Some of the best music in recorded history fulfills an urgent need to escape the mundane realities of everyday life. Whether it's a dead-end gig or, you know, uh, state-sponsored oppression, people want out of the present tense and music is near-perfect for that. From "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" to "Black Beatles," the tradition of pop escapism is rich.
Tucson has had a virtually complete dearth of contemporary R&B singers for as long as I can remember and this alone makes newcomer Elias <3 (complete with emoji) a notable addition to the music community. But along with filling a need in an already thriving local hip-hop scene, the singer and his songs happened to be vital, infectious, inventive—in a roundabout way—and really goddamn fun.
Over the last year, Elias <3 has crammed his SoundCloud with solo songs and collaborations, the latter mostly with Tucson-based rappers Woodro and Doni. Although the backing tracks are crafted by a long list of distinctive local producers and beatmakers (like Serge Crown and OTM), all sound like iPhone voice recorder captures after the phone fell into the bathtub, with The Weeknd and Dru Hill playing in the background. Which is to say, Elias <3 is one of the most exciting artists to hit Tucson in some time.
His voice is rich and resonant, his lyrics funny and affecting vignettes of young love and being annoyed by young love. This combination of sassy and sulk places Elias <3 past the finish line, and the specific emotional bull's-eye is almost comparable to Morrissey's similar hilariously tragic angle.
Elias' latest song is a mostly solo (with a concluding verse by Woodro) tour de force called "Too Bad." I wish this was my comparison, but the artiste himself declared it a tribute to En Vogue and what a tribute it is—using the '90s R&B quartet as a jumping-off point, along with his lo-fi production otherworldliness, Elias basically unleashes a summation of what could be his manifesto: You're in love with him, you annoy him, and crucially, you're lucky you even manage to annoy him. En Vogue is there in the attitude and tight multipart harmonies, but possibly due to his boundless—but realistically vulnerable—self-belief, Elias hits every target he aims without being arch or cloying. That's an achievement. Elias avoids embodying the irritation of his lyrical subjects; he doesn't condescend to the listener, nor does he lift himself above the problems of his significant others.
Yet Elias <3 seems quite impressed with himself and so am I. And so should you.
With Haze, Squad Deep and others on Saturday, April 8. Mr. Heads, 513 N. 4th Ave. 10 p.m. 21+. Free.