Music

The Best R&B of 2015

Modern R&B could very well be in the midst of a new, insanely fruitful Golden Age.

5 - 1

Artist: Alabama Shakes

Album: Sound & Color

Label: ATO

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Alabama Shakes
Sound & Color

Sound & Color was the first Alabama Shakes album to hit number one and it's well-deserved. It's a decidedly more groovy set than 2012's Boys & Girls, and while leader Brittany Howard still has that grit within every single note to ever leave her mouth, here more than ever is a sweetness that reels you in almost instantly. Have a listen to the falsetto-laden "Future People", where the spacey jam spreads out just enough to let her words resonate, and take note on how affecting Howard can sound, even if she's not spittin' and sweatin' mad. Still, make no mistake: Brittany Howard can still transfix any audience with her power. "Gimmie All Your Love" and "Dunes" highlight how demanding her presence is on any record of which she is part (just listen into her chuckling during the former's first explosion to understand exactly what that means). And don't forget that title track, which both sways and vibes like early-era D'Angelo. If 2012 was about the rockier side of soul for Alabama Shakes, 2015 certainly flipped that formula on its head, turning up the sound while exposing a seemingly infinite amount of colors.

 
Artist: Andreya Triana

Album: Giants

Label: Counter

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Andreya Triana
Giants

“And I'm singing low / Low and sweet / Giving more soul / Give it all to me", Andreya Triana sings on “Gold”, Giants’ second track and you immediately know that there’s going to be no sophomore slump for this London native. With a voice that kind of sounds like it might just be deeper than the Atlantic Ocean, Triana’s talent is unmistakable and her knack for the dramatic makes her an artist impossible to ignore. “That’s Alright With Me” recalls 1970s Motown with its grandiose chorus and vintage textures while “Keep Running” is fuzzed out bliss anchored by an organ riff that sounds like it was ripped directly from a Nintendo game. “She’s five-foot-nine and oh, she’s never had to work a day,” the singer asserts over some well-placed finger snaps and lush vocal harmonies, making each word slur in the space between lazy and boozy. It’s delicious ear candy for anyone who enjoys a world view that comes complete with an extra helping of wary.

 
Artist: Nigel Hall

Album: Ladies and Gentlemen … Nigel Hall

Label: Feel Music Group/Round Hill Music

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Nigel Hall
Ladies and Gentlemen … Nigel Hall

Nigel Hall’s Ladies and Gentlemen … Nigel Hall comes Ivan Neville tested and Questlove approved and for good reason. There’s a silly smooth soul in the Washington singer’s voice, but there’s just as much face-melting funk in his fingers. “Don’t Change For Me” might just be the grooviest track of 2015 that you probably didn’t hear, a slinky-yet-powerful drum beat forcing the Ugly Face onto any listener with two ears and a pulse. The Isley Brothers's forgotten 1972 classic “Lay Away”, featuring Quest on drums, is updated with a fuller sound but just as much soul. And single “Gimme a Sign” takes R&B music back to a time when wasn’t just a genre, it was a lifestyle, its guitar recalling that of Steve Cropper and his work on pretty much every Stax Records single between 1962 and 1965. What makes Nigel Hall great is his attention to both the rhythm and the blues. What makes Ladies & Gentlemen essential is its commitment to a classic soul music ethos that rarely sounds this exciting in the modern day. It’s authentic. It’s undeniable. It’s… Nigel Hall.

 
Artist: Rudimental

Album: We the Generation

Label: Atlantic

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Rudimental
We the Generation

It’s the perfect blend of house and soul. For their second album, Rudimental brought in so many guests, it’s hard to pick a favorite. Is it the title track, which features Mahalia and an explosion of horns that tastefully help the hook bloom? Or is it the funky Lianne La Havas collaboration, “Needn’t Speak”, which leans on some jazz trumpet and the singer’s delightfully feathery verses? How about “Never Let You Go”, a song that brings the great Foy Vance into the mix in full spaced-out mode until the drums and bass kick in and turns what starts out as a moment of sadness into a celebration of love? Whatever you pick, there’s no denying how much fun this English quartet has in bringing R&B into a newer, more modern world that values discotheques just as much as it does a solid rhythm section. If nothing else, We the Generation reestablished Rudimental as some of the most forward-thinking artists in the genre.

 
Artist: Dâm-Funk

Album: Invite the Light

Label: Stones Throw

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Dâm-Funk
Invite the Light

It’s been said -- and rightfully so -- that Dâm-Funk is like the “soul equivalent of Kendrick Lamar” in terms of his boldness of vision and the ability to construct a complex concept album full of catchy grooves. Just listen to Invite the Light’s “I’m Just Tryna Survive (In the Big City)”. Once Q-Tip picks up the mic, the proceeding guest spot (a spot that feels so quick, you’ll miss it even if you don’t blink) proves how well certain hip-hop voices work with the guy born Damon Garrett Riddick. Even “Just Ease Your Mind From All Negativity” could easily be found on a Snoop Dogg record, partly because the Snoopzilla opens the track with such seamlessness. The best, most mind-twisting collaboration comes in the form of “Acting” with Ariel Pink and a truly fascinating groove that at first glance sounds impossible to even comprehend. And then there are tracks like “We Continue” and “Somewhere, Someday”, which recall someone like Prince before he became a symbol. It’s wildly ambitious and unquestionably original. The soul equivalent of Kendrick Lamar, indeed.

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