Ludacris - Theater of the Mind

Ludacris - Theater of the Mind
Okay, as pretentious as Theater of the Mind may sound, don't judge a book, well, album by its cover. One of the South's favourite sons, Ludacris is back on it and has managed to mash up the elements of his older works with a good dose of the intelligence and wit found on Release Therapy.

Being a theater concept album, plenty of non-music celebs make cameos on these tracks. It doesn't harm the album because they seriously do not try to rap! Left to Luda, you can see the advantages on cuts like Undisputed, which "co-stars" former boxing champ Floyd Mayweather in a cut drowned (but far from dead) with similes and punchlines.

Some would be looking at Wish You Would, the collaboration with former rival T.I. and creaming in their pants, but though they deliver mediocre at worst lyrically, the beat supplied by Toomp and 8TRIX is a headache. Even trashier is the Chris Brown and Sean Garrett collab What Them Girls Like - yes it is obviously a club/radio song so you can bounce to it, but don't jump into it seeking quality, though Ludacris does drop some decent lines, except "I love women so much I am one!"...umm...moving on...

Despite them, there is so much to say about the three final tracks of the album so I'll spare you that and tell you this - MVP ('scored' by DJ Premier; yeah who thought it wouldn't happen, but it did), I Do It For Hip Hop ('co-starring' Nas & Jay-Z), and Do The Right Thang ('co-starring' Common and, how proper, Spike Lee and 'scored' by 9th Wonder) - yes, the quality of the tracks matches the names involved in this triple threat...I mean treat. Believe that.

You gotta love concept albums, as long as they're pulled off well enough. Aside from the actor cameos (also from Chris Rock and Ving Rhames) and the 'co-starring' and 'scored by' credits, Ludacris' Theater of the Mind is not one which really stays on point as far as being a concept album, but regardless it still packs a lot of punch and you'll get quite a few kicks out of it too. Definitely a must-hear.

Available through DTP/Def Jam Records

J. Cole - Born Sinner

J. Cole - Born Sinner
The youthful tour-de-force that is J. Cole made a bold move when announcing that he would be releasing his sophomore album Born Sinner on the same day as seasoned heavyweight Kanye West with Yeezus. Well that day is upon us, and it is a day which has made me wonder yet again if the whole "darker = better" aesthetic is merely becoming the hegemonic formula for the arts, as it's been working similar wonders for Hip Hop as it did for Christopher Nolan's 'Batman' reboot. Born Sinner is no exception.

The first thing to note is that unlike his 2011 debut Cole World, Born Sinner is almost exclusively J. Cole. Any guests (such as Kendrick Lamar and Miguel) are restricted to choruses, leaving Cole alone with his verses, of which almost none are left void of worthy lyricism laced together with a refurbished, fine-tuned flow maintaining the same visceral hunger of Cole's debut. That's not to say the listener is not treated to a more relaxed flow every now and then from the rapper (as he strikes a perfect balance between these tones on joints like Power Trip), but the hunger complements the darker direction taken this time around, facilitating his matured sentimentality rather than merely exhibiting his musical seriousness from Cole World.

Once again, Cole is also almost solely responsible for the album's production, with only Elite co-producing the TLC-collaboration Crooked Smile, and No I.D. co-producing the jazz-tinged Let Nas Down. Cole's musicianship is fixated on the album's darkness, complete with pounding drums, synthesizers, organs, strings and jazzy brass coming together to grant the album a sonic diversity, from thumping double bass groove of Forbidden Fruit (pronounced further by the soft clicks, toned-down drums and the very familiar sample of Ronnie Foster's Mystic Brew) to the soulful chiming of Chaining Day to the Zen-garden-like atmosphere of Rich Niggaz.

Cole flexes his versatility even further by branching out into different styles of Hip Hop beats, so while at one point you will have the (sadly underwhelming) upbeat rhythm of She Knows, at another you will be delightfully dragged through the proverbial mud with the heave of Power Trip (thanks in major part to its buzzing bass synths and the heavily slowed sample of Hubert Laws' No More).

