© 2024 WMKY
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

8 Tracks: Viral jazz, fantasy metal and a springtime roséwave jam

New Jazz Underground pushes at the corners of hard bop and hip-hop.
Courtesy of the artist
New Jazz Underground pushes at the corners of hard bop and hip-hop.

8 Tracks is your antidote to the algorithm. Each week, NPR Music producer Lars Gotrich, with the help of his colleagues, makes connections between sounds across time.

A couple years ago, WRTI's Nate Chinen wrote about "viral jazz" — think DOMi & JD Beck, Jacob Collier and Louis Cole. It's less a sound and more an aesthetic, Chinen argues, but captures the inherent cool of jazz on platforms suited to the Most Online. But even more than that, these musicians understand that the audience functions as collaborators of sorts, offering feedback in real time.

I recently stumbled across the group New Jazz Underground by accident, but this trio has been uploading videos to YouTube for a few years: in an apartment, swinging on Monk; on a riverwalk, meditating on Sonny Rollins; in a studio with pianist ELEW, reworking MF DOOM. (Madvillainy just turned 20 over the weekend, by the way; its brilliance can still be heard everywhere, especially among young jazz musicians.) YouTube is how most folks first found New Jazz Underground, but there's little of the flash or bombast that you might find with similar acts — these Juilliard-trained musicians clearly know the jazz tradition, but push at the corners of hard bop and hip-hop. Classy and classic.

This week on 8 Tracks, we lead off with my favorite New Jazz Underground cut, then move through fantasy metal, '90s-style R&B, despondent dream-pop and a springtime roséwave jam.

New Jazz Underground, "oney one's one"

Saxophonist Abdias Armenteros, bassist Sebastian Rios and drummer TJ Reddick have what I can only call a "deceptively rickety" quality — they could grease up the joints on these grooves, make them more clockwork, but that would rub out the raw character of these performances. Listen to how the soprano sax slides just behind the opening J Dilla-inspired beat, then sturdies the melody even as the pocket hugs the curves. As "oney one's one" evolves, so too does our sense of unsteady time — that was Jay Dee's game-changing innovation, by the way, and it absolutely cooks here.

Castle Rat, "Fresh Fur"

Castle Rat is a lot of look: a sword and ax-wielding, chain mail-clad sorceress babe with big hair and heavy makeup; the band, too, is something out of a tabletop RPG game. Castle Rat has a throwback sound: straight up '70s-style doom metal indebted to Black Sabbath, Pentagram and Witchfinder General. I can already hear the no-fun-not-ever metalhead contingent crying "False!" But the psychedelic, B-movie VHS haze over these riffs and Riley Pinkerton's haunted wail is just spellbinding.

Black Sabbath, "Headless Cross"

Speaking of doom, the righting of a great wrong shall be made on May 31: (Most of) the Toni Martin-era Black Sabbath albums, long out of print and scarcely on streaming, are finally getting reissued. This is post-Ozzy, Dio, Ian Gillan and Glenn Hughes — Tony Iommi, bless his heart, kept the Sabbath unholy. For what it's worth, Martin was the longest-serving vocalist for the band, behind Ozzy, and crystalized Iommi's vision of apocalyptic fervor on 1989's Headless Cross. So if you've never heard his pipes grace Iommi's riffs, Cozy Powell's powerhouse drums, Laurence Cottle's fluid bass lines and Geoff Nicholls' symphonic keys, then please bang your head to this tasty remaster.

Kenya Vaun, "Yesterday"

Kenya Vaun's voice is nestled somewhere between Ms. Lauryn Hill and India.Arie — brassy, but sweet. The production on her debut album, The Honeymoon Phase, also favors a vintage boom bap that sparkles with current techniques. So, for '90s R&B aficionados, that should sound the alarm. But what I like most about Vaun is her ability to passionately articulate an emotion or memory with unfussy ornamentation. On "Yesterday," she doesn't spend a lot of time twisting notes beyond the words' meaning, but instead simply wants to remember how the past feels in the present, as if handing her listeners a faded photo. She's got the goods.

Remi Wolf, "Cinderella"

Roséwave szn begins now, y'all. Remi Wolf knows how to make songs that feel good with hooks that make you go huh!? "Like Cinderella making babies on the company's dime / We're making pennies out of paper, better find a new slime." No matter, I'm strutting all of my stuff to this bop — funky '70s horn section and all.

Jäde, "Diabolo Grenadine / Rivalise"

J​ä​de is a French pop singer with a superfluous umlaut. If previous albums served honey-dipped R&B, then Les Malheurs de J​ä​de is more prismatic in its production. This smashed-together single offers two sides: NewJeans-y electro-pop at a lower BPM, with a similar affection for Aaliyah; an all-too-brief, slightly autotuned trap bop that teases a laid back flow. Everything is sung en français in that breathy way that yé-yé girls do, so you too can feel intimidated by J​ä​de's cool.

The Reds, Pinks & Purples, "What's Going on with Ordinary People"

In just five years, The Reds, Pinks & Purples' Glenn Donaldson has created a vast indie-pop song repository for despondent dreamers. The Go-Betweens, The La's and The Smiths are good points of reference, but "What's Going on with Ordinary People" follows the songwriting logic that successfully guides RPPs: a verse-chorus-verse format that reliably jangles, yet expands and explodes from the inside. In this ode to our paranoia-gripped society, Donaldson deploys a dry, sardonic wit for the softest blows.

Six Organs of Admittance, "New Year's Song"

Maybe y'all don't know, but I like to sequence 8 Tracks like a mixtape — some transitions are bumpier than others, but then you get easy layups like this one. Six Organs of Admittance is the long-running, ever-shifting project of Ben Chasny, whose musical career has intersected with Glenn Donaldson (Skygreen Leopards, et al.) when they both ran in experimental folk circles. "New Year's Song" takes me back to "freak folk"-era Six Organs: In his warbling falsetto, Chasny searches for a distant memory as a gentle, fingerpicked acoustic melody gets all tangled up in a watery guitar solo. I'm not exactly sure what he's singing, but it makes me weepy all the same.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Listen to the Viking's Choice playlist, subscribe to the newsletter.