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Review: Kelis, ‘Food’


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While there is little food to physical eat, Kelis’ sixth studio album makes you hungry for more

Kelis • Food • Ninja Tune • US Release Date: April 22, 2014

Kelis-20140123-36It’s not easy to be an oddball. Maybe oddball has a negative connotation, but personally, being somewhat of an oddity myself, I take it as a compliment. It means that you don’t conform like so many others do to respective things. For R&B singer Kelis, she certainly has never conformed to conventional R&B. That willingness to be different certainly made “Milkshake” and “Bossy” big-time statements and hits, even if it didn’t catapult the respective albums to a great degree of commercial success. Even now on album six, Food, Kelis finds herself on an indie-label after the majors just didn’t work out – not selling enough albums or fitting the mode of the ‘commercial artist’. That said, being on Ninja Tune just might be the best thing for Kelis’ artistry as Food proves to be a superb album. With all the talk of the alternative R&B movement, it is easy to forget that ole girl has been ‘alt’ for a minute! She throws some excellent retro-soul into the mix on Food.

Breakfast” opens appropriately, given the album’s title and natural chronology of eating events (LOL). Kelis’ raspy vocals are a perfect fit for the soulful palette established as “Breakfast” proceeds. It’s not the ‘second coming’ of soul by any means, but it is a sound starting point. The best line is “Maybe we will make it to breakfast” – aka meet me at the table, it’s goin’ down! “Jerk Ribs” aren’t normally associated with ‘lunch’ (I think dinner), but perhaps Kelis is getting ahead of schedule – or something like that. Sporting an old-school sound and propelled by an addictive groove, “Jerk Ribs” is both sexy and soulful. I mean, Kelis consistently reiterates lyrics “So call on me, it feels just like it should” – Ooh la-la! That said, the paternal references are more important perhaps: “In Harlem, where I start to breathe / your beat was like a soundtrack to me / I was the girl, my daddy was the world / he played the notes and key/ he said to look for melody in everything.” So it’s not about sex, right?

Kelis Rogersy1-20140226-83Forever Be” has the monumental task of following up juggernaut “Jerk Ribs”. Luckily the romance-filled “Forever Be” is a standout showing itself. “There will never be another / day for us to be, lovers,” sings Kelis infatuatedly on the chorus. “I’ll follow where you lead, together / and we’ll forever be.” Well written and thoughtful, relying on emotional as opposed to physical pleasure, “Forever Be” exemplifies the dying art of the ‘love’ song as opposed to the ‘sex’ song. On the affectionate and impressive “Floyd” – which slows things down – Kelis “want(s) to be blown away.” In other words, Kelis wants to be swept right off her feet by ‘him’. Contributing to the seductiveness, the retro-soul cues continue in full employment, while Kelis coos in raspy glory. Another pro of “Floyd” is the use of space and stretching out the song across five minutes. Perhaps its lengthy, but letting it ‘ride out’ feels right in this instance.

Runnin’” is a tad bit quicker than “Floyd”, but still lies on the ‘slow side’ of the metronome. Alluring, yet mysterious in typical Kelis fashion, “Runnin’” balances the sensibilities of the past with a touch of alt-R&B savvy.   The key lines, posed as questions “How can I forget you? And “How could I reject you?” end up with answers including “you always right there in my rescue” and “you are my refuge”. “Hooch” arrives right out of the soul book with its sick groove, prominence of accented horns, and sexy “ahs” courtesy of Kelis. Another fine and vital part of the buffet, dessert is still always better in my book (its arguable of course). But sticking with the dessert perspective of things, who wouldn’t rather have “Cobbler”? Hopefully it’s peach or blackberry, but Kelis doesn’t specify. However, she’s not too worried about eating of course…LOL. I mean she does say, “You’re the best I’ve ever done…”

Kelis-AES-123492Bless the Telephone” only clocks in a two and a half-minutes, but sounds unlike anything else on Food. That is because it is more singer/songwriter-oriented number in an alt or indie sense. Ultimately, it is a nice change of pace, but perhaps it doesn’t make the ‘elite’ cuts list. “Friday Fish Fry” has some mean sounding guitars, not to mention the pounding drums anchoring bass. While it’s still retro-soul, there is a natural bridge to rock music, which is a welcome ‘crossover’. Kelis’ rasp is at full force here, another pro. While it is incredibly tasty, much like the sweet “Cobbler”, Kelis could care less about getting her daily intake of Omega-3 on “Friday Fish Fry”. She wants something (“Give me what I want / give me what I need”), but it’s related to the bedroom…or the floor…or the couch… depending on personal preferences.

Change” reinstates a touch of mysteriousness to Food, given the unique production cues. The harmonic quirks help to truly make this cut notable. Things grow even more epic when Kelis employs her full-throated vocals atop the excited arrangement. On “Rumble”, the relationship is rocky, but Kelis can’t get over him: “We got so much history / I hurt you, you hurt me / no we don’t need therapy / what I need is you” It’s a song/theme that has played out time and time again, but never grows old.

Kelis-AES-123494Biscuits n’ Gravy” is definitely delicious – I recommend Dairy Queen’s personally – but again, the taste isn’t important. Really does the title have anything to do with the content? “Not everyone believes the story, as for me I love the truth / and ever since I was a young girl,” Kelis sings, “Witnessed evidence and proof.” Kelis is just trying to make us hungry for the material itself! To her credit, she does at least mention “morning” (“Been given the morning, every dawn brings thoughts of you / by this time tomorrow I’ll be brand new”). Closer “Dreamer” eschews the buffet – well the ‘food’ one. Here, it’s all about dreams, DUH! Still, one dream Kelis references is pretty freaky, if you catch my drift: “But if all was left to me / we’d be naked climbing trees”. Well now! To each his/her own I suppose.

All said and done, Food may have little to do about three square meals a day, but it is a well-rounded album regardless. A tasteful balance of soul, love, and sexual endeavors make this album much more refined than many contemporary R&B of today. Additionally, Food is more refined than Kelis’ previous work, which is something in itself. Maybe it’s not quite a masterpiece or a classic, but this is easily one of the best albums of 2014, regardless of genre.

Favorites:

“Jerk Ribs”; “Forever Be”; “Floyd”; “Cobbler”; “Change”; “Rumble”

Verdict: ★★★★

Review: Iggy Azalea, ‘The New Classic’


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Aussie newcomer Iggy Azalea shows potential on her debut rap LP 

Iggy Azalea • The New Classic • Island • US Release Date: April 22, 2014

Iggy Azalea-20131010-57“Oh what, a white girl with a flow ain’t been seen before?” Um, well, not really – at least not that much?  Fact – you can name how many Australian rappers are killing the game stateside – yeah, few NONE come to mind.  Newbie Iggy Azalea hopes to breakthrough in the US.  The barriers certainly lie in front of her as the white girl legit rapper from “down under”, but as she proves throughout her debut The New Classic, she ain’t never been scurred.  If she does nothing else on The New Classic, she asserts she is one bad muthaf – “Shut yo mouth!”  The New Classic isn’t perfect, but Azalea keeps it interesting and definitely has her moments.

