Between Rock and an Indie Place: “The Times I’m Not There” by NE-HI and Jamila Woods

I am super excited to be talking about the awesome collaboration song from NE-HI and Jamila Woods called “The Times I’m Not There,” which came out last year and I cannot get enough of. NE-HI is an indie rock band from Chicago that definitely deserves a spot up there next to Whitney and Twin Peaks as a band that’s on the move toward making it big. On the other hand, a Chicago native, Jamila Woods, is an activist, poet, and R&B singer-songwriter. I would never have expected the two of them to make music together, but “The Times I’m Not There” is honestly a fantastic song.

It’s not really something that I’m used to hearing, since I can’t name that many songs that are truly collaborations between two separate musicians as opposed to one artist who is featuring the other. Although, the more I listen to the song, the more I it feels Jamila should be the permanent lead singer of the band. The five of them together have excellent chemistry judging by this song. However, I am thanking the indie rock gods for allowing NE-HI to connect with her and make this amazing song together.

Interestingly, there is no vocals from NE-HI’s regular members in the song, but instead they allow Jamila to take center stage as they basically just apply the accompaniment. This is honestly just a high form of flattery to her, and probably a wise choice seeing as how she has an incredibly gifted talent in her singing voice. I would be incredibly intimidated to sing on a track with her after hearing this. NE-HI opts to do what they do best which is supply a smooth garage rock melody as Jamila’s voice shines over the band’s grooving.

On a side note, the cover art for this single looks kind of like an abstract art piece of a watermelon. I don’t know if that’s intentional or not, but I can definitely see it fitting in with the mellow mood of the song. “The Times I’m Not There” will definitely be on my summer playlist in a few months. It is a chill song to have on in the background during a cookout or bonfire; could definitely function as nice background noise to fit the vibe.

As you could probably imagine, I discovered this song through perusing indie rock music, so I wasn’t that familiar with Jamila; although, I had heard of NE-HI before. So, I decided to check out some more of Jamila’s music and she also has this awesome hit song featuring another Chicago native, Chance The Rapper, called “LSD” from her breakthrough album, HEAVN. And, no, it’s not about the drug; the song is referencing Lake Shore Drive.

Overall, “The Time I’m Not There” is super satisfying listen, and I really appreciate the experimentation of not having one featuring the other. It is truly a collaboration that highlights the excellent elements of both NE-HI and Jamila Woods. I would be interested to see whether or not this becomes a trend in indie rock as more bands collaborate with each other. In this instance, it works really well, and I hope they are able to create more things like it in the future.

— Noah Slowik, Music Blogger & Fiction Editor

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