Jamila Woods – LEGACY! LEGACY!

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At this point in the summer last year I was stuck on the 5 Kanye Wyoming albums, released a week by week in June. Not a single other track in modern music was doing it for me, so I would listen non stop to the playlist I made for myself entitled “Kanye Summer Jams” Each week that passed and each new album would be added to the bottom of my playlist, then played on repeat for the whole summer. A year has passed and most likely another 1-3% of hearing loss, brings me to my present obsession. A cosmos away creatively, politically, and musically from Kanye West, wonderful Jamila Woods stems from the same city of Chicago. Woods is first and foremost a poet with a similar background as Noname, Chance The Rapper and several other young Chicago poets turned artists. Born in late 1986, Jamila grew up in Chicago involving herself in theater and the arts, earning a BA in Africana Studies and Theater and Performance art from Brown University. Woods works are focused on themes of Black ancestry, black feminism, identity, and self-love. Jamila Woods is an activist and advocate for art and young artists, she sits as the Associate Artistic Director of Young Chicago Authors and has several published works as a poet. I, as most of the world watching music in 2015 heard Jamila’s amazing voice on “Sunday Candy” from Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment free studio album release. Woods went on to release her first solo work “Heavn” in July 2016 which earned acclaim in small circles. Woods is a master at Contrafactums, taking lyrics the audience is familiar with (Like Dawson’s creek theme) and substituting one text for another without a change in melody or music. Her touch is beautiful, empathetic and ambitious. Neo-soul, Funk, R&B, Afrojazz come to mind with an unmatched soulful voice and intelligent witty lyrics.

LEGACY! LEGACY! A homage to the artists of inspiration and legacy. “I was looking through the lenses of these different people, their work, things they said,” Woods said in 2019. This collection of songs is well thought out in concept, production, and clever lyricism. Some of the artists in which the songs are titled are obvious but others were only revealed to me via her quasi bibliography in the liner notes of the vinyl. LEGACY! LEGACY! is timorous and unconventionally not over-produced, the sound is funky and soulful. The lyrics are powerful with whit, modern references, clever observation of the present, and homage to the art of the past.

The album begins with
“BETTY” as in funk musician Betty Davis, opening with groovy piano and Jamila’s vocals, evolving into a beat-driven uplifting track. The lyrics point to her sense of self-worth and originality despite the hardships she endures as a woman of color. This track sets the pace of the album, it’s inspiring and a captivating opener.
“ZORA” inspired by author Zora Neale Hurston is a textural track with panning drums and bass, magnificent breakdowns, and careful vocal harmonies. Lyrically this track is full of contrafacta and poet cleverness. “I tenderly fill my enemies with white light” encompasses the feel of the track. This was my favorite cut upon first listen, it’s somehow new and familiar in the same breath.
“GIOVANNI” based on a poem ”Ego Tripping” by Nikki Giovanni a fast-moving bass and drum set with panning tremolo piano track along with mid-track guitar work. with heavy R&B energy and a bit of soft rap and powerhouse vocals.
“SONIA” poet Sonia Sanchez. A stripped-down mellow texture of synth bass and an 808 behind a ¾ soulful lyric flow, that starts low and slow and swells to a very groovy flow.
“FRIDA” Kahlo brings the drums in this glitchy track full of lyrical metaphors that seem to point to the unconventional relationship of Frida Kahlo and her husband, artist Diego Rivera.
“EARTHA” Eartha Kitt brings us down a notch with a bit of mellow 808, piano, hand claps, and synth bass, this song has a great sense of imaging and panning from left to right. Lyrics seem to paint a coming of age story of confidence and self-worth.
MILES” Davis comes with driving 1/16 note hi-hat work, guitar, and a mouthful of lyrics that speak to the work that miles Davis put into his mastery of music.
“MUDDY” Waters not to him, or as him but about him. This track contains the most amount of guitar distortion, and natural drums and is the closest thing to Rock on the album. Jamila ambiguously tells the story of being accepted for your art, but not your color.
“BASQUIAT” Jean-Michel Basquiat is my current favorite cut on the album, this song takes it’s time and builds to a textural masterpiece, rocking a full band, the sense of space and imaging is full of timbre and quite wonderful. The lyrics are politically charged and almost evoke the spirit of TLC with some of the rhyme schemes.
“SUN-RA” inspired by Sun Ra’s Sci-Fi poetry book “This Planet Is Doomed” is another stripped-down cut with 808 that sounds rather science fiction, with futuristic-sounding percussion and laser shots.
“OCTAVIA” Buttler, another sci-fi Afrofuturism author. This cut also sounds Sci-Fi but more of an 80’s new wave vibe, the panning synth makes this cut quite trippy. She sings low and slow that provides a sense of intimacy.
“BALDWIN” James Baldwin novelist, playwright and activist. starts with soft piano and vocals, that evolves into a powerhouse track with futuristic bass, and a touch of horns, that for me serves as a wonderful album closer.
“BETTY(FOR BOOGIE)” a reprise and nod to Chicago music, is a remix/ reprise that is electronic and fun but seems to not belong on the album.

