On Monday afternoon, Sampha held an in-studio performance at KEXP prior to his concert with The xx that night. The performance was free, so I felt it was the best possible excuse to avoid studying. About fifty of us were crammed into a dark room, separated from the studio by a wide window. Inside the studio a piano sat in the middle of the room, surrounded by technicians and cameras. We were told there was no talking or use of cell phones, so that Sampha would be the only sound heard on the radio. Minutes later, Sampha graced us with his presence, taking little time to introduce himself. Though he only performed four songs, each one was astounding to watch performed. Sampha brought no band members along with him; it was only him and a piano. Looking back on it that was the best choice he could’ve made, because it directed attention towards his voice alone. His voice sounded identical to the tracks on Process, only with more emotion and intensity in his tone. This made the tracks he performed- “Plastic 100ºC”, “Incomplete Kisses”, and “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano”-sound much more emotional than I had previously heard. His demeanor was surprisingly down to earth as well; in between songs he answered a few questions, and he was quite humble despite the praise he received from KEXP’s host and the audience. Despite a short performance, Sampha was well worth seeing and I look forward to seeing a full performance in the future. Sampha’s performance should be on KEXP’s YouTube channel soon, which you can visit here. Until then please enjoy the above potato quality picture of Sampha I took following his performance.
Dirty Projectors began a while ago as the solo project of frontman David Longstreth, before finding success as a full band with their blend of experimental yet accessible indie pop on albums Bitte Orca and Swing Lo Magellan. However, a new self-titled album finds Dirty Projectors returning to its solo roots under Longstreth.
Dirty Projectors marks a change in style with its R&B inspired sound. Although I always appreciate artists trying new genres and changing up their music, some of these attempts work better than others. While there are many great moments on this album, a lot of it just does not seem to work so well; not totally unsuccessful, but lacking.
“Keep Your Name” makes the new stylistic turn of this album immediately clear, with it’s distinctive distorted vocals a bit jarring on first listen. The track comes across a bit as a failed experiment, with the vocal changes (including a pitch shifted sample from their last album in the background) proving to be more irritating than anything. The lyrics feel pretty harsh, with lines such as “I don’t think I ever loved you” and “What I want from art is truth, what you want is fame.”
“Up in Hudson” has some great instrumentation, yet it is brought down by rather awkward, unsubtle lyrics that feel out of place, including “And we both had girl and boyfriends blowing us up SMS” and “Now I’m listening to Kanye on the Taconic Parkway, riding fast/And you’re out in Echo Park, blasting 2pac, drinking a fifth for my ass.” The chorus, however, is probably one of the high points of the album, and the strong outro to the song helps save it despite these earlier flaws.
The remainder of the album is similarly inconsistent. While there are still great moments to be found, such as the refrain of “Little Bubble”, or the nice backing vocals from Dawn Richard on “Cool Your Heart”, other songs, such as “Work Together” just feel more annoying than anything else, with the overused effects detracting from the overall quality of the song. Some of the middle stretch of the album blends together a bit, with some less remarkable tracks. Although a bit disappointing in comparison to previous Dirty Projectors albums, it is by no means a bad album, with many strong moments on it despite some issues.
Khalid has been on my radar for quite some time now. He was part of my list of artists to watch this year, and he has entered the spotlight with American Teen. Khalid has proven he lives up to the hype, and that he knows how to have fun doing it.
Despite the tone of American Teen, most of the songs’ instrumentals are uplifting and catchy. Khalid primarily sings over ballads, but he goes out of his comfort zone on a few tracks. “Young Dumb & Broke” is one of the highlights, a trap-flavored track where Khalid encourages his fellow youth to act heinously while they can, because it won’t last. The majority of the tracks revolve around the theme of being young and reckless. It’s pretty fitting, considering Khalid is only 19 years old. Other tracks involve Khalid grieving about lost love and failed relationships, such as on “Another Sad Love Song.” The tone and instrumental clash here; the production is so infectious and groovy that the listener might not even know Khalid’s crooning about missing a past lover.
