Friday, 12 April 2019

Anderson .Paak ‎– Ventura (2019)

Genre: Hip Hop
Format: CD
Label:  Aftermath Entertainment

Tracklist :
01.   Come Home
02.   Make It Better
03.   Reachin’ 2 Much
04.   Winner's Circle
05.   Good Heels
06.   Yada Yada
07.   King James
08.   Chosen One
09.   Jet Black
10.   Twilight
11.   What Can We Do?

It’s not often that an artist’s mum feels prompted to respond to criticism of their work, but that is precisely what happened in the wake of Anderson .Paak’s last album. Intended as a star-studded, big-budget epic to mark his move from indie labels to Dr Dre’s behemoth Aftermath Entertainment, Oxnard turned out to be a Grammy-winning commercial success despite mixed reviews, the most common criticism being that some of his previous work’s appeal had been forgotten amid the production gloss and the big-name guest appearances. Perhaps understandably, this interpretation held little sway with the singer/rapper’s mum. “To all the haters that said Anderson .Paak ‘lost his identity in the Oxnard album’, this Is what I have to say about it,” she offered, in a message shared on social media. “I don’t agree … on the contrary, Paak didn’t lose his identity, he presented his great diversity. And all the haters can take that to the bank!”

Ma Paak sounds like a woman not to be messed with, but something about what the people she styled as “haters” had said hit home with the artist. Ventura sounds like the work of someone intent on fixing the flaws in its predecessor. Paak’s tendency to supercharge the production for commercial appeal has been reined in. The sound centres around an appealingly stripped-down take on mid-70s Philly soul. The string arrangements are a little less plush and satiny, the rhythm tracks toughened up, but there’s plenty of pillowy electric piano, wah-pedal guitar, softly cooed backing vocals and – a dead giveaway to its inspiration – appearances from the sitar-like guitar sound that decorates the Delphonics’ Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time) and the hits of the Stylistics. 
There are famous cameo appearances, among them Outkast’s André 3000, who contributes a verse to opener Come Home, parodying romcom-style wooing attempts: “I’ll show up on a little moped, with a little puppy – it’ll be fluffy.” But their contributions feel far less intrusive than on Oxnard, where they carried a hint of the sitcom special guest star walking through the door to a gale of applause. Even a figure such as Smokey Robinson is relegated to backing vocals, although his best attempts to blend into the scenery on Make It Better are slightly undone by what you might call the Mick-Jagger-on-You’re-So-Vain effect – once you notice his distinctive voice in the distance, it’s hard to focus on anything else. Best of all, Paak seems to have dialled down his penchant for clumsy, sexually charged lyrics. His horndog persona makes a mercifully brief appearance on Winner’s Circle and Chosen One, the latter a vaguely Prince-ish cocktail of slap bass and electronically treated vocals, but there’s nothing as excruciating as Oxnard’s fantasies about crashing a car while being fellated or the lesbian romps of a fictionalised Donald Trump lovechild. 
Instead, there are tightly written love songs and the occasional dab of social commentary. On Yada Yada, persons unknown are wittily admonished for “casually talking that global warmth as if the temperature didn’t blow out your perm”. Condemned by some critics as a nebulous, platitudinous form of protest, single King James seems to be an attempt to respond to black America’s continuing trauma with the kind of graceful reason and sense of hope that was the late Curtis Mayfield’s trademark: “We’ve been through it all, though it could be worse … there’s nothing new or sharp about the cutting edge.” Anger bubbles just below the surface – “when I finally took a knee, them crackers took me out the league” – but there’s a distinct hint of People Get Ready about its promise that current events are a stage on a journey to a better future: “What about the love? Coming with me / What about the labour? Coming with me.” 
Meanwhile, the episodic Reachin’ 2 Much lives up to its title by meandering on for six minutes and breaking out the scat vocals, but elsewhere Ventura is scrupulously trimmed of fat. There’s enough experimentation to make the album not seem like a mere pastiche of the past – Twilight offers a fantastic melding of pounding house beats, aged horn samples and lush harmonies. But the striking thing about the disc is something more prosaic. From Make It Better’s homage to Al Green to the closing What Can We Do?, a duet with the late Nate Dogg so sparkling it seems incredible that Paak is singing along with a recording of man who died eight years ago, the songs are great. The latter track ends not with a show-stopping finale, but on a shambolic, low-key note, Nate Dogg abandoning his vocal and suggesting the tape be erased. It feels like evidence that Ventura is a less ambitious and grandiose project than its predecessor. But it’s also a better and more satisfying album that plays to its author’s considerable strengths and skirts around his weaknesses. No need for mum to put her dukes up in defence this time around. 
Alexis Petridis / The Guardian

Urban Verbs ‎‎– Urban Verbs (1980)

Style: New Wave
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Warner Bros. Records, WEA

Tracklist:
1.   Subways
2.  The Angry Young Men
3.   Next Question
4.   Frenzy
5.   Ring-Ring (My Telephone's Talking)
6.   The Only One Of You
7.   Luca Brasi
8.   Tina Grey
9.  The Good Life

