A Tribe Called Quest - We Got it From Here... Thank You 4 Your Service: It’s been 14 years since Tribe got together for their last album, The Love Movement. At the time, Tribe was plagued by rising tensions between its members, especially between its two primary emcees, Q-Tip and Phife Dawg. 2016 saw them reuniting in secret for one last album before Phife’s passing earlier this year. We Got it from Here... Thank You 4 Your Service was Phife’s name for the project, and the album is dedicated to his memory. RIP 5 footer.
Here, Tribe returns to discuss politics, and to entrust hip-hop to the next generation (see “Dis Generation,” “Kids”). Sometimes, it gets a little heavy-handed (“We the People”).
Usually, I find these types of reunion projects underwhelming— especially years after the group’s “golden era.” But this is clearly not the case with We Got it From Here. Tribe did well to preserve their iconic bohemian, upbeat sound (all produced by Tip)— as well as update it for a 2016 audience. We still hear that soulful groove and trademark trading back and forth between Phife and Tip (side note, seeing Tip trade bars with Three stacks had to be one of the best moments on this album).
We also see a ton of features on this album: Busta (always been tight with them), Andre 3000, Kanye, Anderson Paak, Elton John, Jack White, and so on. At first I was worried that the features would take the spotlight, but it seemed tasteful to me all around. Sometimes they would even just chop up and sample a feature for a hook. For the rest, they were really good about meshing with Tribe and not overshadowing them.
All in all— it slaps. JAISON
RIYL: Common, Talib Kweli,The Roots, De La Soul
Recommended Tracks: All Except for 2
Alicia Keys - Here: I’ve written before about how the best records are the ones that find you at the right time. This record, in conjunction with the new Tribe and Common projects (s/o Jaison), has been something of a mantra for me through these past two weeks. During an election that has been painful and mad personal on a number of levels, Here is an exploration of intersectionality that feels timely and significant. Alicia Keys uses this project as an opportunity to examine the many different intersecting identities that make her who she is. This is a record for women, for people of color, for children of “blended families,” or for anyone grappling with their own sense of identity in a time where it can feel like so much of the country is fundamentally opposed to your existence.
Here is raw, vulnerable, and powerful. Alicia Keys has always been an incredible vocalist (s/o The Diary of Alicia Keys, one time) and this record is no exception. If there’s one track to listen to, it’s “Illusion of Bliss,” where she asks the listener to think about their own illusions of bliss, and whether or not we’re really happy or if we’re just comfortable in the ways we have been marginalized and systematically oppressed. This is some shit that’s really resonated with me over these past two weeks.
As a mixed-race woman questioning intersectionality in my own understanding of self, this album has been mad relevant to me. Keys examines American standards of beauty and how those can be specifically limiting to women of color, or women that don’t comfortably fit into any one racial category. In “Girl Can’t Be Herself” and “Cocoa Butter (interlude)” specifically, she breaks down our racially coded, societal understandings of beauty, and the way that they affect women of color and their understandings of self. Really, all the interludes on this record are on point. “You Glow” gave me chills for real.
Some last quick things to note. Keys did some really rad interviews with Hot 97 and Big Boy In the Morning leading up to the release. Definitely worth a watch if you’re into that. Also, check her short film for The Gospel. Mad gorgeous.
So, yes. America can be really ugly sometimes (a lot of the time). These past two weeks have been painful and personal, but hopefully this album (along with the new Tribe and Common projects) can serve as a reminder of your own personal strength, as it did for me. We’ve been oppressed before. We’ve been strong before. We’ve found faith and understanding in our communities before. You are beautiful, and you matter. I’m off my soap box for the week. Peace and love. ZOE
RIYL: Solange, John Legend
Recommended tracks: 2, 6, 8, 10, 13, 14
Animals as Leaders - The Madness of Many: One of the kings of contemporary progressive metal right now, Animals as Leaders, has just released their third studio album and it absolutely rocks! Since many would consider this band to be a platform for frontman and guitarist, Tosin Abasi, the first thing you have to listen to on this record is the frighteningly furious fretwork. The lack of vocals present in Animals as Leaders allows one to focus on the technical shredding and complicated rhythms throughout the album that Abasi and his fellow guitarist, Javier Reyes, attack with mathematical precision. The band uses not only clean guitars but also other instruments, perhaps sitars and stuff, to create cool melodies interspersed with the heavy riffing. There’s not much to say about this record since it is pretty textbook, high quality instrumental progressive metal. For those that are interested, Tosin Abasi has an interesting story as the son of first generation Nigerian immigrants. Self-taught at the guitar, Abasi was actually approached by Prosthetic Records and asked to produce a solo guitar record. It was out of this request that Animals as Leaders was born. Abasi has talked about how his second-generation immigrant background influenced his development as a musician. CHRISTIAN
RIYL: Periphery, Born of Osiris, After the Burial
Recommended Tracks: 4, 6, 9
Lorenzo Senni - Personal: Been waiting on this one for about a minute. Lorenzo Senni, a self-described “trance composer” (though not having very much to do with actual trance music) has been on the fringes for a while, releasing several earlier EPs through obscure channels and really independent labels. Persona is his first release on Warp, which is generally as close to the mainstream as many electronic artists want to be or are able to get. You know what that means: flashy cover art, release parties all over Europe (Senni is a resident of Milan), high production value, lots of extraneous album credits, and some form of legitimacy. The album itself is Senni’s best work to date. Every track is essentially a variation on the same concept: simple, catchy synth tunes with built out percussion and enough intricacy and intelligence to warrant second listening. Personal favourites include “Rave Voyeur” and “Win In The Flat World.” CAMERON
Recommended: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6… yes that’s all of them.
