Leon Bridges & Khruangbin – Texas Moon EP: Review

The kind of summertime bliss and whimsy that guided the atmospheric textures of Texas Sun by Leon Bridges & Khruangbin was a needed touch in 2020, especially as we tried to steer our minds away into a world of solace, where the stresses of the pandemic are non-existent. I’m talking cruising down the highway playing their song “Midnight” with the windows down or hanging with friends down at the park or beach while sipping on wine and spritzers; two years later, they take us on a different journey on Texas Moon. Their new EP centers itself by evoking moods stemming from calm nights amidst the surrounding cold. However, behind the atmospheric overtures are spiritually impactful songwriting, which keeps you grounded instead of feeling freeform love from the thrills of rich intake of Vitamin D. Texas Moon has softer complexities on both sides; the production isn’t the armor overlaying the lyricism, and instead, it’s underneath adding more depth to the lyricism on the forefront.

Texas Moon is about longing, and it is about regrets. The feelings are potent, and there is never a moment where these sentiments lose control and steer you toward a pitfall of despair. Instead, these sentiments best get characterized as a kind of retroactive lamenting you have in the middle of the night, in front of a fire, a fifth of scotch on your right, and guitar in strapped as you sing and whisk the mind into the night. Like the immediate waft of a potent fragrance underneath your nose, the opening track, “Doris,” delivers on impact as Leon Bridges and Khruangbin sing about a woman named Doris who changed their life for the better. 

In the first verse, they sing: “Don’t close your heavy eyes, Doris (Doris)/You have so much/So much to leave behind/If you travel to the other side, Doris (Doris),” further delivering impact in the chorus “I’ll be right here holding your hand/You taught me how to be a real man.” 

Connecting multiple layers created by Khruangbin’s haunting vocals, the production parallels a slight sadness as Leon Bridges sees Doris off into the afterlife. These lessons from “Doris” evolve on “B Side,” turning it into this beautiful soul-funk-rock groove that sees Leon Bridges singing about his love and her spiritual accompaniment throughout touring. Unlike the somber and spiritually subtle “Doris,” “B-Side” becomes a lively alternative, giving off a sense of hope blending fun drum beats, funkadelic bass, and congas. Texas Moon balances these two styles and expands them to offer a proper balance with the lengths these songs can go, like with “Father Father.” 

The sounds of “Father Father” are similar to “Doris,” the strings and percussion subtly boast the emotional core without sacrificing in scope the depth of these sonic layers interwoven beneath heart-aching lyricism. In the song, Leon Bridge weaves a conversation between him and God, where he admits that the shame of his faith has led him down a road of sins. He has shown the backside of his hands, which glimmer with hope and prosperity, while his palms hold the dirt from his sins. In church, they sometimes tiptoe a line between the levels of bad sins are, and Leon’s regretfulness looms as he continues with similar thoughts, despite God telling him otherwise. The beautiful parallels within the songwriting and vocal performances reinforce the outer armor, as the guitar strings reflect his broken-down feeling. These kinds of sonic elements are what Texas Moon by Leon Bridges &Khruangbin a resoundingly fantastic project.

So whether it is smooth and sexy “Chocolate Hills,” the southern charm of the string potent “Mariella,” or the fun in “B-Side,” the Leon Bridges & Khruangbin have a formula that works. It transcends the parameters of their sound, allowing for minimalism to breathe and shape itself underneath the remarkable melodies and words written by Bridges and Khruangbin, so albeit the love, there is a part of me that wishes it ran longer, but beggars can’t be choosers. 

Rating: 9.5 out of 10.

Adele – 30: Review

The 2010s were a monstrous year for Adele. From winning the Grammy for Album of the Year for 25 and winning the Academy Award for Best Original Song, Adele has made herself known as a dynamo pop star who writes with a chip on her shoulder. And that chip has allowed her to deliver her all while reflecting the energy which pours through her. Adele’s latest album, 30, doesn’t change a beat, save for the production – she comes into her own, taking a transitional step into unique sounds. 30 isn’t as dynamic as 21 or 25, but it relates to her tempered and soulful roots of 19, but with a matured and more rounded sound. It barely transitions in glossy pop production and instead, giving her producers the challenge of delivering music that is more stripped-down while retaining the same depth most Adele albums have had.

30 is unlike most Adele albums; it doesn’t bring a riotous and emotionally hammered pop song that creeps into many subsections of the radio/streaming genre spectrums, like Top 100 and Adult Contemporary. It has, however, given Adele the platform to let her words speak the truth and resonate with the fans. Some of her biggest hits never failed to miss the mark by having a production that outweighs Adele’s vocal performances and songwriting. And the litmus test is upon us with 30 as Adele isn’t here to deliver emotionally raging hits, like “Rolling In The Deep,” but she still brings the same gravitas. To me, it instantly hit at “My Little Love” – around the one-minute mark – and Adele speaks instead of singing. She slowly breaks down as we hear audio of her and her child, unleashing powerhouse feelings about her life since her last album, including marriage and motherhood.

“My Little Love” is this poetically and emotionally driven song that expresses the inner strain and turmoil that arose as she prepped herself to explain to her child about the divorce, considering the amount of time he has been under one roof with both parents. Divorce can cause strains and imbalances for both the parents and the child amid the proceedings, but more so because for Adele since her son has eyes to view past surface layers and understand her feelings. The heavy string sections relay the atmosphere/emotions that slowly begin to trickle and break. There is no denying 30 is a heartbreak album. And if it isn’t apparent with “My Little Love,” it’s apparent with its compilation of songs that fit a linear story. 

