Astral Realm: An Alternative Roundup #2

Astral Realm: An Alternative Roundup #2

May’s soundtrack burst the thunderclouds bringing light, levity and aural pleasure…

Welcome to Astral Realm, where Clash staff writer Shahzaib Hussain navigates the cosmos of the newest and most essential releases.

Each month’s roundup features a Focus Artist interview, a Next Wave artist Q&A, a breakdown of his favourite songs and projects and a retrospective highlight revisited through the lens of dewy-eyed nostalgia.

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Focus Artist: Erika de Casier

Born in Portugal to Belgian and Cape Verdean parents, Erika de Casier moved with her family to Ribe, Denmark in 1998, the year pop became an omnipresent cultural force. A young, pliant de Casier had found her sonic haven.

Retro without feeling artificial, playful without sounding pastiche, de Casier has mastered an artful transfiguration of MTV-era melody into something wholly original. On ‘Sensational’, her sophomore album, she still sways towards muted home recordings but her storytelling packs a bigger, bolder punch. Erika, or shall I say her vampish alter-ego Bianka, questions ambivalent lovers, the rubrics of dating, she denounces mansplainers, gets the ick in plain view but always wears her weary heart on her sleeve: she is after all, in the mood for love.  

‘Sensational’ is a collaboration between ‘The Writing’s On The Wall’-era Destiny’s Child and ‘Love Deluxe’-era Sade, suffused with the mistier overtones of UK garage and triphop, Scandi trance and house. A natural progression from the chaste mood music of 2019’s ‘Essentials’, these two albums could easily be companion pieces; two chapters in the story of an underground enigma growing into her stature as a runaway pop renegade.

I spoke with Erika about the courage it took to make her private reverie a public commodity, the perils of dating, her enduring love of a good pop song, slowly moving away from coded secrecy and embracing her crossover appeal.

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Erika, I’d like to start by touching on your origins and upbringing. You were born in Portugal but moved to Denmark at a young age. What were those early musical influences at home? What was young Erika surrounded by?

I grew up with my Mum moreso than my Dad and there was lots of Police and The Beatles playing in the house, even classical music. I felt from an early age I had to branch out and seek my own musical interests because I didn’t have a musical upbringing. My Dad used to listen to James Brown and soul music and I think that in some ways that became part of my identity: he’s from Cape Verde, so Cape Verdean and Portuguese fado music influenced me also. In my pre-teen years, I’d go to the library and borrow CDs from the likes of Erykah Badu and I’d listen to lots of trip hop. But I was also a pop radio kid, you know? I grew up listening to MTV.

You have an affinity with the Regelbau collective based in Denmark, this community we don’t know much about, comprising of brothers Milán and Natal Zaks, who in turn have become your friends and collaborators.

Before I met Natal (Zaks) from Regelbau I was interested in electronic music and when we met, we shared a common interested in searching for music we didn’t know, music from other worlds. This was in Arrhus, not even Copenhagen – we used to sit in the studio basement and listen to tracks for hours and hours. It wasn’t until later I realized they were DJs: Regelbau have always been underdogs and that’s their biggest strength.

They’re very non-descript, there aren’t many traces of them online.

They like to keep very lowkey. I can really identify with that, with keeping things local. But we’ve also had conversations about the fact that I make pop music…

Well your sound is heavily influenced by programmed R&B. When I listen to your music, I think about not just Y2K pop, but also the producers of that time like Darkchild and Rami Yacoub. If you had to pinpoint an artist or record from this period that transformed your relationship with music, what would it be?

I would say Craig David’s ‘Born To Do It’ and Aaliyah’s self-titled album. Sade, of course. Destiny’s Child is a big one. You know, I don’t even need to say it, you just know how much they impacted me when you listen to my music.

Those synthetic harpsichords!

Yes! It just takes me back and gives me such a warm feeling when I play it. I want to pay homage to all the happiness it has brought me. I listened to it when I was 10 and even now I don’t get tired of it.

