You wouldn’t know from their music that The Blankz (a Phoenix based band) formed as recently as 2017. Their new EP/single, White Baby, is so tightly put together musically that if I had been too lazy to read the group’s bio, I would just have assumed they must have been playing together for at least a decade. Their music falls somewhere within the realm of “weirdo pop punk.” It has a very 90′s vibe to it, not in a gimmicky kind of way, it’s just that you’d almost have to go back that far to find this style of music being put out at this level of quality. In a deeper sense though, White Baby brings people back to a more innocent era, the pre-9/11 days before confrontational politics and war dominated the discussion in our everyday lives. I’m talking about those 105 degree summer nights spent skateboarding and loitering at suburban Phoenix strip malls (yes I’m from here as well,) when our most heated arguments were over bands and girls. Our tense confrontations were mostly reserved for our interactions with the security guards about to kick us out of the same spot for the millionth time.
White Baby features solid playing, quirky lyrics, and perhaps most importantly…substance. Yes, wrapped up in White Baby’s musical bundle of joy is a theme about the songwriter’s identity. Tommy Blank is white but was apparently adopted into a Mexican family. The song subtly relates his struggles with identity growing up within this unconventional familial arrangement. It is all presented in an upbeat, fun and energetic musical context. The lyrics are extremely catchy, and if you listen to this song even once, the chorus will stick with you. The video for White Baby takes on a kind of desert rockabilly aesthetic, interspersing vintage home movie footage with present day shots of the band around town.
There is a second jam on this release as well. The song Sissy Glue boasts some killer synth, the vibrato of which resonates throughout the song. The tone is reminiscent of action oriented battle music in old school games like Double Dragon. Sissy Glue contains lyrics concerned with huffing, but really the track is about so much more. It’s sort of a coming of age story told in a very creative way. The synth on this EP is notable because it is what separates the band’s sound it from so many other bands in this genre.
White Baby/Sissy Glue is quite simply, badass. Living in Phoenix, this is easily one of the coolest current bands in the valley, and I’m kind of surprised I haven’t heard anything about them until now.
Already established for his roles in classic groups like “The Headhunters” back in the 1970s (and since then working with legends like Carl Carlton and Rick James,) Deryo has been around the block musically. These days he’s flying solo, making his own jams, which he describes as being “funk mixed with pop and r&b.” His solo tracks carry the precision marks of a old pro, with backing music that manages to be creatively quirky in expressing its retro grooviness. I’ve always thought that the test of an instrumental backing is whether you’d want to listen to it even if there were no accompanying vocals. Deryo’s songs easily pass that test, and I can’t help but think how great they would sound on vinyl. His 2013 track, Anytime is an excellent example of this, and I just love the futuristic synth hooks on it, which wouldn’t seem out of place on a Buck Rogers soundtrack.
Deryo’s vocals are passionate and delivered with an unpretentious charisma. They are really the driving force in his songs. The lyrical themes are usually positive, romantic and upbeat, though tracks such as I Must Quit convey a sense of melancholic humility. This is in every sense “mood music,” in that it gets you in the mood to enjoy life’s experiences and get in touch with your emotions while dancing to some smooth jams with your significant other…whether in the club or in his/her apartment living room.
Along the Road is a new EP from Dirk Schwenk & The Truth. the album has been freshly released for the summer of 2018. Apparent;y it was inspired by a sadness Dirk felt while watching the documentary Marley in 2012 and a subsequent desire to make sure he got his own music out there for audiences to hear, perhaps before it might one day be too late. Along the Road is a blend of Americana, light rock and folk. It has elements of Southern rock and roll but these are subtly expressed through tone and mood, ultimately avoiding the trappings of lyrical cliches and managing to resist conforming to cartoonish archetypes of the genre. Dirk’s vocals are mellow and contemplative as he weaves a story for the listener. He stays within his singing capabilities and is wise enough not to try to do too much, which would distract from the lyrical narrative. The album also features quite a bit of excellent guitar playing (at least some of which is credited to Matt “All Day” Asci) on these songs. I was struck by how dynamic the playing style was between songs while still retaining album sound cohesion. All in all, this is a pretty impressive release and the authentic backstory gives it a heartfelt quality.
