Archive For The “Music” Category

‘Tis The Season For Tiny Desk Holiday Concerts

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‘Tis The Season For Tiny Desk Holiday Concerts

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Adele asked Spotify to remove the default shuffle button for albums, and they obliged

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Adele asked Spotify to remove the default shuffle button for albums, and they obliged

“We don’t create albums with so much care and thought into our track listing for no reason,” Adele tweeted on Saturday.

CBS Photo Archive/CBS via Getty Images

CBS Photo Archive/CBS via Getty Images

Spotify has removed a play button that automatically shuffled songs regardless of an album’s track list, and it’s all thanks to Adele.

The singer-songwriter tweeted on Saturday that she had requested the change for the release of her fourth studio album, 30, which arrived on streaming services on Friday.

“This was the only request I had in our ever changing industry!” she wrote. “We don’t create albums with so much care and thought into our track listing for no reason. Our art tells a story and our stories should be listened to as we intended.”

An account for the streaming service replied to Adele’s tweet with “Anything for you.”

Previously, pressing the play button for an album on Spotify auto-shuffled songs rather than playing them in the order an artist intended. The shuffle feature is still available when playing an individual track from an album, but the main play button no longer defaults to playing an album’s songs out of order.

“As Adele mentioned, we are excited to share that we have begun rolling out a new Premium feature that has been long requested by both users and artists to make ‘play’ the default button on all albums,” a representative for Spotify told Variety in a statement. “For those users still wishing to shuffle an album, they can go to the Now Playing View and select the ‘shuffle’ toggle. As always, we will continue to iterate our products and features to create the best experiences for both artists and their fans.”

In 2021, the popularity of streaming services often means artists are all but required to put their music on platforms like Spotify if they want people to hear their music, despite complaints from artists that these services do not pay artists fairly.

Adele initially resisted putting her previous album 25 on streaming, only making it available on services nearly seven months after its official release. The album was the best-selling digital and physical album of 2015, selling a record-breaking 3.3 million units in its first week.

“I believe music should be an event,” she told Time magazine in 2015 about her decision to hold off on releasing 25 for streaming. “For me, all albums that come out, I’m excited about leading up to release day. I don’t use streaming. I buy my music. I download it, and I buy a physical [copy] just to make up for the fact that someone else somewhere isn’t. It’s a bit disposable, streaming.”

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Tierra Whack and J Melodic make the leap from ‘Whack World’ to something otherworldly

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Tierra Whack and J Melodic make the leap from ‘Whack World’ to something otherworldly

Credit: NPR

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Genius loves company, especially the weird, wired sort of genius embodied by Tierra Whack.

But we don’t always get to peep the kind of collective effort that goes into making her brand of Black girl magic. Scroll down the Soundcloud of her musical timeline — after she’d dropped her Philly-freestyling, cypher-stealing handle Dizzle Dizz and before Whack World shot her into the stratosphere — and you’ll find a treasure chest of early songs that capture her genre-bending eccentricity. The very first joint in particular, posted in February 2015, is a minute-and-a-half long ditty of backwards rapping and shape-shifting called “Color Blind.” And the warm, warbling soundtrack propelling her flow is produced — as the credit reads — “by musty ass J Melodic.”

That’s the kind of cheeky missive one only gets away with dropping on a loved one and it perfectly encapsulates the brotherly-sisterly bond shared between these two Philly natives. Their working relationship is equally intense: Every workday they convene for 12-hour studio sessions and J Melodic programs beats while Tierra admittedly pushes his buttons.

“We always disagree. I don’t know how we work,” Tierra says before J delivers his own deadpan response: “I humble myself and put myself aside to make sure that she’s just comfortable,” he says, cracking Tierra up.

In our final episode of a season focused on the art of collaboration between rappers and producers, we traveled to their hometown to find out how Tierra and J truly click behind the scenes. Over seven years, they’ve made hundreds of songs together. And the world has been fortunate enough to hear a handful of the hottest, including “Pretty Ugly,” one of two songs Melodic produced on Whack World. But that routine hasn’t dimmed their drive to innovate, as they shared one of their latest forays into uncharted terrain with us, an unreleased song The Formula is fortunate to premiere. It’s titled “Heaven” and it feels like a kind of gospel salve custom made for the pandemic.

