This week, I wanted to share some of the music that I have been getting into over the last couple of months.
Call me old school, but I still enjoy full albums from artists. These days, everything centers around releases of singles. The market for music is so crowded that it is easier for one song from an artist to break through than a whole album. The huge decline in album sales over the last decade has been a significant factor. The music business is a business after all, and when the bottom line suffers, change becomes imminent. The world of streaming in which the average music enthusiast curates their own musical listening experience is the new normal.
Well, here at Tropical Shade of Green, the album still gets all of the love. I appreciate the time and thoughtfulness an artist invests in creating a full-bodied artistic statement. Every song is a facet of a complete creative vision. These are the kinds of works that I feast over.
Here are my music recommendations for Summer 2019. All three of the following albums are masterpieces that make resounding, uncompromising, and powerful statements.
- Madonna: Madame X
This past Friday, June 14, 2019, was commonly regarded by Madonna fans the world over as “Madame X” Day. As a long time fan of her work, I would be remiss not to recommend the bold and masterful new album that she just unleashed. Madame X is the persona who inhabits the universe in which the songs in this collection exist. She is a spy who travels around the world living multiple lives and spreading her own subversive manifesto of love and freedom.
What makes this album so unique is its experimental nature. The music literally takes unexpected, and often abrupt, changes in tempo and style. Madonna raps, uses vocodor distortion on her voice, and once in a while lets her natural vocals soar into tender moments of vulnerability. For example, there is a song sung completely in Portuguese and another one that uses a children’s choir backed up by a magnificent and euphoric disco inferno of Madonna’s own conjuring (see below to press play).
The words “weird” and “bizarre” have been used by major news outlets to describe this album. I personally would take that as a compliment, but clearly, they missed the memo that this album is political and defiant. It creates its own unconventional sonic landscape to make its perspectives clear. This album is a portrait of an established and iconic artist who has nothing more to prove but is taking enormous creative leaps and risks in her work.
Above all, Madame X has a complete work is beautiful. It feels like a journey to colorful and exotic places infused with modern production, SICK beats, and the emotions of a woman who has found her own way. Get a beverage of your choosing. Finding a quiet place. Listen to this album all the way through. Take in every subtle nuance and drastic turn, one glistening and magical layer at a time.
Here is one of several standout tracks from Madame X. Give it a minute to let it break its own ground at the beginning. If you happen to be standing on a dancefloor, it won’t be long until you are skybound into this piece of disco heaven . . .
Here is the video to one of the recent singles released from this album. It is a retelling of the Joan of Arc story portrayed by a queer, trans-identified, openly HIV-positive, African American rapper name Mykki Blanco. As a film, this is quite striking . . .
2. Kishi Bashi: Omoiyari
I am relatively new to the music of Kishi Bashi, but I was instantly mesmerized when I saw him perform at a show at the Basement East in Nashville a couple of years ago. His work is stunning, and this album lives up to his growing legacy of elegant pop music layered in textures of strong melodies and evocative arrangements. Along with a lovely and soothing voice, Kishi Bashi is a multi-instrumentalist and composer. His live shows are more than worth the price of admission.
This new album delves deep into an unsettling period in US history. Its songs are meditations on the unjust internment of Japanese immigrants during World War II by the US government. Thousands of them, including whole families and children, were kept in concentration camps against their will for periods of up to five years. The precedent that this created has paved the way for the numerous detention centers housing thousands of immigrants indefinitely all over the US today.
This album is gorgeous. With its references to such a unforgivable period in history, the music itself is light, airy, and even whimsical at times. You would expect a more heavy-handed and angry expression, but Bashi imbues this album with a softness and delicacy that invites thoughtful introspection. There is a subtle and quiet sense of mourning that colors each song. It is refreshing that no guns are blazing and no indictments are made. Sweeping melodies and harmonies lift up the courage and resilience of the people who were interred. This music is a testament to their strength.
Here is a lovely track and video from the album called “Violin Tsunami” . . .
3. Sara Bareilles: Amidst the Chaos
I have been a casual fan of Sara Bareilles for a while. The tone of her singing voice is among my favorites of the many occupying our music landscape at the moment. The songs on her newest offering really caught my attention.
Here new album Amidst the Chaos is largely a reaction to the aftermath of the 2016 Presidential election and her grief at losing Barack Obama as President. A sense of loss and a gritty struggle to maintain composure in a time of unrest are palpable themes in the music. The songs are confessional and intimate. This work feels less like a pop album and more like a hard but necessary and emotional conversation.
The lyrics are poignant and strong, and more than any other instant that I can remember, Bareilles vocals absolutely soar. If there was ever any doubt that she could really sing, this album would violently shut up the haters. The beauty of it is that she’s not over-singing or trying to impress anyone. There is an understatement that serves each song perfectly and fully.
Here is a live performance of one of the album’s standout tracks called “Saint Honesty”. I love this song. (In case you’re wondering, the album version is just as good.)
These three albums sustain a depth and vision that have clearly been refined and honed with the greatest effort. I want to honor the work of these incredible artists by inviting you to enjoy what they have created.
Find Madonna, Kishi Bashi, and Sara Bareilles on the streaming platform of your choice and enjoy the bountiful feasts they have spread before us.
They will give you a nourishing that will feed your soul and sustain your spirit.