Five-Minute Record Reviews: 311, Dean Wareham, Neneh Cherry, and Foxes!

Neneh Cherry - Blank Project

Wanna feel old?  It's been 25 years since Neneh Cherry first hit the scene with her first single "Buffalo Stance", which became a huge worldwide smash in 1989 and made the Swedish-born daughter of jazz legend Don Cherry a household name.  Her debut album, Raw Like Sushi, also spawned a second US Top 10 hit with "Kisses In The Wind" and was instrumental in bringing hip-hop into the mainstream.

While Cherry's work since has not reached the same heights as her first two singles, she has continued to break new musical ground with each new release.  She most recently collaborated with The Thing in 2011 and released the jazz-inflected vocal album The Cherry Thing in 2011.

Blank Project, however, sees her reuniting in the studio with husband Cameron McVey who, under the name Booga Bear, co-wrote and produced "Buffalo Stance" and most of Raw Like Sushi.

Those expecting Raw Like Sushi, Part Two might be disappointed, as the album's instrumentation is decidedly minimal, allowing Cherry's voice to remain front and center, but those who take the time to allow these tunes to sink in will find an album that reveals subtle nuances with repeated listens.
"Across The Water" sees Cherry playing the sultry jazz chanteuse, riffing over a mid-tempo beat.  On the album's title cut, however, Cherry amps up the sizzle against a skittering breakbeat and begins to reel in the listener.

"Weightless" begins with a distorted bass riff upon which Cherry riffs on the topic of financial, personal, and creative strife.

"Out Of The Black", a duet with Robyn, is a mesmerizing lo-fi gem that allows Cherry's vocals to skate effortlessly over atmospheric drums and bass.  That Cherry is able to create such lushness from minimal ingredients is a credit to her skills as a singer who doesn't need to rely on superfluous melisma to engage the listener.  This is a mighty return from a singer whose talents have been criminally overlooked.

Dean Wareham - self-titled

Those who've thus far missed out on Galaxie 500, or Luna, or Dean and Britta, may be showing up late to a really enjoyable musical party, but, hey, better late than never.  On this self-titled solo effort, Wareham creates a sonic landscape that recalls the melancholy splendor of Leanard Cohen and the effortless melodicism of the Housemartins and Aztec Camera.

Living up to its own great title, "Love is Not A Roof Against The Rain" is a plaintive, confessional ballad that sees Wareham wondering aloud "What have I done with my life?", all the while slowly, slyly building into an elegiac anthem that ends all too soon.

While Wareham's vocals are a testament to the "less is more" aesthetic, producer Jim James of My Morning Jacket proves his worth by creating musical tapestries that lift and project without intruding upon Warehams' understated sung-spoken vocals.  The result is an album packed with enough immediacy to pull you in on first listen and then continues to fill in the picture with subtle coloring with each new listen.  

311 - Stereolithic

Due to their attachment to a scene that also included kOrn, Limp Bizkit, and Incubus, among others, 311 enjoyed a great five-year run (1996-2000) where everything they touched turned to platinum and gold, but when those bands started to spinter and deliver sub-par albums, the entire scene crumbled.

To their credit, 311 remain fully intact, with the same line-up from their chart-topping days fully intact. Additionally, Stereolithic sees them reunite with producer Scott Ralston after four straight albums with Bob Rock.

Ralston's return seems to be just what the band needs as Stereolithic is the first 311 album since Soundsystem (which Ralston produced) that sounds fresh and inspired.  MInd you, this is no longer a band keen on repeating the past, but building something new with the people who got them to the top in the first place.
While Stereolithic may not pack the monster funk-rock punch of prime-era 311, songs like "Five Of Everything" and "Sand Dollars" show a melodic genius and musical maturity that, in a perfect world, would see the band reach an entirely new audience.

Foxes - Glorious

A funny thing happens any time one or two similar-sounding artists take the world by storm.  In the wake of the 2012 success of "Royals" and "I Love It", it was only a matter of time until the music scene was filled with other similar-sounding acts all vying for a piece of the pie that Lorde and Icona Pop carved out for herself.
Foxes (aka Louisa Rose Allen) has yet to carve out much of a musical identity of her own, but when the tunes are this solid, who cares?  "Youth" is already a UK smash single and will surely recreate that success in the US once the album is properly released in May.

There isn't a single song on Glorious that doesn't sound like a future smash hit - especally "Let Go For Tonight" and "Holding Onto Heaven" - but what separates Foxes from the rest of the current pop pack is Allen's pipes, which hint at an artist capable of eclipsing the immediacy of the material and turning in performances that will keep her on the lips of music lovers long after "Youth"'s chart run is over. 

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