Transcendental Model (Miguel, War & Leisure review)

So much protest, so much hate, so much to consider.

But also so much to celebrate.

There’s this theory (most would saw governing law!) in science about energy and how it can exist in a variety of forms, such as electrical, mechanical, chemical, thermal, or nuclear, and can be transformed from one form to another. I’m hoping this week’s artist can help transform sociological conditions into something a little more positive.

 

 

Miguel – War & Leisure

released December 1, 2017
********* 9/10

Miguel Jontel Pimentel, better known as Miguel, is an American signer, songwriter, actor and producer.

Son of a Mexican American father and an African American mother, he has been deeply invested in music from a young age; dancing to all of the R&B, funk, hip hop, jazz and classic rock that his parents introduced him to. He later switched gears as a teenager and began to dabble in creating music. While most kids were experimenting with sex and drugs in high school, Miguel was focused on learning about studio production, and by the time he graduated from high school, he auditioned for the production company Drop Squad.

After some learnings, he signed with Black Ice Records in 2004, but ultimately walked away to pursue an authentic look and sound. Then in 2007 he landed a deal with Jive Records and was finally ready to release his debut album, but was sued by Black Ice and had to wait another three years over a contract dispute.

Despite all of this, his debut album, All I Want Is You (2010), was a sleeper hit that garnered him much attention and success, against it’s limited promotion at the time of distribution.

That’s a lot of exposition.

And we haven’t even gotten to the dissolution of Jive Records, which resulted in Miguels move to RCA, and the release of Kaleidoscope Dream. This sophomore effort was a critical success, won him a Grammy and incidentally led to the generation of an internet meme (the Miguel Leg Drop). This third album, Wildheart, was also pretty good, but there aren’t a lot of nuggets there… so let’s move onto War & Leisure.

The first single Sky Walker is one of my favourites, with it’s upbeat tone and springbreak attitude, and like a good drink, it pairs well with the seventh track Told You So. That one could likely be another single later on, with it’s inverse of emotions. Pineapple Skies and Banana Clip both have a very California vibe to them, which makes sense given Miguel’s LA childhood.

Wolf has so much passion, that I couldn’t help but consider it as another of the must-haves. I’m a sinner, a savage, but mostly I’m a wolf. Yeah you are buddy, yeah you are. Blues and fierce. And if you like blues, check out Caramelo Duro.

Harem is a love song heavy on the bass and electronics, sans the gouda. And check out Anointed if you want it even more passionate, eat your heart out Fifty Shades of Grey. But at this point it’s obvious that Miguel is a capable lover, and a sympathetic one too (see Criminal, City of Angels), but this isn’t just a leisure album, it’s one of combat too. It’s a comeback of the best regard and we’re all along for the ride.

Pros: I love The Weeknd just as much as anybody, and especially as a Canadian. For he channels Michael Jackson pop oh so well, but now I don’t ever have to wonder what it would sound like if Prince and MJ set a play date.

Cons: Unfortunately I’m not quite sure where to place Come Through and Chill. It’s laid-back and very R&B, but the booty call element reminds me too much of R. Kelly and it’s out of place against the rest of the sex positive messaging.

Runtime: 48 minutes

Points of Interest: Miguel regularly practices transcendental meditation for balancing his life, and has been with model Nazanin Mandi since 2005, and in 2016 they announced their engagement. Now is the closing track on the album, but the first song that was worked on.

It’s always difficult to write a good review without spoiling the album for my audience dear readers. But thankfully, I’m struggling to put into words how much I enjoyed listening to this all week in a cold January (while I struggled with furnace problems, no less). Miguel manages to hit that sweet spot between entertainer and messenger this time around.

theories Summarized

Yes is the answer. The question is, should you buy this? I’m not even going to entertain the question of when. I have this theory we can continue to expect great things from Mr. Pimentel, transcendental even.

Tim!

Ming Tea (The Rolling Stones, ON AIR review)

How does that old song go? The road is long, with many a winding turn, that leads us to who knows where, who knows where. A common theme in rock music, but one that only the worthy get to call their own. Luckily for us, this week’s review zeroes on one of those legends.

 

 

The Rolling Stones – ON AIR

released December 1, 2017
******** 8/10

I’m going to do my best to sum up who The Rolling Stones are without doing them a great injustice… formed in London, England in 1962, the original lineup was Brian Jones on guitar and harmonica, Mick Jagger on lead vocals, Keith Richards as guitar and backup vocals, Bill Wyman bass, drummer Charlie Watts, and Ian Stewart tickling the ivories. Over the years, the lineup changed to accommodate tours, and bandmate lives, but Mick, Keith, and Charlie all stayed true to the group. With thirty albums under their collective belt, these gents have maintained their sound and still managed to be relevant by playing blues-laden rock tracks.

