Joji drops commercial ‘Nectar’

What happens when new media meets art?

In the 21st century, each decade has produced new avenues for talent of all kinds to achieve the success they likely would not have achieved without technological advancements. This can date back to the days of Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian. Utilizing the newly minted “reality television” medium, the two socialites became the original “influencers,” ushering in an Instagram-driven age of the self brand and a type of self employment that required nothing but luxury and style.

Today, this now obsolete tactic has created an oversaturated market for influencers far and wide. In need of a new tactic, the public flocked to YouTube and TikTok. Both free form platforms for users to put out essentially anything they want, it has provided an outlet for stars like the D’Amelios and Addion Raes of the world.

On the YouTube side, artist Joji made a stark transition to music, utilizing his steady following on the platform to seamlessly segue into his new role of genuine artist. His single, “SLOW DANCING IN THE DARK,” was a huge streaming hit. It allowed the singer to shed the skin of his former persona, leaving room for an easily marketable “sadboi” for the kids of Gen Z.

Clearly an ingenious tactic, the single resonated with users of this demographic. The song was appropriated into one of the first TikTok trends of its kind. Users utilized the song to film their own videos, expanding the already viral nature of the single.

With Nectar, Joji’s second studio album, the artist triples down on this tactic. The sweeping 18 track set features enough melancholy and hip hop influenced beats to dominate TikTok feeds for the fleeting days of the app’s reign.

It’s impossible to analyze Nectar from a purely artistic standpoint. The strategy is too on-the-nose. This, though, doesn’t necessarily discredit the quality of the often high quality record. Is it a few songs too long? Yes. Does it repeat themes to the point of monotony? Definitely. Is it, above all else, emotionally compelling and entertaining? Absolutely.

Nectar is made up mostly of love tunes across the spectrum of pursuit, loss, and the instability between those two benchmarks. The opener, “Ew,” immediately sets the tone of the project. Lamenting the loss of a love and wishing for one more longstanding and true, Joji sounds exasperated. This exhaustion only continues throughout most of the tracks.

The singer goes beyond the science of love to discuss the trappings of fame and the business side of his industry. Standout “MODUS” deals directly with labels and publicity teams forcing an image on him.

“I don’t feel the way they programmed me to feel today,” he sighs. The chorus of the song plays like an eboy version of Adele’s “Someone Like You,” and it’s actually one of the best moments on the album. It’s an interestingly self aware moment for a project seeped in its own commercialism and business oriented structure, actually including a song titled “Tick Tock.”

Another highlight is the Diplo assisted single “Daylight.” It’s a rare uptempo bop in a sea of mid tempo pieces of introspection.

Should Nectar have been abridged to about 12 songs, it would play as a much better album. Joji’s talent as both a songwriter and performer is undeniable since BALLADS 1. He’s shifted his sonics to inconsistent success. Though this work is a symptom of the maneuvers that got him to this point, the strength of the work often shines through the cracks.


LA serenader jame has a lot to offer on ‘If U Want Me’

“I’m inspired a lot by atmosphere – scenery, colors. Every time I write a song I think of a place,” jame says over the phone on a Wednesday afternoon from the walls of his Los Angeles apartment.

This imagery, inspiring and enveloping, is the fabric of the singer-songwriter’s debut project, Harmless. A delightful 8-track collection dedicated to loss and letting go, it’s a taste of more to come from the mind of a consistently evolving artist.

Born Patrick James Minogue, jame grew up in Perth Amboy in New Jersey. His father is from Kilkenney, Ireland, and his mother is from the Dominican Republic. jame’s interest in music came to him at an early age. Noted by his parents, this penchant was always present to those around him, even when it may not have been to himself.

“My parents say when I was a little kid, I used to get all the pots and pans in the house, pick off tree branches outside and pretend to play drums on them,” he tells me. The subtle makings of a burgeoning producer, these early moments alluded to what would soon encapsulate jame’s life; music.

At 15, he began writing his own music. Inspired by popular punk bands from Green Day to My Chemical Romance, jame utilized his inspirations as entry points for learning instruments. By high school, he started working with other musicians, playing talent shows mostly as a drummer before assuming his role as a lead singer.

The earlier years of his pursuit of the craft were not free of struggle. Growing up in a completely Latinx town, jame’s passions were often met with criticism from those around him.

“My town definitely had those kinds of people who would say things like, ‘You’re Hispanic/Latino. It’s impossible to make it in music, you need a plan b,’” jame explains. These obstacles only fueled the fire, encouraging the artist to move out of his hometown and into somewhere more suitable for his musical growth.

