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Tag: the roots

Best Albums of 2011 Finale Flurry

First and foremost, SORRY I have left this herbacious space out to dry for so long! Travels and their resulting ruminations have overrun my rhyming reason, leaving discipline to the birds, and believe me, those bastards are gettin’ plump. On a similar note in the vein of lacking discipline, I’ve decided that it’s time to bring an end to the Best Albums of 2011 posts because, honestly, I could be on about it for the rest of the existence of this space. I’d rather look to the future and start living this 2012 before I realize I’m still writing Best of 2012’s halfway through 2013. BUT, there’s still an electronic barrel full of albums I planned on making posts for, so the least I can do is tell you what they are. So, it’s goodbye for good, 2011.

Gil Scott-Heron and Jaime XX – We’re New Here

Scott-Heron’s I’m New Here is divulged by a man who’s seen and done it all, reflecting on his past for all to draw from. It’s an entirely vulnerable endeavor. Jaime XX translates that timeless human quality of vulnerability into a sonic language that the post-dubtep generation shares de facto proprietary rights over…that is, until the S*PA redux’s get passed into law. With the title of the album, ‘We’re’ as opposed to ‘I’m’, Jaime XX is saying, ‘look, I’m as new to this language as we all are.’ The musicscape at the moment is as expansive as it is creative; it’s easy to get lost in it, and when you’re lost in a deep unknown territory, you begin creating organically original sounds and compositions that have a remnant of the past that you’ve lived imprinted on it.

Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues 

Ok, the reason I didn’t review this obvious candidate sooner was the fact that I don’t think I’ve seen a ‘best of’ list without it. Why squander my time? Alright, I’ll exhaust just a few fumes on it: This is storytelling at its epic best backed by a suspensefully-designed score. It demands your attention – not only your attention to listen, but also your cognitive attention, as they take you to another place. The storyteller delivers his lines with impeccable timing that makes it sound so easy to be unpredictably profound.

Shabazz Palaces – Black Up

Kick back, unwind, and be prepared to say, ‘I’m not high enough for this shit,’ in the best possible way. You’ll wanna get there because there’s something so alluring about the dark and complex jazzy beats that Shabazz talk-raps spacey mantras over. In his own words, ‘catchy but not trendy’ – you’ll have his bizarrely original slogans flowin’ through your head for days. If you’re more into his rappin’ than his spacin’, listen to the track swerve…the reeping of all that is worthwhile (noir not withstanding).

Little Dragon – Ritual Union

An amazing blend of synth, live instruments, and the one-of-a-kind voice of Swedish-Japanese vocalist Yukimi Nagano offers an original sound that could easily be the spawn from 30 years ago or 30 years from now. I generally have a disgust for 80s synth sounds, but the group is one of the first to use them tastefully and with an ear towards the future rather than the past.  Every song on the album has something special to offer, either through instrumentals or through Nagano’s increasingly addictive voice. Better still, the album is perfect for any mood. Need to stay in for some solitary contemplation? Little Dragon. Wanna dance the night away? Little Dragon.

WU LYF  Go Tell Fire to the Mountain

Mysterious Manchester collective, WU LYF, have debuted with a sound that coincides perfectly with the strife and struggle of man seen across the globe in this past year of revolution, from those in Egypt and Syria to race riots in London and the Occupy movements worldwide.  Their blunt, crooning sound is one of rebellion, but also brotherhood. Coining that sound as ‘Heavy Pop’, it is indeed heavy. The frontman shouts rally cry-esque lyrics that are often indecipherable – not because he is a brutish idiot incapable of clear speech, but because the conceptual design of the band.  Their release was partnered with a video for each of the songs on the album including the one below, so be sure to check those out.

M83  – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

M83’s newest release has filled the airwaves across a bevy of media in large part to the distinct synth strikes of ubiquitous hit single Midnight City. But what most don’t know is that this French band has been releasing albums for years now, finally getting their due time in the light. Their double album is an epic, full of a variety of song types that all come down to the same thematic sounds that have made their hit so popular. If you’ve only heard Midnight City, give the rest of the double album a listen…it doesn’t disappoint.

Charles Bradley – No Time for Dreaming 

The amount of soul and love and pain and truth that this man radiates is second to none. The band backing him up knows their way around their respective instruments, too. For your old-school blues fix, look no further.

The Roots – Undun

I’ve already posted about The Roots a few times (see live concert review here, and Roots’ Day Tuesday’s), so I’ll let this video do the talking for this hip-hop outfit that grows wiser, as they should, with age.

Radiohead – King of Limbs

And I near-r-ly forgot these guys. Many passed over their newest outing, a bit let down. It’s difficult to follow the near-flawless In Rainbows, especially as it was probably their most appealing effort to the masses due to its warm, light melodies. But King of Limbs steps into new territory as well as returning to the band’s dark, complex arrangements that test the barriers of instrumentation. If you haven’t already, watch the group’s From the Basement videos to see the depth of each song performed live. Don’t let this great album be overshadowed by the past; time will show its subtled brilliance.

If I missed your favorite album, leave a comment about it! There are a few that I decided just missed the list, due to either lack of time to cover them, they have been covered to death already, or I am soon to cover them in another article with broader implications than a best-of list. Cheers.

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The Roots’ Day Tuesday #2

America’s lost somewhere inside of Littleton,

Eleven million children, all on Ritalin,

That’s why I don’t rhyme for the sake of riddlin’,

False media – we don’t need it, do we?

Pilgrims, slaves, Indian, Mexican,

It looks real fucked up for your next of kin,

That’s why I don’t rhyme for the sake of riddlin’,

False media – we don’t need it, do we?

