Astral Realm: An Alternative Roundup #11

Featuring FaltyDL, HAWA, Tawiah, Komang, Theodor Black, Fana Hues and more…

Welcome to the final Astral Realm roundup of 2022, where Clash staff writer Shahzaib Hussain navigates the cosmos of the newest, most essential alternative releases in music. Each roundup features a Focus Artist interview, a Next Wave artist spotlight, and a breakdown of noteworthy releases.

Focus Artist: FaltyDL

This is a story of self-renewal.

For almost 15 years Brooklyn musician FaltyDL has moved through musical identities, experimenting with hybrids of mechanized techno, house and UK garage, residing in the background as a faceless producer-for-hire and interpolator of secondary voices.

On this year’s ‘A Nurse To My Patience’, following pandemic-era EP ‘The Wrath’, Drew Lustman emerges from the shadows as a frontman forging a new way forward. Galvanised by his extensive creative partnership with Mykki Blanco, FaltyDL constructs a diaristic body of work steeped in adolescent angst, and freedom. A watershed moment in his output, ‘Nurse To My Patience’ is a nexus between past and future frequencies; cogent psychedelia, echo-tinged vocals and serpentine melodic grooves flourish on a dark purple-hued project. This isn’t a bait and switch move, but a reintroduction.

FaltyDL charts his journey from prolific producer to a vocal artist in his own right, and why the pivot to a guitar-driven sound was fated from the start.

Firstly, congratulations on the birth of your daughter; this is a seismic moment for you in more than ways than one!

Thank you very much! In the span of a few days since my daughter arrived my brain has been completely broken down and rebuilt. Everything changed.

My first real brush with you work was the track ‘Drugs’ featuring Rosie Lowe. It’s one of your most enduring tracks today. What did this track and project (‘Heaven Is For Quitters’) represent as an era?

‘Heaven Is For Quitters’ was the first mountain I had to climb with no harness so to speak. My deal with Ninja Tune had ran its course and I decided what my label needed was the confidence of my next album. I look back on that era fondly, even if it was a difficult time. I made classic mistakes like overpaying for PR and manufacturing too many vinyls. Also, folks receive an album from a big indie and give a lot of support, and counterintuitively, less support when they see its self-released.

Rosie and I had become aware of each other after I remixed a Dels track featuring her. I think the world of Rosie and her effortless swag. We had ramen one time in SoHo NYC and she quietly sang a lyric that was floating around in her head as we ate – I just thought she was so cool! The lyrics she wrote hit a chord with a lot of folks. I think we all understand returning to something unhealthy in an addictive way. When the bass drops folks’ eyes roll back in their heads, not in a dubstep drop way, but more of a warm blanket kind of way. It empowers people to feel sexy.

You’ve amassed some incredible remixes in your career! What is the remix/rework your most proud of?

One of the early remixes I am very proud of was for Zed Bias, because 2-step was the first sound I really tried to nail as a producer. When he hit me up and praised my work and asked me for a remix I thought I’d arrived! Remixing Photok was huge for me as well for a similar reason. I have done so many I have to look at discogs to remember them. I know I did my 100th remix last year and that was a cool feeling. Oh, Seun Kuti – that was super fun and I’m just in awe of his musicianship.

Your production work with Mykki Blanco on their album ‘Stay Close To Music’ is amongst the best I’ve heard all year. It’s flown under the radar! Talk me through your synergy as co-creators? How do you tackle the world-building around an artist like Mykki?

The entire album was conceived with the idea we absolutely don’t have to answer to anyone. We had a phone call in 2018 where Mykki said “I don’t want to just be a rapper” and I said “let’s make show tunes”. We meet in the middle of this gigantic musical intersection and instead of there being someone directing traffic, there is a clown riding a donkey just letting folks cross whenever they want. That’s how you get a tune like ‘Ketamine’, which I hope gets played in strip clubs.

Mykki would sing voice notes with ideas and shoot them over with reference tracks, and I’d make instrumentals and layer their voice notes. Sometimes we would just start from scratch in the moment: ‘Pink Diamond Bezel’ we did in about 2 hours one afternoon. Mykki and I have spent over 200 hours together in the studio and can anticipate each other’s moves. I think the next album will be even wilder.

