Posts Tagged ‘reviews’

Lenny Kravitz - Black and White America

That’s the sound of a man satisfied.

Since watching the teaser on YouTube, which showed 90 seconds of Lenny Kravitz (with sole collaborator Craig Ross) build the bass-and-synth masterwork “Superlove”, I knew I had to hear the full song. Slightly cheesy lyrics aside, it’s well worth the wait. And now, having finally sated that six-month hunger, we can finally assess Black and White America as a complete album.

Lenny Kravitz isn’t an album artist. Then again, he isn’t much of a singles artist either. And if the critics are to be believed, he isn’t Rock, and he’s not quite Soul. Born biracial into the strictly segregated American record industry, where Black equals Soul/R&B and White for some reason equals Rock n’ Roll, he’s been forced to exist in a strange nether region between the two worlds. Yes, he’s kinda like Saffronia that way



Something About Faith… That Grinds My Gears

Posted: October 31, 2010 by RA in Music
Tags: ,

Faith Evans is a talented singer. And songwriter. The woman can wail like none other, and is responsible for some classic party and Pop songs that we’ll remember for years to come. She was also at the center of the most sensational story in all Hip-Hop canon, as the wife of one third of its holy trinity and the alleged lover of another.

She also is a colossal tease. And kind of a hypocrite.  She spends entirely too much time explaining she technically isn’t Biggie’s widow (the two had separated at the time of his death), and she’s been remarried for over a decade. But then she peppers every other song with a winking Biggie reference that seems to stake her claim to her former position in Hip-Hop royalty. (more…)

So, I resisted the urge to join the chorus of keystrokes reacting to Prince’s declaration that the internet is “over.” Whenever an artist makes such a statement, America –public and punditry alike — reverts to a childlike state of literalism, unable to imagine a meaning deeper than the very words on the page. It serves their overall purpose of mocking them as crotchety old men confused and frightened by the internet, unable to end the reign of Auto-Tune.

Forget the fact that Prince Rogers Nelson (or “the baddest motherfucker to slip on a pair of size 6 heels” to you) pioneered the practice of distributing music and connecting with fans via the web. Forget that he won a Webby for that shit. Forget that, at 5’2″ and in eyeliner, he’ll take your girl with a single raised eyebrow. Yeah, forget all that. He’s just an old geezer afraid of teh internetz.



The ArchAndroid

The last 12 months have seen their share of musical dick-teases — highly anticipated releases from great artists that, despite brilliant singles, leave you wanting. From Maxwell’s BLACKsummer’snight to Sade’s Solider of Love to, arguably, Erykah’s Return of the Ankh (brilliant album, just not quite as incredible as its predecessor), trusted heavy hitters have kinda failed to hit, well… heavy.

Enter Janelle Monáe Robinson, the Kansas native who may well have churned out the best album of the year so far. The ArchAndroid is an exercise in the  familiar — referential without being derivative. It starts strong with “Dance or Die”, a moody workout from the same Afro-influenced, 1980s proto-Hip-Hop realm as Busta Rhymes’ “Dangerous”. As surprisingly unsurprising as it is propulsive, it’s got to be the album’s biggeest highlight, next to “Tightrope”. Two tracks later, the Michael Jackson-inspired “Locked Inside” is introduced with a drum kick straight from “Rock With You”, and grooves with the same exuberance as the Jackson classic.

Not only would Hendrix fans feel nostalgia at tracks like “Mushrooms and Roses”, so will anyone who’s seen the “onstage art class” segment of her stage show. Also familiar to concertgoers is fellow Suite II track “Come Alive”.

Besides the Stevie-esque “Say You’ll Go”, the most eerily subtle yet uncanny references exist on “Oh Maker” and “Neon Valley Street” — records that 1998-era Lauryn Hill would want to make in 2010, right down to the melodic style and meandering vocal runs that echo Hill’s “When it Hurts So Bad”.

And that’s perhaps the most refreshing thing about this album — its contradictions. Yes, she references the greats, but she does so as a truly accomplished student of music — nothing like that damn Keys, who copies off old term papers and gets an A every year because she looks like Little Miss Perfect. And then there’s her look. Finally, after years of waiting, we have a style-driven artist (if her three Vogue features are to be believed) who actually comes with substance. In fact, I’d argue her preference for the B&W tuxedos makes her quite the opposite, in that she chooses to perform in uniform. Either way, most importantly, she’s a style-driven artist who can actually sing. Like, really fucking blow. In the ’80s heyday of Prince, Michael, and Annie Lennox, this may not have seemed like such a big deal. But here we are in 2010, after a decade that brought us everyone from Cassie to Rihanna to Ciara to, yes, the inescapable Gaga, and style and substance seem to have become mutually exclusive in the major-label game.

All in all, it’s a brilliantly written and conceived album, greatly enriched by guitarist Kellindo Parker, with whom Monáe has a special symbiosis. Even the pacing is brilliant in its contradictions. For instance the first three tracks, the album’s most pop-accessible section, turn out to be its least shuffle-friendly. The songs flow seamlessly into one another like in Suite I, but the track-separation points aren’t as cleverly handled. So playing either “Faster” or “Dance or Die” independent of the other ends up in a pretty fractured listening experience — “forget iTunes singles; buy the album.” What it lacks in uniformity of genre, it makes up (assuming that’s a shortcoming) with uniformity of quality. The only possible lowlighht is “Make the Bus”, on which unnecessary guests, Of Montreal, do their best Bowie-as-Stardust impression. (Spoiler: it’s not that good). Still, the song isn’t awful — just poorly executed.

This is one of those albums that become more enjoyable and rewarding with each listen — perfectly achieving the artist’s cinematic aspirations without compromising on plain-old aural stiumlation.

You’ll get her next time, E-Badu.

Originally posted at Stereohyped in Sep 2008

“I was a little different; I didn’t do what the fast girls do,” Solange says in the opening lines of “I Decided,” the lead single off her sophomore set, Sol-Angel & the Hadley St. Dreams. If you can resist the urge to point out that the fast girls probably used birth control, you’ll find that in many ways, she’s right.

After attempting the fast track to success with a few attempts at R&B-Pop stardom, Solange reinvented herself as the Knowles clan’s in-house songwriter – penning tracks for sister Beyoncé and “sisters” Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams – a dubious honor at best, unless you consider “Get Me Bodied” a high water mark in songwriting achievement.

This is why Sol-Angel is so surprising in its effectiveness and authenticity. In the years since her last album, Knowles’ style and lifestyle choices often came off merely as the rebellion of a teenage girl living in her older sister’s shadow (“Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!”) trying to find her own identity – with all the “be different” earnestness of an angsty teenager.