When I was graduating high school (class of 1998), the seniors of the high school girl's choir took turns taking soloes on whatever the hit single was at the time. I don't remember what it was, but I DO remember peals and peals of ear-shredding, shrill vocal pyrotechnics, a la Mariah Carey, who was rather popular at the moment. I went to a predominantly Caucasian high school, and while I would never say white girls can't sing soul (they can), I'm just saying the girls of my class couldn't sing soul, or funk or disco.
I belong to what may be the last generation that didn't grow up on almost exclusively black music. I remember, quite clearly, when hip-hop infiltrated my corner of the universe, and watched in fascination as it gradually caught on, spread and then took it over.
The girls of Highland High School, class of 1998, hadn't grown up with Destiny's Child, Sade, Aretha Franklin. It's not that they couldn't speak that musical language, it's that they weren't used to it. And in my day, it was not cool to research music. There simply was what was in, at the moment, and being into anything else meant total social pariah-dom. This has changed, thank the Elder Gods, as is evidenced from the extremely excellent Wherever You Are by Brooklyn-based The Heavy Watts.
The Heavy Watts’ insanely catchy, infectious disco/funk/psych rock would not have existed in the '90s, or if it did, it would be from some indie band with an insanely deep record collection that would've been amazing but probably heard by about 12 people. Wherever You Are, however, could be heard and appreciated by hundreds of thousands, and it definitely should. I can imagine The Heavy Watts blasting festival crowds into the stratosphere with their up-tempo soulful disco rockers. Jules Barringer's vocals are definitely the centerpiece of most of Wherever You Are's five songs. Barringer is a master of vocal ornamentation, taking Mariah Carey's ear-shredding exhortations into the realm of fine art. While this is not a revelation, on its own, as these sounds are definitely part of the musical genome at this point, hearing these bends and trills over a bedrock of smooth moody psych rock does sound fresh and new, like Tame Impala backing up Sharon Jones.
Even genre mash-ups aren't that noteworthy, in 2015, but this is more than that. The disco break of album opener and title track "Wherever You Are" is proof of that, when the band explodes into a crashing disco freak-out with raging revving funk guitars with Barringer stripping off the urchin rags of the first two minutes, to reveal herself as the Cosmic Disco Queen Of The Universe.
While blending soul, funk and psych rock doesn't seem that out of field, the rapid transmogrification into a super talented disco band is unique and noteworthy. In the old days, it was uncommon to find someone who was into '70s stoner rock, pop and soulful disco at the same time. The Heavy Watts is a prime musical example of the new shapes, sounds and forms of music that are emerging, as a result of constant and continual access to all of humanity's great music.
For years, it seems that the cultural mood was bleak and despairing. It's not that there was no future, it's just that we had no idea what it would be like, so it wasn't worth talking about. THIS is the sound of the future, of integrating all of your interests and influences and making something new and unique, to the best of your abilities. The Heavy Watts has definitely done just that. Wherever You Are was recorded for the ridiculously low ticket price of $500, and manages to sound more fresh and exciting than records that cost 100 times that much.
Whether you like slow, moody trip-out records or party bangers; wild, soulful vocal explosions or quiet, thoughtful introspection, you will find it all with The Heavy Watts. Definitely slotted for great things, so better get on board now while the tickets are still cheap.
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