SOFAR SOUNDS NYC: LOWER EAST SIDE // 8.26.2016

Review and photos: Parisa Mahdad

It was a mellow night at Projective Space last Friday for an end of summer rendition of Sofar Sounds NYC. The last week of summer was upon us and many of our city compatriots had left for more relaxing places in advance of Labor Day.

Matty Rico set the #mellowvibes with his minimalist hip hop set up.  He fronted the mic, and his friend, Bobby, manned the Moog.

The artist’s inaugural Sofar set began with the song "3am." The majority of the song’s musicality was comprised of ambient quality chords on the Moog. Rico rapped the verses and sang the chorus, which was equally straightforward- “You can be a star tonight. Let’s just keep it real.” 

Rico is most influenced by Kanye West and Most Def with other less obvious artists, such as Elliot Smith and Atmosphere, also finding their way into the landscape of his music.

In "Daylight," Matty Rico broke away from the traditional hip hop elements of heavy beats instead opting for a happy-go-lucky sound. Matty Rico even picked up a tambourine while the audience collaborated with claps and snaps. Bobby played the electric keys and sang back-up vocals. The subject matter of "Daylight" was nicely contrasted to its uplifting musicality, Rico rapping verses about the challenges of everyday life before hitting the song’s hook in resolve, “I’m on grind to keep the lights on. You can’t stop this shining…I won’t wait for daylight to save my soul.”

"Same Clothes" incorporated an electronic track from Rico’s laptop as well as live bass by Bobby. This was a crowd favorite of Rico’s set as it explained anecdotes around why he was wandering in the same clothes as last night. The lyrics and rhymes left me laughing…and blushing. I’d love to detail some excerpts from his lyrics, but I must refrain. You know, in case my parentals ever read this thing.

Rico is able to oscillate between light-hearted tales and more serious, impactful subject matter. As an artist, he is serious in his music and performance but can also crack subtle jokes between songs. Bobby also balances the stage with his happy go lucky presence and constant big smile. Matty Rico and Bobby met in the Chicago area 7 years ago and have managed to continue the musical connection in Brooklyn and other parts of the city. 

Rico ended his set with "Always," which was written for the artist’s dad. It’s a livelier song featuring more production in the electronic track and featuring piano chords from the Moog. The verses detail the hardships of his father’s life before the chorus repeats “And this goes out to you.”

The night’s second act was Sonia Seelinger, an official Gibson artist who was visiting from her native Las Vegas. It was the artist’s first time visiting New York and her first Sofar Sounds show. The artist serenaded us with songs off of her EP entitled Songs on a Shelf.

The artist’s sound is heavily influenced by Bossanova. Her fingerpicking and string plucking could easily be at home in a Woody Allen movie or in any European café on a summer night.  

The artist’s first song, "Cinnamon Skin," speaks to the mind’s flirtations with an irresistible lover. Jazzy, classical guitar picking frame suggestive lyrics, “Cinnamon skin on my mind all of the time. Tell me how can I resist.”  

In addition to her guitar skills, Seelinger has a flawless voice. In "Tongue Tied," Seelinger’s voice is clear and effortless. She is able to fluctuate between high and low with ease- her voice never strays from its lovely, birdlike ring. Her songwriting is strong with lyrics such as “Stumbling over my words trying to be prophetic but my attempts are pathetic against your poetics. You’ve got me tongue tied.“ The artist’s comfort on stage allows the audience to also settle in and swim into her sound.

The artist’s last two songs complemented each other. “This one I wrote on a rainy day,” she prefaced, introducing her song, "Carousel." Inspired by the challenges of a long distance relationship, Seelinger’s fingerpicking is the foundation for regretful words and melancholy, the artist singing “Did I say the things that caused you grief? So now we only speak in my dreams.”

Seelinger’s last song, "The Girl," is an ode to being alone. Seelinger introduced the song with a final word to us all- “You’ve got to love yourself before you love another person,” which was met by loud applause from the audience who expressed their overwhelming consensus. It’s as if we had all felt the dark side of love and loneliness, doing the heavy lifting of picking ourselves up on our own, living to hear this song together.

