Listen Up! May New Music

Collage of album covers with "listen up" written over them

Spring is flying by, and it appears that May is giving us a sneak preview of summer as a makeup gift for all the rain we had over the last few months. The timing is just right, because we just received a batch of new releases that would make a great soundtrack for a night of grilling, hanging out on the deck, or taking a walk around the neighborhood. Place your holds now, and check out the latest at the EPL:

Les Amazones d’Afrique – Republique Amazone (Real World Records, 2017) – Les Amazones are an all-star collective of West African songstresses who have united to create music about feminism and gender equality. Each vocalist brings her own unique style to the table, creating a very satisfying mix of rock, trip-hop, dub, blues, electronic, jazz, West African pop, and traditional music. The overall effect is a very dance-floor-friendly approach to protest music.

Feist – Pleasure (Interscope Records, 2017) – This is an album that covers a lot of ground with ease: at times blues rock with very subtle country undertones and others grinding and almost punk. The pace of the album seems very laid back but deliberate; each track follows its own timeline, building to just the right level of complexity to perfectly complement the vocals. I appreciate the contradictions: gritty and lovely – soft vocals and loud riffs. There’s something about the production, imperfect with the pop and hiss of an old mix tape, that makes it feel very intimate.

Mary J. Blige – Strength of a Woman (Capitol Records, 2017) –  Mary J. Blige brings us a classic breakup album with all the anger, pain, strength, and redemption that you’d expect from such a legendary artist going through some pretty intense pain. Cameos by Kanye West, DJ Khaled, Missy Elliott, and Kaytranada only enrich an already strong offering. As in all her music, Blige shares her struggles through her art and uses the medium to pull herself through life’s trials – in Strength it appears she is, once again, emerging from the test on top.

Wale – Shine (Atlantic Urban, 2017) – a deceptively upbeat release with a summer feel, but behind each track lies a little bit of darkness. Wale seems to be emerging from a period of struggle both with other artists and with himself. The arrival of his newborn daughter seems to be a strong driving force for this change and also a reoccurring theme in his music.

Perfume Genius –No Shape (Matador, 2017) – Mike Hadreas’s latest release is an ecstatic celebration of love. Following similar LGBTQ themes from his previous albums, he delves into the facets of his relationship with musical collaborator and long-time partner, Alan Wyffels. No Shape is a collection of dreamy, dramatic recordings, full of bright highs and turbulent lows that explode with layer upon layer of sound.

Brother Ali – All the Beauty in This Whole Life (Rhymesayers Entertainment, 2017) – Veteran Minneapolis MC Brother Ali revisits an old collaborator, Atmosphere producer Ant, for an expansive new collection of beats and rhymes. All the Beauty in This Whole Life touches on familiar themes for Ali, mixing politics, religion, family, race relations, and the artist’s experiences exploring the world all backed by relatively sparse but soulful production.

Jay Som – Everybody Works (Polyvinyl Record Co., 2017) – I have to admit that Jay Som was a bit of an unknown to me. I’d purchased her unofficial debut, Turn Into, last year when her Bandcamp upload of assorted tracks was re-released by Polyvinyl, but it didn’t really register with me. When I first previewed Everybody Works I needed to do a little more research, because I felt like I’d just run into someone I should know – the album had a polished feel of a veteran rocker, full of confidence and sophistication. To my delight, I learned that this was the first ‘official’ release of 22-year-old Melina Duterte – recorded in her bedroom studio and full of the promise of lovely music yet to come. Everybody Works has kind of a soft, sleepy vibe, occasionally amplified by interludes that feel a little bit like 90s alt rock. There’s a lot of depth and variety to Jay Som’s sound, offering a little something for everyone. I’m looking forward to hearing more.

Juanes – Mis Planes Son Amarte (Universal Music Latino, 2017) – Readers of this blog may have noticed that I have a soft spot for albums that tell a story – Mis Planes is no exception. In his latest release, Juanes embarks on an audiovisual saga of love and outer space. Follow along as a Colombian astronaut searches for true love; you have the option of just listening to the CD or popping in the bonus disc to enjoy the videos that go with each track. Juanes’s sound is heavily influenced by the traditional music of his native Guasca region of Colombia but it also features layers of different sounds: a little surf rock, a little electronic music, crooner vocals to pull on your heartstrings, and even a little reggae and reggaeton. Pop this in if you’re looking for something with a very tropical, romantic feel to it.

Happy listening, and enjoy the sunshine!

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