Now Hear This Issue #16
Yep, back again already… gonna start producing shorter but more frequent posts, mainly to support reviews of new music as soon as it drops. So this time, I’ve got the latest from Solange, the new album from Gesaffelstein, the debut album from Mansionair, and the second album from Juice WRLD.
Upcoming issues will include a tribute to the producer some have called the “Black Bacharach”, the unsung legend Charles Stepney…. I’m eagerly awaiting the release later this month of the “lost” Marvin Gaye album – should have a full review of You’re the Man in my next post… was saddened to hear of the recent passing of Mark Hollis from one of my favorite 80’s groups, Talk Talk. He was the mastermind behind the group, most famous for the song “It’s My Life“, which was also covered by No Doubt about 15 years ago; their sound evolved from synth-pop to an organic so-called “post rock” which was more free-form, improvisational, and sprawling, but nonetheless engaging. He was 64 years old…
THE HEARD (Reviews)
When I Get Home
The concept album has taken on a new method of being in the hands of today’s artists; we get a collage of ideas, both common and disparate, sometimes thrown together haphazardly, and other times thoughtfully. On her fourth album, Solange takes influences ranging from Stevie Wonder’s long misunderstood The Secret Life of Plants, the free form spiritual Jazz of Sun Ra, and the repetition of Steve Reich or Phillip Glass, and forms it into a celebration of her feelings, and a homage to her hometown of Houston. Her last album, 2016’s A Seat At the Table, was all about what she thought – she had a lot to say about the condition of today’s Black American woman.
I pulled up this album, and decided to listen to it on my half-hour drive in to work. Since the album has 19 tracks, i thought I’d only get through a small portion of it before I arrived at my destination; by the time I arrived, I was already on track 16…. as I mentioned, she has presented a collage of ideas, some just seconds longs… there are five interludes under a minute, five tracks between 1 and 2 minutes, four between 2 and 3 minutes, and five between 3 and 4 minutes, and that’s how you get 19 tracks in under 40 minutes. My initial thinking was that she has some really good ideas, but just as you really start grooving to a track, it abruptly ends, and a new idea is upon you- it sounds unfinished. This is something used to better effect by Devonte Hynes (Blood Orange), who is one of her collaborators, on his nice Negro Swan album. The track “Dreams” is a perfect example of what I’m talking about; just as you get ready to float away blissfully on the Robert Glasper-ish groove, it ends… even one of the longer tracks like “Sound of Rain“, another seductive groove, leaves you wanting more, as it abruptly flows into a 22 second interlude. Of the other songs, “Down With the Clique” and “Way to the Show” are odes to Houston’s Black culture; similarly, “Almeda“, which also features The Dream and Playboi Carti, suggests maintaining Black ownership of Black culture… it’s named after a Houston neighborhood… see the video, which is actually a portion of an entire film made surrounding this album…
Other tracks of note here include Gucci Mane and Tyler the Creator joining her on “My Skin My Logo“, and the gorgeously jazzy “Time (is)” and “Jarrod“. I’ll say this about the album: once you adjust and adapt to its’ flow, you’ll better appreciate the way it insinuates its’ groove into your psyche. Repeated listening may be required, but it’ll be worth it in the end.
The debut album from this Sydney, Australia trio comes after a series of seven singles releases (several of which appear here) over the past three years; they were nominated for a GRAMMY on the strength of a remix of an ODESZA track. My initial exposure to the group came via the track “Astronaut“, which has been in rotation on Sirius xm Chill for over a year now, and still continues to garner airplay.
You can describe their sound as a mellow indie electronic rock, displaying different textures almost from song to song, keeping you engaged throughout the 16 tracks. They like to employ occasional electronic fragments a la James Blake – I imagine him heading in their sonic direction if he stays in love with his girlfriend – and the lead singer often likes to sing in a falsetto voice. The temperament of the album can best be described as moody, from plaintive, quiet tracks, to the mellow Deep House of my favorite track “Astronaut” which was released in the fall of ’17… got some elements similar to Daft Punk… check out the video…
Of the newer tracks, the current single “Alibi” is also probably the most hard hitting song on the album, with its’ buzzing electronics… no video for it yet, but check out the audio clip…
As I mentioned earlier, most of their initial singles are here, including the Drum ‘n bass influenced “Technicolor“, the gorgeous Pop of “Violet City” and “We Could Leave“, and the moody “Easier“. Overall, I like this album quite a bit… hopefully, they won’t tinker with their formula too much; this one is working for them.
