Saturday, August 30, 2014


Banks

Goddess (to be released September 9, 2014)

The world of music has been very moody lately. It seems that more and more artists are veering toward atmospheric production, soul-wrenching lyrics and downright depressing themes.

All that doom and gloom can get pretty overwhelming. But in the hands of the right artist, it can be a bit empowering.

Say hi to Jillian Banks.

The LA singer has been turning heads for about a year now thanks to a collection of impressive EPs. Her debut album, Goddess, capitalizes on that potential. And although the title might seems like the usual music biz braggadocio, that's not the case at all. The album is a look into the tumultuous heart of a woman wrestling with relationship insecurities.

It's hard to categorize Banks' sound. It's almost if Alanis Morissette and The Weeknd had a baby who only listened to Aaliyah and Fiona Apple growing up. The vocals are usually light but the mood is almost always heavy.

"Give me something to convince me I'm not a monster," she says on the opener, "Alibi." When she's not beating up on herself, she goes after her lovers, and the results are usually spectacular. The brooding title track is a perfect example: "You should have crowned her cause she's a goddess, you never got this" - the delivery is spiteful but not outright angry. It's that silent, seething kind of anger. It's proof you've gotta watch out for those quiet ones.

Those quiet ones are also the most intriguing.

"Waiting Game" is equally pessimistic, as is "Brain" where haunting chants wisp around like phantoms as Banks frankly tells her man that she's not here for his mind games. "Change" takes that message to another level: When her lover blames his commitment problems on his daddy issues, Banks calls him out: "poor poor baby, say you can't help the fact that you're so crazy/and you're so good at making me feel guilty for trying to walk away." She's doesn't deal well with excuses.

The album's mood is mostly subdued but there are enough production quirks to keep things from getting dull. Synths raise the energy level of "Drowning," bringing back memories of Chvrches' "The Mother We Share."  "This Is What It Feels Like" croaks like a bullfrog while "F*** Em Only We Know" is spacy but remains down to earth. It would sound right at home on any Top 40 playlist.

Banks usually reigns in her vocals but she shows a surprising amount of strength on more traditional ballads, like "You Should Know Where I'm Coming From" and displaying tenderness on "Under the Table" and "Someone New." It's that vulnerability that keeps her music fresh and relatable, instead of whiny and miserable.

Longtime Banks fans might be a bit disappointed by the track list - nearly half the album's songs already have been released in some form. But for fans new to Banks' music, it's a great opportunity to catch up on what you've been missing.

Banks may sulk behind a moody visage but it's her fiery passion that's her true strength.

Best tracks: "F*** Em Only We Know," "Goddess," "This Is What It Feels Like"

4 stars out of 5
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Friday, August 29, 2014

Need some R&B for your Friday? We've got two great albums for you.

The homie Nick Birdsong is not impressed with R&B's current offerings so he takes it back.


Usher, Confessions (2004)

Nick said: "Do you like Usher's new song "Good Kisser?" I don't. Name one song you'd remove from his Confessions album in favor of "Good Kisser." You can't. Go back and take a listen to Usher's best album. Appreciate the essence."




Also check out:
"Confessions Part 1"
"Throwback"


Dave Hollister,  Chicago '85...The Movie (2000)

I have no problem declaring right here, right now, that Dave Hollister's sophomore effort is one of the most unappreciated R&B albums ever. EVER. In an era when R&B was beginning to lose its way, Dave leaned on the soulful Motown sounds and themes and updated them for a new generation of fans. This album is supremely slept-on.




Also check out:
"I'm Not Complete"
"Take Care of Home"

Now, it’s your turn. Email soulinstereoblog@gmail.com  hit me up on Twitter @etbowser, or stop by the comments section and share your Flashback Friday album. Leave a couple of sentences describing what makes it so great. I’ll feature your album on the blog.
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Thursday, August 28, 2014

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I've been giving hip-hop a hard time this year. A lot of the music we've heard has been empty, uninspired and downright pointless.

But today, I'm proud of the rap game.

The Game has gathered an all-star collection of artists to speak out against the Michael Brown shooting, turmoil in Ferguson, and the state of race relations in America. When guys like Puffy spit heartfelt verses, you know it's worth a listen.

Game and Puff are joined by Rick Ross, 2 Chainz, Wale, Fabolous, Yo Gotti, DJ Khaled, Swizz Beatz, Curren$y, King Pharaoh, TGT and Problem. If only hip-hop was always this powerful.


