Y-Love hails from Brooklyn and some people say he's an avant-garde rapper, but his own MySpace page says he's into offering global hip hop. He does these things with the help of DJ Handler and Jake Break, and together they combine, social, cultural, and religious artifacts within their surroundings to offer up this avant-garde mix of global unity, one that takes on a spiritual path throughout the album, This Is Babylon (Modular Moods/Universal).
The music Y-Love offers is definitely hip-hop, but not just hip-hop in the modern sense, but in a futuristic sense for those who want to brave the voyages of such people as Andre 3000, Blueprint, El-P, and Wise Intelligent. The first track had a slight Dirty South vibe to it, with loads of electronics, synths, and snaps going on, but the lyrics touch upon the lies told from the Pentagon, and how Y-Love is a lyrical paragon who loves running the rhyme marathon. On the surface, people might catch a groove and want to do some booty dances, but this is not booty music. With "Bump" the mood takes a complete 180 and you're hearing chopped samples that could have come from the Prince Paul archives as he's talking about seeing the world from a Hasidic perspective. Things go into different directions again with "Bring It On Down", which musically would sound perfect on a Missy Elliott or Black Eyed Peas album (primarily due to Jake Break's production), but Y-Love is dropping serious knowledge, the kind you wouldn't see on any television screen in a Hefty plastic bag. The music is the lure, but as you hear what he calls his mind-bending rhymes, you're hearing some intense wisdom from someone who is sure of his role as an MC by telling people "this is me, and I'm demanding to be heard."
As far as "avant-garde" is concerned, it's very creative and there are sounds here you're not going to hear on mainstream hip-hop radio. Y-Love represents a side of hip-hop that likes to explore, both lyrically and flow-wise, because most rappers would just write, recite, and go home. Sometimes he gets into a dialogue which sounds like a street preacher, where it feels like he's just going off without care for tempo or song structure, but then he returns and proves everyone wrong. It is indeed Jewish hip-hop, represented by a face that one would not typically expect to see honoring the Jewish faith. But in the vast world of hip-hop, especially sides that never get noticed outside of the independent and underground scenes, Y-Love, DJ Handler, and Jake Break represent one style out of many. It's music for those who want to keep their heads nodding and bodies gyrating, but with intelligence and structure that looks to a higher power without being too overbearing or preachy. Those who have forgotten how deep rap music can get will need an aqualung to lurk in the depths of territories unvisited for years.
(This Is Babylon will be released digitally in March, and will hit the streets in April. You can find out more by checking him out at his MySpace page.)
David Hahn is an experimental artist who likes to bring his years of guitar work into an electronic soundscape for unique twists with his music. Your Time Is Up is not a concept album but an album with a running theme, where the threat of the doomsday clock always looms above us and slowly it's making its way two minutes to midnight. At times it sounds like Roger Waters' Radio K.A.O.S., but instead the "four minutes and counting" countdown is real and it's moving at a sluggish pace, the fear of what's to come and what may be, if there is to be a "be". Hahn's metal riffs with a hint of folk stylings is the contradiction that exists throughout the album, maybe his way of describing good vs, evil, better vs, worse, or simply wanting to clash different moods for the hell of it. Hahn is verbally heard, sometimes speaking, sometimes as a robotic voice, so while the album's machine-like qualities are always present, there is always the presence of "something else" which helps make Your Time Is Up very dark and gloomy. The 8-minute "Mask Of Sanity" comes off as Hahn talking to himself, trying to prepare himself for the inevitable, but by the album's end it's hard to say if the inevitable happened, or if we as humans now exist on another planet in the distance. We don't know, it's open ended, and it works because you don't know. There's no closure to the theme, but there doesn't need to be.
The album is one man's view of the world we live in and where we may be headed, and one can only hope that through his insight, people will force themselves to change for the betterment of everyone.
(Your Time Is Up is available through CDBaby.)
The last I heard of Jeff Bujak, I had interpreted his music as jazz with electronic stylings. I really enjoyed it and looked forward to what he had to offer, and he now presents the world with a new effort called Building: An Arsenal (Lizardflag Recordings). For this one, the vibe here is electronic music with jazz stylings, not sure if he decided to switch his emphasis or I'm just hearing things differently, but what I like about this one is that he continues to explore with his music with a bit of minimalism involved, and trying to get through each song layer by layer, without worrying about reaching the end at a specific time.