That environment came in the form of the Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA. Securing a spot in the prestigious program, Minogue soon joined forces with a few peers to form The Penthouse, an indie pop trio. The group decided to take their act to LA to keep evolving and be closer to the action.

5 months into the coast to coast move, the band broke up.

Now a solo act in a big city, Minogue worked to curate a stage persona that was singular, impassioned, and true to himself. In June 2019, jame was born. The first piece of Harmless came shortly thereafter in the form of standout single “Freefall.”

“‘Freefall’ felt like being in a humid room with a lot of plants and windows, having a fan blow on me the whole time,” jame illustrates in describing the images and colors that inspired the songs on the project. “[When I think ‘Freefall,’] I think about the color blue.”

The remainder of Harmless doubles down on the themes of processing grief – that of relationships, friendships, past selves. Just when that catharsis felt near completion, the ongoing pandemic hit. For many like jame, this newly suffocating reality gave way to struggles in creativity and songwriting.

“I had to learn to go [more deeply] inside myself and write from there,” jame admits. “Halfway through quarantine I taught myself to write music from a different place. I’m at a super creative place now vs the beginning [of the pandemic].”

Screen Shot 2020-07-21 at 9.51.54 AM
“If U Want Me,” jame

This creative place is the incubator for the artist’s latest single, “If U Want Me.”

A bit of a departure from his earlier work, the new single grows from the narrative of Harmless, providing the lens for a new chapter – one filled with closure and moving forward. It deals with the all too heavy reality of love in the digital age, even more overwhelmingly pressurized by the Covid-induced digital dystopia many find themselves trapped in today.

“In this new stage, I’ve let go of everything,” jame expresses in describing the wake of Harmless. “[If U Want Me] is a lot more upbeat – it sounds a lot more positive. The song focuses on online dating and how our form of communication has changed from in person to online.”

From a supplement to a driving force, online dating has evolved into a now integral aspect of modern relationships. Through “If U Want Me,” jame captures this development.

Earthy and summer ready, the mid tempo jam is, for better or worse, one of the most relatable tracks to come out of quarantining as a twenty-something. jame beautifully captures the collective unease of being a young adult pursuing romance today.

What’s next?

Time will tell, but if “If U Want Me” is any sign of what’s coming from those apartment walls, listeners are in for a treat.


Feature: Ambitious pop act Tamara is cookin in quarantine

ad7808285b6c54cd5eb9f97cb39fadb71c275ed9
TMusic

From Fairfield, Connecticut, emerging talent Tamara has worked tirelessly to grow as an artist in today’s pop music landscape. The confident creator was brought up largely in New York City where she attended high school.

During her later years in school, Tamara’s passion became clear. Recording, writing, and collaborating with producers around the city, Tamara landed a spot in the coveted Bandier Program within the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. Now a junior, Tamara continues to grow her sound and her network.

With dreams of continuing to master her sound and dip her toes in the production space, Tamara works to get to the next level after she finishes her degree next year. I had a chance to chat with the ever-evolving artist. We talked inspirations, goals, and what it means to be an artist in today’s industry.


UNSOLICITED: How has isolation been going for you so far?

Tamara: Worst question of the summer (laughs)! I just came back from a trip to Vermont about three days ago. My life was significantly different before I left. I had this online class I hadn’t started yet and when I came back things started picking up, but its a good thing.

U: How has the songwriting/recording process been throughout quarantine? 

T: Whether it’s in this time period or not, my creativity comes in waves. Obviously before COVID it was a lot easier to have access to recording, but I mostly write songs late at night during sad boy hours. What I write isn’t necessarily in that space, but when my night owl instincts come in I just go.

I record all my singles with my producer, Joey Auch, who lives in Brooklyn Heights, but I can’t see him right now. I have another friend, Lucas Dell’Abate, in Greenwich who has equipment – we go to my pool house and record from there. If you’re passionate about something, you make it work.

U: Who are some of your biggest musical inspirations?

T: Personally, I’m geared for pop music. The reason I’ve done some EDM and electropop is because I have a lot of friends in that space who I’ve been able to collaborate with.

In terms of inspirations, I love Charli XCX – how i’m feeling now has been on repeat. Another artist I’ve been inspired by is TS Graye. She’s inspired my sound through nostalgia. I exist in a space that’s half nostalgia, half bad bitch. I’m feeling nostalgic, but I’m not to be fucked with (laughs).

U: When did you first start to think about forming a career in music?

