Noise 101 CD Reviews for April 1 Reflector
by Sean-Paul Boynton
If you’re looking for some insight into the originality and individualism of Erykah Badu, take a look at the video for “Window Seat,” the first single from her stunning new album. Inspired by Matt and Kim’s nudity-filled video for “Lessons Learned” (in which they stripped while running through Times Square), the video, set in Dallas, shows Badu pull up to the curb in a white Cadillac while news commentary from former president John F. Kennedy’s fateful
parade through the same location plays overtop. Then the song starts, and in a single take, Badu leaves the car, pays the meter, and walks down the street while stripping off her clothes until she’s fully naked. It is at this moment, after the song ends, when she is shot by a sniper and falls to the ground.
As the camera lingers on her body, Badu’s voice sums up the point of the clip: “They play it safe, and are quick to assassinate what they do not understand. They move in packs, ingesting more and more fear with every act of hate on one another. They feel most comfortable in groups: less guilt to swallow. They are us. This is what we have become: afraid to accept the individual. A single person within any circumstance can move one to change, to love ourselves, to evolve.”
Badu knows a thing or two about being an individual, sticking out in the crowd. She emerged, along with D’Angelo, to usher in the so-called “nu-soul” movement
of conscious, throwback R&B, which challenged the conventional wisdom of the genre that had been based around Destiny’s Child and other soft-core singers and groups, sugar-coating the soul and amping up the pop. Because of her staunch stance against this trend, the general public largely ignored her after her novelty factor wore off, and today her most notable accomplishment, as far as the mainstream pop world is concerned, is being the daughter of the subject for Outkast’s hit “Ms. Jackson.”
Despite this seeming indifference from the charts, Badu’s resolve has only become stronger in the past few years, signified by her launch of an ambitious,
multi-part music suite titled New Amerykah. The first installment, 2008’s 4th World War, was a dense, claustrophobic
funk record that was overtly political,
referencing teachings of the Nation of Islam. Now that that gospel has been effectively preached, Badu is ready to deliver the next part of her sermon.
Return of the Ankh, in comparison to its predecessor, is Badu’s ruminations on love and humanity. The spiritual is still here – as it is with all of Badu’s work – but this isn’t preaching; this is sweet-nothings
being passed on to all the humans of the world who, like Badu, feel like there isn’t enough love in the world, and it’s up to us to change that…with some helpful
advice from this woman to guide us along, of course.
The aforementioned “Window Seat” sets the bar mighty high for the rest of the album. It’s a stunner, with Badu employing
her trademark rasp over Questlove’s percussion and some soft, retro lounge soul. It also sets the scene for what’s to come lyrically: Badu spells out what’s important to her, yet still feels a longing
to take a break from the essentials – her man, her babies, her music – and feel free again. And yet, she still wants to be missed, to feel like her leaving would cause her partner to be incomplete.
Everyone feels that urge to leave everything behind, if only for a while, yet maybe what keeps most people from leaving is the fear that, if they do leave, they won’t be missed.
From there, Badu takes a journey through the emotional rollercoaster that is love, ruminating on endless devotion
and eventual heartbreak in equal measure. What she argues is that, in a perfect world, people would realize that both sides of this coin called love are what makes life worth living. People do terrible things in the wake of the death of a relationship, but it’s only because they can’t accept that that death can lead to further beauty and happiness: that is, the start of another cycle of love. Meanwhile, the band hits just the right tone throughout,
never playing the funk too hard, floating like a feather in the breeze, effortlessly selling Badu’s philosophy until we have no choice but to accept.
Badu is in an enviable position at this stage in her career: no longer playing the game of the music business, she’s free in her relative obscurity to follow her passions and create a work of stunning originality and purpose. With two parts down and an unknown amount of additions to come, it’s clear that if she keeps working like this, her full vision of a New Amerykah will become a new mantra for the music world.
More tracks on the racks
Any hip-hop album that starts with a spray of bullets and guns cocking is plain illin’ in my books. Wu-Massacre, which was brought to us gangsta rap lovers by my homees Ghostface Killah, Raekwon and Method Man, brings the beats right off the start. “It’s that Wu Shit” and “Smooth Sailing” are sure to get the ladies bouncing at any bumpin’ house party you’re invited to. As well, it is a scientific fact that this album will make you hardcore as you roll through the streets. Trust me, I have my PhD in hip-hop. This CD will bring a tear to your eyes, as it is so awesome.
The latest album release from DJ/producer Poirier arrives just in time for the warm rays of summer. Known for his hefty dance beats, Poirier’s eighth studio album, Running High,
is an eclectic mix of fast tempo tracks, tied to the vibrations of reggae and dancehall. With features from MCs such as Face-T, Warrior Queen, MC ZULU and more, the Running High album is a solid presentation from Poirier. So solid in fact, the first single, “Wha La La Leng” featuring
Face-T, finds Poirier up for a Juno nomination in the category for best reggae single of the year.
It’s sometimes hard to believe that Zooey Deschanel has been so successful at balancing both an acting career and a music career; after all, such luminaries
as Scarlett Johannson and Will Smith have only been able to stay prescient in one category at a time. Then again, these double threats haven’t had the good fortune of a) a charming, down-to-earth singing
voice, or b) a collaborator as multi-faceted as M. Ward. Together, Deschanel and Ward create lovingly hummable folk-pop that has only gotten better with this, their second disc. Coupled with her film career, Deschanel may just end up ruling the world.
The Hold Steady “Rock Problems”
Good ol’ fashioned rock ‘n’ roll is so hard to come by these days without running into tired clichés and macho posturing, which is why the Hold Steady are so amazing. They make Springsteenian stadium rock sound grounded and modest, while still super exciting. This second-track released from their upcoming album is straight-ahead rawk, although it’s apparent that Craig Finn still hasn’t lost his gift for gab, crafting a lyric that’s as dense as it is relatable.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World trailer
Apparently, amidst the booming sound effects in the trailer for this comic book movie staring Michael Cera (who, by the way, seems to have finally hitched a ride on the path to adulthood), you’ll hear snippets of a couple new songs by Beck. Sources indicate that the man wrote songs for the titular character’s band in the film, so see it if you want to hear some actual good music emanate from a fictional musical collective (it’s rare).
These New Puritans
“Attack Music” video
There are many possibilities for why everyone dancing in this video looks like they’re dancing against their will, or for their life: they could be the subject of some snuff film, forced to dance by a psycho before being put to death; or they just feel awkward dancing to a song that is really not danceable in any way, or at the very least is dance music as imagined by aliens or robots. Nevertheless, it’s an effective video for a hell of a song.