Jesse Boykins III - Plain

Unquestionably, JB3 is one of my favourite upcoming R&B/soul acts. Arguably, he was one of the early pioneers behind the alt-R&B sound that’s penetrating the mainstream bit-by-bit, though in the intervening years he’s added many more strings to his bow, and arguably now thrives when in a more positive, livelier soundscape.

That’s precisely what we get from the lead single from his anticipated Love Apparatus LP (landing on 22nd April). The production is built on vibrant percussion, adding a quick (but not intimidating) speed to proceedings, tempered by the gentle melodies floating above it, with the soft synths and samples being almost lullaby-esque when isolated away from the collected piece. It’s a good combination of soulful melodies and a more modern style; it’s a testament to good craft (and mastering) when such divergent layers fit seamlessly together. That unique backdrop sets Jesse up perfectly, as his vocals move beautifully between his trademark drifty, airy style and a more energetic, extroverted delivery. His vocal gifts have never been questioned, and it’s another strong performance from one of the most naturally gifted acts on the scene today.

He’s even demonstrating new tricks in the video, with a fun, high-energy visual of Jesse breaking out some slick dance moves from start to finish. His carefree nature makes for an infectious positivity, and definitely makes this a good watch. Hopefully, this single is the one that breaks him through that next barrier. Available now.

Childish Gambino - Die Without You (P.M. Dawn Cover)

Everyone has relatively obscure songs that they remember from their childhood. When it comes to them, A) you expect no-one else in your generation knows or remembers them, and B) you’re fiercly protective of them and won’t accept sub-standard covers or remixes. The P.M. Dawn original is a masterpiece in my world (because my mother listened to it religiously, essentially burning it onto my brain), and hence seeing that Gambino covered it last week not only drew surprise, but also a heavy serving of caution.

Thankfully, it’s actually good. Not only can I appreciate his choice of something 20+ years old, and with personal value to me (the latter is clearly why he picked it), but his execution is strong. Of course, he’s not going to perfectly recreate the smooth, gentle emotion of the original in such a setting, but he gives it a very admirable effort.

The vocal work is really likeable, and given that most of his radio performances are rap-oriented, it’s good to hear him exclusively sing on this one, and do so in a manner that doesn’t seem too far at all from his studio work. There’s enough rawness here to keep it true to the original, whilst the variety in his performance demonstrates his ability with a few difficult notes, and will definitely win over some of the more mainstream heads. A worthy cover of a legendary original, and I’d be keen to see if he offers up a studio version at some point.

Kelela - The High

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Kelela was one of the standout contributors to Solange’s phenomenal Saint Heron compilation of last year, and though her name has popped up intermittently during my various travels across the internet, it was that album that really brought her to my attention.

Her Cut 4 Me album is another of last year’s strong releases, featuring a great mix of dark, atmospheric production and diverse vocals, and certainly presented Kelela as an upcoming talent to be watched. This latest release, not announced for any particular project, is a good addition to her growing catalogue, and again paints the singer in a very favourable light. The production is supremely moody, built up on a brooding bassline that plods through the track with power and intent, whilst the supporting cast of gentle synths just about hang in there, buzzing around the driving bass but never dragging it into any other direction. It’s a good backdrop too, as it allows for plenty of flexibility on the vocal layer, as Kelela primarily offers a gentle delivery, blending well with the sombre production, but intersperses that with both higher-pitched blasts and soft harmonising.

The whole lot combines into a very replayable piece of R&B/soul, and one that’s certainly in a style that encapsulates this rising “alternative R&B” movement.

Banks - Brain

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It’s been almost a year since we first brought you coverage of Banks, and it’s fair to say that in the last 3 months, her stock has risen considerably. If you’re keeping score, that’s about the 50th act we’ve broken with a promise of wider recognition. We’re that good.

Her first release of the year is more important than it would be for most acts, purely because of the lavish praise and coverage she recieved from many outlets, as part of endless end of year lists and 2014 predictions. Thankfully, she does not disappoint, coming through with her unique spin on the dark R&B/electro soul style once more. The production is helmed by the gifted Shlomo, who engulfs a blend of gentle electronic melodies and synths in a thick bass coating, giving the track’s atmosphere plenty of depth and gravitas. The development of the beat for the track’s second half is excellent too, throwing forth more percussive elements for a climactic finish, and it’s a strong showing from the upcoming producer.

