@@@ Nikolaj Hess: Ravel Reflections (Sunnyside, 2021) I’m checking out this record because I’m a fan of the jazz releases this label puts out. I can’t think of any off the top of my head but I’m not lying. I’m not checking out the track clipped below but a previous one and I’m really liking it. Ambient with upright bass and a barely perceptible string drone. I can see immediately why a jazz label would put this recording out. Oy, Apple Music has it slotted as jazz so I guess All Music boned the genre reveal! Now that I’ve sampled a bit more this music sits right in the middle of the road where classical and jazz meet. The tune below is a 12+ minute banger that evokes both classical and jazz feels. The level of playing here is high and there are passages I find pretty compelling and I liked the first piece the most by a fair bit. It was called ‘Piece’.
@@@ Steve Perry: No Erasin’ (Concord, 2019) I read a huge ass interview article with Steve Perry, the former lead singer of Journey. It’s an updated classic rock sound but fully fleshed out with tons of background vocals and a crispier modern sound. Perry sounds a bit more mournful than he did when he was full rockstar with Journey. Lines about being in the back seat of his car with a woman from his past, it’s an interesting vocal hook. No erasin’, our love won’t just let go. The bridge gets prog-orchestral and that’s definitely a more sophisticated peek into his musicianship before he gets back into the power chord/vocal hook. The guitar pounding is my least favorite element here and the vocals are my favorite part. The hook is a bit meh, but that goes with the genre.
@@@ Raoul Vignal: Red Fresco (TALITRES, 2021) I think I got to this via last week’s All Music notable release email. This is the 4th track of the record and it opens with some brisk arpeggiated guitar fingerpicking. It’s a pretty formal, old school folk formula, a man, his guitar and minimalist accompaniment. There’s a second guitar and some background vocals. I let the player click through as I wanted to sample a bit more of what’s on offer. Vignal’s voice is classic — kinda updated hippie kindness and gentleness. A bit washed out for me but as my wifes says I’m dead inside. If you love his voice you’re probably going to love the rest of the record as the arrangements are solid and the guitar playing is particularly well done. Me I’m agnostic on his voice so I’m agnostic on the record.
@@@ George Riley: Power (Self-released, 2021) I got to this London r&b singer via Crack magazine in the UK. It opens keyboard driven with a little drum ‘n bass in the beat. Riley comes in with Beyonce feels but with such a different set of sounds it’s not a B-hive clone. By the time the walking bassline and the beats and the keyboard whooshes get going it’s pretty swirly. I like her voice and her singing but I wish the beat wasn’t quite so retro.
@@@ Enumclaw: Fast N All (Suite A, 2021) One last listen off the Gorilla Vs. Bear best of first half of 2021 list. It opens as hundreds of ’90s indie records opened with thick guitar strums and grunge-y vocal melodies. Toned down Sonic Youth and a hundred more bands. They do hit the distortion pedal on the guitar and the spray of distortion really changes the vibe. There’s nothing here to protest, good guitar sounds, solid melody but the formula is a bit too familiar for my liking.
@@@ Kero Kero Bontio: Well Rested (Polyvinyl, 2021) This opens up sort of Casio kids’ keyboard style with purposeful video game beats before morphing into a different flavor — oy a big ol’ indie dancefloor banger with a full four on the floor beat, some chant-y female vocals and a fat synth bassline. It’s the best of what I heard today, it’s got some funk to it. It’s a thick stew of synth sounds that make up this track, some of them I like a bunch and some of them not so much. It’s a long banger (7 minutes!) and the breakdown section in the middle is quite nice before they head into the last lap. We will be well rested when the ascension comes, that’s the hook. Glitched up vocals, switching up the parts and for me this is the best part of the song and wish it had come first. Some keyboard shredding, some back and forth, good stuff.
@@@ Cautious Clay: Deadpan Love (Self-released, 2021) A blend of coffehouse soft rock and r&b type sounds. The standout here is Clay’s voice, he can sing for sure. A snaky melody that he handles really well. I don’t love the guitar tones, they’re just too soft/NPR for my taste and I don’t love the fingersnaps but I like the weird keyboard solo and how there’s a subtle sax threaded through. It’s interesting to see how he’s straddling two sonic worlds as well as two listening worlds here. It’s not my cup of tea but I give respect to the uniqueness of the blend and to his vocal abilities.
@@@ Lucy Dacus: Hot & Heavy (Matador, 2021) An indie darling is Ms. or Mrs. Dacus. First track on the record, opens with a cloudy synth and it’s got a country feel combined with a core indie structure but ultra pimped production which makes it sound much more mainstream. I’m not sure what it’s trying to be — a little female Springsteen epic rock, very little indie outside of the vocal track and lyrics about teenage romance. I’m not feeling connected to either the lyrics or the music. This doesn’t seem particularly inspired or passionate and has a restraint that I find kinda not great. I thought this would be better being an indie darling and all.
