Taiwainese R&B Artist 9m88 Releases Cathartic Jazz-Influenced Sophomore LP 9m88 Radio

Photo Credit: Jac Chung Wan

One of the many miracles of music – good music – is its ability to transcend cultures, space, time and connect people from all walks of life. On her sophomore record, 9m88 (Joanne Tang) does just this. 9m88 (pronounced “Jo-m-baba”) is a Taiwanese artist who translates her love for jazz and R&B into her own iteration of the genre. Mixing Mandarin with English and traditional jazz with alternative R&B production, 9m88 Radio is kaleidoscope of sound, guided by Tang’s soft but confident vocals. 

Though Tang has been singing her entire life, she admits that songwriting – especially in English – is fairly new to her. After completing fashion school in Taiwan and moving to New York City to be closer to the industry, Tang realized she still felt called to pursue her love for singing and music. She was accepted to the New School as a jazz vocalist, and this is where her journey as a songwriter and artist began. “That was a really condensed moment of me trying to write some music, do some collaboration with people,” says Tang. “For me, songwriting is still really new. I’m still working on it, especially in English.” 

Influenced by icons like Erykah Badu, Stevie Wonder and Ella Fitzgerald, Tang possesses a melodic sensibility that breaks through regardless of the language. In “Sleepwalking,” Tang paints a sultry and light-hearted depiction of infatuation with bouncy vocals that feel akin to Ariana Grande’s “R.E.M.” In the chorus, she sings, “I am too hysterical/Got nowhere to go/Am I sleepwalking?” Her unexpected phrasing and blunt lyricism are a refreshing take on the archetypical pop R&B track. 

While the record is sprinkled with whimsy and romance in songs like “A Merry Feeling,” Tang welcomes the listener into the darker, more intimate parts of her psyche as well. “With this album, I started to be more reflective,” Tang explains. “Last year, I went through some heartbreaks and personal stuff… I thought maybe I should just document the sad feeling through writing songs and make it a healing session for myself.”

“Star” beautifully describes the pain of heartache while leaving room for hope and humor. In her glassy croon, Tang sings, “I cannot feel myself/And I just cry a lot/Me being pessimistic is cute as fuck” – allowing herself to lament a loss while loving herself at the same time. In the same, the lead track and single, “Watchu Gonna…?” finds solace in packing up and moving on. “In Mandarin, I wrote a lot of verses about tidying dishes, mopping floors… to show my statement of wanting to get rid of this messy stuff,” says Tang. The video shows Tang in an empty room, packing up the last of her ex-lover’s clothes, surrounded by her friends. “By dancing together, it feels like we are accompanying each other to get through something,” Tang says. 

As a whole, 9m88 Radio takes the listener through all the stages of heartbreak – anger, euphoria, sadness, regret and release. Tang’s portrait of love lost is a story we can all relate to, regardless of our native tongue.

Follow 9m88 on Instagram for ongoing updates. 

Multi-Cultural R&B Sister Duo Bebi Monsuta Find Divine Purpose with “Deuses Falsos” Premiere

Photo Credit: Tamara

Bebi Monsuta are one of the most exciting and fresh emerging acts to rise from New York City’s cross-genre hip hop scene. Blood sisters Manami and Akira share a kinetic bond, an intrinsic psychic connection embodying strength, vulnerability, and grace as they pay homage to their melting pot heritage. The literal translation of Bebi Monsuta (“ヘヒ モンスタ”) is “baby monster” and highlights the duo’s Japanese ancestry on their maternal side, while their newest bi-lingual single “Deuses Falsos” – premiering via Audiofemme – references their Portuguese-Brazilian roots.

Produced by Xavi (Ariana Grande, Megan Thee Stallion, Flo Milli), the track weaves together elements of Brazilian funk and recalls the sisters’ coming of age experiences in life and music. We met up at Japanese ice cream shop Taiyaki NYC on Baxter street; as we inhaled mochi and vanilla heaven, we made our way over to the Elizabeth Street sculpture garden to get better acquainted and dive deeper into their musical project.

