Let's begin, or maybe that should be, "and we continue..."
The buzz for this album was strong long before it was finished, partly because Nas stated that the title would be Nigger. Boom, that's going to irk the shit out of people and rightfully so, but this is Nas, someone who has generally been on a mission. Nonetheless, after a bit of debate, Nas decided to claim that there was no title for it, however with the original title in mind, that becomes the backbone for one of the more lyrically impressive albums he has done in his career.
What Nas does on this album is create a running thread through each of the songs. It's not a concept album, and most of the writers who are claiming it is a concept obviously have no idea what a concept album is. It's a running theme, and from song to song he passes through but not without lyrically assassinating everyone and every negative concept in sight. He still wants to rock it and prove he's the best Queens has ever offered, but while the bravado and swagger is very much in his voice and flows, he's not an elitist on this one. In "Breathe" he speaks about where he came from, where he's been, where he's headed, and acknowledges those who have been a part of the battle to survive. One can't survive without watchful eyes, and Nas proudly says Middle fingers up, fuck the police/light up my trees and I just breathe. In "Black President" he looks to the reality that the United States may have its first black president, but also knows about the risks that it entails. Nas questions on whether or not anything will change, but compared to the presidents of the past, he knows that change is definitely going to come, and a lot of people aren't ready for that:
New-improved JFK on the way
It ain't the 60's again
N!ggas ain't hippies again
We ain't falling for the same traps
Standing on the balconies
Where they shot the King at
McCain got apologies
Ain't nobody hearing that
People need honesty
The verse takes a peak at people who offered hopes and dreams and perhaps those dreams will rise to the surface if people are seriously looking for change. With the original title of the album in mind again, Nas is holding the light in front of people and asking "look at where we're at now, and where we might be headed. Plan on insulting my intelligence anytime soon?"
Nas recently stated on 106 & Park that a lot of people will forever demand another Illmatic but he said that was 1994, and it's time to look forward and move on. He knows the importance of that album and what made people get in touch with that sense of ill-ness, but Nas has proved once again that he's still ill. It would take someone like him to admit that hip-hop is dead, and if that was the case, this album can be considered someone going head first, without fear, into the apocalypse.
(Nas (Untitled) is available from CD Universe.)
Seattle. Yes, Wizdom is from there. Epidemmik? He's from the other Washington, and I mean D.C. Together they decided to do a project together and it has lead to an album that will hopefully put them on the "essential" list as they create Music: Soul Of The Man (Gemini).
There was no need for Wizdom to up his game, I liked his style the way it is. But for his new album with Epidemmik, his game is something a lot of people should be afraid of on an album where he speaks about what hip-hop, music, and Seattle means to him, and how all of these things give him the outlook and passion he has. While older Seattle fans might question the need for Wizdom to do an album with someone 3000 miles away, he addresses that in "Hollywood", which he describes as the current state of hip-hop negotiations:
I got a e-mail just the other day
From this dude who does beats locally right around the way
Said he been on the grind now for nine months
And this guy was different than them other cookie cutter chumps
Each beat'll cost you only 3-hundo spots
I'll send you the files when you ready to cop
I replied that I'm good, I got this cat from D.C.
He said "nevermind, if you don't want heat, G
I make better beats than fuckin' Vitamin D, see?
I use Fruity Loops, the rest is garbage to me
Fuck Epidemmik and his wack ASR-10
His style is outdated, I was really happenin'"
I told him, dude you put in work
It takes years to make it, jerk,don't get ass hurt
I told him stay on your grind, no hate
This is Hollywood, where everyone pretends that they great
If there's an underlying theme, it's that Wizdom is telling it like it is without fear, the stories and struggles of being an artist and being a fan of music in 2008 has turned hip-hop into a Hollywood-like fantasy world for some, and by the time he gets to "Keep On Moving" and "Bring It Back" one realizes how far we've moved from the great days of '88, when gas was a dollar, clothes didn't quite fit, no one had the internet, and the Chicago Bulls were the only team that mattered. Wizdom speaks on everything we've accumulated since then and suggest what we can do in order to return to those days of innocence.
