Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Top Albums (15-8)

We’re here! We’re finally here. It took literally every last second of 2016 for me to write this (and a few days into 2017) but… we’re here.

*breathes deeply, exhales, looks around wistfully*

Despite all the tragic losses of some of the most talented and significant names in music, I believe 2016 was a great year for music. There were plenty of new names, new styles and innovative projects to keep the scene fresh. Plenty of grizzled veterans came through with projects that reasserted their authority or gave a classy send off to impeccable careers. Life, and therefore music, is a continuous cycle and while it sucks losing so many legendary names, it opens up room for some of these new artists to make names for themselves.

OK, I’ll stop stalling here it is!

J. Cole – 4 Your Eyez Only

15. J Cole – 4 Your Eyez Only I really wanted to put this album higher on the list, but there’s a few things holding it back.

One, it doesn’t progress Cole’s style, only leans comfortably in the groove that he’s been in for the past few albums. Make no mistake, his lyrical ability is supreme, so it’s not a bad place to be, I just didn’t see the progression I was hoping for.

Two, this album offers up nothing to counter the (mostly false) narrative that he’s a boring rapper. Not that artists should be making music to please critics, but it goes back to my first point. If you don’t bring anything new to the table, you’re moving backwards in essence, because some else is going to bring that heat. In fact, I would say he almost took a small step back lyrically in this album. “Head game stronger than two Excedrin” – seriously, Cole?

Finally, I feel like the concept of the album could have been delivered more clearly. Cole shifts back and forth between personas on this project, but it’s hard to tell where you are in the story, like if you only watched the first half of Pulp Fiction.

Overall, it’s still an excellent album, and Cole is a torchbearer for creative lyricism and flow. I just would have liked to see him take a next step and focus a bit more on his storytelling.

Beoncyé – Lemonade

14. Beyoncé – Lemonade In contrast to J Cole’s project, Lemonade actually brings to the table to progression and focus on storyline that 4 Your Eyez Only lacks. Beyoncé incorporates elements of soul, rock, country and jazz into her new album, giving it a range of sounds that span the spectrum of emotions. This also helps the album sound different than anything else in the contemporary R&B market.

Obviously, this album would not be what it was if you didn’t include the surprise release date and the massive speculation that mushroomed once the album’s lyrical content was heard. That’s the power of storytelling in music, however, and is exactly what was missing from Cole’s album. Bey was able to create something that had a beginning, middle and end, leading the listener through every stage of emotional grief one goes through when (presumably) their partner is dishonest.

There’s really not any filler on this album, each song contributes meaningfully to the story arch. And, of course, Bey leaves us with a banger of a single in “Formation”.

Esperanza Spalding – Emily’s D+Evolution

13. Esperanza Spalding – Emily’s D+Evolution I wasn’t very familiar with Esperanza Spalding before this, her fifth album was released. However, this album took me, and many other listeners around the country, by surprise.

Her sound is new, fresh and full of an infectious energy on this album. The arrangements are intricate and the musicians pull off their execution flawlessly. The lyrics are sharp and wry, and like a classic Steely Dan album, they need to heard a few times and dissected before they are fully understood.

Take this lyric from “Ebony and Ivy”: “It’s been hard to grow outside/ Growin’ good and act happy/ And pretend that the ivy vines/ Didn’t weigh our branches down” This refers to Spalding’s love of education and science, but it’s tempered with the sobering realization that science was a justification for slavery in the early parts of the 20th century.

Subtle yet profound storytelling, dynamic and progressive combinations of jazz and rock and a bridling enthusiasm combine to make this an excellent album.

YG – Still Brazy

12. YG – Still Brazy This project came out of nowhere for me. YG’s previous efforts (Young Gangsta, Blame it on the Streets) were representative of some of the underwhelming and unfulfilling styles of rap that wouldn’t dare venture outside of their wheelhouse of club bangers and boastful rhymes. With Still Brazy, YG brought the absolute heat.

Brazy reminds me of some of the old west coast G-Funk records of Dr. Dre, Warren G and Tha Dogg Pound. The instrumentals are clean and melodic and lay a fine groundwork for YG and his features to really rip some serious lines.

There’s also a consistency of thematics in some of the songs such as “Gimmie Got Shot”, “Who Shot Me?” and “She Wish She Was”. YG also uses his voice to produce some more thoughtful material in the final quarter of the album, speaking on police brutality and race relations in “Blacks & Browns”, “Police Get Away with Murder” and of course “FDT” (Fuck Donald Trump).

When you combine thoughtful and focused storytelling with unrestrained bangers, it’s a good recipe for a Top 15 Album on my list.

De la Soul – and the Anonymous Nobody

11. De la Soul – and the Anonymous Nobody De la Soul have long been one of hip hop’s most innovative groups, never compromising creatively. It makes sense then, that they would be the first hip hop group that breaks new ground by funding the production of their new album through a Kickstarter campaign. They used their fan’s money well in delivering a project that is undeniably unique and full of vision.

