The weather’s getting warm and I was fixing lunch for my first born. I was doing that this morning but I figured I’d throw that first line in there as a tie-in to this week’s Friday Roll Out(!) and I’m sure some will understand before I even write another word about it. Patience please. But regardless, it’s another Friday and the weekend is upon us, as is el Cinco de Mayo. Yeah, it’s another day that’s been usurped by American culture into a nonsensical day to get drunk and yell, “Woohoo! Happy Cinco de Mayo.” I’ve heard it, I’ve seen it, it ain’t pretty. But there are a bunch of releases that came out today, which is a beautiful thing. I had to give the Black Lips a mention because I just couldn’t get to their new album Satan’s Graffiti Or Go a review. That shit was pretty dense and would’ve required so much focus. Just so you know, I love it when things are dense. But it wasn’t going to happen.
But we’re focused today as we begin with the new album by none other than the pragmatic Brother Ali. The Minneapolis emcee has spent some time away from music but never distancing himself. Ali has been in this game of music since 2000 and to say that he’s grown as an artist would be an understatement. While you will no longer hear him rap lines like, “I bitch slap rappers so hard I give them whiplash,” (off a track on his Shadows On The Sun album, like the first line I mentioned previously) the power his voice commands is still prevalent on his new album All The Beauty In This Whole Life, (Rhymesayers) Brother Ali’s 6th full-length album and possibly his most realized work to date. Once again his musical collaborator remains Atmosphere’s Ant who’s able to capture Ali’s essence from song-to-song. The album opens with “Pen To Paper” which features Amir Sulaiman, one poetic powerhouse in his own right whose words showcase clear juxtapositions that are amazingly clever right before Ali starts spitting his words without venom, but clear with an as-a-matter-of-fact eloquence. He dictates the pace and drops self-assured words that are far from sounding self-gratuitous. He’s controlled that anger you could once find seething through his songs and replaced it with more love that anyone could imagine. Ant pulls out the magic on “Own Light (What Hearts Are For),” with a hypnotic beat, bassline and guitar & keyboard notes. Ali’s rhymes directly attack authority when he raps “You’re not using your hearts for what hearts are for / They’ve been trying to shut us down our whole life.” It’s an amazing piece of work.
Brother Ali doesn’t stray from sharing his light with others on this release, “Special Effects” features rapper deM atlaS who sings here and provides the hook. But it’s tracks like “Dear Black Son” that could have listeners falling into somber moods but Ali’s delivery on this heartfelt letter to his son keeps it from sinking into the morose. When he raps “Dear Black Son, I can’t protect you like I want to / I never judge you, all that I can do is love you” and “They say it takes a man to raise a man / You’re slipping through my hands like grains of sand” a listener can feel Ali’s emotion and the love he gives. He gets realer than most artists do like with “Uncle Usi Taught Me,” binding his words with nothing more than truth on how authority views people like himself and Muslim Americans. The beat throbs under his words. It’s difficult not to fall in love with this album where once again, the juxtaposition between the music and his words on “Pray For Me” make self-reflective subject matters feel lighthearted when it fact, it’s not. It may be self-deprecating but his self-efficacy obviously rose above it all. We can go on and on, attempting to dissect every nuance of All The Beauty In This Whole Life but…why? I want to just let it play, and play on I shall because Brother Ali got me. Again.
Switching gears here, we move on to Pretty Pretty, this Columbus, OH band that’s just released their new long-player Demo II (Superdreamer Records.) It follows up their 2012 album Demo of course. What can you say about the group aside from “lo-fi” or “punk”? Well, charming for one thing. Calling Demo II would be a misnomer since it’s only 8 tracks and clocks in at about maybe 16 minutes. Some tracks just go over the minute mark but they don’t need much more time than that really. This gritty release jams all out. And aside from the opening “Are You Waiting,” it’s usually sans drums or any percussion. But it’s done well. I think I’m enjoying this one more than I ever did the Demolition Doll Rods, but that’s a story for another time. “Shufflin’ Shit” is on constant repeat and I can’t help but think those early Pavement and Sebadoh recordings weren’t much different and turned those groups into monstrosities at their own respective levels. Could Pretty Pretty go the same route? One never knows but they’re onto something.
When I get to AJ Davila all I can think is, “Man, I know this kid is going to throw a monkey wrench at me.” What I tend to like are those moments people advance forward with unexpected elements in music. Davila, originally hailing from Puerto Rico, whose nomadic life finds him trekking across countries in South America and Mexico, tends to do that. He last released an album in 2014 with his group Terror Amor and now, El Futuro seems bright in 2017. While he’s honed his skills back with his original garage rock outfit Davila 666, Terror Amor augmented his sound and continued to blast, and knock down those garage walls. Now with El Futuro, he doesn’t disappoint in that respect (It should be noted for this album he was backed by the Crocodiles band.) While being equally addictive, AJ seems to try his hand at more melodies and harmonies with his new release. The lead track, “Beautiful” is all of that and an extra dose of sweet, sweet chocolate thrown in. It’s your standard verse-chorus-verse but it’s so much different because you can’t help but sing or hum along to it when it comes on. AJ mainly sings in Spanish but when he hits those English words, they’re accentuated clearly. English or Spanish, it doesn’t matter because it’s a beast of a gorgeous pop song. He’s not averse to hitting “baby baby’s” and “Oh ohs” as you can tell on “17,” what seems like a throwback to better times of youth with little responsibilities. This punk little rock jam is simply fun. Then there’s “Mi Vida” which continues with the easy flow and lightheartedly anthemic. It’s translated into “My Life” and the words ring with laid back forcefulness and when he says “No me jodas” (don’t bother me) it’s obvious he doesn’t want you to bug him but he’ll just walk away telling you that. “Hoes Seeking The Ghost” is a raucously sweet number that’ll have you dancing in your seat, like me while “Dolores” plays a little with dynamics as the song slowly crescendos into a noisier little number, a bit more fuzzy, drawing vocals that sometimes sound near and far. AJ is playfully showing his range musically which should be appreciated.
He’s not relinquishing his roots on this release though, because “Post Tenebras Lux” starts off dark and dirty before evaporating into a catchy chorus and then takes it to the bridge. AJ’s also showing his punk/wave leanings with “El Nucleo,” where he takes a nod to early-Cure-like guitar interplay, again smothering it with “ooo’s” and “ahs.” On El Futuro, AJ Davila has perfectly captured the pop sensibilities he’s always leaned towards with the sonic corrosiveness of his garage rock past. The beauty is in the album.
(Aforementioned Black Lips)