By: Joseph Kathmann
This is what your first (and only) album after an 18 year hiatus should sound like. A Tribe Called Quest, one of hip hop's legendary groups, returns for one final album that can simply be described as extraordinary. ATCQ manages to find a balancing act between looking behind and ahead, crafting an album that is both honoring their glorious past while blazing new roads-which is customary for the group. The band's daring experimentation is obvious from the onset, as the group brings elements of Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka of all things in the opening track "The Space Program" which of course works beautifully because it's ATCQ.
More importantly than that, though, is the band's poignant message prevalent throughout the album. It is especially obvious on a track like "We the People...." which features the lyrics "The fog and smog of news media the logs / false narratives of Gods that came up against the odds." Clearly nobody knows who's the target of those lyrics. That said, there are a few missteps. A track like "Dis Generation" features fairly ordinary lyrics that are meant to rile up Millennials, but it comes out as a song that sounds just like every other song meant to rile up Millennials...... Of which, there are many.
The real calling card of We Got It from Here though, is undoubtedly its experimentation. ATCQ pioneered some of the crazy experimentation we've heard in the hip hop genre over the years, and that did not go away in their latest installment. Honestly this experimentation is hard to describe, but it amplifies the experience that is listening to this long LP. Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Q-Tip, Jarobi White, and the late Phife Dawg all play off each others vocals and create tracks that are so....different, that they just have to be heard to be believed. I mean, there is total silence for nearly 10 seconds in the track "Lost Somebody" that leads into a guitar riff that sounds like something from Gary Clark Jr. It shouldn't work, but it does! I first listened to this album a few weeks ago and have been contemplating how to write this review ever since. Clearly I still haven't quite figured out how to do it, but, between a poignant message, great contrasts in rapping styles, and unique experimentation, ATCQ successfully reminds us why they were considered one of the best rap groups of 1990's while also dropping a powerful album by today's standards. Take a listen.
Also, RIP Phife Dawg. The band was hit hard by his sudden death, and have definitely dedicated this final album to him. Check out their touching SNL tribute while performing "We the People...." to him below.
My Number: 8/10
By: Derek Jung
Over the last decade, My Morning Jacket and their frontman Jim James have been moving more and more away from the alt-country jam band sounds that highlighted the beginning of their career. In between, Jim has done a smattering of solo albums, early on under the moniker Yim Yames (misspelling intended), but recently under his own name. 2013's Regions Of Light And Sound Of God was an extreme departure from his main band's sound, and something that I was never able to connect with. On Eternally Even, however, he takes elements from his first album, smokey synth driven burners, and props them up with better songwriting, better production, and a better sense of who he is as an artist outside of MMJ.
The soul and psychedelic influences abound on this album. Lead single "Same Old Lie" takes the synths from a My Morning Jacket song like "Touch Me I'm Going To Scream Pt. 2" and makes them broodier, angstier, and more focused with a clear political voice. He laments "If you don't vote it's on you not me". The two minute jam towards the end has much greater effect than anything from his first album, which sounded more like time filler than any productive. Album opener "Hide In Plain Sight" makes it clear that this is no repeat of the 2013 album. This is Jim James' dark and twisted reality, and the rabbit hole the listener jumps into is deep and full of twists and turns. There is a palpable tension surrounding every song on the album, and it's perfectly encapsulated in the uncertain political climate of 2016. Do you really think it was coincidence that it was released the Friday before the election? I think not. For someone who has never been a savvy topical songwriter with My Morning Jacket, James jumps headfirst into the fray of protest albums here, and he does it well.
As the listener gets to the deeper cuts on the album, the soul influences really blossom. "The World's Smiling Now" is a sexy, jazz club dancing, old school tune. "We Ain't Getting Any Younger Pt. 1" churns like a steam engine chugging down the tracks, starting slowly but steadily building up pace before reaching the main synth line. This is really just a long introduction to part 2, which returns to the main synth line from part one. For all of the tension on the front half of the album, after this two parted behemoth of a song, the tone of the album gets comparatively cheerier. Some funky bass grooves on "In The Moment" and horns on that and "True Nature" turns the album on a hopeful 180 degrees. Since that the hope was probably more directed towards the election of the democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, I wonder what the end of the album would sound like now.
Joseph: I had to come on here and add an addendum on this review. It's hard to believe that this is the same guy who championed a song like "Off the Record" back in 2005 or "Nashville to Kentucky" back in 1999, but Jim James newest LP is one of my favorite kinds of listens: one that takes you deep down the rabbit hole of the album's puppet master. Well within the realms of experimental music, Jim James new LP is oozing with influences across various genres, and thus it is a very unique sounding album. While not all of these songs stuck for me, particularly in the second half, I love hearing an artist take the listener on a musical journey on their LP, whether the listener wants to or not. If you're into listening "experiences," then this is an album that you cannot pass up.
Who are we?
Derek Jung and Joseph Kathmann -- Just two ordinary guys that love talking about music. You can read more about us here.