Miles Davis & John Coltrane – The Final Tour: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 6

26 Oct

This tour came at a pivotal time for both the people named above and jazz as a whole. Miles’ magnum opus Kind of Blue was still fresh, but Coltrane had also just released his blueprint for the future, Giant Steps. Trane was already bucking to leave the first great Miles Davis quintet and further explore the new strain of jazz that he pioneered. Soon, Miles would also reinvent himself to fully incorporate this new sound, but this tour found him still firmly in the thinking of Kind of Blue and the tension between the two artists makes for a fascinating listen.

Coltrane is clearly just not in the same headspace as the rest of the quintet and his solos are fiery and bursting with ideas. You can see the early sheets of sound that would later be his calling card. His pace of new ideas is inhumanly fast and yet somehow still seems slower than he would have liked. He was accelerating into the future and it just could not come quickly enough for him.

Miles on the other hand was still in the present. His solos were much more traditional. They seem to be exactly of the style that Coltrane was trying to upend. That in no way diminishes their brilliance though. He runs a slower, purer sound than Trane, and hits the most unexpected notes and pulls them out wonderfully.

On top of that, the rest of the quintet does really great work. It wasn’t a great quintet just because of Miles Davis and John Coltrane, the whole group was amazingly talented. In particular, I really like the piano solos in Copenhagen. They’re nice and understated and yet so clever.

Seeing the contrast between Trane and the rest of the quintet is fascinating in itself. It’s almost fusion in how the two forms of jazz but highly individualistic in sound and approach.

This album would be worth the listen just for its historical value as a transitional piece, but it is also just excellent jazz from an all-time great group of musicians at the height of their powers.

@murthynikhil
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Logic – YSIV

20 Oct

This is Logic dialing himself up. It’s Logic being even more Logical than he was before. This works for him on a technical level. He has undeniable ability as a rapper, even if I find him a little unmemorable.

However, it’s also got his pretentiousness, his sophomoric philosophizing and his constant self-anointment. He’s far too self-indulgent and far too quick to give himself accolades that he has yet to justify.

More than anything though, I hate how deeply it references other rap because it does nothing more with those references than consider itself clever for making them. It’s the Ready Player One of rap. I’m sure that I didn’t get all of them, but I got more than enough to feel very, very tired.

It’s just so pointless as an album. It has almost nothing of value to say. It’s interesting to me that rap has gotten to the point where an album like this can exist, but that fact doesn’t make the album itself more interesting. It’s just not really worth your time.

@murthynikhil

Lil Wayne – Tha Carter V

19 Oct

The return of Lil Wayne! For a few years there, Weezy was just the best rapper alive and no one was close. It’s hard to think of someone else quite as dominant during his prime. It’s been a long time since that prime though and a long time since we’ve heard really good music from him. It’s hard not to be excited about the end of the drought.

It starts strong with “Don’t Cry” which has an excellent hook from the recently deceased XXX and then swaggers in with “Dedicate” to remind us exactly who Lil Wayne can be. His flow and switches are endlessly clever. Similarly “Uproar” is classic Lil Wayne with that countdown and the chopped lines and then it goes into “Let It Fly” takes advantage of the Travis Scott pairing for some quite solid trap.

It’s hard to pin down what exactly made Lil Wayne such a beast. To start with, he has an impossible amount of natural talent. It oozes off him. He’s got an exceptional ear for sounds and their pairings. He has a gift for clever, unexpected lines. More than anything though, he just has such irreverent fun with it all. He’s clearly enjoying himself every time he steps in front of the mic and it’s infectious.

Something like “Hittas” is just Wayne with clever, effortless top-tier rapping. He’s able to expertly duel Kendrick in “Mona Lisa” despite Kendrick’s return to his old feature flow. This is actually really good Kendrick, but Wayne is at least able to keep pace if not outshine K.Dot outright here. They’re both really good, really technical, really clever rappers. Lil Wayne then shifts into soulful with “What About Me” and the slower cut works really well too.

