J Balvin – Colores

Anyone remember the “White People Dancing” sketch from The Chappelle Show? It’s a hilarious segment around Dave Chappelle’s comic hypothesis that all people and cultures can dance, but simply respond to different musical instruments. (Comic perhaps, but he ain’t wrong IMO.) Chappelle has John Mayer slay on solo electric guitar in a corporate boardroom and a chic Manhattan restaurant. The white people go nuts and break out their name-your-mid-90s-rock-music-festival moves. He and Mayer go to a Harlem barbershop where everyone is either Black or Latino and where Mayer is told to “Shut the fuck up!” But, the Black folk go wild and start a freestyle cypher when Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson from The Roots starts drumming. The Latin people don’t move much until “Sanchez,” an electric piano players starts in, and then they immediately start dancing.

What’s my point here? I think of that sketch whenever a reggaeton beat drops because, if I were in the sketch, reggaeton (OK, and funk bass) would be my instinctual body-moving jam. You can go ahead and make the easy joke about the white guy needing a heavy downbeat to move to. But, good god, there is no denying the visceral pull of a classic reggaeton dancehall rhythm.

And, so I am 100% *here* for reggaeton royalty J Colvin’s fantastic new record Colores, starting right off the first song and lead single Amarillo (trans: Yellow).

What I like most about this record is how straight ahead, stripped down, and focused on the beat it is. With 10 songs clocking in at 29 minutes, there seems to be an intention to keep things simple. Lead with the beat, keep the rhythm gentle but still urgent, and layer Balvin’s easy, almost lazily delivered vocals on top.

This is definitely a pop-forward record; drawing from club and dance pop more than the dank hip-hop influence and genre-bending origins of early reggaeton. But, despite the trim delivery and very Latin pop-polish of the record, Balvin has enough ideas here to give each track it’s own unique vibe and identity. The sonically sunny quality of the perhaps ironically titled Gris (trans: Grey); the Drake-inspired R&B slow jam vibe of Rojo (trans: Red); the interplay between a distinct synth bass line and crisp, staccato percussion hits on Blanco (trans: White).

I’ve had this album on repeat since it dropped last week. It’s a smooth listen to vibe out with in chaotic times.

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#10YearThrowbackThursdays (2010) – Broken Bells, The High Road

A new segment on In My Ear! On the occasional-to-maybe-regular Thursday, I’ll be digging into my archive and featuring tracks that were in my ear (and on my annual playlist) a decade ago. First up, the year was 2010…..

Man, this song was all over the place in 2010. Following Brian Burton’s (aka Danger Mouse’s) awesome collaboration project with CeeLo Green, Gnarles Barkley, he teamed up with The Shins front man James Mercer to form Broken Bells. They released their self-titled debut album in 2010, with The High Road as the insanely catchy, indiepop gem lead single.

Cover Art, Broken Bells, Broken Bells

This is not a song I associate with any particular memory: a place, a person, a moment in time. It doesn’t do that for me. What it does is evoke the same feeling and emotion of seeing a close friend for the first time in years. There’s a sense of immediate comfort and intimate familiarity. Kind of a warm glow.

It helps that this track *totally* holds up 10 years later.

#10YearThrowbackThursdays (2010) – Band of Horses, Ode to LRC

A new segment on In My Ear! On the occasional-to-maybe-regular Thursday, I’ll be digging into my archive and featuring tracks that were in my ear (and on my annual playlist) a decade ago. First up, the year was 2010…..

Alright, so technically, Ode to LRC was released on Band of Horses‘ 2007 sophomore album Cease to Begin. But, ten years ago, I was less immediately dialed into new releases (2010 was only three years removed from the first iPhone and, to my mind, still early days of streaming, on-demand music) *and* I liked Cease to Begin a whole lot better than the record that Band of Horses’ actual released in 2010, Infinite Arms.

Blah, blah, blah…technicalities aside, I was listening to this band a lot in 2010 and, specifically, this track (along with No One’s Gonna Love You also off Cease to Begin). Starting right off with the power chords, the song features all that I like about Band of Horses: straight-ahead, guitar-driven, roots-y indie rock, a deft mixture of tempos and pacing, a great sense of melody, and lead singer Ben Bridwell’s distinct vocal tone.

Lianne La Havas – Bittersweet

Looking for a proverbial port in the storm that is swirling around us all right now? Look no further than Lianne La Havas’s smooth new single Bittersweet. The topic isn’t particularly cheery (personal renewal and a fresh start after a failing relationship) but the vibe is relaxed, the beat is steady, and La Havas’s trademark vocals soar. It is a song to get lost in, which feels like a particular blessing at this moment in time.

As a big, big fan of La Havas, what is more exciting perhaps than her dropping this single is the promise of a new album sometime this year, her first since she released her sophomore record Blood in 2015. That album remains in heavy rotation for me. And, having seen her tour on that record (fun fact: the cover image on In My Ear’s Facebook page is from that show!), I hope a new album also means a new tour because La Havas is one of the best, most natural live performers I’ve seen.

For now, I am more than happy to ride out to this excellent track.

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Katie Pruitt – Loving Her

With the release of her debut album, Expectations, last Friday, a well-done NPR feature interview with her on the same day, and national tour dates starting up in March, whatever secret there was about Katie Pruitt is now out.

