The Musical Year

So, last year was really front-loaded with albums I was interested in. I mean, January and February really peaked the year for me last year and I found the second half of the year to be kind of meh. This year, it’s exactly the opposite. There hasn’t been much to hold my interest so far this year, but things are starting to heat up now and this summer looks really interesting.

EP Review – form/a – Half Waif

form/a is an EP from Half Waif – the production name for musician and producer Nandi Rose Plunkett. Every reviewer/critic seems to place Half Waif in a different genre – EDM, electro-pop, avant-pop – but every critic I’ve seen seems to agree with my assessment – this is a really good EP from a promising artist.

At 6 songs and ~20 minutes, form/a is a meditation on self-doubt and personal history. The music is heavy on synthesizers and drum machine beats that serve to buoy a plaintive, airy voice above them.

I find the whole album to be hypnotizing, though it opens and closes with its strongest tracks, “Severed Logic” and “Cerulean”, respectively.

 

Recommendation: Buy It

Songs I have a play list for: Severed Logic, Wave, Frost Burn, Cerulean

Songs I will Thumbs Down: None.

Album Review – The Valley – Betty Who

The Valley is the second album from Australian pop songstress Betty Who (Jessica Anne Newham).  Once again, her mostly upbeat synth-pop straddles the pop and dance charts (the first single off this album hit #1 on the US Dance charts in 2016).

On her second album, Betty Who has taken a step more into the pop sound predominant in the 2010s, as compared to the heavily 80s inflected pop sound of her first album.

Echoing the favorite subject of pop artists ever, The Valley centers on love, heartbreak, and getting on without them. It’s nice that this is the rare album that doesn’t have a song that is maudlin and dragging for this subject. She sticks to up-tempo beats for the most part, and the few slower songs aren’t downers.

While the album isn’t perfect (Warren G feels totally out of place on Free to Fly, and Some Kinda Wonderful just doesn’t appeal), The Valley is a solid album that is well worth your time.

Recommendation: Buy It

Songs I have a playlist for: You Can Cry Tomorrow, Human Touch, Wanna Be, Beautiful (Feat. Superfruit), I Will Love You Always Forever

Songs I will Thumbs Down: Some Kinda Wonderful

 

 

 

Album Review – Freedom Highway by Rhiannon Giddens

 

Rhiannon Giddens is probably best known for her stint in the band The Carolina Chocolate Drops. Freedom Highway is her second solo album.

And what an album it is. Riding on top of a plethora of banjo licks, mixed in with a dose of soul, funk, and R&B, Giddens’ powerful gives life to stories of black in America from the opening track based on a  slave’s diary to the eponymous closing track, which is a cover of the classic Staples Singers song.

To be perfectly honest, I am enamored of this album and have a hard time envisioning that a better folk album will be released this year. Like all albums I listen to, I have my favorite tracks (in this case, the beautifully rendered Birmingham Sunday, the aspirational We Could Fly, and the explosively sung Come Love Come). But I don’t really think there is a bad track on this album, and I do think it benefits from full listening. There’s a story here, for the people who want to hear it. And Giddens own songs, as well as the tracks she chooses to cover, do a great job of telling it.

Recommendation: Buy It

Tracks I have a Playlist for: Birmingham Sunday, We Could Fly, Come Love Come, At the Purchaser’s Option

Tracks I would Thumbs down: none

Album Review – Jesca Hoop – Memories Are Now

Jesca Hoop is an American singer/songwriter. Memories Are Now is her fifth solo album. The album is comprised of 9 tracks and runs a little over 40 minutes.

This record is not stylistically cohesive, relying on a thematic examination of lost love to hang together. It took me an unusually long time to decide how I felt about the album.  On first listen, several tracks were more distracting than interesting and it took several listens to get past that.

Hoop has a reputation for being experimental, so her fans will likely not find anything on this album out of sorts, but those who are not familiar with her work should plan on taking quite a while to digest this album.

There were songs on this album I just couldn’t get past because of stylistic choices. Simon Says and Unsaid both lose me because I lose the vocal underneath very dirty instrumental design.

Recommendation: Stream it
Rating: 6.5 of 10

Songs I have a playlist for: Memories Are Now, The Lost Sky, Songs of Old, Pegasi
Song I would thumbs down: Simon Says, Unsaid

Album Review – Spirit – Amos Lee

Spirit is the sixth studio album by Amos Lee.

Spirit feels like two EPs put on a single disk to me. Half of the album has a very strong R&B/Gospel feel to it, while the other half is the bluesy folk rock he is so very well known for.

That said, this album is filled with a number of excellent songs, signalling that his songwriting is still strong, even as he stretches himself out of the comfortable groove that has had him headlining for the last 11 years.

Recommendation: Buy It

Songs I have a playlist for: One Lonely Light, Wait Up for Me, Walls, With You

Clunkers I will thumbs down:  Till You Come Back Through