I naturally go to those sounds and it has something to do with the gear I have: the JV-1010, these classic synths and guitars. In a lot of Janet Jackson and Michael Jackson songs you hear these sounds. I’ve been thinking about this a lot: What draws me to these sounds from this period? It’s all to do with feeling, memories and nostalgia.

On the weekend, I wrote a Janet Jackson retrospective piece - all her top songs in one epic list. What’s your favourite Janet songs and your favourite Janet era?

Wow! I listened to ‘Unbreakable’ from her 2015 album, which I enjoyed. But I’d say ‘The Velvet Rope’ album is one of my favourites. Wow, it’ so good. It doesn’t get better than ‘Empty’.

You take the less-is-more approach with your vocal production. There’s a purity, clarity and simplicity in your vocal performance. Who are your vocal influences?

Vocally, I’m inspired by Portishead and Tricky, this lowkey, telling-a-story vocal, if that makes sense. Also, I’m inspired by big balladeers like Mariah, just to try something new.

Honestly, I don’t think too much about technique, some of it sounds as if I’m talking to melody. It has a lot to with how I started to write music. I still live with people in a collective and I can’t shout in this apartment. I’m literally whispering into the microphone, so there’s an element of not wanting anyone to hear me. I like it intimate.

That finely-tuned intimacy came into sharp focus on ‘Essentials’, which for many of us was our introduction to you. How do you feel about ‘Essentials’ when you revisit it now?

I see ‘Essentials’ as me trying to be as true to myself as possible. ‘Essentials’ came along with this self-care era and I was trying to practice self-care by being more open. Before ‘Essentials’, I was trying to fit in, trying to make something deep, out of the ordinary and experimental. With ‘Essentials’, I told myself that I’m going to make this record for myself. The first song I made was ‘Puppy Love’; I created this synth melody and I remember I laughed so much. I had the time of my life. 

I honestly thought no one would listen to this but that this will be something I listen to. ‘Essentials’ is me trying to accept myself and my tastes. Right before I released it, I got cold feet, I told my team we can’t release this because people will judge me. I was so self-conscious about it. I had to let go.

I’m glad you did! My favourite track from ‘Essentials’ is ‘The Flow’. That’s a big opener, a mostly instrumental quiet storm introduction that sets the tone. It speaks to your experimental side…

For me, ‘The Flow’ was an introduction to the universe; something that didn’t require anything, it’s literally as if you’re in a trance. I made the track with Milan. He produced this baseline and I just knew this would be the opener. I wanted to welcome the listener into my world and ‘Essentials’ for me, is about being in a state of flow.

You’re releasing ‘Sensational’ on 4AD, which is a shift from self-releasing ‘Essentials’. What has 4AD given you creatively? Were you aiming bigger this time round and wanting to be more accessible, more universal?

I was most excited about sharing the workload! Promotion and marketing don’t come easy to me and self-releasing ‘Essentials’ was a challenge, it cost a lot of money. I’ve been a musician for ten years; it’s been hard at times and I’ve been broke. It’s okay to ask for help and work with people who understand you.

I had a lot of meetings with 4AD about growing organically and not throwing myself at any opportunity. They didn’t want me to change, they loved the album, they thought it represented me well. Often when you’re signed, people assume you’re under the label’s thumb, but it’s always been a collaboration with me. I always say to younger artists that it’s so important they have people on their side, they have people backing them. I used to think, the underground way was the only way and that the less people know about you the better, if that makes sense? As I’ve grown, I’ve realized you can derive real meaning when someone connects with your music.

Did lockdown impede the recording of ‘Sensational’? I can imagine you’re the type of artist that thrives through insular, DIY home-recording anyway…

At the beginning, lockdown did stop me from recording: I had a real creative block. For me, it didn’t make sense to write songs in a time like this; I was isolated, I couldn’t even hug my friends, I felt lonely, distressed. I was so excited about playing shows but that was taken away. We went into a dark, dystopian realm.

