The track, ginger tea, is available via:
New Jersey, U.S.A.
The E.P., homely, is available via:
22nd March, 2019
THIS is my penultimate review...
in terms of taking submissions from other people as, after such a long time (over seven years), there is very little I can add. By that, a lot of the submissions I get are quite similar and, as the artists are smaller and not near the mainstream, there is not a lot to add beyond the music – which is near-impossible when these reviews are four-thousand words. In a couple of weeks, I will only be investigating artists who are bigger and better-known. One of the good things about looking at smaller artists is you get to discover something before anyone else. It is interesting seeing the range of sounds out there and being able to get this experience. I will look at LJA in a minute but, as a constructive guideline, suggest some points that could help; I will then go on to talk about the range of artists in modern music and how the underground is shaping up; a little on minimalism and D.I.Y. sounds; a bit about New Jersey and music from that part of the world; some words regarding the power of music and song – I will finish by seeing where LJA might head. In terms of the outlay, the music of LJA is great. It is a tough field out there and, as I say, the reason I am no longer reviewing approaching artists is because, aside from the sound/song, there is not a lot to go by – whereas I can cover a lot of ground when speaking about artists such as FKA twigs (as I did yesterday), Florence + The Machine and others like them. I would say, to any rising artist, being across as much of social media as possible is a savvy step. I know I do not use Instagram myself but, as a twin pillar, Facebook and Twitter are essential. LJA has promotional pictures but a few more on social media would give the page a sharper look. I think, at the moment, there are some good photos but having some professional shots would attract more in.
Building a Facebook profile and gathering fans on there is a consideration and, actually, having an official website would also get a new audience in. The biggest problem I have with newer artists is that they are new. One has to go solely by the music but I am sure that artists like LJA have a colourful past and interesting musical path. Biographies need not be extensive but having this information, alongside some great photos, would capture more eyes. I am curious to know where LJA came from in terms of his musical upbringing and what the last few years have been like. In a packed and hugely busy market, one needs to throw as much into social media as they can. I do hope the U.S. artist takes these words in a positive light because, as I will explain, the music is great; it has the promise to go big and find the artist touring the world. Over seven years on, I have sort of come to the point where I need to get exposure from the biggest websites and feature artists who most of us know; who have a backstory and I can let the words fly. The biggest thing I will miss regarding newer artists is being able to give them a bit of a boost. It is hard to get reviews and focus from the media and, with so many others vying for attention, artists are contacting everyone out there and not getting a lot of response – I only respond to artists I am interested in and do not respond to other emails. As this is my penultimate review of smaller artists, I sort of wanted to give that advice to LJA and sort of explain why I have decided to make this move. I should really talk about LJA and where his music fits in. Even though I have had to delay reviewing for a few weeks – other stuff getting in the way – it is good to be at the feet of LJA. I had not heard of his music before he contacted me so it is nice discovering someone fresh.
When I come to look at LJA’s song, ginger tea, I will get down to specifics but I wanted to talk about the artist in terms of the industry as a whole. I love the fact that there is this contrast between the underground and the mainstream. The mainstream has some okay stuff in it but, as has always been the case, there is a lot of Pop and processed music. I do wonder whether if that will ever change and whether we will see a radical overhaul. Right now, we know what to expect and the more interesting sounds are coming from those who are not conventionally ‘cool’ and radio-friendly. If you look at the underground, you will see there are some good artists around and they are not getting the same credit as those in the mainstream. I like the fact that, in a way, they have a freedom and lack of expectation. Sorry if I am repeating myself – as I mentioned earlier, this is a reason I am changing things – but the artists breaking through are providing some eye-opening music. Whether they are utilising technology or using something more basic to create their sounds, it is quite epic. I do like all the sub-genres and different stuff that is happening right now. Look at someone like LJA and you know he is not aiming for mainstream glory. He is an artist that, like many of his peers, who trusts his own voice and venturing into new territory. I will explain more about his D.I.Y. sound and aspects but, listen to what he is doing, and you can hear bits of various genres happening alongside one another. The overall effect is really strong and you cannot easily compare what he is doing with many artists at the top of the industry. Does this mean that we need to have a think about what we prioritise in music – whether it is the quality of the sounds or the popularity of the artist?