30 isn’t an album that you can play on shuffle, or else the scope will diminish. Adele made this album with intricate transitions, especially within themes and moods. After a backstory to remedy what will transpire, emotionally, for the rest of the album – Adele hones in on these emotions and explores them more. Following “My Little Love,” we receive the beautifully soulful anthem about allowing yourself to cry it out without feeling like it will make you feel weak. Though many songs grasp various angles of her emotions, like “I Drink Wine,” where Adele sheds off her ego, humbling herself by describing her regrets and mistakes. However, it doesn’t leave a mark like songs, “Can I Get It.” The song sees Adele speaking on her ventures in the single life, making allusions to casual dating here and there, talking about the distaste the consistency brings.

One consistent trait that has carried over has been Adele’s talent to turn each production on its head and make herself the central focus, even when you have dynamic strings and atmosphere, like on “Someone Like You,” trying to take the light. Like the previously mentioned “Can I Get It,” the production by Max Martin and Shellback is subdued compared to the glossy nature, typical, of the producers, especially within the drop. On “Can I Get It,” the pop overtones contain plucky and dazzling acoustics elevated by the tender percussion. And for the most part, the production contains a wide range of sounds, barely scratching the surface of redundancy. However, that’s to Greg Kurstin’s and Inflo’s credit, the producers for most of 30. Kurstin and Inflo show an elegant contrast, especially with Kurstin’s more explorative nature. Inflo’s production, on the other hand, feels very broken and intimate considering my knowledge of the production duo starts and ends with rapper Little Simz.

Unfortunately, the production can’t continually save a few of Adele’s deliveries. “Oh My God” and “Woman Like Me” come and by quickly without giving you a chance to reflect, as what follows hook you immediately. And it’s a detriment to the album since, to me, it feels as if these songs were left on the cutting room floor and left us with a tighter album. Though that may be an internal reason, it doesn’t leave me feeling like they had the visceral strength to keep me invested. I found myself skipping swiftly to the more immersive “Can I Get It.” I think it will hit people differently, but one thing is for sure, 30 is an album that would have weird pay-offs if it was. 

30 is more than just an album; it’s a cohesive rundown of Adele’s emotions as she goes through difficult moments in this stage of life. She carries herself firmly, finding a happy medium between reflecting on the smaller, joyous moments in her life and what troubles her as she shifts into a new phase in life. It is a great record that may resonate better with others, but what’s on the surface and its core is worth giving it a listen to.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Silk Sonic – An Evening With Silk Sonic: Review

What starts as the ambition to make the people groove on two feet as the production’s glossy rhythm infectiously manipulates the neurons in their brain became a little more profound, fun, and nuanced for Silk Sonic: the new super duo, consisting of Anderson .Paak and Bruno Mars. The two have been known for the electrifying R&B-Soul infusions that expand its limits by balancing it out with a modern flair – Anderson did so with Malibu and Ventura, and Bruno Mars for most of his career. And uniting for An Evening with Silk Sonic, they deliver just that. This collaboration offers a quick, whirlwind experience that paces itself swiftly for a predominantly up-tempo album.

Riding the coattails of the summer smash and bed rocking, “Leave the Door Open,” the expectations were high for the duo, to only be boosted by the inclusion of Bootsy Collins MCing the album/performances. The song heightens the strengths of both artists, and if most of what we were to get mirrored that, then it would be a great album. And most songs do, like the eloquent and swagger-filled “Fly As Me,” which sees Anderson back to his smooth and smile-inducing rhythm and flows that sometimes feel like a fever-dream when he delivers. Parallel to it comes many, like “Smoking Out The Window,” which cements Bruno Mar’s effervescent presence as he leads another song.

For Anderson .Paak and his adlibs – they don’t hit the landing as frequently as his rapping and drum playing on An Evening with Silk Sonic. But his presence is pivotal in blending in a nuanced cool vibe – a kind that has you rocking the flashiest bell-bottoms with a loose and colorful button-down. Most of the time, it is the Bruno Mars show, and his presence has an elegance, especially in the backing vocals – in contrast to Paak and his. It’s subtle, barely making a dent in the quality of the song, which goes to show the skill of these artists, who can keep the fluidity despite hiccups.

The chemistry between the two is seamless – each song has the kind of synergy that gets you feeling lifted and one with your body, but it focuses on a heavy-set mood that can’t play at any given moment. It embodies more than just your standard, hyper-set, and linear models where themes align to tell a big picture; it personifies the locomotive engine in your legs that moves without proper nerve functions. You can attribute it to the dynamic palette like a shimmy-two step, slow dance grooves, and swaggalicious percussion rhythms that you can’t help but get lost within the 32-minute album. Unfortunately, it doesn’t feel like 32 minutes. Once it ends, it may send you trekking into older music or keeping An Evening With Silk Sonic on repeat. 

However, An Evening With Silk Sonic flying by swiftly made me feel like I didn’t truly hear the songs in-between “After Last Night” and “777.” It took continuous listens for the unique productions to shine and differentiate themselves amongst the rest. Though a part of me feels the awe-inducing production, lyrics, and vocal performances on “After Last Night” left a heavy impression. It’s the only song to contain credited features – Bassist Thundercat and the Mack Daddy of Bassists, Bootsy Collins – to perform backing vocals. Thundercat’s inclusion is subtle, but it adds to the beautiful reverb in the chorus, while Bootsy continues to MC on this journey – mixing that with the funkadelic and bass-heavy production is what kept that delightful ring in the ear.