Then I realised life doesn’t have to completely stop. I’d go for walks, I made kombucha, I baked a lot. I started to write songs again, it’s the only thing I can really do. I had sketches from before lockdown that I was able to finish, that I finally had time to finish. It took me about one year and a half to write these songs.

Your storytelling on ‘Sensational’ feels more fully-formed than ‘Essentials’ which was about capturing a mood. On ‘Polite’, you explore the millennial dating experience. Are these experiences autobiographical and anecdotal? Are some of these experiences imagined?

I have to say most of it is autobiographical but I do dip into a fantasy realm sometimes. On ‘Polite’, for example, I wish I had been confident and stood up for myself in that situation. I told a friend about a date I went on and they were shocked I didn’t get up and leave; their reaction is what I wish I would have said and done. In that way, it is imagined.

In my writing I’ve tried to be more vulnerable and truer to myself. Writing love songs and writing about relationships is a great way to get to know about your flaws. I tried also to make these songs as universal as well, we are all experiencing these things together.

These songs feel like diary entries. You’re very much wearing your heart on your sleeve on songs like ‘Insult Me’, did you want to establish more transparency with the listeners this time round?

I don’t want to dictate how they feel, but I want the listeners to cry, to laugh to it, to have courage, to stand up for what they believe in, because I did on this record. When I write these songs… it’s not easy for me to be so open. Also, I hope it gives people pause. It’s why I like releasing albums because it gives the listener an experience and time to go into a universe and stay there. I love a great pop song, but I like the thought of someone giving something time. I like thinking about the time I used to just lay in bed listening to music all night. Songs create space for people to put their experiences into. That’s what I hope I did.

One of my favourite tracks from ‘Sensational’ is ‘Friendly’, this carnal, adult contemporary number. What’s the story behind this track?

This is going to make you laugh! I was making the track but I went to sleep halfway through and dreamt about this jungle. I think I had cabin fever because of lockdown. I had a wet dream, not a literal wet dream! But a kind of wet dream where the rain was falling and I was surrounded by waterfalls. I had to replicate my dream in sound, so I call this my Jungle ASMR track. It has an animal-like feeling, I’m feeling friendly and I’m in the mood.

What track is the emotional centre of ‘Sensational’?

That’s so hard, you’ve put me on the spot! All these tracks represent my state of mind in varying stages. I have always loved ‘Polite’, it just works. I’d also say if people can get to the end and experience ‘Call Me Anytime’, there’s something quite cinematic about the track and how it just hangs in the air.

I want to talk about your self-directed visuals this era. You’re roleplaying: you play a period drama heroine in ‘No Butterflies’, a despondent, fed-up lover in ‘Polite’. What were your visual references?

When I’m making music videos, I’ve always felt awkward about it. Like “look fabulous” and “pose from this angle”, it doesn’t come naturally to me. So, to counter that feeling, it’s so important that I’m having fun and playing these characters: in ‘Drama’, the character is dramatic and extra, in ‘No Butterflies, No Nothing’, I wanted it to have a B-movie feel with bad, dramatic acting.

For every video I create I’ve tried to connect two themes: ‘Drama’ is based on detective movies and reality TV, it has a stalker vibe, like someone is watching; for ‘Polite’, I was watching a lot of salsa tutorials. I look for and find inspiration in the weirdest places!

You have this cross-generational appeal, you borrow from past and present eras. Your music represents new and old…. as a 22-year old musician-

I’m 31! I’ve tried to correct it on Wiki. People are shocked when I tell them I’m not a twenty something. I’ve had this conversation about age with other female artists: there’s too much focus on our age, why does it matter? So, I try not to make a big deal out of it. Have you heard the story about Anastasia? She was 30 but had to act like she was 23 because she was deemed too old by the industry. It’s so messed up.

You’ve maintained a sense of mystery about who Erika is without it feeling unnatural, but you’re only getting more recognisable. How do you feel about the veil being pulled back on you are? And what’s your relationship like with social media as result?