In the process of breaking down both songs, Tierra and J reveal how they push each other to the point of inspiration with their creative give-and-take. ‘Cause patience is a virtue, but provocation is too. —Rodney Carmichael

ABOUT SEASON 2 OF THE FORMULA

In this season of The Formula we sit down with some of hip-hop’s rising and most respected artist-producer duos as they dissect songs emblematic of their collective body of work — be it an album, an era or a moment in rhyme. Because the true stamp of a timeless collab comes when both musicians at play find themselves forever transformed by the mix. Find new episodes at npr.org/theformula:

Rico Nasty + Kenny Beats

Isaiah Rashad + Kal Banx

Freddie Gibbs + The Alchemist

Westside Gunn + Conductor Williams

CREDITS

Host/Series Producer: Rodney Carmichael; Producers: Tsering Bista, Nickolai Hammar; Editor: Annabel Edwards; Assistant Editor: Tsering Bista; Art Director: CJ Riculan; Animators: Jackie Lay, Alicia Zheng; Director of Photography: Nickolai Hammar; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Nickolai Hammar, Nick Michael; Production Assistants: Amna Ijaz, Trisha Pickelhaupt, Courtney Theophin; Project Coordinator: Erin Register; Legal Adviser: Kimberly Sullivan; Consulting Editors: Jacob Ganz, Sidney Madden; Copy Editor: Pam Webster; Supervising Producer, Nick Michael; Senior Producer: Abby O’Neill; Managing Editor: Becky Lettenberger; Executive Producers: Anya Grundmann, Keith Jenkins; Special Thanks: Rittenhouse Soundworks, Rittenhouse Filmworks

MUSIC

“Pretty Ugly,” Tierra Whack, Whack World (2018); “Heaven,” Tierra Whack (Unreleased); “Rose Water” by DJ Face

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Rock is dead, but the photographer’s iconic images of Bowie, Blondie and more live on

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Rock is dead, but the photographer’s iconic images of Bowie, Blondie and more live on

Photographer Mick Rock at the opening reception for Mick Rock: Shooting For Stardust – The Rise Of David Bowie & Co. in Los Angeles in 2015.

Angela Weiss/Getty Images

Angela Weiss/Getty Images

Once dubbed “The Man Who Shot The ’70s,” rock ‘n’ roll photographer Mick Rock has died at age 72. His death was announced on his Twitter page.

“It is with the heaviest of hearts that we share our beloved psychedelic renegade has made the Jungian journey to the other side,” the statement begins.

During an era of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, Mick Rock was both player and observer, photographing everybody: a back-bending, shirtless Iggy Pop, Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, Lou Reed’s comically haunting Transformer cover. A sensuous Rock portrait of Blondie vocalist Debbie Harry was chosen for the cover of Penthouse in February 1980.

Rock’s images graced dozens of album covers, including Queen 2, with the band’s faces glowing within a black background. Roxy Music, Pink Floyd, Carly Simon: the list of Rock’s glamorous, often scrappy subjects is extensive. And newer generations of artists also solicited his artistry, including Snoop Dogg, Lady Gaga and Alicia Keyes.

As Claire O’Neill reported for NPR in 2012, “Rock never planned on being a photographer. He was studying language and literature at Cambridge University, and found himself in the right place at the right time. He got high, picked up a friend’s camera, ‘and began to play,’ he says.”

You can see some of Rock’s iconic images in O’Neill’s story, here.

The tribute on Rock’s Twitter feed calls him “a photographic poet—a true force of nature who spent his days doing exactly what he loved, always in his own delightfully outrageous way.”

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Adele, ‘To Be Loved’

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Adele, ‘To Be Loved’

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There are so many standout tracks on Adele’s fourth studio album 30, but her track “To Be Loved” is the vocalist at her absolute best. Lyrically the song is a sister to the album’s “Easy On Me,” echoing similar motifs about being too young to have made certain decisions. But where “Easy On Me” is timid, afraid of moving on, “To Be Loved” is a song about unbridled bravery in making the leap towards better days.

Adele’s voice is really at its best on this track. This is the song that demonstrates why the singer is your favorite vocalist’s favorite vocalist. She’s mastered a stunning chest belt that flows seamlessly between vibrato, vocal growls, and dynamics to convey an emotionality that could move even the coldest cynic. She begins the song with a potent, unashamed piano line over which she discusses her previous reservations about falling in love. As she moves through the song, the lyrics become a hymn of her surety in her decision to love again, and Adele’s voice overflows into a sanguine, booming forte.

“Let it be known, known, known, that I will choose, I will lose,” she sings at the song’s very end, with a redemptive passion that feels like it has the power to heal all her old wounds. “It’s a sacrifice, but I can’t live a lie … Let it be known, that I tried.” The song’s end feels more like a prayer to herself than anything else.

