2015 Year In Music – Part 2
In part 2 of my year in purchased music, there are a host of great soul deliveries peppered with a touch of electronica and rock. I’ll also peer into 2016 releases and give a few lists of stuff I need to listen to, stuff I meant to purchase, and stuff I already have on my 2016 release radar.
Alina Baraz & Galimatias – Urban Flora EP
Not even two seconds after discovering The Internet via Pandora did I stumble across chillout standouts Alina Baraz & Galimatias. Sounding like a cross between Jhene Aiko, Zero 7, and Tinashe’s early mixtape production I’ve finally found my successor to Everything But Today’s trademark electronica sound. It’s sexy. It’s haunting and smooth. It’s….well, and urban sounding electronica I suppose.
Allow “Can I” to slink its way into your quiet storm jam and you’ll thank me.
Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly
Let’s face it. If I didn’t at least mention this album many would pull my ‘music critic’ card with a quicks!
Unlike almost any emcee out today, Kendrick Lamar has the gift of fury AND passion. Where many emcees see like they’re simply reading from their rhyme book, Kendrick’s delivery seems to come from this tearful, vibrating, and chaotic pit within his heart. On virtually any feature or track on this album, Kendrick managed to latch onto that part of me that wants to drive around with picket signs of protest all taped to my car. He seemingly took his ‘hottest emcee in the game’ and transcended the beef and run of the mill race for the crown to personify the spirit of Public Enemy and every other conscious rapper ever to touch the mic.
Listening to this album is like listening to a jazz infused spoken word effort. In truth, some of the songs are so ‘artsy’ that I can’t even listen to them unless I’ve dedicated myself to spanning the album as a whole to lyrically explore. This was by design apparently as article after article upon the net explain the purpose of this critically acclaimed album.Even before the full album dropped, I was in awe of the track “I” which is probably the most upbeat and uplifting song upon the album (at least the version released as the single). As an interesting departure from the mood of the rest of the album, the intent is for the journey to be a description of his own personal journey through an industry that has been compared to indentured servitude. At one point, he even had a real bout with depression and suicide as discussed in the track “u”.
I mean seriously, tracks like that are hard to pop in and workout with or clean the house to or even drive to work with. Instead, I pulled tracks like “Alright” and “These Walls” from the mass of heavy yet “something that should be digested by all of hip hop” artistry.
Whew Kendrick! One listen with an open and understanding hip hop mind will prove that Kendrick is one of the most intelligent and dedicated storytellers in today’s landscape with a style and floetic charisma that is second to none.
Emily King – The Switch
Emily King’s voice is silky sweet and most times I scour her catalogue searching for acappella jams. Her songwriting skills and ability to absolutely devastate my heart with a love song is almost unparalleled in today’s music scene. Much like listening to her amazing duet with Jose James on his song “Heaven On The Ground” from his No Beginning No End album, The Switch as a fantastic mix of love and feel good jams.
Hand clappin’ and head noddin are sure to ensue with jams like “Sleepwalker” and “Believer” will deliver. Then there are the joints that require you to close your eyes and breathe deep at the soul soothing that is to ensue. In particular “Distance” and “For Them” fit this bill. For myself, though, “Already There” slays me everytime. Her sweet harmonies and acoustic riffs stop my worries in their tracks if not for just a moment as the song carries me away.
Emily King is amazing….*mic drop*
Jazmine Sullivan – Reality Show
Don’t ask me why I slept on this album for so long. I listened to people rant and rave about how fantastic this album was early in the year but didn’t take the plunge until this fall. Jazmine Sullivan has that distinctive and scruffy yet passionate voice that has the power to be right beside the likes of Jennifer Hudson, Chaka Khan, and Aretha Franklin. Few can rock a song once Jazmine has done her thing with Iit.
Reality Show was a brilliant showcase of her skill as a vocalist as well as a song writer. Dropping “Forever Don’t Last” was the equivalent of her pounding her chest. Her power, her pain, her skat-ability, and superb vocal arrangements filled out this song which rocked the soul charts. Undoubtedly one of the best soul albums of the year.
Mark Ronson – Uptown Special
Ok, so if you were alive in 2015, then you’ve heard Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars tear a house or two down with their hit “Uptown Funk”. With clear shades of the infectious funk that shot Morris Day & The Time to stardom, the song devastated the charts all year. Interestingly enough, nothing else from producer Mark Ronson even made a blip on the charts. Still, I did take a chance and bought the whole effort in hopes of catching a bit more of the funk…
Sadly, nothing else on the album really tickled my fancy though. Almost as if it was taking a queue from “Uptown Funk”, many tracks just reminded me of something else that had been previously released. Mystikal conjured James Brown with “Feel Right” like he’s been trying to do for years. The house stylings of “I Can’t Lose”, while fun and danceable, just couldn’t elevate itself to ‘favorite’ status in my book.
Even the appearance of Stevie Wonder on the spacey “Crack In The Pearl Pt. 2” couldn’t even do the trick while all the song made me do is wish Stevie sang on the track rather than just play the harmonica.
