screams, whispers and songs from planet earth

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Introducing… Soto Voce

Soto Voce

photo by Eddie Chacon

In this stark, chilling video for “Better” — a single released by Soto Voce earlier this year — disturbing images of violence and atrocities around the world becomes the backdrop of a more immediate, front-and-center persecution. The song received some attention when it was used in an episode of the ABC-TV drama series, How To Get Away With Murder, and recently a tech/deep house Speaking in Tongues remix appeared, but the original track is a darkly shaded, angsty stunner that requires no reinterpretation. Enjoy the slow burn.

Soto Voce, now based in Los Angeles, is the collaboration of Kenny Soto, a trans woman from the inner-city of Oakland, California and Miguel De Divo, an immigrant from Colombia. Their music, a smooth yet ferocious blend of R&B, ’80s new wave and ’90s industrial music, with elements of pop and hip-hop, was born of harsh and explosive upbringings. For Soto, it was growing up in tough Oakland schools as a female soul trapped in a male body, and learning to fight back against the constant bullying and persecution. Music became a sanctuary and an outlet. As Soto explains, “By the time I was 16 I had a lot of angst and I was rebelling and music was the thing I could go to to release a lot of pain and anguish and shit like that.”

For Miguel De Vivo (formerly with Villains), musical inspiration came from the sounds of his native Colombia (Spanish salsa, merengue and vayenato), and from family hardships when they were forced to escape to L.A. after his father, a port official, refused to collaborate with Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar’s trafficking cartel.

Kenny and Miguel were introduced by a mutual friend and immediately bonded over their musical influences. They combined Soto’s soft and sultry to ferocious vocals with Miguel’s shimmering to incendiary synth-fueled production. A furious three-year period of creativity culminated in the birth of Soto Voce. The duo’s name is derived from the Italian phrase sotto voce, which means to purposefully lower your voice for dramatic effect. Says Soto, “there’s also the mafia situation, if the big boss walks into the room it’s like ‘be quiet’ and there’s the idea that me or the band could have that kind of effect.”

Their spirit and sound lies in the duality of what Soto calls her “hyper-sensitive feminine personality” and the resilient varrior who has had to endure life’s slings and arrows. As one grows more comfortable in one’s own skin, power and creativity can take hold and flourish. The message is “perseverance, preservation and positivity.”

Soto Voce will be releasing their debut album in 2017.

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Introducing… RKCB

Here’s something a little different from what we typically cover here, but which has us properly entranced. From Los Angeles, RKCB specializes in an indie-soul sound that sounds a bit retro, in all the good ways. Their music has a futuristic vibe as well and is definitely steeped in synthesizers but, unlike most other music in that genre, it’s rather minimalist, tasteful and doesn’t take away from the smooth as molasses warmth of the vocals. Rather, it enhances it. Nice job, guys. Their latest single is “Future Being.”

If you like what you hear, they’ve also released their 6-track Short Films EP, which is available as a free download.

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New Song from The Rebel Light – “Strangers”

Ok, here’s the thing. We’re trying to get all caught up here at ‘musings,’ and sometimes we feel like hapless salmon swimming upstream. Too many bands, not enough time, yadda yadda. So here’s a quickie from Los Angeles’s The Rebel Light, whom we’ve written about before. This means we can just plunk down their cool and catchy new single “Strangers” and be done with it, right? Right.

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Midnight Cities Release Their Second EP, Starlight

photo by NesPhotography

photo by NesPhotography

Just added: Midnight Cities will be performing at Lot 1 in Los Angeles on Saturday, December 5th!

Eastside L.A. pals Midnight Cities’ first official video for their second EP Starlight perfectly represents the mood of the new music — contemporary life and idealistic romance. It’s Simon Cardoza’s dreamy vocals, I’m certain of it, but even without perusing the lyrics of these five expansive, yearning creations, I can tell that they’re love letters. In the video for “Ignite Starlight,” a couple comes together at a rooftop party and, in my mind anyway, imagines their fantasy love affair — dramatic, passionate and set among the stars in a distant galaxy (though in fact they’re just standing on the roof of an industrial building somewhere in Los Angeles, staring at each other). Or maybe that’s just my jaded viewpoint. Never mind; enjoy the video and grab their new EP.

I don’t see any shows currently, but if you’re in the L.A. area, follow them on Facebook to keep apprised.

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Gearing Up for a Haunted Summer

Haunted Summer are old friends of ours here at musings from boston, having covered them several times in the past few years. Based in Highland Park, California, the band was born under rather odd circumstances, having first come together in 2012 for a Halloween show at The Echo in Los Angeles, where they performed Animal Collective covers. From those curious beginnings, a new band was born. They went on to record a 5-track debut EP called Something In The Water in 2013, and then their debut album, appropriately titled Birth, in July of last year. I should say it was a rather quiet release (or I was really out of the loop at that time) as I’m only just listening to it now. It’s quite lovely — dreamy and ethereal, spacy and mysterious, like a pleasant swim through magical waters in some underground cavern. If that sounds like an enjoyable time, you’ll be interested to know that they’ll be making their way East very shortly, stopping in at T.T. the Bear’s Place (which will sadly be closing this summer, so get there while you still can!).

