Album Review: Coultrain - Jungle Mumbo Jumbo
While his collaborative efforts as a member of Platinum Pied Pipers, and more recently Hawthorne Headhunters, may have brought him a bit more shine over the years, the slow build of Coultrain’s conceptual Seymour Liberty solo projects has long kept ardent fans waiting and wondering. On new disc Jungle Mumbo Jumbo, the St. Louis native finally embodies the unrestrained creative adventurism hinted at on those sporadic solo releases, crafting its outer worldly compositions with exploratory melodies and dizzying musical arrangements, each demanding a few spins before fully settling into place. The echoing creaks, chirps and trudging bass tones that form the untamed digital landscape introduced in “Y Not?” shift and expand as the album progresses, with the singer’s distinctive voice and lyrics delivering tales of mysterious lovers and the fantastic world they inhabit. While his unconventional melodies do meander, at times, they generally make sense atop the gripping, exotic rhythms of cuts like the marching “Delilah,” piercing “Gazelle’s Dance” and theatrical “Batouttahell,” which are just a few highlights from this exhilarating aural feast. (For Exclaim.ca)
By Kevin Jones
Lianne la Havas Interview: Web Exclusive for Exclaim.ca
By Kevin Jones
The past couple of years in the professional life of Lianne La Havas have proven quite an exciting journey, one that included an opening spot on Bon Iver’s 2011 North American tour, an iTunes UK Album Of The Year award for her 2012 debut Is Your Love Big Enough?, and a spotlight showcase at the 4th Annual ESSENCE Black Women In Music celebration. With her sultry, sumptuous vocals, nimble guitar work, and a genre splicing sound that snatches from soul, folk, and pop, the London-based singer-songwriter has attracted the admiration of enraptured fans on both sides of the atlantic, including a few notable musical heavyweights who’ve called her up out of the blue to sing her praises. Her rapid ascent has been pretty impressive to witness, and while that’s no surprise given her incredible musical talent and richly emotional songcraft, it’s the combination of confidence and charming modesty that makes the rest feel so much more satisfying to take in.
You mentioned on your first EP that you were recording in LA with Matt Hales. How did you end up making the album in the US?
Well Matt moved to America after I met him, but we first started working together in London. He’s a singer/songwriter who had most success a few years ago under his name Aqualung, and I was introduced to him by someone like a publisher or his manager or something, and we started writing songs together. I was a big fan of his already, so it felt like I was working with one of my idols, or someone who I was very comfortable about showing him songwriting [to] and what I could do. And he seemed very accommodating and we instantly connected, but then he moved to Pasadena, which is why I would go back and forth between London and LA to work with him. And eventually, about three years later, we finished the album.
And how did the opening Bon Iver tour spot come about?
When I was releasing my first EP, I got the opportunity to be on Jools Holland, and Bon Iver were on the same bill that evening, so that’s how we met. We didn’t really speak to each other that day, though, but we heard each other’s music that day, and a few days later I was invited to support Justin on the tour.
Had you heard his album before that.
I’d heard his first album - I bought his first album, and his second came out just a few months before I met him, and I was actually listening to the opening track with Matt in the studio one day before we were writing a song. And coincidentally, a few months later I was supporting him, so it’s very crazy!
You get the impression from your videos and live performances that performing is something you’ve been doing for most of your life. Is that try?
Being serious about it, I’ve been playing guitar and singing for my own shows for about maybe three or four years now. Before that, I was in choirs in school, building my confidence, but I never really played in an instrument publicly and sang until I was about 19. But that year that I supported Bon Iver, which was the beginning of 2011, I didn’t have my record deal or anything and was kind of in limbo about finishing the record and stuff like that.
You hadn’t started it yet?
Well, I had a collection of songs, but I didn’t really have a direction at the time. So what I decided to do was just play as many shows on my own as I could find, and the shows just kept coming to me. People would have friends of friends who were putting on a night at a club or whatever, so I would just do maybe three gigs a week or something. I just made the beginning of that year all about practicing and getting comfortable at being on stage and being very self-sufficient. So, when it came to doing the Bon Iver tour, I just felt like this is who I am and felt very comfortable about that.
