BlackBook Premiere: Juanita Stein’s Video for ‘L.O.T.F.’ is a Ghostly Meditation on Memory

 

 

 

Amidst the din of intensified pontification around the economic and socio-political fallout of the coronavirus crisis, we seem to have curiously detached from the actual matter of death, except as a statistical tally.

Howling Bells singer-guitarist Juanita Stein had actually lost her father (also a musician) before the world went into this fatal period of lockdown; and so as the many and sundry pandemic anxieties were creeping into our existence, she had already been put in the position of having to confront a very personal grief. But as artists are wont to do, she had channeled it into a catharsis of a solo album—her third—the pithily titled Snapshot (with Blur/Doves producer Ben Hillier at the helm.)

“It feels fundamental to understanding the devastation and eerie silence thrust upon us after his sudden death,” she explains. “It was a daunting task to sum up the life of one man such as my father. He was endlessly inspiring, charming, deeply talented and passionately spiritual. He admirably, and at times frustratingly, carried the torch for his own musical career until the very end.”

The Aussie songstress has also taken advantage of the quarantine isolation by making a series of lockdown videos, the third of which, for new Snapshot single “L.O.T.F.,” BlackBook premieres here. The track itself is a languid bit of haunted blues rock, with distortion heavy, echo-laden guitars, shuffling/thudding drums, and Stein’s spectral but self-possessed vocal performance. Lyrically, it’s a meditation on leaving behind the carefree idyll of youth, to wander out into the world.

 

 

“Something else called deep within me / I was looking for disharmony / A place where I could scream and be left alone / A place where buildings felt cold to the bone.”

The video is fittingly stark and primal, filmed in a rather eerie looking field, in front of the blinding blare of truck headlights. Stein is depicted as something of a ghostly presence.

“A few of us headed out to a deserted stretch of road nearby,” she recalls. “The headlights of the truck, the misty night air, the insects flying in and out of frame, projected the right energy for the track. L.O.T.F is me reflecting on a sun kissed childhood growing up in Australia. The endless starry skies, vast coastline, the distance between us and the rest of the world. All of this is tinged with a deep melancholy as I recall these years in my rearview mirror.”

Snapshot will be released October 23 via Handwritten Records.

 

BlackBook Premiere: Golden Aquarians’ ‘High Enough’ is the Quarantine Hymn We’ve All Been Waiting For

Image by Dani Okon 

 

 

BlackBook has made no secret of our endless appreciation for the inimitable charms of one Sarah Jaffe. It helps that the Texas songstress always seems to have something particularly clever rattling around in her head, waiting to pop out and make the world just that little bit more fascinating.

And so she at last emerges from our universal pandemic condition with her latest project, Golden Aquarians, a musical partnership with multi-instrumentalist/composer Roberto Sanchez. And their debut single “High Enough” (which BlackBook premieres here, along with its accompanying video) is truly the isolation meditation we’ve all been waiting for. The track feels somehow languidly cool and anthemic at once, with its trip-hoppy grooves, and chill-inducing choruses—which find Ms. Jaffe confronting these months-long lockdown conditions with lyrical optimism, proclaiming, “I really wanna see the other side / I know we’ll make it out alive”

“The song is a product of our time,” explains Sanchez, “written in isolation, and recorded using remote technology.”

 

 

The video is a charmingly peculiar bit of 8-bit nostalgia, whose engagingly equivocal narrative can leave one guessing at interpretations for hours on end—but also simply offers a quick, adventurous little escape from our especially ominous new reality. It’s directed by Dani Okon, who admits that, “The visual worlds of 8-bit and 16-bit video games have always entranced me.”

Jaffe herself enthuses, “Dani does a supreme job of bringing the heart of a song’s meaning to life visually. With ‘High Enough’ in particular, she did it by creating a world that takes us out of our own. That felt so necessary, and I didn’t even know it until she showed us the first cut.“

All proceeds from the sale of “High Enough” will be donated to The Loveland Foundation.

