Category: Album of the Month

November AOTM : Rapsody – Eve

Welcome to November and an album that was very hard to get my hands on. In-fact there was only one place on the entire internet where I could order it. I need to highlight that this is becoming very common within Hip Hop; digital only albums which has resulted in us meeting some really good albums…. I digress…..

 

Rapsody has been making waves within not only Hip Hop but also the music industry in general over the last 5 years. Backed by super producer 9th Wonder’s Jamla Team and Jay-Z’s Roc Nation Records, Rapsody is hands down one of the hot commodities in Hip Hop. I must admit I was a little late to the party with Rapsody. It wasn’t until I heard ‘Power’ from her last album that I started to pay attention. Since then she has appeared on many of my favourite songs over the last 18 months often stealing songs where she guest appears. Why do I like her? She’s an MC’s MC. She moulds her deep southern routes with impressive word play and honesty.

 

The concept of her latest effort ‘Eve’ is a nod to 16 of her female heroes which is firstly highlighted in the song titles and also lyrically throughout. Now, that being said, as a middle aged white male this is obviously right in my wheel house. Joking aside this album is banging!

 

Rapsody starts the album with ‘Nina’, for me it’s a statement song. Lyrically she does in straight away, and really sets the pace for the album. Throughout the song and throughout the album Rapsody touches on personal experience and her view on being a black female not only the music industry but more so in present day America.

 

Joining rhapsody on the album there is a wide range of guests from new to old. Man of the moment J.Cole joins Rapsody along with the likes of GZA, Dangelo, Queen Latifah and Leikeli47 to name a few.

 

I think there’s something for you all on this album. I think it’s accessible for Brother Guy, it’s got pure hip hop for Brother Joey and lyrically it will keep Brother David on his toes. As I’m introducing you to this album I’m going to avoid my personal highlights as I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

 

I also need to stress that after this you need to take some time and visit ALL of her albums on Spotify as they’re pretty remarkable.

October: Michael Kiwanuka – Kiwanuka

Yes, brothers, it’s a bit late, but my god, it’s worth the wait. What can you say about Michael Kiwanuka that’s not already been said? Let’s get the cliches out of the way first: he harks back to the best soul musicians of the 60s and 70s, be it Bill Withers, The Isley Brothers, Marvin Gaye, with a twinge of the jazz he so adores, but he brings that soul, that classic guitar into the modern age, (with a little help from the talents of Danger Mouse and Inflo) with electronic touches and flourishes. Oh, and I think we forgot that it’s easy listening, middle-class soul that belies a depth and richness, and a self-criticism that shows underneath the wizadry, there’s real doubt, loss and sadness.

Now that’s over with, let’s talk about what goes outside the usual tick-box talking points. Because in Michael Kiwanuka we have an artist that could be set to ascend to the heights of a modern great, at a time when the music he makes feels beautifully out of step with everything else on show: tracks that you expect to crackle with the fizz of vinyl, that don’t adhere to radio-friendly lengths or structures, (yet get picked up by globally renowned TV shows) however simple they may seem at first sight. Yes, you may say he should’ve been born 30 years earlier, but in some ways, that would’ve meant he’d perhaps sunk back into the ‘really good’ with so many legends around him. Truth be told, we’re lucky he’s around now, because that means he stands out, and – for those of us of a certain age – he beautifully espouses the virtues of proper songwriting.

And yet, it could’ve been so different. In many ways Kiwanuka is an anachronism. An immigrant kid, growing up in a white, middle-class suburb in north London, stripped of some of the struggles that peers may have encountered. Growing up immersed in jazz and soul, rather than hip-hop or r’n’b, a skater (but really, not that good), and dropping out of his dream course at the Royal Academy to write some songs, play them in a pub, and see where it went, assuming it’d be respected session musician, and never Glastonbury headliner, and singer-songwriter that spent years both convinced his own voice wasn’t up to the mark, then when fame finally hit, wracked with self-doubt, a self-labelled impostor that walked out of sessions with Kanye and struggled singing songs about the bleak side of love as he was getting married himself.

But to stick with Kiwanuka is an experience that rewards you, continually. Even the breakout Home Again, and the BBC Sound of 2012 – which seems so incredibly long ago – didn’t seem to quite bring him the expected success he’d been talked up for. It wasn’t until Love And Hate, four years later, that the it felt like the world caught up. It debuted at No.1 in the UK, and was an album that improved with every listen, his voice just drifting into gravelly, lovelorn ennui, cloaked in sadness. It was hard enough to listen to sometimes in good days, let alone when you’d gone through a break-up, or suffered loss. Every track dripped with sadness, with subtle, careworn character that settled like winter snow. And when he found his voice as a black man in the modern world, it gave us musical glory.

