Singles Grab Bag #3

It’s summer in Oklahoma City, which means a slew of great new local music and festivals around every corner. Major names in the scene have put out new singles in the past month, and many of those are in anticipation of album releases later in the year. This edition of Singles Grab Bag handpicks six from the cream of the crop.

"Exhausted feat. Statik Selektah" by Jabee

“My name is Jabee” is the first line on the rapper’s lead single for Black Future, his upcoming full-length album. Hip-hop frequently sees emcees name-dropping themselves for brand recognition and ego, but with “Exhausted,” Jabee is introducing listeners to another side of his sound and perspective.

Over a minor-chord organ sample accentuated by soft keyboard runs, he rattles off aspects of his identity and current “life in a glass house.” Subtle vinyl crackles help bring out the grit in his expert flow, which has plenty of room to stretch its muscles. Jabee likes to bring in collaborators on his album work, so it’s notable that this particular track finds him alone. It drives home the inherent anxiety behind the central line of “they wanna see me in a coffin, body exhausted, resting in peace.”

This is a notable shift from Jabee’s introduction on his last major album, “Everything Was Beautiful And Nothing Hurt,” which told his life story. While the content of that cut was more personal and more emotional, his acceptance that “life is real” met with pretty, glistening music to stay as positive as possible. On “Exhausted,” he maintains his realistic optimism, but the stakes seem raised. With Black Future, the spotlight is on, and there are more eggshells to tread than ever.

Black Future is slated to drop August 12th, and a related stopgap release, Juneteenth, is available on June 17th. Check out the music video to “Exhausted” below.

"Fears For Tears" by Chase Kerby + The Villains

“Fears For Tears” is a good song by most any standard, but for Chase Kerby, it’s nothing short of a revelation. Since putting together The Villains last year in the midst of his high-profile season on The Voice, he has worked through a major career transition. In addition to moving past his moody, atmospheric Chase Kerby and the Company Men sound, he has been clearing out his back catalogue of unreleased songs on Bandcamp all year.

Chase Kerby + The Villains are launching from a clean slate, and the inspirational drive of this first single is bursting with promise. The drums and bass play a classic, straightforward rock rhythm while bright, harmonizing guitars and stratospheric piano plinks echo the lyrics’ weather-inspired imagery. What truly makes the song soar, of course, is the impassioned vocal work from both Kerby and his bandmates, who harmonize beautifully in the background of key song moments.

There’s a very telling line that punctuates not only the message, but where Kerby stands at this moment: “You wanna walk on the clouds, but you’re holdin’ everything that keeps draggin’ you down / If you wanna see the sky, don’t build your house with a roof.”

“Fears For Tears” is currently streaming on the band’s Soundcloud page.

"Holding on to Hope" by Space4Lease

Indie/psych rock band Space4Lease doesn’t flex all of its muscles on its new lead single, maintaining the kind of casual performance that can only come from a band especially comfortable in its own skin. The song is already so smartly written and arranged that it doesn’t need to show off anything more than its bare bones.

Musically, the four-piece reveals some appreciation for unconventional harmonies, first in the opening swing note piano line and soon after in the first verse’s vocal accompaniment. It’s a slight touch that doesn’t feel directly dissonant, but there’s a tailored uneasiness to this choice that mirrors doubtful lyrics like “I’m losing my focus sometimes, sometimes, but I don’t know.”

As the lead vocalist drops his line-upon-line verses, he delivers their swift series of rhymes in a smooth, rambling fashion that feels like an internal dialogue. As the other band members come into the picture, a moderate groove sets in that keeps the swing feel of the piano within the bigger 4/4 structure of the song. When the track ends short of the 3-minute mark, it feels abrupt for a single. Chances are, though, that another track will pick up where “Holding on to Hope” leaves off on Space4Lease’s debut EP, expected to come out this summer.

“Holding on to Hope” is available on Bandcamp.

