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Top Five Jazz Records From 2018 That We Want You To Listen To

28 Jan

5. Ambrose Akinmusire – Origami Harvest

Origami Harvest is an interesting, if inconsistent, album. There’s some really compelling jazz here. “the lingering velocity of the dead’s ambitions” is pleasingly jagged, which is where the album is at its best, but drags a few moments out for too long. The interplay between Kool AD and Ambrose Akinmusire in “blooming bloodfruit in a hoodie” is excellent, but the ad-libs drag the sound down. “miracle and streetfight” has an excellent conversation between the strings and the brass and the space in “Americana / the garden waits for you to match her wilderness” is very strong. The political tinge adds a little depth but needed more development if it were to add another dimension to the album.

Overall, this is an album that rewards a listen and one that stands out for the uniqueness of the pairing, but is nonetheless deficient in fairly significant ways.

4. Moses Boyd – Displaced Diaspora

This album is a fascinating view into London, not the London of Dickens and smog, but that of the many people that have through one means or another found their way there. It’s an album that does more than just talk about London’s history as a global city. Naturally then, it fuses a lot into the base sounds with Afro-bass in a few songs, including the energetic “Frontline” and rap in “Waiting on the Night Bus”, which has a nice traditional jazz feel, but is sadly weighed down a little by that same “City Nocturne” however stays traditional but is elevated by the fantastic vocal work of Zara McFarlane.

It’s an album with undeniable grooves. Moses Boyd’s drumming and production are rightly acclaimed and this album showcases that well. Unfortunately though, the album does still pall on repeated listens. There’s plenty of cleverness in it and the diaspora adds some welcome challenge, but as a whole, it feels a little lacking. Nevertheless, it’s a fascinating and under-explored angle into a city often evoked and a strong musical piece to boot.

3. Esperanza Spalding – 12 Little Spells

This is a highly challenging album rife with atonalities, genre bending and odd meters, but somehow charming despite that and undeniably clever. It’s a gorgeous puzzle box of an album that pushes at you again and again. There’s more than enough here to reward you for the considerable effort that the album asks for and the album makes that effort fun to spend. You should definitely give it a listen and then give it a bunch more so as to fully appreciate what it does.

2. Joey Alexander – Eclipse

It’s hard not to be excited about Joey Alexander. His debut was fantastic and he goes from strength to strength. It’s not just that he is a prodigy, it’s that his skill is prodigious. He has a great flair for the unexpected, which shows up well in “Space” and an ear for the gentle and beautiful as in “Time Remembered” and “Bali.” Additionally, his guest Joshua Redman does fantastic work in his solos in “Fourteen” and “The Very Thought of You” which are then matched wonderfully Joey Alexander’s piano work. It’s even very approachable and his version of “Blackbird” is worth checking out no matter your comfort level with Jazz. My only complaint is that the album as a whole could have used a little more challenge, but the album is so charming and cheerful and refreshing to listen to that the complaint seems almost misdirected. Eclipse is just something that you are glad to have listened to.

1. Ezra Collective – Juan Pablo: The Philosopher

This is an excellent album and another that’s just a pleasure to listen to. It’s underpinned by good, traditional jazz but layers on fascinating world influences from Africa to South America and the Caribbean. “Juan Pablo” in particular benefits from this openness and then again in the drums of “The Philosopher.” These are upbeat songs that energize while still fully engaging the mind. The highlight though is the final song, an unorthodox and wonderful take on “Space Is The Place”, the famous Sun Ra piece. There’s even space in this album for the more drawn out sounds of “People In Trouble.” This is a very, very strong sophomore effort and an album that I cannot recommend highly enough, both for people deep into jazz and for people looking to try some out. You should definitely listen to it.

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The Top Five Albums of 2018 – Nikhil’s List

31 Dec

There’s been a lot of great music in this year, from sources both expected and previously unknown. It took quite some effort to bring the list down to just five, but these are the five that we think you should definitely listen to when ringing out the new year.

5. Chris – Christine and the Queens

Musically, Chris is a throwback. This album sounds like nothing as much as an escapee from the pop / R&B charts of the 80s and a very good one at that. It’s upbeat music with lots of interesting little quirks. It is not just effortless, but actively fun, to flow with this album and it’s embedded with myriad little flourishes that delight.

What truly elevates it though is the modernity it brings. While the structure is that of Michael and Madonna, the album is clearly something of 2018, both musically and, more strongly, lyrically. Héloïse Létissier’s alter-ego Chris explores the edges of modern femininity with intelligence and complexity. The character is strong and sensual but vulnerable and human. She’s a full person and she makes this one of the most vivid albums of the year.

4. KIDS SEE GHOSTS – KIDS SEE GHOSTS

Kanye has had an interesting year to say the least, but we’re not here to talk about that. We’re just going to talk about the best of the series of seven-song mini-albums. Kids See Ghosts finally brings Kid Cudi out of the rut that his last few albums found him in and gives Kanye the grounding and focus that he’s lacked for a few years now. The two of them have a history of bringing out the best of each other and this album is the culmination of that relationship.

