The emerging L.A.-by-way-of-Atlanta R&B artist OFTEN first caught my eye with a press release that landed in my inbox in the summer of 2022. The subject line promised the “queer lovechild of Fiona Apple and Donna Summer," which, having often left my cake out in the rain, really piqued my interest.
When I spoke to OFTEN later, they said, “I [call] myself a sad disco queen, because I’m a really sad little person. But I want to make sad bops for my people,” which is where these spot-on influences really rear their heads. The lyrics are both poetic and melancholy, leaning into Fiona, while the beats are drawn out and unhurried, like Donna. The 2022 record Dirty Saint became a sleeper cell of a listen, something that crept insidiously into my headphones till I found myself turning to it frequently. The irony of this being that sleep is an idea that factors heavily on the album, from my favorite single “Deep Sleep” to the thematic elements the artist describes as “places where you felt like you slept on yourself, [or] feeling like [you aren’t] good enough.”
Since the 2022 release, OFTEN has been back in the studio, dropping “I Don’t Mean It” in February, with another single, “Chokehold,” following in April. The sounds build on the languid magic of Dirty Saint: The downtempo beats writhe along slowly and sensually beneath layered vocals that offer a harmonizing, ethereal effect. “I Don’t Mean It” echoes love left behind, scaling memories of a past relationship. In the accompanying video, OFTEN traverses the streets of Sicily, searching for ghosts that won’t be found among a sea of strangers.
OFTEN feels Donna Summer deserved “so many more flowers than she gets”—that though she is an icon, perhaps not enough people consider the way she showed the fullness of herself, offering us a slowed-down version of disco that was unique and taking on sexualized subject matter fearlessly. OFTEN reinvents that in their own way, exposing the bitter parts of self we don’t like to share on our Instagram stories: the disappointments, the failed expectations. Of their current in-progress album, they told me: “I think a lot of us are ready to feel that sense of This is our year,’ but I also want to make room for looking back on past experiences that didn’t go the way we hoped and discovering how they shaped us for the better. Nothing is ever perfect, but sometimes we notice the good too late.”
Isn’t that the rub, though? A lot of people like to say that when you have expectations, you set yourself up for disappointment. But isn’t it just as likely that things will turn out better than you ever imagined? Just as OFTEN ruminates on past experiences, considering where or how they could have done more, I hope they give as much credence to all the unrealized potential at their disposal. I look forward to hearing how they evolve beyond Dirty Saint. You should give it a listen, and maybe send along some much-deserved flowers. --MANDY BROWNHOLTZ
Montreal’s Pelada have been a personal favorite since I first saw them make punks dance with wild abandon to house and techno in a concrete basement back in 2015. Has it really been that long? Somehow this band feels eternally new—or maybe renewing—when you see them live. Maybe it’s because they still haven’t quite conquered Big Indie (I hate the term “underrated”), or it could be because of the collective mass euphoria that seems to take place at each of their packed-out shows.
The duo, comprised of vocalist Chris Vargas and producer Tobias Rochman, make dance music that blends elements of acid, dembow, punk, and whatever else they want, with aggressive vocals sung in Spanish. While Rochman builds each song live with synths, drum machines, and samplers, Vargas uses the space up front, bossing the audience like a born leader. Alternating between shouting, growling, and whispering lyrics, their performance style is physical and inclusive—Vargas will playfully demand that you get into it. Their lyrics cover a range of urgent themes; from the climate disaster, to the surveillance state, to sexual assault. Like their 2019 album’s title, Movimiento Para Cambio (which translates to Movement Through Change), the feeling in the music, for me, is a call to collective action—even if sometimes it’s just through dancing.
I’m probably summing it all up inadequately, but that’s exactly my point. You kind of have to be there. Go see Pelada! Dance your fuckin’ ass off!
The duo have festival appearances planned in Europe, Japan, Australia, and Canada this summer, with dates to follow in the U.S. this fall. A second full-length LP (title TBD as of time of writing) is also due out this summer, featuring collaborations with Nigerian/Canadian rapper Backxwash and Aquiles Navarro of Irreversible Entanglements. --GRACE SCOTT
I can’t say this is a recent obsession, but lately I’ve been scheming to get Lamar Sorrento to do a smallish portrait of Rolling Stone mysterioso Brian Jones. It’s not as easy as you might think. While the artist’s website (www.lamarsorrento.com) is full of Southern bonhomie and punkish platitudes, promising that he will do any painting to order, that’s just not true. His paintings aren’t even that pricey. I mean, I can pay for it! (His website asserts: “My work is affordable to the common man or woman.”) But Sorrento can be cantankerous—he’s the art world’s version of Lou Reed, difficult but brilliant.
