Sunday, December 28, 2014

Week 50

That's Christmas to Me by Pentatonix

I know you've all been waiting for it, so here it is: a Christmas album. 

Say what you will about a cappella groups, especially given their FOTW popularity spike in the last years, but I like 'em. 



This release from arguably the most popular group of the since winning The Sing-Off, features several traditional Christmas songs, re-arranged rather nontraditionally.

The first track is a gospel-infused "Hark the Herald Angels Sing." Sounds good, feels good, and makes me wanna stand up and drop some Amens. Mission accomplished.

Next is the not-often-heard "White Winter Hymnal." This one is gorgeous. Mellow, smooth, intricate, and complex, all at the time. If I'm not mistaken, the below music video has been pretty popular of late...

Following "Hymnal" is the funkiest version of "Sleigh Ride" I've ever heard. Now, it may be because I've played "Sleigh Ride" in band/orchestra about a zillion times, but this one just ain't doin' it for me. It sounds good, has a cool groove, and some sweet retro backup vocals. But, I still skip it most of the time. Oh well.

The fourth track is probably this album's most recognized track, "Winter Wonderland/Don't Worry" featuring Tori Kelly. I'll be the first to put my teenage girl hand up and admit that this one is my jam. Avi's funky bass line, the boys tasty harmonies, and K.O.'s killer beatboxing make this one way all-too-easy to bob your head to. If you can't get down on this arrangement, then you need to hit up the doc-in-a-box!

Next up is the album's title track. This one took me a few listens to appreciate, but just like most of the stuff these guys have done, listening to it makes me want a cup of hot chocolate, a fire place, and a 5'6" brunette with a dazzling smile (got that one covered). Love the fact that every member gets a chance to shine on this one. Have a listen yourself.

"Mary Did You Know" follows the above and it's a nice contrast. Scott's and Mitch's haunting vocals on this one are almost scary at times. But then again that's what good art should do sometimes. We'd never grow from it if it didn't shake us up now and then. Highly inspired and recommended.

The next two tracks are excellent arrangements, but if I'm being honest, lackluster tracks. They're just conservative compared to the rest of the album. "Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy" is very impressive, especially when you remember that every sound on that song is made by the human voice. But it's still "Sugarplum." Then "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" comes along and in much the same fashion as "Sleigh Ride," is a funky and unique arrangement. But... it still doesn't do a lot for me. There's plenty to appreciate, but I still don't like it. Boom.

Three songs from the end, we get the funkiest "Santa Clause is Coming to Town" in the history of that song's arrangements. And this time... I like it. 

Penultimate (sort of) track: "Silent Night." Beautiful, delicate, tender, and reverent. The exact adjectives that this hymn deserves. Much love to PTX for not slicing and dicing this one. 

I guess I should mention that there is a bonus track on the album, but you've probably heard it already. Because I'm only gonna let me inner sixth-grade girl out once on a review, I'll just link the vid and you can check it out yourself.

Overall, this is a great album to add to your Christmas collection, whether you like a cappella singing or not. The arrangements are a little 'out-of-the-box' at times, but to these ears, they're never over the top or tasteless. Many thanks to a young group not trying to reinvent the wheel here. Give it a listen people!

Week 49

Medicine Man by The Bamboos

Here it is: Joe's favorite album of 2014. Yes it's a little funny that it came in within the last two weeks of the year, but hey, better late than never!

The Bamboos are an Australian funk outfit that usually kill the instrumental funk scene down under. However, for their fifth studio release, Medicine Man, the group adds some sweet sweet vocalization to their sounds thanks to the likes of Aloe Blacc, Ella Thompson, and Daniel Merriweather among others.

The opening track is one of my favorites. The Booker T & The MG's have a new sound, and it is called The Bamboos. At least in this case. Check it.

Keeping on the keeping on, we get a few other standout tracks including both featuring Kylie Audinst, "What I Know" and "Cut Me Down."

The Daniel Merriweather feature is solid. Not sure if it's because it's a great song, or that I'm just a big fan of his vocal sound. Either way, the sixth track, "I Never" is one of my favorites. 

Rounding out the highlight reel are the title track (which I'm pretty sure has been featured on some sort of CSI soundtrack) and the closer, another track featuring Kylie Audinst, "Window." This one is a little repetitive, but the production and layering behind the vocals are great. And then you get the lyrics and well, they're also great. Soul meets funk meets pop meets motown. I dig.

