Astral Realm: An Alternative Roundup #14

Featuring Baby Rose, Brian Nasty, TYGAPAW, Biako, Tuzeint, Deki Alem and more....

Astral Realm is your conduit to all things future-facing. 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 the month’s noteworthy releases.

Focus Artist: Baby Rose

On 2020’s To Myself’, Baby Rose sang of love as a corrosive force. In survival mode, the Atlanta singer’s cavernous voice fractured under the weight of smoky sonics, as she came to terms with the catastrophes caused by an ex. Whilst her voice was lauded as an ageless instrument – a contralto recalling the burnished timbre of Billie Holliday and the emotional directness of Nina Simone – in reality Baby Rose struggled under the glare of the spotlight.

A series of setbacks ensued. After being dropped from her label and dealing with what she describes as “survivor’s guilt”, Baby Rose decamped to a Nashville studio and sowed the seeds of what would become her full-length, ‘Through And Through’. Where ‘To Myself’ was made in isolation with a handful of day one producers, ‘Through And Through’ was created through makeshift live sessions and open dialogue with a coterie of new and old collaborators. Recorded on tape, Baby Rose set out to capture the earthy crackle of vintage soul, soft rock and funk with pop crossover pedigree. Restrained, austere by design and influenced more zealously by the Southern gospels she grew up listening to, ‘Through And Through’ moves beyond homages and invocations to something more raw, defined and universal.

As she conveys across the album’s 11 tracks, there is virtue to be found in imperfection.

Congrats on the release of ‘Through and Through’. Describe what it feels like to give away a piece of art you’ve laboured over…

I’m feeling a myriad of things. I feel really grateful to have got to this point of releasing. There were so many revisions, so many times I went back thinking I need to change this, or this needs to have more power. I poured everything into this body of work. People don’t see what happens behind the scenes. I have so much music in the bank….

This is just one chapter then?

This is one chapter. I’ve been reading Rick Rubin’s book and he says we should remove the emphasis that comes with releasing an album, or any type of art form. We need to make art for the sake of making art. It’s all driven by a business model that is all about what comes next. My gratitude comes with not feeling I’m alone in doing this. I felt lonely at the beginning when I was putting music out on SoundCloud, when it was just me and my bro. The fact that I have a team now, and I can do interviews like this, makes a big difference. I feel like it’s a dream. Actually, it feels like a wedding.

You’ve been through some life and label changes since you debuted, and you mention your past experiences being quite solitary. You’re now signed to Secretly Canadian. How does it feel to have the backing of a trusted team for this release?

It’s so good to have support from an experienced team. This time around I’ve taken to not looking at my label situation as me versus them, we’re very much in it together. It’s being able to pop into the offices in Berlin, Amsterdam or London, with a question about anything. Also, I have a lot of women on my team who are running these offices. I’m very grateful I’m fostering this album with Secretly Canadian.

The title ‘Through and Through’ captures this ambling journey through love and life. Did the title come to you as you were creating or was it dreamed up from the beginning?

It’s like looking at a big puzzle piece and seeing what connects it all. I knew that I wanted it to be in conjunction with something because it’s a cycle of emotions. It’s something my Grandma would say. I have this Southern ode to everything I do, even Baby Rose was an ode to my Grandma. I love that the title was a collaborative effort; I thrive in community, in team situations, in trust. It goes both ways.

You were born in DC, you grew up in North Carolina and later studied in Atlanta, which has a rich musical tradition. How did your tastes shift and evolve from place to place? The Dreamville discovery phase was pivotal…

In DC, my Dad would play a lot of acid jazz, off-the-wall house, funk and disco. There’s a big gap between my Dad and Mum, who played a lot of hip-hop and contemporary RnB: OutKast, John legend, Alicia Keys and Faith Evans. I attribute a lot of my soul to my Great Aunt, who would have us over for the summer in Maryland. She listened to hymns from Mahalia Jackson, these rich Baptist hymns. When we went to my Great Aunt’s house, it was like a Southern isolation.

Dreamville opened a lot of doors for me and J Cole supported me early on. I call North Carolina my research phase because I was very attuned to what artists were doing. I discovered Elton John, Janis Joplin and Amy Winehouse was emerging then. I would read who her influences were, look those up and seek them out.

Is it true you were bullied because of your singing voice? Was music your refuge then?

