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.


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.


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.


A Confessional Space (Sampha, Process review)

There is space for soul music in the electronic genre. So much space for it that the music goes to great lengths to amplify our own souls. And yes it’s a lot to process, but it’s worth it, I know this.


Sampha – Process
released February 3, 2017
********* 9/10

Sampha is a UK Singer/Songwriter who lives in the worlds of soul, r&b and electronic music. With moody and beautiful tracks and an overwhelming sense of passion to boot. When it comes to emotional jams, I never know if it’s a really a cliche at mention tropes super early on in a review, but electronic music often gets dumped in with outer space, and yet Sampha knows how to combine that sensitivity in with heartbreaking melodies, beautiful piano sequences, and explosive instrumentation.

There is a fire inside these tracks and I don’t think there is a way to put it out.

With that mentioned, there are also a great many quiet moments rooted in the fundamentals of soul and r&b throughout, and opener track Plastic 100 Degrees Celsius sets it all up nicely as far as slowburner tracks go. Investigating his mortality through an unidentified lump, Sampha lets us know right away this is not going to be the typical self-gratifying album.

This is a guy who has collaborated with some of today’s most forward thinking artists. From Frank Ocean, to Jessie Ware, to Drake to 40. Not to mention both Beyoncé and Solange, and yes he’s made his voice known with Kanye too. Working behind the scenes, this guy has been actually been working on Process for years, a lot of it coming together while his mother fought cancer, and as a consequence it is gut wrenching to listen to.

A tour de force of production, sonics, and lyrics, Sampha has proved yet again that living in the alternative will do for R&B, hip hop and soul music exactly what it did for rock in the 1990s. Make them epic. This really has been a decade of emotion, process, and processing – Sampha and his piano, are at the centre of it.

Take in the track, (No One Knows Me) Like the Piano. It perfectly demonstrates this notion.

This is an album full of standout tracks, it’s hard to look at the whole without looking at the parts, as each song could be viewed on it’s own and dissected for hours. I kind of wish I had spent more time with it before I released this review, if I’m being perfectly honest. Maybe it’s that family weaves so clearly through each of the tracks and dovetails the message of going home when you need to with What Shouldn’t I Be?.

Sampha is haunted by insecurities just like any of us, Blood on Me proves it, but there is also warmth in his longings, wishing for more time with his mother on Kora Sings.

I especially enjoyed Take Me Inside and Under, which are explosive in their instrumentation while maintaining the pace of everything else surrounding them on the album. How he is able to clearly define both his image and perception of him is something due to patience and humility, and it’s in those two tracks, among others, where we see why the current greats have worked with Sampha.

It is both a process of musical production and of grieving, and it works excellently. An opportunity to join him in his own private world of sound, even as he feels stripped away from that which he knows best.

theories Summarized

It’s a weighty powerful album and invariably one of my favourites this year.

Process is an exercise in contemplation, one that demands you sit with it, come back to it, leave it alone for a while, and then binge on it over and over again, all the while daydreaming inside your own head. It’s incredibly intricate, and it’s a process all it’s own. My theory of course.


An Orchestrated Album Made Effortless (Valerie June, The Order of Time review)


We need to find more light. Because the light shines brightest when we focus on it over the dark.

That’s the challenge musicians, singers, and songwriters face every day. How do you serve a greater purpose and cut through the darkness of monotony? I think this week’s album review might have an answer.




Valerie June – The Order of Time
released March 10, 2017
********* 9/10

Valerie June is an American singer, songwriter, and musician. She has a unique sound, which I realize is something of a cliche to say, but it’s true. June holds dear a mixture of blues, soul, and mountain music. But not just mountain music, there is a mixture of gospel, country, bluegrass and folk in there too.

This is the fourth outing for June and much like her third album, Pushin’ Against a Stone, June continues to explore the notion of quality music over innovation.

June works over each song slowly, building in nuance and an essential quality of care for her own vocals. It’s heavy in places, and airy in others, but never feels unnecessary or problematic. Starting off with soft opener Long Lonely Road, a saccharine exploration into salvation, June continues onward and upward, considering the very key elements of time, love, and music as we wander through her album. It an autobiographical track that is immediately intimate, but not a tell-all by any means.

Following this is probably one of my favourites of the album, Love You Once Made. Filled with organ sounds and shifting effortlessly between indifference and indignation, it describes the true feelings of a love lost. Luckily for us, this is only the beginning of the organ use – Shakedown is the opposite of what precedes it, upbeat and effervescent, it could have a place in any popular blues act of the day (read: The Black Keys). Next up is If And, another of my much liked tracks. In this one, June sways to the beat and rhythm while crooning away about the dangers of an unloved woman.

The whole album plays out this way, full of wisdom, and vocal intensity, June is doing what so many other acts out there seem to refuse right now, and that is to provide substance. Wonderment on Astral Plane, simmering heat on Man Done Wrong, and the consideration of intimacy on Front Door. These are just some of the themes explored throughout The Order of Time, but this album is most definitely something that will either grow on you or put you off, I can write that with confidence.

But what I’m most excited about in listening to this album is that Valerie June is black woman drawing from a wealth of musical history and managing to make something far cooler than anything I’ve heard in a quite some time, and she does it without concerning herself over political issues – the music delivers it best.






Valerie June continues to make music which separates itself from the mainstream while operating within it. This is a rare feat for any artist and worthy of our attention. But as I mentioned previously, it might not be for everyone, and that’s okay. I like that notion that light is cutting through the dark in due time.