2016 was one for the ages for a variety of reasons, but it turned out to be an exceptional year in the world of film, TV, music and literature. We’ve covered comedy in our special Best of 2016 comedy section, but what about the rest? Some very tough calls had to be made, but here’s the best of Filtered Excellence for 2016. Happy New Year everyone!
Moonlight. Barry Jenkins’ eagerly awaited follow-up to his critically acclaimed 2008 film Medicine For Melancholy – which has been a hit on the festival circuit – rolls out this weekend. The film, which is based on a story by acclaimed playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney, tells the story of Chiron in three parts: As ‘Little’ (Alex Hibbert), a young boy growing up in a Miami housing project with his drug addicted mother (Naomie Harris), her dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali) and his girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monae); as Chiron (Ashton Sanders), a teenager who endures vicious taunting and beatings regarding his sexuality while confronting his feelings for local lothario Kevin (Jharrel Jerome); and as ‘Black’ (Trevante Rhodes), an Atlanta-based drug dealer who returns to Miami to re-connect with Kevin (Andre Holland), whom he hasn’t seen in 10 years. Jenkins wisely uses the widescreen format to show the depth and scope of Miami but also to give the powerful emotional scope conveyed here that much more punch. The film avoids many of the cliches this kind of material tends to have wth each character having depth, complexities and nuance. The film’s overriding theme that the journey to finding oneself is often strange, painful, but ultimately rewarding is the stuff of ages. You can also go to www.moonlight-movie.comfor more information.
Manchester by the Sea. Major buzz surrounding this new film from writer-director Kenneth Lonergan (Gangs Of New York, Analyze This, You Can Count On Me) and for good reason: It’s one of the year’s best. Casey Affleck stars as Lee, quietly living his life as a janitor in Boston. When he receives news that his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has suddenly died, Lee reluctantly returns to his hometown of Manchester-by-the-Sea, a fishing village where his family has lived for several generations. Lee’s also shocked to learn that he’s been named the sole guardian of his teenage nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). All of this forces Lee to deal with the events that led him to leave – including confronting his estranged wife Randi (Michelle Williams). There’s a lot to love about this film: Lonergan’s script, his sweeping direction and knockout performances by Affleck, Williams and newcomer Hedges. All are all but guaranteed to be making the rounds during the awards season. One of the year’s best. You can also go to http://www.manchesterbytheseathemovie.com/ for more information.
Hell Or High Water. A strong and steady buzz has been surrounding the latest feature from David Mackenzie (Spread, Perfect Sense, Starred Up). It stars Chris Pine and Ben Foster as Toby and Tanner, two brothers who decide to rob local branches of the very bank that is threatening to foreclose on their family property. Hot on their trail are Texas Rangers Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and his partner Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham). For Hamilton, the case has a special meaning: It will be his last one before retiring. Everything works in the movie: the character contrasts (Toby, restrained, straight laced, single dad; Tanner, a hot headed, trigger happy ex-con; Hamilton, grizzled, cotton mouthed and Un-P.C., Parker, his pensive, reserved, but can dish it out as well as he takes it), On one side, Mackenzie’s use of the lush West Texas landscape gives it the feel of a Western. But he also touches upon issues such as the power of ‘too big too fail’ banks and states’ open carry laws to add some contemporary context. While there is a fair share of action, the film really takes hold during the quieter moments as the respective sides reflect on family, loyalty, and their place in the world. Anchored by solid performances by Bridges, Pine, Foster and Birmingham, don’t be surprised if this film makes the rounds during awards season. You can also go to www.Hellorhighwater.movie for more info.
Fences. Denzel Washington wrote, produced and stars in this big screen adaptation of August Wilson’s classic stage drama. He plays Troy, a former Negro Leagues player now working as a garbage collector in 1950’s Pittsburgh with his wife Rose (Viola Davis) and their son Cory (Jovan Adepo). Though things appear well on the surface, the dynamic is fragile: The marriage tested when Troy reveals a long hidden secret that shatters Rose’s trust in Troy. Also, the long simmering tensions between Cory and Troy come to a head when Cory wants to pursue a college scholarship playing football. Troy also harbors guilt from benefiting financially from his brother Gabriel’s (Mykelti Williamson) deteriorating condition, which was a direct result from injuries sustained in World War II. All of these situations come to a dramatic head, with results that will have long term effects on everyone in Troy’s orbit. Working off a screenplay that was written by Wilson before he passed away in 2005, the acting is off the charts. Washington, Adepo and Stephen Hendrerson (as Troy’s friend and co-worker, Bono) are electric. Davis – who received an Oscar nomination for her movie stealing 7 minute scene with Meryl Streep in Doubt – gives the film’s standout performance as the loyal but long suffering wife Rose. As a director, Washington keeps the pace steady but brisk, giving the actors plenty of room to chew on Wilson’s vibrant and rich material. With plans for Washington to adapt all of Wilson’s plays to the screen, this is a terrific way to launch the series.
