What George Portades is listening to this week…
SWV f/A.X., “Show Off”
It feels so good to see my girls SWV (Taj, Lelee & Coko aka Sisters With Voices if you didn’t remember!) back in the spotlight with some new tour dates and a brand new weTV reality series called “SWV Reunited” that just premiered. While there’s been a resurgence with 90s groups reuniting, I’m glad SWV returned with an excellent (yet largely overlooked) album I Missed Us two years ago. They ended up with a hit Urban AC single (“Co-Sign”) and a follow-up that went unpromoted (“Love Unconditionally”), and while there are a lot of gems on the album (such the title track and their Grammy-nominated cover “If Only You Knew”), “Show Off” is definitely a big standout. It manages to revisit their earlier hits (note the references in A.X.’s featured verse) by incorporating an early 90s R&B feel to a very modern tempo and on-point vocals from the girls. I can’t wait to see them release their next album (come on major labels, pick them up!), and while watching the series, it’s really such a shame that they had a difficult time making their initial return (no major labels wanted to sign them, a lot of popular artists they reached out to wouldn’t work with them). However, it did allow them to release the music they wanted to, in addition to giving upcoming rappers a chance. With that, we got this amazing track and an awesome verse that made me love the song even more.
Tamar Braxton, “All The Way Home”
Last year was an excellent year for Tamar, as she managed to pull off the rare feat of reestablishing her solo career after a 13-year hiatus. Additionally, she had her first child (Logan!), earned three Grammy nominations, did her first tour (with John Legend), have three hit series (“Braxton Family Values” “Tamar and Vince” “The Real”), have a single hit #1 on the iTunes main singles chart (“Love and War”), and lots more. While “The One” was fun follow-up to her lead single, I was initially surprised as “All The Way Home” becoming her third single (what about “Hot Sugar” “Pieces” or even that boisterous “Tip Toe”?). However, with her live performances (be sure to check out that Ellen Show one!) and with time, the song grew immensely on me, and now it’s one of my favorite all-time tracks of hers. I’m glad it’s had a very long and successful run at Urban AC, and while I’d love for Tamar to break into the mainstream realm, I do realize it’s a bit hard when Pop radio is very picky and monotonous. I do hope she still promotes the album a bit more (“Pieces” for the 4th single, or maybe even dance remixes for “Hot Sugar”?), but I’m very excited to see the next phase in her career following this well-deserved breakout moment.
Janet Jackson, “When We Oooo”
I remember when I first saw the single cover for Janet’s “All For You” I was like “Wow, she’s so gorgeous!” That was heightened by the style (red hair, a little S&M, etc) from her previous era (The Velvet Rope), and by the time the All For You album came out, we’d already had two #1 singles (the title track and added soundtrack cut “Doesn’t Really Matter”). Janet’s albums post-“Control” have all been filled with lots of tracks and interludes, and usually there are a few that don’t get released as singles, but are so worthy of being one. “When We Oooo” became one of my favorite songs off the project instantly, mainly because of that unique instrumental, and even the song title itself with the use of all those O’s. Revisiting the album just recently, I’m very happy that the song holds up as still feeling fresh, as does most of the album. I really need to watch her Live in Hawaii concert DVD and see if she ended up performing this track live, because I would love a visual while listening to it instead of the one I picture in my head (her “Every Time” video comes to mind). Janet has truly become an underrated icon, and I really hope she can make an Emancipation of Mimi-esque comeback soon.
What Shahab Yunus is listening to this week…
The Hold Steady, “I Hope This Whole Thing Didn’t Frighten You”
At Sunday night’s Grammy awards, in the ‘Best Rock Song’ category 3 out of 5 nominees were at least 30 year old acts. Now this can be interpreted as a grim reflection of current state of Rock genre in music or Grammy committees shortsightedness. Whatever the case, alt-rock, indie veterans The Hold Steady’s new record seems to be something that would take care of both of these concerns. With this single, “I Hope This Whole Thing Didn’t Frighten You”, released last week from their upcoming album Teeth Dreams (out on 3/25/14), it seems that they are going all-out, heading towards arena-level rock. The song is more polished and produced with spoken-word, energetic and forceful delivery. This seems to be a significant change in terms of Steady’s image, music and sensibilities so far and bound to ruffle some feathers in their core fan-base.
Gina Chavez, Up.Rooted
Austin-based Gina Chavez’s previous album Hanging Spoons was definitely a competent and assured record which clearly showcased her soft but crisp vocals (further affirmed by her live performances) but it had nothing to alleviate it above the regular self-affirmative, female low-key, lo-fi pop stuff (with occasional bright spots of Latin music) which was already being done much better. In her upcoming album Up.Rooted (out on 2/25/14 and streaming on NPR right now) she seems to have decided to take some risks and merging quite a few genres, ideas, eras and instruments. There is R&B and Big Band meeting in “Save Me”, or the more striking of the bunch is the fusion of Middle Eastern flavors mixed with Latin pop in “Like an Animal”. But the heavier dose, thankfully, is of regional Latin rhythms (“Sieta-D”, with some hip-hop thrown in or a respectful, stoic cover of Mercedes Sosa classic, “Todo Cambia”). In fact this inclusive approach represents the overarching theme of the album and Chavez seems to be able to perform with all of them with ease and this time gives us something really unique. The forays into standard pop (“Will You Love”) are some of the duller, cheesier moments.
The Mary Onettes, “Silence is a Gun”
Synth-pop band The Mary Onettes from Sweden just released an album last year and they are reportedly going to produce another one–most probably an EP, nothing is confirmed yet–titled, Portico, some time later this year. A track, “Silence is a Gun”, from that album has arrived as it is from the same mold as their past work (their biggest influence i.e. the 80s is in full form here) but tinged with nostalgia and wistful but dreamily pretty musical variations. Like a more serious and grave Cut Copy or Hot Chip. Something that you would enjoy while out on a fast drive, besides a river, in a cold evening with night lights blurring past your side vision.