The rock-flavored rap of Cudi has exploded of late, but most of the current practitioners are somehow substantially more emo than Cudi ever was. It’s refreshing to see a return to his more straightforward, guitar-focused strain with this album. His deep voice and the thrum of his humming have always been his greatest strength and Kanye’s flat-edged rapping cuts right through it beautifully.

This album is a spiritual experience and clearly built to be so. “Reborn” evokes the kind of devotional feeling most religious ceremonies can only grasp at. The strength, the upliftment and the humanity of the song and the album as a whole transcends the human and reaches the divine.

Read our full review here.

3. Room 25 – Noname

Room 25  is easily the most unique album of this list and of this year. I’ve never heard anything like Noname’s blend of laid-back rap, jazz and soul before and I doubt that I will again until her next album.

Her technical skill is astounding. She takes rapid, layered lines and delivers them with a staggering nonchalance. She’s even able to mix a little laughter into the lines that she goes through at a blazing pace.

It’s not a loud album. It doesn’t need to beat you over the head with its merits. It just does what it wants to do and it does it extremely well.

Read our full review here.

2. MUDBOY – Sheck Wes

MUDBOY is basically the opposite of Room 25 in every aspect but quality and innovation. Where Room 25 is gentle and intricate and relaxing though, MUDBOY is pounding and blunt and arousing.

This is a rough and uncompromising album. It bludgeons you with ideas and innovations relentlessly. It’s also just really good rap. “Mo Bamba” is not just a viral hit, it’s the most exciting song in rap this year. He doesn’t need any kind of ornateness in this album, it’s just straightforward and strong.

I don’t actually expect to see this start a new trend in rap just because of how unique Sheck Wes’ sound is. Imitating him is not a task for the weak. Instead, we’re going to have to leave it to the man himself to show us what’s next for the most interesting music of the year.

Read our full review here.

1. Both Directions At Once – John Coltrane

Both Directions At Once was the album that I was most excited about this year and it delivered fully on that hope. Recently discovered in a copy given to his first wife, this album found Trane in the middle of that fertile period around My Favorite Things and A Love Supreme. It never got the full release that his classics of the time obtained and so is quite naturally rough, but the brilliance here is undeniable.

His early takes on “Impressions” are fascinating not just for what they would become, but for the music that they were in the moment. It’s clear that this is a transitional period for Trane. He still has some of the pop sound of My Favorite Things here in “Nature Boy” and “Villa”, which may not be as challenging as the rest, but are still excellent.

The Untitled Originals are all intriguing. His variations on 11386 are all thought-provoking in different ways, Take 2 is exploratory and Take 5 is playful. They are elegant and unexpected and so beautiful.

There’s a clear difference between Both Directions At Once and the masterpieces that Trane actually released in those fertile years of the late 50s and early 60s, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is an album of tremendous intelligence and my easy pick for album of the year.

Read our full review here.

@murthynikhil

Earl Sweatshirt – Some Rap Songs

26 Dec

Earl Sweatshirt has already staked out his space as one of the most interesting of rappers and Some Rap Songs takes him even further into the left field. It’s a fascinating, muted listen. It’s rough and jagged and made with found sounds. It’s uncompromising and extremely rewarding for it.

The first song “Shattered Dreams” has the strong elongation of the dreams of the chorus which continues into “Red Water”. It’s an album that moves perfectly from song to song but seamless would be the wrong word to use. It’s too ragged for that. Instead they fit together like a jigsaw, asymmetric and bitten, but still inextricable when interlocked.

The whole thing is underpinned by Earl’s strong flow. His voice is immediately recognizable. It’s almost a monotone but he gets so much done with it. He’s just compelling to listen to.

His beats are uniformly submerged and complement him well. “Cold Summers” in particular has an intriguing, textured beat that Earl dances around instead of flowing into. It’s thought-provoking and off-kilter and then “nowhere2go” continues the same thought seamlessly.

“The Mint” has a short and simple beat that loops over and over again and that’s all the song needs. It’s minimal and intelligent and gives Earl lots of space to work with. Similarly, the rough-chopped beat of “The Bends” is endlessly gripping while being slightly dissonant. It’s another fascinating moment in an album that’s full of them.

Earl just has the gift of drawing you in. Something like “Cold Summers” pulls you in like a riptide and doesn’t let you go and then he does it again in “December 24”. His rapping is just so deep and dark. It doesn’t give you any chance to surface.

It ends with a jazz interlude in “Riot!” that’s very fresh and that ends with a quick distortion. It’s a very cool, very unexpected moment in an album already defined by those traits. This is the most interesting album of an always interesting rapper and something you should be listening to.

@murthynikhil

88Rising – Head In The Clouds

19 Dec

88rising is my pick for the most exciting label around right now. There’s a lot of talent in East Asia and some truly excellent music is coming out of the area. Some people have already seen some amount of crossover appeal and Head In The Clouds is a solid attempt at expanding that reach.

