Week in Pop: xCephasx, Krystle Warren, QOQO ROBOQS

Sjimon Gompers

The persistence & ever-evolving proliferation of Vancouver's xCephasx, oka Cephas Munga; photographed by Mescondi, aka Conor Cunningham.

Krystle Warren

The future of gospel according to Krystle Warren; photographed by Matthew Placek.

With the release of Three the Hard Way, Kansas City by way of Paris artist Krystle Warren presents us with a first listen to an evocative work that the artist co-produced with Ben Kane. Providing a unique take on everything from gospel to nearly everything you can offered beneath the Americana umbrella; Warren’s incredible work could not have arrived any sooner. Through a holistic delivery with rich vocals & sharp instrumentation; Krystle examines everything past/present injustices, politics, religious notions & a celebration of African American traditions & cultures that offers testimonials & an uplifting spiritual sense that rings as loud & as true now as it did in the olden days. On the life-affirming Three the Hard Way, the LGBTQ championing artist & Rufus Wainwright collaborator ultimately offers a roadmap through the hardships of yesterday & today that offers up some timeless wisdom to serve as a lamp to help light up the night of tomorrow’s narrow paths & treacherous trails.

The opener “So We Say” is a stripped down dinner table invitational that calls all with ears & hearts to join & break bread in the harmony & joy of one another’s company. Warren’s rustic gospel turns to vintage Biblical blues with the romantic paradigm of “Nae-Nae and Ruthie” that moves in harmonica breeze swaying motions. In between Warren & Kane’s clever & sparse percussion; the harmonies nearly take over every time as heard on “If Memory Serves Me Well” where blasts from the past return to the face the predicaments of the present. Appreciation & intimate expressions are cherished & treasured in ways like an epiphany realized during a tent-revival on “Thanks & Praise”, to the hazy & hopeful homecoming of “I Hope He Comes Back” that muses upon notions of humanity while questioning religious realities (complete with more of those moving harmonies). The devastating & mournful “Red Clay” recalls the horrific 1921 massacre of African Americans in Tulsa by the hands of the KKK that is painful reminder of an evil that persists in America, as evident by the last week’s tragic events at a neo-Nazi/KKK rally in Charlottesville, VA. Warren’s reiterations of “in the wet red clay” & pondering how evil can kill innocence are underlined with rhythm strums of sorrow that reiterates the concept that there is no place for hate in the world.

And through the entire album cycle, Krystle’s harmonies are a constant that keeps everything fluttering between the lessons of earth’s humble ground & inspirations & mythologies brought about by skies’ heavens. The art & act of waking up to the world & beyond is heard in the steps that follow “Get a Load”, to the psych-swimming “Learn to Bend”, right before you are taken to the tambourine shaking chapel of “Move” that closes out Three the Hard Way with something to wake up anyone may have fallen asleep in the back pews. Krystle leaves the audience with a message to get pro-active in your communities, to take a stand socially, politically, in any way you can make a difference to make our world a more loving place.

Notes on process courtesy of Krystle Warren; photographed by Matthew Placek.

Krystle Warren penned us the following reflective statement about the new album Three the Hard Way:

Three the Hard Way wasn’t supposed to be a political album. It was never my intention to delve into religion, socio-economics, depression…In fact, when Kane first suggested we work together, after I answered defensively that, yes, I had been writing new stuff, long story, and that the songs were all in my head, I said, Let’s make a happy record. And yet, and yet. Heading into the studio a year and a half ago, driving over an hour from my home in Yvelines to Villetaneuse in the early thaw of winter, our recording began as the world’s papers with any common sense at all published a steady stream of, What the FUCK Has The U.S. Done NOW! We couldn’t help but be affected by the uncertainty. It was all around us—still is.

I believe the first session started with “Get a Load”, or at least, attempted to. I had just completed “So We Say” the night before/that very morning, and was eager to lay it. “So We Say” took shape after everyone else went to bed, and I sat alone in the kitchen, plucking away at my guitar, swigging off a bottle of red, thinking about the The Challenger explosion. It was all over the news that day. I was a youngster when it happened, but I remember the image well. The thirtieth anniversary’s coverage provided deeper insight into the whys and hows. I felt disgusted by it all. People rise and fall in pieces, but that’s the price for being free… So began the first tune of the album.

It’s an odd feeling being of the time, artistically—that is to say, one who is reflecting the world around them, by accident, with purpose. Countless quotes exist attributed to various famous folk saying things to the effect of, If you’re not doing this, then you’re doing that, and that’s shitty. I don’t agree with that sentiment as it pertains to artistic expression. Not everyone should hold a megaphone. Pete Seeger, early Dylan, Woody Guthrie, Neil Young—hey, that’s all well and good. The general message is also extremely self-righteous. I don’t like being told what to do, do you?

Likewise, I feel that it’s best to be informed before throwing in your two cents, otherwise, you’re just feeding into the cacophony of yells and screams that currently passes for debate. The world has always been an awful place. Some of us are waking up to that reality now. couldn’t have written Three the Hard Way five years ago, because I wouldn’t have known what to say, let alone how to say it. I’m here now, taking it all in, and weeping, and writing, and singing, listening, learning, getting through.

Krystle Warrren’s Three the Hard Way is available now via Parlour Door Music.

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