For the Record: Prophecy by The Stakes

stakes prophecy 01by Mark Anderson
Senior Editor

After years, the wait is finally over. The Stakes, Phoenix’s premiere live hiphop band, have released their debut full-length album, Prophecy.

And believe you me, the album was worth the wait. To quote a friend, “this shit is fire right here.”

After years of gigging here in Phoenix and all around the state, The Stakes have formed a solid line-up of “self-made rappers, university-educated performers, cover artists, and lifelong gospel musicians” for a roster that truly does impress.

Marah Armenta (vocals), Lord Kash (emcee), Zeedubb (emcee), Ben Scolaro (piano), Luis Martinez (guitar), Paul McAfee (Moog synthesizer – droppin’ those fat basslines), and Kevin Phillips (drums) form the core group but the addition of Alan Acosta & Tyler Bauer on saxophone and Jimmy Barrios & Danny Torgerson on trumpet add an extra cool dimension to the Stakes smooth sound on Prophecy.

“5 Minutes of Gold” opens the album and I honestly can’t argue with that song title at all. Luis’ guitar is soon joined by Ben’s keys and then the vocals pop in and Kevin’s drums and then >BOOM!< Stendhal syndrome takes full effect.

The hits keep coming with “Then And Now”, Stevie Wonder’s “Master Blaster (Jammin’)” and the title track, “Prophecy”.

With an intro featuring Amber Tabares, “Blue Jean Grey” opens the Stakes into some of their best, experimental arenas yet while “Crosseyed”, their excellent Michael Jackson cover of “I Can’t Help It” and “Requiem” prove the Stakes are the best at what they do.

Closing track, “Unified”, features I-Dee and is a straight head-banger. Make sure to stay tuned for that secret track too…

The Stakes took some time out their day to answer a few questions I had about the new album, their contemporaries, and what’s next for one of the hardest-working bands in town.

Mark Anderson: Prophecy is a couple years in the making right? Did any songs change over the course of making it? Please describe the feeling of being finished with and releasing it to all the long-time Stakes fans!

Ben Scolaro: We are truly grateful to all the Stakes fans who have followed us over the last 4 and a half years. So much has changed as we’ve developed our sound. Not to mention the world around us has influenced our direction.

Take the title track, “Prophecy.” When we first started writing that song 4 years ago, it was inward-looking, about personal triumph. However, with the rise of Trump and White Nationalism, we rewrote some of the lyrics and added samples at the beginning, transforming it into a call to action against the running narrative, or “prophecy”.

Our focus is to constantly improve, so our songs evolve over time.

Paul McAfee: Absolutely. The songs have generally kept the the same structure, but the groove, feel, textures, riffs, etc. change a little bit each time. This is inevitable when every member of the group is so open and creative.

What is the Stakes songwriting process like? Does one of you come up with a main progression and everyone else elaborates? Or maybe you guys just jam and things develop themselves?

Ben: All of the above. Our greatest strength is our diversity as a group — we’ve got the full spectrum from completely self-taught to university-studied musicians, which allows us to approach songwriting from every direction.

Paul: Sometimes we just jam and develop a song as a group. Maybe somebody starts with a 4 or 8 bar groove and everyone joins in and develops their own contribution. Some of the more intricate songs were thoroughly written by a single band member, but sometimes the structure or feel is edited by the group depending on what makes sense for the vocalists and lyrics.

I consider you guys a pretty unique band but maybe I’m wrong in the sense that there may be more out there than I realize. Is there a solid hiphop/jazz/funk scene here in the Valley in your opinion? To me, your only contemporaries here seem to be House of Stairs!

ZeeDubb: I’m not a native of Phoenix but I know that it has a pretty rich history of underground rap bands through the years. I know Drunken Immortals are still going hard. When The Stakes had started, the only other band mixing in jazz was The Brother Cosmos, but they broke up.

Currently there’s The Color 8, Nick Perkins Band, Ramses II, House of Stairs, The Geibral Elisha Movement, Deliyonne & Hudson… trust me, the fusion of hip-hop and other genres with live instrumentation is alive in Phoenix and The Stakes are honored to be in the forefront.

