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: 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: 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!”

mobb-deep-gohjo

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.

frederic-yonnet-gohjo

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.

big-boi-music-midown-gohjo

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)

Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Top Vinyls

In 2016, I finally sucked it up and bought a record player, a Technics SL-0350 specifically, and named her Apollonia. I’ve also built up a very respectable record collection from somewhat meager beginnings, and my attachment to the medium grows every day. So here are my top seven eight nine vinyls that I bought or bartered for in 2016, and after that we may or may not get to actual 2016 music.

Tom Waits – The Heart of Saturday Night

9. Tom Waits – The Heart of Saturday Night Found at Tip Top Daily Market, via Premium Sound. I’m not an expert in Tom Waits, but I’m learning. This smokey waltz through the hope and anticipation but ultimately lonesome cycle of being in the scene is an excellent starting point.

8. War – Why Can’t We Be Friends? Found on Amazon. An incredibly tight and concise but freely funky latin jazz album that is probably mostly famous for having the single “Lowrider” on it. “Lowrider” is a perfectly awesome song, but please don’t think War is a one hit wonder. Give this album a listen front to back (a trim 44:04).

Steely Dan – Aja

7. Steely Dan – Aja Found at Sleepy Poet Antique Mall. This is an album that you can find pretty regularly in record shops, but it’s a must have in my opinion. Not only my top Steely Dan album (though Gaucho isn’t far behind), but this album is so sonically perfect, it’s used by audiophiles to measure a sound system’s fidelity.

6. Ahmad Jamal – Live at the Montreal Jazz Festival 1985 Found at The Wax Museum on Monroe Rd (fucking love that website, btw). I referenced this album in my previous post, but it bears repeating, it’s a hell of an album. Jamal, along with only bass, drums and a percussionist, composes a relentlessly sophisticated set that is deep and emotive.

Kamasi Washington – The Epic

5. Kamasi Washington – The Epic Found at Lunchbox Records. This album (which lives up to its name at three discs) represents a kind of new generation of jazz. Washington, along with Terrace Martin, Thundercat and Robert Glasper are masters and innovators in their art, and have also embodied the natural relationship between hip hop and jazz. You won’t find anything like Washington’s collaborations with Kendrick Lamar on this journey, but it’s a rich and intricate listen. Seriously, just look at that album cover, the fact he named it The Epic, the fact that it’s his debut album, and tell me Kamasi doesn’t mean business.

4. Frank Ocean – Blond Found at LunchBox Records. Frank Ocean’s long awaited second album saw him make an undeniably unique album that explores his own demons and consciousness in a way that is both figuratively and literally a fuck you to pop music. I liked this album when I was listening to it on Spotify, but absolutely fell in love with it when I got the vinyl. The special clear vinyl edition is also pretty impressive.

3. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service Pre-ordered from the ATCQ website. I’ll dive into this album a bit more in depth later in this series, but I’m pretty sure this is the first album I’ve ever pre-ordered. As soon as it became available, I knew I had to own it, now I’ve got it and I’m in loooooove with it and no, you can’t listen unless you can tell me who Georgie Porgie is.

2. Phish – Hoist Found on Amazon. You may or may not enjoy Phish, but I’m guessing that if you don’t, you haven’t dug into some of their seminal albums of the mid nineties. Never a band known for their studio efforts, Hoist is the exception. An album that features more traditional songwriting than most Phish projects, Hoist represents an ideal intersection of free-form

Phish – Hoist

improvisation and pop friendly structure. Guest appearances from Allison Krauss and Bela Fleck give the album a bit of a bluegrass feel as well. Super nerdy note: Jonathan Frakes, who played Commander Riker on Star Trek: The Next Generation contributes a little trombone.

Despite being released in March of 1994, this album was not pressed on vinyl until Record Store Day 2016 (April 16), making a 12″ copy of this album a pretty rare find in the collection. Fortunately, Amazon is a tremendous resource for hard to find records like this.

1. Stevie Wonder – Songs in the Key of Life Found in the dollar bin at Lunchbox Records. Finding this album in the dollar bin was a true hidden gem moment. The album cover certainly had some water damage, but the vinyls inside were close to perfect. Getting this groundbreaking album (which goes for $40+ on Amazon, eBay etc.) for two dollars because of a rough-ish cover was the easiest decision I made all year. I mean, what other album has a whole tour anchored around playing it in its entirety?

Stevie Wonder – Songs in the Key of Life

Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Top Jazz Albums
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 (15-8)
Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Top 15 Albums (7-1)

First Listen: Anderson .Paak – “Malibu”

Throughout his entire career, Dr. Dre has been many things (revolutionary producer, acceptable rapper, tenuous business man and more), but what’s the one thing that he has probably excelled at the most for the longest duration? Having an impeccable ear for talent. His list of protégés reads like a first-ballot hip-hop Hall of Fame list: Snoop Doggy Dogg, Eminem, 50 Cent, The Game and the list goes on.