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Frank Vignola and Tommy Emmanuel on Mountain Stage

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Frank Vignola and Tommy Emmanuel on Mountain Stage

Frank Vignola and Tommy Emmanuel perform on Mountain Stage.

Amos Perrine/Mountain Stage

Amos Perrine/Mountain Stage

  • “If I Had You”
  • “C Jam Blues”
  • “A Smooth One”
  • “Stompin’ at the Savoy”
  • “Nuages”
  • “Swing 42”

“Frank Vignola is one of the most extraordinary guitarists performing before the public today,” says Mountain Stage host Kathy Mattea, introducing a stunning guitarist she’d met some years prior at a concert in Italy.

For the past six years, Vignola has toured as one-half of a guitar duo with Vinny Raniolo, with whom he was set to perform on the Mountain Stage — but Raniolo was called away unexpectedly. Thankfully, Vignola had an ace up his sleeve.

“I brought a newcomer to introduce you to, he is a fabulous guitarist I heard a few weeks ago, and he’s got a really bright future ahead of him,” Vignola said, baiting the audience with a wink. “I would love to introduce you to Tommy Emmanuel. Thank you, Tommy, for stepping up.”

The long-time friends and guitar virtuosos, who first collaborated in 2009 with their iconic recording Just Between Frets, began their set with the classic “If I Had You,” then joyously riffed and romped their way through five more before concluding. The duo expertly traded increasingly complex licks, with Edgar Sampson’s “Stompin’ at the Savoy,” and perfectly-matched twin-guitar harmony runs throughout Django Reinhardt‘s “Swing 42.”

“Yes, soak in that love,” Mattea says near the end. “That’s just a little something they threw together this afternoon when Vinny couldn’t make it. That’s just how they roll.”

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The fearless musical philosophy of Sofia Gubaidulina

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The fearless musical philosophy of Sofia Gubaidulina

A new album marks the 90th birthday of Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina.

Peter Hundert /Deutsche Grammophon

Peter Hundert /Deutsche Grammophon

The Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina is something of a musical philosopher. She likes to grapple with life’s big questions as filtered through her deep faith, both in God and in the transformational power of music. “The art of music is capable of touching and approaching mysteries and laws existing in the cosmos and in the world,” she said after winning a prestigious award in 2017.

Gubaidulina turned 90 on Oct. 24. To mark the occasion, a new album has been released featuring three of her most intellectually probing works, scored for huge orchestral forces. The music can roar like a jet plane or whisper in intimate, mysterious episodes — but no matter what, it needs to be performed by an orchestra of supreme agility and focus which is exactly what can be found in these ferocious performances by conductor Andris Nelsons and the Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig.

The opening salvo is titled Dialog: I and You, but it’s really more of an argument about our relationships to everything around us, disguised as a violin concerto. It was inspired by the philosopher Martin Buber’s 1923 book I and Thou, and you can hear it in the music. Listen for the violin, played by Vadim Repin, making a bold statement, while the brass-heavy orchestra shouts it down.

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Gubadulina’s career path has had its ups and downs. She grew up poor in the rural Tatar region of the Soviet Union, where “it was as if there was no map for a child’s development,” she said in a 1990 documentary. She explains in that BBC program that she spent a lot of her childhood sitting in a bare yard looking up to the sky to feed her imagination, adding, “I began to live up there.”

She was able to study composition in Moscow, where she played some of her unconventional music for the revered composer Dmitri Shostakovich. He encouraged her by suggesting that she continue down her “incorrect path” — in other words, don’t compromise. That path led to music awards, but also official blacklisting by the Soviet Composers’ Union, which denounced her music as “noisy mud.” In 1973, a person believed to be a KGB operative tried to strangle Gubaidulina in the elevator of her apartment building. She scared him off by asking him why he was taking so long to kill her.

The composer arrived at a fierce faith in God, something you can hear in the fierceness of her music: Nothing says “God is angry” better than a horde of snarling tubas. That’s the sound that opens The Wrath of God, a 17-minute piece that, due to the pandemic, premiered in an empty concert hall in Vienna in December of 2020. It’s not for the faint of heart. Still, for all its angst, the piece contains moments of luminous delicacy. She dedicated it to Beethoven, and in the thrilling final measures, she tips a hat to his Ninth symphony amid gleaming brass fanfares.