Akira explains, “We named the song ‘Deuses Falsos’ (False Gods) because a God has foresight to know when something is great in the making even though it sometimes takes numbers to see that in this world.” Manami adds, “The song is intended to motivate people that have been in a place of feeling unseen for who you are, and your talents. Yes, we are broke girls, but this talent is rich AF.”

It won’t be long before the world recognizes those talents, too. Though “Deuses Falsos” is only Bebi Monsuta’s fourth single (they debuted with ABRONCA collab “Brazilian Sound” in 2019), they’re about to drop their first EP on November 11 via +1 Records. Titled 11.11, the EP draws numerological reference to synchronicity and cosmic enlightenment, representing a time when our consciousness may be uniquely open to the universe. 

Sonically, the alternative R&B duo pulls inspiration from Vanity 6, Gwen Stefani, and Brazilian Funk. They’re self proclaimed music-makers for the outcasts, nerds, nomads, the condemned, the abandoned, and all those who don’t quite fit into society. Taking stylistic influence from graphic novels, comic books, and drag culture – these sisters are a sonic and visual force to be reckoned with. 

Their fiercely confident breakout singles “RäkStär” and “808” are high-energy empowering anthems of self love and living a life guided by the power of intuition. The tracks are deeply infused with Afro-American and Caribbean beats; “RäkStär” plays with ancient wisdom and extraterrestrial clairvoyance, departing from “the generic ‘rockstar’ aesthetic” in favor of “someone aligned with astrology, crystals, stars and planets.” They wear white contacts in the Purty Pat-directed video to reference the idea of expanding deeper into the consciousness. Reflecting empowerment and tapping into the divine through fierce improvisational dance moves, Bebi Monsuta embody an ethereal, all-knowing feminine agency. 

“We definitely put a lot of intention behind our music. Whenever we go into the studio to record a song, we always think about first and foremost, how it’s going to make people feel, and affect their lives,” Akira expresses. “Even in the song ‘RäkStär,’ it’s very much about outcasts, being afraid that this person’s family might not accept you. There are hidden elements that relate to people and their deepest vulnerabilities. I think that’s the first place that healing takes place, you know, tapping into those instincts.”

Manami takes a moment to pause and analyze the duality of being a recording artist. “Something that a lot of people don’t understand about being in music, yes it’s glitz, and glam, it’s about the hair, the makeup, and the costuming. And we do approach our project like drag. We visually step into and embody a whole new person,” she says. “It’s because we grew up on comic books and video games. Our dad read us comic books to bed, and we played a lot of video games. Beyond the costumes, the most important thing to us is being relatable. It’s common people only see the façade. They don’t know that you come back home, and you may have other deeper issues, and problems. We just want to craft this new celebrity that really talks to people about real things going on in your life.”

Akira adds that they think of their audience like they would their closest friends, and their songs represent the intimate and real conversations they might have together. “Our last show at Elsewhere, Manami opened up about her eating disorder on stage. She felt safe and comfortable with talking about it, and so many people in the audience could relate on that level of vulnerability. There wasn’t a person that hugged us after the performance who wasn’t in tears,” she remembers; the duo had been performing their song “Me Yamu,” about self love. “That meant a lot to us, because it was our intention. We wanted to create a safe space for our audience to really connect with us.”

Manami adds, “I’m not afraid to talk about it anymore. I was naturally a very slim child and then I developed Hypothyroidism through diet. It caused me depression and extreme mood swings. Self-healing, meditation, and music has really helped me.”

The sisters are also interested in epigenetics, the study and awareness of how your behaviors and environment can affect how your genes work. A recent Instagram post detailed the power and the pain that have been passed onto them via their ancestors; during our conversation Manami insists that the best thing one can pass down through family lineage can be a “light-hearted spirit, and peaceful and loving genetics.” The sisters shared anecdotes of their hyper-intuitive grandmother, an empath and a healer. They take tremendous influence from her ability to tap into her inner world for self-reflective wisdom. 

“We want people to feel motivated and worthy. We want those who listen to this project to feel that the truth is and will always be better than a lie. Stand in it, own it and be brave,” they say.

That’s something they put into every performance, too. Manami explains their traditions of a pre-show mindfulness meditation. “We take a little shot, we smoke a little bit, and then we just try to connect with the audience, because through song is the best way we know how,” she says.