People seem to be most taken aback by the richness of your lyrics and the messages they convey. Is writing something you do a lot of, even apart from songwriting?
I Love it! I love poetry, and that’s kind of what started me off really, linking the two – music and poetry – because when I was at school, English was one of my favourite subjects, and I was just always fascinated with how you can make something rhyme but also have it make complete sense as well. So, it was kind of a natural progression to sort of start making melodies and songs out of it.
Apart from your full album, you’ve also recording a few songs that carry you in a different direction, Everything Everything’s “Final Form”, or the remixes you did with Shlohmo and Two Inch Punch. Are those different styles something you see yourself doing more of in the future?
It’s funny that you mention “Final Form”, because I recorded that during that time just before I got my album deal. So it’s just, you know, whatever’s available to you in the studio that you like the sound of, and whatever you wanna do, really. I tend not to like specifics, you know, I like it when you hear something and you can’t trace it back to what it sounds like, ‘cause then it’s not pure. I like the idea of creating a genre almost. Who says that you can’t just amalgamate everything you like into one piece of music, just to make it sound like a new thing you haven’t heard before? I did try to do that with the record, but particularly with “Final Form” – that was a chance for me to just really enjoy being in the studio and taking a song that isn’t my own and trying to make it my own, and even though that sounds very different to my album, I still think it sounds like me. With Two Inch Punch, funnily enough, I’m going to be working with him one-on-one, which I’m very excited about. he’s a good friend of mine and I’ve been meaning to do some music with him – I just think he’s so talented, and his vision and his sonic opinion is something that I’m really interested in fusing with my own. I’m just looking to make sounds that I haven’t heard before.
Aside from winning iTunes UK Album Of The Year, have their been any other really special surprises since the album came out and along the tour? Any phone calls from Prince or anything?
Yeah, right (laughs). That was pretty surprising! Just to be acknowledged by anyone that you are a fan of or respect, such as a living legend like that..
Wait, that actually happen?
Yeah! I thought you knew that! (smiling)
No, I didn’t know.
I thought that’s why you asked that. (Laughing again)
No, I had no idea! Well Congratulations!
(More laughter) Well, thank you! I’ve had a kind of surreal year with meeting my idols, ‘cause even before the album came out, Prince had my EP and he called me and just said that he liked it, basically. And we talked about music and whatnot, and he’s really into new music – he seems to be championing people like Esperanza Spalding, and Janelle Monae, and for him to be a fan of my music as well is amazing. So, that was pretty crazy. I also met Jill Scott, about seven weeks ago in LA. She was at the ESSENCE event honouring black women in music. So, I performed, and she was there, and she’s amazing – just everything I’d hoped and more.
Lianne la Havas w/ Jamie N Commons - April 4 at The Opera House - Toronto, ON
Following the steady, methodical rise of London-based singer-songwriter Lianne La Havas from relative obscurity less than two years ago to her first North American headlining tour has been like watching someone take their first steps out before working up to a sprint. From those captivating initial video performances to her series of timely EP releases and TV appearances, and a resulting opening spot on Bon Iver’s 2011 tour, every next step and subsequent round of acclaim that followed has felt fitting. It was a growing sign of the compelling artistry that earned her iTunes UK Album of the Year in 2012, and it was all on full display during her recent stop at Toronto’s Opera House.
British blues-rocker Jamie N Commons did an admirable job in the night’s opening slot, his floor stomping, raise-your-glass grooves filling the venue to the surprisingly enthusiastic response of the many eager early arrivals who’d already nearly filled the room’s lower level. Commons’ deep-throated delivery, backed by the heavy rhythm guitar, busy piano work and four-part harmonies of his fellow players, led the crowd through a rousing collection of rootsy sing-alongs. Many, judging by his music output, assumed he was an American, before some between-song banter about a transvestite and his wild times in Toronto the night before revealed his accent.
The night’s shining star toyed with the crowd through the slight dramatic pauses and smooth vocal shifts in her opening tune “No Room For Doubt”. The playfully romantic turns of “Au Cinema” soon followed, and began an increasingly relaxed and engaging exchange between singer and audience that would continue throughout the night, a fact hardly surprising for someone as completely at home in front of an audience as Lianne showed herself to be. At one point, she read a small excerpt of a poem she received from an audience member down front, then granted the room an uncharacteristic love song in “Don’t Wake Me Up.” In another, she took time out to answer a question about the differences between her two guitars (Connie and Little Prince, we’d subsequently learn), before asking the crowd to serve as human percussion for the comparatively rollicking “Is Your Love Big Enough.”