I felt different about social media and the internet after lockdown because I was grateful for connections again, but social media doesn’t come natural to me, it’s something I try to use only when it feels necessary and natural. I don’t document my daily life because no one cares and why would they? At the same time, I love watching Cardi B posting herself eating food with her long nails – she’s so much fun!

When it comes to me, I feel too self-conscious but other artists have figured it out and it’s natural to them like Arca! She’s so entertaining; you’re on a journey with her, you feel as though you know her. We have this saying in Denmark called ‘Janteloven’: you’re no better than anyone else. It’s enshrined in law, engraved in stone but it keeps you humble and it’s stuck with a lot of Danish people. With social media, it goes against that. I need to remember the whole world isn’t watching and that there is a world outside of social media. I should chill about it.

What’s on Erika’s playlist this year? Who are you digging?

I’ve been listening to Isabella Lovestory, she makes music to dance to. I love Shygirl. Ojerime!

I’ve interviewed Ojerime for Clash and tipped her a few years back – a personal favourite of mine!

Wow! I love her, I love her sound. Ojerime has been in the game for a while, I love that she’s underground. - I love Smerz - they’re my friends! We give each other feedback and support each other. We’re very different musically, but I love and appreciate their approach to music. I also love Eartheater. I was shocked when I saw her aesthetics, I expected something completely different. I’ve been listening to a lot of Megan Thee Stallion, empowering female rappers, which is so important.

Do you feel you’re embracing the game now and this journey you’re on?

Doing interviews like this forces me to put into words what my music means. Before I was a blank wall and I felt I was blagging it. But I think it’s important to be conscious and receptive to the world around you.

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Next Wave Recommendation: Joviale

I chanced upon Joviale in 2019 and I’ve never been the same again. Their video for ‘Ride Away’, a choreographed power struggle set against a Brontë-esque backdrop picturized a Bonnie and Clyde escapade through a world on fire. Released alongside an EP, ‘Crisis’, Joviale’s trademark heartbreak melodrama started to circulate on the interweb. And then they disappeared, without trace.

Well their back and with a new EP to boot, ‘Hurricane Belle’, which swells with maximal impact, a departure from the lulling overtures of Crisis’. Influenced by natural cataclysms and their reverberating impact on humanity, Joviale moves through perilous landscapes before finding a measure of triumphant stability by the final track ‘Glass Peach’. Their unique timbre quivers with sensitivity. Classic but theatrical, at times a low murmur, other times a siren cry, Joviale makes mundanity sound profound.

Joviale opened up about their break from music, the crippling effects of the fame game, but also the redemption that came with recording ‘Hurricane Belle’ and the power that comes from recalibrating yourself and coming back more self-aware.

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When did your musical journey begin? The moment you realized this would be your calling, your career?

I think my musical journey started the minute I was born. Not to sound dramatic but there was music everywhere when I grew up; on the TV, the car, worship, there was singing all the time. My uncle is a guitarist and most of my family sing when doing anything. Music on the stereo was always pumping at my neighbours’ expense.

I was going through quite a difficult time a few years ago and I just needed a healthier way to express myself: I became quite destructive and needed to channel the trauma into something that wasn’t hurting me. I had done some singing before in choirs and had taken a few guitar lessons as a kid at school. It was really on a whim that I chose music because I was really into taking photographs at the time. I posted a few demos online in 2017, it just snowballed and here I am.

Talk me through some musical references or records that transformed the way you see the world and impacted your own artistry?

It's hard to select individual records as influences because I’m such a visual person. I went through so many phases and obsessions with different types of music because I’d hear them on soundtracks for films. Whenever a record really moves me it's because I can really imagine the story the music is telling. I was obsessed with MTV Base when I was growing up: Brandy, Destiny’s Child, Janet Jackson, Usher. I was obsessed with the documentaries on the channel ARTE which we had on illegal cable. I discovered so many different musicians and composers and waves of music through that.

