Singles Grab Bag #11

Welcome back to Singles Grab Bag, a track review series that presents a cross-section of songs in various genres and statures from the Oklahoma music scene(s). Read up on five new-to-newer singles by music artists working in hard rock, hip-hop, electronic, indie, and symphonic metal in the full reviews below.

Be sure to make it to the bottom, where we have a special collaboration with Brandi Kelley (Co-Artistic Creator of RACE Dance Collective and Dance Teacher at Classen SAS Middle School), who gives an interpretation of these five songs through improvised dance.

"Crutch" by Kirra

One of Oklahoma City’s hard rock staples is back with a new twist on its heavy sound. Boasting the fiery music that fans have come to know and love, “Crutch” is a blast of full-cylinder rock ‘n roll packed with dynamic performances, but it’s also a bit more. This single finds the band borrowing the calloused fingers of blues rock to mold its high-energy tendencies into a rollicking good time the likes of which Kirra has not hosted before now.

Centered around a loose gallop, the rhythm charges forward through the track, revving with impeccable vocals and guitar riffs in tow. The musicianship is tight, even as it skirts melodies by bending pitch for a thick extra layer of southern dirt. The tambourine is a nice nod to the stylistic roots of the song, too. “Crutch” is pristine in its modern-day production quality, yet its songwriting and performances manage to keep it feeling sweaty.

If there’s one aspect that could miss the mark for some sensitive listeners, it’s in the topic that Kirra unapologetically chooses to build its song around. “Crutch” is a callout of people (or more likely one person, in particular, it seems) who pin all of their troubles on external forces and take no responsibility for their actions. This is likely to not bother too many people and may even be the kick in the pants that some folks need. However, the lyrical tone smacks more of accusation than tough love, and its belittling of natural phenomenon, particularly weather, may rub horoscope readers and mystics the wrong way.

There’s also the matter that blues music is, at its foundation, an outgrowth of hardship and pain, a freewheeling expression of lament. Despite citing Son House in a recent promotional video, “Crutch” doesn’t feel very blue. Rather, it wields its bad-ass riffage like a baseball bat, cracking every poor thought and excuse into the stands like an unstoppable man-beast. It works, but it might not vibe with the blues purist who would rather watch the band strike out and limp back to the dugout.

For the right audience, though, “Crutch” is a powerhouse of a song, one that sees Kirra far from ready to rest on any one sound and regurgitate it over and over. The last time the band changed its tune, it was out of necessity due to a major lineup change, but this time, it’s fully intentional. This is a band taking proud strides into its next chapter, and there are no crutches in sight.

"Waves Crashing" by Parris Chariz and Jarry Manna

Tulsa’s Parris Chariz and Jarry Manna team up again as Super Splash Bros. in “Waves Crashing”, the lead single and music video to the second installment in the collaborative project. Following 2018’s Super Splash Bros. debut EP, SuperSplash Bros. 2 is a bigger tide of cool new tracks from the pop trap duo. Although the two artists have made plenty of splashes in their respective careers–which not coincidentally have a good deal of wave-themed cuts in the back catalog already–singles like “Waves Crashing” prove that the concepts are far from running dry.

As the opening track to the new release, it gets right to work, pitching down a surfy retro sample and layering crisp beats over the top. Parris Chariz and Jarry Manna take the court to lob verbal volleys back and forth for five verses, tackling anything from fashion and grind to racism and 360 deals. Naturally, it all pours smoothly from one bar to the next, lending liquid life to that all-important aspect of rap technique–flow. 

That a single manages to pop off like this with no hook is a testament to the craft. Perhaps even more impressive, though, is how this duo continues to dish up its brand of fresh ferocity without mudslinging or even dropping so much as an expletive. Indeed, Parris Chariz and Jarry Manna keep it clean in more ways than one, and it’s a reminder that additives mean little unless the baseline chemistry is strong. After all, the world’s best energy drink is still simply a good, clean glass of water.

