Open Ear Blog

New Music Reviews | December

The 1975 — A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships

“In a world of pseudo meta-pop, of artists trying to convince us they’re dismantling pop, or recontextualising it for an imagined new generation while dribbling out the same faux-edgy relationships, sex n’ drugs-referencing emoji-pop, The 1975’s third full length is as timely as it is out of step with every current pop act feigning cultural significance. Right-swiping confidently between Brian Eno, Joy Divison, Radiohead, D’Angelo, ’90s/’00s post-rock and ’80s art-rock, ‘A Brief Enquiry Into Online Relationships’ is the cultureshock modern pop needs, and all of a sudden a lot of other modern music feels quite unnecessary. I’m looking forward to playlisting these tracks across a variety of playlists.”

Neil Macdonald, Head of Music, @scienceversuslife

Moods — Zoom Out

With a small output as a beat maker, ‘Zoom Out’ sees Rotterdam-based Moods branch out his sound towards a more song focused Electronica, featuring a host of guest vocalists and collaborators. Filled with bright claps and Electro tinged synths, it’s a vivid palette even though the album tends towards a more chilled, downtempo vibe. The range of voices keep things moving, and this is where the production shines as voices layer on tracks like ‘Awake in the Dark’ creating depth or lead all on their own like on the R&B leaning ‘How I Feel’. By focusing on those collaborative voices, ‘Zoom Out’ perfectly captures Moods’ song based sound.

The Scorpions & Saif Abu Bakr — Jazz, Jazz, Jazz

Another fantastic release from the good folks at Habibi Funk who continue to unearth ‘70s and ‘80s gems from across North Africa. This, their first straight re-release, comes from Sudan and sees singer Saif Abu Bakr accompanied by the grooving Jazz Funk instrumentals of The Scorpions. Packed with rousing, big voices horns, rich organ vibes, and an energetic rhythm section of fine drums and even finer bass, ‘Jazz Jazz Jazz’ is a good time record sliding through Jazz, Afro-Funk, traditional Sudanese rhythms and groove-based glory. The highlight, ‘Farrah Galbi Aljadeed’, comes across like it could be the soundtrack to a long lost Blaxploitation movie, though had it been it’d never have been lost. “Epic” doesn’t begin to cover it.

Jacob Banks — Village

While the opening track, ‘Chainsmoking’, is likely to gain more attention, it’s the second cut on ‘Village’ that brings you into the Neo-Soul world of Jacob Banks. That track, ‘Love Ain’t Enough’, blends soulful Pop with a Dub interlude before crashing into the classic Amen Break. It’s a mixed up confluence of influences and styles, but somehow in Banks’ hands it works. It’s very much the story of this album, with lounging Blues colliding with uptempo Chart Pop anthems in between intimate, personal ballads. The outlier is ‘Be Good To Me’ with its heavy kicks and electronics that follow the vocal line. It may not even be the highlight here, but it sure warrants repeat plays.

“It was a tough decision this month with Makaya’s Universal Beings, but in terms of versatility, Jacob wears the crown and Village deserves an award for his capabilities in tying dancehall with UK Garage and soul. It’s been the easiest album to playlist thus far, pick a track and it deserves a seat at the table as much as it does shopping in a supermarket. File directly next to NAO, Ady Suleiman and KWABS.”

Lily London, Playlist Curator, @sweetlemonadefm

Charles Bradley — Black Velvet

Collecting together tracks that slipped through the cracks during the recording of his three albums, this posthumous release is someway in keeping with the career of Charles Bradley. Not getting his big break until well into his 50s when he was signed to Daptone Records, Bradley burst onto the classic Soul scene a readymade performer with a voice that cut between Otis Reading and Bradley’s hero, James Brown. Here we get to sample that voice in all its glory on the 60s Funk Soul of ‘Can’t Fight The Feeling’, the Garage Soul take on the Nirvana track ‘Stay Away’, or the soulful cover of Neil Young’s ‘Heart of Gold’ that, production notwithstanding, could easily have been a contemporary release only just unearthed. Don’t miss it.

Makaya McCraven — Universal Beings

A self described “beat scientist”, Makaya McCraven is a Chicago-based Jazz drummer, producer and composer known for blending electronic music with forward thinking Jazz. Assembling a group of A-list players for a less electronic, more Jazz focused album, McCraven keeps pushing things forward with ‘Universal Beings’. With uptempo keys and horns, it’s not necessarily a percussion led album. However, when the percussion does take over we get some of the albums most captivating moments like when the wood block claps break down half way through ‘Suite Haus’ or in the intro to ‘Inner Flight’ that paradoxically manages to shuffle and stutter all at once. This could be a magnum opus, but we suspect McCraven is just getting started.

Rosalía — El Mal Querer

Based on a 13th century tale of romance gone very wrong, Rosalía’s ‘El Mal Querer’ is a story of damaged love played out in a uniquely contemporary manner. Rooted in Catalan folk but plugged in to Reggaeton, Rihanna, and most explicitly modern R&B, ‘El Mal Querer’ is where Flamenco meets Bass culture. It’s an album of twists and turns, sampling revving engines on ‘De Aquí No Sales’, referencing Justin Timberlake’s ‘Cry Me A River’ on ‘Bagdad’ and dropping a cappella on album closer ‘A Ningún Hombre’. Blurring lines between traditional folk and cutting edge Pop is where Rosalía shines. It’s a sound not to be missed.

“Very rarely I find music from Spain that I like or interest me but Rosalia’s El Mal Querer is such a joy to listen to, so powerful! Strong and well-rounded concept/sound that will surely export this new take on Flamenco music far away from Spain and to younger audiences.”

Oscar Arroyo, Playlisting and Operations, @oscaresquimal

Black Eyed Peas — Masters Of The Sun Vol. 1

Breaking from chart-topping Pop with a return to Hip Hop, as laid out in the Soul II Soul sampling opener ‘BACK TO HIP HOP’, this is Black Eyed Peas’ first album without Fergie since 2000’s ‘Bridging the Gap’. Pulling in a class of Hip Hop legends in A Tribe Called Quest’s Ali Shaheed Muhammad and the late Phife Dawg, and De La Soul’s Posdnuos for vocal stints, it’s an album that feels packed even heavier with old school talent thanks to prominent samples of the aforementioned Soul II Soul, Nas, and The Beastie Boys, among others. A treatise on politics, global and personal, and on contemporary culture, it’s a worthy return after a prolonged absence.

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