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Roundups

2021 Roundup

Dear friends,

If 2020 was purgatory, 2021 was hellfire. Both personally and universally, 2021 was an absolute mess. Throughout the year, I felt as though I was missing something from music. I wasn’t enjoying it as much as I used to enjoy it. One could call it depression, some may call it “being in a funk.” However you spin it, I was frustrated with myself. Here, with the world at my fingertips, with the help of the supercomputers we’re all so dearly attached to– and yet, no interest in what once was my refuge. So imagine my annoyance when I sat down to write the annual roundup for TGG. No, really, just imagine it. Me, staring at a blank white page on my computer screen, sifting through my library, in an attempt to scrounge for enough to create a list worth writing about. “Impossible,” I thought to myself with Imposter Syndrome pumping through my veins, “Nobody cares and nobody wants to read old news.” 

Upon further reflection of the previous year, I’d realized that I had actually enjoyed quite a lot of music this year. Then– faint, like a whisper in a long hallway, a different thought came to me. What if you just wrote about what you want to write about, how you want to write about it? The little devil on my shoulder taunted me. I couldn’t do that, could I?

I could, and I did. Enjoy. 

XOXO, Jessica

Heaux Tales – Jazmine Sullivan (2021)

At the top of a somewhat chronological list, we have Jazmine Sullivan’s EP, Heaux Tales. Although 2021 ultimately felt like scraping the barrel for music, there were a few exceptional releases. Sullivan’s January release of Heaux Tales presented me with hope for the year to come. As a single woman in her late 20s, it felt like Jazmine was singing directly to me. With anecdotal interludes about relationships and sex, Sullivan and company created an experience similar to a night in with the girls, sipping wine and talking shit.
Favorite tracks & interludes: “Put It Down,” “On It” (with the ever-lovely, ever-real Ari Lennox), “Donna’s Tale”

Come Over – Kowloon (2021)

Up next, we have Los Angeles musician and filmmaker, Kowloon’s Come Over. In addition to the ladies of R&B, Kowloon’s debut album restored my faith in music in 2021. Written, recorded and mixed entirely in Kowloon’s apartment, Come Over is, essentially, a post-apocalyptic love story with hefty amounts of tragedy weaved throughout. Kowloon’s voice– reminiscent of Matt Berninger of The National– exudes a natural melancholy that bodes incredibly well in contrast to the somewhat upbeat, 80s-inspired instrumentation.
Favorite tracks: “Life In Japan,” “Wake Up,” “Paradise”

Skin – Joy Crookes (2021)

British singer-songwriter and TGG favorite, Joy Crookes, released her debut album, Skin, in October. A soul album with jazzy instrumentals (think: brass, wind, bass– all of our favorites, and lots of it), Skin was a breath of fresh air among some questionable releases this year. Crookes’s raspy vocals paired perfectly with timeless lyrics and violins on “To Lose Someone” should be enough for you to consider giving the rest of the album a spin.
Favorite Tracks: “Skin,” “To Lose Someone,” “When You Were Mine”

Vince Staples – Vince Staples (2021)

July was, by far, the best month for music in 2021. With artists like Charlotte Day Wilson, Snoh Aalegra, Isaiah Rashad and many others releasing full length albums, I was almost overwhelmed. Joining my July playlist of “to-listen-tos” was Vince Staples, who released a self-titled EP, produced by Kenny Beats. Clocking in at just over 22 minutes, Vince Staples was easily one of my favorite releases this year. A more mature project, Vince Staples highlights Staples’s best attribute: his ability to interweave humor with somewhat grim lyrical content. Vince Staples is an artist with an abundance of personality; with this EP, we’re privy to just one evolution (of, hopefully, many more) of the spectrum of his character.
Favorite tracks: “The Shining,” “Take Me Home,” “Law of Averages”

Inside Out – Nilüfer Yanya (2021)

London-born singer-songwriter, Nilüfer Yanya, released 7-track EP, Inside Out ahead of her upcoming sophomore album, PAINLESS, in October. Yanya’s unique voice maneuvers itself over airy melodies and ear-catching chord progressions so well that you almost forget about the somber lyrical content. A collection of previously released and unreleased tracks, Inside Out‘s sequencing is what left a lasting impression on me. The steady transition from anger and confusion on “The Florist” to dismal melancholy and fear on “Sliding Doors” presents a full range of emotion to sift through, both sonically and lyrically.
Favorite tracks: “Sliding Doors,” “Thanks 4 Nothing,” “Small Crimes”