The scene is here, the promoters just have to catch up, or we’ll do it for them.

stakes 01Could you delve into the idea behind the album title some? I’m picturing multiple layers here…

Ben: Since you asked for layers…

Layer 1 — The Idea

It’s easy to fall into the trap of passively watching things happen, like a “prophecy” unfolding. But the future is not written; we all play a part in creating it, whether by acting or failing to act.

Layer 2 — The Image

Our actions today do become a type of prophecy for future generations by creating the world they will inherit. That’s why the album art features children — because their future is at stake in our actions today (that’s Lord Kash’s son on the cover).

Layer 3 — The Action

After the election last November, we found ourselves asking what we can do to help shape the future for the better. That’s why we’re collecting signatures at our shows to stop the expansion of Arizona’s private school vouchers.

This expansion would take money from public education and give it to wealthy people who send their kids to private school (you can read all about it at sosarizona.org). We’re part of a state-wide effort to put a referendum on the ballot so voters can reject this law. We’ve collected more than 70 signatures and will have more petitions at our shows until Aug. 1. If you come through, PLEASE take a moment to sign.

Paul: For me, Prophecy fulfills a top criterion: it sounds cool and mysterious.

Ben: That too.

I love the “Master Blaster (Jammin’)” cover. Is there a story behind that song getting picked to be covered?

ZeeDubb: It’s funny because we were suppose to do a full reggae show but only had time to crank out, maybe 3 reggae tunes, and “Master Blaster” stuck. Marah picked the song cause she loves Stevie with her heart and soul. You can really feel the purpose of the original lyrics when she sings it.

Paul: When we jammed on the groove, Kash dropped a killer verse with a flow that developed beautifully. We often work with a horn section, and I felt inspired to write horn parts for this song in particular.

What’s in store for the Stakes? Do you guys already have new songs in the works? Where would you like to see the band go from here both literally and figuratively?

Paul: We have old and new songs that haven’t been recorded yet, probably enough for an EP. We want to continue to write new songs until we have more than enough to select for for a new LP. We will be working on a music video soon and continue to keep the visibility up and play shows. My personal dream would be to open for the Roots.

ZeeDubb: In 2017 you’re going to see more videos, more loosies and singles, and another EP or album. Collaborations with other bands, musicians and artists are in the works. We have a lot of ideas and plans to execute. Some I wouldn’t share for the sake of the surprise.

Is there any thing else about Prophecy or the Stakes that you would like us to know about that I failed to ask?

Marah: It’s finally out now! Available on iTunes, as well as our website, TheStakesMusic.com, where you can see all of our upcoming shows.

~

For more info on The Stakes, check their Facebook page. Catch them live at A Stoneypie Pool Party with Paper Foxes, Haze that Saxy Rapper, Mr. UU, The Psychedelephants, Hostile Work Environment, the Bittersweet Way, De Leon & the Desert Beats Saturday July 1 at 4 PM.

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Grace Bolyard: Seasonal Depression

grace bolyard 01by Chris Nunley
Staff Writer

One of the single most important inventions of the modern music era is the Tascam Portastudio. At the time of its conception, it was intended for musicians to record demo versions of songs that would later be fleshed out in a fancy commercial recording studio. But in January of ’82, Bruce Springsteen completely shifted this concept unintentionally with his solo masterpiece Nebraska.

Originally the songs recorded in his Jersey bedroom were to give the E Street Band a direction of where the follow up to The River was headed. The back story to the actual recording process is where the “happy accidents” occurred. Between the inexperience of his engineer trying to set proper levels, to the tape speed being set to it’s slowest, to the dirty uncleaned heads, to Springsteen carrying the cassette in his pocket without the case for weeks. All these small but important details gave the songs a raw, lo-fi, and emotional quality that critics hailed as his most haunting work.

Since the release of Nebraska, the Portastudio has evolved with the times in both size and use, never deviating from the maxim that “less is more”. They truly are the perfect machine to have at the ready when inspiration unknowingly strikes. And if there is only one rule in music to follow, it’s that you answer the call when the muse comes around.

But now, in the era of digital recording, near limitless tracks, and software plug-in effects that spit out products to be scrubbed and shined to a sheen of Borg-like perfection, the fun of limitations and the warm patina of tape hiss are becoming relics of days long gone. Hell, you can record a song on your bloopin’ and bleepin’ smartphone now! Oh the humanity! Where have you gone???