I say this because Bujak likes to explore things in-depth, meaning that while there are brief 44 second pieces on here ("Py" and "Vy" respectively), tracks like "Vacuous" are 11:11 in length, while "Sill" is 14:00 and "Crowd" is 12:16, while the album closes with three 9 minute songs in a row. Think of The ORB if they were into jazz, and some might read that and go "oh, so Bujak sounds like The Necks?" No, but instead you have a musician who is very sure of his playing style, and chooses to do so with electronic backdrops. "Muses" could easily find its way onto any new electronic album, some of the beats sound like something from the Future Sound Of London vaults with something that sounds like an electronic Melodica. Dare I say it, but as a whole this guy could easy give Moby a run for his money in terms of arrangements, musical depth, and concepts. He can create something with an abrasive edge, or as is the case with "Crowd" it sounds a bit like new age with a beat. Some of it sounds perfect for some kind of promotioal tourist package video, but then you sit down with the music a bit and start to hear his music in different ways. But away from the textures surrounding him, the focus is his piano playing, and Bujak is great to listen to. Not sure if he plans to tour for this one, but to be able to have a group of musicians who could duplicate this live would be a trip to listen and view. Job well done.
(Building: An Arsenal will be released on February 2nd. For more information, click to the official Jeff Bujak home page.)
People throw the terms "pop music" and "pop star" around like it's a towel soaked in boil pus. No one wants to touch it for fear of the smell that will linger in the room. There's also the daring who think they know what pop music is, because it's a safe term to describe anything that is non-threatening. Yet after listening to Let Your Heart Break (self-released) by The Billie Burke Estate, one wants to call this one of the best pop albums made in the 21st century so far, because the songs are moving, charming, and irresistible, the type of music that one would never want to get out of their heads, but it's not "safe". Instead, it's the kind of pop music and craftsman ship that challenges the listener to listen deeper, to move, to be inspired and look at the world differently. It's not Cher's "Believe", but The Billie Burke Estate make you want to believe.
The Estate in question is the brainchild of one man. That's right, Andy Liotta is the one-man genius behind The Billie Burke Estate, and forget who Billie Burke may or may not be or what Estate he's trying to be a part of, that's not the point. What is the point is this album, and these 12 songs that should be heard and bought by anyone who dares call themselves a musician. One can tell that Liotta is a passionate person who writes from the heart, and if there are any fears, hopes, and dreams, he puts them into words and music, and hearing it is, as the old song goes, pure pop for now people. "Perky Muscle Girl" is the song Todd Rundgren wished he had thought about, while "I Want U" is as powerful as it is surprising, as it switches mood and tempo about half way through. He tells believable stories, not quirky or "pages from a stoned out poet". It's bright but not sappy, bold but also multi-dimensional, and it comes from a diverse city like Seattle. Some are love songs, song are songs that may very well be lullabies for his children, some are child-like, others offer unique tales of life's path, perhaps coming through Liotta's previous experiences as being a member of Walrus and the almighty Smokin' Rhythm Prawns. Let Your Heart Break is an honest title representing an album full of honest songs by an artist who wishes to share his honesty with those who may want to hear... if not "pop music at its best", then just good music without fear. If you open up your heart, you may find a bit of this music already lurking there.
(Let Your Heart Break is available through CDBaby.)
The cover photo of Reed KD's debut album, The Ashes Bloom (Dirty Laundry) looks a bit like Neil Young's After The Gold Rush, a casual stroll on the sidewalk with a brickwall in the background. I'm not sure if that was his intention or inspiration, but after hearing this album, it seems After The Gold Rush and records by similar artists are definitely in his DNA.