-Wadud Ahmad on False Media

In 2006, a hip-hop outfit decided to step up the genre’s intentions from entertaining wordplay to social consciousness. I know that other rappers had spit lines and verses about their views on a number of social issues that reach far beyond the confines of music, but with Game Theory, The Roots dedicated an entire album to the problems of the world. They took a huge risk because the message they needed to deliver wasn’t one people expected to hear. It was a dark and abrasive showing, but it succeeded in transcending the genre, as all great music does. On False Media, guest Wadud Ahmad vented the disgruntlement towards the state of things in society with a grizzled despondency that only his spoken word can.

The Roots Day Tuesday #1

Hello all!

Today marks the very first installment of Roots Day Tuesday’s, where I will post a quote from the huge back catalog of The Legendary Roots. Expect posts from their songs or sparsely heard interviews that are just…well, legendary.

Seeing as how it’s a new year, I’m gonna keep it fresh this week with a quote from the new album, undun:

Illegal activity controls my black symphony

Orchestrated like it happened incidentally

Oh…there I go

From a man to a memory damn

Wonder if my fam will remember me

– Black Thought on Sleep

So, these lines pretty much sum up the concept of the album from the perspective of the focal character. Notice the repetition of cadence in Black Thought’s “oh…there I go,” and Aaron Livingston’s “there goes…my honey bee,” from the intro verse. Not the only time on the album (or even the song) that the group revisits core sounds, words, and concepts – a mark of the band’s growth and understanding of good music as opposed to good hip-hop.

Stay tuned for next week’s clip from the Legendary Roots’ scrapbook.

The Legendary Roots Live at the Fillmore in Silver Spring, MD – December 30, 2011

A band capable of wearing many hats, The Roots showcased an extensive range of musical styles at the Fillmore, performing each with a seasoned professionalism. Make My served as a low-key track to get the crowd in the groove of things following the ominous commencement of the concert with Dun and Sleep from 2011’s concept album, Undun. Then the band performed an almost entirely reduxed version of Quills, which was already one of my favorites. The new rendition was full of switching time signatures, stop-starts, and Black Thought showing his ability to deliver lines at any number of speeds, changing at a moment’s notice. For me, this was the best song of the night in showcasing The Roots’ creative talents as well as their understanding as a group. Next, the band mates memorably and playfully stalked around the stage to the creeping and ebbing beat of Step into the Realm. Black Thought then donned another hat to vent the rebellious rally cry that makes up the intro and chorus of Stomp on either side of his and guest rapper Greg Porn’s verses. A few tracks later, The Other Side marked a second surging wave of music, coming off the back end of three slow rollers – Proceed, Mellow My Man, and Break You Off. But when this jam hit, it hit hard as a mothafucka, perfectly setting up the equally energizing Get Busy.

One Jungle Boogie, solo-ridden medley later, someone who was working at the venue told my brother in the smoking section that there was a 90% chance that a certain Erykah Badu would make a guest appearance, so you could imagine my excitement when I heard the first snap of the snare and pluck of the guitar from You Got Me. The guitarist, Captain Kirk Douglas, sang Badu’s chorus, and I assumed that this was just a ploy to make her entrance on the second chorus that much more exciting…but then Douglas sang it again. Maybe she’ll come out at the end of the song and they’ll do a totally different song or rendition, I thought. But then I lost hope when Douglas insisted on forcing Sweet Child O’ Mine into the set list. Jeeez he has bad taste in rock music, the specialty niche that he brings to the outfit. Having to sit through that ridiculous ballad wasn’t my only gripe with the performance. Although I rather enjoy Lighthouse’s verses and even Dice Raw’s chorus, hearing it live with the bass much more prevalent than the dissonant guitar made me take heed of the simply guileless bass line. But rest assured, the interim term bassist showed his ability elsewhere in other tracks as well as when the band took turns soloing as they are so prone to do. Aaron Livingston’s smooth guest vocals on a number of songs from the past two albums like Dear God 2.0 and Sleep were cooed to perfection, though I think he went a little overboard with the finale of The Other Side, wailing – impressively mind you – in the vein of Cedric Bixler-Zavala of the Mars Volta. Don’t get me wrong, it is a talent to be able to sing falsetto like that, but it doesn’t much fit the scene – a  lot like when a talented hip-hop group plays a Guns n’ Roses song.

Next came the quite extensive encore, which was expected, to be fair, since there was no opening act. Returning to the stage and the cheering crowd, Black Thought showed that he’s still got the talent to spit like a man possessed with Thought at Work, before keepin’ it lyrical with How I Got Over and Here I Come. The winding down of the show was signaled by Seed 2.0 as many in the crowd were finally satisfied having heard probably the group’s most recognizable song, although it would not be the last number. Instead, The Roots honored Gil Scott-Heron’s passing this year with a cover of his The Bottle, followed by a Curtis Mayfield cover of Move on Up to end on a more jubilant note.

Don’t let any of my earlier criticisms fool you, I was merely splitting hairs. The Roots put on a finely balanced show – a good mix of the old and new; older songs they tinkered with, brought them up to speed when needed, while the newer songs were played (for the most part) as they are on the record. Classics of theirs were often reinvented to a jam-band style full of instrumental solos and awesome battling percussionists (thanks to ?uestlove and F. Knuckles) while the new tracks provided a more precise, powerful simplicity. Those tracks simply haven’t been around long enough to have any drastic changes made to them. All in all, if you’re a hip-hop fan and you’ve never seen the Legendary Roots crew perform live, it will change the way you look at hip-hop forever. If you’re not a fan of hip-hop, don’t be shaky and squeamish – The Roots transcend the restricting confines of a genre! Good music is good music people, and these guys have been making good music for decades.

p.s. if anyone is interested in the complete set list of 27 songs, please let me know.