Monthly Mixtape – September 2020


This month we have a robust collection of new songs. Our mixtape begins and ends with some stirring protest songs, but there are some feel good songs in-between.

Janelle Monáe :: “Turntables”

Terror/Cactus :: “Guanaco

Throwing Muses :: “Dark Blue”

Kelly Lee Owens :: “On”

Æ MAK :: “i dance in the kitchen (feat. Seba Safe)”

A.G. Cook :: “Beautiful Superstar”

Romy :: “Lifetime”

ALA.NI :: “Lament for Emmett Till”

Previous Mixtapes:

Podcasts of the Week Ending May 23


All Songs Considered :: Little Richard’s Life in 10 Songs

A tribute to the groundbreaking Rock n’ Roll artist through music.

Fresh Air :: Janelle Monáe

An interview with one of my favorite musicians, actors, style icons, and all around people.

The Politics of Everything :: Is Baseball Safe?

MLB is planning to return for a shortened season, but will it be safe for players, coaches, umpires, and other ballpark employees with the continuing threat of COVID-19?

Radio Boston :: As Mass. Reopens, Are You Ready To Start Riding The T Again?

Decades of disinvestment in Boston’s public transportation creates the conditions where many commuters will not feel they can safely travel while practicing social distancing.

Radiolab :: Speedy Beet

Beethoveen may have composed his music to be played at a much faster tempo leading to his music being seen in a different light.

Snap Judgment :: The Country Doctor

The story of an Islamic doctor who loves serving the community in a small Minnesota town until he learns that most of the people their voted for Trump.


Running Tally of Podcast of the Week Appearances in 2020

2018 Year in Review: Favorite Songs – The Top Five


If you haven’t read  Part 1 and Part 2 of this list, check them out for the full countdown before continuing.

And Now… The Top Five Songs of 2018!

5. “Nameless, Faceless” :: Courtney Barnett
4. “Make Me Feel” :: Janelle Monáe
3. “Tremelo” :: Young Fathers
2. “Black Willow” :: Loma
1. “No Going Back” :: Yuno

 

 

 

Favorite Songs by Year, 1973-2017

1973 1974 1975 1976
1977 1978 1979 1980
1981 1982 1983 1984
1985 1986 1987 1988
1989 1990 1991 1992
1993 1994 1995 1996
1997 1998 1999 2000
2001 2002 2003 2004
2005 2006 2007 2008
2009 2010 2011 2012
2013 2014 2015 2016
2017

2018 Year in Review: Favorite Albums


It’s the time of the year to list my favorite albums!  What follows are my ten favorite albums listed in alphabetical order by the artists.  Links in the album title go to my full review of the album.

Check out my lists of favorite albums from 20142016, and 2017 as well.


Tell Me How You Really Feel by Courtney Barnett

Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa by Jeremy Dutcher

Sugar & Spice by Hatchie

Remain in Light by Angélique Kidjo

Acrylic by Leikeli47

Roza Cruz by La Mecánica Popular 

Dirty Computer by Janelle Monáe

Orquesta Akokán by Orquesta Akokán

Wide Awake! by Parquet Courts

Cocoa Sugar by Young Fathers

Concert Review: Janelle Monáe


Performer: Janelle Monáe
Venue: Blue Hills Bank Pavilion
Date: July 21, 2018
Opening Act: St. Beauty

First thing, the unwritten rule that one cannot wear a concert tour t-shirt while at that very concert is now null and void.  Following one of her costume changes while performing at Blue Hills Bank Pavilion in Boston, Janelle Monáe stepped onstage wearing an official Janelle Monáe Dirty Computer 2018 concert tour t-shirt.  One might think of it as product placement, but in the broad themes of acceptance, inclusion, and love expressed at this concert, I think it was another way for Monáe to say be yourself, wear what makes you comfortable, especially is it’s a shirt with a picture of your own face.

Among the crowd of adoring fans there was quite a bit of expression in fashion of clothing that was sparkly, had bold colors, and/or stated brave political messages.  I had the thought before leaving for the concert, “What should I wear to a Janelle Monáe concert?”  Not knowing the answer I settled on something like what I always wear, a short-sleeve, button-down shirt with vertical stripes.  Ironically, some hip young people complimented me on this shirt, saying that they liked the colors.

It was a very accepting audience, and the most diverse crowd I’d ever seen for anything in Boston.  All ages, races, and gender expressions were in attendance. Any fears that I would be too old, white, straight, and cisgender were allayed by the fact there was also an even older white, married couple sitting right in front of us.

Janelle Monáe’s concert was visually striking with Monáe generally performing on stepped pedestal. Her costumes were black and white patterns with flashes of red.  Scenes from the “emotion picture” of Dirty Computer as well as archival footage and more abstract patterns were projected behind the stage.

Monáe was accompanied by a five-piece band which included a stunningly-talented guitarist and drummer and synthesizer players who doubled on the horns, depending on the song.  I cannot find the band members’ names anywhere online, but I suspect they are members of the Wondaland Arts Society and have recordings of their own.  If you know there names let me know in the comments!  Monáe also performed with a quartet of dancers.  I hesitate to call them “back-up dancers” because they’re dancing was integral to the performance, and if anything it looked as if Monáe and the four dancers were a group of friends hanging out and partying.

