Showing posts with label soul. Show all posts
Showing posts with label soul. Show all posts

Monday, March 11, 2019

video review: 'stay tuned!' by dominique fils-aimé

Well damn, I'm really happy I finally got to talking about this one - great low-key R&B, absolutely worth your attention!

Next up... something a fair bit less interesting, so stay tuned!

Sunday, March 10, 2019

album review: 'stay tuned!' by dominique fils-aimé

I was preparing for this to be a difficult review.

And at first that might not make a lot of sense: sure, another little-known artist that I found off Bandcamp, but the ones I often choose to cover have colour and personality that leap off the page and deserve more attention... but Dominique Fils-Aimé was different. For one, instead of a swathe of indie rock, we're dealing with tones that owe a fair bit more to R&B and jazz and explicitly rely on a brand of minimalism in their arrangements that are tasteful and mature... but occasionally can come across as a little too understated and classy for their own good, the sort of mature music folks tend to wind up appreciating more than outright loving. Now that's not saying I didn't like her debut album Nameless from early 2018 - spare but potent as all hell thanks to her striking vocals and subtle, textured grooves, it was a short but rewarding listen - but I was hoping her follow-up here would amp things up just a bit, add a little more texture, tension, and richness to match the vocal arrangements that were such a terrific highlight. So alright, what did we find on Stay Tuned!?

Saturday, March 9, 2019

video review: 'when i get home' by solange

So this happened... I wish I had liked this more, but I do think I grasped it.

Next up... hmm, I've got some ideas, so we'll see - stay tuned!

video review: 'wasteland, baby!' by hozier

Ugh, this was exasperating... still has its moments here, though.

And yet on the topic of disappointments...

Friday, March 8, 2019

album review: 'when i get home' by solange

So I'm going to start this review with two neutral statements that nevertheless are bound to be controversial. The first is this: we primarily experience art emotionally - we might analyze or come to appreciate something intellectually later, but ultimately if we're giving an honest opinion on what moves us and what we'll revisit, it's emotional. And to follow that, #2: when the statement is made, 'it's not for you', that's a statement presumably made to speak to the emotional, lived-in experiences that is assumed to be held by someone who likes the art and how said experiences probably aren't held by someone for whom the art isn't clicking.

So why mention any of this? Well, it has to do with the larger discourse around Solange's critical acclaim in the past couple of years, especially surrounding her breakthough A Seat At The Table, a project I liked and understood but didn't love. And I even said in that review that it's not for me - I can certainly respect its appeal and thoughtfulness and I understand the text and subtext on display, but I was very much aware that it was marketed at an audience to which I don't belong. And let me stress this: that's fine! There's absolutely a place and market for that, and while I might make the argument the most powerful art can transcend emotive boundaries should it be heard by everyone, I'm also aware of the material that resonates most with me won't be to the tastes of everyone: that's why my favourite albums of the past five years have spanned an indie country compilation, a pop rock opera, multiple underground hip-hop tapes, and a twisted slice of jazzy adult-alternative blended with goth rock! 

Now where I take the most issue with the whole 'it's not for you' statement is when it's used as a defense mechanism to shield a project from criticism of the text or subtext, which of course hits the blurry line of whether the person understands it and that art is subject to multiple interpretations, but that's a conversation of nuance and detail, not defense. And with A Seat At The Table, it didn't really come up, mostly because the album was critically acclaimed across the board - more degrees of quality being disputed if anything. But the conversation surrounding the surprise release When I Get Home has been more mixed, and outside of the outlets that have a mandate to support it, I've seen the 'it's not for you' argument pushed more as a deflection surrounding the project's quality, coupled with the presumed lack of understanding. To me that was alarming, so I did proceed with both caution and curiosity into this listen... so what did I find?

Thursday, March 7, 2019

album review: 'wasteland, baby!' by hozier

I remember vividly covering Hozier in 2014.

I remember knowing him only for 'Take Me To Church', a swampy soul song with a prominent overwritten gothic streak to match his massive, howling voice, owing obvious debts to blues and soul but also showing an intuitive grasp of the texture to make it stick. In other words, there was no way he wasn't going to become a one-hit wonder, especially in the mid-2010s where the mainstream was caught in transition between garage rock duos and rollicking indie flair and the over-polished pop rock that dominates now, but I had some hope that his self-titled debut would connect, especially as his songwriting had too much unique flair to be discounted. I went in with middling expectations...

