Showing posts with label funk. Show all posts
Showing posts with label funk. Show all posts

Sunday, January 20, 2019

video review: 'outer peace' by toro y moi

Ehh... I've had this one for a while, still not all that much of a fan. It's decent, but I'm not going to remember much of this.

Next up... let's get Future out of the way...

Saturday, January 19, 2019

album review: 'outer peace' by toro y moi

...I remember the last time I talked about chillwave, back in 2015 when I reviewed Neon Indian - and that's saying something because I'm getting the impression that whole genre designation is something music critics nowadays want to forget ever happened.

See, there's a phenomenon especially among music critics and writers to apply genre branding to sounds for quick categorization, especially if it was a trend on the rise. This seemed to hit its peak in the blog-and-Pitchfork dominated era of the late-2000s and very early 2010s, mostly to the indifference and distaste of the artists or indeed anyone besides music writers. And looking back on it now, it's hard to ignore how manufactured it felt - not an organic label by the artists, who had approached their gauzy blend of shoegaze, lo-fi synthpop, ambient, and psychedelia with a variety of different tones and styles, but a branding that soon led to a saturated market and a broad misunderstanding of how anyone was to approach it. And I want to use Toro y Moi - stagename for Chaz Bear - as an example against easy classification... mostly because while his initial tones might have started in that loose subgenre, he didn't stay there. A few albums in he was expanding into house music, by 2015 he was pulling on that jangling 80s indie rock sound, and he had always had a taste for funk, choppy hip-hop-esque samples and a crooning that owed a considerable debt to indie R&B. So yeah, Toro y Moi was really tough to categorize...

And man, I wish I liked it more. Again, like most genre-hopping bands with this pedigree there were a number of things that just did not work for me, and ironically they started with the opposite problem I had with Neon Indian, in that I liked the gummy, lo-fi chillwave touches in the production that felt more like accent texture than drowning the mix. But the further he stepped away from it, the less interesting the music became. Part of this was increasingly easy parallels to better acts, but with Toro y Moi's voice moving more to the forefront, the undercooked writing and odd feeling of petulance really started to wear on my patience, especially as the albums got longer with less momentum. Granted, when I heard this album was going even more synthetic and taking more steps towards funk I was intrigued, but I've had mixed luck with this brand of funk and I wasn't sure the trappings of chillwave are what I needed to make it work, but what the hell: how is Outer Peace?

Thursday, December 13, 2018

video review: 'hill climber' by vulfpeck

So yeah, this was a mess... not my thing either so I expect the backlash, but eh, it happens.

Next up... yep, let's finally talk about SABA here - enjoy!

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

album review: 'hill climber' by vulfpeck

So here's something a little alarming about my job as a critic, and I'll walk you through the scenario. Say you're given a band, primarily promoted through Bandcamp so you'd assume they'd be a small-to-midsize act, and you've never heard of them. Fine enough, that's not uncommon if they're a step outside the mainstream or never have gotten Pitchfork coverage, so you start digging through their back catalog... only to discover that this band might be a lot bigger than you could have expected, with collaborations with named critical darlings and a social media presence that might actually guarantee an audience for the review... made all the more awkward by the fact that you really didn't like what you heard going through that back catalog!

And yes, this was my experience with Vulfpeck, an American funk act who broke out in the 2010s and have quietly been pumping out albums throughout the decade. And when you see the list of session players who have worked with them, it's a little astonishing that I hadn't heard of them sooner. Indeed, I can imagine some audiences are more familiar with how they were backing Darren Criss on his 2013 tour than the fact they had worked with Bootsy Colins, Bernard Purdie, and David T. Walker. Of course, if you're in the music industry you probably know them for having trolled Spotify in 2014 by putting an entirely silent album online in order to game streaming, which got them about twenty thousand dollars before the album got pulled, but in all due honesty, there are points I'd prefer to listen to that than their larger recorded output. Yeah, this is where things get awkward because I would struggle to say I'm a fan of Vulfpeck at all: limp production, underwhelming vocals unless they pulled up a credible guest, and with generally embarrassing lyrics that might just wind up as some of the most safe and sterile attempts at funk I've heard in a long time. Yeah, the playing is good, but with no edge or intensity or sense of greater texture, it got grating fast, and when you couple it with their social media presence which makes it hard to tell if they're a joke act that just so happens to have a few ringers who can play really well... well, that's not the sort of act I really feel the need to cover. That said, they slowed things down significantly for their album last year - it was more limp and boring than actively grating like The Beautiful Game was but at least was tolerable - but this new album has gotten some good reception, so what did we get from Hill Climber?

