1. Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings - 100 Days, 100 Nights
Sharon Jones' voice has that kind of reverent bombast that we don't hear from most singers, male or female, nowadays. That she's backed by a hell of a band doesn't hurt their cause of reviving that early 70s soul sound, either. What's always been striking about Sharon and the Dap-Kings is how effectively retro their sound is, but upon learning that they are a group only formed in the past decade, it becomes apparent how relevant that sound is to today. Tracks like "Humble Me" and "Something's Changed" are raucous and slightly unhinged, yet possess a style and swagger that that strikes a chord with audiences now and then. Mere "revivalism" is too soft a term for this music.
2. The Clash - Live at Shea Stadium
See my review from earlier in the week. One would think that with the oversupply of Clash re-releases that their sound would become stale and uninteresting. Yet the paucity of widely released live material until a few years ago means that there is a whole fresh side to the Clash that some (including myself) feel hasn't been sufficiently explored. Political speeches are notably lacking on Live at Shea compared to other recordings. But this was a band whose music was their politics, and the determined energy that they bring to a monster stadium like Shea is enough to sound like that one oasis of freedom in the midst of Reagan's America. Though some may not consider it canon, this is an album that deserves to be alongside the Clash's stellar catalogue.
3. Jean Grae and Blue Sky Black Death - The Evil Jeanius
Though this is a collaboration album between Jean Grae and BSBD, and the soundscapes produced by the duo are deep, atmospheric, and often eclectic (they sample the Supremes and Velvet Underground at points), Jean undoubtedly steals the show here. Not only are her rhymes as complex as ever, she seems to be a master at matching mood with subject matter, lyrics with musical quality. Highlights include "Strikes" and the opener "Shadows Forever," where her immense aptitude for story-weaving and truth-telling are complimented by BSBD's beats in a way where neither are overtaking the other. That's not an easy skill to hone, but with skilled artists like these, expectations nonetheless run high. Thankfully, they don't disappoint.
4. Wale - Hate Is New Love
DC hip-hop! What! There is a lot of buzz around Wale's debut full-length early next year. Listening to this mixtape, it's easy to see why. "Uptown Roamers" is a great portrait of the side of DC that we simply don't hear about with all the seat of power rhetoric. And then, at the same time he's never so serious to have the ever-poisonous "conscious" label slapped on him (thank god). There's a lightheartedness that he brings to many tracks that is incredibly refreshing. Overall, his rhymes and flow are intense, yet delivered with enough fun to make you think it's all off the top of his. The way he's blown up over the past year or so without even having dropped a full album is encouraging; the kind of thing that makes you proud to call him a hometown brother.
5. 28 Days Later
I normally don't go for soundtracks as much as I do for "music inspired by the movie" albums. Yet there is something masterly about the 28 Days Later soundtrack. John Murphy, whose compositions dominate this album, is unparalleled in his auditory renderings of the gamut of emotion explored in the film. The songs veer between minimalism and wall-of-sound, between rage and joy, isolation and hope. The haunting sparse nature of "Abide With Me" and "The Church" are incredibly effective in conveying alienation and fear, and yet, that glimmer of hope never seems to fade on any of these tracks. Rather important for our times, no?