 

First Trailer: Brandon Cronenberg’s ‘Possessor’ is Technological Horror at its Most Insidious

 

 

 

It is that rare director that doesn’t just dominate a genre, but bends it to his or her will to such a degree as to subjugate it under their banner. Indeed, the names Lynch, Tarantino and (Sofia) Coppola have rightly all earned the suffixes “ian” or “esque,” when comparison’s are made to those attempting to replicate the true depths of their incessantly mimicked styles.

So imagine trying to follow in the footsteps of David Cronenberg. Arguably beginning with 1981’s Scanners, the uncompromising Canadian filmmaker took the predictable, anti-intellectual genre of horror and twisted it into a vision that was both classical and futuristic, psychological, but also shockingly corporeal and physical. His son Brandon proved a worthy successor to his father stylistically with 2012’s Antiviral—which dealt with celebrity fan obsession in a most gruesome manner; and with his second film Possessor (in select theaters and drive-ins October 9), may have now succeeded equally in the task of storytelling.

 

 

The dystopian (naturally) film stars Andrea Riseborough as Tasya Vos, a corporate death broker, who uses brain-implant technology to take over other people’s minds and bodies. And, trust us, it’s not because she’s looking to access their Netflix account; rather, she turns them into ruthless assassins—though the assassin is actually her, working from inside of them—at the behest of high-paying clients. Jennifer Jason Leigh, a Cronenberg veteran (1999’s eXistenZ) is her coldly efficient overlord.

In the first trailer, Leigh’s Girder is seen avariciously rubbing her hands together, while proudly proclaiming, “Our next contract’s a big one.” Indeed it is—the CEO of the “largest operation in the US.” The scheme is to have one Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott) knock off his future bride and father-in-law (played by a charismatic Sean Been), in order to divert a significant inheritance. But as it turns out, this too self-aware “killer” is putting up a resistance, and starts to make inconvenient inquiries like, “I need to know what you’ve done to me.” (Girder rightly observes, “He’s become a danger.”)

 

 

Vos and Tate subsequently get into a kind of psychological warfare, both forcefully jockeying for existential dominance over the other. But despite the focus on head games, Possessor is also luridly violent—Cronenberg does seem to like making a very bloody mess.

But what’s perhaps truly effective about the film is that it addresses several incisively zeitgeisty topics at once: how technology is taking over our humanity, how its readiness and ease of application might forever alter our sense of morality…and, most of all, how the tensions of our high-speed, fully connected contemporary life are tearing apart our very sense of self.

“Sometimes, that small thought…is all it takes to lose control,” Vos observes. And this is madness of a whole different sort.

 

One To Watch: bloody white’s Raw, Stark Confessionals Are a Catharsis for Our Pent Up Times

 

 

Considering our ominous reality of rampant wildfires, successive hurricanes, a deadly pandemic with no end in sight, and a presidential election that will likely trigger an all out civil war, you’d be forgiven for wanting to binge on Spongebob or Hallmark Channel movies, as a means of maintaining some measure of sanity.

But it’s also important to occasionally stare down all the tragedy, as only through confronting and assessing our anxieties, can we properly sort them. Which is exactly what bloody white has done with his unflinching new EP, the starkly titled you’d walk right over me. Released this week, it is replete with viscerally crafted soundscapes, languorous trip-hop beats, and intensely soul-baring lyrical meditations dealing with addiction, loss and suicidal musings.

 

 

Indeed, one track is starkly titled “overdosing,” and it’s pensive, haunted atmospherics provide the backdrop to such unflinching self-flagellation as, “I done a lot of bad shit / Caused a lot of fucking madness / Now I think I’m fucked in the head / ‘Cause I ain’t never seen this much red.” Another bears the unvarnished title “funeral,” and is hardly surprisingly a raw, gothic confessional that finds him metaphorically reckoning, “The only way that you can move forward is if you bury your past.”

“I made this EP as a means of venting,” he explains. “Falling in and out of love, mistrust, suicidal thoughts and addiction are all things that I, like many other kids, dealt with during my high school experience. I found catharsis writing about my struggles. My primary hope is that anyone who listens and relates to the message can rest a little easier knowing they aren’t as alone as they thought.”