It’s depressing to think about, let alone relive with trips down memory lane. But… what if an artist placed limits on their digital splendor? More organic and less Miracle-Gro? THAT, I believe, is the next evolution in recording technology: binary boundaries.

When Seasonal Depression, the debut release from Grace Bolyard (Darling Sounds) landed on my laptop screen, it was like taking a happy pill to cure my woes of the modern world. Using nothing more than an internal microphone on her Mac, a handful of effects, and GarageBand to edit and arrange, this solo effort encapsulates the “less is more” approach with ease.

Building on a previous article from a fellow staffer, one of the most tedious tasks when recording in a commercial studio is selecting the right microphone for each instrument as well as a singer’s voice. Yes, the process can be arduous at times, and it can suck the creative energy and enthusiasm right out of the building. Whether it was by design or just dealing with the limitations when inspiration struck, the timbre of Bolyard’s voice is brilliantly captured with said internal mic and adds a lo-fi element where analog warmth would normally be heard.

Not to be overshadowed of course is the songwriting. Much more personal and playing out like a soundtrack to a film short (think Kimya Dawson covering the bullet points of Juno in 15 minutes), Seasonal can be heart-wrenching, but definitely not depressing.

The EP starts off with the endearing yet cautious “Strange Love”, an airy track that blows in with a gentleness reminiscent of Leona Naess’ “Lazy Days”. But it’s the following song, “State Fair Halloween”, where Bolyard starts to tug at the heart strings on whether a relationship that has become stagnant (“We’ve spent 5 years together / Are we getting better?”) can withstand the test of time and distance. The lines “Halloween’s my everything, but Thanksgiving is your favorite / I’ll make the green beans still, even though I really hate them” couldn’t be a more perfect sentiment to compromise and the small differences that a couple may have, yet tolerate.

“Tandem BMX” finds our chanteuse crooning tastefully with a hint of eager desperation (“I wanna get extreme with you / I’ll be your queen, your peach ice cream”) in a gem about the dirty deed that’s cleverly woven into a riff from the teen tragedy songs of the early ’60s.

The mark of a good release is when it’s over, you want more but can’t have it. Fittingly short and succinct with closure is the title track of this impressive EP, complete with harmonica embellishments that would make Springsteen weep and curiously optimistic lines of finding solace in the brutal Phoenician summertime. Have you lost your mind Ms. Bolyard???

It may not have been recorded to cassette…allowing the elements to degrade and taint the sound…but Seasonal Depression is a good record. Staying true to the environment in which it was born…warm and gritty, yet emotional and brilliant. This feels and sounds like Arizona, a land where sometimes less is more.

~

chris nunley 000Chris Nunley began writing for YabYum in the Summer of 2015 and his latest series The Noise Floor seeks to explore the outer limits of sound. When he’s not popping in for a local show or taking road trips, he devotes his creative energy to his evolving electronic music project, Sliide.

NXOEED Offers PHX Fans One-Night Glimpse of New Collection

NXOEED 01
All photos courtesy of James B. Hunt

Phoenix’s favorite hide-and-seek artist, James B. Hunt aka NXOEED, is packing up his latest collection and shipping it East.

Westfield State University in Massachusetts will be hosting his latest exhibition, Tetradiagon, so unless all you local NXOEED fans are planning on cross-country travel, you’ll only have one brief opportunity to catch a glimpse of the paintings before they ship for their Fall exhibition.

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Yes, Grand Arthaus in Downtown Phoenix is offering a NXOEED Solo Preview showing for one night only on June 16th (Third Friday).

The exhibition will be showing at WSU this coming September, but this one night is the one chance you’ll have this year to see NXOEED’s Tetradiagon before it heads “Back East”.

In keeping with the artist’s tradition, Hunt worked with on-campus collaborators to help connect the clues embedded in the paintings to sites on the WSU campus. For the NXOEED newbies in Massachusetts, James Hunt paints more than images; there are secrets and hidden mysteries and not just in the artist-as-unknowable type of art riddle.

NXOEED 04According to Hunt, “The clues are embedded in many of the same ways they’ve been embedded in paintings from art hunts over the past ten years or so. Some take on different meaning when viewed at different angles or upside down, like most of my work since ’97. Some have only very minor clues. There are a few where the entire painting is the clue.” Even the name of the exhibit itself contains a clue.

