October 21, 2020

Open Mike Eagle - Anime, Trauma and Divorce [2020]


Despite how unrealistic the stories in something like Anime can be, a colorful imagination can help people process their own realities. It can be a method of escapism and even empowerment - just listen to the spirit and positivity of “I’m a Joestar (Black Power Fantasy)”. This can be especially appealing if one happens to be Black in America. To be blunt, cops and other tools of white supremacy would probably be a lot easier to deal with as a Super Saiyan or a Hamon user. According to rapper Open Mike Eagle, this was, more or less, the initial concept behind what would end up being Anime, Trauma and Divorce - before the divorce turned his life upside down. 

September 29, 2020

Cat Toren's Human Kind - Scintillating Beauty [2020]

With a first track as striking as "Radiance In Veils", one immediately gets the sense that Cat Toren's Human Kind's Scintillating Beauty is an album that will live up to its name. The tune is an epic Cat Toren original that moves from serenity to overwhelming force - in one instance in shockingly abrupt fashion. In its calmer moments, Toren's piano is spellbindingly delicate, working particularly well in the company of mesmerizing chimes. Later on, a fiery solo by saxophonist Xavier del Castillo is met well by energetic playing from the rest of the band. The high-quality on display will not surprise anyone who has heard Cat Toren's Human Kind's self-titled debut album, which featured the same band: Cat Toren (piano, compositions) Yoshie Fruchter (oud), Jake Leckie (bass), and Matt Honor (drums). Stephanie Rooker, who plays chimes, tuning forks and singing bowls on "Radiance in Veils", is the only addition.

September 4, 2020

Tyshawn Sorey - Unfiltered [2020]


Multi-instrumentalist and composer Tyshawn Sorey is a master of modern creative music. Unfiltered has Sorey on drums joined by five talented young musicians, Nathan Reising (alto saxophone), Morgan Guerin (tenor saxophone), Lex Korten (piano), Nick Dunston (bass), and Sasha Berliner (vibraphone). Those who have heard Sorey's recent work as a bandleader may be surprised at the relatively grounded nature of this two-hour piece. Unlike past albums such as Verisimilitude or Pillars, Unfiltered is not a release characterized by overtly modern classical or free improvisation elements. However, this has not changed a key aspect of Sorey's work: riveting complexity and extremely high quality. 

September 3, 2020

Protomartyr - Ultimate Success Today [2020]


Ultimate Success Today
 is bleak and eerily prescient. The seemingly optimistic title of Protomartyr's fifth album is in jest, diametrically opposed to its grim content. The album name makes a murmured appearance on opener "Day Without End", a song in which frontman Joe Casey paints a picture of imminent death. Although there is nothing even relatively close to a joyful celebration of success on Ultimate Success Today, that isn't anything the Protomartyr fans would expect, and more importantly, it's an exceptional album.

August 27, 2020

YC the Cynic - GNK [2013]

It's always refreshing to hear a young hip-hop artist debut strongly, and that's exactly what YC the Cynic (now known as Kemba) does on GNK. The Bronx rapper is clearly a student of the classics, as there is a litany of references to artists such as Tupac, A Tribe Called Quest, and Biggie. GNK is not something to put on during a party - the album is mostly dark. YC the Cynic's rapping and producer Frank Dank's beats are both mostly ominous or introspective.