In Notes From Left of the Dial this week, Nooga.com spends time with new music from Paulaa, KILLEN, Red Black Red and Refrigerator. What have you been listening to lately?
Paulaa, “Know You”
London is the home of hybrid pop singer-songwriter Paulaa, a musician whose work occupies several genres simultaneously. Bringing in aspects of pop, R&B, hip-hop and electronic music, she blends them in a mass of effusive beats and gorgeous vocal harmonies. And with the release of recent single “Commit,” she’s tracing her own music to bands like Portishead and Massive Attack, finding common ground and inspiration from their often-disparate influences. But Paulaa isn’t reveling in some disjointed aesthetic; she finds the underlying familiarity in these sounds and forms a series of cohesive structures through which her voice sheds light on the wide variety of shapes and textures.
On “Know You,” the B side to “Commit,” she channels a glossy U.K. garage sound, reminiscent of acts like Disclosure and Jessie Ware. There’s a definite R&B slink, though, that seems to be transmitted from somewhere in the early ’90s. The rumbling bass creeps around in the background before an amorphous beat comes crawling from the shadows. There’s something almost aqueous about it, but Paulaa keeps the track loose and spacious, a testament to her ability to roam these waters without sacrificing her own identity to the myriad influences jostling for attention. Her double-tracked vocals rise above the synth-soaked landscape, highlighting both the pop fluidity of her work and its wandering R&B capriciousness.
KILLEN, “Tired of Being Broke”
Working with a souped-up pop sound with direct inspiration from ELO’s “Evil Woman,” KILLEN (AKA Jack Killen) just wants to make you smile. That’s not to say that his songs aren’t occasionally bathed in grime and the loss of love, but he never wallows in those maudlin landscapes. They’re all in service to an aesthetic filled with overamplified pop melodies and a focus on narrative exploration. As the ex-frontman of Brooklyn band WORKOUT, he’s no stranger to the dedicated churn and effort required to make these sounds embed themselves deep in our subconscious. And with the upcoming release of his EP, “Black Sneakers on Concrete” (out Feb. 9 via Axis Mundi Records), he’s looking to further resolve this manic pop subterfuge.
On recent single “Tired of Being Broke,” he plants his tongue firmly in cheek and rides a wave of power pop rhythms into the sky. There’s nothing subtle, but that’s not what he wants, nor what he thinks we need. Aiming for the stadium with his ’80s-indebted roar, he condenses the blue-collar aspirations of Bruce Springsteen with the heedless pop romanticism of Meat Loaf and creates a sound that pummels your skull, but does it while wearing a grin as wide as the Grand Canyon. There’s a madcap energy humming through the song’s DNA, a boundless theatricality that is as fist-pumping as it is ostentatious. And you’ll want to play it loud with the car windows rolled down; that’s really the only way to experience it.
Red Black Red, “Kindness”
Enrico Fernando has a history with a handful of New Jersey hard rock bands, but after more than a decade hopping between local bands, he decided to settle down and leave music behind. He got married and moved to the Jersey Shore, where he commuted by train daily to an insurance job in New York City. Eventually, that musical itch began to show itself in response to his experiences with the ever-growing arts scenes in and around Asbury Park, and he decided to use that long train ride for something productive. He began taking his laptop and creating a series of electronic sketches, which he would fill out in a mini-studio in his basement. The resulting songs form the basis of his upcoming record, “Resettlement,” due out March 2.
On his latest single, “Kindness,” he finds a medium between the rockier rhythms of his past and the more electronic sounds that pour from his laptop—think TV on the Radio or Depeche Mode. Combining a talent for singer-songwriter narratives and big electro pop structures, Fernando crafts a weird and affecting noise filled with squiggling circuital sounds and bombastic, rock-oriented choruses. There’s a purposeful complexity that digs deep in the roots of his influences to highlight both the overt and concealed musical inspirations that guide the direction of his work. The music ebbs and flows in unpredictable movements, drawing in wobbly wired catharses and expressive revelations that ricochet off one another at odd angles.
Refrigerator, “Cardboard Death Elevator”
Fronted by Shrimper Records founder Dennis Callaci, DIY indie rockers Refrigerator are set to release their 11th record, “High Desert Lows,” Feb. 9 via Shrimper/Revolver. Having spent 27 years working their indie rock magic, the band has seen a lot in terms of the genre’s evolution and is ready to once again show the upstarts how it’s done. Produced by Omaha, Nebraska-based songwriter Simon Joyner (also a Shrimper artist), the album finds the band using the usual indie roster of sounds, including support from violas, slide guitar, Wurlitzer and other subtle melodic accents. These rhythmic add-ons give each track a deeper resonance and slight pastoral quality, a far cry from the stripped-down expulsions of their earlier releases.
On their new single, “Cardboard Death Elevator,” the band opens with simple guitar strums, rolling percussion and sonorous vocals, but all that is soon joined by delicate bouts of piano and subtle string arrangements. Despite the eventual lift in density, the song still possesses a defiantly lo-fi personality, like Guided By Voices jamming out with The Sea and Cake. An extended guitar solo (not abrasive but fuzzed-up) finds its way into the mix, adding another layer to a song already rich with melodic touchstones. The band has been doing this for quite some time now, and they are experts at mining these well-worn sounds for all they’re worth. There’s a real pain and loss in Joyner’s voice, and it’s made all the more poignant by the track’s elegiac indie rock movements.
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.