The synths on Runaway in particular are juxtaposed by the drums in such a way that how you receive the track is based on your outlook at the time of listening to it - if you imagine a warm and sunny day, it will oblige that image, whereas if you envision something darker, that's exactly what you'll be treated to; the latter is arguably the easier one to side with, given the lyrics and the overall darkness of the album, but I implore you to try this exercise out regardless simply to enrich your experience. The bittersweet content is hardly a stranger in more emotional Hip Hop, but rarely do you experience something like this.

Contrary to what the title would imply, Born Sinner is not drowned in Christian overtones. Of course, in the process it does deal with your textbook human issues that are explored in emotionally-driven Hip Hop (save for the ego-stroking intro Villuminati), such as lovesickness (Power Trip) and gold diggers (Trouble). Others take on multiple issues simultaneously, such as idolatry and the need for validation (Let Nas Down), or for seemingly myriad matters on Runaway: masculinity and infidelity vs. femininity and the love of a good woman ("When you're no longer Superman, at least you know you got your Lois Lane"), self-esteem, paedophilia, aging, and racism. Yet in the midst of all the subject matter, Cole stays dark but not necessarily depressing, almost always entertaining and engaging.

While it does feel like a waste to merely have the talents of Kendrick Lamar almost squandered and restricted to repetition on the hook of Forbidden Fruit, it's understandable when you consider that the result of J. Cole helming his own album in all aspects is a heavily intimate experience with him as a person. Despite the few occasions of alienation when braggadocio rears its ugly head, the connection that is built is one that stays with you for the hour's duration of the album.

Arguably the most prominent and important quality that J. Cole is exhibiting on Born Sinner is growth - growth as an artist, a musician, a poet, and a human being. He has carved out a new cradle of self-comfort, and that very comfort adds to how personal this album feels to himself as the creator, and to you as the listener; hearing him in a finely balanced position where he is so passionate yet surprisingly unperturbed is what makes Born Sinner not just a significant improvement on Cole World in every way possible but a new foundation for even more improvement. The fact that it gets better with each listen effortlessly makes it one of the best Hip Hop records of 2013.


Beastie Boys - Hot Sauce Committee Part Two

Beastie Boys - Hot Sauce Committee Part Two
New York City. 1986. Three Jewish boys make their switch from punk rock to Hip Hop official, their illing licences granted to them. Was it a total shift in styles? No, it was more like a merger of the two, leaning more towards Hip Hop. Did they prove that the same do-it-yourself aesthetic transpired between the genres? Yes. Is it scary how successful they have been across more than just rock and Hip Hop? Oh yes. Did they even change their names? No. And God help you if you ask who these fellas are, your face shall substitute for a kick drum.

Consistency, consistency, consistency...Beastie Boys have CONSISTENTLY put out quality music. Once upon a time Hip Hop was about having fun, and then they came along and made it about getting damn crazy. Yezzir, these boys are the true originators of crunk without having to resort to it. They may not release music annually, but damn if they don't blast your ear drums every time they do. And that still applies for Hot Sauce Committee Part Two.

In no way has time and age slowed down Mike D, MCA and Ad-Rock. They still sound as youthful and energetic as they did when they first earthquaked the scene; though you will notice that due to MCA's recent health complications, his voice is much rougher...but dammit does it work well. Each of their flows remain precise and employing their trademark - though in ways dated - lyrical silliness to accompany the beats. Ah, the beats. Those gargantuan beats.

Entirely produced by the Beastie Boys themselves, the album is a great mixture of live drumming, heavily distorted guitar riffs, heavily distorted bass, and heavily distorted, warped and/or buzzing synthesizers. And of course Mix Master Mike has been brought back working his usual magic on the turntables.

