Sounds for the New (Ab)normal

As a society, we like to apply tags, monikers, sayings, and labels to things; recently, the term “new normal” has come into vogue, as we walk around (if we go out) with masks on, and generally try to avoid one another – I’ve seen people almost literally dance around people to avoid getting within the social distancing suggestion of six feet of them. There is nothing normal about this at all; we are, in fact, living through some of the most surreal, apocalyptic-feeling times most of us have ever experienced. My featured image for this post is of a lone structure off the coast of Iceland, and to me, it portrays isolation; I think it depicts how many of us feel right now. This is very ABNORMAL, as far as I’m concerned, and it’ll probably be some time before it feels and is normal again… let’s hope it’s sooner rather than later.

For this post, we begin with a continuation of the chill vibes from my last post, starting with the back half of the Moses Sumney album, of which the first half was released in February, a new album from Audio Dope, plus a side project involving him and another guy under the name Kappa Mountain, the sophomore album from Kehlani, and a new album from former sonic terrorists Einsturzende Neubauten. Then, we come out of chill mode with a little variety, starting the latest album from Moby, Gospel grooves from Ricky Dillard, a new project from Americana / Roots artist Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, and the newest release from Indian Soul artist Zeshan B.

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you may recognize this first album cover as one I’ve already talked about. In February, Moses Sumney released the first part of what is a double album called grae, and I reviewed it in my March article “Get Up On It”. At that time, I called it “not dance, or Pop, not Soul in the traditional sense, and definitely not for everyone”; the newly-released back half of the album picks right up where the first half left off.

grae continues to be a rewarding experience in uneasy listening, once you digest it a few times, and get to the viewpoint of the artist. The prevailing theme here seems to be isolation and loneliness; “Bystanders” implores you to disregard what people have to say about you, as they’ll let you waste away, while “Me In 20 Years” has him looking ahead to his solitary life to come. “It Keeps Me Alive” is actually a twisted song of hope where eventually being needed by someone is enough to sustain him, while “Bless Me” boils a fling down to its’ base purpose… “Bless me before you go / You’re going nowhere with me…”

The whole package is 20 tracks, which may be a lot to digest in one setting, but if you’re up to it, it’s worth the ride. Here’s the video for “Bystanders“…

During 2018, the debut self-titled album from this Basel, Switzerland- based artist whose real name I don’t know, but goes under the moniker Audio Dope, insinuated itself for its’ mellow, jazzy Hip-hop, trippy grooves, and made my Best of 2018 list for Best Electronic/EDM album; Superlunary is his second album.

Just off the seat of my pants, this release isn’t quite as good as the last one, but then again, that last one elevated expectations pretty high. Whether evoking the trippy side of Moby (“So Long“), or a little more groove orientation a la Thievery Corporation (“Meteor“), or complete ambience (“Submarine“), it’s got enough variety for such a short release – it’s a brief affair, with just eight tracks, clocking in at just 27 minutes.

He’ll continue to get a lot of airplay on the Sirius xm Chill channel with this effort; that is not a bad thing at all – in fact, it’s all good. Here’s the video for the track “Meteor“…

In addition to his album, he’s also teamed up with neo-Classical pianist Matthias Gusset to create the Kappa Mountain project; the first fruits of this union is the EP Echo Pool.

Here, you have a mixture of mellow hednoddas (“Inheritance” and “Overgrowth“) and meditative tone poems (“Venture” and “Castle“), intermingling in another short set- just seven tracks drifting by in just 20 minutes… time well spent. Here’s “Inheritance“…

The proper second album from Kehlani has finally dropped, and it’s called It Was Good Until It Wasn’t; this follows up her 2017 debut SweetSexySavage, and last year’s so-called mixtape While We Wait.

The album is a study in the dynamics of modern urban relationships, and rumored to be fueled by the end of a relationship; it includes a lot of the push and pull indicative of strong individuals trying to love one another. One lyric symbolizing this struggle was in “Can You Blame Me“, when she says “I would rather argue than me sleep alone / rather call you out than no one call my phone…“. The opening song “Toxic” possibly references her last relationship, basically wanting to still be in it, but knowing it would be bad for her; it’s kind of a recurring theme on the album. “Bad News” is a song that pleads with a lover to leave their questionable lifestyle behind to be with her, while “Change Your Life” which features Jhene Aiko, wants to convince her lover to be with her, so that she can be a positive influence on them.

