Labyrinthine Deep Dive

(Artwork by Swamburger)

LISTEN HERE:

https://ffm.to/labyrinthine

There's a reason why Labyrinthine is such a big deal to me. It's the dream album which I've been trying to get "just right" since I first had the idea of wanting to make a Trip Hop album about 20 years ago. I loved Trip Hop beats and style of singing, but I thought only a handful of songs with singers on it made sense. Too often the voice took me out of the mood, sometimes the voice seemed to just sit on top of the beat, sometimes the vibe was all wrong. So I began my journey. Eventually Trip Hop seemed to disappear from the music scene except for the same songs from the 90s being played over and over and a few new bands calling their too-polished pop beats with singing which tried too hard to sound "unique" but ended up sounding like someone was chewing something and moaning while attempting to sing "Trip Hop". You know exactly what I mean. Eventually it just became mostly Lo-Fi-Girl type of background beats with repeating loops and some vinyl dirt effects sprinkled on top, and I think people gave up on trying to sing on top of those types of beats because they would lose their magic, or whatever was left of it.  I'm in love with Trip Hop and know what it is and what it definitely isn't. I feel strongly about it and I know those of you who experienced the Trip Hop days do too.  It's moody, it's enchanting, it pulls on your heart strings, it's genuine, and it doesn't try to show off. I also think I was uniquely able to make this album because of the combination of having experience in different styles of singing from Opera to Choirs to Jazz, as well as producing Hip Hop and being around MCs for many years. This Trip Hop sound is definitely Hip Hop and Jazz rooted, not just from my experience but that of the executive producer, Swamburger. I know that "The Return of Trip Hop" is a big claim and I stand by it, but it is also the evolution of it.

(Shortly after deciding on the name "Scarlet Monk" I saw this red wig in a store window, got off the bus and bought it. I performed with it on for a while, but unfortunately a Hip Hop group I recently quit got a new singer who got the same wig and started performing with it. When I asked about it they told me it was because I saw a picture from their Halloween show. I didn't really buy that but I was over wearing the wig at that point anyway. Somewhere around 2007. Biters gonna bite.)


When "The Adventures of Mugs and Pockets" came out, people were shocked that it was me making the beats and not Swamburger or DiViNCi. Now with Labyrinthine, it seems like some people forgot, or new fans never knew, that side of Swam. It's pretty funny actually. Swam, in addition to being an absolutely incredible and versatile MC ( Did you know he is the great grand-son of the poet Gwendolyn Brooks? Was the MC in Solillaquists of Sound? Did the John Madden 2002 Intro Rap? And much much more...) he has also been producing for decades for artists spanning from MF Doom to many Orlando-area MCs he mentored and produced for. That's in addition to a prolific art career. Swamburger (introduced to me by DiViNCi) was uniquely experienced and open-minded to work on this album with me. I've been trying to find the right fit of a collaborator for 20 years, and this has been everything I could have hoped for and much more. In addition to the skill and vision, Swam has the contacts, network and access to top notch musicians because of his unshakable character and willingness to help people throughout his life. I am so thankful every day for the music we create. And of course he also created the album cover.

Swamburger is the executive producer, but some of the songs are co-produced with me because since I am a producer myself I now tend to write songs by recording them to at least an outline or a sketch of a beat, and so for some of the songs the beginning of an idea was already there and Swam took it further, as well as contacted instrumentalists and gave them direction and later chose the recorded parts to add to the songs. Clay was produced by me. If you are interested in the complete credits for each song, they are at the end of the Labyrinthine lyric book which you can buy as part of the bundle with the candle, or they will be at the very end of this post.


The working title for the past couple of years was "Be mine, Labyrinthine", sort of a play on "Be my Valentine" when things get complicated. I also have the song "Be Mine" on the "TAOMAP" album, which actually first appeared on an album called "BAJKI" in 2018 and which I since took down. That album also had on it the first version of what you now know as "Scarburger" produced by Swam, but was then called "Sincerely, Scarlet" produced by me. He took all of the layers of my vocals and made a beat to them. The fact that he was able to do that, gave me extreme confidence in his musicianship. Over the years, not many producers had the ability to work with complex harmonies, and I would often get a remix with my vocals that completely clashed with the harmonies, but it didn't seem that the producer was even aware of it. People often just put their lack of understanding under the "experimental" label and call it a day.  There are still some of those songs floating around. Swam had been a part of the Jazz scene for many years, rapping over live music with complex time signatures and had developed the type of ear that this album required. 

