The new year has barely started, yet an abundance of quality music is already springing out of Oklahoma. From the high profile Horse Thief record to the triumphant return of Allan Vest (Starlight Mints), there is already so much to celebrate that some artists will inevitably be overshadowed.
As with prior installments, this edition of Singles Grab Bag includes recordings from a wide range of genres and recognition levels. Some have gotten widespread coverage, while others are being covered here for the first time. Read on for in-depth track reviews featuring a potpourri of fresh Oklahoma talent in pop, rock, R&B, singer-songwriter, hip-hop, and alternative genres.
"Annie" by Johnny Manchild and The Poor Bastards
Opening with a delicate piano line accompanied by flute, clarinet, and cello, “Annie” might initially seem at odds with its bold artwork. The lead vocalist, songwriter, and namesake of Johnny Manchild and The Poor Bastards somberly recounts how “I’ve seen your face in everyone, Annie / I’ve watched you sleep in all of my dreams.”
This breakup song, however, quickly charges out of its wistful state at the first minute mark with the smash of a cymbal and a more electrified vocal performance. “In a moment it’s all gone”, the lyrics cry as the track shifts gears to incorporate backing rock instrumentation and, soon after, a dramatic horn section. That word, “moment”, is key to the way “Annie” makes brilliant use of its newfound meter at this crux. Jumping from 4/4 to 6/8 time, the piano and vocals loosen up substantially to relate a tangled moment of emotions that range from desperation to self-deprecation. At one point, punctuated by trumpet stabs, Manchild confesses, “What can I say? I’m a dick / I’m the reason you wake up sick.”
The track ends unexpectedly, cutting a guitar solo short just as it gets going. This is partly because “Annie” is the lead single to the band’s debut EP, Valencia, and this track seamlessly moves directly into the next one. However, it is still a surprise in that context, completely ripping the rug out from under the song as it impressively transitions to a groove-heavy cut called “Good God Damn”. The music of Johnny Manchild will keep listeners on their toes.
The piano-fueled music of The Poor Bastards frequently resembles alternative pop acts, but Manchild’s vocals edge it into rock territory. His notes are clean and precise, but his inflections channel a fiery angst that comes straight from his passionate gut. When combined with his dynamic piano playing, it’s hard not to get roped into his state of lament as he painfully wails “Forgive me” over the closing fanfare of “Annie”.
Valencia is due out this Friday, February 17 with a release show that night at The Root; Norman genre-benders Flock of Pigs will be on opening duties. To hear another teaser from the EP, check out the title track, which recently debuted on Nathan Poppe’s Middle of Nowhere.
"Holy Rollers" by Goldie Lahr & The Union
Singer-songwriter Goldie Lahr’s voice is as large as life, and on this recording, she uses it to strengthen a shelter written into “Holy Rollers”. Supported in turn by her proficient backing band, The Union, the song finds a powerful sensitivity that helps convey its message of compassion.
As the introductory verse segues into the chorus, there is a line that best represents the song’s intent, saying “Seems the world can’t wait to watch you drown / So let me take you onto higher ground.” The chorus then musically does just that. Acoustic guitar is traded for electric, and soft hi-hat work escalates into cymbals and snare as Lahr climbs her way to the proclamation, “I’ll be there for you / I’ll be.”
There are some details in “Holy Rollers” that suggest it comes from a personal place. “Seven years since I’ve known your name”, for instance, is not especially relevant to the song given that it does not make clear who it was written for or about. However, it adds a genuine touch of character. Similarly, there are spiritual allusions here and there that reveal a religious perspective, but it doesn’t overbear or force its way in. This is all simply part of Lahr’s singular writing voice, which rings of authenticity.
“Holy Rollers” was given the Castle Row treatment, so it might have been nice to hear a fuller arrangement beyond the core of the band’s four members playing the expected bass, drums, and guitar. Most of all, a song with such a big chorus could have really benefited from vocal harmonies or background vocals of some sort. Studio overdubbing is usually a worthwhile endeavor, even if it gets pared down later, and that can apply to all aspects of a recording.
Regardless, the song is a solid effort. It could be described as safe, sure, but that’s pretty much the point of the song. As Lahr sings early on, “Storm is coming, can you feel it? / People saying we can’t beat it.” With “Holy Rollers”, she offers a hopeful alternative.
