Kali Uchis — Nuestro Planeta (feat. Reykon)

It’s been a bit of a week. Busy at work. Busy at home. Busy thinking about Life (big “L”). Combine that with the sheer amount of music that is always coming out (new singles, new releases, new album drops) and I haven’t had much time — or, frankly, motivation — to think about posting to the blog…or to process new music out that I vibe with…or even to listen to music that’s serving a purpose beyond background noise.

Given all of that, I confronted the dreaded blinking-cursor-on-blank-page with a super-simple question: “What song or album I have been listening to the most?” No criteria other than that.

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That would be this song from Kali Uchis. I’m fucking addicted…in the best possible way.

I didn’t know Kali Uchis until this year. I don’t listen to the radio, where she gets decent spin. I don’t follow mainstream pop much, and she’s certainly in that category (saying that without judgement). But, this song — and, in fact, her entire debut album Isolation, which came out in April — has pulled me in completely. Her voice is spectacular: a ton of range, incredibly melodic, and recognizably jazzy even in a more polished, pop context. The musical influences are wildly diverse; the production lush, but tight and not overdone; and the lyrics, overall, are introspective and thoughtful instead of breezy or superficial.

Album aside, Nuestro Planeta is the track that’s been on repeat for me. I just.can’t.get. enough of the reggaeton beat to this song, which is a perfect complement to Uchis’s gentle, almost sweet vocals. There’s a sense of restraint in her voice; it lifts and swells over the beat at times (carrying me right along with it), but never soars.

Uchis sings entirely in Spanish and features Colombian reggaeton star Reykon El Lider on the track. She speaks of the song as ode to her native Colombia.

“Colombia is so advanced, drenched in culture and full of magic. I want people to see that.”

During a busy stretch for me, with lots of thoughts, to-do lists, overburdened inboxes, etc., this track is smoothing me out.

Wherever you are — in the car; at home doing dishes; walking to an appointment; heading out for a drink — let this song transport you. ‘Cause it will.

Kadhja Bonet — Mother Maybe

When Anderson .Paak talks about music, I tend to listen. And, so, with a simple tweet he posted a few weeks ago, I learned about Kadhja Bonet. I’ve been in a bit of a swoon ever since.

The word that comes to mind listening to Bonet’s music is ethereal. There are so many influences and genres in her music — heavy on jazz, soul, and folk with blushes of psychedelia, classical, and funk — but the overall feeling I get is mystical and magical. Everything is held together by Bonet’s voice, an arrestingly low-toned, buttery soprano that lends all of her vocals a wonderfully intimate quality. Singing full volume, it still feels like she’s whispering…and just to you.

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Mother Maybe is the second single pre-released off of Bonet’s upcoming album, Childqueen (due out June 8). It is a supremely groovy track. Driven by a catchy and stone-cold funk bass line with glitzy backing synths (with bit of Moog in there!), the song moves along without ever being hurried. Bonet’s voice delicately flits in-and-out, slowing down the tempo sometimes, soaring above it at other points in a dreamy falsetto, and swelling the track with layered backing vocals.

The lyrics also have a whiff of mystery; opaque and poetic and quietly astounding. Bonet has said that Mother Maybe isn’t about her mother, rather it’s about the mother she may be. She sings, “You’re the thought wrapped in my head / You’re the ink that leaves this pen as I write all about you / As you are / Mother I may be / Or maybe not.” 

Kadhja Bonet is talented and deep y’all.

Leon Bridges — Bad Bad News

Deciding on this week’s feature was easy because this here joint has been in my ear, on my mind, in the car, and generally all up in my business the last couple of weeks.

For my money one of the grooviest, most dance-able records released to-date in 2018 (no matter the genre), there ain’t nothing bad about this song. Listening to it, you feel cooler. You act smoother. You don’t sit down at the bar so much slide onto the stool. You ask for your drink neat, hold the rocks. You reach for sunglasses, even if you’re indoors. You dangle one arm over the steering wheel, rest the other on the middle console, and just prop a lean. You sing aloud to the chorus no matter where you are (watch out for that). You Google “Used Fender Rhodes.”

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I’ve been a Leon Bridges fan since his 2015 breakout debut Comin’ Home, so news of a new LP (Good Thing, due out next week, May 4) was exciting. This track is one of three pre-releases, all of which indicate that Leon is subtly stretching out his straight-up classic soul style. A bit more polished production, a fuller sound, and smoothing out some of the more raw, throwback edges that characterized Comin’ Home.

There’s a risk of gaining some pop polish at the cost of soulfulness, but I think Leon has to explore other directions. Otherwise, after another record or two, he’ll be in the same place he is now artistically — an incredibly talented, dynamic performer of soul-standard-sounding songs who people too-casually say was “born too late” or “belongs to a different generation.” Personally, I’m excited to see him try and make soul music that feels at home in 2018–something authentic and soulful that isn’t neatly characterized neo-soul or retro-soul or soul revivalist or pop-R&B. We’ll see.

