Silk Noise Reflex: James Tillman 

Does everything feel like it’s going to shit? Does your life suck right now? Do you feel like no matter how hard you try it isn’t getting any better and you just can’t catch a break?

James Tillman got you. Take this sonic vacation with him. Escape in 4/4 into his silky world of dreamy electro-acoustic nu-jazz. Urban Lounge Music for the depressed and the stressed.

It’s so titular: Silk Noise Reflex. Silky and noisy in the finest ways; a reflex reaction of his emotions, the way one would normally react to what the world has to throw at you. Mellow and breakbeat. His falsetto is sweet and he sprinkles his percussions the way one would sprinkle salt, sparse but present. 

The moral lesson of each track can be summed up in a sentence. For example:

‘Rat Race’ = Slow down.
‘Death of a Star’ = sorry we couldn’t be together it’s no one’s fault.
‘Ms. Urbane’ = let it go.
‘Ms. Malaise’ = you make me happy
‘Human behavior’ = who are you to feel this way? Things happen to everyone everyday. No one’s feelings matter more.
‘Self Portrait of a New Yorker’ = why am I such a loner?
‘Tabloid theory’ = why am I still not happy?
‘Missed encounters’ = I just want to meet up and spend time with you

At night, the stars like fairy lights against the midnight blue backdrop. Drink wine and forget your woes, James will help you. 

Rated: 3.7 / 5

Freudian: Daniel Caesar

Two songs came out in 2016 that didn’t receive the airplay they deserved until later this year. These two songs are now certified classics. Songs you will play a month from now, on your wedding day and to your kids on long road trips.

Goldlink – Crew

Daniel Caesar – Get You

Once ‘Get You’ hit, Daniel Caesar’s shot to fame was bright and meteoric. When his first EP (Praise Break, 2014) came out, it was ranked number 19 on Rolling Stone’s Top Twenty R&B albums of 2014. I felt very left out. He’s been on his grind for three years but we’re only listening to him now? That’s the price artists pay for stardom. No-one cares how good you are until you have your first hit. Coincidentally, Goldlink.

Anyway, Daniel hasn’t stopped working hard.

His debut album Freudian is a sonical landscape of love and heartbreak intertwined like lovers on Insecure. On ‘Best Part’, his duet with H.E.R, aided by softly-strung guitars, hands inch closer to each other, stares grow deeper, the shade under the tree is warmer.

You’re my water when I’m stuck in the desert
You’re the Tylenol I take when my head hurts
You’re the sunshine on my life

‘Hold Me Down’ takes gospel and turns it into a PartyNextDoor interlude. Kirk Franklin into Tiller.

The rest of the album plays like a live concert. Songs flow into each other sounding better together than apart.

‘Loose’ plays out like intimate backstage practice. On the last half of the song, he performs the introduction to ‘We find love’ and it sounds like unrequited love. Sad, harsh, beautiful. When the song begins, this turns this into a rally cry. Breakups suck but it isn’t the end. We rise and we fall. The end is not the end.

You don’t love me anymore
Let’s see how you like this song

He still want to be loved though. He still wants it to all mean something.

Ever since the day that I met you
My world’s been spinning out of control
I just need you to hold

On ‘Blessed’, Daniel is a junkie at the knees of love. I may not be good for you but I can’t live without you.

It’s the way that you pray
Prey on my insecurities

Daniel takes his gospel roots and, hand in hand with an actual gospel choir, redefines soul in 2017.

This album will be a classic. Quote me.

 

Here’s a really nice piano cover. I hope it makes your day a little brighter:

 Image: Billboard

Rated: 4.4 /5

 

An Introduction to NJOMZA 

NJOMZA is sad for you. That’s a double entrendre: sad for you because she feels sorry for you, sad for you because she misses you.
Pronounced nee-yohm-zah. You might recognize her as the sultry female vocals on ‘My Favorite Part’ off Mac Miller’s last project, ‘The Divine Feminine’

Her debut EP, Sad for you is airy and light but heavy at the same time.

She starts it off by declaring war against her feelings in ‘Intro’.

Fuck these emotions, I don’t need them

People switch up like the seasons

The title track, ‘Sad for you’ is unlike anything I’ve ever heard. It’s dismissive yet sensitive. It’s recognizing the need to evolve and grow, with or without this other person.

