Kadhja Bonet: Interstellar Soul

Kadhja Bonet “was born in 1784 in the backseat of a sea-foam green space pinto. After spending an extraordinarily long time in her mother’s plasma, she discovered the joys and gratifications of making noise with her hands and face while traveling at maximum velocity through intergalactic jungle quadrants”. This is what the LA-based artist’s Bandcamp bio describes herself as, and whilst you don’t need an intergalactic device to categorise her sound, it’s distinct enough that it’ll tantalise most listeners for more.

I returned to her music following her atmospheric feature on the opener to Anderson. Paak’s latest album, ‘Oxnard’

Take a listen to the minor 1974 hit ‘Remember the Rain’ by Chicago group 21st Century – it’s a lush song with really youthful vocals that peak in the chorus, and peppered with some powerful harmonies and a touch of spoken word, it retains a soulful energy, a raw emotion. Now give Kadhja Bonet’s cover a go – it sounds as though she’s effortlessly in control, but don’t miss the outstandingly beautiful vocal runs dotted around the chorus, crafting a more nostalgic take on the story of the unfaithful partner (with some added flair from the flute solo that comes during the outro). It wouldn’t be out of place in a Bond film, it’s got that level of allure to it. The cover nears a mix of Isaac Hayes and Solange, except the multi-instrumentalist Bonet also has almost total control of the arrangements in her music in terms of writing and performing, and the results can often be magical. 

Her debut effort comes in the shape of ‘The Visitor’, a short affair that clocks in at just under half an hour. ‘Earth Birth’ introduces the listener, acting almost as an instrumental primer to pair with the self-written biography mentioned above, before the warmth of lead single ‘Honeycomb’ comes in, Bonet’s voice offsetting the 1960s reminiscent string-powered track with verdant lyricism from the outset:

“Honeycomb, drip amber rays of sun,

the sweetness that is you,

and I the humble bee that brings the pollen to

your gilded lips”

The one-two punch of ‘Portrait of Tracy’ and ‘Nobody Other’ that comes in the latter half of the record is perhaps the must-listen segment. In the former, strings give way to genuinely stunning harmonies as bass guitar and drums join the homage to legendary bassist Jaco Pastorius, resulting in a swirl of jazz, gospel, folk, soul, and R&B, with so many musical atmospheres and phrases being stitched together in a virtually seamless fashion. This then yields to the guitar-led romanticism of the latter track, a more minimalist song, Bonet’s vocals on full display in a much more vulnerable fashion, a motif heightened by the scratch of fingers on the fretboard of the guitar.  

Whilst ‘The Visitor’ for the majority of its time rests in a bashfully languid middle tempo, this year’s ‘Childqueen’ has flashes of funk, perhaps best seen in lead single ‘Mother Maybe’. It’s clear she’s realised that her voice is her weapon, and even beyond the lyricism this is felt, especially in the closing third of the track as Bonet belts pristine falsetto notes with such power that it feels as though this was undoubtedly the next step for her. Celestial harmonies and a bass-line that leaves your head nodding are just icing on top of the cake.

Delphine is another highlight, sensually spinning a web that forms the perspective of an obsessed lover, with vocals again taking the foreground, the listener able to hear the percussive elements as Bonet opens her mouth to submerge your ears. Her vocal acrobatics, soaring above all, are so captivating that you barely notice the track runs for almost six minutes. The subtle intricacies of the instrumental should not be missed however – a woozy funk-bass wobbles and transforms in the background whilst synths flitter in and out of the scene, simple percussion providing the hypnotising rhythm. Keep in mind that Bonet writes and plays virtually everything she writes, and it’s an impressive feat.

“They [‘The Visitor’ and ‘Childqueen’] definitely link for me. I knew where I wanted to go with it.

The first record, thematically, was supposed to be about being visited by your true inner self, and having this reflection of who you wanted to be and who you were meant to be, and realising how far away from that you are, and thinking ‘Oh shit! I’m like a tenth of the person that I wanna be’.

And so ‘Childqueen’ is about starting the journey of thinking about how I start moving towards that, and closing that gap between who I want to be and who I am.”

Indeed, her initial otherworldly description of herself is perhaps a slight exaggeration, but this is a level of personal growth that we rarely see in music. Kadhja Bonet’s star is decidedly rising.

