Tag Archives: 2021

Xenia Rubinos – Una Rosa

30 Nov

There’s no question that there is now space for music that would never have earlier seen the light. Una Rosa is too Caribbean, too Latin and too individual to have been successful earlier. It’s also proof as to how lucky we are that we get music like this now.

The most interesting music here actually reminds me of Laurie Anderson more than anyone else. With tracks like “Did My Best,” Xenia Rubinos goes deep into a very experimental sound. She takes notes and just sees how far they will go. She takes this base and brings in a lot of Latin for “Si Llego” and the mixture is heady.

The centerpiece of “Don’t Put Me In Red” is far more approachable music. It’s still magnificent, her dragging through each word in the chorus is spectacular. It ends up very reminiscent of Fiona Apple’s last album both in terms of being excellent music and, much more strangely, of internalizing the white gaze too deeply in her politics. There’s a powerlessness in the lyrics that I don’t understand.

The same can be said for “Who Shot Ya” but naming Breonna Taylor holds power in itself and that power can be felt throughout the album, especially in the music. It is, after all, a bold and inventive album from a bold and inventive musician and likeable to boot.

Low – HEY WHAT

15 Nov

I don’t think that I’ve ever come across a psychedelic rock album with as much in the details as HEY WHAT. There’s so much going on in every song. It’s all understated enough not to break the flow of an album more than meditative enough for you to slip in, but any part that you focus on will have little moments of brilliance right underneath the surface. This album is still water over a coral reef.

Take the magnificent “More” for instance. There’s a very good opening static that’s brought into a loop with absurd cleverness and then against this aggressive fuzziness, the vocals play an excellent softness for contrast and the whole thing has top-tier base work behind it. There’s just so much going on. All of the pieces are wonderful in themselves, and yet the whole is so much more than the sum of the parts.

For all of that intelligence, the album never feels purely cerebral. There’s a percussion in “The Price You Pay” that pulsates through the back of my neck and then grows and grows. There’s just uninhibited, raw emotion in “White Horses” that sticks with you. This album really does it all.

Even if you don’t have the bandwidth to spare to focus through this album, it’s an excellent listen. Like all good psychedelic rock, it forms a fantastic soundtrack to anything that you might be doing. If you do pay attention though, it’s nothing short of magnificent and you owe it to yourself to find some time to give it the attention it’s due.

Monthly Playlist: Oct. 2021

2 Nov

Well, we’re just a couple of months out from the end of the year, and there’s quite a few albums in the news these days. Adele heralded her big return with a new song this month, and Coldplay has announced a worldwide tour. Speaking of tours, the Red Hot Chili Peppers are embarking on a global tour in 2022, and proved their legendary status by pulling the Strokes as a co-tourer and opener. Meanwhile, the lockdown era continues to deliver collaborations from artists that were creatively cooped up for months at a time, with new collab albums from Elton John and Kylie Minogue announced & planned. With all of that happening, be sure to check out our monthly playlist for October 2021.

“What a Life” by Big Sean and Hit-Boy

American musicians Big Sean and Hit-Boy just released a six-song EP called What You Expect, from which the first single was “What a Life”. The song features a smooth, tight beat that provides the background to an autobiographical monologue of sorts from Big Sean. The rapper reflects on where he is in life (“I’m at the point where a nigga finally famous / Give a fuck about no fame”) and his choice to more or less perform on his own two feet (“And I’m on stage by myself, ain’t with the hype man”). He doesn’t lose sight of what he’s achieved so far, though, leading to the titular statement: “Only get one life, swear I almost died twice / I went triple platinum more than three times, what a life, man.” Overall, it’s a nice, catchy song from the duo and a good impetus to check out the rest of the album.

“The Hardest Cut” by Spoon

Austin rockers Spoon are wading into the limelight once again, with a New Years’ show announced in their hometown and a new single, “The Hardest Cut”, out earlier this month. They are leading up to their tenth (!) studio album Lucifer on the Sofa, set to release on Feb. 11th in the new year. “The Hardest Cut” is a rollicking good time, built on Spoon’s typical driving beats and Britt Daniel’s cool-guy vocals. Here’s hoping Lucifer on the Sofa is a worthy follow-up to 2017’s lovely Hot Thoughts.

