Tag Archives: r&b

Album Review: Lady Wray – Queen Alone

Queen Alone is the second solo studio album from American R&B singer Nicole Wray, and her first album under the name “Lady Wray”. Eighteen years since her first album, Make It Hot, Wray has a new record company, a new producer, and a new sound. Make It Hot was part R&B and part hip-hop, with heavy drum beats and frequent features by album producer and rapper Missy Elliot. Queen Alone presents a more mature, classic R&B sound that puts the focus on Wray’s powerful vocals.

Most of the songs on Queen Alone are old-school R&B. Simple instrumentals are punctuated by trumpets and background vocals heavily influenced by gospel, a side effect of Wray’s church upbringing. This can be seen in tracks such as “Do It Again”, “Guilty”, and “Make Me Over”, nostalgic tunes about love and loss. As the album progresses, however, the songs begin to bring in elements of other genres. “In Love (Don’t Mess Things Up)” features a folksy instrumental not typically seen in R&B, providing an interesting contrast to Wray’s vocals. “It’s Been A Long Time” is reminiscent of the Jackson 5, bringing in more of a pop vibe. The tracks “Cut Me Loose” and “Underneath My Feet” delve into rock, with heavy guitar and drum beats. Finally, “They Won’t Hang Around” brings back memories of classic Amy Winehouse hits such as “You Know I’m No Good”. With elements of so many different genres, Queen Alone runs the risk of sounding like a collection of single songs rather than an album. However, the R&B undertones of every song, combined with Lady Wray’s powerful vocals, give the album the necessary cohesiveness.

Queen Alone is remarkable different from Lady Wray’s first album. Her new sound emphasizes her incredible voice instead of relying on the heavy backbeat and hip-hop elements of Make It Hot. Wray’s return to a more classic R&B sound suits her well, and is a great listen for anyone looking to reminisce about the old-school days of R&B.

– review by Emma Park

Album Review: MNDSGN – Body Wash

a3786040268_10In his newest release Body Wash, Mndsgn (née Ringgo Ancheta) brings us on an inter-dimensional electro-funk adventure through space and time, combining psychedelia and R&B in masterful and innovative ways. In his words, Body Wash is “a soul record that plays with nostalgic elements in a very dynamic & positive way. Think about it as a box of crayons for you to draw emotions with.”

In conjunction with this description, the album is loosely based on an illusory story that goes something like this: a homeless man meets an enigmatic woman who offers to take him in, and then has him bathe with a strange body wash that surrounds him as he soaks. Eventually, he is transported to an alternate dimension. The narrative is a subtle one; though looser themes of self-realization and human connection are easily identifiable from the tracks, it is only through the track titles (“Enter Her Abode,” “Prelude 2 Purification,” and “Lather” to name a few) along with album title that hint at the underlying story. 

So, we’ve established that Mndsgn is not your typical R&B producer. It may have something to do with his childhood history and his past collaborations: he was raised on a commune in rural New Jersey by Filipino immigrants, and in the early 2000’s befriended and then collaborated with Kendrick Lamar producer Knxwledge to form the Klipm0de crew. He moved to L.A to pursue his beat passion and was featured in various albums (notably, Blasphemous Jazz’s Bitches Brew) before releasing his debut album, Yawn Zen.

Body Wash provides a glimpse at Mndsgn’s growth and exploration as an artist since Yawn Zen, which was more of a sprawling, wandering experiment of an album. His sophomore release is tighter, more produced, and more focused; the frequent inclusion of his own vocals is a welcome addition as well. Ancheta’s voice serves as a quiet, unobtrusive addition to fluorescent and layered instrumentals, floating in and out of music as if from a dream. At times, it adds air of introspection; at others, it serves as an echo for the music, reflecting and deepening the message without driving it. 

There is a clear directional quality to Body Wave, marked physically with a beginning (“Overture”) and an ending (“Guess It’s All Over”). The album is awash in vintage 80’s and 90’s R&B themes, with fluctuating tones overlaid to set the mood of the track.  Some tracks have more of a jazz influence (“Release Ya Mind (Twentyfourseven)”), while others are straight funk (“Vague//Recalibrate”). All throughout Body Wash is the riff of psychedelic influences and modern synth; Mndsgn samples from retro sounds, but does not entirely channel the past, choosing instead to use it as a platform onto which he can build his soundscape.