Khalid’s voice itself doesn’t impress often. He sits on the same pitch for the entire album. His tone rarely changes, so he sounds the same on every song. This isn’t necessarily terrible, because it conveys his vulnerability on the slower ballads. Otherwise, it’s disappointing, and I hope he takes more risks with his voice on the next album.
Another pitfall American Teen faces is its lyrics. Khalid’s lyrics are awfully surface level and a lot of them cover familiar ground. Most of the time he’s saying it in a different way; it only sounds different, but doesn’t feel different. “Coaster”, “Hopeless”, and “Shot Down” each encompass the feeling of being heartbroken. Complex lyrics are by no way a requirement for albums, but Khalid needs to find a way to effectively convey his feelings about love and youth in more than one or two forms.
Khalid has pretty much met my expectations with American Teen. The subject matter is focused but doesn’t deliver as distinctive. He tropes mundane topics through the 15 tracks, usually settling for a melancholy love song or an anthem for the adolescent. However, if the listener doesn’t pay too much attention to the lyrics, the album is wonderfully entertaining. The production is a mash-up of electronic, R&B, and trap that blends together remarkably well. American Teen is a fun album; just don’t expect to have any intellectual conversations about its themes. Listen to American Teen here.
This past Friday saw a hefty number of releases. Rather than attempt to write five or six album reviews this week and promptly self-combust, here are some mini-reviews of my favorite releases from last week.
Stormzy, Gang Signs and Prayer
I came late to the grime scene, but so far it has been merely decent. For those who don’t know, grime is a combination of electronic and hip-hop characterized by hard-hitting English MCs. Skepta’s Konnichiwa was the first full-length grime album I listened, leaving me slightly disappointed but curious about the genre. Stormzy’s new album, Gang Signs and Prayer, has proved that grime is a legitimate genre in the music industry and that it should not be meddled with. Stormzy delivers ruthless lyrics over raw, machine-like instrumentals, never wasting a breath. This album, unlike other grime projects, carefully balances the line dividing typical aggressive grime tracks and soft, stripped-back vocal tracks. Stormzy lends his singing voice on multiple tracks and impresses. Overall, a strong debut for Stormzy that puts an unconventional yet refreshing twist on traditional grime. Listen to Gang Signs and Prayer here.
Steve Lacy, Steve Lacy’s Demo
Two and a half months into 2017 and The Internet has already become very busy. They kicked off a tour last week and have already released three solo projects this year. Steve Lacy is the latest of the band to drop a project, following Syd and Matt Martians. Recorded entirely on his iPhone, Steve Lacy’s Demo sits at six tracks long (or short), and Lacy clarified on Twitter that the project is neither an EP or album, but a song series. Nonetheless, it’s lackadaisical style and lo-fi vibes provide a relaxing listen. Lacy’s guitar leads most of the songs, usually settling for a pairing with the drums or bass and not much else. The lack of variety seems daunting at first, but Lacy makes due with the tools at hand. Steve Lacy’s Demo is a short, sweet intro to The Internet’s youngest member, highlighted by his melodic vocals and lo-fi atmosphere. Listen to Steve Lacy’s Demo here.
Oddisee, The Iceberg
Oddisee continues to strengten his discography with his latest release, The Iceberg. His eleventh studio album tackles poverty, racism, and more ethical issues. He spits lyrics with sincerity and depth, quite possibly taking multiple listens to decipher. The instrumentals include bright horn sections; each song sounds like a crisp live rendition. The climax of the album occurs on “Like Really”, a low-key banger where Oddisee addresses everyday problems minorities face. The Iceberg proves to be another strong release in Oddisee’s ever-expanding discography. Listen to The Iceberg here.