Banks’ vocals are as seductive and sultry as ever, winding through the first half of the track at a slow, reflective pace, before exploding into life for the second half with an empassioned, powerful delivery that showcases a range we’ve not seen a great deal of thus far. It’s a very strong show of variety, and certainly demonstrates that she has far more in her arsenal than some may believe. Another excellent release, and the buzz for her debut LP will stand to increase even further as a result.

Childish Gambino-Telegraph Ave.

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Every track that lands from Childish Gambino’s upcoming because the internet suggests we’re in for a late album of the year contender. He seems to really have settled his sound down a lot (just listen to the variance between Camp and Royalty), going for a sound akin to the former, but with much improved lyrical and vocal work- you sensed that he felt obliged to deliver something “harder” around the time of Royalty, and hence it’s nice to see him shed that pressure and get on with making good music that suits his skills.

There’s something about this track that has a So Far Gone vibe about it, and that’s definitely not a bad thing at this time of year. The production is a fantastic combination of atmospheric synths, thunderous bass and light, airy melodies, creating an easygoing vibe yet one with enough intensity to stop it becoming too laidback. That classic versatility is on show too, as Gambino moves from gentle, distorted vocals on the hook to a hybrid delivery on the verses, and throws in a rapped verse towards the end- such is the difference between the cadence and softness of the two styles, it almost feels as though he’s a ‘guest’ on his own track. It’s really just an excellent all-rounder that will most definitely be a favourite with CG fans. Free download, including the uptempo Ta-Ku remix below, available here.

Childish Gambino-Melrose

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Because the Internet is rumoured to land on 10th December, and though this track was only released as part of a tweet to Jhene Aiko (who, contrary to semi-accepted belief, is not romantically involved with Gambino), it’s probably fair to accept it’ll land on the album given that it’s potentially only a month away.

Compared to recent releases (and arguably anything since Camp), it’s much lighter and soulful in nature, featuring Gambino exclusively singing throughout over a melancholy production. A lot of the longtime Gambino fans will be quite pleased to hear this, as it’s much closer to his early work and a departure from the harsher style Royalty came with (and arguably didn’t really succeed with). The production begins with sombre piano notes, before involving a strong percussion line and a little more melody to thicken up the backdrop, and eventually throwing forth a synth-driven, comparatively cacophonous final third. It’s good progression throughout, and despite that last third being far livelier than the first third, it still maintains an air of reflectiveness, which matches up to the desperate, lonely vocals that Gambino delivers throughout. There isn’t much variety vocally, as it’s essentially just Gambino crooning out a hook and a couple of adlibs, but that simplicity works quite well here in synergising with the production to create an atmospheric, introspective vibe, and deliver what is a fairly likeable effort.

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PARTYNEXTDOOR-Break From Toronto (Video)

Since PND’s self-titled album release in July, I can honestly say that I’ve had no less than 9 of the project’s tracks on a very regular rotation. Given that it’s only a 10-track album, that is an incredible ratio that betters almost any other album this year. Arguably, two of the three efforts he released ahead of the album (Make A Mil, Wus Good/Curious) were the weakest of the bunch (though the latter is still very good), and it seems like a bit of faith paid off as the rest of the LP thoroughly delivered.

Whilst this is one of the shorter tracks on the album, it’s still a strong example of what he’s all about. The production has atmosphere in abundance, combined with a thudding bass that adds a strong hip-hop flavour to the otherwise soulful soundscape, and hence the track ends up landing in the hallowed middle ground between laidback listening and speaker-crunching head-nodder. That versatility ends up amplifying PND’s own adaptability, as he switches between the rapped verse and brief sung hook with relative ease- the video’s final third gives his Autotuned singing a little more spotlight too, borrowing a snippet from the aforementioned Wus Good/Curious. The clip plays on the track’s atmospheric vibe with a nightime city setting, whilst the arrogant lyrics are reflected in the various activities taking place. Frankly, it’s good camera time for Drake’s young protege, and hopefully there’s more coming in 2014. For now, get that album.