“Kiss of Life” by Kylie Minogue feat. Jessie Ware

“Kiss of Life” is the lead single from Kylie Minogue’s Disco: Guest List Edition, an extended play version of 2020’s Disco with tons of goodies – such as collabs with other artists that fit well with her current disco-glam sound. Among other pop stars of the day, foremost in that sonic space are of course Dua Lipa and Jessie Ware. Kylie and Dua have already collaborated on a remix version of “Real Groove”, which is duly included on the Disco: Guest List Edition album. Now it’s Jessie’s turn – and what a turn it is. “Kiss of Life” is a boisterous track straight out of a disco dancefloor, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a banger for today’s tastes. Jazzy horns and a relentless beat provide the perfect foil for the sultry murmurings of Jessie and Kylie, and it’s simply impossible to keep your feet still when the ladies get into the chorus. Disco: Guest List Edition is due to release on November 12th.

“Trouble in Paradise” by The F16s

Indian indie rock band the F16s are back with a new album entitled Is It Time to Eat the Rich Yet? The five-track album features the band’s trademark mix of chilled-out guitars, synths and lead singer Joshua Fernandez’s pop-rock vocals. “Trouble in Paradise” opens with an interplay between jazzy horns and staccato keys, and the band keeps it peppy throughout the track. The F16s have been big in India for years now, with a sizeable cult following throughout the rest of the world, but global recognition is long overdue. Hopefully this is the album that gets them there.

“Secrets (Your Fire)” by Magdalena Bay

Magdalena Bay, consisting of singer-songwriter Mica Tenenbaum and producer Matthew Levin, is one of the most prolific young bands out there. The LA-based duo started steadily putting out singles from 2016, and most of those tracks ended up across two mixtapes and three extended plays between 2019 and 2020. Now the band is out with their debut album Mercurial World – a slinky, synth-heavy album that plays to the 80s vibes in many of today’s top pop stars (see: Kylie / Jessie above). “Secrets (Your Fire)” is like a musical version of the chillwave meme that you may have seen around online – capturing the essence and nostalgia of the synth-pop 80s and technologically nascent 90s, but upgraded for modern times. It’s a blissfully fun track that serves as a great introduction to the young duo, and we can’t wait to hear more. As a bonus: check out their website, made to look pretty much like any poorly designed website from the late 90s. These folks should be friends with Glass Animals.  

Nala Sinephro – Space 1.8

1 Nov

Jazz certainly loves outer space. Something about the vast expanse of the night sky above speaks to jazz musicians from John Coltrane to Sun Ra and now to Nala Sinephro.

Over 8 songs, Nala Sinephro and her band construct detailed soundscapes. Interstellar space is never as exciting as when jazz musicians get to draw it in. It’s mostly very gentle music. From the opener “Space 1,” there’s a lot of ambient music in here. It has some wonderful tones that are given complete room to breathe and ripples that evoke nature.

It goes into some very classic gentle jazz in “Space 2.” It’s never smooth, but it’s relaxing. “Space 4” works the same way. There’s very good sax work in both. It’s the aggressive saxophone and fuzz in “Space 6” that’s really interesting though. This is a very relaxing album, but there’s more than enough challenge in here to keep you engaged.

This is really an album that does it all and does it well. It’s a relaxing soundscape that you can submerge yourself and an excellent space jazz album and, of course above all, absolutely wonderful music.

Drake – Certified Lover Boy

18 Oct

With Certified Lover Boy, I feel like looking back a bit. Drake has always loved his nostalgia anyway. I remember with Take Care, there was a lot to get excited about. “Headlines” was the single and was necessary as that, but it’s not what I look back at. Even “HYFR’s” excited Weezy isn’t quite it. I don’t think anyone really expected how deep he would delve into the sounds of “Marvin’s Room” and “Take Care.” I don’t think we every really saw how normal they would sound.

The thing is that Drake is now a superstar. In fact, he’s now the superstar. His singing in his raps perfectly meets a world where pop has moved toward hip-hop. His corniness is now virality. Everyone’s a Toronto sadboy in this online world.

Also, there’s no one left on the throne. Kanye’s self-destruction is probably far from complete, but it has done its work. Taylor is off in the wilderness. I haven’t heard from Kendrick or Beyoncé in forever. The new kids are all still too new, too formless and too unaccomplished. Pop royalty is relentless and Drake’s the only person to have kept pace.

It’s very much in character that he does so with an album that’s almost unambiguous trash. When the most exciting thing in your album is a Kawhi cameo, there’s just not much that one can say. It’s just a lot of music that I’m happier not hearing and very little that I’m happy having heard. Something like “In The Bible” is irritating. There’s so much music here that’s just bad.

There’s stuff that could be decent if you squint. He’s got his sound down in “Girls Want Girls” even if the chorus is mind-numbingly stupid. “Fountains” is decent Afrobeats, if nothing special. You have to credit Drake with always keeping up with new trends in rap and he’s always passable at them, but they are never his highlights. He’s got solid beats in “7am On Bridle Path” and “The Remorse” but can’t put a good rap in front of either of them.