So where do you go from here? Radical reinvention? Pastiche? In this case, a bit of that, but mostly taking what made you so loved, and adding layers. But as with his own character, it’s not a brash statement, but something enveloped in a sound so pure, rich and powerful, that it reveals itself slowly. And shows that along with musical growth, Kiwanuka is also starting to feel more at home with himself. The first single, You Ain’t The Problem, finds him coming to the realisation that, whatever tribulations and doubt there is, it’s not himself that’s at the centre of it. Hero is self-questioning, with a video that puts his own contradictions at its heart, but doesn’t put the blame at his own door, and throughout the album, there are songs whose first impact is ‘that’s nice’, but as you delve deeper and let the music wash over you, and the lyrics sink in, you get to enjoy the slow-burning, blossoming joy as the album slowly shifts under your feet, and you just want to listen again, and again, and again.

Not everything, it seems has to be accessible and obvious from the off, and so this gentle but powerful anachronism, at odds with a fast-paced, condensed, over-saturated world, is everything it should be: a current classic, a future classic, and one of the albums of the year. Amen, Michael.

*Bonus album* Holding on to a Dream – sir Was

While we’re a-waiting for FKA to drop, I thought I’d share an album that has really got under my skin. sir Was is a dude from a remote Swedish village and this is his 2nd album.

It was this collaboration with Little Dragon on the album that first caught my attention. You might have heard it, 6 Music have been rinsing it, and I put it on that recent comp I posted on here:

So then I checked the album out. First couple of times I listened, I thought – yeah, this is quite cool. But it’s pretty downbeat and quite minor, and maybe I won’t stick with it for long. But I did. I really did. I keep coming back to it and playing it, and it has totally got me.

So here’s the thing – it is one of the most undefinable sounds I think I’ve ever heard. It’s not dance music really, not at all, but it feels like it’s made my someone with those sensibilities. But his voice and the production also sounds like lush 70s West Coast pop. And then there are other really interesting tracks that sound like – yes, really – This Mortal Coil and Cocteau Twins. In fact, this album could easily be on 4AD.

It really is the most beguiling mix of stuff. And the three tracks I’ve posted on here (the only ones on YouTube) are the more obvious end of the album. But I’d be really interested in what you think when you immerse yourself in it. It’s not a long album and it’s very easy and enjoayable listen. But what I love is how it’s opened itself up, the more I’ve listened to it. It had hidden depths. I flipping LOVE it when music is like that.

So there you. An October bonus. Check him out.

SEPTEMBER: Metronomy Forever

So, after a month of for summer hi-jinx – getting married! moving house! raising kids! Listening to music! – we’re back, back, back!

So here’s the long-awaited new offering from a band that are very beloved of this parish. Off the back of a pretty sweltering run of belting singles leading up to the album, the question on everyone’s lips (well, mine anyway): have they finally made an album that can stand up to their masterpiece, THE ENGLISH RIVIERA.

But then it’s never easy with Metronomy, so even answering that question is quite tricky. Joe Mount is such a wilful bastard, and clearly likes doing whatever the fuck he wants, and never more than on this 17 track album that features 6 instrumentals. Chasing the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame is not top of Mount’s aims in life.

The answer is YES and NO at the same time, and because it’s Metronomy, I think you probably know what I mean. It is undeniably the band’s strongest offering in years, and thought Summer 08 had a couple of belting tunes on it, I personally don’t think they’ve made a properly cohesive album since Riviera. For the record, I thought Love Letters was a steaming pile of crap.

Forever has two very very big things going for it. Firstly, it has a really wonderful set of songs on it. From Lately to Salted Caramel Ice Cream to Insecurity to The Light to Sex Emoji (yes, even Sex Emoji), this is an album overflowing with funky, fresh ideas and the kind of Metronomy songs you long for – the kind you’d end up adding to a Best of Spotify compilation.

The second thing I love about this album is that it really does feel like a complete piece of work. Songs flow into each other, and even some of the instrumentals, which I initially found indulgent and overly-long, really start to come alive (a work trip with a lot of walking around London with my headphones changed my view on these). You can hear Morodor and early Daft Punk and even some kind of freak folk influences on some of these, and I think it’s quite brave of Mount to go for it, when you could have just have made a very tight 9 track belter.

However, let’s not kid ourselves. Any 17 track album has superfluous filler. Hell, even The White Album’s got Bungalow Bill and Wild Honey Pie. The second half of the album is perhaps lighter on the really strongest stuff, and it starts to sag a little. And there are moments when Mount’s use of repetition – which he uses SO cleverly in his songs – is just too self-indulged. Mount himself jokingly said the album was pretentious and too long when he was asked about it. Or maybe he wasn’t joking. Who knows?

So sure, in time I’ll probably flick past the odd track or two. And there are moments that are a lot less than necessary. But mostly, it feels vital and fresh and 20 times more interesting than anything most artists are doing, let alone after nearly two decades (yup!) of making music.

Metronomy Forever? You betcha.

JULY: Kevin Morby – Oh My God

Welcome to ‘Oh My God’ by Kevin Morby. This apparently is his 5th album. Described by some as a secular Gospel Rock album. I’d never heard of Mr Morby until I googled best albums of the year 2019 (so far) and he kept popping up on everyone’s lists. I was going to Barcelona for a week with work and I like to take new albums on trips like that. If the albums work for you then they always remind you of the place and time which I love. I always take new tracks / albums on holidays for this reason too.

