A little closing statement for 2021…

I often find in my current stage of life still entering my 30’s that time really does mash down the accelerator once you get to a certain age. And it wasn’t like I was one of those kids who badgered and begged adulthood to appear either. It just…. happens with a snap one day and you’re left wondering exactly where all those minutes went on the way to your current destination.

Entering the final day of 2021 and starting 2022 has brought me into this basement of thought, which is a mixture of both slightly solemn and sobering. Age has a way of doing that to a person the more you notice it. But instead of getting too far down in the dumps, in this moment I prefer to think of rapper Mac Miller and a lyric from his 2010 track “Senior Skip Day”.

“Enjoy the best things in your life, cause you ain’t gonna get to live it twice”

To me that line’s a reminder and mantra no matter how serious things get, its important not to get so caught up in sadness/worrying that you miss out on all the good and enjoyable aspects of this experience. Sometimes that’s way easier said than done, but I can confidently say the best of this year in music at least certainly provided plenty of celebratory moments.

Take for instance…

Brandi Carlile, In These Silent Days

Courtesy Google Images

When it comes to Brandi, my jaw has stayed on the floor for her tunes since 2018 LP By The Way, I Forgive You. Despite knowing her music off and on since 2007’s The Story, By The Way felt like a coming out party for a musical vet taking her craft to the next level. The icon stage. Silent Days has only continued this rocketing trajectory upward behind the weight of tracks like “Right On Time”, “Stay Gentle”, and the golden threaded harmonies of “This Time Tomorrow”. Carlile’s bandmates twin brothers Phil and Tim Hanseroth also deserve plenty of praise here as they’ve formed a power trio with Carlile that is a titan both in studio and on stage.

Ultimately though this is Brandi’s world and we’re just living in it, lucky for our listening ears!

Anderson .Paak and Bruno Mars, An Evening With Silk Sonic

Courtesy Google Images

Arguably the album with 2021’s biggest hype, the end result is a tight 8-track affair harkening back to the best of old school soul, funk and R&B. Mars and .Paak navigate the terrain as deftly as their on-stage choreography, aided in part by P-Funk legend Bootsy Collins and bass wizard Thundercat (who shines on “After Last Night”).

I know there were some who felt Evening didn’t line up with their expectations, but I felt this was a great tablesetter for the collab project. I hope this isn’t the last we see from Silk Sonic as it feels like there are still plenty more chapters yet to be written in Bruno and Andy’s book together.

Marlon Craft, Homecourt Advantage

Courtesy Google Images

The rapper from New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen was on a creative tear this past year, dropping EP Space (with producer Yusei), LP How We Intended, and this Homecourt mixtape. The release trio are exceptional, but Homecourt takes the top spot for me behind flows like “Lost Faith”, “All We Got”, and “PACE”, as well as a boundless roving energy.

Not to mention Craft only continues to sharpen his lyrical spearheads with each new work he puts out there. He’s one of a select bunch in the genre using that power of prose to move the needle of social consciousness in the right direction. We need more of that in the world as we move into a collective headspace that’s often more spun on lies than uncomfortable truths.

Rag’n’Bone Man, Life By Misadventure

Courtesy Google Images

Rory Charles Graham, AKA Rag’n’Bone Man, had one of the most affecting sound styles I heard all year with this LP. With a baritone reminiscent of a room-riveting Michael McDonald, Graham dominates from first note to last. He excels equally solo (“Breath in Me”, “Old Habits”) as he does in a duet (“Anywhere Away From Here”), which highlights an equally heartstopping vocal from pop singing maven Pink.

I also really came to adore Misadventure because it’s lyrical themes are so true and honest to our basic humanity. Love, loss, sadness, loneliness, fear of inadequacy in the world… these are just a few of our most essential and relatable emotional signposts. We’ve all been in that, and Rag’n’Bone Man feels like he’s right there with us in those trenches.

It means a lot.

And finally…

Leon Bridges, Gold-Diggers Sound

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Since his retro-minded debut Coming Home dropped in 2015, Leon Bridges has melded his old school Sam Cooke vibes with a more pop, contemporary visage. The result is a 20th century R&B feel that is equal parts heart and earworming hooks with tracks like “Why Don’t You Touch Me”, “Motorbike” and the aching “Sweeter”. Sure there’s a bit more production present, but it doesn’t take away from messages like “Sweeter” and it’s ode to the George Floyd tragedy.

Add in stellar collaborators like Robert Glasper, vocalist Ink and musician Terrace Martin and Gold Diggers finds just that, the jackpot at the end of the journey. Much like the Rag’n’Bone Man release, part of the payoff is also in that lyrical relatability. It spoke to me a lot here, and I hope it does for you as well.

May the year of 2022 provide just as great a list of new favorites this time as it did in 2021!

Mars, .Paak bring the goods on much-hyped “An Evening with Silk Sonic”

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Listening to Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak tear it up as new duo/band Silk Sonic has reminded me how much more fun we need to be having in music again. Yes we live in hard times and the world isn’t easy, but we also need to have even just moments where we can stop to joke or smile or laugh. Or in the case of .Paak and Mars, sing our hearts out with deliriously retro-hugging joy using their bubbling new LP An Evening With Silk Sonic.

As any music fan will tell you, that often off-kilter crooning can be a very therapeutic, cathartic experience. And this funky, soulful, R&B cruise of a record is gonna give you that good feeling allllll Evening longggg.

