On my way home from Austin, everyone on the plane to New York queued up Frank Ocean on their iPods and I watched my twitter timeline explode with praise for The Weeknd’s new mixtape. The universe must have felt the same way, because this week is blowing up for ole rhythm and blues. Besides Yellow Man Breezy shattering windows and charts and Rihanna smashing the cover of Vogue as the hottest new Bajan mermaid, there’s much music to celebrate and be comforted by—going from 80 degree weather in Texas to New York’s latest round of sleet pellets was rough.
While in Austin I did ran into the lovely duo J*Davey hanging out at The FORT and heard that they had dropped a new EP, Evil Christian Cop: The Great Mistapes. Apparently I was in a coma for the month of February because I totally missed it. However, that won’t keep me from singing its praises now. Their cover of Nirvana‘s Smells like Teen Spirit is probably the first time I have ever heard all the words of the song annunciated so clearly and turns the rage of the original right on its head. There’s a bit of angst in it but Jack is smooth—an antithesis to Kurt’s pained, raw voice. “Quicksand” is probably my favorite and not just because the hook references the melody of Suzanne Vega’s “Toms Diner”. The synths and her layered distorted voice makes me feel as if I’m spinning around in the dark with people whispering in my ear. Freaky? Yea I know. Still mad I missed her live performance but I’ll drown my sorrows in this EP and House of Balloons, which took two listens for me to get the magic from but now has me obsessed. That might be a metaphor for my entire relationship with R&B these past few months—I was losing the feeling until I gave it another chance.
Kenna‘s new EP Land 2 Air: Chronicles I is set to drop on April 5th, with three new songs as precursors to his upcoming album Songs of Flight. Dude’s got to be in the Top Three Ever of all the people who used the Neptunes’ distorted sounds to their advantage. His commitment to putting melodies over synths and wild dubstep rave sounds is what keeps me coming back. The first single “Chains” is full of sonic treats, including the tapping of two glass bottles together. Keennaaaa come out and plaaaayyyy! I’m not gonna lie I definitely thought I might have to hold on to his last album “Make Sure They See My Face” as the last will and testament of the Ethiopian singer, but this new track is giving me the best hope. If I had kept a more open mind before Austin, I probably would have even more gems to report.
Someone described all of this as a Drake inspired movement. But if we’re going give the Toronto Teddy Bear props for all this then we would not be doing it justice. Sure, he has championed a very different view of traditional R&B, but I think its best to note him as an advocate and not a leader. His wasn’t an original idea but a reinterpretation of a genre that need a bit of a revival. While some of the more recent tapes such as Nostalgia, Ultra and House of Balloons are obviously influenced by So Far Gone— they all feature singing over older songs and male vocals manipulated and reverbed into the most twisted of the original form—Kenna and J*Davey are a bit more original. They are turning the definition of what we think this genre should be on its head but straying away from the already used mold. If we proclaim R&B as all-Drake, then we are stunting the next crop of individuals from being able to do exactly what all these artists did: reexamine and test the limits; pushing the boundaries to a side of the spectrum that was not yet explored. This thought makes me laugh as I always find myself saying this stuff sounds like . All these individuals and groups are making futuristic spaceship jams that distort old thinking but overall sound just as sweet. Listeners ought to be open to the sounds and follow the evolution. I know I made that mistake but I am definitely back in the circle.