Good Vibrations (Leon Bridges, Good Thing review)

As a collector of good music, it’s incredibly satisfying when a bid continues to pay off. Despite all of the odds telling me that the music well can only dig so deep before coming up dry. Luckily for me, Leon Bridges planted more derricks and is establishing his reputation. It’s a Good Thing.

 

Leon Bridges – Good Thing

released May 4, 2018
******** 8/10

Todd Michael “Leon” Bridges is now 28 years old. I reviewed his 2015 album Coming Home, almost exactly two years ago. I love that kind of symmetry in life, it’s poetic when things work out good, and it’s a good thing. Good Thing is also the name of Bridges sophomore effort and like his previous work, it’s full of soul, gospel, R&B and blues influences.

The major difference you’ll hear between his two albums is the production value, but that doesn’t mean that one is better then the other. Coming Home is something of a time capsule (read: recorded with vintage equipment), whereas Good Thing feels a lot more like Bridges falling in with the times, though the times are represented by several decades rather then just the sixties. That, and he is proving yet again he knows how to pull on our heart strings. But where Coming Home was cohesive and distinct, this record is more of an exploration, one that still flows in and out of tracks well.

Not everything on the album works perfectly, with a couple of tracks in the middle softening the ambience, but I bet if you listened to this half a dozen times you wouldn’t know which ones I am referring to without some consideration. Proving yet again, that Mr. Bridges deserves his Mrs. and I am thankful that he included a closing track that gets the juices flowing.

The first four songs are particularly entertaining, and rightly so given that Bridges stays within his established zone for them, and Bet Ain’t Worth the Hand, Bad Bad News, and Beyond are also singles that play more like A tracks then B ones.  When we get to the end of the album, you have to wonder where the past 34 minutes went, but luckily enough, hitting repeat is a simple solution.

Shy could be an anthem for me, for you and for anyone that’s ever felt a bit inhibited in life – a problem quickly solved with some liquid courage and a gentle guitar. It’s a solid nod to the 1990s and the production chops of Danger Mouse.

Be still, my beating heart.

Now we get into the meat of the album, and this is where it gets gooey an a little soft. Forgive You and Lions are both free of the past, and they sound like something contemporaries Pharell, Bruno Mars and Sharon Jones would make, with smooth tempos and jazz samples. But then you get You Don’t Know and If It Feels Good (Then It Must Be) and I have to wonder what happened, because those tracks sound a bit more like drafts then final cuts.

I personally think he needs to continue to explore the sounds of the 1950s and 60s, and draw in the new when possible, but this is a good start to something more mature.

Pros: As previously mentioned, Mrs. is the biggest surprise of the record, it’s got depth, breadth and some sauce. But Georgia to Texas is solid runner up for my favourite song and a beautiful tribute to Leon’s mother.

Cons: I already mentioned how If It Feels Good, and You Don’t Know feel rather simplistic and raw in their presentation, and it doesn’t matter how wrapped they are in 80’s synth, catchy isn’t necessarily good either. And man is You Don’t Know a catchy song.

Runtime: 34 minutes

Points of Interest: Good Thing debuted at number three on the Billboard 200. It is the second album to be produced by Columbia records and Ricky Reed, who has worked with Meghan Trainor, had a major hand in the album.

Crooning is a difficult game, and while I can appreciate the fact that black artists who dabble in the past need to represent their forefathers with care, it’s not exclusively their responsibility either, and Leon Bridges doesn’t exactly need a reminder of what soul music means, he wouldn’t be able to make it without some pain.

theories Summarized

And that’s a Good Thing. But in all seriousness, I think this a really solid album and have no hesitations in recommending you take a listen or five. It’s a more adventurous outting to be sure, but Bridges has taken it upon himself to demonstrate that he understands the history of the music he references, and is layering more into the lyrics.

Love, religion, family, and personal battles all feature with great tenderness.

