Music

Grieves: Together/Apart

An interesting, solid hip-hop album. Don't let more quality go ignored, especially when it's already happening a lot this year.


Grieves

Together/Apart

Label: RhymeSayers
US Release Date: 2011-06-21
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iTunes

If you start out for a destination and enjoy the journey, it's probably a sign you need to continue to explore. This is my weird allegory for the fact that you should never stop trying to discover new artists (in rap, particularly, in this case). If the most famous dudes on an underground label tickle your fancy, you should dig in the crates a little more and see if the lesser-known artists are as good. Talent usually attracts more talent.

Grieves can sound a little oblique at times, but perhaps that’s just a commonality among Rhymesayers emcees. Goodness knows that Slug -- throughout his steady ascent through the underground scene up until Atmosphere albums started debuting in the Billboard Top 10 – has always been that way. Grieves looks like sort of a loner, with black hair, multiple piercings: He’s the guy who seems to always have his head down. Maybe it’s just my impression of him from the “Light Speed” video, but I’ve always vehemently believed you shouldn’t stereotype anyone who makes or listens to hip-hop as long as they do it well.

While everybody seems to have their songs about taking life slower, “Light Speed” is quite pretty and reflective (even though I personally think getting a better singer for the chorus would have enhanced the song.) It’s easy to like, easy to relate to, and one of the album’s most memorable tracks. His mosaic of memories flows easily over a pretty piano backdrop that reminds me of Drake’s “Fireworks” instrumental, and no song here would have started the album better. It's a bit of a grower, but there’s so much to appreciate here. It’s a song that should put a feather in the cap of Rhymesayers at its best, even though the chorus vocals halt the track, bringing down the quality of the song a notch.

“Sunny Side of Hell” features a much more soothing and fitting hook, Grieves singing about resilience. Despite the fact that the title may make people feel a little uneasy, he makes some excellent points in there always being smaller good points in every bad period in a human’s life. And in those times, that’s what you really need to live for. The beginning of the song’s second verse is where Grieves sounds most impressive on the entire album. “Bloody Poetry” is harder, but it starts out with a glumness that permeates through the instrumental, and it brings to mind gritted teeth and clenched fists with its intriguing mix of moods.

“On The Rocks”’ main disadvantage is the repetitive beat; it just feels awkward, even though the flow Grieves uses here is very unique. “No Matter What” is a mix of self-analysis and really dope spitting from both Grieves and guest Krukid, the latter ending his verse with "I'm human's all I'm sayin'". It's a memorable line, much like in “Boogie Man,” where Grieves says “I believe…and that’s about as far as it goes”. Sometimes just simple lines like that are the ones that hit hardest.

Speaking of when music hits you in the heart, “Growing Pains” is one of the most likable songs here. It starts off as if he’s a six year-old living life with the mind of a 20-something, talking about how he is unable to fit in or adapt. You can't call Grieves insincere, but he especially wears his heart on his sleeve here, and it works great. It's almost as good as "Light Speed" in that way. Otherwise, “Heartbreak Hotel” is a despairing lamentation; meanwhile, a distortedly sung chorus and a Brother Ali guest verse make “Tragic” most memorable, where Ali (who’s kept us all waiting for news related to his next album) talks about self-awareness and predestination and Grieves holds it down on the other two verses.

This album did not quite connect with me quite as much as albums by Atmosphere or Brother Ali, or several other non-Rhymesayers white rappers. Am I pigeonholing Grieves? I’m certainly not trying to, but perhaps it’s where he fits. That’s what’s wonderful about rap – on the one hand, if you love it, you fit; but you find your own niche somewhere in the depths of the genre that suits you best. But for me, there are times where Grieves really does resonate – whether talking about childhood, heartbreak, or other matters.

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In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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Features

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton



9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton



8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge



7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge



6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

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