March was a rich month for music releases. After listening and reviewing multiple albums, it is always fun to pick out one big time standout. Sometimes it is a difficult choice, while other times it’s the only choice (particularly on a sub-par album). After looking back through my late-February and March reviews, I’ve compiled a playlist of one favorite from each album.
From the album Morning Phase
Note: Morning Phase was a late February release that wasn’t reviewed until March.
Folks, Beck is the man. Morning Phase was yet another stacked album from the hipster with numerous top-notch songs. A personal favorite was the first full-length track, “Morning” of which I penned the following:
…Constructed with lush strings at its core, “Cycle” foreshadows the electrifying opener, “Morning”. Sure, “Morning” lacks tempo by all means, opting for balladry, but it’s extremely beautiful and perfectly suits Beck’s unique voice. Beck breaks enough with the ‘acoustic resolve’ here, with Roger Joseph Manning, Jr. adding some synthesizer color. The ‘color’ element is something found throughout Morning Phase, even if it is subtle. Lyrically, the entire song is thoughtfully penned, with the chorus standing out tremendously: “This morning / I let down my defenses / this morning / it was just you and me…” Clocking in at over five minutes, “Morning” is no drag by any means.
Schoolboy Q featuring Tyler, The Creator & Kurupt
From the album Oxymoron
Note: Oxymoron was a late February release that wasn’t reviewed until March.
Schoolboy Q exhibits grittiness about him throughout the course of Oxymoron, which ultimately proves to be a solid album. It’s not the most pleasant album to listen to in regards to its content mind you, but the quality is there. “The Purge” was among my favorites:
“The Purge” is a beast, produced by and featuring Tyler, The Creator. Again, Schoolboy Q’s daughter establishes the tone: “My daddy said drown, n***a.” The significance of the line seems to be “the purge” that Schoolboy Q references within the title and song. “Coming in for yours / n***as got them choppers and they knocking at your door,” Tyler, the Creator spits on the hook. “The sirens getting louder when the bodies hit the floor / why you look confused? Motherf**ker this is war.” Schoolboy Q plays right into the maliciousness, referencing kilos, drug money, and guns. Q’s most notable moment comes during a bridge between verses: “Bust my gun all by myself / rock cocaine all by myself / poured propane all on myself / go so hard might harm myself.” Oh, and did I mention Kurupt also guests on the third verse? “The Purge” goes hard.
“Going To The Ceremony”
From the album Satellite Flight: Journey to Mother Moon
Note: Satellite Flight was a late February release that wasn’t reviewed until March.
Kid Cudi is an oddball – as left field as they come. This nonconformity is what makes him shine, yet also hurts his overall accessibility to many Earth dwellers. A surprise fourth album in Satellite Flight proves to be as confounding as it is interesting. Still, “Going To The Ceremony” was a moment where the Kid was at his best/true to himself:
The real heat comes with “Going To The Ceremony”, the first vocal track of Satellite Flight. Opening uniquely itself with spoken word intro (“Now certainly we all recognize the extremely, extremely low probability / of life existing on the moon”), the track dives right into the rock-rap, left-of-center approach that Kid Cudi as well as WZRD has come to be known for. This includes the typical humming, the repetitive lyrics (“But I don’t know where I’m going / where I’m going, it’s all happening / I’m going, it’s all happening”), as well as the driving, minimalism. “Going To The Moon” is familiar fare for the artist.
From the album St. Vincent
Note: St. Vincent was a late February release that wasn’t reviewed until March.
From one oddball to another, it should be noted that St. Vincent once guested on a Kid Cudi album – Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager to be precise. On her own self-titled album, St. Vincent awes with her incredible songwriting abilities, with none usurping the brilliant “Digital Witness”:
“Digital Witness” is a definitely standout, with its soulful, groove-laden production work. St. Vincent definitely criticizes social media/networking, and how it’s affected traditional social relationships. “People turn the TV on, it looks like a window.” Basically, St. Vincent seems to suggest that real-life interaction has been supplanted with any number apps and social networking avenues. “Digital witnesses / what’s the point of even sleeping,” St. Vincent sings on the chorus. “If I can’t show it if you can’t see me / what’s the point of doing anything?” Does she overreact to the power of social media? Perhaps or perhaps not, but she makes one awesome song in the process.
“Mafia Music III”
Rick Ross featuring Sizzla & Mavado
From the album Mastermind
Rick Ross continues to count his stacks six albums in, as he should. Mastermind was another triumph for the money-obsessed MC, featuring numerous edgy standouts. Still a little reggae-tinged number truly tickled my fancy:
“Mafia Music III” keeps the momentum top-notch. Sporting unexpected reggae production, “Mafia Music III” seems to really fuel Rick Ross into some inspired rhymes. Not only that, Ross references Kenneth Williams (gang member), Bill Belichick, and Farrakhan – go figure. Mavado’s hook contributes to the overall success of the track as well, solidifying the tropical vibe.
From the album G I R L
Isn’t this one pretty obvious? G I R L is a loaded album full of ‘weapons’ (“Brand New”, “Come Get It Bae” and “Gust Of Wind” amongst ‘em), but it’s hard to beat such a superb and enthused track like “Happy”, period. Here’s what I previously wrote:
…Atonement for improprieties or being a ‘D-O-G’ comes with the undeniably enthusiastic “Happy”. Sure, many knew that “Let It Go” from Frozen was going to be difficult to beat for an Oscar, but didn’t everyone have sweet spot in their heart for arguably the year’s most positive song? Throwback soul never sounded so relevant in a time where soulfulness isn’t the dominant trend. That said, “Happy” is so addictive and infectious, that it is undeniable to want to move your body to it and smile. Really, there’s no more to say – it’s classic.
