15 Apr 2023

The Sampler: The Lahaar, Caroline Rose, Jadasea & Laron

From The Sampler, 2:30 pm on 15 April 2023

Tony Stamp reviews an Aotearoa/ Australian groove-based collab called The Lahaar, a sad selection from the previously-sunny Caroline Rose, and Jadasea & Laron's first UK/ USA hip-hop joint.

The Lahaar by The Lahaar

The Lahaar

Photo: Supplied

If you’ve seen bands like Avantdale Bowling Club, Half Hexagon, or The Circling Sun play live, you’ve borne witness to the virtuosic drumming of Julien Dyne. But he’s also a studio whizz, producing his own distinct blend of house, jazz and afrobeat under his own name.

The latest from Dyne sees him in both modes, collaborating with two Australian musicians as well as a roster of locals, on a genre cross-pollination called The Lahaar.

The project began when Dyne enlisted bassist Horatio Luna and guitarist Lachlan Stuckey of the band Surprise Chef to perform with him live, a match that makes sense given their output of deep house, broken beat, jazz, and psychedelic soul. Luna suggested they do some recording, so the trio gathered at his home studio and spent one long session laying down the bedrock of this EP. They mapped out a template of the feels they wanted, then jammed.

Back in Aotearoa, Dyne edited the sessions into finished tracks, laid down percussion, and employed Cory Champion on vibraphone, and Guy Harrison on keys. Scott Towers of Fat Freddy’s Drop wrote the horn arrangements, which he then performed with JY Lee.

‘Doin It’ features the voice of Mara TK, alternating between his trademark falsetto and the odd mutter and yelp. Elsewhere on ‘Work Work Work’, vocal duties fall to Toby Laing, also of Fat Freddy's, an intimate performance clustered with tastefully deployed percussion and chirping keys.

Part of the fun here is the way the musicians flit between genres - there’s a track called ‘Chase Scene Pt 1’ that feels like the soundtrack to an imagined cop procedural, and ‘Step 2’ is an excursion into dub reggae.

The sessions were much longer before Julien Dyne pared them down, and his skill behind the mixing desk comes into play when you notice him include a drum fill, or bass run, or an effect like delay, at just the right moment.

With such talented musicians providing the basis for the tracks I imagine he had plenty of good material to work with - these songs never feel improvised - and everyone included after that is a top-tier performer too. A lot of the swooping horn lines would fit right in on a Fat Freddy’s track.

From OpenSouls through Nathan Haines, Ladi6 and Hollie Smith, Dyne has worked with some of our best musicians, and it makes sense that he can attract a certain level of talent to projects like this, which began as three friends jamming, and wound up a fresh, dancefloor-friendly package.

The Art of Forgetting by Caroline Rose

Caroline Rose

Photo: Supplied

When I tell you that an artist who moved from country to alt-pop - all while maintaining a distinctly sunny, comedic persona - suddenly dipped into serious, confessional songwriting on their fifth album, and that album is called The Art of Forgetting, you can almost certainly guess what it’s about.

But that’s one of the few predictable things to do with the latest from Caroline Rose, who is operating in a different key here, but with their impeccable melodic instincts very much intact. And not just that, they aim high, incorporating lush soundscapes and inventive production into their vision of post-romance ennui.

Rose’s first few albums were influenced by country and rockabilly before they shifted to indie-pop on the following two. They’re an artist whose personality shines through in promotional art and images - the LP Loner featured a photo of them smoking a whole pack of cigarettes at once - and as such the earnest framing of their latest felt like a bit of a shock.

The music dips into folk territory more than prior, but mostly it’s just sadder and more serious. To be fair, songs like ‘Miami’ employ some wit in lyrics like “Just because I’m brooding, and want to kill everything moving, it doesn’t mean I’m losing my marbles”, but they’re alongside confessional lines about a still-fresh breakup.

Rose tends to favour four-chord strum-alongs like that one, but often ends up somewhere more exploratory, like ‘Rebirth’, which features Latin polyrhythms, and a bifurcated structure that mirrors its title.

The album starts with its most ambitious arrangement, and possibly its sternest song: ‘Love/ Lover/ Friend’, which features venomous lyrics like “I am not your rag doll” and “I am not your house key”, beginning hushed and mournful before a swelling bed of strings sends things skyward.

Rose produced the album themself and covers a lot of sonic territory, ringing in performers on modular synth, brass and double bass, and playing everything from a pump organ to a tiple (a petite Puerto Rican stringed instrument) themself. 

There’s an emphasis on acoustics and a recurring aural trick where instruments suddenly have the wobble and wear of a cassette. On ‘Tell Me What You Want’ you can even hear the button on a tape player being pressed.

That song has some of the warmth of Caroline Rose’s past work, a big swooping guitar hook, and the playful moment when they make a click and ask “is this thing on?”.

They address their ex directly, saying “You’re gonna hate this song”, but the most revealing lyric is “I’m an actor cos I’m scared”, which gets at some of the role-playing that happens on all their albums - the last, Superstar, was written entirely in character.

Some play acting remains here, but it’s easily Rose’s most vulnerable work - one particularly personal touch is a series of phone messages from their grandmother that appear periodically.

Those interludes are inherently touching, and they get nicely resolved at the end of the album when we seem to hear Caroline Rose finally call their grandmother back and tell her “I’m doing good”.

It’s a generous end to a record focused on the confusion that follows a breakup. Hearing The Art of Forgetting for the first time I was struck with its seriousness, but further listening revealed some of the humour and amiability I was expecting. The songs pack plenty of angst, but they’re also some of Rose’s best.

The Corner Vol 1 by Jadasea & Laron

The Corner Vol. 1

Photo: Supplied

The idea of a hip-hop collaboration conducted between Britain and the USA is rare enough to raise an eyebrow. Even more so when it’s one that’s an equal partnership. But a new record called The Corner Vol. 1 pairs American production with a UK MC in a way that’s never jarring, focused on its contributors' common ground even though they inhabit different worlds. 

Grime is now established enough as a British export that it was spotlighted at the 2012 Olympics. It's a variant of the very American art form known as rapping, which emerged from The Bronx in the late 70s.

Laron, who supplied beats for this album, hails from Brooklyn, while Jadasea on vocals is from South London, and neither tries to shy away from their respective home - the production brings to mind gauzy sample collages like the kind Madlib specialises in, and the rapping is localised not just due to accent, but the idea of a big city as overwhelming, rather than something to be conquered.

The project was born when Laron sent Jadasea a pack of beats when he, according to liner notes, was in need of one. A further ten packs followed over the next few years, and the result is this 26-song offering. That track count is less intimidating when you see only three entries break the 3min mark. It’s music that’s fleeting by design.

There’s an introverted quality to Jadsea’s rapping that’s counterintuitive but suits the hazy production. In the past, he’s collaborated with MIKE, an American MC who grew up in London and might be the reason for this cross-continent collaboration, and King Krule, who produced the 2019 EP Half-Life, on which Jadasea’s voice barely rises beyond a whisper.

There’s plenty of the self-affirmation associated with hip hop, but also a constant sense of struggle, like the opening line on ‘Quicksand’ where he says he feels like he’s “stuck in sand/ trying to get the upper hand”.

The relationship between MC and beatmaker is an interesting one, which relies on the rapper’s ability to bounce off the production - particularly sample-heavy music like this. Jadasea’s understated approach proves to be a good match for Laron’s slightly chaotic mish-mash of soul cuts, a fusion of two country’s underground rap scenes with fruitful results.