What I’m Hearing, Vol. 6

For a taste of what I was hearing last month, click here.

September’s iPod update featured some fantastic new music from the month, including a number of debut albums from upcoming artists. R&B, Soul, Hip-Hop, Rock, Electronica and Pop music all make their appearances over 91 new tracks ushering us into Fall.

eLZhi, The Preface: Most rappers who have been recording material since 1997 have a large body of work to show for it. While this is the case for eLZhi, the majority of this work is unreleased or in featuring format on other artists’ work over the past 7 years or so. 2008 marks the debut full length album from this Detroit native, and while quite a few hip-hop fans may not have heard of eLZhi yet, the strength of this album should help make his second effort eagerly awaited. With production from fellow up and comer Black Milk, eLZhi uses a mixture of darker beats and old-school sounding fresh production to leave himself with a diverse group of songs which he raps over with ease. Whether he’s rapping about love, poverty and socioeconomic divisions or his experiences growing up in the streets, elZHi’s lyrics are complex yet effortless, coming out the polished product of a rapper with an extreme amount of comfort in his delivery. With a fantastic string and vocal sample and his laidback flow, “Transitional Joint” is the kind of song that’s an instant classic on the first listen. Don’t Sleep On: “The Science,” “Transitional Joint,” and “Save Ya.”

Lykke Li, Youth Novels: I covered Lykke Li’s US EP release here back in June. The full album finally made its way stateside, and the result of Li’s command over an entire album is impressive. While most songs retain the soft-spoken and delicate feeling of the EP, Li uses the full album to spread her wings into esoteric melody pieces (“This Trumpet In My Head”) as well as emotionally semi-detached pieces with simple backings (“Hanging High”). However, what is more enjoyable is when the album delves further into the dance and pop ideals that her voice and musical judgments help to raise above the standard radio fare. Even while being forceful, Li’s voice manages to be light and airy without disappearing against the background of the heavier songs. With guest remixes by The Black Kids (WIH,V.5) CSS and DiskJokke, a few of the EP songs get a new feeling. The range of tracks on this album speaks of a promising and diverse future body of work from this young singer out of Sweden. Don’t Sleep On: “Breaking It Up,” “Complaint Department,” and “I’m Good, I’m Gone (Black Kids Remix)”

Raphael Saadiq, The Way I See It: When I picked up this album, I had to make sure that the published date of it was correct. Saadiq, formerly of Tony! Toni! Toné!, has reinvented his music on this album that feels at times like it could have and should have been released in various portions of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. Soul, R&B, Funk and sounds of Doo-Wop all permeate this album, and some of the production makes you think you’re listening to an old classic that you’ve never heard before…It feels like a vintage Sunday afternoon. The musicianship behind him allows Saadiq’s voice to soar through tracks both melancholy and joyful. Fans of The Four Tops, The Supremes, Stevie Wonder (who makes an appearance on the album), Dusty Springfield and their contemporaries will all find reason to smile here. “Just One Kiss” features Joss Stone, and the remix of another album song “Oh Girl” features Jay-Z. Don’t Sleep On: “Love That Girl,” “Big Easy (feat. The Infamous Young Spodie & The Rebirth Brass Band)” and “Kelly Ray.

Rumble Strips, Girls and Weather: In case you weren’t aware, the perforations on the freeway shoulders that rattle you if you stray too far outside the lines are called rumble strips. I certainly didn’t know that before sitting down to review the band I’ve been listening to for two weeks. While most bands hopping the pond are taking up the power punk and alt-rock sounds of Bloc Party and the Young Knives (WIH, V.3), the Rumble Strips infuse it with at times Bosstones-like frenetic horns and ska sensibilities on their debut album, without losing a strong rock value. The arrangements are tight and Charlie Waller on lead vocals, while sometimes a bit reckless in his reach, provides the emotion necessary to keep up with the pace and energy of the sound. While they made their breakthrough with the rollicking and enormously fun “Motorcycle,” there are a variety of enjoyable sounds to be found on Girls and Weather. Don’t Sleep On: “Cowboy,” “Time,” and my personal favorite, “Girls and Boys in Love.”

Stacy Epps, The Awakening: Multi-faceted (I’ve been told she attended law school at USC) Stacy Epps brings her life experiences and spiritual vision to the table in an album that exudes passion that is sometimes overwhelming and unreachable in its scope. Using trip-hop beats and spacey melodies with jazz influences Epps at various times flows, speaks, sings and fades away on an album that exhibits a vocal talent sometimes lost in the more convoluted soundscapes. If there’s a drawback to this album, it’s that a few too many songs have “The Awakening, 2008, Stacy Epps” or some combination of these in the background, almost in an attempt to subconsciously advertise in the aural space of the listener. It gets frustrating at times, like endless self-promotion polluting the music. Fans of Bjork and Alice Coltrane will have a field-day here, but it might be too dense for casual listeners. Don’t Sleep On: “Floatin’,” “Heaven” feat. Bilal Salaam, and “Who Knows.”

Throw Me the Statue, Purpleface EP: One of the most promising signs of a relatively young band is the sign of continual tinkering with the sound and style, and a refusal to be tied too tightly to any one genre, while making music that all sounds somehow, on a fundamental level, right for them. This four track EP that fell in my hands last week courtesy of Gavroche exhibits this growth while retaining the emotional ambiguity and lyrical earnestness necessary to make them work. One of the original Moonbeams tracks, “Written in Heart Signs, Faintly” gets a studio makeover of its concert alter-ego here. “Honeybee” is a simple and direct piano backed and reverb laced track with glimpses of clarinet. “That’s How You Win” uses plaintive guitars and a kick and run drum roll to back Reitherman’s echo-like and airy vocals. “Ship,” however, is the standout track of this set both musically and lyrically. The drums combine with a drum machine to back a building piano that crashes into the main melody of the song, an incredibly beautiful piece of music that contentedly fades out at the end, free to repeat in the space between your ears. Don’t Sleep On: It’s a 4 track EP people, what’s to sleep on?

Tough Alliance, The New School: Taking pop and electronic music and blending it is the outcome of this album from the duo of Henning Fürst and Eric Berglund. At times repetitive and even slightly annoying, at its best, The New School offers video game blip electronic music that is mindlessly catchy. Not my normal cup of tea in its entirety, but Don’t Sleep On: “Take No Heroes,” “Tough II,” and “Koka-Kola Veins.”

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