But it’s more than just his captivating voice that brought about a constant return for me to these songs in between the previously mentioned. “Smoking Out The Window” is a powerhouse performance that sees Mars carrying, as Paak delivers a forgettable verse. “Put On A Smile” is crooning at its finest, with the contrasting pitches shining over the more subdued production, but if I were to select a weak link, it is this song, as it doesn’t hold steady weight, compared to the others that keep a specific groove stuck in my mind – simply it feels like a stoppage gap where the music slows back down a little.

For “Smoking Out The Window,” it’s easy to gloss over Anderson Paak’s verse, considering Paak shines almost everywhere else like on “Silk Sonic Intro” as he establishes the riotous energy that will slowly peak after “Leave The Door Open.” The grooves come like a rollercoaster – a prominently effective one – it’s fun with individual highlights, but some moments keep you on heavily focused, especially the final song. “Blast Off” sends off the album on a high note with soulful and spacey sonic symmetry that you feel like it is sending you into space. And it’s a feeling that becomes more and more resonant with countless listens. From these listens, you start to marvel at the craftsmanship between both artists, especially when they are hitting a peak in greatness.

An Evening With Silk Sonic reaches its goal, despite being less than perfect. It is hypnotic and transfixing as your body sways to the rhythm, unaware that the two-step and gyration is just part of feeling the effervescent vibe throughout. But as you connect to it closer, the more it becomes part of your mood-dancing mix – this includes you cool cats out there, sippin’ bourbon neat, and smoking cigarettes before the dance floor utters the first letter of your name. If only An Evening With Silk Sonic was longer, but beggars can’t be choosers.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Joy Crookes – Skin: Review

Making comparisons can wane any influence someone can have on an artist before exploring their music. To put it mildly — a comparison hit me when I first played Joy Crookes. It was the feeling from listening to the Amy Winehouse album Frank for the first time. And as little as this comparison weighs, on her artistry, I couldn’t help but become enamored with Joy’s vocal performances, as it beautifully layers over elegant soul-centric production — sprinkling a touch of Jazz and R&B undertones. Joy Crookes’ vocal range and delivery carry a simple nuance to Amy’s traditionalist style while standing firmly on two feet. Listening to her debut, Skin, Joy Crookes steps up to the mount, pitching change-ups in between a few curveballs, giving us a wide range of music that made me feel like I was listening to Frank (2003) for the first time, again.

When I listened to Skin for the first time, I had to stop before returning due to the chills that ran down my spine from the vocal nuances. It takes me back to the late 2000s where I first listened to Frank, and the reverb on the backing vocals gave it new dimensions we’ve yet to see in modern traditionalist vocal pop-jazz. You felt Amy Winehouse’s pain, desires, hope, and at times, fun promiscuity with her vocal inflections. With Joy Crookes, it is the same as Skin takes you through various turns in her life, singing about themes about family and identity as she lets loose emotions reflective of the context. However, one specific performance took me back; on “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now,” her melody switches between the pop, soul, and jazz aspects. It’s similar to “Take the Box” off Frank

Skin opens with two songs rooted in identity, flipping in style from the somber “I Don’t Mind” to the unrestrained “19th Floor.” The former focuses on an ex-relationship — predominantly on the sex — Joy Crookes delivers her vocal performance with a reflexive and uplifting manner that contains some nuances of empowerment. It deals with her controlling her body and the situation by constantly reminding the lad that she will leave if he garners any feelings. With the kind of dynamics looming over society, like having the nuclear family or stability, Joy is trailblazing. She makes it okay to have more ownership and to have this different dynamic without feeling external pressure. 

“19th Floor” tackles identity through visceral metaphors and allusions to her life growing up in South London and reflecting the differences between her and her mother and grandmother’s life before immigrating to London. In the song, she revisits her hometown, where she was born, reflecting on far she has gone since — making allusions to immigrants who yearn and achieve success, only to reminisce about memories of the past, good and bad. As she sings: “Nothing same but nothing different/Hear the people cry concrete lullabies/I never thought I’d say I miss it” — you’re nostalgia inducers are hit. You miss the consistencies. And for Joy, she starts to feel more rooted in her mother’s side, using histrionics to put herself in her grandmother’s shoes — noting in the bridge: “Bopping down Walworth Road, bubblegum blow/Sliders and Sunday clothes/Doing like my Nani, 70s steez”: she is feeling herself and more connected. She may have doubts, but taking her mind back to and summoning their energy adds positive brevity. 

Joy Crookes has a vocal range that plateaus most singers these days, allowing ease when switching between neo-soul/jazz style vocalizations/production and more traditionally produced/performed songs. She establishes a fine line between the two, leaving room to explore with modern tweaks from producer Blue May, whose fingers predominately touch and mix keynotes of the production. And as evident with the first two songs, it feels more natural. 

Blue May, amongst others, sprinkles elegant touches of operatic and choral strings that vibrate and give off effervescent sounds that keep you engaged as Joy Crookes bares her soul into some of the themes of Skin. It makes Skin akin to albums like To Pimp A Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar or What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye, where the focus was to ride powerful themes instead of focusing on whether or not the next record will do gangbusters. Few songs on Skin make me feel like the aesthetic focused on finding its way onto radio, with “Trouble” being something similar to “Alright,” where the song’s rooted in being anti-pop in sound. Similarly, it’s reflective with “Wild Jasmine,” as she speaks to her alter-ego and steers her from other trouble in the form of a manipulative male who is with you for the skin and not what comes with it. It has a poppy-soul and fluid production that shifts to melancholy and back. Though the subtleties allow for an easier transition — from the flourished and catchy chorus performances to the intricate songwriting of the verses — Joy can transfix you on every front. 