MeLo-X-GOD: Pièce de Résistance (Full Album Stream)

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After a few short years of releasing mixtapes, EP’s, instrumental albums, collaborations, and traveling around the world, MeLo has finally released an official solo LP for sale. This year has been filled with amazing visuals and a EP series leading up to November 5th. Watch the shift occur.

So, there were several big album releases this week, but in truth, I’ll probably be giving this one priority over most. MeLo’s work over the last 18 months has been representative of a man at the top of his craft, having not only matured as a producer, but also growing as a rapper. Throw his enjoyable pack of videos into that, and you’ve got an artist who has developed every aspect of his game, and that appears to culminate with this release.

The 12 track LP features plenty of new material alongside choice cuts from the preceding three EPs released this year (LoFi, HiFi and WiFi), and features previous collaborators Jesse Boykins III and Cheri Coke, amongst others. Given his excellent work with both in the past, it’s fair to expect big things from those tracks, whilst I’m sure the rest will be thoroughly enjoyable too. Very excited about this one- you can stream it in the accompanying widget below, and be sure to follow that up with a purchase.

Jhene Aiko-Bed Peace ft. Childish Gambino (Video)

Having enjoyed this song on its release, it’s good to see Jhene give the fun single a further push with this easygoing, simple visual that pays homage to John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s ‘Bed Ins For Peace’.

A gentle, relaxing track of this nature doesn’t need too much complexity to be fully utilised visually, and they’ve got it just right here with a laidback video but with enough subtly happening to keep your interest. The parallels with the Lennon/Ono events are pretty clear, with the inclusion of not only the “media”, but also the little slogans above their heads on the hotel window- it’s a fun throwback concept, but clearly done in a more modern way that doesn’t make it feel overly outdated. The mostly-white colour palette throughout adds further calm to each scene, whilst also enhancing the more ‘innocent’ aspects of the song and much like the production, almost hiding some of Jhene’s more risque lyrical sections.

There are some neat touches and subtleties with the duo’s body language and expressions, with Gambino remaining almost completely serious throughout, whilst Jhene is much more animated and friendly, clearly giving her the video’s focus and a sense of power in the relationship. The occasional shared glances and light-hearted moments make for quite fun watching too- look out for Gambino miming Jhene’s vocals at around 4:20. Worth a watch and obviously worth a listen (I have developed an unhealthy fixation with her voice).

Snoh Aalegra-The Fall

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I heard this for the first time about a month ago, but didn’t really pay proper attention. Having recognised I didn’t seem to dislike it, I still downloaded it but added it to my mountainous backlog- I happened to make a dent in said backlog this weekend, and rediscovered this frankly brilliant piece from a wonderful upcoming talent.

Snoh is currently under the tutelage of the legendary No ID (and assumedly, the Cocaine 80s team), and this first release as part of that relationship is one that really does warrant attention. The production is beautifully structured, opting for a subtle progression between the verse and bridge, before making a rousing, comparatively energetic leap up to the thoroughly addictive hook. The track’s melodies are a sombre combination of lonely guitar plucks and atmospheric synths, which provide the backdrop for Snoh’s haunting yet powerful voice- her performance very quickly wrestles control of the track, keeping things relatively introverted for the verses before matching the hook’s thunderous percussion with a suitably rousing set of vocals. She looks great (comparisons to Eva Mendes aren’t far off the mark), she sounds fantastic and is backed by one of music’s most versatile and talented producers: Snoh Aalegra is most definitely one-to-watch.

The Weeknd-Pretty (Video)

I’ve been really impressed with Kiss Land. There was potential for it to be a third successive Weeknd project (excluding Trilogy) that didn’t hold up all the way through, but it’s a very strong offering that has the right mix of progression and the trademark Weeknd sound.

This was arguably one of the LP’s standouts. It lands very close to his earlier work in capturing that dark, moody vibe, but builds on that by adding occasional flourishes of grandeur, and is overall a very addictive listen. It’s a slower yet equally intense track than his last two video releases, though this is far less busy, cutting out the urgent lighting and sharp scene changes for a single thread, story-based video that builds on the audio very well. Not safe for work/kids.

