Tag Archives: Album Review

Throwback Thursday Review: Ceelo Green and His Perfect Imperfections

cee-lo-green-and-his-perfect-imperfections-53ec0f40b0d71
BY EVAN VOGEL

Stepping outside the box in the music industry has always be a risky task. Labels expect their artists to garner mainstream appeal with their records and even fans get weary when they hear about their beloved artist stepping into a new musical lane. So, what better way to overstep these barriers than to form a massive musical collective and develop your own sonic expectations based on what you want to do. That is exactly what Ceelo and his ‘Dungeon Family’ collective of Atlanta-based musicians did. Given complete creative freedom on his solo label debut was the best thing that could have happened to Ceelo.

Ceelo Green and His Perfect Imperfections, left almost no territory untraveled. Everything from blues to rock to hip-hop and gospel has a place on this project. Tried plenty of times before, this formula often ends up sounding like an incohesive mess. Rather than sounding like a confused artist trying to find his place, Ceelo manages to stand out as a man that simply is able to juggle styles with competence and ease.

His voice is his most masterfully wielded tool. Capable of swinging bluesy croons over the working man’s country ballad ‘Country Love’ and modulated, soulful vocal over a funky-guitar riddled track like, ‘El Dorado Sunrise’. His voice, undeniably bluesy and soulful, is the element that allows us to make sense of how this eclectic album works. His rapidly delivered bars and screechy yelps on the intro, ‘Bad Motha’ echo the sounds of funkmaster, James Brown. Not only can the man belt out some incredibly pitched sounds, but damn, the man can rhyme. His adept singing voice make it all the more interesting when you hear him spit some incredibly rhythmic and intellectual bars over the airy instrumental of ‘Big Ol Words’. Incredibly wordy, it comes across sounding like spoken-word poetry at an open mic night was put to music.

The instrumentals were another extension of his weird, expansive style. He essentially handled the entire production of the album himself. It is reminiscent of Timbaland in the way it plays with and combines sounds that very few other people were at the time. There’s really no order to this chaotic album. Its sound will move from funk to heavy rock and back to neo-funk in a matter of minutes, genres be damned. His strengths are illuminated by spotlights and made easily recognizable thanks to his hasty variations in style. It becomes clear that his more mellowed out, soulful tracks are where Ceelo is in top form. It is so apparent that the other tracks begin to feel slightly underwhelming. It’s not that the other songs are bad, they just fail to match the level of beauty that is Ceelo’s voice. Ceelo pulls in so many different directions, even as efficiently as he does it, it still ends up lacking an identity. Even without an identity, the music is competent enough to stand on its own as a collection of well made, genre-blending tracks that more than confirms Ceelo’s status as a future pop-culture mainstay.

8.2

Throwback Thursday Review: Black Star | Mos Def and Talib Kweli

blackstar
BY EVAN VOGEL

Back in the 90’s hip-hop was finally establishing itself as a concrete art form with more than enough substance to justify its existence. Artists were creating the music that they wanted to make and more often than not, poetically depicting the harsh lifestyles of the hood or experimenting with lyricism. All of that is fine and dandy and actually thrust the art into what many will defend as the golden age of hip-hop, but being concerned with progression, few were actually reflecting on its current state. This all changed in 1999 when two MC’s decided to postpone their debut solo projects and create one of the most eye-opening hip-hop albums of all time. Mos Def and Talib Kweli effectively took on the role of street prophets, laying down some of the most critical and lyrically sensical rap of the decade.

They didn’t just make songs about street violence or the value of money, but rather critiqued artistic glorifications and depictions of them, turning hip-hop on its head. From the very first track, save the intro, the duo bonded over the word black being used as a term of endearment rather than a limitation. It contains bass-heavy, funky guitar strings and impeccable flows from both Def and Kweli. Def swings the chorus with subtle back-up vocals from Kweli and it solidifies the equation for the remainder for the remainder of the album.