It isn’t the only time she teeters around these kinds of soundscapes, giving the same treatment to “Kingdom” that she did with “Trouble.” It’s catchy and filled to the brim with vibrant jazz percussion that makes you want to find your groove within the pack of songs that elevates her vocal performance to a different level than the piano ballads. The title song, “Skin,” centers on mental health and keying in on ideas like suicide and depression. Joy asks herself a simple question, What if you decide that you don’t wanna wake up, too? It comes over an eloquent piano-centric production that keys in at tugging the core of your emotions — Skin has me against the ropes, delivering jabs of unique songs — jabs that repeat, something new about it hits me, specifically, “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now.” 

Skin is unreal. It left me juggling many emotions while leaving me in awe of the varying performances and styles by Joy Crookes and her producers. However, any minor problems with the album come from “Skin” having a wrought (song-type) but effective delivery and “Power” being a little bit forgettable at first. But that doesn’t stop me from finding pure joy and admiration from her talent and focus in her phenomenal debut, as I know you might when listening to Skins.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

Yebba – Dawn: Review

It may not be apparent, but Yebba has been around — quietly delivering elegant performances through different genres of music; however, many know her as the female vocalist on “Same Drugs” by Chance the Rapper — when he performed on Saturday Night Live. I’ve gotten to know her work by burrowing through a landscape decorated with a history of appearing in songs in Hip-Hop, Pop, Funk, Soul, Folk, Rock, and more. Having worked with artists like A Tribe Called Quest, Mark Ronson, and Mumford & Sons since 2016 has given her a clearer slate to draw on as she finds her sound and individualizes herself from contemporaries. Her debut, Dawn, speaks to that as Yebba delivers sweet flavorings to the songs, which range in style — most of which are unique to Yebba, except for few moments that get lost when going grandiose.

Unlike some or many, you find yourself coming into Dawn blind. But like many, I’ve been aware of Yebba’s guest appearances and features; however, what comes to light in Dawn is sometimes unlike what we’ve heard before. Whether Yebba is delivering softened background vocals that compliment the lead artist or as a vibrant lead on Mark Ronson’s Late Night Feelings, Yebba finds ways to distinguish herself from others — further asking the light to center on her presence in front of, and behind, the microphone. She makes it apparent on Dawn as she paints her slate with the influence of sounds from the vast array of genres of her past; she hits the nail more often than not.

Yebba heightens her emotions to give each song brevity — this allows the music to stay direct for better playback. She lets the influence guide the pen, letting loose unique themes like emotional growth. In 2017, a week after Yebba released her first single, her mother, unfortunately, passed after struggling with depression. It’s been a driving force behind Yebba’s fearlessness in her vocal performances, but it has been a hindrance as it seems like she is always performing in front of a silhouette of her mother. 

Yebba opens Dawn with a plea to herself — how many more years? She is continuously distraught that she hasn’t been able to keep happy memories without leading toward tears of sadness that constantly blinds her future. It could come from some hesitancy that guides any hiccups from grasping your emotions tightly, which shows on each song. But on “How Many More Years,” it is something else. Listening to Yebba’s soft and broken vocals gives us a sense that she grasps her emotions firmly, delivering them in doses to keep us invested. She does so without draining us to our core, though “October Sky” came close. 

As one of the most beautifully captivating and tragic songs on Dawn, “October Sky” takes us through a recurring and happy memory she has of her mom. As it is with most of the album, Yebba adopts lingering feelings and notions about her heartbreak, despite knowing this is the start of something great. She embraces her moment and finds ways to show us her vulnerable side.

Yebba lets her voice guide us through her emotions, providing a deep meaning beneath, a sometimes thin, surface. Usually, it starts to be the case on Dawn, as some of the production weaves thin simplicities within the percussion. It initially feels off-putting since Yebba received help from producers like Kaytranada, the Picard Brothers, and Mark Ronson, but the small details make up for it. Despite being known for their electric percussion, it’s one of the weaker components in the album; however, it never gets to a point where it makes the whole production yawn-inducing.

Fortunately, Yebba and her co-producers start world-building on top of the songs, which deliver some glamorous standouts like “Boomerang.” It takes influence from the roots of old-country and folk — breaking apart styles derivative of cowboy-western country dinghies, roots rock, and an effervescently soulful vocal performance, “Boomerang” elevates into it. Similar to “Boomerang,” Yebba brings a similar cadence on “Louie Bag” featuring Smino.

Subtly, “Louie Bag” is like many songs on Dawn, wherein the influence comes from subsections of the musical south, from Hip-Hop to Folk-Country. “Louie Bag” has string and piano key arrangements focusing on Yebba’s verses, while the percussion emboldens a simple hip-hop beat, allowing for a smooth blend in this ode to their youths in their respective cities. It creates a smooth unification of the two, as we hear them performing while in their A-Game. In the song, They burn bridges that have been vandalized on each journey to succeed in their work. Smino’s verse contains more gravitas, as opposed to A$AP Rocky — the other featured rapper. His presence on “Far Away” is from someone standing afar from the living room window.

