This post is written by Michael "Farley" McFarland - founder of Second Street LLC. Farley has worked at several recording studios in Chicago, has produced & engineered several works of both his own and others' music.
It's always felt very serene to me the way that music is so timeless. I mean, truly timeless: music genres cascade upon themselves as young artists bringing unique, refreshing takes on historical motifs to help introduce sounds to a contemporary generation. It's a self-contained ecosystem, where we are both influenced and influential in this long chain of musicians, past and present (I'm picturing that long line of Avatars standing side-by-side in Avatar: the Last Airbender). Every record made in the 1970's matters, and every record made today matters. Furthermore, both of these eras will both influence records in the 2070's. It's wild!
Award-winning filmmaker Elijah LeFlore is no stranger to how creativity draws inspiration from what we already know. The 28-year-old from the Southside wears his influences on his sleeve. To me, it feels equal parts Chaka Khan and SAINt JHN, Frank Dukes and Frank Ocean. He seems to be an artist who has mastered the knowledge of how his own vocals contain different textures, and how they can sit together to form something greater than the sum of its parts.
His new EP Midnight Summer feels like a true spiritual successor to his first LP Sunset Radio, which is satisfying since midnight comes after sunset (who knew?). His first full-length project ran a bit more eclectic: some tracks had chorus-guitar riffs with silky vocal leads, akin to Steve Lacy ("She" / "Second Chance"), while a few others leaned into slow R&B/trap stylings a la SZA ("Out(her) Space" / "Tuscan Sunset"). However, Midnight Summer feels more sonically cohesive -- perhaps in large part due to some slick production work from Chicago's Ro Marsalis, who pulled double-duty and mixed the project as well. In a tight 18 minutes, this project is a wonderful journey that invites plenty of mystical, grand, and deliciously 80's-esque emotions, featuring more retro-pop singing lines and fewer rap verses than the LeFlore prior.
What Does It Sound Like?
This project is vintage-synth-heavy and relies on some of the world's most famous drum machines to keep time. The beats are often long-sustained and open, thumping along to a steady rhythm, allowing Elijah LeFlore to craft an ethereal dreamscape with his vocals.
"Midnight Summer," the crown jewel of the project and title track, comes first. A haunting vocal lead belts out, with lyrics about change and self-realization:"Let's be honest: who are we to fight the changes of our lovers? Fall beneath the skin and find your truest colors, or let them wash out in the midnight summer rain." As an intro, this song starts off with a bang, ending with a long instrumental break in which the audience ponders what could come next.
Without missing a beat, the next track "Woman" is a bit more funky and upbeat, where LeFlore seductively proclaims his desire for a "material girl," coveted amongst his peers. This song could thematically stand in the tracklist of one of my 2022 favorites: The Weeknd's Dawn FM. Electronic tom-fills add bursts of energy alongside washy SFX noises, making for a true dance hit. "Dusk to Dawn" is a shorter song, with an electro-pop falsetto chorus that reminds me of a Chromeo song, while "Sunshine (interlude)" serves nicely as a palette cleanser with pitched vocals. This bridges the gap in the EP with a modern, soulful feel.
"Shining" is another heavy-hitter in which Elijah LeFlore delivers a sweet vocal tone with lush background harmonies over a beat with strong city pop influence. This dreamy tune carries a lofty mantra with it - perhaps a message to a partner or close friend:"we can take on the world, shine a little brighter." Next up, "Garden" is a track full of ear candy: with a deep bass synth, gorgeous keys, and those evenly-textured vocals I mentioned earlier, it's a divinely impressive display of musicianship by artist and producer alike.
"Retro Love" dives into a slightly different genre, and yet it retains that vintage 80's feel. After a choral intro, LeFlore offers something bouncier and more syncopated. The track concludes with a percussive feel amongst funky synths and guitars reminiscent of Prince.
What Does It Feel Like?
The structure of this EP is well-crafted, giving the audience some really nice electro-pop R&B bops without overwhelming us with filler. What's even better than that is that the overall tone of the project is reminiscent without being wistful - nostalgia doesn't have to be sad! One image evoked is that of a best-dressed singer, walking through the maroon curtains in a dark high school gymnasium to pull a vintage Shure Super 55 microphone off a mic stand on prom night. "Who we are here, that's the real us, we don't have fear, do you feel love?" rings out over arpeggiated synth lines. Hell, I'd even say "Woman" is even a climactic moment where the protagonist builds up to courage to punch the school bully and win the girl. It doesn't surprise me that the esteemed filmmaker LeFlore had the vision to give his music such a familiar cinematic feel.
Thematic emphasis on the EP seems to be up for interpretation, which seems to be the right choice given the style (and length) of the project. While there are abstract messages of love and identity, any excessively-complex lyricism would almost certainly pull away from the dreamy ambience of the music. One minor theme seems to be that of the sci-fi genre. The cover art features multiple chrome robots, and some of the synthesizers throughout the project are undeniably reminiscent of swirling lasers. I would recommend watching the Black Mirror episode entitled "San Junipero" for those seeking a similar consumer experience.
LeFlore is rolling out visualizers for the EP on his YouTube channel; one is a nifty shot of the artist rolling through Chicago on a shiny pedicab at night, while another features the iconic Chicago lakefront during the day. Both serve to support the idea of a "midnight summer" that never really ends - here we are in October, and this multimedia summer world that LeFlore has built still remains intact. And as the weather turns, I'm certainly here for it.
Have you checked out this fresh project out of Chicago? Are you feeling it as much as I am? Let me know what you think; always happy to discuss!
On The Block...
"Sincere 2" - Jayaire Woods
I first got hip to Jayaire in a session at Classick Studios with his engineer Darwin Derequito (@mixbydarwin). He is as thoughtful of a person as he is a rapper. He dropped three singles in the middle of last month; all worthy of a spin!
"Stainless!" - Mugen! the Human
This anime-named rapper is redefining the word "momentum," crushing a show at Schuba's less than a month ago and coming with this heat less than a week later. For the keenest listeners, this sample flip might be familiar -- man, do those drums hit.
"runITup" - your stepdad
About as buttery a flow as you'll ever hear, your stepdad skates on every beat he finds. His stream-of-consciousness flow, stopping and starting as he pleases, is relaxed and carefree, ending up therapeutic and often comical. His EP "olly + pops" drops Oct. 31.