There’s unquestionably filler here though, like “Open Letter”, but even that song has moments. “Mess” is pure filler though, much though I sympathize with Wayne. It’s in “Let It All Work Out” that you really start to feel for Weezy. His description of his suicide attempt is startling after years of denial and heart-wrenching in its honesty. It’s interestingly old school as well and the return to one of his older styles works quite well for Wayne here.

However, some of the features also just don’t pan out. “Famous” is unpleasantly reminiscent of recent Em with that saccharine stadium rap hook, Snoop Dogg is a little too lazy on “Dope Niggaz” and Mack Maine’s part in “Start That Shit Off Right” is honestly garbage. Lil Wayne is able to save all of those with energetic, skilled rap, but they might all have been better consigned to the cutting-room floor.

This is unquestionably the return to form of one of the greatest, most unique rappers of all time. It might not be the classics that Wayne was able to string together at his peak, but it is an excellent rap album with some stellar cuts. It’s good to see him back.

@murthynikhil

U.S. Girls – In A Poem Unlimited

4 Oct

There’s no shortage of bands that mix together pop and rock and jazz and funk, but there are few that manage alchemy as unique as that of U.S. Girls. They’re aggressive to the point of cacophony in parts, and they make that work, and they’re tender in other parts and they make that work too. It’s that kind of album. Everything just works.

I stand by what I said about their sound being unique, but it does still remind me strongly of The Long Blondes, especially on tracks like “M.A.H.” and “Time.”  Like The Long Blondes, U.S. Girls are sharp enough for anyone , both in narrative and in music. “Pearly Gates,” in particular, is a fascinating song with plenty of surprise and some excellent, thought-provoking blasphemy.

The album’s sound, like its message, is layered, complex and full of surprise, right from “Velvet 4 Sale” straight to the end. It’s angry, it’s smart and it’s something you should be listening to.

@murthynikhil

Noname – Room 25

28 Sep

Room 25 is not just innovative, but singular. I cannot think of another album that sounds anything like it. It mixes an extraordinary amount of jazz and soul into some beautifully laid-back rap and does it all with considerable flair. It takes confidence to try a couplet like “My pussy teachin’ ninth-grade English/My pussy wrote a thesis on colonialism.” and skill to pull it off as effortlessly as Noname does.

Her flow is deeply relaxed and yet technical and often of a surprising pace as she drops flow-of-consciousness bars on similarly peaceful beats. There are parts here where she takes a couple of moments and the backing track could have been part of a quite solid soft jazz album. It’s all the kind of effortless that speaks of extreme competence.

Room 25 has none of the obvious ostentation of so many of its peers. Instead it has skill, imagination and surfeit of what is just great music. This is one of the best albums of the year thus far.

@murthynikhil

Saba – CARE FOR ME

10 Sep

CARE FOR ME is heartbreakingly honest. Its genesis was in the fatal stabbing of Saba’s cousin and the centerpiece of the album, the fantastic “PROM / KING” goes over the whole story in seven and a half minutes of powerful storytelling. The snippets of basketball and the breakdown of an ending are the kind of personal that can only come from real history. It’s an album about loss and trauma and is exceptional at communicating that in all of its complexity.

This album requires the skill that Saba brings to it. He alternates between rapping and crooning and it gives songs like “GREY” both mellowness and texture. It’s also what drives “BROKEN GIRLS”, a song as lovely and as poisonous as its subject.

There’s unfortunately a little here that could have been cut and it’s doubly unfortunate that the Chance track “LOGOUT” is one of them, but even those songs are solid enough and every song has at least some stellar moments. This is a unique and compelling album by a very talented young rapper and well worth listening to.