T: Junior year of high school. I had a huge epiphany during my sophomore year when I realized it would be really tough, but it was what I was supposed to do. I decided I couldn’t live my life going through a 9-5 and hating my life. From that moment forward I started working on technique to the point where I felt comfortable enough to go to my producer the next year.

I started working with my producer, and he’s kind of evolved with me. Whenever I have an idea but can’t articulate it, he catches my vibe and helps me continue to find my sound. Every time we go in and finish a session, I come back out more fulfilled.

U: What do you see as the pros and cons of the current music industry?

T: With this virus, the live music scene is definitely missed. The touring industry makes up so much of the revenue of this industry. There’s a lot of streaming happening, but there’s a difference from an audience’s perspective of going to a show vs streaming.

Overall, one great thing about the industry right now is the diversity of producers, more women behind the soundboard and seated at the table. We’re starting to tap into that network more. Another great thing is that artists have more time to be consistent. Normally everything is so on the go that now is a good time to step back and plan out music releases.

U: Where do you want your music to go, sonically and in audience growth?

T: Sonically, I work with my sound song by song. Every artist wants their numbers and audience to increase. Obviously my music connects to me because I’m the one writing it. I can’t sit down and force it to connect with somebody else.

The great thing about music is that there’s more than one aspect to listen to. If you don’t like the lyrics, maybe you’ll like the melody; if you don’t like the melody, maybe you’ll like the beat behind it. There are different aspects of a song that people can connect to.

Personally, I just want people to find one of these things to connect to in my songs. I don’t need you to relate to me. If you do, that’s great and I’m genuinely happy; but, my purpose on this Earth was not to people please. I just want my music to be out there in a way where people appreciate it and love it for what it is.

U: When you’re recording a song, do you think about what will resonate with a bigger audience? Are you surprised by what sticks vs. what doesn’t?

T: When I’m recording I don’t think about anyone else’s take. When I’m in the studio, I’m paying attention to how it sounds to me. I start to think in that space moreso after the song has been released.

I know, sonically, what’s more popular; but, that’s not always the take that I go for and I’m fine with that. I take a lot of pride in who I am as a person and my individuality. When I’m in the studio I don’t think about Top 40. I just go in there and its me. Sometimes it ends up sounding like Top 40, and sometimes it sounds like something different.

I’ve come a long way and I’m grateful for the people who have helped me and the program I’m in, but I still have a very long way to go. I credit my knowledge and my willingness to move forward to myself and to my program.


Skofee dazzles with debut single ‘Fantomlimb’

unnamed-1
“Fantomlimb” Sign From The Universe Entertainment

From Wichita, Kansas to Los Angeles, California, singer songwriter Skofee has developed a sound that feels accessible, unique, and above all, engaging.

Drawing inspiration from bluegrass and folk, Skofee has curated a sharp eye for storytelling over the years. More important, she has successfully honed in on the type of stories listeners crave to hear; nostalgic, pain soaked, and unfinished.

“I’m attracted to songs that admit fault and work through emotions in real time rather than presenting the conclusion wrapped up with a bow,” Skofee expressed. “It’s more interesting to be in the point of tension as a listener; the in-between.”

With her debut single, “Fantomlimb,” the artist drops listeners into this introspective limbo.

The song challenges pundits to clear space and make room for a new type of pop artist –one that forgoes gimmicks, instead applying her unfiltered insights into the world today. At their center is the duality of a feigned external self-assertion and the internal doubt quietly gnawing from within.

Acting as the pilot to her debut EP Polished out later this year, “Fantomlimb” is an acrobatic showcase of the already cultured 23-year-old singer’s talents. From her poignant pen to her proven vocal range, Skofee dazzles.

The single instantly transports the listener into a dreamy headspace through which their deepest feelings may roam wildly. Longing, emotional, tense – “Fantomlimb” is an incredibly impressive, self assured debut from an artist shockingly just beginning what is sure to become a fruitful career.

The track’s strengths lay in its universality. Injecting lush vocals only few can muster, Skofee relates the all too real feeling of longing for someone that isn’t emotionally present in a way they were in the past.

“Pretending you’re mine makes me selfish, but I could use some kind of peace of mind,” she coos.

Whether through the lens of romance or friendship, listeners can relate. They will easily lose themselves in the lyricism, made stronger by Skofee’s angelic delivery.

Underneath this delicate dispatch is a mid tempo electropop production from LA based alt-pop trio Moontower’s Devan Welsh. Accessible but not overbearing, Walsh’s contribution enriches the tune. The production slowly builds to its emotional climax, expertly crafting the tension surrounding the artist in the spotlight. The sound further evokes the feelings laid out in the lyrics, adding another layer through which the listener can feel the unbridled complexities of Skofee’s emotional process.