And left blown out of the water - and indeed, Hozier set such a high bar for his brand of blues rock and soul that it's not surprising few even tried to follow him. Not only was that self-titled debut one of the best albums of 2014, but it also produced 'Jackie & Wilson', which to this day remains my favourite song of that year. And going back to that album years later I find myself awestruck how well it holds up - the huge low-end smolder balancing terrific melodic hooks, the rich diversity of tones, and that's before you got Hozier's brand of overwritten but understated melodrama, drenched in the iconography of the past but refreshingly modern in its sentiments. I place that self-titled project in the same category as an album like Dolls Of Highland by Kyle Craft in a fusion of textured, old-school rock with contemporary ideas, but where Craft was able to crank out a strong follow-up last year with Full Circle Nightmare, Hozier was more deliberate - mostly because he had the flexibility to rely on a monster hit and the frankly stunning number albums he sold in an era where albums don't sell. So while I was cooler than most on his EP follow-up last year Nina Cried Power - really damn good, just not quite great - I had high hopes for this one. I was a little less enthused to discover that he included a few songs from that EP on this project - and yet not my favourite from that project 'Moment's Silence (Common Tongue)', which was on my short list of songs that nearly made my top 50 songs of 2018 - but hey, we've been waiting five damn years for this, so what did we get from Wasteland, Baby!?

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?

Monday, October 15, 2018

video review: 'always in between' by jess glynne

Damn, I really do wish this was better... but it happens, I guess...

Okay, this week is going to be crazy for personal reasons outside of video production, so we'll see where this goes, but Billboard BREAKDOWN is up next, so stay tuned!

album review: 'always in between' by jess glynne

So here's something I've realized about myself and pop music: when it comes to sheer competence in song construction, more often than not I'll give acts that might not be the most innovative more of a pass than most. Part of this is the appreciation and acknowledgement that crafting a damn solid straightforward pop song is often just as hard if not harder than making a track in any other genre, but I do think it runs a little deeper, to the pop that did work so damn well in the late 90s on which I was raised. Hell, one reason I've gone to bat for S Club 7 more than I think anyone should is that they put out at least three albums of damn solid, well-produced pop music that might not have blown apart any paradigms but did exactly what it was designed to do - that consistency rarely gets the hype it deserves.

And I think there's some truth to that surrounding how much I like Jess Glynne, because I was much more positive on her debut album in 2015 than pretty much any other critic. Yeah, there were a few misfires in production and the lyrics were never great, but Glynne was a solid enough singer and the hooks were there, enough so that I was genuinely interested in her sophomore follow-up this year, even if I had the expectation that like last time I might not have much to say. But what the hell - what did we get out of Always In Between?

Friday, September 21, 2018

video review: 'room 25' by noname

So yeah, this is something special - definitely check this out!

And yeah, I was planning on Metric next, but considering how much folks want me to cover a certain hip-hop boy band... yeah, stay tuned!

Thursday, September 20, 2018

album review: 'room 25' by noname

I'm still kicking myself a little bit that I didn't review Noname's Telefone in 2016. Frankly, I had no reason not to - it wasn't like I didn't cover multiple women breaking out in thoughtful, low-key Chicago hip-hop that year - but for some reason she slipped out of mind for me and by the time I wanted to get the review together it was too late. Granted, I don't quite think the mixtape would have impacted my year-end list choices, but that's more because Telefone and Noname fell into a weird category for me where everything just seemed ever so slightly 'off'. Rhythms and melodies would feel off-kilter in strange ways, Noname's flows would bounce and curl around them, and even the content, despite feeling really clever, rested more on a tangled emotional spectrum than a regular logical throughline. Definitely a fascinating project that had some really damn solid grooves, and Noname had enough subtle charisma to pull me back, but I had a tough time really sinking into her material...

And then I wound up catching an early set of hers at Reading Festival this year, and in a live setting it oddly seemed to click. Her backing band lent an organic touch that made the odd turns feel naturalistic, and Noname's low-key charisma bubbled up in interesting ways, naturally infectious in a way that made the cleverness of her writing all the more enticing. In other words, even though at the time Noname was saying Telefone would be her only project, I'm a little glad that she wound up recording a full-length debut... basically in her own words because she had to pay rent and she wanted new music to play on tour. And there was no way in hell I was going to miss covering her this time, so what did we get on Room 25?

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?

Saturday, April 14, 2018

video review: 'isolation' by kali uchis

Yep, I know, I'm late with this one, but really, this project wasn't on my favourites regardless. 

