Ever have so much on your plate that you seem to cross-reference items that have nothing to do with one another and you find yourself talking to people you wouldn’t normally talk to about varying subjects? Yeah, that’s how the past few days of mine have been, literally worried about keeping my calendar up to date with all the incorrect information I have. The good thing though is I don’t have to worry about what we have up on deck here for these albums this week.
Released today are an assortment of albums. Nas has the new Ye-produced album, which I have yet to listen to but I’m hoping disappointment will be to a minimal.
Look at what the can dragged in. The Get Up Kids began their run back in ’97 with their emo-driven Four Minute Mile. The band was loved by most, hated by a few (fact check: there were a handful of musicians who voiced their disdain for the band. They’re no longer here but the GUK seem to withstand the test of time.) It’s been seven (7) years since the band’s last outing, There Are Rules (2011), and an additional seven before that with Guilt Show (2004), which now may play into the band’s longevity. In between the group’s releases, members have had side projects The New Amsterdams and Reggie & The Full Effect, taking music in a different direction. The Get Up Kids just released a new EP, Kicker (Polyvinyl), four songs of blistering maturity, finding the perfect blend of pop and punk within the confines of just these few songs. The disparity from the band’s earliest material to its new, showcases the growth within song structures and lyrical placement. The obvious gradual change in recording process, everything sounds remarkably gorgeous. The band has always had it in them, that goes without saying, and even listening to the opening “Maybe” you get that the band hasn’t relinquished its love of dissonance juxtaposed closely to great melodies and the loud dueling guitar interplay. Lyrics are forceful without being forced on “Better This Way,” a frantically paced track where we find these young 40-somethings taking years of learning their instruments and turning them into WMDs. I don’t think I’ve been happier to see a band’s return coupled with such a great recording. Kicker may only be four songs long but I’m hitting that repeat over and over.
Where does one begin when discussing the music by two artists that are destined to be revered in the continuum of not only urban music but popular culture in general? Ali Shaheed Muhammad is a name that has always been topical, first with A Tribe Called Quest, then with the Raphael Saadiq * Dawn Robinson in Lucy Pearl, and with his highly underexposed solo effort, 2004’s Shaheedullah and Stereotypes. As of late, he’s kept active with a revitalized ATCQ as well as working alongside Adrian Younge, scoring the Luke Cage soundtrack. Adrian Younge is another likeminded individual, a multi-instrumentalist whose body of work is insanely challenging, from scoring the Black Dynamite film, to working with alongside Hip-Hop’s elite like Ghostface Killa as well as producing artists like Kendrick Lamar, Prodigy, and Schoolboy Q to name a few. But this isn’t a book report and reading this back, it comes off as one and all I simply am is a music fan. The new album The Midnight Hour (Linear Labs) contains 20 tracks(!) and to say the recordings are anything short of brilliant would be a travesty. An assortment of guest appearances are featured. Ladybug Mecca raps on the brief “Mare” which is both sultry and engaging, while Raphael Saadiq appears comfortable here on “It’s You” a guitar-driven R&B joint that ebbs and weaves around the rhythm section. As always, his voice is soothing, capturing the essence that is Saadiq’s. But not to be outshined is Bilal, a powerful vocalist in his own right, on “Do It Together” he sounds as powerful as Prince, with horns blaring in the background as they’re circumvented by strings. Now I’ve always had a respect for CeeLo Green, his songwriting, and vocal delivery but on the “Questions” composition, it’s taken to another level. What starts off with a Bossa nova twist, turns into a light and jazzy breeze of a track, filled with strings and wind instruments. But CeeLo? The track becomes his own as his voice doesn’t let the music completely overshadow his voice but allows both to blend as one. And here is where I can see musical worlds colliding on “Dans Un Moment D’errance” where Stereolab’s most notable voice Lætitia Sadier fills the space here with an upbeat loungy jam, with trumpets filling into spaces when necessary as keyboards progress with beautiful melodies. Sadier’s harmonies are a lovely touch as well. While Muhammad & Younge have other musicians featured as well, it’s the reworked “So Amazing” with Luther Vandross’ vocals that shock and stuns. Literally, Vandross’ vocals are always destined to withstand the test of time and here the duo’s jazzy R&B twist breathes new life into the song.