Reed KD's laid back vibe is reminiscent of the trademark California sound of the 70's, where the music is full of acoustic guitars, vocal harmonies, and stories about days never ending, evenings always mellow, and oceans forever flowing. It's a sound that is present among the likes of Jack Johnson and Donavon Frankenreiter, and for good reason: the music and songs hold up very well. On The Ashes Bloom he shows his skills as a multi-instrumentalist, producer, and engineer. Songs like "Empty Bottles", "Maybe By Morning", and "This Coastal Sound" all sound homemade, but professional sounding, the way Prince would have made his albums if he grew up on the West Coast. The guy doesn't come off as uptight in anyway, where if you walked past his place, he'd tell you to check out what he has growing in his backyard, listen to the new albums he recently acquired, or perhaps jam a bit in the backroom. If he feels like busting out the old electronic beat box for a song, he'll do that, as he does in "Roll Over", a song with some demands:
Roll over, you've taken up too much from my side of the bed
I shouldn't get more than half on a one night stand
Believe me, it's not easy being so cheap
I'll still be alone at the end of the week
I've turned my back
On love for good
What's the use signing up for abuse
When I can do that myself
It's one of those "I'll make some hot dog fried rice and share it with my friends because that's all I have right now" type albums, and the stories are easy to relate to because we've all been through them before in some way or another. To be able to play, record and mix everything down is one thing, but to make the bold next step to share that, and have something people find worth hearing is hopefully worth the risk for Reed KD, because he succeeds in many ways. In fact, buy a bunch of copies to your best friends as gifts and see what they have to say, for this is the kind of them that should be getting massive airplay right now. It's casual, cool, and again, "laid back" in all the right ways, and with luck he'll become an artist recognized on a national level. The album was originally self-released in 2006 but will be released through Dirty Laundry Records this year. Don't wait another two years for it.
(The Ashes Bloom is available from CDBaby.)
An avant-garde project originally commissioned by a radio station was rejected by the station itself, claiming that the piece was "new musicy", whatever that means. Instead, the creators decided to enhance and extend sections, and turn it into a full composition. The end result becomes the 4-part title track to An Innocent, Abroad (Pogus) by Al Margolis/If, Bwana.
The 4-piece suite is explored as "An", "Innocent", "," (yes, the comma is the song title) and "Abroad", and what you hear is the primary voice of Lisa Barnard speaking almost in tongues as flautists Jacqueline Martelle and Jane Rigler play melodies in, within, and outside of each other, with everything put together electronically by Al Margolis. The extra sounds were based on the vocal track, some portions repeat themselves a few times throughout the 4 pieces, and then the voice suddenly changes. Then it speaks a completely different language, and what I found interesting is that with each flautist they put their imagination into the vocal tracks they were given and try to come up with a conversation of sorts. A lot of it may not make sense to the human ear, but it sounds great.
The album ends with "Issue", which features just Barnard and Margolis alone in their own vices, and while not a part of the "An Innocent, Abroad" piece, it does come across as an exclamation point for the album as a whole. Barnard herself is a performance artist who has collaborated with some of the best musicians in experimental and avant-garde music, and if you are a fan of the work of Meredith Monk you may find Barnard's non-word text to be very moving, or simply put: using the voice as a true instrument or source of unpredictable sounds.
(An Innocent, Abroad is available directly from Pogus Records.)
Annea Lockwood is a composer who takes her time when it comes to putting together sounds. Thousand Year Dreaming/floating world (Pogus) is a great album featuring two of her pieces, each of which require some intense listening. "Thousand Year Dreaming" is divided into five pieces, and together they create an audio life fabric of sorts by tying together various cultural and musical styles. The first part, "breathing and dreaming", does indeed sound like the beginning of life. It could also be whales, or haunting ghosts in a chamber. The various musicians involved in the piece had a hand in the composition, and each play a role in each piece but a few of them also have the freedom to do a bit of improv at certain times. The full dream is also meant to be experienced in a live setting, as the musicians go into the crowd and have a bit of energetic feedback with each other. Sounds at times are bold and intricate, but it's what happens in between (the things that require close listening) that makes it special.
"Floating World" is divided into three, and instead of music, it is a collage of natural sounds/field recordings, beginning with the sound of what sounds like an ocean or lake shore. Lockwood then weaves together the various sounds recorded and assembled by friends to reveal the life that may or may not have been hinted at with "Thousand Year Dreaming". While both pieces were written nine years apart, they can be linked if you wish to take it there, although both are distinct enough to where the listener can explore the sounds on their own time without comparing the two.
(Thousand Year Dreaming/floating world is available directly from Pogus Records.)
Classical guitarist David Starobin offers up his Family Album (Bridge) by looking at the role of family relationships through five compositions, including one original composition by David Starobin. There's a bit of tranquility in the way a classical guitar is played, as it creates emotion and passion that is unique to that style. One can hear this in the fantastic "Semi-Suite", a six-piece journey that might seem like part of the story, but works on its own. For those who aren't familiar with classical guitar, the style has been used in a lot of rock'n'roll in the late 60's and early 70's, most of which stayed true to the music. Pieces like "Semi-Suite, II: Aimless Air" and "Bailarin" could be gateway songs for further exploration, but what you will hear is a musician who plays with a lot of feeling and power. The subtle use of field recordings also move things at a steady pace. Reading the liner notes as the album goes along, you can almost sense the things Starobin tried to capture, and he pulls it off wonderfully.