The video opens on a sombre, hesitant Weeknd making his way through the airport and into his car, to undertake a journey through a near-empty city at dusk. The city visuals are impressive, capturing the downbeat vibe of the track excellently, whilst the city’s gradual addition of lights and activity works in line with the track’s growth. Interspersed with the journey scenes are those of a female getting dressed, and eventually fornicating (yeah) with someone. It’s quickly evident that it isn’t The Weeknd, who then lets his badass streak loose, landing somewhere between hitman and spurned lover to close the video off in explosive and surprising circumstances. Simple storytelling, and the pacing, scenery and gritty colour palette add to that for an engrossing watch. Kiss Land out now.

Jhene Aiko-Bed Peace ft. Childish Gambino

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Several images of the two working together surfaced in recent weeks, and one of the products from those sessions has emerged, as the first single from Jhene’s upcoming Sail Out EP.

Laidback doesn’t even begin to describe this one. Opening with gentle guitar strums (that remind me of a Red Hot Chili Peppers song, the name of which has eluded me), Jhene enters the fray with her ever-relaxing vocals, with that delivery actually masking what are quite brash, honest lyrics from start to finish. It’s almost surprising just how smoothly her soft voice can cover some of the forthcoming lyricism, from encouraging the object of her affections to get wasted instead of working and to indulge in some adultery, and credit to Jhene for that deceptive delicateness- it’s clearly an intentional feature, making the lyricism sound ‘acceptable’, and hence convincing her male company of the very same thing. Gambino’s appearance is enjoyable, as he tones down the cadence to deliver a sombre yet satisfied performance, which smartly comes off as rather more conversational and responsive than as an isolated verse in the middle of a gentle Jhene song. It’s a good adjustment that makes the guest verse entirely seamless in the context of the track, and this is a very good start ahead of an anticipated EP.

The Weeknd-Live For ft. Drake (Video)

The Weeknd’s Kiss Land album was officially released yesterday, and he looks to bump the buzz around that project with this video release. Viewed by many as a semi-reconciliation with Drake (despite the fact a problem probably never actually existed), it’ll get some buzz for that, but it’s also a strong choice based on their collective brand power, built on by their previous mainstream successes together (notably Crew Love).

My audio review was clear on the fact it didn’t quite sit alongside The Weeknd’s top tier work, but also praised this track’s individual merits. One factor that prevented full commitment to the song was its contrasting motivational and dark qualities, but this video does help with picking the element the track should have been highlighting, that being the darker, more atmospheric side. It’s a gritty, industrial clip that’s buried in a surly dimness, with many of the shots doused in a thick darkness, whilst the far-from-glamorous backdrops that both acts perform in front of adds a visceral, wintery vibe that definitely tucks the livelier side of the track away. In doing so, it definitely elevates the song quite considerably, giving it a much clearer direction and hence allowing for a strong audiovisual synergy.

If you weren’t into the audio on its own, give the video a go and it might just bring you around, if only a small amount. Kiss Land available everywhere now.

The Weeknd-Kiss Land (Full Album Stream)

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This seemed to both leak and be available for stream almost simultaneously, so whether this week-early release was a statement of confidence or a response to its online ‘availability’ is unclear, but it’s certainly found a home in many lives since its ‘release’ a few days ago.

Reviews appear to be mixed too. Many are calling it a return to House of Balloons form, whilst others have criticised its heavy pop influence, and noted a reduction in the raw ingredients that made The Weeknd so popular on his emergence 2 years ago. For me, the early single releases were fairly positive, and having just turned the stream on, the opening couple of tracks seem to have potential. In truth though, Belong to the World aside, nothing I’ve heard from the album has instantaneously gripped me in the manner so many of his previous tracks have, so it’ll be interesting to see how this fares when given a more thorough listen (and on better headphones). Stream over at NPR below.

The Weeknd-Kiss Land (Stream)

The Foreign Exchange-Call It Home/Pity

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New material from this duo will always make my day. They drop the Love In Flying Colors album on 24th September, and this lead single, with it’s non-album B-side, make for a great start.