Credits:
Backing Vocals – Adverbs
Bass, Piano – Linda France
Drums, Percussion – Danny Frankel
Guitars, Written-By – Robert Goldstein
Producer – Mike Thorne
Synthesizers – Robin Rose
Vocals, Written-By – Roddy Frantz

Depeche Mode ‎– Construction Time Again (1983)

Style: Synth-pop
Format: CD, Vinyl, Cass.
Label: Sire, Mute, Orion

Tracklist:
01.   Love, In Itself
02.   More Than A Party
03.   Pipeline
04.   Everything Counts
05.   Two Minute Warning
06.   Shame
07.   The Landscape Is Changing
08.   Told You So
09.   And Then...
10.   Everything Counts (Reprise)

Credits:
Producer – Daniel Miller, Depeche Mode
Written-By – Alan Wilder, Martin Gore

When Depeche Mode released their 3rd album (Construction Time Again, 1983) it proved to be a crucial point in the bands history. Right from the first track, 'Love, In Itself' the groups sound is immediately more dense with countless bleeping sound effects and samples exploding away in the background, accompanied by the richest, catchiest synth the boys had yet deployed (as opposed to the melancholic, almost minimalist tunes found on 'A Broken Frame').  
Also, Alan Wilder became a full-time member of the band (previously he had only joined them on their 1982 tours), which seemed to propel Depeche's creativity far beyond anything they had done so far as a trio (after Vince Clark left in 1981). Being the only trained musician in the band, his skill can be heard everywhere on the album - his sharp arrangement skills and heavy use of samples enabled the band to create a rich, thick synthetic sound that they would later develop into their trademark dark boom, in just a couple of albums time. 
The aforementioned 'Love, In Itself' is a genuinely good synth-pop tune, with a straight-up catchy main riff and lots of nice touches, such as the change from synth to piano for a brief moment at the tail end of the song, and the subtle twinkling to be heard behind Dave's much improved vocals. The improvement in vocals is carried across to 'More Than A Party' - probably the first time we hear Dave's voice in all its familiar baritonal, echoed glory, even if he is singing pointless lyrics like "Keep telling us we're here to have fun - then take all the ice cream so we've got none".  
'More Than A Party' aside, Martin's song writing has improved a great deal. The cynical lyrics found in 'Everything Counts' and 'Told You So' are a clear hint of the dark, personal songs Gore would later write, although you wont hear any darkness in these two tunes (which surprisingly turns out to be their biggest strength). 'Told You So' is a cynical look at religion with Dave's fierce roaring of "Everybody’s waiting for judgement day - so they can go I told you so", oddly running over the top of the most danceable beat on the album. The wierd mix of dark lyrics and upbeat synth ends up being one of the highlights of 'Construction Time Again'. 
'Everything Counts' takes a paranoid view of the music business or capitalism in general, with lines like "the graph on the wall, tells the story, of it all". It becomes ironic when matched with, perhaps the most upbeat, jolly tune Depeche have ever made, with metallic scrapings, countless miniscule synth bleeps and buzzes and a trumpet wailing in the background (or at least a synthesised version of the instrument), all melding into one.  
The metallic noises found on tracks like 'Everything Counts' (but found throughout CTA, floating in the background of most tracks) are more fully explored in the experimental 'Pipeline'. This is pure industrial noise with hammers banging, metal clattering and other manufactured noises flickering in and out of rhythm in the background, married to chain-gang like vocals from the band. It stands as an all important sign that Depeche weren’t afraid to experiment with their sound, and also an indication of what they would do next. 
There are a couple of dark tracks to be found in 'Shame' and 'Two Minute Warning', with the former featuring a muddy sounding melody that moves at snail-pace and desperate lyrical shouts of "it all seems so stupid - it makes me want to give up". 'The Landscape Is Changing' is one of the more pretentious moments on 'Construction Time Again' with its eco-warrior lyrics. Its one of only two lyrics written by Wilder on this record - the other being 'Two Minute Warning', a gloomy look at the possibility of nuclear apocalypse (almost inevitable for any early 80’s band) with a funky beat and aggressive vocals from Gahan. 
Things started coming together for Depeche Mode on this album - the mould hadn't fully set yet, but the blueprint for brilliance had - a blueprint that contained Dave's improving vocals and live star power, Martin's first steps into writing meaningful lyrics, and Wilder's technical capability.  
Their sound would come to full fruition on their next album, 'Some Great Reward', but what we have here are a set of rich synth tunes full of overlapping samples and sound effects, an essential DM track in 'Everything Counts', and a few other worthy contenders - 'Told You So', 'Love, In Itself' and the interesting, industrial experiment 'Pipeline'. Overall, its a fairly consistent effort with enough worthwhile moments to warrant a listen and makes for an optimistic expirence for fans, as Depeche take a decent-sized step in the right direction. 
Tom93M / sputnik music