One sophomore album review not enough for you creative cuties? How about this recommendation of Sound of Silver by LCD Soundsystem? It’s a really great record and features all of the absurdity and comedy you’ve come to love from the New York group, but with a maturity that was expressed on their self-titled effort. I think you’ll like it too.

And if you like either of these album reviews or both of them, please like and share the video, and of course, please subscribe to the blog and channel for more awesome theories on the arts! Tomorrow I have some thoughts on Batman Ninja.

Tim!

Gotta Have It! (Young Fathers, Cocoa Sugar review)

I’m reminded of this skit from Aziz Ansari in a film called Funny People. He heads on stage to a midsized bar crowd and announces that Cold Stone Creamery is an incredibly fucked up place. People picks sizes called, Like It, Love It, and Gotta Have It! It’s like picking ice cream for recovering drug addicts.

But sometimes that’s how we feel about things we really like, it’s a sugar spike, and the crash is oh so worth it.

 

Young Fathers – Cocoa Sugar

released March 9, 2018
******** 8/10

Young Fathers are a Scottish band that simply cannot be classified. A three piece act, Alloysious Massaquoi, Kayus Bankole and Graham ‘G’ Hastings formed the group in 2008 after spending a ton of time together at clubs and challenging rap expectations. They love to explore social dynamics, as the title of the album would suggest. Many people have tried to fit them into multiple genres, but the truth is that they are willing to use lo-fi, soul, R&B, hip hop, dubstep, industrial, and pop to various effects in creating what has now become their unique brand of music. But Cocoa Sugar is a little more refined.

That, and they’ve switched to a higher fidelity sound. So that’s cool and sweet.

I’ll stop with the puns now.

Cocoa Sugar is their third studio album, and what’s incredible about it, is that not only has their sound actually improved from sophomore album White Men Are Black Men Too, but it’s also surpassed their genius debut Dead. I say this with both shock and awe – when many had thought that by revising their vision, it would dampen the music of Young Fathers, myself included.

But the sequencing is well considered, and overall the tracks gel incredibly well together.  Now,  unfortunately, some of the tracks do feel more like instrumental openers then anything (looking at you See How, Fee Fi, Wow and Wire), but that’s a minor loss for an enigmatic and charming disc. This album is entirely more accessible they’ve done before, choosing to focus on symbolism about biblical themes and political ones, but the politics never feel overt nor obnoxiously stated.

As I mentioned the religious themes, I also want to add that there are some more universal tracks too. In My View is the catchiest and easily most relatable song on the album, telling the story of a miser who is grossly rich and regrets his quest for power. It may be the second single from the album, but it works just as well as the quasi gospel song, Lord, which was released in the fall of 2017.

There is freedom in Cocoa Sugar, much like previous Young Father projects, but what I loved the most about it, is that it gets better and better on repeated listens.

Pros: There is an incredible and powerful focus in the vocals, lyrics and melodic choices, and if you are into off-kilter music with gospel tinged tips then In My View, Lord, Border Girl, and Holy Ghost will give you some sweet affection.

Cons: Fee Fi is a little too repetitive and can become grating to listen to, which made me wish it wasn’t included, but then there are also other songs with shorter track lengths that suffer, not because you strain while listening, but because the music builds up, starts to resonate, and then abruptly stops.

Runtime: 36 minutes

Points of Interest: In 2014, they won the Mercury Prize for their debut album Dead. Bankole and Hastings are Edinburgh born and raised, while Massaquoi was born in Liberia and moved to Edinburgh at age four.

Released on the Ninja Tune label back in March, Cocoa Sugar is one of the shorter albums I’ve listened to so far this year, and if it’s not clear yet, let me be more plain. My major disappointment with it, is how short it feels, but when we get songs, they are amazing to behold.

theories Summarized

It’s artists like Young Fathers, and their contemporaries The Weeknd, 3T, Micachu, and Foreign Beggars that live on the fringes. Their music makes a difference and informs the choices of more popular music to try new things, to experiment in the lab and come up with something appealing to digest. It might not be for everyone, but if you have a sweet tooth, my theory is that Cocoa Sugar is a great treat.

