Take 5 Friday: Billie Black + Theophilus London + Daryn Alexus + Dornik + Katie Rush

Friday, September 5, 2014

Reheating leftovers of the week...

Simple Pleasure 
Awhile back, London native, Billie Black made a splash with a really delectable single that I never got around to shouting some words about. So here I am today rectifying that by turning my undivided attention to her latest release, "This Simple Pleasure" which joins her with Mura Masa for some good ol' funked up House that feels '90s, but truly has got the Millennial seed in there. Actually the song is better than just 'good', its infectious with razor sharp precision on rhythms, and it just packs some life-giving heat. Billie Black may only be 19, but she's got the tone of a seasoned lounged-out songstress, and that's a true rarity these days. [Listen]

Feel The Vibes!
Theophilus London is one of the few working rappers today that hasn't gotten on my nerves in some shape or form. I guess one of these days he'll ruin that for me by spewing something awful on Twitter, the PC brigade will get after him, and then he'll issue a non-apology, to where I can't listen to "Why Even Try" or his I Want You mixtape anymore because it just hurts too much. Well, here I go putting cart before horse again, since that hasn't happened at all (London seems like a nice chap) thus I can freely dive into "Tribe", London's latest from his upcoming VIBES! project (out later this Fall). Pulsating on meaty percussion, "Tribe" is a heavy-duty sweat slinging trance that is briskly fresh, and all-around fun as London's fireball rhymes just spit out all kinds of fierce. London's BFF, Jesse Boykins III joins him on the harmonizing front to smooth out a lot of the edge that is here. [Listen]

1979: Looking Backwards & Forwards At Kate Bush's 'Tour Of Life'

Thursday, September 4, 2014

In 1979, hot on the heels of a rocket climb to notoriety, Kate Bush embarked on the Tour Of Life, her debut stage spectacle that blended theater, pantomime, interpretative dance, cinematic storytelling, with glam rock flourish. A runway success, the tour was Kate Bush's enigmatic persona exploding all over the place, as she morphed into a ruthless killer, made herself into a human kite, and even rolled around in a egg-shaped womb on stage because well, feminism! Even though the tour carried Bush into a new phase of success and artistic integrity, the sum of its eclectic parts physically and mentally drained her to where she never toured again.

Well, that was until this year...

Last week, Bush kicked off her first tour in over 35 years, and it took a lot of 'sure yeah rights' before people collectively spazzed out over its validity. Lots of positive reviews I've read so far about the Before The Dawn show, most gushing about how La Bush has returned to fine form, and is still exhibiting all those theatrical pantomimes and enchanted forest sorceress accouterments she's known for --- and doing it all while barefoot thankyouverymuch. Of course there's some commentary on age and weight because, shock of shocks, 56-year-old mothers aren't supposed to be throwing edgy concert shows after 35 years of stage absence (*eye-roll*), but I'm more focused on the surprising aspect of the show's fresh set-list, as Bush pretty much acts like her first four albums and 1989's The Sensual World never existed (boo!), but does ALL of the conceptual insanity that is the Hounds Of Love's 'The Ninth Wave' segment (bad ass!). All in all, from what I've gathered, the whole damn thing sounds delightful and like the musical adventure Kate Bush fans have been craving three decades for.

Rock With Rachel Foxx

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

I was thinking we hit a zenith point to the '90s nostalgia when the unauthorized travesty that was the Saved By The Bell movie premiered on Lifetime over the Labor Day weekend, but since the flick felt like secondhand embarrassment for all those involved, and didn't cover the glorious fever dream that was Zack Attack (still sore about that...) as well as there not being a scrunchie or a teased bang in sight, we still have a ways to go before we begin to back away from the '90s as source for our present culture. Actually I'm quite here for a lot of the '90s throwbacking that's going on, and maybe that's because it was the era of my upbringing, and let go of it I can't.

Newcomer Rachel Foxx's self-titled debut EP is getting some buzz because it harbors that distinctive '90s sound that is all the rage right now as it coasts on Aaliyah-y themes, but Rochelle Jordan she's not, as Foxx's low-key and jazz-minded sound really reminds me of Zhane's great Saturday Night album, with the rich tones of Goapele and Adriana Evans sneaking through. Foxx, yet another stunner from London town, has her brief EP crafted six tracks deep, as she turns down the lights and takes you into such nocturnal moves like the piano laced "Before You", and the seducing opener. Personal favorite, "Rock With Me" is about as "up-tempo" as you'll get on this set, as it bounces or rather glides into a laid-back vibe that Alicia Keys captured on her first two albums (nods to "Troubles" and "Diary").