Shoot, no matter all of that. Whatever he does on the rest of the album, I’m grateful for this song. Just kick back and enjoy….

Concert Special! – Cut Chemist

The one and only Cut Chemist played a show here in Portland this past weekend, touring on his new album Die Cut…his first full-length LP since 2006’s great The Audience’s Listening. It was great to see the energy, appreciation, and respect for Cut in the room; I’m a neophyte DJ-concert-goer-and-record-store-crate-digger, so it was cool to be surrounded by fans of Cut and the art/craft of DJing.

Some of the more special moments of the show included Cut’s long-time collaborator DJ Shortkut. Again, not being up steeped in DJ history or the early days West Coast underground hip-hop scene, I did not know Shortkut nor was I aware of his and Cut’s now-legendary early 90s collaborations and sessions. Whereas Cut is out here pushing the medium with modern sounds and influences, DJ Shortkut is just old-school, expert scratch-DJ, funk/soul/classic hip-hop sampling awesomeness. Cut had beats and songs and energy to spare, but, on this night, it was Shortkut who brought the party.

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In interviews for the Die Cut album, Cut has said he pushed himself in different directions and really wanted to create a new style on the record. Based on his underground hip-hop origins, the vibe of his last record, and his past work with Jurassic 5 and Ozomatli, I’d say he succeeded. The expertise is there on the album and the core sampling techniques too, but, he’s pulling from genres far beyond soul/funk and rap (80’s punk, electronica) and he’s creating beats and composing songs not from existing music, but just from layers and layers of sound.

It was inspiring to see someone so consumed by artistic expression, creativity, and his craft to be experimenting and making new music after 30+ years in the game.

Now, Now – Yours

I don’t know what’s going on here. For the second week in a row, I find myself captured by and loving a very 80s-sounding record. This isn’t me! Up is down; left is right; what the hell?

But, dammit, I do like this track. A throbbing, pulsing bass line. Breathy vocals from KC Dalager with some great “mmms” that just slay me (listen for them!). A catchy, almost glimmering melody. Simple, but confessional lyrics–about love lost and/or scorned and/or denied and/or desperately sought–that seem much grander because of the music that surrounds them.

It’s a total earworm. The mood and vibe of the entire song is perfectly captured right in the first two lyric lines:

I’m driving faster with the windows down / Just to keep my mind off of you

Now, Now is a new discovery for me, but likely not for others of you. They’ve been around since the mid-00s, gigging and generally getting lumped together with Fun., Paramore, Death Cab for Cutie, and a slew of other 2000-vintage indie-rock groups I’ve never heard of. They got their start in the Minneapolis suburbs. Yours is one of a trio of singles pre-released off of their upcoming album, Saved, which is due out on May 18. A comparison with their past stuff confirms what’s present in Yours — a more polished, slick, hookier, pop vibe. Reminds me a lot of Haim, but with welcome glimpses of Now, Now’s more muscular, indie-rock, guitar-driven origins.

Welcome to the weekend, people.

Field Music — Count It Up

Here are the reasons why, on paper, I shouldn’t like this song:  1) It’s a straight-up, 80s’- styled progressive rock track…an era and genre that generally makes my ears bleed;  2) There are a lot of elements of throwback prog-rock and “art-rock,” which, again….meh; and  3) There are so, so, so many synths and all of them sound exactly like my childhood Casio keyboard (that’s only a good comparison if this was a band fronted by a group of 80’s era eight-year olds).

If you dig all of these things, then feel free to skip down to the bottom and play the damn song; it will be a slam dunk for you. If you’re like me and need a nudge to try something different, read on.

Because, here’s the thing. I love this track. Love. It. Not only do I love the song, but I’ve come to love the entire album from whence this single comes — Open Here, released in February.

Field Music

What causes us to like something we normally don’t? What elements combine to create the exception to the rule? I’ve spent an alarming amount of time puzzling on this and here’s what I’ve come up with:

*The lyrics. Those who follow this blog know that I lead, first, with the music and then the lyrics. If I’m not captured by the rhythm/melody/sonics of a song, I tend to tune out.

HOWEVER, I immediately connected with the lyrics on this song because they are all about privilege….in all of its insidious forms. And, I think a lot about privilege. And, I really like what Field Music is trying to convey.

If you’ve ever owned a car or you rent a car / You have a company car, then count that up / Add it to the ever growing list of things / You can’t claim or credit for

Combined with the lead members’ (and brothers) Peter and David Brewis’ admission that “fatherhood has helped inspire a new sense of personal and political accountability in their music,” and I’m all in on these lyrics.

