Louisiana’s Seratones deliver an album of sensual, soulful songs of protest
Release Date: 27th May 2022
Label: New West Records
Formats: CD, Vinyl, Download, Streaming
As a collection of songs of protest, Love & Algorhythms is something very, very different. The songs deal with issues as diverse as black feminism, Afrofuturism and astrology, but they’re parceled up in a soulful, funky wrapping and delivered in a style that combines measured consideration with breathtaking intimacy and startling sensuality. As Seratones’ frontwoman AJ Haynes explains: “This is a protest album built on the form of protest I’m most interested in at this moment: getting present and sitting through difficult things with abundant joy.” And doesn’t she just!
Love & Algorhythms is Seratones’ third album and follows their 2019 offering, Power. Hailing from Shreveport, Louisiana, Seratones are: AJ Haynes on guitar and vocals, Travis Stewart on guitar, Adam Davis on bass, Tyran Coker on keyboards and Jesse Gabriel on drums, and their formula mixes the hypnotic disco sounds of Giorgio Moroder, the psychedelic soul of Sly and the Family Stone and the sonic experimentation of Kraftwerk with splashes of gorgeous gospel to achieve music that unfurls in unexpected twists and turns to include pieces that are alternately light, breezy, funky, hymnal and spacy. It’s a heady mix indeed.
Insights into the way the minds of AJ and the band work can perhaps be gained from considering a couple of details of the band’s background: firstly, the band derived their name from a corruption of the Spanish translation of the phrase “put it on wax,” changing the Spanish word “cera” (wax) to “sera” in honour of the neurotransmitter chemical, serotonin, and, secondly, AJ combines her role in the band with her day job as a counsellor at one of the last abortion clinics in Louisiana. You kind of sense that there are a lot of experiences, as well as exposure to social stigmata, that are bursting to inform the subject matter of the band’s work.
With a close-up, intimate vocal and a synth backing that isn’t quite disco, the album’s second single, Two of a Kind, gets the show on the road. Jesse’s light cymbal rhythm provides the drive and the song springs to vibrant life as AJ calls out “Wish I could see the world through both of your eyes,” and her admiration for Donna Summer suddenly becomes very clear. And that Donna Summer/ Giorgio Moroder influence is even more evident in Pleasure. With lyrics influenced by the writings of Afrofuturist author Octavia Butler, Pleasure is a heady mix of pulsing synth rhythms and breathy, sensual vocals.
Love & Algorhythms, the album’s gospel-tinged title track is a particular highlight. AJ’s vocal is spot-on and Jess Gabriel keeps the song anchored to familiar points of reference as Tyran’s synth and keyboards head off into an exploration of inner space. Perhaps the track that most immediately hits the spot, though, is the album’s first single, Good Day. It’s light and joyful, with soaring vocals from AJ, a superb bouncy bassline and it’s full of celestial keyboard flourishes. After a soulful, almost hymnal, middle section, the bouncy joy returns to leave the listener breathless.
AJ is given lots of space to express her fullest emotions in I’ll Be, a sultry, teasing ballad, and the album’s longest track. AJ’s voice is right upfront in the mix, as the band smolder behind her, with a relentless 2/4 beat from Jesse and more of that rich, bubbly, bass from Adam. And AJ has the floor entirely to herself for the short, intriguing, poetic interlude, Evidence, a celebration of femininity, possibly informed (at least in part) by AJ’s daily experiences, that concludes with the rhetorical question: “Ain’t we self-evident?”
A deep, bass-laden fuzzy rhythm provides a wonderful counterpoint to AJ’s half-spoken vocal in Get Free, an infectiously funky track on which any influence the band may have derived from Sly is most evident. The album’s press release describes Dark Matter as “rippling and trippy” and that’s a fair assessment of a track that is the broody, contemplative exception on an album that is otherwise packed with danceable tunes. AJ’s voice ranges from an intimate whisper to falsetto shriek as she delivers the dreamy lyrics with great drama and emotion, whilst Tyran’s keyboard grinds out a deep and ominous backing.
AJ’s vocals are at their very best for the funky Get Your Shit Together, Babe. The drums are crisp and the bass dominates on a smooth, almost sophisticated soul ballad, In which the harsh message of the song’s title is almost drowned in the sweetness of the production. Jesse Gabriel excels on penultimate track, power of light, as he delivers a drum pattern that combines a galloping rhythm and a soft 4/4 beat with some lovely cymbal work that almost, but not quite, steals the limelight from AJ’s heartfelt vocals.
Described as “fragrant and breezy,” closing track High is, perhaps, my favourite of the lot. After the funk and disco rhythms that have gone before, it comes as a mild surprise to hear an acoustic guitar as the main accompanying instrument, and AJ’s vocal is, quite simply, spine-tingling, especially as she delivers the “Hi-Hi-Hi-High” refrain. Things get seriously spacy, too, as the song, and this excellent album, slither to a sensuous close.
Seratones are, indeed, a band to watch out for.
Watch the Official video to Good Day, the album’s lead single, here: