Creating what The Jack Moves describe as “sweet soul,” the duo released smooth-as-butter single, “Somebody’s Watching You” last week. The single is a flirtatious, modern funk dance ballad, that generates a whole lot of shoulder swaying and head nodding. The Jack Moves consistently provided sultry, funky throwback-style jams throughout their 2018 album, Free Money, and this single is no different. With nods to the greats like Curtis Mayfield and Bobby Caldwell, The Jack Moves rejuvenate a once-dying genre.
Consisting of Zee Desmondes (vocalist, guitarist, producer) and Teddy Powell (vocalist, multi-instrumentalist, producer) the Newark, NJ duo seem to simultaneously reject and embrace modernity with their music. The two first met at a skatepark in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, quickly bonding over their mutual love for 70s, 80s and 90s R&B, soul, hip-hop, and funk. You might be surprised to learn The Jack Moves gained their start, individually and as a duo, without any sort of musical training, just a love for a good groove. The two decided to join forces in an attempt to recreate and build upon the classic sounds they loved, acquiring their first workspace in a rundown building in downtown Newark.
In a 2015 interview with Passion of the Weiss, Desmondes shared, “We just started working on stuff. But we were hitting a brick wall because all of the stuff we were into—like, The Delfonics, Stylistics, all that stuff is kind of a mystery…how they did all that. How they did the strings and horns. The way they would layer the background harmonies—all that stuff. It’s like it was a lost recipe, as far as I was concerned.”
As a prime example of the value of knowing one’s own weaknesses and then taking action to improve, the duo’s frustration resulted in the two seeking mentorship from R&B/soul aficionados George Kerr and Paul Kyser. “We were learning with them for a while, working on some of their songs. Going to master class with the real veterans,” Desmondes said.
The learning process wasn’t always easy– the two described the experience as being somewhat strenuous at times. Desmondes chronicled the countless vocal takes Kerr would insist upon, saying, “The takes weren’t bad, I just think he wanted to drill it into me that it’s so important to put every little ounce of emotion into your singing, and to really push. People have to feel you through the record. If it doesn’t have feeling, it’s just pointless.”
With the help and golden touches of their mentors, The Jack Moves have utilized their learned insight to enlighten, and to pass along The Recipe to another generation of music. Close to a decade after working with Kerr and Kyser, The Jack Moves have– with respect to the classics– successfully replicated The Recipe.
Jessica is a writer in her late twenties and is casually withering away in the Midwestern Wasteland of Central Indiana.
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.
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 A 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”
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
Sad Girl Summer is in full swing, and once again, Charlotte Day Wilsonhas 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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
Imagine hovering just a few inches above the ground, donning a pearly-white smile with a far-off look in your eye, a gentle hum of strings following you wherever you find yourself. This is how I envision neo-soul songstress, Mereba, drifting through her day-to-day life. The Philadelphia native released an equally ethereal EP last month. 7 tracks of musings tinted in beguiling shades of hazel and cinnamon, AZEB follows Mereba’s 2018 album, The Jungle is the Only Way Out.
There are three common themes spread throughout the EP: war, peace and gold. “Aye, aye, it’s a war like every day / Keep my gold up in my safe / They won’t bring me to my knees,” Mereba croons on the project’s intro, “Aye.” On the track, the artist navigates combat while clinging to pacifism: “I’m tryna master peace / Please don’t you disturb me / Your weapons can’t hurt me / My essence is shot-proof.”
AZEB‘s minimalist approach to production leaves plenty of space for Mereba to do what she does best: flex her songwriting talent. AZEB is laden with social commentary cloaked in and intertwined with poetry, a skill that Mereba executes better than many songwriters today. The artist’s folkloric songwriting ability is the brush she uses to paint dark realities a golden hue. This has been proven true with previous tracks like TJITOWO’s “Heatwave” and “Black Truck.”
The music video for the EP’s first single, “Rider,” sees Mereba and company in the middle of a barren desert landscape. The scene is almost dystopian, like a crew of drifters seeking refuge in a post-apocalyptic era. The song itself is a declaration of commitment to a deserving lover: “I needed a real one/ Call me if you’re on the run / You knew just what it was / I knew just what it was / We knew that it was love.”
References of gold are generously sprinkled throughout AZEB. Similar to Mick Jenkins’s proclivity for drinking more water, gold to Mereba is representative of pure, all-encompassing love. “I want to remind people of love, too. The very thing we deserve the right to do, and to be,” the artist has stated. On “Go(l)d,” Mereba solidifies this deduction by equating it to being “like a lighthouse in a blackout,” even as “the world we know, it went up in smoke.”
“Beretta,” my personal favorite track on the project, is a song gilded in optimism and commitment: “If this ink could seep into your cerebellum / I would so eloquently scribe my feelings unto thee / So that you would never not remember / But lemme see, if the way I feel for you is reciprocated too.”
“Another Kin,” the project’s only interlude, highlights the mental and emotional fatigue of seeing death day in and day out. Clocking in at just one minute and eighteen seconds, “Another Kin” is a gentle proclamation of how grief has become a daily occurrence for people of color. “News Come” is a more in-depth plea, rather– demand, for social and racial justice, equality and a call for reparations: “I’m done being nervous / When they see us switch lanes and swerve it / Ah, we’re diamonds under the dirt here / System don’t deserve us.”
The title of the project, AZEB, is Mereba’s middle name. The word is an Amharic term for the very point in which the sun rises. With this project, one can assume Mereba hopes to not only shed light on systems that directly affect her and many others but to also bring light and precious gold to those who may be stuck in the dark.
UK soul singer-songwriter, Celeste released her debut album, Not Your Muse just in time for Valentine’s Day. From the romantic cover art to the project’s overall themes of love and loss, Celeste and her team knew what they were doing when they released in late January. Celeste, who has been on the radar since 2018, has seen a steady and gradual career incline, with accolades building in her treasure chest by the pound. The 26-year old is bringing back sounds of old with jazz and blues influence and a one-of-a-kind voice. The artist credits the loss of her father as motivation and inspiration to further her passion for purpose and music, telling Evening Standard, “Until that point my life had been rosy to an extent. It shocked me. Then after that I had so much more drive to do something I cared about. I focused everything on doing music from that point.”
On the album’s intro, “Ideal Woman” we have Celeste’s velvety voice singing against societal standards of what embodies an ideal woman. Coincidentally, the track just so happens to be constructed just like my version of an ideal woman: unexplainably sensual and almost effortlessly commanding of attention with humility and grace. The track, produced by Josh Crocker and Charlie Hugall, is the perfect foreplay for the main event that is the rest of the album. From the slow creep of guitar and gentle, modest chimes to Celeste’s smooth-as-butter voice, “Ideal Woman” lets you think it’ll do one thing just to do something different entirely. Just as you expect a sonic or vocal swell, production slows and Celeste takes a right when you’ve anticipated a left, resulting in the unavoidable tap of the “repeat” button.
Following the intro is the project’s lead single, “Strange,” which was originally released in 2018 on the artist’s EP, Compilation 1.1. The track, which was previously featured on TGG, is what propelled Celeste into the spotlight, incurring international discussion of the artist’s future endeavors. The deluxe version of the album features the original, extended version of this track with an additional chorus and bridge. Recorded in LA during a wildfire, Celeste gives credence to the smoke in the air for the rasp heard in her voice at the time of recording. Those gravelly vocals gracefully escort us through a somber tale as old as time: the evolution of love and loss, by choice or by fate. Picking up the pace and picking our jaws up off the floor, upbeat singles, “Tonight Tonight” and “Stop This Flame” come next on the project. The video for “Stop This Flame,” a tune about keeping love alive, sees the colorful city of New Orleans painting the scene.
On Not Your Muse, Celeste brings different varieties of love– romantic, familial, self– to the forefront. The album’s title track is a slow burn that gradually grows into a raging fire. The zenith of the project, the song is placed smack dab in the middle of sequence. The record deconstructs the dated damsel-in-distress and manic-pixie-dream-girl tropes with a delicate nature and beautiful simplicity only Celeste can dispense. Tugging gently on our heartstrings, “Beloved” is a declaration of longing. On the track, Celeste croons a letter written to a love unrequited. With its almost adolescent yearning fueled by the purest of intentions, “Beloved” holds its place as my favorite track on this project.
Immediately following the gentle plucky instrumentation on “Beloved” comes horn-infused ear-candy “Love Is Back.” The impenetrable swagger heard on this track is succeeded by the haunting, drifting mystique found in “A Kiss.” Continuing the trend of romance, the next track, “The Promise,” is a pledge of recommitment to an old flame. The transition from one track to the next here is an example of what I like to call “peaks and valleys” in a body of work. Where there is a rise, there’s sure to be a fall. It’s almost as if Not Your Muse is its own breed of love story, with a prologue of self-love and self-acceptance, love coming and going throughout until finally, bittersweet acceptance with the project’s outro, “Some Goodbyes Come With Hellos.” With a damn near perfect debut, Celeste has managed to bust down the doors of 2021 with lyrical finesse and a natural talent that’s yet to be matched. Not Your Muse will remain in my personal rotation until further notice. If you’ve got time to sit down with the album, without distraction, I would highly recommend doing so.