As I said in an earlier post, I wanted to avoid the slightly dogmatic nature of “Top 20 albums of 2015”. Maybe it was a childhood of not being picked for sports teams but the arbitrary selection of one piece of music over another doesn’t sit well me, especially when so much of what I enjoy is so varied. I wasn’t picked for sports teams because I was crap so the analogy doesn’t work in any event.
Anyway I seem to have fallen into a habit of posting two similar or (tenuously) linked highlights, so let’s run with that for now.
Next up is a couple of soul selections. A great deal of what I have listened to this year is via the Numero Group label, with their reissues of obscure r’n’b archive material. These two choices are very much of now and sit very well alongside Eska and Son Little and also some of the more successful offerings from Kendrick Lamar and D’Angelo.
The first is “EarthEE” by THEESatisfaction. It is their second album. Both have been on Subpop, which fits in one sense as the band are from Seattle but this is a long way beyond your typical Subpop fair, for those who recall the album as home to Nirvana, Screaming Trees and Mudhoney amongst others.
The band are a duo and the pair met whilst studying at the University Of Washington in 2008. I had picked up their first LP, “awE NaturalE” as a download but indulged myself in the beautiful coloured vinyl for this new release.
What I particularly love about their music is the lack of ego and its directness. When hip artists release one hour plus albums, I tend to flag. THEESatisfaction make records which are short and very sweet. There is lot going on moving from the hip hop and r’n’b base into the kind of astral jazz of Alice Coltrane and the nu-soul of Erykah Badu. It also has a definite African root to it and the kind of school playground chanting beloved of tUnE-yArDs.
The LP is made more accessible again by its refusal to take place in the loudness wars. A couple of really good albums in recent years have been rendered unlistenable for me by the loudness wars. The last two Flying Lotus albums contain incredibly creative music (as does Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp A Butterfly”) but it is marred by the loud volume and lack of range. Maybe it is an age thing but I think a lot of the rhetoric around vinyl being better than MP3’s is actually about the way the music is produced digitally rather than the medium that carries it, be it CD, vinyl or MP3.
Just by way of illustrating this, here’s an image that shows Michael Jackson’s “Black Or White” on various format releases over the years. You can see how the green element is getting larger illustrating how it is getting louder with each generation.
Here’s “Planet For Sale” from EarthEE. The cosmic eco theme is there but it is a lovely haze to it. It is representative of the rest of the LP but it does need repeated listens to hook you.
Which quickly brings us to this year’s most immediate track in the Edwards’ household. If anyone is looking for 2015’s “Happy” then you need to go no further than “That’s Love” by Oddisee. This one got all three of us at first listen, going “what the hell was that” and immediately hitting the replay button.
Oddisee is the name that Amir Mohamed el Khalifa goes by, the son of an African American mother and a Sudanese Father. From Washington He’s been releasing mixtapes and LP’s for ten years but this is the first time that I’ve come across him.
“That’s Love” is the first track on his latest LP, “The Good Fight”. It really is a feel good track. Oddisee describes all the ways that someone has helped him without judgement, followed by the statement of “That’s Love”.
When you let me borrow money that you really didn’t have
Coz you knew that I was worth it (That’s Love)
When you giving me advice that I seldom never took
But your head never shook (That’s Love)
It is a great blast of positivity. There’s a famous clip on Youtube of a girl dancing down the street in Bristol to Pharrell’s “Happy”. I could imagine her doing the same dance to “That’s Love”.
I’ve posted two different versions below.
The first is from Tiny Desk Concerts who are worth seeking out on Youtube if you haven’t already. They have paired down performances from artists behind – a tiny desk. It reminds me of “Jazz Thing” by Gangstarr and Michael Franti of Spearhead and Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy fame. Oddisee is eloquent and articulate with a smooth soul voice as the second track shows.
The second is from a festival in Holland where Oddisee has really got the crowd rocking despite the appalling weather.
Oddisee has a lyrical style. It reminds me of the hip hop I loved back in the day – De La Soul, Eric B and Rakim, A Tribe Called Quest. These came after the first wave of more street based rap – Run DMC, Public Enemy, Grandmaster Flash etc – that got me attuned to the music. His subject matter is socially aware.
He sees himself as an observer and a craftsman. His advice to anyone starting out is:
Don’t fall victim to underdevelopment and overexposure. Stay at home and cultivate your craft. You’ll know when its ready, and the way you know that its ready is the more people that are calling you versus you calling them tell you when your ready.
Wise words indeed.
It’s a record that I can pretty much recommend unreservedly. If you don’t normally go for hip hop, please give it a try. You’ll get something from the LP, I can guarantee.
I’d heard Oddisee and thought thesaurus thing… What the hell was that? Also, in a very good way