@murthynikhil

Top Five Lo-Fi Indie Albums of 2018 With Female Singers That We’re Listening To Right Now

26 Aug

This title may seem overly specific, but it’s a subgenre that I cannot get enough of and one that 2018 has been anomalously fruitful for. These albums are lo-fi not only in music but in topic, but it’s that lowering of stakes that’s what allows them to shine. I love this space for smaller stories

Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel

Courtney Barnett continues the long tradition of lo-fi indie rock set down by people like Pavement in the 90s. She’s more clever and more understated than her predecessors though. Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit had a strong voice of its own and was a fantastic debut. Tell Me How You Really Feel is not quite up to the same standard. The understatement goes a little too far here and the album just feels muted.

She’s still an excellent musician and there are some real moments of cleverness, such as the put down to an anonymous troll in “Nameless, Faceless” or the happy roll of “Sunday Roast”. It’s a very solid album. It’s just also one that’s a little too quiet about what it has to say.

Clairo – diary 001

Bands get younger every year. It takes someone like Clairo to really bring that home to you though and to bring home just how talented these young stars are. Her hit song “Pretty Girl” is well worth the attention, but there’s a lot in here worth your attention.

She has a wonderful voice that blends mellowness and disaffection to the point that they’re indistinguishable. It’s manages to be deeply compelling though, standoffish or no, and gives you the space you need to submerge yourself in it.

Her music is young and whip-smart and earnest all at once. There’s a lot of craft underlying the album’s pose and every song was clearly assembled with care. For all of the softness and all of the understatement, there’s still quite a bit of muted fun in the effects around “B.O.M.D.” and “4EVER” is highly danceable pop.

Even with the short runtime of 14 minutes, there is a bit here that could have been removed safely, but there’s also as much actually worth listening to as most full releases.

Speedy Ortiz – Twerp Verse

Speedy Ortiz have always been the cleverest kids around. Sadie Dupuis is sharp and incisive enough to make a scalpel look like a foam bat and combines that with an unbelievable skill with poetry. With Twerp Verse, Speedy Ortiz has moved further into their own voice than even before. More opaque, more stripped-down and more rewarding than before, this album continues the evolution of this band into something that is more confidently their own.

Firstly, “Villain” is an exceptional song. The plainness of the lyrics highlights just how disturbing they are and the off-kilter timings of the song are disorienting and beautiful. “Lucky 88” is catchy and surprisingly Silversun Pickups-like for a band that once toured with Stephen Malkmus. “You Hate The Title” is really playful music as well.

As always, Speedy Ortiz are the smartest indie rockers around. They’re just much too good for you not to listen to.

Snail Mail – Lush

This is the most lo-fi of the albums here. It has deeply textured, hazy sounds that are very reminiscent of the recent fantastic Vagabon album. Her voice is wonderfully teenage though and so deeply sincere. This is the kind of debut that forces people to pay attention. For all that it is clearly part of a long tradition of ‘90s indie rock, it’s stunningly modern and derives from a wide variety of influences. It’s the rare album to live up to the promises of the title.

You can really see this in pieces like “Speaking Terms”, where the drawn out segments epitomize the lo-fi that I adore. The composition of the song perfectly introduces and then frames her voice. “Pristine” moves faster and the lyrics are personal and honest and then challenging of itself and so of you.

Strong, honest, layered and skillful, this is a startling debut and a strong statement of arrival.

Mitski – Be The Cowboy

We’ve saved the best for last with this list. Mitski’s previous album Puberty 2 was one of the best albums of 2016 and Be The Cowboy is, if anything, better. It’s exceedingly clever and complex and uses that to keep you off-balance the entire way through.

While it lacks anything on the level of the breakout single “Your Best American Girl” and steps into a more remote realm, the quality of the songs here are stunningly consistent. Whether it’s the threads of “Old Friend” or “Me And My Husband” that braid through each other to make a deeply layered narrative or the cleverness of the rise and then abrupt walk back of “Two Slow Dancers” or the knife-edge and thump of “Washing Machine Heart”, every one of these songs is just really good music.

Mitski just goes from strength to strength. She’s sharp, incisive and very human and Be The Cowboy is everything you could want from a lo-fi indie album in 2018.

@murthynikhil

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