"Wicked One" by LABRYS

The latest effort from Penny Pitchlynn, currently known to many as the bass player in indie garage act BRONCHO, marks the start of a new chapter in her career. Setting aside the Penny Hill solo moniker she has worn for years and moving past her involvement in Low Litas, she gets especially fierce on her debut single “Wicked One” as LABRYS. The new name refers to Greek symbolism, specifically a double-sided axe that is frequently invoked as a sign of lesbian solidarity and/or female empowerment. Accordingly, LABRYS wields her sharp musical axe with brooding ferocity, and it makes for a dastardly good listen.

“Wicked One” is built on a coarse, syncopated bass line that stomps heavily as sustained, distant voices give an apparitional quality to the recording. Together, they blend into a thick, psychadelic fog that borrows more from stoner rock than it does the punk influences of BRONCHO. Distorted guitars explore beyond the initial bass riff as the song continues. The drum rhythm builds into a busier beat at the second verse, which drops the line “I’m not the kind of kid to give a s**t about bringing you down.” With lyrics like this, it could be misconstrued that LABRYS is in full attack mode, but the tone is just as much from a place of self-defense. As the song’s titular line states clearly, she’s “not the wicked one.”

“Wicked One” is out now on cassette as part of OBNEAC Records’ tape club series and comes with “Went Sour,” another new LABRYS track. Both physical and digital copies are available on the label’s Bandcamp page.

"Hey Man" by Jose Hernandez and the Black Magic Waters

Since his solo EP, Glory, Jose Hernandez has undergone a significant change in scope. Where that effort was strictly acoustic and powerfully raw, his new turn as frontman of the Black Magic Waters adopts a more polished full band sound. By doing away with fiddles and the like in favor of a rock-leaning arrangement, Hernandez has given his catalogue a completely new light. This is still the same singer-songwriter project it always was, with soul-bearing lyrics and vocal performances at its core, but the shift in context opens the range of his songs beyond the diamond-in-the-rough intimacy of his grittier past work.

On “Hey Man,” a teaser for his anticipated album with the Black Magic Waters, Hernandez thrives in his songwriting comfort zone. From the story-driven opening line of “Out from the East he came” to the chorus of “I’m just trying to find my way back to the heartland,” he details his soul-searching through dirt-stained drifters and religious allusions alike. The guitar, keys, bass, and drums, ensure to never tread on Hernandez’s central performance, but neither does he overpower the recording with his passionate vocal delivery. “Hey Man” is a natural fit, and it promises a sturdy, streamlined listen for the album to come.

“Hey Man” was recently featured on Nathan Poppe’s “The Middle of Nowhere” blog and can be streamed here.

"Heartbreaker" by Matt Stansberry & the Romance

One of the catchiest opening riffs of late propels this funk and rock infused jam from Matt Stansberry & the Romance. As riffs go, it’s really quite simple, but the nimble strut of the guitar and keyboard carries it along the track’s length with a suave infectiousness. There are plenty of bells and whistles traded between the band’s 10 members, efficiently arranged around the song’s key elements for maximum effect. That riff, however, proves that even a recording as busy as this can still benefit from the less-is-more mantra.

The song lyrically warns of an unnamed guy (and, later, gal) who is, well, a heartbreaker. It’s not a new idea, but what makes it work is the way it entwines with the music. The fun-loving arrangement, complete with a tight horn section, soulful backing vocals, and thumping bass, are as full of temptation as the subject of the song. After a couple of choruses, there’s a big instrumental break and subsequent bridge that repeats “Oh, no / I fell for the heartbreak.” Stansberry then signs off in the musical aftermath with the pitch-perfect line, “Don’t say I didn’t warn ya,” which is as devious as that riff reveals itself to be.

“Heartbreaker” is available on iTunes and Spotify. Check out the band’s music video below.

This article was originally written for Cellar Door Music Group (cellardoormusicgroup.com). It is archived here with the publisher’s permission.

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