Bebi Monsuta’s music may sound like turn up songs simply meant to get a party going, and they certainly achieve that. But don’t be fooled – they’re also deeply rooted in personal experiences. “We look out in the crowd, we see the expressions on people’s faces and let our hearts and souls speak. We don’t know why we’re here on this planet, or what the earth is actually about, but the best thing you can do is love each other.”

Follow Bebi Monsuta on Instagram for ongoing updates.

How a Woodsy Retreat Led to Debut EP from Detroit Indie Pop Outfit Lady

Some of the best music happens when you least expect it. Detroit indie pop outfit, Lady (Indira Edwards, Paris from Tokyo, Brian Castillo, Jacob Waymaster, Jojo Diaz-Orsi, Armand Boisvenue IV a.k.a Sleepyboiiii) found this to be true when they went to the woods together with no expectations and came out of it with an EP and what producer and songwriter Paris describes as some of the best music they’ve ever made. “I was like, let’s just make four songs – that shouldn’t be hard,” says Paris. “Then we ended up making the best four songs.” A short documentary edited by Paris and Tyler Jenkins goes into more detail on making the EP.

The band’s lead songwriters, Paris and Edwards, have been friends for years, but this was their first time working on a project together. They went into collaboration with only one thing in mind – fluidity. The result is in the woods, a cascading collection of songs that flow into each other with ease, premiering today on Audiofemme. 

“I feel like the name ‘Lady’ encapsulates everything that the band is,” says Edwards. “Sort of, like, this blanket feminine energy: there’s grace but also a hardness to it.” That dichotomy is found in the first single off the EP, “u and i.” Over a background of lush synths and smooth guitar, Edwards’ cutting vocals paint a picture of someone they used to know driving right past them as they hitchhike on the side of the road. A metaphor for loss and abandonment, the song hits hard for anyone who has seen someone they love turn into a stranger. Edwards begs the familiar question –  “Do you even really know I’m there?/‘Cuz I don’t think you even really care.” Whether it’s watching that someone drive away without acknowledging you or scrolling on their IG feed and seeing them look unbothered, Edwards captures the pain caused by apathy from a former loved one. 

Edwards explains that the songwriting process for “u and i” – and all of the songs on the record – was a deeply collaborative experience. Paris first wrote the chorus on a ukulele and brought it to the band, who then transformed it into something completely different. This improvisational energy carried itself through the entire process. “It really felt like a pass the torch experience,” says Edwards. “For the intro, ‘cudi hum,’ Indira made this beautiful composition,” says Paris. “I was fucking around and started humming like Kid Cudi because I thought it was funny and it would make everyone laugh. Then it became a song.” 

The band shifts effortlessly from loose instrumentals like “cudi hum” and “audio hypnosis” to a gorgeous cover of Charlotte Dos Santos song “Red Clay.” Edwards’ vocals shimmer over distorted bass and waves of sparkling synths pays homage to Dos Santos while shaping the song to match the band’s watery, ethereal sound. Where “Red Clay” and “u and i” give the listener a chance to ruminate on love lost, songs like “limeade” offer an avenue to escape altogether. 

Layered, distant vocals guide scintillating bells and synths along a river of calm and escape. Lush swells are followed by a sparse melody, allowing us to ease back into whatever reality surrounds us. Throughout the EP, there’s room for anger, longing, contemplation and rest. The music’s liquidity reassures us that these feelings are fleeting; that they can happen all at the same time or completely vanish for a moment. “Lady, in itself, represents fluidity and constant change,” says Paris. 

Follow Lady on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Erika de Casier Sharpens Signature Sound on Sophomore LP Sensational

Photo Credit: Dennis Morton

Erika de Casier spent part of the last year like most of the rest of us – bottling kombucha, making sourdough bread, watching a shit ton of movies and spending a lot of time on her phone. But the other part was spent doing something most people struggle to do – putting feelings of heartbreak, transience and solitude into words and music and bringing a new meaning to the phrase “party of one.” The Copenhagen-based producer and songwriter’s sophomore record, Sensational, glimmers with honesty and danceability and finds de Casier asserting her needs with poise and a tight beat.

de Casier spent the earlier part of the pandemic in a relatable state of existential and literal dread. Between constantly watching Covid-19 numbers rise and experimenting with lacto fermentation, she says that she struggled to find meaning in making music. “Writing songs felt really meaningless,” she remembers. “And then, at some point I realized that it’s the only thing that gives me meaning now… you can escape a little with music. You can still make a song about going to a party with it having a meaning because it means something different for us now to be able to be together.” de Casier’s music, which fuses gentle vocals with R&B chords and UK garage beats, feels like the perfect soundtrack to dancing alone in your kitchen, longing for the days when leaning up against a sweaty body wouldn’t give you a panic attack. 