La La Land. Damien Chazelle’s follow-up to the Academy Award-winning film Whiplash is a modern take on the Hollywood musical. It stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling as Mia and Sebastian, an actress and a jazz musician chasing their dreams in a city that is known for crushing them. Connecting at a time when their career arcs are at low points, they navigate through modern day Los Angeles with the hopes of finding their voice in an unforgiving city. But as their fortunes start to turn, the same forces that drew them together now threaten to tear them apart. Gosling and Stone are perfectly cast as two people drawn together by fate yet destined to find their way to their goals – and to each other. Stone’s the realist while Gosling never takes his eyes off the prize even as everything tells them to tap out. They are also more than capable of carrying a tune, which is essential to make this film work – and they pull it off quite well. Chazelle is emerging as Hollywood’s next great auteur as he uses the City Of Angels brilliantly as the perfect backdrop of this explosion of sound and color. Backed by a wonderful score by Justin Hurwitz, Chazelle has put together a slam dunk musical that will be hard to be ignored during awards season. You can also go to www.lalaland.movie for more information.
Silence. Martin Scorsese co-wrote and directed the eagerly awaited film version of Shusaku Endo’s acclaimed 1966 novel. Set in the 17th Century, the film stars Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver as Portuguese Catholic priests who travel to Japan to find their missing mentor, played by Liam Neeson. It’s the ultimate test of faith: Christianity is outlawed and the mere presence of priests are forbidden. It’s during their travels that they encounter brutal feudal lords, ruling samurai and hidden Christians who are trying to avoid slow, painful forms of death for their newfound beliefs. They are struggle with the same paradoxical dilemma their mentor faced: Are they willing to publicly renounce their faith in order to save the lives of other believers? Scorsese, who has spent 28 years trying to get this to the big screen is firing on all cylinders, visually and with the script, which he co-wrote with Jay Cocks. It rounds out the trilogy of Scorsese films that tackled the human and emotional side of spirituality (Last Temptation Of Christ, Kundun) and challenges even the most fervent believer. The cast is spot on with Driver, Garfield and Neeson delivering outstanding performances. Visually stunning and emotionally arresting, Scorsese has produced an meditative epic that stands alongside any of his classic films. You can also go to www.silencemovie.com for more information.
I Am Not Your Negro. As one of the seminal figures in the American Civil Rights Movement, James Baldwin combined acute insight, stinging analysis and a defiant bluntness in his writings and through his memorable appearances on TV. Raoul Peck’s new documentary looks back at Baldwin’s work and how those writings resonate more now than when they were written. Samuel L. Jackson has the challenging task of bringing Baldwin words from such landmark works as The Fire Next Time and The Devil Finds Work to life, but more than rises to the occasion, capturing not only Baldwin’s distinctive cadences, but also making sure that the his humor, rage, exasperation and hope comes to the fore. Baldwin is also present in the film, thanks to archive footage of university speeches and TV show appearances that show the writer in peak form. The highlight of the film is Remember This House, a piece that Baldwin was working on before passed away in 1987. A haunting meditation on the assassinations of Medgar Evers, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X, the piece was both universal and personal because he was friends with all of them. Peck has put together a moving and loving tribute to a literary and social-political titan that will more than make the rounds during awards season. One of the year’s best. You can also go to www.magpictures.com for more information.
The 13th. Ava DuVernay’s (Selma, Queen Sugar) first full length documentary looks at how a loophole with the 13h Amendment has opened the door to mass incarceration (particularly among black men) and a booming prison industry. Whether it was freed slaves getting jailed on false pretenses or mandatory-minimum sentences for even the most petty offenses, DuVernary, along with a array of experts (Angela Davis, Van Jones, Jelani Cobb, Bryan Stevenson, and Henry Louis Gates, Jr, among them) makes the case plain and crystal clear. Her use of archival footage – everything from post Civil War newspaper accounts right up to comments made by both nominees for President hammer the message home even harder: Even more jarring is that prisoners are now used to do many of the same jobs as those on the outside – but for a fraction of the wages. Ava DuVernay has already established herself as one, if not, the best filmmaker today. This film now makes her our most important. An absolute must see.
