What a great week for new music, so there is no need for an intro.
Special shout out to Jungle, who I would have discussed had there not been such an influx of interesting releases.
Jason Mraz – Yes!
Rating: The Fundamentals of Love
When you survive the crucible, you emerge forever stronger for the experience. If his unkempt hair was any indication, Jason Mraz had a rough go after his split with fellow singer/songwriter Tristan Prettyman back in 2011. As enjoyable as 2012’s Love is a Four Letter Word was, you could tell Mraz had some demons to tackle.
Now clean-shaven and a few years removed from the heartache, Yes! delivers one of the most gentle, pure records of Mraz’s career. While his recent albums relied on big sounds blending jazz, funk and pop, this latest album relies on the earthy instrumentals of female quartet Raining Jane.
The songwriting here is love in its simplest form. You could say that Mraz is going back far past his roots, into new terrain. Love you give is love you receive. Don’t race through life without noticing what’s around you. Be happy. Music can get so complicated these days that the most basic of sentiments gets lost. Yes! is the essence of peace on Earth.
There’s a Boys II Men cover (“It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday”), a catchy reminder to stay kind to the planet (“Back to the Earth”) and a somber admission of helplessness (“Out of My Hands”). It’s like a stripped version of Jason Mraz, except it sounds so full.
You won’t find a lot of soul here (referring to the genre), but this is a fine departure fitting of the overall body of work.
Rise Against – The Black Market
Rating: Same Style, Same Thoughtful Aggression
I get extremely enthusiastic when listening to Rise Against. They crank out each song with an intellectual purpose. They are trying to shift the scales away from the unjust with their music. There aren’t many rock bands today dishing the same level of political angst. Their writing is unmatched.
The one downfall is that you aren’t going to find anything new on The Black Market. I’m beating a dead horse when I say that this is rock music in a nutshell. If you like it, here it is. If not, don’t mind us.
But out of all the bands out there, Rise Against seems to have a reason to sing. As such, their method of delivery is inconsequential. But after first listen, I’m not sure this comes anywhere close to the level of their previous three albums. The one song to note here is “People Live Here” because it’s Rise Against’s first acoustic masterpiece since 2008’s “Hero of War.”
“Weird Al” Yankovic – Mandatory Fun
Rating: The One Man Who Could Make “Radioactive” Relevant Again
This album represents the last bridge that I have to pop music and it’s delivered in the best way possible. I can’t name a hit pop song from the past six months, but I sure as heck remember everything that won at last year’s Grammy’s. And it’s time to use that glory for a new purpose.
You know the Weird Al schtick parody schtick by now. This time around, you get a grammar lesson via “Blurred Lines” (“Word Crimes”), food wrapping tips to the style of “Royals” (“Foil”), and an ode to laziness through the beaten-to-death “Radioactive” (“Inactive”). That last song might have the best opening line ever: I’m waking up/In Cheeto dust.
If you haven’t seen already, he’s releasing a new video every day this week and the two so far have been quite amusing. As usual, he’s the best at being Weird Al.
Updated Best of 2014 playlist:
That Laura Welsh. Coming out of nowhere straight into my heart.