A good amount of P ‘n D talk is here too: “Can I” feat Tory Lanez is strictly sex talk, how good it is, etc, while “Water” is about the sexual proclivities of those born under the water astrological signs. “F&MU” again illustrates the push & pull, this time involving sex (the acronym stands for “F*ck & Make Up”), and includes the lyric “We f*ck and make up like it’s Maybelline / We do petty things / Then mess up the sheets…”, and then Megan Thee Stallion does a spoken word interlude (“Real Hot Girl Skit“) that profanely describes how good her “stuff” is. On “Everybody Business“, it appears to be a dual topic of how she has sexed up past lovers, along with addressing media gossip about who she’s sexing up.

My favorite tracks here include the aforementioned “Bad News” and “Change Your Life“, plus “Open (Passionate)“, which talks about vulnerability with a lover, and “Hate the Club” featuring Masego, which talks about catching glimpse of someone she’s involved with at a place she doesn’t like frequenting; both have nice smooth 90’s slow jam grooves… SIDEBAR: that’s funny, cuz I didn’t care for 90’s slow jam grooves back in the 90’s – that’s a statement about where music has gone in the last 25 + years… END SIDEBAR.

For me, I think I need to reverse the title of the album… to It Wasn’t Good Until It Was. Initially, the tracks didn’t hit me, I was offput by everything from her look (I still don’t like the body as a canvas look), to too much P ‘n D talk. Along the way, however, her exposure of the contrasting nuances, expressed in no uncertain terms, of the trials of love (man, I’m soo glad I’m not in the dating pool anymore!) weave their way into the stream of consciousness, and by the end, I was all in with her. I’m wit ya now, girl… Here is the video for “Open (Passionate)“…

The 1980’s were, for me, a time where I truly came into my own musically, and formulated and solidified a musical palette wider, and as a man of color, more unusual than normal. I spent the majority of the decade hanging out at Wax Trax Records in Chicago, which was a short walk from my job (literally around the corner); the label, home to groups like Ministry and KMFDM, among many others, was the pre-eminent label for Industrial and hard-hitting Electronic music. One group that wasn’t signed to the label, but was a pioneering force in the Industrial sound was the Berlin, Germany-based Einsturzende Neubauten. Their name, which roughly translates into “collapsing new buildings” was appropriate for their sound, as they were a group that assaulted your aural senses with a barrage of metal on metal sounds, using pipes, tools, scrap metal and other pieces of steel, and augmented by bass and guitar, for their sound; their most well-known track (to me) was the classic “Yu Gung” from their 1985 album Halber Mensch. They’ve been around now for 40 years, and Alles in Allem is their 12th studio album, and first since 2014’s Lament.

This album is strangely quiet to me; maybe I was expecting more of the cacophony from their earlier years. I guess as they’ve aged and matured (they have to be in their 60’s now), they’ve mellowed, as well. Just so I wasn’t witnessing a change in direction, I went back through their back catalogue, and found they haven’t really kicked up that much dust since Tabula Rasa, which came out back in 1997; so this quieter sound is what they’re about these days. On this new album, the first track, “Ten Grand Goldie” stirs it up a little, but that’s the only track; pretty much everything else is stark, austere, plaintive…. even orchestrated. Oh well… I was looking for a little kling-klang; instead…….. never mind; here’s the video for “Ten Grand Goldie“…

The latest album from Moby is All Visible Objects, and it finds him, again, reversing course from his previous album, last year’s 3 1/2 hour, sleep-inducing Long Ambients 2, and its’ predecessor, the excellent 2018 album Everything Was Beautiful, and Nothing Hurt, which spawned a couple of remix projects.

For this album, Moby sorta returns to his Techno roots; it’s not a full-blown, wall to wall rave explosion, but there is a lot of upbeat material to be measured in BPM’s here. From the opening, you have thumpers like “Morningside”, techno anthems like “Refuge” and the defiant “Power Is Taken“, and mellower groovers like “My Only Love” and “One Last Time”. The beat only slows down for the lone ambient track “Separation“, and there is a balance of quiet and danceable on “Too Much Change” and the closing, title track.