Atlanta. Donald Glover (30 Rock, Community) wrote, executive produced and stars in this much buzzed about new FX series. Glover plays Earnest ‘Earn’ Marks, who’s back in his hometown of Atlanta after dropping out of Princeton. Between homes, dead end jobs, and trying to figure out his relationship with his best friend/baby mama Vanessa, Earn reconnects his cousin, Alfred ‘Paper Boi’ Miles (Brian Tyree Henry), an up and coming rapper. Paper Boi hasn’t quite grasped the difference between street life and real life and Earn becomes his manager to help him figure it all out. Along with Paper Boi’s right hand man Darius (Keith Stanfield), they must navigate their way through the Atlanta hip hop scene to make life better for them and their families. As he did during his stint as a writer on 30 Rock, Glover expertly (and often hilariously) captures all of the nuances and quirks of Southern life, family dynamics and the fickleness of the hip hop scene. The laid back, nuances behind with laughs is one of the show’s many strengths, along with the great cast. Posied to be the first great new show of the fall season. You can go also to http://www.fxnetworks.com/ for more information.
Queen Sugar. Big hype around this new OWN series created, directed and executive produced by acclaimed director Ava DuVernay (Selma) and executive produced by Oprah Winfrey. Based on the novel by Natalie Baszile, the show stars Rutina Wesley and Dawn-Lyen Gardner as Nova and Charley Bordelon, two sisters living two different lives: Nova is a journalist and activist based in New Orleans while Charley is a successful manager married to an NBA star. Scandal and tragedy brings Charley and her teenage son back to Louisiana to help run a 800 acre sugarcane farm that was willed to her by her recently deceased father. In addition with re-connecting as sisters, they must also reconcile with their younger brother Ralph Angel (Kofi Siriboe), a volatile ex-con and single father trying to stay straight for the sake his son. They must put aside all old and current wounds to help keep the struggling farm afloat and maintain a legacy their father died trying to keep. DuVernay, who directed the first two episodes and wrote several of the season’s episodes, keeps the show away from soap opera territory, opting instead to make a meditative look at redemption and reconciliation. She presents a side of Black family life that is rarely giving this much focus and depth in any medium. Oprah seems to think so too: Based on the early reviews, the show has already been picked up for a 2nd season before the 1st episode has even aired. This is another incredible outing by one of the great new voices in entertainment. You can also go to http://www.queensugarown.tv/ for more information.
Animal Kingdom. The series adaptation of the 2010 internationally acclaimed film rolls out next week on TNT. Ellen Barkin plays ‘Smurf’ Cody, the matriarch of a Southern California crime family that specializes in armed robbery. Finn Cole portrays Josh ‘J’ Cody, Smurf’s estranged grandson who comes to live with her after his mother dies of a drug overdose. The crew, which is made of Smurf’s sons Pope (Shawn Hatosy), Craig (Ben Robson), Deran (Jake Weary), along with second in command Baz (Scott Speedman) are initially skeptical of the new house guest – especially when they are about to embark on another high risk job. But for Smurf, family still comes first and plans to have J quietly come into the fold. But J quickly realizes that in this family, it’s either adapt or perish. With the lush Southern California landscapes as a backdrop, this is a high octane, adrenaline fueled series anchored by a strong cast and great action scenes. Barkin is electric as Smurf, the undisputed, take no prisoners leader of the family. Despite near incestuous relationships with ‘her boys’, she’s ready to cut bait in the blink of an eye, and takes no quarter from anyone . She put the ‘bad’ in badass. Cole is perfectly cast as J, the grandson who by sheer circumstance is thrust into the dark side of life in SoCal. Barkin is the star, but we really see the story develop through his eyes. Speedman is just as strong as Baz, the second in command who begins to question Smurf’s leadership and the brothers’ loyalty even as he keeps their criminal enterprise moving forward. If you like high powered action crime drama, Animal Kingdom is your show. You can also go to http://www.tntdrama.com/ for extras and more info.