 

 

At just 20 years of age, he is indeed making cathartic music at a time when not only does the global coronavirus crisis have humanity in its lethal grip, but his home state, California, is in literal flames. But, as the EP bears out, the act of creating and emotionally purging  has been healing, at least in some ways.

“Since the conception of the EP,” he offers, “I’ve been in a much better mental space, thankfully. I’m also currently experimenting with different production and songwriting techniques to allow myself a wider range of sonic possibilities. I’m in the process of writing a followup LP that will have an even deeper, and more personal feel.”

For someone so young, such emotional maturity is certainly eye-opening.

But as he puts it, “I’m simply trying to create art that conveys a potent and honest representation of who I am…and who I wish to be.”

Texas’ New Hotel Paso Del Norte Will Open w/ the Virus-Killing Air Filtration System We’ve All Been Waiting For

 

 

That the hospitality industry has taken a particularly hard hit during the coronavirus crisis goes much deeper than just the numbers. Hotels are where a city comes together, and where the world crosses paths; the reality that many are now sitting nearly empty only serves to emphasize just how socially isolated we have been for the last five months.

But most health experts have agreed that hotels, if not yet their indoor restaurants, are amongst the safest places to be, provided safety guidelines are being maintained. And the opening of new ones, certainly, is an incredibly hopeful sign, at a time when we really do need as many hopeful signs as possible. Intriguingly, it’s in the city of El Paso, Texas, of all places, where the future of hotel safety is soon to be unveiled.

Indeed, the Hotel Paso Del Norte (part of the Autograph Collection) will open there this autumn with a state of the art air filtration system that sounds for everything like it is designed to kill any sign of virus in its path, via “bipolar ionization.” Using HVAC-mounted ionizers, it employs proactive air purification technologies to conjure millions of positive and negative ions; or, to put it in easily understandable numerical terms, it eliminates 99%(!) of all infectious matter within 10 minutes.

How do they know it’s effective? The system, developed by Stamford, CT’s Plasma Air, was tested in simulated hospital ICUs and hotels used to house medical personnel in isolation during the pandemic. And it worked.

 

 

It’s the central element in the Paso Del Norte’s “A Commitment to Clean Plan,” which also includes sanitizing stations throughout hotel, temperature checks for staff prior to each shift, plexiglass barriers at the front, bell and concierge desks, and all restaurant host podiums, mobile check-in via the Marriott Bonvoy app, and thorough cleaning of all guest rooms, with a 24-hour window between guests for each room. Even use of the rooftop pool is by reservation, to avoid overcrowding.

“Being in the renovation process when this crisis occurred,” offers General Manager Carlos Sarmiento, “gave us the unique opportunity to implement additional safety features before opening our doors. When we undertook this project, we were prepared to restore the 108-year-old property’s architectural elements, create stunning event spaces and amenities, and curate a distinct culinary destination—but COVID-19 gave us the need to also enhance air quality in all areas of the hotel.”

Those 108 years date the Paso Del Norte back to 1912, and it shows—with grand Art Deco columns, gilded and coffered ceilings, and dramatically arched windows, which offer majestic mountain views. Elsewhere, warm woods, contemporary and classical chandeliers, and elegant but vibrant color schemes make for an overall interior design that strikes that oh-so-careful balance of the modern and the historical.

Still, Sarmiento very much emphasizes the safety aspects of a stay at the Paso Del Norte.

“In 2020, there is no amenity greater than safety,” he insists. “Reopening during a pandemic means that offering an authentic destination experience is not enough. It’s imperative that we employ advanced safety precautions to promote health and peace of mind. Then guests will truly be able to enjoy this beautiful hotel.”

 

Exclusive: Wu-Adjacent Rapper Prema777’s Voluminous ‘Empress Emcees’ Playlist

Image by Alex Antigua

 

When Kamala Harris was chosen earlier this month to be Joe Biden’s Vice Presidential running mate, it sent a clear signal that female power was going to be decisively employed to win the war this November against an oppressive administration—one that has repeatedly exhibited its hostility towards women.