From the album BraveHeart
I’ve had plenty of criticism for Ashanti over the years, but BraveHeart was surprisingly a sound album. One of its best moments comes courtesy of “Scars”, where Ashanti still doesn’t necessarily live up to those Mary J. Blige comparisons, but at least comes closer:
Still, “Scars” works out even better, with its hip drum programming, slick synths (and production in general), and overall attitude. Sure, there is still a cool energy about Ashanti vocally, but that doesn’t seem like it’s going to change. Perhaps she lacks the same bite that a Mary J. Blige or Fantasia might deliver on this cut, but Ashanti still ends up with the desired effect (“You could have kept the pain / my heart is slain / nothin’ remains, no more / but scars”). The outro at the end of “Scars” is definitely a thoughtful way of ending the standout by all means, even if the cut ends up clocking in just shy of six minutes in duration.
From the album Lift Your Spirit
“The Man” is nothing short of enthusiastic and proves to be a sensational opening cut. “Girl you can tell everybody…I’m the man, I’m the man, I’m the man,” Blacc sings passionately on the pre-chorus, before proclaiming “I got all the answers to your questions / I’ll be the teacher you could be the lesson…” on the chorus. The throwback vibe hearkening back to R&B’s prime just makes “The Man” that much greater. Throw in the lifted “Your Song” sample (Elton John) and soulful vocals from Blacc and “Everything is Sound” (Jason Mraz song reference FYI).
From the album The Truth
Choosing one favorite from Ledisi’s The Truth was harder than expected. Single “I Blame You” would’ve been a close second, but “88 Boxes” was the most unique joint from The Truth. Of “88 Boxes” I previously penned:
“88 Boxes” more than atones for the question marks left proceeding “Missy Doubt”. If “Missy Doubt” had a good concept going, “88 Boxes” has an even better one. Basically, Ledisi feels as if her relationship – her life – has become nothing but boxed-up memories. It’s over and it’s done – she wasted her time. “88 Boxes I counted / my life it went from years to 88 boxes,” Ledisi sings on the chorus. If The Truth were lacking in innovative spirit, “88 Boxes” infuses some using familiar, authentic scenarios.
Young Money (featuring Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj & Tyga)
From the album Rise of an Empire
There was little for this music journalist to praise about Young Money’s second compilation, Rise of an Empire. That said, “Senile” was pretty fun:
“Senile” features the talents of Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, and Tyga. Tyga kick starts thing with an agile verse over the slinky, minimalist production work. In addition to delivering nastiness on the opening verse, Tyga delivers the simple, but addictive hook: “Can you see now? Are you senile? / Can you see now? You could see now…” Nicki Minaj does her normal thing on the second verse, fitting right in with the guys – shocker! Lil Wayne takes the final verse, closing it out classically: “I’m in this motherf**ker gettin’ money ‘til I’m senile, Tunechi!” … Don’t call it a masterpiece, but it definitely gets the club poppin’… or something like that.
“I Want It All”
From the album Pulses
Karmin haven’t quite found their ‘swagger’ as legit recording artists after being a YouTube sensation rocking out pop/hip-hop music covers, but Pulses wasn’t a total bust as “Pulses”, “Acapella”, and “I Want It All” was a sound trio at the front of the album. Of the groovy “I Want It All” I penned:
Single “I Want It All” also ‘works’, driven by its soulful groove and throwback horns. Honestly, “I Want It All” would’ve fit perfectly on Pharrell Williams’ G I R L – sort of hard to believe he had nothing to do with this cut! The message is simple, but effective, exemplified by the chorus: “All I need is one more night with you / it’s amazing what just one more night can do / I want it all / I want it all.”
“Drink To That All Night”
From the album High Noon
If “Buzz Back Girl” was a letdown where booze consumption was concerned, “Drink To That All Night” fills the gap. The lyrics on the verse are sung in a rhythmic, quick-paced undertone. By the refrain, Niemann essentially has his glass raised and fists in the air: “I can drink to that all night / that’s the stuff I like / that’s the kind of party makes you throw your hands up high…” “Drink To That All Night” isn’t original conceptually, but it is a standout contextually – it’s the country-pop song of sorts.
“Can’t Remember To Forget You”
Shakira featuring Rihanna
From the album Shakira.
Shakira’s Shakira. album was one of the surprises of March for me. I debated purchasing it at Best Buy on new music Tuesday (a day in which my account suffers, LOL), but I just couldn’t leave it. I’ll admit the attractive album cover art didn’t hurt Shakira’s cause either. But anyways, while there are many sensational tracks, big-time single “Can’t Remember To Forget You” still remains as one to beat:
“Can’t Remember To Forget You” opens Shakira superbly, assisted by urban-pop “it” girl, Rihanna. Initially, “Can’t Remember To Forget You” didn’t appeal personally, but after multiple listens, my opinion has shifted; the joint is definitely enjoyable. Part of the appeal is the fact that this pop single doesn’t sound like everything else on the radio – it doesn’t rely solely on being trendy or showing off the cliché bag of pop tricks and gimmicks.
“Don’t You Think It’s Come Our Time”
Johnny Cash featuring June Carter Cash
From the album Out Among the Stars
Johnny Cash’s lost album Out Among the Stars could never stack up against his best, better know work, but that doesn’t hold back its soundness or overall quality. What was most impressive about Cash’s 1981 sessions was hearing his baritone clearly once more, as opposed to diminished. What’s more fitting than a duet with wife June Carter Cash:
A second collaboration with wife June Carter Cash is a bigger draw as “Don’t You Think It’s Come Our Time” is nothing short of brilliant. The rhythmic machine of the string arrangement further incites a truly inseparable vocal chemistry, even more than the first duet.