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

video review: 'oxnard' by anderson .paak

So yeah, I do wish this was a lot better - but eh, it happens. Let's hope we get a course correction soon.

Next up, something where the course correction is never going to happen...

Monday, November 19, 2018

album review: 'oxnard' by anderson .paak

Man, expectations were high for this one, weren't they?

And indeed, it's been a bit amusing seeing the fallout from the early reviews of Oxnard come through - a lot of critics had seen tremendous potential and had gotten captivated by Anderson .Paak's infectious charisma and blend of genres, and I'll admit at first, I was definitely one of them. Venice had primed the pump, .Paak had stolen the show on Dr. Dre's Compton album, and following in that wake with some terrific guest performances, I was ready for my mind to be blown with the textured smash that was Malibu, easily one of the best albums of 2016. But I was also kind of lukewarm on his work with Knxwledge on their collaboration that same year, Yes Lawd!, because it exposed just how Anderson .Paak's charisma couldn't save fragmented songs, undercooked ideas, and a sleaziness that could get actively distracting if mishandled. So I was more cautious going into Oxnard - the guest performances looked promising and I had liked what I heard from the singles, but reception has been lukewarm thus far and I was a little surprised that Dr. Dre seemed to have stepped up his production oversight - I guess he wanted to ensure Anderson .Paak finally became the household name he deserves to be and I liked their balance on Compton, but would it work here for Oxnard?

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

video review: 'hive mind' by the internet

Yes, it's more of a vibe project than anything, but it's got its charms... I just wish I liked it a bit more. Still good though.

Next up... let's go underground for something weird, stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

album review: 'hive mind' by the internet

So groups like The Internet pose an interesting quandary for me - over the three albums they've released I've consistently noted a general upward trajectory when it comes to their quality, but they seem to be sidestepping singular elements in their sound that could have made for a great record with a little more refinement. And yes, I even include their debut Purple Naked Ladies in that category, which in terms of synth choices was legitimately ahead of their time. But frontwoman Syd hadn't really evolved as a presence behind the microphone in her delivery or her lyrics and the band didn't have a lot of focus so the record got mixed reviews at best. Then they followed it with a slightly more polished but also more conventional and neo-soul/jazz affair with Feel Good, which featured some of their best ever playing but Syd hadn't really improved and many of the songs just so happened to go on way too long.

So then fast-forward to 2015 and Ego Death, the record where The Internet started getting real critical acclaim, mostly thanks to Syd seriously stepping up in terms of songwriting and delivery - sure, Jhene Aiko had a similar delivery and overall was more compelling to me, but this was territory I liked. Unfortunately, it came with the band opting for a much more conventional R&B affair - especially in the more leaden percussion lines - and while the band had tightened things up a little bit from Feel Good the compositions didn't quite have the textures and tone for me to get on-board nearly as much as I wanted. And in the mean time, their backing crew Odd Future collapsed and while The Internet had always been more out of their orbit with each record, so I had no clue where this was going to go - it was still almost an hour long, so it didn't look like things tightened up that much, and buzz was suggesting this was more of a 'go with the flow' vibe album... which is kind of a loaded proposition because The Internet had never had a problem with this - in fact, I'd probably say my biggest issue is that they could have a tendency to fade into the background. But fine, what did we get with Hive Mind?

Thursday, July 5, 2018

video review: 'the now now' by gorillaz

Well, this was underwhelming. I'd like to say I'm surprised... but then again, I've always had a weird relationship with this group, so I'll take it as it is.\

But the next one... hell, it's Drake, you know what's coming. Stay tuned!

album review: 'the now now' by gorillaz

I can't be the only one a little floored that we have a new Gorillaz record already, can I? I mean, I thought Humanz was a good if uneven return last year, but it was the sort of project that didn't really herald an era of increased productivity for Damon Albarn's cartoon band... but apparently Albarn enjoyed the process of touring and felt that spark of inspiration return so frequently that before long he had another record ready to go. 

