October 1, 2013

Max Bell is elsewhere.

The beat scene and R&B were interwined long before people with waxed handlebar mustaches and perfectly coifed hair (undoubtedly) felt the need to ironically classify it as “PBR&B.” Whether it’s James Blake, How to Dress Well, or even some of the Weeknd’s muzak, the blending of the two won’t stop anytime soon.

It’s only fitting that L.A. based label Friends of Friends, responsible for fantastic releases from beat scene beasts Shlohmo and Salva would continue to release music that both expounds upon said soundscape and moves away from it. Even if you’ve only cursorily followed Shlohmo’s career, you know his offerings increasingly sound as though intended for dark bedrooms and soaked sheets — really, how many liberal arts majors can say no to being impregnated to the tune of “ Bo Peep”? And the same might also be said of some of Groundislava’s work, which occasionally makes me feel some type of way (word to Rich Homie Quan), or cuts from Evenings’ Yore LP.

The Water’s Way, the debut full-length from new Friends of Friends Kyson, carries on the above tradition in the best way. Though the opener “We’ve Been Inside for Too Long” sounds like a Shlohmo B-side (albeit a good one), Kyson manages carve out a place all his own with the rest of the record, to draw out sounds and textures from the beat scene that straddle the line between R&B and pop (if said line can even be drawn).

Kyson’s footsteps off the MPC pounded path begin on “Missing Things,” as his nearly unintelligible serve vocals as breathy bookends, allowing the beat to build and the synths to swell before culminating in a series alternating and ecstatic sighs and cries — it is the soundtrack to the final ephemeral throws of ex-lovers reunited for the last and most bittersweet of trysts.

“She Said to Me Quietly” finds Kyson stretching his vocals throughout the song. While his delivery is reminiscent of Thom Yorke at times, it’s ultimately quieter and more restrained, and all the better for it. Really though, “Shadows Cross” might be Kyson’s best song in terms of creating a sound all his own, one that both adopts and expands upon the precepts of the Shlohmo records he assuredly studied and adds subtle pop flourishes. Kyson’s chopped vocals are the perfect prelude to his soft singing about time “fad[ing] away.” At its core, “Shadows Cross” is as close to a beat scene ballad as I’ve heard from the Friends of Friends crew: both broken and beautiful.

Whereas Kyson’s record adds to the established sonic template by current Friends of Friends artists, Perera Elsewhere’s music marks the aforementioned shift, well, elsewhere. In preparation for the October 28th release of her debut,  Everlast LP, she’s released singles “Bizarre” and “Giddy.”

On “Bizarre” soft guitar strumming and drums move along slowly, as if bending to the will of Perera’s whispery croon; a voice akin to the bedroom eye and the come hither flex of an index finger. This is the sound of Beck and Portishead commiserating inside a big bottle of booze as something country and serpentine slithers around the outside. It’s not exactly clear what Perera is singing about, but it’s “so surreal” and “so bizarre” and so good I don’t know if I care to analyze it anymore.

“Giddy” is knowingly the opposite of what it’s title suggests. It’s pure western-noir, gritty and blood simple,  the soundtrack to the Cohen brothers flick of the same name nearly two decades after the fact. Yet, as Perera sings about “chasing bullets that have scraped the walls” and the inimitable Gonjasufi gruffly goes on about being “in hell,” one wonders when the last time places so dark sounded to enticing.

Ultimately, both Kyson and Perera Elsewhere’s music mark a noticeable shift for a label that’s seemingly always managed to be simultaneously with the times and ahead of them. And, both artists have real potential for crossover appeal (not that Shlohmo and Salva don’t), Perera Elsewhere especially. So tell your friend to tell a friend about Friends of Friends, or something.

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