Fortunately, through captivating performances, Yebba is placing us in her shoes. Most times, you’re taken through the wringer as she lays out what passes her subconscious in these times. And intermittently, with songs like “Louie Bag” and “Far Away,” Yebba distinguishes herself in pop, barely straying from the overall construct of the sound. It’s reflective of Yebba’s trajectory as an artist, with Dawn acting as a stepping stone in showing us her true self. She assimilates into these different types of production that I’m wondering what’s in store as she continues to explore and grow as an artist. If you’re into an enjoyably emotional listen, you’ll leave this album wanting more of Yebba soon.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Lion Babe – Rainbow Child: Review

Imagine the most trivial roller coaster you have ever ridden, and now imagine having to ride it consistently, knowing that the few bright spots aren’t always everlasting. That has been the ride Lion Babe fans have been on since their major-label debut, Begin. The songs that stood out were ones that have been released prior, like “Jump Hi” featuring Childish Gambino. On their follow-up, Cosmic Wind, we received an eclectic array of soul/R&B and funk hybrids that felt authentic to their artistry. Unfortunately, we’re back at the dull moments of that roller coaster ride as their new album, Rainbow Child, has pacing that can beat a hare in a race. 

Cosmic Wind is the epitome of the phrase: breath of fresh air. Begin is forgettable and clunky and lacking balance in appeal. They were limited by the label to make the album marketable, as the closest thing to marketability, on the surface, is the fact that Jillian Hervey is Vanessa Williams’ daughter. Set that aside. She didn’t rely on nepotism to make a name for herself, as she hustled with her producer, Lucas Goodman, to grow organically. Her vocal range and performances speak for themselves, as it allows her to experiment with various sounds. Rainbow Child takes a step back from this, as the production dwindles into the realm of simplicity – this is where they focus on more detail and less extensive. 

Lion Babe is known for keeping features to a minimum, and this has let them find perfect pairings that translate over. On the opening song, “Rainbows,” Jillian Hervey’s performance carries expressive range, from the high pitch chorus to the smooth melody of the verses, the steady drop mirrors perfectly. It benefits from solid verse by Ghostface Killah, as he brings validation to Lion Babe’s way of finding the perfect pairing for a song.

Along with Trinidad James, other features on the album stand out individually, “Signs” with rapper, Siimbiie Lakew. “Signs” is a high point Rainbow Child, as rapper Siimbiie Lakew brings a cadence and intimacy in his performance. It’s saddening to see them almost lose control of their individualized freedom as the featured artists are more memorable than Jillian Hervey. They focus on weaving the songs with beautiful visuals. This creates some fluidity, but most people won’t be listening and watching in tangent unless you’re a superfan.

Due to this, the album teeters on and off, catching you by surprise by these featured performers who outperform Hervey; Lucas Goodman’s production, not as much. Goodman’s eclectic production contains ever-changing spotlights as he toys with psychedelic and acoustic sounds. He allows for the simplicity to mold into an effervescent array of moods, between togetherness and spirited. On the vocal end, we see Hervey finding a happy medium, matched with the underwhelming songwriting. “Going Through It” has a smooth-twinkly percussion, which emboldens Hervey’s slow tempo, despite boring lyricism that breaches a level of preachiness.

Neither member of Lion Babe has been consistently great; however, you’ll know when the music lands. You’ll become mesmerized as they pick you up from the corner seat and onto the dance floor. There aren’t many instances where this is the case on Rainbow Child, except for “Get Up,” which elevates the smooth slow-dancing grooves that aren’t prevalent in classical styles. Jillian Hervey and Trinidad James make the most of lavish-80s nostalgia influences within production. The brass horns create a bridge toward the soft percussion, as the piano keys and bass round out their colors. Trinidad adds that beautiful fusion with his effortless flow, which has grown throughout the years.

Unfortunately, in between the few highlights, Rainbow Child can be very forgettable. The intangibles of the album’s production allow it to breathe from beneath the rubble of mediocrity. It feels lost and not the trippy fun created by stringy performances and elegant sound layering. Lucas Goodman’s production has a natural way of transitioning from one to another, and as much as Hervey tries, she doesn’t command focus. Unless you hear the featured artist, it’s hard to distinguish which song is playing.

Rainbow Child leaves me feeling bewildered as the talent doesn’t mirror what is expected, especially with the simplicity of the songwriting. It doesn’t fit the character mold well, thus leaving less to the imagination and adding pressure toward the featured artist. It does leave you with one thing, a want to return to Cosmic Wind on a warm summer day. 

Rating: 5.5 out of 10.

Prince – Welcome 2 America: Review

When word spread of a non-collection of demos and records from Prince’s vault, the world felt a sigh of relief to receive new music without fearing for a producer’s intervention. We heard that this album, Welcome 2 America, was one that Prince had shelved after its recording. And after some rough years with tragic releases that undercut artists’ legacies, like Michael Jackson and Pop Smoke, there were worries that this new album could potentially deliver something similar. However, that isn’t the case. Welcome 2 America is this groovy-funkadelic soul journey that takes through histrionics of culture’s control in society.

Most of Welcome 2 America reminds us of what we’ve been missing over the last half-decade. Prince has had a presence everywhere, despite minimal hiccups within some of the instrumentations. There isn’t a moment where the music feels fully dated. He speaks on the influence social media and the internet have on creating biased opinions. But it isn’t like Prince is equating to the meme – The Simpsons Predicting Things. Instead, Prince has a keen eye on the stimulation consistent backslaps from the judicial system, and more can create amongst a crowd. 2020 was a testament to that momentous uproar amongst the community.