This albums is fun, sounds wonderful, and provides a more mature step for Jamila Woods as an artist from her previous release. I have listened to this album at least 50 times and I must say it has great replay value. This album is a breath of fresh air when releases seem to be dull and generic the last couple of months. I love the concept of paying homage to the artists that brought inspiration. As a white dude, my view and understanding of the lyrical theme are limited, all I know is that I enjoy it. This album is available on vinyl and streaming at 24/96 Flac on Qobuz and MQA on Tidal.


Orville Peck – Pony

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As the earth warms with the coming spring, the desire for summer grows along with my excitement for spring and summer releases. One of my favorite music finds is and has always been debut album releases. A debut album has the opportunity to capture a time, moment, or whisper of fresh air that may pull the breath from your lungs. Beyond an introduction, a debut usually makes the first artistic statement. The first thing you may notice is Peck's appearance, it's shocking and intriguing. Peck wears a brightly colored cowboy costume, a ten-gallon hat, and one of fifteen homemade masks with fringe. Orville Peck has a previous persona as a different artist, whom seems irrelevant to this review, but if you must know I will tell you in person. Peck reminds me of Johnny Cash and Frank Sinatra with a softer hint of masculinity, and a modern flavor. Orville's voice croons a dynamic range that is shown off throughout the album. This is an interesting take on a concept album, with a Tarantino like narrative and sound, telling the story of a group of motley characters, set in the pre-modern outlaw west. Pony could be put into a few different categories Outlaw Country, Gothic Americana, Indie, and even perhaps even southern rock.


The album opens with the first single "Dead Of Night" which showcases peck's entire vocal range, a slow and low Gibson hollow body, minimal drums and a tinge of twang. The song portrays a story of two hustlers driving in the dead of night. "Winds Change"  is a bit more upbeat, with a bit of slide guitar. The story of losing your way in the tedious path to fame, sacrificing love and relationships, on a ride that is both heartwrenching and beautiful. "Turn To Hate" sounds more Americana, more of a wall of sound and less dynamic than the rest of the album. The story seems to highlight sorrow and an easy slip into hatred and bitterness. "Buffalo Run" clearly has some punk and rockabilly influence with very simple guitar and driving drums, yet keeps in his lane as a mysterious masked outlaw country singer. "Queen Of The Rodeo" is an anthem with gated reverb drums and gives the feeling that you're in a country bar, perhaps hanging out after the rodeo. "Kansas (Remembers Me Now)" sounds intentional like it's being listened to on AM radio. As the song progresses the quality crumbles setting the story of relocation and watching the past fade and dither, but not without memory. "Old River" Tumbling down to a perfect lo frequency organ intermission track complete with tremolo, and a crooning Peck. "Big Sky" is my favorite track on the album, the song moves slow and takes it time. Twangy hollow body leads while banjo follows, as Orville croons in his lowest register. The lyrics and story are rather ambiguous, personal and perhaps not for me to analyze. "Roses Are Falling" sounds like Hank I, the song waltz's along in 6/8 walking guitar, and brushed drums. The story of celebrating and loving someone isn't a new one but it is a classic. "Take You Back(The Iron Hoof Cattle Call)" is a cattle driving song but also a breakup song. Whistling, cattle whips, and tub-thumping bass complete this track. "Hope To Die" is a heartfelt look at sincere promises, and looking back. Adding yet another track where Peck flexes his vocal range. "Nothing Fades Like The Light" is a perfect album closer, a slow 6/8 guitar, swelling with bass, and some of the best lyrics on the album.
This album plays like a film, with each song setting the imagery with unique recording technics(yep intentional) or old-time instruments to paint a setting as you listen. It strikes me as unique, inspired and sincere. I have intentionally avoided this character's sexuality, as it should have no bearing on the perception of art. Pony is available on vinyl, 24/96 FLAC on Qobuz, or MQA on tidal.