‘Poison’ is simple and minimalist. She equates a toxic relationship to a car crash, to a bombing, to suicide by poison. She pulls herself out because she knows she still has too much to live for.

‘Perfect Fit’ is looking at you with bedroom eyes, slurring its words slightly as it invites you in. It’s 4 am and promises whispered between sweet and salty nothings.

‘Baggage’ feels like the child of Amy Winehouse and Jorja Smith. A sole horn blowing soul, it uses the same jazz elements as those in The Divine Feminine.  It’s when reality hits you and you see a person for what they are instead of what you want them to be.

NJOMZA breathes rhythm and soul, light and darkness, and a sprinkle of personal glitter into this project, and she’s only just getting started.

Rated : 3.8 / 5

Ctrl: SZA

SZA (pronounced Sizza) is a normal girl and this is what makes her unique.

When we look at most female artists, we give them this dignified reverence. Lana Del Rey is the 50’s incarnate, Rihanna is queen and Beyonce, a deity. These artists live and exemplify this lifestyle. Rihanna walks out of her home and the world comes to a stop. Beyonce has twins and there’s a new royal family. We will love Lana when she’s no longer Young and Beautiful. These things are a given. But SZA? She’s perfectly ordinary.

That is my greatest fear
That if, if I lost control
Or did not have control, things would just, you know
I would be… fatal

On Supermodel (produced and co-written by Pharrell) she says:

I could be your supermodel if you believe
If you see it in me, see it in me, see it in me

SZA doesn’t want a Vogue cover. These aren’t the things to sate her insecurities. All she wants is for the person she loves and cares for to see her for what she could be. She’s been fucked with and left alone but all she needs is for that to be seen. It is painful and it is sad but it’s true.

In a way, aren’t we all like this? Our life’s achievements are never for the entire world. Just for the one person we do them for. When this one person doesn’t recognise them, then it hurts.

On Doves in the Wind, she wields her sexuality like a weapon. On his verse,Kendrick says:

Niggas’ll lose they mind for it
Wine for it, dine for it—pussy

We all know guys that have gone to extreme lengths for sex. At the same time, we know guys that disappear as soon as they get some. This isn’t cool and SZA doesn’t vibe with that. We should all be more like Forrest Gump, she says. Girls deserve the whole box of chocolates.

Again, all SZA wants is acceptance from the person she loves. On Drew Barrymore she gives us the best verse on the entire album:

I’m sorry I’m not more attractive
I’m sorry I’m not more ladylike
I’m sorry I don’t shave my legs at night
I’m sorry I’m not your baby mama
I’m sorry you got karma comin’ to you
Collect and soak in it right

Don’t change a thing SZA. He doesn’t deserve you anyway.

The Weekend is the reflection of relationships in the 21st century. Side chick is as common and acceptable a phrase as avocado toast.

You’re like 9 to 5, I’m the weekend is now the default Instagram caption for 2017.

 

On Broken Clocks, SZA summarises the entire album in a verse:

All I got is these broken clocks
I ain’t got no time
Just burning daylight
Still love and it’s still love, and it’s still love
It’s still love, still love (still lovin’), still love
It’s still love but it’s still love

Nothin’ but love for you (nothin’ but)
Nothin’ but love (nothin’ but)
Nothin’ but love

She knows she’s imperfect. She knows she has her flaws. This doesn’t stop her from loving and loving hard because despite everything this is the one thing she has. Pure unrequited unending love.

She gets cheated on. She’s insecure about her body and she doesn’t understand why anyone won’t love her.

SZA is us and we are SZA.

 

PS: In Supermodel she says:

Let me tell you a secret
I been secretly banging your homeboy

Apparently she hadn’t already told her ex-boyfriend this. Does it get more savage?

Image: Hypebeast

Rated: 4.6 / 5

American Teen: Khalid

Listening to this album, it feels like most of the songs started out in jam circles with him and his friends. If I could summarize the album in one word, it would be ‘youth’. 18 year old Khalid is aware of his youth and uses it wholly to his advantage.

‘Location’ caught everyone’s attention and put Khalid into a different lane. From being a military kid from El Paso to performing live on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and contributing uncredited vocals to Kendrick Lamar’s ‘The Heart Pt IV’. Indeed, Young Khalid is doing quite alright for himself.