One thing I don’t want to ignore are the instrumental pieces created here. “Black Beacon” is brooding and evocative. A sense of dread coupled with a feeling of strength is evoked. The bass drives this song as strings permeate around it while keys keep it grounded, bringing it back to a riveting reality. This is the hit single popular radio never plays. It’s magical, as is “Gate 54,” a hopeful track treading a terrain of loss, it’s both wondrous and soothing. I just don’t know where Ali Shaheed Muhammad & Adrian Younge go from here because The Midnight Hour leaves an entire world of imagination open for continued magical collaborations, which we should all hope for. There has been no other album as perfect as this one this year.
Throughout the years I’ve championed many a release by Longshot, but it isn’t difficult not to be biased. Longshot has released material that would/could go down in the books as classics that most people have never heard. We should all be hopeful the new Parades (Doomtree) changes all that. One thing different here is a fully collaborative effort with producer Lazerbeak, who is part of the Doomtree collective. This isn’t the first time ‘Beak has stepped out of Doomtree to work with others, and his work with Lizzo on Lizzobangers made me excited for this one. But this isn’t the first time Longshot has worked with just one beatmaker exclusively, his Change Things and the CopperShot collab Issues, were masterpieces with Detroit’s Copperpot. Ok, but ‘Beak’s left-of-center beatmaking works in favor of the final product here. Lazerbeak throws in a number of different elements with the opening “Just Dance,” the feel of the organ driving the song makes it sound like he’s getting everything ready for Longshot to take listeners to church! The track gets busy and it works to the song’s title and Longshot’s benefit. But everything here isn’t about one big dance party though as heady lyricism permeates throughout with songs of struggle & perseverance and avoiding trappings of life on “Inside Of You.” But on the title track, you know exactly where he’s heading when he says “Rest in peace human rights” as the beat’s low key percussion and piano keys allow him the opportunity to speak his mind on racism, abuse of authority, and urban death in America. Songs here run the gamut of subject matter though and the beats get those points across with ease.
“Deal With It” Longshot raps more about hard work, staying in one’s own lane while ‘Beak utilizes an unorthodox play on sound, surrounding Longshot’s words with waves of electronics and rhythms surrounding them. The much sparser “Let Him Go” finds Longshot putting his descriptive storytelling skills to work. Love is good but if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. It all comes to a head though with “We Winnin” where Lazerbeak’s beat methodology makes him sound like the Bomb Squad of indie rap. They both kill it on the track. Parades push the boundaries of where music can go, “True Story” shows that. It’s not your standard Hip-Hop throughout the album but the track encompasses that ideology. This is that new shit and both Longshot & Lazerbeak just leveled the fuck up!
Literally, I didn’t know WTF to expect with this new self-titled Poptone release (Cleopatra Records.) It was listed as “Daniel Ash and Kevin Haskins of Bauhaus, Tones on Tail, Love and Rockets team with Diva Dompé as POPTONE.” Diva though is Kevin Haskins’ daughter on bass guitar and the trio of musicians play songs made famous by their old outfits as well as a selection of other songs. Why on earth would they do that??? Why? Because it’s fucking awesome that’s why! First off, the band borrows its name from a 1979 P.I.L. song, and the inception of the group came in 2017 when Daniel Ash felt the urge, the need, to play live again. His and Haskins resumes speak volumes and I don’t think anyone can criticize them for reworking and playing the songs they’ve written and re-recorded here. The band recreates its vision of Elvis’ “Heartbreak Hotel” which sounds much different than the original and stamping its signature on the song. Distorted guitars, loud rhythms, and just a fucking good time. Love & Rockets “Mirror People” is sped up but it’s refreshingly familiar. Poptone sticks to mostly Tones On Tail tracks and a few L&R ones, but everything is so delectably sweet. You can tell the difference with The Temptations’ “Ball Of Confusion,” Ash is afforded the opportunity to cut loose as he didn’t in the original remake. And of course there’s “Go” which sounds as classic as it did back when it was originally recorded. You can’t help but fall in love with Poptone as you once did with the previous bands. Sure they’re reworked tracks but so what? Everything is derivative now but Poptone is derivative unto itself!