De la has always wanted to dip into the mix of rap and rock, and while they pull it off well on songs like “CBGBS”, those are still the slower points of the album for me. Where De la Soul really shines is in their mastery of delivering thoughtful, inspired lyrics over melodic bass lines. Songs like “Royalty Capes” and “Pain” set the tone for the album that contains plenty of witty lines and observations. It’s going to be interesting to see how this album ages, given that it’s a progressive offering from a band already known for their willingness to try new approaches.

Kaytranada – 99.9%

10. Kaytranada – 99.9% Ah, the top ten, where dreams are made! This album by newcomer beatmaker Kaytranada certainly makes me feel a bit dreamy, combining hip-hop, pop, trance, house and other styles into an album that sounds different than anything else out there.

I really dug the dancehall vibe of this album that is well rounded out by hip-hop and soul influences. Seamlessly mixing genres isn’t all that this album does well, however. Kaytranada (real name Louis Celestin) makes this album all his own with a homogenous mix of features (Anderson .Paak, Vic Mensa, Little Dragon among others). Lyrically, the album suffers, but it seems to be by design, as Kaytranada lets his unique style shine.

Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition

9. Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition If you’ve gotten this far, and you’ve actually read my descriptions, you’ll notice that I generally appreciate albums that show an artist’s’ progression, and Atrocity Exhibition might be the best example of that thus far.

To this point, Danny Brown has gained a reputation as mostly a party rapper, crafting high-energy beats that sound right at home at a packed music festival. His lyrics basically revolved around how many drugs Danny did (“Kush Coma”) without much respite.

That’s part of what makes Atrocity Exhibition such a profound album. Not only are the music-festival beats gone and replaced by the most out-of-this-world production I’ve ever heard on a rap album, but the lyrics go inside Danny’s mind much more deeply than ever before. This time we get a look at the habits and contradictions that fester in the remote recesses of Danny’s mind. His flow and delivery is still sharp and witty, delivering punchlines that always make you both think and laugh. But this time we are treated to plenty of substance that adds dimension to the portrait of a rapper who has to this point reached a lofty level of fame walking a narrow path musically.

Terrace Martin – Velvet Portraits

8. Terrace Martin – Velvet Portraits One of the most promising developments of 2016 for me is the ushering in of this new era of jazz in the mainstream. Terrace Martin, along with Kamasi Washington, Thundercat, Robert Glasper and more have breathed new life into the once-stagnant genre’s lungs using the natural connection to hip hop as the lever. Martin’s work on the Grammy-winning To Pimp a Butterfly has clearly reached the masses, but his non Kendrick catalog is deep and fruitful, and Velvet Portraits may be the most complete offering yet.

Velvet Portraits is a mix of bebop jazz, anchored by Martin’s saxophone, with bits of soul, funk and R&B that curiously taps into each genre just long enough to get immersed in the sound but not long enough to derail the overall momentum of the album. Each song is masterfully recorded and produced making the record a true pleasure to listen to. Albums like this are leading the way for new and progressive urban jazz sounds that will hopefully continue to develop in 2017.

Albums 7-1 in the countdown get published tomorrow!

Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Top Jazz Albums
Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Top Vinyls
Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Top Live Music Events
Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Garbage Albums
Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Honorable Mentions
Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Best Local Projects
Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Top 15 Albums (7-1)

 

Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Best Local Projects

I can’t just give you my Top 15 Albums of 2016 without first shouting out some of my favorite local Charlotte-based projects of the year. Despite its tepid reputation for local and touring music, Charlotte is not lacking for talent. There’s plenty of proud and innovative musicians in the area that are ready to put Charlotte on the musical map and give the real Queen City the props it deserves. Hopefully, the city and profit-minded developers consider that and help restore some of the character to the scene by building a few more local live music venues.

In no particular order:

Elevator Jay – Slurred in Mecklenburg

Elevator JaySlurred in Mecklenburg This album really could have just about made it into my overall top 15. Jay is a pioneer in Charlotte’s rap scene by keeping things thick and sticky like the album title would imply, but also spitting sharp rhymes with a different flow on every track. The production and rhyming on this album are classically southern, but they never fall into tired trap clichés, with the beats and Jay’s flows being different on each track. Elevator is a dangerously talented musician, able to fire off melodic raps, catchy hooks and innovative beats faster than a Cook Out drive through. Read my full review of Slurred in Creative Loafing.

Radio Lola – The Burden in Our Bones This four piece tsunami of bluesy rock & roll force has been touring around Charlotte for a few years now, and this album contains some of their finest material yet. Their dark and brooding hard rock sound is driven by the wailing, feedback-fueled guitar of Chris Hendrickson and the sultry, siren-like vocals of Dani Engle. The songwriting is also deep and emotive, but at the same time has you wanting to throw down at a moment’s notice. Radio Lola partially funded this album through Kickstarter, showing that they are backed by the hearts of the Charlotte music scene.

Well$ – The Way I’m Living Makes My Mom Nervous

Well$The Way I’m Living Makes My Mom Nervous I’m really digging this release from Well$, who seems poised for some national recognition. Durham-based Sylvan Esso give a kick start to the album with production on “Young Man”. The rest of the listen is laden with punchy beats and clever word play. The album’s mood is dark and brooding, but it never seems to get to a place where it takes itself too seriously. Keep an eye out for big things coming from Well$ in 2017.