Not to patronize him, but you should notice his lisp on words like “American” and “Therapy”. It’s unendingly adorable.

Admittedly, 2 seconds into the titular track, ‘American Teen’, and I thought, “Oh no. This is going to be some cheesy Katy Perry-esque mishmash of debauchery and patriotism. Shoot me now.” But it wasn’t, and this should serve as a lesson to anyone who prematurely judges a song. At least wait for the 30 second mark before you start sharpening your pitchforks.

However, if you still wish to, you can test his patriotism with the visible folk influences in ‘Another Sad Love Song’; like it was recorded over a bayou.

He has a gritty buttery voice. Like a baby trapped inside the vocal cords of a grown man who has experienced the hardships of life; and whereas Khalid’s hardships involves too many subtweets and not enough dates over Subway, the journey feels all the same. No adversity feels more or less than the other. Khalid is like seeing a wolf with the softest shea-butter fur.

When the lyricism isn’t an ode to youth, it’s heartfelt and sombre. Always dedicated to someone in the second person, not ‘her’ nor ‘him’. ‘You’.

‘Shot down’ is for the slow dance at prom. Comparing his feelings for ‘you’ to being knocked down by a sudden powerful force.

He is a breathing example of the cultural significance of Soundcloud in this day and age, it doesn’t take much for rubies like Khalid to shine. It gives artists a platform to be heard in a world where they would have previously formed part of the ‘listen to my demo’ chatter, piled in the back of an underpaid A & R’s desk.

‘Angels’ is his personal favorite song on the project, and it’s not hard to see why. There’s a divinity to it. Backed by a melodic piano that his voice uses as a platform to propel itself further up, the old-fashioned wordsmith radiates a bright halo glow, as he becomes like the angels he talks to: a transfiguration of sorts because transfigurations almost always take place at the end. He is without ego. He is honest. He is kind. Khalid is the American teen living the American dream.

We float above horizons
And sail across the seas
I hope for better days
And lately times are tough
The angels give me strength
And I’m not giving up

030617-music-khalid-american-teen-album-cover-art

Image: The Fader; Cover art

Lyrics: Genius

Rated: 3.3 / 5

 

Vibrations to send: Drake

Drake says that this isn’t an album. Neither is it a mixtape. Instead, he calls it a playlist. And this makes perfect sense.

When Views first came out, the reaction to it was pretty typical. Day 1: everyone was in awe because this is a Drake album and we don’t get very many of those, and Rihanna featured twice. After a while though, we all took off our rose tinted glasses. Views isn’t a bad album, not in the slightest. It just didn’t live up to the expectations we had for it. “Too good”, “Feel no ways” and “Child’s play” shall forever remain classics but for a 20 song tracklist there wasn’t much to it.

And this was the case because, plainly speaking, Drake was trying too hard. Nothing was the same was utterly brilliant, and coming off of that must have been difficult. He had two options. He could redo the same thing and get a good old Jhene feature or completely reinvent his sound at the risk of not appealing to the masses. He did both and this indecision is what did him in. Part of Drake’s charisma is how well he can flit from one genre to another. Have us gyrating to “Control”, crying to “Feel no ways” and trap to “Grammys”. But when you try and do this in one album, it doesn’t come off, well, “Too good.”

Drake wrote this accompaniment to More Life:

FullSizeRender

This is Drake’s philosophy throughout the playlistViews was about proving his versatility More Life is proving his fluidity. Here, it isn’t about sick flows or hard bars. That isn’t the goal. We don’t have a lot of time on this wretched planet so we need to squeeze the life out of every moment. Collaborate with everyone. Fake a South London accent. Sample a damn recorder! More Life is a good time. I feel like Drake called all his friends and put a performance for us. It feels like Drake left all his regrets and worries behind and just had fun.

The songs themselves are no holds barred. Not like sick freestyles or massive beats. Just laid back music someone wrote on a Sunday afternoon. We have “Free Smoke” which samples the ethereal Hiatus Kaiyote and throws more subliminal shots at Kid Cudi. There’s “Passionfruit” which takes tropical house, flips it on its head, and reminds you that “Shape of you” isn’t the end of the genre. “Get it together” brings long-deserved attention to the South African legend that is Black Coffee. All the Giggs features are sewage grimy and I still can’t believe that he sampled a recorder on “Portland”.

