Album of the Week:
Valerie June – «The Moon and Stars: Prescription for Dreamers»
Curious, how this new time requires new categories: Is »The Moon and Stars«, the already much too long-awaited new album of the US musician Valerie June, a so-called lockdown album, because it opens the senses wide, playfully animates to dream away from the narrowness of one’s own four walls, so it appears at exactly the right time?
It’s funny how the external circumstances change and condition the reception of pop music. Because June was already finished with the recordings at the end of 2019, her label only advised her not to release the album last year. Nevertheless, it sounds contemporary intimate. It stands up with gentle force against the imprisonment of the soul – and penetrates all musical and contemporary locations.
Genre or time, these have never been reliable parameters in the consideration of June’s music. She has always transcended these terms with a universal claim, and that also makes her fifth album an event. Have fun with the categorization, dear Grammys!
Valerie June, born and raised in Tennessee in 1982, lives in Brooklyn and is African-American, but that’s not why she’s automatically a soul or R&B singer. As one of the few black artists, Tracy Chapman comes to mind, she also writes her songs as fragile folk or country songs with steel guitar (»Two Roads«). Sometimes they sound like bluegrass and Appalachian mountains (»Colors«, »Fallin«), then again like gospel, delta blues or the sultry southern soul of old hi-records or stax records (»Call Me a Fool« with Memphis legend Carla Thomas), which is full of winds and strings.
It’s an amazingly multi-layered Americana sound that is deeply rooted in musical traditions, but from this roots foundation also reaches into previously unexplored spheres, psychedelics and Afrofuturism. June’s distinctive voice, trained in the church choir, serves as a link, with which she can act either ethereally delicate or dive-like bridly.
She gained more attention in 2013 with her album »Pushin’ Against the Stone«, produced by Dan Auerbach (Black Keys), but Valerie June had already emancipated herself from its rather earthy sound in 2017 on »The Order of Time«, »The Moon and Stars« is now her bravest and musically freest release to date. The rhapsody-like triplet »Stay/ Stay Meditation/ You and I« at the beginning of the album alone expands their spectrum in a stunning way: A retro soul merges into a New Orleans brass band sound with marching drums, in the meditation part flutes ghost through a jazz ambience before guitar folk meets Afrobeat motifs. A sovereignly orchestrated, very cool chaos.
“I don’t know how long I’ll stay,” June sings at one point in this storm of styles, and it’s about something private, about romantic walking or staying. But in the further course of the album produced by Jack Splash (including Kendrick Lamar, Alicia Keys) with a lot of sound transparency, it becomes clear that June’s musical border crossings and escapes may also seek a way out of current political and social misery. Their “prescriptions” aim to stimulate the emotional receptors for the dreams of Martin Luther King or John Lennon, dreams of a better world that overcomes racism and hatred, of humanism and kindness.
»In search for something true«, according to the breathed mantra in the key piece »Within You«, one only has to sink deep enough into oneself, esoterically enraptured by steel drumbeaming, violin clinging and quiet trap hissing. If you get involved, Valerie June’s soothing soul yoga conjures up a smile on the worry-kissing face, which is as disarming as »Smile«, the little pop hit of this exhilaratingly utopian album. (8.4)
Disarstar – »German October«
“I’m not one of you,” the Hamburg rapper and Marxist Disarstar etches against Balenciaga consumerists and other Dullis in Schlager German rap. Many, like himself, come from the very bottom and could speak against Nazis and capitalist hardships. But nothing there. So he has to do it himself, all the better! Through elegant trap and R&B beats, he tells left and radicals from the dark sides of Pfeffersack-City. (8.2)
Israel Nash – »Topaz«
Wind instruments, organs, choir singers and many guitars created a rich, longing country soul sound in the self-built corrugated iron hut studio of Americana rocker Israel Nash. It often sounds a bit epigonal, as if Neil Young had lost his way to Memphis in the mid-seventies. But it is touching how Nash makes his heart wide like a canyon to overcome the political divides of the USA. (7.7)
Louisahhh – »The Practice of Freedom«
Ahhhh, how you would like to dance to this sound liberated in Berghain! New York DJ Louisa Pillot has been hailed as the “queen of techno” for years, now she formulates her feminist, emancipatory messages on a hard debut album that sparkles gloomily with dark wave and industrial electronics, which leaves a sharp metal taste in her mouth. Anne Clark’s heiress. (8.0)
Selena Gomez – «Revelación – EP»
»No te tengo a ti/ Me tengo a mí«, if only it were so simple: »I don’t have you anymore, offhe I’ve got me,” sings US pop star Selena Gomez on her first Spanish-language EP. Hopefully, the proud reflection on her origins (father is Mexican) and the competently pushing Latin rhythms will really alleviate her heartbreak (Justin Bieber, still). Beautiful and melancholic. (6.5)
evaluation: From »0« (absolute disaster) to »10« (absolute classic)
On Wednesdays at 11 p.m. there will be a »Abgehört« mixtape on the Hamburg web radio ByteFM with many songs from the discussed records and highlights from Andreas Borcholte’s personal playlist.