And speaking of treats, have you heard the new MGMT? I already did a written review of it, but in case you mssed that, here is a video endorsement from Brendon and I. There’s something incredibly appealing about dark pop right now, and these dudes are dialed into it.

And if you like either of these album reviews or both of them, please like and share the video, and of course, please subscribe to the blog and channel for more awesome theories on the arts.

Tim!

Compatriot Music (Mary Gauthier, Rifles & Rosary Beads review)

An album that addresses the lives of active military members, veterans and their spouses? Sign me up. But don’t be surprised if I’m choking back the tears…

 

Mary Gauthier – Rifles & Rosary Beads

released January 26, 2018
********* 9/10

Mary Veronica Gauthier, better known by her stage name Mary Gauthier, is an American folk and country singer-songwriter.

She was adopted from the very young age of one, but struggled with the idea of being adopted as she grew up. She ran way from home at fifteen, lived on friends couches and in halfway houses, and used drugs for many years. She almost completed a philosophy degree at Louisiana State University, but dropped out her senior year. She then opened and ran a Cajun restaurant for eleven years, which coincided with the birth of her interest in music and success at sobriety after an arrest for drunk driving on her restaurant opening night in 1990.

Fast forward 28 years, 11 albums (8 studio albums) later and a lifetime of experience singing a combination of folk, Americana and country music and we land at Rifles & Rosary Beads. This is a collaborative album which was cowritten by Gauthier and members of the nonprofit, Songwriting with Soldiers, an organization that pairs veterans and active duty service members with professional musicians to tell their stories.

Sometimes healing and sweet, other times sour and full of pain, this album is super powerful and deserves top marks for telling meaningful stories in a poetic way. I’ll admit I had not heard much of Gauthier’s catalogue prior to sitting down with this concept album, but gosh this just incredible to listen to, and I’m a sucker for this kind of music to begin with. Add in a favorable mix of genres, and you have timotheories gold.

Starting off rather sober with the opening track, Soldiering On, this lyric I lifted from the song describes the tone well – what saves you in the battle, can kill you at home. Or better yet, how about this one from The War After the Warwho’s gonna care for the ones who care for the ones who went to war.  Gauthier is already a strong writer, but these are real stories we are hearing, featuring the voices of both the military types and their spouses, and all get credit in the liner notes.

Brothers describes a viewpoint of military women looking for equality, whereas Bullet Holes in Sky offers mixed emotions about Veterans Day from a navy veteran. And we get the obvious question of circumstantial death in Still On The Ride because the loss of a friend in war is unshakeable and reverberates for a lifetime.

This is not easy listening, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t beautiful to behold and when layered with a great number of profound and heartfelt stories, Gauthier provides a chilling account of military service and how it impacts everyone in those peoples lives.

This is an important album and filled with love.

The two tracks which exemplify this notion of love best are It’s Her Love and closing track Stronger Together. Both are titled appropriately, with the first demonstrating the healing power of a support system, and the second about the significance of unity, leaving us with the notion that while military life can and sometimes does break us down, it’s through compassion and love that rebuilding happens.

Pros: The authenticity behind the lyrics, and the compassion in the delivery are what drive this album forward and take it from a 7 to a 9.

Cons: The fact that an album like this exists is an amazing thing, but where are the songs specifically calling out against sending people off to war with so much regularity?

Runtime: 44 minutes

Points of InterestMary Gauthier is also an accomplished author, having had short stories published in the book Amplified, and a couple of magazines. Her songs are taught in universities and she is currently writing a book titled The Art of Songwriting.

I’ve said this before, but I cannot stress enough the importance of listening to albums in full, and an album like Rifles & Rosary Beads demands attention, because these stories are what not only snapshots into individual lives, but excellent case studies for understanding the world around us better.

theories Summarized

Prioritizing the needs of those without a voice is such a folk music thing to do, as folk music typically stems from an oral tradition, without a producers voice or even better in a public domain. Now, this music wasn’t constructed in the back woods, but it absolutely is not commercial in nature or classic, and it’s brilliant.