Thundercat finally returns with what will most likely be an album of the year contender, Drunk. At 23 tracks long (only 53 minutes total), Thundercat croons about losing friends, anime, masturbating, cats, and everything in between. He takes what made Apocalypse great (increased use of singing) and what made The Golden Age of Apocalypse great (bass solos and instrumentation) and combines them on Drunk, effectively creating an explosion of clever production and sweet, delicious vocals. Most tracks, unfortunately, are short, but each is still strong enough to stand up on its own. There are a lot of features, too, each which contribute to the song exactly as expected (even Wiz Khalifa, which isn’t really a good thing). Thundercat’s eccentric, unique style plays to his favor again on Drunk, coming through with the best release of the year thus far. Listen to Drunk here.
Khalid continues to build up hype for his debut album American Teen, premiering the title track “American Teen” on Beats 1 Radio early Wednesday. This release comes just two weeks after he dropped “Shot Down”. On “American Teen”, Khalid glides over glossy piano chords and synth-flavored drums, singing about being a youth in America. The song overall is solid, but doesn’t stand out in comparison to singles like “Location” and “Coaster”.
A week before his album is set to drop, Khalid has already released seven of the fifteen songs on the album. Has he given his audience too much of a preview of his debut album? Will the lack of new songs on American Teen leave it feeling lackluster and disappointing as a complete work? We’ll know by next Friday; until then, check out Khalid’s music here, listen to “American Teen” here, and check out the album cover below.
Raleigh (like ballet) Ritchie (like Lionel) took fans by surprise when he announced the release of his new EP last November. The EP, Mind the Gap, was released on December 16th, 2016 and it’s devastatingly good. Raleigh Ritchie (real name Jacob Anderson) is newer to the music scene, having only just released his debut album You’re a Man Now, Boy earlier last year. Yet, he’s not an entirely unfamiliar face, fans of Game of Thrones might recognize him as Grey Worm, the leader of the unsullied. This is where I discovered him, looked him up one day because I thought he was cute and google let me know he had a few songs floating around at the time (thanks google). Gave one of his singles, “Bloodsport ’15”, a listen and I was instantly in love. It was fate. I’ve been a fan ever since and I am personally so stoked about the recent release of Mind the Gap which is what we are here to talk about.
Start listening while you read: click HERE to go to Mind the Gap on soundcloud!
This EP is an organized clusterfuck of self-deprecation and heartbreak mixed with upbeat instrumental and fast paced lyrics, producing a fantastically odd dichotomy of feelings. The album has a sound that feels derived from R&B but somewhere along the lines it picked up heavy pop influences, with a light peppering of the occasional rap or spoken word. It’s not too much of a departure from his debut album (which I HIGHLY recommend you listen to), there’s a lot of similarities between the two pieces. Raleigh even said himself that he felt the EP was more of a bridge between his debut album and the next, rather than a totally independent piece. I won’t quote him on that because it was in a tweet from a few months back that I won’t even bother to search for. He tweets a lot. (One time, he favorited my tweet – but that’s a story for another time).
Something I love about the sound of this album is the deeper electronic feel with the background vocals. You’re a Man Now, Boy was very flowly and floaty in the background vocals – almost choir-like. Almost fantastical. Whereas Mind the Gap is mostly background vocals that are tuned bytes of Ritchie singing drawn out “ahs” or “ohs” (excuse my inability to quantify music). The subtle electronic qualities are pretty much thrown in your face in the first track off the album Motions, which begins with a brief audio of a Robot fight/break-up. We hear two Siri-esque voices argue about how they feel about each other, resulting in the end of their robot relationship. This persists through the song with brief one liners from either robot voice. It’s pretty rad, if I do say so myself.
Mind the Gap totals 5 songs: “Motions”, “Sicko”, “Liability”, “StraitJacket”, and “Unicron Love” (don’t ask me why its spelled like that – I have no idea). Each song is unique, but they all flow very well together. My favorite example of this is the transition between “Motions” and “Sicko”; “Motions” ends with the Male robot saying “I love you”, only to have the female reply “I know, but you are sick” – and then sicko immediately begins with “Maybe I’m just sick”. Hell yeah. Well, I mean, that’s pretty sad and heartbreaking lyrically, but 10/10 transition. Speaking of lyrics, Ritchie gives the listener a lot to think about as far as sanity and heartbreak go. “Motions” and “Unicron Love” both focus on two different sides of a relationship. Since we know that Motions isn’t the brightest view on love, we can probably guess how “Unicron Love” portrays it.