Deep 6 Division (Rapper Shane and Mike Astrea) – Self-titled This is the second straight distinctively solid collaboration project that Rapper Shane has worked on in as many years, with 2015’s Dap City with RBTS WIN being the first. While Dap City may have set a high bar, Deep 6 Division might exceed it with searing production from Astrea and increasingly complex and textural rhymes from Shane. The sound of the album is brutal and harsh with aggressive electronic beats powering the album throughout, creating a sound not unlike Run the Jewels. An album that meets at the intersection of hip-hop framework and punk rock spirit, this is the perfect project to get hyped to.

Lara Americo – She/They

Lara Americo – She / They The debut EP from singer/songwriter/artist/trans activist Lara Americo is an intensely personal one which sees the performer pour every ounce of herself into the mix. Light on instrumentation (most songs feature only Americo’s voice over an acoustic or electric guitar, bass and simple percussion), but heavy on genuine emotion and exploration, She/They is a journey through the often complex and painful process of self discovery that comes from being transgender in a testosterone-fueled straight white male society. Americo also plays all the instruments on record, sings as well as produces (often using her own closet as a recording booth), making this one of the most genuine, real and raw records you’ll hear. This record is an emotional roller coaster that is as provocative as it is pure.

Miami Dice – Venus in Retrograde 80’s synth rock duo Miami Dice followed up 2015’s Premium Cut with this 13-track EP in October. Fans of the greasy haired, golden chained and hairy chested synth and drum track-heavy sounds will not be disappointed as Venus follows much of the same pattern. From the opening track “Something That’s Real” (which samples The Whispers’ 1979 hit “The Beat Goes On”), the atmospheric glam grooves transport you directly to the sweaty and sniffly clubs along South Beach circa 1986. This project was also released on cassette tape, making me wonder if cassettes are already back in style. That would be a big kick in the pants for me, after having spent much of 2016 building my vinyl collection.

Bless These Sounds Under the City – On the Brink of Life

Bless These Sounds Under the City – On the Brink of Life I was very impressed with this record, released in November. Another Charlotte duo, this one consisting of Albert Strawn and Derrick Hines, the sound of On the Brink of Life is one that is diverse, bringing a wide range of influences and sonic elements to the table. Everything from indie rock to folk to electronica to hip hop is represented here, and it’s clear that BTSUtC possesses a wealth of knowledge of each genre. Songs like “Suspended in Hypnosis” and “A Clever Disguise” rely on drum machines and sharp rap verses, but a song like the title track makes terrific use of lush string arrangements and clever chord progressions. In the third quarter of the album, “Spirochetes” and “Whatever You Become” all but eschew a percussive track, instead focusing on tender piano and acoustic guitar melodies. This is a tremendous album overall, one that will have me anxiously awaiting the next BTSUtC live performance and album.

Ancient Cities – Supermoon Blackout Well-established local rockers Ancient Cities released their second LP in July of 2016. The quintet is known for soundtracking many live events and parties around Charlotte, but these guys bring the heat in their own right as well. With Supermoon Blackout, Ancient Cities turns up the energy and dials in some solid harmonies, diversifying their previously straightforward rock sound. Led by the songwriting, singing and wailing electric guitar of Stephen Warwick, Blackout is a fun and jaunty listen, perfect for any feel-good sunny day. Songs like “Actress” and “Phases” contain bright and jubilant melodies that evoke early-seventies era Beatles. Many of the tracks here have been carefully crafted and it makes for a fantastic listen as an album.

Also receiving votes: Serfs – Day HangAndy the Doorbum and Justin Aswell – Intent, RBTS WIN – King Summer EP*, Rapper Shane – Too Busy to be This Broke

* Technically, RBTS WIN is from Asheville, but these dudes rep Charlotte so hard, perform here all the time and are close with many Charlotte artists so they get an honorary Charlotte residency from me.

If you’ve got a favorite #cltmusic project that I forgot to mention, or a local artist that I’m unaware of, hit me up!

Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Top Jazz Albums
Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Top Vinyls
Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Top Live Music Events
Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Garbage Albums
Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Honorable Mentions
Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Top 15 Albums (15-8)
Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Top 15 Albums (7-1)

Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Honorable Mentions

After yesterday’s look into albums that I found forgettable, it’s time to wash the taste out of my mouth with some albums from 2016 that I very much enjoyed and kept on heavy rotation, yet just missed out on my Top 15. Each of these albums shows depth, complexity and soul. For some, it’s a bold debut that defines the sound of what’s new, others it’s a progression of their sound that illuminates their artistry, or perhaps it’s a grizzled veteran disproving doubters and showing they still have the chops to compete with the exuberance of youth.

In no particular order:

Donald Glover – Awaken, My Love!

Donald Glover – Awaken, My Love! I’m encouraged by albums like this, Blond, Atrocity Exhibition and others that fully embrace a certain sound or feeling for the length of the project. Still, Glover makes a pretty radical shift going from tongue-in-cheek college rap to Bootsy Collins and Parliament Funkadelic space rock. Despite a few moments where Glover’s inspiration gets away from him (lol at the singing in “California”), this is a bold project that Glover pulls off admirably.

Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial This was an undeniably fun listen even though I don’t track much post-punk pop, but these guys pulled off a witty and textured album that brings back to life the agony of teenage uncertainty. There’s a pleasant diversity in the sound of this album, something that keeps me cautious of similar acts in the genre.

Paul Wall – The Houston Oiler, E-40 – The D-Boy Diaries, Kool Keith – Feature Magnetic Nothing spectacular or ground-breaking here. Just a solid display of the talents, skills and swag that these three MCs have brought to the game for years. E-40 in particular brings his A game.

Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid

Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid This album represents a fairly triumphant return to the spotlight after a bit of a hiatus. Aesop has always been one of the most lyrically gifted rappers anywhere, and The Impossible Kid finds him weaving intricate and introspective stories from the perspective of a hip-hop veteran.

Logic – Bobby Tarantino Logic is proving to be lethal with his delivery. The layers on his lyrics are so sharp and relentless that it’s like being caught in a midsummer southern rain storm. I wasn’t as impressed with 2015’s The Incredible True Story as many others were, but I liked Logic’s focus on his flow with Tarantino.

Nx Worries – Yes Lawd! Definitely a solid effort from 2016’s golden child Anderson .Paak and producer Knxwledge. It doesn’t quite recreate the magic of Malibu, and Knxwledge outshines .Paak a bit, but still a beauty of an album. With more collaborations on the way in 2017 (including a project with Flying Lotus), it will be interesting to see how .Paak follows up his freshman season.

Solange – A Seat at the Table I really enjoyed this album despite what some of my previous tweets may have suggested. It’s a wonderfully lush album with diverse production and an unabashed spirit. From front to back, there are no weak songs on this project, and it remains focused and on task throughout the duration. Obviously, the timely themes of the album, including black identity in white America and social division, cannot be ignored. It may not be in my Top 15 Albums list, but it’s not far off.

Marquis Hill – The Way We Play

Marquis Hill – The Way We Play Chicago jazz trumpeter Marquis Hill had a fine debut with 2015’s Modern Flows V.1, and The Way We Play is a consistent follow up. The notes fly out of Hill’s trumpet like water through a fire hose, and the sound is complimented well by xylophone and spoken word.

Atmosphere – Fishing Blues The two man tandem of MC Slug and Ant on the production has been the definitive apex of the indie rap world for over 15 years at this point. They’ve made some absolute classics (God Loves Ugly, Lucy Ford) and a few forgettables (You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having), but this latest release trends closer to the classics. A rejuvenated Slug shows you why he’s still one of the top storytelling MCs in the game with plenty of lyrical gymnastics to keep long-time Atmosphere heads bouncing.

Yussef Kamaal – Black Focus

Yussef Kamaal – Black Focus This new downbeat jazz duo consisting of Yussef Dayes and Kamaal Williams (aka Henry Wu) released Black Focus in November of 2016 and have immediately made a link to stateside counterparts Robert Glasper and Terrace Martin. Yussef Kamaal’s sound is loose and improvisational, driven primarily by a wonderful interplay between the drums and bass of the rhythm section. Although not quite as funk-focused as Herbie Hancock during his Columbia days, the sound of Black Focus takes the baton from Hancock’s work on Headhunters, Man Child and Secrets by producing a dynamic sound that probably isn’t played the same way twice during their live shows. I’ll be keeping my eye out for this duo hopefully playing in the US.

Also receiving votes: Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, Blood Orange – Freetown Sound, St. Paul and the Broken Bones – Sea of Noise, Phantogram – Three, Alicia Keys – Here, Kamiyah – A Good Night in the Ghetto, Mayer Hawthorne – Party of One, Kishi Bashi – Sonderlust, Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool, Lake Street Drive – Side Pony, Wilco – Schmilco

Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Top Jazz Albums
Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Top Vinyls
Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Top Live Music Events
Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Garbage Albums
Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Best Local Projects
Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Top 15 Albums (15-8)
Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Top 15 Albums (7-1)

Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Garbage Albums

We’re almost there. We can see my Top 15 Albums of 2016 in sight, but standing in our path are the most trash trash albums of 2016. These albums either were straight whack, or fell far short of the hype. Generally speaking, I try not to listen to albums that are truly awful, and if I do, I usually don’t return to them long enough to form a full opinion. But in these album’s cases, they were too prevalent and popular to ignore, so I subjected myself to them for the sake of knowing definitively whether they were good or not. Random note – almost all of these albums had horrible album art; perhaps you really can judge an album by its cover?

In no particular order…

Drake – Views

Drake – Views After Drake’s 2015 surprise mixtape/album If You’re Reading This it’s Too Late, I thought Drake had finally honed in on what I think he’s best at: delivering razor sharp rhymes over sinister minimalistic beats. With Views, however, Drake makes a return to the sappy, pseudo emotional and not quite in on the joke sense of humor from Take Care and Nothing Was the Same. The fact that “One Dance” is the most popular single of Drake’s career is more an indictment of the system than it is of the artist.

Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book I know I’m going to have a lot of y’all furiously furrowing your brows over me calling Coloring Book garbage. Garbage may be slightly too harsh, but I do believe this album falls under the category of failing to live up to the hype. Get past some of the mixing and production flaws and this album still produces few songs that catch my attention other than the infectious “No Problem”.