Yes. When I moved to North Carolina, I was in this angsty era of wanting friends but I was getting bullied. I was ousted in middle school, so I clung to the piano. I started going to the studio when I was 12. I would crave the energy of Nina Simone, who had this larger than life persona on stage. She was domineering, and I wanted to find a similar kind of power.

As I got older, I found more of my confidence. I signed up for this talent show, performed an original song and won first place. I was told early on you have to be a Trojan house in this industry – bear in mind I had no idea what this industry was at that point. I had this manager who told me to play the game; make pop, RnB, think about what was hot and in demand. It was the single worst piece of advice I’d been given: pretend to be something you’re not. Fuck no! I see that it made me more versatile, and made me appreciate formats and formulas. It’s not what I am, more so than what the song is trying to say.

‘To Myself’ introduced us to your bruised, bluesy soul. Who was Baby Rose then?

I was definitely at a crossroads. The love of my life at the time was involved in my journey and he left me. He deleted my hard drives, and didn’t want me to win. I found that all out at the Dreamville camp. I’m on a high meeting all these people and they’re noticing me, but my past is slipping through my fingers. What do I do? Beg for forgiveness?

I had a management team at the time who were incredible. We were small and mighty, but we had this vision. I was leaning on these sessions to create in a free way. I met Tim Maxey and I showed him ‘Dusk Til Dawn’, and he helped me convey these emotions into what would come ‘To Myself’. I started to act smarter and I became savvier. ‘To Myself’ is me betting on myself; me grieving, me thinking I would take the easy route but taking the harder, longer road instead. ‘To Myself’ is me showing myself gratitude, and realising my purpose.

The track Show You’ is a slow-burner for the ages; an enduring love song with an underlying tension and fear which is tends to be a feature of much of your work. Where does that come from?

It’s me fighting my insecurities; this need to retreat and cave in. I’m the oldest child, I’m the project manager of my family and my family is betting on me holding it down. There’s a side of me that’s insecure, that clings onto this romantic delusion – this 50s housewife trope. We don’t’ say it because we’re in this revolutionary period but I think two things can be true. I’m quite androgynous in my approach; it’s the juxtaposition that shines a light on my fears but also dispels them. It’s about what love feels like at its core; entangled, unpredictable, full of fear and insecurity. Who I should be for my partner? What does it look like in reality? I’m radical in my vulnerability. It’s not only for the listener, it’s me performing and feeling less alone.

Photo Credit: Allen Jiang

When did the seeds for ‘Through and Through’ start to germinate? Talk me through those Nashville sessions when the pandemic raged on outside…

A lot had to do with how quickly ‘To Myself’ changed my life. It’s me working through these new fears, and asking God if all of this will be taken away. When the pandemic happened, it was such a blow. I was dropped from my label and all my biggest fears manifested. During the pandemic I set up camp in the studio to create music. I stretched myself to the ends of my comfort zone and I wanted to be a better storyteller. If this is the last thing I put out, what do I want it to feel like? We were all in this weird state of fear because of Covid. We were playing documentaries in the studio; Tina Turner, The Bee Gees, The Beatles. We were watching the Greats, and we were feeling our ancestors pushing us to go harder and say more. Post-production became a part of my process and I was letting things marinate this time. I came back with a stronger perspective, and it shows on a sonic level. Everything is more elevated.

This album as a whole is duskier; it’s classic, sensual, cinematic and soulful. It’s a more stripped back affair than your previous work but also feels like a natural continuation. Why did you opt to record and master the album on tape?

I didn’t want it to sound too polished. My sound is the rawness and the dissonance of my vocal which we ran through the pedal. I wanted this project to radiate, to burn. Having my friends in the booth singing ‘Power’ was so beautiful. My proudest moment was fostering these camps. Everyone was sharing this collective fear of the unknown. But we weren’t letting that fear dictate us; we were creating and creating together. I wanted it to be boundless, I wanted to take up space.

‘Fight Club’ is the perfect soft reboot. How did you rope in Georgia Anne Muldrow and why did you want to make ‘Fight Club’ the inaugural track for this new phase?

