Album Review: Brother Ali- All the Beauty in This Whole Life

brotherali album art

Brother Ali, a Madison, WI native based out of Minneapolis, MN recently released his sixth studio album, titled All the Beauty in This Whole Life, on Rhymesayers Entertainment. Ali once again teamed up with Ant (producer for Atmosphere), who he’s worked with almost exclusively in the past save for his previous album, Mourning in America Dreaming in Color, which was produced by Jake One.

For nearly two decades Brother Ali has been spreading messages of love, hope and acceptance contrasted at times with anger, struggle and reprisal. Ali suffers from albinism, a disorder characterized by lack of pigment in the skin, which consequently led to enduring social stigma throughout his childhood. A number of his works portray instances where he was discriminated against because of his condition followed by moments of personal triumph as he overcame his abusers and the mentality associated with defeat.

As a father, Ali often writes songs for his son, Faheem, providing him guidance or letting him know how difficult it is to be a parent who has to make tough decisions. He raps, “I can’t protect you like I want to,” a line that breathes truth to any parent, that no matter what you do to protect your children, they will at some point be subjected to the dangers of the world. In fact, sometimes, all you can do is pray.

Religious themes have become somewhat of a motif in Brother Ali’s later albums. Ali converted to Islam at the age of 15 and is now a practicing Imam. Although religious messages exist in his music, they are not bold advertisements coaxing listeners to follow Allah, rather they are a proclamation of his own spiritual journey to find peace and understanding through God.

In addition, many themes of social justice have been incorporated into his music. He raps frequently about racial inequality, slavery and the U.S. government’s trends to exploit minorities and the working class. He has been arrested in the past for occupying a house in Minneapolis to fight against its foreclosure. He was also recently trapped in Iran after giving a speech on the significance of Black Lives Matter and performing his song, “Uncle Sam Goddamn” on the Combat Jack Show.

Unbeknownst to Ali, and as luck would have it, hip hop music is illegal in Iran, and the event had been televised through all the major broadcasting networks. This led to accusations by leaders of the Nation of Islam calling him a terrorist and stating he was aligned with ISIS. Death threats and lax security at his hotel caused him to flee but his escape was halted when he found his credit cards, phone service and airplane ticket had all been voided. Brother Ali sat at the airport for three days without money or food! His song, “Uncle Usi Taught Me” explains the event in detail.

That said, All the Beauty in This Whole Life does not disappoint in its delivery of Brother Ali’s most crucial topics. “Own Light (What Hearts Are For),” the first single on the album, conveys a message of rejection for the lives we as a whole are sold in order to keep us subdued. Ali raps, “And you know they want to paint us with the same brush / Wanna entertain us ’til we fill our grave up.”

He explains that we’ve been manipulated and controlled through our desires. We’re raised to believe we need to reach certain plateaus in life or we’ve failed. Those ideals cause us to spend our lives worrying about things that for the majority will never be achievable. Ali gives praise to God for helping him overcome these unnecessary desires. He raps, “They’ve been trying to shut us down our whole life / I thank God for healing / You ain’t got to get me lit, I got my own light.”

The production on the track is a gorgeous mix of layered keys, guitars, bass and drums, classic boom bap. There are some smooth vocal parts in the background that fill out and add depth to the beat as well. Ant is known for quality beats that have a soulful, vintage feel to them. Brent Bradley of DJ Booth wrote, “The production on this album crackles with the warmth of secondhand vinyl even in digital form.” I would agree. This beat sounds like something Kanye West or Ryan Lewis (producer for Macklemore) would have produced.

In addition, the music video is visually stunning and opens doors to the imagination.

The second single off the album, “Never Learn,” is one of my personal favorites. It’s the most unique beat on the album. Lyrically it has a battle-rap quality similar to something off of Shadows on the Sun. The instrumental feels like it could be on a soundtrack of a Quentin Tarantino film. Furthermore, it reminds me of production from Childish Gambino’s Because the Internet, or earlier works such as Portishead’s Dummy.

Brother Ali sings the chorus in a soulful, sorrowful tone as if he were singing “Strange Fruit” by Nina Simone.

