Finding entertainment in experimentation.
It’s been a long time coming. After years of making waves in the local hip-hop scene, Peaceful Gemini a.k.a. underground rapper Nicole Leonar finally released her debut EP “Middle of NowHere” (capitalization intended) last December. Owing to her name, Gemini speaks and spits mostly of freedom — a sense of liberty and wonder made possible through music, accompanied by lush, jazz-influenced instrumentation.
Gemini isn’t alone on this record; she brought along guest producers for all five of the EP’s tracks, adding variety to her created soundscapes. These soundscapes are fronted by Gemini’s crooning, almost spoken-word rap style, which pairs well with her uncanny ability to switch up her flow. On more aggressive songs, such as the fast, beat-heavy Gratitude, Gemini doesn’t slow down, stringing together two massive verses about the unbridled joy that comes with being alive, thanking everything and anything that comes to mind. “That’s why I’m thankful/ And why I thank y’all/ That’s why I thank God.” As the crux of the EP’s closing track, the simple chorus reminds us of why we’re listening to Gemini in the first place — to celebrate being right here, and right now. B-Roc’s production flows with her voice, providing both the hard beats and an intricate strings section that concludes both the track and the EP.
Thoughts Overflow, on the other hand, is a bass-driven, slower song, akin to East Coast-style rap. On this track, Gemini indulges in more complex lyricism, talking about her propensity to overthink and to get trapped by her own thoughts — “And I can say that we are one and the same/ It’s just our fucking minds that we gotta tame/ Because we all perceive a different way.” She even leaves an offhand comment on being a woman in the oft-patriarchal hip-hop scene. “The patriarchal society made me strong/ Life’s unfair but it’s where I belong.”
“Middle of NowHere” sticks to its theme and does it well — it evokes scenes of Gemini wandering the now as a lost-but-getting-somewhere soul, writing down her thoughts as she goes along. Her lyricism is one-track, but cohesive, with lots of room to improve; she could do well to explore more liberal concepts past her state of mind and love for music. For now, however, “Middle of NowHere” is an excellent debut that introduces us to the ideology of one Peaceful Gemini. —Anton Tablante
Shape / Shift’s latest EP “Transient” opens with a sample of philosopher and mystic Alan Watts lecturing on a theory of space. The track sounds, appropriately, like a riff on reiki music, luminous and subaquatic. “Space is a function of, or it’s an inseparable aspect of, whatever solids are in the space,” echoes Watts’ voice. It’s an intro that acts as a blueprint for the rest of the EP. “Transient” is — or wants to be — a concept piece about how the spaces we inhabit shape our experiences, even if those experiences are as fleeting and fragile as the spaces themselves.
For all its artistic vision, Transient struggles to consistently produce music as compelling as its main thesis. That isn’t to say there aren’t any great tracks here, because there are — they’re just wedged in between lackluster ones. Bed, for example, kicks off with a looping alarm blare that is fun until it becomes boring. The fun, maximalist breathlessness of Today is followed by the generic lull of X.
Transient shines most when the scale of its sound grows more ambitious. One standout is Lost Together, which makes a spectacle out of convulsing synths, a stuttering drum track, and a brief but effective grand piano interlude. The last song, Where We Lay Our Heads, is gorgeous, with a perfectly modulated chorus of horns bleating against what sounds like a distant Gregorian chant. It almost doesn’t deserve the EP it’s in.
What we have here is a decent effort that would benefit from dropping some of its weaker links. There are hints of an exciting artist in Shape / Shift, one just needs to make it past the clutter. —Lorenzo Escober
“Last night, I saw you on TV / you’re still wearing the same shirt,” Pauline Rana croons on Yr New Hair, the opening track of Sour Cheeks’ three-song EP “Oriental Traffic,” and suddenly a whole planet of emotion appears from thin air. Effervescently distorted guitars fill the silence and spaces to convey the feeling of someone you used to know, now both familiar and unfamiliar.
The rest of the EP is ensconced in this emotional mode, a kind of melancholy most at home in steady driving strums. You’ve got a band that knows how to play to its strengths, and a frontwoman whose vocals glisten above the fuzz. This is the kind of music that plays on your end when you step out of a gig and wait for a cab to come, cozy in a mildly alcoholic daze.
There’s a lot of Soccer Mommy and Snail Mail in this EP’s DNA, but more than that being a strength, “Oriental Traffic’s” similarities to contemporary indie rock makes it sound a tad derivative. And while every band has the right to wear their influences on their sleeve, I wish that Sour Cheeks was a little more adventurous with its chord progressions, vocal melodies, and textures. It’s something that you can hear in the EP’s title track, whose chorus feels a little uninspired. “Oriental Traffic” isn’t bad, make no mistake. The line “You used to be / so lonely / just like me” from Just Like Me can cut as deep as any blade. It’s just textbook. It’s definitely possible for Sour Cheeks to come into their own as a band, but only if they break the rules, just a little. —Jam Pascual