Platinum Blog #16: Leon Bridges

Album Review: Leon Bridges | Coming Home

The rhythm-and-blues soul of the 50s and 60s is one of the most widely respected and adored realms of popular music. The artists associated with the era, most notably Sam Cooke and Otis Redding, gained nationwide fame as some of the earliest black American mainstream musicians. The sound of the era is characterized by its specific brand live instrumentation; saxophone bursts layered over smooth bass, downtempo electric guitar, and gospel-style vocals. Many of the artists of the time are seen as figures of mystery, Cooke, Redding, and Marvin Gaye all died unnaturally. Because of this reverence, there has been some tentativeness approaching the genre in modern times. However, Austin, TX based singer-songwriter Leon Bridges‘s debut full-length album Coming Home tastefully and appropriately pays homage to the sounds of early soul music.

Within the first few moments of the record, the soothing title track “Coming Home” recalls early Gaye with its 6/8 tempo, light snare snaps, and backing “oohs”. The groove coming from the bass is really what makes the track. The lyrics are so earnest and innocent “I’m coming home to your tender, sweet, lovin’/ you’re my one and only woman” that you can’t help but believe the modesty that Bridges has tried to exude since his first single. The world is hard, and your significant other should be your escape from that world. Immediately following, we get the fantastic “Better Man”, which contains the best use of saxophone on the entire album. The instrumentals and production on this track are among the best of the record, while the cut-and-paste earnesty of Bridges’ lyrics tend to get a little too smitten with his influences; “I’d swim the Mississippi River” is a classic line, but it seems like it’s trying too hard to seem timeless.

“Brown Skin Girl”, the third track on the record, is a funky piece of doo-wop that sees Bridges gain a little self-awareness in his lyricism, while the instrumental is solid but doesn’t stand out. Unfortunately, once you’ve heard those first three tracks, you’ve essentially gained the sound of the entire album. Luckily for Bridges, his clever, wide-eyed songwriting and wonderful, bright backing production stays phenomenal for the duration of the record. “Pull Away” is simply beautiful; one of the highlights of the album. It’s one of the few tracks on this LP that actually features piano; I hope Bridges utilizes the beauty of keyboards more in future releases. The feminine backing vocals are featured prominently on this track as well, and they work better here than anywhere else on the album. However, songs like “Smooth Sailin'” and “Twistin’ & Groovin'” seem tailor-made for a soul record; it feels like I’ve heard these songs before, and that’s not necessarily a good thing.

Spirituality and religion are defining aspects of soul music, but only one track on Coming Home gives Christianity a focus: the closer, “River”. Unsurprisingly, it’s the most powerful song on the record. It’s the album’s most gospel-influenced song; the lyric “Surrender to the good Lord/ and he’ll wipe your slate clean” is Bridges’s most poignant. It’s definitely one of my favorite tracks of the year. Bridges is a powerful enough presence for somebody so innocent and young that one can’t help but be excited for how he’ll grow as an artist. Stay tuned.

Score: 8/10 

Parker’s Song of the Summer 

Every music fan has to have a Song of the Summer. While everybody has different taste, my personal Song of the Summer criteria has two aspects: 1) the song must be danceable and pop-influenced, and 2) it must get Top 40 pop music radio airplay. My past Songs of the Summer have been Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe”, Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”, and Clean Bandit’s “Rather Be”. 2015 has been an interesting year for Song of the Summer candidates; there have been many viable songs, but none that stand out immediately like in previous years. Here’s my list of candidates, and whether they make the cut.

Mark Ronson | “Uptown Funk” (feat. Bruno Mars)

A surefire candidate if it came out three months later. As it stands now, it’s gotten far to much air play to warrant consideration for this summer.

Walk The Moon | “Shut Up & Dance”

Ditto.

Fetty Wap | “Trap Queen”

Ditto x2.

Wiz Khalifa | “See You Again” (feat. Charlie Puth)

I’ve seen a number of people crown this as the Song of the Summer, which is too bad, because this song sucks ass.

Taylor Swift | “Bad Blood” (feat. Kendrick Lamar)

Certainly danceable, certainly popular, but the song just isn’t good. It’s probably the worst song on 1989, which makes it even more puzzling that Kendrick showed up.

Omi | “Cheerleader” (Felix Jaehn Remix)

Get ready for this song to become ubiquitous. It’s already hit #1 in multiple European charts, and has the right mix of one-hit-wonder uniqueness and pop sensibility. I really dig this song, even if the lyrics are dumb, but it’s not quite danceable enough to make the cut.

Jamie xx | “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” (feat. Young Thug & Popcaan)

Get this thing on the radio, people! It probably won’t make it there, as people don’t want kids to hear “Imma ride in that pussy like a stroller“, but it’s bright and danceable. Still, probably won’t make the cut.

Jason Derulo | “Want To Want Me”

Is it just me, or is Jason Derulo getting really good? This song is the most danceable of the bunch, and has only recently been added to Top 40 rotation. A strong candidate, for sure.