Like Danger Mouse, Epidemmik is an "appropriate" producer in that he knows how to gear the beats for the lyrics and what samples will fit in perfectly for the occasion. The two of them make a tight combo and he definitely adds to Wizdom's great storytelling here (along with cameos from Thig Natural, Grynch, and Ike James). On his own, the guy has an ear for putting things together, and I could just listen to any of his instrumentals and be happy. I hope both of them continue to work together, which will result in Epidemmik getting more work to put on his resume as well.
Wizdom is the voice, and being from Seattle, one can say that Music: Soul Of The Man represents Seattle hip-hop at its finest. Epidemmik is the producer, and being from D.C., one can say that the album represents D.C. at its finest. As a unit, the album represents rap music at its best. The soul of hip-hop is dead? Not if Wizdom and Epidemmik have a say in things.
(Music: Soul Of The Man can be ordered directly from Wizdom.)
Last year I had reviewed Aranos Tax, an album that explored what we as citizens of the world have to deal with alongside living. We are told we have to pay this or that, payment of which is more than monetary. That album consisted of 12 songs. For his new project, Aranos explores sound to its fullest potential by offering a CD consisting of one, 65-minute piece. It's an endurance test but I'm all for it.
Koryak Mistress Stakes Golden Sky is the name of the album and the piece that's on the CD, and it takes awhile for things to bloom. The great thing about this piece is that there are no shortcuts, every sound, texture, and movement takes time to be heard and fully understood, it's a bit like sitting on top of Haleakala crater and watching the sun rise slowly but surely. You want to take it all in, for anything missed may be an elimination of elements within the full experience. It's meditative, it might be considered new age, even progressive, but in time you hear a collection of different sounds played by Aranos himself. If you've ever been into an ocean, whether it's at a beach or by boat, there is always a bit of uncertainty even though you know "it's just water" or "it's just a beach", but sitting and listening to this is like that, especially upon first listen. Every sound leads to something new, and it isn't until the middle of the piece that one can hear the music at its assumed peak. It stays there for awhile, being abstract when it wants to but also knowing where it needs to go and what it must do, and eventually it seems to go back to where it came from. Is the album moving forwards or backwards? Is it beginning or the end? Are we listening to birth, life, and death? Is this the sound of someone looking up at the sky while lying on the ground, with nowhere to go but in?
Again, it's an endurance test but I'm a fan of lengthy pieces (10 minutes or more!!!) and this one was a trip to listen to, and I enjoyed it with various synths and real instruments uniting for the cause of the album. One may not know where the piece will go or where it's coming from, but once it reaches its last 10 minutes, all of the pieces are understood
(Koryak Mistress Stakes Golden Sky is available from CDBaby.)
Those who love their vocal jazz low and smooth will enjoy the richness of Vibe Over Perfection, the new album from Jamie Davis. Davis has been a singer for years and will appeal to fans of Joe Williams and Lou Rawls. While many have been compared to those two, it's another thing to take jazz standards and truly make them sound new. This is exactly what he does with new versions of Lionel Richie's "Hello", Rawls' "You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine", and the classic "The Look Of Love". Even "Nature Boy", which has been covered countless times over the years, gets a bit of a new awakening here.
The album was beautifully produced by Greg Errico, the name of which should be familiar to Sly & The Family Stone fans. He has done a number of productions in the past and his work here shows the kind of ear he has to make these recordings sound fantastic.
(Vibe Over Perfection will be released on July 15th through Unity Music.)
The Numero Group are back with another morsel of good ol' soul, and in this case it's the long lost soundtrack to a blaxploitation film project that was canceled before it was started. Brotherman features the music by The Final Solution, and in typical 70's soundtrack fashion, the music is meant to be a description of some of the things going on in the film. Like some of the best soundtracks of the 70's, it's a mixture of stories about ther struggle, hustling, and finding that one and only true love to romance all day and night.