One of 5 new tracks to be featured on the Polished EP, “Fantomlimb” is only the beginning for the new artist. The string of experiences are tightly wrapped in theme and execution, providing listeners with just a taste of what’s to come from the artist in the near future.

“I wrote the songs [on Polished] as individual thoughts and linked their meanings after I had a collection I felt I could really stand behind,” Skofee explained. “My goal as a songwriter is to create concise moments for the listener to engage with, and I do feel that each song on the EP accomplishes a different moment.”

Polished drops September 21.


Feature: YAA! Koala brings the party on ‘Choir Boy’

CHOIR BOY cover
Choir Boy, YAA! KOALA CUTEGANG

Not even a global pandemic could stop Russian-born, New York-based electronic wizard YAA! Koala from making his mark with his debut project. Described by his team as “joyful, optimistic, and endlessly danceable,” the 7-song collection is an energetic thrill ride, marking a promising debut for a genre that continues to be a mainstay in pockets around the globe.

I had a chance to virtually sit down with the artist to pick his brain about career beginnings, current industry trends, and insights on the future.

UNSOLICITED: Let’s start from the beginning. Did you always plan on music being your career? What was your first experience with the craft?

YAA! Koala: I started off doing international law – hard to get a green card as a musician. Once the green card came in, I quit the firm and went all in. I had a hip-hop duo that ran for a couple years. Unfortunately, the better we did, the worse our relationship became and we ultimately split. YAA! Koala came next. But to take it way way back, I remember writing a song about polar bears when I was six (I’m Russian, so naturally).

U: Who are some of your biggest musical inspirations? Who are you listening to now?

YK: That’s an impossible question for a musician to answer. My inspirations include: Nirvana, Tyler, the Creator (OFWGKTA!), Childish Gambino through Because the Internet / Kauai era, 808s/Yeezus-era Kanye, D’Angelo (Voodoo), Erykah Badu, Meshell Ndegeocello, Mac Miller, Stevie Wonder, Skrillex, San Holo, Diplo, Getter, DJ Snake, Lil Peep, XXXTentacion, Lily Allen, Sara Tavares (Balance & Xinti).

Currently I would say Angèle, Aitch, Kero Kero Bonito, Oliver Tree, 100 Gecs, Easy Life, Joji, Poshlaja Molli, CHAI, Michael Brun. I could keep going for days.

U: Dream collaborators? 

YK: Skrillex, Aitch, Videoclub, Beabadoobee, Minesweepa.

U: What are your thoughts on the industry as it stands today, do you feel an increased autonomy with streaming or that it’s daunting and oversaturated?

YK: The industry is what it is. It has never been easy. The diversity and quality of music these days is incredible. The arms race pushes the quality way up, unfortunately at the expense of healthy lifestyle and mental health. That said, it’s hard not to geek out listening to a Zeds Dead compilation or Minesweepa. At the same time, Jace Mek is open about working at an Amazon warehouse, despite placements on major labels. There needs to be a better way.

U: How has the current pandemic inspired and/or stifled your creativity?

YK: It hasn’t affected me much. It exists mainly in the news and on social media. I still get up, exercise, run up to the mountains (got stuck in Cape Town during the lockdown), and then go on about my day. People are irrational and it’s frustrating to see the world come to a halt in this case, while we continue to ignore a million other risk factors (horrible food, lack of exercise, pollution, smoking, stress, driving, etc.)

U: Where does the name “YAA! Koala” come from?

YK: YAA! means “I” in Russian. It is also fun to do a call and response at shows. And koalas are warm and cuddly, which kind of captures the feel-good vibe of my sound.

U: You’ve talked about exploring psychedelics on your social media pages. What is your relationship to them and how have they informed your art?

YK: Microdosing psilocybin was the first step getting above water after years of fairly severe depression – I also highly recommend the book Lost Connections by Johann Hari. The ego dissolution from a larger dose was quite special – probably deserves a separate interview. Not sure whether psilocybin has had an impact on music that’s currently out, but going forward, I will keep trying to make it more vivid, to create a space through which the listener can travel. Jack Stauber does this brilliantly in his Micropop releases. So far I’ve found it hard to balance making a track that snaps in a club with a more intricate composition with greater depth, but I’m going to crack the formula one day.

U: What is something you learned through the process of creating Choir Boy?