What was it about producing Mykki’s album that influenced your pivot to a vocally-driven terrain on your own album? Why did it take you so long to sing?

Mykki builds an entire universe with their collaborators across a project, and I wanted to do the same with ‘A Nurse To My Patience’. I was so reserved for many years in my actions in the studio: After being in their presence, I felt I’d received a license to go anywhere on this one. Also, clubs were shut so I didn’t have any context to write dance tunes.

I listened to a lot of rock during the pandemic and it all came pouring out of me; melodies from my childhood channelled through instruments I hadn’t touched in years. I thought fuck it, I’m going to sing! Mykki said I was very good at getting my vocals to sound good and I developed a method of doing so on actual verses. I probably couldn’t replicate it live just yet.

Define the meaning of the title, ‘A Nurse To My Patience’…

It’s from a poem by Fanny Howe in which she lists demands of herself and others. I had never read anything like that before and couldn’t get the phrase out of my head. Then I realised this album was the actual nurse to my patience: waiting for clubs to open, for normalcy to return, for the right time to release an album. The album was and remains my item of self-soothing. Also, I think poets are our greatest artists sometimes. They speak the language directly, with metaphor yes, but precision of context.

Whilst this project is a reboot artistically, it still pulls and draws from your expansive electronic work – it’s not a complete departure. How did you reconcile what came before with this version of your artistry?

I’m aware of all the dots that connect this album and my last because I know intimately all of the unreleased music I made between the two albums and the other projects I contributed to in between. I wrote three FaltyDL albums since ‘Heaven Is For Quitters’; one became the basic structure of Mykki’s album, one became demos for Kanye at one point, and one became ‘A Nurse To My Patience’. I don’t see different versions of myself, I see growth. So, reconciliation to me means I’ve made an error and I need to be okay with it, when in reality the only mistake I can make is stop writing music.

In your press release there’s a mention of this embrace of “childhood melodies”. Which artists from that formative chapter of your life came back to you when you were writing and recording those chords?

Honestly, it’s all Carly Simon and ‘Coming Around Again’. My Mom would play her constantly in the car and at home. I think Carly deserves a spot at the absolute top. I don’t go for that one track DJs were playing in their sets a few years ago, the one produced by Chic. That’s cool but her other melodies are pristine; diamond sharp, cut glass business. If you allow yourself to be really vulnerable in the studio, you may find yourself in the backseat of your parents’ car hearing those old lines again. There are clear examples of inspiration on the album, like Talking Heads, The Cure and Elliot Smith. Melody wise, it’s just Carly. I love Carly Simon. I’ll send a photo of me sitting with her on a beach as a kid; I’m on the left getting sun burnt.

Astral Realm: An Alternative Roundup #11

What are the overriding themes you were confronting and exploring on this album?

Getting older and not being a new artist anymore. I don’t care who you are, you will eventually confront a few hard aspects of the music industry. I’ve been around for roughly 15 years now; I’ve seen a few generations come in after me. Many folks remain around and flourish, some burn out – some just move on. I still have a lot to learn and if I knew it all I wouldn’t want to continue. This album is me keeping my head down and flexing as hard as I can with my songwriting. It will only get better.

is there full-proof formula or template for longevity in an industry that is increasingly becoming unsustainable for independent musicians? How does one quantify success today?

Nothing is certain in this business. What is success? Money? Streams? Is it just making art and putting it out there? It can be all of the above but for longevity, you better figure out why you’re in this game and how to survive it. I’ve had part-time jobs and right now I do more music and app consulting then I spend time in the studio. I’ve only ever been able to have both of those sides of the coin. It’s never all doom and gloom nor simply roses. Just trust yourself. Fuck all the noise. Plus, big Indies are shitting themselves because they bleed money and artists have the same access as they do. I love labels though and wouldn’t have discovered a lot of the music I like without seeing what else was on labels. Also, (Planet) Mu and Ninja Tune gave me a giant platform in the beginning which I will forever be grateful for. 

Back to the album, there’s a strong sense of topography and a momentum driving the listener. What places personal to you did you weave into the fabric of this record?

