Oakland Duo Brijean Vibe Out With Moody Debut Album ‘Feelings’

Photo Credit: Jack Bool

Brijean Murphy’s life was already under great emotional renovation when she began recording a new album. Working toward greater self-love and self-nurturing, she turned the smaller, foundational building blocks of that practice into songs – alongside collaborator Doug Stuart – for her eponymous creative endeavor Brijean. The Oakland-based duo’s latest album, Feelings, released February 26 via Ghostly International, melted from her fingertips, marking a newfound trust in herself as both an active songwriter for the project, and the one behind the microphone.

Murphy says she found a kind of unruly freedom in owning the spotlight. “Once I started to sing on my own project, it felt really good – like home. It’s my own thoughts and expression, and I didn’t have to title that to meet somebody else’s voice or ideas,” she tells Audiofemme. “In the past, I would sing with friends at late-night parties and mess around. But I never had formal vocal training and never really sang out with people until very recently when I was a hired percussionist for tours.”

In previous creative pursuits, most notably as an in-demand percussionist who’s worked with bands like U.S. Girls and Toro Y Moi, Murphy feels her way around soul-tingling soundscapes that give her agency over her own voice and songwriting talents. “I’m definitely growing a lot,” she says. Where the duo’s 2019 EP, Walkie Talkie, was more intimate, Feelings sees them “involve more people” in the process. “With this album, we had more of our community involved. It felt really nice and important to me,” she adds. “I’m so community-centered. Those sounds stretched our compositions in a nice way.” 

Much of the album centers on uncovering equilibrium in life, or, as Murphy puts it on Brijean’s Bandcamp, “romancing the psyche.” As it relates to songwriting, much of her work lives between two worlds: love songs and stream of consciousness. “For love songs, I think about how I can be writing it to myself instead of it being an outward love for another person,” she says. As such, she nosedives into the rejuvenating waters of “how to feel good and how to nurture my own self”  ─ most prominent in songs like “Ocean.”

“This is one of the more significant songs for me ─ as a songwriter, vocalist, and musician. I felt like I stretched in this song. The vocal arrangements were something new for me,” she says. On “Ocean,” she plays all the drums and percussion, and even had a chance to try out some “really beautiful temple blocks.” These elements, including some new bells and a triangle, elevate Murphy’s probing lyrics. “It felt more like a story than some of the other songs,” she continues, “and it feels like an arrival for me, personally.”

“In this gentle space, we lay/Calming when I hear you say,” she sings, almost inviting the listener to enjoy her musical trance. “I want to be inside your ocean/I want to see what there could be.”

“Softened Thoughts” arrives as a shape-shifting musical gem, almost otherworldly in the way Murphy calls back to a childhood memory to nail the song in place. “I kept having this daydream about one of my honorary aunts, one of my dad’s best friends, who helped raise me. I thought about a story when me, her, and my dad went to Hawaii when I was two, maybe two and a half. They took me to this volcano. My dad said he held me over the volcano and that I freaked out, and my aunt Jill chilled me out. Then, the rest of the days we just went to the beach and soaked in the sun. To this day, my dad is always like ‘I can’t believe you don’t remember that.’ I’m like ‘I was… two.’ When they tell this story, they just crack up.”

Feelings is pieced together with two interludes, “Pepe,” a nod to drummer Pepe Jacobo, and “Chester,” a sharply-attentive cat that lived at the Big Sur home where the album was recorded. “Oftentimes, Doug and I like to listen to the songs we started and then continue the thought,” Murphy says. “We usually make an interlude per song if it doesn’t flow directly into another song. I adore and respect Pepe so much. It felt like it fit with the album, thematically.”

Joined by musicians Chaz Bear, Tony Peppers, and Hamir Atwal, Brijean capture the human experience in the throes of remarkable transformation, incorporating elements of jazz, tropicalia, and soul. These eleven songs rise and fall in an enveloping, therapeutic way, conceived, as they were, by a group of people exploring a vibe and developing it into song. In a time when real human connections are few and far between, Feelings translates “some of the magic” of live performance and “the feeling of playing with people you love ─ as opposed to me playing all the instruments in one room,” Murphy says. Though the album was initially driven by Murphy’s steps toward musical autonomy, Feelings ultimately invites listeners right into Brijean’s groovy realm.