Nota bene: It has been recommended (and I would echo this sentiment) to listen to the album all the way through. The tracks build on one another to establish a common thread, and while the listener may have to hone in on a few songs to realize their potential, it is best to let Body Wash soak in slowly over time.

Album released: September 16, 2016

review by Juliana Van Amsterdam

 

Album Review: The Serious EP – Bibio

WRP9385EP_1024x1024On his earlier 2016 release A Mineral Love, low-fi electronica artist Bibio (née Stephen Wilkinson) utilized Olivier St. Louis’s angelic croon on the playfully keen track “Why So Serious?.” The seed of a beautiful R&B psychedelia union having been planted, it came to many as no surprise when the duo reunited for a blossoming EP, assumedly titled after the song that started this partnership. While Bibio usually explores the electronic psychedelia realm with great success, he has expanded his territory for The Serious EP to add in bouncy ’80s synth and R&B effects that subtly weave in between shuffling beats and the aqueous electric guitar featured in many of his tracks. The combination provides a bright foil to St. Louis’s soft falsetto, sliding in and out of the layered instrumentals.

The pair had a mutual respect for each other before they started the collaboration, working almost exclusively on tracks over email and communicating through WhatsApp. Most of the instrumentals, provided by Wilkinson, were outtakes and leftover tracks from A Mineral Love, modified in part to mesh more effectively with St. Louis’s lyrics (all lyrics on The Serious EP were written by St. Louis, though Bibio is a songwriter as well). Interestingly, the vocals on the EP’s final track were written for an alternate version of “A Mineral Love.” While the original “A Mineral Love” provided the title track to A Mineral Love, the alternate version became “Night Falls.” The similarities in the instrumentals of the two tracks, while subtle, shine through upon a second listen.

The opening track is the familiar “Why So Serious?,” which was included in A Mineral Love; it continues to be a great reminder of how two solo artists can make excellent collaborators. Growling synth and a staccato underlying beat make for an undeniably groovy sensation, strengthened still by St. Louis’s playful lyrics and sexy R&B croon. “Make Up” is a more subdued track, with St. Louis singing barely above a whispered falsetto; Bibio’s own instrumental influences are featured more heavily here, with rolling synthetic beats and methodical guitar chords. “Stress Me Out” begins with a staccato beat and more aggressive electric guitar; the music is as blunt and forward as Bibio seems capable of, and is the farthest he strays in this EP from his normal areas of expertise. St. Louis demonstrates his excellent vocal abilities on this track, catapulting from a nasal whine to a simmering falsetto, descending the scale again with ease. “Night Falls” is a sultry track replete with synthetic shimmer effects (oh, to revisit that era again) and low, soft vocals mixed with sweet falsetto. The bass line shines in this song, enhancing the retro themes and grounding the track.

The Serious EP is, in all reality, anything but what it professes to be. Bibio has made a rather successful career off the utilization of retro sounds and rhythms, and he does not stray from the path for this EP. Instead, he and St. Louis capture the quintessential R&B and keep it pleasant and light, singing about love in broad strokes to smooth, jaunty tunes. While many R&B artists (looking at you, Frank Turner and Blood Orange) have repeatedly revolutionized the genre and helped buoy its relevance in the changing political and social climate, Bibio and Olivier St. Louis have released a nostalgic, good-natured EP that harkens back to simpler themes. Bibio is not a bona-fide R&B artist by trade, so while he utilizes many of those thematic elements in The Serious EP, he also continues to incorporate his own musical influences. Consider it R&B Lite: providing a glossy, breezy collection of tracks that float just above the current R&B climate.

