Monthly Archives: May 2016

Sound ‘Round’ Chance the Rapper / BJ the Chicago Kid

Chi-town kids dwell on sin and salvation

Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book (self-released)

chance the rapeprThe best rapper to never cop to a major label, Chancelor Bennett explains the methodology behind his unconventional path to the big leagues: “I don’t make songs for free / I make ‘em for freedom.” That line comes on the hymn concerned with blessings from the Almighty — including a daughter that saved a rocky romance and a sense of economic stability earned by hustling without cutting corners. Critics are right to call his third mixtape a gospel record as God makes an appearance on several tracks and a church choir helps eulogize Grandma near the end. Where saints hear hallelujahs, this backslider hears a Kanye protege do right by his mentor. The production shines as bright as Yahweh’s eternal light and the beats are as jubilant as Chance when he imagines being met in the afterlife by his dead dog. But the praises are secondary to more earthly subject matter. Salvation is nowhere to be found on “Summer Friends,” even as kids lose their lives to gang violence, and the complex nature of love is discovered not at Jesus Camp, but a skating rink. Taken all together, Chance demonstrates his Christian bona fides by doing as the 100th Psalm commands — make a joyful noise. GRADE: A

Key Tracks: “Juke Jam” / “Same Drugs” / “All Night”

BJ the Chicago Kid – In My Mind (Motown)

bj the chicago kidBryan James Sledge is the nicest guy preoccupied with pillow talk since Jason Derulo equated Katy Perry songs to lingerie. Although BJ doesn’t ponder eternal love, he treats women  with elegance and respect, enhancing the pleasure factor to his dirty deeds. This album serves as a career reboot and finds Sledge going the extra mile in an effort to represent the blue-collar ethos of his Midwestern roots. Any club urchin can take a girl home on a booze-filled Saturday night, but BJ will escort them to church in the morning and peg both scenarios as a heavenly experience. He’s every bit as dedicated on the weekdays, too, as exhibited on “The Résumé,” a song about exactly what you think it is. “I need a job, can you hire me? / I wanna work that body likes it’s a 9 to 5,” goes the chorus. Sledge’s pleas are so earnest,  he’d have no problem as a door-to-door salesman should his endeavor as a sex magnet fall through. For 15 songs and 63 minutes, he demonstrates love is a two-person journey. My favorite line: “Show me a man / A powerful man / I will show you a strong woman behind him.” I hope my future daughter finds someone just like him. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: “Church” / “The Résumé” / “Love Inside”



Sound ‘Round: Parquet Courts / Sturgill Simpson

Stories from the city, stories from the sea

Parquet Courts – Human Performance (Rough Trade)

Parquet Courts - Human PerformanceAny ol’ punk can typecast themselves as the apathetic and angry youngster. What separates these four lads from Brooklyn is wry humor delivered in deadpan fashion. The fact their droll ennui comes with music that wastes no time getting to the point is all the better. Save the six-minute jam that quotes rationalist philosopher René Descartes (“One Man, No City”), they forgo the erudite and long-winded facets of existential melancholy in favor of keeping things short, simple and focused on everyday annoyances. The ubiquitous dust that slowly chokes them on the opener is a metaphor for air pollution, and “I Was Just Here” bemoans a Chinese restaurant that unexpectedly closes. They say no thanks to cellphones because signing up for one takes too damn long, and the incessant bombast of city life makes them prisoners in their own homes. Better than the one-liners are the love songs — yearning and full of surprising tenderness. Vocalist Dan Savage contrasts the bliss of budding romance with the depression of a breakup on the title track while Austin Brown spends “Steady on My Mind” ruminating on a long distance relationship.  “Promise that I’ll say ‘Hello’ as often as ‘Goodbye,’” he sings. Growing up rarely sounds so effortless. GRADE: A

Key Tracks: “Human Performance” / “Steady on My Mind” / “Berlin Got Blurry”

Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide to Earth (Atlantic)

sturgill simpson a sailor's guide to earthThe savior of alterna-country’s third album is a concept arch wherein he pens a series of open letters to his newborn son, relaying instructions on how to make it through life less bitter than the old man. The crux of these nine songs is straightforward — be your own person. An oversimplified tagline, yes, but one that’s worked for the son of a coal mining family who spent three years in the Navy before tiring of taking orders. No coincidence that the song regarding his time stationed in Japan ends with the truism “Flying high beats dying for lies in a politician’s war.” Elsewhere, the lesson plans are less heavy-handed but just as important — don’t vandalize property, keep away from drugs, stay in school and remember to enjoy the brief life we’re given. More endearing than the lectures are the ballads that apologize for the moments he’ll miss while earning a living on the road. The world that was once an escape is now his greatest enemy. What keeps him going is a sense of country iconoclasm that borrows plenty from Stax and Muscle Shoals. The love for a good groove second only to a child, he’s at his best when he lets the horns do the talking. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: “Keep It Between the Lines” / “Sea Stories” / “Brace for Impact (Live a Little)”

Sound ‘Round: Beyoncé / Childbirth

They are woman. Hear them roar. 

Beyoncé – Lemonade (Parkwood/Columbia)

Beyonce - LemonadeBey’s best album reps for Red Lobster and marks the moment her many talents coalesce into the world-conquering diva act she’s always sold. Premiered as an hour-plus “visual album,” this review concerns the 45-minute music only version found (legally) on Tidal — which she co-owns with hubby Jay-Z. Though Mr. Knowles-Carter isn’t allowed a cameo, he’s present in spirit. In a public display that acknowledges rumors of a troubled marriage, she emotes in her warm contralto on the pain of infidelity and burden of forgiveness. How much you glean from the lyrics regarding their marital status depends on how often you read TMZ. No surprise when the all-male guest list plays by her rules: Jack White refers to God as a woman, and The Weeknd mutes his self-loathing chauvinism. More rewarding than hyper-personal songs is the versatility of the music. Whisper-soft ballads segue into electro R&B into swing jazz into bar-band country with ease. She’s now a genre all her own with the gusto and smarts to do as she pleases. So commanding is Beyoncé, she slays an army into formation on the finale concerning black pride. I’m eager to volunteer for the service but smart enough to sit this one out. It’s their revolution to have, not yours or mine. GRADE: A

Key Tracks: “Formation” / “6 Inch” / “Don’t Hurt Yourself”

Click Here to listen to “Lemonade” on Tidal. 

Childbirth – Women’s Rights (Suicide Squeeze, 2015)

childbirth - women's rightsJulia Shapiro, Bree McKenna and Stacy Pack ironically refer to their rag-tag outfit as a supergroup. Whether you find truth in their humor correlates with how closely you follow the underground scene of their native Seattle. For the rest of us, there’s plenty of laughs to be had in lyrics dripping with feminist doctrine shouted over pummeling garage punk. The only code these ladies adhere to is achieving power-chord bliss on songs that rarely breach the 2:45 mark. Beholden to no other sacred cows, the jokes drive home the point in brutal and politically incorrect fashion. Societal expectations of beauty are eviscerated on “Nasty Girls” (“We don’t wash our hair / We wipe our nose on our sleeves”), and they have no use for the revolving door of undesirables that is Tinder (“Shirtless / Swipe left / Gym rat / Swipe left / Dreadlocks / Swipe left.”). Other topics include bad parents, clueless step-dads, mansplaining tech-bros, and a pansexual lover more clueless than honest. With a devil may-care bravado and a yelping vocal style to further signify their ennui, this is juvenile with a purpose. One sign of maturity is the music. Where their 2014 debut was a sludge fest, they’ve refined their aggression without sacrificing potency. More, please. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: “Tech Bro” / “Siri, Open Tinder” / “Since When Are You Gay?”