disco punch that champions balance after passing. So if you’re missing a few folks from the dinner table tomorrow, you can still give thanks to artists like this who know exactly what you’re going through.

Nation of Language: “From The Hill”

Just before noon tomorrow, the gate’s’ll open up and Austin City Limits Music Festival 2022 will officially be underway. So if you plan on being out there bright and early, you might want to taste the Big Apple flavors of Brooklyn three-piece Nation of Language. Bassist Michael Sue-Poi and multi-instrumentalist Ian Richard Devaney founded Nation of Language as an offshoot of their New Jersey rock quintet The Static Jacks about a half decade back, and have since formalized a pidgin tongue of post-punk, indie, and synth-pop. Nation of Language plays at ACL Fest 1:45PM tomorrow afternoon on the Miller Lite stage before shutting down Stubb’s this Saturday ’round midnight. No doubt they’ll both be sanguine, synth-heavy sets, whose serene soundscapes, ruminating arrangements, and magnetic melodies (like those of NoL’s latest single “From The Hill”) will keep you cool-headed whatever the weather.

Sammy Rae & The Friends: “If It All Goes South”

It’s that rare sliver of the year where the weather is great the whole day through. And for me personally, that’s all the motivation I need to get out and enjoy live music, indoors or out. Even if the venue’s little more than a concrete box, as long as there’s airflow, I’m out there dancing. With that in mind, we’ve got an official recommendation for this weekend.

In just a couple days, some of slickest genres seep together across a seven-piece, courtesy of Sammy Rae & The Friends. Since their 2018 debut EP The Good Life, this septet’s soared under the direction of their eponymous frontwoman, whose daring pipes are impressive as hell to say the least. Sammy Rae & The Friends bring their brand of jazzy-funk-soul to Empire Control Room 10PM this Saturday alongside NC indie pop outfit The Collection as part of a month-and-a-half-long national junket. It’s only the fourth of twenty-plus tour dates, so be sure to show Sammy Rae & The Friends some of that trademark Texas hospitality. Who knows? You may even flip the script on the meridional connotations of The Friends’ latest single (and music video) “If It All Goes South”. One thing’s for sure, you won’t have any trouble memorizing the acapella-and-horn-heavy chorus.

Barrie: “Concrete”

We’re in the final days of SXSW 2022 and many of us haven’t been able to see everything we’ve wanted. Either the long lines have intimidated us, the commute’s been problematic, or we simply can’t be in two places at once. Unforeseen circumstances have struck performers as well, considering the Brooklyn Bowl Family Reunion had to make some last minute changes based on the availability of headliner Barrie.

Lindsay Barrie’s been touring her mononymous solo project but had to pull out for tonight based on potential COVID exposure. Kudos to her for playing it safe and trusting her early-30s intuition. Assuming she’s good to go, Barrie’s bounding across the pond for the UK leg of her tour in support of Barbara, out next Friday. At just shy of a dozen tracks (one more than 2019’s Happy To Be Here), Barbara is Barrie’s biggest release to date, and further solidifies her status as a must-hear indie songwriter with crushing numbers like “Concrete”.

Helado Negro: “Gemini and Leo”

Raised in sunny South Florida against a backdrop of ’80s club bangers and pivotal ’90s hip-hop, multi-instrumentalist Roberto Carlos Lange’s found sturdy legs in Brooklyn for his Latin-leaning experimental electronic folk project Helado Negro. The pursuit that began with 2009’s Awe Owe has since earned Lange several awards and considerable critical acclaim, including a widely popular NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert from 2017 and most recently with Helado Negro’s highly-lauded 2019 LP This Is How You Smile.

Tomorrow Helado Negro ventures even further into his bold exploration of soundscapes with his seventh studio full-length, Far In, an eclectic collection of exotic tones and dance-friendly bops. So needless to say, Helado Negro’s horoscope is looking pretty auspicious, and you can get an early gaze into Far In with one of the record’s most impressive star-crossed genre-blender, “Gemini and Leo”!

Mike Fuller: “Ms. Wrong”

Aside from the unique influences you’d only get from having a church organist and a cover band’s lead singer as parents, Mike Fuller‘s been finalizing his own folk-rock style more-or-less all on his own. Fuller only dropped his debut EP The Human Condition last September, but he’s spent the past decade perfecting what’s become his sophomore record, The Missed Connection.

The Missed Connection‘s three originals were born all the way back in 2010 and after undergoing a few different iterations and a ton of tender loving care, they were tracked in Brooklyn at the top of 2021 and are finally ready to be shared with the world. The Missed Connection is out this fall and its driving lead single “Ms. Wrong”, which came out last week, is just right for someone who needs an extra bit of kick to keep ’em rolling through the rest of the work week.

Leah Shaw: “Pretty Mama”

Like many others, North Carolina-born multi-instrumentalist Leah Shaw had her style shaped by her mother. In childhood, Shaw received plenty of maternal encouragement to learn adopt music as a language, picking up piano, bassoon, percussion, and clarinet all by age sixteen. Impressive as that was, when Shaw wasn’t playing in church, memorizing classical music, or perusing her mother’s record collection of Carole King, The Beatles, and Paul Simon, she was pining to become a singer.

Cut to last Friday, when Shaw (now based out of Brooklyn) released her debut full-length Play Beautifully, a phrase taken from her mother, who’d just succumbed to a decade-long battle with Alzheimer’s. Play Beautifully is a gorgeous document of loss and love, inspired by Shaw’s time as her mother’s caregiver during the final year of her life, composed on piano, guitar, and vocals, and backed with electronic and orchestral elements. Needless to say, Play Beautifully is best experienced in its entirety, and to give you an idea of how impactful this moving collection of originals is, just listen to the album closer, “Pretty Mama”.

Boyish: “Your Best Friend”

First meeting at Berklee College of Music over a collaborative demo, singer India Shore and guitarist Claire Altendahl began exploring realms of alt-country as The Blue and released Carnation in 2018. But despite considerable acclaim over The Blue’s debut, the duo opted for a do-over after graduating the following year and rebranded themselves Boyish.

Boyish charmed us last Valentine’s Day with Garden Spider, championing the two’s inherently queer identities over an enthralling lo-fi blend of dream pop and indie. And next Friday the Brooklynites share We’re all gonna die, but here’s my contribution, a half-8-track that serves up a realistic coming-of-age aesthetic, balanced between the optimism of youth and pessimism after painful adult experiences, perhaps heard best on the EP’s lead single, “Your Best Friend”.