And, did I mention that it’s the night before James Hunt’s birthday on this particular evening? So, come out and celebrate. Or, at least, eat some birthday cake and see some artwork and join the artist in trying to ignore the air of merriment that overtakes Grand Arthaus this coming Friday.

~

For more info, check out the Tetradiagon website, Facebook page, and Nxoeed: Solo Preview, One Night Only. event page.

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For the Record: The Hierophant by Jerusafunk

hierophant 01

by Carly Schorman
Senior Editor

The Hierophant, the new album by Phoenix megagroup Jerusafunk will add even more dots to your world-music map as you delve into the band’s sound. Jerusafunk isn’t confined to one region of the greater globe, but seems to draw a host of influences from Bossa Nova and Cumbia to Polka for their debut LP which comes out on Thursday at the Crescent Ballroom.

This band of troubadours draws inspiration from such disparate global points as to turn appropriation into appreciation with their pure and unifying love of music.

It’s been almost two years since Jerusafunk dropped their debut, Sweat & Glitter, so fans have just been itching for some new jams to help pass the time between shows. And, this week, the band is ready to oblige. That’s right, kids. The funky klezmer collective from the PHX will be unveiling their sophomore effort, The Hierophant, this coming Thursday.

I had a chance to ask Jessie and Chris of Jerusafunk some questions about the new album, J-Funk future plans, and, of course, klezmer. Read our Q&A below, but first, hit play on “Gateway Movement” from The Hierophant below…

For the record, who is part of the Jerusafunk cast of characters?

Chris “Chrispy Duck” Del Favero: guitar, vocals, percussion, melodica
Jessie “Juicie Duck” Demaree: clarinet, vocals, bass clarinet
Elliott “The Foxy Gemini” Fox: tenor sax, alto sax, bass clarinet, flute
Torrey “Jean Scone” McDannald: trumpet, flugel horn, piano
Austin “Ricky” Rickert: alto sax
Connor “Connie LeRoy” Sample: drums, percussion
Jeremy “Gilgamesh” Lentz: drums, percussion
Spencer “Spoonz Tambo” Hawley: djembe, saw, glock, shakers, vocals
Zack “Chip Tickler” Parker: guitar
Isaac “Time Wolf” Parker: bass
Caleb “Baylac” Michel: percussion
Alejandro Arboleda López: quena, charrango
Captain Smokey Joel Robinson: guitar
Bailey “Bagel Boy” Zick: double bass
Mike de la Torre: percussion
Bryce “Pea Soop” Broome: drums

Where did you record the album? And how did you fit everyone into the recording space? Or was it done in rounds?

We recorded the album all over the Valley. All of the rhythm section tracks and live full group tracks were done in schools, free studios and the J-Funk house. All of the overdubbing happened at the J-Funk house. We also recorded our friend Alejo in Guatapé, Colombia in his and our hostel rooms (you should Google that town… it’s something else, I’d move there in a heart beat) [Editor’s Note: Boom]. Some of the rooms were quite tight for the live recordings so we just recorded in a circle, more or less, and made it work.

I want to hear about J-Funk: the Inception. What initially spawned the idea for this musical collective?

To quickly sum up the first and second incarnations of Jerusafunk: Jessie and Chris met in Flagstaff and started the band with a lineup of guitar, clarinet, tenor sax, bari sax, accordion, and drums. After, Jessie graduated from NAU we moved to Phoenix and recreated the band. We plugged in and revamped the line up to electric guitar, bass, clarinet+pedal, tenor sax, percussion and drum set.

Then, after traveling through Central and South America for two years, Chris and Jessie returned with new material for the current incarnation. Chris and Jessie had always dreamed of playing and writing with a larger group of musicians to help realize these greater compositions, so they asked friends and friends of friends to fill out the band, and the intimacy of the group has really thrived because of everyone’s pasts with one another.

Okay, so the klezmer/funk thing… how did that come about? Were these musical styles you grew up listening to? Or something that you stumbled into as burgeoning musicians?

I think I can safely say no one in the band grew up with klezmer, except for maybe Jeremy, our drummer; his mom is Jewish. Jessie’s the one who picked up klezmer; her clarinet teacher encouraged her to listen to clarinetists from all over the world, and upon listening to two clarinetists in particular, David Krakauer and Giora Fiedman, she started focusing her efforts on playing klezmer.