I was doing a camp at Revival, where we had the control room and the interface on in the live room. Georgia was just sitting in, and I was so high at this point. One of my heroes is here and I’m high! I took some green juice which is my life hack, it brought me back down. We went over to the live room, and they were playing the instrumental for ‘Fight Club’. I start mumbling over this melody, and I asked Georgia to chime in. She started to ad-lib over my mainline vocal, and it felt like she was my higher form of consciousness. We came back in the next day and wrote it out. It felt like the film Fight Club with the alter egos. It comes after ‘Go’ which is a desperate plea; ‘Fight Club’ is me releasing with this urgency to fall headfirst.

A strength of your artistry is the expressiveness of your voice, which carries the soul and legacy of singers like Billie Holiday and Nina Simone. Talk to me about the journey of discovery you’ve been on with your voice on this album

I really wanted to express it in ways I hadn’t before. On ‘Tell Me It’s Real’ I’m singing in my head voice, using the falsetto which is unlike me. ‘Dance With Me’ is punchier, and I’m over-enunciating because I want people to hear me. It’s exaggerated, it’s hyperbolic. I used a different mic to get different textures. I didn’t put the stakes as high for the vocals as I have in the past, I just wanted to convey the intention of the record. It’s not as much about I’m being an incredible voice as it being an incredible storyteller.

‘Love Bomb’ and ‘Tell Me It’s Real’ capture the chemical attraction of desire but also a kind of unknowing in a relationship. Throughout you’re asking, is what we have tangible? Is it real? Am I worthy?

I love exploring the range of femininity. ‘Love Bomb’ is an ode to my approach to love because I can be the aggressor! It’s my heady moment in the club where I’m singing: Where have you been all my life? It plays on me being reckless in these fleeting moments. It’s feminine and angelic but I’m taking this low, snarling approach.

‘Tell Me It’s Real’ is me in my falsetto bag. It has the same first verse as ‘Stop The Bleeding’, so there’s continuity. It’s me intoxicated but also insecure, because I know it’s short-lived. ‘Stop The Bleeding’ is me singing those same sentiments but out of love. It’s very much me in a cold shower evaluating the cycle of this. It’s two sides of the same coin. It was important for me to represent that you can want to be out of some shit and want better for yourself when you’re knee deep in it.

If the album is a dialogue between artist and listener, what messaging do you want to leave behind as kind of legacy? That there’s dual sides to everything?

Absolutely. Every version and every side of you deserves peace: the part that’s reckless, the part that’s at peace. Even though I’ve reached this precipice on the last track where I say love can heal the word, I am imperfect and I feel everything strongly. With ‘To Myself’ I had a fear of failure, a fear of losing everything. ‘Through and Through’ addresses the fear of success, but I’m saying to myself I deserve all of these good things. I’m watering myself; I’m nourishing myself with experience. I can love people from a distance now, I can say I know we’re not good for each other and you hurt me, but I wish you well because I’m deeper into my journey of self-love. I want to take away the pressure that my listeners may feel in any given moment and be gentle with them. My purpose is to be as honest about my journey as possible.

Photo Credit: Armand Da Silva

Next Wave Recommendation: Brian Nasty

Since 2017, London wunderkind Brian Nasty has explored youthful compulsions across nebulous sound experiments, most notably on 2019’s ‘Pyjama Party’; a low-res, at times ominous cacophony of flower child madness and melancholia. Growing up and growing out of places that once cocooned him is a theme he probes further on new EP, ‘Growing Pains’. Brian soundtracks the immensity of that prickly transformation between innocence and experience, dissecting awkward, extemporised conversations had in cloistered rooms between generations, where the cajoling comfort from familiar voices is juxtaposed against a cycle of inherited trauma.

Restless, rhapsodic, and tunefully more kaleidoscopic than his previous work, Brian Nasty documents the road bumps towards maturity with warmth and introspection, fashioning his most empathetic project to date. For Clash, Brian breaks down the importance of bloodline, traditions and carving out an identity you can call your own.

Where did the moniker Brian Nasty come from?

It’s so dumb I know! I’m actually thinking of changing it to my middle name.

I quite like it! Name three albums that get as close to conveying who you are as an artist?

If I had to choose they’d be Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad’, ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ by Kendrick and ‘Madvillainy’.

Who and what in the music, literature, art and pop culture realms are you enjoying right now and why?