The Night Of. This new HBO miniseries created by Steven Zaillian (Schlinder’s List, Gangs Of New York, Moneyball, Awakenings) and Richard Price (The Wire, The Color Of Money, Sea Of Love) makes its long awaited debut this Sunday. Based on the BBC series, Criminal Justice, it stars John Turturro as John Stone, a world-weary defense attorney who takes on the case of Nasir ‘Naz’ Khan (Riz Ahmed), a Pakistani-American college student who is charged with brutally murdering a 22 year old woman on the Upper West Side. At the heart of the series is how the slow, grinding wheels of justice takes its toll on Naz, his family and everyone within its orbit. It also serves as a chilling reminder on how race and class play into how suspects get extended stays at Rikers Island for months – and sometimes years – before they get their day in court. Everyone is on their A game: Zaillian, Price, Turturro and breakout performances by Bill Camp as Detective-Sgt Dennis Box and Ahmed as Naz. Ahmed’s performance is devastatingly good. This is THE show everyone will be talking about. You can also go to HBO Go, HBO Now or http://www.hbo.com/ for a sneak preview of Episode 1, extras and additional information.
The Get Down. Netflix is going all in on this new original series from director Baz Luhrmann. The show – which takes places in 1977 New York with disco at its peak and hip hop on the horizon – is the network’s most expensive production to date at 7.5 million per episode. But Lurhrmann, along with a team of collaborators that includes Oscar winner Catherine Martin, legendary MCs Grandmaster Flash and Nas, Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis; and hip-hop historian Nelson George, put so much attention to detail into the production, that you can practically feel the sweat off the dance floors and the smell of the spray paint. Anchored by a cast of great new talent (Shameik Moore, Justice Smith, and a breakout performance by Herizen Guardiola) and industry veterans (Jimmy Smits and Giancarlo Esposito), The Get Down wonderfully shows how a small group of kids from a city on the brink of collapse, forever changed the musical and cultural landscape. You can go to http://www.netflix.com/ for more information.
Better Things. Pamela Adlon and Louie C.K. co-created and co-wrote this new FX series that’s loosely based on Adlon’s life. She plays Sam Fox, a divorced actress living in L.A. with her three daughters. She’s also looking out for her mother “Phil” (Celia Imrie), an English expatriate, who lives across the street. Between trying to earn a living, being a mom and dad to her children and dealing with her mom, all Sam wants a chance to hang with friends, and trying to have a life for herself. Adlon, who did scene and show stealing turns on Lucky Louie and Louie, finally gets a chance to carry a series and she is, as always excellent. As they have done through their previous work, Adlon and Louie C.K. walk a fine line between comedy and the real to keep everything on point and in perspective. It’s a huge step up from the average sitcoms that are currently airing. Definitively worth checking out. You can also go to http://www.fxnetworks.com/ for additional info.
A Moon Shaped Pool by Radiohead. For the band’s 9th album, no one would’ve been mad at Radiohead if they had repeated themselves or at the very least phoned it in. After all, they have been making mind blowing after mind blowing albums for nearly 25 years (!). Instead, they have beautifully crafted a collection of songs that serve as both a summation and a continuation. Even more incredible is that half of the material is stuff the band has been road testing as far back as 1995, but never got around to recording. The unsung hero of the project is guitarist/ composer/ arranger Jonny Greenwood, who wrote the exceptional score and string arrangements on several tracks. Whether it was the menacing strings on ‘Burn The Witch’ or the grandiose orchestration on ‘The Numbers’, Greenwood leaves no doubt that he is this band’s X factor in their success. Thom Yorke continues to find new ways to break your heart vocally: ‘True Love Waits’ will just wreck you. With hints of jazz, avant-garde, Brazilian music and electronic experimentation, Radiohead has added another classic to an already Hall Of Fame worthy canon. One of, if not, the best album of the year, A Moon Shaped Pool is available now through Amazon, Itunes and all major music retailers. You can also go to http://www.radiohead.com/ for tour dates and more information.