“I don’t know where to turn 
I hit my head I guess I’ll never learn
But they tell me I should let it bleed, let it sting, let it burn
Get my head firm”    

Once again, the music video is visually stunning, no doubt a lot of time, energy and resources went into these marvels.

Additionally, “Out of Here” is one of the most emotional tracks on the album. The song addresses Ali’s struggles in dealing with the suicide of both his father and grandfather. He raps that he felt to blame for their deaths and wished they had given him a chance to sit and listen. Maybe he could’ve helped them. Toward the end of the track Ali questions his own life and its importance because sadly, the men in his family have all died young. He raps, “Every man before me in my fam died by his own hands / How am I supposed to understand my own role in this plan / When nobody who grows old stands a chance?”

The beat sounds similar to “Don’t Ever F**king Question That” off of Atmosphere’s Lucy Ford EP (another great album produced by Ant), however, it has a much better dynamic range. The beat comes in as you would expect with any boom bap beat, but it soon dissipates into a single acoustic piano riff. As the track progresses, subtle guitar strums chime in between the rhythmic phrasing of Ali’s lines. The minimal nature of the track makes for the perfect canvas for Ali to paint his emotions on.

All in all, the album was well crafted. Ant is a great producer. At times he can be a bit methodical with his production (intro, verse, chorus, repeat), but it pairs well with Brother Ali’s storytelling and preacher-like delivery. The uplifting beats on the album sometimes clash with the darker lyrical themes, but it’s almost necessary to keep you from becoming depressed.What Brother Ali is saying can sound ominous, but he doesn’t want you to feel like it’s the end of the world. He wants you to keep your head up, and if you find you can’t, find God.

How did you feel about the album? Feel free to leave a comment below. We would love to hear from you!

Also, if you are a Brother Ali fan or would like to purchase other albums from his discography, click here.

Album Review: Slowdive Releases Their First Album in 22 Years

slowdive

Slowdive materializes once again from the nebulous vastness of space and time with an uplifting, re-envisioned, self-titled album. After releasing Pygmalion in 1995 and being dropped from Creation Records, the band’s members dissipated and reformed as several offshoots including, Mojave 3 and Monster Movie in the coming years. In 2014, the band hinted on Twitter that they were reuniting. In 2017, they signed with Dead Oceans and released their first single in 22 years.

Slowdive features drummer Simon Scott, who left the band after their 1993 album, Souvlaki, which consequently sounds reminiscent of it. Contrarily, the album differs greatly from Pygmalion in energy, texture and composition. The drums have moved to the foreground in several of the tracks and are the driving force in maintaining and supporting the movement of the swelling, ethereal guitars and vocals.

Texture-wise, Slowdive is comparable to My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, but it retains chord progressions more similar to previous works as well as Beach House’s Bloom. The composition is well planned, each part of the song flowing into the next without interruption. Many of the songs have two-minute intros before the vocals start, which in the case of shoegaze is paramount because it allows the listener to be enveloped totally by the realm of each song before reaching any sort of plot.

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Slowdive via Flickr

The album begins from nothingness. The guitars fade in, each strum like a tiny bolt of lightning, and suddenly you are swept away by an anxious drum beat similar to Lush’s “Superblast!” The title of the opening track, “Slomo,” contradicts the feeling of the song; the name would have been better suited for one of the tracks off Pygmalion, where everything was slower paced.

“Slomo” takes you for a ride. It’s an attention grabber, and at the same time it feels like a testament to the reestablishment of the band. It speaks to its fans and lets them know that they’re back and all they have is love for those of you who are still here and have been waiting all this time to hear another album. Of course fans were never too far away since the members had gone on to form other bands that included Slowdive’s core members Neil Halstead, Rachel Goswell and Christian Savill.

The second track titled, “Star Roving,” was the first single to be released off Slowdive. It has an energetic quality similar to “Slomo,” but feels deeper and thicker. Pitchfork’s Marc Hogan, called it “revisionism, not revivalism”. Slowdive at this point is able to pick and choose from a variety of styles they have experimented with in the past. That being said, “Star Roving” sounds like something off of Souvlaki, but this time around all the kinks have been ironed out.