Before the start of Prince’s Welcome 2 America tour, his band accompanied him in the studio to record some music, particularly about the social-political climate in America and more. He distinguishes the rights of one and the view imparted on them based on blind societal construction. In the opening song, Prince delivers in spoken-word / singing hybrid delivers this wide range of ideas that flowed through his head as he saw the world progress. It continues to elevate throughout the album, taking away aspects of the dance movements for electrifying emphasis on the songwriting.

This is effervescent on the songs “Same Page, Different Book” and “Running Game (Son Of A Slave Master),” which breaths onto life’s recurring redundancies. It speaks on the changes needed as these redundancies become a more glaring issue. It finds ways to fix a community presence to keep the attention of the listener through the instrumentations.

Prince has had a consistent procession with rockabilly sensibilities behind his various eras, from disco to funkadelic power-rock and others. It isn’t missing here as Prince takes us back to a moment where this sound rang supreme for him. So there will be an urge to groove to the rhythm, despite the deep meaning in the songwriting. For example, In the song “Born 2 Die,” Prince creates a parallel to living-free as he speaks about the dangers that could kill a character, like external temptations. Prince approaches these subjects carefully to create the right atmosphere amongst the collection of tracks. It makes the transition between songs that bring out a two-step and ones that bring out your inner beret-wearing-coffee-drinker sensibilities (musically). 

The songs that follow a similar path to “Born 2 Die” come across with beautiful bravado. “Yes” and “Hot Summer,” in particular, are these breaths of fresh air with commanding gospels that create unison from those who dance around with glee. It stems from a looser sensibility that comes from an elongated sunset and calming weather of the summer. “Yes” gets you up on two feet as you rejoice with the band in this unified mix of glee and happiness that stem from trying and seeing new pastures.

Unlike “Yes,” “Hot Summer” is a delicate summer fling that doesn’t boast the tracks around it. Others feel part of a bigger collective, while this feels too focused on being a summer anthem. From the infectious percussion and harmonies by Prince and his band, this small stoppage gap delivers behind Prince’s strengths. It’s a highlight from the album that isn’t fully there. To its merit, one could easily find themselves grooving to this on any given day or whenever your focus isn’t to play this from start to finish.

These transfer over to other songs like “1000 Light Years From Here.” This song contrasts themes with the instrumentations. It blends lively sounds with serious songwriting that speak about the prototypical American Dream. For some, it is a true dream that becomes a reach, while others create their own far from the gravitational center of society. 

The songs that fluctuate instrumentally around similar sentiments are usually the best. One of my favorites songs on the album, “Stand Up And B Strong,” delivers on all cylinders. It builds momentum by fueling the internal desire to feel heard and capitalize on unified strengths. Like on “Yes,” there is an overwhelming sense of wanting happiness and determination that brings us closer together. 

There aren’t many songs that feel minimally off. But there is a reason Welcome 2 America got shelved in 2011. It isn’t perfect, and the humility it adds to Prince as a musician leaves you feeling comfortable and warm about its perception later down the road. Welcome 2 America takes itself seriously and is vibrant enough that most will enjoy the many songs on this, while others may feel lukewarm – understandably so. This album is fun and a nice relic of the past; however, it would have been understandable if it remained shelved.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Leon Bridges – Gold-Diggers Sound: Review

Leon Bridges’ old soul is rooted in the back of his vocal cords. He delivers transcendent – driving with the top down of your convertible – type of music. We’ve heard Leon Bridges deliver various sweet and tingling performances over loose and melodic string orchestration, sometimes reminding you of Otis Redding. We swayed with the rhythm of R&B, resonant of smooth-soft billowing from singers who presided with dominance. His attention to detail is awe-inspiring, which rarely gets underwritten by poor transition execution. He takes you on the backseat of his motorbike as he swoons you to smooth grooves, particularly from his softening-melodic vocals, on his new album Gold-Diggers Sound

Throughout Gold-Diggers Sound, Leon Bridges shifts the location from the dim-lit music club to the bedsheets. “Steam” takes that approach by creating a sleek and vibrant track about winning over our date, who had you head over heels from her hotness. With these unique inflections, he brings self-assurance to the people who need to swoon a little more. Instead of playing classic Trey Songz or Jodeci to get in the mood, Leon’s music makes you work for it by allowing the females he sings about to have a dynamic perception of the situations at hand. Leon Bridges transfixes these ideas with grace and beauty that they become individualized highlights all their own.

Two tracks come to mind when reflecting on these intentional directions of love and intimacy: “Motorbike” and “Magnolias.” Each track is a whirlwind adventure through the nightly bustle as you marvel at the beautiful lights illuminating your way. It’s a two-pronged song that doesn’t billow in a puddle of basic conventions and delivers a worthwhile free-living experience. Being non-conventional is the definition of the album, bringing unique strengths from Leon Bridges’ remarkable vocal range.

“Magnolias” is a bit different. Leon Bridges finds himself inspired by magnolia trees and the music Sade within the construct of the song. It tells a beautiful tale about love juxtaposed with elevated moods. Leon is in a state of pure happiness and whimsy that his state of mind is loose with the thought of smelling magnolia trees, opposed to flowers. It’s like the fragrance offers a more poignant aroma that brings them this elevated/happy mood.