“Sicko”, “Liability”, and “StraitJacket” all focus more on an introspective view. “Sicko” plays off “Motions” and outlines the chaos of a mind trying to diagnose an internal sickness. There’s a lot of self-doubt and confusion present in the lyrics of this song, ending in the simple conclusion of “Maybe I’m just sick”. Liability is all about feeling bad for yourself. The musical composition of this song is diverse and beautiful, it ranges from flowy and floaty (both technical terms) to harsh and brittle (if that’s a word people use for describing music). The song feels like it’s been written out of a place of anger and defeat, it screams “why me?!”. I’m a sucker for this song, self-pity, now that’s something I can rock to. The song ends with a beautiful, whispered, “oh, fuck off” directly at his own thoughts.
Now, we arrive at “StraitJacket”, my favorite track off the album – this one is just an Ode to Mania, a sweet sweet embrace of the craziness that is our mind. It’s a fast paced, rollercoaster of a song, and there are no seatbelts. Every time you think you’ve reached the climax (not sexual) of the song, you find yourself surprised by even more faced paced energy. At the real, destructive, climax (might be a little sexual) of this song you can practically feel Ritchie screaming in your face. It also showcases one of the best things about Ritchie’s music; his sexy voice and crazy good spoken word influenced rap style. The song ends with a jarringly slow verse of spoken word that asks the listener if any of us (especially Ritchie) are sane; “Fight amongst the foot soldiers, but the war is in my mind”. Not only is the song super fucking cool, there’s a super fucking cool music video that accompanies it. Check it below, it really adds to the song and shows what Ritchie is trying to say with it (basically, that he’s just crazy).
This EP is phenomenal, and you bet I’ll be listening to it pretty much once a day. The title of the EP (Mind the Gap, if you somehow forgot) is really validated by the content of the songs. It’s about watching out for the mental leap in logic from sanity to insanity, it’s fitting for how much attention the tracks give to being not-so-sane. Raleigh Ritchie is an amazing and talented new artist that deserves a lot more attention than he gets. On the plus side, he’s so unknown that he’ll favorite/retweet your tweets if you tweet at him. But seriously, check him out, between the amazing album art, magically sexy vocals, and make-you-think lyrics there’s nothing not to love. Make sure to check out not only the Mind the Gap EP, but also his debut album You’re a Man Now, Boy! Thanks for reading, I’ll see you back here next week for the rediscovery of Sir Sly.
There was nothing like soul-infused Tuesday night when Jacob Banks hit the stage at Barboza. Watching flashes his fans a stunning white smile, while shyly saying “Hi, I’m from London,” we felt nothing but warmth for the soulful artist as he sang a cover of Corinne Bailey Rae’s infamous “Put Your Records On.”
Originally from Birmingham, England, the British singer-songwriter first became active in 2012, when he was the first unsigned act to ever appear on BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge. Influenced by a multitude of soul, R&B, and hip-hop, Banks first recorded his debut EP The Monologue, released in 2013, with his top hit “Worthy,” a popular play on various stations. A tall, brooding man with a bright smile, Banks reminds us of a combination of Benjamin Clementine, Seal, and Jack Garratt. Soft smooth vocals always seemingly complemented by melodic piano, Jacob Banks is crossing genres often acoustic singer-songwriter ballads, like tracks “Homecoming” and “Hostage” on his EP The Monologue. Yet, the man has range, both vocally and emotionally, demonstrated in “Something Beautiful,” also seen on his EP The Monologue. On his newest EP The Paradox, Banks delves more into soul and R&B, experimenting with melodies in his vocal range, seen in “Home,” and “All Mine.”