In “Don’t Know Why,” the energy and driving force of the drums continues to whisk you away to a place outside existence. The airy vocal harmonies float elegantly over the guitar and drums, beckoning the listener to come closer. Be one with us in the emptiness of space. Follow us into the center of a star where it’s hot enough to dissolve your entire being. That’s where you’ll find love.

It’s not until “Sugar For The Pill,” the second single off Slowdive, that we get a chance to breathe. Up until now, we’ve only been taking off. We’ve finally reached the stratosphere, and now we can float for a bit. This track is definitely one of my favorites on the album. It begins with gilded, shimmering guitars followed by a pulsing, four-on-the-floor kick and rich, moving bassline, a perfect pocket designed to carry Halstead’s spectral vocal lines. He writes,

“And I rolled away
Said we never wanted much
Just a rollercoast’
Our love has never known the way
Sugar for the pill
You know it’s just the way things are
Cannot buy the sun
This jealousy will break the whole”

In other words, you can’t have everything you want in life. If you don’t let go, you will ruin what you had. Take nothing for granted. At least that is my take on the song, however, I believe Halstead may have left it open to interpretation.

The album continues to breathe and expand until it ultimately reaches the final track of the album, “Falling Ashes,” another one of my favorites because it encompasses the totality of Slowdive’s creativity. The track is eight minutes, but its length is hardly noticeable. The track develops continuously keeping the listener curious and eager for what comes next. “Falling Ashes” has the most complex texture of all of the songs on the album. There are pieces of guitar noise and plucked notes which loop in the background as a sort of counterpoint to the main piano riff. Bitcrushed pads phase in and out like an electron cloud around an excited atom. The vocals are solemn yet sultry, similar to Ride’s “Ride The Wind.” The chorus, a single line, “Thinking about love,” is repeated over and over, summing up the theme of the entire album. Eventually, the instruments fade away and Slowdive ends how it began.

What were your thoughts on the album? Feel free to leave a comment below. If you are a fan of Slowdive and would like to purchase albums for your collection, click here.

Album Review: “Currents” by Tame Impala

Currents
Released: July 17th, 2015
Reviewed by Thomas Johnstone
Rating: 4/5

“I heard about a whirlwind that’s coming ’round / It’s gonna carry off all that isn’t bound,” Kevin Parker announces on “Let It Happen,” opening track of Australian act Tame Impala‘s new record Currents. The lyric forecasts the album’s theme of personal change, from its distant rumblings to its disaffecting aftermath, and given the apocalyptic imagery, we’d hardly expect the changes to be slight.

Fittingly Currents delivers by departing from the act’s previous work in big, surprising ways, given the expectations we might have following two acclaimed albums which comfortably wear the label “psychedelic rock.” Despite possessing a keen sense of melody and lyrical maturity, Kevin Parker—the sole recording and producing musician of Tame Impala (he mixes this time around, as well)—has always seemed less of a songwriter than a clever studio craftsman. A typical track obscured his Lennon-like vocals behind snaking bass lines and 70’s guitar riffs, forming mantra-like jams awash in bombastic drums and reverb. The closing track of 2012’s Lonerism, “Sun’s Coming Up,” seemed to lay the Tame Impala formula bare. A sad carnival waltz for voice and piano, shockingly bare and traditional given everything it follows, eventually turns to full-blown noise collage à la “Revolution 9.” With this self-deconstruction Parker seemed to be both copping to his Beatles influence in the most blatant way, and acknowledging his art’s competing elements: the traditional song, and the abstract, chaotic sound world of an expanded mind.

With Currents, the song finally gets its day in the sun. This is largely an album of pop songs, and Tame Impala’s familiar elliptical jams are kept to a minimum. The main exception is “Let It Happen,” which tries several styles on for size over the course of its nearly eight minute fantasia: dance pop with vocoder, gnarly guitar riffs and even a diversion into synth-orchestra territory that recalls Mercury Rev. It’s like Parker preempted the DJs by remixing the track himself.

As the album progresses it’s clear such meandering is the exception rather than the rule, perhaps by design, as this opening track eases the transition to more traditional territory. Traditional, at least, in the abundance of well-structured songs like “The Moment.” It’s a testament to Parker’s songwriting chops (a few clunky rhymes aside, it feels like he’s been doing this all along) that a listener is more likely to fixate on the newly electronic texture. Keyboards dominate, with guitars mostly relegated to short, funky riffs as on “The Less I Know the Better,” a smirking love song which could easily fit on Daft Punk‘s Random Access Memories. Drums are more danceable and reigned-in (you won’t even hear a crash cymbal until track 5) and vocals no longer feel like an afterthought; Parker’s sweet tenor sits front and center, his double-tracked Lennon pretensions of the past nowhere in sight. Not that he’s entirely abandoned psychedelia, evidenced by a dramatic vocal delay in “Reality In Motion” or the blurry pads of studio scrap “Nangs,” but the effects enhance as much as they obscure. Parker balances the rhythms and textures of his electronic soundscape with surprising ease, resembling Caribou much more than the Beatles. In fact, he slips so comfortably into his new skin it feels like splitting hairs to complain that the album feels merely expert, rather than groundbreaking.

Assured as Parker’s technical skills may be, the heart of the album is a narrative arc shining a light on individual growth. “The Moment” confronts a now-or-never fork in the road, while “Yes I’m Changing” reconciles the choice to move ahead with the pain of what’s left behind. Closing track “New Person, Same Old Mistakes” contemplates change as illusory and temporary, skeptically suggesting Currents‘ arc is not a timeline, but a closed loop: skip back to “Let It Happen” and repeat, ad infinitum.

Currents answers Tame Impala’s rising profile with a daring change of direction, and that move has already earned comparisons to Kid A and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Excellent as the record is, the comparison is a bit generous—Currents doesn’t reach the heights of those seminal albums, and Parker’s boldness is of a safer variety. Whereas Radiohead and Wilco showed a willingness to lean into abstraction that bordered on perverse, Tame Impala does the opposite by embracing pop songwriting, and comes out all the more listenable for it.

“They say people never change, but that’s bullshit,” Parker confides on “Yes I’m Changing,” and Currents gives every reason to agree. Parker embraces change so successfully, we might assume he isn’t finished—Currents may be a mere pit stop on the way to Tame Impala‘s yet-to-come masterpiece, but it’s a trip well worth enjoying on its own.

Album Review: “Lantern” by Hudson Mohawke

Hudson Mohawke Lantern

Lantern
Released: June 16th, 2015
Reviewed by Erik Wermuth
Rating: 3/5

Almost two years ago, when Jay-Z’s album Magna Carta Holy Grail dropped, Hudson Mohawke tweeted that “This record could’ve came out 10 yrs ago and no one would’ve batted an eye lid”. Admittedly, the Glasgow native had submitted several beats for consideration that Jay-Z ultimately decided not to use. It should be fairly obvious that he was not in a neutral headspace about the album when it dropped, but the critique highlights one of the central conflicts in music today: now that the technology for production and distribution has advanced to the point where anyone with a computer and some time on their hands can put out a body of work, why does so much of it still sound so much the same?

It would be tempting to use Mohawke’s own words against him and his latest release, the LP Lantern, but that would be both cheap and incorrect. 10 years ago, his style alone would have (and did) raise eyebrows. After a series of mixtapes and a reality TV talent-search appearance in the mid-to-late 2000’s, the happy trapper (trappist?) started gaining a significant amount of traction, especially for an unheralded teenager out of Scotland. The work he produced during this period was hard-hitting enough to send club crowds over the edge, while providing enough passion and innovation to keep critical listeners coming back for more.

The unique blend of happy-hardcore intensity and trap rhythms that dominated his music in the last decade culminated in the prestigious Warp Records releasing his first LP Butter in 2009. The album’s combination of creative power and head-nodding accessibility made it a critical success that led to high-profile collaborations with the Canadian producer Lunice as the duo TNGHT and with Kanye West on his Yeezus album, both of which vastly increased his popularity with American listeners. It is within the context of his meteoric rise to fame and its aftermath that his most recent album Lantern must be understood.

