Posts Tagged 'Brother Ali'

What I’m Hearing, Vol. 12

For the new music recommended in March, click here.

Hard to believe it, but this is the 1 year anniversary of the “What I’m Hearing” posts. Last April, I embarked on a mission to bring quality music, both mainstream and not, to readers looking to expand their musical vocabulary beyond the monosyllabic songs pumped ad nauseum from radio towers across the nation. As has been the trend, this month is no exception to the rule as I found a good number of fantastic new artists. As always, all of these artists can be found on iTunes for purchase. This month’s iPod update consisted of 63 songs spanning hip-hop, DIY and electronic. Enjoy!

Brother Ali, The Truth is Here: Originally introduced to the underground hip-hop scene by Slug of Atmosphere, Brother Ali has worked with producer Ant and had his albums released by hip-hop stalwart Rhymesayers. A converted Muslim and Caucasian albino, Ali frequently faced questions of his race early on due to voice, delivery and moniker. On The Truth is Here, his fourth studio album, Ali uses alternatively jazzy and bumping Ant produced beats to explore issues of race, social and economic divides and his adjustments to life in light of his growing success. While 9 full length tracks, this album is billed as an EP preceeding a full album release to come this fall. One thing is certain, the disc doesn’t listen like an EP. Thoughtful, introspective and lyrically deft lyrics keep the listener entertained while Ant’s production of top-notch songs outshines the cookie-cutter beats saturating mainstream hip-hop. Ali’s style varies from aggressive spitting on tracks like “Philistine David ” to laid back delivery on the album’s opener, “Real As Can Be.” Beyond all of this, Ali’s scope encompasses a variety of questions with universal significance. When he asks, “Can you tell me, what language do you laugh in?/The human reaction of smiles and cries/what language are the tears when they’re falling from your eyes?” it is not a question intended to divide in the style of Babel, but rather to point out the similarities we share as humans. An intelligent, varied and musical foray into hip-hop. Don’t Sleep On: “As Real As Can Be,” “The Believers” (feat. Slug) and “Good Lord.”

Filastine, Dirty Bomb: Formerly a member of ¡Tchkung! out of Seattle, Grey Filastine, upon the break-up of the group, has gone on to explore global sounds in experimental electronica. On his February release, Dirty Bomb, Filastine mashes glitch, hip-hop and industrial with sounds from Asia, Europe and the Middle East, including cameos from overseas musicians. The textures are dense and layered, sheets of sound that have no one city of origin, making this album a true global citizen. Hand drums, zithers and traditional chants find themselves side by side with throbbing bass lines and electric blips, all finding their places here in the hands of a producer adept at finding harmony between cross-cultural sounds. While some of the tracks can become repetitive, the majority are well fleshed out and driving. In “Singularities,” the beat is built up, deconstructed and then slammed back down in grimy fashion, an example of excellent production that runs throughout the album. Don’t Sleep On: “Singularities,” “Strategy of Tension,” and “Bitrate Sneers.”

Harmonic 313, When Machines Exceed Human Intelligence: Under the pseudonym Harmonic 313, producer Mark Pritchard has released an album of spacey and electronic music. Interesting about the tracks here is that they range greatly from straight ahead ambient electronica to tracks that sound like J Dilla beats blended with Kraftwerk’s Trans-Atlantic Express on acid. Using sonic pulses, computer blips and beeps and thick bass, Pritchard crafts an album that sounds almost entirely machine created, as if a hard drive rather than a human is behind the composition. Even vocals go hardwired on “Word Problems,” where a children’s spelling computer game serves as the spoken medium. Don’t Sleep On: “Call to Arms,” “Falling Away” (feat. Steve Spacek) and “Köln”