Kedi is a 2016 documentary about feral cats, or street cats as they are called in the film, in Istanbul. This makes it seem more niche than it is. It is a foreign-language film, but it will be of interest to anyone who likes anthrozoology or observing the psychological relationships between humans and other species.
The film is at pains to point out at the start that the cats have been native to the area for a millennium or more. This suggestion of the depth of time elucidates a premise of the film which is expounded upon in detail later, which is the way the local population seem to deify the cats just as Hindus revere cows. There is talk in the interviews of acting as intermediaries between the cats and God as they feed them and shelter them. At one point, a man says he believes dogs think that humans are God, but cats recognise that humans are just the middleman.
As one would expect, this is accompanied by a good deal of anthropomorphising, and just as equally one sees the cats behaving in ways that seem to imitate humans with no external prompting in that direction, such as watching TV, which shows how much the city environment has changed them. One could compare it to the disposition of foxes in the UK, which become bolder and more acclimatised to the urban ecosystem with every passing year.
The camerawork is masterly and fun. A good deal of the time, maybe three-quarters of the time, the camera hangs at the eye level of the cat. You do not see human faces often apart from the interviewees. The narrative plays out as a series of vignettes about the individual cats profiled in the film, told from the perspective of their human caretakers for whom the cats have become part of the texture of daily life. In fact, the cats seem a universal therapeutic mechanism for the inhabitants of the city. One woman says she came to love a huge troupe of them after recovering from some unnamed sickness. Someone else says that his fondness for them came after one of them pointed him towards a discarded wallet on the ground with just the right amount of money, so he says, when an unfortunate series of events bankrupted him.
Seeing the interactions of the interviewees gives the viewer some idea of the constancies of life in the city as well, such as one incident where people at a cafe were playing backgammon. As ancient as the game is, I have never seen anyone play it in real life, so this was a novel stimulus.
Some viewers would doubt the existence of consciousness in nonhuman sentience, but most of the people interviewed for the film would contest that. As they say, the cats have their distinctive character traits, which you can see in their facial expressions, hence the specialised camerawork style.
The cats receive names usually based on these personalities, such as one “Psycho” who was apparently so brave that she would chase around local dogs, including pit bulls. Another cat is in the employ of a restaurant-owner who needs him to chase away rats. Briefly, the film shows one example of such a chase. Although captivating superficially, it is also in its own way grim, and makes you wonder if we ought to begin the process of deprogramming predators and making progress toward a peaceful, post-Darwinian biosphere as some have called it. When the technology is ready, anyway.
The foreign language is in some ways useful. When a man is shouting, “Come, girl,” to a cat in Turkish and you just hear gobbledygook, you are hearing as the cat does, or at least closer to it, since they do not really understand anything people say; they just know that those sounds mean either attention or food. It is noteworthy that on two occasions in the film, the phrase “Erdo-gone!” can be seen on a wall in plain view with little else in the shot apart from the cat(s). This seems an unlikely coincidence, but who knows if it actually means anything in the context of the film.
The soundtrack is understated and atmospheric in all the right ways even if it is nothing unusual for this type of film-making – light, jangly percussion as the human characters (it seems fair to regard the cats as characters in themselves) are describing the cats, while the cats do as they do – fighting, being territorial, chasing and eating, etc. Whereas, it retreats into a more contemplative, ambient sounds when the narrative is drifting and between the vignettes. Like many 21st century documentaries, there is no narrator, but rather, each of the interviewees narrates in turn, which gives the narrative an easygoing, freeform style – although it is by no means directionless.
The last 5-10 minutes – the ambient soundtrack and basically a grafted-together compilation of all the cats – dragged on a little much, but that aside there is little to complain about where length is concerned since the film is only 78 minutes.