Hud Mo is clearly a very talented producer, and nothing in Lantern shakes my faith in that. He has his sound down tight. After making waves in December with his contributions to the Rap Monument, he’s moved away from hip-hop/rap to a more R&B/soul-centered approach, particularly in terms of the artists he features such as Jhene and Antony Hegarty. He interviewed extensively in the lead-up to his sophomore effort’s release, stating again and again that he wanted to get away from his status as a trap god and move on to more interesting musical territory. This impulse, in and of itself, is an essential one for any musician who wants to develop his art. Sadly, instead of moving in new creative directions, the album sounds like a watered down version of his earlier works. Lantern lacks the immediacy and creative urgency that made early Hudson Mohawke so compelling. There are, of course, some exceptions: “Scud Books” is a strong, triumphal track, “Ryderz” has something of his old Saturday morning whimsy, and “Lil Djembe” is a short, but punchy beat that has flashes of his old brilliance. However, while none of these would be out of place in his earlier work, none measure up to the expectation of excellence he has established for himself.

Hud Mo achieved success by taking opposing genres and binding them into something greater than the individual components. Butter was so magical because he lashed two dominating musical forces together without losing the purity or energy of either. It drew praise for its accessibility, but it’s important to remember that being able to access something only matters if the content is worth accessing. Like all the best electronic music, Butter burst with inventiveness and left the listener with a real sense of passion– even when it grated, its freshness and originality were never in doubt. But praise can be toxic if misdirected, and I worry that Hud Mo heard too much about how surprisingly listenable Butter was and decided to move only in that direction on Lantern. The listener is still treated to the occasional whining treble and high hat nod to trap roots, but they serve more as a sad reminder of what was than as the basis for an exciting new direction.

Ultimately, Lantern is still a solid album by a great producer. Had it come out ten years ago, eyelids would definitely have batted. 5 years ago, less so. Coming out today it sounds like one long compromise to pop sensibilities, some of which Mohawke himself helped to create—a canned production of known quantities. The creative verve that was beneath the surface of all his releases from his first EP LuckyMe in 2005 to Butter in 2009 is mostly a no-show. The taming of his trap sensibilities that Lantern represents was a major disappointment, mostly because of how high of a bar he had set for himself. At best it represents stagnation for one of the world’s premiere electronic artists and at worst it marks the beginning of a long, slow creative death. As a cutting-edge producer, if mainstream news outlets are describing your new work as lush, listenable lounge music, it’s a safe bet that you’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere along the line. That being said, this is only his second solo album, and his side work has remained impeccable. Here’s to hoping Hud Mo can right the ship. I give Lantern an uninspired 3/5.

Album Review: “Broke with Expensive Taste” by Azealia Banks

It’s finally here! After the surprise success of her 2011 single “212 (feat. Lazy Jay)”—which currently sits at 86M+ views on YouTubeAzealia Banks has finally released her debut album Broke with Expensive Taste.

Azealia Banks - Broke with Expensive TasteIf you’ve followed Azealia Banks in any capacity, you’ll know that the beginning of her career has its share of misfortunes. Beyond being a bit of a trouble maker on Twitter (a search for “Azealia banks twitter” currently brings up more results about her beefs than her actual account), Banks has been completely public about disagreements with her ex-label management at Interscope.

Shortly after dropping the video for “212,” Banks announced she was working on Broke with Expensive Taste and signing to Interscope. Things didn’t work out, and fans were left waiting. In the meantime, Azealia Banks did manage to put out her 1991 EP with Interscope and the self-released Fantasea mixtape. This past November, without notice, Broke with Expensive Taste was released by Prospect Park (Universal), and after another 4-month wait, the CD version is finally here.

That’s the lead-up, so how is the album itself? In short, Broke with Expensive Taste is a mixed bag. As someone who has waited for the album since its announcement, it’s great to finally have it in my hands. I can’t imagine the trouble Azealia Banks had to go through to get the rights to this album from Interscope and work out a new release plan, and the delays certainly did not help.

Broke with Expensive Taste is all over the place as far as production and style go. In a way, it feels a lot like her Fantasea mixtape; a combination of great house-influenced tracks and sometimes-odd experiments that don’t always hit. Banks’ verses are generally on-point, and her singing is mostly good—even if the results aren’t as consistent.

Album singles “Heavy Metal and Reflective” and “Yung Rapunxel”—both of which were produced by Lil Internet—were released quite a while before the album, and they’re both still enjoyable. Other album highlights include “BBD,” “Luxury” and “Miss Camaraderie”. My personal favorite has to be “Chasing Time”, which highlights the type of production and songwriting I enjoyed most on 1991 and Fantasea.

