Texas

VIDEO PREMIERE: MAH KEE OH - Uppercut

Will Shenton

MAH KEE OH's new single, "Uppercut," is an exercise in freeform projection. Grahm Robinson, the Denton, TX multi-instrumentalist behind the moniker, combines his signature washed-out guitars and hazy vocals with a DIY collage of faces that give rise to a hundred little stop-motion narratives and vignettes. According to the artist, it was inspired by feelings of aimless confusion, and he succeeds in channeling those into a sort of audiovisual Rorschach test.

"Uppercut" is a mesmerizing track, taken from MAH KEE OH's forthcoming EP, Shoplifting Can Get You Killed. It's nostalgic on every level, from the slacker-rock sound to the mid-century magazine cutouts, and I'm reminded of a somewhat sludgier version of Oakland songwriter Perhapsy. The instruments are so deeply layered that any one of them coming to the forefront manages to surprise, and yet each voice is still discernible on a close enough listen.

Delightfully ambiguous, "Uppercut" is a refreshing detour into a world where concrete interpretations don't really matter. It's okay to feel lost, and sometimes our most indiscriminate wanderings give rise to our most beautiful ideas. We're excited to see where MAH KEE OH goes from here.

REVIEW: Khruangbin - Con Todo El Mundo

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Phillipe Roberts

For two records now, Khruangbin have delved deep into a brand of cosmic funk whose proudly professed global influences have stuck them with the loaded, woefully illogical “world music” label. Digressions on the validity of the term aside (why does the “world” start where the English speaking world ends?) the Houston-to-London trio is perhaps one of the few to actually embrace its universalist implications. Their Spotify account shouts their influences from the rooftops, touting “certified Persian bangers” and “heat from Nigeria, Ghana and more” in carefully curated playlists that connect the dots right back to their own work.

First album The Universe Smiles Upon You leaned heavily on '60s and '70s Thai funk and rock records, but on Con Todo El Mundo they absorb new influences, collecting musical passport stamps, mostly from Iran and Nigeria, with abandon. Some tracks highlight specific influences more than others, but overall, the blend is an unrecognizable and immensely satisfying hybrid. If a revamp of the Voyager Golden Record is ever in the works, with only enough room for a split single, Con Todo El Mundo will be a fitting starting point for extraterrestrials building an “Earth” mix.

No matter how you slice it, the Frankensound assembled by Khruangbin on Con Todo El Mundo is primarily funk. Bassist Laura Lee brings a radiant, chunky tone that clings loosely to the backbeat, powering the punchy shuffles of drummer Donald Johnson through the seemingly endless web of rhythmic scrapes and psychedelic slides dreamed up by guitarist Mark Speer. The three are a magnificent working band, and many of these tracks feel like they could go on forever, squeezing in and out of tight grooves like it’s nothing. Small instrumental flourishes and occasionally vocals enter the mix, particularly on “Evan Finds the Third Room,” but the focus never drifts away from the smooth cohesion they build into the jams. Over the course of the record, the effect is that of a perfectly sequenced funk DJ set.

While this tendency towards impeccable roundness may leave those hungry for the jagged edges of psychedelia a bit out in the cold, the trio do produce some standout moments that linger heavy on the mind long after the set comes to a close. The rapidfire acceleration into the initial pirouetting guitar riff on “Maria También” is mirrored brilliantly by the bass. Enough cannot be said about Laura Lee’s playing on this record; song after song, her warm melodies are a highlight, particularly on penultimate track “Rules,” where her weeping lines surge to the front with invigorating confidence, and “Evan Finds the Third Room,” a proper disco sendup with a bit of Donna Summer call-and-response thrown in. On the whole, however, Con Todo El Mundo is perfectly happy to hang back, playing to the room and allowing you to provide your own context—if instrumental doesn’t quite cut it, you might call it post-funk.

On the aforementioned “Shades of Man,” Khruangbin turns a field recording of two Iranian women working out how to pronounce their name into a skit, played out over ocean sounds. “You say that’s a K-H-R-U,” one woman’s voice cautiously begins. She shoots. “Crewangbin?” Light chuckles around the room. “Crungbin,” a voice corrects. Bless a band with a pronunciation guide.

Dead air. A long silence.

“No…”

And back into that effortless groove, punctuated by a repetitive, chanting “YES.”

PREMIERE: Art Pop - Hey Hey!!

Kelly Kirwan

“Hey and don’t you know who I am? / They say I’m up-and-coming / Maybe one day I’ll be famous / Or something.” 

It’s a wry line, delivered as if Austin-based Art Pop pressed a megaphone to their lips and started chanting, a little static intertwined with a sly smile and shrug of the shoulders. Their latest single, “Hey Hey!!,” is rife with lines of space-age synth, which become warped and warbled as they stream across the persistent, garage-rock chug of guitars and drums.