“Holy Rollers” is available now on Bandcamp and is expected to be included on the debut album of Goldie Lahr and The Union, set to release this summer.
"My Love" by Byron White
Chill jazz samples and a laidback but sturdy beat characterize “My Love”, a relaxing, soulful new single from Edmond-based Byron White. His production here is minimal, to be sure, but it gives the track’s smoky feel room to spread and linger. As it progresses, little touches like occasional vocal layering and a soft trumpet echoed in the stereo channels accentuate White’s performance as he professes love for a significant other.
White’s lyrics are as straightforward as the title. While topical, he dips into some cliches with lines like “Even if it rains, you’re my sunny day” and “My love is true / My love, it burns for you.” As someone who has historically presented himself as a producer first and songwriter second, it might be worthwhile for White to consider collaborating with an artist who is the opposite. His profile mentions that he is part of a group called MBK, but it’s unclear what that entails. Nonetheless, on “My Love”, these lyrics serve the subject just fine when paired with his modern soul performance, which conveys the soft mood for which he aims.
Occasional tweaks with the production and minor details like the lower register vocal mirror of the song’s bass line add just enough variety and character to keep the single from getting too sleepy. As a whole, “My Love” doesn’t try anything new, but it’s a solid exercise in the well-chartered waters of electronically influenced R&B. Byron White is pretty new to the game, so it will be interesting to see where he goes from here.
Follow Byron White on his Soundcloud page for future releases.
"Something Sexy" by Wildings
Furnished with rougher edges than the typical indie rock jam, “Something Sexy” filters a sturdy groove and ear-catching falsetto through deliciously raw performances and mixing choices. The most recognizable aspect of Wildings’ lead single to its latest EP has to be its distorted lead vocals. While the effect renders the lyrics fairly indecipherable, it does so in favor of capturing audio feedback as an aesthetic of its own. For fans of this sort of thing, it’s very pleasing.
The rock performances are natural, seemingly recorded in a live session free of click tracks and other such studio sterilization. There is a noticeable pool of reverb brimming at the edges, but it isn’t used as a crutch. Rather, it serves to highlight the loftier sounds, such as the backing “ah” harmonies and what sounds to be an especially high-pitched guitar line happy-drunk on atmospheric effects pedals.
All of these loose elements swirl into a giant, cohesive blend that fuzzes out strands of surf, garage, and indie rock, braiding it with a few slivers of dreampop bliss for good measure. “Something Sexy” is a fun mix that bottles the tangible energy of a stage show into a quick two minutes and uses the studio like an Instagram filter to highlight the best in every moment.
Wildings’ new EP, Totally Hits, is available for free or optional pay on Bandcamp.
"No Sleep" by Zie
With a catchy beat and chorus, OKC rapper Zie’s “No Sleep” employs the same calculated simplicity that make many of today’s biggest earworms. Listeners presented with just three or four plays could easily find it rolling through their subconscious minds before long. Fortunately, it’s a good flavor of earworm, one that doesn’t annoy but satisfies. Zie’s solid rhymes and seasoned flow help anchor the single to ensure it doesn’t ring empty.
“No Sleep” is essentially an anthem for the hustle, so to speak, with frequent references to familiar hip-hop tropes of ego, women, and success. Zie also frequently drops his signature anagram and personal brand “EAT”, which means “Eliminate All Troubles”. While it’s a plus that his catchphrase is a universal one, its unspecificity pairs with the song’s imagery to imply that working for fame and fortune are the way to eliminating troubles. Perhaps this isn’t what Zie intended, but without a more specific exploration of what “EAT” and “no sleep” mean, this is the natural conclusion.
Lyrical and social analysis aside, the track is a strong, ideally paced single that sounds destined for automobile subwoofers everywhere. ISM’s production is solid, and Zie’s delivery is stylish and confident. With a hook like the one presented on “No Sleep”, maybe people will stop sleeping on one of OKC’s most hardworking and ambitious hip-hop artists.
Zie will perform this Saturday, February 18, with a full roster of OKC rappers headlined by Jabee at Tower Theatre’s Grand Opening. Be on the lookout for EAT 3, Zie’s anticipated release for later this year. In the meantime, here’s the music video for “No Sleep”, which has even seen television airtime on BET Jams:
This article was originally written for Cellar Door Music Group (cellardoormusicgroup.com). It is archived here with the publisher’s permission.