And I'll freely admit some of the buzz was... well, let's be honest and say kind of questionable, as Albarn was looking to frame this record as a lightweight point of reconciliation, something to bring people together across untenable divides before the apocalyptic framing of the last album really snapped into place. And sure, that could be an admirable intention, but as much as I liked the groove behind 'Humility', I wasn't sure Gorillaz would be able to mine the same emotional pathos and punch out of those tones - there's always been an understated murky edge to the group at their best that I hoped wasn't going to be left behind, and that's not even getting into the socio-political subtext that could very well continue from Humanz and that sort of comprised middle-ground might not be the best place for Gorillaz to land. But alright, what did we get from The Now Now?

Thursday, May 17, 2018

video review: 'providence canyon' by brent cobb

So this was pretty cool - it's pretty niche and probably won't be for everyone, but still worth a listen or two, definitely check it out!

Next up... hmm, something from my backlog, I think, so stay tuned!

album review: 'providence canyon' by brent cobb

So I'll admit I regret not talking about Brent Cobb sooner - but in all due fairness to myself, I can imagine a lot of folks maybe overlooking him. The cousin of acclaimed indie producer Dave Cobb, he got the attention of the indie country scene by satirizing bro-country in 2015 with 'Yo Bro', but he came to much greater attention thanks to his appearance on the compilation Southern Family, which remains one of the best records of the 2010s and one of the few I've ever given a perfect score. And yet even with that, Brent Cobb seemed to slide into the background: I really liked his detail-rich, earthy songwriting, but they guy had the misfortune of being placed in the track order between Jason Isbell and Miranda Lambert, who delivered much more impressive songs.

But in digging into his 2016 album Shine On Rainy Day, I came to realize that unassuming, low-key charm was less a bug and more a feature of Brent Cobb - primarily acoustic, with the sort of roughscrabble detail and texture in his lyrics that reward repeated listens to really sink into the vibe. And 'vibe' is a key qualifier, because while there are a few exceptions like the excellent 'South Of Atlanta' and 'Let The Rain Come Down', that record was perhaps a little too low-key for its own good - comfortably riding the firm bass, hints of smokier guitars and rich acoustic warmth to really kick up a groove, the sort of background music that brought a ton of welcome texture and would definitely be an underrated gem for folks who like indie country, but amidst an avalanche of excellent country in 2016, it's no surprise it might have faded to the background. 

Well, that's not quite the case in 2018, and if the buzz was true and Cobb has cranked up the tempos to lean into the southern Georgia funk influences that had been lurking beneath his sound for some time, we could have something pretty unique and interesting here, so what did we get on Providence Canyon?

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

video review: 'dirty computer' by janelle monae

Yeah, this project kicked ass... I'm a tad disappointed it seems like it's being dismissed as being too blunt and mainstream friendly (seemed like Kendrick got away with that with DAMN....), especially when there's a lot more insight lurking beneath the surface. Definitely worth your time, check this out!

Monday, April 30, 2018

album review: 'dirty computer' by janelle monae

I remember referencing Afrofuturism in brief while talking about Janelle Monae's past two records, the underlying Cindi Mayweather stories that have served as a time travelling narrative undercurrent to her stories, taking the tropes and aesthetics of 50s and 60s sci-fi and fusing it with modern language, taking the textures of R&B and soul of the 70s and 80s and bringing them into a swirling, neon genre fusion with rock and modern R&B, and its core was the swirling, magnetic charisma of Janelle Monae...

And there's a part of me that feels I owe her an apology. Now to some of you that might seem confusing - I've been openly a fan for years ever since her guest appearance on Idlewild, I'd put both The ArchAndroid and The Electric Lady on year-end lists, I wouldn't hesitate to put her on a list of one of the most defiantly unique and potent artists of the 2010s both in terms of raw talent and experimentation and that's even before you consider how she hasn't compromised her pop sensibility. And yet going back to my review of The Electric Lady five years ago, just when I was starting out... there's a part of me not proud of it, primarily because of how I treated the underlying metaphors and themes at the core of the work. Not that I didn't grasp it - the queer black femininity at its core was always apparent and Janelle Monae did a wonderful job exploring its nuances through the larger metaphors of her story - but I feel the language I chose was minimizing, especially given how deeply personal said narrative turned out to be. For me it was more paying attention to the mechanics of the story, looking for a weightier external payoff to the narrative rather than realizing the true thematic and emotional arc was internal... and while some of that could be explained due to the theatrical artificiality of the narrative, I should have realized the inward shift of the metaphor and presentation was likely far more representative of what explorations of queer black femininity and sexuality are. 