A singer-songwriter in the the modern/alt-country vein (with plenty of folk and rock influence), Pruitt has a gorgeous voice, a gift for lyrics, and a story to tell. As written up in the NPR interview and on her website, the record documents and tells Pruitt’s coming of age story centered on the frustration and shame of growing up gay in the Christian South — and the self-acceptance, personal grit, and mix of toxic and deeply loving relationships that result from her journey to-date.

I first discovered Katie Pruitt last year when I heard the early single Expectations from the upcoming album of the same title. That song landed on the In My Ear 2019 Playlist and was a true standout song for the year for me, with a guitar line and vocal melody wonderfully reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac and straight-ahead lyrics that detail the complicated battle for self-worth and belief.

Wasn’t getting much out of life at all / Was scared to jump so I was scared to fall…./ I learned that fear is just the false belief / That there is nothing you can do

But, since the record’s release last week, I’ve been listening to Loving Her on repeat, which was another advance single. A beautifully lilting, gently picked, almost delicately sung song, it stands as one of the bravest, most quietly badass tracks I’ve heard in recent memory.

If loving her hurts, then I'll keep on hurting 
If it means staying true to who I am...
You can shake your head 
You can clench your fists 
You can judge, hold a grudge 
You can just be pissed
You can say it's wrong
You cay say a prayer
While you're doing that, I'll be over there
Loving her

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#10YearThrowbackThursdays (2010) – Minus the Bear, Into the Mirror

A new segment on In My Ear! On the occasional-to-maybe-regular Thursday, I’ll be digging into my archive and featuring tracks that were in my ear (and on my annual playlist) a decade ago. First up, the year was 2010…..

Minus the Bear was a great, great rock band from Seattle. They disbanded in 2018 after 17 years and six full-length records, having earned a fierce reputation for expert musicianship and innovative, forward-leaning, rock music. Founded by members of metalcore and post-hardcore bands and often classified in the ‘math rock’ subgenre (“a rhythmically complex, often guitar-based, style of experimental rock and indie rock”), Minus the Bear moved from and between rock, punk, prog rock, indie, and pop-synth rock — always evolving their sound on each record.

I first tuned into them starting with their huge-sounding 2007 opus Planet of Ice and have been a fan ever since. In 2010, Minus the Bear changed labels and released Omni, a sleeker, more pop-forward record featuring this single, Into the Mirror.

God, it’s so damn catchy.

We Are the City – Killer B-Side Music

A new discovery for me this week with We Are the City, a Canadian progressive rock band from Vancouver, BC. They’ve been putting out experimental albums for over a decade, tweaking their musical form that entire time to include (according to various reviews) hooky pop-rock, jagged electronic soundscapes, and artsy prog-rock. Their newest record, RIP, follows the death of a long-time childhood friend of the band members (Kyle Tubbs) and, in their own words, marks an important moment for the group. On their Facebook page, they wrote:

RIP is our step forward, but it feels comprehensive. It does feel like a culmination. And it does feel like the next music will be the beginning of a new journey. RIP is a love letter to everyone who has shared their life with us and who has let us share our lives with them. It’s a love letter to our youth. And, most of all, it’s a love letter to Kyle Tubbs.

Being new to this band and a neophyte in prog- and art-rock, I can’t comment on We Are the City’s musical evolution or where they fit among peers and in the indie scene. But, I can say what I really like about the record — punchy lyrics; spiky punk-pop melodies; moments of raw, ragged rock; and songs that manage to sound individually unique and interesting, but that hang together as an album.

The track that first grabbed me (and continues to grab me on each listen) is Killer B-Side Music, a song that starts quiet and builds to a thunderous, shattering, fuzzed-out chorus that feels like a howl. A howl of rage, release, triumph, frustration….really, whatever it needs to be for you. The mix and production are interesting; very little bass in that big chorus, so it’s all screaming guitar in the treble register that only adds to the ragged, slightly unhinged quality. If you’re not paying attention, it will startle you for sure. My kids love that.

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Khruangbin & Leon Bridges — Texas Sun

Gah! Just because these two In My Ear favorites and Texas natives Khruangbin and Leon Bridges clearly should have gotten together to make something doesn’t mean they actually would. But, they are!

Released earlier this month, Texas Sun is the first single off an upcoming four-song EP with the same title scheduled for release February 7.

It’s meditative spaghetti western-meets-rootsy soul awesomeness, with some country twang and Khruangbin’s now classic funky bass lines and searching guitar riffs all mashed up in there.

You’re world will slow waaay down listening to this. You’re welcome.

Mac Miller – Circles

Couldn’t let this one pass without a shout out. And, a pour out. And, respect paid to a musician I was just getting to know and dig deep with when he died of an overdose in September 2018 — one month after the release of his record Swimming, which grabbed my attention something fierce and, by all accounts, saw Miller leveling up and stepping into his own emerging, unique, artistic voice and vision.

There was always a companion album planned. Circles was it; and now is it, released posthumously by his family and produced by his partner Jon Brion. So much of what could be written and said about the Miller and the record — about his evolving style; about his vision for his music; about the heft, candor, and meaning of his lyrics as they documented his battles with addition; about his outlook on life and his trajectory — are captured for me in the lead single, Good News. It’s a direct-line artistic evolution from Swimming and a heartbreaking, haunting confession from an addict who knows he’s in a doomed struggle for his life.