EarthGang: “Strong Friends”
Atlanta duo EarthGang, Olu O. Fann (aka Olu or Johnny Venus) and Eian Undrai Parker (aka WowGr8 or Doctur Dot), has unveiled its soothing next chapter from the February release Ghetto Gods, the highly anticipated sophomore album on J. Cole’s label Dreamville. The song’s heavy dose of empathy serves as a balm for our polarizing times, as WowGr8 delivers a word of caution against writing others off too quickly: “Watch who you calling crazy/ That s___ is dismissive, you just end up missing/ What someone who trusted you tried to say/ We all got our differences, references, preferences/ Influences, it can be overwhelming/ Tryna stay mentally healthy.”
These high school chums and Spillage Village collective co-founders draw frequent comparisons to Atlanta hip-hop elder statesmen OutKast, largely because both twosomes are such compelling storytellers who put the “verse” in “versatile.” Indeed, this is EarthGang’s fourth single, a follow-up to “Amen,” “All Eyes On Me” (featured in a January Atlanta Soundtrack) and “American Horror Story.” The latter of those, released just one week before “Strong Friends,” is a haunting reflection on the enduring repercussions of slavery and racism, and warrants a back-to-back listen.
“Strong Friends” is also reportedly one of Olu’s favorites, all about “unburdening yourself,” and showcases their singing ability. The album features collaborations from Future, Baby Tate, Nick Cannon and Dungeon Family royalty Cee Lo Green, among many others. Music magazine NME called the opus “the epitome of Atlanta, showing off a heady blend of classic jazzy notes blended with the modern trap sounds born from their hometown.”
Pure Intruders: “Just Like Everybody Else”
In a major coup for Atlanta indie fans, the up-and-coming band Pure Intruders is now able to fully call this city its home, after two-thirds of the trio recently relocated here from Chicago. The two transplants are singer Madeline Smith and keyboardist Brandon Suarez, who joined forces (following the dissolution of their Windy City five-piece band Our Fathers) with Atlanta guitarist/bassist Jonathan Noel.
What begins as a spinoff from the synth-heavy opening to Stranger Things (which is itself, of course, an homage to the scores of John Carpenter, among others) gives way to something sweeter, fizzier and more introspective. The band effortlessly mixes sonic samplings of jazz, ’70s disco and ’80s new wave and modern indie.
Of her original influences, Smith told NYC/LA-based online music publication Beats Per Minute, “I started playing guitar when I was 13 years old with my dad, but it was really just an excuse to spend more time with him. We used to play and sing all sorts of folk and country covers from the likes of Lucinda Williams, Gillian Welch, John Prine, Neil Young, Bob Dylan and especially Johnny Cash.”
Following in Johnny Cash’s footsteps, as described in his autobiography, she chose to focus on keeping her voice in her natural state. That voice has been compared to Lorde but also glides with a Phoebe Bridgers quality as she intones, “Everybody wants something; I’m not trying to look for it in a crowd.” This single is the first from Pure Intruders’ upcoming debut album, Live a Little, recommended to drop this summer. In 2021, the group released the EP No Hard Feelings.
Guadalcanal Diary: “Always Saturday”
This tongue-in-cheek vintage track of the week, which follows a similarly sardonic template as the Talking Heads’ “Nothing But Flowers,” came about years after the band’s formation in 1981 and their well-loved 1983 EP Watusi Rodeo. It was included on 1989’s Flip-Flop, a perhaps prophetic name for the mixed reception the offering received. Sadly, it also marked the group’s last full album before it parted ways. Guadalcanal Diary’s farewell show was performed for free at the University of Georgia, though the band would reunite again later at various points post-Y2K.
Lead guitarist Jeff Walls and frontman Murray Attaway met in high school and joined a punk band called Strictly American. They added Rhett Crowe and John Poe to the mix and redubbed themselves Guadalcanal Diary at the suggestion of Attaway’s roommate, after the title of a Richard Tregaskis World War II novel.
At the time of the band’s rise, Athens had taken on the reputation as the volcanic core of alternative rock, and in fact, Walls worked at Wuxtry Records in the college town. No wonder they often billed themselves as an Athens, rather than Atlanta, group (even though they signed with Atlanta-based DB Records). And while they never earned the same level of fame and glory as their fellow Georgians REM, they gained a decent following and even earned a place on Paste Magazine’s list of the best 80 albums of the 1980s, for 1987’s 2×4.
Walls, who went on to play with bands including Hillbilly Frankenstein and the Woggles (where he went by the very Spinal Tap-esque nickname “Flesh Hammer”), passed away in 2019. Still, his place in the Atlanta music scene is one that transcends the ephemeral nature of shifting music taste and fads. As he once wisely told Creative Loafing, “The best work I’ve ever done, the only stuff that ever made much of an impression on anybody, was the result of me trying to impress myself and no one else. It is important to remember that for every hit song, there was always some big-wig in charge who wanted to quash it. And for every horrible song that you can name, there was some idiot up the chain who was convinced it was a sure-fire hit.”
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