Walk The Line” kicks off The New Classic soundly, possessing a surprising, unexpected maturity.  While very much an introductory track, the track sets the tone and gives the listener ‘food for thought’.  “Not where I wanna be but I’m far from home / just tryna’ make it on my own,” she sings on the hook. “And unless destiny calls, I don’t answer phones / this is the line and I walk alone.”  While Azalea could’ve rapped about shallower topics, she keys in on her personal journey (“I was wide awake and got slept on / I had everything and then lost it / worked my a$$ off, I’m exhausted”).  After “walking the line” all by herself, Azalea “Don’t Need Y’all” – really, she don’t.  “I remember when I wasn’t this big / and now y’all wanna act like y’all helped me get here,” she accusatorily spits on the hook.  Basically, Azalea drops the tried-and-true ‘fake friends’ theme. Throw in the Drake sentiment of “No New Friends” and you catch on to Azalea’s drift pretty quickly.

Iggy Azaleaz-20140127-158100”, like the clichéd sentiment of “no new friends” also plays on tried-and-true territory.  Sure, the cut is interesting thanks to production, Azalea’s quick-paced rhymes, and Watch the Duck’s expressive vocal hook (also produces), but it’s nothing particularly ‘brand new’.  “Change Your Life” may not be a game changer to the audience’s lot in life, but it is definitely notable. Azalea initiates her verse with a bang: “You used to dealing with basic b*tches / basic sh*t, all the time / I’m a new classic, upgrade your status / from a standby, to a frequent flyer.”  Sure the hook keeps it simple (“I’mma change your life, I’mma change it…”), and maybe T.I.’s not quite as ‘electric’ as he once was, but ultimately, “Change Your Life” is a new classic – well a good song.

Fun single “Fancy” lives up to its title (or the antithesis rather) and Azalea doesn’t waste any time.  “First things first I’m the realest”, she fiercely spits on verse one. “Drop this and let the whole world feel it / and still I’m in the murda bizness / I could hold you down, like I’m givin’ lessons in physics.” Azalea doesn’t only ‘create her own shots’ – she brings in a burgeoning Charli XCX to assist.  The assist definitely makes “Fancy” click on all cylinders, winning the game easily – jump shots, dunks, etc.  Going back to the whole antithetical fancy notion, well Charli XCX’s definitely supports such an assertion: “Trash the hotel / let’s get drunk off the mini bar…chandelier swinging, we don’t give a f*ck.”  Yep, fancy all right.

New B*tch” is an incredibly proud check – whether it should be or not.  Keeping up with the notion that she’s “the new classic” exemplified, Azalea is just what the title asserts – “his new chick”.   As to why the track is censored on the explicit edition of the album is anybody’s guess, but perhaps Azalea was trying to be classy… After all, she does say, “Damn she is too bad, oh you mad?” It’s all part of being The New Classic.

Iggy Azalea-MTO-010737Work” is definitely a standout from The New Classic. “Walk a mile in these Louboutins / but they don’t wear these sh*ts where I’m from,” Azalea spits assertively on the first verse. “I’m not hating, I’m just telling you / I’m tryna let you know what the f*ck that I’ve been through…” The hook clarifies the title: “I’ve been up all night, tryna get that rich / I’ve been work, work, work, work, working on my sh*t / milked the whole game twice / gotta get it how I live / I’ve been work work, work, work, working on my sh*t / now get this work.” A solid track with quick-paced, agile rhymes, “Work” is definitely the valedictory showing from The New Classic.

Impossible Is Nothing” features an inspired message throughout, particularly on Azalea’s beautiful sung chorus (“Keep on livin’, keep on breathin’, even when you don’t believe it / keep on climbin’, keep on reachin’, even when this world can’t see it…impossible is nothing”).  Perhaps the optimism of the track is surprising, given the mysterious, darkness about the production.  Even so, the production work is stunning (The Invisible Men and The Arcade) and beautiful in spite of its minor key.  If “Impossible” possessed too much ‘redeeming’ substance, “Goddess” is a bit more ‘blasphemous’.  Azalea is definitely cocky and confident here, going so far to spit “While I make wine out of water, turn rappers into martyrs / set it off whenever I-G-G in the place” (verse two).  Of course, Azalea also makes reference to her non-stereotypical rap status (“Oh what, a white girl with a flow ain’t been seen before?”) Don’t call it the ‘second coming of Christ’.

Black Widow” brings in the up-and-coming Rita Ora.  Like much of The New Classic, the production stands out in tremendous fashion.  During Rita Ora’s hook, the rhythmic synths drive hard, matching the pop singers energy.  During Azalea’s verses, the production is slicker, anchored by cool beat and accentuated by swagger-laded synths (is there such a thing).  “Lady Patra” is awesome, if for no other reason then its references to Frank Sinatra and Phantom of the Opera: “Classic, Sinatra, Bad, Phantom of the Opera / Shuffle the deck, I’ll be the queen in the pack / gotcha, Lady Patra”.  Yes, ole girl is certainly oozing with self-assuredness, but there’s nothing wrong with being confident – hey, that’s what Justin Bieber said at least :-/ Anyways, the swagger exhibited by “Lady Patra” in all facets (rapping, production, Mavado’s guest spot) makes it a winner.  Of course, it also doesn’t hurt when you’re Australian and can make reference to Shabba, LOL.

Iggy Azalea-LMK-109868F**k Love” would definitely be right up Nicki Minaj’s alley; it’s brash and manic.  However, judging by Iggy’s overconfident, shallow lyrics, sounds like it’s going to be one lonely life for here: “F*ck love, give me diamonds / I’m already in love with myself / So in love with myself…” I’d love to say there is a greater realm of possibility where interpretation of the lyrical content is concerned, but ultimately, I highly doubt there is.  I can sympathize partially – at least with the “fuck love” part.  The deluxe edition of The New Classic includes three bonus cuts: the danceable “Bounce”, the broken relationship joint “Rolex” (“Rolex’s don’t tick tock / but dammit baby my time costs / and dammit baby my time is money / so I need payback for all the time lost”), and its companion cut  “Just Askin’” (“…And are you still coolin’ with that lame girl?”).

If nothing else, The New Classic exhibits a massive amount of potential.  For a first album, Iggy Azalea pleases.  Even if Azalea views herself so highly as “the new classic”, the album itself isn’t quite on that level yet. In other words, Iggy isn’t quite on that autopilot swag just yet – LOL.  Still, in a drought of the female rap game, it is nice to hear a female MC – particularly an unlikely one by stereotypical standards – be poppin’…or nearly poppin’.  Overall, I’m onboard.

Favorites:

“Walk the Line”; “Change Your Life” ft. T.I.; “Fancy” ft. Charli XCX; “Work”; “Lady Patra” ft. Mavado

Verdict: ★★★½

Review: Asher Roth, ‘RetroHash’


51ehHeonFjL._SL500_AA280_ It’s pretty safe to say Asher Roth is one high mellow dude on RetroHash

Asher Roth • RetroHash • pale fire • US Release Date: April 22, 2014

Asher Roth-20111215-34“That party last night / was awfully crazy, I wish we taped it / I danced my a** off / and had this one girl completely naked,” sings Roth on one of the more memorable songs of 2009, “I Love College”.   Yep, “I Love College” was Roth’s ‘ace in the hole’ for debut album Asleep in the Bread Aisle, which managed to debut at in the top five of the Billboard 200 Albums Chart. Even so, Asleep in the Bread Aisle didn’t exactly set up Roth to be the next great MC. Until his 2014 LP RetroHash, Roth hadn’t released a proper sophomore album. RetroHash isn’t quite the ‘second coming’, but it is definitely a big step up from Asleep in the Bread Aisle. AR definitely comes up.