Moby does a good job of meshing all of his styles into this one effort – there’s a lot for his earlier followers, some stuff for folks like me, who picked up on him during the 18 and Play period, and some for the ambient crowd – this should please everybody… Here’s a video for “Too Much Change“, edited down from its’ nine-minute album length…

One thing people may not know about Chicago-born Gospel artist Ricky Dillard is that he didn’t get his start singing for the Lord; he began his musical career as a House music artist, recording some early material for the renowned Trax label, and working with some of the early legends of the style, like Frankie Knuckles and Farley Jackmaster Funk. He switched to Gospel towards the end of the 80’s, and has been hugely successful- I’ve sung several of his songs with my church choir. His latest release is the live Choirmaster, recorded at a church on the southeast side of our hometown.

Right out the box, the set opener “Glad to Be In the Service” gets it going- a perfect tune for your Praise & Worship team; they follow it up with the “More Abundantly Medley” of familiar tunes. The guests on the album will sorta dictate which songs will ultimately get the most airplay, although his choir is magnificently voiced; among the guests, there is Tiff Joy for “Release“, Keith ‘Wonderboy’ Johnson for the quartet-ish “He’s My Rooftop“, and Tamela Mann for “You’re the Lifter“.

This release is another winner for Dillard; I can hear several of these songs being rehearsed and performed at Black churches all over America – I know my church will certainly plan to perform a couple of tracks from here when we can all get together again… Here’s a video of “God’s Gonna Do It”…

The first two tracks from the latest album from Alabama-based artist Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit stirred up a ruckus among some of his fanbase for what they saw to be political commentary; this was a continuation from his last album, 2017’s acclaimed The Nashville Sound. On his fourth album Reunions, he comes out the box again that way, but as a whole, it really isn’t very political at all – just a great singer-songwriter honing his craft, and doing so with masterful precision.

Those two tracks in question, “What Have I Done to Help“, is a song addressing current social conditions, while the rockin’ “Be Afraid“expresses anger at those in the music community who don’t feel the need to express themselves about the world around them, especially for those that don’t have, or have less of a voice in it. They’re rather pointed messages – he feels it’s part of the art of making music, and that he can be that voice for those people – it’s the same thing that drove Bob Marley’s music.

Once you get beyond those two songs, Isbell and the band tackle a variety of other subjects; among those are tracks relating to his own personal demon, alcoholism, which he’s been able to overcome (“It Gets Easier“); re-evaluating what it takes to be a good man (“Rivers“), and assessing what makes him stay in a committed relationship (“Running With Our Eyes Closed“). Unlike his former bandmates in Drive-by Truckers, he went in different directions in terms of song topics, whereas they put their foot on the gas about their feelings about things happening in the world, to the consternation of some of their (mutual) fans. This album is highly recommended… Here is the audio for “Only Children“…

Finally, as I was getting ready to publish this post, I ran across the new album Melismatic from Zeshan B, who is an Indo-Pakistani Muslim singer from the northwest side of Chicago; his first album Vetted was rooted in a mixture of classic Soul, and some traditional material sung in Punjab and Urdu, and was one of my top albums of 2017.

On this new album, he tries to change it up and go Pop/Rock; the results are just OK, kinda wish he’d stuck with the Soul. He made a name for himself with protest songs, showing he’s down with people of color. He certainly caught the ire of the Alt-right crowd with the single “Brown Power“, for which there is a video; check it out on YouTube – it’s got the worst ratio of dislikes to likes I’ve ever seen! Elsewhere on the album, he tries to keep the human spirit uplifted with the likes of “Higher“, and “C’mon Everybody“; the set opener “Stay” is maybe the most soulful track here, but he neither does any traditional tunes nor pulls out his native tongues for a lil extra flava, as he did on the first album.

I was frankly a little underwhelmed by this album, although it has some good moments; bring back the Soul, sir Bagewadi!… Here’s the audio for his latest single “Only In My Dreams“…

By maestrotjd

I'm a music head. A classically trained violinist/violist literate from chant to Chopin to Copland, Soul man, aging Punk, Classic rocker, Alt rocker, Church choir man, House head, Techno, Industrial guy, almost Rasta, Ska & Rock Steady baby, Junglist, Dubstep to Two-step to Chicago old school steppin', Lounge & Exotica, World Fusion, Latin & Bossa Nova dude, Jazz man from Swing to Bebop to Acid, Trip hop and Hip hop, ya don't stop, a lil bit Country, Gospel, and everything in between. These are my musings (or ramblings).

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