I’m enjoying A24 movies. They’re literally the only production studio making original stories that aren’t extensions or remakes. I need to catch up on my anime. Mob Psycho! I’m enjoying Yves Tumor. They capture a certain level of heaviness I have that I’m not tapped into yet which I’m gesturing towards. Also, right now I’m studying adult cartoon scripts, and I’m trying to build on that down the line. I’m learning about what makes me laugh and what moves me. It’s an interesting time.

Your sound is an amalgam of punk and poetry, which you explore not only in song but visual arts and fashion. What do you seek to interrogate when you’re creating?

I think for me, one can’t exist without the other which isn’t always good but I guess it’s an instinctual process. Maybe it’s colour, maybe it’s a mood. I try to get the ugliest thoughts I have and find the beauty in them.

2019’s ‘Pyjama Party’ introduced the world to the unvarnished and angsty world of Brian Nasty, 2020’s pandemic-era EP Not Here 2 Play!’ followed shortly after. Where were you in your journey then as an artist?

With ‘Pyjama Party’, I was just okay at making beats. It was much very much me in experimentation mode; using my voice, being comfortable to try it out in different ways, understanding how to write what I was thinking so it all made sense. With ‘NH2P!’, I was trying to write pop songs in a way that made sense for me using just synths. It was really trial and error.

Photo Credit: Armand Da Silva

Your new EP ‘Growing Pains’ charts your life experiences in the last few years. What were you navigating and how did that inform the songs on this EP?

So much was changing for me at the time I started writing this project; I dropped out of university and decided to pursue music fully. My friendship and family dynamics changed as well. The once carefree times I had were just memories because everything I did suddenly mattered. I just thought about how painful it was and what I was going to do about it.

Talk me through the EP artwork and the weaving in of familial anecdotes and skits into this wider musical tapestry?

Every photo tells a story. When you see photos from your family photo book you wonder what was going on in that moment. Photos are proof of your existence, even if it’s something you might want to reject. The skits on the project are conversations I was having with my Mother and Auntie, about how in life we’re all just winging it. It’s crazy talking to a parental figure, realising they perpetuate their trauma in ways they don’t even realise. They have no idea what they’re doing. This project is just me trying to acknowledge that I guess.

‘Willing And Able’ is an unnerving but tender moment on the EP. Why was it important you documented this particular anecdote with your Auntie?

I think the story moved me. Just hearing how my Auntie was once-upon-a-time facing the fear of growing up, and feeling misunderstood by her parents; hearing how she moved away from those feelings and state of mind is what I’m currently doing in my life at the time. The cycle repeats itself.

The EP starts with the plaintive ‘Time I Leave’, my favourite track. It speaks to the pressures we feel on the precipice of big life decisions…

I really wanted to convey a feeling of anxiety and swelling with this one. I wrote this on Budgie’s couch in LA whilst I was bunking uni to make music. Writing this was me trying to affirm myself because I was completely unsure of myself. I was contradicting myself the whole time and ended up right where I started, which is unsure. The first verse is me seeing myself, the second is how those around me see me and the third is figuring out what I want and what I’m willing to do for it.

The production feels tighter and more refined than your previous work. The subject matter might feel heavy but you contrast it with buoyant sonics, like on ‘Loso Na Madesu’…

The subtleties in production is what I’m most proud of. I was actually able to convey what was on my mind texturally through the vessel that is my good friend jkarri. Every part of the instrumentation is intentional; like when the bouncy synth on the verse on ‘Loso Na Madesu’ is just a fraction loud, or like on ‘Teething’ when the intro is just slightly too long. The whole mix was done on analogue too – it had to be because the sonics are so layered and rich. It’s definitely more grown up, complete and full. Time really does makes you better.

‘Growing Pains’ features contributions from singular artists like Goya Gumbani, your sister Joviale, Klein and more. Talk me through this network of artists in your orbit and what they brought out of you?

I mean Joviale is my sister so it was a given! Goya has been my homie for a while now, and he makes me want to rap nicer. The original version of ‘Blind’ was rougher and more of a loop; I sent it to him, then he randomly sent a verse back. I had to come correct! With Klein it was similar. We’d been around each other for a while, sending each other music. She sent a reprise of something I’d made, I liked their version and it worked. I’m grateful that the people whose music I like want to be a part of my journey. It makes me want to get better to be considered their peer.

Is the main takeaway of ‘Growing Pains’ that you never stop growing? Is growing or evolving always being in a perpetual loop of experiencing pain and joy?  