——

After reviewing the candidates, I’m ready to call 2015 a weak year for Summer Songs. As of now, I’m sticking with “Want To Want me” as my choice, but I’m not particularly happy about it. Stay tuned.

Five songs I’m listening to this week

Leon Bridges | “River”

Jason Derulo | “Want To Want Me”

Kacey Musgraves | “Biscuits”

Kiiara | “Gold”

The Weeknd | “Can’t Feel My Face”

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Platinum Blog #15: Chance The Rapper

Album Review: Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment | Surf

Chicago-based MC Chance The Rapper is in a band. The same Chance The Rapper, unknown three years ago, who now has nearly a million Twitter followers, collaborations with some of the biggest names in music, and a universally-loved debut mixtape, Acid Rap, lists himself as simply a member of the band Social Experiment. Earlier this year, it seemed Chance would return to the soul and funk music of his childhood instead of continuing on the path to hip hop superstardom he was destined for. Instead of an attempt to usurp the Chicago rap throne from Kanye West, however, Surf is an experiment in emotion; the range of feelings on this album span from the greatest possible love (“Sunday Candy”) to the tragic stalling of a relationship (“Warm Enough”). The musical development of Chance The Rapper should be celebrated and enjoyed by as many people as possible; after all, it’s free.

No, Chance is not the frontman of The Social Experiment. That would be Nico Segal, A.K.A. the aptly named Donnie Trumpet, who leads this album with his incredibly varied and nuanced orchestral instrumentation. Every part in this album is complementary to the other facets; no single feature (aside from Chance’s vocals) attempts to take center stage. Even the instrumentals, which I sometimes greatly struggle with in terms of interest, are beautiful. “Nothing Came To Me”, which includes exclusively brass instrumentation led by trumpet, is devastatingly emotional; the high register notes come out as pained and the track resolves itself beautifully. The video, starring model Cara Delevingne, multiplies the emotion fantastically. An instrumental with no backstory shouldn’t bring tears to my eyes, but “Nothing Came To Me” did just that.

Immediately afterwards, the general attitude takes a complete 180° and explores individualism and the dissolution of materialism with the song “Wanna Be Cool”. This song, the “grown-up” version of Ariana Grande‘s “Popular Song”, sees chance show his youthful exuberance wonderfully. On the hook, he sings “I don’t wanna be cool/ I just wanna be me/ You should just be you”, criticizing those who model their lives after others in attempt to gain favor while ignoring what they’re really into. Funnily enough, the three featured artists in this song are pointedly uncool. R&B vocalist Jeremih, who echoes Chance’s statements on the hook, is known for the viral hit “Birthday Sex” and little else, despite being a very talented singer. The second verse is rapped by Big Sean, who has been described as the “clown prince of modern hip hop”, has never been taken seriously. Yet on “Wanna Be Cool” Sean simply spits the best verse of his career. Finally, Los Angeles outcast Kyle handles the final verse. He bluntly (and coolly!) states “If a cool guy’s cool in the middle of the forest/ then nobody fucking cares”. I think that’s something we all can agree on.

The numerous collaborators on this album, including a mix of Chicago associates and established stars, all play their parts perfectly. Busta Rhymes and B.o.B. are excellent on the marching band-style track “Slip Slide”, and Migos frontman Quavo sings(!) tenderly on “Familiar”, an album highlight. A special shoutout should be given to Jamila Woods, whose caring, wide-eyed coos on “Questions” and “Sunday Candy” could soothe even the most agitated of souls, and Saba, who spits absolute fire on “SmthnthtIwnt”. Donnie Trumpet and The Social Experiment made the interesting decision to release the album without feature credits in the tracklist (no [feat. …]), which helps limit egos and create a more cohesive and solid listening experience.

I’ve mentioned “Sunday Candy” a few times, but if I didn’t dedicate an entire paragraph to it I wouldn’t be doing the song justice. “Sunday Candy” is the best song of 2015, a joyous ode to Chance’s grandmother and the support he’s received from her throughout his life. It hits home especially because I have a similar relationship with my grandma, and the video is perhaps my favorite music video I’ve ever seen.

Surf is one of the most tasteful, lovely, and emotional records to come out in years. Its effortless blending of styles and genres would make even the most talented of producers blush. But the focus remains on Chance, who doesn’t falter once on his rapping or singing within this album. It’s the quintessential summer album, meant to be equal parts sung without inhibition out of car windows and played softly laying down in bed. Surf will go down as one of the defining records of a stacked 2015, and it deserves every ounce of praise.

Score: 9/10

Five songs I’m listening to this week:

Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment | “Wanna Be Cool”

Jamie xx | “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” feat. Popcaan & Young Thug

Wet | “Dreams” 

Rae Sremmurd | “Throw Sum Mo” (feat. Nicki Minaj)

King Los | “Can’t Fade Us” (feat. Ty Dolla $ign)