James Blake - Assume Form

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365 new albums every year, however tedious, bears truly original artists and albums that demand intimate listening and provide goosebumps and tears in return, James Blake is perhaps the most wonderful example of this. As modern music is a basic amalgam of all that came before it, I find the hardest thing to do is to describe it in less than five genres. Singer/Songwriter, Soul, R&B, Electronic, Indie, seem to be what people want to call James Blake. I’ve always swallowed Blake’s music with a heavier weight, something about the unapologetic originality and weirdness accompanied by his angelic vocals. James began in 2009 with a 12” album that consisted of a handful of bedroom recordings. By 2010 Blake refined his sound with the studio E.P. “CMYK” containing the sub woofer work out track “Limit To Your Love” originally written by Feist. In early February 2011 Blake released his first self-titled studio album, this is where I became a fan. This album consists of classically trained pianist doing fragmented electronica, prominent use of minimalism, and a voice that sends shivers down my spine. October 2011 Blake released a 6 track EP “Enough Thunder” featuring Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, and Joni Mitchell. April 2013 Blake released his second studio album entitled “Overgrown”, a more diverse, dynamic and digestible album, that David Bowie called his favorite album of the year, Featuring RZA and Brian Eno. LP3 came in May 2016 “The Colour In Anything” was Blake’s longest and most ambitious project top date. James received additional production help on this album from Rick Rubin and Justin Vernon, which wasn’t the case in his previous releases. “The Colour In Anything” is wonderful journey if you have 76 minutes, and a willing and patient ear, THIS ALBUM IS DEEP.

Assume Form came as a surprise with only a week announcement prior to the release. The album opens with a piano driven titled track that touches down on his roots as an artist, but reminds us that we’re hearing a new album with a fresh perspective. The second cut “Mile High” drives the party with a futuristic bass line, heavy piano synth, and creative use of autotune, featuring additional vocals from Travis Scott, and production from Metro Boomin.. The third track on the album “Tell Them” Features the sweet vocal and sound style of Moses Sumney, and the strange and unusual dance these two do as artists. “Into The Red” follows as a heart-warming romance that takes it time, and alludes to the fact that critics can no longer label Blake a sad boy. Spanish pop artist Rosalia joins Blake in the next track “Barefoot In The Park” to the ends of a glorious duet sung in both English and Spanish. Track 6 and the halfway point “Can’t Believe The Way We Flow” is a dreamy almost intermission that sews the two half's of the album together, pointing again to romance and joy. “Are You In Love?” is an exercise in synth driven minimalism and dynamics. “What’s The Catch” is another subwoofer test track, that is more beat driven than the rest of the album, fully loaded with a “heady ass verse” from Andre 3000. “I’ll Come Too” is a glitchy track with stings, that defines aspects of accompaniment in love and travels to the brink and back. The tenth cut “Power On” is an introspective song about coexistence and admitted wrongdoing, to a funky uplifting almost symphonic backdrop. “Don’t Miss It” is a return to the roots of James Blake as an artist, complete with psychedelic vocal processing, minimal piano and drums, and unexpected dynamic turns throughout the song. The album closer “Lullaby For My Insomniac” is as a moment of meditation to reintroduce you back from the heart wrenching beauty you’ve endured as a listener. This album is full of romance and hope, It’s wonderful for a person in love, or a person who is pining in need of release. I must admit it is very early in the year, but it will be hard to top this album on my favorite list. It is unique, beautiful, and carries a thoughtful heartfelt message. Assume Form vinyl ships in may, but is digitally streaming on all platforms.

Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer

Album Artwork for Dirty Computer

Album Artwork for Dirty Computer

As 2019 stokes it’s music release embers, I would like to reflect on my favorite Album of 2018. A Powerful voice in modern pop with a rich background in the hip-hop community. 33 year old Janelle dreamed of being a singer and performer from a young age, and has sighted Dorthy from the Wizard of Oz as being a major musical influence. Born in Kansas City, Kansas, and relocating to Atlanta, Georgia in 2001, she began her career in 2003 after meeting Outkast’s Big Boi and co-founded Wondaland Art’s Society. In 2004 Janelle Monáe met Sean Comes who along with Big Boi, would become executive producers for each of her albums. The same year she would be featured in 2 of Outkast’s final album/film project Idlewild. She would go on to release an EP 2007 Metropolis: Suite I, and two LP’s The Archandroid, and The Electric Lady, 2010 and 2013 respectively. Each of Janelle Monáe albums are Soul, Pop, Psychedelic, Alternative R&B and each paint their own science fiction narrative interconnecting themes, characters, concepts, that are intriguing and conceptually brilliant. Janelle has also has been fairly successful in the movie business staring in Moonlight, Hidden Figures, and Welcome to Marwen.

