Tag Archives: 2019

Joey DeFrancesco – In the Key of the Universe

14 Apr

There’s a lot to recommend in In The Key of the Universe. The musicians are all clearly highly skilled and it’s a very pleasant album to listen to. Unfortunately though, it lacks the spark that the best jazz albums all possess.

The album never quite falls into easy listening. It is traditional jazz, but just a little too familiar with resolutions that are a little too predictable.  Pieces like “Easier To Be” and “Inner Being” in particular are guilty of this. The entire album functions well in the background while you try some taxing work, but I want to see more from an album like this.

That is not to dismiss the entire album. The opening of “Vibrations In Blue” has a lot going on in a way that reminds me of some of my favorite Herbie Hancock compositions. The sax work in “The Creator Has A Master Plan” is similarly engaging (and surprisingly provided by the great Pharoah Sanders), even if the vocals in that song substantially jar. The tranquility of “A Path Through the Noise” wholly justifies the name. There’s so much undeniable virtuosity in this recording, but it just never stretches itself.

There’s a strong clarity to this album that makes it distinctly approachable and it’s a charming listen no matter your experience with jazz. It skews too far to the traditional though and lacks the fire and inspiration that would truly let it distinguish itself in a world already full of this strain of jazz.

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Vijay Iyer and Craig Taborn – The Transitory Poems

5 Apr

The most striking thing about The Transitory Poems is just how spirited it is. Vijay Iyer and Craig Taborn are both known for how far avant they are of the garde and putting the two of them together for a live concert in the Liszt Academy in Budapest is the kind of set-up that is bound to bear fruit.

The amount of chemistry is staggering though. Two musicians so dissimilar have no right to work together so well. For that matter, an album so improvisational has no right to work so well. There are admittedly a couple of points were the momentum peters out a little and the musicians seem to be taking stock of where they are, but those are the exceptions in an album of the impressive energy of pieces like “Kairos.” At points, this energy becomes nothing short of chaotic. “Luminous Brew” is Pandæmonium if Hell were beautiful. The sound cascades and crashes. For a record with just two pianos, this in a very physical listen.

The clarity of just having two pianos works very well. The music is often exceedingly pretty, but always very bright and very sharp. Like crushed glass under a spotlight, it dazzles. It’s a jagged and difficult album and valuable for that. The artists constantly surprise and their deftness in resolving themes and then picking them up again is exceptional. This is not for the less experienced of jazz aficionados, but it is deeply rewarding for those up to the challenge.

Offset – FATHER OF 4

31 Mar

There’s no question that Migos is extremely important in the moment. It is arguably the band most responsible for the rise of trap and just as arguably the most important group in trap today. FATHER OF 4, a solo act from Offset largely continues in the pattern that they’ve set down, but deviates in one extremely important way, the title track.

Trap, and contemporary music as a whole, have deeply internalized the mixtape culture and Migos has done that more than many. This is part of how their greatest stuff has come to be, but it’s also why all of their albums, without exception, suffer from bloat. FATHER OF 4 lowers this bar further with an absolute glut of mediocre music. There’s very little that’s actually bad and it mostly ranges from decent to fairly good, but there’s little here that’s memorable. From “Wild Wild West” to “Tats On My Face” to even “Clout”, which features a Cardi B reunion, the music is fun but unmemorable. “North Star” has the misstep of a CeeLo feature to bring down what would be a pretty good song otherwise. “Lick” is quite good though.

The reason to listen to the album though is the breathtaking title track. “Father of 4” sees Offset talking about and talking to each of his four kids and is beautifully heartfelt. His storytelling is nothing short of shattering in its economy. When he sings about his first daughter, he opens with the lines “Tell the truth, I ain’t really know if I was your father / Tell the truth, I really don’t even know your mama” and the story of growth that comes across from just those lines is vivid. His line later in that verse, “in the pen when she pushed you out,” paints a brutal picture.

In the same way, look at the fatherhood in the lines “My son, Kody, he three, rappin’ already lie me / Ridin’ in the car, you don’t play me, then he gon’ scream.” The start of that chorus is just also just wonderful. It’s uncommon in rap to see stories of parenthood like this. Jay-Z is out here with the investment banker’s approach to being a father, and that’s also great to listen to, but Offset’s story of maturity is unique and deeply compelling

While there’s unquestionably a lot of filler in Father of 4, the title track is just some of the best music of the year and honestly, the rest is pretty fun as well.

