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MYNIYL – J. S. Ondara

My ongoing, dramatically inconsistent series of “Music You Need in Your Life” continues today with a new singer/songwriter: J. S. Ondra.

Tales of America

First, a little biography. Ondara grew up in Nairobi, Kenya, listening to Bob Dylan and other folk and rock artists from America. Around the age of 20, Ondara wins the green card lottery and moves to Minneapolis, Minnesota. He buys a guitar, learns how to play, starts writing music and now (at 26) releases his debut album: Tales of America.

Okay, now let’s talk music. Most of the album is acoustic-driven songs with a few tracks that have a backing band. Even though he has a strong tenor voice that slips into falsetto in unexpected times, you can hear the Bob Dylan influence on how he ends a few lines. That said, his vocal ability is still new, fresh and uniquely his. Side note: his style is also freaking on point.

The first song I want you to hear is “Torch Song”, a perfect track for you to hear his vocal abilities, his Dylan inflections and his lovely falsetto:

While you’ll find the standard love songs on this album, a good portion is spent singing about America, the “American dream” and the immigrant experience. He seamlessly slips between lyrics of his personal experiences and universal concepts. Speaking of the “American dream,” here’s a track with that as the title. It’s also a good example of what we can expect from Ondara once he has a full-time backing band:

I know a lot of my musical ramblings rarely talk about lyrics. I’m not good at listening to lyrics because I spend so much time appreciating the instrumentation that I assume I miss a lot of great stuff! But Ondara’s sparse instrumentation gave me a chance to appreciate his lyricism. My favorite example, his song “God Bless America”. As a non-immigrant, I don’t know if I’ve heard the immigrant experience encapsulated so succinctly: “God bless America / the heartache of mine”. Okay, let’s just check out the lyrics of the whole song!

Will you let me in, or are you at capacity
Will you set me free, are you holding onto history
Will you be sincere, are you averse to honesty
Will you dare to hear those children matching on the street

Oh God bless America, the heartache of mine
Oh God bless America, the heartache of mine

Will you let me bring, isabela here from Nairobi
On the phone she was ill, and so was the economy
In fifty years, when I’m frail barely on my feet
Will you be kind oh dear, like you promised at the embassy

Oh God bless America, the heartache of mine
Oh God bless America, the heartache of mine

When the time it is sweet, it won’t matter who your god is,
or the tone of your skin, or who you choose to share your love with

Oh God bless America, the heartache of mine
Oh God bless America, the heartache of mine

Listen while you read:

 
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Posted by on February 21, 2019 in Life, Music, Music Review, MYNIYL

 

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Favorite Albums of 2018

So, last year I somehow did not do my favorite album list. I apologize profusely. I’ll never know how to make up for it. Anyway, here’s my favorite albums of 2018. Number 20-11 will only be the name and a video, the top ten will have a few comments by me in addition to a video or two. Let me know in the comments what’s right and wrong about my list, what albums I missed, etc. Let’s go.

20. The New Respects – Before the Sun Goes Down

 

19. Jason Mraz – Know.

 

18. Florence + The Machine – High as Hope

 

 

16. Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats – Tearing at the Seams

 

15. Punch Brothers – All Ashore

 

14. The Suffers – Everything Here

 

13. Logic – YSIV

 

12. Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper – A Star is Born Soundtrack

 

11. The Milk Carton Kids – All the Things That I Did and All the Things That I Didn’t Do

 

10. Lucy Dacus – Historian

Yay, I finally get to talk about some music. I listened to Historian solely because of the name while looking at new releases one Friday. It took less than 7 minutes (the length of the first track) for me to realize this was something special. The heartbreak, the darkness, the hope, the light. The whispers and the screams. The loss of loved ones and the escape from others. All emotions, all of life was encompassed in these songs. The album was released in March and even though we don’t deserve more, she released an EP with her supergroup including Julian Baker and Phoebe Bridges: boygenius. Well, let’s hear a song. Here’s “Night Shift”, the opening track I mentioned before. If you have 7 minutes to spare, listen to the whole thing. You won’t regret it.

