Singles Grab Bag #8

For those new to Singles Grab Bag, this is an ongoing blog series that aims to bring together an eclectic batch of new original music from a wide array of Oklahoma artists. No matter what genre a song is, how developed an artist is, or how popular a performer may be, anything is up for consideration to be reviewed in depth and displayed in this series. Below are a cross-section of budding and established artists, and the tracks selected for this 8th edition range from pop to metal to trip-hop genres. Have a sample, and see if there’s something you like!

"Oh No ft. Shabach Tha Band" by Brian Nhira

Since making a splash last year on The Voice, Tulsa-based Brian Nhira has been busy putting out his glossiest, most pop-oriented music yet. “Oh No” is Nhira’s third single to be released this year, following “Would You Still Love Me?” and “Hero”. Unsurprisingly, this new material is more geared for a general Top 40 audience than the church-friendly efforts of his 2015 album, Hope’s Stand. While that album certainly had its share of catchy pop numbers, “Oh No” finds Nhira in the midst of a new wave of sharp production and radio-ready melodies.

The song essentially is about finding and vowing to not let go of “the one”, which is certainly well-worn territory. As pop singles go, that’s fine, but having a catchy, memorable angle is important to selling that concept. “Oh No” takes pop music’s trendy double chorus approach, which relies on a vocal chorus followed by an instrumental chorus to give listeners twice the chance to catch an earworm. Both melodies are pretty catchy, but neither quite leaves an impression without multiple listens. Fortunately, there is much more going for the recording that mere marketability.

What sets “Oh No” apart from Nhira’s other 2017 songs–and much music in general–is a bright braid of world influences. The recording opens with drone-like voices set to minimal percussion, both drawing as much from traditional African music as from contemporary dance music, if not more. As the arrangement builds, there is a recurring “drop” of sorts that features the clean guitar work of Zimbabwean feature Shabach Tha Band set to a collage of electronic and acoustic beat elements.

In a pop landscape rife with varying degrees of cultural appropriation, it’s refreshing to hear a world influence that is thoughtful and genuine. This is a substantial piece of Nhira’s well-documented Zimbabwean heritage, and it’s one he champions to unique and imaginative effect on “Oh No”.

Altogether, “Oh No” simmers more than it booms, especially given how mild the instrumental drop is, but that’s hardly a complaint when one has a powerhouse vocalist like Brian Nhira. He more than carries the song and proves yet again that his reality show spotlight was no fluke.

“Oh No” is available on iTunes and Spotify, but you’ll also want to make sure to catch its accompanying music video (below). It’s a prequel to the video for Nhira’s earlier (and more dramatic) single, “Will You Still Love Me?”.

"Starlight Dead" by The So Help Me's

On its latest single, The So Help Me’s are as levitational as ever, seamlessly floating from passage to passage of cosmic thoughtfulness. While the band’s knack for tempo changes and creative arrangements are still present, “Starlight Dead” finds the quintet blanketing it over with a more direct presentation of atmosphere.

The rhythm section fidgets in a jazz-like flow, filling out the spacious arrangement along with a nimble overlay of piano keyboard. Meanwhile, shimmering guitar entices the song forward into the reverbed ether while dual vocals steady the helm, weighing the universe without being engulfed in it.

It is especially fitting that “Starlight Dead” was released on the day of the recent solar eclipse. The lyrics are full of celestial imagery, and its central chorus even offsets a sunset with the dark canvas of space, not unlike the eclipse. The lyrics are abstract enough that it’s hard to pinpoint their muse, but an unfearing, artistic view of life and death seems to be at its center. After all, the very title taps into the way most guiding starlight seen from Earth is scientifically from a long-gone source many light-years away.

This song is the first recording the band has put out since its Relativity EP, and the year and a half in between has clearly been spent finessing its work. “Starlight Dead” recalls other tracks by The So Help Me’s, particularly “Trails”, but the new song is more direct and sure of itself. Even as it falls into a comparatively regressive verse/chorus structure, it does so almost as a gateway for new listeners. At this point, the band is no longer crafting its identity, but fine-tuning it.