Though the instruments don't vary greatly, the utilization of them keeps the album sounding fresh almost completely from start to finish. This is owed to venturing outside of its otherwise dominating boom-bap territory and into, say, reggae for the Santigold collab Don't Play No Game That I Can't Win, or back to the Beastie's punk roots on Lee Majors Come Again. Overall, the sounds are not a huge departure from what they were a decade ago, but the quality of it has been maintained so that each track still gives you the urge to Hulk your way through a brick wall [Make Some Noise], get all up in mofo's face [Here's A Little Something For Ya], or simply just set fire to, then break some shit [Too Many Rappers featuring Nas].

If you don't end up with flames emanating from your sound system by the end of Hot Sauce Committee Part Two, don't blame the Beastie Boys - only blame yourself, for you were not listening to it loud enough, you wuss. But if it made you go ahead and do some crazy shit like in their star-studded short film Fight For Your Right (Revisited) featuring Seth Rogen, Danny McBride and Elijah Wood as the Beastie Boys themselves, well then that there really is the point of great music. So how do you respond and react to the works of these pioneers? Does it make you want to chew through concrete? Smother your boss with a block of cheese? Headbutt a senator? Let us know, and have a grand time listening to Hot Sauce Committee Part Two as you do so.

Adele - 21

Adele has an incredible voice for TODAY's mainstream music. She sings passionately, and you can tell she speaks from personal experience. And in today's impersonal, chant-driven, melody lacking, beat obsessed top forty play list, she is a nice break. But she's not a god. she's not the next Aretha Franklin. She doesn't do anything new, she takes us back in time and does an old trick, pretty well. I have to say that sometimes, the way she phrases words makes me cringe because it sounds so affected. There are my criticisms about her.

Adele - 21
Now, this album. It is an improvement from the first one in the sense that there are several OUTSTANDING songs. 19 just had a nice overall feel to it. However, this album has several really incredible songs and the rest, while nice, are not really that great. in fact i dont even listen to most of this album. i do however love: Rolling in the deep, Rumour Has it, Turning Tables, Someone Like you and her cover of lovesong which is really pretty/dreamlike and not "unnecessary" as i recall the rollingstone review labeling it. And set fire to the rain is a runner up, for the "tracks i listen to off this album occasionally" category. But really that's all i took away from this album. She's lacking as a truly skillful songwriter and could stand to improve. She's a talent that needs better material. But yes, there are several instant classics here, its just not a classic overall.

I know you're going to hate on me and tell me i dont understand blah blah blah. Zip your lip like a pad lock, i dont care. Adele has great potential , but i'll wager that unless someone breaks her heart even more, she won't have any new tricks on a third go around, if she ever gets around to it.

  • Rolling in the Deep
  • Rumour Has It
  • Turning Tables
  • Don't You Remember
  • Set Fire to the Rain
  • He Won't Go
  • Take It All
  • I'll Be Waiting
  • One And Only
  • Lovesong
  • Someone Like You
by Kayuga

Lemuria - Pebble

Lemuria - PebbleThe cover of this album is a simple black & white photo of the two main members of Lemuria who have withstood the many comings and goings of their bass players. Who will be the next third member of the group, and will they have staying power? The simplicity of the cover reflects who they are as a group, but does not begin to touch on who they are when performing live.

This was a much anticipated release for me personally after I listened to "Get Better " from one of our local libraries and just couldn't wait to get it rolling out my speakers. As the track "Gravity" began, there were moments of disappointment while waiting for the kick where this band would take their music to the next level and it happened 2:32 seconds later, when "Wise People" came on and made me a believer.

Bridge 9 Records seems to have been a good fit for Lemuria after all. They have allowed the band to continue with the style that they have built without pushing them to combine into a more dramatic, hard-edge style. This is exactly what Lemuria needed in order to advance their career and get their message out. "Ribcage" relies on the bass line to drive the song while the guitar gives off a swirling and spinning feeling.
"Ribcage" should have been the opening track because it is definitely a great continuation from "Get Better ." "Different Girls" is lyrically another writer contemplation, which is what makes Lemuria work. Internal investigation into the word play has always allowed the listeners to enter into a song, allowing it to become part of their own lives. Lemuria does this better than most bands coming out of Buffalo these days. Each song after "Ribcage" should have appeared in this order, but earlier on the album.