The music video for “Waves Crashing” is a slick watch as well. Parking garages are a pretty cliche location for rap video shoots, but this one opens with a clever, on-brand skit of which the Hydro Homies would be proud. Fast forward to some roving camera work and flashy editing, and the video brings justice to the track. More transitions like the crafty pillar wipe between the first exchange of verses could have further boosted its resourcefulness, but when the wave is this brisk, it’s unnecessary.

Recently, the epic hip-hop collaboration album Fire in Little Africa dropped to widespread acclaim, and it’s not by chance that Parris Chariz and Jarry Manna made appearances on the tracks “Drowning” and “The Rain” respectively. The town knows who to call when proper hydration is in order. Now, with Tulsa on the map in a new way and most of FILA’s artists releasing new feature-heavy solo projects in its wake, SuperSplash Bros. 2 is part of–and exemplary of–an even bigger wave, and “Waves Crashing” feels like the froth on the oceanic crest.

"Paper Disguise" by Star Madman and Survey Channel

The latest from OKC electronic whiz Star Madman and her new long-distance collaborator SURVEY CHANNEL is a gorgeous synthwave single that skewers the performative nature of a nice-guy facade. Lyrically relayed from the perspective of a person in a role of lower class or power, “Paper Disguise” takes manipulative egotists to task, opening with passive-aggressive faux subservience before launching into attack mode. This at first conflicts with the track’s soothing musical tone, but once the narrative begins to flip, it ends up making some profound sense.

With dreamy synthesizer sequences and rain-like piano tricklings, “Paper Disguise” feels full of wonder. Listening to the instrumental-only cut that accompanies this song on streaming platforms, one would never guess that the lyrics would be as conflict-heavy as they are. That’s because Star Madman and SURVEY CHANNEL both have a talent for producing atmospheric escapes into other worlds of music.

Star Madman has been releasing melodic electronic pop songs and instrumentals over the Internet for years, connecting with like-minded artists and fans through community-focused platforms like Soundcloud and a myriad of features on underground online radio shows. SURVEY CHANNEL, based in Buffalo, NY, has similarly been active online with an impressive history of masterfully fine-tuned instrumental tracks. His ambient work is especially noteworthy.

Like the best collaborations, one can detect both artists’ styles in “Paper Disguise”, but where one ends and the other begins is a mystery. A common middle ground of electronic sequencing and beat-making solidify the track and enhance its surefootedness. That stability is where the underlying twist in the songwriting finds its way to cohesion.

Star Madman sings later in the track, “We see through / What you do.” This and other lines like it confirm that “Paper Disguise” is not so much a fight with egotism as it is a deconstruction of it. The procedural tempo mirrors the unintimidated narrative and its confident message that most selfish people can’t hide their true natures under a soft demeanor. Power, then, is ultimately rooted in knowledge, and would-be victims of social wolves gain the upper hand by seeing through the disguise. That’s where the music’s bliss meets the narrative–not in ignorance but truth. In the end, it turns out that the mask wearer is only fooling himself.

"Monday Morning Clothes" by The Blue Hues

As odes to outfits go, routine work attire has to be near the bottom of the “it” list. Who would choose to write a synthy pop/rock song about not a suit and tie, not a red dress, not even a pair of sneakers, but boring, nondescript monday morning clothes? The Blue Hues would, of course, and they have a brilliant reason for doing so.

Released in early April, Monday Morning Clothes is the latest in a rollout of new singles since The Blue Hues dropped its debut 2020 record, Plastic Jazz. Where that album was easy, breezy, and occasionally cheesy, newer material finds the band beefing up its sound palette and leaning more into its pop influences than its jazz ones. It retains Plastic Jazz’s subtle kitsch while getting into a new groove, but more on emperors momentarily.

On “Monday Morning Clothes“, The Blue Hues serves up an almost lounge-lizard take on willful ignorance in developed countries to pressing global issues like climate change. The song’s namesake attire is a symbol of business as usual, a clamoring to the false safety of tradition in the wake of change. In this style of music, it’s borderline satirical, especially when one considers that the pivotal line “Monday morning clothes / Turn to dust with just one touch” may indeed be a reference to The Emperor’s New Clothes.