She encapsulates this loneliness in her video for “Drama,” which follows her on the rollercoaster ride that accompanies complete solitude. It starts with the quintessential “dress up to go nowhere” routine, followed by a luxurious bubble bath and thirst trap selfies, then ends at risky texts and regret. de Casier perfectly describes the aftermath of this specific kind of emotional bender in the chorus when she sings, “I wrote you twice last night/Wish I could press rewind/Take back whatever I said/But I can’t do that/Thought it was going so well/Now I don’t even know.” She balances remorse with levity when she admits her tendency to lean towards the theatrical side of things. “I don’t mean to cause any drama, it’s just somehow, it always gets me.” In fact, de Casier blends self-awareness and irony so well, it’s hard to tell which one is which. Or maybe it’s both, and that’s what makes it so good? 

That duality characterizes Sensational, where de Casier glides from wanting a no-strings-attached romance in “Someone to Chill With” and thinking about a lost flame on “Secretly.” But just like in “Drama,” no one feeling is truer than the other. You can miss someone and still want to explore other people and feelings. You can be an R&B singer with a soft voice and proclivity for trip-hop. It’s what makes de Casier’s music so loveable and so her. She explains that it took some time to reach this signature sound. 

She describes her early recordings as “artsy” and “soundscape-y” with little to no vocals. “I convinced myself that was a choice but, really, I couldn’t make a beat if I wanted to,” she says, followed by a laugh. Feeling limited by what YouTube University had to offer, de Casier enrolled in an electronic music program where she was able to grow her skillset as a producer. She was simultaneously acting as the main vocalist and songwriter for the project Saint Cava, which she started with her friend Andreas Vasegaard. Performing with Saint Cava allowed de Casier to start producing solo tracks on her own, free from pressure. “That’s when I wrote ‘Puppy Love’ and it just made me so happy,” she remembers. “I felt it was completely me.”

But even feelings of euphoria can be interrupted by the dark cloud of imposter syndrome, which is what happened to de Casier. She felt self-conscious about producing because she was surrounded by producers – Vasegaard and her long time friend Natal Zaks – who she saw as way ahead of her skill-wise. “I compared myself a lot with them, like, ‘Why even bother when there are other people who are so talented?’” But her search for the sound that felt right for her inevitably broke down that mental barrier and led her to produce her debut album, Essentials. “I think I reached a point where I actually had this style that I didn’t get from any producers I was working with,” she says. 

If Essentials was de Casier’s first major foray into producing, it’s clear she has a well of talent to dip into, and Sensational proves that. She stays true to the base that she created in her first record while adding layers of more live-sounding instruments and experimenting with genre. “I think what changed is maybe… with Essentials, I didn’t really know what I was doing, I was just having fun with it,” she says. “Now, I feel like, okay, that went well, so I’ll keep doing that I guess.”

Follow Erika de Casier on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.

PLAYING DETROIT: “O.D.” on Britney Stoney’s New Video

Detroit singer-songwriter Britney Stoney recently released a video for her latest single, “O.D.” and it’s a glamorous ode to the city she calls home. Only her second single since 2015 EP Native (the other, “GRIP,” was uploaded to Soundcloud last year), the track sees Stoney embracing a sound that veers away from her previous work and into experimental R&B.

Stoney says that the song itself came to life organically. “I wrote the song and my friend Manner produced it. It was very spur of the moment,” says Stoney. “We were just hanging out and he came up with this really simple beat and about an hour later we had a finished song.” The “simple beat” could loop in your head for days, and it fits perfectly between Stoney’s glassy vocals. Her lyrics (“Call me when you want me/Call me when you’re all messed up/Touch until we’re okay/Tell me that you want my love”) linger just as easily and tell a story of infatuation with simplicity and accuracy.