Oddisee –Tangible Dream (2011)
Yes, I know. This isn’t his latest release but this is the one I listened to more…
Oddisee is one of those underappreciated emcees/producers that drops solid, enlightening, and impressive hip hop gems that don’t get the shine they deserve. He’s got the type of flow that makes you want to listen to each word because he’s relatable and understandable. Oddly enough, when he drops a project, oftentimes I either don’t hear about it or forget that it was out there for my eventual consumption. So much so that I completely missed this effort (from 2011) and had to dig through the catalogue to find and procure. Of course, in doing so, I managed to add another dozen or so songs to my hip hop display.
Within those I gravitated towards “Own Appeal” (thanks to the familiar CRU single that samples the same song), “Yeezus Was A Mortal Man”, and “Be There”.
The Foreign Exchange – Land of Milk and Honey
Nicolay, Phonte, Zo!, and a rotating vocal cast have been an outstanding and evolving force in music for some time even since before their Grammy nom days of 2009. This go around, Carmen Rodgers and Tamisha Waden join the trio to elevate the group’s most party ready album of all. With astounding shades of 80’s soul and house music, The Foreign Exchange do what they do best, get you moving.
Upon hearing “Body”, you’ll recall the days of groups like Midnight Star, Surface, or artists like James Ingram or even Luther Vandross and how their upbeat tunes would get a party moving instantly. The hilarious “Asking For A Friend” is a party jam of the most house-iest and Soulbounce.com was on point in stating Phonte works the verses much like Rockwell in “Somebody’s Watching Me” in the best way.
In a beautiful manifestation of “Man In The Mirror” almost, Zo and the +FE crew also delivered a heartfelt and soul searching effort in “Face In The Reflection” that typify the chemistry this crew has in their delivery. Phonte’s lyricism coupled with the jazzy piano solos emote sadness in a way that is somehow gorgeous. This song was quite the contrast from the rest of the album but somehow a nod to their past catalogue which features some of the best “must hear” melancholy tracks in soul music today.
I must admit though. While the upbeat was a welcome departure from what they usually deliver, I did kind of miss the “exploration of various phases of relationships” journey in past albums. Gotta break out and do ‘new’ though.
As a sidebar, producer Nicolay also released a solo album called “Soweto” that is of note. I’ve yet to listen but if the production of Land of Milk and Honey tickles your fancy, you should give it a shot as well.
Foo Fighters – Saint Cecilia EP
When I think of people that personify music, there are a few that when they die, I see them disintegrating into a pile of sheet music papers. In a list that includes Stevie Wonder, Prince, Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson, John Coltrane, Aretha Franklin, Slash, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Freddie Mercury, Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana, and other legends, Dave Grohl easily makes that status on my list. In a year that found me visiting and revisiting the beauty of Sonic Highways and its nod to some of the most historically musical cities in America.
I love all of these tracks and I’m relistening to them in order to describe the vybe but what is even better is the amazing letter that Dave includes. Detailing the recording process of the EP, Dave dedicates the songs as a ray of hope to Paris and the victims of the heinous terrorist attack on Nov. 13th. The band recorded the songs as a result of tour dates in France and Italy being cancelled due to the attacks and proceeded to release these songs… for free.
Thank you Foo…
Jhene Aiko – Souled Out
This gorgeous songstress helped dominate the airwaves in 2015 with various features and her latest album 2014 release. I’m not certain who first described her as the female equivalent of Frank Ocean but I definitely agree with her. Her voice is almost instantly recognizable, much like Sade whom some have drawn parallels to as well. She seems to have mastered the same ‘key’ or mood that Sade and Frank Ocean have tuned to that have hypnotized so many. Jhene’s voice is much deeper than the notes she seems to hold in most tracks. As she pulls the soul out of certain moments, it somehow surprises you as she dives into her pain or a particular moment when she chooses to flex the agility of her vocal talent and adlibs.
It is kind of hard to pull favorites from this album since they all seem to fit that ‘Monday Blues’ kind of Sade mood. Toss this entire album in with your Sade mood mix and it will fit right in. Kinda (mind you, she is quite a bit more explicit). Good stuff.
Rapsody – Beauty and the Beast EP
In 2015, Kendrick brought light to an emcee that has devastated the underground for a few years now with his song “Complexion (A Zulu Love)”. In the spirit of Rah Digga and Jean Grae (two underappreciated emcees as well), Rapsody rides 9th Wonders beats in a storyteller’s staccato flow. In a way, her method probably won’t devastate the radio airways but after getting love from the likes of Nas and more, Rapsody is certainly here to stay. Also, with 9th’s classic tracks backing her, she’ll be fine I’m sure.
This EP, however, has me debating where to place her in my various catalogues. Of course, she fits nicely nestled in the likes of De La Soul, Nas, Common, Kendrick, Jean Grae, and essentially anything 9th has produced, but these tracks have a different flair. With gems from the likes of producers Nottz and Khrysis (of Little Brother and Justus League fame), Rapsody is straight bars. Listen to the knowledge on heavy tracks like “Drama” or “Waiting On It”. She’ll quickly have you googling her metaphors and researching her lyrics… just like great emcees do.