Blackstar by David Bowie. David Bowie’s final album (it’s SO weird to say that) is a hauntingly beautiful summation of his career. Lovingly produced by long time producer and collaborator Tony Visconti, Bowie teams up with a crew of veteran New York jazz musicians to bring out a suite of songs that run from bluesy, acerbic, wistful and ultimately, powerful. By adding some icy, electronic textures to the songs, it’s also echoes the avant garde spirit that marked such works as Low and Heroes. But Bowie, ever looking forward, also invokes a touches of hip hop and (Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly was cited as an influence) and a new hybrid of EDM and ambient to add to the ethereal mix. ‘Lazarus’ and the career closer, ‘I Can’t Give Everything Away’ is his love letter, his parting words, to all of us. This is the most poignant farewell album since Queen’s 1991 swan song Inneundo and the front runner for best album of 2016. Thank you once again, Mr. Jones. Blackstar is available now through Amazon, Itunes and all major music retailers.
Love & Hate by Michael Kiwanuka. The much acclaimed singer-songwriter goes all in for his eagerly awaited follow up to Home Again. Teaming up with Danger Mouse, Inflo and long time collaborator Paul Butler, Kiwanuka once again takes us on an emotional search, but this time adds a sound that recalls Ennio Morricone, Meddle-era Pink Floyd, Fela, Bill Withers, Issac Hayes’ Hot Buttered Soul, and Charles Stephany’s work with The Rotary Connection. Taking enormous risks, but mining musical gold, the album opens with a 10 minute epic (‘Cold Little Heart’) – four minutes of which are instrumental – and closes with an Al Green style ballad (‘The Final Frame’) augmented with a super dirty blues based guitar solo. Majestic, cinematic, introspective and just plain magnificent, Michael Kiwanuka has delivered one of the best albums of the year. An instant classic. Love & Hate is available now through Amazon, iTunes, and all major music retailers. You can also go to http://www.michaelkiwanuka.com/ for more information.
Last Days Of Oakland by Fantastic Negrito. Its been quite a run for Xavier Dphrepaulezz, frontman for the band Fantastic Negrito. After winning the first NPR Tiny Desk Contest, Fantastic Negrito has released a universally acclaimed EP, embarked on several successful tours and appeared in the season finale of the hit TV show, Empire. Last Days Of Oakland is the group’s much anticipated debut full length album and it KILLS. A beautiful collision of blues, soul, roots much and good old fashioned rock n roll, the album is a song cycle that takes on the socioeconomic, race and class issues Dphrepaulezz witnessed on a daily basis while living in the East Bay. Songs such as ‘Working Poor’ and ‘Hump Through The Water’ pulls no punches and tells no lies about income inequality and the gentrification of Oakland. The band’s cover of the Leadbelly classic ‘In The Pines’ (featuring a updated lyric to reference the recent shootings of unarmed black men by police officers) will reduce you to mist. Timely, yet timeless, angry but hopeful, damming but redemptive, this is the soundtrack to life in 21st Century Urban America. An instant classic. You can also go to http://www.fantasticnegrito.com/ for tour dates and more information.
The Dreaming Room by Laura Mvula. Laura Mvula’s road to make the follow up to her critically acclaimed debut Sing For The Moon was hardly easy. Bouts with anxiety, depression and a painful divorce are hardly the sources of a follow up album. Yet, like all great artists, Mvula was able to channel her pain into art and the result, The Dreaming Room, is both an artistic and personal triumph. Co-produced by Mvula, Troy Miller and The London Symphony Orchestra, the album is a musical roller coaster detailing in unapologetic terms all of her emotional highs and lows during this period. Loaded with lush orchestrations, pulsating rhythms and, of course, Mvula’s soaring vocals, The Dreaming Room is this century’s answer to Pet Sounds, another ambitious work chronicling artist musical and emotional growing pains. With assists from Nile Rodgers and rapper Wretch 32, this fusion of pop, classical, gospel, funk and hip hop is some next level stuff. One of the year’s best. The Dreaming Room is available through Amazon, iTunes and all major music retailers. You can also go to http://www.lauramvula.com/ for more information.
You Want It Darker by Leonard Cohen. For his 14th studio album – his 3rd in 5 years – Leonard Cohen sounds like a man ready to make his final life journey and writing out his wake and his funeral. This album has all of the Cohen trademarks: Light guitars, piano, eased orchestrations, choir-like backing vocals coloring ruminations on love, death, loss and spirituality, but this time its done in hushed, almost whispered tones. It’s the sound of a man looking at the end and working out of the mysteries and complexities of those life experiences. It’s no secret that Cohen is battling health issues and songs such as ‘Traveling Light’ and the moving ‘Leaving The Table’ confronts mortality head on with grace, resolve and dignity. The album runs just over 35 minutes, but its one that you will find yourself constantly having on repeat. One of the year’s best. You Want It Darker by Leonard Cohen is available through Amazon, Itunes and all major music retailers. You can also go to www.leonardcohen.com for more information.