Follow Brijean on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

Drama Makes Emotional, House-Inflected Synthpop on Dance Without Me

Drama photo by Zoe Rain.

When Drama was putting together Dance Without Me, singer Lluvia Rosa Vela, better known as Via Rosa, thought of My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

“We love that movie. We watch it all the time,” she says by phone from Chicago. Via Rosa explains that she imagined herself going to multiple weddings without a date. “Everyone is dancing without me,” she explains. She then imagined herself as the only one on the dance floor at the end of the wedding. “That’s how I envisioned the album, this moment of how people are afraid to be alone and then you find the beauty in being alone.”

Formed in 2014, Drama is the Chicago-based duo of Via Rosa and Na’el Shehade. They self-released two EPs, Gallows (2016) and Lies After Love (2018), before signing with the cult favorite dance music label Ghostly International. Dance Without Me is out on February 14.

Opening with the song “7:04 AM,” Dance Without Me is the kind of album that gently pulls the listener into the groove over the course of 11 house-inflected synthpop cuts. Meanwhile, Via Rosa’s ever-so-slightly raspy voice tugs at the heart strings as she drops emotional lyrics on tracks like “Forever and a Day” and lead single “Hold On.” She captures the essence of sad dance songs – think Ultravox’s “Dancing With Tears in My Eyes” or Hercules & Love Affair’s “Blind” – beautifully.

Via Rosa and Shehade met through mutual friends and, ultimately, ended up in a studio session together where they cranked out four songs. When Shehade suggested they start a band, Via Rosa was on a chef’s career path and not thinking about music quite that seriously. But she knew that what they were doing was working. “I believed him and trusted him and went with it,” she says.

In that process, the two discovered that they had something else in common. Where Via Rosa is a chef and caterer, Shehade is an entrepreneur whose businesses include multiple restaurants. “We were in the middle of a session and, up until that point, we never really talked about what we did outside of the music studio. We would just show up and make music,” Via Rosa recalls. “He never questioned why I had on a shirt with food stains and an apron. I never questioned why he always had on all black with grease stains.”

Once they made that discovery, it led to other collaborations; Shehade brought in Via Rosa to cater events and develop a menu for a restaurant in San Francisco. “Any way that we can utilize each other’s talents, we’ll find a way,” she says.

Via Rosa says that working as half of Drama has expanded her musical horizons too, especially when it comes to house, which is a crucial component in the duo’s sound. “I didn’t realize that I was listening to house at a young age,” she explains, mentioning ’90s hits like “Shorty Swing My Way” by K.P. & Envyi and “Show Me Love” from Robin S. “I didn’t realize they were house songs. To me they were pop songs or songs on the radio.”

She adds, “Over the years, [Shehade] got me listening to more dance music and understanding dance music more and more. When I met him, I was making a lot more downtempo hip-hop, like Amy Winehouse, Sade.”

In their time together thus far, Drama has become a popular touring act too. They’ve toured Europe, played in Palestine and had multiple jaunts across the U.S., including a stretch opening for SG Lewis last fall. At The Novo in Los Angeles during that tour, they played for a remarkably large and enthusiastic crowd. “It’s such a hard city to win over because there’s so much music and so many artists there,” says Via Rosa of L.A. “It blows my mind how well our music does there.”

When we spoke, Drama had just returned from Europe, where they performed the first leg of their latest tour. In late February, they’ll head back out on the road through the U.S. and Canada for a headlining tour that includes sold out dates in California, New York and Texas. “For me, for the next couple months, I’m just focusing on that, preparing to leave little bits of my soul all over the world,” says Via Rosa.

Via Rosa says that she hopes the new music will move people to dance, as it’s done for her. “At the beginning of this, it was hard for me to dance in public,” she says. “This music has really brought a different side of me out and I think this album really shows the growth in Drama.”

She adds, “I just want people to feel how I felt when we were making it, which is sure of their decisions and not caring whether anyone is there or not.”

SHOW REVIEW: School of Seven Bells

Tuesday night School of Seven Bells played the first of two sold-out shows at the Mercury Lounge, and thanks to the miracle of Craigslist, the AudioFemme editors were in attendance. The date was of particular significance to the band, as it coincided with the release of their phenomenal third album, Ghostory.  