And on the subject of brilliance, Brendon and I have a review of the eponymous debut of alt rock group Weezer from 1994. This is a classic album, and one that also deserves some time and attention if you haven’t listened to it recently, or ever.

And if you like either of these album reviews or both of them, please like and share the video, and of course, please subscribe to the blog and channel for more awesome theories on the arts.

Tim!

The Most Critical Hour (Kacey Musgraves, Golden Hour review)

Did you know that the golden hour is the first hour after a traumatic injury, and the reason why it’s called this, is that it’s often the most critical for successful treatment in emergency situations.

Now, I don’t think that’s what Kacey Musgraves intended with her album title, but it still holds significance given that this album is worth a critical listen, whether you are a music critic or not. It’s almost like a first look at the world after a life-changing event.

 

Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour

released Mar 30, 2018
******** 8/10

Kacey Lee Musgraves, better known by her stage name, Kacey Musgraves, is an American country music singer and songwriter. Like many popular country artists today, Kacey is a seasoned professional who has been performing for the better part of twelve years – Golden Hour is her third studio album, following three years after Pageant Material, and her first with MCA Nashville.

She has been met with generally positive reviews on all three of her albums, but Golden Hour is the first album that has ranked at over 90% on review aggregator Metacritic. The consensus seems to be that it’s a great record because her vocal range is quite high and very appealing, and not to mention the fact that while many of the songs are very saccharine, but most importantly there is a sincerity in the dream world she is constructing, and it deviates from typical country fare..

I think it’s great that the Butterflies and Space Cowboy are the first singles. They represent all of the high notes this album wants to hit, and then the rest of the album goes on to prove it over and over again. If you listen to Mother and/or Rainbow you might just be moved to tears. Both of them are positive songs, one about the heritage of motherhood and the other speaking out to minority groups (read: LGBTQ youth).

This is not the type of content you see in mainstream country, it’s atmospheric, and generally just lovely to listen to, but because it’s not ham-fisted with it’s content, it feels better to sing along to a song about a woman giving her lover the space to be independant, for the right or the wrong.

Pros: Space Cowboy, High Horse, Slow Burn and Wonder Woman all almost instantly appealed to me purely as melodies, and upon subsequent listens their lyrics have grown on me to the point that I’m reciting them back to myself. Her vocalist work is just so good.

Cons: While the content is interesting for a pop country album, it does soften the country sound purely to appeal to non-country fans. And it was even mentioned in all of the marketing of the album. And in the process… well, it doesn’t blend in other genres so much as it dials back on the country tones. And the expected sassiness isn’t really there, which might be difficult to accept for existing Kacey Musgrave fans.

Runtime: 44 minutes

Points of InterestAs I already mentioned, this album has widespread universal acclaim from most critics, having debuted at number four on the US Billboard 200. It’s primarily about the “golden hour” of Musgraves life as she comes out of the glow of just recently getting married, with many things in her life coming together.

This is a nice album. I know that sounds like a safe statement to make, but not every major event in life needs to leave us scarred and broken. Introspection can be a positive experience too. Which is why the uplifting music with an appreciation for the real world, is what we are given, and why I gladly accept it. It’s true that we might not have expected this from Musgraves, but I think the reason why I enjoyed it so much is that she clearly doesn’t care.

theories Summarized

Whether you believe the hype or not, this is a really entertaining and heartwarming album. If it can stand the test of time and enter the ranks of the timeless is yet to be seen, but I’m happy to say for today that Golden Hour has lots of power.

On the opposite side of the emotional spectrum, Brendon and I decided to do a video review on the chiptune original, Crystal Castles, by none other than Crystal Castles. Using a circuit bent Atari 5200, this music can be jostling, calming, exciting and generate a host of other feelings, but it manages to do this without much help from lyrics.

In fact, Alice Glass often feels like part of the instrumentation, and not a leading vocalist.

