Tag Archives: album review

Album Reviews Music

Brother Ali – Us

So I quickly mentioned this the other day in my post about some upcoming albums in 2009 and I have to say that since I’ve had a chance to listen to the whole thing, this is just a stellar effort.

I was grossly underwhelmed by the Rope-a-Dope and by The Undisputed Truth, but Us’ target=_blank>Us is one of the best albums I’ve copped in a good while.

Unlike his previous efforts, this is not one that is overtly political.  Far shy of Uncle Sam Goddamn, this album has a lot more soul and melody than anything since Shadows on the Sun

Take Us (the track) for example.  It was featured in my last post, but it is soulful and haunting in a way that shocked me.  It starts off sounding almost like spoken word, and his phrasing is poetic.  There’s no hook, just solid bars and words that actually sound like he meant something.

Slippin Away is grittier and is more traditional Ali.  He’s telling a story of losing control and trying to deal with a childhood that was just downright oppressive.  It’s a story we’ve heard a lot of times, trying to make your way and resist the crazy peer pressure flying his way.

The Travelers is a bit surprising, coming from a white fellow.  It’s a matter-of-fact approach to telling the story of slavery.  It’s one part memorial and one part documentary, and comes across as both honest and not at all trite.  At least in my impression.  It’s totally possible that you may have another opinion.

Travis Lupick of Straight.com makes a pretty interesting observation when he says: “Us is a concept album that gives the impression its songs were inspired by the lives of a thousand real people. Hence the record’s name. It’s a portrait of America that is told with an amazing level of empathy. And it sounds damn good. Entirely produced by Atmosphere’s Ant, Us includes tracks that could almost find their way onto the radio, but overall, remains a jazz-infused product of the underground.”

I like the phrasing of that, but y’all will have to check it out to decide just how hyperbolic he’s being.  Frankly, I love this album and encourage you all to go find it.

Album Reviews Music

Gnarls Barkley releases New Album!

In exciting news, Pitchfork Media is reporting that the long-awaited new Gnarls Barkley album is out already!

Obviously this follow-up to St. Elsewhere has some big shoes to fill, because I’m pretty sure “Crazy” was played somewhere in the world at least once a minute for an entire year.

Apparently they rushed to get the album out, partially in an attempt to defeat music pirates. The album was out for download at least a couple of weeks before the release date, so Gnarls did their best to get the album out ASAP. Not a bad idea, really.

Check out the video for their first single, Run (I’m a Natural Disaster), below.

So far the album is available through ITunes and Amazon.com (Not Amazon.ca for some reason). You should also be able to pick it up in stores. For now, click here: The Odd Couple

As far as the album itself goes, you get a little bit of everything. For those ‘Crazy’ fans, you get upbeat party anthems like Run (I’m a Natural Diasaster). Those of you who dig the softer tones, check out ‘Who’s gonna save my soul?’.

The beats are tight as per always, with Dangermouse really shining through. For someone who really was unheard of for many years, he has really blown up. And once more, you see his growth. Dangermouse provides relaxed beats on tracks like ‘Would be killer’. He goes a little more electronic (almost drum and bassy) on ‘Open Book’, and even goes a slight little bit towards an island vibe with ‘Surprise’. It’s a remarkable collection of diverse beats.

Cee-Lo does his regular thing, crooning on a lot of tracks and gruffly rapping on some others. For a nice little sign of his vocal range, check out ‘No Time Soon.’ For the first time, you get a sense of his actual singing ability. All in all, you’ll love this album. While it seems to lack the blockbuster hits of St. Elsewhere, if you take the album as a whole, I think you’ll find that it’s a solid sophomore effort.


Scarlett Johansson releases a Tom Waits cover album

Uncut.co.uk – News

This is not a typo. Scarlett Johannson, the actress and commonly voted one of the world’s most beautiful women, has just released an album.

Her upcoming album, Anywhere I lay my head, is a cover album of Tom Waits songs. That in itself deserves a little bit of respect. All too often we’ve seen celebrities try to release albums and quite often, they’re terrible. But this may be the exception to the rule because, believe it or not, the reviews of her album have actually been pretty good.

Not only has she chosen an unbelievably artist to cover, she’s recruited some big names to help her out. David Bowie is going to provide some backing vocals on at least two of her tracks.

That’s right. You may want to read that sentence again. Or here, let me say it again. David Bowie is going to sing backup for Scarlett Johansson’s Tom Waits cover album.

It almost seems like we’ve entered bizarro world, but I’m actually kind of excited for this album. Uncut Magazine has released a review of the album here. Just to give you a taste, here’s what they had to say about one of the tracks on the album.

2. “Town With No Cheer”

(Swordfishtrombones, 1983)

Scarlett privileges the storytelling aspect of Waits’ original, recalling here Marianne Faithfull as she half-sings, half-speaks the lyrics. Waits’ version is pretty sparse – just his voice recounting the lyrics accompanied by keyboard and accordion. Initially, this version doesn’t stray too much from that: the backing is organ, and keyboards with the occasional burst of guitar, but gradually Sitek layers on sax and drums and pushes the organ further up in the mix.

Keep an eye out for this album.