Call It Home is a smooth slice of R&B/soul, opening in a delicate manner that combines Nicolay’s airy, gentle synths with soft piano touches to good effect. The track bursts into life by throwing a quick yet relatively understated percussion line underneath the aforementioned melodic elements, along with a sharper synth line that adds a lively electronic edge. Phonte’s vocals are wonderfully mellow throughout, playing off the relaxed elements well whilst tempering the more upbeat pieces of the production, rounding off the track nicely.

Pity, the B-side, is a much more consistently laidback affair. The backdrop contains very little percussion for the first two-thirds, meandering along at an easy pace via synths that create a night time vibe, but with a cold, atmospheric edge- compared to the above track, it’s much more structured and less dynamic, and hence it allows Phonte’s vocal and lyrical work to be spotlighted a little more, which is wise given its rather emotional nature. TFE have a habit of making music that suits winter excellently, and with those cold months drawing near, these two fit the bill brilliantly. That album can’t come soon enough.

John Legend-Love In The Future (Full Album Stream)

A fortnight ago, the music scene was ablaze with hype (mostly thanks to Kendrick’s Control verse), so it’s disappointing that the last week has been completely barren in comparison. That lull is over, and in a big way today.

John Legend’s latest LP is due out on 3rd September, and an expectant soul crowd awaits what will surely be another great addition to his already-strong back catalogue. John’s unquestionable vocal gifts make him such a versatile performer, and an underrated one at that, which should bode well for an album that’s seen singles of rather differing styles released ahead of the full project’s arrival- he’s known more for his slower, soulful ballads but we’ve had midtempo and uptempo tracks from him both recently and in the past, and let’s hope that same level of diversity is present here. Stream below, and pre-order the thing if you’re a fan.

The Weeknd-Live For ft. Drake

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Right now, The Weeknd is relentless in his promotional run ahead of the upcoming Kiss Land album, and lets loose yet another single (the 4th, by my count) from the project, this time giving the reconciliation (if there ever really was an issue) between himself and Drake a tangible output.

Initially, you may struggle with this. It’s an unusual blend between motivational and creepily dark, but as the track progresses it’ll wear you down a little. The production opens with lonely, sombre guitar plucks for the first verse, before an intense, piercing percussion throws its weight around on the hook, almost entirely overshadowing the aforementioned guitar work, though it does remain there to offer consistency. Remnants of that drum line hang around for Drake’s verse to keep some of that vibrancy intact, and make the transition to the second and final hook rather less dramatic- credit goes to the dynamism of the board work for being non-static, unpredictable and flexible. It’s the lyrical output that lets this one down, with a sole focus on bragging and arrogance, which doesn’t really maximise the qualities of the atmospheric production they’re backed by. Though it’s not a performance on the level of previous Kiss Land releases, The Weeknd’s vocals are generally good throughout, and will undoubtedly help make this hook a popular, singalong effort within mainstream crowds (much like Crew Love), even if its nowhere near his best work. When Kiss Land drops on 10th September, I’ll likely be skipping this track.

TGT (Tyrese, Ginuwine and Tank)-I Need (Video)

Many R&B heads were wholly won over by the audio for this on its release, and the veteran trio follow that buzz up with a set of suitably throwback visuals, upping that buzz ahead of the album release on 20th August.

Unnecessarily dramatic, overly emotional and more- it’s textbook old school R&B. From the boyband-esque white outfits, to the expansive landscapes they croon within, and the largely unconnected dramatics surrounding their individual verses, it’s a lot of fun in truth and one of those music videos that you have to suspend your ‘critical’ side to watch; that is never a bad thing, as it lends itself to a far more fun, enjoyable experience. Tank croons in front of a burning house, Tyrese pulls up his car at a petrol station whilst arguing with his lady, whilst Ginuwine gets hyperactive on a motorbike with female accompaniment. There’s no attempt at storyline or hidden messaging, and its simplicity is fine in truth, allowing for a nostalgic video to accompany those soaring vocals and soulful production.