Parties at the Disco” initiates RetroHash in mellow fashion – who’s surprised? The high from the stoner vibe hits the listener from the jump, which is what we’ve come to expect from Roth during his brief career. Still, there is something more abstract and unique working here. He gets a nice assist from ZZ Ward vocally. “Dude” finds Roth collaborating with Curren$y, giving RetroHash a big hip-hop guest spot. The overall production is old school, very much in the Philly rap sensibility (dusty drums, prominent bass). This soulful production is definitely a blessing, providing a superb palette for Roth to spit over. Curren$y’s verse provides a sound contrast both stylistically and vocally compared to Roth. “Tangerine Girl” is a complete contrast to anything else that Roth has released up until this point. Finding Roth singing throughout the majority, “Tangerine Girl” is incredibly alluring. On the final verse, Roth does bust a rhyme, including a reference to the ‘nasty’ (“If you wanna fly better come inside / come along we’ll go for a ride”). I’m onboard – with the song that is.

Asher Roth-PFR-012668Pull It” definitely has a hook that inescapable if initially random: “One finger in the air just like this / one finger in the air and I’m gon’ pull it / yes I’m gon’ pull it, yell, I will pull it / yes, I’m gon’ pull it, yes, I will pull.” The verses clarify what Roth is referencing, with lyrics like “Only relation, I ain’t good at relationships / I ain’t no angel, but no, you never gave a sh*t…but separated, you call my name in ecstasy.” Basically, Roth is good at making love, but sucks with a more substance-requiring relationship. “Something for Nothing” proceeds, featuring Coyle Girelli. It’s not a bad track – certainly as mellow and chill as everything else – but perhaps it ‘floats’ just a tad too much. Still, the falsetto is sort of like whipped cream – light and fluffy, LOL!

Fast Life” follows, featuring Vic Mensa guesting on the second verse. The groove and overall production has more soulfulness and bit more bite compared to “Something For Nothing”. If nothing more, the hook is truthful: “Fast life, someone’s always caught up in the fast life.” “Last of the Flohicans” catches the eye if for no other reason then its title. Major Myjah provides a sometimes-indecipherable hook for Roth (“…Just learn the truth / it’s all out of focus, focus…”), while the MC seems on autopilot, at least where his flow is concerned. If nothing else, Roth opens with a bang: “Last of the Flohicans / Go in for no reasons / Snowing for four seasons / F**ked up my whole weekend…” Major Myjah stays on board for the equally soulful “Be Right”. The beat and overall production – luxurious! Honestly, “Be Right” might edge “Last of the Flohicans”. If nothing else, Major sounds stronger here.

Asher Roth-PFR-012671“I be on my own / scouring the globe in designer clothes”, sings Roth on the hook of penultimate track “Pot of Gold”, “Surfing on the waves, million dollar boats / really want to stay, but I gotta go / searching for the pot of gold.” While boasting of a come-up is fashionable, understandably so by many MCs, Roth seems to almost brush off the fame or all of the misconceptions with being famous. Honestly, a track like “Pot of Gold” makes you have more respect for the MC as he rises above the shallower things in life. And then of course, there’s the closer – SMH!   “Keep Smoking”, featuring Chuck Inglish is definitely and appropriate closer, given Roth’s love of reefer. While it is sad that Roth invests in weed to almost atone for his issues, the approach he takes makes you sort of sympathize. Weed isn’t the answer obviously – even Roth sees that – but Asher just can’t let go of Mary Jane.

Overall, despite being incredibly low-key, RetroHash is a solid album. It’s not your standard rap album by any means – they won’t be playing this one in the club – but it is definitely enjoyable. RetroHash is definitely deeper than Roth’s major label debut album was. It’s not perfect mind you – the lyrics aren’t always ‘out of the box’ – but Roth has his moments by all means.

Favorites:

“Parties at the Disco” ft. ZZ Ward; “Dude” ft. Curren$y; “Tangerine Girl”; “Pot of Gold

Verdict: ★★★½

Estelle Shocks A Little Too Much on “Make Her Say (Beat It Up)”


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Estelle • “Make Her Say (Beat It Up)” • BMG Rights Management • US Release Date: April 15, 2014

Something has clearly happened to my girl Estelle.  Even that statement is an understatement. Estelle’s new single “Make Her Say (Beat It Up)” is nothing short of shocking and I do mean NOTHING short.  Estelle has fooled around (no pun intended) with being risqué on songs such as “Wait A Minute (Just A Touch)” (Shine), but nothing to the extent of “Make Her Say”.  “Make Her Say”, like the majority of contemporary R&B these days, relies on its explicitness.  Perhaps what’s more shocking about this is that a female rather than a male leads the blunt, hypersexual approach.  There is a clear double standard with sex’s inclusion in music with female artists compared to men.  Maybe it shouldn’t be, but the accusatory finger is more often going to be given to the female as opposed to the male.

One might wonder why a somewhat refined diva such as Estelle needs to ‘get down’ the way she does on “Make Her Say”.  Sure, her second stateside album All of Me failed to garner the same attention as Shine did.  That said, it can’t be overlooked that All of Me had a mega hit on its hands with “American Boy”, featuring Kanye West.  Perhaps Estelle wanted to develop a different persona, try to better find commercial footing and a niche in the U.S. particularly.  One of the issues with All of Me was its distinctiveness.  With a can’t miss single like “Make Her Say”, not to mention further assist by its R-rated (maybe NC-17 rated) cover, Estelle certainly draws attention to herself that little else of her past work could.

For as sick as the minimalist production is on “Make Her Say”, even the horniest listener has to be a bit skeptical – really! Yes, everyone relates to sex, and I have no doubt many women may even relate to Estelle’s narrative here, even if it’s in kinder-gentler fashion.  That said why does Estelle need to be so brash and bold about her anatomy?  Wouldn’t more subtle, yet clever lyrics ultimately be more effective in the long run? I mean there is no middle ground to be had when you can drop lyrics like “make my p***y say” or “beat the p***y up!” without a hitch.  Maybe it’s being judgmental and a bit sexist, as mentioned above, but is it so much to ask for a contemporary R&B song – particularly from a female – that more cleverly tackles coitus?

I give Estelle props for the shock value; it definitely grabbed my attention and I’m sure many others.  Still, while I enjoy a feistier Estelle, I’m just not sure that a song about her “D-flat major” (Chopin sex reference) feels right.  Well maybe the sound and the vibe do, but it’s so outrageous it’s uncomfortable, even for the ‘pros at this’.

Verdict: ★★★

Ranking 20 R&B Albums: January – April 2014


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It’s near the end of April, and as a music journalist, I have been privy to listen to a number of albums in differing genres. Even so, I have a soft spot for R&B, but am also very hard on it. Despite my criticisms, R&B and I have a relationship like a Whitney Houston song written by Dolly Parton: “I Will Always Love You”. That said, after listening to a number of R&B albums, I ranked 20 from 2014 (EPs and mixtapes included) in order from favorite to least favorite. Here goes nothing!

