Beyoncé - Beyoncé: Admittedly, I was pretty skeptical about this record upon witnessing the waves of seismic adulation that swallowed my News Feed whole immediately following its release. Those elitist reservations were promptly shoved aside as I became acclimated to “Yoncé” and her woozy, primal new surroundings. The highlights of Beyoncé are aggressively soulful and sexually confident; yet Bey maintains an aching vulnerability as she struggles to escape the shadowy catacombs constructed by Boots, an unknown (well, previously unknown) producer with his own brand of mystique. I don’t think Beyoncé is a groundbreaking work of art; to my ears, several of these tracks lose their novelty after the first few spins. The chorus of “No Angel” finds Bey doing her best imitation of Stevie from Malcolm in the Middle, while the talents of Frank Ocean are wasted on the plastic production of “Superpower” (seriously, Beyoncé won’t spring for a REAL string section?). At 67 minutes, this album feels like an indulgent sprawl that often detours from its greatest strengths, perhaps out of fear that an album of pure YONCÉ would alienate portions of the fanbase. Regardless, there’s about six tracks here that are irrefutable in their power. Wish somebody could tell me what “love me like XO” is supposed to mean, though.
Recommended Tracks: "Haunted", "***Flawless", "Blow"
Burial - Rival Dealer: ed. note: this review was written pre-selfie... Burial’s new EP begins with thunder, a subway car screeching to a halt, a swelling drone. What a surprise. But then, the first voice cries out: “I’m gonna love you more than anyone.” Thus, the reason why followers of Burial take so much solace in him (or why anyone takes solace in any art, for that matter). Rival Dealer is an unprecedented stylistic departure for the Burial sound. The lurching 2-step percussion integral to earlier releases is a hazy vision in the rearview mirror, giving way to pan flutes, ebullient soft-rock synths, and melodramatic drum fills salvaged from the depths of 1980s glam. Many fans, including myself, would kill to hear an interview with the notoriously reclusive producer in the wake of this release; what the hell was going on in this guy’s life to prompt such a work? However, it’s important to remember why Burial remains as faceless and anonymous as he does; ultimately, WE give this music its unearthly power, not him. His tunes offer an environment to ruminate on the emotions our mind drifts to when we are alone: lovesickness, dissatisfaction, self-doubt. We reflect on our own story while listening to Burial. He is the hand on our shoulder, the phone call from a distant friend, the smoke signal of a distant campsite. “I’m gonna love you more than anyone.” And now, on Rival Dealer, he offers a renewed sense of optimism, anchored by self-acceptance, that works in conjunction with his trademark empathy. Sure, Burial isn’t as comfortable producing power ballads as he is murky dubstep (the piano in “Hiders” is mixed far too loudly), but you can actively sense him battling against those limitations; the end result is a work that takes ownership of its imperfection. Rather than simply patting us on the shoulder, Burial is now rolling us out of bed, encouraging us to come to terms with who we are and revel in that identity, warts and all. “This is who I am.” ZN
Recommended Tracks: "Hiders" is the only radio-friendly one. But there's a kid, somewhere...who will dare to play the 10+ minute "Rival Dealer" and "Come Down to Us"
Nick Waterhouse - Holly: With his horn rimmed glasses, oxford shirts and a meek demeanor, Waterhouse comes off as somewhat of a Buddy Holly reincarnation, which may have something to do with the name of the album. And while he may not seem like much at first, give him a guitar and like Buddy he’ll have the whole room up and dancing in no time. His music both rocks and rolls, it jumps and it strolls. Like a mojo box with a shot of soul. The first track off Holly, “High Tiding”, comes creepin’ up on ya with a slow groove, getting those feet ready to move. Then the wave breaks with “This Is a Game”, the sax comes a rockin’ and you can’t help but do the same. “Sleepin’ Pills” has a bit of a darker side, but those silky smooth backing vocals keep the jive alive. Don’t even the “Dead Room” let it die. Waterhouse has obviously mastered this whole late 50’s R&B thing. It’s no doubt a revival of sorts, but his music is still fresh and I dig it. This album also isn’t supposed to come out until March so we seriously got the jump on this one somehow. Also, this music video features Waymond of Workaholics. SHILL
Recommended Tracks: "High Tiding", "This Is a Game", "Sleepin' Pills", "Holly"
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings - Give the People What They Want: Warning: this album is REALLY GROOVY. So be careful, or congratulations; just don’t say I didn’t warn you. Each new release from Sharon Jones and her incredibly tight backing band, The Dap Kings, seems to solidify her place among the great hierarchy and timeline of soul singers. There are sonic bits and pieces of inspiration everywhere; she has the confident approach of James Brown, a rich wail like Aretha’s, and an ability to channel the emotions of love and longing through her voice like Otis Redding. Mostly bold, commanding, uplifting, and full of conviction, Give the People What They Want is also confessional, wistful, and sort of sad in a sweet kind of way. After all, soul music wouldn’t be soul music if there weren’t a little bit of tangible heartbreak thrown in the mix; yet the music itself, between the screaming horns and impeccable pocket of the rhythm section, leaves you feeling as if you’re always going to come out on top. Moreover, the record could easily be mistaken for a Motown or Stax release from the early or mid sixties, which I love because it reminds me of how timeless this kind of music is. There is a simplistic joy that seems to sink in subconsciously and pretty soon you’re no longer in your apartment but sitting in a booth at some restaurant forty-five minutes outside of Memphis, staring at a still life of sweet tea, grits, chicken, and waffles. The horns come in as soon as you start pouring the syrup and Sharon Jones croons “slow down, love, and come closer” as you take the first orgasmic bite—life has never made more sense. JAMES
Recommended Tracks: "We Get Along", "Making Up and Breaking Up (And Making Up and Breaking Up Over Again)", "People Don't Get What They Deserve"