Limbo Cherry – LAUREL (2021)

“I was expecting a lot of people who did listen to my old music to maybe say they weren’t liking the new music,” LAUREL shared with Pile Rats earlier this year. “Sometimes people want us to just stay the same, and not change anything.” As a continuation of her 2020 pop rebrand, UK’s LAUREL released her EP, Limbo Cherry in June. The artist made last year’s roundup with the first ideation of her newfound sound, Petrol Bloom. With the four-track collection, Limbo Cherry seems an apt sequel of exploration of sound and artist persona for LAUREL. 
Favorite tracks: “You’re the One,” “Wild Side”

The House is Burning – Isaiah Rashad (2021)

The long awaited third studio album from TDE’s Isaiah Rashad presented another glimmer of hope for music in the previous year. This one, I couldn’t wait to spin. With a five-year gap in his discography, it’s guaranteed that Rashad felt the pressure of millions to conceive a project that would be as indelible as 2016’s The Sun’s Tirade. I’d wager he succeeded in those endeavors with The House Is Burning. Rashad enlisted the talents of several others on THIB, including the talented Amindi. 
Favorite tracks: “Darkseid,” “HB2U,” “Lay Wit Ya”

A Touch of the Beat Gets You Up on Your Feet Gets You Out and Then Into the Sun – Aly & AJ (2021)

Keeping up with the alt-pop rebrand trend, up next we have Aly & AJ‘s Touch of the Beat Gets You Up on Your Feet Gets You Out and Then Into the Sun. The duo’s fourth studio album follows 2020’s We Don’t Stop, a project that I also thoroughly enjoyed (“Take Me” was at the top of my “Dance Alone and Drink Wine” playlist– don’t judge me). A Touch of the Beat is a 47-minute drive along the coast, with the wind and groovy basslines intertwining your fingers and tangling your hair. Forgive me, but listening to it makes me wanna leave it all behind.
Favorite tracks: “Slow Dancing,” “Lost Cause”

soft thing – LOONY (2021)

Neo-soul songstress, LOONY released soft thing, an 8-track EP in June. LOONY wears her heart on her sleeve with soft thing. Beautifully narrating the charms of unabashed vulnerability and trust in love with tracks like “raw” and “mine,” soft thing ended up being one of my favorite releases this year.
Favorite tracks: “beg,” “ours”

A Good Night in the Ghetto – Kamaiyah (2016)

This one is just for fun. Although fashionably late to the kickback, coming across Kamaiyah‘s 2016 mixtape was the most enjoyable musical experience I had this summer. When personal problems felt overwhelming, I called on Kamaiyah to remind me to, despite everything, “live every damn day like it’s Friday.” With bangers like “Ain’t Goin Home,” A Good Night in the Ghetto transports us back to a simpler time, when going out was more socially acceptable.
Favorite tracks: “Freaky Freaks,” “Mo Money Mo Problems”

Honorable Mentions:

Elephant in the Room – Mick Jenkins
Home Video – Lucy Dacus
the melodic blue – Baby Keem
Not Your Muse – Celeste
Both All the Time – Faye Webster
USEE4YOURSELF – IDK
Alpha – Charlotte Day Wilson
Lionel Boy – Lionel Boy
Lyrics To Go Vol. 2 – Kota The Friend

Categories
Reviews

Charlotte Day Wilson: Alpha Album Review

Sad Girl Summer is in full swing, and once again, Charlotte Day Wilson has provided a most fitting soundtrack.

The R&B singer and producer released Alpha, her debut full-length album on July 9th. Clocking in at 33 minutes with 11 tracks, Alpha showcases not only the artist’s silky voice and solemn songwriting ability, but her undeniable brilliance as a producer.

Charlotte Day Wilson, photographed by Othello Grey

“The thing that I consider myself, as more than a singer, is a producer.”