Haunted Summer, led by the husband and wife duo of John Seasons and Bridgette Eliza Moody, have performed with bands such as The Polyphonic Spree, Olafur Arnalds, Laura Stevenson and The Radar Brothers. More recently, they’ve toured with Islands, David J. (Bauhaus), Jacco Gardner, Deafheaven and Geographer, in addition to performing at Los Angeles music festival Culture Collide.

East Coast Shows

May 26 – The Empty Bottle – Chicago, IL
May 27 – Cake Shop – New York, NY
May 28 – Baby’s All Right – Brooklyn, NY
May 29 – Elvis Guesthouse – New York, NY
May 30 – North Star Bar – Philadelphia, PA
May 31 – T.T. the Bear’s Place – Cambridge, MA
Jun 01 – Beachland Ballroom and Tavern – Cleveland, OH
Jun 02 – Musica – Akron, OH

From there, the band will be performing in California, Oregon, Idaho, Oregon and Washington (June 20-August 8). Check their Facebook for more info. A new album is apparently in the works, which is said to more closely approximate their live sound. We’ll be on the lookout for it!

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Introducing… LA’s Ultra Violent Rays

Goth children of the ’80s and today’s electro clubbers will find common ground in the music of Ultra Violent Rays. Corny name aside, this sleek L.A.-based darkwave duo brings to mind a danceable, outer space, female-fronted Bauhaus. Vocalist and bassist Cooper Gillespie and drummer/sequencer Greg Gordon create some sexy dark magic for what I consider some rather fine guilty pleasure music. I’m not sure if this would work quite as well in the hazy days of summer, but in the dead of winter it does quite nicely, thank you. With their debut single “The Voyeur,” they take inspiration from bands such as Joy Division, Siouxsie and the Banshees and Portishead.

They’ll be embarking on a Pacific Northwest tour beginning on February 19 in Oakland, California and finishing up in Sacramento on March 1. See their official site for details. Their live performances are said to be psychedelic, with colors and lights to compliment their trippy sounds, so check them out if you can.

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Midnight Cities’ debut EP, Ignite!

Photo Credit: Elton Anderson

Photo Credit: Elton Anderson

I had the pleasure of seeing Los Angeles trio Midnight Cities last year during a cosmic whirlwind and existential crisis of a West Coast holiday. Midnight Cities features Simon Cardoza on guitar, piano and vocals; Martin Avelar on bass and Nick Roumeliotis on drums. They’ve just released their debut Ignite EP, on which they can be found bolting straight out of the gate on the powerful opener, “Collide.” On “Slow Down Girl,” the first single, the frenetic, driving pace continues. Things go off the rails a bit, musically and lyrically, on the last two tracks, “Meds” (with the delightfully off-balance refrain “TAKE YOUR MEEDDDDS! TAKE YOUR MEEDDDDS!”) and “Losing All My Friends,” which is first infused with sadness and then neurosis (“I’m only alone… in my mind”). In the midst of the emotional maelstrom is a dreamy and rather romantic interlude, due in no so part to Simon Cardoza’s passionate vocals. As unsettling as the other tracks are, “Soon We’ll All Be Shown” and “So Far” are quite pretty and peaceful. The latter also features lovely piano at the start and some luxuriously free-flowing lead guitar toward the end. Personal favorites: “So Far” and “Losing All My Friends.”

The EP was produced by Simon and Sean Tallman (Lilly Allen, Miley Cyrus, Ne-Yo, Deftones, Outcast, Gwen Stefani and Kelly Clarkson – that’s quite a combo). The video for “Slow Down Girl” features actress Megan Duffy. They’ll be releasing more videos soon, and are already working on another EP, Starlight, which is due out early next year.

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Introducing… Cashew & Cleary

photo by Rhea Harding

photo by Rhea Harding

As luck would have it, the music of Cashew & Cleary is the perfect soundtrack for summer backyard barbecues, lazy days with the family on the front porch and well, good ol’ American 4th of July celebrations. Their 4-track EP, Husbands Vol. 1, features gentle harmonies, orchestral moments with plenty of strings, and even horns and a tuba! As the title suggests, this is just the first in a series. Various sun-drenched California influences are heard here, from folky 1960s Laurel Canyon, to West Coast artists like Love, The Byrds and Beck, to the spacier psychedelic desert cowboy vibe of Joshua Tree, to the modern day artsiness of Echo Park. It’s a quirky combination that blends together just beautifully.

The duo of Cashew & Cleary consists of Los Angeles musicians Eric “Cashew” Harding and Patrick Cleary. Cashew’s musical lineage includes psych folk band Eagle Winged Palace and garage band The Prix. Cleary was guitarist and lead vocalist for the Americana band The Digs and prog rock band Silver Phial. Listening to each other’s bands let to songwriting sessions, which has happily culminated in recordings and occasional live shows.

