In The Local this week, Nooga.com spends some time with music from Johnny Balik; No Thank You, John; Teddy Bando; and Kemo. Who do you think should have a spot in The Local next week?
Johnny Balik, “Little More Love”
Though a transplant to Chattanooga, Ontario-born musician Johnny Balik creates impressionistic R&B that settles into the grooves of the Scenic City’s landscape effortlessly, as easy as breathing in the air blowing off the Tennessee River. His music owes a good deal to the new soul sounds of artists like Blood Orange and Disclosure, though it capably holds its own alongside the genre’s progenitors-echoes of Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye are difficult to escape. But far from disowning this familiarity, Balik uses our common experiences with these sounds to further reinforce his distinct take on the material. He works from within an expansive palette of noise, one that shifts and evolves as it’s revealed in short clips of emotion and melody.
For his latest song, “Little More Love,” Balik looks toward the recent unrest in various parts of the country and tries to find common ground that will allow us to come together. His voice is mercurial, pleading for understanding and love at a time when both are in short supply. His words resonate deep in your bones, as do the sampled words of Martin Luther King Jr. and JFK-men whose visions struggled to change their respective times. “Little More Love” is Balik’s call for compassion. Soulful sax lines, liquid guitar riffs and vocal harmonies that lift the track heavenward intersect at various points, creating a wondrous soundscape of deep-seated emotion and hard-won experience.
No Thank You, John, “Solstice”
Some artists find it difficult to move outside their comfort zones in terms of how they approach their work. Oftentimes, these musicians are simply covering up for a lack of ideas, although others may simply be completely comfortable working through one set of sounds for a long period of time. For bedroom pop composer John Cotton, this idea of staying within a set of rhythmic blueprints is tantamount to stagnation. His music continually moves around, bounding from one genre to the next in a hyperpop cycle of melody and rhythm. His songs can veer toward the lo-fi end of the musical spectrum while retaining their weight and substance. Under this moniker, Cotton is able to wander freely through a handful of aesthetics without laying roots to any given set of sounds.
On his newest release, “Solstice,” Cotton moves through four tracks of relentless creativity and forces us to rethink assumptions about the borders separating certain genres. From electronic pop theatricality to restless rock rhythms and a good deal of the noise in between, he manages to imbue these songs with enough individuality and bedroom swagger to move even the most jaded music lover. But his love of bridging these approaches doesn’t mean that he simply throws various sounds together, hoping that some of them will stick. He takes the underlying commonalities and reinforces them with unpredictable rhythmic tendencies, making “Solstice” a searing new landmark in his burgeoning career.
Teddy Bando, “With That” (featuring Mini Me)
Chattanooga musician Teddy Bando doesn’t do well with labels. His music doesn’t fit into any easily characterized descriptions-he draws inspiration from quite a few influences while managing to build something wholly cohesive and captivating. Bando has been releasing music for some time now, collaborating with various artists such as Cinematic Tha Nganeer, Zaga and Mini Me. His music is drawn from a singular pool of pop/R&B experiences, with slight funk-inflected flourishes thrown in for good measure. He’s set to release his debut record, “Tedland,” sometime later this year.
On recent song “With That,” a track that blends subtle tropicalia sounds with a deliberate R&B swagger, Bando’s voice is affecting, a vessel for intense emotion and experience-yet it never distances itself from his audience. The beat is minimal, but there’s nothing overly simplistic about this song. His voice buoys a casual but memorable melody, the kind that lodges in your brain and refuses to leave for weeks on end. Bando is simply telling a personal story and asking that you respond with your own thoughts. And through this back-and-forth conversation, many things are revealed-even if we’re not entirely sure what those things are. “With That” presents Teddy Bando as a force to be reckoned with, and “Tedland” can’t get here soon enough.
Kemo doesn’t shy away from the gritty knowledge that’s earned from a life fought and conquered. Her music espouses these ideas with every syllable, but it’s the way that she builds these rhythmic revelations that truly defines who she is as an artist. As with any musician, her experiences provide fodder for the often-vicious and serrated verbal assaults that litter her tracks like spoken landmines. But there’s also an understanding and compassion inherent to her work that creates a free flow of information from her to her listeners, resulting in a dialogue of sorts that covers a wide range. Kemo is a street oracle, parsing out history and awareness when and where it’s needed the most.
On “Fake,” she enlists the help of producer DJ Dee to create a volatile and ferocious track that calls out those people who would rather backstab and pull down than support and lift up. Her voice is wild and barbed, spitting venom and lacerating everything in its path. The beat hits you like a sudden kick to the chest-it’s all sharp edges and serrated rhythms. Kemo isn’t afraid to spout truth, even when that truth cuts deep. Bits of church bell clanging and synths combine with her virtuosic musical instincts to highlight the universal emotional perspectives that she’s exploring. “Fake” is one of the best hip-hop tracks to emerge from the streets of Chattanooga in recent memory, and with the Scenic City’s vast wealth of talent, that’s saying something.
Joshua Pickard covers local and national music, film and other aspects of pop culture. You can contact him on Facebook, Twitter or by email. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.