One of the key events of the 1960s was the British Invasion of popular bands into the American lexicon of rock and roll. ON AIR is a compilation album which samples from some of their best work captured at the BBC between 1963-65, though it doesn’t represent their best work by any means, rather a band on the long road to success. And I’m not talking about the albums Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers or Exile on Main St either – this album has been somewhat repurposed from the initial recordings on the radio shows featured in the liner notes.

Saturday Club, Yeah Yeah, Blues in Rhythm, The Joe Loss Pop Show, Top Gear, and Rhythm & Blues all intended to showcase The Rolling Stones raw and unedited. Luckliy for us, someone was on hand recording these performances and capturing the development of a group of talented musicians.

It’s a lot of fun to hear Roll Over Beethoven, (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, and Route 66 without the polish of mixing board and sound engineering crew. But unfortunately, it’s not sequential at all. The most popular songs feature first, and so towards the end of each disc, you may have drifted off without even realizing The Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World are still playing.

And that’s sad, because you’d miss a drawn out version of 2120 South Michigan Avenue and a sweet rendition of what would be become their true sound. I also particularly enjoyed the covers of I Just Wanna Make Love To You and I Wanna Be Your Man because they demonstrate the music heritage the songs are being pulled from, but in a particularly respectful and innovative way.

Pros: Who doesn’t love to go nostalgia diving every once in a while? Putting on the shoes of giants humanizes them, and by releasing this compilation album so closely to their newest “studio album” Blue and Lonesome, we all get a chance to swoon to Hi Heel Sneakers.

Cons: Again, don’t expect major breakthroughs in sound here. There are hints of greatness, but a lot of material covering the past too.

Runtime: 1 hour 23 minutes

Points of Interest: There are eight previously unreleased tracks on this album, but it’ll be difficult to pick them out, given that The Stones haven’t disclosed that information to us. This album features Brian Jones front and centre, before he made the move to dealing with administrative duties.

Few bands have had such a great impact as The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and The Rolling Stones, and only the later still exist to give us new records and tastes from the paste. That an album like ON AIR has been released is great evidence for the wisdom of experience and the power held within discipline. This band would go on to create some of the most fantastic rock and roll tracks, but their love for blues and technical skill is apparent throughout this record.

theories Summarized

I hope it’s obvious by now that you should pick up a copy of this record for yourself. Whether you are a long-time Stones fan or merely a lover of history, ON AIR will both round out your music collection and teach you something about quality musicianship. It’s just a little theory I have.

Tim!

The Ultimate Question (N.E.R.D., No_One Ever Really Dies review)

I love it when music gets you questioning the core of things.

If an album can instantaneously shift my thoughts elsewhere, I know that it is moving, effective, and worth my attention. But yet, when it comes from a source that isn’t expected.

 

 

N.E.R.D. – No_One Ever Really Dies

released December 15, 2017
******** 8/10

Pharell Williams, Chad Hugo, and Shae Haley are lifelong friends and the members of the rock. funk and hip hop group N.E.R.D.. They formed back in 1999 as a side project for Williams and Hugo’s production team, The Neptunes; which had been producing songs for several artists throughout the late nineties and early 2000s, including another childhood friend, Timbaland. Their first album In Search Of… debuted at number 61 on the Billboard 200 in 2002, and sold 600K copies in the US, giving it gold status by the RIAA.

The second single, Rock Star, was what first drew my attention to the group.

Since that time N.E.R.D. have released four more studio albums with No_One Ever Really Dies showing up after a seven year absence from the public eye. Pharrell is probably the best known of the three members, having created two solo albums of his own (remember that single Happy that was part of the Despicable Me 2 soundtrack?), and also branching out into various media including film and clothing retail.

2017 will likely be remembered as the year of minority rights, especially as it relates to the first year of President Trump in the minds of American musicians. There were some great albums out there that reflected this from LCD Soundsystem, Sampha, Tyler, the Creator, Jay Z, Vince Staples, Common (technically over a year ago BUT STILL RELEVANT), and not surprisingly, Kendrick Lamar.

So why does this album work? Well believe it or not, conscious hip hop seems to be here to stay and N.E.R.D. were already diverse enough to take on the mantle without it hurting their street cred. Whereas someone like Eminem did make similar tone choices and even collaborated with similar artists on his own responsive album Revival, but his album just doesn’t stand up. And yea, Eminem was arguably the King of Hip Hop between 1995 and 2005, be he hasn’t really evolved in a constructive way in the past ten years, and the fact that he was a big deal with a distinct sound may be what hurt him this year.