I received a promo CD for this, so I did not get a chance to read the liner notes for more in-depth information or see some of the photos that may be in there, so I can only do this review on the merits of the music. Being meant for 1975, you can hear that looseness of the music and the vocals where things weren't ready to be full-on disco, but some of it was getting ready to crossover. The liner notes on the promo seems to indicate that these songs were not mixed until recently, and maybe it's all in my mind, but what is lost in these recordings is some of the production techniques that were part of the norm, so it's somewhat difficult to tell what the group and the producer had in mind, had these recordings been mixed in full. Instead, they sound like polished demos that occasionally left me hanging and wanting more. I like how some songs end abruptly without a fade, and I do like the fact that this was an album unearthed 33 years later after the fact, but for some reason it just feels incomplete. That's not saying that the songs are bad, because they aren't, but one can hear this and only imagine what could have been had the soundtrack been finished as it may have been intended.
(The Brotherman soundtrack will be released on August 18th through The Numero Group.)
The one thing people have been saying about the new Negativland album is that it's different, unlike anything they have done before. Truth of the matter is: it's true. Outside of side projects, Thigmotactic (Seeland) is an album featuring fully developed songs with proper singing, but this is Negativland, so nothing is really "proper" and as for the "singing"...
It's very much in the Negativland way of thinking. Consider these songs filk scriptures, where the music is created with synthesizers, real instruments, and a lot of sound collage. You'll hear reference to anything and everything, as before, but this time their approach is arguably more consumable. The humor of course is very much present, and for this album they take a look at the world we live in circa 2008 and examine it from all perspectives. It is done by vocals mixed in with soundbytes of various origins, so the samples speak and help guide the listener along to the story. That is, if some of the stories can be figured out. "Your Skin Is Gelatin" could be about Jell-O or it could be about the fetishism of celebrities who look and act like gelatin, I have absolutely no idea what's going on. Is the album about food? There are many references to them: "Jack Pastrami (Flower Bum)", "Steak On A Whim", "Pork In The Store", "Perfect Little Cookies", and the aforementioned gelatin song. "By Truck" is an educational sound about milk, and why that truck sucks. Speaking of sucking, is "Lying On The Grass" a ballad about analingus?
It takes a number of listens for everything to sink in and be somewhat understood, but even after that you'll find yourself wanting to leave songs open to interpretation. From afar, one can easily play this alongside The Residents, Primus, King Missile, Reaching Quiet, cLOUDDEAD, and Why?. The worlds contained within Thigmotactic are sponsored and brought to you by something, and the point is to figure out how to get the organisms out of the system to live and breathe free.
Or is it?
(Thigmotactic is available directly from Negativland.com, where you are able to download samples from the album.)
The Mood play the kind of jingly jangly power pop that gets the best of us and sweeps us off of our feet, and these guys and a lady do it effectively with their Synaesthesia EP (Outright Rock). One can say that their music is infectious, and that's exactly what the best pop music provides, a need for you to hear it over and over because there's a hint of familiarity and yet you want to hear these stories because they are new tales by a new band. "Masquerade" could become the anthem for the youth this coming fall, with the power riffs and the delicate verses and chorus that makes you want to pull up the fingers and rock in a Satanic fashion.
It's non-threatening, their music will not make you do luudes (maybe), but it's not as sugar sweet as The Apples In Stereo. Hearing this makes you wish radio would play music like this a lot more. That is, if radio was worth listening to.
My Milky Way Arms, what kind of a name is that? I like it because it's straight up goofy. Milkman and Tim2K are the two men behind My Milky Way Arms and their self-titled EP (Milky Syndication) shows they have a love for quirky, distorted pop that will take you to the upper worlds and nether regions at the same time.
They describe their music in a symphonic manner, but it's a symphony of the pop and rock sense, with falsettos and compressed drums coming out of the vaults of The Flaming Lips and Dokoloats. Is it really "romantic, space-rock and electronic pop"? It's definitely a mind trip, acidic to the taste and yet fun at the same time. These two do accessible things in (somewhat) unusual ways, it seems they are going to find an audience by taking the long route, in that time being able to accumulate fans who will understand what they themselves may not understand. I can see My Milky Way Arms becoming the next it band within the next few years, it may take them awhile but the long road is paved with goodness. I'll be there on the other side.
