Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Steven A. Clark: A new addition to the modern R&B pantheon

February 5, 2016

Steven A. Clark - Lonely Roller

For fans of Miguel and Frank Ocean, Steven A. Clark may be the freshest addition to the pop/contemporary R&B pantheon. His album Lonely Roller, which was released last September, rides an emotive rollercoaster of themes about fighting love, yearning for love, and letting the adrenaline of love throw one’s arms up right before the drop into epic unknown. It’s Clark’s talent for lyrics and ability to tell a story that makes Lonely Roller captivating — an album that could double as an audiobook.

From the beginning title track, Clark establishes a narrative of two people irresistibly attracted to one another during a weekend trip to Vegas. With handclaps and catchy, club-ready rhythm, I could feel the butterflies in my stomach at the slow, resisting moment between the two characters as they pull at each other through unblinking eyes and hungry, pursing lips. This club banger theme of two people magnetized by each other’s duende is echoed later on the retro-styled, synthetic sax-sparkling “Time Machine.”

The story continues into “Trouble Baby”: the honest lyrics about only knowing how to break hearts create a vibe similar to a Frank Ocean tune. Dramatic vocals that sound like they’re being emitted from a speaker system give “Trouble Baby” an appealing trippiness.

The ensuing tracks unwind the romance I was rooting for in the beginning. “Not You” is an honest admittance, through guilt-sodden vocals and tear-filled percussion, of wanting to be in love–just not with the person who’s in love with him. On the ‘80s-inspired pop track “Can’t Have,” Clark sings of a girl who claims to not believe in fairytales, but he makes the point that if it were a perfect world he wouldn’t have been, “distracted by them other girls.” Then Clark tells the tale of an “Ex beauty queen/Amongst other things/Face made for the big screen,” who enjoys the sumptuous pleasures of life in the city on “She’s in Love,” with slight disappointment in his voice.

Clark begins to sketch hachures of darkened seriousness onto the pages of this narrative. He does so via severe instrumentation, giving the album Kanye-like grit. “Bounty” includes a full chorus, sluggish beat, psychedelic instrumentation and catchy handclaps. The choir theme is carried into “Floral Print,” which sounds like Clark is reading the gospel behind a pulpit due to his use of organ and powerful vocals. “Part Two” has similar scarlet-colored severity to it, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if Kendrick made a visit on the track.

The narrative ends with “Young, Wild, and Free,” a song which offers smooth, sensual warmth that is yearned for throughout the record. It leaves Lonely Roller on a seemingly happy, hopeful note, but with enough playfulness that causes an eyebrow raise; I felt like an accumulation of all the girls he has been singing about, questioning love even when it’s presented. But as Clark sings, “Take my hand/Are you ready?” I found myself replaying Lonely Roller from the top. Yes, Steven A. Clark, I’ve been ready since track one.–Rachel Haney

Singles: Smooth, Galactic Groove

August 31, 2015

August Singles: Smooth, Galactic Groove

  1. Hardships” – Nadia Nair. Uproariously captivating in a way I haven’t heard since M.I.A., Nadia Nair’s sound balances exoticness and inclusivity, achieving dynamite individualism that anyone can appreciate.
  2. Lil Yamaha” – Sun Cut Flat. Sun Cut Flat combines gentle, Gramatik-like groove with a delicate pop sound. As the final steaming days of August roll in, promise me you’ll sit down with this track while the summer sun dips and the cool drinks start a-flowin’.
  3. The Shields” – Velour Modular. The ‘bass music,’ ‘sex,’ ‘neotriphop,’ and ‘Abstract’ hashtags adorning this track’s Soundcloud page sum it up entirely.
  4. Can’t Have” – Steven A. Clark. You know when you hear a song, and you think, “Yup. This is going to blow up. Everywhere.”? “Can’t Have” is that song. I’m counting down the days until Clark’s upcoming album, The Lonely Roller, is released on September 18th. (18 days from now.)
  5. wlkng” – arpl and do zee. If you like your instrumental hiphop buttery smooth and with heavy cream, get a taste of this rich lo-fi served up by two crazy-talented members of Fixed Fidelity.
  6. Petals” – BIKES and do zee. Another collaboration from Fixed Fidelity, because apparently I can’t get enough of them, “Petals” combines gnarly guitar lines, day-time lo-fi, and wholesome instrumentals for an electronic walk-in-the-park kind of track.
  7. Dance to the Beat” – Dr!ve. Brought to you by Discobox Records, this has flared jeans, electronic synthesizers, and funky soul written (in glitter pen) all over it. Check out the remixes by Shake Machine and Rotciv as well.
  8. Meteor” – The Winter Sounds. If I could copy and paste these insanely brilliant lyrics, I would. Instead, close those eyes, plug in those headphones, and absorb this galaxies-colliding, synth-sprinkled Big Bang.
  9. Boys Life” – Small Black. How does one make something so disco-dancey, sublime, laidback, and catchy all at once?
  10. Gutter” – baeb rxxth. With the opening lines, “Cage match, I’m a tiger cub/and you’re a bloody piece of steak,” it’s hard not to recognize the unprocessed trap-pop sound that is the big, bad, bold baeb rxxth.
  11. Miss. Mirage” – NoMBe. Haunting lyrics like, “Counting wolves and old sheep/Watch them sharpen those teeth/Crude from the walls of no sleep,” contrast with a smooth groove, smoother vocals, and utopian-esque album art that all left me feeling bewitched, a bit spooked, and completely hooked.
  12. Tantalized” – Fever High. Holy Happiness. “Tantalized” reminds me of those dandelion choker necklaces I used to wear in ‘98, and all the sassy lip-syncing that late ‘80s/early ‘90s chicks mastered long before learning to play the recorder. I have the feeling Fever High were totally those girls.
  13. Control” – Kisses. I’d like to write a bunch of “Oww! Woo! Szzz!” onomatopoeias that were my reaction when hitting play on this sizzling, sleek track. “Control” combines funk, synth, exotic percussion, and dance-inducing rhythm that remains controlled throughout.
  14. Pirates” – Heptagon Heaven. Heptagon Heaven–The corsairs of new-world synth, galactic drops, and astrological album art. Enough said, peace out. —Rachel Haney

Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.

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