The video pairs gorgeously with the upbeat song and follows Stoney as she wanders through her old neighborhood and dances on rooftops with the city behind her. “The roof I shot on was a building I lived in for six years,” says Stoney. “Recently, I had to move, so I decided I needed to take that view with me. I went through many phases of my life in that building, on that street, so it definitely holds sentimental value for me.”

Shot by Detroit-based filmmaker KATAI, the video juxtaposes grainy, vintage film with vivid shots, giving off the feeling that you could be watching a home video or a Cannes-nominated film. Stoney’s tulle-draped movements seem effortlessly paired with the song’s addictive rhythm; with every repetition of the line “gimme all you got” she leaves us wanting more and more.

PLAYING DETROIT: River Spirit Prep Dreamy EP2 for Release

Detroit-based electro indie-pop outfit River Spirit are set to release their second EP, aptly titled EP2, on January 5th. The group – comprised of Vanessa Reynolds (vocals and guitar), Dan Steadman (guitar, percussion, and vocals) and Paul Wilcox (drums) – worked with local engineer and musician Scott Murphy to record a dreamy and uplifting collection of songs. Overarching themes of pleasure, possibility, and perseverance set to ethereal beats and soothing vocals make EP2 the perfect elixir for ridding yourself of 2017’s bullshit and starting off the new year right. I met up with two-thirds of the band to talk about making the EP, finding beauty in darkness, and what the future has in store for the whimsical trio.

Tucked in the corner of the Detroit Institute of Art’s Kresge Café, Vanessa Reynolds and Dan Steadman are just as calming and genuine as their music suggests. After almost ten years of playing together, the two friends have found the perfect balance of energy, easily finishing each other’s sentences to paint a broader picture. With both Reynolds and Steadman playing guitar, the same uncanny balance is found in their music. “Me and Dan have been playing together for such a long time, I feel like we’ve built a way of playing where we’re each occupying our own space,” explains Reynolds. The duo’s cohesive playing style can easily be heard in the EP’s opener, “Winter Song,” a relatable track that captures the essence of loneliness and stagnation brought on by winter winds.

While “Winter Song” leans closer to the side of introspective melancholia, it’s whirling, wind chime outro offers flickers of hope and serves as a smooth transition to the three sanguine songs remaining, mostly focusing on finding joy in yourself and others. In “Set Alight,” Reynolds sings, “You can open doors with your eyes shut / Don’t you realize you are one of a kind.” She explains that the song is meant as a voice of encouragement to a loved one, reminding them to harness their power and not get bogged down by external forces.

This is a theme that the band intended to portray throughout this body of work. “We’re all in such turmoil trying to process the things that have been happening these past few years,” says Steadman. “Being able to enjoy yourself within that is super important.” Reynolds agrees, adding that finding joy can sometimes even be an act of rebellion in this day and age. “I feel like it can be kind of radical to be able to stop and just have fun, or rehearse your music, or do the things you love and be happy.”

Reynolds’ ability to find the light hasn’t come without her fair share of adversity. “There was a period where I was kind of homeless and squatting in spots… it was another time of making possibilities when it feels like there aren’t any,” explains the artist. “As much as it was hard, I felt a lot of optimism within that and I met a lot of amazing people and had a lot of amazing experiences.”

The infectious optimism that Reynolds brings to River Spirit seems to have drawn a series of serendipitous events for the band. When Reynolds, a tattoo artist of over eight years, crossed paths with and tattooed Josiah Wise of serpentwithfeet, the band snagged an opening spot on Wise’s tour. Then, the band’s engineer offered to let them trade tattoos for studio time for their forthcoming LP – hard evidence that if you put good vibes into the world, you’ll get them right back.

The charmed trio has performed with acts like Aldous Harding, Stef Chura, and S (Jen Champion) and plan to spread their wings with shows outside of Detroit in 2018. Until then, look out for River Spirit’s EP2 on Spotify, Apple Music, Bandcamp, and Apple Music starting January 5th or (if you’re in Detroit) check out the band’s EP release party at Third Wave Music on January 12th.