Alice Merton – Mint

25 Mar

Alice Merton’s debut album is really good pop-rock. She has solid, solid grooves with an energetic bass and a highly personable voice.

The single “No Roots” is definitely where to start with this album. It’s fun, up-tempo and immediately catchy. If you’ve ever wondered what Maroon 5 would sound like if talented, this hook is the answer.

There is also a fair bit of variety in this album. “Honeymoon Heartbreak” is a slightly more upbeat Lana Del Rey and “Why So Serious” is a slightly more sober Pipettes. “Lash Out” has some great riot-grrrl energy while staying true to its pop-rock roots.

The album occasionally falls too far into basic pop, like in “Funny Business”, but both “2 Kids” and “Learn To Live” are strong without the deviations of the other standouts.

Overall, in fact, it’s fairly straightforward pop-rock and would possibly have benefited from a slight bit more innovation. It’s just that it’s also well done. This is really quite a good album.

@murthynikhil

Little Simz – GREY Area

17 Mar

There’s a pocket of quiet British rap that’s well worth paying attention to and Grey Area might be the best thing to come from it yet. Little Simz is a very talented rapper and she throws a varied assortment of ideas at you over the course of this album. The cartoon effects over the hard beat and strong rapping in “Offence” and the Eastern-tinged beat of “101FM” are particular standouts.

Unfortunately, I feel that this is not the album to really transcend the limitations of the subgenre. Like the contemporaneous Kate Tempest’s work, the album is very impressive to listen to in the moment but a little forgettable after. I feel it just lacks the few real moments of honesty and personal truth that would have drastically elevated it. It could even use some moments of cleverness. It’s just a little too freewheeling where it would have benefited from drilling down into a couple of points that it developed.

There’s a lot of strong music in the album though. The storytelling of “Sherbet Sunset” and the groove of “Selfish” and beat of “Pressure” are all excellent. Little Simz is already a brilliant rapper going from strength to strength and GREY Area is well worth your time.

Higher Brothers – Five Stars

11 Mar

It’s an exciting period for rap and Higher Brothers are one of the most exciting things in an exciting period. This Chinese rap group is talented and raw and innovative. Songs like “Flexing So Hard” and “Sunshine” have some of the most interesting flows that I’ve ever heard. The choppiness is novel and their free-switching between languages endlessly novel. These songs and “Gong Xi Fa Cai” are them at their best.

Unfortunately, the album as a whole is a little inconsistent. “Do It Like Me” and “No More” are not particularly good. The big name guests of ScHoolboy Q and Soulja Boy just don’t do that much. Q is forgettable and Soulja Boy is anaemic. However, “16 Hours” and “Open It Up” are bangers and “One Punch Man” is quite interesting. 

Whatever quibbles can be found with the album, this is simply the bleeding edge of rap and so music as a whole and if you’re at all interested in seeing where things are going then you should be listening to Higher Brothers. Also, they’re just a ton of fun to listen to.

@murthynikhil

Conor Oberst / Phoebe Bridgers – Better Oblivion Community Center

5 Mar

There’s a style of book that I always and incorrectly call modern writing. It’s wry, understated, cynical, honest and very, very clever. It’s also just a little bit precious. It’s Early Work by Andrew Martin but it’s not quite Rabbit, Run by John Updike. It’s also this album.

This shouldn’t be surprising. Both Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst have made their names in this space of indie folk-rock and they’re both very good at it. This album is simply excellent. It’s good, solid guitar work, clean singing and incisive lyrics.

The stand-out is the wonderful “Service Road.” It’s lo-fi and minimal and beautiful. It’s a slow walk in Autumn when you’re sad. Conor Oberst’s voice is excellent here and it delivers the standout stanza of “Asking strangers to forgive him/ But he never told them what it is/ He did to them that made him feel so bad” with so much depth.

That’s far from the only highlight of the album. “Big Black Heart” is excellent with Phoebe Bridgers putting some great snarl into it and with very strong distortion at the end to cap the fuzziness of the song. “My City” is nice and low stakes and relaxing and has a fun jangle behind the verses. “Dylan Thomas” is very clever lyrically and also musically.

Better Oblivion Community Center is a gorgeous album. The singers’ voices mesh well with each other and they think in similar ways. They also have the confidence and sense to know when to let their guitar work stand alone and when to leave space for extended chords and for heavy feedback. It’s a clever, accomplished album and one that’s well worth your time.

@murthynikhil
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