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Monday, August 25, 2014


Y'all really love Beyonce, huh?

Before the broadcast began, we knew the MTV Video Music Awards would be a one-woman show. Beyonce was set to be awarded the Video Vanguard award, meaning her performance would undoubtedly overshadow the usual parade of living Bratz dolls and spiky-haired actors named Zack Zackerton.

Here's all that went down before Bey's Stan Squadron got their fix:


1. The show opened with Ariana Grande sounding out of breath on "Break Free," Jessie J doing whatever it is Jessie J does and the Walking Wax Museum Nicki Minaj impregnating the stage with an extra-raunchy performance of "Anaconda." And wasn't it supreme irony that after dragging her cookies all over the stage, Icki Nicki had to clutch her dress for dear life to avoid a wardrobe malfunction?

2. The Best Female Video award went to Katy Perry's "Dark Horse." Isn't Juicy J going through a heck of a midlife crisis right about now?

3. #Lordeis17 trended all night. She's about two wrinkles away from looking like Pearl from 227. And what's up with her outfits? She looks like she's starring in Maleficent 2: Electric Boogaloo.

4. Taylor Swift performed "Shake It Off" while the bored crowed gave respectful nods like parents at a third-grade piano recital. Are there any celebrities still dumb enough to date this woman knowing she's gonna write a diss song about them a month later?

5. My ex-girlfriend Kim Kardashian came out to introduce the performance of "her friend" Sam Smith, AKA Male Adele. Do y'all really think she had ever heard of Sam Smith before tonight? If so, you probably think Dr. Dre's Detox is dropping at midnight.

6. After a classy tribute to Ferguson, Mo., Common accepted the Best Hip-Hop video award for Drake's "Hold On, We're Going Home." How much you wanna bet he mails Drake that moonman in pieces?

7. And why is "Hold On, We're Going Home," clearly an R&B song, winning a rap award?

8. Playa is it just me or does Crazy Eyes from Orange Is The New Black clean up REAL nice? The thirst is real over here.

9. Usher's performance of "She Came To Give It To You" was solid as usual but I'm not a fan of the song. It sounds like it came from a 1991 skating rink.



You mad playa? My bad.

10. And OF COURSE Usher had to trot out Nicki for his performance. If you left Nicki in a hot car for 20 minutes, the only thing left would be a colorful puddle of eyelashes and weave. Where was Lil Kim when we needed her?


YEEESH NEVER MIND.

11. So I didn't mention this earlier because I didn't care but Jay Pharoah apparently hosted the event, cycling through his rapper impersonations. It's weird because he was never really presented as "the host," he just popped up at random times, like the uninvited uncle who shows up at every cookout with an arm full of Tupperwear for leftovers. I always support my Va brethren, but would it have killed him to do something other than his tired impersonations?

12. The winner of Best Rock Video was Grandma Lorde. Since when is "Royals" a rock song?

13. If an R&B song like "Hold On We're Going Home" is rap and the poppy "Royals" is rock, does that make Pharrell's "Happy" gospel?


Bodie neva lied.

14. I had no idea who those 5 Seconds of Summer children were, but didn't they remind you of Killer Tofu from Doug?




15. So the wifey (Beyonce Stan Numbero Uno) decided to watch the series finale of True Blood instead of subjecting herself to the VMAs. Well, every 15 minutes she burst into the bedroom where I was camped to yell "IS BEYONCE PERFORMING YET?" To which I'd reply, "I DON'T HAVE THE ANSWERS SWAY!"

16. Why does Taylor Swift dance like some poor kid's mom at a One Direction show?

17. By the time Maroon 5 performed on location under a stage that looked like McDonald's golden arches, the BeyHive started to get restless, demanding their queen. How great would it have been for Beyonce to send in another Vine video performance like she did at the BET Awards this year? Twitter would burn to the ground.




18. So what did y'all think of Miley Cyrus' statement during her Video of the Year win for "Wrecking Ball?" She trotted some poor guy named Jessie to the stage, who spoke about the reality of runaways and dangers of homelessness. Label me a hater, but it just rang a bit hollow. I know she meant well but leaving the guy alone on center stage (while looking so nervous that I expected him to shatter in a million pieces) just wasn't a good idea. Good sentiment, bad execution.


Sam Smith lookin like, "Miley we don't believe you/you need more people."

19. FINALLY, the Stans get what they've been dying for - Beyonce's performance. Wearing a onesie that she apparently purchased with Candy Crush payments, Bey ran through her entire Beyonce album in about 15 minutes.



Iggy Azalea and Icki Garbaj, that body was built by 100% Popeyes snack boxes and cornbread. Do you really think your Play-Doh and Ms. Potato Head parts can compete with that?

20. While Beyonce's performance was undeniably great, it wasn't the #YASSSS#FLAWLESS#SNATCHED#SLAYED masterpiece Stans yelled on Twitter. It seemed kind of lethargic at times. Still, it was far and away the highlight of the night - along with Jay Z and baby Blue Ivy joining her on stage to present the award. How long did it take them to teach Blue to clap "yay mommy" DIRECTLY INTO THE MICROPHONE? Bey might as well run for Empress of the World now, she has officially surpassed Oprah and Obama.

Clearly this show was just a two hour opening act for Beyonce. She delivered, as usual, but with R&B songs being called rap, pop songs being called rock and the endless array of butt injections, music is as embarrassing as Adam Levine's little sister's jacket.


The industry needs to do better.
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Friday, August 22, 2014

This fine Friday, let's look back at a couple of collaboration albums that stand the test of time.


The homie Charles Clark remembers one of rap's best duos.

Method Man & Redman, Blackout! (1999)

Charles said: "This was the first CD that truly immersed me in Meth and Red. I was introduced to it by a friend before heading to MEPS (military processing) and in turn introduced it to the British coworkers when I got stationed in England. My friend Colin, a 54-year-old British national, and I were bobbing our heads to it while he was teaching me how to drive a Ton and a Half. Colin said: "This Method fellow is a real hard b*tch, isn't he?" "How High" was my anthem when I was playing in Pool Halls in South Korea."




Also check out:
"Da Rockwilder"
"Y.O.U."


Nas & Damian Marley, Distant Relatives (2010)

I certainly had my reservations about this album. I'm not a huge reggae fan (I usually prefer the radio-friendly Beenie Man-ish stuff) and I questioned how well Nas would be able to gel with Damain. Never doubt Nas Escobar. This was a fantastic album, using street smarts to fuel social commentary over infectious riddims. In light of the events in Ferguson, Mo., it's definitely worth revisiting today.




Also check out:
"Dispear"
"Africa Must Wake Up" featuring K'naan
Soul In Stereo's Distant Relatives album review

Now, it’s your turn. Email soulinstereoblog@gmail.com  hit me up on Twitter @etbowser, or stop by the comments section and share your Flashback Friday album. Leave a couple of sentences describing what makes it so great. I’ll feature your album on the blog.
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Thursday, August 21, 2014


Ariana Grande

My Everything (to be released August 26, 2014)

What a difference a year makes.

Twelve months ago, if you asked me about an Ariana Grande, I'd assume you were trying to order some cappuccino thing from Starbucks. But by the fall, I was up on game - and I was a huge fan.

Ariana's debut, Yours Truly, was one of the biggest surprises of 2013, blowing me away with a refreshing mix of lighthearted pop and hip-hop-drenched R&B. She easily lived up to those ever-present comparisons to Mariah Carey.

In an effort to ward off the monster known as the Sophomore Jinx, Ariana's follow-up, My Everything plays it safe - leaning more on current pop trends than experimenting with throwback R&B. It's enough to keep her core audience happy - and those cash registers ringing - but lacks the scope and diversity of her fun-filled debut.

The album's lead single, "Problem," arguably is the biggest song of the summer. It has all the elements of a hit - boisterous horns that make it instantly recognizable, a hook that burrows its way into your brain and says there, and a rap verse from the latest flavor of the month, Iggy Azalea. But Ariana's vocals get a bit too screamy as she tries to stand out among the chaotic production. That's not a common mistake though - in most cases, Ariana's voice is the star of the show.

Her vocals help elevate the otherwise pedestrian drum marches on "Why Try" and liven up the dull "Best Mistake." Actually, the worst mistake is Big Sean's verse on the latter: "How can we keep the feelings fresh/how do we Ziploc it?" Just keep on shovelin' dirt on hip-hop's grave, homie.

Things liven up on "Break Your Heart Right Back," which borrows from Diana Ross' "I'm Coming Out" (or "Mo' Money, Mo' Problems" for you young'ns), including a great Biggie tribute verse from Childish Gambino. The R&B-tinged, upbeat "Be My Baby" also is a good fit for Ariana's energy and understated soul.