“Starlight Dead” premiered with Nathan Poppe’s Middle of Nowhere blog last month alongside a nice interview that explores the band’s perspective as songwriters and musicians. The track is currently streaming on Soundcloud.

"Manic Behavior" by Dett and Revv

Newly formed electronic duo Dett and Revv puts its best foot forward on “Manic Behavior”, a new single with a strong trip hop lean. In fact, the song is only a few nostalgic record scratches away from being something straight out of the 90s, when the genre was at its most popular. With modern production, though, Dett and Revv brings trip hop’s brooding beats back to life without sounding dated, though it’s debatable if the music style has even aged poorly at all. Regardless, “Manic Behavior” is a breath of fresh air in a world overrun with formulaic EDM mixes.

For starters, the duo proves to be smart samplers, using old psychiatric soundbites and operatic strings to lend a foreboding drama to the song’s concept of mental instability, a symptom of emotional desperation. The samples are recontextualized rather than simply built upon, and they help create an exhilarating audio whirlpool. It isn’t completely coherent, but then neither is a mental breakdown. Dett and Revv smartly keeps the different musical strains from homogenizing too much, and it’s the right move for “Manic Behavior”.

There are lyrics to accompany the madness, sung in a low, smoky voice that seems to have been contorted through a few filters. Aside from the nimble cadence of the superb opening lines, the delivery sometimes fails to take full advantage of the swing-style beat, particularly on the somewhat monotone “Been through hell” pre-chorus. Fortunately, the arrangement moves along quickly from section to section and wraps before those lyrics get too repetitive, and as a whole, they end up working rather well.

Sonically, the stereo mix does go a little off the deep end at the song’s finish, and while that’s in keeping with the concept, the high pitched, almost twangy vocals cross over into mild annoyance. Other choices, though, are brilliant, such as the timed breath samples that hint at hyperventilation.

“Manic Behavior” is an exciting piece of musical mixed media that stirs a great curiosity and anticipation for what Dett and Revv may have next. The duo is expected to release a debut EP soon, but in the meantime, this single can be found on Spotify and Soundcloud.

"Black Rabbit" by Vangough

Progressive metal band Vangough has been putting out quality material for nearly a decade, and across its discography, the group has shown a knack for changing its sound. On the brooding “Black Rabbit”, an 11-minute epic from the new album, Warpaint, this continues to be the case.

Despite its runtime, “Black Rabbit” actually shows restraint and focus when compared to earlier efforts. Gone are the mystical synth lines, for instance, which in prior albums helped convey a sense of sci-fi fantasy. Given that the band’s entire repertoire revolves around the conceptual motif of a rabbit kingdom, the progression to a more grounded sound is significant. Warpaint is much leaner than its predecessors in both length and instrumentation, and this helps drive home the grave tone of tracks like “Black Rabbit”, which grapples with a loss of purpose in the wake of a fallen comrade.

The musical journey of this track carries across a great deal of structural variety while retaining the same tone and tempo. There are two major moments where the band’s distorted power clears out for soft intimacy, but otherwise, “Black Rabbit” wears its troubled introspection through charged performances and bittersweet melodies. Subtle but constant meter changes help the song stay interesting over its 11 minutes, and all three members make every moment count. In particular, the lead vocals are strong and angular, yet emotive, occasionally dipping into falsetto with smooth, skillful inflections. The octaved backing vocals are a nice touch as well.

By the time the final leg of the song comes, which is a purely instrumental passage that grows out of an acoustic 3/4 interlude, Vangough continues to maintain its cool composure. With its tricky time signatures in 6/4 and 5/4, the guitar riffs and kick drum flurries charge toward the finish line, but they never lose their steady, clean precision. It’s almost a bit too sterile for a grand finale on the recording, especially as this is the album’s final track. Without the dynamic vocals, the emotion doesn’t come through quite as strongly as it seems poised to do. This is a tiny, tiny critique.

