Bosco – Boy
Initially, my impression when committing to listening to this record was that I was in store for more whispery Alt-R&B tumblr music. In some ways that’s what this is but the saving grace is that Bosco has a really good voice that is used in really effective ways most of the time on this record. That’s always been the saving grace for these sorts of records: you can pack with all the neat sound effects and echoes you want, but it always comes down to whether or not the voice of the singer can make a big enough impression on the listener. More than that, my biggest issue with this genre is that it is not nearly interesting enough to get away with being all attitude/image with very little introspection if any at all. The songs are all good and in the end that wins out over any cynicism I have about the style of music; my hope is that as she releases more music, we get more of an idea of the singer is behind the persona.
Janine And The Mixtape – XXEP
I didn’t care for the last JATM record: it was fine enough but wasn’t anything that stood out in any real way. I found much more satisfaction in this one. XXEP feels more fully fleshed out and worked on. The sound is reminiscent of 90s-early 00s R&B/pop and her earnestness is endearing in a way that tugs at the emotional teenager inside of you. I don’t know that I can ever get behind a tender, love ballad version of DMX’s “Up In Here” but aside from that jarring moment, this is a small, lovely record that’s easy to get through and embrace.
Grace – Memo
This is a really traditional soul record in a lot of ways. Grace has a powerful voice that she belts out to full power and versatility with a production aesthetic that is junkier, busier and, in a lot of ways, outdated for what is popular in the genre now. Yet it works for what it is: Grace is a really good singer bringing a matter-of-fact confidence and attitude about womanhood and sex to old school aesthetics. It’s a “Love & Hip-Hop” soundtrack of a EP and, yes, I mean that in a very good way. There’s something freeing about a blunt singer like Grace and as comforting as the music is here, I’d be interested in hearing if there are other more original sounds that can work in her favor.
Rico Love – Turn The Lights On
I did not think this record would be good at all. Maybe that’s unfair to Rico Love–who’s made good music for other good artists–but my expectations were considerably low after being either disappointed or turned off by every single he’s released (ugh, let’s all forget “Bitches Be Like”). Needless to say, I was presently surprised by it. Another case of a strong songwriter making mainstream R&B that isn’t hopelessly shallow or derivative. This record is passionate, lust-filled and introspective in a way I wasn’t prepared for and it triumphs because of it.
Miss Ester Dean – Self-Titled
This was my favorite of the R&B records I listened to for this post. It’s twice the “Love & Hip-hop”-esque ruminations on relationships and sex that Grace’s record was. Dean is confrontational, aggressive and self-assured even when she’s lifting the curtain on personal insecurity. It sounds like every rap record being played in clubs and parties at the moment but they suit her. It feels akin to Dream’s latest EP from April in both tone and sound; Dean’s voice has strength and character–you want to go along with the ride she’s taking you on. I even liked the Mustard produced one… mostly. SN: I hope records like this will signal the start of Keyshiacore because music influenced by Keyshia Cole would be a great thing.
MNEK – Small Talk
This is my second favorite of the group. This is also sort of a cheat because MNEK is more in line with Dance music and homages to the 90’s Techno-wave then it is with R&B, MNEK sings with all the character and conviction of a kid who grew up listening to Boys II Men records. The songs ooze the musicality of a Luther Vandross but over the synth keyboard and bass of songs that sound like funkier versions “Like The Desert Miss The Rain”. In a lot of ways, it’s most reminiscent of the Whitney Houston record “It’s Not Right, But It’s Ok” or last year’s MJB record. More than anything else, it’s a good record that makes people who don’t like dancing want to dance. It’s either the soundtrack to start the party or the one that ends it, just dependent on how you feel that night.