You could teach an entire class about Mark Kozelek. The San Francisco-via-Ohio native has been in the scene for thoughtful, numbing folk and rock ever since the 90s, where he led his band, The Red House Painters, through 6 albums up until 2001.

Admittedly, I never listened to that much of the band, but both his solo work and his work with Sun Kil Moon enough is a lot to digest. Anyone who’s heard Sun Kil Moon’s’ most acclaimed release, 2014’s Benji, can attest to his blunt, wordy, and poetic style of songwriting. Even more intense is his self-titled release last year, where the songs consist solely of guitar loops led by Mark’s diatribes about everything from talking with Ariel Pink at a festival to not recognizing his music being played in a coffee shop in the Bay Area.

So, after having been tossed into the Mark Kozelek universe for some time, I recently decided to give his work with the Red House Painters a chance. I had stumbled across the track “Cruiser” off the bands very last album, 2001’s Old Ramon, and instantly fell in love. The track, like many of his solo works, focuses on space and repetition, making it a patient yet trance-inducing listen. It’s elongated, melancholy folk rock (with more emphasis on the rock part), a perfect example of “road trip music”: hypnotic songs that are in no rush, but rather take their time fleshing out ideas and grooves. Coincidentally, the song’s lyrics are about driving around LA late at night, while missing someone back home.

Once you listen through the rest of Old Ramon, the magic of the band really starts to make itself clear. Right from the first track “Wop-A-Din-Din,” a love song dedicated to Mark’s cat, the band brings a relaxed and satisfying sound held together by acoustic guitar and Marks up-close singing. Other tracks like “Michigan” and “Golden” also integrate a folk/country influence, while tracks like “Between Days” and my personal favorite “Byrd Joel” radiate a rock energy that can keep you moving. Of course, as with Mark’s recent work, there are also long, slowly building ballads that are also perfect for long, pensive, sad-boi drives, such as “Void,” “Smokey,” and the incredible “River”

I guess all I really want to say is that it’s rare to find a 10 track, 70 minute long record where there’s not a single song you don’t love, where you can play it from start to finish every day in between classes and not get tired of it, where you are floored every listen by the way the band plays together, express so much emotion through nothing but the sound of guitar, bass and drums. The album, in case you couldn’t tell by now, has easily become one of my favorite recorders period, and it’s a great start into the worlds of the Red House Painters, Sun Kil Moon, and the mastermind himself, Mark Kozelek. Give it a listen!

Listen to Old Ramon

Written by Tino Tirado

 

I never thought my neck would have hurt so much after a night of head-bobbing, but there’s something about Moonchild’s sound that makes you continuously groove. Whether it’s in the irresistible backbeats, the colorful horn harmonies, or the soothing melodies coming from lead singer Amber Navran, Moonchild’s show on November 11th resulted in a whole night of groovin’, thanks to the release of their biggest album yet, Voyager.

Recorded entirely in a cabin at Lake Arrowhead, Voyager feels organic and naturally soulful, even with the inclusion of synths and the occasional glitchy beats. “We bond a lot in nature, and musically, hidden in the tracks there’s a lot of nature sounds” says keyboardist and trumpet player Andris Mattson, perhaps in reference to the bird song samples on their lead single “Cure”.

“We all have set ups at our houses so most of what we do is home recording” says Amber, “but what’s nice about Arrowhead is we’re all in the same place, because we live spread out throughout LA so it’s nice to just live in the same house and bounce ideas off each other quickly.”

The group originally met as jazz students at USC Thornton School of Music (like many students here, they made their first recordings in practice rooms). “It’s nice to be in a community of musicians, because before college it was hard to find people who were really passionate about it, so just being around that energy is really cool” says Amber. “A lot of our stuff will have horn breakdowns or horn solos, and we picked up a lot of arranging skills in college. Now, we don’t necessarily write everything out, but Amber can, when she’s not singing, record this flute solo for a track and know what voicings work well from music school” adds Andris.

After a few small recordings, they released their debut album Be Free in 2012, and grew bigger after the release of their most popular song yet, “Don’t Wake Me” in 2015. Today, having toured and recorded with everyone from Kamasi Washington to Jill Scott and Stevie Wonder, Moonchild’s music seems to resonate well with artists from across the soul spectrum, and they reflect that in their own tastes as well they cite everything from Emily King and Noname to Roy Hargrove and 9th Wonder as current inspirations. Most recently, The Internet recruited them to open their fall tour. “We’re doing this tour with the Internet now and that wasn’t initially the plan, we were going to record this time, but they asked us to open for them and we were like ‘Fuck Yeah!’” says Andris. After the tour, Moonchild plans to spend the winter recording their next album and preparing to perform in new venues across the globe, as far as Indonesia and South Africa.