YouTube

This is an album of confrontations, and in the final piece, The Light of the End, the conflict is between us and nature. It’s a battle heard right there in the music, as Gubaidulina contrasts the very physics of music itself. There’s an eerie skirmish between horn and cello, each playing in a separate tuning system – one natural and the other tempered.

Gubaidulina’s album is proof of at least two things: the immense power of a symphony orchestra firing on all cylinders, especially in these super-charged performances, and the fertile imagination of a wise, long-lived composer still offering transformative music.

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Rapper Young Dolph is shot and killed in Memphis

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Rapper Young Dolph is shot and killed in Memphis

Rapper Adolph Thornton Jr., known as Young Dolph, pictured at a concert in Aug. 2020, was gunned down in Memphis on Wednesday.

Paul R. Giunta/Paul R. Giunta/Invision/AP

Paul R. Giunta/Paul R. Giunta/Invision/AP

Rapper Adolph Robert Thornton Jr., better known by his stage name Young Dolph, was shot and killed in Memphis on Wednesday, according to police.

Memphis Police Department Chief CJ Davis said officers responded to a shooting at a cookie shop at around 12:30 p.m. where the victim was pronounced dead at the scene.

“The preliminary information indicates that the victim is Adolph Robert Thornton Jr. However this information will be confirmed once the identification process has been completed,” Davis said in a statement.

Davis added, “This shooting is another example of the senseless gun violence we are experiencing locally and nationwide. Our hearts go out to the Thornton family and all who are affected this horrific act of violence.”

Officials said no information about a suspect is available.

The 36-year-old rapper, who is from Memphis, released a successful, independently produced debut album, King of Memphis, in 2016.

Then he made three other albums that reached the top 10 in the Billboard 200, including his latest work, Rich Slave, which was released in 2020. The album became his highest-charting project, peaking at number four on the Billboard 200.

Young Dolph was the victim of multiple shootings in recent years. In 2017, more than 100 shots were fired at his bulletproof SUV in Charlotte, N.C. He managed to walk away unharmed and later released a song about the incident called, “100 Shots.”

“A hundred shots, a hundred shots. How the f*** you miss a whole hundred shots?” he raps in the song.

That same year, he was involved in another shooting outside of a hotel in Los Angeles.

At the time, LAPD officials told reporters that the shooting occurred after an argument with three men, “which escalated to a physical fight. At one point, Young Dolph was knocked to the ground. And then one of the suspects pulled out a handgun and began shooting at him.”

Young Dolph escaped from the scene, running to a nearby store. He was later taken to a hospital and underwent surgery.

Officials in Los Angeles told NPR that investigation is ongoing.

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10 genre-bending Chicago artists to watch in 2022

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10 genre-bending Chicago artists to watch in 2022

Music discovery is always on the menu at Vocalo Radio in Chicago

Morten Falch Sortland/Getty Images

Morten Falch Sortland/Getty Images

Music discovery is always on the menu at Vocalo Radio in Chicago — the station pioneered the Urban Alternative format, featuring an adventurous blend of R&B, hip-hop, soul, dance, jazz and indie-pop sounds, all intentionally Chicago-centric. They were one of the first stations to air artists like Chance the Rapper, Noname and Jamila Woods. Now, Vocalo lets us in on 10 Chicago artists the team thinks are worth your time.


KAINA

“I learned that it’s okay to feel all the things and that the feelings are valid, that they’re true. As a person, I can coexist in so many realms and within generations and lineages. ” – KAINA, talking about her debut album, Next to The Sun, in conversation with Jill Hopkins

Dennis of DDesigns/Courtesy of the artist

Dennis of DDesigns/Courtesy of the artist

Chicago-born and raised, KAINA’s identity as an artist is tied to a fusion of cultural influences — from living in the city to her Venezuelan and Guatemalan heritage. Influenced by genres including soul, early ’00s pop and R&B, she often focuses on themes of cultural identity, family and love. KAINA’s vocals are optimistic and dreamy, echoed by her latest music and videos. Fellow Chicago artist and labelmate NNAMDÏ made a cameo in the music video for her track “Anybody Can Be In Love,” off her upcoming album It Was A Home out March 4, 2022.


Makaya McCraven

“The music will find a way … it is essential to our survival and our own mental, emotional, spiritual well-being.” – Makaya McCraven in an interview with Ayana Contreras for Vocalo.