Distancing itself wonderfully from the synthesized future soul that is being churned at a conveyor belt pace at current, Rachel Foxx has the keen sense to show us the other side of '90s R&B, the side that had a bit more yearn in it and a bunch more blue lights turned on in its basement. Keep this one spinning well into next year.

Van Hunt Offers Up A 'Handful' Of What's To Come

It's not everyday that you hear about new Van Hunt material, but whenever the eclectic troubadour does arrive back into conscious he always has some special way of announcing his return. Taking a cue from Lalah Hathaway, Van Hunt has upstarted his own PledgeMusic campaign that will not only aid in the creation for his upcoming project, but also will unlock for donators autographed memorabilia, artwork, and special behind-the-scenes stuff exclusively assembled to allow fans to get knee-deep into his creative psyche. If it all sounds a bit gimmicky Van Hunt teases that his upcoming project will be worth the while as it will "chronicle love, loss and nostalgia delivered through the sounds of original funk and old soul". He also makes sure to name-drop such sound inspirations as The Delfonics, Paraliment-Funkadelic, Billie Holiday, and Pink Floyd, as well as the namesakes of fashion luminaries Givenchy and Halston, to pique interest further. Well, he already had me at Holiday and Halston, so everything else is just icing.

Hunt hasn't been terribly dormant since the wild wilderness that was 2011's What Were You Hoping For?, as earlier this year he duetted with Mara Hruby for The Decoders' Minnie Riperton project, and recently made an appearance at this year's AfroPunk festival alongside such contemporaries as Alice Smith, Lianne La Havas, and Zoe Kravitz's band, Lolawolf. For the festival's annual sampler, Hunt offered this new quasi-instrumental, "Handful Of Vapor", which is a little taste test of what he's dabbling into for this new project and it freely zips along awash with Hunt's signature guitar craftwork. As a long-time fan of Hunt's, there's no telling what he has in store for his latest, but as always, consider my anticipation ignited.

Kimbra Shape-Shifts The Art Of Self On 'The Golden Echo'

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Most play coy on their debut albums for the sake of sales and to leave favorable first impressions, but Kimbra isn't like most people. 'Simplicity' and 'expectancy' aren't words in her lexicon, proven multiple times over amid the expansive experimental compositions found on 2011's Vows. In fact, the only accessible thing about the New Zealander's debut was its introductory single, "Settle Down", and even then, she sounded like an extraterrestrial Amy Winehouse, scatting and scattering onamonapia vocal flavors about. Vows as a whole seemed like something from another galaxy, and try as might, remodeling it for US audiences the following year with more "accessible" additions still poised Kimbra as the exception to the rule of what is the current crop of receptacle-ready pop.

For The Golden Echo, Kimbra builds the same unorthodox foundation as she did once before with Vows, but round two has has her assembling new distinctive boards, slapping on even vivider colors, and creating a whole new kind of frenzied and exhilarating architecture that is almost uninhabitable, but is still quite the ostentatious showpiece that commands you to open your mind --- and open it real wide.

Karen Harding Is Really Saying Something

Monday, August 25, 2014

When Whitney Houston passed away a couple of years ago (...it's really been two years? Dang.) I have sort of rolled my eyes over some basic folks claiming they were the next big "Whitney voice". I mean, bless their widdle little hearts for even attempting to align themselves with Her Vocal Highness, ya know? So when I read that Karen Harding, a former X Factor contestant and YouTube enthusiast from Newcastle, stated she wanted to bring a big voice a la Houston back to house music again, I was skeptical, but intrigued.

Well, there are no groans or side-eyes from me as Harding's debut single, "Say Something" truly walks its talk. Co-written and produced by the mega talented, MNEK, "Say Something" is entrenched in potent deep house beats, but its main attraction is Harding's electric shock vocals, which are pretty damn supreme, and yes oh yes, you can hear snippets of Nippy-esque charisma during the breakdowns. The song is just refreshingly great as it sits down next to other B-I-G house tunes like Kiesza's "Hideaway" and Jess Glynne's "Right Here", evoking a lot of that big D-I-V-A sound from the early '90s. To be released on Method Records (home of other biggie house revival act, Disclosure) this October 19th, Karen Harding can rest assured that her gall to compare herself to the grand dames is warranted.

Take 5 Friday: Lauryn Hill + Luke James + South Royston & Marie Dahlstrom + HAIM + Bilal

Friday, August 22, 2014

Reheating leftovers of the week...