Playing fan favorites from his newer EP, Banks succeeded at demonstrating a mix of softer vocals and instrumentals in “Unknown,” while demonstrating a hard, grittier audible aesthetic in “Sink or Swim.” Highlighting the soul aspects of his set list, the British artist catalyzed a complete feeling of union and communal love, as the audience swayed in unison to “Home,” a song similar in feeling to any calmer Stevie Wonder track— a nice complement to the upbeat and diverse sounding track “Monster.”
Finally ending his set with new single “Unholy War,” the audience vibe completely shifted as we all came together and empathized together with the emotion in Banks’ vocals as he glided on the stage and crooned chorus “Let love lead you home, oh no/ Let redemption keep you warm.” And just as Banks climaxes as he reaches as the height at the bridge taper off, the audience in parallel also drops. We stop, we sway, we close our eyes, and we dance as the rest of the chorus plays out. Jacob Banks has reached a new level of soul, and it’s dipping into funk—and we’re sort of hoping he continue only to reach new heights with his artistic creativity.
And if we can’t convince you with our words to fall in love with Jacob Banks, just let his music persuade you himself.
I saw Noname perform at The Crocodile this past Wednesday. Ravyn Lenae opened for her, and needless to say they were both incredible. I had been anticipating this concert for quite some time now (I ordered the tickets in November), and the night had finally arrived.
First things first, I had also bought meet and greet tickets for my lovely girlfriend in an effort to blow Valentine’s Day out of the water. For the most part I think it was a success. She was excited to meet Noname, as was I, of course. Unfortunately, we both had different reactions to talking to her in person. She was so nervous that her mind started racing, asking Noname-whose real name is Fatima-question after question. This was a godsend, because I was so nervous that my mind drew a blank and stood there sheepishly, only mustering the courage to introduce myself and say “yes” a few times.
After a photo op with Fatima, it was time for the concert. Unbeknownst to me, there was an act before Ravyn Lenae. Local Seattle rappers Nyles Davis and Mo Money got the show started, but not exactly as I had expected. Noname and Ravyn Lenae’s musical styles both exude peacefulness and don’t try to be in your face. Davis and Mo Money were both accurate reflections of what rap is becoming: repetitive lyrics over bass-heavy beats. Their music reminded me a lot of Lil Uzi Vert, my least favorite rapper in the game right now. Mo Money also got really sweaty and it was flying everywhere, so that didn’t help his set improve.
Finally, the time came for the actual concert to start, and Ravyn Lenae came out. And let me tell ya, her voice was jaw dropping. I knew it was good when I listened to her music on Spotify, but it was probably even better live. Each song she performed had multiple vocal inflections where she would change the note while she belted out a single word or sound. My previously hefty expectations had been exceeded somehow and I was witnessing an angel on stage.
Lenae also took the time to explain the meaning behind each song before she performed it. I had listened through her Moon Shoes EP multiple times, but had never taken the time to thoroughly listen to it and pull the meaning from each song. I found myself listening much more intently, trying to connect the lyrics to the explanation she had given just a few minutes earlier. Also, she put the mic in front of my girlfriend to sing a part of a song, but evidently the pressure was overwhelming and she could only sing for a split second before laughing it off. To be fair, I would’ve done the exact same thing, and Ravyn probably would’ve gotten the whole crowd to make fun of me because I can’t sing as well as her. That may have been why she did it in the first place.
Lenae’s set ended after about 45 minutes and it was time for the headliner, Noname. Her debut album Telefone was one of my favorite albums of last year. It was meaningful, perfectly produced, and it introduced me to a female rapper that I actually enjoyed (sorry not sorry Nicki Minaj and Iggy Azalea). Noname’s band was the first to come on stage, performing a few minutes of smooth instrumentals before Noname came out to open with “All I Need”. To my relief, she sounded exactly like she did on Telefone. The live band was a great addition; Davis, Mo Money, and Lenae all performed over recordings of the instrumentals to their songs (Davis actually rapped over recordings of his songs with the rap recorded too, so he didn’t have to work as hard). Noname performed Telefone in its entirety, as well as her verses for Mick Jenkins’ “Comfortable” and Chance the Rapper’s “Lost”. Ravyn Lenae joined her on stage and they performed “Forever” together, which was easily the best moment of the night. Noname’s discography still has some growing to do, because she ran out of music to perform after half an hour. Despite the short set, Noname was excellent on stage and had the audience captivated the whole time.