Fast forward to 2018 and it should surprise nobody that so much of the coded theatricality has slipped away: the institutional pressures have redoubled both internal and external strain, and flagrant urgency becomes a necessity. More than that, Janelle Monae has only grown into a more assured and confident artist, both from her forays into acting or even her steps into mainstream R&B with The Eephus EP in 2015 - yes, I personally preferred more of the fantastical sci-fi aesthetic and genre blending, but raw charisma can compensate for a lot. And thus for Dirty Computer, there was a part of me that knew this record wouldn't quite be the same sort of Afrofuturist affair as her previous work - especially with the lead-off singles, it looked to be, for lack of better words, more conventional and accessible. Granted, she still released an entire short film to flesh out the greater themes of the record that was very much linked to her conceptual framework, but we're here to focus on the album itself - so how is it?

Monday, March 26, 2018

video review: 'boarding house reach' by jack white

And here is round two - and I imagine this'll be the contentious one, with nobody being all that satisfied with the conclusions I draw. Eh, it happens.

Next up, the living hell that's going to be tomorrow's Billboard BREAKDOWN - stay tuned!

album review: 'boarding house reach' by jack white

So here's something paradoxical I've noticed with Jack White: for as much as his presence and influence seems to loom over so much modern rock music, I don't think about him that much these days. You'd think I would, given his work with The White Stripes or The Raconteurs or even solo, but for as much as I really liked Blunderbuss, there was a certain distance I still have towards Lazaretto even despite liking it a fair bit. And this is coming from someone who has seen White live in concert and who generally likes his southern gothic, jagged, almost hermetic approach to his sound, spiraling down into twisted rabbit holes that might stumble towards blues rock lyrical cliches but nearly always had the tunes to back it up.

But here's the thing: not counting that overstuffed release of b-sides two years ago, this is the first proper Jack White record in four years, and I was genuinely curious how it would stick out in comparison to so many artists trying to chase some brand of his sound... or hell, even outright surpass it in the vein of artists like Ron Gallo or Kyle Craft. And I'll admit a certain amount of concern about this one: I won't deny that it was likely a natural step for White to step away from conventional blues rock in favour of a more diverse or eclectic sound, but he's never been a great lyricist and if he was refocusing there at the expense of good riffs, with even reportedly a rap-inspired song on this project... yeah, I had room to worry. But what the hell: how was Boarding House Reach?

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

video review: 'war & leisure' by miguel

So yeah, I do wish this was better, but eh, I know this'll definitely have an audience. Probably should have dropped in August, but oh well.

Next up, though... should have gotten to this one sooner, so stay tuned!

album review: 'war & leisure' by miguel

So I have a hard time writing about an artist like Miguel, mostly because as a critic I like categorization, finding a way to place an act in the context of their genre. And while you might have been able to do that early on with records like Kaleidoscope Dream, in that like acts like Frank Ocean and The Weeknd he was digging into new sounds and tones within R&B in order to expand the genre. But their paths diverged very quickly: The Weeknd harnessed his love of 80s pop to attain crossover success, Frank Ocean found a ramshackle yet powerfully organic and spacious sound to win critical acclaim, and Miguel...

Well, in 2015 he released Wildheart, an album that I definitely praised upon its release for its genre-bending and grand, emotive ambition in capturing a specific Prince-inspired, oversexed, hyperstylized mood... but it was also all over the place and it hasn't exactly aged as well as you might think, feeling less and less cohesive in its tangled blur of sounds and without a lot of tighter writing to back it up. I'd definitely argue it's a good album and I really did love how far Miguel was willing to push his material, but in the wake of Frank Ocean's blonde it was an album where the high points might resonate but the weaknesses in contrast glare all the more strongly. And as such I didn't really know where he was going to take his follow-up this year War & Leisure - reportedly it was trending towards psychedelic funk, but he also had names like J. Cole, Travis Scott and Rick Ross as features, and it looked like this was going to be a slightly more grounded affair... which might not be a bad thing, because Miguel is the sort of artist with effortless charisma who could knock that material out in his sleep. So yeah, I definitely wanted to cover, this, so what did I find on War & Leisure?