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A Very Special Episode go for a "Night Drive"

The “very special episode” is a venerable tradition of the televisual arts wherein our society faces down its most vexing problems with the help of inane plot contrivances, buffoonish acting, and howling laugh tracks. All often oddly endearing nonetheless. The ‘80s and ‘90s were perhaps the golden age of this particular art form with VSE’s used to warn the wider populace against such menaces as marauding punk rockers, pedophile bicycle shop owners, and drunken suicidal birthday clowns. Aficionados today savor the delectable discomfort produced by the best of/worst of (same difference) these “episodes” with their bizarre tonal mashups akin to a saccharin diet soda garnished with a dash of strychnine.

The Queens-based band A Very Special Episode likewise merge the sweet and the serrated and in the process make you a more upstanding and aware citizen. Take their latest single--a bedroom production by obvious circumstance--which is a lo-fi, high-sheen number called “Night Drive.” It starts innocently enough with some rollicking drums, four-on-the-floor bass and sing-songy keyboard over which bassist and lead singer Kasey Heisler lays out the scene: “You see it all stretched before you / purple sky painted over blue.” Sounds lovely! But any hopes for a laid-back evening excursion are soon dashed when suddenly “the night is speeding faster / fade to black” and on cue we change channels to a shimmering-distorted blur of guitar and keyboard with Heisler dropping all social niceties: “Hey, you know what / you got it all but I can’t get you off.” From there we circle back to the opening disco-punk groove now overlaid with a layer of buzzsaw guitar (or maybe a neighbor was testing out their new power-sander next door?) that weaves in and out of the song until its crashing climax.

This all can’t help but remind one of the very special episode of Saved By The Bell where Zach gets Jessie addicted to caffeine pills because I'm thinking those guitars must be the sound she heard in her head by the end of the episode. I mean sure it all starts off innocently enough at the ‘50s diner with our girl Jess sharing her dreams of applying to Stanford and debuting her neat little pop-singing combo with Lisa and Kelly. But by the final act Zach is pumping our future Showgirl full of uppers to help her study for midterms and going all Lou Pearlman on her ass with his girl-group svengali schemes. It’s no wonder Jessie aka “Nomi” would soon find herself working the pole and all thanks to that jerkface Zach! (please rest assured, dear reader, The Deli is sex-worker positive!)

OK so I got a little distracted there. Whatever its lo-fi origins, “Night Drive” is the best encapsulation I’ve heard so far of AVSE’s live sound with its mixture of melodic hooks and knuckle-dragging noise. To end things here with the requisite musical-calculus equation I’m gonna go with equal parts Garbage, The Walkmen, and My Bloody Valentine. Or if you prefer metaphors of the TV/movie variety I’ll give you “Saved By The Bell meets David Lynch” (especially Lost Highway on this particular song, not to mention the band’s logo is a VHS videocassette hmmmmm). If it all sounds up your alley check out “Gravity” below for a slightly more polished version of the AVSE sound. (Jason Lee)

 

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D'Zhari "Alone"

D'Zhari released her latest single, "Alone", back in September and it is accompanied by the beautifully shot video below.

This is the R&B singers third single in as many years, and follows-up her wonderful 2019 collaboration with femdot. "Soul Searching".

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KOTA The Friend tames his "Dragon"

“I used to want to be up on the music blogs / [...] / I may not have a million but I’m chillin’ dawg”

KOTA The Friend is hardly a slacker but he could play one on TV. A multi-instrumentalist who excelled early on as a first-chair trumpet player who taught himself bass and guitar while going on to hold down two jobs and attend performing arts school eventually becoming a producer, photographer, visual artist and interior designer in addition to a musician, the man is actually a polymath if you do the math. Plus on his 2020 full-length Everything KOTA somehow managed to score features from such obscure names (sarcasm alert) as Lakeith Stanfield, Joey Bada$$, and Lupita Nyong’o which is hardly the work of an underachiever. A true DIY artist, it’s been reported elsewhere that KOTA will take on mundane tasks himself ranging from flyer design to directly answering fans’ queries, all the while turning down three major-label offers (so far) in order to maintain his independence. 

And yet, on his latest single “Dragon,” he sounds as laid back as a panda bear that just got laid. (apologies for the mixed animal metaphors, KOTA is actually named for a baby bear of the non-panda variety) Opening with a loping, start-stop jazzy guitar loop, KOTA laconically drops lines like “I do what I want, I go where I please / but still I want more things” over a beat that sounds like an outtake from the Lofi Beats to Relax/Study/Quarantine To videos--sonic shorthand for sitting at one’s desk and staring off into space all day. The conversational flow and mellow vibes on “Dragon” can be deceptive, however, tinged as they are with regret, doubt, and deceit lurking around the corner. Likewise for KOTA's flow itself, laidback on the surface but twisty at times and shifting relative to the main guitar riff.

Not unlike a good friend IRL, KOTA The Friend puts the listener at ease but doesn’t stoop to please, giving it to you straight: "Before it gets better, it's gonna get worse" so you better “Skip the fast pass, be knowledgeable, that’s the bag bag / polish all your skills, set your price, then you tax that.” Sage advice as 2020 slouches towards its end. (Jason Lee)


 

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Sara Noelle debuts serene cover of "Emerald River Dance"

L.A’s Sara Noelle offers us her atmospheric take on Judee Sill’s “Emerald River Dance” and does the popularly covered song justice. The track is a weaving of swelling tones and nature-oriented rhythms that create a serene soundscape that is soothing for troubled minds. Noelle’s vocals have an elegance to them and emotional precision that wholly create a version of the song that belongs to her. With piano-key trickles and pulsing synths, the cover has a heartbeat of its own, and it is worth listening to; stream Sara Noelle’s cover of “Emerald River Dance” below for an ambiance to enjoy. - René Cobar

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Kierst has a "Crush" on latest single

Following a few bars of strummed guitar Kierst declares “it's nothing more than a crush but / I'm holding my breath” and I believe her. For one thing she repeats the second line four times in a row and indeed crushes are nothing if not obsessive, and while singing the line four times whilst holding one's breath defies logic, crushes are nothing if not illogical. Check and check.

A pathway to love turned into a a cul-de-sac of hopeless hope: “Tinged blue in the face no it's not too late.” A distressing new fetish for emotional distress: “An unwanted switch that's leaving me reeling.” Check and check.

Keirst's lyrics here scan perfectly in a song that slowly and steadily and almost imperceptibly builds tension--but crucially never achieves release. Layer by layer you hear the addition of ride cymbal flourishes, plaintive guitar wails, hints of bass and perhaps keyboard and finally some insistent drumming over a late-in-the-game declaration to “love you to death.” And then like that it's over. And you want it to start all over again. (Jason Lee)


 

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