The Wonder Years up next, so stay tuned!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

album review: 'isolation' by kali uchis

I was genuinely surprised with how many people were requesting I cover this record.

Well, okay, maybe not that surprised - many people know her most for her Grammy-nominated collaboration with Daniel Caesar, but I was familiar with her name going a little further back, mostly through her connections to Tyler, the Creator. And dig a little deeper into the featuring credits and I've seen her name come up a fair bit associated with Gorillaz and Miguel and I don't recall saying anything bad about her. And going back to those collaborations, the weakest might have been 'Caramelo Duro' with Miguel, but she did a great job on 'She's My Collar' with Gorillaz and even better opposite Tyler on 'See You Again'.

And that was enough to at least get me intrigued to do a little more research into where she was taking this debut. Reportedly her mixtapes pulled on a broader cross-section of sounds, spanning doo-wop, jazz, bossa nova, and of course reggaeton given her Columbian heritage. And considering the massive amount of critical acclaim she's received for this breakout project - and if you dig through the liner notes, you'll see names ranging from Thundercat and BADBADNOTGOOD to Damon Albarn and Kevin Parker of Tame Impala, and that's before you get the who's who of big name producers from Greg Kurstin to Sounwave. Alright, I'm intrigued, what did we get on Isolation?

Thursday, March 15, 2018

video review: 'cocoa sugar' by young fathers

Yeah, I knew this review would be controversial... but hey, it happens, I've got to be honest.

Next up, Judas Priest - stay tuned!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

album review: 'cocoa sugar' by young fathers

I'm genuinely surprised it's taken me this long to talk about Young Fathers at all. It's not like I wasn't aware the group existed, but they always seemed a little adjacent to the music that's normally on my radar, so this review was going to be a learning experience for me.

So okay, Young Fathers: a trio from Scotland that started on the indie label Anticon with a particularly off-kilter brand of hip-hop to which I couldn't really trace a clear sonic lineage. The melodies were cavernous and droning, the beats were blocky but still carried an impressive amount of groove, and the two MCs presented a brand of unsettled melancholy that used blunt but heavy language to convey increasingly bleak ideas, along with harmonies that were surprisingly stirring. I'm not really certain it was my thing - I do think the songwriting took a dip for the full-length debut Dead along with a weird synth-rock pivot with a smattering of alternative R&B, but it was compelling in a curious way, not quite with the level of propulsive power I'd see in a group like Algiers or Injury Reserve or Death Grips, but I got the appeal. But then they shifted again towards a lo-fi, indie pop rock sound a year later for a record with the loaded title White Men Are Black Men Too, and... honestly, while I think it's a solid enough record, I think I might like it more for some of the ideas the trio was trying to explore conceptually than the sound itself, as the pop or rock-leaning elements could feel a tad hit-or-miss against their production style. But hey, who knows what direction they could be taking with this project, now on the Ninja Tune label proper, so what did we get on Cocoa Sugar?

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

video review: 'encore' by anderson east

And here's the first video of the night... man, I wish I liked this a bit more. It happens, and it's still a damn good project too.

Next up, a movie review - stay tuned!

album review: 'encore' by anderson east

There's a part of me that thinks it's a little ironic that only days after releasing my top ten best hit songs of 1967 I'm now talking about Anderson East in 2018, and if you saw that list and my lengthy discussion surrounding white people cribbing from black music, you might see why.

Granted, the conversation about this brand of R&B and blue-eyed soul is complicated and has been for decades, with some highlighting it as conducive to cooperation while others consider it cultural appropriation, that dread phrase that's bound to make my comment section just a joy to behold. Of course, with blue-eyed soul you could make the argument it's more about cultural exchange and there's a certain code that should be understood by the artist: if you're going to use that sound, understand the history, bring respect, help to elevate those who pioneered the sound as much as you can, and you better not suck. And thankfully Anderson East seems to get this: his breakthrough came in 2015 with the album Delilah, produced by Dave Cobb and even partially recorded in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, which made sense for the hardscrabble blend of Americana and southern soul he was making. Of course, you all might know him better for two things: one, he's currently dating Miranda Lambert and showed up on her 2016 project The Weight Of These Wings, and two, he was also on one of the most fiery tracks on Southern Family, the Dave Cobb-produced compilation that was one of two records I've ever given a perfect 10 on my channel. Suffice to say with his release this year the expectations were high, and considering how good the critical buzz was, they had every reason to be. So, with the hope that we can redeem this album title from Eminem's critically reviled 2004 record, what did we get with Encore?