Kanye West – The Life of Pablo

Kanye West – The Life of Pablo Again, not an overall terrible record, but certainly not a My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Late Registration or even a Yeezus. This album is so wildly inconsistent, it has soaring highs (“Ultralight Beam”, “Father Stretch My Hands”) trading punches with hilariously bad tracks (“FML”, “Facts” especially). Kanye’s albums have always come to represent various styles or moods of his career, so when you factor in the public embarrassments he’s endured this year, The Life of Pablo makes for a project that will probably not be remembered well.

Rihanna – Anti Just a lazy album with way too many cooks in the kitchen (21 credited producers with Rihanna as EP). While I appreciate that Ri-Ri took some more chances on this album trying to move her sound forward, it felt forgettable and subdued. There’s definitely some moments on this record that I’d like to see her build off of in the future, and perhaps this will be looked back on as a pivot of sorts, but for now I’m probably not cue’ing this one up any time soon.

Bon Iver – 22 a Million I wasn’t a huge fan of Bon Iver’s previous work, finding it much too spacey and disorganized to keep my attention. When I heard that his (their? I never know if Bon Iver is a band or Justin Vernon’s alter-ego) new album had some hype and that it was taking some risks, I was at the least intrigued. That intrigue was killed swiftly when I saw the god-awful album art and torturously convoluted song names (I’m not even going to validate them by taking the time to research that many special characters). The music itself isn’t far behind, taking half-baked song ideas and making them far more complicated than necessary.

Benji Hughes – Songs in the Key of Animals

Benji Hughes – Songs in the Key of Animals Hate to throw dirt on a local artist’s name, but this is a pretty awful album. Hughes has gained some notoriety for writing commercial jingles for Cheerios, Captain Morgan and others, plus his goofy, fat and bearded guy persona plays well with those looking for their complimentary court jester. Animals, however, is an extremely disorganized package of half-witted jokes that no one finds funny, save Hughes himself. It’s really too bad too, since the album art is quite impressive, featuring some very pleasing water color tones.

The Chainsmokers – Collage The Chainsmokers remind me of a nationally-known version of Benji Hughes. This isn’t music made to be dissected or interpreted in any meaningful way. This is music made for a quick laugh or the soundtrack to an Uber ride between bars on a Saturday night. This is music that only the most dense and turgid of frat bros could appreciate. All you really need to know about the duo of Drew Taggart and Alex Pall (prone to slightly misogynistic twitter beefs) is that they sell themselves as “17.34 combined inches” on their website (since removed). “Holy shit, I completely forgot this song existed” is exaclty what will run through your mind in the summer of 2018 after “Closer” comes on at the Epicenter immediately preceding whatever short-lived vapid excuse for pop music that will take its place by then.

The Avett Brothers – True Sadness

The Avett Brothers – True Sadness Perhaps it’s an ominous omen that this is the second Charlotte-based artist on this list. True Sadness is an apt title for this project because that’s the only thing I feel after hearing this misdirected jumble of poor songwriting and aching instrumentation. This album represents what I can only assume are the weights of fame, money and expectations taking their toll on the Avetts, a desperate grasp at a commercially approved radio friendly sound that eschews the lush, ligneous sound of the Avett’s past.

Prophets of Rage – The Party’s Over Fucking hell. I guess this is just what happens once you get north of 30. Everything that you held dear and sounded so raw and pure when you were younger gets bastardized and commodified to make a dollar. It’s most depressing in this case especially since Cypress Hill, Public Enemy and Rage Against the Machine have (on this project anyway) meekly submitted to the same capitalistic forces that they once claimed to rage against. Make no mistake, this album is completely devoid of anything rage-worthy, unless you’re raging against the fact that this once-proud and uncompromising collection of artists have come together to make a sad attempt at reclaiming your expendable dollars via an unashamed and un-ironic retooling of songs a generation past their prime.

Others receiving votes: Post Malone – Stoney, Ab Soul – Do What Thou Wilt, Die Antwoord – Mount Ninji and da Nice Time Kid, Desiigner – New English, Lil’ Yachty – Lil’ Boat

Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Top Jazz Albums
Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Top Vinyls
Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Top Live Music Events
Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Honorable Mentions
Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Best Local Projects
Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Top 15 Albums (15-8)
Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Top 15 Albums (7-1)

Sous Terrain – Seven Questions with Rémy Thurston

remy-thurston-sous-terrain-gohjo

Rémy Thurston

Since 1971, North Carolina has been the nation’s leading producer of sweet potatoes, but in general, they’ve always been second class spuds to their more starchy and mealy brothers. Tonight (Friday, January 6), however, the sweet potato rightly takes its place in the spotlight at Free Range Brewing in Villa Heights.

Photographer Rémy Thurston makes his solo photo exhibition debut tonight from 6-8 p.m. with his sweet potato immersion, Sous Terrain. Thurston teamed up with sous chefs from several prominent Charlotte restaurants like 300 East, The Fig Tree, Chef Alyssa’s Kitchen and many more to present a photo series of sweet potato inspired dishes created specifically for the show. Intrigued by the possibilites beyond casseroles and fries, I asked Rémy a few questions about his show.

GohJo: How did you choose the sweet potato to work with?