You might be wondering what happened to the album BAJKI and why I took it down. The short answer is that the album had a purpose and it fulfilled that purpose. Let me explain. I've wanted to make this album for 20 years but obviously it doesn't mean I've been constantly working on this album for 20 years. It means that it took many tries and many elements had to come together for it to happen. I had to get better, I had to be good enough as far as technique, my ear, my skill, my confidence in simplicity, my confidence in complexity, in seeing my vision clearly, my commitment to excellence and art above opinions. That doesn't come easily within our society. I stumbled and "failed" and learned and somehow kept going. The first real attempt was my AnnaBella album in 2011 with a follow up "AnnaBella Remixed" in 2012. It was half beats and second half live band, and you can read more about it in my Kaleidoscope Fragments Part 1 post. 

(Performing with Awdazcate and Laboratory Dancers at Dark Room in Chicago in 2009)



In between the AnnaBella album (2011) and the BAJKI album (2018) all shit broke loose. AnnaBella was popular enough to wake some people up around me and want to work, but life had other plans. I will go in depth about this time in "Kaleidoscope Fragments Part 2" blog post very soon, but the next album I released was BAJKI in 2018. I finally started making some type of order out of my life again and I didn't have any current music to show anyone I wanted to work or collaborate with. I was living in Las Vegas at this time and I made BAJKI basically in place of a business card. I made it within a span of a few months, produced the whole thing myself, recorded my vocals myself, organized a few music videos with the help of friends and paid for it all out of pocket, and it was basically something to show people and say "this is what I can do right now, are you interested in working together". Otherwise it would have been like "I sing, here's an example from 8 years ago".. People would naturally wonder why I hadn't made music in so long and if I still can. Eventually it worked, though it took another 3 years or so for it to reach DiViNCi and Swamburger, thanks to me attending DiViNCi's Ableton Meet-Ups on Zoom because of Covid,  after which point I felt the album had done its job; Swam and I re-worked two of the songs for the TAOMAP album and I took it down. I didn't feel it was my best work as I was still learning how to produce and like I said it did its job. If you want to check some of it out, the title song  BAJKI  with Chicago MCs Rita J and Dee Jackson (from 80s Babies) ended up on a compilation, there's a BAJKI Review or two still up, and a few of the music videos are still out there: Short Film , Get Off , Be Mine ROOMS Remix , Get it together .


(The first few times I performed Trip Hop live, in 2008, working with Chicago producers Release and Blackdaylight. The other two Trip Hop singers in our circle were A. Billi Free and Eliki.)



We started working on Labyrinthine right away, at the same time as TAOMAP. Some songs like "Whisper" were brand new, written to a beat Swam sent me, and some were written a long time ago such as Crevices which he then made a beat to. You can check out this video of me doing a vocal-looping version of Crevices in 2013, in an almost empty apartment and pretty pregnant: Crevices. As you can see I'm using a very basic SM58 microphone, and it is the microphone I used to record all my vocals for Labyrinthine. Another interesting fact is that Swam and I have never seen each other record, I always record myself on my own, just sitting at my desk or on my couch. I have recorded in studios before, mostly while still in Chicago, but don't really like the experience too much. I've been trying to make the process as comfortable and meditative as possible, because when the ideas start coming and I start recording, it is hard for me to stop until the song is finished and it can bring on some feelings of anxiety, wanting to make sure I capture the ideas and feeling. Over the years I've been able to learn how to take more time with it and how to leave things for another day, but even then I feel a nervous energy when I'm not working on something I'm in the middle of. Because of that I am usually very tired for a few days afterward.

(Doing live vocal looping at a club night dedicated to Trip Hop called "Tripnotic" in LA in February 2011. Check out the pitch pipe on the table, I still use it sometimes.)


At the end of the album, in the Outro, it sounds like I'm walking away. At this point I don't think that I will make another Trip Hop album. You can still hear this type of sound from me on songs like "Art of Chill" or "Not Safe" on the Halloween EP or on the upcoming JEL x MAP EP.  If you're mad at me about that, please be mad at whoever made it so difficult for me to make this album throughout the last 20 years. To all those who told me I sounded plain, boring, that I should do more vocal gymnastics, to sing an octave higher, some of these people being at the top of the game and maybe your idols. Finishing this really took everything out of me and if I had some support back in 2011, or especially 2013, I could have made 5 or 6 albums by now. It really makes me very emotional and sad how difficult it's been, but I'm also thankful and liberated and proud and ... exhausted.  My plan is to finish documenting my journey in these blog posts and take a break... if you want to support this release consider picking up merch or a bundle with the Lyric Book and Candle made by Isadorra (who I met at our local Sunday Market in Fremont, Seattle). Contact @asaanbrooks on IG or Asaan "Swamburger" Brooks on FB.