1991A few tracks like “Idle Delilah” have questionable production, and they’re just a bit of a mess. In the aforementioned track, Banks’ vocals (and much of the overall track) sound like they’re being pushed to distortion. It’s not necessary, and doesn’t fit well with the rest of the album. “Desperado” is similarly messy. “Gimme a Chance” somehow starts out as an indie-rock-sampling hip-hop track that morphs into a Latin dance. It doesn’t really work for me, but at it’s great to see this kind of experimentation early in the album.

Unfortunately, the Ariel Pink -produced piece “Nude Beach a-Go-Go” is an experiment that doesn’t fair as well as some of the others. While I do appreciate unabashed silliness, Banks’ decision to include a lo-fi beach party surf song on the album is iffy at best. Azealia Banks is known for writing some dirty, dirty verses, and she really missed an opportunity to work her magic on the happy-go-lucky surf tune. It sounds like she tried to go that route, but the result wasn’t as clever as Banks has shown she can be.

I think the history of this album’s release is important context, because it certainly feels like more of a baseline for what Banks can do, rather than a perfection of any one thing. Like her Fantasea mixtape, Broke with Expensive Taste really does have some excellent tracks, but it just feels bloated. There is a lot of stuff that doesn’t need to be here; besides the questionable tracks, “212” makes an unnecessary return, and it could have been cut after its release on 1991. Either way, this doesn’t need to be a 16-track album. Some of the tracks that were written back in 2011 and 2012 while Banks struggled with her label could have been cut.

That said, is it worth getting? Yes! Even though I will skip “Nude Beach a-Go-Go” 100% of the time, there is a lot to love about this album. I will certainly be excited to hear whatever Azealia Banks cooks up next, and I’m willing to bet we won’t be waiting another four years for it.


John Kruse
@johnkruse

John Praw Kruse is an Operations Manager, and Product Manager for the Murfie Vinyl Service. In his free time, John makes music, including scores for indie films and various shorts. He is the founder of Mine All Mine Records and the Lost City Music Festival. John devours new music.


Album Review: “Interstellar (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)” by Hans Zimmer

Hans Zimmer has written a lot of music. With over 150 films under his belt, you have heard his work—whether you can name a movie he’s done off the top of your head, or spot a tune when you hear it.

While Zimmer began his music career playing synth for new wave and punk bands (see The Buggles‘ classic “Video Killed the Radio Star“), he’s perhaps best known for his marrying of electronic and orchestral sounds. If you’ve seen Rain Man, The Lion King, The Dark Knight, Pirates of the Caribbean, etc, etc, etc, etc, Hans Zimmer has wormed his way into your ears.

Hans Zimmer - InterstellarBeyond a doubt, Hans Zimmer’s work on Interstellar is singular in his career. The true magic of Interstellar is that Zimmer did not compose this music as a background to the film. Rather, he worked hand in hand with Christopher Nolan to create the score in tandem with production. While I highly recommend the film (particularly in IMAX, for which it was specifically tailored), Hans Zimmer’s score absolutely holds its ground as a stand-alone album.

If you’re at all interested in the music of Interstellar, you should definitely get your hands on a CD copy of the album. Not only does it feature essays about the scoring process by both Zimmer and Nolan, but the CD and packaging serves as a working star wheel (or planisphere) itself. If you’re an astronomy junkie like me, the functional design is an added bonus.

The packaging and liner notes included with the Interstellar soundtrack drive home the fact that Zimmer—along with Nolan, who serves as executive producer on the recording—wanted this music to exude the themes of the movie. The accompanying materials reveal that Hans Zimmer and Christopher Nolan met before filming began, at which point Nolan gave Zimmer one day to create some piece of music based on the main themes, with specific instructions to throw away past motifs common to Zimmer’s work. With no corresponding footage or plot points, Zimmer created “Day One,” which—even as an early track—serves as an emotional backbone of sorts.

Interstellar Star Wheel
This is how you do CD packaging right.

As the recording process continued, Zimmer and Nolan worked closely to integrate film and music, and it really shows. If you’ve seen the movie (again, it’s plainly worth your time), hearing Zimmer’s score will pull you back to the core moment these pieces represent.