CDW, Billboard

CDW has a knack for accurately emulating otherwise difficult-to-process emotions through the layered production that she executes. Produced and written solely by Wilson, the project’s intro, “Strangers,” is a perfect example of this. The track begins with the recurring press of a single piano key, gently swaddled by an overlay of somewhat distorted vocal harmonies, as more strings bleed and blend into the lyrics: “Girl, you’ve got to listen please, as I talk in my dreams / As I speak a illegibly / Apologize if I can’t come to you coherently / As I feel this weight in me.” The song as a whole encapsulates the final gasps of forlorn one feels in a love unrequited before acceptance.


It’s almost impossible to understand just how Wilson is able to evoke such complex emotions through music. There is a natural talent there that isn’t easy to dial down to a definitive source, even for the artist herself. “It’s strange because I’m kind of a quiet person. I really don’t like public speaking; words aren’t always my friend,” the artist said in an interview with Billboard. “And then when I’m singing, for some reason I find that clarity when I’m mixing words with melodies. I find that I’m able to communicate ideas that I can’t communicate without music.”

“I don’t think a lot of women are singing about their lesbian love to R&B.”

CDW, Vice 2018

Another thing CDW would like us to be aware of is the fact that these are songs of love that isn’t heteronormative. In a 2018 interview with Vice, the artist spoke about the lack of lesbian representation in music, saying, “I don’t think a lot of women are singing about their lesbian love to R&B. I don’t know if I’ve heard that that much.” There is a void within the industry that’s slowly being filled with romantic love between women that isn’t overtly sexual nor cleverly cloaked queer bait.

She continues, saying, “If you know that I’m gay, you’re like, ‘this is a little more interesting’—there’s another layer of identity and sexuality that’s happening.” Thanks to Wilson and other artists like Syd (who is also featured on “Take Care of You“), and Deb Never, songs written about same sex love are becoming more normalized within the industry. At its core, CDW’s music can be universally understood by anyone who’s ever been lucky enough to experience the spoils of love and the growth that heartache can incur.

Charlotte Day Wilson, photographed by Othello Grey

The emotion behind “If I Could” is a testament to Wilson’s human identity, sexuality aside. Written by Merna Bishouty and produced by Wilson and Jack Rochon, “If I Could” is a stripped-down track that Wilson fancies as a letter to her younger self. “I felt a deep and immediate connection to Merna’s perspective on the desire to protect and save someone from their demons, and I was honored to collaborate with her on the song,” the artist stated in a press release for the music video. The music video features poetry by Mustafa, fellow musician and good friend of Wilson.

Although Wilson has proven her ability to create magic unaccompanied, she is no stranger to collaboration. The project features an interlude written and performed by Daniel Caesar with Wilson providing backup vocals. “…When I heard his verse just on its own with nothing underneath it, I was like, ‘This is just so powerful and would be a perfect moment in between ‘Mountains’ and ‘Changes,”” the artist told Billboard, “And I mean, his lyrics are very beautiful, and they’re personal to him, and I feel like they also speak to me, so I just felt like it fit perfectly on the record.”

Co-written by industry legend Babyface, and featuring the backing vocals of Caesar, CDW released “Mountains” in 2019. Produced by Wilson herself with additional production by D’Mile, “Mountains” is steeped in gospel and drenched in torment, making it the most emotive track on the album by far. The sound of streaming water and gentle piano keys open the track as the chorus creeps in with increasing intensity: “Up on a mountain / Search through the valley / Can you hear me calling? / Won’t you come find me?” The track is chalked full of The Good Stuff we call peaks and valleys, no pun intended.

“…it was kind of just a reminder to get out of my head and make sure I continue to actually live in the real world and not only in my head…”

CDW on “Keep Moving,” VMP

The latest single from the album, “Keep Moving” navigates the abstract minefield of subtle rejection and portrays the evolution we make from desperation to acceptance in due course. When it feels like something is slipping right through your fingertips, eventually you’re forced to come to a place of acceptance; you begin to accept that what once was is no longer, no matter how hard you may try to bring it back. “I came to collide, but you grip in case / You just wanna fall back, babe / I need you to love me like that, babe,” CDW croons on the second verse.

The track’s own production somehow captures the hesitation felt before making the reluctant decision of forward motion away from a relationship. “While you might want something, it might not be the best thing for you,” the artist said of the song in an interview with VMP. “I tend to be a cerebral person,” she continued, “and I’ll sit and think about things forever and, for me, it was kind of just a reminder to get out of my head and make sure I continue to actually live in the real world and not only in my head, and just, yeah, keep moving.”

Listen to Alpha here.