A lot of fun if you don’t take it too seriously, and backed by an addictive R&B track. Look out for that Three Kings album in a few weeks.

The Weeknd-Love In The Sky

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The build-up to the Kiss Land album continues, as The Weeknd quickly follows up the recent release of Belong To The World with this single. For a man regarded as both enigmatic and mysterious, it’s a surprisingly extroverted approach to the album’s hype trail, and given the quality of the material it’s one that I’m all for.

The previous two singles differed heavily from one another, and this continues the trend with a gentle, much softer approach that will definitely reel in the House of Balloons dedicates. The delicate vocals throughout are reminiscent of many of the works on that mixtape, and hence they’re a mesmerising, crisply-delivered set that really make the most of The Weeknd’s significantly improved (and rather philosophical) songwriting abilities here. He’s backed by a production that’s part-atmospheric R&B, part-alternative, with the airy synths and slow percussion creating an expansive backdrop, which is intermittently pierced by jagged guitars and occasional sharper bursts of drum work- those alternative elements help to add a level of intensity that makes for a natural evolution of his wintery, nighttime soundscapes, and assist in preventing the track’s sound from straying too close to his previous works. A good release, and another positive sign ahead of that album release.

Sango-Affection ft. JMSN

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Best known (in my world, at least) for his excellent reworkings of The Weeknd’s mixtape work some time ago, Sango’s now preparing to step away from that remixer tag and break out with some original works, notably his recently-released North album.

His remixes of The Weeknd’s work showed a clear interest in, and talent with, dark R&B-style productions. That sensibility comes to the fore here, as he serves up an atmospheric, moody production that most in the alt R&B scene would be rather proud of- the blend of bassy percussion, airy synths and crisp claps is as minimal as you like, and yet each is delivered at such an intensity that they completely fill out every available corner of the sound wall. Combine those factors with JMSN’s own penchant for dark productions, and on paper you’ve got a collaboration that should work perfectly. It bloody well does too. JMSN’s pleading tone adds bags of emotion to the cold, nighttime production, filling it with a realism and warmth that works smoothly with the beat’s natural forlorn, reflective qualities, whilst the intensity of the performance matches up well with the powerful production.

A hugely successful collaboration, and be sure to grab it on that album now.

Jesse Boykins III-P.O.P. (Purpose or People) EP

Longtime OTU favourite Jesse Boykins III returns to the spotlight with his latest EP release, an extensive 13-track project that packs in a variety of covers, remixes and original material.

It’s a mixture of new and old material, and whilst long term fans will see 1 or 2 familiar tracks amongst the list, it’s mostly fresh work that has plenty of potential. Artists covered include Coldplay, Lana Del Rey, Drake and Chris Brown, and should provide a nice platform for JB3′s superb vocals to flourish in different sound environments; whilst he’s primarily praised for his more laidback work, there are some tracks on here that will undoubtedly require a heavier, more emotional approach, and I fully expect the talented upcomer to prove his worth once more. Stream only for now, but fear not as a download is due to follow soon, and will come packaged ‘with unheard goodies’. Improve your evening and check that stream out now.

For a little accompanying reading, check out his interview with RBMA here, where he speaks on both this EP and his upcoming solo LP.

The Weeknd-Belong To The World (Video)

This track samples Portishead’s Machine Gun, but guitarist Geoff Barrow has publicly stated that they refused sample clearance, as “we usually give sample clearance to tunes we like. its got *** all to do with money!”. Clearly, he’s rubbed some people the wrong way, so I’d be surprised if this makes the cut for his Kiss Land album, rumoured for a 27th August release.

A recent interview with Complex suggested this LP may be an even darker, more negative turn for The Weeknd, and the spiky nature of this certainly packs in a little of that downbeat mood. That being said, it’s certainly not as wholly aggressive as the album’s title track, progressing through a dark opening into a melodic, more uplifting style that borders on outright positivity. The production is expertly put together, opening primarily with Portishead’s stuttery percussive sample for a gritty, rather industrial opening that sets up for a sharp, jagged soundscape; that expectation is slowly broken, as the production introduces increasingly expansive synths, a hint of strings, and most importantly The Weeknd’s progressively emotional vocals. His performance is stellar throughout, gliding over the unexpected twists of the production with consumate ease and keeping a consistent melodic strand running through the unpredictable beat. The lyrics are much stronger than his previous releases too, with an emotional outpouring that much tighter around the edges, and geared more around capturing a synergy with the production than expressing arrogance.