Stranger To Stranger by Paul Simon. No one would be mad at Paul Simon if he, for all purposes, phoned it in. After writing a lifetime of timeless classics – with Simon & Garfunkel and as a solo artist – he’s almost earned the right. But, as great artists often do, Simon keeps pushing himself, as evidenced by his 13th solo album. Reuniting with his long time producer Roy Halee, Stranger To Stranger is Simon’s most experimental album to date, rich in echo, rhythm, horns, synths, African woodwind instruments, Peruvian drums, and even a gospel music quartet. Despite running just under 40 minutes, Simon manages to make this blizzard of sounds work by keeping the lyrical content brief, abstract, insightful, disjointed and humorous all at the same time. In a career that is loaded with highlights, Simon has crafted an album that deserves to stand alongside his best work. Stranger To Stranger is available on Amazon, iTunes and all major music retailers. You can also go tohttp://www.paulsimon.com/ for more information.
A Sailor’s Guide To Earth by Sturgill Simpson. A lot of people were surprised when Sturgill Simpson’s major label debut was nominated for Album Of The Year for the upcoming Grammy Awards. They shouldn’t be. This loose concept album about a Navy sailor writing to his wife and newborn son is 9 cycle walk through of American music of the last 60 years. Outlaw country, orchestral pop on the scale of Orbison and Bacharach, gospel, Stax drenched soul, psychedelia, and traditional country are in their full glory throughout this 9 song set. It’s all anchored by killer songwriting and a voice that recalls Waylon Jennings and Townes Van Zandt at their zenith. Simpson’s cover of Nirvana’s ‘In Bloom’ sounds as if George Jones had a chance to make his American Recordings. Its no wonder why contemporary Nashville is a bit ticked off at him: Simpson made the type of sprawling adventurous album that they have been trying to move away from for decades. Thank God he stayed true to his vision: It’s an instant classic. A Sailor’s Guide To Earth By Sturgill Simpson is available now through Amazon, Itunes, and all major music retailers.
Not The End Of The World by Cilver. It’s one thing to end a band when you feel that it’s reached the end of its creative arc. It’s another when you end it when its on the cusp of reach a mass appeal audience. That’s exactly what founding members Uliana Preotu and Leon did with their group Me Talk Pretty had success with the debut album We Are Strangers and became mainstays on the hard rock/metal circuit, including the Vans Warped Tour. But founding members Uliana Preotu (vocals) and guitarist Leon felt something was missing musically and decided to disband the group. Now known as Cilver, they now have an incredible new album called Not The End Of The World. It’s a relentless 11 song cycle that channels the frustrations, anger, resilience and ultimately hope that Americans in the 21st Century. In addition to supplying heavy, melodic monster riffs, Leon is also a skilled producer, adding sonic sheen without losing any of the explosiveness of the band’s live sound. Uliana, straight up, is singing her ass off. She will be, if she isn’t already, the next great voice in rock. Crank it up and keep it repeat: This album KILLS. One of the year’s best. Not The End Of The World is available now through Amazon, ITunes, and all major music retailers.
Hard Wired…To Self Destruct by Metallica. Even though its been 8 years between releases, Metallica has managed to stay busy. They formed a new label, Blackened Records, released a concert film, collaborated with Lou Reed on what would be his final album, and still have maintained a consistent series of concerts. This creative rebirth is the center of the band’s 10th album, Hard Wired. It features a new producer, Greg Fidelman, it mixes of the epic scope of And Justice For All with the full fury relentlessness of Master Of Puppets and Death Magnetic. The band is firing on all cylinders reasserting its status as thrash metal titans with lyrics centering on the theme of how people, no matter how good the intentions or ideal the situation, seems to be hellbent on screwing it up. Its the soundtrack to a world gone completely off the rails. One of the year’s best. Hard Wired…To Self Destruct is available now through Amazon, Itunes and all major music retailers. You can also go to http://www.metallica.com/ for more information.