In Seelinger’s smooth, easeful ways she sang, “I was going to be the girl who could it by herself and never needed anybody’s help, but what can I say, you swept me away.”

Seelinger is part bohemian, part new age sage imparting her old soul wisdom between songs. As she ended her set, she left us with, “I’m here to help you change your mood.”

And the mood certainly did change. If the audience was in for a mellow night, that was all about to be magnificently disrupted with Manatree, a four-man band from Richmond, Virginia. The band took a while to set up and sound check, but they still managed to exchange laughs and improvised electric guitar riffs between themselves in the interim, which grew energetic anticipation amongst the audience. For the first song, 3 members sat down, leaving Jack to take the stage on his own, opening up with an original solo song. 

His song, "Anges," felt like real rock. Emotion flowed from his voice, his eyes were closed and the muscles of his throat visibly strained in that emotional rock and roll kind of way.  It was just Jack and his guitar. His band mates were sitting right in front of me taking sips of their beer and mouthing the words to the song casually as he sang, “Every fucking engine in my life has brought me under.” There was support but also genuine enjoyment from his band mates.

When Jack completed the first song, he introduced the band and invited them up to take the floor for "Got It." The song began in minimalist fashion with Alex on drums hitting his sticks onto the rims of his drum set. Noma, the bassist, joined in from the start too.

The song was one verse that vocalist, Tristan, sang twice. Tristan has a Mick Jagger quality to him, animated and unpredictable on stage- swaying his arm to his hip or shouldering up with a band mate. He has attitude but he’s not afraid to smile while commanding the stage, singing lyrics such as “I do what I want to. Breakthrough.” Jack always keeps his composure on stage- he’s serious about the music. He joined in on harmonies during the chorus while keeping rhythm on his guitar. The song ended with Tristan unexpectedly scatting into the mic.

"Scuffle Town" begins with a dark intro as Tristan picked up his guitar. Sharp percussive hits from Alex come into the song as the bass adds an elongated heaviness. The song was meant to be slow and heavy. Harmonies leading up to the chorus are reminiscent of Local Natives especially with the drums building momentum into the chorus. Intricate interludes between lead and rhythm guitar frame verses that are straightforward and universal- “I love you always but you always fuck him.” The song ends with Tristan screaming key words as beautiful harmonies contrast his raw expression for a dramatic ending to the song.  

Each member of Manatree has an individual style in a way that contributes to a common solidarity to the band. There is a stoicism and yet a playful connection between the members. Seven years of playing as a band has earned them this connection, the ability to spontaneously read each other’s next move as to move accordingly, react to one another, in one succinct performance.

The band’s first self-titled album was released in 2015 and is true to their alternative rock core. Manatree is in the process of finishing up their sophomore album, which incorporates more electronic explorations in the vain of Frank Ocean.

Manatree’s final song of the night, "The Words," exhibited the best parts of Manatree- the band is serious but laid back, well rehearsed but not scripted. Vocals and a high- pitched guitar motif start the song. Heavy bass from a Korg synth and sharp drums build the pressure of the song. The bass is distorted which is a nice contrast to the clean, high-pitched guitar line and high cymbal accents. Pop and electronic elements pervade this perfectly produced song.

manatree tame.jpg

The highlight of the night was the finale to this song, which ended in pure rock fashion. Alex and Tristan hit heavy chords timed and played succinctly with Noma’s heavy live bass. Noma added a kick in the air during a break in the progression.  Tristan’s hat flew off allowing his hair and one long earring to thrash in true rockstardom before the instrumentals all crashed to silence for a dramatic ending.

"The Words" was the last surge of summer. Its abrupt ending would mark the denouement of summer in the city. Nothing could top such a wild band or such an intense song. The crowd did not linger. Rather they departed the space in quiet understanding that they had a final week to unwind before the city’s autumnal energy slapped them back to New York’s addictive tough love.