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!

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!

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!

A State of Depression (Childish Gambino, “Awaken, My Love!” review)

When you care, you can come off a little creepy. Especially when you put a little stank on it.

This is why it’s important to inject some passion and some perspective into your music, it gives the audience a point of leverage and an opportunity to empathize with you.

Take this week’s album review for instance…

Childish Gambino – “Awaken, My Love!”
released December 2, 2016
******** 8/10

album-art_1024x1024

Donald Glover is an American actor, writer, comedian, and musician. When making music he either goes by the stage name Childish Gambino (performing) or mcDJ (disc jockey). As a recording artist, he usually performs under the stage name Childish Gambino, and as a disc jockey, he performs under the name mcDJ.

His breakout role was with the Derrick Comedy group, followed quickly by writing for 30 Rock and with support from Tina Fey. He later got a role as Troy on the NBC sitcom Community and now stars in the FX series Atlanta which he created. And if that’s not enough cool for school, Glover has voiced the Ultimate version of Spider-man on an animated series and will be portraying a young Lando Calrissian in the standalone Han Solo movie.

Glovers first album Camp came out in 2011, followed by Because the Internet in 2013 and most recently “Awaken, My Love!”, which is why we’re here after all.

It was odd to pick up this album last week, know that it was released in hushed whispers, be very aware that Childish Gambino had disengaged with his previous model of work AND still feel like this was coming out of absolutely no where. I really wanted to hear more nerd hip hop because I had had a taste for it twice already, but that is not what this album is. Childish warned us he was a quiting the hip hop game, and he did.

It’s a love letter to the 1970s, with equal measures of soul, funk, R&B and psychedelic rock dispersed throughout. You can tell that Childish did his research and made sure to reference many of the greats of the era, while infusing his own emotion and experience into it. It’s incredibly engaging and makes me feel the feelings. You’ll probably connect best with Me and Your Mama right out of the gate, but the themes in Boogieman and Zombies remind me of that younger/sillier Donald Glover and taste pretty sweet.

In the wake of a Donald Trump presidency, not unlike Common did recently with Black America Again, this feels like an emotional outcry against prejudice, fear, hate, and anxieties of all stripes. Have Some Love Riot and Terrified practically lay it out there for you to scoop up and eat.

I think Baby Boy is my favourite though now that I think about it through and through. It’s rather sentimental and sweet, full of harmonies and soft sounds, and likely inspired by the birth of his son.

Childish Gambino might not have enjoyed putting this album together, it was a complete left turn for him when you consider it, but it’s very apparent that he is tapping into something different, possibly inspired by his new show Atlanta. The nerd rap was an important part of his identity when he was working on the show Community, working to find a voice and separate from the pack, but tapping into funk while he helms the ship makes sense. There are a lot more emotions to navigate and way less certainty of the destination.

 

 

 

If you haven’t already been convinced to pickup this incredibly soulful effort by Childish Gambino, I don’t know what you’ve been doing for the last 598 words, but this is it folks, this is creative experimentation that works and while it isn’t perfect, it’s far more ambitious than some of the other musicians I’ve reviewed this past year. For real. Could just be a theory though.

Tim!

Balancing Act (Neak Undefined Paura/Amore review)

Have you ever loved something so much that you were scared to lose it? Usually that comes down to people and, hopefully very rarely, unique accomplishments and possessions.

That fear is part and parcel of the human experience of love. You can’t escape it, sure you can try, but life is so much more simple then we want to believe. We enjoy life because it’s transient and it’s in our nature to appreciate what we don’t already have or what we have lost.

That balance between love lost and love gained is where fear lives, and where this week’s poet takes us.

 

 

 

Neak Undefined – Paura/Amore
released January 11, 2016
********* 9/10

rsz_pauraamore_front_cover_art_1600_x_1600 (1)

Dominic Kelly, better known by his stage name Neak Undefined, is a Chicago-based hip-hop artist with something to say. I wasn’t entirely sure who was more excited for me to put together a review of this album, me or Neak! That should tell you something about this midwest artist right out of the gate.

The passion, commitment, and energy on this record is limitless. Every listen gives you something slightly different. Or to put it another way, it’s undefined. His music has plenty of helpings of jazz, funk, soul, hip-hop and touches of new wave all fused together to create the buffet that is Paura/Amore. Also harp on Champagne Dreamin’!

I have to admit that I didn’t know what the “paura” part of Paura/Amore meant immediately and why that was the title. Then I looked the word up and every detail just clicked right into place.

It’s almost like Neak Undefined knows this material inside and out, has been living with it for a couple of years and has put up his concepts for us unfiltered. This entire album deals with those themes in great detail and Neak says it best about the thrust of the record in the intro speech to his lead track, King Deferred.

We never know what life can bring us until it comes
Pain, sorrow, joy, happiness
You seem to always live in a place of unknowing
That’s the fear, that’s the part of life we wish we knew
That’s the part we wish we could control
That fear
Paura/amore

The songs manage to cover a myriad of topics without ever making it stretch thin. For example the simple repetitive song structures of Sacrifice and Money for the Honey hit specific points about the real struggles Neak has gone through to get success and that sacrifices aren’t always glorious and dramatic, making you think while you enjoy the beats. The way he sets up tracks to provide atmosphere makes hooks about “changing friends, as much as she change clothes” hilarious and fun.

There are other tracks which do well to address his hometown with Back in Chicago – covering topics of trading luxury for sin, lacking father figures, the danger apparent in the streets, and the challenges of police making searches based on ethnicity. Which makes the earlier song Stay Alive all the more sweet, because it’s dovetailed with a voicemail from Neak Undefined’s father, encouraging him and reminding him to stay in contact as he pursues his passions.

Have I mentioned how much energy and how danceable this record is yet, dear readers? Thank The Lord is fantastic too, it has gospel roots, has Neak talking about haters (which you all know I love) and undertones of spirituality throughout – he thanks God for light and recognizes his role of being a light for others.

Other stand out songs for me were MMM (about the drug molly/esctasy, personified), Ego (a self-reflection anthem filled with conflicts), and Heaven and Hell. With Heaven and Hell in particular being full of relevant questions and material about losing family and the challenges that come with guilt from the concept of sin.

As I already mentioned, the title of the album makes a hell of a lot more sense after you listen to it, and the content is hard to reach right away that I’ll be playing this one for a while before I’ve fully wrapped my brain around it.

I highly recommend you get a copy of this, so you can do your ears and your mind a favour.

 

 

 

If you don’t believe me that love is precious, go out and destroy your most prized possessions, ALL OF THEM. After that point you’ll have a fraction of the feeling one gets when you lose something that you weren’t expecting to. That sensation over control, as Neak Undefined puts it, is Paura/Amore.

Come back tomorrow where I’ll head as far out to the western seaboard as I can go, for a movie review that is outta my hands and into yours.

Tim!