Jessica Hernandez & The Deltas started purely by accident. The frontwoman originally wrote her songs on an acoustic guitar, but after returning to her native Detroit in 2010, she had an itch to play her songs in a more raucous setting. She hastily formed a backing band to perform at the “Dally In The Alley,” an annual street fair located deep in the heart of downtown Detroit. The group proved to be a successful hit–so much so that Hernandez soon dropped the acoustic in favor of an electric guitar and a new outlook on her own sound.
After taking their name from one of the band member’s cars, the Deltas found themselves providing a gritty, neo-soul bite to Hernandez’s originals. Her voice is perfectly suited to the approach, and you can certainly hear the influence that Motown and classic jazz singers had on Hernandez. Even the venerated jazz label Blue Note took notice and signed the band to a record deal.
But Hernandez & the Deltas found themselves caught in a major label snafu. After Universal bought out Blue Note, the group decided to go the indie route. Richard Gottehrer, the Brill Building songwriter who penned hits like “My Boyfriend’s Back” and “I Want Candy,” signed the band to his own label. Demons, their debut EP for Instant Records, buzzes with a classic pop sound. “Caught Up” is the EP’s sugary showcase, yet underneath the exterior lies a hard-hitting tour-de-force.
Photo by Whitney Lee
Since entering his twenties, Jordan Lee has been a journeyman, moving from Ohio to Austin to Boston to St. Louis to Brooklyn. All the traveling figures heavily into the music he makes under the name Mutual Benefit. Songs don’t follow a particular verse-chorus-verse structure; they ramble and roam, lighting on a particular sound before melting away. The Mutual Benefit lineup is just as amorphous. Lee invites whoever is around him at the time to jam or tour. Like his music, he generally just makes it up as he goes along.
With such an unfocused ethos, it could be hard to make any sort of impact, but Mutual Benefit has been one of the year’s surprising (and still growing) success stories. After years of tinkering, Lee finally put the finishing touches on Love’s Crushing Diamond, his debut full-length after a half-dozen EPs and one-off singles. Like the rest of his discography, he planned to release the album himself before friends at the small label Soft Eyes offered to give it a promotional push. But word soon spread about the record, and Soft Eyes found itself swamped with more demand than supply. Other Music stepped in and is now giving Love’s Crushing Diamond a proper release on December 3.
Buzz can often drown out the actual music, but Mutual Benefit has created a sonic tapestry that inhabits its own world, hype or no hype. Built from field recordings, loops, and Lee’s soft voice, Diamond is a kaleidoscopic thing of beauty, yet Lee wrote most of it while surrounded by anything but beauty. Close friends of his struggled through life while Lee bounced from town to town, unsure of where to land. Diamond became a therapeutic experience, and it shows. “Let’s Play/Statue Of A Man” is a patient sigh of a song, blending folk with all manner of sonic snippets. “There’s always love/when you think there’s none to give,” he sings, sounding completely at ease despite the chaos unfolding all around.
Photo by Allison Pharmakis
When they started recording their second album, the Boston trio Quilt made a conscious decision to run the sessions like a job–not in a punch-the-clock, go-through-the-motions manner, but in a structured environment built around experimentation. They spent a month in New York, grinding out the songs in a freewheeling-yet-meticulous setting. “We would go in for 10 hours a day, six days a week, and we just made sounds and jokes for the entire time,” says vocalist/guitarist Shane Butler. Eventually, these sounds coalesced into a coherent whole: Held In Splendor, which sees a release on January 28.
It’s a far-cry from the band’s humble beginnings. The three band members met through the noise and visual arts scenes in Boston. While they all appreciate the value of the avant-garde, the trio also bonded over classic pop and folk. Their self-titled debut came in 2011, reflecting the members’ post-college lives in the ramshackle sound.
Held In Splendor ups the ante considerably with tighter rhythms, sharper hooks, and a general sense of direction–perhaps due to its slow gestation. “Arctic Shark” kicks the record off with a cloud of country-fried dust. It’s a simple song, but underneath the hood lay hours and hours of work to make it sound just right.
In 1963, a Liverpool quartet stepped into a radio studio and showed their love for Texas’ Buddy Holly by performing “Words Of Love.” On this week’s Austin Music Experience, we travel back to the BBC circa ’63 and take a listen back to that Beatles live session, which is finally getting an official release. Also, Bob Schneider and the Tosca Strings Quartet make a great combination. They perform a couple of songs together in Studio 1A, and Schneider gives us his favorite Austin music experience–which involves illegal substances, naked party-goers, and a particularly “stripped-down” concert…Plus, the Shins from our live archives, power-pop innovator Peter Case from our intimate Sessions Studio, new musical discoveries, the week’s music news and more. Join us Friday at noon and again Friday night at 11 on KUTX 98.9, or anytime in the player below.
Photo by Bowen Stead
Thanks to George Harrison, the sitar and psychedelic music seem as natural together as salt and pepper. There was a time in the late ’60s when the Indian instrument appeared everywhere, from pop records to hard rock. It’s still seen as sonic shorthand for that particular time period, but Elephant Stone are looking to change that.
Montreal native Rishi Dhir picked up the sitar after the dissolution of his power pop band the High Dials, diving deep in Indian classical music. In 2009, he formed Elephant Stone with the sitar in tow, but he wanted to explore new musical avenues with the instrument. On this year’s self-titled album–the quartet’s second to date–Dhir cloaks the sitar in reverb and distortion, trading squalling solos with the lead guitarist Gabriel Lambert. The result is a sound that sits somewhere between the past and present. Dhir’s plaintive croon only heightens the emotional power, drawing a firm line from Elliott Smith’s dreamy pop to Tame Impala’s psychedelic experimentation.
Since its inception, Elephant Stone has amassed a heady resume. Their 2011 debut earned them a Polaris Music Prize nomination in their native Canada, and Dhir has lent his sitar skills to Beck. The group has toured with the reunited Zombies, the Black Angels, and the Brian Jonestown Massacre, and they’re currently supporting fellow Canadian psych rockers the Besnard Lakes. The tour winds its way to Red 7 on Friday, November 22, and “Setting Sun” will get you ready.