In an effort to promote the discovery of new music (something I’ve resolved to do myself), I thought I’d share a few albums released somewhat recently. If you follow me on social media at all, most of these should come as no surprise (sorry). Below are several painfully and unfairly short reviews. Maybe I’ll get around to writing longer ones sometime in the future.
Vulfpeck, Thrill of the Arts (2015), The Beautiful Game (2016)
Vulfpeck is a funk band from Ann Arbor, Michigan. Inspired by the session bands of the 50’s and 60’s (think The Wrecking Crew, The Swampers, or The Funk Brothers), Vulfpeck often feature a rotating cast of singers and additional musicians. Their music captures a wonderful sense of nostalgia. Their stylistic hommages are almost always perfect, and include just the right amount of kitch.
Action Bronson, Mr. Wonderful (2015)
Though he’s gained a reputation for being somewhat of a misogynistic dickhead, I really enjoyed this offering from Action Bronson. That the beats harken back to an earlier era of hip hop is unsurprising, perhaps, given that Mark Ronson produced several tracks, not to mention that Bronson sounds remarkably like Ghostface Killah from the Wu-Tang Clan. I also appreciate that Bronson never seems to take himself too seriously, with lines like “[I’m] the only one drinking mango lassi in the bullpen” and “I’m not exactly flawless, but I’m gorgeous like a horse is.”
Neil Cicierega, Mouth Sounds (2014)
Using Smashmouth’s “All Star” as its leitmotif, this might be the most hilarious, creative, and technically masterful mash-up album I’ve ever heard. Yes, I know I cheated a little, since this is from 2014, but it’s fantastic.
Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp A Butterfly (2015)
I could probably write a book about this album. There was a wonderful panel about it at the most recent SMT meeting, so maybe someone will beat me to the punch. Dark, aggressive, and angry, and perfectly suited to today’s political climate. Sonically, the album comes across as the perfect marriage of quasi-free jazz (featuring the wonderful Kamasi Washington) and hip hop.
Beyoncé, Lemonade (2016)
Another wonderfully poigniant, politically impactful album. Hundreds of better writers have expounded on this, so I won’t bother, other than to say it’s a fantastic mélange of southern hip hop, R&B, pop, and jazz. A masterpiece. Also, this performance was the best moment of the 2016 Super Bowl.
Chance The Rapper, Coloring Boook (2016)
This might be the anti To Pimp A Butterfly. Like Kendrick, Chance touches on a lot of important current political themes, but his message is much more hopeful. The album seemlessly blends gospel, jazz, and hip hop. When Chance says “I don’t make songs for free, I make ‘em for freedom,” it gives me hope.
Jacob Collier, In My Room (2016)
A 22-year-old British wunderkind who is definitely more talented than you. The kind of dude that makes you want to just give up, because you’ll never be that good. Not only does he have otherworldy chops, but his songs are remarkably creative; harmonically, metrically, musically.
- Ok, Ok. This is one of the few songs that doesn’t sample “All Star,” but it’s my favourite track on the album. ^