Then, on ‘Definition’, we get two rappers standing up for the hood as examples of what you can become, rather than simply reflecting on their rough upbringing. “Best alliance in Hip-hop”. Their words, also mine. I have yet to hear a hip-hop duo top the palpable chemistry between these two verbal acrobats. Their analogies bleed the wisdom of two guys who could deliver hip-hop-based sermons, “Me and Kweli close like Bethlehem and Nazareth.”

The boom-bap style reflects that of the classic and lethal combination of KRS-One and DJ Premier. Here though, it is Cincinatti-based producer Hi-Tek that helms a majority of the production. Its combination of rumbling bass guitars, snappy drums and and other low tones, roots the project’s sound in the years preceding it. The simple, organic tones allow the two MC’s to explode with multisyllabic rhyme schemes, occasionally even pushing out grocery lists of rhymable words one after the next like Kweli on ‘Brown Skin Lady’,

“You fruitful, beautiful, smart, lovable, huggable,

doable like art, suitable to be part,

of my life.”

Coming out at the end of a decade that showcased so much diversity in the genre afforded them the opportunity to take a little bit of everything from the musical buffet and put in on the plate that was their album. The colorfully playful, 80’s style that Eric B and Rakim came up on is resurrected on ‘B Boys Will B Boys’. They also allowed visions of the future to infiltrate their sound on the highly electronic synths of ‘Hater Players’. The album’s main exhibit is the lyrical proficiency and consciousness of Kweli and Mos Def. Its poetry that can be picked apart and listened to differently each time you hear it. Even sitting here now, realizing that this came out a ridiculous fifteen years ago, it is made all the more astounding that it is as eye-opening and as sonically pleasing as just about anything I have ever heard. Bar for bar, this is one of the greatest album’s of all-time.

 9.8

Album Review: Cadillactica | Big K.R.I.T.

BY VIKASH DASS 

When it comes to traditional, organic Southern hip-hop, Big K.R.I.T. is definitely the best representative of that sound in this new, internet-generation of rappers. With his latest release, Cadillactica, K.R.I.T. literally creates a polished, wholesome world of his own where he flexes his experimental muscles as much as possible without stepping away from his hearty, Southern roots.

In 2012, K.R.I.T. found himself to be yet another victim of a fairly new dilemma plaguing artists that built a career on giving away free, album-quality music. As soon as these said artists sign a major deal and release a studio album, many factors including label pressure, lack of creative control, single-chasing, and ultimately exerting focus on mainstream appeal allow for a lacking, deteriorated, diluted product. K.R.I.T.’s debut, Live From the Underground, received notable amounts of critical acclaim, but seemed to suffer a similar fate. Although it was far from horrible as a standalone project, it seemed flat compared to K.R.I.T.’s near-perfect discography. Live found Big K.R.I.T. seemingly plucking the thematic highlights and messages of his mixtape and making it repetitive in an effort to be catchy, while beefing every track with scattered, radio-ready production that ended up not striking the hearts of his fans the same way his free projects did. K.R.I.T. himself expressed his own retrospective discontent with Live in regards to the lack of creative-control and production issues. Shoutout to sample clearances.

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Album Review: At Best Cuckold | Avi Buffalo

BY TAYLOR POPE

“What’s in it for someone with nothing to do? What’s in it for me?” In 2010 Avi Zahner-Isenberg, front man of psychedelic indie rock group Avi Buffalo, asked this question with more earnest than his typical slacker self. Returning to true form with At Best Cuckold‘s lead single, he seems to have received an answer to that question. His response? “So What?” Four years after the Long Beach natives’ self titled debut, Avi Buffalo has emerged out of obscurity once again. Avi’s apathetic chant on “So What” seems to indicate that the crass twenty-something guitarist hasn’t grown much since we last saw him, but in fact At Best Cuckold proves to be a coy, vague portrait of a man who cared too much.

Continue reading Album Review: At Best Cuckold | Avi Buffalo