As he puts it in an interview with Apple Music: “I immediately was pigeonholed after my first album, and the more I continue to create, I want to be honest about the music that inspires me. I love the juxtaposition of that beautiful acoustic guitar with the more trap, modern R&B thing. My mother always used to encourage me to write a song about this magnolia tree that was in her backyard. And so I kind of took that and shaped the lyrics around it. In my head, as far as the chorus, it felt like this is how Sade would sing it in terms of that melody. That probably doesn’t make sense, but it made sense in my head at the time.”

The melodies and harmonies are reminiscent of a young Sade record. Leon Bridges doesn’t hide from what influences him, finding new ways to deliver with impact on the production. His producers, Ricky Reed, and Nate Mercereau, amongst others, add extra layers of textures of instruments that developed further in our modern era (1990 – Present) of music. The production is crisp and tight without feeling like another rendition of a song we heard previously. To Leon Bridges’ testament, his vocal performances have kept him afloat as he breathes new life to these songs. On Coming Home, he delivered “Smooth Sailin’,” which allowed you to feel the soft summer wind breezing every time the chorus came on. And on Gold-Diggers Sound, it becomes a recurring attraction.

Unfortunately, Gold-Diggers Sound doesn’t have pristine execution; transitioning from song to song you start to notice which songs pop, opposed to not. Amongst the aforementioned “Motorbike” and “Magnolias” is the song “Gold-Diggers,” which gets lost amongst the trove of spectacular songs surrounding it. This situation mirrors as the album comes to a close. 

Preceding the last two tracks is the astounding “Sweeter,” with Terrace Martin, which details a story told through the perspective of a protagonist in the shoes of someone who has been slain due to unnecessary force by police officers. His sentiments explore a deep section of the subconscious that fears any pivot could trigger a radical response in any given situation.

Gold-Diggers Sound is a beautiful detour from his traditional work of the past. It packs songs that flow with the wind and the top down as you’re cruising down the coast. His fans will continue to enjoy his harmless and tender vocals, and new fans will discover the breath of fresh air he delivers amongst others in his genre.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Mariah the Scientist – RY RY World

As is with many genres, there are those who keep it traditional and others who adapt; however, there are those who find equilibrium with the two. Mariah the Scientist is one of these artists who has that cadence in their voice; the naturality of it immediately drawn to her swan song. Like her debut in 2019, Master, and onto her follow-up, Ry Ry World, take away from any impression that her voice and songwriting ability are the true selling point. She isn’t this profound singer with a standout quirk like Beyonce’s operatic range or Chris Brown’s ability to create infectious hooks, but she stands out with her own beauty. Ry Ry World is like an album coming to you with its natural beauty opposed to being overly glamorized to boost the attention they garner.

Like the cover art, Ry Ry World delivers what the photo represents. A satirical take on Cupid’s arrow, Mariah the Scientist is struck by it through the heart. And this isn’t your typical arrow, given the flesh wound through the heart. The smile on her face adds this beautifully exposed confidence giving further vindication to the everyday-hood of heartbreak. From this, she takes us on a whirlwind, 29-minute long, adventure full of smooth R&B/Soul ballads and minimalist dance numbers.  

Mariah the Scientist places a lot of focus on herself, with lone performances bringing forth a beautiful array of new compositions that feels a little too similar to Master, but packing its own punch to return. The content, displaying the various issues – mentally – with love and beauty within the growth, comes in a beautifully ribbon-tied package. Her tales of heartbreak align with situational issues that develop further, like a cheating partner on “Aura” or the inner turmoil (logically) one deals with when fighting them on “Brain.” She breaches into sensitive territory as she sings about suicidal thoughts on the track “RIP.”

As Mariah keeps herself in tune with her growing presence, she sings with an abundance of confidence, riding the waves of shoulder brushing with ease. Like anyone going through heartbreak it can be a roller coaster ride, and Mariah makes use the pivots to explore the aspects of the emotions, whether slow burning or impulsive. The cohesion gives it the spark needed to retain your attention because to some, the nuanced simplicity within the production may weaken the interest. Though to her credit, she finds ways to shine alongside notable features, even if they don’t always land. 

These tracks work with accomplishing their intentions, but that doesn’t benefit the overall feeling you’d receive. “Always n Forever,” featuring Lil Baby, displays the toxicity with blind love beneath the earnestness these artists evoke. They signal this blindness by the attention they put into this addiction or love. While Mariah delivers a solid performance, Lil Baby doesn’t offer much to leave an impression. It could be because I’m not in a financial state where buying a significant other a new car is financially responsible, so the relation runs thin despite the virtuoso talent he has.

The other track, “Walked In,” featuring Young Thug, cuts to the chase. It simplifies the intentions of – possibly many, but not all –millennial people – i.e. breathes the night club life or career focused that relationships are taboo, opposed to finding someone to deliver that missing stress reliever. “Walked In,” is a decadent dance number, sweating sex, literally and figuratively, as the groove is dirty, but slow. Young Thug comes with a solid verse that blends in well with Mariah in one of the few standout performances on Ry Ry World.

Like the aforementioned “RIP,” there are several performances that shine. “All For Me” shows Mariah expressing range beyond a melancholic tonal scale and getting her hands dirty with it. The powerful inflections on the chorus drives home the broken jealousy she has for the woman her man left her for. This comes across as the denial from her feelings that were expressed on “Aura,” which keens in on the cheating. She doesn’t give this performance a confident bravado and at-times sounding dismayed due to the slight doubt there is something wrong with her. Despite this the album can be a bit redundant, but the external factors keep you reeled in till the end.