The year between Ghostory’s release and that of 2010’s Disconnect From Desire was fraught with change for SVIIB, seeing the somewhat mysterious departure of Claudia Deheza.  For a band whose sound and image hinged on the dual vocals and dramatic image of twins Alejandra and Claudia, the parting of ways carried with it many unanswered questions, and is still a sensitive topic that the band does not like to broach.  As longtime fans of SVIIB, we at AudioFemme were interested to see how the band would evolve and adapt. With little idea what to expect from the new album or subsequent live performances in support of it, we’re happy to report that on both fronts, all is well.

L: It had been a while since I’d seen SVIIB, the last time being at a CMJ showcase in 2008 at Le Poisson Rouge.  At that time, Alpinisms was coming out or had just been released and I was obsessed with it.  I begged my way into the showcase for discounted admission and was treated to one of the loudest, most psychedelic live experiences I’d had to that point.  It was my first CMJ and I remember feeling so alive and thankful to be in NYC, and nothing embodied that feeling more than SVIIB’s intoxicating set.  It is crazy to think of how many years have passed since then, and even more baffling that I’ve somehow missed every other date they’ve played in the city.

Seeing them at Mercury Lounge was a real reminder of what I’d been missing.  They’re such a solid live band.  It was about halfway through the set, after a particularly rousing tune from the new album, that Ben said “Let’s get this party started” and even though the audience was a bit reluctant to do so (it was an early show, after all) all of the set list was dance-worthy.  Their performances are imbued with this sort of mystical element.  Alley has this shamanistic sort of presence, which her style definitely lends itself to – for last night’s show she was decked in silver chains and shimmery white eye-makeup.  But it’s not just a costume. Her face and voice are so expressive, pleading, and powerful.  The songs become incantations, invitations to let everything go.  They played a nice mix of old and new jams, but it all blended together seamlessly, which speaks volumes not just about strength of the music but also the ability of the band to grow and change and transcend any challenges or hardships or confusion that may have occurred in dealing with Claudia’s absence.  Adeptly filling her shoes was keyboardist Allie Alvarado, a D.C. – based performer who has released solo material under the moniker Painted Face and has played guitar with Brooklyn-based electronica outfit Telepathe. Even on their iconic dual-vocaled hit, “Half Asleep” she stepped up to the challenge beautifully and enthusiastically. Video for the track is below, followed by Annie’s ruminations on the set.

A:Holy shit. I was truly floored by this performance. I don’t know exactly what’s changed so significantly about them in the interim months since last I saw them live (I’ve probably been to the bulk of their New York shows since Disconnect came out two years ago), but I have my suspicions. And though I’ve always loved going to see them play, there was something particularly arresting about the way they sounded last night. Perhaps it was their post album-release ebullience–especially considering Ghostory’s ubiquitously positive (fanatically positive, even?) reception in the blogosphere and beyond; perhaps it was the terrific sound mix at what is an otherwise hit-or-miss venue. Perhaps it was the addition of a keyboardist/co-vocalist, or the amazing drummer who played along like a human metronome to such rhythmically complex tunes. Perhaps performing new songs invariably re-energizes any group dynamic. I imagine it’s an amalgam of all those things.

But there was something else too. Something more difficult to pin down; but something also more indelible. What immediately comes to mind is Beethoven’s Eroica – his momentous 3rd Symphony -the two opening chords of which signify, to many, the end of the Classical era in music. You’re probably so damn confused right now, thinking “What the hell is this woman talking about? Why must she bring Beethoven into this? Why???”

Let me explain: The Eroica symphony is one of revolt and upheaval, evident in the first ten seconds of score. Beethoven defies, even flouts symphonic convention by refusing to offer up any thematic indicators in that famous first phrase, and instead opts for two sharp, abrasive, a-tonal chords in an E-flat major that hits you over the head. They sound like someone wiping their hands clean (of the Classical era?), and I imagine these few measures had the very first audience members as equally confused as they were captivated. Anyway, a ton could be said about the historical context for this gambit (Ludwig was rumored to be a big fan of Napoleon), but in terms of its musical significance, I feel it was more of a move on Beethoven’s part to begin paving his own way in the larger scheme of his creative life, not to mention the musical zeitgeist in which he lived; it seems he wished to leave the past in its proverbial dustbin, and instead look onto the unfathomable horizons that lay outstretched before him. Indeed, he dove in, and subsequently shaped for the world a whole new era that would turn out to be (in my own opinion) the antecedent to nearly every genre that you love, that you can name. Classical gave way to Romantic, which gave way to everything.

