Sir The Baptist Saint or Sinner
The debut album from self-proclaimed Hip Hop Chaplain, Sir The Baptist, is an engaging blend of gospel, hip-hop, soul, r&b, even a little trap in there. Sir William James Stokes grew up in Chicago and his love of music came from his dad who was a pastor and activist. He used to sing and play in church and he used that gospel influence to make a really unique brand of hip hop. He quit a job in the advertising industry to make music and slept in his car for a bit, but now he’s enjoyed success appearing on Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment’s song “Familiar,” and landed a song on the soundtrack for Birth of a Nation. The instrumentation is right from the church stage with piano and organ being punched up by thunderous percussion. I love how he doesn’t mess around when talking about political stuff, in “The Wall” he relates the walls of Jericho to the wall Trump wants to build, and straight up says, “We gon’ shout until Trump’s wall comes tumbling down.” This album is a good blend of hip hop, gospel, soul, and r&b, and a nice mixture of personal anecdotes, political commentary, and clever levity. If you want me to take you to church listen to the new episode of Best Song Ever, where I play “Raise Hell” and we discuss it in God Talk.
Amber Mark 3:33am
New York’s Amber Mark is a one-in-a-million success story. She put her song “S P A C E” on Soundcloud and it attracted some attention and wound up in the hands of Beats 1 host and all around musical tastemaker Zane Lowe. Now her debut will only broaden her reach and listening to it you can understand why her rise was so quick. Not only is Amber’s voice lower and more dynamic than most pop singers you hear (almost androgynous at times), but her beats are intricately crafted, mixing sounds both synthetic and organic, and employing interesting production choices that add to their value. She cites a wide range of influences like Michael Jackson, Ella Fitzgerald, and A Tribe Called Quest and her eclectic style has been likened to French-Cuban sister duo Ibeyi (which is funny cuz Amber’s sister Mia Mark appears on the album). This is an incredible solo debut and rivals, if not surpasses, radio pop production quality. Compositions that would take a team to create Amber has done herself and she got the fast track to musical success that she deserves.
Elf Power Twitching In Time
Psych-rock pioneers Elf Power were a part of the legendary Elephant 6 Collective alongside acts like of Montreal and Neutral Milk Hotel. Led by Andrew Rieger, Elf Power have been together for over 20 years and have released 12 albums in that time. Now their thirteenth album finds them up to their old tricks, yet pushing their sound even further. Based on the lyrics and the title of this album it seems to be an indirect allegory for the digital age. They experiment with a variety of sounds and styles on this album, balancing jangly, catchy folk rock with expansive meandering. As their band name denotes, they have a sort of medieval/fantasy vibe to their music, which is alive and well on this album. Much of the language and vocabulary of this album is very poetic and old school, yet it’s applied to modern life, which makes for an interesting combination. I love this band and with every new album they develop their sound a little more and push themselves further. I will be playing a song from this album on an upcoming episode of Best Song Ever so look out for that.
The third album from LA duo Girlpool finds them rounding out their sound with a full band, and I have mixed feelings. While their music still sounds great there is a part of me that dislikes the change. The bare minimal sounds, specially the absence of drums really set them apart and is part of why i loved their last album. I’m sure that sound has it’s challenges for the performers but I kind of miss it. Now they fit the mold of a hazy rock band and we have more than enough of those. Somehow with all the electric guitars and drums it sounds more boring to me, because it’s a sound i hear so often, where now their earlier more bare sounds feel more powerful and immediate. This could also have to do with a growing artist, where their earlier stuff was more raw they have matured and so has their sound, becoming more polished and full, yet I can’t help long for those younger days when things were simpler. While I do appreciate the lyrics on most of these song and they are well executed, this album fell short for me. Change is an inevitable part of life and that’s reflected in art. These ladies are still young and i’m sure their band will see many more changes over the course of their career, and I will try not compare them all to Before The World Was Big and give them a fair shake, but it will be hard for them to top that album.
Paramore After The Laughter
On their new album the superstar pop-punk band Paramore head in a completely new direction with solid results. Channeling influences of 80’s pop-rock like Talking Heads, Paramore breath new life into their tired format. The result is bright, breezy, and bouncy, pop songs complete with handclaps, shiny synths, chanted hooks, and the echoey thundering toms that appear in every 80’s song (it mainly makes me think of Phil Collins’ In The Air Tonight). They’re now venturing into HAIM territory, and while they can’t touch the queens of 80’s influence indie-rock, they execute this sound effectively. While many of the songs deal with depression and anxiety the songs are insatiably upbeat and catchy. Veteran synth-pop producer Justin-Meldal Johnsen produced along with Paramore guitarist Taylor York and they expertly pulled off the polished pop sound. I rolled my eyes when people started telling me that Paramore’s new songs are good, but listening to these songs I can’t deny their merit. I’m a Paramore fan now. Weird.
Harry Styles Harry Styles
Even weirder than being a Paramore fan is being a fan of former One Direction frontman Harry Styles. I didn’t even bother to listen to his new singles, until he played on SNL and his politically inspired song "Sign Of The Times” changed my mind. While it’s still apparent that these song were written by a young pop star they are of course solidly produced and decently written. The songs all vary in terms of genre and style, shifting from pop to blues rock to folk/country, if you’re not a fan of one song. He seems to be creating a new persona that less Justin Beiber and more Mick Jagger. He definitely channels Jagger and Springsteen at times. It was very strange seeing Harry Styles name alongside the other great artists on this list, but I can’t fight it, the guys writes a good song, at least it’s better than "Pillowtalk." I tell my cousin and co-host Brian that I'm interested in this album on Best Song Ever and he scoffed at me, then texted me within the hour saying, "This is Harry Styles is actually ok."
HAIM Right Now
A couple weeks ago on Best Song Ever, my co-host/cousin Brian played “Want You Back” by HAIM. I admitted that while I like the song I was thrown off when I watched their live in studio video of “Right Now" (directed by Paul Thomas Anderson) because I feared that they were following a similar trajectory to Lorde. Where both acts were so new and unique then they got famous, hung out with Taylor Swift, and now I worry they are shedding that originality to become generic pop stars. Brian and I agreed that will most likely not happen with HAIM and that we should wait to hear the studio version of “Right Now” Well now it has arrived and I’ve changed my tune. While the song is mostly the same as it was in the video the key difference comes in the second verse. The subtle hum of feedback pads the first couple lines before a burst of electric guitar and synths create a brief, soaring crescendo. The song quickly returns into it’s softer state for the chorus, then gets even more bare in the spoken-word bridge (reminiscent of Ezra Koenig’s part in "Ya Hey”) before finishing out the song with another chorus backed shimmering synths and some thunder drums. This song took me surprise and now I’m really looking forward to see what tricks the Haim sisters have in store for the new album.