I was introduced to you when I heard ‘Ride Away’ in the summer of 2019; this sensory explosion of horns, strings, African drums and psychedelia. But above all, I was stunned by your voice which carries such emotional weight. Purely to sate my curiosity, what was the catalyst that sparked ‘Ride Away’?

DANGER! ADVENTURE! FEELING SEXY! I was imagining what it would be like if the person I fancied the most at the time was to whisk me away, which is hilarious because they ended up being a big ball of trash anyway, but it's a fun song. But thank you for your words, I appreciate that a lot.

It’s been two years since the release of ‘Crisis’. Express what the aftermath of that experience was like for you as an artist starting out?

To be totally candid I didn’t want to continue. It was too much. The lack of clarity, the stress and pressure of being ‘Joviale’ in certain spaces all of a sudden. I really struggle with the internet and social media: this “Hannah Montana” double-life (I was working full-time at a SEN School), the lack of stability and the sleaziness that goes completely unchecked within the industry. My boundaries were constantly being crossed and my trust continually abused. I kind of stumbled into a bed of snakes and the sordid-ness of it all terrified me. I had to learn that people reaching out or wanting to hang out wasn’t necessarily a real attempt to connect, just optics.

I had completely deactivated any profile that existed of mine and didn’t write anything else for about a year and a half: I was convinced that ‘Crisis’ would just be that random thing I did 20 years ago. But I’ve been blessed to have found a manager dreams are made of and she restructured the whole team, has facilitated my safety and therefore my creativity, now I’m finally able to believe that I have a chance at doing this properly and maybe being good at it! I definitely would have done my research a little bit more if I could do it again, and speak to more artists about their experiences. Artists need to talk to each other and protect each other. The music industry is a business, if it doesn’t work out with you there will be another 20-something around the corner that is dying for the opportunities that are being presented to you.

Tell me what you were doing away from the music game then? A whole pandemic happened! Did that force you to slow down, reboot and put things in perspective?

I was able to do quite a lot during the pandemic but I do not want this to be romanticised or glorified; I hate the whole “I’m gonna be so productive” attitude. It makes me feel so dirty. We are all still collectively grieving; the loss we have experienced as a community is unspeakable. The ecological devastation happening as we speak, BLM, children going missing, the genocide in Palestine, the escalation of the coronavirus in countries whilst the UK sit idly by and lie to us. Plus, the added pressure to “speak-out” on the internet, I just couldn’t!

I fear I do not have the eloquence or an adequate grasp of the subjects and don’t want to say the wrong thing, but then the guilt! Plus, the added fact that it's the internet and I hate it there. It was too much. But I have been trying to find alternate ways to engage with these subjects, starting projects applying for funding and engaging in a way that is comfortable and safe for my mental health. I’ve had to learn to plant seeds that may take a bit longer to show for but it’s completely changed the way that I feel the need to engage.

You’ve returned with new EP ‘Hurricane Belle’, which is Inspired by Peter Shenai’s “Hurricane Bells” experiment, modelled after the natural disaster. What about the experiment struck a chord with you?

I think more than anything, my sensitivity and anxiety towards the ecological disasters and how I feel so small and helpless in the face of these very scary occurrences happening was something that I was learning to confront. I was practising a lot of yoga and meditation, watching a lot of documentaries too, so I asked myself “what if I’m also able to express these anxieties with my own work?” I’m a libra, I can get very chaotic in a fun and not so fun way. So, I started exploring what that would look like when talking about nature.  

I started researching hurricanes and watching random videos on YouTube and I came across Shenai’s project. It was a perfect starting point. I invited him to dinner just before I started recording the EP back in 2019 and we were able to have a conversation about the fact that I was about to start it and it was wonderful to hear him talk about it. The more I learnt about his project the more impassioned I became and the more passionate I became the more ideas I was able to bring to Nathan (Bullion) in the studio, the more ideas I had, the more Nathan could understand what I was trying to convey and therefore do his thing and boom, here we are!

