We’re sometimes left in a staggering limbo where we think there’s nothing left to be offered so early in the year. When I say “we,” I do mean “me.” It’s not a pronoun, I sometimes think in third-person or allow the other voices in my head control of words, referring to myself plurally. It happens. But this week hasn’t been without its challenges and fortunately, for good or bad, there are things to discuss.
So this is new, New York’s Homeboy Sandman returns with a new release, There In Spirit (Mello Music Group). Seems like a different take on his music while remaining the same. You know, that robotic & laconic, matter-of-fact delivery. At about 22 minutes long, the release can’t be called an album, but seems longer than an EP. Sandman’s vocals are always tense and tightly wound and here we find him over mostly happy-go-lucky beats of Illingsworth. It’s catchy but I think we’ve gotten to the point where we may have heard it already. By no means is There In Spirit a bad release, we’ve just been here before.
It’s clear Robert Glasper is a well sought-after pianist whose focus allows him the ability to maneuver through multiple languages in music. Jazz, R&B, and Hip-Hop are where Glasper is probably most comfortable, translating notes in an attempt to make the world understand, offering clear and descriptive compositions. We’re all well aware of Glasper’s impact on music itself, Glasper has just released his 12th studio album, Black Radio III (Loma Vista Recordings); 13 tracks of soulful excursions that soothe the senses and massage every aspect of your being. This is easy, this will be quick.
Black Radio III first tempts us with the opening “In Tune,” curated by righteous poet Amir Sulaiman. Once blacklisted and placed on no-fly lists because of his stunning “Danger,” here Sulaiman’s approach is strengthened through his whispers, offering the consequence of George Floyd’s death, without mentioning his name, with metaphors surrounding blatant and systemic racism through his words. It’s powerful, accompanied by Glasper’s sole piano before other instruments, subtle and slowly, make their way across the soundscape. Glasper obviously tempts us with this track letting the listener believe fists will be raised in the air throughout but it’s not. Well, sort of. Killer Mike, BJ The Chicago Kid, and Big K.R.I.T. share rhymes on “Black Superhero,” an empowering track of what we need over a slinky groove of bass, guitar, and drums revolving around Glasper’s nimble fingers.
Throughout the album, it’s a literal who’s who of Hip-Hop, Soul, R&B, and Rock. “Why We Speak” features bassist/vocalist Esperanza Spalding and Q-Tip meshing their voices together but it’s the multilingual voice of Spalding that stands out offering vocals in more than one language as Q accentuates it with his words. “Better Than I Imagined” is a stunning track featuring H.E.R. and Meshell Ndegeocello, two multi-faceted artists with footing in Rock but defy classification(s). Here the two join Glasper for this sultry soulful journey, mixing their words & vocals as if they were always meant to be with one another. The odd surprise here is the reimagined Tears For Fears “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” which is great to hear Lalah Hathaway on. Glasper slows the tempo down a bit, and it becomes their own. We can’t forget Common on here, and his slow drawl is fitting here. The soft atmospheric “Everybody Love” delivers sweet cooing harmonies in the background with Musiq Soulchild drifting throughout with deliberate runs and sugary melodies. De La Soul’s Posdnuos delivers his ‘love’ lyricism and including a Do The Right Thing reference is clever AF. There’s a lot to take in with this album, filled with even more heavy hitters like Jennifer Hudson on the club-like jam of “Out Of My Hands,” and my goodness, there’s nothing Hudson can’t do. Her delivery is effortless over Glasper’s composition.
With Black Radio III, Glasper has a fully realized piece of art with the unexpected artistry of others (Ty Dolla $ign, India Arie, Gregory Porter, Ledesi, and more) which flows with unabashed freedom. If he hasn’t realized it, Robert Glasper has outdone himself with his new album.
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Well, “GRRRRRRRWLRREEEROAREERE!” That’s what I imagine my life to sound like if I didn’t grow up in the Bronx because you know, I love that shit. “What is this ‘shit’ you’re referring to,” you ask? Of course, it’s referring to all things loud, filled with sludge and darkness that soothes the soul. In this case, European metal occasionally puts all else to shame. Yes, that sounds about right.
Gothenburg, Sweden’s Firebreather just released its sophomore full-length Dwell In the Fog (RidingEasy Records) and things haven’t sounded as sweet in such a long time. But what is it that makes this release so special or varying off the path from those cut from the same cloth? Given, the album is brief in songs but the 6 track release but those same songs are meaty, ranging anyway from five and a half minutes to over seven. That’s just the base, but we can get to the heart of the matter here. These lengthy tracks never distract and there’s always something worth digging into. For a trio, Firebreather has a thick sound that’s unrelenting. Guitars crash against drums and Mattias Nööjd sings with unrelenting fervor, pausing to allow instruments to collide against one another, time and time again.
After every listen – personally on my 10th right now – we get a fix of it all on “The Creed,” a thunderous display of angst and venom. The band is relentless as everything falls into place; from the breaks to Nööjd’s distorted vocals. A quick display of vocal harmonizing briefly makes its way in before the bombast continues. It’s enthralling. But it’s the harrowing 7 minute-plus of the album’s title track that boggles the senses. The literal wall of distorted guitars, as power chords are manipulated to create a denseness throughout its entirety. It makes no difference at what speed the band finds itself maneuvering within, it fills every inch of every song with something you can sink your teeth in. “Kiss Of Your Blade” is a clear-cut example as the band is assiduous in its direction and movement! This(!) is what we want to hear.
This year, no one can compare to Firebreather and its Dwell In The Fog, an album that leaves no stone unturned, with creative outbursts at just about every turn. Some might disagree but if they do, a healthy middle finger should be directed that them. Firebreather is life.