A good amount of the album is quite good. Most of the music with the headliners of Higher Brothers, Rich Brian and Keith Ape are quite good. “Disrespectin” is a really interesting cut with a fascinating trap / world beat, a great chorus from AUGUST 08 and excellent rapping from DZ and Maswei that mixes Chinese and English. The polylinguism is one of the coolest things about the album. Many of the artists are fully capable of smooth transitions from one language to another and it makes for quite impressive listening. Keith Ape switches both language and flow on a dime in “Japan 88”, although unfortunately the chorus and beat both drag a little too long in that song.

Unfortunately, past the main attractions, the music is largely a little weak. Some of the guests, like BlocBoy JB do nothing and I’m not into “La Cienega”. Even “Midsummer Madness” is just unlistenable due to the terribly trite chorus and beat. The rapping is solid in parts, but not solid enough to save the song and it’s actually bad in the rest.

However, much of the music is excellent. “Nothing Wrong” is solid Higher Brothers and “Lover Boy 88” is quite fun with some excellent crooning. It’s not a flawless album, but it is a very worthwhile look at some really interesting music coming from contemporary East Asia.

@murthynikhil

Lil Peep – Come Over When You’re Sober, Pt. 2

15 Dec

Lil Peep was the best of the emo rappers. The shape of music to come has been altered by his absence.

This posthumous album doesn’t really change or expand the legacy that Peep was able to leave behind, but it does a lot to consolidate it. Songs like “IDGAF” and “White Girl” continue the drowned, sluggish sound he broke out with and “Broken Smile” is also a standout track.

The highlight though is “Life Is Beautiful”. This might be the dark anthem for a whole generation. It is able to both be completely sincere in the titular chorus and completely honest about the pain he describes. There’s a lot more to this than the sophomoric point of finding beauty in the pain that every emo high schooler has thought original to themselves. He found the humanity in the sentiment.

This is an album that is completely open about what it feels. Lil Peep cut straight to what he was feeling and straight to your heart with the same stroke. I just wish he had more time.

@murthynikhil

The 1975 – A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships

9 Dec

For an institution to survive, it must adapt. IBM doesn’t sell hardware anymore, Sony makes its money through life insurance, and the grand old genre that is Britpop looked like it was heading due The 1975. This album came in with a lot of hype as the next big thing of the once big genre and I’m not sure if it has pulled it off. As an album, it skews good if not great, but some of the songs here are nothing short of magnificent and that may be enough.

Both “TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME” and “Love It If We Made It” are excellent singles with great music videos that I’m sure have already seen heavy rotation. However, the rest of the album is blameless, lacking both in major defects and in memorable qualities. It’s solid music and has some decent points, but lacks any elevating factor. It’s unfortunately tame.

The singles are very solid though. They skew hard to pop, even for a band that was already on that side of the pop-rock spectrum. “TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME” is catchy and infectious and “Love It If We Made It” is anthemic and relevant. Its grab-bag of current events is blazed through at a hectic pace and its recasting of the Trump tweet on Kanye deserves awards.

There’s a few other points here that stick out. I like “Give Yourself A Try” and while I find “The Man Who Married A Robot / Love Theme” terrible, it at least fits into the album. It’s dumb and self-important and pretentious but an occasional moment like this was always the price of admission for an album like this. Something like “Surrounded By Heads and Bodies” is pleasant, but lacking in ideas, and the album lets a few too many slower songs like that in near the end. This gets to the point where “I Couldn’t Be More In Love” is bland enough to be an actual misfire.

However, the album has defined a different, more eclectic direction for the genre, even if only off the back of a couple of singles, and that’s noteworthy in itself. Now it’s on everyone else to catch up.

@murthynikhil

Sheck Wes – MUDBOY

3 Dec

This is an absolute monster of an album. First of all, it goes hard. It’s actually punishing to listen to. I wouldn’t call it refreshing, but it is excellent to see an album so unwilling to compromise.

The result is something that is unquestionably unique. MUDBOY barrages you with ideas and inventions. Sheck Wes’ flow is constantly surprising and the production is endlessly clever and somehow he manages all of this genius in the most unpretentious of albums.

The other factor to this uniqueness is how much of Sheck Wes comes through on the album. It’s unquestionably him on every track. Some rappers are defined by their equivocation and by how much of their style feels like it has come from someone else. You cannot confuse a Sheck Wes song with anyone else. He even takes a moment to rap in Wolof in “Jiggy On The Shits” and there’s just so much of the real NBA in here.

On top of everything else, this is just good rap. His flow is strong, if still a little raw and, as I said before, the album just goes hard. “Mo Bamba” is a huge hit and most deservedly so. Those elongated vowels are primal in their resonance. You can’t help but respond to them and then he switches the song on you. It’s just excellent music.

This was a massively hyped debut and it delivers. This is the start of something important and you should be part of it.

@murthynikhil

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