Album released: September 2, 2016

review by Juliana Van Amsterdam

Album Review: Noname – Telefone

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For the past three years Chicago-native rapper Noname kept a low profile and has had fans eagerly anticipating a release from the wonderfully robust MC. Years of talking about a mixtape and making fantastic guest appearances on fellow Chicago artists Chance the Rapper & Jamila Woods latest projects, it’s only appropriate that Noname shines bright and proves to everyone that she is a name worth remembering, regardless of the lack of one. Her debut mixtape, Telefone, exhibits her versatile skills as an artist with bubbly production that’s coated on every track and can instantly fill a room with glee. Her seductive delivery touches upon both heated and personal issues that wedge their way into your thoughts and make you reflect on the kind of atmosphere that courses through the entire tape.

The track “Yesterday” sets the tone for the beautifully inspired project. Noname wastes no time and jumps right into her skillful wordplay that is enchanting and sweet to the ear; there is a lot of content within the song but it’s not intimidating to listen to. It’s rather light with a pretty piano progression that’s supported by harmonious vocals that add to the uplifting effect of the song.

“Sunny Duet” is one of my favorite songs off Telefone. Fellow Chicago artist theMind lends his soulful vocals over a soft melody that satisfies the heart. The track is buttery and smooth with Noname carrying the rhythm of the track in a way that seems effortless. Cam O’bi’s production is glossy and puts a huge emphasis on the kind of feeling that the song is trying to convey – a summer anthem for the lonely and confused.

Atlanta rapper Raury channels a similar flow to that of notorious Outkast member André 3000 on “Diddy Bop” with a wonderfully catchy hook provided by Cam O’bi. Ethereal synths float their way throughout the song and put the mind at ease, as each artist pushes their effort to make us feel like we shouldn’t have to worry about the uncontrollable predicaments that we face in life.

“Casket Pretty” sheds light on a dark issue that surrounds the streets of the windy city. Chicago has been known for its high murder rates, its residents subjected to receiving phone calls about loved ones fatally passing away due to the violence that posses the corners of the streets. Noname elaborates on the idea that black people who roam the streets share the same fate as a corpse in a casket. This is a surreal display of reality presented with a melancholic production style provided by Saba and Pheolix.

Telefone is an incredible achievement as a debut mixtape for an up and coming artist such as Noname. It’s relatable on a surface level while maintaining the integrity for those who can decipher the complex wordplay that’s ingrained in the efforts of the young Chicago artist. The latest project from the stunning MC does a superb job of sedating us to it’s surreal themes while shedding light onto the issues that the citizens of Chicago have tackled throughout the past few decades.

-Review by Michael Eidelson

Album Review: Shura – Nothing’s Real

 

ShuraNothingShura’s debut album showcases her talent as a writer, singer and producer. It’s an eclectic mix of genres: from electronic, lush R&B slow jams, stripped back guitar rock, to 80s glam pop and even trip-hop. Though the young singer/producer hasn’t overreached by trying her hand at so many different genres, at times the album feels like a collection of her various projects and (albeit successful) experiments. Yet a strong theme of autobiographical archiving and coming-of-age runs through the album and gives us a compelling first glance at Shura’s personality.

Music is often our best way of expressing complicated and difficult to articulate emotions that overwhelm us when brought on by the stresses of life and relationships. No other set of experiences is more of a mine field of these overwhelming emotions than the transition from teenage angst to young adulthood. Shura’s debut album Nothing’s Real is a smooth and seemingly effortless ode to that angsty and distraught time. Continue reading

Album Review: U.S. Girls – Half Free

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The music video for Window Shades carries its viewer into a world of Twilight Zone looking classic film samples looping and skipping, culminating in a dark, demented world of cool eeriness perfectly resembling the music of the project.  Through the use of unpredictable samples, unique beats, and haunting vocals, U.S. Girls venture into a chilling, desolate soundscape in a fresh, subtle way.  The music of Half Free is quite different from that of Meg Remy’s both distant and recent past, however, she has not lost track of her roots and the end result is a risky yet logical album pleasing to the ears of new and old fans of the band. Continue reading

Tune-into Dragonroot Radio, Tues @ 8h30-9h for a k u a

a k u a is playing live in studio Tuesday, January 17 from 8h30-9h.

She’s a local emerging musical talent whose lyrics and melodies will keep bouncing around between your ears long after you hear them. Find more of her music here: myspace.com/akuaunplugged.
Listen back to this and any other Dragonroot session here: www.centre2110.org/media/dragonrootradio/