For guitarists who may want to experiment or know a little more about the recording, there's a good amount of technical information here to get them started and perhaps experiment and/or learn about this style of music and playing. While I am obviously not well versed in classical guitar, I like what I hear and it's the kind of stuff I enjoy searching and finding when I dig around for records.
(Family Album: New Music With Guitar, Vol. 7 is available through CD Universe.)
Jason Kao Hwang has created music that could easily be called "cutting edge", or at least I like to call it that because he goes out of his way to take his music a few steps further each and every time, while others would just play the same thing over and over and cash in their checks. Hwang doesn't seem to want to take the high road, at least not yet. On Stories Before Within (Innova) he puts himself in combo mode, in this case his friends known as Edge, and it's the kind of improvisational jazz that keeps listeners on the edge of their metaphorical seat, with no signals or cues on where they plan to go next.
Hwang and Edge (Andrew Drury-drums; Ken Filiano-bass, and Taylor Ho Bynum-cornet) look for reality and some of the dark things in life on this album, with tracks like "Cloud Call" and "Embers" being full of anticipation, anxiety, and at least with the opening notes of "Embers", sorrow. The musicians do it in a manner where you hear everything stripped down to its core, nothing hidden behind walls of noise. They will occasionally break down and you'll hear one musician singled out over the other, which often comes at the most unexpected times. "Third Sight" seems to not only hint at the cultural qualities of New York City, but perhaps Hwang's own Chinese heritage, perhaps being heard as a clash of two worlds, two different ideas, two different mentalities. The songs are more or less observations, one man's new view of old life experiences as they become his own. The album mixes jazz and classical quite well, where jazz fans can easily hear him in the same way one might hear Jean Luc Ponty, or in more in-depth compositions that challenge the listener to feel and sense what he's trying to say.
Stories Before Within holds everything together very well, and by the time the album enters its last few minutes, you wish you could hear Hwang and Edge play just a little more before its eventual end. It captures the feeling of someone looking for better when given a set of circumstances that is anything but splendid, and the light at the end of the tunnel is one of optimism, which sounds as good as it reads. Anyone who claims that music has lost its heart and soul has not heard Jason Kao Hwang.. This is a good place to start.
(Stories Before Within is available directly from Innova.)
There are female jazz vocalists a plenty, all dabbling into various genres to show their techniques and elegance, and Roslyn Kind is one of many, but is she worthy of repeated listens? I had to find out.
Come What May (Right Kind Music) was originally released in 1994 and is being reissued 14 years later, I believe with new artwork. With Broadway musicals and American Idol capturing the nation's attention in the last few years, at times it feels people want to return to a time when singers were actually singing, and not wailing like a dog on a full moon. Kind goes back to that and brings it into modern times with renditions of "The Man That Got Away", "How Do You Keep The Music Playing?", "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes", and my favorite track, the opening song "Perfect". The mood is intimate and cozy, and you hear someone who has a craft for the music that she loves. Repeated listens? Indeed. (As a sidenote, it wasn't until I wrote the last words to this review did I discover that Kind is Barbra Streisand's sister.)
(Come What May is available through CD Universe.)
Initially described as as a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald, Freda Payne's Live In Concert (Band Of Gold) is really a look back at the rich, musical career of Miss Payne. Most may not realize that before "Band Of Gold", Payne was a jazz vocalist signed to Impulse Records, and a singer who was showing her influences and vocal range with an incredible choice of material. Live In Concert covers not only Ella's jazz roots but Miss Payne's as well, and it sounds great. Those who are only familiar with "Band Of Gold" will really enjoy hearing this, and the big hit is performed here. Believe it or not, she sounds as youthful as she did back in 1970,
As for vocal strength, Payne has never lost her touch, and in this recording she even does an Ella impersonation which will blow away a lot of hardcore jazz fans. As the saying goes, give respect when respect is due, and for Payne it is long overdue. While the general population may consider her a "mere" one-hit wonder, her music and voice have always showed that she is much more than that, which is why so many people have cared for her for five decades. Judging from the youthful photos of the modern day Payne, she's not about to rest just yet.
(Live In Concert is available through CDBaby.)
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