This week alleviated some of the apprehensions that the music released last week left me with. As the pace quickens for releases this year, good music is bound to show up more frequently. Of course, not everything that comes out will inspire us or even stick with us beyond the first listen, but digging through less-than-stellar music to find gems that inspire and excite is half of the fun. The past week has produced at least a few tracks that I foresee myself keeping in rotation for a little while, and I’m knocking on wood that we can continue the positive trend throughout the year.
“After the Storm” by Kali Uchis feat. Tyler, the Creator and Bootsy Collins
“After the Storm” is the best song of the week. Kali Ulchis’ debut album, Fool’s Paradise, does not yet have a release date, but one can only hope that that time will come soon after the release of this song. Ulchis’ laid back delivery, Tyler, the Creator’s distinct flare, Bootsy Collins’ grooves, and BADBADNOTGOOD’s dizzy production join forces to make something special on this quirky feel-good jam. Its vintage funk vibe provides the listener with a sense of familiarity while disorienting production choices give the song its dazed and spacey character. I got the flu this week, but even that couldn’t stop me from absolutely groovin’ to “After the Storm.”
Looking at the artists on the track, it’s hard to imagine that this song would turn out to be anything less than outstanding. In the production, I hear snippets of each individual artists’ influence on the song. Uchis has contributed her talents to Tyler, the Creator’s past two albums, so it’s nice to see Tyler returning the favor on “Fool’s Paradise.” There are a handful of references to Flower Boy throughout. When the time comes for Tyler’s verse, the song modulates down a half-step, and the music mimics the sound that defined Flower Boy. It’s unclear to me at this point if Bootsy Collins played bass in addition to his ultra smooth ad libs on the track, but I’m choosing to believe that he did. Collins is a living legend, and the bass line might be my favorite part of the “After the Storm.” The combination of varied talents in the studio yields one unified and supremely enjoyable track. If you listen to one song from the past week, make it this one.
“King’s Dead” by Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar, Future, and James Blake
I didn’t know what to think of the announcement that Kendrick Lamar and Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith would curate the soundtrack for Black Panther when “All the Stars” was released last week. Since then, we have gotten more tastes of what to expect from the soundtrack. A trailer for the film aired on Sunday after Kendrick’s halftime performance at the College Football National Championship teasing a Vince Staples and Kendrick Lamar collaboration, and TDE (Marvel? Disney?) released Black Panther: The Album’s second single, “Kings Dead,” on Friday. After this past week, I can now officially say that I feel confident that the addition of TDE to the Black Panther team will produce its fair share of jams.
“King’s Dead” does double duty as a single, serving as the track with which Jay Rock has announced his currently unnamed upcoming album. Since 2015’s 90059, Jay Rock has remained quiet with the exception of a few scattered verses and Black Hippy collaborations. I’ve had multiple conversations with fellow TDE fan friends speculating when Jay Rock’s next project would come out in that time, and though an official release date has not been set, I’m just happy to know the album is on its way. On “King’s Dead,” Jay Rock wastes no time demonstrating why we should highly anticipate the release. Just ignore Future’s weird falsetto thing– I don’t get it either.
Blue Madonna by BØRNS
If you read my post from last week, you know that I had set my bar for this album beyond low. Wildly disappointed by the album’s final single before its release, “God Save Our Young Blood,” I nearly neglected listening to Blue Madonna at all. However, I’m a forgiving person, and I decided to give Garrett Borns’ second LP a chance. Ultimately, I think that the album deserves at least one listen. Rest assured, my dismissal from last week was premature, and there is some great BØRNS-y stuff in here. I still hate “God Save Our Young Blood,” but the rest of the album has enough of what I loved about BØRNS in the first place to receive a semi-conflicted thumbs up from me.
Artists’ sophomore attempts have always faced some significant obstacles. As listeners we want more of the sounds, ideas, and feelings that captured our attention in the artists’ debuts. At the same time, we expect the artist to keep things fresh by developing and evolving their personal sound. Yet they can’t experiment too heavily without running the risk of losing sight of the things that appealed to their audience in their first release. Blue Madonna doesn’t step far outside the box that Dopamine built, but it’s enough of an update to feel like more than a simple rehashing of old ideas.
“Let Me Down” by Jorja Smith feat. Stormzy
Smith released several singles, collaborated with Kali Uchis on “Tyrant,” and lent her voice to Drake on “Jorja Interlude” and “Get it Together” in 2017. To this point, most of Smith’s work has featured an electronic and often danceable sensibility, but “Let Me Down” strips away the contemporary embellishments in favor of a more intimate piano-led ballad. At only 20 years old, Jorja Smith’s voice possesses a captivating maturity that carries the song. On “Let Me Down,” Smith reminds me of Adele and Andra Day with her emotional delivery, and I want to hear her showcase her chops similarly in future songs.
All that said, Stormzy ruins this song for me. He delivers a fine but unmemorable verse on a song that should have allowed Jorja Smith to take center stage for its entirety. Stormzy’s verse reminds me of just about every rapper’s verse on a ballad like this. Rapped verses on slow and swelling ballads always sound overly cheesy and trite, and “Let Me Down” is no exception. Stormzy easily could provide a great feature on almost any other Jorja Smith song with better results, but his inclusion here seriously drags down the quality of the song.
To Imagine by the Neighbourhood
I loved “Sweater Weather” in its radio heyday, but I have never given The Neighborhood much of a chance beyond their first and most-prominent hit. To Imagine makes me think that I should check out more from the band. A grim atmosphere defines the decidedly poppy sound of an EP that verges on blatant nihilism on “Stuck With Me” when Jesse Rutherford sings “I been gettin’ over myself/Thinking about what you need/then I realized neither of us matters/What’s reality, yeah?” The contrast of both light and dark tones on the EP gives To Imagine it’s unique flavor that makes it worth a listen.
“Connected by Love” and “Respect Commander” by Jack White
Yes, it seems like Jack White put forth exactly no effort into writing the lyrics of these songs. Yes, both songs just vamp two chords for more than five minutes. Yes, Jack White has done so much better than these songs. I still like ‘em. I don’t anticipate listening to the two songs for any extended period of time, but the Stones-y “Connected by Love” and chaotic “Respect Commander” provided a much-needed little shot of rock and roll this week. People just aren’t trying to rock like Jack White is trying to rock anymore, so I’m glad to have some fresh songs provide the rock and roll in my musical food pyramid.