@@@ Peach PRC: Symptomatic (UMG, 2021) Low self esteem electro pop with roots in ’80s synth rock. I never understood the downer lyrics with the ultra bubbly pop. Don’t throw out your meds because you had a good day — that’s one of the lines from the chorus. There’s a healthy dose of guitars on this track so it gets medium into rock feels for a mainstream track, and it has a classic MTV rock-dance beat but unfortunately the guitar tones are pretty shit. The star here is Peach. She’s got a big melody in the verse and shoe goes for it in the chorus with a call and response hook around the word symptomatic. She sings all right, don’t like the guitars, hate the beat it makes me want to hang myself. But that’s just me.
@@@ Doja Cat, The Weeknd: You Right (RCA, 2021) I’m not a huge Weeknd guy but this Doja Cat seems to be blowing up. It’s a midtempo love track, breathy with chill keyboards and 808 beats. The Weeknd is just as feminine sounding as Doja Cat and I find that interesting. I like it all right but it doesn’t move me. Sounds are solid, production is good, I don’t think the chorus hook is that great, that’s the view from here.
@@@ Nate Smith: Bounce Parts 1 & II (Ropeadope, 2017) Sitting in that spot right between funk and jazz, this album is for anybody who loves to hear records by drummers who pump the drums high as shit in the mix. The horn playing is really good, maybe not as abstract and fiery as I would prefer but it fits what’s going on here. Guitar playing also high end but also a bit restrained. The drums sounds fucking great, fully pimped with clarity. This is not your basement Funkadelic with grit, it’s a corporate sounding effort. Peoples love that, I think it could use a bit more dirt but that’s just me. I’m listening to this effort because the second record of a trilogy of records is coming out in September. I want to be educated on it. I like it more at the beginning than at the end which isn’t the greatest sign.
@@@ Erika de Casier: Drama (4AD, 2021) Off Gorilla vs. Bears top 10 of the first six months of the year. It’s chill blue eyed electronica with some ironed out indie electric guitars. I guess she texted late at night, and made some troublesome phone calls and now she has regrets about the drama she has called. The beat is my favorite part of the song, I don’t love the glassy vocal style so breathy and Tay Tay-esque. Also once it gets established it doesn’t really evolve which make is more meh for me.
@@@ Madlib: Sound Inventions (Madlib Invazion, 2021) Off the same Gorilla Vs. Bear best of the 2021 thus far. I’ve sample three songs as I begin this pocket review and to me it’s refried soul/funk with retro beats, I mean 15-20 year old style beats. Thwappy snare, vocal harmonizing. To my ears it’s trying to be funkier and more sophisticated than it really is. Really on the snare levels here, I can barely hear the vocals and shit. I wish this was more thought out. I let the player move as I finished up here and I do dig this trick Loose Goose and it’s wacky woodwinds/kazoo, the beats are nice and the way it all locks together. There are probably a couple of other good tracks in here so it’s looking like a mixed bag.
@@@ Macka B: My Father’s People (Before Zero Records, 2021) Some folks might dismiss Macka B as a vegan anthem maker as he’s a skilled reggae musician covering a variety of topics. Here he goes full roots with a praise track for famous African rulers. A sticky arrangement with classic Marley era type sounds and instrumentation. It’s a rarity to see the full reggae ensemble pull off the old school formula but I’m a Macka B fan due to his energy on the microphone and here his comfort and flavor is well showcased. He’s listed here along side Kibir La Amlak who I know nothing of and I will have to check his bio out. While I’m doing that fans of the roots reggae should peep this!
@@@ Lung: Sun God (Sofa Burn, 2021) I got to what they’re referring to as an art punk cello project or something very close to that via a music publicist email. I’m guessing this cello has been rammed through a distortion box which makes a distorted guitar type sound but sludgier and bowed. Drums here are up high and very clear which contrasts well with the cello scrapings on offer. The female singer is solid but she’s a bit drowned out by the drummer who might have mixed this bad boy. I’m agnostic on this, like parts of it and don’t love other parts of it. I think the cello should not be an acoustic cello part but it shouldn’t be so close to sounding like an electric guitar.
@@@ Chris Corsano & Bill Orcutt: Man Carrying Thing (Pallila, 2021) This is a guitar and drums improvisation record that traffics heavily in rock tones. Not cheesy rock tones mind you. It’s not a noodly jazz guitar tone and I’m very grateful for that, there’s plenty of bluster and noise to be had here. I’m hearing mostly two tracks of guitars on each tune and from what I read this is a Covid record where one musician overdubbed what another one sent to him. Without getting too simplistic one guitar seems (though not always) to set a foundation for some melodic playing. It makes it feel more like a band without a bass player and two guitar player. It sounds to me like the record leans towards more towards circular motifs and ambient playing over the idea of epic Sonny Sharrock type rock-jazz melodies. Excellent tones on both the drums and guitars, check this out if you like noise, improvised energy etc.
@@@ Divide and Dissolve: Denial (Invada UK, 2021) Another record off the Guardian’s best of 2021 thus far list. This is a dark banger off a record with some really disillusioned and slack titles — denial, prove it, do i have to do something with it, we are really worried about you. This track intros with a horror movie type setup before going full frog stomp. Oh my, this is staticky, and crunchy and delicious. I’m not going to lie, I would like to hear more from a 7 minute banger — a guitar solo, a bassline, the sound of two dogs fornicating in an abandoned parking lot. I love the sounds and the darkness and I guess I’m a bitch for wanting it to be a bit more fleshed out.
