mensah demary’s previous Liner Notes columns can be found here.
Despite the mythological frenetic pace of life in NYC, much of one’s time here is spent waiting. Downtime in motion: standing while the subway train moves from stop to stop, sitting while the cab starts and stops in staccato traffic somewhere in Chinatown or Columbus Circle. You find pockets of time here and if harnessed correctly, you can find yourself doing productive work. For my part, that might mean reading and replying to the endless emails, or catching up on the latest blog or article via Pocket (the greatest app of all time).
And like Pocket, which is an indispensable tool to use to cut through the deluge of text—“content”—coming at all times, I’ve begun using Spotify to help me work my way through an immense, insurmountable backlog of music. Spotify helps. And again, like Pocket, Spotify lets allows me to share what I love (and loathe) to all of you.
So here are some of the albums I’ve listened to over the last two weeks, in no specific order.
Chicago emcee Lupe Fiasco has had an interesting, if bizarre, career arc. The direction of which would’ve been difficult to predict back in 2005, when the world first heard young, charismatic Lupe on Kanye West’s “Touch the Sky,” then a year later with his debut single “Kick, Push”. That said, it is 2015 and Tetsuo & Youth, Fiasco’s fifth album, is dense, tedious, and lyrically complex (it is safe to say that in December of this year, rap aficionados will tout Lupe’s track “Mural” as one of the best verses, and certainly the longest at over eight minutes, of the year). The album has something that makes me want to like it, much like J. Cole’s 2014 Forest Hills Drive. With this album, Lupe is reportedly wrapping up his tumultuous relationship with his label, Atlantic Records. If so, it’ll be interesting to hear the music he’ll produce going forward.
The era of surprise albums continues with Björk’s Vulnicura. “Every single fuck we had together, is in a wondrous time lapse” sings Björk on the sparse requiem “History of Touches”. Written after her breakup with partner and artist Matthew Barney, Vulnicura reminds me of a distant, Icelandic relative to Meshell Ndgegeochello’s Bitter, another “breakup album” which, like Vulnicura, extends beyond the minutiae of a romantic dissolution, and transforms heartache into a sonic aesthetic for the album in whole. In Vulnicura’s case, the aesthetic is rendered as large, sweeping string arrangements and electronic beats, all complimenting Björk’s haunting, unpredictable vocals.
I experienced Alice Coltrane’s music for the first time in late 2014, the result of brainstorming, soul searching, and in need of new music, with her album Journey in Satchidananda, recorded in 1970. A year later, she followed with Universal Consciousness and…how do I begin to describe this album, this music? Categorically speaking, it is jazz. Yet, Allmusic reviewer Thom Jurek said it best, “This is art of the highest order, conceived by a brilliant mind, poetically presented in exquisite collaboration by divinely inspired musicians and humbly offered as a gift to listeners. It is a true masterpiece.” For my part, Universal Consciousness has been my go-to album during recent bouts with anxiety (the stresses of a day job, I suppose), particularly the track “Oh Allah”. With Coltrane on organ, backed by an droning bass line and string arrangement, the track has soothed me, helped me clear my mind, and reminded me to rededicate myself to an otherwise aimless Buddhist practice.
A nod to my adoptive home of Brooklyn, I’m listening to resident emcee Joey Bada$$’s debut album (pronounced Before Da Money). A more straightforward album with a traditional NYC hip-hop aesthetic, B4.DA.$$, its clumsy title notwithstanding, is accessible and welcome to my ears, particularly after a string of concept albums. Sometimes all I require is a collection of dope beats with thoughtful verses to accompany me on my travels through the borough. The album is a promising first start, formally introducing the larger listening audience to Joey’s lyricism and wittiness. Standout tracks like the opener “Save The Children” and “Paper Trail$” harken back to a more provincial era of hip-hop, with various sub-genres and styles sectioned off by region. The album is true NYC backpacker music and I’m here for it.
I could continue to write these liner notes for the albums currently in my life, but sometimes it’s time to shut up and listen. I’ve put together a little Spotify playlist below, featuring tracks from the above albums and others not mentioned here. I hope to revisit this exercise every so often, and I’ll continue to keep the playlist updated for those who choose to follow and listen. As always, find me on Twitter @mensah4000 and let me know what you’re checking for these days.
mensah demary is editor in chief of Specter Magazine and a columnist for Fourculture Magazine. His fiction and nonfiction has appeared in Metazen, Little Fiction, PANK, Thought Catalog, and elsewhere. Originally from New Jersey, he currently lives and writes in Brooklyn. Find him on Twitter @mensah4000.