Peter Björn and John, Living Thing: Following a two year hiatus after 2005’s Writer’s Block, punctuated only by a digital only release limited to 5,000 US copies in 2006 (Seaside Rock), PB&J have returned with the March release of their 5th full length album. It has been a busy 4 years for the group as they climbed the ladder of musical notoriety through the ubiquitous hit “Young Folks.” They’ve gone on to be featured on hip-hop mixtapes and make all sorts of late night talk show rounds. While there are no comparable tracks on this album, it nonetheless provides more of the same feel. Tracks range from optimistic up-tempo to slow and melancholy utilizing various levels of production quality. The positive is that the success of “Young Folks” hasn’t spawned an album of copycats. These are original and show the trio expanding their sound, bringing in slightly more electronic drum programming at points. The album’s clear winner, “Nothing to Worry About,” is an about-face from “Young Folks,” female vocalist replaced with a chorus of distorted children at full volume and a funky bass line complimented by drums echoing off the inside walls of the song. A solid outing without going stale. Don’t Sleep On: “Nothing to Worry About,” “Just the Past,” and “It Don’t Move Me.”

Röyksopp, Junior: Big since their debut album in 2001, the fittingly titled Junior is only the 3rd release from Röyksopp in 8 years. And, given the shift in style between Melody A.M. and The Understanding, what happened next was of a great deal of interest. Turns out, the duo has managed to find a middle ground between the two, with various tracks exemplifying the more mellow and sugary aspects of Melody (“Happy Up Here”) and the more polished and electro-heavy Understanding (“Röyksopp Forever.”) The album retains the precision and vision of the duo’s work, bringing in female vocalists, chill melodies at times and electric tweaks that made “Eple” so popular. Don’t Sleep On: “Happy Up Here,” “Vision One,” and “Silver Cruiser.”

The tUnE-YaRds, Bird Brains: DIY. A term that, in an age of bloggers, home studios, and rising costs in all sectors has come to be a badge of honor and distinction. But there’s DIY music, and then there’s the unreal, experimental and phenomenal Bird Brains from The Tune-Yards (capitalization varies depending on site), aka Merrill Garbus. If what I’ve heard is true, Garbus crafted this entire album using small recorders and computer programs available through shareware. The result is a gritty, honest and surprising album that takes lo-fi to a new level. With a distinct and quirky voice, Garbus backs herself with drums and percussion sounds like something being slammed against a hard surface, ukulele and an entire arsenal of found sounds like kids playing in a park, birds chirping outside a window and conversations with a child. At times, the recording equipment’s range is tested as you can hear it clip, but this only adds to the allure of the tracks. Take Björk, mix her with Seu Jorge’s acoustic live recordings for The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and then juice the entire blend with a sense of creativity large enough to view the world around it as an instrument and you have the Tune-Yards. Nothing is out of bounds here. Spoons on glasses, discussions of blueberries, and steps on wooden stairs are just some of the interesting sounds turned music. One can only hope that follow up efforts will be equally beautiful in their range and direction. Don’t Sleep On: “For You,” “News,” and “Little Tiger.”

So that’s it for April. Chubb Rock and Wordsmith, new Del the Funky Homosapien and a ton of other new music is coming in May, so stay tuned, and keep your listening intelligent.

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What I’m Hearing, Vol. 7

Did you miss last month’s tasty audio? Never fear, click here.

October’s iPod update is a fantastic affair featuring 79 songs. It had a few older singles that I was recently turned on to, as well as some excellent new music from various genres. As we head towards the end of the year, keep your ears on for some of the huge and blockbuster album that are sure to be coming at us as the holidays approach.

Apollo Sunshine, Shall Noise Upon: This is the 3rd offering from Apollo Sunshine, a northeast trio that has made a habit of infusing new indie and rock music with retro themes. The light melodies and easy vocals go hand in hand with melodic and uplifting musical flourishes. Steely guitar in places, harmonized singing, use of woodwinds and basic drum beats can range in style here from unapologetic roadhouse rock songs (“Brotherhood of Death”) to melancholy drifters that border on an old Western soundtrack (“Fog and Shadow.”) But regardless of the style they employ, from top to bottom Apollo Sunshine has crafted an album that feels right on all levels. Don’t Sleep On: “The Funky Chamberlain (Who Begot Who),” “Money,” and “The Mermaid Angeline” which should find its way to a Wes Anderson film at some point.

