Staff Picks: 12/4 – 12/10

Artist: Oh Land
Album: Oh Land
Comments: I’m going to be completely honest, I only got interested in Oh Land after I read a piece that NPR did about her, so naturally I bought her album right away. And you know what? I’m glad I did it, because for months now I cannot get her tunes out of my head. However, “Sun of a Gun” is not the song I like the most, like NPR suggested, it’s “Rainbow” that really lightens my mood and sets me off into a happy place.

Mark Noisiri
Artist: Nujabes
Album: Spiritual State
Comments: Since his tragic passing in 2010, fans of the massively influential Japanese underground hip hop/jazz composer Nujabes felt a deep void. Released this past weekend is Spiritual State, Nujabes’ first posthumous album featuring new unreleased material he left behind. Nujabes’ music was quite frankly the soundtrack of my late teens and helped bridge gaps between my understanding of modern hip hop and classic folk/jazz, so this album was both nostalgic and refreshing at first listen. Spiritual State brings back Nujabes’ frequent collaborators emcees Cise Star, Substantial and Pase Rock along with fellow Japanese producers/instrumentalists Uyama Hiroto and Haruka Nakamura, who all complement each record with their respectful talents. Though the album is mostly easy-listening material, Nujabes threw a few curve balls in the form of up-tempo breakbeat-oriented instrumentals scattered throughout the album with some great sampling choices all over. More music is still left to be released to the public from Nujabes’ archives, so only time will tell when we get to listen.

Matt Fox
Assistant Editor
Artist: The Black Keys
Album: El Camino
Comments: If one were to look at the evolution of The Black Keys, he or she would see a group who has managed to mature without letting arrogance seep through the cracks or their well-oiled machine. The band progressively moved from the raw and gritty tones of earlier releases such as The Big Come Up to more finely polished material as seen in Brothers. Also, their courage to test the waters of other genres, albeit a slow and steady process, can be heard if listening from strictly blues rock releases like Thickfreakness and Rubber Factory to more boundary-pushing records such as Attack & Release. El Camino, like some sort of micromanager jacked-up on compromise, has succeeded in finding pleasant middlemen for all prior changes. In regards to the raw vs polished situation, the new album retains the relentless energy of their older material, but also adheres to a stronger sense of cohesion than other recent releases (“Hell of a Season”). This release also discovers middle ground for The Black Keys’ ever-changing style. Read my review of the album here.

Janey Criss
Assistant Editor
Artist: Housse de Racket
Album: Alésia
Comments: I’ve become a little obsessed with this record, and seeing Housse de Racket perform these tunes live at their show with Yelle last night didn’t lessen the intensity. I bought it on vinyl in the end. Anyway, this is a collection of really novel songwriting characteristics. Yeah, it has some definitive French pop moments (“TGV”), but it also has some great prog (“Les Hommes et les Femmes”) and new wave (“Apocalypso,” “Chateau”) moments, too. Then you have songs like “Roman” and “Human Nature,” which very accurately embody all the elements that you love about these differing genres. The English lyrics aren’t cheesy at all – they’re repetitive and sincere. The cadence of vocals is nice on all the tunes, and Victor and Pierre’s harmonies lend a gluey strength to the record as a complete package. Guitars are clear, Moog-ish keys are warm. Layering is very much akin to Phoenix’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (Phillipe Zdar did produce it), but Alésia is more experimental and innovative than that record.

Courtnay Glatter
Artist: Adele
Album: Live at the Royal Albert Hall
Comments: The immensely talented and uber-popular powerhouse is getting the respect she deserves with her second studio album, 21, which is undeniably one of the biggest – if not the biggest – albums of the years. The British import snagged six Grammy nods and has sold more than four million copies of her latest album. Her Live at the Royal Albert Hall package was released on November 29th and is an amazing compilation of mostly songs on her sophomore album as well as some off of her first CD, 19. There are also three covers including Bonnie Raitts’ “I Can’t Make You Love Me”, The Steeldrivers’ “If It Hadn’t Been For Love” and Bob Dylan’s “To Make You Feel My Love”. “If It Hadn’t Been For Love” makes it apparent that Adele would have been a star even singing country music. It has a southern sounding vibe and she keeps to the original western format of the song. The album displays the singer’s electric and phenomenal talent as well as her hearty laugh and the audience’s ecstasy in her presence.

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