We will be doing our best to make sure this album reaches as many people as possible because the feedback we got thus far is that it is very healing to a lot of people, lets them rest and think about their lives in a non-judgmental way. I think this album lets people get in touch with something very genuine within themselves, because we made it in a very genuine way and it resonates. A couple of people said the album feels like a hug. If you want more, please check out the interviews and reviews we have thus far and PLEASE spread the word and send in your own review:


Rob Castro Labyrinthine Review


What else? If you have questions about the album, please send them into our social media DMs, and I'll add the answers here.

You can use Labyrinthine in place of an Hourglass because it is exactly 1hour long. Technically, 1 hour and 18 seconds, and 1/18 is my birthday. This was not planned, but just as "The Adventures of Mugs and Pockets" initials are "TAOMAP" we always get a little sign from the Universe that we are on the right track. Thank you for reading, and listening <3


ALBUM CREDITS:


“Labyrinthine” by Scarlet Monk

Executive Producer: Swamburger 

Out via "The Higher Ups" Music Label

Listen here:

https://ffm.to/labyrinthine

1. “Intro”

Vocals/Songwriting: Scarlet Monk

Sound Design: DiViNCi

Foley sounds recorded by Scarlet Monk

Mixing and Mastering: DiViNCi


2. “Whisper”

Lead Vocal/Vocal Harmonies/Songwriting: Scarlet Monk

Produced by: Swamburger

ft. Beef Wellington - Keyboard Instrumentation

Mixing and Mastering: DiViNCi


3. “Moody Vibey”

Lead Vocal/Vocal Harmonies/Songwriting: Scarlet Monk

Produced by: Mugs and Pockets

ft. Ty Gasek - Alto Sax

Beef Wellington - Keyboard Instrumentation

Mixing and Mastering: DiViNCi


4. “Where Do I Go”

Lead Vocal/Vocal Harmonies/Songwriting: Scarlet Monk

Produced by: Mugs and Pockets

ft. David Vanegas - Percussion

Mixing and Mastering: DiViNCi


5. “Sky Blue”

Lead Vocal/Vocal Harmonies/Songwriting: Scarlet Monk

Produced by: Mugs and Pockets

ft. Larry McRae - Bass, Fretless Bass

Christian Ryan - Soprano Sax, Alto Sax, Tenor Sax, Baritone Sax

Mixing and Mastering: Frank Cueto


6. “Kalei Kalei ft. Swamburger and Myka 9”

Lead Vocal/Vocal Harmonies: Scarlet Monk

Songwriting: Scarlet Monk, Swamburger, Myka 9

Produced by: Mugs and Pockets

Mixing and Mastering: DiViNCi


7. “Time Slows”

Lead Vocal/Vocal Harmonies/Songwriting: Scarlet Monk

Produced by: Mugs and Pockets

ft. Sean Kantrowitz - Organ

Riad Abdulsalam - Tabla

Christian Ryan - Tenor Sax, Baritone Sax, Flute

Mixing and Mastering: DiViNCi


8. “Clay”

Lead Vocal/Vocal Harmonies/Songwriting: Scarlet Monk

Produced by: Scarlet Monk

Mixing and Mastering: DiViNCi


9. “Black Sheep”

Lead Vocal/Vocal Harmonies/Songwriting: Scarlet Monk

Produced by: Swamburger

Mixing and Mastering: Frank Cueto


10. “Thrive”

Lead Vocal/Vocal Harmonies/Songwriting: Scarlet Monk

Produced by: Swamburger

Mixing and Mastering: Frank Cueto


11. “Falling Angels”

Lead Vocal/Vocal Harmonies/Songwriting: Scarlet Monk

Produced by: Swamburger

ft. DJ Hurley - Cuts

Mixing and Mastering: Frank Cueto


12. “Crevices ft. Swamburger”

Lead Vocal/Vocal Harmonies: Scarlet Monk

Songwriting: Scarlet Monk, Swamburger

Produced by: Mugs and Pockets

ft. Gerry Williams - Vibes

Mixing and Mastering: Frank Cueto


13. “Undeniable”

Lead Vocal/Vocal Harmonies/Songwriting: Scarlet Monk

Produced by: Mugs and Pockets

ft. Christian Ryan - Soprano Sax, Alto Sax, Tenor Sax, Baritone Sax

Mixing and Mastering: DiViNCi


14. “Moonlight”

Lead Vocal/Vocal Harmonies/Songwriting: Scarlet Monk

Produced by: Mugs and Pockets

ft. Ty Gasek - Alto Sax

Mixing and Mastering: DiViNCi


15. “Mmmhmm”

Lead Vocal/Vocal Harmonies/Songwriting: Scarlet Monk

Produced by: Mugs and Pockets

ft. Gerry Williams - Vibes

Mixing and Mastering: DiViNCi


16. “Outro”

Vocals/Songwriting: Scarlet Monk

Sound Design: Swamburger

Mixing and Mastering: Frank Cueto


More:

https://linktr.ee/scarletmonk




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