Robert Glasper-- Black Radio III

In almost equal measure, Black Radio III is both different from and similar to Robert Glasper's first two natural syntheses of R&B, jazz, and hip-hop carried out with his fluctuating gang of singers, rappers, and instrumentalists. In one way or another, each selection is either a love song in the traditional sense or at least filled with love. Interpersonal ballads are most common. "Better Than I Imagined," a Grammy-winning 2020 single, is a meeting between a distressed H.E.R. and seductive Meshell Ndegeocello that smolders. Jennifer Hudson struts and shrugs through "Out of My Hands," a midtempo thumper that rates with her "Spotlight" and "Angel." No more than a foot behind them are the vocal duo that bobs through "Why We Speak," a bolt of sunshine. Glasper's stink face-inducing electric lines set up luminous Esperanza Spalding, singing mostly in French with a dizzying mix of percussive and elongated notes -- reminding "not to sell our soul" -- and Q-Tip somehow finds a seam to further brighten the song without getting in the way. There are also some harder-hitting moments, such as a poignant opening with unwavering Amir Sulaiman poetry leading to a pro-Black summit with Killer Mike, BJ the Chicago Kid, and Big K.R.I.T. The unexpected touches, such as Glasper's own drunk-funk drums on "Shine" and the Theo Parrish-like beatdown house gait of "Everybody Love" (featuring Musiq Soulchild and Posdnous), are as welcome as the familiar ones. Speaking of which, the Lalah Hathaway-fronted cover here is a slow-swaying update of Tears for Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" is killer. ~Andy Kellman,


Beach House--Once Twice Melody

Beach House's style is so distinctive that it's a small miracle Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally continue to find ways to keep their music fresh. In its sheer size and musical inventiveness, Once Twice Melody recalls all of these projects while changing things up once again. Beach House also self-produced the album, and that may be why the sounds and moods they explore flow so seamlessly, especially when compared to 7's discrete experiments. If that album expanded the idea of what Beach House could sound like, then Once Twice Melody fills in that idea with colors both familiar and new. The album begins with one of the most impressive strings of songs in their discography. "Once Twice Melody" kicks things off with the washy synths and tinny drum machines of the duo's early days, then swells into strings that add some symphonic '60s pop majesty to the feeling of floating through space that Beach House always conjure so brilliantly.. Another standout, "Pink Funeral," suggests a collaboration between Bernard Herrmann and Cocteau Twins as it teeters between loss and bliss. Though Once Twice Melody is unapologetically lush even by Beach House's standards, the duo use space creatively to express the beauty in sadness. Equally comforting and creative moments like this give Once Twice Melody the heart to match its ambition, and the way different songs stand out on each listen reaffirms that Beach House's consistency is the opposite of predictable .~Heather Phares

Laura Veirs-- Found Light

For Found Light, songwriter Laura Veirs recruited Shahzad Ismaily, a producer and multi-instrumentalist whose credits run from Sam Amidon and Jolie Holland to Marc Ribot's Ceramic Dog.  Found Light has a sound and feel that's different from what we've heard from her in the past two decades. The breathy, sometimes bittersweet tone of her vocals is essentially unchanged, but on numbers like "Eucalyptus" and "Ring Song," she allows her emotions to subtly but clearly reflect her disappointment and anger, and on "Time Will Show You," she imagines moments with new lovers in a way that's unashamedly erotic. When Veirs was recording with her ex, Tucker Martine, he would insist that she record her guitar and vocal parts separately, while Ismaily allowed her to accompany herself as she sang, and if the audible difference is subtle, the feel is more organic, and captures her in the moment, especially on numbers where he and his musicians explore the space of the music. Found Light is recognizably the work of Laura Veirs, but with a freedom and sense of creative possibility that hasn't always been part of her music in the past. It's an engaging new chapter in the career of a gifted songwriter.~Mark Deming,