1

Z

SZA 

61dSOEUFyFL._SL500_AA280_It took a juggernaut to knock John Newman from the top spot of the R&B rankings – his Tribute is a sensational album. However, SZA’s Z, an alternative R&B effort too is a truly special album with quite the innovative spirit, something so often absent from R&B these days. If anything, SZA needs to be receiving her just due. Previously of SZA I penned:

Ultimately, Z is a home run. With so many R&B albums that come and go lacking that ‘extra special something’, Z has it. Weird, yet beautiful, Z seems like a step in the right direction in which R&B should go. That isn’t to say that an alternative R&B album like this is the perfect blueprint, but it also doesn’t confine the genre to clichés or limiting trends. SZA is definitely a supremely talented young artist to watch.

Favorites:

“UR”; “Child’s Play”; “Julia”; “Green Mile”; “Sweet November”

Verdict: ★★★★½

2

Tribute

John Newman

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Brit-soul definitely has something special about it – it’s as if overseas, the idea of retro-soul isn’t far-fetched or considered un-trendy or ‘old school’.   While Tribute doesn’t have the abstractness of alternative-R&B or the trendiness and gimmickry of contemporary R&B, it does have legit authenticity, carried by an artist who can just flat out blow. Previously, I summed upmy review of Tribute as follows:

Ultimately, Tribute epitomizes musical excellence through and through. In an age where many question ‘where the soul has gone,’ Newman shows that soul music is still very much alive. For any further questioning if the British soul movement was a thing of the past in it self, well, question no more. John Newman is legit as they come and he has top-notch material working in his favor on this affair. For pop and R&B fans alike, Tribute should easily tickle your fancy.

Favorites:

“Tribute”; “Love Me Again”; “Losing Sleep”; “Out Of My Head”; “Cheating”; “Down The Line”

Verdict: ★★★★½

3

G I R L

Pharrell Williams

512oYPuD-AL._SL500_AA280_Pharrell Williams second solo album G I R L eclipses his debut (In My Mind) easily. G I R L is one big ball of fun ultimately, with the quirky, incredibly talented artist flexing his muscles (and they’re big my friends, LOL). While it leans more danceable/groovy as opposed to relying on ballads, the material is solid and definitely enjoyable. When I had the pleasure of reviewing G I R L, this is how I concluded the review:

Ten tracks deep, G I R L benefits from its brevity and overall lack of filler. Sure, it’s not a perfect album, but ultimately, Pharrell Williams delivers an effort that plays to his musical strengths and is pleasant to the ear. He doesn’t over-sex R&B like so many of his contemporary and younger male artists tend to do; he keeps things classy. Mature and enjoyable, G I R L is definitely a winner worthy of numerous spins… or a high play count on the iPod, LOL.

Favorites:

“Brand New”; “Hunter”; “Happy”; “Come Get It Bae”; “Gust of Wind”

Verdict: ★★★★

4

Testimony

August Alsina

81cg4cMMqIL._SL1500_As I continue to listen to August Alsina’s full-length debut, despite giving it plenty of accolades, sometimes I think I should’ve bestowed even more. A 3 ½ star rating is a great one in my book/most critics, but perhaps Alsina’s Testimony deserves at least 4 stars. Here is what I previously wrote about Testimony when reviewing it:

 Ultimately, Testimony showcases the great amount of potential that August Alsina has to offer as an artist. Vocally, Alsina easily has the pipes to succeed. Additionally, he has the backstory to truly fuel the fire.   Sure, Testimony isn’t a perfectly crafted album, but it’s better more often than not. There are plenty of notable songs – filled with pain as well as the triumph of resolve. Maybe it’s not beautifully poetic, but isn’t grittiness a different take on beauty (or something like that)?

Favorites:

“Make It Home” ft. Jeezy; “FML” ft. Pusha T; “Ghetto” ft. Yo Gotti; “Benediction” ft. Rick Ross; “I Luv This Shit” ft. Trinidad James

Verdict: ★★★½ ★★★★

5

Days & Nights

Daley 

41u6FsCRi-L._SL500_AA280_John Newman may be the Brit getting the most buzz, but Daley shouldn’t be slept on – dude can flat out blow. Sporting a piercing, soulful tenor, Daley has some sick pipes. Daley can definitely count this music lover as a fan, something I attempted to convey enthusiastically in a previous review:

All in all, Days & Nights is an exceptional full-length debut from Daley. What is unfortunate is that there isn’t more buzz surrounding the Brit R&B standout. With such mad pipes, Daley deserves much more recognition. Regardless of his commercial lot, Daley has it going on strongly on Days & Nights.

Favorites:

“Time Travel”; “Blame The World”; “Love And Affection”; “Alone Together” ft. Marsha Ambrosius; “Pass It On”; “Broken”

Verdict: ★★★★

 

6

Lift Your Spirit

Aloe Blacc 

41Gjnw1dUPL._SL500_AA280_“Go ahead and tell everybody…I’m the man, I’m the man, I’m the man”. Aloe Blacc may not be “the man” in regards to the second coming of R&B, but his big-time hit was enough to bring some added relevancy to the genre. The album Lift Your Spirit ultimately was quite appealing, a sentiment I conveyed within my final thoughts of my review:

Ultimately, Lift Your Spirit does just that – it makes you feel happy. There are no deal breaking moments to be found, with consistency characterizing the album overall. Calling Lift Your Spirit an innovative affair would be an overstatement, but praising it for its solidness wouldn’t be in the least. Vocally, Aloe Blacc is a balanced singer who knows when to pull back and when to flash, which helps to make Lift Your Spirit so appealing throughout.   It is the sensible R&B album that is ‘pop’ enough to crossover – just look at “The Man” for proof of that.

Favorites:

“The Man”; “Love Is The Answer”; “Chasing”; “Ticking Bomb”

Verdict: ★★★★ 

7

Nirvana (EP)

Sam Smith

41MgGkSKTsL._SL500_AA280_2014 is the year of Brit-R&B, and this music journalist is digging it. Sam Smith is the most ‘pop’ of the big three (Smith, Daley, and John Newman), but maybe British pop is naturally more soulful, at least in recent times. Regardless, Nirvana definitely builds some serious buzz for Smith’s debut album. Of Nirvana, I summarized it as follows:

All in all, Sam Smith sets his career up soundly on this introductory EP. Vocally, Smith joins a talented class of British vocalists in 2014: John Newman (Tribute) and Daley (Days & Nights). Smith more than holds his own in such elite company, making him one of the artists to watch closely this year. Nirvana EP receives my blessings for sure.

Favorites:

“Safe With Me”; “Nirvana”; “Together”

Verdict: ★★★★

 

8

Give The People What They Want

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings

71NyoHdWUWL._SL500_AA280_Traditional soul is hard to come by in 2014, particularly as R&B takes a more physical, less genuine turn. Give The People What They Want doesn’t follow this script, and even if it isn’t innovative given its inspiration from the 60s and 70s, the album feels incredibly refreshing. Of the superb Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings effort, I previously wrote:

Ultimately, Give The People What They Want is a fantastic album period. Brief at only 34 minutes and consistent from start to finish, there is truly little to criticize. Sharon Jones sounds superb throughout, as do the Dap-Kings. It’s not innovative, but the fact that Jones and company hearkens back to the classic sound, that is refreshing enough in itself.

Favorites:

“Retreat”; “We Get Along”; “You’ll Be Lonely”; “People Don’t Get What They Deserve”

Verdict: ★★★★

9

Recovery

Algebra Blessett

515FJOUivkL._SL500_AA280_Though it is neither flashy nor heroic, Recovery is a sound and enjoyable R&B album. Perhaps the biggest flaw of the album and artist Algebra Blessett is neither is well known or highly publicized. Still, my closing thoughts on Recovery were:

All said and done, Recovery is a fine R&B album, particularly to be released in a quiet January. There is a classiness and coolness about this effort that is appealing. Algebra never over sings; she always gives just the right amount of oomph and emotion to connect with the audience. Recovery is nothing flashy, but it doesn’t need to be. It is what it is – a narrative that a many of folk have experienced in real life, not merely an R&B album. Kudos Algebra – kudos.