The concert as a whole was great. The surprise openers got the concert off on a sour note, but Ravyn Lenae and Noname more than made up for the openers’ slip-ups. Both either performed exactly as in their recordings or far beyond what I had expected. Once they expand their discography there will only be more demand for them to go on tour again, and I look forward to when that day comes. Check out each artist’s music below.
Noname – Telefone
Ravyn Lenae – Moon Shoes EP
Only a week after her bandmate Matt Martians dropped his solo debut The Drum Chord Theory, Syd has come forth with her own solo debut, Fin. The former Odd Future member has been all over some of last year’s biggest releases, featuring on Common’s Black America Again, Kaytranada’s 99.9%, and Little Simz’s Stillness in Wonderland. The time has come for her to release new music of her own, and needless to say it was worth the wait. Fin is a smooth, sensual ride that may not take many risks, but lives up to the hype of what listeners have come to expect from Syd.
The album takes off with what might be one of the best tracks, “Shake Em Off”. Syd addresses feeling frustrated and doubted by her haters, choosing to shake them off rather than give into the criticism. Syd rides over bubbly production accompanied by hard hitting percussion. The standout factor, however, is her voice. Syd consistently sounds angelic over the course of the 12-track album, utilizing falsetto tones and slightly lower vocals to showcase her incredible range. Her ability to carry a song on her own is apparent, yet some tracks include background vocals, like “Insecurities”. On these tracks, Syd remains the primary voice, and the background vocals only tend to come in for the chorus. They weren’t necessary for any song, but the addition adds a certain lushness to them that is more than welcome.
The album’s tone is surprisingly sexy. Multiple songs detail Syd romanticizing about women (“Drown In It”, “Body”, “Know”) or describing a trip to the strip club (“Dollar Bills”). Other songs go in opposite directions, favoring heavy beats as the driving force (“All About Me”, “No Complaints”, “Got Her Own”). This album, like Matt Martian’s, lacks a concept; some songs share themes but none of them can be connected as a whole. None of the songs take many risks sonically either; most can be traced back to other artists and a few could be mistaken for b-sides from The Internet. Syd’s otherworldly vocals make every song feel refreshing and new, despite her borrowing elements from present day hip-hop and her band.
Fin is a prime example of why more artists in group acts should be pursuing solo careers. While she does not try to convey a complex message or theme, Syd creates a collection of songs that are just flat out fun. One can’t help but sway to every song. Her melodic voice lifts each track to another level of sensuality and bliss, leaving the listener foaming at the mouth for more. Syd did herself and her fans a favor by leaving Fin nearly empty of features (Steve Lacy on “Dollar Bills” and 6LACK on “Over”). It’s time for Syd to be in the spotlight, as she has proved on this album. Listen to Fin here and catch Syd opening for her band, The Internet, on March 17 at The Neptune.
Khalid recently graced my list of five artists to watch this year, and he continues to impress with each new song he drops. His newest song, “Shot Down”, was released last Friday and has him at his most vulnerable to date. Khalid croons over a piano ballad about being shot down by love. The concept of the song sounds cheesy and kind of cliché, but Khalid’s vocals and delivery make the song’s content sound very genuine and emotional. Since the release on his first single “Location” in May of last year, Khalid has gained substantial ground in the underground music community, and is expected to burst onto the scene when he releases his new album American Teen on March 3 (did I mention he’s only 18?!). Expect more ballads and melodic R&B to grace his album when it releases. Check out the American Teen album cover below and listen to “Shot Down” here. The Fader also recently released a documentary about Khalid and his hometown of El Paso, Texas, which you can watch here.