So what better time to devise a playlist of the great women of hip-hop to provide the battle soundtrack? Which is exactly what NYC rapper Prema777 has done exclusively for BlackBook, assembling 83 (yes, 83) of the fiercest ever, and titling it Empress Emcees. The up-and-comer made some noise recently with the explosive new track “Nothing Free.” But her most recent single “Workin'” decisively proves the force of her talent.

And she’s keeping very good company on the way up. The single was produced by J Glaze (Lil Jon, A Tribe Called Quest); and it features a guest rap by Nitty Scott, of “Monster” fame. It’s taken from her 2018 album, appropriately titled Take Flight, which will be re-released in early 2021 on iNTeLLectual Entertainment via Dock Street Records, distributed through Tommy Boy.

Oh, Prema777 just also happens to be married to iNTeLL of 2nd Generation Wu / GFTD.

 

Who are some of the women in hip hop that have inspired you?

Lauryn Hill, Blondie, Left Eye, Missy, Roxanne Shante, Ladybug Mecca, Misa Hylton….there’s so many women to commend; it goes beyond just being an emcee or performer, from my mother to the great female family and friends in my life who show me there’s a way to get it all done and achieve your goals. There’s so much more to a genre or artistry than what meets the eye. Behind the scenes and our surroundings and upbringing play a major role in shaping our ambition and attitude for what we fall in love with.

Do you think women are finally getting their share of respect in hip-hop?

I do feel like women are on the rise in getting our fair share of respect in hip-hop. We are at a turning point in our entire being, where the human race is consciously starting to pay attention and wake up to a lot that has been overlooked. Now’s a time where we are starting to give women and others recognition in areas where we have deserved shine for a long time.

 

 

So you’re hopeful now?

We still have a ways to go, and part of it is giving flowers to those who paved the way first. I feel it’s important to recognize the trailblazers like Sylvia Robinson, founder and CEO of Sugar Hill Records, and Roxanne Shante; and once we begin that process we can then extend it into current times. Although the female population is growing in hip-hop and gaining clout, it’s still heavily sexualized. I feel it’s important to show the duality that we have, and honor the work ethic and successes more. We have a long way to go but we have made an impact.

What message do you want to get out through your music right now?

The message at this time I would like to get across is unity. Breaking through and sharing my story to give people inspiration and hope. That we are all strong and resilient human beings that have the power to heal one and other. Most importantly I lead with love and intelligence. It’s important for me to share my voice and journey because I really want to help with whatever I can In this world.

 

Image by Sadaka White, Platinum 103 Photography

Interview: Alaina Castillo Stays Home, Writes Accidental Quarantine Anthem

Image by Chris Shelley

 

 

Of all those lucky enough to have stayed physically healthy during the coronavirus crisis, many have had to otherwise confront mental health issues, exacerbated by the forced isolation.

But the still just 20 years old Texas songstress Alaina Castillo just happens to be a natural introvert, despite a speedily skyrocketing career that has made her very much a public figure. Her pensive, self-reflective single “i don’t think i love you anymore” had already hit a visceral nerve upon its fall 2019 release, with the video eventually racking up more than four million YouTube views. And then she was chosen in early 2020 as the inaugural ambassador for Spotify’s new RADAR program.

But she used the time during lockdown in her new home of Los Angeles to be as creatively productive as possible; and one result is the exuberant new single, “tonight”—which just may just become the ultimate quarantine anthem. Indeed, the lyrics are practically a call to arms to, well, spend some time alone.

“My body’s burning fire / Eyes are eating me alive, no, no / Can’t wait to be alone / ‘Cause I’ve feenin’, need some time on my own.”

The lush, nu-disco track also proves once and for all that she knows her way around an unstoppable pop hook—especially one that makes you want to get up and dance.

We caught up for a chat with the self-described loner, only to discover that all she really wants to do is get out and tour. Obviously, we hope she gets her wish soon.

