Category Archives: Monthly Must

Review: Meshell Ndegeocello: Weather

Meshell Ndegeocello – however she has spelled her name throughout the years – has been one of the most influential bassists and composers of her age – fortunately, our age as well. Music enthusiasts were blown away by her, let it be about her sensitive and sensual singing, her energetic, yet soulful approach towards playing the bass guitar, her feel of funk, jazz, electronica or of how a properly written song should seem and sound like. Everybody raved about her production skills – it’s easy to recall the arrangements of ‘Comfort Woman’ which were cleverly constructed layers supporting her incredible voice – as well as her mind-blowing work on (primarily) the 4-string. (The song ‘If That’s Your Boyfriend [It Wasn’t Last Night]’ being the perfect example.) In 2007 she went even further: she experimented with drum and bass, mixed jazz with really aggressive rock but somehow – by staying on top of her game and presenting fans with another densely, albeit not overly egocentrically or disturbingly produced album, ‘The World Has Made Me The Man Of My Dreams’.

Her 2010 effort ‘Devil’s Halo’ came as a surprise (fans could diplomatically call it “a secret favourite”) with its short running time and on-the-spot songs with minimal space to let off the instrumentals. The setting and the instrumentation were also trending towards intimacy rather than an emotion-fuelled outburst or straightforward declaration of oneself like the 2007 album, or many of the songs from the past.

So when word came that Meshell’s finished work on her new album titled ‘Weather’, and a song (track 8, ‘Dirty World’) was made available for download as a taster, we got the picture of an album equally in the manner and temperament of ‘Devil’s Halo’ and a blast from the past with the emphasized – flawlessly intriguing – bassline and some universal lyrics. Is this picture correct and is the album any good?

Since you probably have seen the Monthly Must header above this (and every) entry, you have guessed that the answer to the second part of the above question is a bit more than positive. Why? Because ‘Weather’ can be seen as a piece of art in multiple styles – and the key is in the title. On one hand, ‘Weather’ resonates well with the genre called quiet storm. Quiet storm is a sort of late-night radio-type of music which has airy compositions in slower tempo, and gains inspiration of jazz, rock, R&B (positively Motown, Stax or Chess, not the Beyoncé-Rihanna axis) or soul music. And we can see that certain songs – which also reach back to the moods of ‘Devil’s Halo’ – really go slow and let Meshell’s voice come in front with minimal piano and guitar accompaniment in most of such songs – such as the rather touching ‘Chelsea Hotel’, ‘Oysters’ or ‘Feeling For The Wall’. Piano parts are lush, yet effective and give a really nice atmosphere to the songs (like a synth texture would), sometimes even strings come to make the song more powerful (most notably in ‘Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear’ but also in one of the album’s high points, ‘Petite Mort’).
But why else could this album be called – in ‘the writer’s’ humble opinion – ‘Weather’. Well, weather can be really unsettled and variable. In keeping with that, on the album there are rather uptempo songs bearing a bit of rock’s harshness and dynamics, such as ‘Chances’ or ‘Dead End’.

Still, how do these diverse and varied settings, scenes and moods come together in a whole? The answer is: through Meshell Ndegeocello herself. Because – when it comes to arrangements and instruments used – her albums can be electronic, hip-hop/soul/r&b oriented or just a guitar-bass-drumset trio, her personality and outstanding musicianship shows. And give way to a truly original, unique and excited world of ideas and emotions.

Thus, ‘Weather’ is November’s Monthly Must.

Review: Coldplay: Mylo Xyloto

Now that I’ve given a ‘couple more’ listens to Coldplay’s song ‘Paradise’ (about which I wrote a just-as-much sentimental and romantic piece over here), all the blinded passion that it caused when heard for the first time (correction: the first fifty times), have not at all gone away. They rather transformed into some general appreciation, and some moderate looking-forward when it came to the subject of this review, the album, ‘Mylo Xyloto’.

I did not even listen to the songs when they were offered for streaming one-by-one, day-to-day before the album’s release on iTunes. On the other hand, pre-ordering was an almost compulsory thing since ‘Paradise’ was not just a well-written and flawlessly produced song, but also a pledge and promise: Coldplay are going to twist on their style and put out an album which redefines them just as much as reaffirms their signature songwriting and instrumentation known, recognized and acclaimed throughout  their career.

In that sense, the album delivers. Without doubt. We get both sides: incredibly crisp and polished, yet creative and uplifting, sometimes almost ethereal production – soundscapes, arrangements, sounds, mixing, the whole package – paired with the oh-so-well-known and oh-so-loved signature instrumental solutions from the band, and the sometimes overly romantic, yet very straightforward and lovable lyrical content Gwyneth Paltrow’s husband and his lot are renowned for.

Take the song ‘Charlie Brown’, for instance. I sincerely think this song is the quintessence of everything Coldplay have ever recorded and published. I could easily enumerate which segment or layer of ‘Charlie Brown’ conjures up which era, album, sound and piece of character of the band (beginning with the 4/4 rush of the drums, the dynamic and dense bass reminiscent of ‘X&Y’, the guitar melodies which could have been left on a hard drive or tape from the sessions of ‘A Rush Of Blood To The Head’) but that would be lengthy and pointless since it would give the general public the biased and untrue notion of ‘Mylo Xyloto’ being a repetitive and dull album and ‘Charlie Brown’ being the only good song on it. Or the only song whatsoever.

But that’s not the case. The album’s second side puts the stakes even higher. Rihanna’s featuring on the song ‘Princess of China’ could be perceived as some sort of a clever marketing decision, instead it becomes the album’s most dangerously experimental song but the most surprising as well: Rihanna’s not here only because of her exotic voice – on the contrary, the Barbadian singstress stays on par with Chris Martin’s lead and steps out alone into the spotlight only in the coda at the end. Then comes ‘Up In Flames’, one of the album’s four ballads with minimalistic – mainly acoustic – instrumentation. Then, after ‘A Hopeful Transmission’ comes the album’s climax ‘Don’t Let It Brake Your Heart’ after which we go ‘Up With The Birds’, an uplifting epilogue to the story of two lovers, Mylo and Xyloto.

‘Mylo Xyloto’ is an elegant, yet daring concept album with slow ballads, driving bursts of emotion, mixing rocking guitars and bass with drums in many places inspired by hip-hop, and much, much electronica put in place with extreme sense of proportionality, care and artistic bravery.
Besides that, it’s an emotional story, lovely and vivid story which gets you out of the war-torn (war porn-torn), alienated, overly digital and mechanic, everyday life.

And it’s also the first MONTHLY MUST.