Musically, they have stayed within the realms of what has worked for them so far. There are moments that the listener would really enjoy if they just broke out a bit and assimilated something new. They stayed just a little too safe in this sense and did not attempt to show the listener that they had more to present. I have always been on the encouraging side toward giving the listener a bit more than what they bargained for when they purchase a new CD.

When their songs play within the rotation of my music player, they are uniquely distinctive and the production is that of which only what Lemuria and Doug White could produce. The sound is solid, but we can only hope that if they come out with a third disc, they will take a bit of a chance on expanding.

Susan Boyle - Someone To Watch Over Me

Susan Boyle - Someone To Watch Over Me
I must admit, Susan Boyle is indeed a sensation of our times. When she burst into the scene with her exceptional performance of "I Dreamed a Dream" by Les Misérables on Britain's Got Talent in 2009 I must say I was blown away. Her powerful voice was disarming to say the least. It drowned her plain ordinary look and turned her into an overnight superstar.

Though I enjoyed her first two albums; "I Dreamed a Dream" and "The Gift", her latest album "Someone to Watch Over Me" is the best of them all. The album is simply a class act. It is one of the few albums that I can just sit back and listen to without skipping a single song. The producer, Steve Mac managed to bring out the power of Boyle's voice without being drowned by accompaniments as in the previous albums. The youthful timbre of her voice is impressive.

The album is has ten wonderful tracks which include classics such as "You have to be there" by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, "Unchained Melody" by Hy Zaret and Alex North, "Enjoy the silence" by Martin Gore and several others. The rendition of "You have to be there" brings a bit of bombast to the album and I really enjoy the track.

In the album Boyle's voice goes from soft to a soaring high in the same breath. She brings out a fresh interpretation to the songs that are indeed breath taking. The songs transcend age and can be enjoyed by almost anyone. She describes situations in her own life in some of the songs to which each one of us can relate to.

The album is generally about life, love and prevailing over obstacles. The loved the song, "Autumn Leaves". It brings out the sadness one experiences when they lose a loved one and gives the reassurance that they those that you love never really leave you.

Boyle's versatility and musical prowess is evident on every song in the album. She has succeeded engaging her audience emotionally in every song. This powerful connection will enable each and every one to find a little bit of themselves in her songs.

The album is one of those you listen to when you want to relax and reflect on life. It is indeed a must have for those who enjoy bluesy, soft music backed by powerful vocals. The song "This Will be the Year", clearly captures the life story of Susan as she proclaims that she is a woman who will always prevail over adversity as she did on that fine night on Britain's Got talent.

I would be the first to admit that "Someone To Watch Over Me" should have been a bit longer. It actually left me yearning for more though I was a bit skeptical about it at first. Boyle has grown in leaps and bounds since 2009 and is surely going places. She has definitely come of age in the industry. "Someone To Watch Over Me" has set her up for further success and I surely hope that we get to see more of her in the coming years.

Aaron Lewis - Town Line

Aaron Lewis - Town Line
The feel of this solo release by the lead singer of STAIND, Aaron Lewis, is something that has been swirling internally and needed an avenue for escape. The lyrics are personal and introspective of his life at home and on the road. The place he lives and the places he needs to go support where he needs to be. It is the circle of life for musicians who need to spread the word of latest releases and the bug that once on the road takes hold pushing them from town to town.

The line "If I Could Paint a Picture" found within track 2 is exactly what Lewis does throughout this release. "Vicious Circles" holds the line but the picture is drawn on each track giving the release its foundation. This allowed Lewis to bleed his personal thoughts onto paper while the pages become red the weight of having to leave his family for his love of performing fills the music.