So anyway, back to SVIIB and how my Beethoven tangent is in any way relevant to this show: The opening interlude to their set was so different from what one might normally hear from them. It lasted about 30 seconds. It was loud and cohesive and joyous, rather than dreamy and introverted and (intentionally) disjointed sounding in that shoegaze-ish kind of way. And everything that followed, followed suit. It almost seemed like they were trying to send us the message that we should just put to rest our expectations and conceits about who they are and what they mean as a group. And it seemed they wanted to surprise us, too. To frame it in terms of a shameless cliche, they actually seemed, right in that moment, to have ‘arrived’, in a way.  

In any case, they played plenty of old songs, but they were all infused with a totally different kind of energy and a noticeable lack of self-consciousness. Their new songs were wonderful and made me look forward to listening more closely to Ghostory. This is a band whose longevity in this industry (whatever the “industry” really is, at this point–beats me) is as assured as their talent is obvious. But they are trailblazing as well. Toward what? I don’t know. But I can’t wait to find out.

SVIIB play their second show tonight at Mercury Lounge, followed by a brief stint in Europe and tour throughout the US in April and May.  Ghostory is available now via Vagrant Records/Ghostly International.

SHOW REVIEW: Tycho w/ Beacon, live at Music Hall Of Williamsburg

I was super excited to go see Beacon last Saturday night.My exposure to them thus far had been pretty limited to their brief stintat Cameo Gallery for the Brooklyn Electronic Music Fest, at which they onlyplayed a handful of songs. But they were shockingly good songs. Especially considering what one immediately notices about this duo. They look like a couple of sartorially unassuming white kids from your hometown somewhere in the Midwest. Until they start playing music that is. Then they’re magically transformed into bass-blasting R&B/electronic superstars. It was a bit surreal to hear such a cavernous, all consuming sound coming out of the two of them, actually, and it made my attitude toward them swing dramatically from skeptical to deferential in a matter of seconds.

So there I was, waiting outside Music Hall to meet the person from whom I was scalping a craigslist ticket to this sold out show (Tycho, the headliner, is pretty damn incredible as well, which I’ll get to). Suddenly the building started shaking a little bit, and my chest cavity began to vibrate oh so subtly. From a distance I heard opening chords of “See Through You”. And I knew immediately, that this band is as good as I remembered them to be that night three months ago.

I finally got into the show not shortly thereafter, and settled in toward the front to be enveloped by loud bass, hot beats spun by Jacob Gossett, and Tom Mullarney’s smooth reverbed-out voice singing the songs I’ve come to know pretty well at this point, from their EP No Body. After a few tracks, the crowd was glued. Whoever hadn’t heard of them before, or had any doubts about their talent, was elevated to instant fandom, I’m sure of it. And it was then, when these guys knew they had everyone wrapped around their little fingers, that they upped the ante and performed this Ginuwine cover.

And I thought that would be the pinnacle of my experience of this show… Alas, I had no idea what Tycho had in store for us.

Tycho’s set was amazing for three reasons.

First,and for those of you who aren’t familiar with Tycho, this is a band that putsmore effort into cultivating a spectacular audio-visual experience for theiraudience than anyone I’ve ever seen live. While the music itself is primarily ablend of ambient sounding electronic and live drum/bass/lead guitar, the videowork that Scott Hanson (Tycho’s founder) produces and curates to accompanythe  music is really quite thoughtful, and heightens every song’s sonicimpact with total deliberation; each clip of video is stunningly executed, andseems to be timed to accentuate certain beats, tones, and shifts in musicalphrase to an ideal degree.
Second,there isn’t so much going on, even despite the crazy visuals, that you can’tfocus on any one musician in particular and feel captivated by their technicalabilities. For Example, the bass player was so good, and stalwart (many ofthese tracks were over five minutes long), that it was easy to get lost in hisplaying and forget everything else that was happening. The band’s first encoreperformance had Scott playing solo, and apologizing to the audience for the noticeable  absence of bandmates, with the candid admittance that he “justneeded to give them a rest”.
Third,these songs are pretty mellow, generally, but they never ever bore. There was adude standing about six feet in front of me who was breakdance-fighting/shadowboxing/going into epileptic shock for the entire set. I swear to god, he neverstopped moving for the full hour and a half they played. There were also anynumber of fist-pumpers and of course the occasional girl who would burst intotears at the beginning of a certain song…
Anyway,please enjoy a video from the show, and hopefully get a sense for what I’mtalking about here. Do trust though, that this little clip in no way does Tycho justice.

