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Sonic Ritual Recordings Showcase At Harvard & Stone, Monday February 20th 2023

Imaad Wasif for Sonic Ritual Recordings showcase

The intimate venue Harvard & Stone hosted a Sonic Ritual Recordings showcase last night, successively presenting four artists on the small stage of the Hollywood venue.

Alone on stage, Steven Dayvid McKellar gave us a taste of his meditative, very melancholic songs from this album “NAMA,” performed either on guitar or keyboard. The mood was very melancholic with a high falsetto, haunting ethereal electronic soundscapes, somewhat reminiscent of a low-key Thom Yorke… “Stop Running,” the first song he performed, could have been a good example of this. The introspective lyrics have been described as an “internal exploration of the last two pandemic years, observing the current state of the world as affected by isolation with the larger cultural context that the polarized socio/political environment has bred in this country.” With slow beats, minimal electronics, and sprawling immersive pieces (like “One and Zero”), he captivated the venue despite the minimalism of the execution. Things got a bit more energetic with “Middle,” a guitar-led and layered piece executed with intense inner energy, but overall, the set was a meditative sonic introspection.

Queen Kwong showed us another kind of introspection as soon as frontwoman Carré Kwong Callaway took the stage. Surrounded by her new band, she played a few songs from her last album “Couples Only,” as well as older ones, with the cathartic intensity that she is known for. She opened her set with the cacophonic chaos of “Prehistoric Blues” while loud raw guitars fought with driving beats and visceral energy. Visceral could be the qualificative for most of the songs performed by Kwong, the indie rock queen who rose to prominence years ago, after her dark, moody, and very personal music caught Trent Reznor’s ear. She toured several times with Nine Inch Nails, her songs were featured in TV shows, and her third album, “Couples Only” (released last year) is another fierce statement produced by Joe Cardamone (The Icarus Line / Skeleton Joe) and featuring performances by members of The Cure, Swans, and Blood Red Shoes.  On stage, Carré is fearless and executes her songs with swagger and physical energy, getting in the middle of the crowd during “Cold Daggers.” The pounding drums of “Newt” combined with the overall aggressive-morose tone of the song were followed by the heaviness of “The Mourning Song,” a piece battled by harsh guitars. “Sad Man” and its half-spoken vocals had a humoristic tone over guitar distortion – its accompanying video costars Johnny Knoxville (Jackass, Bad Grandpa) and was inspired by Abel Ferrara’s 2009 neo-noir film “Bad Lieutenant. Carré unleashed all her rage during the last songs, “EMDR ATM” and “Purrfiction,” going from snarling to screaming with fierce abandon and her signature intensity. “Couples Only” could easily be pinned as a divorce record – in 2019, she survived a dirty divorce from Wes Borland, the guitarist of Limp Bizkit – but the album is more a testimony of her resilience when facing betrayal, disappointment, and devastating loss.

The San Francisco band Nyte Skye, which consisted of Film School guitarist Nyles Lannon and his 13-year-old son Skye (who recorded the music when he was only 12), played songs from their debut album “Vanishing,” a series of shoegazing rather complex and New-Wave-influenced soundscapes written during the pandemic. From the upbeat “Take Your Love” to the fuzzy and ethereal “Guided By a Hand”,” their reverb-drenched sound oscillated between energetic dream pop and moody synth indie rock while documenting these disorienting times of anxiety. “Take Me Up Again” had some Cure-like resonance and the mood stayed pretty nostalgic, with some truly explosive moments of layered instrumentation during “Gonna Be Alright.”

There always is a luminous and serene vibe at the core of Imaad Wasif’s meditative and beautiful ballads, and “Elemental,” the first track of his new album, “So Long Mr. Fear,” has this inner majestic element reinforced by the Eastern mysticism of a sitar. Switching from guitar to keyboard for “Come Around,” a catchy and peaceful tune, the set showcased Wasif’s most recent compositions with the help of Best Coast’s Bobb Bruno (who produced the album) on bass and Jen Wood (The Postal Service, Tattle Tale) on backing vocals. She sang beautiful harmonies during the catchy and poignant piano ballad “Fader,” and made an excellent substitute for Karen O during the slow and dark Americana rendition of “Poet of the Damned.” The last time I saw Imaad Wasif he was effectively playing with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs on the stage of the Hollywood Bowl, and if last night was much more intimate and personal, the quality of the music was nevertheless as rewarding as ever. From the tempestuous guitars of “Place in the Dark,” to the immersive and mystic “Regeneration,” the evocative pop sound of “So Long Mr. Fear” (during which he jumped in the crowd), and the hooky “Jealous Kind,” the new material sounded like the product of entangled influences and elegant artistry. “So Long Mr. Fear” is Imaad Wasif’s sixth and most accomplished album to date.


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