This article was written by Mo Hafeez

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Charlotte Day Wilson: Warmth From the North

I was first made aware of Charlotte Day Wilson via the fellow Toronto-based genre-bending  instrumental whirlwind that is BADBADNOTGOOD. Her voice is steeped with a timeless quality, one that’s sensual but still honest and intensely relatable – ‘In Your Eyes’ manages to recount the moment of initial realisation that you’ve fallen in love with someone with such clarity, whilst maintaining the dim-the-lights ambience:

Her presence is reserved and understated, yet at the same time she gives off the undeniable aura that she’s the most confident person in the room. She brings this quality in to all of her collaborative work which should definitely be explored, especially her tracks with Daniel Caesar, River Tiber, and Local Natives. But what makes her solo work more impressive than these efforts is the personal quality that is imbued due to the fact that Wilson acts as performer, multi-instrumentalist, and indeed producer.

It’s a fresh and welcome turn away from what popular Canadian music and RnB is currently exporting in the form of Drake and The Weeknd

Her debut effort ‘CDW’ has notes of a variety of artists from Sade to Arthur Russell, but the sound has still been passed through Wilson’s own filter – it’s a great primer and a cartographic canvas for her future work. Floating and atmospheric opener ‘On Your Own’ slowly swells, teasing Wilson’s vocal talent beneath a celestial organ-pad whilst mallet percussion flits about the background and strings sway in and out of the mix. ‘Work’ then kicks in, grounding us in more conventional song structures showcasing her production skills which are enchanting but subtle enough to let her voice shine through via stunning harmonies which soar above the mix. ‘After All’ and its housier vibe and simple hook melody are perhaps a misstep, but it’s quickly forgiven on the River Tiber-assisted ‘Where Do You Go’, a brass section that holds a comforting yet sombre quality underlining Wilson as she croons “Where did you go today? // Must have been lost”… “I thought that you had my back”.

This year’s ‘Stone Woman’, much like her debut, left me wanting more. It shows a progress and exploration in sound, slowly chipping away at the one negative many people had pinned on ‘CDW’: the lack of dare and innovation. The glitchy keyboard loop of the opening eponymous song sets the EP’s railroad track of self-doubt and assuredness, hopelessness and hopefulness, charting a failing relationship – a ‘stone woman’, an image of both strength and beauty, whilst still maintaining an air of stoicism. Soon ‘Nothing New’ comes into play, subdued synthesisers and a programmed drum loop opening into an instrumental crescendo reminiscent of a sort of hybrid between James Blake saws and Beach House arpeggiators. The standout has to be the closing ‘Funeral’. The love’s over, the EP is over, she sighs “Anytime I think of you // I’m empty hearted” and “Welcome to our funeral // It’s nice that you came”, and it’s so sincere you can’t help but feel for her, as a trumpet solo breaks in to give way to a lighter and optimistic end, building from a simple lone piano to a fully fledged jazz ballad.

However, whilst these tracks address sonic concerns, there’s still something too consistent about the energy and tempo of her work – I’m eagerly waiting for her to kick a track into fifth gear. This being said, she’s still undoubtedly inspiring, refusing the allure of labels to stay true to her art, and ready to impart her already substantial knowledge and attitude to young musicians that listen to her music and  come knocking at her door.

This article was written by Mo Hafeez

Brad Stank: Bedroom Sexistentialism

Sad and sultry, lonely and lush, Brad stank’s music is essential for some late-night listening. Originally a drummer for the off-kilter pop-rockers Trudy and the Romance, Brad stank turned his hand to an odd mish-mash of jazz, psych, alternative, and lofi inspired rock. He’s still developing his sound, that much is clear, but there’s something about his music that means that I can’t quite lump it into the ever-growing category of ‘bedroom pop’, even though the telltale marks are all there: slightly jangly chorus-laden guitars, sparse percussion, and singing so laid-back that the artist was probably half-asleep whilst recording it.

To be perfectly frank, I don’t think his music was intended to be an artful, intensely philosophical insight into the human psyche, scattered with complex compositions and Dylan-esque witticisms. And that’s fine. His songs are damn catchy, and easy to listen to, and sometimes that’s all you need.

It’s like Michael Franks met Homeshake and they decided have a little jam together.

Take the first track that I heard from him, ‘O.T.D.’, as an example. The funk-inspired guitar riffs are the perfect transcription of the atmosphere of longing and separation that he intends to give off, and the textured vocals that are layered on top of this only add to this sensation. And let’s not forget the lyrics – “What she don’t say with her lips babe // She says with her eyes” is fantastically simple yet simultaneously sensual, much like the budget-friendly music video he produced for the song:

‘Condemned to Be Freaky’ is a more upbeat offering, with shades of blues and disco replacing the jazz influences – the driving instrumental juxtaposes well with the languorous singing and humourous lyricism. It’s the type of song that most of the current batch of bedroom music-makers wouldn’t attempt to make straight off the bat, but Brad stank pulls it off convincingly, displaying surprising versatility. 