Favorites:

“Recovery”; “Nobody But You”; “Struggle To Be” ft. Q. Parker; “Paper Heart”; “Mystery”

Verdict: ★★★★

10

The Truth

Ledisi

61CDEHhqbdL._SL500_AA280_“Calling The Truth Ledisi’s best album would be an overstatement”… actually, that’s a statement I used in my review of the diva’s latest album to summarize it: 

Calling The Truth Ledisi’s best album would be an overstatement. Don’t get me wrong, The Truth is no slouch, but comparing it to juggernauts like Lost & Found or Turn Me Loose may be a bit much. Still, the ten tracks that grace the LP are generally all worthwhile and do show Ledisi ensuring she doesn’t box herself in as only one type of artist. Maybe “That Good Good” (for example) is exactly the right answer, but it’s not that far off or too ‘left-of-center’ either. Overall, Ledisi gets it right once again. We (the fans) wouldn’t expect any less.

Favorites:

“I Blame You”; “Rock With You”; “Lose Control”; “Like This”; “88 Boxes”

Verdict: ★★★★

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Review: August Alsina, ‘Testimony’


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R&B newbie August Alsina shows tremendous potential on full-length debut Testimony

 August Alsina • Testimony • Def Jam • US Release Date: April 15, 2014

August Alsina-PFR-010102The moment has finally arrived for up and coming New Orleans contemporary R&B singer August Alsina to take center stage. Sure, the 21-year old represents the new generation who prefer boldness to subtlety, but ultimately the brasher style suits the hardships he’s enduring in his personal life. “Through the pain”, Alsina seems to find the positives, even if it seems overcome with pessimism on full-length debut Testimony. A true testimony the LP ends up being, Alsina builds off the momentum of 2013 EP Downtown: Life Under the Gun, upping the ante.

Testify” sets the tone for Testimony exceptionally, with August Alsina portraying a snapshot into his life. While “Testify” isn’t necessarily the best track from the LP, it is a vital one because of how it fits into the concept. Calling it relatable might be a stretch as the only one who has experience what ‘August Alsina’ has experienced is August Alsina, but it does allow for the audience to connect. “Make It Home”, featuring Jeezy, definitely extends upon “Testify”. “I don’t always do what I should, but I do what I gotta do,” sings Alsina on his first verse, later adding “See I done dodged a couple shots, served a couple blocks / hit a couple corners tryna shake a couple cops.” Knowing the potential repercussions of his risky actions, Alsina adds “If I don’t make it home tonight / tell my mama that I lover her…take some money to my sister.” As realistic and dark as it is, “Make It Home” is a great showing; there’s something alluring about the no BS approach.

Right There” has a difficult act to follow, but continues to convey a painful, candid narrative. The repetition of the chorus is gimmicky, which takes a smidgen or so away from the cut. Still, Alsina shows off his nuanced pipes and makes you happy how he has ‘came up’ from the bottom. “You Deserve” makes brilliant use of an L.T.D. sample (“Love Ballad”). Alsina states on the intro “This is for the girl down the hall / misused and abused…pick your head up love, smile / this is for you.” Even though “You Deserve” is another song with pain behind it, Alsina spins the message positively: “But I’m just saying / you deserve better, I’m saying, you deserve better.” Women who have been battered and bruised should truly embrace the prudence that Alsina shares here.

No Love” is actually a fascinating ‘anti-love’ song. It is actually semi-romantic, but because of August Alsina’s reservations towards relationships (“Believe we had a great night but I ain’t the type to tell you that I miss you, sh*t”), there truly is “no love” in the relationship sense. Alsina’s ideas of love lacks refinement in many eyes: “So just wrap a couple of bands with a n***a like me / Loving ain’t the same with a n***a like me / you use to them but ain’t no loving me / I hear what you would say and girl it’s clear to see.” Companion and follow-up “Porn Star” definitely asserts and confirms Alsina’s physical contributions, avoiding love.   Face it, “She ride me like a porn star” is definitely nowhere near the definition of chivalry. But you can’t knock A.A., he already made it clear it’s all about hooking up, not steady and certainly not marriage.

After riding like a “Porn Star”, things return to an even darker mood on “FML”. Pusha T kicks off this notion with his opening verse: “Wake up feeling like f*ck my life / life’s a b*tch, she better f*ck me right…” Alsina plays off of it, proclaiming “Let me tell you ‘bout myself, I’m not scared to die / Been through so much sh*t, sometimes I wanna be in the sky.” As much a negative noodle as Alsina is, he ‘testifies’ on the chorus: “I never thought I would be here, I never thought I would get this far / If they say life’s like a beach chair, why am I sitting in the dark.” Generally, those who employ the overused acronym use it too loosely with little support to back it up; Alsina seems to have a case.

Grind & Pray / Get Ya Money” continues to champion both the street and the power of prayer. Alsina appears to be spiritually driven, but he also seems heavily invested in the streets as well. The “Get Ya Money” portion exemplifies this where Alsina doesn’t fault ‘her’ for being on her grind, despite how many others will judge her: “You work hard for it, it’s yours / work that body baby it’s yours / I ain’t judging you, go and get your money.” Fabolous further chips in, “My little mama hustle harder than a lot of these n***as.” Yep, that definitely nothing to do with the church – at least the one with pews, and altar, and a pulpit…

On “Ghetto”, Alsina shows a sense of pride that his girl is from the ‘ghetto’. While the singer may over-glorify the ghetto – at least to those clueless about the ghetto – there’s plenty of redeeming qualities and takeaways from “Ghetto”. With his own rough and tumble life, perhaps Alsina respects the same street savvy in his own relationship, hence loving that his boo epitomizes the ghetto – they relate to one another. After all, he does sing “Ain’t afraid to let it show / baby, go on let them know / you out the ghetto / better let them know, you from the ghetto…” On the version included here, Yo Gotti assists, setting up “Ghetto” (“She got a Bugatti body, yeah she a beast in the streets”).

Kissing On My Tattoos” gives Testimony a slow jam that possesses more substance than its title might suggest. While tattoos have become much more socially acceptable, there is still the sentiment that they represent edginess. Even though “Kissing On My Tattoos” goes softer than the majority of Testimony, Alsina still wants everyone to understand he keeps it hood. Rather than merely having her ‘kiss on my chest’, he has her ‘kiss on my tattoos’, a symbol of being a bit of a bad boy – or bad dude. Keeping love and sex on the mind, “Ah Yeah” finds Alsina going even softer – no tattoos to cling onto this time! Dedication seems to be a dominant factor on his mind as he sings to his girl: “You shine with picture perfect beauty, show it off.” “Ah Yeah” is no new concept, but it is great to hear AA concede some of his edge.

Mama” definitely shows Alsina has some substance to back up Testimony. On the verses, the singer lists the teachings his mother instilled within him: “Mama said stay out of trouble / Mama said don’t be a fool / Mama said stay in somebody’s church / Mama said boy stay in school.” While “Mama” isn’t the most electrifying track from Testimony, it is hard to deny how meaningful and touching it is, particular the chorus in which Alsina sings, “Mama I made it… I ain’t gonna stop now cause Mama I made it / and I hope I made you proud.”