Rémy: The sweet potato is actually integral to North Carolina agriculture. The state produces the most sweet potatoes in the country. I chose it because there’s a famous photograph of an Irish potato that sold for $1 million. It was a simple photograph, and I was inspired to recreate it in my own way.

GohJo: How did you first experience sweet potatoes?

Rémy: I think my first experience with the sweet potato was as a puree as a kid. I honestly thought it was carrots, but after questioning my dad, the chef, about it I was assured it was a sweet potato, not funny-tasting carrots. I’ve loved them since.

GohJo: You’ve got a premiere lineup of sous chefs working with you including Alex Verica from Heritage Food & Drink, Myles Scaglione from Heirloom, Andres Pico of Customshop and Larry Suggs, mixologist from The Punch Room. How did you decide upon who to work with?

Rémy: Sous chefs often run the kitchen behind the line and let the more experienced head chefs take the praise. It’s not always the case, but I’ve seen my fair share of it when I was part of the industry. I wanted to highlight their hard work in the same way the sweet potato doesn’t get all the praise I think it should as part of the state’s agriculture.

GohJo: Why sous chefs and not the folk at the top of the food chain? [GohJo note: Pun very much intended]

Rémy: The sweet potato doesn’t get any recognition until it hits the sunlight and the palate. Sous chefs are similar. You need to see and taste their work to realize what they’re capable of. This show serves to do both.

GohJo: What are some of your favorite sweet potato recipes?

Rémy: My favorite way to have sweet potatoes is pretty simple actually. I cut them up into cubes and roast them with lots of salt, cayenne, olive oil and freshly ground cumin. I like the sweet soft inside contrasting with the crusty caramelized spice crust on the outside.

GohJo: How long will your art be on the walls at Free Range Brewing?

Rémy: The art will be on the wall until January 29th!

Hit up Free Range Brewing (2320 N. Davidson St.) tonight from 6-8 p.m. where you can not only see Rémy’s work, but also get some sweet potato tamales from The Masa Casa, sweet potato fries from Terra Flora, sample some sweet potato cotton candy (!!) from Chef Alyssa’s Kitchen and sip on some sweet potato gruit from the fine folks at Free Range Brewing. Afterwards, don’t forget to head down to C3 Lab in South End for Lara Americo’s opening reception for Chrysalis – A Study in Human Life from 7-10 p.m. Sweet!

Chrysalis – Seven Questions with Lara Americo

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Lara Americo steps into the realm of visual art.

Charlotte musician and activist Lara Americo is stepping into the realm of visual art, starting this Friday (January 6) with an exhibition at C3 Lab in South End called Chrysalis – A Study in Human Life.  According to the Facebook event page:

Skin and bones are a cocoon for the soul to develop and grow on planet Earth. Chrysalis sheds that shell and peers into what’s hidden beneath.

Chrysalis is an exploration of what it means to inhabit a human body. It is common to assume that we are our bodies. Our bodies are a shell and our true selves are much more than human flesh. Chrysalis examines this flesh and what if means to navigate the world in these bodies using photography and 3-D molding. Each photo and 3-d mold will examine one subject and tell that person’s story.

Chrysalis (a butterfly which is becoming an adult but still enclosed in a hard case) is Americo’s first venture into the world of visual and art, after having released her debut album She / They in November 2016 (read the Creative Loafing review here). Chrysalis is a mixed media installation featuring photography and physical models, some using live people as their foundation.

lara-americo-chrysalis-gohjoAmerico took some time recently to answer a few questions I had for her about the show, which you can see at C3 Lab (2525 Distribution St.) until January 23.

GohJo: Tell me a little bit about what visitors can expect to see at your installation at C3 Lab.

Americo: Visitors can expect to see real life. They will see people, physically. But they will see them in other forms than their human body.

GohJo: It appears that the inspiration for the show may have come from your experiences as a transgender person. Talk about how your gender identity evolution has influenced this show.

Americo: Being transgender forced me to closely examine what it means to be connected to a human body on earth. It made me see that we are not our bodies. The body is just a tool that we use. Even though the body decays we never die.

GohJo: How did you choose the subjects depicted for this show?

Americo: I know it may sound cliché but the subjects choose me just as much is I chose them. Anyone could’ve been a subject for this project. Everyone has a story in a way that they express themselves with their bodies. That’s all that I was looking for.

GohJo: You’ve gained some notoriety for your work as a musician, releasing the album She/They in 2016. What’s different for you in creating an art show versus a musical project?

Americo: I look at both mediums as different forms of artistic expression. Both are ways to describe something that is abstract and both are limiting in their own way.

GohJo: What’s something about the relationship between our bodies and our actual “selves” that people don’t often consider?

lara-americo-chrysalis-gohjo-1Americo: Most people, including me, forget that they are not their body and think the opposite is true. The truth whether we like it or not is that our body is dying every moment. This can be scary unless you realize that you will never die.

GohJo: What do you hope people will come away with after viewing Chrysalis?

Americo: I hope people can see that the human body is precious and beautiful because of its fragility. The fact that the body is dying is what makes the body so beautiful. Still, the true beauty is on the inside but can’t be seen.