Dirty Computer takes a more traditional approach to pop music, while still encompassing her concepts, and narrative. This album is a fun psychedelic soul pop masterpiece with a sprinkle of the hip-hop. Dirty Computer is hopeful, joyous, and feel good but addresses current issues with tongue and cheek wordsmithery. The album opens with a quasi-overture featuring Brian Wilson from the beach boys. Track 2 is a fun carefree track, “Young, black, wild, and free” sets the tone, and greatly stresses her “Crazy, Classic, Life”. The next song “Take a Byte” has a more serious tone, drawing parallels between sexuality and computing. We are taken into a dreamscape instrumental pallet cleanser ironically titled “Jane’s Dream”. “Screwed” takes us to a hopeful place where all the world’s problems can simply be screwed away featuring Zoe Kravits. The next song “Django Jane” is the point in the album where it becomes brilliant. This is a song of serious statement carried forth in the form of rap bars, of which contend with the some of the most intricate and vocabulary driven rappers. “Pynk” is the following track that comes in the form of a dance worthy semi-protest song featuring the artist Grimes. “Make Me Feel” may seem that Janelle in channeling her inner-Prince, well the truth and interesting fact is that The Artist Formerly Known As laid down the guitar track and had planned to be featured in the song, but died first. The next cut “Juice” another dance-able pop track with clever tongue in cheek lyrics, featuring N.E.R.D.’s Pharell Williams. “I Like That” is a pop anthem that conveys a message of positivity and self-love. “Don’t Judge Me” is a psychedelic six minute journey that brings us down from all the dancing and fun from earlier, and ready for conclusion. Followed by “Stevie’s Dream” a short instrumental track. “So Afraid” and “Americans” are the two most serious tracks, the sarcasm and tongue and cheek cleverness about the album seems to fade away on these two tracks and the teeth of the album bares sharp.

Janelle Monáe – Image from theguardian

Janelle Monáe – Image from theguardian

I can’t stress the importance that this album has had on me as a listener. I have listened to this album over 100 times in 2018, and what moves me most is the feel of this album. Dirty Computer does a rare thing in current media, it acknowledges the modern crumble, yet takes a hopeful approach and manages to promote a positive message. I have danced, cried, and covered myself in goosebumps while studying this album, a first for me regarding a pop album. There is a story told within the album, that can be enjoyed fully when accompanied by the visual for the album. This album has been nominated for more awards than can fit on this page. Dirty Computer Vinyl album comes standard with a gate fold and traditional album art and a black vinyl, or a special edition can be purchased from her website that contains a holographic cover and a yellow vinyl. Disclaimer: there are some adult themes and explicit lyrics throughout the album.


Lump - 2018

Album by LUMP | Laura Marling | Mike Lindsay and Lump

Album by LUMP | Laura Marling | Mike Lindsay and Lump

Before delving into the feeling of the album Let’s go through a bit of background as to what makes this project so special.

Mike Lindsay, a co-founding member, composer and producer of the acid folk band Tunng. As well as a mercury prize winner for his work on the 2009 rap album Speech Therapy by  Speech Debelle. Mike has built quite a reputation and following in the UK folk scene, he is well known for making an ordinary track pop with psychedelia.

Laura Marling started her career at the age of 16 in UK's underground Nu-folk scene, joining Noah and the whale for their first album Peaceful, the World Lays Me Down, as part of the original line up. Leaving the band due to break up with Lead singer Charlie Fink. Laura's  solo career began in 2008 with her debut album Alas, I Cannot Swim; I Speak Because I Can. Since her debut she has released 5 well reviewed LP's and has accumulated a list of awards and nominations in the underground and mainstream music communities.

The result is Lump, a slow burn acid folktronic album that is speckled with beauty and melancholia. I find it the perfect music to play at night, as the drone folk melodies paint a dreamscape of postmodern discontent. The lyrics bring us further into the abstract of the album with lyrics like "paint dots on your wrist to see me in your dreams"  referencing lucid dreaming where the one paints dots on their wrists to distinguish subconscious from reality. I find the album a satisfying flow as we begin with ambiance that drifts into a powerful baseline building to a 7 minute album opener. Flowing to the next few tracks that bring us into an electric folk night dance. Laura words her struggles and demands of being famous with boredom in California and the unnerving "Curse of the Contemporary". Ending on a closing track that feels like guided meditation as Laura quietly reads the album credits to a background of ambiance. at 32 minutes I find Lump a digestible album that rewards the patient listener.  The vinyl record comes with some cool art and a transparent green 180g vinyl. Key tracks: Late to the Flight, Cure of the contemporary.