That’s interesting! I definitely do not think about location like that at all. Wow, if I had to guess it’s split between my hometown New Haven CT, my current home in Brooklyn and the village where my girlfriend is from right in the middle of rural Catalonia; farm fields, dirt bikes, cheap but amazing wine and delicious tomatoes! I’d love to hear more about your interpretation for the locality of this album and also, where it transports other people. Thanks for this question, it may change a few things for me.

‘Come See Us’ is a highlight from this album – a cross between ‘Violator’-era Depeche Mode and Radiohead… 

Those are two big influences for sure. The song started as an instrumental which bridges the gap of rock and electronic music. I played guitar, sampled my drummer friend Hayden and then of course got Paul Banks to sing on it. I love that he sings to someone named Diane; he told me it’s just a name he likes, maybe there’s more to that story that he hasn’t told me. I wanted the song to sound super tough. I hope folks hear this song and feel their heart racing.

You take a pastoral, folky detour on the track, ‘A Brother Bears The Silence’, which features a sublime string section at the end. Talk me through the layers of a more sentimental offering?

The song is about my cousins. We had an imaginary game called Petite Paloo we played as kids, a fantasy adventure backyard type of thing. In the song I say “a father breaks the news, as the brother bears the silence”, that’s all fantasy play but also real family dynamics. Who isn’t alone or ever felt that way? I think it’s nice to get in your feels and think you’re alone sometimes. Just remember to come up for air. After I created the lyrics, I sent this and ‘Four Horses’ to Julianna Barwick who blessed me with the loveliest backing vocals and echoing of my sentiments. The song really came together after she took a pass over them. Nick Rosen delivered a beautiful score for that song as well. He played all of the strings himself, he’s a true giant in the string game.

What’s the emotional centrepiece of the album and why?

‘A Vow’. I mean I’m just dissing myself left and right on that track in true David Berman-style – in sentiment, not delivery. “Everyone thinks I’m a loser,” it definitely feels like that sometimes. “I’m a substance abuser,” thankfully not anymore but I was addicted to opiates my entire teenage years. ‘My Vow’ is that I will be honest with the listener no matter what, I won’t post a fake picture and then tell you I’m winning when I feel the opposite. I committed to eternity in this song how rough it can truly feel to be alive.

You’ve been an industry mainstay for over a decade. What are the moments you’re most proud of or the moments in your career you felt catalysed that “next phase”?

Damn…everything leads to the next thing so It’s hard to single out moments but every time I believed in myself and did something instead of chickening out, I’m proud of. A friend told me Blueberry Records was the coolest thing I’d ever done. It wasn’t opening for Radiohead or producing for this or that artist, it’s the belief in myself. That friend is Dego, look at his career and the labels he’s built. He believed in himself and didn’t take shit from anyone. I think about that a lot. Self-confidence is the true catalyst in art, I think.

Astral Realm: An Alternative Roundup #11

Next Wave Recommendation: HAWA

HAWA explores romantic neurosis, grief and other emotional cataclysms on debut album, ‘HADJA BANGOURA’. The Brooklyn-based artist’s EP ‘the ONE’ teased an improvisatory sing-rap voice, with an emphasis on mood-setting and free-associative airiness. On her full-length, HAWA notches up the heat to match her frustrations with sex and fidelity; on the side of form, the directness and repetition of her barbed songwriting on drill-infused ‘GEMINI’ or ribald raunchfest ‘EATER’, intensifies the psychological tension.

Named after her late great-grandmother, ‘HADJA BANGOURA’ forms a vitrine of healing through cloud bursts of ambiguity; the album shuttles between her early life in Guinea, nurtured and sustained by her Matriarch, and the consequences of the choices she makes as a twenty-something living life on her own terms.  

The singer, rapper and Telfar muse details the story behind one of this year’s breathless musical experiences.

Lets start with your classical background with the New York Philharmonic. What lessons did you learn from their Youth programme and how have you connected those lessons to the contemporary music you make now?