Black Rage
As protests and tensions wage on in Ferguson, Missouri, Lauryn Hill came out of her Fortress of Solitude to drop some poignant poetic knowledge, reworking a live staple of hers that is aptly titled, "Black Rage". Always politically on point, Madame Hill weaves a clever racial injustice tome to the melody of Rodgers and Hammerstien's classic Sound Of Music number, "My Favorite Things", evoking some serious Nina Simone discipline. As most of the rap world has been deafeningly silent or deafeningly idiotic (side-eyeing the hell outta you B.o.B....) on the ordeals happening in Ferguson, it's nice to note that there are those like Hill who are using their voices wisely and keeping their fists skyward. [Listen]

Dancing In The Dark
I'm quite glad that the men in R&B have found their voices and their romantic sides again. One of the new breeds, Luke James, is extending his own aural love letters with his latest, "Dancing In The Dark". Not to be confused with Bruce Springsteen's big 1984 hit, Luke James' number is a sultry come-hither that glides on a nighttime '80s soul synth sound that is nice and incredibly swoonworthy. He even busts out with some falsetto timbres, putting him in some dangerously good Maxwell territory. [Listen]

The Symphonic Side Of Laura Mvula's 'Sing To The Moon'

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Orchestral elements were searingly present in the folds and creases of Sing To The Moon, Laura Mvula's 2013 breakout stunner that gave us such woven soul and jazz tapestries as "Green Garden" and "She", but now those elements are exemplified times 110 on Mvula's latest passion project. With Netherlands own iconic Metropole Orkest and recorded at the legendary Abbey Road Studios, the Birmingham vocalist takes Sing To The Moon to new sophisticated depths, carving out a whole new way to listen to an already-unique project.

While some of the funky bite that made Sing To The Moon such a modernized nod towards psychedelic soul is softened, it glimmers with stark freshness allowing a lot of the lyrics to ring out with a bolder reflective narrative that compliments rather than hinders. Some songs on the original album were made to be re-worked this way, but there are pleasant surprises when you've got swaths of horns transforming "Make You Lovely" into a brash Bond theme song and "Can't Live With The World" sounding like the classic Disney lullaby it should have been. Even notable singles like "That's Alright" and especially "She" take on soul shivering qualities. You can experience the exquisite new threads Sing To The Moon sports by streaming the album after the cut, or over on Spotify.

Elle Varner Offers Peace & Unity With 'One Love'

Monday, August 18, 2014

It's hard to put into words what has happened over the last couple of days in concerns to the tragic shooting of Mike Brown. Even someone like me, who utilizes words as a means of expression, is finding difficulty to form the right sentences. Since the shooting occurred, followed by its severe and escalating aftermath, I have been reeling in all kinds of emotions from grief, to confusion, to just flat-out rage. Naturally, I turn to music to ease most if not all of my qualms, and as always, just playing a few uplifting songs have healed me back to a somewhat whole.

With all eyes focused on Ferguson, Missouri at current, Elle Varner has also turned to music to soothe tensions as she calls for reflection and unity on her lovely protest song, "One Love". Poignantly relevant, and waxed with heartfelt intent, Varner expresses what's on the tips of everyone's tongue and at the forefront of everyone's minds, urging, over a lush Reggae-tinged beat, to keep striving for change in these troubling yet complex times, and to remember that love is always the incessant healer. Yes, we need to "stay woke", and we need to continue to challenge against violence and racism, but we also need to remember that sometimes from tragedy blooms positive changes. We just have to keep holding on together to get there.

Kwabs Takes Us On A Walk

Sheepishly I haven't been talking at all about Kwabs on this site, but I think now is a good time as ever to drop a few words about him as his latest song, "Walk", keeps pacing in my mind after a couple of days of indulging in its epicness. The track begins a little uneventful, sounding like the distilled '60s piano-soul that has worn out its welcome now, but spin the script Kwabs does midway in as his cavernous baritone (dear lord do we need more of that...) battles a rush of percussion and electric synths to where the whole track wails like a ol' Southern chain-gang chant. Though "Walk" is Kwabs at a more melodic "pop" stage than his earlier work, "Walk" is still powerful and uplifting all while being simply spine-tingling.

This year couldn't be more Kwabs-y as he has already released the critically acclaimed EP's Pray For Love and Right and Wrong, two sets I'm already catching myself up to. With "Walk" (out September 29th) he is grandly egging on an up-coming 2015 debut long player which is sure to be just as mammoth as the tunes he's already laid out. Bigger things are on the horizon, I'm sure of it.