But besides those tracks, few leave a lasting impression. The bouncy "One Last Time" is definitely catchy - as is  "Hands On Me," which sounds like the weird offspring of Beyonce's "Get Me Bodied." Neither will leave you yearning to revisit them, though.

Still, give Ariana props for relying on her tremendous talent to drive her music, instead of gimmicks and forced sex appeal (unlike some people we know). The ballads "Just A Little Bit of Your Heart" and "My Everything" soar with the might of a 10-year veteran. They're solid and powerful but have just a hint of innocence as well - it's Ariana's signature touch.

My Everything is a perfectly safe, acceptable album that will do well at retail. The arrangements are good, the guest stars are predictable and the tracks are radio-friendly.

I'm sure Ariana will enjoy success but it's a bit disappointing when we know she's capable of so much more.

Best tracks: "Be My Baby," "Break Your Heart Right Back," "One Last Time"

3 stars out of 5
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Every woman I know is lining up to see "Addicted," some movie based off one of those ghetto romance books they sell in the bargain bins at Walmart, next to the giant pile of Goobers and Dots candy.

These ladies, including my own beloved wifey, are frontin' like they're going to support good black cinema. Nah, they're going to go drool over William Levy, AKA the M&M "iz it made uf chokolat tuuuu?" man.

Y'all are so transparent.

While you oogle some guy who can't pronounce half your names correctly, I'll answer your burning love questions. Here's how you can hit a brother up:

Send your inquiries to soulinstereoblog@gmail.com, or find me on Twitter @etbowser. Just provide your initials, or a fun nickname. 

Here's today's question:

I've been attempting online dating lately and it's not fun anymore. Guys are either weird (sending half-naked pics and constantly talking about sex) or just disappointing. I planned a date with one guy, who asked to reschedule out of the blue. I obliged, but then he texts back and says "I'm seeing someone." I'm not heartbroken, I just think these may be signs to give up on online dating. Am I right or looking way too much into this?

Computer Lover

I've said many times here before that I support online dating. Mind you, I've never done it myself. I'm old - online dating didn't exist back then. In fact, when I was dating, cell phones looked like this:

Image via
And computer games looked like this:


Our music was better than yours though:


Anyway, when it comes down to it, online dating is no different than meeting someone in a bar. You're going on face value until you make a real connection. That's just part of the game. The difference is, online dating allows you to have many options as once, which, theoretically should speed up your chances to find Mr. Right.

Yeah, things don't work that well, playa - as you've experienced with the parade of losers you've encountered.

Just like real life, it takes time to find someone you can really connect with. A computer isn't gonna speed that process up. Don't measure your worth by how many dates you have lined up. Just take your time until you find a decent dude. It can take awhile. And it will be worth it.

Unless you're really uncomfortable, I don't see why you shouldn't keep at online dating. Just make sure you take time to bring those budding relationships from behind the keyboard.

Watch out for the Catfish, don't send nude pics and you'll be good.

You'd think that would go without saying but you never know.

Who's next?

Here's my burning question. Well idk how to ask it but I'll break it down for you:  Recently my best friend broke up with her bum of an ex-boyfriend and a few weeks later, she jumped into a relationship with a guy I thought would be good for her. So I guess you can say, I played Cupid - which I sorta regret. She's already talking about marrying the dude. I feel like my best friend is slipping away to a guy she barely even knows. I guess my question is "What do I do when I stuck in the "Being too good of a friend role?"

Sincerely a beginning blogger,

Creative Old Kidd

Well, we have two separate things going on here. First, good for you for helping your girl get over her trash ex. That's what friends do. And since you're a concerned friend, it's no surprise that you're a bit conflicted about her preparing to jump the broom with a guy who probably doesn't know her middle name yet. Sounds like the ol' rebound syndrome to me - you'd be wise to tell her to slow down and examine the relationship before things get too deep. There's no need to rush.

And of course, there's the other 500 pound Rick Rawse in the room - it seems like you're feeling a bit left out of the equation. It's natural. It's hard - and a bit annoying - to see the person who spend nights crying on your shoulder suddenly run off with a new fling and leave you in the cold.

But it is her life. You play a part but you're not the ONLY part.

Maybe this is the guy for her, maybe it isn't. Either way, you were her friend first. Even with ol' dude running around, continue to be her friend - even if that means backing away and giving her some space while she explores her new relationship. And if you think she's rushing into things, don't be shy to tell her. Don't be too heavy-handed in your criticism, though, you don't wanna come off like a hater.

Friends should always be there for each other, but be sure give her space to live her life.
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