“7am On Bridle Path” is the album’s failures in a microcosm. He’s clearly the biggest person in music right now, but it’s such a poor look to stunt about it when he got it by default. It’s a diss track in a supremely uninteresting beef. This is the same guy who ended a feud by going on LeBron’s YouTube channel. There was once a time when he bodied Meek Mill but now he just can’t play it straight. Stick to the topic and go hard. Also, “wheel me to defeat like we rollerbladin'” is unacceptable. In a fair world, that would be sufficient for defeat in itself.

At least “7am On Bridle Path” has some decent music to make up for that though. The lyrical failures elsewhere don’t even have that going for them. “They’re doing something that’s not Pepsi” in “Papi’s Home”? The only thing they should be doing is writing Drake better lyrics because he needs all the help he can get. He gets off one solid line in the whole album with “Look, don’t invite me over if you throw another pity party” and the imitation line has a good sneer, but then he throws away all that goodwill and more by trying to rhyme “disability” with “this ability”. That’s just unacceptable.

It’s very often just impossible to understand. He opens a song with being jealous of a handbag. “You Only Live Twice” makes you regret living the once. I don’t know who told him and Future that “Way 2 Sexy” was a good idea but that person was wrong. Forget all of Drake’s tired Bernie Madoff comparisons, if that person was paid for that advice, that’s the greatest scam the music industry will ever see.

He finds himself on “F***ing Fans,” but that’s the kind of track that should be solid filler on a decent album, not one of the best tracks on the whole project. Certified Lover Boy is so bad that any moment of decent music is an oasis in the desert though. He preceded this album with “POPSTAR” and “Toosie Slide,” both of which were some of the best music that he’s ever made. He will follow this soon enough with more great singles, which has anyway always been his greatest strength, but for now, there is nothing in his past, present or future enough to make this album worth listening to.

Kanye West – Donda

27 Sep

There’s a lot that can be said about Kanye and his music and there’s a lot that has been said about both. Donda marks a new epithet though and one that seemed inconceivable before; unnecessary. This is just a fundamentally inessential album. For an artist who has long thrived in controversy and in polarization, it’s just jarring to have something that’s honestly uninteresting.

It’s especially strange as this was the situation was ripe for another career-defining album. The last time that Kanye really got away from himself, the result was MBDTF, possibly the greatest album of the millenium. Instead, we get possibly the strangest part of Donda, that it has nothing animating it.

There’s a voice interlude in “Donda” that features Kanye’s mother talking and it’s one of the strongest moments of the album. It’s a very rare bit of meaning in an album that sorely needs some. 808s had the heartbreak, MBDTF had the controversy, Yeezus had the industrial and even JiK had the gospel. Donda has no new ground to break and no larger meaning either.

Is it for his mother? For Kim? For his excess? For the controversy? Donda has space for all of them and addresses none of them.

When “Lord I Need You” plays, you feel like you’re in the middle of an album for Kim and it feels like that would be a great album, but it ultimately doesn’t work because the rest of the album does nothing to support the song. It’s just too incoherent. “Come To Life” continues the thought, but it’s impossible to keep a thread in this album.

Similarly, the story of Larry Hoover in “Jesus Lord” is a strong part of a strong song. There’s impact in hearing him call out the capitalist society. It also goes well with Jay Electon’s verse in the song, which works really well. It brings in the right religious tone and the right fearlessness in calling out DC and Downing Street. However, there’s just once again no support. This is not the conscious album it could have been.

For all of this though, he’s at least partially redeemed by the quality of music. There are missteps and there is bloat, most egregiously in the second cuts of some songs, but elsewhere too. It’s not a finished album. However, he can still make music. Donda is more willing to meld and play with his different styles than anything before. His later career seems to have him using other artists for more and more of his sound and he’s a master at putting people together, like in “Hurricane” and with Baby Keem in “Praise God.”

Even here though, he can’t help but let us down a bit. There’s no true single in this album and even one highlight would have made a tremendous difference. There’s not much that’s very weak, but I don’t think there’s a single song here that’s going to go into a Kanye rotation. “Blood on the Leaves” is what made Yeezus work and “Selah” and “Yikes” did so much for their albums and there’s nothing here quite on the level of even the latter two. “Junya” is a banger, but it’s doesn’t deliver much beyond that. There’s lots and lots of solid music here, but nothing that really goes beyond that.

That’s really all that can be said about the album. There’s lots of decent music. Kanye is still Kanye after all. It’s just that there’s nothing really interesting in the album and very little of substance and it’s time to start wondering if the same is true for the man.