(The My Milky Way Arms EP is available from CDBaby.)
Karen Johns is a swingin' jazz singer who does it without all of the extravagance some singers try to push, or if it's there, it's fairly subtle. Star And Season (Ptarmigan Music) is an album for those who want their jazz standards to be sung and played with respect, and this album (credited as Karen Johns & Company is full of respect, class, and dignity.
Much of that comes from the way Johns sings, very smooth and with a lot of elegance. In her version of "Night & Day" I almost sensed a folk influence but that may be simply her pulling a quick vocal trick or two. Bread's "If" gets a beautiful treatment here, even a song like this which has been played to death for the last 35 years, Johns sings this and makes it her own song, as if it was meant for her to sing. She also introduces a few originals in a suite of songs that seem to bring together the seasons of the year, with her "Southland Summer" and "Angels In The Snow" becoming the bread to Johnny Mercer's meat in the name of "Autumn Leaves". "Angels In The Snow" is a song that I can easily see becoming a part of many holiday movies, and with luck it too will become a standard for jazz singers of the future. For now, Karen Johns is someone fans of vocal jazz should keep an eye and ear on.
(Star And Season is available from CDBaby.)
I tend to get picky when it comes to hearing vocal jazz, because when it's good I want to let everyone know. Then there's stuff that isn't pleasing to my ears. Sadly, Ballet Time (Conawago) is not an album that I would want to hear again. Anne Phillips has an okay voice, but as much as I wanted to sit and take it for the duration of the CD, her style is just too shrill and irritable for me to take in. The album is great as far as the people she collaborates with, for the album features Dave Brubeck, Marian McPartland, Bob Dorough, and Joe Locke, and the music throughout is great. If it was an instrumental album, I would be praising this left and right. I just can't get past the voice.
As far as musical merits are concerned, this is well played and recorded, and hearing Brubeck play on "In Your Own Sweet Way" (a song composed with his wife Iola) is just... it's Brubeck, what can be said that hasn't been said? Perhaps you may enjoy the album as a whole, but this just wasn't for me.
(Ballet Time is available from CDBaby.)
Rita Edmond's Sketches Of A Dream (T.O.T.I. Music) fared a little better, her voice reminded me of a cross between the silky tones of Roberta Flack with the Broadway tendencies of Cheryl Lynn. The entire album holds up quite well, with a powerful 16 songs to prove that she is more than capable of doing, my favorites were "You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To", "On The Street Where You Live", and "Here's That Rainy Day". Edmond has the kind of voice that I think could embrace any song in any songbook and make it into something that would become identified with her, and I would have liked to have heard a few songs that weren't part of the jazz fabric. But that's more of a personal gripe than an actual one.
If there is one thing I found fault in, it's the vocal tracks, which at points sound like she wasn't in the room with the musicians. In those moments it sounds like she's in an isolated booth with her voice bouncing off the sides, giving a very cold feeling that isn't fitting for her. She produced her own vocal tracks, but with the music as big and bold as it is, I would have preferred for her voice to sound just as bold, rather than it being trapped in a room the size of a small closet. It's a flaw that I can look past, but in the future I hope to hear the boldness of her voice opened up with the band.
(Sketches Of A Dream is available from CDBaby.)
The first song on Her Space Holiday's new EP, Sleepy Tigers (Mush), for some reason, reminds me of a cross between Flaming Lips, Amy Winehouse, and The Band. While it might be impossible for Winehouse to sit in with these two bands, the acoustic folk pop stylings of Her Space Holiday is perfect for the playground of the alterna- kids who understand the purity of pop. It can be quirky but it's so good that you don't realize that it's a little left of center. In other words, Celine Dion isn't going to beat box to this anytime soon.
What you do hear is a band who create mini-pop masterpieces because they love the form of the music, in fact "Same Song Sing Along" has a hint of Beatlemania with a slight sprinkle of Kink-dom. The EP is a small dose consisting of four hits, but it's a primer for what the group can do in long form. There's courage in their innocent ways, and one day it will be released without a warning. Watch it, dukes.