My route into this album was relatively easy. I always like Dylan’s gospel phase … and I’ve grown to … at least respect Leonard Cohen, through the good work of my wife Stacey. The influences on this album are obvious but for me never over powering and Kevin (hee hee) always makes it sound like his own (there’s even a little Father John Misty and Lou Reed in there too).

This album has some of the best writing I’ve heard in a while. Each track is a memorable tune. Some more than others naturally but I love this album from start to finish and could find a place in many different types of mix tapes for all the tracks. Lyrically I find this album strong as an ox. I think the sequence of tracks is close to perfect … and the instrumentation is right up my street. Bongo’s and Congos? Tick. Church Organ? Tick tick tick. Listen to Hail Mary – best organ use since Rolling Stone by Dylan? Layers of brass? Oh yes. Harps? Yes. It’s mostly guitar and piano driven but the above instruments make this sound rich and demanding of a closer listen.

I have no idea how you guys will receive this … but Oh My God. I love it.

June AOTM: J.S. Ondara – Tales Of America

I must admit, I fell across JS Ondara by a mistake. Well the internet said I should give him a go. It’s worth looking into the story how JS Ondara got to where he is today. In short he’s a guy from Kenya that fell in love with American music and decided to move to America to make what he loved from the country that the music continues to use as a muse. He moved to Minneapolis because that’s where Bob Dylan came from. A bit unexpected but it seems to have done the trick.

 

This name of this album is very apt. Not because he lives in America and he’s telling stories (though that is exactly what it is), but because in my opinion he’s a perfect example of a singer songwriter from North America that depicts the continent and what it offers. One that has taken so many influences from across the genres and cultures, boiled them in a pot, added some of himself and (ping) he’s done….. JS Ondara presents his Tales of America.

 

This album started off as a Sunday afternoon album I played whilst making lunch and moved to a go to for me the more I listen to it. I encourage you to take some time to dig into the lyrics. He covers allot. Love, life, and even social media. Peoples day to day struggles and victories. I get the Dylan influence. He’s a story teller. I like how there are hints of his accent; though the only track it really stands out on is his letter to his current home on ‘God Bless America’.

 

I’ll tell you why I like him and this album. It’s wholesome. It gives me what early Neil Young and Ryan Adams albums have. He’s got soul, his lyrics are solid and the boy can sing.

 

I had the pleasure of seeing him in Manchester in the spring. I highly encourage you to see him if you get a chance. He’s the real deal. I see him as a guy that will build a following through his live show.

 

America is (mostly) a country of immigrants. A country of a million stories. A million songs. Everything needs fresh eyes, and in this case a folksinger from Kenya that has taken a screen shot of the America he lives in. Is this album a classic? Perhaps not now. It may be one day. I’d say it’s a first chapter in what could be an interesting story.

 

APRIL: GREY Area by Little Simz

Well, well, well. What a little belter this is.

Little Simz AKA Simbiatu “Simbi” Abisola Abiola Ajikawo (can see why she went for the shortened nickname) has been knocking around for a few years. I heard a couple of tracks that I really liked without falling in love with. She did stand out from her peers by seeming less interested in the beats of grime and more the classic beats of old skool hip hop.

So I admit it – I initially dismissed her a bit as a promising UK hip hop like a million before her that was full of promise but hadn’t quite delivered THAT track.

And then I heard OFFENCE. Jesus H Christ. What a ridiculous beast of a track that is. It became a genuine crossover that was being played on 6Music AND Radio 1 AND Capital (which I know, thanks to my kids).

Still, I approached this album expecting 10 tracks of more of the same. What I wasn’t expecting was such a rich, inventive brew, so full of creativity and painted on such a wide canvas.

Influences? Oh man, where to start? The nu-soul meets hip hop of Anderson .Paak and K-Os (of old!) on tracks like WOUNDS. SELFISH is basically a gorgeous RnB pop song but with a rap holding it together. VENOM’s flow feels like a grime style and BOSS is a great track 2 choice, smacking you right in the face. FLOWERS could be a collaboration with Cinematic Orchestra, and obvs Michael Kiwanuka is always a seal of quality.

So much to love on here – the live band and instrumentation gives it a blaxploitation film score vibe. Everywhere there are surprises – fresh samples, unusual arrangements. This is a really ambitious album made to aim high, and it nearly completely delivers.

Finally – oh joy of joy – it’s got NO SKITS and it’s a tight, punch 35 minutes long. How many hip hop albums could learn from this?

I notice she right at the top of the bill of one of the Coachella stages. She’s that good. Not surprised the US is noticing.

Any criticisms? Maybe her delivery and flow is a little bit monotonous at times, but lyrically it’s bloody brilliant – and she works around that by making each song such a uniquely constructed entity.

So yeah. I LOVE this album and I’m sure it’ll end up in my top 10 at the end of the year. How about you, Brothers?