Taking time to understand why you’re writing a song; you learn to extract meaning from the discipline of music making. Classical music is very straight-forward and there is a structure to follow, so you learn discipline very quickly. I’ve really grown into the music I make now. When I talk to my peers who were classically-trained, we agree it gives you an advantage and a head start. You really see things before they’re made. It means you can play off an idea more freely and you can improvise more easily; you can see things from a different perspective and you learn it quicker. As I’ve matured, I don’t take those lessons for granted. 

Did you chafe at the stiff convention of that world? Was it at odds with your own self-expression?

Definitely. It was amazing and I have so many tools at my disposal now but as I grew into my artistry, I realised that composing isn’t something I’d want to do for the rest of my life, necessarily. I wanted to be the singer, the person leading the performance. When I did classical music in an auditorium with musicians much older than me, it made it hard to foster connections in that world, so I sought out influence outside.

You’ve moved between Guinea, Berlin and your base in New York. When you were young what was the music being played at home? As your environment changed and matured what music did you seek out?

When I was younger and growing up in the 2000s in Africa I was fully into pop and RnB, but contemporary music reached us ten years later: we were always ten years behind and we were saying words like ‘swag’ when it started to go out of fashion. I was into Biggie, Tupac, TLC and Jodeci, even now my base is still RnB and rap. On the other side, you had traditional African music being listened to by the elders like coupé-décalé, a lot of French music, reggaeton and reggae. It was a melting pot and I realised very quickly that Africa is the basis for much of the music we hear today.

You released ‘the ONE’ EP in 2020, after you signed with 4AD. I remember listening to this project thinking how cool and assured you sounded

I was about 18 when I recorded the project. Honestly, the last few years have been a blur because of lockdown. I didn’t even quite know what an EP was, I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing. It was very much like “oh I have to string some songs together, it’s getting serious.” It was me being cocky and I sounded so self-assured because I was putting on a persona. The first project is an expression of the line, “to the world I’m a dick, to my girl I’m a sweetheart.” That’s pretty much what I think about when I record my music, that’s the vibe I go for. It’s all about feeling. I like to say I make noise for a living, that’s really what it is.

‘My Love’ has become a signature track of yours. Why do you think it’s resonated with audiences the most?

I have no idea! People really like a track I honestly didn’t like at first. After I listened to it a few times, I started to change my mind but I felt weirdly distant from it at the beginning. To be honest, whenever I’m working on music, I’m involved in all aspects so I listen to these songs a million times – by the end of it I’m very much on to the next one! Now, I see the appeal of ‘My Love’ because there’s some distance between it. It’s a vibe!

What track from ‘the ONE’ are you most fond of now then?

‘Get Famous’ because I really embraced that whole RnB sound. I feel I really pulled it off. That was my first hardcore RnB vocal track. I tend to put my favourite tracks towards the end because we live in a time when attention spans are so small and you’re skipping tracks constantly, so I’m really mindful of where this one was sequenced.

Astral Realm: An Alternative Roundup #11

On the subject of length and sequencing, your projects are fleeting listening experiences. These tracks rarely exceed the 2-minute mark and no one track outstays it’s welcome…

That for me is the intention. I’m big on getting straight to the point in that sense. With this new album, I literally wanted it to be a tight and taut experience. You have to be mindful of your listener; not only is it wasting the listener’s time, it’s a waste of my time. I’m not a big fan of listening to a 24-track album. Sometimes you get masterpieces, but more often than not there’s a handful of good tracks and the rest you can live without. I wanted people to actually listen to the album and not skip it. I feel like people are more willing to listen to the full project when you’re not testing their patience.

The lead single ‘GEMINI’ has an unmistakable UK drill influence. You’re very much attacking the vernacular with a charged, rhythmically-timed and fiery delivery. Were you listening to drill when you made it?

I was. It’s a chaotic track because I’m all over the place! At that moment, I was listening to a lot of UK and Bronx drill; those two scenes are influenced by one another. I wanted to make a drill song but I wanted to make a drill song my way. Drill music, by its very origin and nature, is dark and aggressive. I wanted to take elements of that but talk about pussy instead. Come on let’s switch it up! I was really obsessed with the way drill attacks and confronts the listener. I was very adamant that I wanted ‘GEMINI’ to land with impact; I wanted my vocals to attack their ears but for the beat to soothe them, so they can still groove and sway to it.

