Album Review: Sound Ancestors by Madlib


Album: Sound Ancestors
Artist: Madlib
Release Date: January 29, 2021
Label: Madlib Invazion
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Road of the Lonely One”
  • “Latino Negro”
  • “The New Normal”
  • “Duumbijay”

Thoughts:

Hip artist and producer Madlib collaborates with electronic music artists Four Tet on this collection that draws on both of their loves for music and record collecting. The music samples from a catalog of soul and R&B, Jazz, Latin, folk, and reggae to create  a tribute to ancestral music and something new at the same time.

Rating: ***1/2

Monthly Mixtape – December 2019


Better late than never!  Here are some good new songs from the last month of last year.

Madame Gandhi :: Top Knot Turn Up

Madame Gandhi, the former drummer for M.I.A and a runner of the London Marathon, s an electronic music artist and activist based in Los Angeles.

Antibalas :: Fight Am Finish

My favorite Afrobeat band from Brooklyn (with ties to Daptone records) returns!

beabadoobee :: Are You Sure

Beatrice Kristi Laus is a youthful Filipino-British indie singer-songwriter.

MaLLy :: Black Moses

The latest from a Minneapolis rapper. Read more at The Current.


Previous Mixtapes:

Album Review: The New Normal by STL GLD


AlbumThe New Normal
ArtistSTL GLD
Release Date: February 1, 2019
Favorite Tracks: Burns, Gon’ Shine, Burns
Thoughts:

The Boston hip hop act STL GLD is well-regarded as one of the best groups in the area by local media.  Boston isn’t a notable location on the hip hop map compared with other cities, but The New Normal should draw attention to our city. Moe Pope, Christopher Talken, and Jonathan Ulman perform songs that speak to the present moment of the Trump era, and all the political and personal turmoil that entails, but also offering a positive alternative vision.  And STL GLD is not shy about getting their message out, including holding a listening party for the album’s premier in the unlikely setting of the Museum of Fine Arts.  I admit that I don’t know enough about hip hop to write a thorough review, but I know what I like, and The New Normal, lyrically and musically, is worth listenin to.

Rating: ****

Album Review: Acrylic by Leikeli47


Album: Acrylic
Artist: Leikeli47
Release Date: November 14, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • Tic Boom
  • Girl Blunt
  • Roll Call
  • Hoyt and Schermerhorn
  • Iron Mike

Thoughts:

Leikeli47 is mysterious, masked figure from Brooklyn who raps about life in her neighborhood and the challenges of Black women in 2018 America.  The rhymes are strong and the beats are fine.  The music is fun, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t serious.  This album is a throwback to old school rap of the 80s while simultaneously forward looking.

Rating: ****

Podcasts of the Week Ending October 27th


Believed :: The Good Guy

This podcast series from Michigan Radio investigates the story of Larry Nassar, the women’s Olympics gymnastic doctor found guilty of sexual abusing his patients for decades.  This first episode depicts how Nassar was seen in the gymnastic community as a respected and lovable figure, not appearing as a monster despite performing monstrous acts.  There are obvious content warning for rape and trauma for anyone considering listening to this episode.

The Memory Palace :: The Dress in the Closet

This Halloween episode is a ghost story of sorts telling the sad story of Clara Harris and Henry Rathbone and how they were haunted by being guests of Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre on the night of his murder.

Hit Parade :: The Oh. My. God. Becky Edition

The Hit Parade visits the charts circa 1991-1992 when hip-hop hits finally reach #1.  It was a transitional period for hip-hop between its party song roots and the West Coast gangsta rap that emerged as a hit-churning style later in the 90s.  The new styles sampled pop and R&B songs and featured more conscious lyrics.  Artists included De La Soul, PM Dawn, Arrested Development, and … Sir Mix-A-Lot.  Host Chris Molanphy credits the newfound success of rap on the charts partly to Billboard introducing the new SoundScan system which more accurately tracked record sales and airplay.  This was another nostalgic episode for me as I liked a lot of the rap music from this period but never cottoned on to gangsta rap.

Album Review: Prophets of Rage


AlbumProphets of Rage
Artist: Prophets of Rage
Release Date: September 15, 2017
Favorite Tracks: “Unfuck the World”
Thoughts: Back in the 80s, Public Enemy’s Chuck D said “rap is CNN for black people,” reflecting on the urgency of rap music to spread the word through the community.  The idea of message spreading is central to the new album from Prophets of Rage, the rock rap supergroup Chuck D formed with Rage Against the Machine’s Tim Commerford, Tom Morello, and Brad Wilk, Cypress Hill’s B-Real, and DJ Lord of Public Enemy. And yet message seems to be all they’ve got, while the nearly 30-year-old It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back still stands up musically.  At it’s best, Prophets of Rage reminds me of great collaborations of rap and hard rock like Public Enemy with Anthrax or Rage Against the Machine at their best, but unfortunately most of the album reminds me of the dreck that was late-90s rap-metal, and not worthy of the talent involved in its creation.
Rating: **

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.

Songs of the Week: “Her Majesty’s Socialist Request,” “Melding of the Minds,” and “Poem Found in the Pocket of an Amazon”


This is one of those weeks where just one song is not jumping out at me as THE song of the week, but there are a handful of contenders, so I’m just going to throw out a grab bag of songs of the week.  No commonalities here other than I would probably like these songs for their titles alone.

“Her Majesty’s Socialist Request” – RJD2

This track by Philadelphia-based producer RJD2 is a great sonic piece of instrumental electronica/hip-hop.

“Melding of the Minds” – Deltron 3030 (featuring Zach De La Rocha)

I was already drawn to the sound of this track which is reminiscent of 90’s era political rap at it’s most ardent, but the guest appearance of Rage Against the Machine’s Zach De Lo Rocha put it over the top.

“Poem Found in the Pocket of an Amazon” – My Bubba

Mellow out now with My Bubba, an Icelandic/Swedish folk duo, whose quirky slow tunes remind me of Jolie Holland

 

What are you listening to this week?  The floor is open.

Song of the Week: “Delicate Cycle” by The Uncluded


I didn’t want to like this song.  Kimya Dawson can be excessively twee and the whole rap-twined-with-soft-music dichotomy is played out.  But ultimately The Uncluded’s “Delicate Cycle” won me over with it’s play on words, interweaving stories of lunch ladies, launderers, and apparently vivisection, as well as a catchy melody won me over.