Mariah feels comfortable in her skin, never seeming to find a necessity to be more grandiose than who she is. She has shown the ability to keep increasing her range as a singer, and growing as a songwriter. As redundant as Ry Ry World can be, full of heartbreak-tracks, there is enough originality to keep it afloat amongst fans as she continues to grow and possibly discover new content to approach.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

H.E.R – Back of My Mind: Review

Continuing her monstrous year, winning both Song of The Year at the Grammys and the Academy Award for Best Original Song, H.E.R. delivers her debut studio album, Back of My Mind. It’s crazy to think that after three years of critical acclaim and mainstream success, she has been going about, on a consistent basis, releasing EPs after EPs that would later be repurposed as compilation albums. But her originality and talent always shined, giving us these unique creations that showed her range; specifically proving she has the makings of a rock star. Back of My Mind has luscious production, fantastic vocal performances, albeit clocking in at 21 songs and 80 minutes of material that sometimes feel more like filler or non complacent within the bigger picture.

Back of My Mind comes as H.E.R’s first true foray into creating a concept album that delves deep into her subconscious and brings out these beautiful performances about her life. However they come in a sporadic mess with few inconsistencies. There are moments where the track has you hooked from the melodies and the production – at times sensing smart songwriting – and yet the choruses that are supposed to be the icing on the cake, start to slightly teeter on mediocrity at random instances. H.E.R. either keeps your attention or you start to lose it as some tracks don’t have the depth her vocals can provide; other times the writing from her, with a collection of others, carry a lot of dead weight as it’s hard to distinguish who wrote who.

But these random factions on Back of My Mind are filled with some filler and thematic redundancy. That it will have you – at times – tapping next slightly quicker than usual, like on “Find A Way,” with Lil Baby, which comes across as broad and redundant. It feels like it was orchestrated to add slight commercial appeal; the same could also be said about the addition of “Slide,” with YG, and one of the weaker tracks, “I Can Have It All,” that she made with Bryson Tiller, Meek Mill, and DJ Khaled for his most recent album, Khaled Khaled. But for some of these tracks, hitting the skip button is a blessing as some of H.E.R’s best work comes from it, like “Bloody Waters,” with Thundercat, co-produced by Kaytranada and Gitelman (producer of the 2016 Mac Miller single “Cinderella”) and “Don’t.”

But these great follow-ups are just crumbs off the cake, as other slices come with blandness like the track “Paradise,” with southern trap rapper, Yung Bleu. It feels off as they try to incorporate and feel invigorated by the low-tempo island R&B and Hip-Hop ballad, which gets worse as it progresses; specifically because of the evolution of sound that starts to steer off a cliff. It is one of the many tracks that evoke themes about relationships and love, a few of which came off redundant, despite unique sounds. But when she steers in a more personable direction that doesn’t feel completely tried, as her career seemed to have a weird trajectory. When those songs have more focus on her person and the effect fame has had on her artistry, opposed to the more tedious themes in R&B/Soul, is where H.E.R. shines as a vocalist, allowing herself to break down more barriers and have us forget about the one true deterrent into pop in the song, “Slide.”

The emotional performances from H.E.R captivate you whether it’s melodically soulful or spiritually bleak, and continuing to show that her dominance in the industry is no fluke with her amazing voice and range. This continuation shows more when she is trading verses and duets with other artists, like the nuanced “Come Through,” featuring Chris Brown channeling a version of himself we rarely see. This is similarly heard on “Trauma,” featuring Cordae. The smooth, somber, and depth filled production by Hit-Boy feels isolated and it shines as its own thing that fits within the grander scheme of the concept as she picks apart pieces of her mind. It’s a breath of fresh air to hear these two artists mesh into a H.E.R. like tracks that don’t come across as what you’d expect when seeing their name on a feature list.

There are plentiful examples to highlight how H.E.R creates a path to let collaborators flourish with her. It provides insight to the construction of the song/production notes, and how some meld themselves into a genre they barely touch. On “Cheat Code,” Asa Taccone (Electric Guest) and Julia Michaels co-wrote and co-produced the highlight “Cheat Code,” which felt seminally out of the former’s comfort zone. Asa brings unique touches with co-producer DJ Camper, like the vibrant and distinguishing percussion patterns. 

This cohesion and understanding allows for new perspective on the delivery of the performance over the production, amongst the in between writing like New Jersey producer Cardiak and R&B/Soul songwriters from various eras of the genre, but especially this new era with writers like the duo Nova Wav (written for DJ Khaled and Teyanna Taylor) and Gamal Lewis, who has written for Ciara, Meghan Trainor, and Lil Wayne, to name a few. Unfortunately not everyone can make a track work, as Gamal Lewis and the other credited writers couldn’t really make that track feel fully rounded.

Back of My Mind’s quality strives in the middle where many tracks hit, some of which have distinct details that make slightly lesser tracks more repeatable, like the melody and production of “Lucky,” and “My Own,” or the lyricism of “Process.” H.E.R. comes about this album with a need to distinguish and express that she is capable of range, which she has previously tried to show on the slightly fun “We Goin’ Crazy” from Khaled Khaled.

H.E.R. has never shied away from speaking her truth, but she seems to feel misguided when it came to constructing her debut album. It’s bloated, running at 21 tracks and 80 minutes in length, you could tell what could have been shaved off and it would have made a tighter album. However, H.E.R. delivers enough to have you returning to this, especially with unique outputs like “Come Through;” however you’ll probably return to her earlier work more frequently.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10.