The video’s a very likeable watch. Much like the Kiss Land video, it’s set in Japan with a heavy cyberpunk influence, combining dark, industrial scenery with bright technology for a gritty yet futuristic vibe that benefits from a surprisingly emotive performance from the oft-expressionless crooner. An audiovisual that I’d certainly recommend giving full attention, and I’d argue it’s his strongest video to date. Hopefully, an audio release comes soon.

Miguel-Adorn Remix ft. Jessie Ware

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This single has got some serious longevity. Released almost a year ago, its popularity seems to show little sign of waning, and Jessie Ware now helps to extend its shelf-life even further.

It’s a great feature too. Instead of slipping into the simplicity of just contributing a guest verse, Jessie provides a gently contrasting set of vocals throughout, turning the track into a type of duet that has a fantastically old-school flavour. The original had a strong R&B vibe, but this addition certainly helps drag it across into the soul territory a little, and for those of you that have played the original to death, the extent of Jessie’s contribution makes it a worthwhile rework that you can throw on in place of the original to refresh its sound. Given that it’s been given radio play and acknowledgement by Jessie on Twitter, I’d expect an official release in due course.

Austin Paul-Believer (Video)

Austin’s excellent Velvet EP was a recent treat, and he’s now preparing Disparia for release. This first single shows a little switch in direction, as Paul slightly pulls away the smooth coating the previous EP came with, and substitutes in a harsher, sharper sound.

From the production side, that jagged quality comes from crisper percussion and a couple of piercing melodies, and though it’s all still rolled into a mellow sound, they offer a hint of contrast that adds vibrancy to proceedings. Vocally, the changes are more apparent-Austin moves away from the gentle, drifting style and into a higher pitch, allowing his work to come across with more intensity, and hence penetrating the soundscape more than a softer delivery might. It’s a good track that doesn’t stray too far from what he’s good at, but shows plenty of progress.

The clip is rather dark and minimal, covered in monochromatics that serve to enhance the moody, slightly uneasy production. The content of the video offers the same facets, featuring unusual activities and interactions with Austin and two others, and whilst it’s all a bit creepy, it fits the audio well. Look out for the EP on 18th July.

Tyrese, Ginuwine and Tank-I Need

Collectively known as TGT, this trio of (relatively) old-school R&B crooners are gearing up for a collaborative album, with Three Kings set for arrival on 20th August.

It’s an R&B scene rather devoid of big names at the moment, and I suspect this could end up being a surprisingly popular album. My confidence in that statement comes from the superbly throwback stylings of this fantastic slow jam, harking back to the early-00′s soundarguably the last period whereby soul was still the primary influence on R&B music (it’s now pop, of course). Tank eases the track in well with a smooth performance, allowing the hook he primarily delivers to really impress with its soaring, emotional vocals, and it’s that hook which will certainly win over the original R&B heads. Tyrese follows up with a little more intensity in his verse than Tank, continuing the hook’s momentum well in his distinctive strained style, before another hook break and the piece de resistance verse from Ginuwine, who most certainly reminds everyone of his talent with a superb performance straight out of his prime.

Whilst it’s an unquestionably old-school jam, it ends up sounding pretty fresh in today’s landscape due to the dearth of releases of this nature, and with all three delivering top tier performances that are individually excellent, and admirably cohesive too- it bodes well for that album, and I look forward to more pre-album releases soon.

Elijah Blake-Vendetta ft. J. Cole

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Being associated with No I.D. is really opening doors for this guy, as upcomer Elijah Blake scores another big feature, this time grabbing one of hip-hop’s artists of the moment in Cole.