Aimee Mann--Queens of the Summer Hotel

Not long after Aimee Mann released Mental Illness in 2017, she agreed to provide the songs for a musical adaptation of Girl, Interrupted, the 1993 memoir by Susanna Kaysen that was turned into an Oscar-winning film by James Mangold in 1999. The theatrical production was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, so Mann decided to turn her compositions into Queens of the Summer Hotel, her tenth solo album. Working once again with producer Paul Bryan, Mann turns these theatrical tunes into a richly textured record, one that is deep in feeling and controlled in execution. Queens of the Summer Hotel does proceed with the deliberate momentum of a play, opening with the hushed hurry of "You Fall," winding its way through brief interludes and asides, reaching an emotional peak partway through with the stark, resonant "Suicide Is Murder," then settling on the bittersweet denouement of "I See You." Much of the album is given supple, sympathetic orchestrations that feel as intimate as the occasional number containing little more than a piano and voice, the two complementary arrangements giving the album the air of confessions being shared in confidence. Despite its contemplative nature, Queens of the Summer Hotel looks outward -- these were songs designed for the stage, after all. The combination of the airiness of the arrangements and the warmth of Mann's performance is wistfully hopeful, turning Queens of the Summer Hotel into a record that soothes and consoles during moments of uncertainty. ~Stephen Thomas Erlewind

Hurray For The Riff Raff-- Life on Earth

Life on Earth perhaps could be seen as a nod to how The Navigator, the 2017 album from Alynda Segarra, aka Hurray for the Riff Raff, owed a slight debt to David Bowie, the patron saint of interstellar rock & roll. Segarra used Ziggy Stardust to navigate their way back to their Puerto Rican heritage in the Bronx. Reconnected to their roots, Segarra feels free to leave them behind on Life on Earth, a restless record that swaps the sinewy rock & folk of their previous albums for an atmospheric yet urgent modern rock. Working with producer Brad Cook, who previously has helmed albums by Bon Iver and Waxahatchee, Segarra moves firmly into the uncertain present, addressing the turmoil of the 2020s with the tools and signifiers of its era: retro analog keyboards, urgent melodies, spacious sparkling vistas alternating with stripped-down raw guitars, the intimacy of close-mic'ed vocals, and allusions to the past that play like continuations of eternal themes, not mere nostalgia. Segarra transitions easily from "Rhododendron" -- a fast-talking slice of swagger that conjures the ghosts of both Bowie and Lou Reed -- to the open-ended "Jupiter's Dance," a song that hangs suspended in the air. Segarra's determination to write about the people and perils of 2022 -- "Precious Cargo" ends with a chant against ICE, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement -- places them firmly within the tradition of the Clash, not to mention Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, and Woody Guthrie. By melding that tradition with a fashion-forward sound that suits their time, Segarra has wound up with a distinctive album, one that operates equally skillfully on an emotional and intellectual level. ~Stephen Thomas Erlewine,

Moor Mother- Jazz Codes

Moor Mother (aka Moor Mother Goddess or MMGz) is the solo outlet for Philadelphia-based artist Camae Ayewa. Moor Mother's music combines social issues with a visceral blend of hardcore electronics and her intense poetry, taking influence from punk, hip-hop, jazz, soul, and numerous other genres. Moor Mother's second release for Anti-, Jazz Codes, is a companion to her 2021 album Black Encyclopedia of the Air, which was a bit more accessible than her other works, yet just as fearless and genre-defying.  Jazz Codes had its genesis in a book of poems about several iconic blues and jazz artists and performers. Her lyrics reference the entire history of revolutionary Black music, celebrating the legacies of important artists while keeping a focus on the road ahead. Opener "Umzansi" features Ayewa's Black Quantum Futurism partner Rasheedah Phillips, namechecking John Coltrane and chanting "Quantum, Black in the moment" over a footwork pulse elevated by Mary Lattimore's gentle harp plucks  Melanie Charles and Orion Sun guest on abstract neo-soul songs with slow, knocking beats and mellow keys, lyrically evoking Mary Lou Williams and Ella Fitzgerald. Of the more overtly hip-hop tracks, Akai Solo and Justmadnice trade forceful guest verses on "Rap Jasm," and "Real Trill Hours" starts with Ayewa's trippy, pitch-shifted verse in front of Yung Morpheus' calm, confident rapping. On the outro, Thomas Stanley reflects on the word jazz's origins as a term related to sex, and suggests that it hasn't fully lost its older meaning, as jazz is a living music.~Paul Simpson,










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