It is quite weird that, after all these decades, there seems to be this imbalance. The mainstream has all these followers and attention but, when you strip the music back, is it as promising, original and long-lasting as what is happening in other parts of music? I would say not and urge all of us to trust music as a meritocracy. It is okay to embrace commercial Pop – if that is your thing – but so much music is being denied. It is hard to get across it all but I do think big streaming sites need to throw more focus the way of the approaching artist. Look at someone like LJA and how his music compares to the likes of Taylor Swift. She has a much bigger audience but, from a songwriting perspective, there is not that large a gulf. It seems a shame that so many new artists have to pitch and work so hard to get a fraction of the support the biggest artists do. I do fear there is a lot of great music being overlooked and taking time to get to the mainstream. I am not sure what LJA’s plans are regarding his career aspirations but I suspect he wants to tour internationally and get to the point where his music makes it way to a big audience. At the moment, he has a great attitude regarding originality and not copying other acts. I love what he is doing and hope that it gets rewarded very soon. I shall move to another topic in a bit but, before then, have a browse through Bandcamp and other websites and see all the interesting and varied music being made by the newcomers. I am really pleased there is so much innovation and wonderful music around that, in years to come, will be played all over the radio. Perhaps it is the lack of label interference and need to be commercial that means we get a much richer experience when we dig deeper. I am reviewing, very soon, artists who are established but not your mainstream Pop affair – more like your Julian Jacklins and acts like that.
One thinks of the mainstream and the most-demanded artists and there is this feeling that bold and polished is what people need. Listen to any modern Pop song and you have this very polished and fake sound. I do get bored with the plastic sounds around the fact the mainstream needs to rely on lots of layers and bleeding all the naturalness away. LJA interests me and spiked my imagination because he has this very real and stripped-back approach. I am not reviewing all of his E.P., homely, because I’d be here all day. The songs each have their own identity but, as a common bond, they are quite pared and sparse. Rather than rely on lots of effects and polish, there is a bare aspect that makes the songs shine. You feel like you are in the home of LJA and following him as he performs. A lot of modern artists do not have the money for studio sessions and it can be quite challenging for them to put their music down. Now that we have technology that allows homemade recordings, so many are taking this approach and not having to go into the studio. I do buy this assertion that bigger, meatier sounds are more arresting and what people are looking for. In fact, a lot of people I know are getting fed up with all the energy and force that is being pushed in their direction. A lot of the time, the songs themselves get washed away and what you are left with is something quite soulless and synthetic. Against the tide of machine-made and familiar, check out artists who are giving us something a lot more pleasing, accessible and calm. Not to say LJA lacks complexity and potency. His music has plenty of fire and colours but, for the most part, we are treated to something more touching, tender and personal. You know the man is making music to touch people and not earn him money for the sake of it.
Are we ready to change the scene and ensure that there is a mix of the mainstream traditional and D.I.Y. sounds? That would mean having artists like Calvin Harris and Dua Lipa alongside those who are making music from their home. I guess we do have some D.I.Y.-sounding artists near the top but it is quite rare! I would like modern music to be more reflective of all the different types of artist out there. By that, I mean we need to stop promoting the same kind of artist and spend more time elsewhere. I do fear there are a lot of artists making really accomplished music but they are falling through cracks and not being given the respect they deserve. This is just me going off on a tangent but I do worry what music will become in years to come. LJA will make his own way and be okay and I suspect, in years to come, he will see his music get to a larger sect. I have spent years studying underground acts and promoting their music and know how hard it is to get stuff out there. We are denying future generations with so much variation and quality because we still prioritise the marketable, mainstream and familiar. Maybe there is not a short-term solution but we do need to think about making changes very soon. Music has the power to change lives and keep people alive; it can clear our minds and give us calm when we need it most. There are limitless ways it can better a human being and make us all feel safe. I am not sure what impressions you will get from LJA’s music but it definitely has a rather special effect. For me, it gives energy and some intrigue but it is also quite soothing in a way. Maybe this is not what he was going for but I do like what artists can do without knowing it. The more anxious we become as a society, the more music has the power to heal and instruct. I often need music – at the end of a hard day – to help bring me down and give a sense of compassion. I am not saying the mainstream lacks that affinity but I either look back at music I grew up on or newer artists who are not in the mainstream.
