Exploring new territory: Nicadrio Lee's "Palette" (AGS-052)


Somewhere in this here blog I once wrote that I always knew that when launching Aloha Got Soul — first as a blog, and later as a label — that R&B, soul and funk would not serve as the sole genres we'd focus on. Initially, I was worried that we'd "run out of music" in those categories, especially if AGS were to only focus on the 1970s and 1980s, although I now know that that's not the case. There's still tons of music to dig up from that era, from those styles. 

This sentiment has been with me from the start, and is even part of the reasoning behind the Aloha Got Soul logo design: celebrating all of Hawaii's music, regardless of generation or genre. There is just too much good music from these islands to pigeon-hole ourselves into championing one style or a single generation. 

Furthermore, I recognize (and, romanticize) the notion that vinyl records are literally records of music in time — stamps of our existence that become windows into our past. This is especially important for a place like Hawaii where, surrounded by nothing but sea, our histories are (in my opinion) at greater risk to being lost to time, physical elements like salt water erosion, and a general lack of access to greater resources afforded to bigger, more advanced metropolises in the world. 

So in viewing AGS-052, otherwise known as Palette by Nicadrio Lee, I imagine that this album will serve as a stamp in time, just like so many of the albums I've blogged about over the years have become. Without a record like The Rhythm Of Life, who of us would know of music like Mike Lundy's? 

Enough about me though, today is a day to tell you more about Palette. Here goes.


A mostly instrumental, bedroom city pop-post rock-math rock album of original tunes, Palette was recorded and performed entirely by 19-year-old guitarist and Maryknoll graduate Nicadrio Lee. 

Originally self-released by the artist in 2020, Palette could’ve slipped through the cracks due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Doing practically everything himself to release his album, Nica booked a series of events to promote it. The release party, slated for April 24th, 2020 with a full band, was swiftly postponed, indefinitely. The televised performance he landed got cancelled. All live music gigs came to a halt. Furthermore, Nica was headed to college in New York City that fall, so he had no other choice but to leave behind his hopes of properly promoting Palette and was soon gathering his things to move to NYC, where he currently resides (and continues to record new music). 

It was June of 2020 when Palette reached my ears. I must've seen it on a friend's Instagram — maybe Shing02's, or Gotaro's? — and liked what I heard. Selfishly, I reached out to encourage Nica to add his release to Bandcamp (so I could download it and play it on my NTS show). Quick to make the move, Nica added Palette to Bandcamp per my request. 

From that opening convo, we continued chatting about general music-related questions he had  — "Roger, I was wondering if you could explain to me how a label works with an artist or if there’s something on AGS I can read about signing up with a label" —  and I happily obliged. After all, it was me who was doing the question asking back in 2013 and 2014 when I wanted to start a label, and folks I reached out to responded graciously ("pay it forward" is journalist John Berger's mantra). 

Eventually, and perhaps unsurprisingly, following the self-release of Palette, I found myself asking Nica if he'd be interested in pressing the album to vinyl via Aloha Got Soul. That's really how things locked in for this release. We ironed out all the pertinent details related to licensing, remastering, marketing and packaging, persisting to plug along even as Nica was getting ready to move to New York City.

Fast forward to today, February 15th, 2021, and we've announced the fully remastered version of Palette for the world (fingers crossed) to hear. 

Palette is, in my own words, a bedroom city pop / math rock, mostly instrumental album of original music. Bedroom, because Nicadrio recorded and arranged everything on his laptop at home. The version Nica released in 2020 is entirely Nica's own.

When we decided to press Palette to vinyl, however, I knew we needed to have the songs remastered. I reached out to Wax Alchemy in Japan to help us, seeing that their recent work included a range of city pop and indie rock stuff. (When I asked him how many tracks each song had, thinking there'd be a dozen per, Nica told me there were probably 50 or 60 tracks on each session. There went my consideration for stem mastering). Wax Alchemy also masters music for our reggae imprint, Roots Run Deep, so I knew we'd be pleased with the results.

Waiting patiently for the remasters paid off — when Nica and I listened to the newly polished tunes, we. were. stunned. I messaged Nica saying this felt like I was listening to a whole new album all over again. Palette felt brighter, lighter, and more articulate in its expression through sound. Hat tip to Tamotsu Suwanai at Wax Alchemy for the splendid job, and Justin Legaspi of Raw Wire Posse and Roots Run Deep for the recommendation. 

Here we are, two months from the official (re)release of Palette, and I can't thank everyone enough for listening (and reading this). It's certainly uncertain, running a record label and taking chances like this.

"The release will be a stretch for AGS's current listenership", I told Nica on a FaceTime call last week. "Oh, it's a stretch alright", replied Nica. We both laughed. It really is brand new territory for the label. We've released new music in the past (like Nick Kurosawa, Maryanne Ito, Dae Han, FRNT BZNZZ), but none of those have trekked as far from the familiar "soul" sound folks know us for than Palette does.

That's okay though, because my approach to curating releases for the label has never been about "soul" as a genre, but as the core of an artist's expression.

Listen to AGS-052 now →

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