(Sleepy Tigers will be released on July 29th and will be available directly from Mush Records.)
Never judge a book by a cover, the old cliche goes, and this album is definitely fitting. The cover photo of Georg Brienschmid features him superimposed over what looks like a stand-up bass or cello, as he's holding, inquisitively, a flute. Looking at the stand-up bass, I assumed it was jazz, but upon hearing the music on Wien bleibt Krk (Zappel Music), one discovers that things are a bit more open and quirky than that.
This Austrian musician has played both jazz and classical, but for most of this album, Brienschmid takes to his ethnic roots and travels along the country side to present himself and his friends through music. It almost comes off as a folk album but there's a audio thread running through that shows it's much more than that, coming from melodies and arrangements that aren't in just 4/4 or 3/4. "Interlude: Klanes Wiener Basssolo" is more on the jazzy side of things, but then it leads to a sweet melody in the name of "Stammersdorger Ausdruckstänze" that reminds me of the music my Omama adored. It is this exploration of his roots through jazz and folk that makes hearing this a voyage to a homeland you never visited, but would like to someday. Breinschmid and the musicians that join him know what they're doing, and it shows how much he is in love with his country and its inhabitants. What he does with the music is bridges the old and the new, to let listeners know that he and his people will never forget waht came before, and to look towards the future for innovation and hope.
(Wien bleibt Krk is available from CDBaby.)
The style of jazz Mark Prince plays borders on the fine line between smooth and ECM-smoothness. With Prince anchoring the ship as a drummer, Fraction Of Infinity (Contour) is a blazing voyage through well played jazz and arrangements that, as cliche as it sounds it applies here, will keep you on the edge of your seat.
I know, you're probably thinking "smoothed out jazz that's edgy?" I'd have to reply with a yes. As I've said many times in the past, I like "smoothed out" when it's not "too smooth", the whole "soprano sax over a pre-programmed track" was stale 15 years ago, it's still stale now. Each of the eleven songs on Prince's album hold up because all of the musicians (Greg Boyer on trombone, David Merlin-Jones on soprano sax, David J. White on tenor sax and flute, Federico Gonzalez Pena on piano and keyboards, Michael Bowie on acoustic and electric bass, Deandre Shaifer on trumpet and Flugelhorn, Alvin White on guitar, along with Geno Young who handles vocals on "August (For Karen)") play like a well trained army ready for the attack. In this case, the battle is a harmonious one amongst one another and what caught my ear the most was how tight Prince and bassist Bowie are together, noticeable throughout the entire album but check out "Quiet Thoroughfire (For Dad)" and the opening track "Rite Of Passage" for proof. Bowie's opening bass riff in "Abena's Last Stand" is bold and strong and when Merlin-Jones comes in with his soprano sax, it doesn't sound like weiner water. It's on the level of a John Coltrane or Ornette Coleman, it has the kind of attitude that makes you want to catch every move in the musical strut and just keep on going until it's unfortunate conclusion (unfortunate only because each of these songs could easily go on for another five or ten minutes without becoming stale). Prince's drumming goes around the grooves and within the music that's played, he knows how to fill the right moments and also how to step back and let the others do their thing. Even with a sax, flute, Flugelhorn, trumpet, and sax in the mix, one might think throwing a guitar would disrupt the vibe of the recording but White's playing is most welcome, reminds me a bit of Steve Lukather or Neal Schon and never moves into theAl DiMeola fierce category. Subtle and smooth.
The themes throughout the album are family and life, the link between things personal and musical, and the fine balance between them both. Fraction Of Infinity is to me the definition of quality jazz of the highest order, and one wishes they had infinity to hear Prince and his fellow musicians over and over, this is an incredible jazz album that deserves all of the attention it fully deserves.
(Fraction Of Infinity is available from CDBaby.)
Colourmusic has come up with one of the more original album titles I've heard in quite some time: f, monday, orange, february, venus, lunatic, 1 or 13 (Great Society). Nice huh? The music is not as twisted as the title, but what you will hear is eclectic pop/rock with a genuine push to be edgy because they feel it's good, not because it's the latest fad of the week.