Indeed, the incessant swing of her nimble fingerpicking is a notable part of her music charm, but it’s Lianne’s caramel-creamy vocal tones and incredible dynamic range that are most likely to leave you floored, as they did on tunes like the past love cleansing “Forget,” or the soaring “Everything Everything.” That voice, already full-bodied on record, takes on new dimensions in the open air of a spacious concert hall, smothering the room in a enveloping haze of thick, soulful sultriness. The singer offered up a few unique sides to both her vocal and instrumental creativity late in the set, including in an interestingly soul-touched rendition of Radiohead’s “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi,” along with the hip-swivelling ’60s soul ballad “Empty” that lead the show’s encore portion. Recent single “Elusive” would follow before Lianne, genuinely thankful for the laughs, interactions, and surprises she shared throughout the night, graciously praised the crowd, snapped her customary instagram photo, and wrapped things up with one final moment of unprovoked audience participation on closing number “Age.” Lianne la Havas is arresting in all facets — in her voice, her politeness, her warmth, her beauty, and in the ability of her songs to connect so deeply with listeners. If the response the young songwriter received from those who filled out the spacious Opera House that night was any indication, it seems that a whole lot of other people think so too. (for Exclaim.ca) - Kevin Jones
[Review]: Lil Wayne - I Am Not A Human Being 2
Tha Carter III and the year Weezy was king are starting to feel like distant memories given the middling output the Young Money chief’s been dropping on the world in the time since. New record I Am Not A Human Being 2 does little to break Lil Wayne’s lengthy streak of mediocrity, and much of that is due to the man’s increasing limited lyrical scope. The problem with reducing nearly every spoken phrase to an unrelenting string of rap metaphors (three quarters of which are explicitly sexual) is that very few MCs — let alone this one — have ever been that consistently clever or creative. The results are a few incredibly sporadic choice one-liners among a wasteland of repetitive dick and pussy references, and groan-inducing puns that become increasingly brain cell sapping as I Am Not A Human Being 2 progresses. Cuts like “Beat The S***” and solo piano opener “Ianahb” offer a couple of musical life preservers, but when the best things about your guests are their name and trademark lead-in (that’s you, 2 Chainz, bested here only by fellow invitee Soulja Boy in being a lyrical travesty), you’re in pretty rough shape. While not an absolute mess, I Am Not A Human Being 2 isn’t very good. (for Exclaim.ca)
By Kevin Jones
CMW 2013: Chloe Charles - El Mocambo (Toronto, ON) - 03/23/2013
There was a palpable buzz in the air as singer-songwriter Chloe Charles and her band, among them a violinist and cellist, made the final adjustments to their sound and setup before kicking off their highly anticipated showcase. With a fresh new record in stores and a recent European tour in the bag, Charles has been turning heads in a number of different quarters for an expansive vocal and musical talent that has seen her compared to everyone from Björk and Beth Gibbons to Billie Holiday and Joni Mitchell.
Hints of those comparisons and many more were on display throughout her mesmerizing set in front of the sizable gathering of anxious concertgoers who heated up the often chilly El Mocambo’s second-floor concert space. The quaint folk of her show opener, accented by soft violin finger plucking, quickly gave way to the heavier rock feel of its follow-up, the first of many stylistic shifts on a night that would see elements of soul, pop and jazz seep into the mix.
The singer managed to turn a song dedicated to a friend going through an identity crisis into a chipper affair before completely flipping the mood on a later ballad of loss to one so dramatic that you could feel a cold wind blowing through the song’s clenched bass tones, brooding cello swells and scurrying guitar touches. A clear show highlight came in Charles’ offering of a completely transformed rendition of Carol King’s classic “So Far Away,” in dedication to her late father — an emotional cut that came in softly but would find the singer’s monstrous vocal abilities completely unchained by the track’s end.