RIYL: Oneohtrix Point Never, Kuedo, M.E.S.H., patten, PC Music-style production
Agnes Obel - Citizen of Glass: One of the lovely parts of existence is change - moving outside of ones boundaries and exploring new ground. Many of my favorite albums this year have been projects that incorporate personal change, artists moving forward from what they have created in the past. Agnes Obel's lastest release does just that; she maintains her soothing and refined style while experimenting with new instruments and arrangements that create her most complete album to date.
Agnes lives now in Berlin, where she has written and recorded each of her albums, although she originally hails from Denmark. Her music definitely fits right in with a colder landscape - there is no feel-good California sunshine anywhere on the tracklist. The songs individually feel like short stories, as each evokes its own imagery that serves as a base for the emotionally charged lyrics that come through. There is a certain restrained strangeness pervasive throughout the album, making for an album that is very calming whilst pushing the listener towards introspection. It sounds like a dream, perhaps one in the mess hall of a tavern on a snowy night.
Citizen of Glass creates an etheral experiences of elevated vocals and diverse instrumentation. Agnes incorporates violins, cellos, harpsichords, spinets, celestas and most interestingly, a Trautonium (an electric piano of sorts from the 1930s) allowing the album to move in various musical directions at once, all whilst remaining under Obel's watchful stylistic gaze. RAMIRO
Recommended: 1, 2, 8
RIYL: Bjork, Jenny Hval, ANOHNI
Keith Jarrett - Treasure Island: So, Keith Jarrett is seen in the jazz world today as being kind of a pretentious asshole – a sentiment that I do not wholeheartedly disagree with – however, it cannot be denied that he is one of the most significant pianists and composers of the past 50 years, having influenced everyone from Robert Glasper to Steely Dan, from Ethan Iverson to Madlib.
My favorite works of Keith Jarrett come mostly from the 70’s, when he was simultaneously leading two quartets on two different continents. The “European Quartet” featured saxophonist Jan Garbarek and released some great tracks including “Country” and “Long As You Know You’re Living Yours” (see Steely Dan’s “Gaucho”). Meanwhile, the American Quartet consisted of musicians formerly in bands led by Bill Evans and Ornette Coleman, namely drummer Paul Motian, bassist Charlie Haden, and saxophonist Dewey Redman. The group released several important records including Fort Yawuh and Death and the Flower.
Treasure Island is my favorite American Quartet record that I have heard thus far. One need go no further than the first track, “The Rich (and the Poor)” to realize how honestly this album is able to combine soulful folk and Americana roots with free improvisation in a way that is accessible while still pushing the limits of artistic expression. “Introduction / Yaqui Indian Folk Song” is simply a gorgeous piece, while “Angles Without Edges” (the namesake of a Madlib record) finds Jarrett trading his piano for a soprano sax and dueling Redman in a raucous display of freedom. Finally, “Sister Fortune” brings the record to a calm and righteous ending.
While there is much to love about this record, there are a couple things that I find particularly special. Firstly, this album could only have been made by these specific musicians at this time in their careers. From Redman’s exquisite phrasing to Haden and Motian’s lyrical and driving playing, the group achieves an undeniably unique sound. Finally, notice how each song is focused around melodies rather than solos. I feel like many jazz records suffer because each song sounds like a collection of solos with very little connection between them. Treasure Island is truly a testament to the importance of bands and collectives over individual musicianship.
For jazz, rock, funk, and Americana lovers alike, I really can’t recommend this album enough. Check it out, and let me know what you think. JATIN
RIYL: Dave King Trucking Company, Steely Dan, Ornette Coleman
Recc: 1, 3, 4, 5, 8