‘Hurricane Belle’ has an end-of-time, apocalyptic vibe to it, which I feel is a natural, more intense continuation of the themes you were exploring on ‘Crisis’. Do you feel that’s a fair describer? In what ways does the ‘Hurricane Belle’ era to differ from ‘Crisis’?

Yes, whenever I’m at my most anxious state of mind, it's a bit of a reflex to also be overwhelmed with the fact that “the world is ending!” no matter how small the issue. I think it’s a very human thing to want to tame the thing that fills me with the most fear. I felt like I had to try and fill this apocalyptic dread with love and beauty and yearning of life. So, although the EP begins with anxiety and betrayal and emotional torment, I wanted to end the story with firstly articulating what I want for myself in ‘ZeroCool ‘and feel like a champion with ‘Glass Peach’.

Your first single ‘Blow!’ is this potent fusion of ska and new wave, arguably your most “danceable” song to date, which you visualized in your video, flanked by your band of dancers – it very much feels like a performance piece. Talk me through the experience of ‘Blow!’ from conception to visual…

Thank you! I’ve always wanted to be a part of some kind of dance company! I’m neither a trained dancer nor have the money to become one. So, this is as close as it got. I was looking at a lot of rave videos during the pandemic. I missed dancing in a room full of people losing their minds to the music or the short-lived intimacies that happened on those kinds of nights. I was also watching a lot of documentaries on rave and bass culture in the 80s and 90s and ended up fascinated with gabber culture. I thought the energy was something else, but I saw no Black folk at all. It was really strange.

I was also obsessed with bodybuilding shows, the poses they would learn and how theatrical it all looked. I was already obsessed with Martha Graham’s choreography techniques; I was introduced to her by my friend Scout, who danced with me in the ‘Ride Away’ video. I took all of these references along with 90s Janet Jackson and Calvin Klein and started to piece together slowly what would become the concept for ‘Blow!’ and ‘Glass Peach’. I spoke to the choreographer Fauci a few months during lockdown and sent them a few drawings of poses I wanted to incorporate, they made it into a beautiful choreography and I started learning it with them over Zoom. It was also important to me that the dancers were a mix of abilities, I wanted the whole thing to feel accessible to everyone and loved the way everyone moved in their own way but also as a unison.

My favourite track is the opener ‘Up In Flames’, featuring what I believe to be your most emotive, visceral vocal performance to date (alongside ‘ZeroCool’). Tell me a bit about this opener? What does it represent in the context of the narrative of the EP?

‘Up In Flames’ is a song I wrote in the same breath with the ‘Crisis’ set of songs, it just didn’t make that cut. But I’m glad it's out now. I have a fondness for it as its been the opener to our live sets for about 3 years. I don’t know what more I can say about it to be honest; I was spinning out. The world was ending!

You and your regular collaborator Bullion have complete synergy; these songs you create together are very intricate and subversive. Break down the creative process recording ‘Hurricane Belle’ together and how your relationship has evolved since ‘Crisis’?

I think the match between me and Nathan to this day makes me laugh because it was so right. I had no idea who he was, I said I’d work with him because I thought he was nice. He is also an air sign but we are so different; he's so gentle and I know I can be…energetic. But we’re both passionate and respect each other.

I usually send him a recording in any form, demo, voice note. Then we would block out time together, sometimes for two weeks, sometimes a month at a time. He was living in Lisbon at the time so that was the way we had to do it. Then we just play the song, workshop some ideas, I would send him long-ass voice notes of me chatting utter shit and he would politely respond but I could tell he would listen to my ideas and find ways to incorporate my tangents into the sounds I’ve been describing. I think more than anything I am ready to apply what I’ve learnt in the studio with him in my own production. I was surprised at how much I’ve picked up by just watching him. I’m excited to show him when the time comes too.

What overriding message or feeling do you want the listeners to take away when experiencing ‘Hurricane Belle’?