“Black Rabbit” is a solid work that doesn’t get bogged down in superficial presentation, instead following its muse to the end. Vangough doesn’t aim to produce the hardest or showiest metal around, but it does make some of the most conceptual and interesting music that one is bound to encounter in the genre. This is one band with which a trip down the rabbit hole is well deserved.

“Black Rabbit” is available on the new album, Warpaint, which can be purchased physically through the Bandcamp platform. It is now streaming on Soundcloud, Spotify, and iTunes. Vangough’s frontman is also currently raising funds for his own pet rabbit, Bilbo, who is in need of a costly surgery. Anyone who donates $100 or more gets a signed CD and a handwritten letter of thanks.

"Abstract" by Skyy Webster

With a buttery smooth delivery, neo-soul artist Skyy Webster brings a polished dose of feel-good vibes with his first major single, “Abstract”. The production’s soft sizzle sets the stage with a simmering piano sample and a sturdy snare beat. Against this low-key instrumental, Webster doesn’t show off vocally, but rather keeps his cool. He sings with a crisp levity that maintains a suave control of dynamics.

Hip-hop extraordinaire Original Flow joins for a few bars as well. On his guest rap verse, he sticks to the easy-going tempo and offers a low-key but just punchy enough flow as to be a counterpoint to Webster. He plays off key words in the song to convey thoughts of love and attraction, which is of a more personal sort than the compliments Original Flow showers on his own excellent recent single, “Confidence”.

As introductions go, Webster’s doesn’t roll out with a bang, choosing instead to offer a glimpse of what is to come. The lyrics echo this with a chorus that says, simply, “Tell everybody back, back, back, back (you ain’t ready) / I’m too abstract, abstract (you ain’t ready)”. These are big words, promising something so fresh that audiences may not be able to handle it. That’s something yet to be determined, but for now, there’s plenty for listeners to grab onto with the mild but infectious “Abstract”.

“Abstract” is streaming now on Soundcloud, it has a music video on YouTube, and a new album is set to release soon. Follow Skyy Webster’s official Facebook page to stay up to date on all the developments.

"Get In My Car" by Broncho

Broncho (stylized BRONCHO) follows up last year’s Double Vanity LP with a little somethin’ somethin’ to tide fans over until the next project. “Get In My Car” is a garage pop hookup tune filled with all the band’s signature traits: colorfully distant guitar riffs; light, intuitive vocal swagger; thick reverb effects; and playful lyrics. It is also Broncho’s best summertime single since 2014’s breakout hit “Class Historian”.

The topic of “Get In My Car” isn’t new–the song’s very title begs comparison to a popular Billy Ocean hit–but it’s so catchy and carefree that it hardly matters. Breezy arpeggiated guitar lines back the chorus as an up-tempo melody carries the straightforward lines, “I like to go fast, I like to go far / Won’t you open the door, get in my car”.

Most notably, the verses confidently skip measures in unexpected places. Here, the four-piece plays it completely straight, letting the flirtatious musical winks work on their own within the song’s 4/4 meter. It’s a clever, confident choice that subtly adds to the single’s fun energy.

On paper, the lyrics could be seen as a little too persuasive, depending on the sensitivity of the listener. If it weren’t for one key line–“You feel it out, but you don’t quite know if you should”–the singer’s advances could seem completely one-sided and pushy. Broncho seems to be tuned in to modern-day dating concerns, though, as the brilliantly self-aware line about consent shows. “Hit the lights and give me permission” is both awkward and amusing, and it’s the kind of phrase a hip indie rock act wouldn’t have dreamed up a few years ago.

Like the band, “Get In My Car” has a weird charm to it, and it seems to say that Broncho might be kicking into high gear again after the slower-paced output of 2016. It may not land like “Class Historian” did, but it has nearly as much replay value, making this a more than worthy road trip song.

“Get In My Car” is available on Spotify, iTunes, and Soundcloud.

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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