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!

Been There For You For Decades (Alison Krauss, Windy City review)

I’m not sure why this myself, is but it’s been proven time and again that familiar music is much more likely to incite positive feelings than anything else.

So if you want to induce a good mood for yourself, listen to something you already love. Whether you’re on the road, cleaning house, at work or in the middle of the creative act. Music we’ve personally identifed as good just breeds positive feelings.

Emotional and slowly simmering over decades, this week’s album review features classic tracks, by a familiar voice.

Alison Krauss – Windy City
released February 17, 2017
******* 7/10

alison-krauss-windy-city-album

Alison Krauss is an American bluegrass-country singer and musician. Having been active in the music industry since ten years old, and now forty five years of age, Krauss has released fourteen studio length albums since 1987, including songs on soundtracks such as Cold Mountain.

When it comes to accolades, Krauss has won a total of twenty seven Grammy Awards, no small feat given that she is one of the top recording artists in the history of the awards; now second only to Hungarian-British conductor Sir Georg Solti, who has thirty one awards.

But truthfully I can say it best when I say nothing at all, and let the music speak for itself.

As you all know, I kind of had to grow up listening to country music, so I’m well versed with Krauss’ ability to break hearts and take names over a three minute interval. And this album is no different. Windy City is the fifth solo album by Alison Krauss and features covers of ten classic country songs originally from Brenda Lee, The Osborne Brothers, Willie Nelson, Roger Miller, Vern Gosdin, Glen Campbell, Bill Monroe and Eddy Arnold.

The question remains the same – is Windy City a fitting tribute or a cold wasteland. Well, I would argue it fits well, but is a bit of a biter.

Krauss is three decades into her career now, and she has an established voice, but unlike so many other artists before her, she has never explored a cover song album previously, and she’s not known for taking the unbeaten path. For instance, I’ve already eluded to her 1995 hit which was a cover of Keith Whitley’s When You Say Nothing At All. She’s always been a staple of the industry, with a touch of refinement, so Windy City doesn’t really bring anything new to the table, though it does sounds amazingly touching throughout. After all, Krauss was particular to record only on days that she felt at her optimal performance levels.

It’s a gentle reminder that there is a reason this lady has twenty seven Grammys; she has talent and intelligence to back it up. Now, I’m not going to spend time digging into each track to justify the existence of each one within the scope of Windy City, but I will write this – Dream of Me, I Never Cared for You, and You Don’t Know Me all made me rather emotional, heck, that last one got me all teary eyed. But that’s probably because ballads are Alison’s bread and butter.

Another point to note, the fire and passion throughout this record are very welcome additions, and something a fan of bluegrass at any age will appreciate. If you’re a fan of classic country, which apparently I am now (thanks for force-feeding me from a young age Dad), Windy City will feel like a well-worn pair of driving gloves, warm, comforting and protective. Also it serves as a bit of an education on what preceded her in the genre.

Krauss’ legacy is well intact and reinforced with Windy City.

 

There’s no way for Alison Krauss to compete with her early successes, people already have decades of time spent with those first few  singles, but playing homage to other well worn tracks is a smart move, and one which plays to her strengths. Windy City might not be the most original offering of the year, but it’s a familiar one, and fun to boot.

Tim!

But The Fire Is So Delightful (Michael Bublé, Christmas review)

In my family it’s pretty common to listen to the same three or four Christmas albums over and over and over again. Bing Crosby’s Merry Christmas, Burl Ives Have A Holly Jolly Christmas, Christmas with The Chipmunks featuring Alvin and the Chipmunks, and Christmas with Boney M.

It’s like clockwork. But every so often, my parents slip and let one of us take the helm, and that’s when I get to put on my favourite Christmas album.

Michael Bublé – Christmas
released October 24, 2011
******** 8/10

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Michael Bublé is a Canadian well known for his abilities as singer, songwriter, actor and record producer. In fact, he has won several awards and honours, multiple Juno Awards, and four Grammy Awards.

His first album BaBalu charted the top ten in both Canada and the UK, but it wasn’t until his fourth album, It’s Time, that Bublé found a worldwide audience. Then his 2007 album Call Me Irresponsible did even betters – it was able to reach number one in Canada, the UK, the US Billboard 200, Australia and several European charts.

Bublé’s 2009 album Crazy Love debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200 after just three days of sales… It was also his fourth number one album on Billboard’s Top Jazz Albums chart. But His 2011 holiday album, Christmas, did the best yet as it was in first place on the Billboard 200 for the final four weeks of 2011 and then for first week of 2012, totalling five weeks atop the chart.

