Album Reviews of the Week
NICOLA: Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah - Ruler Rebel (2017) ◊◊◊ This album showcases some unreal playing from the entire band, but the standout acts are Scott on the trumpet and the inescapable flute playing of Elena Pinderhughes. The influence of Miles Davies echoes throughout this album, and when combined with the silky vocals of Sarah Elizabeth Charles and the backdrop of hip hop and soul, there is a plethora of interest and appeal to the ear. ‘Rise Again’ has mesmerising tonal shifts in its chord sequence, and Scott’s soloing never falters as he darts around the notes in a classic old-school jazz feel. There are some pretty unusual sounds going on at times, notably the opening of ‘The Coronation’, which sounds like it should be a sound effect in the new Alien film. Scott manages this with an irregular, pushed rhythm balanced with the Ravel-esque flute solo by Pinderhughes. With Latin American horn harmonies, electronics and unusual percussive sounds, this is an album to listen to with an open mind. It can seem extremely busy at times, but the key is to listen to the composition both as a whole, and by separating individual parts to locate the interest.
Related artists: Kendrick Scott Oracle, Robert Glasper, Ambrose Akinmusire, Kamasi Washington
REVA: Sylvan Esso - What Now (2017) ◊◊◊◊
“While the world melts on down, we're so happy to be listening to our radio” dribbles out of Amelia Meath’s mouth without drawing too much attention to itself. It bounces by inconspicuously and innocently before the beat drop rips our attention away for the chorus of ‘Radio.’ For an irreverent critique of cookie-cutter pop music, it has such an obviously intentional tune—playful, catchy, radio-friendly, and coming in at nearly the perfect “three-point-three-oh” minutes. Nearly every track on What Now follows this sound and idea. Yet, while this does lend itself to homogeneity in theory, each track preserves its identity by focusing on a distinct topic and maintaining its own memorable hooks and flares. Where ‘Just Dancing’ addresses the hollow ephemerality of online dating, ‘Kick Jump Twist’ calls out the constant performances we put on to impress others. Sharing a common thread, tracks ‘Song,’ ‘Rewind,’ and ‘Signal’ all explore the extent to which human life attempts to pattern expectations after the media it consumes: music, movies, and technology, respectively. The only song to evidently stray from this mould is the elegant, bare-boned ‘Slack Jaw,’ in which Meath proves her voice has an almost uncanny ability to capture attention, to delay a heartbeat for just a moment.
The magic of Sylvan Esso’s sound is derived from the spunky amalgamation of Nick Sanborn’s synths and syncopation with Meath’s utterly unique vocal style (which, to my delight, I’ve learned are not autotuned but entirely hers). My one frustration with this album is that its rich streams of modern thought can take back seat to this magic. Regardless, the final product is ultimately both thoughtful and accessible, in that it offers thoughts on pop’s accessibility and offers accessibility to thoughts too often omitted from electropop. It deserves two listens at once: one to meditate on and one to dance to.
Related artists: Phantogram, Tei Shi, Little Dragon