Now Hear This #18
This time around, I’m reviewing a bunch of young’uns (using my Country grammar)… got the debut album from Billie Eilish, the second album from Khalid, as well as new music from this post’s left-field picks, Durand Jones & the Indications and Jai Wolf.
I’m on a roll now, this will be the fourth consecutive bi-weekly post, and as long as the new interesting music continues to flow, I’ll take the time to write ’em up and spit ’em out every other week.
Record Store Day was this past weekend, and I was able to get down to my local music emporium, Papa Jazz Records, to take part. From what I heard, they had people waiting outside the store at 8am to check out all the new vinyl being supplied specifically for the event. I didn’t buy any new vinyl, but I did make note that vinyl is more expensive than CD’s now… it is also heavier grade vinyl, so maybe that offsets the cost…. We recently lost two more personalities: Ranking Roger, from The English Beat and General Public, passed away late last month at the age of 56; the more high profile death was, of course, rapper Nipsey Hussle, who was shot and killed outside a store he owned in Los Angeles. His death spurred discussion of his legacy – he was quite the humanitarian and community activist, not to mention father and husband. I’d never listened to his music until I learned his lone album Victory Lap was nominated for a GRAMMY. While I didn’t really care for his album, I do wish he had lived to continue making a difference in his community, and his world. He was just 33…
THE HEARD (Reviews)
When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
There is a part of me that feels a little out of place reviewing this album; after all, this young lady is less than one-third my age – what could she possibly say that would appeal to me? Well, I’m not your everyday music critic, so here goes… Three years or so ago, this young lady, an L.A. native, hit the scene with a song called “Ocean Eyes” that she released on SoundCloud; that song went viral, she released some more material that was well received, and now, as the world braced for her debut album, she finds herself already an unlikely international phenomenon. Her debut album has arrived, and Billie, now all of 17 years of age, is prepared to conquer the world.
For an old school Punk and classic Alternative guy such as myself, when I got a whiff of Eilish, there were two female artists that came to mind: Lene Lovich and Lydia Lunch. For all of her so-called Goth pretensions, I think she is as much performance artist as music artist, so I think she falls somewhere between the quirky New Wave of Lovich and the confrontational No Wave of Lunch. Eilish herself cites Lana del Ray and Lorde as influences (notice the prominence of the letter “L” with the artists’ names?). So she opens her album with a short interlude about removing her Invisalign braces, which seques into the quirky “bad guy” and then the sleepy “xanny“, with its’ distorted bass, a track about the merits of drug use – “xanny” being a reference to Xanax – Billie claims to not smoke, drink or take any drugs. Then there is “you should see me in a crown” which is based on the British TV show Sherlock– the song itself is a nice dubby number, but the video is either completely creepy or mildly entertaining, based on your viewpoint. She has a thing for arachnids… and… well… see the video for yourself…
Moving on from that, “wish you were gay” is a ballad about being rejected by a guy she liked – as it turned out, the guy really WAS gay, which is why he rejected her; “my strange addiction” is another song detailing a dysfunctional relationship – it incorporates snippets from the TV show The Office, which she is fond of, while “bury a friend” is about the ‘monster under her bed’. She ends the album with a trio of quiet ballads, one which is centered around a suicide attempt (“listen before i go“) and one that she calls a proper final track to an album (“goodbye“), which contains lyrical snippets or references of other songs on the album – a summary, if you will.
Overall, I kinda like this album… she shows her age in spots, but she also shows off elements of a nice voice and curiously affecting songwriting skills. I think part of her ammo is shock appeal as entertainment- underneath is just a girl who likes Hip-hop, baggy clothes, and doing things that raise eyebrows… Check the video of her performing “bury a friend” on Late Night with Jimmy Kimmel; you’ll see why I think she’s a performance artist rather than a Goth girl – a Goth girl wouldn’t play up to the audience…
Durand Jones & the Indications
American Love Call
Good music comes from some unlikely places – in this case, we’re talking America’s heartland, Bloomington, IN. There, students at Indiana University, including grad student and Louisiana native Durand Jones got together and started making music. This is the second album from this quintet, following their self-titled 2016 debut, which featured a raw Soul sound with a good bit of grit. They were part of a New Music Friday playlist on Spotify a few weeks ago- that’s how I discovered them; they’ve also made an appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Kimmel, so they’re getting some well-deserved exposure.
Aside from Jones, the group features a second lead singer, in drummer Adam Frazer, who sings in a falsetto voice; he nicely complements Jones’ raspy tenor. The sound on their first album ranges from the gritty style of a Jackie Wilson or a Wilson Pickett classic Soul to a Booker T & the MG’s funky – it’s raw and athletic, as are many debut albums. This album fills in the sound with strings and horn charts, giving the music a fuller, more lush sound in the style of late 60’s/early 70s Baroque Soul, typified by the music of The Impressions, Dramatics, Delfonics, and others. The album begins with a bit of social observation of the struggles of the many on “Morning In America“; from there, it goes into the new single, and my favorite track here, “Don’t You Know“, which is a beautiful slice of late 60’s Philly soul a la the Delfonics, in which the two lead singers trade portions of the verse. Frazer takes the lead on “Too Many Tears“, in which he shows off his Smokey Robinson-esque falsetto over a track that would make Smokey proud. “What I Know About You” gives a nod to the production values of late 60’s Curtis Mayfield, while “Walk Away” and “Listen to Your Heart” echo early Dramatics. The album closer “True Love” completely lifts the music chart of The Impressions track “I’ve Been Trying” and makes it their own.