Funk is an american pastime- we all love the classics and then some. More than half the band are jazz musicians, so we like get down to the cerebral psychedelic jazz funk of Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, and Sun Ra quite a bit.

When we first started the band Jessie was learning about ethics, identity and musical fusion in ethnomusicology, and was up to the challenge of modernizing an old dance genre (klezmer) with a new dance genre (funk) to see what kind of sounds would emerge. And, of course, then our travels to Latin America morphed the J-Funk sound even more as we discovered and learned Colombian and Andean music.

And we definitely need to know what the songwriting process is like. Is there a process? Do you get together and jam and see what emerges? Or is there a member (or a few) that shape out the songs and present them to the group for a full fleshing out?

Well, for the first album, Chris wrote a majority of the sketches for the songs. We usually create melodies for horns, chord progressions, and form ideas, then hash out the grooves and sections for improv. Luckily, everyone in the band has creative juices so they contribute their own voice in every song. Torrey (trumpet, not trombone) has a very modern writing approach in that he records a whole song, then brings it to the table and we try to further his ideas the best we can.

Now, you cats have been out on tour and I hear you might be planning for another adventure. What’s it like touring with, like, a million band members? Is there a caravan involved or do you all turn one van into a giant mobile cuddle puddle of moving chaos?

Bed time is where the real snugglin’ begins. For the last couple of tours, we’ve had to use around two to three vehicles. Which gives us all a little more space, but its a lot more awkward to coordinate arrival times. This tour in July we’ll be renting a 15-seater just to simplify things…

But traveling with a gang of 8-10 has been absolutely hysterical. We’re all very charismatic people and feelings rarely get hurt, thank goodness. Sure, there can be daily turmoil, but there is definitely safety in numbers. We take over any space once we arrive. Touring has grown less chaotic with experience, so if that pattern persists this first East Coast tour should be something amazing.

You seem like a band with a mission. Does Jerusafunk a mission statement?

Our mission is we want everyone to resonate and learn from the music we create, but what art doesn’t? We think that if people can latch onto the challenging musical and philosophical concepts we present, maybe then people may discover something new about themselves.

Or, if they prefer to just listen, they can feel sexy and dance to grooves they may have never heard before and hopefully dig deeper into a world of music and culture that seems to defy time and history. Culture is a construct; not as a wall but a bridge.

What’s next for J-Funk? Taking a break after the release show? Or moving forward with the sexual revolution of klezmer?

WHAT’S NEXT?!? WORLD TOUR!!! Really though, we want a company to pick us up so we can tour Europe and the rest of the Americas. There has been talk, no fixed plans, but talk, about PAO and J-Funk doing a little AZ/CA tour in the future! Go and freak Cali out with a 30 person funk entourage! We have about enough material for to start writing for the next album, so it’ll be back to the studio(s) and bedroom for the next big piece. Hopefully we’ll start discovering new grooves from other parts of the planet and weave them into our own nasty little hodgepodge. Maybe find the new groooooooove? Oh, and ya know, sexual revolution.

Make sure you head to the Crescent Ballroom on June 15th for the Jerusafunk release party with Nick Perkins, Zach Alwin & Duck Funk, and DJ Mitch Freedom. More info on that event here

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Top 5 Shows of the Week: June 2 – 8

Lots of rad shows happening this week in addition to what we got here. You can check out more shows happening in the Phoenix Metro Area on our Upcoming Shows page here! You can also click on the show flyers below for more information about those events!

3 Rad Punk Releases

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by Carly Schorman
Senior Editor

Sad Kid

Dys​(​FUN​)​ctional

As the name of their album implies, Sad Kid wants to put the FUN back in dysfunctional. Sex, drugs, and gas station burritos might not be able to combat the malaise of a generation, but that doesn’t mean that Sad Kid isn’t going to try to fill that fucking soul hole with debauchery. This four-track follow-up to the band’s 2016 debut reveals maturation (gasp) on the instrumental end but no less of the riotous angst that first defined the Sad Kid sound. Dys(FUN)ctional dropped on the Slope Records label and was produced by local legend Cris Kirkwood… how cool is that?! Check out Dys(FUN)ctional from Sad Kid and make sure you get out to see this band live – just don’t drink the Kool-Aid because it’s probably 95% Everclear.