"Country Boy" is Aaron's story of what happens to bands when they get to L.A. and find that the suits want to change what artists have built, starting with how you look and talk as well as your physicality. This track features GEORGE JONES, CHARLIE DANIELS and CHRIS YOUNG, where the first two have been around the block with the record companies for so many years and stayed true to who they are while Chris Young has been in the spotlight only 5 years which has been long enough to see what the spotlight can ask of an artist.

Alexa Carter brings hauntingly extraordinary vocals to the background of "Tangled Up in You", a song that is Lewis speaking directly to his wife. The beauty of the song is the simplicity of the music, allowing the lyrics to bring the message. LEON RUSSELL's syntax can be heard as each line begins and occasionally at the end. My only question is can this song also be the handcuffs the music has on drawing him from the love of his life and his children. He seems to be singing as much to his wife as to the music he writes and the road that draws him out to perform them.

"Massachusetts" is clearly the home he treasures where his family and friends greet him not as the famous artist but the guy they have known since his early years. The screaming fans have little place in his life here, the focus is his children as they grow and change during his leave on tour.

Lewis did what few artists in a band can do on a solo record. He stayed true to one sound, giving the recording a complete feel. Letting the lyrics come from a more personal place makes the listener wish he could have delivered more than the 5 tracks. It is clear after finishing the CD that he is the driver behind STAIND. This is in no way negating the band as a whole, just stating who puts the pedal to the metal.

Andrew Bird - Break It Yourself

Chicago native Andrew Bird's latest offering "Break it Yourself" stays true to the clever wit and one-of-a-kind whimsy that fans have come to expect from his music.

Andrew Bird - Break It Yourself
As a master of blending virtuoso violin playing and a signature whistling style that's seemless in its own right (among other delightful flourishes), Bird manages to always effortlessly maintain a pop sensibility that warrants repeat playing without becoming too dull. It's no different this time around.

On "Desperation Breeds", the album's opener, Bird delicately ruminates on the world's bee shortage before slowly breaking into a high pitched violin squeal that dips into a mad frenzy of his trademark fingering skills. It almost literally seems to channel the frustration and confusion of the bees themselves.

"Eyeoneye", a track that manages to correlate heartbreak and the complications of a tumor called a teratoma is as catchy as anything he's done in the past, if not more so. The driving force of the melody makes vulnerability seem like a fun experience that no one should miss out on. This is especially clear towards the end when he sings/chants "Go ahead and defibrillate yourself" before the pounding drums build to a crescendo... and then fizzle with, of course, a light whistle; as if we just ran a hardcore marathon like it was nothing. Exhaustion doesn't exist here, but exultation.

The hearbreak theme continues in "Near Death Experience Experience", where the happiness of surviving a plane crash is dancing "... like cancer survivors... grateful simply to be alive". But don't let the dark subject matter fool you. The carefree mood of the song is so happy it's like skipping down a sidewalk under a row of apple trees. Only when the apples hit your head do you realize the power conveyed in the lyrics of triumph over pain.

Who knew the subject of conquering fear and doubt could be so purely gorgeous? Take "Fatal Shore", where a mellow Mr. Bird meditates on the subject as quietly subdued as ever, but no less emotionally powerful as some of his best tracks. The drums gently tap along with the guitar and bass like a gentle stroke on an aching back as Bird and vocalist Nora O'Connor harmonize beautifully while repeating such lyrics as "You never know any doubt like we who breathe in and out".

A welcome comeback since 2009's "Noble Beast", we get a record not quite as immediately accessible or endlessly playful, but one that still stands as strong as most of his best work does. The details become more apparent with each listen, and that's when the realization sets in: "Break it Yourself" isn't just an album about a break-up. It's actually a complete, beating entity, not too unlike a heart with its own love to give.

I personally wouldn't want to break this kind of heart by myself. That's where you, the listener, comes in... to feel the joy of heartbreak. An oxymoron that only makes sense in Andrew Bird's world.

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