Christmas is a big deal for Bublé, and no I’m not talking about the holiday, I’m referring to the album. In fact, I’d say his album is a big deal to a lot of people. It was the first holiday album to win a Juno award for album of the year.

I was reading reviews of the top holiday albums ever and Michael Bublé really is in good company with this record. You often see artists like Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Elvis, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Mariah Carey, and The Beach Boys on those kinds of lists, but there is something special about this Canadian crooner that allows him to fit right in with both the old and the new Christmas jams. He does a great job reimagining Carey’s All I Want For Christmas Is You, has some fun on his duet with the Puppini Sisters for Jingle Bells, and really gets into the big band mode with It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas.

Silent Night is hauntingly beautfiul and simple in it’s delivery, and the gender twist on Santa Baby is pretty cute, sparking a few laughs from me each time I listen to it. Also the duet with Shania Twain on White Christmas is something special for fans of both artists.

If you like Michael Bublé this album will suit you just fine. If you like classic Christmas music, this album will suit you fine too. If you don’t typically like either Michael Bublé or Christmas music, then I caution you to avoid this, because it’s a lot of fun and maybe you don’t like fun, so why are you even reading this post in the first place.

 

 

 

This is hands down my favourite holiday themed album, and there are some excellent ones out there to be sure. Why I enjoy this over other is because it offers an excellent mix of old and new, and it’s length is perfect for unwrapping presents, take a short trip out of town to visit the in-laws or while you are lounging with brandy and wine after Christmas dinner. This really will get you in the holiday spirit friends, and I hope you have a holly, jolly Christmas. This is my last album review of the year, check back on January 2nd for something new. And come back tomorrow for my favourite Christmas movie, reviewed just for you!

Tim!

Sweet Stardust of a Thriller, Boy (The Weeknd, Starboy review)

The synthesizer seems to be back in full force ladies and gentlemen. That desire for quality samples, lossless file compression and physical models seems to be something that most if not all top shelf pop music trend setters are using right now.

But for why?

The Weeknd – Starboy
released November 25, 2016
******* 7/10

starboy

Abel Makkonen Tesfaye, known professionally as The Weeknd, is a Canadian singer, songwriter, and record producer. The Weeknd got his start by anonymously uploading several songs to YouTube under the pseudonym “The Weeknd,” of all things. At that time he had released three nine-track mixtapes throughout 2011: House of Balloons, Thursday, and Echoes of Silence. Which surprisingly enough to many critics at the time, were received quite well. In 2012 he decided to release a compilation album known as Trilogy, effectively the remastered mixtapes he had released before but with three additional tracks and totally thirty songs alotogether. It was released under Republic Records and his own label XO.

In 2013 he released his first studio-length album Kiss Land, which featured the singles Kiss Land and Live For. But it was his second album, Beauty Behind the Madness that really charted his success. This is where Earned It, The Hills, and Can’t Feel My Face factor in. Fun fact, these songs made him the first artist to simultaneously hold the top three spots of the Billboard Hot R&B Songs chart. The Weeknd has also won two Grammy’s and been nominated for an Academy Award.

Oh, and did I mention that he’s Canadian? Yeah Canadian content!

But what about Starboy? Well, look what you’ve done… I’m a motherfuckin’ starboy.

This record starts off quite strong, Starboy, Party Monster, and False Alarm in particular hold your attention with their commitment to the beats The Weeknd and his team of production engineers are famous for. After all, we know he isn’t doing this all on his lonesome. Which reminds me, I think that Stargirl might be the most fascinating interlude/intermission I’ve heard in years. Lana Del Rey is excellent as the female foil to The Weeknd, and she manages enough tension to keep the pace of the record, at least for a little while.

Now let’s consider the album as a whole for a moment. I have this rather wild theory that The Weeknd might not have had as much time with this project as he would have liked. He’s known for his ability to construct strong narrative levelled projects, I’m looking at you Trilogy.

And while Starboy (the album, not the song) is mostly about The Weeknd’s relationship with a woman, that message doesn’t easily come through. The collaboration with Kendrick Lamar on Sidewalks for instance, is kinda cool, but feels out of place, if I’m being really honest. Also am I crazy for hearing Michael Jackson AND David Bowie when I listen to his voice long enough?