TYPICAL GIRLS

Typical Girls Vol. 2 [compilation]

This kickass compilation from Flagstaff’s Emotional Release Records gathers grrrl rockers from around the globe for one feisty collection that will fuel your summer. Bands like BENT and Naked Lights veer toward more post-punk permutations with their sound while others, like Neighborhood Brats, definitely sound like they could fuck you up in a parking lot. Personally, I’m all about the rowdy and retro style of MIDNITE SNAXXX and the shout-it-out style of Suss Cunts. I found so much new-band love on Typical Girls Vol. 2. From Juanita y Los Feos and Black Abba to Soft Tug and Sex Stains… really there are just too many stellar bands to name them all. But, thanks to Emotional Release Records, I don’t have to. They’ve already been gathered in this convenient compilation for your musical exploration. Oh, and you’re definitely going to want to get your own copy here.

Skull Drug

Sinful Life

If the doldrums of daily life has got you down, maybe you just need a little more Skull Drug in your day-to-day. Just throw on Sinful Life on your drive into work and see if your perspective doesn’t shift. Of course, you might overload on thrash punk and set fire to the entire building before your lunch break so consider yourself warned. Skull Drug brings you to back to those punk rock roots with their raw energy and driving sound. Most of the ten songs featured on Sinful Life clock in at under two minutes so you can knock out the entire LP in one cathartic fit of unleashed rage. Or, if you’re my age, maybe hit play when you hit the gym and see if that fire doesn’t propel you through even the most hated activities with fist-pumping fury. Check out Sinful Life from Skull Drug below…

5 Rad Rock Singles: From Alt to Indie

rad rock singles 000by Carly Schorman
Senior Editor

Genre

“A Change is Gonna Come”

Two Phoenix favorites – Genre and Snailmate – released a split EP back in April with this angsty number thrown into the mix. “A Change is Gonna Come” is a dynamic alt-rock hit in the making and the four feisty tracks on the Snailmate & Genre Split offer up some stiff competition on the stand-out-single front. On the one hand, you have the frantic nerdcore hiphop of Snailmate. And, on the other, the dynamic angst-ridden alt-rock of Genre. Thankfully, you don’t have to make the choice. Head in for Genre and stick around for Snailmate… or vice versa. It’s all good and will serve your spirits well. Check out “A Change is Gonna Come” below or head here to score the complete EP.

Wildera

“The Only”

The musical duo behind Wildera recount a great tale of predestination. Rusty Redden and Loren Moore both grew up in the same Dallas suburb, but it wasn’t until they sat next to each other on the flight that would take them cross-country to attend the Berklee College of Music. They became bunkmates and, eventually, collaborators. Now reunited in Los Angeles, Redden and Moore release their catchy brand of alt-rock as Wildera. Driving guitars and disinterested vocals give “The Only” a hip feel that could really take hold with modern listeners everywhere. Give the new single from Wildera a spin below or get that digi-download here.

Lenina Crowne

“Know”

This new single from Lenina Crowne has easygoing indie-rock sound that pairs perfectly with summer. This five-piece from State College [PA] creates a nostalgic atmosphere with the crisp musicianship reminiscent of early indie rockers of the pre-grunge fuzz-free era. “Know” makes me think of pool parties and Otter Pops and creekside hikes that end at a familiar swimming hole. That’s an indie rock sound we could all stand to hear a little more of. Give “Know” from Lenina Crowne a listen below or get the three-track EP from whence it came here.

Spencer Anthony 

“Happy Pills”

Spencer Anthony has a bit some pop-punk festiveness thrown into the alt-rock sound that keeps the energy (and the angst) turned up for “Happy Pills”. One might even go so far to say that Anthony has some emo leanings that come through in his vocals – both in the lyrics and their delivery. “Happy Pills” comes to us from Spencer Anthony’s debut EP, Words To Hide Behind, which dropped in April. Give the single a listen below and then move on to the complete EP here.

Vero

“Hello”

How to describe the sound of Vero? Industrial funk? Alt-pop? Whatever it is, the funky get-down sound of Vero has a gritty edge to it that we really dig here. The Swedish 3-piece released their debut single, “Hello”, earlier this month and you’ll be able to hear some 90s-reminiscent permutations in the soundscape on this track that make it particularly catchy. Let Vero say “Hello” to you with their single below…