Colourmusic have a few psychedelic touches to their gritty pop, and while some songs are straightforward, there are a few lines and verses that will keep you guessing, and that's a good thing. I don't know what's in the water in Oklahoma, but it must be something wickedly good because these guys are the kind of band one would like to hear throughout all phases of ones life. The last band on your death bed? Hell yeah! Combine The Flaming Lips with Weezer and Smashing Pumpkins and you get a slight sliver of Colourmusic's capabilities.
Colourmusic-Put In A Little Gas (3.71mb)
(f, monday, orange, february, venus, lunatic, 1 or 13 will be released on vinyl and digital form on August 19th, the compact disc will be released on September 9th.)
Mike & The Ravens go back to the days when rock'n'roll truly ruled the world, and on Noisy Boys! The Saxony Sessions (Zoho Roots) they show they still have the spirit they had when they first started way back in 1960.
Yes, you read that right, 1960.
The reason this album exists is because a writer was putting together a series of articles on early rock'n'roll and garage bands, and when it comes to doing your research in those genres, one discovers that sometimes the more obscure, the better the story. Eventually the members of this band were tracked down and they didn't realize that there was a small but devoted cult following to their music. What they decided to do was get back in the studio and this is the result. Most of the music reminds me of the kind of rock Bruce Springsteen would talk about at a live show before bringing these musicians on stage to jam in a mini-set. It's the kind of spirit one could hear locally, regionally, and nationally, and these guys are just as rough and frisky as they were years ago. "I Be Rockin' With Mrs. Benoit" sounds like something that The Reverend Horton Heat, Brian Setzer or The Blasters could easily cover. It's raw and primitive, but with a modern touch, so don't expect the lo-fi pleasures of The Mummies or The Phantom Surfers. Expect to hear rockabilly played with the same freedoms of 16 year olds discovering the wonders of "three chords and the truth". Young rock bands need to stop what they're doing and take lessons from Mike & The Ravens.
(Noisy Boys! The Saxony Sessions will be released on August 12th.)
...AND NOW, THE HAWAIIAN MUSIC CORNER
Kalae Miles has been making music for a few years, but with luck this one will bring a wider audience to him. Ho'opono ('Aumakua) begins with a Hawaiian rendition of Louis Armstrong's "What A Wonderful World" and the 'ukulele and vocals will bring a chill to those who can feel it, but "instant homesick" happens as soon as "Oh Lovely Lanikai" begins as soon as the slide guitar comes in, bringing to mind the old days of Waikiki and a very different Hawai'i than it is today.
The album combines brand new compositions from Miles with a number of Hawaiian classics, including "Nani Wai'anae", "Pua Lililehua", "Hi'ilawe", and a non-falsetto rendition of "Kalena Kai". I state non-falsetto because I grew up listening to Hui Ohana's version and to me that has always been THE version. But hearing Miles' rendition shows how much more meaningful the song has become over the years. If one knows about the areas the song describes, one can imagine what it must have been like to experience the things talked about, and of course the song also offers a very beautiful hula.
What new fans will find amazing are the new compositions, a continuance of what people like Keali'i Reichel has demanded from a younger generation of Hawaiian musicians and songwriters. Reichel once said something to the effect that the classic Hawaiian songs will continue to live on as long as the music continues to be played, performed, and heard, but one also needs to continue the process by adding new material, as if to say that our story is not over, and we will continue to tell those stories until we are no longer able to. Miles sings and plays with the kind of force that shows why Hawaiian music is the most beautiful in the world, and one doesn't have to know the language or "the ways" in order tounderstand this. It's happiness, compassion, sorrow, truth, hopes, and dreams in the music, and Kalae Miles is proof that quality Hawaiian music still exists today.
It is also one of the best sounding Hawaiian albums I have heard, engineered by John Vierra, produced, mixed, and mastered by Shawn Livingston Moseley. One could easily find this album alongside No Kristo, Young Hawai'i Plays Old Hawai'i, and Cane Fire, and in time it will be considered one of the best Hawaiian albums ever made.
(Ho'opono is available through Mele.com.)