“Madiba Riddim” would have to be my favourite. I feel like its the antithesis to “Controlla”. On a dance floor, “Controlla” is bodies gyrating, sweat flowing and sin pumping. “Madiba Riddim” is drunken laughter, bodies close but not touching, happiness pure and untainted. Like I said, this album is a genuine good time. Being a Drake album, the trap obviously has to come through. On “Sacrifices” we have a coherent Young Thug, “Kmt” has Drake on his xxxtentation flow, “Gyalchester” is What a time to be alive nostalgia.

More Life isn’t perfect. It’s too long; some of the features feel more gratuitous that necessary; the Kanye feature isn’t all that. But this isn’t an album and, thus, shouldn’t be analysed as one. It’s a playlist. Playlists tend to be too long, have songs you definitely won’t like but still find a way to accommodate for everyone.

Life is too short to not do the things you would like to do. And, should someone come collecting, at least we can say that Drake lived the life he wanted.

Rating: 3.7 / 5

 

Sweet. Sexy. Savage: Kehlani

Produced by Jahaan Sweet, Pop & Oak, and Charlie Heat among others, Sweetsexysavage is the posterchild for the multi-dimensional woman. Independent. Confident. Insecure. Selfish. Pretty. Needy. Kehlani. She attempts to rid us of the notion that a female must only be one thing at a given time. A tattoo splattered tomboy sometimes vixen, other times angelic. Kehlani herself is a walking contradiction.

More inadvertently sweet than anything, Kehlani pays homage to the 90’s with an album that conjures up nostalgic thoughts of Aaliyah and Brandy. A dash of SWV. Traditionally constructed in a way that just goes to show you how much of an old school kid Kehlani really is.

She sprinkles that reluctant sweet in ‘In my feelings’:A song about an exasperated girl, grappling with her emotions and trying to understand why she feels more than the other people: an upbeat track with downbeat lyrics. And in the vulnerable Spanish guitar of the ballad ‘Hold me by the heart’ where she drops her guard and humbly asks for a bit of patience.

She turns on the sexy in ‘Piece of mind’ ,a cathartic bonfire sing-along and an ode to better decisions, showing us how sexy self-confidence can be.

She drops the savage in ‘Distraction’, bluntly expressing how little time she has for a serious relationship, all she’s looking for is someone to take her mind off of things for a little while.

Bravery is feeling fear but doing the thing anyway. Kehlani’s background is that of a person that has been tenacious on her come up despite the fact that life did not make things particularly easy for her- from shoplifting food from grocery stores to stuffing two mixtapes and an album in her back pocket. She’s the closest she’s ever been to her dreams, and she’s grateful. The carefree woman. Master of her fate.Captain of her soul.

kehlani-sweet-sexy-savage-artwork

Rated: 3.4 / 5

 

Image : Blavity; Album art

The Burning Sun: Sampha

Process doesn’t feel like an album that was just waiting to happen. It feels inspired. Motivated. Forced, you could even say. Like a journal entry of an event so cataclysmic you absolutely had to write about it. And thankfully, Sampha did.

If you think this is the first time you’ve heard of Sampha, I can absolutely assure you that you have heard of him before. He’s collaborated with Solange on ‘Don’t touch my hair’, with Kanye on ‘Saint Pablo’, Frank Ocean on Endless and Drake on Nothing was the Same. In fact, he achieved vine stardom (when this was still a thing) because of ‘Too much’ off Drake’s Nothing was the same. This isn’t to say that Sampha is some sort of puppet master, ghost writing at the strings of major artist. Sampha’s voice is just honest. Plain and simple. When the rapper is trying to make you understand his struggle, Sampha’s voice is there to highlight everything in bold. Look at Kanye’s second verse from ‘Saint Pablo’:

Cause if I’m up way too much, I’m out of touch
I’m prayin’ a out-of-body experience will happen
So the people can see my light, now it’s not just rappin’
God, I have humbled myself before the court
Drop my ego and confidence was my last resort

Wow. This is Kanye actually being humble. Not to say that he’s the egomaniac he presents himself as, but in one of the few times that he isn’t being a total jackass, he has Sampha holding it down with this:

And you’re lookin’ at the church in the night sky
Wonderin’ whether God’s gonna say hi
Oh, you’re lookin’ at the church in the night sky
And you wonder where is God in your nightlife