GohJo: What else do you want people to know about this exhibition?

Americo: That life is beautiful. It’s always beautiful.

Check out the opening reception of Chrysalis – A Study in Human Life this Friday, January 6 at C3 Lab in South End from 7-10 p.m. All answers edited only for spelling and grammar.

Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Top Live Music Events

I promise we’ll get to my Top 15 Albums of 2016 in a minute! But since I am my own editor, I think this is the perfect place to talk about my top live music events of the year.

Obviously, I love recorded music and the magic that comes with listening to your favorite album or hearing a new artist for the first time. However, music is most impactful when experienced live. There’s nothing in the world like hearing your favorite artists play your favorite songs and experiencing how their live performance differs from what you’ve heard on record, especially when you can share that moment with a friend or two or 100,000. Let’s do this!

10. The Stooges Brass Band, Double Door Inn This ended up being my final show at the Double Door, but this was one of the most fun shows I got to see all year. It gave me a warm and rich feeling seeing true New Orleans Jazz in one of the most history rich venues in town. Too bad it didn’t last.

9. Lake Street DriveThe Fillmore Lake Street Drive is just a damn good band. Fun and pop friendly, their style is effortless and infectious. This show was also bouncy and effervescent as the quartet brought lots of energy to the Fillmore stage, and the crowd responded with plenty of warmth. While I’m not a huge fan of their latest album, Side Pony (just a bit heavy on the pop angle for me), their music translates well to live shows. It’s also crazy to think that just a few years ago they were booked at places like The Evening Muse.

8. PhantogramThe Fillmore Phantogram came to town for the first time in a while in October. Touring in support of their new album Three, the duo of Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter came out strong, despite a few technical glitches with their projection system. I interviewed Sarah for CLTure prior to this show, which you can read here.

7. Deep Six Division Album Release Party – The Station As Charlotte continues to axe small live music venues, homegrown artists continue to have to find new places to play. The Station is small as a nickel, but sometimes that’s where the best music happens. On this night, the energy was tangible as RBTS WIN, Elevator Jay, Jr. Astronomers and Deep Six Division (Rapper Shane and Mike Astrea) absolutely threw down on a stage that wasn’t so much a stage as it was the corner of the bar. Despite the size limitations, I had more fun at this show than I had in a long time.

6. ScarfaceThe Fillmore This was part of the Arts, Beats + Lyrics mini festival sponsored by Jack Daniels Honey I believe. Sponsorship isn’t ideal, but in reality, that’s what makes awesome events like this one possible. This event combined some really cool art stations, a kind of traveling tour of artists’ work. Scarface, one of the true OGs in hip hop, far from disappointed as he stepped on stage with authority and supreme control. He was also looking fit and trim, a welcome sight for someone who’s battled health issues and depression.

5. KING – Neighborhood Theatre This neo-soul trio from Minnesota (by way of Los Angeles) released their debut LP, We Are KING, in January of 2016 after much anticipation. Counting the one and only Prince as a mentor, these three ladies’ sound is much more mature than their experience would lead you to believe.

They played on the “intimate” stage of the Neighborhood Theatre next to the bar in the front foyer, which actually worked well for the acoustics of the show.  It was a small, but dedicated crowd which added lots of energy to the show. Vocalists Amber Strother and Anita Bias’ effortless harmonies weaved in and out of each other over Paris Strother’s (Amber’s sister) hypnotic electro-pop instrumentals. This was an excellent show, and hopefully the next time KING plays Charlotte, their name recognition will warrant a bigger stage.

Read my interview with Paris Strother of KING in CLTure here.

4. Mobb Deep – Amos’ Southend Probably my last show ever at Amos’, but it was an absolute banger. The Infamous Mobb is just as grimey as ever and they showed it at the soon-to-be defunct music venue. Like most all hip hop shows, they made the crowd wait for what seemed like forever, leaving the hapless hype men out there to a chorus of boos and chants of “We want Mobb Deep!”

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So apparently it’s not that easy to get a photo that accurately depicts the show you’re seeing with just a cell phone camera. It’s almost as if you should just put the phone away and enjoy the show. Or nah.

Then, out of nowhere, Prodigy and Havoc appeared and immediately went into a ground shaking set that included all of their classics. The crowd went absolutely ballistic for songs like “Survival of the Fittest”, “Hell on Earth”, “Quiet Storm” and of course “Shook Ones, Pt. II”. The most impressive part for me was how P and Hav traded lines and stanzas seamlessly. The Queensbridge duo have been through a lot and have seen it all, and throughout the show you got the sense that shows like this had become almost second nature. If this was my last show at Amos’, then it was a hell of a way to send it out.

3. Frédéric YonnetJazz at the Bechtler Quick aside, the Jazz at the Bechtler shows have been truly influential for me in the past year. Held the first Friday of every month, the performances feature the Ziad Jazz Quartet, led by Ziad Rabie, playing a different theme, style or artist each month. These guys play together all the time all over the place in various iterations so they are razor sharp wherever they play.

This particular show, however… whoa. Frédéric Yonnet is a harmonica player who’s played with Prince and Stevie Wonder (he toured with Wonder for the Songs in the Key of Life tour), as well as playing the opening ceremony of the Smithsonian National African American Museum of History and Culture, officially making him the most badass harmonica player in the world.