I realize I’m almost four hundred words into this post and I still haven’t spoken about the songs on it. But the reason why I haven’t decided to focus on the songs themselves is because N.E.R.D. has always been a backburner to the genius of The Neptunes. All of their ideas and talent and creativity channelled into other artists, and the energy we got on In Search Of… and other albums was realistically a rougher and more exploratory sampling of what Williams and co. had left in their tanks at the end of a long journey. But that’s a good thing here.

It seems like no one really knows what to do about all of the problems going on in the world and America is so desperate to address all of it’s problems that music activism is in demand right now. N.E.R.D. have taken all of that energy and channeled it into a mix of feelings yet again. And that’s why this album is so appropriate for it’s time. We need rock, funk, R&B, soul, disco, pop, and hip hop all to work together for once, because if we don’t try to get along it’s only going to get worse out there.

Now is it innovative? No, because the musical themes are all ones that N.E.R.D. have been exploring for a decade, which is why it doesn’t get an A+. But improvement is still improvement folks.

 

Pros: Lemon and Don’t Don’t Do it are just amazing to listen to. Courtesy of Rihanna’s jaw-dropping rap and Kendrick Lamar’s choice verses, respectively. But the nervous energy and urgency of the whole record are cathartic to listen to, knowing that N.E.R.D. like to force weird shapes like prog-rock and soul together.

Cons: Some of these artist collaborations are a little too serious for the sweet mixture of silly and subversive that N.E.R.D. are tapping into. Ahem, Future.

Runtime: 51 minutes

Points of Interest: Don’t Don’t Do It!” features K. Dot and Frank Ocean, and is inspired by the police shooting death of North Carolina’s Keith Lamont Scott. Ed Sheeran features on the reggae closer Lifting You.

What I find most interesting about this album is that the quality of the music has greatly improved over the span of five studio length records. And whether the woke tone of this music sits well with you or not, N.E.R.D. have managed a way to weave it all together and get you questioning whether they are serious about the subject matter or simply exploiting it to move us forward another decade ahead of schedule, as per usual.

theories Summarized

Optimism is important in this day and age. Should you buy this album. Yes, I think you should. And my theory is that it was designed to elevate your mood, but also get you thinking about the reality of these atrocities we are all witness to on a daily basis. It’s almost impossible to have a full understanding of every angle, but N.E.R.D. have managed once again to provide us with yet another perspective on police brutality, transgender issues, black and minority rights, and the harshness of anti-immigration without ham-fisting everything. It’s a theory I’ll happily pack into explosive force of love.

Tim!

Off To The Slaughterhouse (Chase Rice, Lambs & Lions review)

I’ve been humbled once again. I bought a record on a whim, made some initial judgments based on the cover art and what I heard as I listened for the first time to a lean thirty seven minutes of modern country music, except that’s not what this is, at all.

It’s an escape plan marked all over with pencil and featuring focal points that are highlighted atop the map with black felt tip circles.

But is it a success?

 

 

Chase Rice – Lambs & Lions

released November 17, 2017
****** 6/10

Chase Rice is an American singer-songwriter that got his start in country music, and benefited heavily from the party anthems that have permeated this decade. Do you remember Florida Georgia Line’s song Cruise? Rice co-wrote it. Ever listen to the hit album, Ignite The Night? Rice is the artist behind the party anthems about drinking, pickup trucks, and young women. Ever watch Survivor? Rice was the runner-up on the Nicaragua season.

He is something of a relic at this time in music – Ironic, given that we have three more years before the twenties start up. Bro-country is finally on it’s way out, and artists like Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean and Jake Owen have already felt the pressure of a dismissive public.

This is part of the reason why Rice decided to break from Columbia records and sign with Broken Bow Records for his fourth album, Lambs & Lions. The other reason being, that wanted to make a more emotionally honest and truly authentic record, when authenticity in country music should have meant sticking to the well-worn tracks established.

Lions kicks off the album, and Rice establishes early on that this is his break from his past, it has the same energy as his previous albums, but the tone is shifting towards rock, metal, power pop, and even some R&B. It’s especially evident that this album is stripped of a lot of the production that his previous music had when Unforgettable, Eyes On You, and Saved Me show up.

Three Chords & The Truth is the first single on the record, and trending on the music charts right now, but despite this popularity, it really is an interesting song with some subtle nods to the genre of country music, and funnily enough, while on a soul search, he has managed to connected with many other people looking for answers in country music too.

In the end, this is a collection of songs about someone who is letting go of an identity that they wore for a long time, self-imposed or no, and what shows up underneath is pretty interesting. It’s not my favourite record of the year by any means, but the hope it delivers is more important in some ways.

Pros: You can see throughout Lambs & Lions that Rice is putting more of himself into his music, and a personal favourite of mine is Amen, which is an ode to his father, revealing a lot of Rice’s personal code.