The second album from French DJ/producer Mike Levy, who uses a made-up German name for his moniker, is a relatively brief exercise in dark EDM. He’s been around for a while, having done production work for, among others, Kanye West, for whom he produced a couple of tracks on Yeezus. Of recent note, he’s been hanging out with The Weeknd, for whom he produced a couple of tracks for his My Dear Melancholy EP last year.
Among his musical influences are artists with whom I’m very familiar – the likes of acts like Belgian industrial electronic pioneers Front 242, Nitzer Ebb, and other EBM (Electronic Body Music) and Industrial acts from the 80’s – that was my bread ‘n butter from about ’83 to ’87. The tracks here display that influence… at least the ones that aren’t collaborations. Pharrell Williams joins him for the second single “Blast Off“; the first single, “Lost In the Fire” featuring The Weeknd, is a nice musical track otherwise marred by his gratuitously explicit P ‘n D lyrics… and he comes right out the box wit it… “I wanna f*ck you slow with the lights on / You’re the only one I’ve got my sights on / Type of sex you could never put a price on / I’ll take it off, you’re the one I’ll roll the dice on …” Then, as a part of the second verse, he expresses this desire… “You said you might be into girls / You said you’re going through a phase / Keepin’ your heart safe / Well, baby, you can bring a friend / She can ride on top your face / While I f*ck you straight …” I mean, what’s UP with this dude??? I like some of his music, but he’s got some issues… and what’s this got to do with being lost in a fire? Just watch the video… sheesh…
More to my liking is the instrumental track “Reset“, which is a slice of moody Industrial Hip-hop about which there is some debate as to the underlying meaning of the video… whatever it’s about, I think it’s a hot track … see for yourself…
Among the remaining tracks, female trio Haim guests on”So Bad“, The Hacker & Electric Youth provide vocals on “Forever“, a track that begins poppy, and turns into breakbeat at the end; “Vortex” is another nice Industrial banger; the title track and “Memora” are beatless electronic instrumentals, and finally, the funereal 10 1/2 minute dirge “Humanity Gone” closes the album. Gesaffelstein comes off at times as a darker Daft Punk… that’s twice in this post they’ve been referenced… and other times spooky dark, as did his primary influences in their quieter moments. Dance and Pop music fans will wanna stick to the singles and collabos only; meanwhile, this may drive me to pull out some old Front 242…
Death Race for Love
So there is this thing called “Emo-rap”… that completely sounds like an oxymoron to me… but here would be the poster child for the movement, 20 year old Jarad Higgins aka Juice WRLD, born and raised in Chicago and its’ south suburbs. I had to hear what a rapper in his feelings would sound like, and I like to support my hometown artists, as I count Common and early Kanye, and Chance among my faves, so I gave this a spin. This is his followup to his debut Goodbye & Good Riddance, released just last year, and it’s already one of the top albums of the moment.
Reading some background on him, Juice has led a rough life already, using drugs, drinking and smoking from an early age. This informs every track on the album, as it veers between the effects of the drugs as it relieves the pain, eases the paranoia and insecurities, his struggle to find love, and the effects of dealing with newfound fame and stardom. The opening track “Empty” gives you a good idea of what you’re getting into… “Ain’t no right way, just the wrong way I know / I problem solve with styrofoam / My world revolves around a black hole / The same black hole that’s in place of my soul /uh Empty, I feel so goddamn empty “… the second to last track “Rider” pretty much sums up his thoughts on finding love… “Let’s see if you a rider for real / I really wanna see if you a rider for real / Don’t think just ’cause you grip the wheel / Makes you a straight up rider for real / I don’t know, I don’t know / If I should give you the key to my soul / I don’t know, no, I don’t know / My paranoia and insecurities hold me close…” In between, we get the two lead singles: “Robbery“, a track about a relationship where he felt he was robbed of a chance to love; and “Hear Me Calling” which actually feels hopeful about his chances with a new lover. There are more variations on the same themes, and even a song called “The Bees Knees” – now how can you not like a rapper with a song with that title (smirking)? – that track is actually him discussing himself in comparison to his haters.
I suppose there is something to be said for Juice WRLD’s style, as I actually find his confessional, in his feelings style kind of refreshing, if initially a little startling. And then again, when you think about it, all rappers are in their feelings, just there is a different sort of sentiment expressed – rage is often the associated with them. There are some nice tracks here, but overall I think 22 tracks is too much “Juice” to take at one time; paring the tracklist down to maybe 12-15 tracks would’ve been plenty, and a little more consistency from one track to another would given it a better flow. It feels almost like two albums in one- the hard-edged, bitter Juice, and sensitive Juice, with the drugs trying to tie the two together. Not bad, though… check out the video for “Hear Me Calling“…