Yonnet’s energy was absolutely infectious and impossible to ignore. He’s the only guest musician to be so remarkable that he absolutely overshadowed the rest of the quartet. Yonnet’s talent with the harmonica was mind bending, making sounds and melodies that I truly couldn’t believe I was hearing. Neither could the crowd, as they gave a standing ovation after every single song. I asked one of our frequent attendees of the Jazz at the Bechtler series, Loyd Dillon (who’s seen 65-ish of the 70-ish shows held in total over six years) to rate it, and he said “Top three” without hesitation.

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Frédéric Yonnet’s performance was pure, concentrated energy.

If you ever see the name Frédéric Yonnet on a bill anywhere you are, drop what you’re doing and get a ticket to that show because I promise you won’t regret it.

2. Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra – Knight Theater With jazz being such an influential force in my personal auditory world in 2016, this was a real treat. The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, headed by Wynton Marsalis, are clearly some straight jazz OGs. On the final night of the Charlotte Jazz Festival, Marsalis led the orchestra in recreating the vibrant big band sounds of Duke Ellington and George Gershwin.

I went to this concert by myself, a bit socially burnt out but also wanting to experience the mastery of the musicians in complete focus (I’m kinda weird like that). My efforts were rewarded as I could simply sit and take in the way the musicians played off of one another, communicating with no words, only their instruments.

Big band is a style of jazz that has plenty of action, as there were probably 13 or so musicians on stage at once. Despite the big bouquet of sounds, Marsalis was the ever-present maestro, controlling the group at his will, but letting them improvise when needed. He also served as a narrator for the audience, telling stories about the music and how it came to be.

It goes without saying that I’m already anticipating what this year’s Charlotte Jazz Festival will bring to Uptown.

1. Music Midtown – Piedmont Park, Atlanta Granted, this isn’t a single concert, and it was the only true musical festival I attended this year, but oooh lawdy it was a good one. While getting to see acts like Big Boi, Logic, Lil’ Wayne and 2 Chainz, Twenty One Pilots, Alabama Shakes, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, The Killers and more was nice, the best part of the weekend came outside festival grounds.

One of the things that struck me, as someone who doesn’t go to music festivals all that often, was the sheer number of people that were there. I’ve been to a Bonnaroo or two, but those are held in farms in the middle of nowhere. Music Midtown featured 100,000 strong in the heart of Atlanta. The park, while still sprawling, is a relatively confined space in comparison, making the number of people there seem endless. This was most palpable when one set would end and another would begin as enormous waves of people would shift from one side of the park to the other, moving in a sort of chaotic unison, like a school of fish in the sea. There were times where this would happen, and I wasn’t going anywhere, where if I had got knocked over, I probably would have been trampled.

Despite the massive crowds, I still had an almost ideal (and ultimately unforgettable) experience in Atlanta. The mood of the weekend was one of unison and unabashed ecstasy. It’s exactly the reason why music is so powerful. Tens of thousands of strangers came together to experience something that binded them together no matter the distance travelled, color of their skin or content of their bank accounts. It was absolutely beautiful and was probably my favorite moment of the year, musical or otherwise.

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To be fair, I took this photo of Killer Mike, Big Boi and the Dungeon Family with my cell phone.

Two things before I wrap this post.

One, I’ve got to thank my homie Cameron Lee at CLTure for helping me get into and being a part of several of these shows. Cam does tremendous work and his contributions to the local music scene are far underrated in my opinion. CLTure is exactly the type of grassroots organization this city needs, driven by someone so passionate that they won’t be denied by anything. If Charlotte is ever going to be a truly world-class city like we hope it will be one day, we need more Cameron Lee’s and more CLTure (no pun intended).

Second, I’ve got to get to more live music in 2017. This is non negotiable. Especially when it comes to local acts, I’m embarrassingly deficient when it comes to the quantity of shows I’ve seen, at least for my standards.

When you spend money on a ticket to these shows (or the requisite transportation, lodging, food etc.), you don’t leave with something tangible that you can hold on to or an investment that generates future returns.

No, what you get out of these experiences is much more valuable. What you get is something that speaks directly to your soul, something that unifies you with the performers and those around you, like Jedi and the force. The electricity and atmosphere aren’t things that can be recreated in any recording or social media post. What you get from live music is an experience that shapes you as a person, filling your world with color and character that stays with you, leaves an impression in you and makes you a different person than you would have been otherwise.

These memories and moments are priceless, and in the long run, we as people are only what our memories and moments make us. I’m sure I could have taken the money I spent on that Music Midtown ticket and invested it or bought a swanky new overcoat. But I know that when I’m nearing my final breath in this life, I’ll have had a more rich and wonderful experience in this world because of the trip I chose to make and the lasting memories I made with my friends. That will never change. Damn an investment and damn a piece of clothing because you damn sure can’t take that with you to the other side.

2017, like David Bowie said, let’s dance.

Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Top Jazz Albums
Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Top Vinyls
Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Garbage Albums
Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Honorable Mentions
Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Best Local Projects
Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Top 15 Albums (15-8)
Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Top 15 Albums (7-1)