Gathering Up Lemongrass & Limeleaves With Sasha Keable

'Lemongrass and Limeleaves' sound like the key ingredients to some sort of earthy culinary concoction found on Pinterest, but it is actually the namesake of South Londoner Sasha Keable's second offering. With there being so much talent pouring out of the London area it's difficult to keep up (hence why I'm just now getting around to talking about Miss Keable!), and it's difficult to distinguish which is worthy of lending an ear to as due to such 'supply and demand' we've heard a lot of retreading. Safe to say Sasha Keable's brand of electronic flourished R&B and mood swing house bubbles to the top of the batch, beginning first with last year's Black Book EP where she flexed vocal know-how and a lyrical sheet that introduced her talent for biting word play. 

With Lemongrass and Limeleaves, Keable is still riffing on heartbreak and redemption, but the musical backdrop has delved deeper into engulfing synth tinged R&B, with the craftwork taking more artistic turns. The twilight soul of opener "Living Without You" fantastically dabbles in the darkest corners of mid-'80s R&B and Freestyle complete with a lonesome jazz horn at fade-out, while "Memory" blends murky piano chords and bass-lined percussion with Keable taking vocal diction pages from Amel Larrieux. If you think Keable is all gloom and doom, she emerges from her morose moods to bounce a little on the brass peppered "Sweetest Talk", and it's a highlight for sure. Over before one would want, Lemongrass and Limeleaves has Keable succeeding beyond her debut with a four-track starter on what it is to be futuristic yet bitingly soulful. Get Lemongrass and Limeleaves for free by giving up an e-mail address at Miss Keable's official spot.  

Paradise Is Found With Sinead Harnett

Friday, August 15, 2014

Sinking into a lagoon of '90s minded hip-hop crossed R&B a la Fugees and Butterfly-era Mariah Carey, Sinead Harnett captivates once again with her latest single, "Paradise". Peeled of the North London native's upcoming debut short player, No Other Way (out August 31st), "Paradise" matches toe-to-toe with the EP's stunning title track, as it divinely opens with a dusted jazzy instrumental that then dives into a steamy thicket of gangly guitar chords and bass-lined percussion. Aptly titled, "Paradise" just goes down so deliciously smooth and funky that its ridiculous not to catch a feeling to. If anticipation for Sinead Harnett wasn't present before, consider a change of plans.

Jaywalking Towards Brayton Bowman

Bratyon Bowman isn't messing around with his single, "Jaywalk". Possessing tidal wave electro-synth beats, high octane soulful croons, and edgy poetics ("it took me six whole months worth of blunts to get the taste of you off my tongue"), "Jaywalk" is the blisteringly bold kiss-off that is currently one of the best things I've heard this year. Bowman turns a post-break-up sad song into a fireball anthem of survival as he lets the tears dry on their own and proudly belts: "you can't keep waiting on a light to change, strut your shit and pound the pavement, it's time to jaywalk". Yeah, you tell 'em.

Philly bred, Bowman, is an singer/songwriter on the rise, but he has everything aligning just right on his breakout single that doubting his age (he's 20 years young) and output (he's only got three songs on his SoundCloud) seems arbitrary.

Jessie Ware Ups Her Ballad Game On 'Say You Love Me'

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Jessie Ware is crossing into dangerous territory. Dangerous but artful territory. After the release of her 2012 debut, Devotion, Ware was primed to cross over into the red, white, and blueness of the States, but (and not surprisingly) she hasn't quite done that. Yet listening to her latest single, "Say You Love Me", it feels like this may be the one to get the spotlight turned on her. Mainly it's because "Say You Love Me" and its soul shivering delivery does teeter into Adele's neck of the woods which is what will be the initial draw, but the track (which was co-written by Ed Sheeren) is not at all angst riddled, it's exposing, delicate, and yearns for the simple gesture to proclaim love, proudly, even though there is a heartbreaking chance the romance has lost its shine. It's effective right down to a gospel breakdown where a backing choir is used, and yes, Americana adult contemporaries will eat that part up.

Ware's upcoming sophomore set, Tough Love is already proving its a much more intimate affair than Devotion. I got the memo for that with the current releases of the gorgeously brutal title track and "Share It All", but "Say You Love Me" truly masters the modern soul-pop ballad as it allows Ware's vocals to seep sincerely into its quiet thunder. Though I wish she'd do more things like "Sweet Talk" and "Running", because they were intricately and freshly derived, but I'm fine with the raw control she's waxing here.