It is almost time to get to the song itself but, before studying an LJA moment, it is worth chatting about New Jersey. There is this sort of tension between New York and New Jersey and, as a Brit, I have never understood why this is. There is also a bit of teasing from America towards Canada; a bit of mocking towards Florida as a state. When we think of American music and the legends, we often gravitate towards Los Angeles and New York. You cannot deny that New York has boasted some truly wonderful artists. I think we overlook New Jersey or else reduce the state to one or two artists. The fact Bruce Springsteen has announced a new album, Western Stars, has brought my mind to New Jersey. I am not sure whether new acts like LJA are inspired by legends from the state but you can add Whitney Houston, Paul Simon and the Fugees to the list! It is an eclectic state in terms of the artists it has produced but, whilst so many from the state head to New York, it is rewarding seeing artists remain put. The state has some great venues but I do not feel we spend enough time shining a light on its artists and performances spaces. Given the fact New Jersey has spawned some true greats; do we focus too heavily on areas like New York, Nashville and Los Angeles?! Like music in this country, we cannot just think of London and ignore the rest of the country. It is a hard balance but I know there is a tonne of terrific music coming out of New Jersey at the moment. LJA is one of these promising acts that, whilst you cannot compare him to the New Jersey-born acts I have just named, he seems to be vibing from the state. It is clear there is something in the air that breeds these exciting and innovative musicians. All of this has gone into his E.P., homely, and I do feel that, very soon, he might get a lot of demand from other areas of the U.S. – maybe he will relocate and feel there are more opportunities in New York, say.
Starting off with quite a pulsating beat, ginger tea has more in common with artists like Radiohead. That might sound strange but, when listening to the opening seconds I was thinking about their Kid A period. There is a brooding aspect and heaviness that does not need strings and vocals to make it spark. You have this quite low and grumbling combination of electronics that sort of contradict images you already have. Given the title of the song, you might expect something pastoral or calming. Rather than go for the obvious, LJA gives us this quite dark and forceful sound that hums and buzzes and takes your mind in another direction. The beats and electronics conspire and flex and, as they create this rather tempting mood, the hero comes to the microphone and talks about his ginger tea. As he sips on it, it seems like alienation and a sense of place are on his mind. Nobody gets him and, whether he has faced a relationship split or is feeling down, this tea is giving him pause for thought and a slight balm. After that unexpected start, you do sort of discover this calm and sea. The electronics and beats mutate into something more soulful and sensual. They have a purr and groove that matches the vocal. As the hero talks about playing games and psyching someone out, you start to wonder what the song is about and what direction it will take. I thought, right away, there was this battle between sweethearts and a sense of tension that was hard to shake. The more you listen, the more new thoughts come to mind. Whatever the truth behind it, one is engrossed in this smooth and caramel-rich sound that crackles and swims in the blood. If the lyrics point at something more heated and tense, the composition and vocal has a definite coolness and calm. There are few words in total – the mantra of psyching someone out is the main thread – and there are so many different musical elements.
