It’s November and that means the scales are tipping towards Christmas albums when it comes to new releases in music. ‘Tis been the season since mid-September, but I for one am not ready to commit to Christmas carols just yet, so we’ll try to dig out the “normal” music for as long as we can. This week, we find a teenage ukulele prodigy, a New Orleans bred vocalist and rapper on the come up, and a boy band? All that capped off by a dance track.

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Album 1: Just the Beginning, by Grace VanderWaal (11/3/17)
I doubt there are many people more skeptical than I when it comes to the long term implications of shedding a spotlight on young, talented performers. I don’t watch America’s Got Talent, so I didn’t witness the rise of Grace VanderWaal en route to winning the crown (or whatever they hand out), but she won and now, at the age of 13, she has a full on debut album to her credit. According to her bio, she began composing music at the age of 3 and she’s listed as the primary writer on all of the songs here. AND, in addition to singing, she also contributes instrumentation on many of the tracks. Here’s to holding out hope that we can celebrate a young talent without creating a twenty-something nightmare ten years from now.

The first track, MOONLIGHT, features the ukulele and not much else, setting the tone for an album that’s not typical. The vocals are airy and light, but they don’t lack substance. SICK OF BEING TOLD hints at the songwriter’s age with a slight sense of a tantrum – or at least stubbornness. I’m tired of being told what I should know or do or be. Could just be assertiveness. BURNED offers a more mature sound, nodding towards a classical style on a ballad. This whole album actually seems to deftly balance extremes. Maturity and immaturity. Lighthearted pop and weighty soul. Complicated instrumentation and a simple, efficient presentation.

BONUS: If she wins this little talent competition, too, the bonus song is JUST A CRUSH. I don’t particularly care for the warbled hook, but the song in general exudes a playfulness that provides perspective.

Album 2: Trilliam 3, by Aha Gazelle (11/3/17)

Aha Gazelle signed with Reach Records (Lecrae) earlier this year after moderate underground success with a few mixtapes and earned the label’s attention on the strength of his 2016 EP, Trilliam. Trilliam 2 served as his Reach Records debut in June, followed here with Trilliam 3, which completes the “tri” in Trilliam. While technically, this is an EP as well, there are 13 full songs and 2 interludes, so it plays more like a full album.

The opening title, GET RICH OR DIE TALKING, is clearly a play on the 50 Cent project, but I can’t go much farther down that rabbit hole without revisiting that and it’s probably not worth it. Focusing exclusively on this track, the beat and delivery, and, everything is relentless. It’s so captivating and then you hit the chorus. Well, that’s just impressive. DUMB DANCING has some quirky little sound effects introducing the song and once again, the beat takes the backseat to the unique cadence. He’s rapping, but there’s a melody in his voice that plays like a coy trick on listeners expecting thick trap beats. GOLD MEDALS continues the trend. It’s difficult to describe it, really. I’m not sure if it will get tiring or annoying over time, but right now it’s really enjoyable.

BONUS: THINGS I’LL NEVER TRY is song four and it opens almost like a broken gospel record. This one is all about singing and it’s, again, distinct. If this is indeed just an EP, it will quite interesting to see what a full on project will sound like.

Album 3: Painted Skies, by Anthem Lights (10/13/17)

I don’t know if they would appreciate it, but I would consider Anthem Lights a modern “boy band” in the sense that they are a pop quartet that relies heavily on harmonies to tie light, catchy hooks together. This album is their fourth true album and it releases in the wake of a barrage of acoustic cover songs that have made the group a popular haunt on YouTube. It’s been three years since their last collection of originals, so I was pretty excited to hear what they had in them – especially with new member Spencer Kane joining the group earlier this year to replace founding member Alan Powell.

Skipping the intro, we start off with WHO I’M MEANT TO BE, which honestly made me think they were covering Selah’s GOD BLESS THE BROKEN ROAD the first time I heard the opening piano. It stays with only the piano for quite a while, leaving plenty of space to get acquainted with the vocals, which are great, but I also like when it picks up midway to a fuller sound. Next up, GOOD FIGHT, which kicks off with a laid-back hip hop beat a la Marky Mark. See? They are totally a boy band. I do like their harmonies, though. They know how to carry a tune. With BETTER TOGETHER, we enter the love song portion of the boy band album. This features a nice, poppy rhythm and a hook of “hey-ey-ey-ey-ey you-ooh-ooo”. It’s fun. I like boy bands.

BONUS: Another love song, this time a ballad. AUTOMATIC LOVE features a greater focus on vocals. Taking all four of these songs in at once, you can quickly see the range of talent that the group has to offer.

TUNE DU JOUR: STRANGER THINGS, by Kygo, OneRepublic
I like OneRepublic. And Kygo lays down some nice tracks. And I just started watching the second season of Stranger Things (which doesn’t have anything to do with this song, unfortunately). This is off of an 8-song EP from Kygo called “Kids in Love”. If you like dance music that is less club and more pop-radio friendly, this may be a good one to check out.

peace… love… bdg…