Open Ear Blog

New Music Reviews | June

Jorja Smith — Lost and Found

Making her name with an appearance on a Drake mixtape before featuring on singles by Stormzy, among others, here Jorja Smith goes it alone on her debut ‘Lost and Found’. That’s a powerful step that places her resonant vocals front and centre. Straying closer to traditional R&B and Soul than on the Grime and Pop tracks she’s previously worked on, Smith nonetheless showcases range and depth. The production tends towards a sense of grandiose space with plenty of reverb and the overall album tone is one of an elegant sense of melancholy. Check out highlight ‘Blue Lights’ here.

Kiefer — Happysad

Released by Stones Throw, whose releases always provide analogue warmth with a hint of spice and flavour, the latest album from Kiefer Shackleford showcases piano-based Jazz with the coolest of vibes. Having produced the likes of Kaytranada and Anderson.Paak, Shackleford set out here to create an album that digs into the oft intertwined emotional nature of being happy and/or sad. It’s a heady brew that brings the heat both through bursts of frustrated horns and thrilling moments of pure joy. Check out ‘What A Day’ here.

Kamaal Williams — The Return

Following on from his previous work as part of the now disbanded duo Yussef Kamaal, Kamaal Williams here goes it alone without his percussionist partner Yussef Dayes but with little change in trajectory. The grooving Jazz of ‘The Return’ is very much a continuation of Williams’ work with melodies and rhythms vying for dominance. It’s a Californian kind of vibe, the kind that’s chilled yet still packs in idea after idea without ever venturing towards multilayered epics. It’s a style that required poise and balance and one Williams pulls off with aplomb. Catch opener ‘Salaam’ here.

SOPHIE — Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides

The second full length from SOPHIE sees her stepping out in front of audiences for the first time. No longer an artist in hiding, these tracks feel more personal and observational rather than the distant social commentary of previous singles. Musically SOPHIE continues to be about texture; fluid and soup like one minute, bright and metallic the next. There’s less reliance on bass rhythms and more dissonant soundscapes but the pure Pop hooks are still strong as ever. Fans of experimental Pop may have found their album of the year. Start with ‘It’s OK To Cry’.

Soul Jazz Presents: — Boombox 3 - Early Independent Hip Hop, Electro and Disco Rap

Another collection of rarely heard and long lost singles from the pioneers of Hip Hop thanks to the always brilliant Soul Jazz Records. Leaning heavily towards the sound and feel of the Sugarhill Gang, the abundant influence is of those early Hip Hop radio hits rather than the block party sounds of future hit-makers like Afrika Bambaataa. The smooth groove of The Poor Boys on ‘Low Rider Rap’ points to the later popularity of the Hip Hop ballad and may be the highlight here.

Kadhja Bonet — Childqueen

Both retro and avant-garde at once, Kadhja Bonet melds alluring, soft vocals with prodigious talent as a multi-instrumentalist playing nearly every sound heard on the record. Some may say is the sound is simply eclectic while others will see a strikingly defiance of genre. What is clear is there is an ethereal quality that has a timeless feel but there’s no shortage of groove or tantalising melody to grab the attention. Whether on the string led title track or the funky ‘Mother Maybe’ there’s a highlight here for you. Catch that funky one here.

The Saxophones — Songs of the Saxophones

Minimalist yet multi-instrumental; the composition of ‘Songs of the Saxophones’ is deeply considered and exactingly executed. It’s unsurprising to learn that lead writer, Alexi Erenkov, is a formally trained Jazz musician who found a more emotional outlet after turning his attention to the life of a singer-songwriter. Emotion and close relationship studies are recurring themes, notably Erenkov is joined by his wife Alison Alerdice throughout. Whether it’s West Coast Jazz or Americana influences, each track has an airy cool worth discovering. Catch some here.

The Last Poets — Understand What Black Is

Over fifty years since their formation and twenty-plus since their last album, The Last Poets are back for a new era of political activism and civil rights struggles. Famed for their politically conscious spoken word poetry set to music, a sound that is a core foundation in inspiring Hip Hop and that went on to be much sampled, The Last Poets are members fewer now but nonetheless prescient and powerful. With vocals set to jazzy, Reggae beats produced by Open Ear favourites Nostalgia 77 and Prince Fatty it’s a new sound for the Poets and one that still demands to be heard. Do not miss this one.

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