Synth, swamp, and soul
Berklee student and alumni musicians rock the Sinclair
Berklee Popular Music Institute's Epic Event
AJNA, luhx., Emilia Ali, Yanina, Jacksonville Kid
The Berklee Popular Music Institute (BPMI) connects student and alumni musicians with students studying management to give aspiring professionals a taste of life in the music industry. Hoping to be the next St. Vincent or Passion Pit, two of BPMI’s more notable alumni, five musical acts were chosen from over 300 submissions to perform at the Sinclair. These six acts representing a diverse range of genres from “synth-soul” to “folk-swamp” included AJNA, luhx., Emilia Ali, Yanina, and Jacksonville Kid, all of which put on lively and engaging performances that I would expect from nothing less than experienced live musicians.
In recent years, it seems that indie rock has taken a clean and minimalistic approach to sound, which makes it all the more refreshing to find a band that isn’t afraid to let loose. In their slower songs, AJNA combines a tight rhythm section with sweeping synths, phase-shifted guitars, and effects-driven vocals to create a melodic, dreamy soundscape that had the crowd swaying and nodding their heads to the music. However, it isn’t until these songs reach their climax that AJNA truly shines. Songs like “Caught in the Feeling” slowly build to a peak that is fully realized when the lead singer seems to channel the spirit of Robert Plant himself and belt high notes that recall power ballads of decades past. After the show, I managed to find videos of other AJNA performances, but none of them did the live performance justice.
When I read luhx.’s description that advertised them as a “synth-soul” band, I didn’t really know what to expect. In hindsight, I can’t think of any better way to describe their sound; luhx. is a band that exudes synth and soul in every way. Their drummer managed to inject a surprisingly primal sort of energy into the familiar rhythms of dance and electronica. At the same time, two synthesizers radiate brassy, textured waves of sound. Though it was hard to hear, I could see the guitarist was playing rapid, jazzy licks that were unfortunately lost in the mixture of sounds coming from the rhythm section. The doubled-up vocal performance was conservative but worked well for the synth-soul style the band created. Ultimately, luhx. is successful in crafting a unique and captivating style built on a foundation of entrancing synth melodies.
At this point, I feel it’s only fair for me to admit that pop music has never been my favorite genre. Moreover, modern production quality often makes it difficult for popular artists to perform live at a level that reaches the standard they set for themselves in the studio. Even then, when Emilia Ali took to the stage with her band, I couldn’t help but find myself dancing and having a blast with the rest of the venue. Ali’s talent as a vocalist and live act are undeniable, and her band’s wobbly synth instrumentals were a great complement to her singing. While Ali sounded great live, I think her music comes across even better on her EP, Dreamland, and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a solid pop album with substantial production value.
Some musicians seem to born with a natural gift for stage presence and star power. Yanina introduced herself to the Sinclair by running onto the stage and performing a 20-second choreographed dance with two backup dancers who disappeared from sight as soon as the dance ended, leaving the venue along with myself starstruck and a little confused. However, that’s not to say that Yanina’s musical performance wasn’t also excellent. Though her vocal style was unremarkable, her performance was still soulful, passionate, and commanding, and her backing band provided all the tight drumming and bass playing a pop/soul singer could want.
Every artist from the showcase was a unique blend of genres in one way or another, but none was as peculiar and remarkable as the closing act. At least half of the venue had left by the time Jacksonville Kid, a self-proclaimed “folk-swamp” band complete with a fiddle player, showed up. Their first song was a solid, albeit generic Americana song. Their second song, however, ramped up halfway through and evolved into a long, jumbled, effects-driven instrumental section where their sound had become a mix of indie and alt rock, all while retaining the same fiddle and guitar sound that Jacksonville Kid promises as a folk-swamp band. By this point, the lead singer/guitarist was jumping around the stage, stepping over amps and sound equipment until he was playing guitar on his knees. By the third song, the band had abandoned their folk roots altogether and were playing some type of southern punk rock. What was left of the venue started chanting and formed a small mosh directly in front of the stage. It can be hard for artists that blend genres to find mainstream popularity, but I will definitely be keeping an eye on Jacksonville Kid to see what direction they pursue in the future.