Album Reviews: Untitled (Black Is) and Untitled (Rise) by Sault


Album: Untitled (Black Is)
Artist: Sault
Release Date: 19 June 2020
Label: Forever Living Originals
Favorite Tracks:

  • Stop Dem
  • Wildfires

Thoughts:

Sault, a British music collective that eschews media attention on their real identities, put out two albums this year that encapsulate the Black experience in 2020. Released on Juneteenth, and just 25 days after the murder of George Floyd, the music expresses grief, defiance, and hope in equal measures. The music blends soul, R&B, afrobeat, and funk that clearly draws on its antecedents while also being fresh and unique.

Rating: ****

Album: Untitled (Rise)
Artist: Sault
Release Date: 18 September 2020
Label: Forever Living Originals
Favorite Tracks:

  • Strong
  • Rise
  • I Just Want to Dance
  • The Beginning and the End
  • Free


Thoughts:

Releasing a second album just three months after its predecessor seems a recipe for a watered-down follow-up, but with Sault it is just the opposite. If anything, Untitled (Rise) is brimming with energy and relevance with the music filled with disco melodies and traditional African polyrhythms.

Rating: ****

Album Review: Spilligion by Spillage Village


Album: Spilligion
Artist: Spillage Village
Release Date: September 25, 2020
Label: Dreamville | Interscope | SinceThe80s
Favorite Tracks:

  • Psalm Sing
  • Ea’alah (Family)
  • Mecca
  • End of Daze
  • Hapi
  • Jupiter

Thoughts:

Spillage Village is a hip hop musical collective based in Atlanta, Georgia.  I am no expert on hip hop, but I find these days that when I really like something it comes from the Atlanta and Southern scene. The album was born of the COVID-19 lockdown with members of Spillage Village living at the studio as a safe place.  Naturally, the album reflects the concerns of the time as greater inequality and social justice concerns.  But is is also an album that is full of hope and joy.  In addition to rap, the album reflects a wide variety of musical styles including soul, funk, and gospel.  It serves as a perfect time capsule and a message of hope from this cursed year.

Rating: ****

 

Revenge of the Two-Sentence Album Reviews


Album: Deserted
Artist: Mekons
Release Date: March 29, 2019
Favorite Tracks:

  • Lawrence of California
  • Mirage

Thoughts: Mekons are an original UK punk rock band from the 1970s who remain fresh and relevant 40 years later.  The folk rock/punk rock sound of Deserted is reminiscent of Billy Bragg, and is inspired by the landscapes of Joshua Tree National Park.
Rating: ***

 

 


Album: Gnomes and Badgers
Artist: Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe
Release Date: March 8, 2019
Favorite Tracks:

  • What if You Knew
  • Millvale, PA
  • Something Sweet
  • Smart Boy

Thoughts: I heard this playing in a coffee shop and through the magic of Shazam, I learned about a new band.  The album is an excellent collection of funk/jazz fusion from a former member of Lenny Kravitz’s backing band (so basically it’s the good part of Lenny Kravitz music without the bad part of Lenny Kravitz music).
Rating: ***


AlbumThe Seduction of Kansas
Artist: Priests
Release Date: April 5, 2019
Favorite Tracks:

  • The Seduction of Kansas
  • Good Time Charlie
  • I’m Clean
  • 68 Screen

Thoughts:

A punk rock epic that draws inspiration from a book by Thomas Frank?  Yes, please!

Rating: ***1/2

 

Album Review: Cuz I Love You by Lizzo


AlbumCuz I Love You
Artist: Lizzo
Release Date: April 19, 2019
Favorite Tracks:

  • Cuz I Love You
  • Like A Girl
  • Exactly How I Feel
  • Tempo
  • Juice
  • Lingerie

Thoughts:

Lizzo is one of those artists that excels in making music that fits into multiple genres – pop, hip hop, soul, funk, & R&B – so much so that her music is kind of it’s own Lizzo genre.  I was going to compare the music on Cuz I Love You to the work of Prince, and that was before I learned that Lizzo is from Minneapolis (in fact she appeared on the Prince and 3rdeyegirl album Plectrumelectrum).  The other obvious comparison is Janelle Monáe, and again there’s a direct connection as the pair performed together at Coachella last week and Lizzo interviewed Monáe for them. magazine.  What sets Lizzo apart is her joyful exuberance.  A large, black woman gets discriminated at from every angle, but Lizzo has embraced self-love, and much of the theme of this album is sharing the message of empowerment.  And she sounds she’s having so much fun while doing it.