Despite a soul-sucking decade-plus long wait and counting for Dre’s theoretical next album Detox, his ability to find engaging new artists is still as sharp as ever, as evidenced by Malibu the second LP from LA singer, rapper, drummer and producer Anderson .Paak.

Malibu is a mix of many things stylistically: hip-hop, R&B, jazz, soul, funk and disco, each gently contributing to the flow of the album while graciously not dominating it. This swirling mix of sounds is rooted in a storyline uniting the narrative of the album, .Paak’s story of growing up in the chaotic and unforgiving LA streets. “Your moms’ in prison / your father need a new kidney / your family’s splitting / rivalries between siblings / if cash ain’t king it’s damn sure the incentive”, .Paak raps on “The Season | Carry Me”. The tone of the album, however, is anything but a bummer. There’s ample energy and flair for the duration, but .Paak does an excellent job of grounding it in a self-aware story.

.Paak, of Black and Korean descent, is a drummer by trade. Everything on Malibu is based around the percussion and rhythm, which is smooth, has a good bounce and sets the tone for the swagged-out feel of the album. It’s hard to put on this record and not want to nod your head (as Dre used to say) to many of the lush grooves here. As mentioned above, several styles are represented here, and .Paak blends them masterfully. Each genre is the result of a deep working knowledge and respect for that sound, but .Paak’s ability to make each bend to the will of his persona and story is what makes this album good. .Paak – the stylized “.” in his name, according to him, represents the “details”, which are what got him to where he is – is clearly knowledgeable about each of the styles he wants to use.

The opening track, “The Bird”, quickly establishes a smooth feel, as .Paak gently croons about his fractured family dynamic over a mid-tempo drum, piano and guitar line with a welcomed saxophone solo line on top. “Heart Don’t Stand a Chance” pushes the tempo dial up, however, with a bouncy two-step beat and decadent drum-fill chorus.

Malibu starts trying on different sonic outfits at this point. “The Waters” sound like a cut off of a D’Angelo album with a smoky bassline, hazy drums, and a rapid-fire lyrical flow backed up by a soulful harmony section. The obligatory radio-ready track is next, but it hardly feels like it. “The Season | Carry Me” is a twofer, with the first track produced by Raleigh-based soul sample master 9th Wonder, and the latter a Callum Conner work, both are beat-heavy hip-hop tracks that play perfectly off one another.

via youtube.com

.Paak is assisted by some heavy hip-hop names (no doubt the benefit of working with Dre) such as producers 9th Wonder, Madlib and Hi-Tek; and rappers Schoolboy Q, The (aforementioned) Game, Talib Kweli and North Carolina’s own Rapsody, but the album is clearly .Paak’s. His style of vocally singing and rapping while hitting each point in between sounds fresh through the full listen. His voice is slightly raspy and nasal, but easily conveys the cool tone of the album. The lyrics are tight and the hooks are constructed out of some very catchy melodies.

“Put Me Thru” has a heavy rock and jazz influence, with a clean, funky guitar sound in the verse, which transforms into a distortion-filled force during the chorus. “Am I Wrong” is a take on a dance song, reminiscent of the feel on Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories. “Without You” goes back to hip-hop roots and features a heartbroken Rapsody rhyming over a boom-bap beat.

The album isn’t without it’s flaws. Some of the tracks could easily have been left off, sounding more like half-baked song ideas, rather than fully-fledged songs. “Parking Lot”, “Lite Weight” and “Water Fall (Interluuube)”, while evidence of a solid element or two to build on, don’t go anywhere after that. Adding to that is that all three of those tracks surround an otherwise healthy song (“Room in Here”), drowning out that track’s energy ever so slightly.

.Paak makes up for it with the next two tracks, which really drive the second half of the album. “Your Prime” features a staccato flow that could have been a feature on To Pimp a Butterfly. Ironically, “Come Down” is similar to the filler songs I mentioned before, but instead of half-baked beats, this song is anchored by a spectacular, ill-mannered and boastful bass line that would make Bootsy Collins bashful. However, there’s not much more to the song besides the bass line and a two quick verse/chorus exchanges.

The album closes with the ambitious but clumsy “Silicon Valley”, and the nostalgia-fueled sunny-day vibes of “Celebrate” and “The Dreamer”. It’s at this point in the album, however, that the strain from the less-than-necessary tracks take their toll. As an entertainer of any kind, you always want to leave the audience wanting more and these tracks rob Malibu of that feeling in the long run.

Overall, Malibu is essential listening in this young year. A fresh sound from a fresh name, one that honors the magic of the past, while taking the sound into the future. From rapping to singing and even producing a few of the tracks on this album, Anderson .Paak shows that he has the talent and the ambition to build a name off of. Dr. Dre, meanwhile, continues his streak of finding diamonds in the rough.