Courtesy Google Images

The artistic influences on Silk Sonic are plenty and often-referenced, so I’ll skip further detail and say this instead. Bruno and Andy do this shit so well together on An Evening with Silk Sonic it’s like they’ve been at it 20 years. The chemistry and friendship is real through lounge groove (“Leave The Door Open”), beachside Carribbean flow (“Skate”), forbidden-hour get-downs (“After Last Night”), and pure fur-lined swagger (“Fly As Me”).

I’m sure the haters will try to spin Evening as being old school 70’s parody; trying too hard to blend into your grandparent’s furniture like a dated Saturday Night Live sketch. But Mars and .Paak are no lightweights in this field. They didn’t just find period piece equipment, slap on chest hairs and gold chains and wing together an album. Both men are exceptional lyricists and musicians that have assembled a tight band of talents led by bassist Thundercat, jack of all trades D’Mile,  and legendary funk master Bootsy Collins.

My only complaint of the whole piece is the best one possible: at 8 songs and an intro An Evening with Silk Sonic is just too damn short. But the resulting music might arguably be the most crisp 30 minutes of an album you’ll hear in all of 2021. There are no bulky moments here, just every second finding a different way to Silk Sonic slap all over this project.

By now, if you only know the group’s wildly popular debut single “Leave The Door Open”, you’re only scratching the surface of this melodic feast.

.Paak brings the “Fire” on new “Shang Chi” soundtrack

It’s been an absolute joy to me watching the continued rise and success of musician Anderson .Paak. The Oxnard, California native hit the jackpot especially hard this year, largely due to his gold medal-level collaboration with Bruno Mars in their new band Silk Sonic. Debut single “Leave the Door Open” has been all the rage in 2021, possessing a popularity watermark that made the song almost Tik Tok-levels of unavoidable at its peak.  

The duo continues to take their time releasing a full LP (second teaser “Skate” dropped in July), but in the meantime .Paak has kept busy. The rapper, singer, music video director, drummer and jack of all trades makes his latest appearance on the big screen with a song that’s part of the soundtrack for Marvel’s recently released superhero film Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.

Courtesy of Google

“Fire in the Sky” isn’t just some unused session track here to fill time either. 88rising, a record label largely devoted to Asian and Asian American musicians, was brought in to curate the LP; creating a melding flow of artists like Jhene Aiko and NIKI with Marvel’s first tentpole flick that’s primarily focused on Asian and Asian American actors. A similar method was employed for Marvel’s Black Panther; rapper Kendrick Lamar executive produced the effort with a specific vision meant to pay homage to the culture and tones of each moment. 

Shang Chi skillfully paints with a similar brush, using the soulful vibe of .Paak’s wide-grinned musical optimism just as Shang-Chi’s credits roll. And, like so many of his features or one-off appearances on various projects, he always knows just how to hit center stage’s sweet spot. Kicking in with a blissfully hazy piano in a gentle cloud of guitars, .Paak raps, drums and sings with all the rhythm of a buzzed romantic high on another human, sticking out his chest, shooting his shot, and making that lightning rod first connection. 

“Fire in the Sky” is aptly named as its all the sensation of looking at a post-storm horizon, bright swatches of color emerging in wild, intricate streaks of hope after a dark and lost night. Bruno Mars is credited as a contributor/lyricist for the song, which makes sense as its warm throwback vibe sounds right next-door to the Silk Sonic creatives. At the end of the day it all boils down to this one simple point (something I knew well already) .

PAAK DON’T MISS! 

If You Don’t Yet Know Silk Sonic, “Leave The Door Open” For This Supergroup

It’d be wrong to start picking off the cobwebs on OTBEOTB without acknowledging… well, this.

This, AKA Silk Sonic, AKA Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak, AKA the Justice League-style dynamic duo you didn’t know you desperately needed to hear until you were first told they paired up, have made the world a funkier place since the early March drop of the pair’s slow-jam single “Leave The Door Open”.

From the strength of the song itself to the “its such a retro clean-cut 60’s/70’s vibe Pablo Escobar would approve” aesthetic of the music video, its difficult not to feel the heavy weight of anticipation on what a full collaboration between Bruno and Andy is going to look like once its (eventually) announced. The talent and immediately evident chemistry of the pair across a full LP, the level of guest stars and musicians that I’m sure have been pulled in to assist… as a listener the possibilities generate endless goosebumps.

Look no further than “Silk Sonic Intro”, a brief lead-in to our main at”track”tion that features Parliament bassist and resident funkmaster Bootsy Collins playing the role of album MC.

Makes it easy to get hyped up doesn’t it? That’s Bootsy baby!

Luckily for us, Silk Sonic also shines an exposing light on the pillars of other iconic, impactful artists who helped them forge their sound. Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson/The Jackson 5, James Brown, Prince, and George Clinton (with both Parliament and Funkadelic) are some of the first that come to mind here, though the well runs much deeper and widespread the farther you search.

I mention this because as important as it is to look forward and feel modern, it’s also of deep meaning to look down into the roots of all the old hooks, noodles and melodies of the past. Fully digest those albums, take the time and hear those stories to not only know how music has evolved, but to also never forget the pioneers and the innovators who birthed various genres in the first place.

Though never let that pigeonhole you into being the type of music consumer/reviewer who only bases opinions off comparisons to others either. Anderson .Paak and Bruno Mars as Silk Sonic is wildly exciting simply because of what each and each alone brings to the table.

Now we just wait for the full album.

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