Regardless of their growth, the group continues to stick to their Jazz and DIY roots. On the state of the sound today, they show that Jazz is the best it’s been in a long time, and that talent and artistry stay crucial in the music industry. “There are platforms now that are glorifying the musician, and now you have all these instrumentalists that are establishing huge names for themselves just by playing their instrument, whereas before it was more the front people that get the attention,” adds Andris, “Jazz as a genre has evolved into a bunch of different things.”

After they ended their night at the loft, the group rushed towards their open table in the back, right next to the bar. Taking pictures, signing T-Shirts, and saying “Thank You” to every fan that came out, Moonchild’s show was not only an exercise in soul, but also an exercise in musicianship. Look out for what they come up with next!

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Listen to Moonchild

Interview & article by Tino Tirado and Needhi Sharma

Gliding through warm water in the furthest-back parts of your mind until submerging completely in it, immersed in the reflections of stars– there’s something about The Marías and their seamless, psychedelic pop-soul-funk that creates waves in your soul, blending the ocean into a painted sky across the horizon. “It’s like if you were in a pool, but it were the temperature of a hot tub, so you could swim through it at night and see the mist rising into the air,” says lead singer María, “it’s all the senses that just feel good and look… beautiful.”

Kicking off their tour with a show at The Loft at UCSD, The Marías led the crowd through the tracks from their newest release, Superclean, Vol. II, and further back in their discography. “We record everything right in our living room,” says drummer and producer Josh Conway, “booking a studio, paying by the hour… that type of deal can sometimes be stressful and halt creativity.” María adds, “it’s just like a camera– it doesn’t matter as much what type you have, it matters more who’s behind the camera and what’s done with it.”

m3.jpgThe Marías, consisting of María, Josh, guitarist Jesse Perlman, pianist Edward James, bassist Carter Lee, and trumpet player Gabe Steiner, bring together a mosaic of backgrounds that create the foundation for their distinct style. “I get ski lodge vibes from the stuff we make,” says Carter, “fireplace, rug, all that warmth.” With influences ranging from blues to Spanish rock, each song transports its audience through time. “I lived in New Orleans for some time… I sometimes find myself doing things in live shows that may be derived from stuff I picked up when I was there,” says Edward, “I grew up on the music… when I was in high school, I’d always drive people but they’d constantly have to listen to recordings from, like, the 90’s.”

Superclean, Vol. II is packed with songs that capture the band’s essence. ‘ABQ’ proves to be a consistent favorite with the members– “it’s one of the most out-there songs we’ve put out, so I always look forward to playing it,” says Jesse. “I like ‘Ruthless,’ since it’s been such a long time coming,” María says, “it was written about five years ago and went through, like, ten different versions.” “It’s the song she played at the Laurel Canyon revival show where we met,” Josh adds.

“My favorite is ‘Cariño,’” says Edward, referring to the gentle, jewel-toned ballad, “I don’t really speak Spanish myself, but the song has that transcending quality of music that lets me understand it.”

“My mom’s side of the family is from Puerto Rico, so from that side I get salsa, merengue, even reggaeton,” explains María, “We were obsessed with reggaeton. And then from my dad’s side, I get flamenco, classical guitar, Spanish rock… I can’t name one single artist that I draw inspiration from, but the overall influence from so many is there.”

“I definitely see it, even if some of it is a little subconscious,” agrees Josh, “‘Basta Ya’ and ‘Cariño’ started off with just melodies that María sang, and I think it was the Spanish influence that ultimately made us think the song should be in Spanish. We don’t really choose what’s going to be in Spanish or English, it just happens.”

‘Cariño’ was the first release from Superclean, Vol. II, accompanied by a music video shot between rolling hills and vast fields against red and white backdrops. “I feel like the color red symbolizes sensuality, passion, and also that fiery Latin influence again– like, my mom’s favorite color was red,” María reflects, “that’s why it shows up so much throughout our work. When the song is written, if we visualize something we do a video for it, but if we can’t, we don’t want to…” “Force it,” Josh finishes, “All the videos that have been up have had a very clear vision.” From its red and white outfits to dance moves and dogs, the video for ‘Cariño’ exudes pure love; especially after hearing about Gabe’s encounter with tiny bugs in the field where they recorded as he played the horn, ‘Cariño’ hints that love doesn’t have to be perfect– which is exactly what makes it so beautiful.

The Marías embody the desire to feel. Between vocals bouncing back and forth, soul-strumming guitar and bass lines, and wistful horn solos materializing into cheers from the audience, their collective warmth could melt a glacier. Every object, every note, and every word, is strung together as it comes; everything is purposeful, but nothing is forced. The group has the rare quality of simply clicking into place, both on and off stage, which lets them connect so deeply with such a broad audience. Even with such different backgrounds, their organic creative process lends itself to a unique yet universal story told through each song.

Some stories can only be told by certain people, and The Marías continue to share gems not found anywhere else.

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Listen to Superclean, Vol. II and more here.

Interview by Tino Tirado and Arya Natarajan.

Photographs by Aili Hauptmann.

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