One could take some of the statements near the end as either poetic or platitudinous, such as:
“It would be easy to see street cats as a problem and handle them as a problem, whereas if we can learn to live together again, maybe we’ll solve our own problems as we try to solve theirs. In fact, I‘m sure that we would even regain our sense of humour and rekindle our slowly dying joy for life.”
What a sparkly little synth hook this jam has! It’s as if someone threw something together really quick, chucked it at a wall and it bounced in my direction and stuck in my head like a superball to the brain. Basically, this track is the little orphan Annie of hidden indie pop hits. King Trode’s Space Parachute is exactly what it would sound like if you took Sega Genesis video game music and added vocals that sounded eerily similar in style to those of Dal Winslow of The Trashmen singing the 60′s classic, Surfin Bird (aka “The Bird is the Word” song.) Yes, Space Parachute is awesome all right. With a decent video, there would be some real potential here.
Charleston based singer/songwriter Chris Sullivan’s new EP Dog Days dazzles immediately with its surprisingly fast paced opening track, By the Light of the Radio. This song is instantly recognizable as a masterpiece, and I’m not someone who typically even listens to much Americana or Adult Contemporary music. Sullivan carries the song with so much speed, energy and emotion. The best way I could describe the sound is if you took 90s pop rock like the BoDeans or Del Amitri, sped it up a bit and gave it more of an Southern feel. Other tracks like The City That Never Sleeps and Black Clouds are slightly slower paced but every bit as rockin’. Sullivan can really belt out the lyrics, too. He has the perfect masculine yet emotive voice for this style of music, and he projects it well. This is just an all around talented guy who puts his heart and soul into these recordings, and it shows.
Singer/songwriter Ezra Jordan’s latest single 10 Miles a Minute almost defies categorization. It has elements of indie pop, funk, mainstream pop, soul, with the background music at times giving the song an almost Caribbean, tropical vibe. Jordan’s clearly a skilled vocalist, with his voice demonstrating some impressive dynamicism at certain points of the track. In spite of the song’s title, the music starts off at a slow pace but builds into a funky and energetic little dance number. This is a respectable recording with a solid vocal performance. I’m most impressed with how well the song is put together. There are a lot of musical components to it which are delicately placed in the mix. This song is a complicated piece of musical machinery, and somehow nothing seems out of place.
They say not to judge a book by its cover, but they never said anything about albums. When I saw the aesthetic artwork for Grayson Erhard’s new EP, Earthship I already had a good feeling about the music. It’s pretty straightforward indie folk / alternative but very well performed and produced professionally. This is not lo-fi coffee house music. It’s interesting that the EP is titled Earthship as the music itself has an earthy quality to it, like the artist is in tune with nature (which could be explained by his growing up in a small Colorado town.) The video for his song I Will was filmed on location at Great Sand Dunes National Park. What’s memorable about his style is that his songs often start out mellow, to where you think they will be quiet, with soft spoken vocals and acoustic strumming for the duration, and then everything slowly builds and kicks into high gear, both emotionally and musically, where it all rocks hard.
Rising popstar “Summy” (aka Summer Ferguson) has all the ingredients to reach the next level. She’s pretty, has a great voice, use a catchy one word name as a moniker, all of which she combines with some very well produced pop music. This girl is just oozing with star quality and has more substance to offer than most artists currently on the radio. Summy’s new single Sus differentiates itself in a subtle, yet brilliant way. Summy’s lead vocals come through crystal clear, without being hampered or drowned out by annoying effects processing. The effects are instead applied to background and “side vocals,” which in effect act an additional synth instrument.
Summy’s versatile voice carries the song well with impeccable timing. This song also has a seductive quality and is filled with jealousy and sexual intrigue. People will connect with this jam, and Summer Ferguson is going places. Forget voting for Pedro. Vote for Summy, and it will be summer all year round.