I’d also recommend ‘Flirting in Space’ as a mid-ground between these two efforts, soothing guitar and a baritone vocal delivery in the verses breaking into a floaty falsetto-laden journey in the chorus.

The best part? He knows that development is the next step –

“I’m starting to get frustrated with how stuff sounds in my bedroom. I’ve been trying to make stuff for a year in my room and you know where it’s going to go, in a way”

He’s only released five official tracks thus far, so there’s not too much else to say, but I can only look forward to what his next offering will be.

This article was written by Mo Hafeez

Slowthai: The People’s Champion

When people talk about the current state of the UK’s flourishing hip-hop scene, they, as is the case in most conversations of a related nature, fixate on the nation’s capital: Loyle Carner, Kojey Radical, Dave, Not3s, J Hus, Octavian, 808INK, and so on and so forth. Don’t mention that to slowthai though. He hails from Northampton, a city that doesn’t often top lists of important locations when it comes to gritty rap, but instead, like most places that aren’t bustling metropolitan cities, is only really mentioned in terms of mundanity – he’d like remind you that life is just as rough, if not rougher, outside the inner-cities as it is within.

You only need to do a quick YouTube search of a slowthai live performance to see that this man embodies punk spirit – there’s a vicious atmosphere in air as he indicts the nation, proudly flaunting his ‘Nothing Great About Britain’ tattoo, strutting around in his boxers, whipping the crowd into a frenzied mosh. You’ll even see the self-proclaimed “King of Northampton” yelling “Fuck the Queen” in front of the flag as the national anthem blares out.

Security don’t have a chance.

Anybody unprepared to push and shove isn’t going to have a good time.

Anyone who thinks he’s fucking about shouldn’t think about staying too long.

With a persona like his, it would be easy for some to link him to the wildly incorrect idea that hip-hop has a negative influence on society today. Appearance is not everything, and slowthai is a deeply personal and thoughtful artist – his music is a diary, a diary that’s built on unnerving, wonky, dark beats, written via one take verses rapped with a visceral energy whilst maintaining a surprising measure of sonic versatility.

At the close of his latest EP, ‘Runt’, comes the song ‘Slow Down’, featuring a pre-chorus of “Fuck Santa, cuz we’re cold as shit // Boiler broke on christmas day // Ask Santa, ‘Why’s my life this way?’ // Putting heating on my next wish list” – listeners are taken through an enveloping feeling of disappointment on what is meant to be the happiest day of the year for the majority of the population, eerie strings providing the backing to this reminder of an unfortunately common but forgotten existence. Go back a year and listen to ‘IDGAF’, slowthai strips back the storytelling, and what comes forth is a juxtaposing track, switching between moments of calming reflection and raw anger over distorted beats reminiscent of ‘Cherry Bomb’-era Tyler, the Creator. His flow is varied and constantly interesting, pristine and intelligible, even when he’s going full pelt.  

And then of course there’s his breakout single ‘T N Biscuits’, a track that is in every aspect indicative of this range, right down to its title bringing up visions of small-town quaint living whilst slowthai opens with “Drug dealer // I wear Nike not FILA // lean like Tower Pisa // I smile like Mona Lisa”. His flow is laid back yet aggressive, and the instrumental is similar in fashion, woozy and dark yet still maintaining energy – sliding sub-bass, stuttering synths, a crunchy snare, lush hi-hats, and tactical tambourine use:

And just to top it all off, there’s his music videos too. ‘Ladies’ contains a scene where he lies naked embracing his fully-clothed girlfriend in a feminist critique of street culture where women are often seen as commodities to be gathered. ‘North Nights’ contains references to classic horror films like ‘La Haine’, ‘A Clockwork Orange’, and ‘The Shining’. ‘Drug Dealer’ is a hodge-podge of humour and darkness, showing the rapper strangling himself until he’s blue in the face with a school tie, parading around in boxers and a trench coat with a sawn-off shotgun, slamming an endless line of mobile phones whilst suited-up in an office bragging about his exploits. I could go on and on – they’re indicative of how serious Tyron Frampton (real name) is about his art: he wants people to be engaged, he wants people to listen. His videos round out an already large personality, and give him an intense likability. 

“I want to speak to everyone, but I only want to really speak to the people that feel it in their heart. Like it actually does something for them. And everything I’m doing, I’m learning more about myself.”

This is not someone hell-bent on fame, he’s not looking for a cosign from Drake. He’s trying to make his own mark. I genuinely don’t think he’s had a bad release thus far.

Keep watch. Stay sharp. slowthai is on the move.

This article was written by Mo Hafeez