Week in Pop: Amy Reid, Jake Bellissimo, XL Middleton

Sjimon Gompers

Baltimore's shining & rising star Amy Reid; photographed at B. Willow by Audrey Gatewood.

XL Middleton

The fabulous funk life of XL Middleton; press photo courtesy of the artist.

Forever fresh off the Pasadena block; we welcome back our long time friend & master of the modern funk school XL Middleton as we offer up a world premiere listen to the bubbling electro-zapping bass bounce of “Purple Sheets”. Featured off the upcoming album Things Are Happening available October 6 through the imprint MoFunk Records, XL follows up the Tap Water album & collaborations with Eddy Funkster & more with melodic electro-breeze riding melodies to cruise along to down your favorite boulevards with a Southern California state of mind. Middleton makes music intended to be understood in your preferred ride with all windows decidedly down as you let both commercial & resident districts know the full extent & strength of future funk knowledge.

The feeling, audio flow & tone of Tap Water is traded for a more moodier electric atmosphere on Things Are Happening that reflect the states of our current life, era & contemporary times. The bright sun shining days & hedonistic afternoon are elaborated into something from a modern day soundtrack that draws from urban noir dreams where intimate encounters & exchanges are expressed through viscous bass-laden smart synth choices. Those nostalgia piercing high ends blend keyboard dreams that spring off the sub-electro-bass plumes as “Purple Sheets” styles something that could have sailed off a Long Beach dock from the yacht spun 70s to a lounging interlude that can be heard surrounded by a sense permeating danger & mystery. XL Middleton mixes classical approaches that develop conventions of funk sampled hip hop breaks into sensurround cinema for all the senses to witness in full. Every key creates the feeling of coasting toward some sort of unknown future, where carnal knowledge & memories echo from vocoded reverences for the loves that are too often lost in the temporal narrative stream of life. “Purple Sheets” is a feast for any synth snob where analog obsessions meet the new advancements & abilities offered by the today’s technological gifts & creative breakthroughs. Read our recent interview with XL Middleton featured after the following debut of “Purple Sheets”:

Give us all the happenings & insights on the making of Things Are Happening.

This is a much darker album that my last project. On Tap Water, I enjoyed making an album full of love songs. Coming from a hip hop background, that’s something that isn’t really typical and it felt good, but I didn’t want to recreate that on Things Are Happening. We’re in a dark time politically, and that means we’re in a dark time socially. Thing is, I didn’t want to make a politically charged album at all, but there are dots that connect. The album is all about the individual experience. For example, there’s a song I did called “Look Who’s Talkin'” that’s really all about people being overbearing and all in your face when you’re just out trying to chill and vibe. But, maybe part of you feels agitated because you know that the US is being overseen by this cabal of super-villains. Maybe you’re irritated because one of your Facebook friends doesn’t get why they sound stupid when they talk about all lives matter. Now here comes this dude, or this girl, getting in your face talking loud, showing out. So all of that is fucking up your mood on what was supposed to be a cool evening. In a broader sense, I was looking to make something beautiful out of experiences that weren’t, and growing from those experiences. There’s a song I did called “Gotta Let You Go” which sounds like it’s about getting out of a bad relationship, but it’s really about letting go of negativity. And I also wanted to still somehow make it fun and relatable, make it something you can groove to. That’s where the funk comes in.

Described how your own brand of the funk has grown over the years.

Like I said, I come from a hip hop background. I always kept the funk in my production. A lot of my earlier work would be considered g-funk. I started to feel restricted by hip hop. There’s almost always a level of posturing to it. Even if you’re revealing vulnerability in your lyrics, you still have to sound cool while doing it. There were too many rules for me to fully enjoy it. I gravitated toward the funk, one, because I was always doing it, in my way, and two, because it’s the opposite—it’s freedom. You can say what you like and you don’t have to worry about being perceived as tough or impervious to everything. The crazy thing is, being so immersed in the funk, it’s made me feel like I can now record a hip hop album and feel that same freedom. That’s another project I’ll be aiming to release next year. I think what we’re seeing now is a post hip-hop kind of thing, where we’re taking the lessons that we learned from sampling and interpolating and absorbing older music, but not necessarily making hip hop music from it. Funk was a previous step in a line of musical evolution, and now it’s the next step as well.

Catching up with XL Middleton.

Tell us too about the conception and inception for the lush & plush “Purple Sheets”.

“Purple Sheets” is the one song that kind of deviates from the rest of the album conceptually. On the surface I guess it’s more of a lust song than a love song, but it’s written and composed with love, certainly. Purple is generally regarded as the funkiest color, so if the funk runs through your veins I figure you’d probably want to make love on purple sheets! It also deviates from the rest of the album in that it’s the only slow jam. I guess it’s not the kind of concept that should inspire dancing at 120 beats per minute.

What and who has been moving you and your world lately?

I’ve been listening to a lot of soft rock, yacht rock as I’ve heard the kids referring to it. It’s cool that the stigma of it being looked at as cheesy is finally starting to get chipped away. There are incredible lyrics and chord progressions in that stuff that I think could inspire most any producer. I’ve also been vibing to a lot more house lately. I don’t think I have a very sophisticated palette for it yet but I’m learning. Been listening to a lot of Harvey Sutherland & Andras Fox. It’ll be interesting to see how those sounds might rub off on any future music I make. Closer to home, musically speaking, I got the chance to hear the next Brian Ellis album and the Jordan Chini debut album [recorded under the moniker Boy Dude] pre-release. They’re both incredible records and I’m excited to see both of them come out.

Fall and winter plans?

Right after the album drops I’ll be heading off to Europe to play a few shows. DJ gigs with some live elements in there as well. October 13 in Kortrijk, Belgium, October 14 in Helsinki, then back to back gigs in Stockholm on October 19 and 21. Hitting Canada with Moniquea too, playing Hamilton, Ontario on November 28 and Toronto on December 1. After that we’ll be releasing the next Zackey Force Funk LP on MoFunk Records. Look for that early next year.

Hopes and prayers for 2018?

My main hope is that the social climate is not such that I feel like making another album like Things Are Happening.

XL Middleton’s new album Things Are Happening will be available October 6 through the imprint MoFunk Records.

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