The Bamboos are an impressive group from down under that I wouldn't have discovered if it hadn't been for a head-fi Christmas Music Exchange in which I participated. If you'd like to hear something a little different before your year rounds out, I highly recommend this album from the Australian funk sensation, The Bamboos.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Week 48

More About Nothing by Wale

I have mixed feelings about Wale, especially since his signing to major label (blech). Luckily, he demonstrated that he was interested in saying something a few years ago. 

More About Nothing is the continuation of a concept by Wale that's based on the sitcom Seinfeld. Almost every track is named for an episode from the show, and  each usually features a quote or snippet from the show that has something to do with the rhymes to follow. 

Here are the standouts:

Off the bat, is an in-your-face banger called "The Problem." To sum it up, the rap game is sick with empty rhymes and passionless MC's. Yep, that's about right.

Track three - "The Soup." Favorite track on the album. One of the most creatively-written "can we please elevate the rap game?!" rhymes I've heard.

Following "The Soup," is "The Breeze" and then "The Friends and Strangers." "The Breeze" - West coast sound from a DC MC. Not a huge fan of this one. It's a little crude and braggadocious for me. "Friends" is better. Check it:

I keep my friends close, enemies on a leash like, 
Me and my haters is literally Siamese 
I can define me but if I let my friends do it 
They'll tell you I'm some bipolar, hard drug user. 
The J gets smaller, I'm up in my zone 
Though surrounded by an entourage, I feel like I'm alone 
A long way from normal, I try to keep it cordial 
I made some new friends, meet recorder and touring.

"The Eyes of the Tiger" is another interesting one. So check it. The intro is the voicemail Tiger Woods left his um, dessert, after their scandalousness was discovered by his wife. The rest of the track goes on to emulate Tiger's experiences with regards to his family, career, and the media. An interesting venture. Touché Wale. Touché.

"The Black N Gold" and "The Flight" are two other standouts. The former, a club-ready, feel-good number and the latter, a seemingly awful song, but upon closer examination, there are some subtle, deeper things going on that only multiple listenings will reveal. 

As far as mixtapes go, well, they're hit or miss. Super easy to produce, and it follows that they're very easy to fill with crap until an artist's next official release drops. Thankfully, the About Nothing series from Wale is actually pretty good. He's obviously a little immature, but the fact that he's not telling me how to do some FOTW dance or how rich he is goes a long way. 

Week 47

Adapt by Trace Bundy

While fingerpicking tap-tastic acoustic guitar players are a dime a dozen these days, there are a few who've maintained their place in my iTunes library over the years. One of which is Mr. Trace Bundy. 

This album is one that displays not only an impressive technical ability, but also maturity. Instead of just blistering through scales or tap-dancing on the guitar body, this album includes quite a few singable and heart-wrenching melodies, not to mention some groove-tacular playing.

It's my blog and I'll cry if I want to... wait... I meant that I'll post what I've been digging on recently. Have a listen for something a little different.

Week 46

Time Control by Hiromi's Sonicbloom

Time to catch up!

So this album from Japan's Hiromi Uehara is one that caught me my surprise and boy am I glad it did.

Hiromi is a "classically" trained pianist with a propensity for innovation. She's played with jazz, fusion, and funk specialists like Lenny White, Stanley Clarke, Simon Philips, and Oscar Peterson, among others. Chick Corea is the girl's mentor. How awesome is that?!

In her 2007 release Time Control, we get treated to the fusion stylings of Hiromi with a trio of renowned studio musicians Tony Grey on bass, Martin Valihora on kit, and David Fuiczynski laying it down on his guitar. 

For those of you who are familiar with the genre of Math Rock, this album will be something you will dig. Like the title says, the concept here is time. Whether its messing with time signatures like the ultra-groovy "Time and Space" or the hemiolic play of one "Real Clock vs. Body Clock = Jet Lag," there is plenty to be said, musically speaking of course, on the nature of time. 

Honestly, listening to this album all the way through is no problem. While every track clock in over five minutes, I've never been bored. All the tunes have their own unique flavors - see the Mahavishnu-esque fusion of "Time Out" and then the more downtempo "Deep Into the Night" for some juxtaposition.

Top to bottom, this is an epic fusion/funk/piano effort from one of the most exciting jazz musicians I've ever seen. Monster playing that isn't overly technical is something that isn't always easy to find nowadays, especially from relatively younger musicians. Luckily, Time Control from Hiromi's Sonicbloom breaks the mold. Check it out!