Highlights of the concert include “Screwed” which became an audience sing-a-long with help from the video projection. Taking a page from Morris Day of The Time, Monáe glanced at her new outfit in a full-length mirror and ascended the podium to a throne to perform “Django Jane.” The ballad “Primetime” concluded with a stunning guitar solo that I felt was the closest I ever will be to seeing Prince perform live in concert.

That solo gave a Monáe and the dancers the time change into the famous “vagina pants” for a performance of “Pynk.”  The enthusiastic crowd even cheered the appearance of Tessa Thompson in the video background. The feeling of inclusion, acceptance, and  love was heightened during the performance of “I Like That” when Monáe took the opportunity to compliment the things she liked about several members of the audience.

Perhaps the stand out performance in a night of excellent music, choreography, and stagecraft came during “Make Me Feel.”  The song began with an extended dance break with backlit Monáe dancing in silhouette. The song ended with Monáe singing “baby, baby, baby” while the horns played “I Got the Feelin'” In one song that’s already the Prince-iest of all of her songs, Janelle Monáe managed to also pay homage to Michael and Janet Jackson, and James Brown, while confidently expressing her own identity.

The party continued with “I Got the Juice” that turned into a dance-off among Monáe  and the dancers.  Then she invited members of the audience to come up a “dance as if there lives depended on it.” For the young folk who made it on the stage it was clear that this was the greatest moment of their lives.  They took turns dancing to wide acclaim, and Monáe assured each of them that “you’ve got the juice.” Monáe closed out the main set with two songs from her Archandroid album, “Cold War,” and a breathtaking performance of “Tightrope.”

For the encore, Monáe returned to the stage to sing a “love letter to America” in “So Afraid” as images of civil rights and Black Lives Matter protests and civil disturbances. This transitioned into “Americans,” a positive affirmation of the American identity of people often denied that.

Due to MBTA construction and a long wait to get in we missed much of the opening set by St. Beauty, a duo from Atlanta who are part of the Wondaland collective, but I like what I heard and will check them out.

Full Set List

Dirty Computer (the recording of this song from the album, complete with Brian Wilson’s harmonies, played as entrance music)
Crazy, Classic, Life
Take a Byte
Screwed
Django Jane
Q.U.E.E.N.
Electric Lady
PrimeTime
Pynk
Yoga
I Like That
Don’t Judge Me
Make Me Feel
I Got the Juice
Cold War
Tightrope

Encore:

So Afraid
Americans

Reviews:

Related Posts:

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: *****

 

2017 Year in Review: Favorite Songs


Here are 20 of my favorite songs of 2017. For previous year-end lists of previous years check out my lists for 20162015,  201420132012,  2011,  2010  and  2009.

In no particular order

“Blue Mountain Road” by Florist

“Memories are Now” by Jesca Hoop

“You Would Have to Lose Your Mind” by Barr Brothers

“Cherry Blossom: by ALA.NI 

“Drinkee” by Sofi Tukker

“Every Day’s the Weekend” by Alex Lahey

“Witness” by  Benjamin Booker (feat. Mavis Staples)

“I Give You Power” by Arcade Fire (feat. Mavis Staples)

“Quiet” by Milck 

“Work” by  Charlotte Day Wilson

“Familiar” by Agnes Obel

“Cryin’ in the Streets” by Zeshan B

“Venus Fly” by Grimes (feat. Janelle Monae) – technically this song is from 2015, but the video of this most important collaboration came out this year bringing due attention to the song.

“Hot to Trot” by  Jessica Hernandez & The Deltas

“Modafinil Blues” by Matthew Dear

“The Underside of Power” by Algiers 

“A Wall” by Downtown Boys

“Future Politics” by Austra

“Learning to Lose” by Margo Price (feat. Willie Nelson)

“Straight Boy” by Shamir

 

Music Discoveries: Janelle Monáe


Today I finally begin a new feature on this blog I’ve been planning for a long time called Music Discoveries.  The idea is to find musical artists and bands I’m familiar with and do a deep listen of their full catalog of recordings.  I was inspired by a fellow blogger on Desert Island Mix Tape when he listened to the entire back catalog of the Bee Gees and then wrote it up.  I’ve procrastinated a long time and hesitated posting at all because I’m not particularly skilled as a music critic.  But then again I’m not a book or beer critic and that hasn’t stopped me, and I can only get better with practice.  So please be patient with me as you read this and offer constructive criticism in the comments.

Let us begin with Janelle Monáe, a musician I first learned of a few years back from my wife (who is often more up to date on contemporary music). The 30-year-old artist from Kansas City, KS is a singer, song writer, producer, collaborator, and all around performer. Her musical style is eclectic bringing together soul, art music, R&B, hip-hop, funk, and even opera and cinematic scores.  In many ways she is a musical heir to the recently deceased David Bowie and Prince, a comparison heightened by her androgynous public image and signature tuxedo. Other clear influences on her work and style include Grace Jones, Annie Lennox, and the Afrofuturism of George Clinton and PFunk.