Retribution by Tanya Tagaq. For her 4th album, Canadian throat singer Tanya Tagaq maintains the political bend that she displayed on her previous album, Animism. At the center of the work is rape: The raping of a natural resources, culture and, the continued – and often unresolved – sexual assaults upon women. Incredibly, Tagaq finds a way to channel all of the pain and outrage to an haunting, astonishing effect. As the title of the album implies, she at times sounds like the Earth screaming back at us to stop – or else. The most breathtaking track comes at the end: A cover of Nirvana’s ‘Rape Me’ in which Tagaq – in an almost child like voice – uses the refrain ‘I’m not the only one’ to remind us of the untold number of sexual assault victims who are awaiting justice. Straight up, Tanya Tagaq isn’t just taking things to the next level, she is already there. Retribution by Tanya Tagaq is available now through Amazon, Itunes and all major music retailers. You can also go to http://www.tanyatagaq.com/ for more information.
And The Anonymous Nobody by De La Soul. After nearly 12 years between releases – and swimming through a sea of legal and red tape regarding their label/catalog status – De La Soul have finally released their eagerly awaited 9th album. As they have done their entire career, the group took the road less traveled: The album was funded through a highly successful Kickstarter campaign and rather than rely on sampling, the bulk of the project was culled together from a significant number of jam sessions with L.A. musicians. Then using an array and diverse group of guest stars (David Byrne, Snoop Dogg, Damon Alburn, Jill Scott, Estelle, Little Dragon, Justin Hawkins of The Darkness, Usher and 2 Chainz, among others), put together a sprawling 17 song set that is at times philosophical, inspirational, introspective, and with every De La project whimsical. To call it a hip hop album would be misleading: There’s elements of rock, jazz, funk, soul and every classical music that runs throughout. De La Soul has always gone against the hip hop grain. With this new album, they mark an exciting new chapter in an already storied career. And The Anonymous Nobody is available now through Amazon, Itunes and all major music retailers. You can also go to http://www.wearedelasoul.com/ for more information.
We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service by A Tribe Called Quest. The group’s 6th – and final album – serves as a summation, coda and a progression. Inspired by the strong reception they received promoting the 25th Anniversary of their debut, ATCQ secretly returned to the studio to record their first new album in 18 years. The project was thrown into doubt after key member Malik ‘Phife Dawg’ Taylor passed away after a long bout with diabetes. But the remaining core of the group – Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Jarobi White – along with de facto members Busta Rhymes and Consequence, rallied to push the effort across the finish line. They also got big assists from famous friends and fans – Kendrick Lamar, Kayne West, Andre 3000, Jack White, Talib Kweli, Anderson .Paak, Abbey Smith, Marsha Ambrosius, Katia Cadet and Sir Elton John – to augment various tracks. Chuck D once said that hip hop is the ‘Black CNN’ and this album, while it was done before the election cycle concluded, is the soundtrack to these uncertain, unsteady times. Q-Tip oversaw all of the production elements and masterfully balances many of the ATCQ hallmarks with sounds that are firmly rooted in the now. Can hip hop age gracefully? One listen to this removes all doubt. Easily one of the year’s best. We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service is available now through Amazon, iTunes and all available music retailers.
Awaken, My Love! by Childish Gambino. Donald Glover caps off a breakout year with the release of his 3rd album under the Childish Gambino moniker. Whereas his previous releases leaned heavily on hip hop and contemporary R&B, Glover – along with his long time collaborator Ludwig Goransson – completely flips the script with a sound that recalls Funkadelic’s Westbound Records output, 70’s era Sly, Thom Bell, Prince and Fleetwood Mac’s wildly experimental double album opus Tusk. Weaving in and out of lush soundscapes and D.I.Y production, Glover now adds his name alongside D’Angelo, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest and Kendrick Lamar who look back to push the musical narrative onward and upward. A last minute contender for one of the year’s best. Awaken, My Love! is available now through Amazon, iTunes and all major music retailers.
At Least For Now (Deluxe Edition) by Benjamin Clementine. After captivating audiences with his brand of folk, jazz, spoken word, chamber pop and blues in the UK (and winning The Mercury Prize for best album in the process), singer-songwriter-poet and multi-instrumentalist Benjamin Clementine now sets his sights on the U.S. The deluxe edition of At Least For Now features the stunning full length album along with several tracks that feature him where he excels best: on stage. Clementine’s sharp lyrics, dynamic musicianship and unworldly vocal delivery has been compared to all time greats such as Nina Simone and it’s no exaggeration. There’s so many styles flying in and out of every track that you think this is the world of a well lived life, not someone who is still in his mid 20s. An absolutely stunning piece of work that needs multiple listens to fully absorb its genius. At Least For Now (Deluxe Edition) is available now through Amazon, iTunes and all major music retailers. You can also go to http://www.benjaminclementine.com/ for tour dates and more information.