The sequin-shiny synth chords never stray from whole-note sustains, offering an almost flat stability to echo this notion of subconscious stubbornness to change. A funky bass and some snappy drums save the song from being a victim of its own narrative, though, with a latter-half synth part solidifying the low-key mirrorball dazzle of this mid-tempo tune. What really makes “Monday Morning Clothes” pop, however, are the vocals, which deliver an upper-register croon accompanied by fine harmonies in tasteful doses. The singer wears the song’s aloof main character with a brush of the shoulder and a wink to the fourth wall.

This is a weird song, and that will probably unfortunately impact its longevity in todays’ Spotify playlist culture. It’s far and away more interesting that what half of those playlists include, though. “Monday Morning Clothes” is another example of something The Blue Hues may not even realize it is stumbling into, something that could one day even be the next big twist on synthpop–conscious yacht rock. Despite its indie pop surface, there is very little about this band that is typical, and in today’s swell of aesthetic chasers, it’s refreshing to see The Blue Hues bask in its delightfully odd element.

"Forgive Me" by Kitt Wakeley

Kitt Wakeley must be living the dream. How many producers out there ever get to express their wildest genre-splicing whims with a full orchestra, a choir, and legendary guitarist Joe Satriani

On his latest album, Symphony of Sinners and Saints, Edmond-based music industry vet Kitt Wakeley ups the ante on his personal symphonic rock vision, and that comes through with third and final lead single “Forgive Me”. String, brass, and choral parts converge with sinister rock drums and electric guitar to express an epic sentiment of moral limbo. The sin in need of such forgiveness is left vague, but that’s the method here. Listeners are free to bring their meanings to the piece because of how broad the themes are.

Similarly, the music is approachable for a general audience. Using standard time and familiar rock/pop chord progressions, Wakeley presents an easily digestible composition that expresses its ambitions through rich, ornamental arrangement. Featuring London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and recorded at none other than Abbey Road Studios, it boasts a sound quality that rivals Hollywood soundtracks.

On “Forgive Me”, Joe Satriani and a 48-piece choir share the spotlight. The lyrics, which range from builds of foreboding Latin to a storm’s eye of softly resolute English, are expressed with utmost emotional dynamics by the choir. This is especially true of what can be called the chorus of the song, an intense quatrain that pleads for mercy over and over. This spectacle of the human voice is arguably the angelic throughline to this track and the rest of the album, so it’s perfect to hear Joe Satriani more or less playing his part as a serpent. His guitar work is a character of its own, whispering and cackling in reactive phrases up until the song’s latter third brings Satriani into the tonal fold to finish the track with his signature virtuosic fireworks.

“Forgive Me” is Wakeley’s third single in a row to hit #1 on Billboard’s hard rock charts leading up to Symphony of Sinners and Saints, which officially released everywhere on May 21st. Certainly, a press run that has included features in big-name guitar magazines and on-the-pulse music news outlets can take some of the credit, but as the industry should know by now, no amount of money can make a bad album genuinely click with audiences.

While slam metal kids and classical music snobs probably turn their nose up at Wakeley’s work for its approachability and genre diversity, less gatekept music spheres seem to be responding well to it. Certainly, there’s something to be said for the great background music that Symphony of Sinners and Saints makes, and tracks like “Forgive Me” would be at home on the playlist of any fantasy gamer or dungeon master. This is also worthy foreground music, however, because it has a soul–Kitt Wakeley’s soul–which fills an epic creation that would ring empty otherwise. That’s ultimately what makes it work, what translates this tale of light and dark to listeners around the globe. 

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aka Jarvix, the Chief Executive Weirdo of Make Oklahoma Weirder. His out-of-the-box music coverage has been published by the Oklahoma Gazette, KOSU, and The Oklahoman among others. He also makes DIY music as a solo multi-instrumentalist live looper in his spare time.

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