Still stuck in the middle with albums #20 through #11...
Back To Now - Skye
Morcheeba's front-woman Skye Edwards gives the surprise of the year with the decadent Back To Now, a set that is entrenched in hypnotic bold soundscapes with all the trip-hop know-how in-between, and perfectly fitted for those more introverted moments. Heralded by lead-off single, the brilliant, "Featherlight", Back To Now continues on its stardusted trek with other sonic soulful sounds that take you from meditative states to the dance floor, and then back again to the future and beyond.
Notable Tracks: Featherlight, Sign Of Life, Bright Light, Dissolve, High Life, Troubled Heart
Chequred Thoughts - Funkommunity
New Zealand has given us a bevy of talents as of late, but their 'kiwi soul' movement is one that deserves a closer look, and at the helm of it is the tranquil soul-jazz stylings of Funkommunity. Half instrumentals and half vocals, their long-awaited debut, Chequered Thoughts, is an exploration of variance with nary a dull moment in its mix.
Notable Tracks: Pass It On, The Light, Dandelion, Sorceress
The Devil In Me - Natalie Duncan
Natalie Duncan's name may not be thrown about when we discuss rising starlets of this year, but I feel that she shouldn't be passed up as her exquisite debut, The Devil In Me is one of this year's most ambitious. Hailing from Nottingham, Duncan and her piano (and my! that voice) takes us through many quiet storms that have a slight raw rock vibration to them, but with organic jazz flow that she's evokes a Nina Simone spirit about her. Her wailing first single "Sky Is Falling" was the grand introduction, but the Reggae-tinged "Pick Me Up Bar", "Keep Me Smiling", and "She Done Died" had me extending my stay with this star in the making.
Notable Tracks: Pick Me Up Bar, She Done Died, Sky Is Falling, Songbird, Find Me A Home, Keep Me Smiling
Bodyparts - Dragonette
Crafting the perfect pop song has never been a qualm for the Canadian act, but on their kinetic Bodyparts they craft some of their best numbers yet. I adore "Let It Go" and the rallying cry of "Live In This City". Then the funky touches on "Right Woman" and "Rocketship" show a shift in style for the trio, but when I hear things like "Ghost" I have to really applaud them for creating pop music for the sophisticated grown n' sexy people. To these ears, Dragonette ace Bodyparts making it by far the most consistently vibrant album the group has put their imprint on.
Notable Tracks: Let It Go, Live In This City, Rocketship, Untouchable, Right Woman, Ghost
Fast & Curious - Sy Smith [Review]
Sy Smith and producer Mark de Clive-Lowe pay homage to the golden oldies and then some on the vivid Fast & Curious. Revamping Billy Ocean and Teena Marie classics is one thing, but when she captures the spirit of an array of dance legends like Chic and Jocelyn Brown and then adds a sheen of modern House over them, well then that we have been 'Sybersized', and what a rush it is.
Notable Tracks: Let The Rain Fall Down, Message From The Stars, People Of The Sun, The Ooh To My Aah, Teena (Lovergirl Syberzied)
After the mediocre return of Ladyhawke, filling the void of ultra-hip n' synth-y riot grrl came Catcall who strutted in with one of the more inventive debuts of the year. It's hard to believe that she was once a punk rocker, but then again the spunk and fervor of those bygone days are evident when you churn out such numbers like "That Girl" and "Shoulda Been" that take you into a Valley Girl state of mind. Yet, she is oh so graceful on "Satellites", my personal highlight, and it gives wind that she is a (slightly) reformed bad girl gone good...well, maybe for just a moment. We all can't be saints...and who wants to be?
Notable Tracks: Satellites, That Girl, Swimming Pool, Shoulda Been, On My Own
Superconductor - Andy Allo [Review]
Talk about a transformation. From coffee house soul nymph to basking in the ultraviolet protege glow of Prince, Andy Allo had possibly the year's best makeover. Not that she was slagging before, oh no, but going for the raw funk machines like "People Pleaser" and then pensive acoustic numbers like "Nothing More" and well, this isn't the same Allo who was 'UnFresh'. Though packed with obvious Prince leverage, Allo is the conductor of her train, as she delights and keeps on the right track to becoming a mainstay in this fickle land we call the music industry.
Notable Tracks: People Pleaser, Yellow Gold, Nothing More, When Stars Collide
Halcyon - Ellie Goulding [Review]
Heightening up the dramatics, Ellie Goulding morphs from a pop pixie to a brooding mood queen, as she takes flight on Halcyon. It took a little time for me to fully appreciate the nocturnal allure of this set --- not to mention the overwrought usage of eardrum busting dub-step at its backing --- but the scary but fun gamut of this mood piece rests in how much Goulding has grown as an artist, and seeing her evolution was the real pleasure in this. Submerging deeper into Halcyon's context has her at her most confessional and she testifies at the pulpit amid a flurry of soulfully minded sound sketches that expand her artistic base.
Notable Tracks: Figure 8, My Blood, Hanging On, Only You, Joy, Don't Say A Word, I Need Your Love, Atlantis
channel Orange - Frank Ocean
Frank Ocean made himself the most admirable man of the year when he became candid about his sexuality, as well as by doing so in a theater that seems to scorn away from that kind of maturity. Rocking the social structure of the R&B/Hip-Hop genre is cause for a pause and praise, but like most, the music of Ocean speaks louder than his personal business. Whether you believe his 'coming out' was a ploy to sell more albums or not, there is no denying that channel Orange was one of the more substantial creations that came out this year. Crossing genres and taking risks is its credo, and all of it is anchored by the lyrical paradise Ocean that knowledgeably crafts. So does channel Orange get R&B off of life support? Maybe yes and maybe no, but penning the ultimate soundtrack for the Millennial crowd has Ocean off to a good start at reconstructing a genre that has been in need of a face lift for far too long.
Notable Tracks: Sweet Life, Bad Religion, Pink Matter, Super Rich Kids, Thinkin' Bout You, White, Pyramids
Christened after a Basquait painting, Vitaphone evokes the "life" and "soul" of it's namkesake. It's oh so easy to lounge into the luscious craftwork of Danish chanteuse Nanna B. as she adds in a blend of the vintage into the niches and grooves of soul's ever bendable format. Evoking of Amel Larrieux and Adriana Evans in all of their jazzy ways, Nanna B. leaves a bewitching afterglow with this set of earthly soul delights.
Notable Tracks: Utopian Love, Fresh New Thing, Sum O' Sometimes, Sunday High, Keep On Moving