Curated for each issue of Content by Universal Grammar, Album Picks are highlights of recent music releases by some of Universal Grammar’s favorite artists. These picks read less like reviews and more like contextual introductions to each artist and their work: they aim to explore the cultural impact of the release itself in 300 words or less.
—Caroline Beleno of Universal Grammar
Alina Baraz & Galimatias
Urban Flora EP
Alina Baraz is a Los Angeles–based singer and songwriter connected with Denmark-based producer Galamitas via SoundCloud. Nine months after the independently released, bona fide hit “Fantasy” (with 14 million plays on SoundCloud to date), the two have collaborated to release Urban Flora, an EP featuring eight previously released singles, on the high-profile Ultra Records imprint. Galamitas’ subtle R&B with electronic elements and a downtempo vibe, combined with Alina’s soothing and seductive voice, creates a mood suggesting a pairing with a glass of wine, a book to read, and a hammock.
Ego Death LP
(Odd Future / Sony)
Off top, Syd the Kyd is my hero. I have been a super fan ever since my first listen of The Internet’s debut album, Purple Naked Ladies, back in 2011. Introduced via newly minted Odd Future Records, The Internet, which at the time consisted of Syd the Kyd and Matt Martians, displayed a certain kind of soul sound that was new, but right off the bat sounded in step with what my ears wanted and needed to hear. The Internet’s music is definitely soul, but a brand-new version of it, with elements of R&B, hip-hop, and funk organically injected with a modern and intoxicating swag.
With the release of their new album, Ego Death, The Internet puts Odd Future in the rarefied air of having two members of their collective produce two of the best and most innovative soul/R&B records of the last four years. I speak of Frank Ocean’s debut album, Channel Orange. For Ego Death, The Internet is now a band consisting not only of Syd the Kyd and Matt Martians, but Jameel Bruner, Patrick Paige, Christopher Smith, and Steve Lacy, as well, fully formed together in mid-2011. The Internet, too, will have wowed San Jose audiences by this time in their no-doubt stellar performance at the 2015 San Jose Jazz Summer Fest as part of the Jazz Beyond Stage programming co-presented by Universal Grammar (excuse the shameless plug).
By the time you read this, you might have caught Kamasi Washington at this year’s San Jose Jazz Summer Fest in downtown San Jose, as part of the Jazz Beyond Stage programming carefully curated and co-presented by Universal Grammar (shameless plug redux). I believe this will be as epic a performance as any at this year’s Summer Fest, although I am writing pre-performance in this quick review of Los Angeles–based Kamasi’s new album, The Epic. Known mainly for his tenor playing, following in the traditions of John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman, Kamasi is modern jazz, or the future of it, but he’s making waves right now. The Epic is epic: it’s a triple CD release, a must-see in concert. Only then will you understand the full velocity and power of his music.
Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment
Released as an exclusive free download on iTunes at the end of May this year, the LP Surf is a product of the band The Social Experiment. Highlighted throughout the album is the work of trumpeter Nico Segal, aka Donnie Trumpet. Highly anticipated for The Social Experiment’s inclusion of Chance The Rapper as an official band member, Surf has a clear devotion to the art of a new cool, a bohemian mesh of musicians enjoying the process of making music with live instrumentation and of eclectic influences ranging from neo soul to jazz and hip-hop. The Social Experiment consists of Donnie Trumpet, Chance The Rapper, Peter Cottontale, Greg Landfair Jr., and Nate Fox. Surf guest-features current heavyweights in the game, including Big Sean, J. Cole, Janelle Monáe, and new kid on the block Raury.
The Beyond / Where the Giants Roam EP
To my enthusiastic enjoyment, Los Angeles–based Thundercat, one of my current favorite artists period, given best-in-the-universe status by some of my peers, has just released a new project, an EP titled The Beyond / Where the Giants Roam. Some of my favorite work from artists I dig can come from an EP release. It’s usually more daring and experimental, yet not too far from their familiar sound, taking listeners to new places with it or deeper—case in point here.
The Beyond, Thundercat’s third release following his solo debut album, Apocalypse, has Thundercat showing he is currently in a creative prime. Fresh off guest appearances and studio work on albums like Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, with this new release, Thundercat is again establishing his own imprint on modern jazz and soul with futuristic incantations for mediation. The EP features a modern jazz vanguard of musicians, including Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, Flying Lotus, Kamasi Washington, and jazz-futurist pioneer Herbie Hancock. (Also see: Suicidal Tendencies, no joke.)
Picks by Thomas Aguilar: Tommy has been presenting and promoting artists, DJs, and musicians from all over the globe in his hometown and other parts of the Bay for 15 plus years under the moniker Universal Grammar. Under the nom de plume “Charle Brown,” he shares his mix of global groove, soul, R&B, jazz, electronic, hip hop, funk, house, and Latin to his hometown audience, San Jose.
7.3 Album Picks Playlist