Probably not, because The Weeknd is more than capable of floating between pop, rap, R&B, disco and electronica. Hell, he can even do 1980s pop justice. Maybe that’s where the deceased pop stars come in…

And while The Weeknd has en endearingly dark and uniquely hedonistic voice in the realm of music, it can be a bit much to stomach his lyrics against those typical pop structures. That, and as I mentioned already, the narrative doesn’t feel as tight on this album. Abel Makkonen Tesfaye is more than capable of being a motherfuckin’ starboy and he knows it, but this album isn’t him at his best.

 

 

 

I have this theory that analog synthesizers went out and digital synthesizers came in because they were cheaper, but nowadays that isn’t really a motivating factor for musicians.

However, the variety of sounds that digital synth offers feels unrivalled in many cases. And when an artist is capable of spreading their music talent across several genres, employing synthesizers to craft that sounds seems like a natural fit. The Weeknd gets this, and when he spends his time on both production and telling a strong story, it makes all the difference. Starboy might not be the greatest, but The Weeknd sure is a star boy.

Tim!

 

The Scientific Method (Kendrick Lamar, Untitled Unmastered review)

Whatever happened to experimenting? From the time we are children to our early years as adults, we are constantly experimenting to figure out how life works and where our place in it is.

The sciences seem to have taken hold of this idea and kept it for themselves, but the reality is that experimentation belongs in the arts just as much, if not more so.

And I’m going to use this week’s Melodic Monday entry to prove it!

 

 

 

Kendrick Lamar – Untitled Unmastered
released March 4, 2016
******** 8/10

kendrick-lamar-untitled-unmastered-stream-album-listen

Kendrick Lamar (Kendrick Lamar Duckworth) is an American rapper from Compton, California. He has been rapping since he was a teenager, and started with the name K-Dot, which allowed him to release a mixtape that eventually got him signed with indie label TDE.

His first studio album came out in 2010, and then he got signed to Aftermath/Interscope in 2012 which saw the release of good kid, m.A.A.d. city.

He currently has 7 Grammies and a bunch of other awards to top it off. All thanks to last years release To Pimp a Butterfly, which came out almost exactly a year ago (I’m off by a couple of days, cut me some slack, please and thank you).

As a newbie myself to the freshness and layering of sound that is K-Dot, I’ve learned rather quickly that it is almost inevitable that I will under-appreciate his efforts, his perspective and his aspirations. But that won’t stop me from listening to untitled unmastered.

It’s essentially a prelude to To Pimp A Butterfly. Kendrick Lamar is telling us with the album title that he is borderless, capable of achieving anything, and that he has no masters. But he himself is humbled by aspects of being black which he doesn’t understand.

That’s why he pulls from so many different genres and ideas, sampling them all to better appreciate and incorporate them into himself.

It’s fucking scary. As a white man with little to no idea of what he must be experiencing as he navigates these waters, I can only imagine how much energy K-Dot has to drum up to approach these  album.

All of the tracks reference previous outings, from performances on Jimmy Fallon (untitled 8)  and The Colbert Report (untitled 3), to a three part jam session which takes places over a three period (untitled 7). It’s fun and intellectual hip-hop like this that always has a place in my collection.

Lamar has told twitter followers that this is a bunch of demos, and you get that sense. But you almost feel guilty listening to it, because it’s so much damn fun. This is an amazing mixture of hip-hop, funk, soul, jazz, spoken award, and dare I say it, subversive music.

I read somewhere recently that jazz is on the way out and that while it originated as Black music, it’s meant for everyone. I really hope that it isn’t and I have a suspicion that while jazz may not appear to be popular right now, it’s always been a musical genre that inspired deviation, experimentation and energy – If Kendrick Lamar, an artist who is helping to redefine hip-hop, uses jazz in his recording sessions, and to inspire his studio releases, I think we need to take note and learn from it. Just a theory.

 

 

 

In the scientific method, experiments are done with metrics and models to find out if a hypothesis is true or not. Kendrick Lamar, knowingly or not, is constantly testing out the theory that jazz is dead, and every time he does, he proves that that is not the case. In fact, people love it all the more. As a personal advocate for theories, I believe that untitled unmastered represents empirical evidence for the value of jazz.

You need to listen to this album. I’m not going to give it a 10/10 though, because it’s not a studio release. It’s something different, but manages to still achieve a good grade regardless.

What do you think? Is my body of evidence corrupt? See you tomorrow for some theories on economics.

Tim!