 

 

Where have you been during the coronavirus lockdown?

Going back and forth from my apartment to the studio. I guess this is how I thought quarantining would go, because I just moved to LA before everything shut down; but now that it’s been going on for so long, I just want to travel and go out to do things…and I never want to do that. 

Have you been working and writing during that time?

Yiiiii. I’ve been working on new music and I have been enjoying our little studio sessions. We’ve been finishing up some things and also starting new projects, so it’s been fun to not feel so quarantined and to be able to still make music and create. 

You were selected for the Spotify RADAR program earlier this year. What has that done for you up to now?

I never, ever thought something like that would happen, and it’s opened so many amazing doors for me. They’ve given me the ability to reach out to more people and share my music with them, and it’s been insane to watch everything change because of that. I’m super thankful to them because they believed in my music enough to help support me; and that’s insane because it’s… Spotify. Like, how does that happen?

Your debut EP was titled Antisocial Butterfly—was that title revealing something about yourself?

I wanted the title to be something that could explain who I was at the time, and what my music was also doing for me in my life. So Antisocial Butterly fit, because I’m quiet and shy and I stay in my head; but with music, it’s the exact opposite. I’m the social version of myself, and that’s shown through the EP, because people finally got to see what’s really going on in my head.

“i don’t think i love you anymore” really connected—do you think people related to the sentiment?

I think a lot of people were in the same spot, where they were almost denying the truth because they didn’t want to accept the fact that they were going to have to cut ties. So the song was something they needed to hear at that moment. People would listen to it and then say that they were going through their own problems and that the song helped them decide or just deal with what was going on; and that was what the song was for me: a wake up call to let you know that you don’t have to go through that pain for someone who isn’t showing you love.

 

 

Was it based on a real experience?

Yes, sadly—but in the end, music does help, and this song was the wake up call for both sides. I’m a hopeless romantic person, so I’ll keep trying even when everyone else has given up, and the song was me confessing to myself that maybe I’m too tired to keep going…and maybe it’s time to realize my worth. 

On your new single “tonight” you sing, “Tonight, tonight I’m solo dancing in my room / I’m trying to stay in on my own again.” Was that meant to address the quarantine situation?

So, because I never go out, “tonight” was always going to be a party song with a twist—because I stay in to have fun. The lyrics are meant to just talk about what I do when I’m alone at home and trying to relax after a stressful day; but as we were writing them, we were like, “Oh, shit… quarantine.” So then it became a song with a bunch of different meanings because, especially during these times, everyone’s at home alone. So maybe this song will give them ideas on how to vibe out during quarantine.

Your lyrics are in English and Spanish—what is your actual heritage?

My dad is from Mexico, but he never really spoke in Spanish to us as we were growing up. So I had to learn in high school; but it’s always been something that I’m proud of, and I want to be able to put that in my music…even if I am still learning how to speak fluent Spanish. 

You gained attention for doing ASMR content—why is ASMR interesting or important to you?

I started doing ASMR videos because I saw that it was trending and decided to make it my own by doing “sing you to sleep” videos. It was just a relaxing way to record covers, because the setup was simple and it was just me singing without a backing track. When the videos started getting a lot of attention, I was shocked but happy, because my channel was growing. So I kept doing covers because I’m not just an ASMR artist; and then I would occasionally do ASMR videos as well, to spice things up a bit. People really liked them and said it calmed them down if they couldn’t sleep—so that’s also a reason why I continued to make them.

What’s the first thing you want to do once the pandemic contact restrictions are mostly behind us? 

Tour! Tour! Tour! I just want to release new music and tour. I can’t wait to see new places, see my family again, and go out to eat. 

Will you be recording a full album?

In the works. Can’t wait to share all the new songs, visuals & concepts.

 

Travel 2020: Americans Are Giving Up On Plans for London / Paris to Stay Domestic

 

 

News came yesterday that 43 passengers from a Norwegian cruise ship had tested positive for the coronavirus, causing the ship’s owner to cancel all further trips, while Norway quickly and decisively took to closing its ports.