Exactly. Growing is painful. It’s jarring, it’s long and tiring. It’s bittersweet, which means there is hope which can be beautiful. The last track is titled ‘Willing And Able’ which is fitting because as long as you’re willing (to change) you are able (to change). But it’s up to you.

What’s the future looking like for Brian Nasty? Are you living with this era a bit longer? Are you in the throes of conceiving your next project? What can you reveal?

I’ll try and push this era a little longer. The way music is consumed, I have to figure out a way to be consistently sharing something new from something that already exists. There’s lots and lots of music in the vault which I’m sifting through right now. There’s a lot more distortion, and more guitar-leaning work. There’s more experimentation and better vocal takes too. Expect more collaboration because I’m best when I’m part of a community.

Release Roundup:

TYGAPAW – ‘love has never been a popular movement.’

Dion McKenzie fashions an honorific tribute to the black queer rave pioneers of the East Coast on this dusky sophomore offering. Aligned with the Papi Juice ethos, a safe and secure night-time enclave for queer and trans people of colour, TYGAPAW builds on the furtive dancefloor experience of their debut: but this time metamorphosis is on their mind. ‘SK9’, featuring Philadelphia denizen LSDXOXO, is the album’s zenith, an unremitting supplication to emancipate oneself under the weight of a pressurised, turbo-charged beat. The nadir, suspension song ‘Transcend’, is what happens after rebirth; an iridescent, communal utopia that comes from knowing and accepting you’re a survivor.

Tuzeint – ‘Raixes’

On debut album, ‘Raixes’, Monterey musician Tuzeint brings together Buena Vista Social Club romantics with ‘Justified’-era soulful melodrama. Singing in his Mother tongue for the first time, Tuzeint draws from a rich palette of mythic exotica, Afro Cuban rhythms, psychedelic soul and soft-focus jazz, but his voice, at once distant and reverberant, is the core distiller of his internal woes. Co-released with local label Worldwide Records, run by legendary Mexican impresario Toy Selectah, Tuzeint offers up a homegrown source of deft musical fusion. Prophetic and personal, Tuzeint asks you to walk through the doors of an expanse touched by his ancestors.

Biako – ‘Feelings Happen’

Known primarily as a co-collaborator to the likes of Kadhja Bonet, Baby Rose and Fousheé, Los Angeles-based Biako ventures solo for the first time, exploring desire and devotion as a cosmic enterprise on debut album, ‘Feelings Happen’. A wanderer, a sensualist, a fantasist, Biako occupies every role with window-steaming gusto, leaning fully into nostalgia not as a derivative distraction but a road map for capturing the quintessence of a classic romancer. Recalling Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson at their velveteen peak, on ‘Feelings Happen’, Biako proffers a frothy, radiant and comforting alternative to the synthetic murmurs of our AI-inflected hellscape.

grouptherapy. – ‘FUNKFEST’

“Be yourself and let them hate you…”

The LA collective comprising of three members – Jadagrace, SWIM and TJOnline – stake their claim as rap-rock prodigies on ‘FUNKFEST’. A gnarly bipartite lurching between distorted guitar posturing and a mind-bending climax, ‘FUNKFEST’ is an anti-anthem for nonconformist alt-kids; a G-funk meets nu-metal medley made with uninhibited verve, joy and freedom.

Deki Alem – ‘Fluent Stutter’

This twin brother-duo from Sweden don’t sit in a pocket of sound for too long; their 2022 ‘Among Heads’ EP a hell-for-leather escapade through post-genre dancefloor blues. A common link in their songs is that they exist in an ungodly realm; in covert, shadowy places away from prying eyes. ‘Fluent Stutter’, the title track from a sophomore EP landing later this year, is their next resistance anthem, where snarling “can’t sit with us” machismo meets 21st century paranoia. Remember their names.

Coco O. – ‘Many Ways’

Coco O. and regular collaborator August Rosenbaum tap into ‘Daydream’-era Mariah Carey on this unadorned piece of modern soul. The Danish singer lets her supple voice communicate the unfeigned simplicity of feeling desired over chilled bass notes and delicate keys. No frills, no effects, no histrionics – just deftly-engineered minimalism scoring lived-in love.

Words: Shahzaib Hussain (@ShazSherazi)

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