In 2014, Sampha lost his mum to cancer. His reaction to it fills the brim of Process and it is utterly heartbreaking. From start to finish, he bares his soul. On ‘Plastic 100c’, through the veil of outer space, he talks about how life can be when everything is changing unbearably fast:

I love those mornings, when the sun’s up
Smoking in the lobby, waiting for my name to pop up, yeah, pop up
Usually I’d run home, and tuck the issue under
Oh, sleeping with my worries, yeah, I didn’t really know what that lump was, my luck

This event hit him hard and still, right up until the end, he never gave up. On ‘Kora Sings’, he says:

A pillow on your face soaking up those tears
Who’s anyone to say you should have no fear?
A mouth full of smoke really made things clear
You’ve been with me since the cradle
You’ve been with me, you’re my angel
Please don’t you disappear

On ‘(No-one knows me) Like the Piano’, he brings the hammer down on everything he’s been feeling in three short verses. It’s a ballad, but not in the conventional sense. Not a husband to a wife or a lover to another, but a boy appreciating what his mother has done for him. From raising him to simply bringing a piano into their home.

There’s a running theme in this album: The burning sun. Sampha’s trying to escape everything that has happened to him. Running like they smell the “blood on me”. But like the burning sun, he can only run so fast, so far. This doesn’t mean he’ll stop running.

Rated: 4.1 / 5

Image: Rolling Stone

Lyrics: Genius

Yes Lawd!: Anderson .Paak / Knxwledge

Anderson .Paak is winning. In 2016 he got his big break. He released his debut album Malibu. He signed with Dre. Everyone wants a piece of him now, he knows this. Malibu and Venice were two very mature projects, bending and winding into the complex themes of Anderson .Paak’s life. Therefore, he deserves a little fun. As a result, we have Yes Lawd! 

With his candy paint smooth voice and Knxwledge on production, Nxworries may arguably be the smoothest duo of 2017. Signed to the iconic Stones Throw Records that has housed the likes of Madlib, MF Doom and J Dilla. Iconic producers in their own right. 

‘Suede’ being the first single to push the project, Anderson .Paak addresses the various girls who want to “ride in his car” (catch the innuendo). He differentiates the “tricks” from the bitches, and ensures that everyone is on the same page.

Gotta whole lot of women, all of them with it
Yes Lord!

The question here is: Is Anderson .Paak sexist or are his pimp genes too strong?

And as long as you don’t call after 6
Then there won’t be any problem

Geez, that’s cold man.

A recurring theme in .Paak’s lyrics is his difficulty of choice between commitment and dishing free loving. He asks the girls to come through in ‘Link up’ where he proceeds to pied piper them back to his place. However, In ‘Sidepiece’ he croons his devotion to one woman, for whom he would gladly give up everyone else for.

The feels take over rationality in ‘Starlite’: he’s in the process of breaking up with her when their song plays and he asks her to fuck everything he’s just said, and stay the night.

Hey, got damn, bitch, they playing our song
I wanna stay with you all night long
Forget every single word I’ve said, I was dead wrong

Before I go any further, you have to remember that this is an Anderson .Paak and Knxwledge album. While the mainstream public is generally familiar with Anderson .Paak by now, they aren’t as privileged when it comes to Knxwledge.

One thing you should know is that his first release was in 2010 and since then he has released about 80 albums and EPs, establishing himself as a legend, in a little under 7 years. If that isn’t hard work I don’t know what is.

Knxwledge is the background calm to .Paak’s hyper charisma. If their music was a club: Anderson would be wilding out at the centre of the dancefloor and Knxwledge would be standing at the back, bobbing his head, vibing to the music and smoking a blunt.

His production really shines in ‘Kutless’ and ‘Can’t Stop’, particularly from the 00:40 mark. Both sound like raw honey tastes, with Knxwledge’s snazzy loops: perfectly sliced and placed samples, as his signature.  80’s nostalgia is prevalent with that jamming Yamaha DX7 synth sound in ‘Scared Money’. Maybe .Paak singing over the first track from Knxwledge’s 2013 album Kauliflowr on ‘Wngs’ can prove to you just how great of a stand-alone artist Knxwledge is, and when fused together with another great artist, magic ensues.

Bless Lawd for this collaboration.

Rated: 3.9 / 5

Image: Consequence of Sound

Lyrics: Genius