Rating: ****

Album Review: Dirty Computer by Janelle Monáe


 

Album: Dirty Computer
ArtistJanelle Monáe
Release Date: April 28, 2018
Favorite Tracks: It would be easier to list my least favorite tracks, but really there are no duds on this album.

Thoughts:

It’s hard to believe that this is only Janelle Monáe’s third studio album as she has made such a huge contribution to musical pop culture in the past decade.  Monáe’s film work put this album on the back burner, but it was worth the wait.  This is the first album where Monáe steps out from behind her Cindi Mayweather character, and thus it is the personal music she’s released.  Similarly, stepping out of the metaphors of the Metropolis narrative, Monáe directly addresses political topics of the day while celebrating women,  Blackness, sexuality, gender identity and being American (““It’s gonna be my America before it’s all over”).

Monáe picks up the mantle from David Bowie and Prince as the icon of redefining norms for gender identity and sexuality.  In fact, Prince worked with Monáe on defining the sound of the music early on and it shows.  Make no mistake though, this is Monáe’s album and guest artists from Grimes to Brian Wilson to Zoe Kravitz to Stevie Wonder move fluidly to her beat. This is the first great album of 2018, and the song “Americans” should be the song of the summer.

If you want to read more of my dumb thoughts on Monáe’s earlier body of work, check out my Music Discoveries post.  For a more thoughtful career evaluation, read this article by Charles Pulliam-Moore.

Rating: *****

 

Monthly Mixtape – February 2018


I haven’t posted any Songs of the Week this year, and I’ve decided to retire SOTW and instead make a monthly post of new songs I like.  Hence the term “Monthly Mixtape.”

The title song off of Courtney Marie Andrews upcoming album is “May Your Kindness Remain”

 

The James Hunter Six provides Daptone soul in “I Got Eyes”

Australian electronica artists Jono Ma and Dreems collaborate on “Can’t Stop my Dreaming (Of You)”

Parliament returns with their first track in decades “I’m Gon Make U Sick O’Me (feat. Scarface)” and it’s funky in a 21st century way.

As always, let me know what you like, what you don’t like, and what other songs I should be listening to.

Album Review: Soul of a Woman by Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings


AlbumSoul of a Woman
ArtistSharon Jones & the Dap-Kings
Release Date: 17 November 2017
Favorite Tracks: “Matter of Time,” “Come and Be a Winner,” “Rumors,”  “Searching for a New Day,” and “Call on God”
Thoughts: It’s hard to listen to this album without feeling tearful, not just because of the music, but the knowledge that Sharon Jones’ voice was silenced forever with her death last year.  The final Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings album seems to recognize her mortality with more down tempo tracks, calls for reconciliation, messages of peace, and finish with the gospel hymn “Call on God.” It’s not intended as a final statement, but it’s what we get and serves as a reminder of the beauty and power that the great Sharon Jones brought to the world.
Rating: ***1/2

 

 

Podcasts of the Week Ending December 2


The Story Collider :: The Bats and the Bees

A reluctant field researcher finds purpose in showing drunk 17-year-olds how to tag bats with microchips, and a bee researcher who is allergic to bees.  Science!

Radiolab :: Stereothreat

Research into the effects of negative stereotypes and the difficulty of replicating that research.

Hit Parade :: The Queen of Disco Edition

Things I learned about Boston’s own Donna Summer: 1. she got her start in the Munich production of Hair where she became fluent in German, 2. she wrote or co-wrote most of her songs, 3. she and her producers basically invented electronic dance music, and 4. she continued to have club hits into the 2010s.

Afropop Worldwide :: A Brief History of Funk

A brief but beautiful story of funk with many funky classics and interviews with Bobby Byrd and George Clinton.

Slow Burn: A Podcast About Watergate

A new podcast that tells the story of the Watergate scandal with an as-it’s-happening approach focusing on long-forgotten key players in the scandal.

30 for 30 Podcasts :: The Lights of Wrigleyville

The story of the contentious battle between theChicago Cubs and their residential neighbors to install lights in Wrigley Field in the 1980s.

More Perfect :: Mr. Graham and the Reasonable Man

The story of a legal case that underlies our current crises in policing in America, and the legal fiction of the “Reasonable Man.”