Cons: I wish that there was even more exploration on this album. It still feels a little bit safe reliant on what preceded. It might have been difficult for Chase Rice to break completely from his bro-country roots, but including Jack Daniel’s Showed Up is so unnecessary.

Runtime: 37 minutes

Points of Interest: The album debuted at No. 42 on the Billboard 200, and No. 6 on the Top Country Albums. Rice has said that the album is heavily influenced by rock artist Douglas Docker.

Changing your identity is a challenge, even moreso when there is a perception of you attached to it. Chase Rice has made some excellent strides into a new and exciting direction, with music that features more of his own ideas and less concern with sounding a specific way. And I like it.

theories Summarized

I’m not sure that you absolutely have to pick this up. But if you like your country music with a little rock n’ roll, you are sick of bro-country or you simply like to see progression in your artists, give this album a listen, you might just be inspired to show your fleece, while bearing your teeth. That’s my theory anyway.

Tim!

A Collection of Moments (Chris Stapleton, From A Room: Volume 2 review)

If you could name an up and coming country artist that’s done it all already, who do you think would fit that bill? I’ll give you two guesses for albums that have done that in 2017. But you only need one answer.

 

 

 

Chris Stapleton – From A Room: Volume 2

released December 1, 2017
******** 8/10

Chris Stapleton is an American singer-songwriter, best known for his ability to perform rock, bluegrass, country, and a mixture thereof. He has been active in the music industry for over fifteen years now; he went solo back in 2013, released his debut album The Traveller in 2015, followed by From A Room: Volume 1 in May of 2017. If the velocity of his release schedule seems overwhelming, consider that that this is an artist who has contributed over 150 songs to albums by other popular artists like Adele, Tim McGraw, and Brad Paisley, among others.

Stapleton is a southern boy through and through, raised in Kentucky and active in Nashville since he officially began to focus on music in 2001. His wife Morgane has featured in harmonies on all three of his albums, and he often includes long-time friends in the band he records and travels with, citing the importance of chemistry when crafting a song.

This is incredibly apparent on From A Room: Volume 2. As you listen to the record, it is obvious that these are collection of vignettes, windows into characters that Stapleton has spent a lifetime crafting, and while it goes against my typical expectation for a good album, I appreciate that fact this collection of songs was further proven by the older sister album released not even six months ago – proof that each track can stand on it’s own and that Stapleton is an artist in it for the long haul. I’ll admit that it seemed like a commercial gimmick at first, a way to make cash off of his current success with CMA awards, but these humble albums are both strong, and in my opinion, Volume 2 is even stronger.

Album opener Millionaire is your standard country song about love overcoming financial difficulty, with Hard Livin’ coming shortly after – a song about outlaw living, and an excellent demonstration of Stapleton’s command over his chosen genre.

Scarecrow In The Garden is another notable addition to the queue, choosing to try something new in the form of a narrative about immigrant farmers living in West Virginia. It doesn’t have the typical fairytale ending of most popular country, and this is what separates Stapleton from his contemporaries. A natural evolution of sound.

Comparisons have been made to Tom Petty, and Stapleton even travelled with him on his final tour, but other greats like Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Willie Nelson all come to mind. Just listen to the final four songs and you’ll get a better sense for it. A Simple Song has a folk feel, while Midnight Train to Memphis is rockabilly at heart. Drunkard’s Prayer is a somber ballad and album closer Friendship is full of soul and the blues.

 

 

 

Pros: Even though it comes early on in the album, Nobody’s Lonely Tonight is one of the strongest tracks on the record and a personal favourite of mine. An interesting take on overcoming heartbreak. Also, as previously mentioned, the harmonies of Morgane are much stronger on the album overall this time around.

Cons: It has a very short runtime, and while Tryin’ To Untangle My Mind is a thoughtful and catchy track on the ups and downs of drinking, it’s a little bit cliched in it’s structure. But I can’t quite place why this bothers me just yet.

Runtime: 32 minutes

Points of Interest: Millionaire is a cover of Kevin Welch’s and Friendship is a cover of gospel and R7B legend, Pops Staples.

If it hasn’t been made clear yet, this isn’t your garden variety country music, dear readers. It is an excellent mix of both traditional country and soul music that subverts your expectations of what something out of Nashville should sound like. And I like it.

theories Summarized

If I haven’t convinced you to pick up this album yet, I’ll leave you with one more piece of evidence to consider. He is BFF’s with Justin Timberlake and has performed with him at the CMAs once already. Yes, that Justin Timberlake. The one who basically took up the mantle of King of Pop after Michael Jackson died. And his debut album is already a classic. But that’s my theory on the matter.

Tim!