Black Milk, Tronic: Rather than repeat anything about this album here, click this link for the album review.

Devin the Dude, Landing Gear: On his 5th album, Devin the Dude takes his recognizable laid back flow and infuses his beats with a bit more pop and energy than in previous outings. Never one to take himself too seriously, though, Devin slides through these tracks with ease, his voice consistently feeling like warm tea to a sore throat. Where other rappers yell, the Dude whispers, and where others bark, he glides. The best parts of this album are where DD doesn’t stray too far from this ideal, keeping mellow beats and silky smooth vocals on tracks you can kick your feet up to. His lyrics are simple and easy to understand, and the delivery makes you feel like DD is rapping right in your living room. Don’t Sleep On: “I Can’t Make it Home,” “Highway,” and “I Need a Song.”

Jake One, White Van Music: On his first solo album, Jake One takes hip-hop by the ears and shakes it around. The beats here are varied and layered, showing fantastic production ranging from deep bass rider tracks to spaced out 90s gangsta rap cuts. Some focus on pleasant vocal samples while others rely on heavy hitting beats. The strongest point of this album is that it never falls too far into one hip-hop genre over another… Jake One uses them all to great effect. Joined by a crew of well known rappers (Busta Rhymes, Black Milk, M.O.P., Brother Ali, Little Brother, Posdnuos, MF Doom, Casual, eLZhi, Pharoahe Monch, Kardinal Offishall, Royce da 5’9″ and Keak da Sneak) Jake One makes his debut album a memorable one that should be considered as one of the best complete hip-hop albums of the year. Don’t Sleep On: “Home,” “Soil Raps,” and “Oh Really.”

Doomtree, Doomtree: Click here for my interview with Doomtree. Doomtree seeks to answer the question, “What do you get when you mix 5 very different MCs with 4 very different DJs?” And it appears from their debut album that the answer is everything. On this lengthy and diverse 21 track freshman album, this group out of Minnesota spans the genre of hip-hop, never afraid to bring in something different or new. While some tracks stick to the straight ahead style, others incorporate sounds of rock or jazz. With the various artists on the mic, you can often forget that you’re still listening to the same album. If there’s one drawback to the diversity here it’s that there is never one coherent image or sound that defines the group, although, one would think from the presentation that that’s exactly how Doomtree likes it. Be on the lookout for solo albums from this collective in the months to come. Don’t Sleep On: “Sadie Hawkins,” “Gameshow Host,” and “Kid Gloves.”

Madlib, WLIBAM – King of the Wigflip: Madlib’s influence in hip-hop over the past decade has been pronounced. Through collaborations with J Dilla, Mos Def and De La Soul among others, Madlib has created a body of work that touches just about every corner of the hip-hop genre. Never afraid to branch out with a new sound, Madlib seems to draw his best work from never settling into one role, and never fearing to tackle all aspects of the production process, from DJing to MCing. This album is the latest in the “Beat Generation Series” from Barely Breaking Even Records which has previously seen incarnations under the hands of J Dilla, Marley Marl, DJ Jazzy Jeff, will.I.am and King Britt, among others. While I honestly couldn’t get into the entirety of this album, there are a few tracks that demonstrate that whether you like everything he does or not, Madlib remains on top of his game and respected by his peers. Don’t Sleep On: “The Thang-Thang,” “Blow the Horns on ‘Em,” and Go!”

Singles: These songs didn’t get full write-ups as part of an artist or album, but they are excellent singles nonetheless. “Electric Feel” by MGMT, “Please Believe” by Longshot and “Paper Planes (DFA Remix)” by MIA.


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