I gotta marinate on this one (and the rest of her catalogue). Big shout to my boy Carlton for keeping her on my radar.
Teyana Taylor – VII
Occasionally I stroll the interwebs for music sales and when I find albums on sale for less than 8 bucks, my ears prick. Then seeing reviews of a sizable number of fans as being pretty high tends to make me spend. Such was the case with Teyana Taylor. While on the hunt for a few choice slow jam songs to add to my playlist, I rushed over to Spotify and bore witness to two of the sexiest songs this side of The Internet’s “Girl” this year. Tracks “Just Different” and “Request” reside right next to my Xscape, SWV, and Monifah slow jams as pure “Get The Drawers” material.
Honestly, I haven’t gravitated to the rest of the album but that just may be since it is not like these two tracks which have blown me away. Definitely possible “grow on me” territory.
India Shawn – Outer Limits
After discovering this artist and mistakenly touting an older album as a new release, I finally latched onto the actual album with similar results. Outer Limits, though an EP, continued the beautifully calibrated harmonies between India Shawn and producer James Fauntleroy. The effort is crowned by the playful and melodic “Floating Away” that always keeps me returning for more in various soul playlists.
The Glitch Mob – Piece of the Indestructible EP
These visionaries embody the spirit of what I roll Linkin Park remixes, bass and electronica music, and synth pop into. Years ago I fell in love with their sound after watching them perform on G4TV’s Attack of the Show and I haven’t looked back since. My only problem with this release is that it is just an EP and not a full release #FeedMeMore. For those of you looking for a great band to get into electronica (I guess that’s what I’d define them as) music with, this is the one.
Silversun Pickups – Better Nature
Honestly, I haven’t spent much time listening to this album. I fell in love with this group’s sound back in the days of when the Rock Band game was still a big deal. Best described as the smoothest loud rock music I’ve ever heard, SIlversun Pickups has a distinctive sound all due to their lead singer Brian Aubert. First listen has me jonzin much like their past releases so I’ll come back to this one with some favs as well.
Hiatus Kaiyote – Choose Your Weapon
As one of the BIGGEST surprises and personal discoveries of the year, Australian quartet Hiatus Kaiyote has nestled their funky and jazzy sound right next to the likes of legends The Brand New Heavies and Jamiroquai as an acid jazz staple. While listening to Pandora on a channel for artists related to The Foreign Exchange, Hiatus Kaiyote blew me away with the song “Shaolin Monk Motherfunk” and demonstrated why artists like Erykah Badu also love them so much. Eventually I heard soulful bombs like “Breathing Underwater” (which is Grammy nominated for R&B performance by the way), “Borderline with My Atoms”.
While the band could easily backup and impress the likes of Jill Scott, Maxwell, and Erykah of course, they are perfectly suited on their own as guitarist and funktabulously vocalist Nai Palm sets the crew apart as a force to be reckoned with.
Can’t wait to buy everything they put out! Easily my Album of the Year.
That’s right. As usual, each year there are a bunch of CDs that I thought about buying but didn’t for some reason or another that I still wish to purchase. Here they are!
Slum Village – Yes!
Elzhi, T3, and Young RJ have managed a groove (as well as a ton of J Dilla beats) that have maintained the smooth that made them one of my fav hip hop groups of all time. Evolution from 2013 was a fantastic album and Yes! should be as well featuring the likes of De La Soul, Phife of A Tribe Called Quest, J Dilla’s brother Illa J, and Black Milk.
I will be listening to this soon. Soulquarian and J Dilla noobs should cop the catalogue.
Bilal – In Another Life
Soulful, jazzy, and original, Bilal’s voice and projects are undoubtedly unique. Every album has a few songs that I cling to for dear life. A must have for fans of The Roots, Common, and D’Angelo.
Tyrese – Black Rose
I’m a fan of Tyrese’s music kind of like I’m a fan of Jamie Foxx’s. Typically I just buy singles but I keep hearing that this album is fantastic. We shall see… we shall see.
Prince – Hitnrun Phase 2
So, while this composes of some songs I think he’s already released as singles, I want the full effort. Funk overload! That and I’m waiting for Tidal to NOT bundle this release with Phase 1 (which I already have).
Cee-Lo Green – Heart Blanche
ATL’s own Cee-Lo has a unique and soulful voice I’ve loved since his days with Goodie MOB. Didn’t even know this was out until like November. Must have this.
Here’s a few more that graced my purchase list that I’ve yet to devote respectable time listening to yet:
Oddisee – The Good Fight
Carlitta Durand – I’ll Be Gorgeous When I Die
Mega Ran & Storyville – Soul Veggies
Heather Victoria – Graffiti Diary
Mya – Love Elevation Suite EP
Bjork – Vulnicura
As for 2016, here is a listing of what I’m looking for:
Kanye West – SWISH
Santigold – 99 cent
Sia – This Is Acting
Mya – Smooth Jones
Frank Ocean – (PLEEEEASE let this one arrive this year)
Drake – Views From The 6
Rihanna – Anti
King – We Are King