Nick Hakim – Lift Me Up

Nick Hakim. Nick Hakim. Nick Hakim. I kept seeing the name everywhere. Cymbal. Spotify. @nprmusic. The New Yorker. A Pitchfork article “The Eclectic Soul Music of Nick Hakim” gave me a sense of the man, but not the music.

Like anyone who’s late to the party, I quickly took stock to see if there was anything I could grapple onto. Some way of staking my claim.

I half-listened to Hakim’s top three songs on Spotify (I Don’t Know, Cuffed, Papas Fritas), skipping ahead more than once. The aesthetic was tantalizing but the sound didn’t connect. I dropped it.

**

Pre-Outside Lands (a wonderful and hedonistic blur of beer, trampled grass and Future Islands), I flopped onto my bed, fully clothed, shoes dangling over the edge.

Work was done for the week. Music, loud and all-encompassing was streaming off my girlfriend’s phone. I listened to whatever was playing, and began to drift, my face scrunched into the crisp, white sheets.

The lack of control was freeing. I hovered for a few minutes. Nothing spiritual about it. Just an absence of mental chatter –  freewheeling space – Aladin hovering over a city of lights, absorbed in the current of whatever was playing, which upon stretching to turn over her phone was Nick Hakim’s soul music.

Ruby Haunt – Freeway Crush (Nutrition Remix)

At the heart of Nutrition’s remix of Ruby Haunt’s Freeway Crush is a feeling of vulnerability. An audible yearning for something majestic. Something lasting.

The original, by Laguna based Ruby Haunt, is in fact full of heart-ache. With a drum kit, Stranger Things-esque keyboard, and plodding bass line, Ruby Haunt creates a watery landscape. We’re a child kicking a pebble on a rainy day, contemplating something larger than homework.

**

Nutrition lays on the accelerator a bit, adding the tap tap of a cymbal, draws out the synths and pulls the song out of adolescence and into the present – to focus on the person drifting next to you. The romance of driving at night. Hugging turns. Flashing lights. The odd notion that, “driving is a spectacular form of amnesia.”

Thor Rixon – The Clown

Five years ago I interviewed a young South African musician named Thor Rixon at a cafe in Cape Town. We’d been set up by a young woman in my music journalism class who was eager to introduce me to her friend and lead man of Sun-Do Q’lisi.

As I set up my GoPro for the interview, I felt a nervous energy run through my gut. I doubted my ability to interpret Sun-Do Q’lisi’s most recent project, an experiment with costumes, exaggerated grins, and synths that hummed like buzz saws.

“At the center of Sun-Do Q’lisi’s music is the desire for creativity and the pursuit of fun.  Unlike many young bands that seem desperate to find a niche, Sun-Do Q’lisi dares to avoid being confined to any label. It may not even be out of rebellious defiance, but simply out of the pursuit of groundbreaking and thought provoking sound.” – BeatsForDinner (April 8, 2012)

**

Five years later, Thor reappeared in my news feed with his release, The Clown. Crammed into a soundproof cylinder with three other band mates, I watched Thor tap his way through a Get Physical live session.

It’s surreal to hear the development. Thor’s sound is more refined, spacious and light footed. He does more with less, allowing the music to settle into a nocturnal groove.

Looking back at my old South African blog post, I’m inspired by two things… Thor’s dedicated vision and the fact that we’re both still doing what we love.

“I challenged the plausibility of his funky music being accepted by a mainstream audience, Thor responded by saying ‘Obviously, we want to make this our career, but we don’t really have a plan like in two years time we want to be here or there.  Lets put as much effort and time into it and see where it takes us.'”BeatsForDinner (April 8, 2012)

Electric Guest – Oh Devil

You probably recognize Electric Guest from This Head I Hold. The song is doing laps around other pop tracks on Spotify. It’s upbeat hop and skip is part of a recent movement to revitalize soul. Maybe you heard Pharrell’s Happy?

The L.A. band is mastering a crucial balancing act, teetering somewhere in between indie and mainstream circles. They’ve performed on Fallon, Conan and Letterman, but avoid the corporate sell out label.

**

With their new album, Plural, Electric Guest shows off an unabashed sentimentality, most intense on the track,  “Dear to Me.” It’s sweet, but too sweet. Sickly sweet. And the clear stand out on the album is Electric Guest’s confrontation with a darker side, on “Oh Devil,” a tune that will undoubtedly light the radio on fire.

Sturgill Simpson – Turtles All the Way Down

“I’ll do the one that you guys spend all the time talking about,” said Sturgill Simpson, his guitar resting on his lap.

**

Sturgill strums a few bars and then stops abruptly.

“Actually just about every journalist so far that I’ve read has covered this song, but I don’t think anybody has actually nailed down what it’s actually about.” Sturgill talks through tight lips. “So my fault… for being too cryptic.”

Laughter ripples through the audience at NPR’s tiny desk concert. Everyone’s in on the same joke and coolness oozes from Sturgill Simpson and his worn-in Converse shoes.

“It’s actually all about drugs…”

The small gathering shifts uncomfortably. Someone coughs. Sturgill soaks in the awkwardness, like any country star worth his brass would make a few NPR stiffs squirm before handing over what everyone had come for – his perfect, soul-probing voice.