Benediction” proves to be even stronger and equally touching. Throughout the narrative, the audience is given an account of the hardships that Alsina has endured. If one was to question Alsina’s edginess, “Benediction” gives and understanding as to one   Although the hook is from a dark place, it’s nothing short of addictive: “Started off in the streets / we would take collection from the fiends / People dyin’ all around me / So I gave you my testimony…” Rick Ross provides a sound assist, spitting superbly over the soulful, churchy production work. Sure its not all from the ‘good book’, but it is what it is (“Pray for benediction, pretty women on my premise / Condo out in Cabo… Gold around my neck I’m ballin’ for these final minutes.” Amen… I think.

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Although “I Luv This Sh*t” previously graced Alsina’s EP Downtown: Life Under the Gun, the monster single featuring Trinidad James (“All Gold Everything”) never grows old. Sure, we could’ve cut the molly-loving MC, but his guest verse suits the vibe. Alsina continues his foul mouthed-ness (is that even a word), but the real talk mixed with the slower, horn-accentuated production is a match made in heaven, albeit quite blasphemous (“God dammit I love it, I love it… So I’mma keep on smoking cause I love this sh*t / I’mma keep on grinding cause I love this sh*t / she tell me keep f*cking cause I love this sh*t and I love it…”) “Numb” concludes the standard edition of Testimony – club style. Alsina trades Trinidad James for B.o.B and Yo Gotti. While the cut is slickly produced, it is a bit more ‘swag’ than substance.

Ultimately, Testimony showcases the great amount of potential that August Alsina has to offer as an artist. Vocally, Alsina easily has the pipes to succeed. Additionally, he has the backstory to truly fuel the fire.   Sure, Testimony isn’t a perfectly crafted album, but it’s better more often than not. There are plenty of notable songs – filled with pain as well as the triumph of resolve. Maybe it’s not beautifully poetic, but isn’t grittiness a different take on beauty (or something like that)?

 Favorites:

“Make It Home” ft. Jeezy; “FML” ft. Pusha T; “Ghetto” ft. Yo Gotti; “Benediction” ft. Rick Ross; “I Luv This Sh*t” ft. Trinidad James

Verdict: ★★★½

Review: Jason Derülo, ‘Talk Dirty’


51Q2c-T9xKL._SL500_AA280_ Derülo’s over-reliance on sex and swagger holds the album back at times

Jason Derülo • Talk Dirty • Warner Bros • US Release Date: April 15, 2014

Jason Derulo2-20140225-49It has been a minute since “Whatcha Say” had this music enthusiast excited about new pop/R&B artist Jason Derülo. Nah, I wasn’t a ‘fan girl’ as any number of YouTube personalities might put it, but I did think ole boy had something fresh about him. Judging by the uniqueness of that number one hit, it seemed he was well on his way to conquering the music industry. Things didn’t quite work out that way for a number of reasons. Sure, Jason Derülo hasn’t exactly set the Billboard 200 on fire (understatement), but nor has his music since his debut truly stacked up either (no shade – or at least not that much shade, I promise). Future History, Derülo’s second album (first full-length technically), was the first sign of an artist with a connections problem. The album just didn’t have the personality or substance to make much noise. Here on his latest effort, Talk Dirty, Derülo is in much better shape; he has a big hit on his side. Even so, Derülo’s over-reliance on sex and swagger holds the album back at times.

Jason Derulo3-20140225-46Talk Dirty” kicks off the album alluringly with its sinful brilliance. Calling the joint heavenly is blasphemous considering its suggestive lyrics and equally ‘dirty’ production. By the way, “Talk Dirty” owes a ton to Balkan Beat Box’s “Hermetico” – like the majority of the production! Face it, that seductive sax comes off as nasty as Derülo’s opening lyrics from verse one: “I’m that flight that you get on, international / first class seat on my lap, girl, riding comfortable”. Nope, Jason D. is not really talking about a plane! If Derülo is a bit subtler regarding sexual endeavors, 2 Chainz is more explicit, holding little back about the ‘pleasure’. Even if you’re the type waving the finger at the shallowness Derülo and 2 Chainz exhibit, the addictiveness of the chorus section is undeniable: “Been around the world, don’t speak the language / but your booty don’t need explaining / all I really need to understand is when you / talk dirty to me”.

Wiggle” doesn’t add any greater sophistication to Talk Dirty, as Derülo uses the song to talk about booty (“You know what to do with that big fat butt…wiggle, wiggle, wiggle”). Matching the slinky nature of “Talk Dirty”, “Wiggle” is another track concentrated on getting down without ever citing genuine, authentic emotion. With Snoop Dogg assisting, confirmation is provided that it’s gotten “Hot” and X-rated. With fantasies being Derülo’s bread and butter, on “Trumpets” he sings “Every time that you get undressed / I hear symphonies in my head…yet the drums swing low / and the trumpets they go…” Right on cue, the trumpets enter, in all their brilliance. While “Trumpets” is catchy, ludicrous lines like “Is it weird that I hear / angels every time that you moan” are questionable, near – if not – deal breakers.

Jordin Sparks-20140130-45Bubblegum” brings in the king of sexed-up, minimalist rap these days, Tyga. “Bubblegum” of course couldn’t possibly retain any sense of innocence – even it becomes a naughty, raunchy reference. “She just wanna pop, pop, pop, pop, pop that bubblegum.” Yeah, what kind of bubblegum Jason? SMH. “Vertigo” arrives in the nick of time to deliver Talk Dirty from being completely overexerted. Duet-ing with boo Jordin Sparks, “Vertigo” has something the opening quartet of the LP lacked – substance. Sure, no one expects total ‘abstinence’ from Derülo or R&B in general, but “Vertigo” balances physical and emotional without just piling on, well the three-letter word. But of course, “Kama Sutra”, featuring Kid Ink, returns Talk Dirty from whence it came… no pun intended. Even though it is Kid Ink rapping here, the listener could totally picture Tyga on this track. Like the other risqué songs, it is what you make of it.

Personally, “Zipper” is a turn-off, specifically thanks to Derülo’s opening lyrics: “I’mma mark my territory / shawty I’m an animal, slowly digging into your / spread you like a bad story…” If that’s not enough to raise an eyebrow, the stupid hook accomplishes the task: “up and down like a zipper”. Even if Derülo were solely referencing his fly, “Zipper” would be nasty. “The Other Side” provides atonement, finally toning things down a might. “The Other Sides” straddles (Ha “straddles”) modern pop and contemporary R&B. Derülo shines on the big-time chorus: “Tonight, take me to the other side / sparks fly like the Fourth of July / just take me to the other side / I see that sexy look in your eyes…” Don’t call it the ‘second coming’, but it is easily among the cream of the crop of Talk Dirty.

Jason Derulo4-20140225-52Unfortunately for “With the Lights On”, the momentum fades as the song has only occurred “x” amount of times in the past. Honestly, look no further than this album itself – everything is about “the do”. “Stupid Love” at least sports more of an air of being refined, but that doesn’t make it truly notable by any means. “Marry Me” closes the standard edition of Dirty Talk trading the hook up for matrimony – quite a 360 huh? The thing is, contextually don’t “Stupid Love” and “Marry Me” both feel like departures among the clubbier cuts that ignore the emotional aspects of a relationship? Still, if you need a kinder, gentler cut, “Marry Me” is it.