The lead single from his upcoming debut album, Songs About Melody, it’s admittedly not quite as instantly grabbing as some of his previous work, but it’ll grow with each listen. It’s a bit of a slow opening, throwing a bassy, relatively minimal production underneath a brief Cole cameo, before switching into Elijah’s vocals, a transition that perks the track up slightly. His vocal work begins to expand as the track evolves, switching out of his rap-esque delivery and into a more emotive singing style; though those expressive moments are brief, they anchor the song excellently, and their sporadic appearance recovers any drabness found elsewhere. Cole enters the fray once again towards the final third with a much better offering, injecting some intensity into the track with a slick, strong verse that’s brimming with a comfortable confidence. Worth a listen for the pop and R&B heads, and with the right accompanying video, it’s potentially got a shot at decent mainstream success.

PARTYNEXTDOOR-PARTYNEXTDOOR (Album)

partynextdoor
The newest member of October’s Very Own, and an act who seems to be developing a decent following with his exploits in the R&B scene. The Drake association doesn’t hurt either.

His material was a little sketchy at first, but the two most recent releases have found favour within my library, and both feature on this debut project of his. The Autotunes R&B stylings of the 10-track project certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste, but his production choices fit perfectly within the atmospheric sound associated with the OVO label, and hence they tend to provide enough quality to paper over any cracks in the vocal output. Even then, often the digitised vocals end up wearing the listener down, and you’ll eventually come around to the relatively unique blend between the sharp vocal layers and spaced-out productions. You can stream and download the project for free below, or support the cause and buy the LP on iTunes now.

PARTYNEXTDOOR-PARTYNEXTDOOR

Lloyd-Twerk Off ft. Juicy J (Video)

His Playboy Diaires mixtape was the last audio we got from him, and whilst an 8-month hiatus isn’t a lot for most artists, it is for one as prolific (with both features and his own solo work) as Lloyd tends to be. Nonetheless, he’s back and it’s good news for R&B heads.

I’m not sold on the whole ‘twerk, ratchet, molly’ thing (I don’t think anyone is, really), but it’s quite easy to brush aside here as Lloyd’s back to his smooth best vocally. The Drumma Boy production has a strong hip-hop influence, combining speaker-rattling percussion with urgent synth lines that wouldn’t sound out of place on an MMG mixtape, though there’s a slightly more mellow synth creeping in there that keeps the beat tied to Lloyd’s strong points. His hybrid delivery on the verses capitalises on the elevated bass levels in those sections well with a relatively rap-esque delivery riding along the beat well enough, whilst his mellow work on the hook is catchy and pretty much classic Lloyd- unquestionably, the differential between this track and other ‘twerk’-oriented R&B is that hook section, with Lloyd once again showing the durability of his inimitable style.

The video is pretty much women grinding and dancing around in a dark environment, which ends up playing on the moody synth work. Fingers crossed, there’s more coming from Lloyd; whilst some new upcoming talent has given R&B a mini resurgence, there’s room for Lloyd to command a leading position in the mainstream scene.

The Weeknd-Kiss Land (Video)

Not safe for work, school or young folk. Seriously. This gets pretty (porno)graphic.

The Kiss Land (still not cool with that title) audio came as a 7 minute double-part track, and here The Weeknd takes the more aggressive, arrogant second half and delivers some visuals to support his upcoming album release of the same name.

The clip features a heavy Japanese theme, filmed in a trippy, grainy format that has a part-surveillance, part-poor quality streaming style to it, and it serves to add a lot of realism to the video. Doing away with perfect lighting and countless filters makes the various activities that take place seem all the more seedy, whilst giving the brief animated transitions a creepy, Big Brother (Orwellian, not the terrible TV show) feel that I expect is intentional- The Weeknd is keen to harmonise that ‘this ain’t nothing to relate to’, and whilst his life may be watched intently from the outside by fans and label executives, the truth isn’t anything they’d necessarily be accustomed to being a part of. The various pornographic acts taking place around The Weeknd pick up the sleaze of both the production and some of the lyricism and most certainly amplify it; it’s brave, as it pretty much ensures this will get zero TV airtime, but you sense this is a more rebellious Weeknd who probably doesn’t care. A dark audiovisual with unashamed levels of seediness- I’m all for it. iTunes is your friend.