Michael McDermott/Courtesy of the artist

Michael McDermott/Courtesy of the artist

Makaya McCraven is a critically acclaimed jazz drummer, beat scientist, bandleader and Chicago resident since 2007. McCraven is a sustainable innovator — he actively acknowledges his role in the jazz continuum, reimagining old ideas with a contemporary context over and over again. In anticipation of the Nov. 19 release of his new album Deciphering the Message, McCraven released the fourth and final single “Black Rhythm Happening” on Oct. 29. Deciphering the Message is a collection of Mccraven’s remixes of jazz classics from the Blue Note vault, sampling great works of the past and putting his own spin on them.


Mick Jenkins

“A lot of times, self-care, mental care is kind of left on the back burner … That was something I needed to mention multiple times throughout the album.” – Mick Jenkins in an interview about his album “Elephant In The Room” with Dave Cantor for Vocalo.

Bryan Lamb/Courtesy of the artist

Bryan Lamb/Courtesy of the artist

Alabama-born, Chicago-raised rapper and poet Mick Jenkins wants to discuss hard topics. Released Oct. 29, Jenkins’ third studio album Elephant in The Room is unflinching as it explores difficult discussions about self-care, mental health, owning up to mistakes and — as best described in the song’s title — “Things You Could Die For If Doing While Black.” Each track presents its own topical vignette pieced together by Jenkins’ signature low vocals and soft, sparse beats. “Contacts” is a standout on the album, focusing on internal struggles as he raps biblical and metaphorical allusions over filtered keyboard. “Things You Could Die For If Doing While Black” is on a different end of the spectrum instrumentally; Jenkins’ raps are melodic and monotone, with atmospheric guitar riffs and vocal distortion building over the course of its three minutes.


NNAMDÏ

“Working on my own music is just a natural thing that happens when I’m alone. It ends up being a more personal, almost therapeutic thing for me. Being alone also allows complete unabashed experimentation.” – NNAMDÏ on his 2020 album “BRAT” with Shelby Kluver for Vocalo.

Tim Nagle/Courtesy of the artist

Tim Nagle/Courtesy of the artist

Nnamdi Ogbonnaya, professionally known as NNAMDÏ, breaks through the confines of genre, hopping from hip-hop to indie to electronic to jazz and back again. He even covered one of Kacey Musgraves’ songs, putting a fresh spin on the country-pop icon’s “Lonely Weekend” with his unpredictable instrumental progressions. NNAMDÏ’s music builds up a world around his listeners, immersing them in his soundscape. He’s also one of the founders, owners and operators of Sooper Records, a local Chicago label specifically interested in artists at the “cross-roads of contemporary pop, hip-hop and indie.” NNAMDÏ released his new five-track EP Are You Happy on Nov. 12, and will begin his spring 2022 tour in March.


Ric Wilson

“I don’t have to throw away my Blackness to make music that’s fun and feels good.” – Ric Wilson with Bekoe for Vocalo

Michael Salisbury/Courtesy of the artist

Michael Salisbury/Courtesy of the artist

Ric Wilson makes funk and disco-inspired hip-hop infused with activism. On top of touring with or opening for a growing list of artists — think Noname, Lil Yachty, The All-American Rejects and BABDBADNOTGOOD — Wilson has been an outspoken advocate for marginalized groups his entire career, using his platform to promote positive change in the community. Songs like “Everybody Red In The Face” explore police brutality and gun violence, and in July 2020 he successfully demanded that Twitter donate $5,000 to the Black-led, trans-led, LGBTQ focused non-profit Brave Space Alliance in Chicago, after his Tweet about protecting Black trans women was put on a billboard. Teaming up with London producer George Van Den Broek of Yellow Days, Wilson released the collaborative five-track EP Disco Ric in London Town on Nov. 12 and is currently on tour.


Saba

“It’s a group of people that are just really writing about what they feel, and that’s all you really ask for in music.” – Saba in an interview with Jill Hopkins for Vocalo

C.T. Robert/Courtesy of the artist

C.T. Robert/Courtesy of the artist

With more than two million monthly listeners on Spotify, it wouldn’t be surprising if Saba was already on your radar. The rapper traces his creative drive back to childhood and early adolescence, when he would write and produce original music from home studios. A founding member of West Side Chicago independent hip-hop collective Pivot Gang — alongside his brother Joseph Chilliams, their cousin John Walt and high school friend MFnMelo — Saba has become an especially strong voice in the Chicago rap scene. “Fearmonger,” the lead single off his upcoming third solo album Few Good Things, was released Nov. 4.