One thing for sure about Monáe is that she is committed to a high concept.  Her recordings are a series of suites called Metropolis inspired by Fritz Lang’s 1927 film of the same name.  The suites center on Monáe’s alter ego Cindi Mayweather, an android from the year 2719, who breaks the law by falling in love with a human and while a fugitive becomes a messianic figure to other androids.  While there’s a lot to be gained from listening to the suites in order, the songs have universal themes that allow them to succeed out of context.  They work as a science fiction story but also as love songs as well as commentaries on social issues such as inequality, social stratification, racism, and discrimination against LGBT communities.

Monáe’s first recording is an extremely limited 2003 album called The Audition, which I wasn’t able to find so I’m going to skip ahead to her 2007 EP where the suites begin

AlbumMetropolis: Suite I (The Chase)
Release Date: August 24, 2007
Favorite Tracks: “Sincerely, Jane” and “Mr. President”
Thoughts:  This EP introduces the first of the Metropolis suites and introduces Cindi Mayweather and the science fiction plot line.  Pop and funk are mixed with opera and old standards (the special edition includes a rendition of the Charlie Chaplin song “Smile”). The album is short but epic and cinematic.  A good start
Rating: ***1/2

AlbumThe ArchAndroid
Release Date: May 18, 2010
Favorite Tracks: “Locked Inside” “Cold War”
Thoughts:  Suite’s II and III of Metropolis make up Monáe’s  first full-length major release.  The music here is upbeat belying the seriousness of the lyrics. Musically the album jumps among genres from song to song and even within songs.  Funk, soul, new wave, afrobeat, psychedelia, and even punk rock (“Come Alive” is reminiscent of the B52s).  The music gets a little slow and less interesting in Suite III, but this is definitely a masterpiece.
Rating: ****

AlbumThe Electric Lady
Release Date: September 6, 2013
Favorite Tracks:  “Givin’ Em What They Love” “Dance Apocalyptic” “Can’t Live Without Your Love”
Thoughts:  Monáe’s second full album and the fourth and fifth suites of the Metropolis opus is full of notable guest artists inluding  Miguel, Erykah Badu, Solange, Prince and Esperanza Spalding.  Musically this is smoother than The ArchAndroid with some slow jams, and jazz, hip-hop, and gospel influences. I could live without the radio breaks with the android DJ because the verisimilitude to a radio jock patter with callers is all to close.  Still this is a worth follow-up to The ArchAndroid  and shows Monáe’s s growth and range.
Rating: ***1/2

AlbumiTunes Festival: London 2013
Release Date: September 9, 2013
Favorite Tracks: “Dance Apocalyptic,” “Tightrope”
Thoughts: This live recording mixes together 5 previously released tracks, showing how well they work independent of the suites and more importantly the incredible energy Monáe brings to performance.  The horn section playing behind her is particularly fantastic. Definitely need to take the opportunity to see Monáe  in concert.
Rating: ***1/2

AlbumWondaland Presents: The Eephus
Release Date: August 14, 2015
Favorite Tracks: “Yoga”
Thoughts: Technically this is not a Monáe album but a compilation of songs by her collective at Wondaland Records (Jidenna, St. Beauty, Roman GianArthur and Deep Cotton).  There’s only once song by Monae, featuring Jidenna, called “Yoga” (which is, er, not really about yoga).  Monáe’s fingerprints are all over the recording though showing her capabilities as a collaborator and a producer.
Rating: ***

Speaking of collaboration, Janelle Monae appears as a guest on many other artists’ recordings.  Probably the most famous is “We Are Young” by fun.  Monae’s part on the bridge makes a great song – and music video – all the more epic.

Janelle Monae also brought together the Wondaland Records lineup last year on the powerful protest song “Hell You Talmbout” where they chant the names of African-Americans murdered by the police.

I will definitely continue to listen to Janelle Monáe’s music as her career continues.  I expect she will continue to grow as an artist and create some of the more innovative music of our time.  I’m sad to say that I somehow missed Janelle Monáe Day in my hometown of Boston a few years back, but I hope to see her in concert one day when she returns.

Stay tuned next week as I will tell you what I heard listening to every album by Kate Bush.

Ten Favorite Songs of 2011


The project continues with my favorite songs of 2011.  Read the first post for the detail on this project.

I originally covered 2011 with a Year in Review post.

Bite of My Soul – The Fleshtones

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Cruel – St. Vincent

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Eleven –  Thao & Mirah

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Helplessness Blues – Fleet Foxes

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No Banker Left Behind –  Ry Cooder

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Romance – Wild Flag

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Santa Fe – Beirut 

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Shake It Out – Florence + The Machine 

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Up Up Up – The Givers

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We Are Young – fun. feat. Janelle Monáe

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And three songs from 2011 worth an honorable mention:

Bizness –  tUnE-yArDs

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Midnight City–  M83

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Turn It On – Waines 

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