*The beat. Musically, the song is saved for me because of the heavy and driving drum track. It recalls for me some Madonna; some Prince; some Talking Heads

*Peter Gabriel. At 41 seconds in, all I could think about was Peter Gabriel. The inflection and tone of lead singer Peter Brewis…it’s all there. Look, I’m hit-or-miss on Peter Gabriel (see above issues with 80’s progressive rock). But, there are ‘hits’ for me and this track feels inspired by them.

The whole ethos of In My Ear is liking what you like, in the moment that you like it—and leaning into that feeling you get when hearing music that lands for you. So, all of the questioning aside, this is a song that does it for me…and one that, on account of the lyrics and political message, reasserts its relevance weekly (if not daily).

JPEGMAFIA – Baby I’m Bleeding

This track right here is why I write In My Ear — to make note of and share music that stops me in my tracks, breaks through the chatter and clutter of the day-to-day, and makes me feel something real and hard.

“Baby I’m Bleeding” is all of that. It’s a 2 minute, 34 second sonic assault, driven relentlessly by a ferocious industrial beat that mixes manipulated vocal and electronic sounds. JPEGMAFIA raps hard over that beat, settling into a classic kick-snare groove and layering in all sort of other sounds for a wildly textured track. Pure lightning in a bottle.

Off of JPEGMAFIA’s recent release, Veteran, this track includes all of the album’s greatest qualities. Breathless, almost breakneck pace and energy; cutting political and social commentary that apologizes for nothing; imaginative use of layered sound; and in-your-face experimentation. It’s not a casual listen. It’s not meant to be.

Lucy Dacus – Night Shift

Stop it, Lucy Dacus. Stop it with this song and your slow build and your warm, slightly lilting voice and your piercing lyrics and your monster, power-chord finish. Stop making me kinda want to break-up with my wife just so I can play this song (a glorious, glorious break-up song), light myself on fire with emotion, and rage.

This track is just a beast. A beautiful, aching, moody beast that starts soft, pivots into new chords and a new lyric line roughly midway through, and then drops an effing hammer on you at 4:09. The lyrics stand out as the brainchild of a gifted songwriter and wordsmith (wise well beyond her 22 years); she conveys a lot in a little and her imagery is direct without being simple. And, my goodness, the climax and finish of this song — it has just stuck with me for days.

With her new album Historian, Lucy Dacus is headed toward indie rock stardom and superhero status. This track is just one of a number of standout songs, all of which fit and work together as a true album. It’s thematically consistent without being repetitive; sonically consistent without being boring or limited in its influences. From what I’ve read and watched, it’s destined to be at or near the top of many/most “2018 Best Album” lists come December–for fans and critics alike. It’ll certainly be on mine.

Sudan Archives – Come Meh Way

Sudan Archives is about to have a moment, I think. A 23 year-old violinist/vocalist who writes, plays, and produces her own music, Sudan Archives released a well-received debut, self-titled EP last year and follow-up single. She’s touring on that EP this year and just recently played at SXSW in Austin (Bob Boilen and Rodney Carmichael of NPR hailed her as their favorite personal discovery of the festival).

She is self-taught on the violin, inspired by Sudanese fiddlers, R&B, West African rhythms, and experimental electronic music. For anyone following along with this blog, you might recognize this as a sweet spot for my personal tastes — music and artists that blend styles and merge cultural influences and references, but anchor all of it with strong rhythms and/or a driving beat. An electronic twist is just the cherry on top.

I listened to Sudan Archives’ EP last year, but, admittedly, lost track of it a bit. So, I was very happy to be reminded of her and her music through press around the SXSW festival. Her music is remarkable enough, but I’ve embedded a YouTube video of her performing her track “Come Meh Way” live because her process of creating that music is so, so cool to witness. It’s just her with a mic, violin, and a sampler. With those three tools and her voice, she creates layer-after-layer of melody and bass and an entire sonic world.

SHIRT – Flight Home

I can’t quit this track. Released earlier in the year, I just keep coming back to it again and again and again. The beat is hypnotic and SHIRT’s heavy vocal delivery drips and rides over it; casually and, at times, in a drawl that feels just a step behind the beat. Taken together, they create an instant and, to me, irresistible vibe; laid back and steady, real gritty, and with a continuous hum and pulse. Slow, but urgent.

This is the lead single off SHIRT’s new release, Pure Beauty, which came out in late 2017, but has had a staggered physical release into early 2018. There is a whole lot going on in the album; I am duly impressed by the scope of SHIRT’s influences, his beats and production, and some of the introspection in his lyrics on the record. Like this single (but for different reasons), I keep coming back to the album over and over. It’s a rewarding listen because there’s always some new layer or song element to pick up on.