Album Reviews Music

Oldominion – One (2001)

Olddominion - One

Oldominion – One (2001)

Self-proclaimed pioneers of the “Northwest Sound,” Oldominion is a collective of mcs, artists and producers based in Seattle and Portland. One, released in 2001, is their first album and features appearances from 16 of their members. Although such efforts often lack thematic clarity, One‘s beats are similar enough to ensure it remains musically consistent throughout. Indeed, most of the album’s beats are mid-tempo and based on dark, moody orchestral samples (think minor key string and piano loops) backed by competently programmed drums. Fortunately, this allows One to serve as a showcase for the Oldominion crew’s talented mcs, who shift effortlessly between numerous, disparate topics over the course of the album. Articulate and complex, a single song might include references to Star Trek, politics, violence, existentialism, religion and video games. Lyrically, One thus occupies a unique space, adhering neither to the standard conventions of backpacker rap nor succumbing to the nihilistic, gangsta posturing of hardcore hip-hop. Even better, each mc comes correct on the mic, adjusting his or her flow perfectly to complement whatever beat he or she happens to be rapping over. Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys compelling lyrics and solid beats.

Album Reviews Music

Maestro Fresh-Wes – Symphony In Effect (1989)

Symphony In Effect

Maestro Fresh-Wes – Symphony In Effect (1989)

Awww yeah, this joint is a straight up classic! Released in 1989, Maestro Fresh-Wes’ first LP remains the biggest selling Canadian hip-hop album of all time. The album’s first single, “Let Your Backbone Slide,” was the first Top 40 single by a Canadian mc and remains the only Canadian hip-hop single to be certified gold. These figures are amazing, especially considering Symphony In Effect was released nearly 20 years ago!

Produced when it was still kosher to sample from obvious sources (and before other sources had been played out), the album is full of recognizable, yet undeniably dope loops and funky ass breaks. Even better, Maestro’s lyrics are on point and DJ LTD rocks the 1s and 2s, especially on track 4, “LTD’s On The Wheel(s) Of Fortune.”

If you’re a true head, you absolutely need this album.

For further evidence of its dopeness, check out the video for “Let Your Backbone Slide”:

Album Reviews Music

Luniz – Operation Stackola (1995)

Operation Stackola

Luniz – Operation Stackola (1995)

Operation Stackola remains Luniz’ most successful album to date, having sold more than one million records since it was released on July 4, 1995. Propelled by the wildly popular hit single “I Got 5 On It,” Operation Stackola knocked Michael Jackson’s HIStory off the top of the R&B charts and earned Luniz a permanent spot in the West Coast hip-hop pantheon.

Released when g-funk’s dominance over the hip-hop airwaves was waning, Operation Stackola typifies the mid-’90s West Coast sound, with lazy, sub woofer-rattling bass lines layered over laid back drum patterns, ’80s-style synths and funky guitar riffs. Further atmosphere is provided by various eerie sound effects which lurk ominously in the album’s background, evoking visions of San Andreas style drive-bys and block parties a la Ain’t Nuthin’ But A G Thang.

Yukmouth and Numskull, the group’s mcs, rarely stray from the gangsta rap blueprint and manage to rhyme about all the usual suspects – drugs, women, money, violence etc. Fortunately, the duo are talented rappers and their rhymes are delivered with just enough skill to keep the listener interested for a few songs beyond “I Got 5 On It.” However, by that point the album’s beats begin to sound the same and boredom inevitably sets in. Although the album starts off on a high (you’ll be nodding your head to “Put the Lead on Ya”), Luniz’ strict adherence to the West Coast formula (it was on the decline for a reason) means Operation Stackola will be remembered only for its hit single.

Album Reviews Music

Heavy D & The Boyz – Blue Funk (1992)

Heavy D & The Boyz - Blue Funk (1992)

Heavy D & The Boyz – Blue Funk (1992)*

On Blue Funk, their fourth studio album, Heavy D & The Boyz largely eschew the New Jack Swing sound that defined their earlier work in favour of an East Coast-influenced, boom-bap style that is grittier and “entirely streetwise.” The album’s beats, courtesy of legendary producers DJ Premier, Pete Rock (Heavy D’s cousin), Tony Dofat and others, are, for the most part, typical of early ’90s New York hip-hop; that is to say, excellent. Replete with atmospheric, heavily chopped horn samples, deep bass lines and hard hitting snares, the beats complement Heavy D’s rhymes without overshadowing them (except on “Girl” – which is a terrible track all around).

Diggers will easily recognize several of the album’s samples, including those tapped for use on “Who’s the Man?” (based on a sample from “Fly Like an Eagle” by Steve Miller Band), “Slow Down” (based on a sample from “Darkest Light” by Lafayette Afro Rock Band also used by Jay-Z for “Show Me What You Got”), the title track (based on a sample from Lou Donaldson’s “Pot Belly” also used by A Tribe Called Quest for “If the Papes Come”) and “Yes Y’All” and “Love Sexy” (you’ll recognize these popular loops right away).

Lyrically, the album is somewhat of a mixed bag. Although stylistically impressive, Heavy D’s rush to embrace a more hardcore aesthetic often results in rhymes that sacrifice content for empty braggadocio. Indeed, the Overweight Lover spends much of the album boasting about women, threatening snitches and bragging about his “ghetto props.” Although undeniably talented on the mic, Heavy D’s rapid fire delivery and complex wordplay are largely wasted thanks to Blue Funk’s mundane subject matter. The interludes, which feature Heavy D discussing, among other things, the role of black women in African American society, life in the ghetto and materialism do little to counterbalance the album’s lyrical shortcomings.

Overall, Blue Funk suffers too much from Heavy D’s obvious desire to accrue street cred. If you’re a Heavy D fan the album is worth downloading just to hear how much he tries to change his sound, otherwise I’d recommend it mainly for the excellent production. Blue Funk is also noteworthy because of Notorious B.I.G.’s appearance on the posse cut “A Buncha Niggas,” which was the legendary Brooklyn mc’s first major label recording.

* [zipped and in .wma format]