Now, keep in mind that Europe has actually been fairly successful at beating back the virus, while in America, it continues to rage out of control…most especially in states like Florida, Texas and California. The EU, in response, has banned all US visitors until further notice—meaning, you should get to work post haste setting up your grandmother in Estonia with her own Zoom account, if you’re hoping to share some quality time with her in the coming months.

Added all up, of course, and it is indeed not looking promising for those autumn European jaunts that we all love so well, ever the perfect antidote to packing up our swimsuits and beach umbrellas at summer’s end. In fact, we’ve already been busy planning out several Amtrak treks for between now and New Year’s Eve. And no surprise, a new survey by Allianz Travel affirms Americans’ resignation to remaining within our borders, until such time as it is deemed safe to do otherwise.

 

Top Trip Destinations for Allianz Travel Insurance Quotes

 

Destination Q1 Q2 % Change
United States 21.5% 41.6% + 93%
Italy 6.4% 3.0% – 53%
United Kingdom 4.5% 2.7% – 41%
France 3.8% 2.2% – 43%

 

The numbers tell the story: while only 22% of Allianz’ quotes for Americans in the first quarter 2020 were for domestic travel, that number jumped to 42% in the second quarter, reflecting our new pandemic reality. Furthermore, only 47% were opting to book a hotel, while a full 27% were planning to instead stay with friends or family. Surprisingly, however, 54% were actually willing to fly to get to their destination.

As for Europa, the stats are striking: plans to travel to Italy, France and the UK were down 54%, 43% and 41%, respectively.

“While the travel landscape is constantly changing,” explains Joe Mason, Chief Marketing Officer at Allianz Partners, “we’re finding that our customers are eager to safely hit the road to enjoy time together with their families. And while travel to foreign destinations is currently in flux, it’s a great time to fly or drive to rediscover the amazing destinations that America has to offer.”

So brush up on Google Maps, and remember to get the Jag tuned up before Labor Day. Rome, Paris and London will have to wait.

 

BlackBook Premiere: New Valerie Lighthart Video For ‘Love And Money’ Explores the ‘Intrinsic Femme Nature’

 

 

 

As the coronavirus crisis has only served to hasten the already significant New York / LA exodus, there’s certainly no better to time to look far beyond the culturally atrophying Williamsburgs and Silver Lakes to find art that genuinely challenges the established order—an order that has surely been strengthened by art’s disappointing timidity over two post-Millennium decades.

And so it is that surging eccentrically out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin is the glorious curiosity that goes by the name of Valerie Lighthart. At just 22 years of age, the cultural polymath has already dabbled in filmmaking, poetry, acting, modeling…and, of course, her true raison d’être, making music. But with her new single and video “Love & Money” (the latter which BlackBook premieres here), it might be said that she has also crossed over into feminist philosophy.

“I sought and found safe spaces to unpack the difficult feelings I had about womanhood, femininity, sexuality, and autonomy,” she explains. “As a young teenager, a dance class I took with my older sister helped me begin to unravel the complicated web of internalized misogyny I learned. It taught me to connect to my body in a new way and learn to embrace my thoughts and desires in a group of supportive femmes.”

 

 

 

The video, co-starring drag performer Melee McQueen and queer Latinx pop artist Solana, comes off something like Derek Jarman directing Lady Gaga, playing wittily but provocatively with notions of gender and sexuality. And over a lush, hook-laden electro-disco musical-box backdrop, Lighthart recites the sardonic mantra, “All we want is love and money / Coming for it all honey.”

“It explores the femme experience in our society,” says Solana, “the roles we’re encouraged to assume, and the spectrum of desires and goals we have and why we have them. Ultimately this project is about shining light on multi-dimensionality as an intrinsic part of femme nature.”

“Love & Money” actually serves as the introduction to Lighthart’s By Moonlight series, which will see a trio of EPs released in the coming months (via N43 Records) weaving a historical-modern narrative on the femme condition.

And isn’t that just what we need right now?