Sen Morimoto

“Music that we can tell a lot of care has been put into. You listen to a project and you can just tell someone has put their soul into it, their time.” – Sen Morimoto in conversation with Jill Hopkins for Vocalo

Dennis Elliott/Courtesy of the artist

Dennis Elliott/Courtesy of the artist

Multi-instrumentalist, composer, rapper and label owner Sen Morimoto is a collaborator at heart. Hailing from Japan and currently based in Chicago, Morimoto’s music frequently explores themes of self-examination and expression. As one of the founders of Sooper Records and having collaborated with artists like NNAMDÏ, KAINA, Lala Lala and Joseph Chilliams, it’s no surprise Morimoto’s sound takes influence from genres all across the board. He strives to break the categorical mold, incorporating aspects of jazz, electronica, R&B and even noise. Morimoto is also an advocate for social change, frequently calling attention to civic engagement, voting, equality and justice. Although Morimoto hasn’t released any new music since his 2020 self-titled album, he is set to perform at Chicago’s Tomorrow Never Knows Festival on Jan. 20, 2022.


Serena Isioma

“Crying In The Club,” their latest release, couples stream-of-consciousness lyricism with pounding beats.

Youtube

Youtube

TikTok users may know Serena Isioma from their 2020 single “Sensitive,” which went viral on the app and was also recently featured on the HBO series Insecure. Their signature blend of lo-fi hip-hop incorporates infectious beats and swirling guitar tones on top of introspective, confident and clever lyrics. Tracks like the hazy indie soul “Stop Calling The Police On Me” include social commentary, while slowed-down songs like “Hard” and “Valentina” convey personal emotions. “Crying In The Club,” their latest release, couples stream-of-consciousness lyricism with pounding beats as Isioma repeats the words, “please help me.” Their live performances are electric, with Isioma constantly moving around the stage and encouraging audiences to jump, dance and sing along to catchy lines — think, “I’m fresh to death, c-c-c-cold,” from single “Really, Really.” With festivals Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits under their belt and a following increasing by the day, Isioma is a rising star you need to know ASAP.


Tasha

“I don’t attempt to, and have no interest in, separating the quote-unquote ‘radical’ viewpoints of my life from the things that I make, because what would be the point of being an artist? – Tasha in an interview with Jesse Menendez for Vocalo

Alexa Viscius/Courtesy of the artist

Alexa Viscius/Courtesy of the artist

Tasha’s music feels like a lullaby. Scaling up and down, her rich vocals flutter as strong, electric guitar melodies keep her sound grounded. Incorporating intimate musings on love and emotion into her lyrics, listening to Tasha’s music feels like reading a diary. A poet at heart, Tasha has consistently approached songwriting with an open tenderness since her 2018 debut Alone At Last. With the release of her sophomore album Tell Me What You Miss The Most on Nov. 5, Tasha presents a polished and clear window into her innermost thoughts. The lovey-dovey ballad “Perfect Wife” is a standout on the album, with a charming music video which finds her smiling and dancing around her apartment. Interjecting the album is “Love Interlude,” a piece of soft-spoken poetry recited underneath wind chimes swaying in the breeze. Following two November shows at Chicago venue Sleeping Village, Tasha’s tour is scheduled to officially begin Nov. 29 at Mahall’s in Lakewood, Ohio.


Victor Internet

“I think a lot of [my] inspirations just kind of mixed themselves in my brain, and that’s how I was able to push out the sound that I carry now.” – Victor Internet in conversation with Bekoe for Vocalo

Zamar Velez/Courtesy of the artist

Zamar Velez/Courtesy of the artist

Shedding the bedroom pop label of his first releases, 21-year-old Victor Manuel Cervantes, better known as Victor Internet, has come into his own as a primarily electro-pop artist. Still holding onto the guitar and synth elements of his indie influences, Victor Internet’s sound has grown to incorporate notably polished production on his debut album BLUE 2000. After first hitting it big with the single “Tinder Song” in 2017, Victor Internet gained a following for his catchy laments of young love, friendship and identity. BLUE 2000 explores similar themes, but with an added level of maturity in both his instrumentation and lyricism.

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On ’30,’ Adele walks among us

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On ’30,’ Adele walks among us

Adele sings in front of Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles during a televised concert to promote her fourth album, 30, which chronicles the aftermath of her divorce in ways that take subtle chances with the star’s signature cathartic style.