As the closing sounds of the show’s sleek, dubstep-referencing final tune drifted through the air and a shower of applause rained down in appreciation of each incredibly talented musician on that stage, there was little question as to why such a diverse cross-section of music fans and seasoned players alike have been caught by Charles’ impressive creative light. (For Exclaim.ca)
By Kevin Jones
CMW 2013: Shout Out Out Out Out - The Horseshoe Tavern (Toronto, ON) - 03/23/2013
The two drum kits, two bass guitars and collection of eight synths strewn across the Horseshoes Tavern stage served as fair warning to the uninitiated, and it wasn’t long before the boisterous boys of Edmonton’s Shout Out Out Out Out set off a full-on dance party inside the packed concert venue.
The diverging but complementary rhythms of the band’s two drummers anchored the six-man crew’s pushed grooves behind a vivid spectrum of spacey electronics, digitized vocals and effects-laden bottom end, creating an infectious combination that had the room rocking right up against the stage, throwing out periodic, unified chants of the band’s unique name.
The ever-gracious synth-rock purveyors fed off that energy and were clearly having as much fun up on stage as their fans were down below, bouncing, high-kicking and pulling faces as they jumped from instrument to instrument, twiddling knobs, and adding a guitar and cowbell to the vibe as the things wore on. When the final note was played and the last crowd surfer hit the ground, Nik Kozub declared the sweaty experience the best of the band’s current tour and promptly released the energized crowd out into a rare Saturday night of extended drinking hours in the city of Toronto. (For Exclaim.ca)
By Kevin Jones
CMW 2013: BadBadNotGood - The Horseshoe Tavern (Toronto, ON) - 03/23/2013
Despite a few years of collecting famous followers and co-conspirators like Frank Ocean, Tyler, the Creator, Pharoahe Monch, and Wu-Tang producer Frank Dukes, BadBadNotGood’s three Humber grads remain as humble as ever. They brought that humility to Toronto’s legendary Horseshoe Tavern stage (a first time appearance at the venue, for which they would point out they were incredibly grateful) as they set out to perform for yet another packed room — something that has become a bit of the norm for them of late.
The rich, meandering piano-led groove that opened the set showed the distance the trio have come with their own original compositions, with their use of dynamic shift playing such a major role in the gripping effect their songs have on listeners. Going between tame and delicate, though no less dizzying, melodic sections and blistering, drum-fuelled grooves, the band ignited their rabid fanbase with a lengthy showcase that was replete with golden keyboard runs and intense bass solos.
A creative take on the Flying Lotus’ “Putty Boy Strut” with an added raging midsection initiated a wave of stage diving and ensuing mosh pit, which carried right through to the latter portion of the set. Sax and flute infusions, complex compositional breakdowns, and a final burner in crowd favourite “Lemonade” (a Gucci Mane cover) closed out a set that, in terms of showcasing BBNG’s own exceptional musicality, was one of their strongest yet. (For Exclaim.ca)
By Kevin Jones
CMW 2013: We Were Lovers - The Gladstone Hotel Ballroom (Toronto, ON) - 03/22/2013
While the down-home rock tunes running in between sets were a lot closer to what many still picture when we think of the prairie provinces, electro-pop outfit We Were Lovers offered a firm reminder that there’s a lot more going out there than pub rock and new country.
Styled-out singer Elsa Gebremichael’s affected, mid-range vocals carried commandingly over the heady guitar melodies, programmed bass lines and varied electronics manned by cohort Ash Lamothe. Conjuring up a sound reminiscent of like-minded Brits New Young Pony Club, the group’s dancefloor-directed tempo, along with the smart inclusion of live drumming to complement the set’s digital rhythms, slowly but surely rocked the crowd — with a little coaxing from the singer herself, who momentarily left the stage to provide a little motivation.
Faster-tempo cuts, like the set’s joyous, bouncing closer, worked best at showcasing Elsa’s range while also pushing her bandmates to add a little more meat to their musicianship, as Ash’s shiny guitar work led the way over a series of cascading synths. With the last of three festival sets left to go, and a “crowd share” album production plan to pitch, here’s hoping they can make the sell and bring what should be a well-received record to light before the end of the upcoming summer season. (For Exclaim.ca)
By Kevin Jones