Ultimately, Talk Dirty is average at best. It has its moments, but it also seems to put its eggs too much into one basket – specifically booty. Much like Derülo’s Future History, Talk Dirty seems to lack cohesion; it’s missing something. There is nothing wrong with Jason’s voice – he can sing – but his music just doesn’t lend itself to making a genuine connection as a listener. That said, nothing eclipses “Talk Dirty”.

Favorites:

“Talk Dirty”; “Vertigo”; “The Other Side”; “Marry Me”

Verdict: ★★★

Review: Martina McBride, ‘Everlasting’


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Martina McBride balances soul music and her country roots soundly on Everlasting

Martina McBride • Everlasting • Vinyl Recordings • US Release Date: April 8, 2014

Martina McBride-LMK-110450Veteran country superstar Martina McBride’s 12th album, Everlasting, is certainly a surprise. No, McBride doesn’t go radical and become a pop artist or anything like that, but rather than opting for new original material, she hearkens back to the past. What specifically from the past one asks does Mrs. McBride hearken back to? Soul. While a country artist singing soul music seems somewhat far-fetched given the contrasts of styles, Everlasting proves to be an enjoyable and effective album. McBride isn’t suddenly Aretha Franklin mind you – both artists possessing different vocal skill sets – but McBride does straddle R&B and her country roots well.

Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” opens the covers album excellently for a couple of reasons. Though it is soulful (and soul music primarily), the sound of the production sounds ‘country’ enough that it truly plays to McBride’s strengths. Perhaps it is a bit sleepy given its tempo, more so than not, “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” sets the bar high for Everlasting. The quicker “Suspicious Minds” also finds McBride capably handling the renowned Elvis classic with a touch of country to accompany its bursting horns.   Sure, the bridge where things switch-up could’ve had a bit more punch – a bit more ‘oomph’ – but it’s definitely no deal breaker.

It defiMartina McBride-LMK-110448nitely takes confidence to tackle one of the greatest soul classics of all time, “If You Don’t Know Me By Now”. Many do take up the task, but few accomplish the feat. Face it – none can do it like Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, specifically one incredibly soulful Teddy Pendergrass. Martina McBride certainly doesn’t attempt to emulate Pendergrass’ passionate take, but she does seek to deliver a compelling interpretation herself. Vocally, she sounds smooth and on one of the few instances on Everlasting, she ‘frees herself’ to give a bit more vocally in terms of adlibs and nuances. “Little Bit of Rain” proceeds, finding the country veteran benefiting from a backdrop that once more successfully preserves the soul styling while playing well to the country sound. Brief but notable, “Little Bit of Rain” lays well.

Bring It on Home to Me” is another sensational fit for McBride. While McBride lacks the grit of soul artists, her gentler approach takes nothing away from the song. It doesn’t hurt that McBride receives a truly soulful assist from Gavin DeGraw, who possesses the more edgy, ‘cutting’ voice of the two. The chemistry between to two is sensational. After the slower “Bring It on Home to Me”, McBride accelerates the tempo with a sound take on “Come See About Me”. While she still fails to break a sweat, her cool take easily exemplifies the tongue-n-cheek vibe of this classic. Adding to that tongue-n-cheekiness is the backing vocals whom are like the cherry on top.

Martina McBride-LMK-110445What Becomes of the Brokenhearted”, much like “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” has certainly got to be one of the most covered soul charts. As to why it is so popular is easy to see – it’s exceptionally written and incredibly memorable. McBride does a solid job, though perhaps a bit more assertion on her part in addition to a slightly sharper production may have taken this performance to another level. It’s good, but there is just the yearning for a touch more ‘authenticity’ that few covers can yield.   What better way to follow up a ubiquitous classic with yet another, “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long”. Where “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” lacked some of its own distinctness and separation from the original, “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” benefits from its restraint. While no one will ever match the Otis Redding version, McBride is able to make this version more true to her country music roots/niche.

Wild Night” kicks the tempo back up after slowing down for the previous cut. Again never forced vocally, Martina McBride eschews over-singing. With plenty of ‘goodies’ within the production on her side, including vocal layers, McBride once more pulls off her more soulful side perspiring Martina McBride-LMK-110433little. Joined by the big-voiced Kelly Clarkson, unsurprisingly “In The Basement” ends up being a highlight. Clarkson definitely takes an antithetical approach to McBride – in other words, she likes her adlibs and pop/urban vocal runs. It’s ‘all good’ though! Everlasting ends strongly. Penultimate number “My Babe” has countrified soul written all over it, proving to be the perfect joint to piggyback “In the Basement.” “To Know Him Is to Love Him” closes soundly, showcasing McBride in particularly good voice given the relaxed tempo. Not overproduced yet also not under-produced, “To Know Him Is to Love Him” feels right.

All in all, Everlasting is a solid effort from one of country’s preeminent voices. Sure McBride’s popularity has waned in recent times (unfortunately), but she’s definitely still got the pipes. There are times when she could’ve ‘dug in’ more given the style, but for the most part, McBride delivers soul and remains true to herself and her style. It’s no reinvention, but at this point in her career, there’s no shame in dropping a covers album.

Favorites:

“Do Right Woman, Do Right Man”; “If You Don’t Know Me By Now”; “Bring It On Home to Me”; “In The Basement”

Verdict: ★★★½

Review: The Chewers, ‘Chuckle Change And Also’


chuckle-change-and-also-album-art On Chuckle Change And Also, The Chewers show the beauty of being ‘off-kilter’

The Chewers • Chuckle Change And Also • Cimmerian Shade 

The Chewers are: Travis Caffrey & Michael Sadler

Sometimes, when you hear something wild and whacky in life, you find yourself looking in bewilderment like WTF? My friends, after listening to the 22-track album that is Chuckle Change And Also by West Virginian duo The Chewers (by way of Nashville, TN), I found myself expressing this sentiment after every track. Folks, Chuckle Change is definitely some kind of a ride. Throw the idea of ‘standard’ out the door prior to the first track as this album is incredibly progressive. Sometimes the progressive nature hurts accessibility, but ultimately, that is a necessary sacrifice for the good of the album and future of music. While it’s not the ‘second coming’ (way too dark and devilish for that), Chuckle Change offers the listener a true alternative to trendiness, conformity, and what pitfalls can make commercial music come off as generic and empty.

(Now)” opens the off-kilter effort as one would expect – off-kilter. As to exactly what is going on, well that question is still needs to be answered. Regardless, “(Now)” and all of its near 50 seconds of off-kilter-ness (is that even a word?) definitely sets the tone. The minimalist, noisy “Can’t Sleep” is evidence of the ‘tone’ that characterizes the entirety of Chuckle Change And Also. Bizarre yet in its own quirky way genius, “Can’t Sleep” represents…um… nonconformity. Nonconformity and being fearless to be different is something more musicians could stand to embrace. The Chewers certainly do, referencing not only the obvious lack of “sleep”, but also accompany the idea lyrically whether it is “tomorrow’s looming in the dark” or “body tense…stressed / the more I fret, the less I rest”. The oddball groove is nothing short of hypnotic. “Burn It Down” is lengthier than the opening duo, pacing itself into a foot-tapping groove. As groovy as it is, don’t think The Chewers have settled into being ‘normal’. There is still a tension as one listens, with guitar and effect-laden lead vocals leading the charge.

