Before I start, a brief note: Let me just remind/inform you that Taylor Swift’s new album is NOT ON SPOTIFY (yet). I didn’t just recklessly ignore the biggest release of the year (reportedly close to 1.5 million in first week sales). Calm down. I’m not a hater. When it IS on Spotify, I’ll probably include it that week. For now, we’ve got three other new releases to chat about and that’s just going to have to be okay. These three combined won’t sell as much as Taylor, but they are still quite worth giving a spin. Let’s see how a poppy-funk album stacks up against a funk-gospel and funky-rock. Yeah, there’s plenty of funk to go around this week, capped off by a tune du jour I discovered a few weeks back and still haven’t wrapped my head around. Deal? Okay, let’s go.

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Album 1: Into the Wild, by Manic Drive (11/7/17)

Three months ago, MIC DROP was the Tune Du Jour and I wasn’t entirely sure if it would grow on me or if I would find it annoying. Now it’s the first track on their latest album, which is odd considering the meaning of the phrase. (Maybe Canadians are too polite to walk out after dropping the mic). I still remember them as more of a rock band than a pop outfit – they toured with Stryper, after all – but as I revisited some of their earlier albums, I suppose the hints were always there.

As mentioned, MIC DROP and it’s already familiar to those who have been listening for a while, but for good measure, the song is driven by a funky bass line and upon that foundation they lay horns, claps, and vocals that results in a high-energy pop meets funk track. CEILING continues the groove aspect of it with prominent bass once again, but more of an airy, spacious feel to it – slightly reminiscent of THRILLER in the way it builds to the chorus. My favorite element of this song is the back half of the chorus, during which the music completely drops out and comes back in with a strong cadence. The third track is INTO THE WILD and stylistically, it’s a hard left turn with no turn signal. This is much more laid back and toned down, but it still has a nice rhythm to it and nice instrumentation that includes a lot of fun elements. I’m drawing a blank on the instrument right now, but it’s something of a pipe flute that comes in on the chorus.

BONUS: EASIER, as the fourth track, represents a bit of a happy medium between all the songs we’ve heard thus far, a ballad that has elements of dance, nostalgia, and nice vocals.

Album 2: The Other Side, by The Walls Group (11/3/17)

I don’t know much about this group – actually next to nothing – other than that I saw them selling well on Amazon and thought they might be worth checking out. Turns out, this is their second album and they were discovered and signed by Kirk Franklin to Fo Yo Soul Records ahead of their 2014 debut studio album. That Kirk Franklin, man, he’s everywhere. Anyway, The Walls Group comprises four siblings (the Wall family, duh) and they combine the harmonies of a Southern Gospel Quartet with a Gospel flair that dives into R&B, hip hop, and funk.

The opening track, MY LIFE, brings you into the fold pretty quickly with a next-to-naked vocal and flashes of the driving rhythm and strings to come. As the chorus kicks in, the quartet fills out along with the instrumentation. This is a classic tell the devil what’s up track, proclaiming that life comes from God and belongs to God. It’s a nice opener. THE PRAYER, references the famed Lord’s Prayer and that’s how it opens up lyrically, with some subtle percussive touches underneath the vocals. This is a really nice arrangement, one that keeps you intrigued as a listener and engaged as you want to sing along – whether you know the words or not. Track three (GOOD) brings another fresh style to the fore: a bluesy, jazz guitar soundtrack that frames soulful vocals. What impresses me most is that, unlike many gospel albums, this one manages to avoid repetition from track to track and keep things really interesting.

BONUS: AND YOU DON’T STOP switches lanes again, featuring one of the ladies as the lead vocalist and another layer of musicality. There are some more harmonies going on in the background, which is cool, but one slight drawback is that it feels like (if it isn’t) a drum machine rather than live instruments.

Album 3: What if Nothing, by Walk the Moon (11/10/17)

Walk the Moon is probably most well known for telling everyone to SHUT UP AND DANCE. I remember the first time I heard that song on the radio. I thought for sure that Hillsong United had gone mainstream because of the characteristic vintage, live production sound and the guitars. Alas, it was not Hillsong, but it was catchy enough to stick in my head for months. And I still hesitate to turn it off when it comes on. Now, they have a new album.

First up is PRESS RESTART, which starts out with a creepy falsetto, some picking, some spacey ambiance, and now some distorted vocals. This reminds me a bit of MuteMath, because there are a lot of things happening at once. Very mellow and it feels like they are holding back. As if it could explode at any moment. There’s a lot of nice elements on the back half of this track. And in stereo, which leads nicely into the next track… which is called HEADPHONES. I think I’ve heard this one on the radio and begins with a nice 8-Bit Pole Position arcade ramp up. I can take a beating like a good pair of headphones. The percussion sounds very influenced by Darren King (MuteMath) and the song itself feels like something that Cake might put out if they were still around. Wait, are they still around? They censored themselves, phew. The 2-minute mark begins a nice bit of letting loose. Next up, ONE FOOT (in front of the other). This has elements of Maroon 5 and their previous album, very retro in the production. It’s really enjoyable and I’m spending too much time on it. Moving on….

BONUS: SURRENDER is the bonus track, should we get this far, and it’s a driving ballad. What’s that? Well, it’s pretty laid back, but there is a driving beat underneath it. Wow. They know how to create a mood. I like how the hook/chorus just opened up and then released before moving on. Oh, there’s almost an early U2 feel to it. Where the Streets Have No Name.

Okay, so imagine if Metallica announced a new tour covering the Black Album and that Leigh Nash was going to be taking lead vocals for all the shows. I think this is what that might sound like. The guitars aren’t as heavy on this one, but you get the idea. The contrast of the crunchy guitars and the crystal clear vocals is just mesmerizing. I don’t know that I could listen to this album a lot, but I’m smiling as I do now.

peace… love… bdg…