I think I want people to relate to my dread but to also feel hopeful and sweet and joyous.

What is next for Joviale? Is a debut LP in the works or some way off?

I think it’s too much to think about an LP. I have so much learning to do, you know? I want to feel like a boss when I get to working on an album. I’m still very new to this! I’m writing though, a lot. So, there’s definitely more music to be released but I feel there is so much I want to make before I get to making an album.

What’s your 2021 mission statement? What do we need more of?

Compassion, grace, restfulness, kindness.

Thank you for your questions, I am humbled by your interest in me and my work.

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Release Roundup

Projects

Anchorsong – Mirage

Originally from Tokyo, now based in London, Masaaki Yoshida aka Anchorsong conceived part of his fourth album ‘Mirage’ during lockdown, when the hustle and bustle of travel was stemmed. Not beholden to specific geographical reference points like his previous LPs, Anchorsong opted instead for more illusory and borderless soundscapes.

Anchorsong’s transcultural palette bleeds into songs that transport you to a parallel universe; an expedition through a primeval past to a neon-lit, future metropolis. An MPC advocate, ‘Mirage’ balances digital dexterity with an organic lifeforce: ‘The Ocean’, featuring a Portuguese spoken-word vocal, pulses with a late afternoon house groove, the smoky jazz quietude of ‘Remedy’ and ‘Saudade’, prickle with a field recording verve, both velvety cradles of ambient tone.

To experience ‘Mirage’ is to play voyeur, bear witness to side-street conversations and the impermanence of fast life. Anchorsong creates, well a mirage, of our terrestrial experience. In doing so he delivers one of the most cerebral electronic collections this year.

Latanya Alberto – The Royal Escape

Born and raised in Amsterdam to Surimenese and Curaçaoan parents, Latanya Alberto’s voice evokes Solange’s agile tone, also channelling the extemporised expression of a jazz singer, filling her voice into the clefts of spacey production, sometimes singing against the beat altogether. With stream of consciousness lyrics, Alberto keeps things close and insular. On ‘Red Flag’, Alberto gives into temptation, initial reservations be damned! On ‘Wake Up’, Alberto reaches higher planes, mantra-like affirmations sending her soaring through constellations; ‘Room In Between’ has a mesmeric, old-school R&B vibe, the reality of existing in grey areas closing the EP with a question and not an emphatic answer.

With ‘The Royal Escape’, Latanya Alberto stakes her claim as neo soul sensation; a deep reverence for OGs like Erykah Badu’ (whom Alberto cites as an influence) infuses the EP, which basks in spiritual deliverance and self-actualisation. On ‘Royal (Recall)’, Alberto offers up an aide-mémoire that regal power comes from within; that royalty flows through the bloodstream of every young black girl and boy – a latent energy waiting to be tapped into. Alberto’s coming-of-age story is a lesson in divinity and manifestation, of monographs passed on from mother to child, friend to friend and sister to sister.

Mysie – Undertones

‘Undertones’ the debut EP from South East London’s Mysie, released on 70Hz (mentor Fraser T Smith’s label) is like a warm salve to an open wound; synesthetic folk-soul amalgams lingering like wafts of smoke long after listening concludes.

The tendrils of legacy and lineage gives Mysie’s songs heft and history: her Grandfather is credited with bringing jazz music from Congo to Uganda with his band Kampala City Six. She herself possesses an impressionistic ear for textural sounds adding just enough production quirks, as a result ‘Undertones’ is never an invariant experience. Mysie shifts gears from the Dionysian lustre of ‘In My Mind’, which centres her deep, dulcet timbre, to the feel-good frivolity of Seven Nights’, where Mysie chases the spontaneous sensation of fast love, contrasted with the sustained companionship on the Latin heat of ‘Over Time’.

If Sunday melancholy had a sound, it would be this.