Interstellar was almost an electronic score, but on a hunch, Christopher Nolan convinced Hans Zimmer to record an orchestra, and most notably, a full 2500-pipe organ. The real innovation in Zimmer’s score is a masterful implementation of the pipe organ. It is unequivocally and decidedly massive. Zimmer’s essay in the liner notes indicates that this was a stressful gamble, but it clearly paid off.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of the Interstellar score is that Hans Zimmer proves he is unafraid of dynamic range. Unlike many modern scores (and almost all modern albums), Interstellar takes full advantage of subtle lows and impressive intricacies at volume. Pulsing synthesizers and gentle strings provide an effortless floating sensation. Tense or exciting moments are driven through with blasts of energy. Tracks like “Stay” and “Detach” are unabashedly epic.

Alright, I think I’ve satisfied whatever gland in my body has been gushing praises for the Interstellar score by now. Unlike any other work (or almost any other album of 2014), I have listened to Interstellar many times since its release. If you’ve read this far, however, I guess I can share with you the parts of which I’m not a huge fan. In all honesty, there are only two gripes, and as minor as they may be, they will likely be turnoffs for less patient listeners.

Continue reading Album Review: “Interstellar (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)” by Hans Zimmer

Album Review: “A Miracle” by Groundation

A Miracle Groundation

In the opening lines of “Riddim Hold Dem,” the first track of Groundation‘s 11th studio album A Miracle, frontman Harrison Stafford sings:

“Without woman, what would man be?”

This question marks the beginning of an album centered around exploring and cherishing the role of women in life. Something I always loved about Groundation, a jazzy roots reggae band hailing from Northern California, is their inclusion of female vocalists in their recorded and live productions. Over the years, vocalists Kim Pommell and Sherida Sharpe have emerged as powerful forces in the band, and they play a strong part in this album. “They’re not backup singers by any stretch of the imagination,” said Harrison in a recent interview we had on my radio show. “Groundation is about a balance of sound—everybody really taking part, sharing the spotlight…this is a part of our one-ness.”

Joining forces with Groundation on this album are two mighty, mighty queens of reggae: Marcia Griffiths and Judy Mowatt. Marcia and Judy, along with Rita Marley, were the I Threes—the original backing trio of Bob Marley & the Wailers in their heyday. Marcia’s gorgeous, etheral voice is considered one of the best in reggae music, and she is featured on track two, “Defender of Beauty.” Judy is featured on track six—the title track—”A Miracle,” sounding enticingly bluesy and soulful, combining perfectly with the jazzy piano and brass which set Groundation apart from other roots reggae bands.

A Miracle is a solid continuation of Groundation’s other recorded works. You can expect the previously-mentioned jazzy keys and saxophone, and the heavy, heavy basslines that make you want to fall to the floor. Their live show is a must-see. It’s good for your soul!

Along with the woman-centric theme, Groundation covers familiar ground with their lyrics—the state of the world, a call for liberation, trust in Jah, and the power of music. Within the woman-centric theme itself lies the curveball—because very rarely, if at all, had Groundation sung about romantic love. But in this case, as you will hear on the last track “Cupid’s Arrow,” it’s far from wishy-washy. It’s about real respect and equality. “Respect me, do the right….oh love me absolutely, and you and I shall prosper.”

Track four, “Gone A Cemetery,” has made the list of my favorite Groundation songs. It’s about a freedom fighter who met a cruel end. I don’t know if it’s about a specific person—if it is, I’m curious to know. Besides the lyrics, the melody is great.

Groundation is an internationally-acclaimed band, and their message is spiritual and universal. I strongly recommend picking up this album, plus more from the Groundation discography, and anything created or produced by Harrison Stafford—someone who works tirelessly to preserve reggae history and spread positive music to the masses.

From the inner liner notes of A Miracle: “This album is livicated to the beautiful female spirit: The powerful empress who manifests creation.”

Big up Groundation!



Kayla Liederbach
@djkaylakush

Kayla manages social media and customer support at Murfie. You can hear her on the radio hosting U DUB, the reggae show, Wednesdays on WSUM. She enjoys hosting the Murfie podcast, cooking, traveling, going to concerts, and snuggling with kittycats.