November 11th 2016- A Tribe Called Quest- We Got It From Here…Thank You

With impeccable timing given certain election results and tinged with sadness this week saw the release of the final album by A Tribe Called Quest. We Got It From Here…Thank You was confirmed for release as the final Tribe Called Quest album after the sad and untimely passing of Phife Dawg. Given the current political climate the tragedy of this loss is even greater, as we need groups like A Tribe Called Quest more now than ever.

On We Got It From Here…Thank You A Tribe Called Quest tackle some of the most difficult and yet tragically ever present subjects of current American and Global socio-political life: gun violence, police brutality, economic disparity, war, migration, the rise of the right wing political elite the list is almost endless. They show no fear in tackling these toughest of subjects with a wise new age sensibility for which they have become famed.

Closing track The Donald takes aim at well…you know who. Other tracks such as We The People reference the current crisis surrounding police brutality and the disproportionate treatment of the USA’s African-American populations.  We the People also takes on the subject of discrimination faced by Mexicans during the recent Trump election triumph. The Tribe often provide a simple answer to many of these issues, we all just need to be closer together on this one Earth, as we are all one and the same. It’s a mantra they have repeated throughout their career, though one which is as far away from being realised today as during the George Bush senior days of the group’s formation.

Whilst this may sound heavy going, the album is full of A Tribe Called Quests’ typical human touch and also a good dose of wit. Humour appears often in the use of samples, such as interludes from Willy Wonka. They may on their last album be tackling dark subject matter but they do this in a way, which only A Tribe Called Quest can.

The album is built around unsurprisingly brilliant golden-age era East Coast beats, which are sample heavy and often reference a period in hip hop’s history now sadly forgot. We Got It From Here…Thank You is also a guest heavy album featuring subtle appearances from Elton John and Jack White. Whilst more prominent appearances are made by Kendrick Lamar (perhaps the long term successor to the group’s crown) and long-time friends and collaborators Talib Kwali and Busta Rhymes. Busta has over the years grown into an almost some time member of A Tribe Called Quest and his appearances here on various tracks feels the most natural and fitting out of all guests.

Everything on We Got It From Here…Thank You is near-on perfect as a hip-hop album goes. The beats are exceptional (though at odds with the current scene), the subject matter poignant and the flow of each member is…well….why even bother you all know there’s few out there who can stand to toe to toe with the Tribe, when it comes to delivery.

Much has been made of both the gap between their last release and this and the fact that there will be no more new material from A Tribe Called Quest. However when it comes to We Got It From Here…Thank You, it is best not to call it a come-back, a send-off or a tribute, this is just A Tribe Called Quest doing what they do best.

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January 29th- Rihanna- Anti

 

Anti, it’s a brave statement of intent to set ones’ self-up as Anti for if you don’t immediately seem anti enough or your sense of anti is unclear you come in for immediate criticism. Rihanna on her latest release has aimed for the Anti pop record and perhaps taken a sly dig at the lack of artist freedom in the record industry. But one of the strongest criticisms of this new release is actually all of this Anti statement is rather bogged down behind the patchy music. Somewhat this is true.

Anti, starts well enough and the opening tracks especially Consideration and latest single Work provide a more experimental edge to Rihanna’s pop cannon. This experimental edge can be seen in part to be inspired by Beyonce’s latest self-titled release. One of the producers of that album NoID pops up with brilliance all over some of the tracks here. The sound of the album is influenced in part by NoID, Arca and the slew of hip hop and RnB albums which have incorporated their sound. However, the strong opening to the album is spoiled by the track James Joint which feels like music for an elevator, there is sadly an idea there but the production and development is stunted and the track is left bogged down.

The track that has attracted all the attention for this release is Same Ol Mistake, which is a cover for a very recent Tame Impala track. Much of the attention has been driven towards the merit of covering such a recently released track. However, this focus is misplaced as the cover is actually a rather lovely one which like many tracks towards the end of Anti aims to allow Rihanna’s voice to come to the forefront.

The juxtaposed nature of the start and end of this album highlight its curiosity. The starts feels like a producers’ experimental playground whereas the latter half of the album comes over as a vocal workout for the artist. The lack of balance between the two is perhaps one of the elements missing on this album and one which leads to the jarring feel of Anti.

Despite the criticism this release has come in for it is an endearing album of an artist trying something different. Ideas may not be fully formed and some concepts seem misplaced but repeated listening turns out to be rewarding as little elements of each track bubble to the surface. There is a sense that perhaps the album would have been improved with the inclusion of Bitch Better Have…and this rings true especially towards the end of the album, the track would’ve broken things up and provided some more grit.

Rihanna is to be praised for this release, especially so considering gone are many of the collaborations and featured artists that have previously adorned her albums. All but two tracks are solely Rihanna. That said Anti’s real featured artists are the producers behind the record and of those there are almost too many to name.

Until Kanye West releases Waves later in the month Anti and the debates surrounding it will be the pop presses main focus of attention, such is the mark of Rihanna and her global reach these days. And despite all of this focus Anti will sell bucket loads, over 1 million copies in its first week in the USA, however the way to really appreciate this record and get under it and Rihanna’s skin is through repeated and rewarded listening.

Not quite Anti but certainly a departure.

(Rihanna’s exclusive deal with Tidal unfortunately means no track link this week)

Album of the Week January 8th 2016

Hinds- Leave Me Alone

The hype machine has been workong overtime with Hinds for awhile now, world tours, Glastonbury and sold out dates in London have all preceeded this release. The British music press and live audiences have fallen hard for the girls from Madrid but the question remains is the album up to much?

In a week where David Bowie released his latest effort Blackstar seeing him described as rebirthed and as unpredictable as ever. It’s Hinds who sound more alive, perhaps with the naivety of youth but certainly with the excitement of being in a band. And it’s this, a girl gang mentality which so refreshingly shines through on Leave Me Alone. Hinds are a band in it together and when they open their debut album with a track as strong as Garden you can’t help but want to be in “it” with them too.

The refernce points are thrilling; 60s girl pop of the Shangri LAs variety, coupled with California Surf Pop and indie rock circa 2001. It’s a mix which works well with tracks flying past at bottle-rocket pace, yet remaining catchy enough to worm their way into your brain and nestle there for the rest of the day. The best example of such a track is the brilliant Bamboo, a track which Hinds themselves have been rightfully boastful of  and despite the tags of rock and roll past clinging to Leave Me Alone, there is also something fresh about Hinds music much of which,  one suspects, comes from their pure energy and excitement.

One criticism that has been unfairly levelled at Hinds is that their vocals are not particularly strong or well recorded. But this critique misses the point. The ramshackle nature of the vocals on Leave Me Alone add to the sugar-rush thrill of the album, nowhere is this more audible than on the track San Diego.

Hinds have admited to struggling and being fed up with being asked what’s it like to be a rock and roll girl band. It certainly  will be a shame if the music press and public continue to focus on this subject. Because in doing so what will be overlooked is a joyous debut album, which deserves to be taken on its own merit.