K. Raydio & Psymun LucidDreamingSkylines album release
with Pho, Ackryte & WriteGroove and D'Allen White
7th Street Entry, Minneapolis
Saturday, January 4, 2014
When the calendar ticks over to a new year, we tend to use it as a chance to reorient and reinvent our identities. Pledges and resolutions serve as promises to ourselves that this year we're going finally be that person we were working towards in the previous one. Perhaps it was just a fluke of timing, but K. Raydio's LucidDreamingSkylines felt like something of a reinvention for the local R&B singer.
While she's been active in the hip-hop community for years, her brightest moments were often found on hooks and features for other artists' material. In 2013, she linked up for a few songs with producer-prodigy Psymun, whose soulful and sophisticated beats have been gaining acclaim on national hip-hop blogs. The match was perfect, and the duo struck quickly with their debut album right before Christmas. K. Raydio seemed to have finally found the proper instrumentals to lift her into the spotlight, and Psymun, the right muse to wrap his considerable talents around.
While the album itself came out in December and is a decidedly laid-back, groovy slice of neo-soul, the release show in January made a strong showing of the hip-hop background both artists hail from.
DJ Bob Marino opened the night up with a well-mixed set of classic rap tracks and a few modern bangers. Marino transitioned seamlessly into backing-up southside native D'Allen White, who rocked the stage with the help of hype-man and MC Andrew Thomas, formerly known as Phonetic One. D'Allen, like his good friend K. Raydio, has been flying under the radar for years, honing his talent with little fanfare but a lot of flavor. He's undoubtedly a rapper in the Minneapolis-Underground mold of I Self Devine, but that's by no means a slight to his skills or originality.
Joking that he made being a rap-nerd cool, White's on-point lyrics are obviously well thought out, but his ability to rock a stage is really what sets him apart. Combining the hardcore Midwest boom-bap flow with a few curveballs, including a fun trill-influenced track that was a good look for him, D'Allen added some variety and flavor to the standard template. His closing track "Sucker Free" got some help from Andrew Thomas, and the two have a great chemistry on the song's old school bar-trading style that they ought to explore more.
Second up was Ackryte, a producer who shares a similar sonic palate to Psymun, reminiscent of Dilla and Madlib's knocking drums and sample flips with a contemporary glitchiness. A veteran of the local beat-battle circuit, Ackryte's instrumentals are deep and varied enough to hold a crowd's attention without the help of an MC, but since he and local newcomer WriteGroove just put an EP together earlier this year, the two performed the back half of his set together.
WriteGroove's got a well-developed, smooth flow that calls Evidence to mind on his best moments, and maybe Drake on the sappier material. While Ackryte's beats were spot on as always, his guest treaded through a few too many backpack-rap clichés of vauge positivity to really leave a strong impact. While his talent is definitely there, WriteGroove needs to put a little work into finding the spark that represents his own identity. That being said, he did an admirable job of controlling the crowd and his closer, "Shine On" made great use of K.Raydio as a feature, and seemed well-written to her talents.
God bless the band geeks. They've gone from forming ska bands to forming jazz-funk groups, but they're as adorably earnest as ever. Pho (pronounced like "faux" rather than "phuh") definitely has that formed-in-a-college-jazz-combo vibe, but they've also got a lot going for them. Strong chops never hurt, especially when you've got a solid rhythm section and a hot keyboard player to balance the horns on top of, and all the musicians did an admirable job of filling their roles. While they're not treading new ground, there are some inventive stylistic fusions of new-school R&B and jazz going on here, especially during their collaboration with rapper Rich Garvey, which was easily the highlight of the set.
While they players in Pho definitely seem to have done their homework on the horn-driven 70's funk they base their style in, they lose a few points for lacking the restraint of the bands they seek to emulate. The real magic of that style comes from whip-tight arrangements that might sound loose and groovy but are actually incredibly precise. While their enthusiasm was infectious, Pho took a couple of unfortunate turns towards jam-band territory, with a few guitar or sax solos that dragged along or failed to stick the landing.[page]
When it was time for the main event, K. Raydio and Psymun set up a fog machine and projector onstage to give the Entry a surprisingly smoky, mysterious flavor that you rarely see in a room known for its spartan set-up. It was an appropriate way to prime the room for the dreamy songs that the duo had been crafting, which drift into each other like low clouds in spring. LucidDreamingSkylines is steeped in the classic soul sounds that K. Raydio seems to be deeply familiar with, but that warmth is filtered through the hazy, warped perspective of Psymun in a thoroughly innovative way. It's an exciting sound that seems to be cropping up all over our local music community, building off of the bones of '90s underground rap and neo-soul but imbuing it with a left-of-center aesthetic that's characteristic of the Twin Cities.
K. Raydio, birthname Krysta Rayford, really knows how to sell the material onstage as well. She's a mellow personality, but it fits the chill atmosphere of the songs she and Psymun have made together. Songs like "Moonshine" call Erykah Badu to mind, and so do Rayford's voluminous locks, which she joked about early on in the set, "Did I fling curls on anyone yet?" K.Raydio knows her range well, and plays to her strengths by keeping songs only as long as they need to be, and saavily avoids the over-singing problem that plagues even the greatest of R&B divas from time to time.
Her scratchy soprano pairs perfectly with Psymun's tendency towards dusty sounding samples, especially on songs like the gorgeous "Jupiter." The duo performed their new album in its entirety from front to back, but it's a testament to their strong choices in sequencing that I didn't even notice the fact until much later. The sublimely mixed beats blend together effortlessly, and Rayford's imagery is warm and consistent enough to evoke a dreamy summer's night.
Keeping the stage chatter to a minimum, Rayford came off as incredibly humble, dedicating "Yearbook" to all of the educators in the crowd, working to make a difference, and "Perhaps" to the late-bloomers. "Slow Jams" is a delightfully sultry run through D'Angelo territory, doing justice to the form while remaining fresh. Closing with the politically-charged "Sirens," which contains references to Trayvon Martin and police brutality, K. Raydio showed that her songwriting extends further than romance, and one hopes she'll continue to follow that inspiration as she grows as an artist.
Returning for a quick encore through some of her older material, Krysta and Psymun led the crowd in one final sing-along before taking a graceful bow offstage. If 2013 was the year where these two first found such a great musical chemistry, 2014 will undoubtedly hold great things.
Hold on Me
Critic's Bias: I've followed K.Raydio's music with interest ever since Andrew Thomas introduced me to her songs in high school.
Random Notebook Dump: Some sneaky types took advantage of the fog machine to blaze up near the stage. Crafty!