Cliff Lipson/Getty Images

Cliff Lipson/Getty Images

Watching the cozily epic concert segments of Adele’s album-launching Oprah special Sunday evening, I couldn’t help thinking she’d gifted reviewers with a metaphor. She stood on the steps of the Griffith Observatory in a gown that enclosed her shoulders like a black cirrus cloud, glittering Saturn-shaped baubles dangling from her ears. A tattoo of the orb with her current home, Los Angeles, at its center graced the forearm holding her microphone. In interviews, Adele has mentioned astrological reasons for this imagery — the tumultuous Saturn return that occurs at the cusp of turning 30 — but it says something about her status in the pop world, too. With her massive voice, unique charisma and enduring hit-making power, Adele is not just another star, but her own planet. Her movements shift the very tides of pop.

Can a planet come down to earth? That’s the question Adele asks in her fourth studio release, 30, a chronicle of divorce and soul-searching recovery that is, more crucially, a thrilling redefinition of Adele’s artistry. She hasn’t abandoned her reliable templates — there’s a dance-floor stomper, “Oh My God,” that will please fans of “Rolling In the Deep,” and more than one epic ballad built to unfurl stormily through a concert hall. But while Adele earned adulation for evoking, in listeners, the sense of being enveloped in emotion, on 30 she offers a more varied experience. It’s a shift that’s sometimes subtle, evident in lyrics that make more room for both self-criticism and a sense of perspective, and in the way she responds to the rhythms and background voices within each song instead of merely powering forward. She’s in command, but taking chances. “Complacency is the worst trait to have, are you crazy?” she sings over a beat that bears the perfume of lovers rock on “Woman Like Me,” one of several tracks produced by Inflo, the producer behind the U.K. R&B collective Sault. She’s dressing down a potential new lover who’s disappointed her, but she could be offering a motto for her thirtysomething self.

Adele’s stance throughout 30 is one of engagement — with her own inner struggles, with the new world that opens up as she leaves a marriage, and with the musical milieu that’s emerged since 25 came out in 2016. Adele has, it seems, been listening to young contenders on both sides of the Atlantic, from London sensations Celeste and Cleo Sol to American R&B standard-bearer Jazmine Sullivan. Her ability to modulate her voice has grown and balanced out her sheer power, and she engages it to try different methods of phrasing, to quiet down in the way many vibe-seeking chanteuses do now. That’s a risky move, but Adele remains self-aware. The storyteller who once strummed in London’s Brockwell Park with friends returns in those moments to balance out her experiments with the salt of her essential plainspokenness, the quality that has always made Adele herself.

“Mama’s got a lot to learn,” she murmurs in the chorus of “My Little Love,” a hip-hop pastiche and the most experimental track on 30, which incorporates phone voice notes of conversations about loss and safety between the newly single mom and son Angelo. The song is a mood tracker, but that lyric also serves as an admission of the challenge Adele faces as a white woman who, like nearly every white musician, remains hugely indebted to Black progenitors.

Adele became one of the century’s most beloved singers by cultivating a space beyond musical trends, grounded in a mobile retro-pop sound that borrowed equally from the soul-driven 1960s, the blockbuster 1980s and the timeless practice of untethering big ballads from any context whatsoever. She stood on this surface and, sharing tales of heartache, made it a sanctuary, but as long as she stayed there it could often feel like she was in musical dialogue with nothing and no one. 30, on the other hand, engages with the world — through lyrics that trade adolescent romanticism for genuine self-examination, arrangements that reflect the present moment, and a vocal presence as warm and multifaceted as Adele is in interviews and her onstage patter, where she’s a pal who tells long stories and makes jokes, not a gravitational force.

The third decade of the 21st century is not a time of big voices. It’s tempting to view Adele as the last of something, but her genius is in confusing scale, in translating her grandeur into relatability. Adele may stand alone in the pop universe, but when you, the listener, are immersed in her music, she stands alone with you. This ability to connect as a feelingful person, to be a friendly planet, has always been as important as the sublimity of her voice. That gift hasn’t faded; she can still animate a strictly emblematic chorus like, “Hold on, you are still strong, love will still come,” with the lifeblood of spontaneity.

Several elements merge to make this Adele’s most musically interesting and conceptually rich work. The starting point is that better-trained voice, which at times sounds like an entirely new instrument. Years of care following an early-career vocal cord injury have led her to explore registers beyond her reliable gut, and she’s become more intuitive, conversational and in touch with the grooves and dancebeats her producers craft for her. Those collaborators take up the challenge Adele posed for herself by writing songs that dwell on complicated and sometimes even ugly feelings — the guilt she feels at breaking up her family and her distress at trying to explain divorce to her son, the alternating excitement and fear as she finds herself unpartnered for the first time in her adult life — and don’t automatically reach for the catharsis of big notes that won her international devotion. Don’t worry, swoon junkies, those notes still hit sometimes. But Adele is more likely to trade them in for a funky breakbeat, as she does on “Can I Get It,” or the gentle push and pull of those gliding “E”s on the album’s first single, “Easy On Me.”