Here’s the inspiration behind one of the tracks — “‘I’m an Illusion’ was a magical poem that Patrick wrote to a waltz,” says Cashew, “We experimented with it and found a way to bridge the gap between Americana and full-blown Ranchero. A welding job like that can only be produced in a taqueria and coyote town like LA.”

The EP was created in DIY style, with family and friends taking part, including Scott Bassman on bass, Cheryl Lynn Caddick (Cleary’s wife) on drums and percussion, Curt Harding on bass, James Arellano on horns, Darryl Brown on violin and Robert F. Datta on tuba. It was recorded with Rob Campanella (Beachwood Sparks, Brian Jonestown Massacre), and it’s available through the usual digital means and also on cassette. Yup, that’s what I said — cassette.

Says Cleary, “Our playing and singing is often cited as being of another era, and I’m proud of that. We’re an anachronism, but in these times, that seems like a good thing.”

They have a FREE SHOW scheduled at the Echo in Los Angeles, for Sunday, July 6. It’s the Grand Ole Echo with Rose’s Pawn Shop (country music and Sunday BBQ), which is “patrolled by Radar, Cashew & Cleary, Creekwood and Kip Boardman.” Sounds like a great time.

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Special thanks to Joe Fielder, formerly of Radio Free Silver Lake and now a defector living in the city of Boston, for turning me on to this fine band.

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Kan Wakan’s hypnotic and sensuous debut album, Moving On

Photo by Louis C. Oberlander for TriggerChrome

Photo by Louis C. Oberlander for TriggerChrome

Soulful and sultry is just one of Kan Wakan’s many calling cards. Based in Los Angeles, their music takes in electronica, psychedelia, pop, soul and dark jazz, bringing to mind lush retro orchestrated soundtracks and smoky cabarets. I had the great pleasure of seeing them at the Echoplex in Los Angeles during Echo Park Rising last year. Live they were a pleasant hallucinatory trip. Their debut full-length album, Moving On, was released earlier this month, and it’s just gorgeous.

To give you all something marvelously incongruous for a hot summer’s day at the beach (and yet perfectly aligned to the murky and mysterious musical tones), here’s the video for “Like I Need You.” It’s a charming story about the seedy underground black market of hallucinogenic fish eggs (and the slimy fishery business – sorry, I couldn’t resist), and let’s just say that our hero of the story in this delightful slice of film noir, is not having a good day. The video was directed by Young Replicant (The XX, Lorde, Purity Ring).

Upcoming Shows

7/25 Underground Music Showcase – Denver, CO
9/13 The Getty Center – Los Angeles, CA

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Matthew Szlachetka Waits for a Storm to Find

For some gentle, easy-going summer listening, check out the warm, heartfelt music of Matthew Szlachetka. His solo debut album is Waits For A Storm To Find. He’s accompanied by acoustic guitar, percussion, tasteful electric guitar licks, tinkling piano and little bursts of horns, but the focus stays firmly on his smooth vocals. These peaceful front porch sounds belie the melancholy lyrical content in songs like the piano-driven “Come Home for December”:

“Nobody told you right from wrong
you left early, and I wish I tagged along
we’ve grown divided
how time is strange
I’m wondering where you are.”
“Come home for December, we can put your reggae on
come home for December, we can sing a song.”
– Come Home For December

There’s the bluesy lament of “I Can’t Look At Your Face” that brings out some vocal grit, the introspective and quiet folkiness of “Carry Me Home” and the driving rock insistence of “I Keep Telling Myself It’s Fine.” In “Threw You Away In Los Angeles,” one of the album’s strongest tracks, he moves from wistful sorrow to inner strength and determination, from mournful blues to celebratory rootsy rock with soul-fortifying backing vocals. For those who love traditional heart-on-your-sleeve music, there’s a lot of different moods to enjoy here.

Szlachetka was previously the lead singer for the Los Angeles roots/rock band The Northstar Session, which saw a good deal of success, performing with bands like John Waite, Camper Van Beethoven, Chris Isaak, Fishbone and The English Beat. They even appeared on the hit TV show “Parenthood.” Despite all that, he felt there was something missing artistically, which led to his decision to strike out on his own. This debut solo album is obviously very personal for him. As he says, “I think it’s my most honest work to date. These songs are coming from a darker place in my life that I wasn’t necessarily as comfortable talking about or letting people in on.”

“The question of love sits on the table
A love that brings you home every night
that cripples your senses
harmony is tough
Sometimes love ain’t enough.
– Waits For A Storm To Find

He has quite a few shows scheduled from the start of next month through mid-September, mostly around the Northeast and the West Coast. This includes gigs in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New York, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, California, Oregon and Washington state. Locally, he’s at The Lobster Shanty in Salem on July 17 and is performing at the Northampton Concert Series on July 18. See his complete tour schedule.

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