I’m a sucker for a Soul revivalist-type band, especially one that does it as well as these guys; this album has been on repeat since I discovered it- in fact, I purchased the album on Record Store Day. This is much needed music, piercing the current landscape of what passes as Soul/R&B these days with their defining classic sound. Get this!… check out the video for “Don’t You Know“…
The sophomore album from 21 year old Khalid Robinson finds him much along the same path he mined with his debut album, 2017’s American Teen, and his 2018 EP Sun City, named for his hometown El Paso, TX. Khalid has been successful, both with his own material, and as a feature on other artist’s music as well; he seems to be everywhere, and for him, that’s a good thing. His eyes are squarely focused on achieving Pop superstardom, and he seems to be well on his way- Free Spirit recently debuted at number 1 on the Billboard album charts.
This album finds Khalid coming into his manhood, as well as his stardom; on the surface, it seems that he’s getting along OK. Musically, the album benefits from solid production – a lot of current music by so – called bedroom producers sound like it was literally recorded in someone’s bedroom- there’s a lack of high or low end, instrumentation seems generic, and overall production is amateurish. Here, production values are high, and the instrumental tracks are engaging on their own. He enlisted a variety of producers, including Murda Beatz, D’Mile, and Disclosure, among others. When you dig into his lyrics, however, you find anxiety (“Self“), talking about his mortality (“Heaven“, a song given to him by Father John Misty) and “Alive” where he makes the ironic statement “I shouldn’t have to die to feel alive“; the expectations and opinions of others (“Hundred“), and communication breakdowns in relationships (“My Bad“). There is a perception by some that Khalid is a bit soft, that he has no edge; that perception is perhaps justified by his persona in an industry where P ‘n D lyrics and gratuitous foul language is the norm, because he doesn’t really give it to you like that. Sometimes, he seems downright polite … the first single “Talk” is, IMHO, the best track on the entire album, and is about a relationship moving too fast “Can we just talk? (Oh) Can we just talk? / Talk about where we’re goin’ / Before we get lost, lend me your thoughts / Can’t get what we want without knowin’ / I’ve never felt like this before / I apologize if I’m movin’ too far / Can we just talk? Can we just talk? / Figure out where we’re goin’…” Other than a proclivity to smoke weed, he seems like a genuinely great guy. There is a collabo with John Mayer (“Outta My Head“) about a girl he can’t stop thinking about, and then there are two ‘coming of age’ songs, the title track and “Twenty One“.
There is something to be said about playing it safe in today’s R&B scene, in that the benefits will lend themselves well to the longevity of this artist’s and album’s success. As some people have said when talking about his music, he’s one of the few artists you can comfortably play in mixed company – and I suppose that’s a good thing. He has a smooth edge and (for the most part) keeps it clean… for the sake of comparison, you may point to Ella Mai’s album as another one clearly geared towards Pop success via R&B, a bit edgy, but accessible. Good job, Khalid; stand apart from the crowd, not in it – you’ll better distinguish yourself that way, and you’ll thank yourself later… There is a short film that was released in tandem with this album; check it out if you can… Here is the video for “Talk“…
The Cure to Loneliness
A couple of years in the making, this is the debut album from 27 year-old Sajeeb Saha aka Jai Wolf, born in Bangladesh, but raised and based in NYC. I first became familiar with this guy through one of his singles, a remixed version of “Like It’s Over” that was in rotation on Sirius xm Chill for a while; its’ late night, mellow groove is kinda what I was expecting from him for the album, but it was actually the mood and tone of the remixer for that song – the album is a liiitle different.
Jai is more of a facilitator, a producer who creates from behind the scenes; he isn’t out front. He uses a variety of vocalists for his tracks, and jumps around a bit stylisticly – the single “Lose My Mind“, which is very pop-oriented, “Your Way“, and “Still Sleeping” are steeped in 80’s synth-pop, while the majority of the remaining tracks are closer to the current wave of Indie electronic acts like ODESZA, with a prominent U2-ish guitar often leading the melody, while the electronics form the sometimes bombastic backdrop, along with the alien-sounding voices – “Telepathy” is the current song on rotation over at Sirius- along with “This Song Reminds Me Of You“, they have that anthemic feel to them. “Manic Pixie Dream” and “It All Started with a Feeling” cut the perfect balance of mellow and bombast, and are two of the strongest tracks here, and for those looking for a chilled out moment, the closing track “Around the World” fits that bill.
This is a nice debut for Jai Wolf; he diversified the sound enough throughout the album’s 12 tracks to keep it interesting. I was expecting more chilled out grooves, based on the one song I’d heard of his, but I have no complaints with this package at all… here is the video for “Lose My Mind“…