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Fans determined to weep their way through 30 as they have with Adele’s previous albums may be disappointed. This chronicle of separation does not aggressively serve up heartbreak. Though the publicity campaign has presented the album as a reflection of pain and anxiety after Adele’s split from her partner of 10 years, Simon Konecki, its spirit is one of musical play: the singer trying out different tones and techniques, from the jazz standards-inspired opener, “Strangers By Nature” (with its immortally campy first line, “I’ll be taking flowers to the cemetery of my heart”) to the loose, Honky Chateau-era Eltonisms of “I Drink Wine” and the sinuous flow of the delightedly sensual “All Night Parking,” which kicks off with a light-handed sample from the late Pittsburgh jazz great Erroll Garner and transforms it into a sample around which Adele wraps a vocal as light as twilight air.

The free musical mood of 30 correlates with the story it tells, of a breakup that’s more complicated than the ones Adele immortalized in high Romantic ballads like “Hello.” In her Oprah interview, Adele made it clear that she was the instigator of her divorce, not because Konecki, who remains a “best friend,” was abusive or neglectful but because she felt herself growing beyond the relationship. She chose to break up the home for which she’d longed as a child of divorce, and hazard her son’s pain, in the name of greater ultimate happiness for everyone involved. This most common kind of split engenders emotions that her adored songs of contemplative romantic desolation, like “Hello” or “Someone Like You,” don’t quite serve: the shame of being the heartbreaker, the doubt that comes with loneliness, the need to find a way through ambiguity toward inner strength.

“Cry your heart out, it’ll clean your face,” an auto-tuned phalanx of voices advises Adele in “Cry Your Heart Out” as she details her daily stumbles. “When you’re in doubt, go at your own pace.” Adele answers this Motown-style Greek chorus with lighthearted crankiness: “Please stop calling me, it’s exhausting,” she sighs. But she owns her mess. “I created this storm, it’s only fair I have to sit in its rain,” she sings, adding a little vocal run to boost her own self-confidence. It’s not “Love on Top,” but she’s getting there.

The arrangement of “Cry Your Heart Out” tricks out the template of the girl group sound in a new way, as have many other savvy miners of R&B history, from the Pointer Sisters to Lauryn Hill and Adele’s standard-bearer, Beyonce. Adele has never truly orbited alone through pop’s omniverse — she began her career within a group of fusion-oriented singer-songwriters including Estelle, Rumer, Duffy and Corinne Bailey Rae, and now she’s connecting with a new wave of jazz-soul artists like Celeste and Sault (and perhaps finally nodding musically to her “best friend,” Drake). And always, she’s thinking of Queen Bey.

Longtime collaborators like Max Martin, Tobias Jesso, Jr. and Greg Kurstin accommodate these alignments with varying degrees of subtlety; Kurstin co-wrote and produced “My Little Love,” and was seemingly inspired by similar spoken interludes on both Sullivan’s Heaux Tales and Sault’s Nine. Most telling, however, is her new partnership with Inflo, who helms three tracks, including the gospelized show-stopper “Hold On.” That production’s slow crescendo from a misty beginning, with its choir in the distance, to the familiar monumentalism of an Adele barn-burner does something to the form. It makes the song feel more connected to everything in music that made it possible, building a world around it.

Another important musical work whose makers built a world around it, of course, is Beyonce’s Lemonade, the masterwork that Adele’s last album defeated at the Grammys in 2017, much to the horror of most intelligent music fans, including the planetary voice herself. It’s tempting to identify 30 as Adele’s own version of that inimitable expression of heartache and resolve, but such comparisons can only go so far. Lemonade engaged history in a way that 30, whose triumphs are stylistic and aesthetic but not political, cannot. It spoke for a community, a “we,” in a way that Adele, I think, would not strive to emulate. In fact, one of the strengths of 30 is its grounding in unmistakably personal details, both sonic and lyrical. Adele still gravitates toward expertly rendered big flourishes — the couplet that grounds “Hold On,” “May time be patient / may pain be gracious,” is one of her best — but she is also learning that it can be fruitful to go small in a song, to write or sing something that puts aside the universal for the delicate, the offhand, the small gamble. 30 still offers many ways for Adele to be our planet, high in the sky, making us marvel. But it’s best when she touches down.

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