EP REVIEW: Headcage by Matthew Dear (Ghostly)

I remember the first time I heard the Matt Dear track “Tide”. I was driving aroundDetroit with my sister. It was the dead heat of summer. We were trying to find the Masonic Temple to attendwhat was rumored to be an amazing dance party thrown by a little known recordlabel out of Ann Arbor that was, and still is, near and dear to us both.

As we circled ’round and ’round the Cass Corridortrying to find parking and hoping not to miss anyone’s set, she (this sister of whom I speak) put “Tide” on,and asked me if I had heard it yet. At the time, Matt Dear—one of said label’s co-creatorsand first signatories—was still just some enigmatic DJ who composed exclusivelytechno; so I was surprised to suddenly hear his deep, now distinctive singing voice emerge from the noise. Andalthough I didn’t think too much of it (the singing thing, that is) I secretly hoped it wasn’t some weirdgimmick, because I could imagine him parlaying this particular genre-hybrid he had created, into something quite extraordinary. It was 2004then. In 2011 Black City came out andblew everyone’s mind, and to me, was the culmination of something seminal aboutthat particular summer.
During the three or so times last year that I saw him and hisband (handsome and dramatically impeccablein their three piece suits) perform Black City—with trumpet player and all—I felt that same little kernel of anxiety that I rememberfrom the summer of 2004: that this amazing music might go away, like avanishing mythological creature. I felt like I shouldn’t get too attached, for fear that it may turn out to be just another fleeting iteration of one of his manyaliases.

**Listen to “Tide” Here, because apparently I’m not sophisticated enough to copy and paste code from Soundcloud.**

Anyway, you can imagine my sigh of relief upon learning that the band version of Matt Dear,Matthew Dear, would be putting out an EP in the New Year. And Headcage is pretty awesome indeed. In fourtracks it both assuages the fear I spoke of, that he’ll cease to make the songs that I love the most–those that simultaneously propel the listener into new frontiers of artsy electronic, and take him or her back to some unnameable era of dance music–and suggests to me what the next phase of his polymathic (no, I don’t really know if that’s a real adjective) career might entail .
The first track, “Headcage” is an immediate nod to the highlights of Black City (namely “Shortwave” and “You Put A Smell On Me”, I think). It combines entrancing beats and heavy, nostalgia-inspiring synthetic melodies with insightful lyrics that juxtapose Matt’s laconic persona. “Around The Fountain” and “Street Song”, are a bit slower and more psychedelic, but pack a punch for their marked lack of traditional “techno” indicators. For example, “Street Song”, is underpinned by what can best be described as a barely perceptible, irregular sounding heartbeat.

“In The Middle (I Met You There)”, is the wild card of this EP. It starts off sounding like a hip hop jam, with a line from the chorus looping over a funky beat. The melody slowly emerges from a distant synth without the listener even knowing it. Then, Johnny Pierce (from the Drums) starts to croon what has become an addictive opening verse, building up to the refrain, during which all the background music stops. Then the chorus hits, with Matt Dear’s baritone voice entering dramatically, singing along with Pierce, only an octave lower. It’s at this point we find out that “In The Middle” is actually a love song (“The waves will keep on crashing in/sometimes we lose sometimes we win/you saved me from myself again/baby I don’t know how this will end”). This lyric repeats for a minute or so before the whole thing descends into instrumental chaos. It’s both familiar and surprising, and it’s the moment of Headcage that hooks me, in typical Matt Dear fashion, leaving me yearning for more. Good thing the full length album will be out next year.

At a Matt Dear show, right before we lit a fire in a bad location