Emma-Jean Thackray – Yellow

29 Aug

There are some really interesting pieces in Yellow. The chorus of “Third Eye” is a very interesting progression. The haunting in “Spectre” is also very well done. Unfortunately though, the whole doesn’t add up to anything quite so interesting itself. The genre-spanning music here has a lot going for it. There’s plenty of technical skill and some really clever moments, but there’s just not enough to grab attention or really reward it.

“Yellow,” for instance, would fit well on an Erykah Badu album, but not as one of the stronger cuts. The voice is a little weaker than it should be and the music doesn’t do enough. Overall, it’s just not interesting enough. It fades too easily into the background. It’s also not helped by the bog-standard spirituality either. The Hinduism in particular feels like a shallow reading.

Yellow still ends up a pretty decent album though. As it turns out, good jazz is good jazz and this is definitely good jazz.

Vince Staples – Vince Staples

9 Aug

Vince Staples has always felt like the most straightforward person in rap. No matter how honest someone may come across in a song, we only fool ourselves when we think we know the person behind the music. Nevertheless, it just feels like Vince Staples makes fewer concessions to marketing, to a persona than anyone else out there. It comes through in things like putting out a 22-minute album with no weak spots instead of the bloated albums built to top streaming charts that are now de rigeur. It comes through in how much this album just lets him rap.

The thing about letting Vince rap is that he is very good at just rapping. You can see it in “THE SHINING” or “SUNDOWN TOWN” or “TAKING TRIPS” and you can really see it in cuts like “MHM” and “LIL FADE.” His flow and his control are nothing short of superb and are enough to carry an album in themselves.

It’s true that Vince Staples maybe takes that a little too far. I would have liked some more variety or a couple of particularly inspired cuts. There’s nothing here that is less than excellent, but there is also nothing here that truly transcends.

Sometimes though, you can do without the egg in your beer. It’s just such a pleasure to hear Vince rap. Any album that gives you more of that is more than good enough.

Tyler, The Creator – CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST

23 Jul

I don’t know if you follow the sport, but NBA season just finished. I follow the NBA fairly closely and one of the things that keeps coming up is the “if X would do Y” pattern. If Ben Simmons would shoot the three, he’d be unstoppable. If Joel Embiid could stay healthy, he’d dominate the league. For years, it was “if only Tyler would mature a little, he would make some of the best music out there.” This is Tyler’s third album in his more mature vein and all three have been excellent.

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME is strong music with the kind of freewheeling variety that you expect from anything out of Tyler’s mind. Songs like “CORSO” and “LUMBERJACK” just go hard. Pairing with DJ Drama works really well for Tyler. He brings a little extra fun, a little extra chaos and a little extra energy to the album. It’s not that Tyler is ever short of these, but having someone else to bounce off adds fizz. Similarly, bringing in Weezy for “HOT WIND BLOWS” makes for a standout track. Wayne just adds so much pace to the song.

He also does well for getting so personal in this album. Learning about his mother in “MASSA” is a strong moment and recontextualizing an old feud in “MANIFESTO” is a very interesting change in perspective. He doesn’t really have anything to say in his political jaunt in that song, but I appreciate the honesty he brings. The song has a sick beat too.

It’s in “WILSHIRE” though that he really has the scope to tell his story. A lot of what makes for Tyler’s best work is just letting him be himself. He’s very smart and very sensitive and when he’s just talking to you those come through. His story about his friend’s girlfriend is the strongest thing in this album. When he drops lines like “And they say, “Bros over hoes,” I’m like, “Mm, nah, hey/I would rather hold your hand than have a cool handshake,” it’s really hard not to agree.

This trilogy from Tyler has been brilliant throughout. He’s always had the talent, but now that he’s got the direction as well, he’s just making really good music. There really is nothing that this man cannot do.

Jihye Lee Orchestra – Daring Mind

11 Jul

This album does a lot to recommend itself. It’s got substantial pieces of good, strong, aggressive jazz. “Dissatisfied Mind” is fun and energetic and delivers on the chaos promised by the title. “Relentless Mind” has some great moments that grab attention and complex, rewarding subthemes behind it. There are some interesting thoughts made more interesting for their interweaving, but they suffer a little from slightly predictable conclusions. It’s a very fun piece though and that does a lot for it.

Even where the album is not as strong, such as in “Suji” which is overlong and a little shallow, it’s just such lovely music that my complaints are minor. Similarly, although “Unshakeable Mind” is too placid and doesn’t do anything of interest, it doesn’t really need to for it to still be a pleasant listen. I may have preferred an album that did more to stand out, but this is an album that left me with a smile after every play. I’m glad I picked this one up.

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