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!

The Reconciliation of Art & Faith (Dave Von Bieker, musician, singer-songwriter, arts chaplain interview)

It’s finally arrived! After a solid couple of weeks worth of posts featuring my good friend Dave Von Bieker, also known by his very clever stage name of Von Bieker, our full-length interview is alive, well and available for all to enjoy.

In case you haven’t been following the previews, I have decided to change things up just a little bit and slowly publish some the content related to each interview rather then post a single preview and a longer interview. That, and Mr. Von Bieker and I had tons of content to share, so this was a good trial run.

The first preview is about making art for self rather then a paycheck, and the second one about the role of art in a spiritual life. These are both great questions to consider in your own journey, and I think you’ll get a kick out of his answers, but don’t fret about the order of viewing – you can enjoy them before watching this video, afterwards, or over and over again. It’s your choice!

Now let’s discuss the main course – reconciliation. A couple of months ago, Dave and I sat down to talk about his role as an arts chaplain and his burgeoning career as a musician. You see, dear readers, Dave is a big believer in believing in something larger then yourself.

Whether you are into a religious ideal, self-actualization or somewhere in-between, the main theme running through this interview is the importance of reconciling art and faith within ourselves. The demands placed on artists are great, and they come both from within and from our clients, but Dave acutely recognizes this and has done things in his life to help him resolve those larger questions.

As the founder of Bleeding Heart Art Space (https://bleedingheartart.space/), this is a gallery Dave helped build, where faith meets art. Their tagline is Art Space, Sacred Space, Community Space. It’s a shining example of multiple elements of life coming together in a healthy relationship.

In the interview, we discuss the value of having a routine, another innovative musical hero named Dave, intention in art, the difference between performing and making, the immutable nature of music, and finally, why we need to reconcile art and faith. An easily answered question, of course.

theories Summarized

So there you have it, you absolutely can make a case for art and faith working together. Seamless really, and we managed to have fun while we solved all of the worlds problems. Now that that’s been accomplished, please tell me what YOU thought. Did one question stand above all the others? Do you agree with Dave? Are you a bigger fan of David Burns now?

Please check out more Von Bieker (http://vonbieker.com/) and if you’re interested in his social media –  Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Sound Cloud, Spotify, iTunes and YouTube have all the good stuff.

And special thanks to Dave for being daring, dapper and disciplined. We need more leaders like him in our local communities, artists who spend more time giving back then they do focusing on themselves. And if you want a bankable theory, I expect this is just the start of it for him.

Tim!

 

Selling Your Heart Out (Dave Von Bieker, preview interview pt 2)

Do we all get to be who we decide to portray ourselves as on screen or in the media? I’d like to believe that it’s possible. But more importantly, I wonder if we can ever live up to the moral ideals we establish about our creative touch.

Making art is extremely difficult to sustain and it takes a lot of personal sacrifice if you really do hope to make it for a life time. Whether your medium is music, painting, design, fashion, photography, video, dance or any other combination of forms, it’s challenging road, filled with dues paid and money earned.

And a more common theme on everyone’s lips is the notion of burning out or fading away with time. The age old struggle of the creative professional – to be completely bohemian or a corporate sell-out. These polarizing terms exist for reason though, and I happen to believe that both are valid ways of looking at this as a career. This is where the theory comes in; if you want to truly be happy, you need to embrace both in some regard. That’s why it’s important to wrestle with the dichotomy of self versus the selfless.

Yes, you shouldn’t compare yourself to others, but relating to what those who have come before and have found success is an invaluable exercise. You might learn something by breaking apart a Kanye West song, recreating a Rembrant, or spending some time with 1927 movie classic Metropolis.

It’s a continual sacrifice. I give a lot for my art and to make it, so it seems crazy to me that I wouldn’t it to be heard by as many people as possible

Dave Von Bieker

I had so much fun talking with local music genius Von Bieker, that I decided to give another preview interview. I know, I know, I promised a full length interview, but this way you get even more content, and I can further craft his story in a meaningful way for you. Time for some more bow-tie rock to haunt your heart.

Enjoy creative cuties!

theories Summarized

Everything I do artistically is an expression of my ideals. Is this a true statement?

It’s an excellent question to ask yourself dear readers, and if you did, please like and share the video, leave me some comments and I’ll share them on social media. Maybe some new theories will unfold in the process.

Coming up next, a review on the new Young Fathers record, so please check back in tomorrow evening for more theories! You won’t be disappointed.

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!