Flyboy 2: The Greg Tate Reader. Greg Tate’s insightful, on point, lyrical, poetic observations on Black Entertainment – and Black Culture – have been dazzling readers throughout several publications since 1983. The new book serves as both as companion piece to his 1992 book, Flyboy In The Buttermilk and as an update to include new essays and interviews since that publication. It places an emphasis on many of the movers and shakers within music including interviews with Miles Davis, Ice Cube, Wayne Shorter, Bjork and Sade; extended looks at the lasting legacies of Chuck Berry and Joni Mitchell, and moving elegies on Michael Jackson, Gil Scott-Heron and Lester Bowie. Tate isn’t just confined to the music world: He also offers his own spin on films such as Bamboozled, Baby Boy, and The Black Power Mixtape; theater (Suzan Lori-Parks’ Top Dog/Underdog, Still/Here by choreographer Bill T. Jones) Literature, politics and how Black culture has left its mark on the cultural and political landscape. Whether this is a refresher course on his work or an introduction, Flyboy 2 is essential reading. Flyboy 2: The Greg Tate Reader is available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and all major book retailers. You can also go to www.dukeupress.edu for more information.
Testimony: A Memoir by Robbie Robertson. Anyone who has seen The Last Waltz or followed the career of Robbie Robertson knows that he is the consummate storyteller. Now with Testimony, the co-founder, singer-songwriter, guitarist for The Band, finally gets to tell these great stories in full. Robbie Robertson finally culls all of these extraordinary tales in this expansive new memoir. He recalls everything from his musical upbringing between Toronto and the Sixth Nation reservation; how discovering rock n roll – particularly a trip to the Mississippi Delta – became a life altering event; being recruited by early rocker Ronnie Hawkins as a teenager where he teamed up with future members of The Band; surreal, humorous encounters with various members of the Mob; the madness of being part of Dylan’s first electric tour; retreating to Woodstock; and the creative forces that made The Band one of the most respected and beloved groups of all time. Robertson goes into how the sudden success led to off stage excesses and what ultimately led The Band to call it quits. Robertson’s story would not be complete without discussing at length what many consider one of the greatest concerts and concert films ever, The Last Waltz. Whether he’s discussing his relationships within The Band or his various encounters with some of rock’s biggest movers and shakers, Robertson tells it all with warmth, grace, humor and remarkable insight. This is a must read for any fan of The Band and for anyone interested in music as a whole. Testimony: A Memoir is available now through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and all major book retailers.
Born To Run by Bruce Springsteen. The eagerly awaited autobiography from New Jersey’s favorite son finally hits the shelves this week. Springsteen wrote the 500 page book with the aid of a ghostwriter and it has the sweep and scope of some of his best songs. He goes into vivid detail of growing up to working class parents, with an often contentious relationship with father; how seeing Elvis on TV convinced him that rock n roll would be his life and working his way from the Jersey shore bar band scene to international stardom. Springsteen also goes into unapologetic detail on how therapy and antidepressants helped him to overcome often severe bouts of depression. Remarkably forthcoming, blunt but always with a nod and a wink, Springsteen doesn’t just meet expectations with this book, he exceeds them. Born To Run is available now through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and all major book retailers. You can also go to www.brucespringsteen.net for more information.
The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher. Star Wars has become an international cultural phenomenon. This still astounds Carrie Fisher, despite the fact that is come to define her career. Being at the center of this cinema hurricane is the subject of her latest memoir. With unearthed diaries that she kept during shooting as a basis, Fisher gives us an insider’s view of what happened on the sets of one of the most popular films of all time. We all know now about her on set love affair with co-star Harrison Ford, but it shows a vulnerability that even surprises Fisher today. Fisher also muses on celebrity culture, growing up in a famous family and how that all got consumed by a space western that took place in a galaxy far, far away. Told with biting candor and wit, Fisher has put together another memorable look at a life that has been anything but boring. The Princess Diarist is available now through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and all major book retailers.