It’s been another week of tragedies. If t it’s not one thing it’s usually another, as we walk through a valley with kaleidoscopic vision. I don’t even know where to begin so I won’t bore you with clever anecdotal quips. I tend to think people are better than we think they are but that’s been put to the test repeatedly with each passing event that engulfs this world into despair. So I wallow in music. Let’s begin, shall we..?
I wasn’t certain what was to come of Cars & Trains (Fake Four Inc.), off a label that releases a healthy dose of art time after time. The latest release by Cars & Trains though, I don’t know what to make of it. I’m getting ahead of myself here though, so let me start from the beginning. Tom Filepp is in essence, Cars & Trains. He’s a multi-instrumentalist from Portland, Oregon and Fictions is the 5th full-length release under this moniker. I’m not one to give readers filler and pretense about being knowledgeable about this act, it’s actually my first encounter with Filepp’s music. Of course, I’ve heard of the name but we’ve never crossed paths. This album is, for lack of a better word, complex. It opens simply enough with “The Colors And Shapes” which is eerily reminiscent of Pedro The Lion’s earlier work, where the innocence was the charm that catapulted the music into another dimension. It’s similar but Cars & Trains includes…so much more in one song. The mid-tempo’d pace is enough to drive one mad, never shifting in any capacity. Filepp’s voice is beautifully addictive but it’s when he first sings “One day I’ll be so small / I will fit in the silence ‘tween the letters of our name” in unison by himself, overdubbing his vocals, that you’ll be quick to fall in love with the track. But then he delves into “Rise And Fall,” a track where every movement made is as depressing as anything can be. Its timing is perfect and fitting today, with his words and delivery dragging, obliterating your senses into a quagmire of despair. Musically, “Bridges” rises above the muck, musically giving listeners a respite. The song is repetitive without being monotonously repetitious with its depressingly catchy beat. There’s a lot Filepp fits into his compositions here. “Every Morning” is filled with underlying percussion, with a haze of sounds and strings and when he sings “Forgotten plains stretching out, looking forever the same” you get a sense he tires of the monotony. The strings surrounding the song are a welcomed refuge I’d gladly kill for. Fictions has a way of keeping one lingering in a drained emotional state. If that was Filepp’s intent, he wins. If it wasn’t, he still wins just because he’s left me confused. That’s not an easy feat to accomplish, especially with the acoustic guitars fluttering around “Moon And The Earth” with those sweet melodies. Cars & Trains wins the challenge put ahead of me here simply because I’m left scratching my head as to how I can be dragged through a varied array of sounds and left with a heart so tightly wound.
It’s been 16 years and the Lexington, Kentucky bred CunninLynguists are still going strong. Rose Azura Njano (APOS Music/RBC Records) is the trio’s sixth proper album although there have been a number of mixtape releases throughout the years as well. The thing about this group though, they’ve morphed into something more than your average Hip-Hop group. What’s present throughout the group’s album are sure-shot beats with deep basslines that are sure to embed themselves in your dome offset by direct and indirect political stances as both vocalists Deacon The Villian and Natti wrap their words around one another and Kno’s beats in a different way. While the political machine has forced both rappers and rockers to take angry stances against inner-city violence, racial baiting and stupidity in general, the CunninLynguists don’t have harsh rhythms and angry lyricism spewed but rather inviting melodies and communicating their words in an attempt for you to listen. It’s obvious in a song title like “Red, White & Blues (feat. Jason Coffey)” and when Coffey opens the song with, “America, I love you / Even after everything you put my blood through / If we descendent of a slave I ought to cuss you, throw a middle finger up and say…/ America my love’s true / Even after everything you’ve put my blood through / If we descendent of a slave I ought to cut you, pull out an A-K and spray….but that ain’t love” you can understand the attempt and need to take a different path. Kno’s beat is all love on its own, drilling in sweet keys and guitars over a flavorful beat. And the verses? Lines like “100 miles and we still running / 400 years,” “Red, white lies now our lady sings the blues” and “We go hard all hoping for the love but all my heart’s still covered in blood” are thought-provoking. There’s no attempt here to bludgeon words on listeners like a sledgehammer but more so attempting to have a conversation in love. The frenetic beat of “Riot!” works perfectly against Deacon and Natti’s storytelling abilities of violence, blue against black and Klans against color. There’s beauty on Rose Azura Njano, like the maddening sadness of “Red Bird” where the duo uses metaphors and abstract imagery, giving a hefty view of life. “Gone (feat. Trizz)” cleverly and intelligently uses the words of both rappers to tackle the gentrification of the inner-city. The Lynguists even tackle views on money, always on a hustle but when talk of “Sometimes you gotta duck instead of flying in a ‘V’ / fuck flying in ‘V’” you know it’s advice on “Any Way The Wind Blows.” But damn if there aren’t track here that are filled with catchy beats. “Hustlers” drowns out the bland radio rap aficionado with more storytelling skills but it’s “Earth To Venus (Tiny Orang Star)” that’s addictive. Soothing is the only description that comes to mind for it. It’s all love here, Rose Azura Njano is filled with good music and lyrics that shows no signs of cynicism. The CunninLynguists are back.
Now the genre Jesse Royal travels in is one that’s been about revolution and tied to American and English cultures. The dread is Jamaica’s latest import and while he’s known in Roots Reggae and Dub circles, Lily Of Da Valley (Easy Star Records) is his debut full-length release. The 28-year old Royal has released an album that seems to fit most aspects of Jamaican life and culture. On this album, he’s traveled to Woodstock, NY and back to Kingston to record it. There are elements and factions of varying styles on this release but one thing is certain here, Royal wants peace and is in search of righteousness. The different sites of Royal are present, with songs like “400 Years,” and “Justice,” he throws his words into the fray of cultural equality and understanding. Forceful rhythms, sputtering guitars with keys atop of that bottom end accentuate the point he gets across. But then there’s the other side which simply wants peace and love like on “Finally” and “Roll Me Something Good” where sensimilla assists the natty dread in smoking in peace. And with that, looking for peace through spiritual enlightenment on “Jah Will See Us Through,” with its bouncy rhythm and Caribbean feel makes things so easy for Royal to sing this gorgeous track. There are times when he seemingly finds a middle ground in the sense that some tracks could be for anyone or everyone like on the percussive “Waan Go Home” and what sounds like a call to arms for the young and old on “Generation (feat. Jo Mersa Marley).” Lily Of Da Valley is a good album, it may not change the world but it’s the first step for Jesse Royal that’s a head above the rest.