“Hey Hey!!” takes the pulsating energy of retro rock and garnishes it with elements of grunge, and even some hints of '80s sci-fi (if only for the song’s introduction). They call to us intermittently over the melody with the eponymous line “Hey! Hey!” as if it were a rebel yell. Their vibe is reminiscent of a street performance, set up on the sidewalk without any frills (or any interest in obtaining them). These are down-to-earth folks with a melody that may just get your heart going, and because they don’t try too hard to get our attention, we hand it over without a second thought. 

“Hey I’m teenage scum / They say I won’t find no one to love / But I found you,” we hear, with an ironic chuckle laced somewhere between the lyrics. It's hard not to fall in love with Art Pop’s comfort in the realm of outsiders—because they make sure we’re right there with them.

REVIEW: Jess Williamson - Heart Song

Kelly Kirwan

Jess Williamson has the twang and hardened resolve of Southern-bred heartbreak. There’s a forlorn ache that swarms her ballads like sand swept up in the wind, and while the dust does settle, it still coats her world in a thin layer of grit. So even in those moments when her voice contorts with a palpable yearning, there’s a certain toughness to her we’d find among the canon of country greats—and her vulnerability never comes across as weakness. No, the wounds have healed, even if their scars will never fade entirely.

With roots in Austin, Texas (a haven for live music in it’s own right), Williamson has followed 2014's Native State with a seven-track LP called Heart Song. It’s a brooding, richly rustic album into which Williamson clearly seems to have poured herself, body and soul. This is a compilation that feels as if it demanded calloused fingers and weary nights, giving rise to a beautiful, emotionally-dense mosaic. Williamson is a mesmerizing storyteller, and her narratives dredge up relatable moments of your past you thought were long buried.

Her idiosyncratic vocals bloom and bend in surprising ways, and she’s honed in on the Western croon that rolls across wide expanses with a lonely reverberation. Her voice will stretch slightly off-key, reaching a piquant pitch that's simultaneously surprising and recognizable, like a birth mark over which we’ve traced our fingers for years—a spot of welcome inconsistency and familiarity.

On the album’s longest track, "Last Word," Williamson’s voice wanders between a whispering fragility and throaty, surefire sentiments. It’s a somewhat stripped-down instrumental number, with airy guitar and slow, drawn-out percussion that’s meant to emphasize the lyrics. “Well this image of you here at my door / Is something I have pictured / Many times before,” Williamson muses, following with, “Well I shouldn’t have to run to touch you / But I do.” It’s a slow-burning rumination paired with languid chords, finishing as we might expect—with Williamson asserting in a breathy murmur, “I will have the last word.”

Then there’s "Devil’s Girl," a relatively bare track that puts the negative space between notes and Williamson’s a cappella to good use. Her voice is slightly (and probably intentionally) shaky as the track presses onward, “The best men I know are in and out of hospitals / Fighting some devils … Maybe I am just the devil’s girl.” That last line is delivered in a low growl, a dangerous thought she tosses unapologetically into the ether. There’s something captivatingly sinister in this song, with Williamson facing the darker parts of her personality and world—and she does so fearlessly. She’s folksy and raw, and Heart Song is a refreshing mix of fresh and rough for us to revel in.

VIDEO PREMIERE: Mah Kee Oh - Word Vomit

Kelly Kirwan

Mah Kee Oh have nailed their latest video. It’s plays like a homemade movie, strung together in a way that’s hysterical and on point with their niche of guitar-riff, percussion-backed rock. Referring to themselves as “two dudes” with a soft spot for rhythm sections,  Grahm Robinson and Gunnar Ebeling are first and foremost having fun with their sound. A do-it-yourself state of mind that just so happens to push out catchy foot-tapping melodies—these are two dudes that you want to shoot the shit with as much as you want to listen to their music. The latest release in their repertoire, Word Vomit is upbeat with a slight veer into garage rock--a dash of social anxiety offset by propulsive beats and poking fun at one's self. 

Robinson takes center stage throughout, adorning a lush fur coat made for high-rollers, or a suit and shades that channels Reservoir Dogsas he plays. He sings dramatically, dipping forward as he breaks into a deep, even-keeled croon—or takes a moment to turn towards the camera, letting his sunglasses fall to the brim of his nose, with an arched eyebrow that might as well be saying (in a Ron Burgundy tone) seductive.

It’s instantly interesting to watch, an engaging video and single that feels familiar, as if Mah Kee Oh were your friends from college—the classic jokesters that down-played their talent with a filter of humor. But their rhythmic chops don’t go unnoticed. It's resonating guitar notes and fuzzy perimeters, exploring those moments where words "fall like vomit from my mouth," and require some quick backpedaling. For a single which pivots on these instances of kicking oneself, it doesn't drown in doubt. It bops along with shades of surf rock, unbothered by a social cue gone haywire. Infectiously good fun.