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Songs

Sam Ezeh – Sapphire Alley

I first tipped Sweden’s Sam Ezeh as my Next Wave pick at the top of the year, struck by the sophisticated world-building on his debut LP ‘Night At Ezeh’s’. New song ‘Sapphire Alley’ stretches the lucid psychedelia Ezeh does so well to something more perfervid and ferocious. Soundtracking the existential dread of being a twenty-something in an unpredictable world; swirls of guitar, twilight percussion and multi-tracked harmonies make me want to neglect my worldly duties and escape, for just one night, to the tenebrous shade of this Sapphire Alley. Sly and the Family Stone would be proud.

First Beige – BBL

This Aussie sextet fashion a zany dancefloor caper with ‘BBL’, a tribute to nights spent and lost at the band’s favourite night-time hangout, Brisbane’s Black Bear Lodge. ‘BBL’s’ throwback energy conjures images of the stuffed rooms of Studio 54 glitterati with yacht pop splendour: an irresistible, undulating house groove, watercolour synth work and male-female vocal interplay recalls the best of 70s disco fervour. ‘BBL’ is an unforced, low-res anthem that’s been fashioned to take on another life of its own when performed live.

NAYANA IZ – Breaking Point

Nayana Sharma is evolving. New single ‘Breaking Point’, finds the British-Indian aesthete at her most confessional, wrangling with inner demons and the expectations of her loved ones. Altering her inflection between an airy but charged vocal opening to her signature melodic rap. Gone is the narcotic hedonism she explored on ‘Smoke & Fly’: this is Nayana, real and raw.

I spoke with Nayana at the end of last year and this is what she had to say about her new era: “Breaking Point’ is me going back to basics, just me and my piano. I wrote a little bit of ‘Breaking Point’ when I was 13, I had this melody in my head since then that I couldn’t shake. it’s the soul I’ve had when I was a young teenager with the strength I possess now.”

Brown Power.

Kai Kwasi – Unt

“The song is about not being sure if you’re doing things right. The video draws parallels between moving and relationships. You move in, fill the space, paint the walls and move out.”

Enter Kai Kwasi, a 21-year-old South-East London future visionary. Born to creative parents (his Father was a rapper and his Mother a street dancer) it was only a matter of time before Kwasi made his own artistic imprint on the world. Part of a next gen not content on mastering one discipline, Kwasi’s trained, audio-visual eye manifests beautifully on debut single ‘Unt’, a muffled number with tender jazz undertones, so wispy and fragile it blows away like a dandelion puffball dispersing its seeds in the breeze. The song and video mirrors the short shelf-life of relationships, the fleetingness and finality of young modern love.

Retrospective

Missy Elliott – Lick Shots

“For those of you hate it, you only made us more creative.”

A buzz single released to amplify Missy ‘Misdemeanour’ Elliott’s follow-up to 1999’s underappreciated ‘Da Real World’, ‘Lick Shots’ ultramodern bombast got lost in the relentless hit parade that formed the opening half of the record. The production was a typically wild but controlled Timbaland creation: affected strings, motorcade trills, stuttering stop-start beats, all part of a new tailormade sound design Missy and Timbaland were experimenting with.

‘Lick Shots’ was also a rare instance on the record where Missy merged slapdash vocal experimentation with her dirty south rap style to sublime effect; timed moans, sing-along chants and mid-air cooing all background effects to a mainline rap performance dripping with intensity: this was after all a wild invocation to get chemically-induced and messy. Missy sounded as if she was having the time of her life; slurring, snarling and screaming her way through Ecstasy.

On ‘Lick Shots’, Missy brought her sex-positive ethos to rap, denouncing the misogyny that blighted the genre, placing her manicured hands in the RnB and pop worlds, so she wouldn’t be standardised as just another female rap star cosplaying. At a time when mainstream American radio was disregarding the forward-thinking projection of hip-hop, Missy was proving a rare crossover success, bringing her brand of interplanetary alchemy to us ravenous earthlings.

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Words: Shahzaib Hussain
Photo Credit: Dennis Morton

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