So brilliant that Sorrento’s paintings adorn the discerning walls of celebrities like Keith Richards, Jimmy Page, Neil Young, Jimmie Vaughan, Marty Stuart, Mark Knopfler, Lucinda Williams. Bonnie Raitt, the dearly loved and lamented Lemmy Kilmister, and the late Sam Phillips, founder of Sun Records.
When the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland asked him to paint a 12-foot, 250-pound guitar to be auctioned for charity, he said yes. All I’m looking for is a small 12" x 12" painting of Brian Jones circa Between the Buttons.
Problem is, Sorrento has a code of behavior for his clients. Nine years ago, I committed the ultimate sin and gave away an earlier Jones portrait he had painted for me. Never mind that I gave it to my daughter; I actually had the temerity to willingly part with it. Over the past eight or so years, I’ve tried to buy another, but he just refuses, even rejecting my payments on PayPal.
And I’m not the only one. He will also refuse to paint someone if he doesn’t like their attitude—wives of famous rock personages, for instance—or if someone treats him like a hired hand. He is likely to say no if he doesn’t like the artist’s music. If he does like it, he just might not make them pay. He painted Big Star’s Alex Chilton after the two bumped into each other at a Memphis bar attempting to play the same song on the jukebox (“All Night Diner” by Santo & Johnny). The first time Chilton came over to Sorrento’s house for a sitting, the paints never came out. Instead, the two played dueling pianos for an hour. For his next visit, Chilton brought his drummer girlfriend and Sorrento painted their likeness and then let the musician take home the portrait free of charge.
One of the luminaries of outsider art, he looks more like a swaggering guitar player from some renegade ’60s band than a world-class artist. But that’s because he is. Besides making bold, primitive, strangely disturbing paintings of rock icons by night, fueled by a single beer, he spends his “off hours” penning and playing music inspired by the great holy trinity of the Beatles, the Byrds, and Dylan, and the gypsy jazz of Django Reinhardt—the subject of his very first painting.
With an IQ that outstrips most Stanford PhDs, he figures he’s done close to 8,000 paintings. Last year he released his eighth album, Drunk Guitar, and he’s the subject of a forthcoming documentary, A Stranger Controls My Hands. Seems there isn’t anything he can’t do. Except give me another damn Brian Jones. --JAAN UHELSZKI
Last Friday night I dropped off a lady friend at her apartment building. It was early and the night had not gone well for me. Once again I found myself in a familiar spot: alone again, naturally. However, this time I had a little ace in my back pocket, something I picked up free of charge at a thrift store in Quebec a few weeks back. I’d like to talk to you about City Lights.
The moment I popped City Lights’ self-titled debut cassette into the sound system of my ’98 Camry and heard the opening lines—“I went balling the other night/I started drinking and got real tight/I blew each and all my friends/I felt so good I had to blow it again”—I knew I’d found home. And my home is the blues. And by the blues, I mean the Blues Brothers. And by the Blues Brothers, I mean covers of Blues Brothers songs, which this cassette appears mainly to be.
Four songs. That’s all it takes for City Lights to plant their flag. And they plant it so decisively that when you flip the tape, guess what’s waiting on the other side—yup, the same four songs. Another spin around the block? Don’t mind if I do.
“Hey Bartender,” no, I’m not “Feeling Alright.” In fact, I could use a “Doctor Feel Good” right now. The fourth song is called “Kid Charlemagne.”
Don’t bother looking for a year, it’s not on the label. Where do they come from? Not on there either—where don’t they come from? Maybe it’s time to let go of these ideas of time and space that you hold on to so tightly.
Now back to the other night. I got to the end of the tape and realized I hadn’t even driven off yet. The music was holding me captive. A voice cried out from my lady friend’s apartment building: “Somebody out there listening to City Lights?” It wasn’t her. But hey, if you know me, you know this—I’ll settle for literally anyone as long as I don’t have to sit with my own thoughts and feelings.
Thank you, City Lights. --DAN MORRISSEY