How do you respond to commentary about your work?

I appreciate it all to be honest and I’m not too precious about it. I’m a person who’s very into constructive criticism. When people write articles about my work, I read it. I can also tell when a writer is writing because they have to meet their deadline. I like engaging with people about my art because this is my life’s work and nothing exists in a vacuum. If I didn’t take on criticism, I’d just be putting out whatever. It’s not hard to lay down vocals, a couple of verses and send them to a label; if you actually care about something, you want to make sure you do everything right. You get that from feedback.

You have a coveted label like 4AD backing you but you’re a more niche signing on their roster. How have they helped steer your career?

I’m grateful for everything. I went from being a person who was always dreaming about being a musician to having a deal! I appreciate that 4AD brought me on because I’m an outlier in a sense; my music and the type of artist I am is historically different to other artists on their roster. I like the fact that I came into this place and I can call it a home. There’s a reason why I made the songs I made. I structured it the way I did because I am very big on making my own world in a bigger space. They’ve helped cultivate that space with me. I say Alhamdulillah, I thank God every day.

Your name was taken from the Quran. Do you identify as Muslim?

I’m Muslim. It’s all in my name.

Your album ‘HADJA BANGOURA’ was named after your great-grandmother. This record documents the the reverberations of that loss. How did you invoke the memory of her on this project?

I map out my memories and my emotions on this album by connecting it with this sense of going somewhere, this sense that you’re leaving this earthly plane. That was very intentional because when you think about the whole ideology of death, we’re all waiting for judgement day and the living members are the ones that are praying to help keep your grave lit. For me, it’s better not to know where you go when you die, that’s why in the songs I’m intentional about not necessarily knowing what the next step is; I’m in the process of working it out, and it’s okay that I don’t have all the answers.

It was important that on my first album, I honoured the woman who didn’t get to see me grow into this woman I am. This was the best way to repay her because if I can’t repay her in her lifetime, I can try to repay her after death. I’m just trying to show my appreciation and I’m sure she’ll always be a part of me in some way.

You’re navigating thorny entanglements on this album. You’re boldly touching on desire, sex but also your relationship to fidelity and yourself. What was going on in your personal life that made its way into this album?

The entire time I was writing this album I was quarantined and it was the first time I’ve ever experienced anxiety. Especially coming from an African background, mental health is not something we talk about. So, you have to learn those tools from your community or yourself. I was really questioning my habits in relationships; I was in this loop where I was going back to people who were unhealthy for me. You have to move on, grow or evolve, and you have to cultivate a relationship with yourself. I tend to desire too much structure and discipline because I’m very hard on myself. On this album you have chaos and frustration but also a kind of stillness that I was yearning for.

Speaking of confessional moments, the piano ballad ‘Progression’ is a turning point on the record…

‘Progression’ is a very tender moment; it unleashed a very sensitive side of me, where I’m letting people really care or see me for who I am. It’s me sitting back, looking at myself and thinking about when I started this music thing. It’s me reliving the times when I was performing and I’d get paid nothing and comparing it the progress I’ve made. I’ve seen myself on Times Square and I’m a fashion girl now! When you listen to ‘Progression’, you feel the pain. It’s not something I really wanted to try and explore because I was in a lot of pain but I realised the pain was masking the gratitude I felt for the position I’m now. I had to reveal it.

EATER’, with the shapeshifting Eartheater, is a real treat and the only feature on this record

It’s one of my favourite tracks. The track needed to be named after her. I can listen to it nonstop, no matter where I am. She was a person I really let in because of her classical background – we shared that experience. Her albums are beautiful, her voice is beautiful and she understands how to use her voice as an instrument. It’s her voice at the beginning, sounding like an angelic instrument. Tracks like this have me wanting to explore and experiment with my vocals more going forward.

You’re a visual artist as well and you’re bridging the fashion and music worlds in your work. Let’s touch on your collaboration with Telfar, the pinnacle of black innovation in fashion…

When you think of Telfar, you think of evolution and influence. I’m very big on building my own immersive world because of people around me, like Telfar. He builds a vision of a world he wants to see and be perceived as. It’s unapologetically black. This is also something I want to explore more, how fashion, art and music intersect and how it builds community.