@@@ Gojira: Fortitude (Roadrunner, 2021) I believe this is the last listen off the Guardian’s halfway through the year best of list. For those not into the metal scene and shit Gojira is a French prog metal outfit and this record is about climate change I think. Actually the Apple Music has them saying it’s about environmental awareness and civil disobedience. The track below is a 2 minute dirge with a stringy bass sound and some chanting. I’m checking out the second track Amazonia and it’s a rocker with some impressive kick drumming, riffage and maybe a jew’s harp. This is more uplifting hard rock than melted gloomy shit. I don’t have a preference I’m just describing. These guys are clearly a veteran band and the level of playing here is very high. I like it all right, it doesn’t charge me the way a well balanced ball of fury does, it’s a tad on the epic side for my taste. Amazingly clean and manicured sound which I appreciate technically without loving the effect of it.
@@@ Wolf Alice: LIpstick on the Glass (RCA/Sony, 2021) This record is getting a fair amount of space, especially in the Guardian and UK outlets. This is the third track of the record and it opens up as ambient rock, not alienated in the established Radiohead style and more in the hopeful New Age kinda way. Not openly but a bit. It would be better for me if the female singer wasn’t presented in such a dreamy manner, especially in the verse. The vocals dominate here as the other components are pretty straight forward. Oasis-y type drumming not standing out and nothing in the guitar area that particularly stands out. So color me not up for this, I’m sure they’re great people and everybody who loves them is really great too. It’s barely disguised arena rock and low energy at that.
@@@ Migos: Modern Day (UMG, 2021) I haven’t heard the Migos track that makes me understand their genius as I know they’re huge but I’m always open to that track. This track is exquisitely manicured sonically. As usual I have no clue what they’re rapping about — a few mentions of big pipes and coochie, and then uppity behavior from other neezies. And that uppity behavior must be put down. There’s some vocals as in 1 or 2 words spoken that are reverbed out and placed behind the rhymes with an exquisite reverb patch, I find the trippy sauce of the arrangement to be far more interesting than the rhymes. It’s a straight boast track which is fine but big respect for whoever arranged and mixed this track, they’re the stars here. I’m stuffin’ dick in the back of this ho, that’s a line that jumped out at me.
@@@ CHAI: Donuts Mind If I Do (Sub Pop, 2020) Chill ’80s synth pop with a vocoder melody (or something similar to a vocoder) and a singer that is Asian but sounds very young (or also like one of the Alvin and the Chipmunks if you’ve heard that business). Overall, cloudy synths, bubblegum synths, a young singer and you get a sonic escape into a bubblegum world of falling in love. Things I like — the bass part and the bass player. I like when the singer goes high in the chorus though overall I find the way she’s presented to be a bit much. And as I type I think I’m hearing some cowbell in my left ear of my headphones. Let’s hear it for cowbells and the awesomeness of them. I’ve never understood the fondness hipsters have for this type of stuff. I have nothing against I just don’t find it very interesting.
@@@ Mykki Blanco: Love Me (Transgressive Records, 2021) From what I can tell from being plugged (unfortunately) into the music media ecosystem Mykki Blanco is going mainstream after being a bad boy of club music/hip hop. He’s got a lot of guests on this record including Big Freedia out of New Orleans who I saw in a really amazing documentary last year — check that out if you can. The video below is a 808 clap type track, a morning booty track typa thing. I don’t love the rhythm but Blanco exudes energy and identity on the microphone, he really just airs it out. I think Blanco is a he but I don’t want to assume. Imma check out his Big Freedia track and then move on. ‘That’s folks’ is a power track with an ominous piano part and a section where they shout out tons of their people as well as stuff like ‘truancy, that’s folks’. The sounds are current and a pretty uncommon mash of hip hop and dancefloor business.
@@@ Eloise: Wanderlust (AWAL, 2021) Don’t know if this is going to morph into the romantic soul/dreamy jazz that the Apple Music blurbs but this track is an acoustic guitar/vocal thing. I like the bedroom production sound; they bring in some chill keyboards to start building so maybe there will be a cheese bomb at some point. I appreciate the tastefulness of the keyboards and how it never builds to some explosive crescendo. It’s a chill sitch, mainstream and well done. Imma check the kickoff track and see if she uses the same formula. It’s not the same it’s confessional bedroom soul with laidback drum machine beats, finger snaps, but a really nice oscillating keyboard part. Well produced, romantic lyrics, this is for people with jobs.
@@@ Hope Tala: Mad (EMI/Republic, 2021) Opens up with a Brazilian beat put into a drum machine but a club four on the floor kick drum. Tala comes in with the dreamy business with lyrics about how somebody is driving her mad. She may be driven mad but she remains remarkably composed while it’s happening. This is the most restrained tearing of the hair out that you will witness this summer. I like the Brazilian drum beat, after that it’s all right.