 

9. Noname – Room 25

I first learned about Noname because of her verses on the last Chance the Rapper record. I didn’t know you could be so understated and calm while rapping some of the most intense lyrics around. I quickly listened to her first album and watched all the live videos on YouTube, especially her Tiny Desk Concert. Her vibe is consistently chilled. Her words are not. Here’s the second track of Room 25 titled “Blaxpoitation”:

 

8. MAJOR. – Even More

This dude is criminally underrated.  Classically trained vocalist for opera and stage, MAJOR. has a powerful voice that would be perfect singing anything. Secretly, I want him to play George Washington in Hamilton on Broadway (call me Lin-Manuel). MAJOR.’s debut album, Even More, is upbeat and poppy. It’s a lot of fun from beginning to end. He borrows influence from soul, R&B, theater, pop and hip-hop. There’s world beats mixed in. He tends to make big, bold statements about himself and what the world needs. For example, here’s how he introduces the album:

Even More is my official statement to the world that hope in love, culture, and our future is not lost. Like my heroes Michael Jackson, MLK, & Stevie Wonder, I’ve accepted the charge to bring fearless love through every lyric, melody, & moment. The world is hurting. Even More is the solution.”

Let’s listen to “Honest”:

 

7. Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy

Being one of the biggest surprises of 2018, Cardi B’s debut studio album released to impressive critical acclaim and commercial success. Cardi B just has this presence that you can’t explain. Any verse from her is infectious. You’re required to listen. Whether you’re laughing or you’re shocked or even confused, you are still glad you did listen. NPR’s Ann Powers said it best: “She walks into a song and it changes.” It can be Maroon 5’s pop, Bruno Mars’ throwback funk or her own hip-hop. It doesn’t matter, she was meant to be there. The best example, “I Like It”, has her traveling between trap and salsa and R&B and hip-hop:

 

6. St. Vincent – MassEducation

Usually, I’m not a fan of most acoustic or stripped down albums. If you write an album with a full band, I wanna hear it with a full band. More often than not, these types of albums bore me. St. Vincent’s album MassEducation is an impressively lovely exception to this rule. In 2017, St. Vincent released one of the best albums of the year, Masseduction. Dark, sexy and infectiously poppy, I loved it. But when she stripped all the instruments and beats away and slowly sang the same songs over a piano, everything took a whole new meaning. The cute became sinister. The smiles became pain. Levels of emotion and sadness came out of the lyrics that were almost washed away behind the glitzy production of the original. Here’s a live performance of “Savior” stripped down to just a piano and her voice:

 

5. Ariana Grande – Sweetener 

2018 was the year of Ariana for all the right and wrong reasons. She showed strength and resilience after 2017’s horrific bombing at her concert in Manchester. She experienced heartbreak with the end of her relationship with Mac Miller, happiness with her dating and engagement to Pete Davidson then (I’d imagine) indescribable sadness with Mac Miller’s overdose and untimely death in September. The next month her and Davidson’s engagement was called off. In the midst of all the drama, she released an incredible album, Sweetener. This sugary, intimate album is a perfect snapshot of this time. She teaches us how to see the light in darkness, how to breathe during the pain, how to love the unlovable. And none of this touches on “thank u, next“, the sweetest breakup song ever.  But let’s listen to “breathin”:

 

4. Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer

NPR’s number one album of 2018 and for good reason. This afro-futuristic, pop and funk perfection has everything: catchy melodies, woman empowerment, funky guitars, political jabs, sexual fluidity, black empowerment, anger and harmonies, love and science fiction. And on top of all this, she also released a 50 minute “emotion picture” to accompany the album. Every song on here is damn near perfect so I’m having a hard time picking which to show you. Do you want pop? Or hip-hop? Let’s just keep it sexy with this Prince-inspired anthem, “Make Me Feel”:

 

3. Leon Bridges – Good Thing

I feel like this is the forgotten album of 2018. When the best of lists started coming out, this one was missing from most (if not all). And as you can see from my high placement, I have no clue why. Leon Bridges was able to get everything that made his debut incredible and bring it into the modern world. He brought his unmistakable voice and vibe into today’s R&B, soul and pop. And he did it all while still looking like the 1950s dressed him. I’m mad at all y’all that aren’t listening. Remedy this, quick. “If It Feels Good (Then It Must Be)”:

 

2.  Rosalía – El Mal Querer

I’m so happy to have found Rosalia this year. This Spanish singer seamlessly combines flamenco and pop music. Her traditional vibrato singing intertwines with trap beats, flamenco claps and Spanish guitars. She samples modern music like Justin Timberlake while telling the 13th century story of a woman accused of infidelity. El Mal Querer is a drastic shift from her debut album, a collection of flamenco classics performed with Raul Refree. I don’t speak Spanish and don’t want to translate songs so I have to guess what the songs mean based on the emotions portrayed by her voice. Frankly, it isn’t too hard. Enough with words, here’s “Di Mi Nombre”:

 

I mentioned sampling Justin Timberlake earlier. The next song has a Spanish version of “Cry Me a River” as the foundation. The song is “Bagdad”:

 

1. Christine and the Queens – Chris

I cannot stop listening to this album. Daily, weekly, I keep coming back to it. Christine and the Queens is the stage name for the French artist Héloïse Letissier. She sings in French and English and her performances are heavily choreographed, taking on a theatrical production. She blurs the boundary of music and theater, male and female, sex and love. Dance tells one story, while words tell another. Her voice is seducing you while her body is pushing you away. It doesn’t matter what language she chooses, her message is still clear. Actually, her album was released as a double album, the first half in English and the second with all the same songs in French. I listen from top to bottom, from English to French, every time I play it. She can sing to me in whatever language she wants.

All that said, let’s hear some songs. In “5 dollars”, she shows hickeys, scratch marks and bondage equipment, all covered up in a 3-piece suit:

 

“It doesn’t matter, does it / If I know any exit / If I believe in god and if god does exist / If I believe in god and if god does exist” is sung over playful choreography in a parking lot. “Doesn’t matter”:

 

The first single off the album, “Girlfriend”, gives serious Broadway vibes. Some 80s musical with a sultry, blue-collar love story or something. I’d watch it.

 

Christine and the Queens performed a 30 minute concert for Apple Music live at the Salle Pleyel, Paris. For whatever reason, it’s no longer on Apple Music but I did find it on some sketchy website. So I highly recommend watching it but can’t vouch for the website.


 

There it is, my favorite 20 albums of 2018. Here’s to a new year of music!

 
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Posted by on December 10, 2018 in Lists, Music, Music Review, MYNIYL

 

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New Music – October

Next month has a good bunch of records that I’m very excited about. So. I wanted to tell you about them. So. Let’s go.

October 1:

B-Room – Dr. Dog

Dr. Dog is one of those bands that have a relentless schedule of new music released. I love every record and always look forward to anything they put out. This is no exception. Here’s “Broken Heart:”

The 20/20 Experience 2 – Justin Timberlake

If this record is as half as good as the first one, it will be worth the price of admission. Timberlake knows how to make great, thought-provoking pop music. The first single is more upbeat and a little less fleshed out as anything off the first 20/20 but it’s still a killer tune:

Pure Heroine – Lorde

Lorde, 16-year-old Ella Yelich-O’Conner from New Zealand, is making incredible pop music. You might have heard her first single and might not know who she is. I’m not sure if this song is going to be on her debut album but I can’t get it out of my head. Here’s “Royals:”

October 8:

Melophobia – Cage the Elephant

This is just one of those fun rock bands that are just great to listen to. I saw them open for Manchester Orchestra and they put on a really good show. This is the first single from the new album, “Come a Little Closer:”

October 15:

Magpie and the Dandelion – The Avett Brothers

I’m so excited that there was such a quick turnaround since their last album. You can’t have too much Avett Brothers. Saw them last year at ACL. Chad Smith from Red Hot Chili Peppers came out and played a song with them. Anyways, I’m looking forward to this new album. The first single:

Make a Move – Gavin DeGraw

For 10 years, Gavin DeGraw has been putting out great piano pop music. He has a very distinctive voice and songwriting style that is his own while still fitting onto pop radio. I still think his debut record is one of the best debut pop albums. Since then, I still look forward and jam out to every subsequent release by him. His first single is just as catchy as anything he’s written:

New – Paul McCartney

There’s not much I can say about Paul McCartney that you don’t already know. As one of the greatest and most prolific songwriters in the world, I look forward to any new stuff from him. And from the first single, this album sounds like it’ll be a great one.

October 29:

Reflektor – Arcade Fire

Arcade Fire’s last album was considered the best album of 2010 by numerous publications (and rightfully so). Because of that, everybody has high hopes for this new record. And guessing from the first single, the album will live up to any hype and expectations that people have. The music video is great, the song is killer. I can’t wait for this album.

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Anyways, support your favorite artist. Buy your music. Or not. Whatever. Just listen to great music.

 
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Posted by on September 24, 2013 in Lists, Music

 

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