Final words on this album and the impact you want it to have…

I just want the listener to close their eyes and listen to everything that’s going on in the background. We’re very focused on what’s happening in front of us: the whole advantage of being classically trained is that I get to add really cool elements in the background, which elevates the song and makes it fuller, and more wholesome. You get to understand the sound and the techniques more when you actually listen to the song in its entirety. Our culture is very instant grat, so I want these songs to really live on in the listener’s consciousness.

Release Roundup:

Tawiah, Al Moore – ‘Ertha’

Tawiah’s second album, created in collaboration with artist Al Moore, details the life and death of a spiritual forebear ‘Ertha’; her journey represented through a sequence of harmonic hymns, spoken word and orchestral suites. The South London artist’s previous work rekindled the dialogue between contemporary soul and classical sounds: on ‘Ertha’, those elements are given cinematic grandeur, a slow, dawning rhapsody of light and hope for those residing in the margins. Expertly co-authored, a special mention goes to the gospel rapture ‘Elder’, a totem of higher love. Prepare to be lifted.

Rush Davis, Kingdom – ‘XMSN DS’

Fade To Mind Impresario Kingdom and songwriter-producer Rush Davis follow-up last year’s collaborative project ‘Transmission’ with the superior companion piece, ‘XMSN DS’. Where the former sourced inspiration from community, ‘XMSN DS’ is an exploration of their interior lives seeking out romance and reciprocity: The four-to-the-floor Dionysia of ‘Pretty Boy Venom’ surveys the optics of beauty and desirability, elsewhere the pair tap into cosmic The Neptunes-style synaesthesia on ‘Math And Magic’.

‘XMSN DS’ was named after the NASA code for ‘Transmission Decode & Select’; the pair manage to sublimate and deconstruct counter-cultural dance music and peak RnB tropes into something vivid, sexy and technically sound. Brace yourselves for an excursion through substrates of queer delirium.

Komang – ‘Mythologies’

Komang Rosie Clynes is one of Australia’s most promising new exports. Period. On debut project, ‘Mythology, Komang’s experiments in ceremonial sound design land with force on each of the seven tracks; a nu soul devotee or a drifter connecting trip-hop with widescreen, imagistic pop, Komang merges the atavistic with a multi-leveled understanding of her source material. On opener ‘Heaven In Disguise’ and ‘Srikandi’ – a symbol of female emancipation in Indonesia – Komang intermixes mythology and divinity with forward-projecting audible detail.

Fana Hues – ‘Yours’

From the deluxe edition of the California artist’s album, ‘flora + fana’ – an underrated indie RnB triumph of 2022 – ‘Yours’ is an exquisite slice of tempered soul created at the altar of anguish and heartbreak. Produced by budding beatmaker Malik Baptiste, Fana’s warm tenor fractures over organs and programmed drums, her delivery breathy and wrought with curbed emotion. Gone is the sheen of lustrous world-building: this is the bittersweet taste of love turned cold.

Theodor Black – ‘Blu Tack’

I’ve long been a proponent of Theodor Black’s commitment to creating disjointed, illusory gems for listeners to sink into. New standalone release ‘Blu Tack’, following summer’s ‘PARADISE FM’ EP release, continues the theme as the ultimate late-night narcotic; a half-heard, slurred offering where the hankering high of lust unravels over pyretic production. As formulaic rap continues to clog up streaming charts, give a few minutes to an underground spirit unafraid of puncturing convention with an abstraction or two.

Klein – ‘Winter’

‘Star In The Hood’ by London sound artist Klein, who moves in the same circles as Mica Levi, Caroline Polachek and Wu Tsang, is a collagist exercise in temporal experimentation; pockets of space are ruptured by cavernous bursts of grizzled industrial noise and loops, jolting you out of inertia. The aptly titled ‘Winter’, positioned towards the end of the song cycle, is a welcome reprieve, even if something ominous froths underneath. It’s the manufacturing of disquietude that is noteworthy here; piano motifs and harpsichord coalesce and build as Klein signals the arrival of “happiness” as the whirling wrath of winter draws in.

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