YK: Let songs sit for a few weeks before finalizing or releasing — do your best to hear them as an outsider, which is always a challenge because you spend hours, days, weeks working on them.

U: What was the most challenging aspect of the record’s recording process? Most rewarding?

YK: Getting the song from the initial creative idea to the final product. The actual composition that involves creativity is probably 10-20 percent of the song. The rest, especially in electronic music, is getting the mix right, making sure that it’s clear, impactful, and translates well on different speakers – none of which is particularly sexy or fun. So getting a song across the finish line is both challenging and rewarding.

U: Tell me about your apartment situation and your current quarantined life in Cape Town. How has that been? Has it led to creating any music?

YK: Umm. Good times. I was in South Africa when the world went offline, borders were closed, and flights were cancelled. Still here, though cannot complain — the place is magic. The downside is I had squatters move into my New York apartment, and because of New York’s bizarre tenant laws, I have to go through months of legal process to throw them out, all the while paying rent for them. That has been insane.

U: What’s one thing you want audiences to know about you that may not be reflected in your music just yet?

YK: I like playing guitar. I feel like I will have a San Holo moment, when I will incorporate more of it into my songs.

Choir Boy is available now on streaming services.


‘Dedicated Side B’ arrives just in time for summer

Sitting on a pile of songs and not sure which to release? Drop two albums!

Thinking about which hook works better with a certain song? Record both!

Carly Rae Jepsen has had an interesting career in pop music over the last decade. She burst onto the scene with the enduring earworm “Call Me Maybe,” a single that shot to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in June 2012 and became an even bigger cultural moment for that entire summer season.

With the accompanying album’s release, Kiss, it became apparent that the singer would simply be a one hit wonder.

While that remains incredibly untrue, Jepsen has never really reached the commercial heights she did with “Call Me Maybe” nearly a decade ago. Instead, and for the better, she’s found her niche audience, producing volumes of expertly crafted pop music for true fans of the genre.

In 2015, Jepsen released one of the best albums of the decade with Emotion. Track after track, the 80s inspired dance record is incredibly fun and even more interesting. Jepsen’s unique vocal and doe-eyed perspective is escapist heaven for the listener. That isn’t to say the album didn’t have thought provoking or cheeky tunes (see “Boy Problems” and “LA Hallucinations”). The album undeperformed commercially, but remains discussed in the pop music conversation.

Doubling down in that sweet spot was Dedicated in 2019. More of the same A-list pop, Dedicated took a more indie approach, with key highlights in opener “Julien” and Jack Antonoff soaked “Want You in My Room.”

As if the album didn’t have enough bangers, Jepsen unveils Dedicated Side B. The 12-song collection is a homerun lap celebrating the sound of Dedicated with a tinge of spice. From tropical soundscapes to 80s synths, the expansive confection is delightfully breezy.

The album is a clear celebration of love. It bleeds passion and positivity, painting a portrait of unconditional love Jepsen feels for the source subject. Side A, ironically, is the better half. The front 5 songs are each incredible in their own right.

The electropop opener “This Love Isn’t Crazy” sets the tone before stripping things down for the funky groove of album standout “Window.” Both songs adopt a narrative of Jepsen encouraging her partner their love is worth fighting for.

Following these are “Felt This Way” and “Stay Away,” two sides of the same coin. Using a very similar interpolation and identical lyrics, both tracks shine and work well in the context of the tracklist. Finally, “This Is What They Say” is the cherry on top the first lap of songs, acting as the most danceable tune thus far on Side B.

The album begins to lose steam as it intentionally slows down with “Heartbeat.” It becomes clear why the next few tracks were left of the original Dedicated, but things comeback with “Comeback.” Joined by Bleachers, Jepsen turns inward for a song about herself. It’s a beautiful moment in the album even further enriched by Antonoff’s assist. It could just as easily been featured on Bleachers’ 2017 album Gone Now.

Continuing to rejuvenate the record is the high energy “Solo,” a song about a night of independent fun sitting a top a waterbed of synth. Its the perfect embodiment of dancing away the pain of heartache.

The album closes with “Now I Don’t Hate California After All,” a slightly jarring, but extremely cute closer. Its beachy production rounds out the lyrics about the golden state. Not too deep or thoughtful, the surface level mid tempo jam is nothing but fun.

That seems to be the intent of the record. Arriving in time for the beginning of the summer, Dedicated Side B is a slight, fun pop album and doesn’t pretend to be anything else. Would it have been stronger abridged to an EP? Maybe, but volume and feeding her fans consistent tunes has always been Jepsen’s game – and it still pays off.