Can it already be 2015?
I’ve been spotty about posting here for the last year (especially as I got to the graduation finish line with my degree) but here goes. I’m not really as “listy” as I’ve been in the past, though I do call out a number one.
SOUNDS THAT INTERESTED ME:
D’Angelo, Black Messiah
Wow, this came out of nowhere to earn a mention on a lot of year-end lists. It’s great to hear D’Angelo again, and the album sounds fresh and right on time; it’s impossible to miss some of the connections this music has to what’s been happening across the country this summer and fall.
Mary J. Blige, The London Sessions
I’ve always liked Mary, but her last few releases were mostly generic duds cranked out by the small handful of R&B producers who land on the radio these days.
Whoever had the idea to pair her with London musicians is a genius. Even with layers of electronic noise, there’s still a stripped down, chill feel to many of the tunes, and while songs like Whole Damn Year still work the Mary-is-overcoming-her-challenges tip, they sound much fresher and more real doing it.
Azealia Banks, Broke With Expensive Tastes
It’s been three years since the inventive, crazy 212 tore up the dance floors and music blogs (if not the charts). Since then, Banks has become better known for talking a lot of shit to anyone who will listen, and picking epic fights on social media. (The latest is with Iggy Azelea, or as Banks calls her, “Igloo Australia,” I’m on Team Banks for that one.)
This one had a bumpy road to release, and it sounds like you might expect it to sound: a jerky splash of textures and colors, zigging and zagging through themes and genres. It’s not perfect by any means, but it’s never boring. Miss Amor sounds like a big hunk of 90s house melted into an electronica template — with a little Tubular Bells, and Banks’ otherworldly rap, mixed in for flavor.
AT THE TOP:
As mentioned, I have a number one. Two of them, actually. It was impossible to pick between Neneh Cherry’s Blank Project and Me’shell Ndegeocello’s Comet, Come To Me.
I made these comments about Alison Moyet’s The Minutes last year, and they seem perfectly applicable here for both Cherry and Ndegeocello.
This is no rehash or victory lap for a veteran act. [The music is] in this moment and sounds magnificent in contemporary arrangements…[The artist is] comfortable in her musical skin here, and it comes through in every song. This work doesn’t read like the preconceived narrative of some record label, or the faux creation of a mask of celebrity. This is the authentic voice and the story of a confident, talented, mature woman, and it is glorious to hear.
Cherry’s return is especially welcome, and was teased in her excellent 2012 collaboration with jazz group The Thing. Blank Project is amazing partly because of the magnificent songs, and partly because this is so Neneh Cherry. This is the SAME voice we heard years ago, the same voice from the profoundly under-appreciated album Homebrew.
My favorite song (of many gems) is Dossier — telling the story of a mature couple in a way that makes it feel like words dancing in a tangle of phone wires living in Neneh’s head.
As for Ndegeocello, I was blown away by the continued evolution of her work, a conviction made even stronger when I saw her live in September, where she played an absolutely flawless concert from beginning to end. There is nothing Ndegeocello can’t do: a virtuoso guitarist, a sharp delivery of spoken word/rap, and — perhaps her ultimate secret — she’s got an amazing and versatile voice.
This song, Shopping for Jazz, is a bit different than most of the album, which you just need to hear for yourself.
A LITTLE BIT MORE:
- I hadn’t really realized it until I put this list together, but I was definitely drawn to more soul/R&B music this year. Almost all radio-friendly pop music leaves me wanting these days, and a lot of the bands that have emerged with echoes of 80s New Wave just sound watered down to my ears. R&B — at least some corners of it — is still delivering the textures and complexity I crave.
- Music moment of 2014 and most anticipated moment of 2015: Kate Bush’s concerts. I didn’t go (not even a possibility of it happening) and I wish I had. It is only the smallest of exaggerations to say that The Ninth Wave, part of Hounds Of Love, saved my life, and Kate and her musicians played it in its entirety. It appears as though 2015 may bring a DVD of the performance, and I can’t wait to see it.
- HONORABLE MENTION: Chrissie Hynde, Stockholm; Prince, Art Official Age; St. Vincent, St. Vincent; Röyksopp, The Inevitable End; The 2 Bears, The Night Is Young; Ben Watt, Hendra; Caribou, Our Love; Cibo Matto, Hotel Valentine; Future Islands, Singles; Röisin Murphy, Mi Senti (EP); and Lamb, Backspace Unwind.