Apart from the tight beats and crackle, there are key tones and electronic strands that cross into Soul, R&B and other genres. You get this very broad cross-pollination that is rich and wondrous. The emphasis is on the sexy and sensual and it is impossible to ignore the grooviness and cool of the composition. I mentioned Radiohead but there are other artists, classic and new, that come to mind. It is a wonderful brew and one that will stay in the head for a long time. As the hero talks about sugar cubes being around his tea, these notes and beats work their magic. It is quite quaint having this contrast of the cup of green tea and this battle happening. Not a lot more is explained so you have an image of the hero drinking tea and there being this clear motive in his mind. Not sure who the villain is and whether there will be a resolution but green tea is about this brewing sense of anxiety and attack. You need to listen to the song a few times to get into its head but that is the power it holds – minimal words but so much room for interpretation and explanation. Maybe the proper truth will never be known but great songs do get you thinking and mean different things to different people. It is a fantastic song and one that sort of defines homely. You have these six tracks that all have their own skin and each one has a definite sense of intrigue and mystery. I like ginger tea because there are gaps to be filled and you never quite know what is in the mind of LJA. Perhaps I should not ask him and leave that mystery hanging in the air. Make sure you listen to the track and I am sure you will have a similar takeaway. With songs like this under his belt, I know the future will be assured and prosperous for LJA. A great artist that many people need to listen to and will take to heart very soon. I have not heard too many songs like ginger tea and glad I was given the opportunity to review it. I will be sure to keep listening to the song and I am certain, before long, more truth and revelation will come through.
I have, as I said, not had the chance to review all of homely because I only feature single tracks. Whilst I am not a fan of artists using all lower-case lettering for songs/albums etc. – Billie Eilish is a big offender and I think that it does look a bit strange – you cannot deny the music throughout homely. It is worth an investigation and, whilst I am ending my reviews of underground artists very soon, that is not to say I will close my ears and only listen to other stuff. I have every faith LJA will continue to record and release music for a long time and I wonder whether there are plans to tour in the U.K. or travel around the globe. There would be a market for what he is putting out there and, if he can get more of a boost from social media and push his music in the direction of radio stations here – and get more photos of himself prominently placed – then he will be onto something. New artists are in a position where they have so much competition and it is really tough getting out there and attraction people. LJA has that ammunition and firepower so, with some new additions and some direct contact with stations in the U.K., I think his music will start to fly. He does not need my advice but, as I leave an old part of my life behind, I feel it is necessary to expend some guidance. The music itself is the most important thing but that alone cannot guarantee safety and success in an industry where image, social media and visibility are as important as anything else. LJA has a bright future ahead and, whilst huge success will not be instant, the music he is making is definitely a step in the right direction. homely is an E.P. that has so many emotions and contours working away. The songs have a definite personality and sense of story that engrosses you and pulls you into their world.
I suggest you all grab a copy or go listen online and discover a really cool artist. I shall leave things now and I hope lots of new people discover this great artist. LJA might be hard to find on Google – a distinct name is also something that stands you out – but his music will keep you fascinated and definitely make an impression. I am not certain what is in the future of the New Jersey-based artist but it would be good to see him over in the U.K. I think the style of music he is playing travels world and would get a great reaction from people. That is up to him but there is a real chance to make this big impact and grow. I know there will be other songs brewing in his mind and it is only a matter of time before LJA is thinking of his next release. In a rather bustling and crowded scene, there is a distinct scent and tone to LJA that sets him apart. Maybe it is those D.I.Y. aspects or a lack of polish that means the music has this sense of reality and emotion. There are a lot of elements working away and many people are reacting to the music. I know he will be one of these acts we talk about in years to come and that is pleasing to say. Right now, I suspect there are North American dates in mind and he will want to spike as many minds in New Jersey as he can. If he does think about bringing his music to London, I know there are venues and people who will come and see him. This is my penultimate review – in one sense – so I hope you do get involved with LJA and discover a great E.P. in the form of homely. I hope I have not rambled too much and I have got to the bottom of LJA. Let’s wrap things up there and let you get about your way. Many people want an alternative to the fakery and emptiness of the biggest artists so, if that is the case, have a listen to LJA. It is music that gets under the skin and provokes a range of reactions. Have a listen to it yourself and I am sure that it will…
TAKE you somewhere wonderful.