The bizarre experience continues with the weirdly titled “Techno-Slaves”, which lives up to its unique name. The production has techno sound effects that seem to signal outer space: “Space is feeling with magnet waves… the brain is a megaphone that can’t shut off…” WTF? Honestly, it doesn’t really matter. The Chewers have the audience’s attention from the opening note and they retain it throughout if for no other reason to see where they’re going musically. “Filthy” proves to be as unorthodox as everything else, with a hint of jazz added to the mix (for lack of a better stylistic choice). If the audience gets nothing else from a minute-and-a-half of “Filthy”, they learn that these dudes are filthy – at least contextually within the song (“Walking down the street in crusted clothes…I haven’t bathed in a thousand days / I’m filthy”). Then comes “Some Folks”, which manages to use the word “malignant” lyrically… For those who don’t mind dissonance, the accusatory “Some Folks” is your cup of tea.

What better way to follow up the previous “(Now)” with “(Later)”, another unexplainable interlude? While cohesiveness probably shouldn’t be in the same sentence with this album in general (save for overall being ‘all over the place’), at least there is a connection between, well something. “(Later)” is followed up with the gutty sounding instrumental “A Part Machine”, which once more gives the listener a sick groove to latch onto. When all other sense of normalcy fails, cling to the groove! “A Part Machine” is more than a groove – it is actually quite an alluring soundscape if you will. The bright rhythmic guitar coupled with a sense of ‘twistedness’ makes this instrumental truly notable. “Inmate 227” confounds immediately, yet it does make some sense. It’s about an inmate being released from prison. It’s not your standard narrative for a song, but what is standard about this album? Exactly!

After “Inmate 227”, the focus comes to “Smiling Samuel”, another heck of a song title. Creepy, the sentiment is few want to hang out with Sam – and perhaps even The Chewers, LOL! Difficult to listen to yet respectably creative, “Smiling Samuel” continues to find The Chewers flexing. It takes little analysis to under “The Fat Man”, but it is arguably a bit more bearable than “Smiling Samuel”. It’s not the most attractive track (understatement), but The Chewer’s musicianship and ‘off-kilter’ ideas play well here. “The Fat Man” definitely would be perfect for Halloween, but then again, so would much of this album. The brief “Mutter” proceeds. While it is brief, “mutter” isn’t very quiet…LOL. And as for “I’m Afraid”, well, I’ve held that sentiment since track one – just saying! With the production playing like a tone poem, the tense music definitely exemplifies the title and listener’s likely emotions.

Down There” is equally, if not more horrifying and definitely extraterrestrial. Face it, that organ is “very, very frightening! Galileo!” Then when the “Teeth Lock” cacophonously with tribal-like pounding drums, shiiizzz gets real…cray that is! “Teeth Lock” definitely brings several distinct names to mind – Lucifer, Baal, Satan, Mephistopheles – catch my drift? While perhaps repentance is a must after listening, at least the sin was a creative and intriguing one while it lasted! Guess what follows “(Now)” and “(Later)”? “(Past)” of course… and “That’s all I have to say about that!” Forrest Gump reference of course. Whether “Box Head Space” somehow connects to the ‘past’ would take a couple more listens to decode, but where overall sound lies, it is very much a product of the future. It’s truly out in space.

Tornado of Stasis” ends up receiving the honor of the lengthiest joint, breaking with the brevity that characterizes the majority. While the dissonant track is as ugly as they come, it once more plays faithfully to its title. Tornadoes are incredibly scary and often life altering weather events as they funnel and destroy everything in sight, including the living. Stasis of course is defined as a state of stability or as Merriam-Webster simplifies it, stagnation. Put the two ideas together, coupled with the adventurous music, and the perfect storm is before us.   What’s interesting, at least from a personal perspective, is that the slow tempo seems to represent bore and lethargy of stasis, while the dissonance exemplifies the tornado. A highlight – by all means!

There is still some “Steam” (a little more than a half-minute’s worth) following the storm, while “Funnel Head” infuses rejuvenated energy and eccentricity. “Funnel Head” should please metal heads, given its jaggedness. Penultimate track “Blank Pavement” delivers excellent pacing, beginning unstable but developing stability along the way. It’s still freaky stuff, but you take accessibility where and when it’s offered. Closing cut “Went Away” is definitely spacey; rather than relying heavily on noisiness, it invests more into sounding drugged out.

So… what’s the verdict on arguably the year’s most left of center album? It’s actually very well done and definitely stands out. While calling Chuckle Change a masterpiece might be an exaggeration, it is indeed captivating, even when it’s harder to process. From a musical standpoint, you get the impression that these West Virginia boys are out to make a unique statement with this particular album and brand of music. They easily accomplish this feat. If you need some quirk in your life, this is the album for you!

Favorites:

“Can’t Sleep”; “Techno-Slaves”; “A Part Machine”; “The Fat Man”; “Teeth Lock”; “Tornado of Stasis”

Verdict: ★★★★

[Single] Review: Future, “I Won” (ft. Kanye West)


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Future Continues Relying on Autotune on Latest Single “I Won”

Future featuring Kanye West“I Won” (Single) • Epic • Release Date: April 8, 2014 

Future-20131113-56Future has to be one of hip-hop’s more divisive artists – and NO I’m not throwing any shade.  It’s not because of the content of his music, but rather his reliance on such a heavy dosage of autotune.  The use of autotune is a divisive topic in itself, but even more so in hip-hop circles.  Future definitely has developed his career around relying on the effect, but other artists have used it as well.  Even though Jay-Z proclaimed “D.O.A.” (‘Death of autotune) on Blueprint 3, he threw in a dash of it himself.  And we know that Kanye West made an entire album, 808s & Heartbreak, not to mention the epic “Blood on The Leaves” from Yeezus.  Still, it’s hard not to form a strong opinion one way or the other in regards to Future. I was on “Same Damn Time” as well as “ Bugatti” (Ace Hood), but the MC/pop-rapper still hasn’t established himself in my eyes as a hip-hop force or an artist with strong appeal to my sensibilities.  I wouldn’t doubt others feel the same way.

Future’sFuture2-20131113-55 latest single, “I Won” doesn’t change up the formula from the rapper’s debut, Pluto, the album housing “Same Damn Time” among other standouts like “Parachute”, and “Turn On The Lights”.  “I Won” is single from Future’s upcoming sophomore album, Honest, which arrives April 22, 2014. While the notion of “winning” is a chivalrous message – particularly by rap standards – don’t think that Future doesn’t ‘get down’: “Get to f**kin’ on the dresser just to make that p***y wetter”.  Folks, that’s the opening line from his first verse – geez!  He calls on Kanye West to provide the assist on the second verse, where the MC suggests “Baby, we should hit south of France / so you could run around without them pants.” Slick Mr. West, very slick.  Even if Future “won…a trophy / a trophy”, it appears to be one who satisfies his physical hungers… like let’s get “Physical” (Olivia Newton-John).

Ultimately, it isn’t all/that bad considering who Future is artistically, but it certainly doesn’t supplant edgier rap that eschews the effect, nor does it supplant a good ole contemporary R&B joint.  Still, to each his own is the best way to deliver the verdict about “I Won”. Some will like it, while others will proclaim “That’s that sh*t I don’t like” (“I Don’t Like”, Chief Keef).  Personally, my opinion is somewhere in the middle.

Verdict: ★★★

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