There you have it creative cuties. Two great albums, with two very different emotional cores, but I think you’ll find that each have valuable tracks and are worth a spot on the shelf. And please give them repeated listens, because I have a theory that you’ll feel the same as I did initially. That said, hit us up in the comments, like and share the video if you found it valuable, and of course, please subscribe to the blog and channel for more awesome theories on the arts.

Tim!

Not Experimental Enough? Hold My Whiskey (Jack White, Boarding House Reach review)

What rock and roll artist worked with A Tribe Called Quest and Beyonce, and is completely frantic? The guy who used to wear red, white and black.

Now known as the guy who wears blue, white and black.

 

Jack White – Boarding House Reach

released March 23, 2018
******* 9/10

John Anthony White, better known by his stage name, Jack White, is an American musician, singer, songwriter, record producer and actor. He is also the lead singer and guitarist of The White Stripes, and performs with other bands (The Raconteurs) and artists (Beyonce, Alicia Keys) often. His debut solo album, Blunderbuss, was released in 2012 and followed up a mere two years later by Lazaretto. And to be honest, Lazaretto was the stronger album in my personal opinion.

Both of his solo albums have had considerable commercial success and critical acclaim, so it is not surprising that he eventually followed up with album no. 3, Boarding House Reach; though the time gap was a little wider this time.

Boarding House Reach is an atypical blues rock album and has been released on White’s own label Third Man records as well as Columbia and XL. In an odd move, Connected by Love and Respect Commander were released simultaneously as the album’s lead single back in January, and Over and Over and Over was released as the second single in March. Corporation and Ice Station Zebra were also released as singles, and consequently, the album was able to reach no. 1 on  the Billboard 200.

This is an album which has a lot of layers, and absolutely needs several listens in order to be properly appreciated. Because it probably won’t sound as good as it is the first couple of times, I suggest sitting with it in the background as you drive, while you work away the day, and even as you burst through your evening work out. It’s a rock album that is challenging rock and roll in a time when rock is basically struggling for air.

Thankfully for us, he is a veteran of blues rock, having fronted The White Stripes for years, and it makes sense for him to explore funk, jazz, and even gospel music, but man when he decided to inject hip-hop and spoken word poetry into the mix… that’s when I knew I was onto something special. Plus, it’s a polarizing album, with lots of people locked in, but a healthy amount of skepticism from seasoned reviewers too.

The singles make perfect sense now inside the context of the record, but they are not the highlight of the album, no. They are an introduction into a more fun and carefree Jack White. Yes that might seem off, but listen to Hypermisophoniac, Everything You’ve Ever Learned and What’s Done is Done, and tell me this isn’t a new Mr. White.

Pros: His vocal performances are way out there, and it’s refreshing to see how he is stepping away from blues rock and yet he is still darkly edgy in his lyrical choices. Why Walk a Dog is a great little absurdist track about the idea of owning pets and whether dogs really do have a good life.

Cons: There are a lot of collages of different ideas floating around here, from spoken-word, rapping, progressive rock, funk music, to a cover of Al Capone’s own song (Humoresque). And sometimes they fight with Jack White’s natural sound, whatever that means to you.

Runtime: 44 minutes

Points of Interest: White chose to write like Michael Jackson would, by thinking of the songs as a whole rather then parts. He did everything in the silence of one room, for several hours at a time each day. This is White’s third no. 1 solo album.

This is not an album rooted in the past, like his previous solo albums and his work with The White Stripes. No this is something out of time, and I’m thankful to have found it – now check out our video review below!

theories Summarized

I’ll admit that when I listened to this the first couple of times, I thought, yeah it’s technically good, but definitely not a knockout album. This is normal, and a good thing, dear readers. So settle in as instructed, and you’ll come out the other side singing the praises of the future of rock and roll.

Yeah, it’s a weird album. Ha! But I love it all the same. I hope you get to feel the same, but either way hit us up in the comments, like and share the video if you found it valuable, and of course, please subscribe to the blog and channel for more awesome theories on the arts.

Tim!