Soul

Starboy (CD)

The Weeknd's Starboy represents a further evolution in the alternative R&B singer/producer's sound. Featuring guest appearances from Daft Punk, Kendrick Lamar, Lana Del Rey, and Future, the album is brighter, splashier, and more polished than his early, ultra underground mixtapes. Fortunately, it works and that's due to Mr. The Weeknd himself, Abel Tesfaye's impressive ability to merge pop culture into his own dark vision. Want to know what an album inspired equally by The Smiths, Prince, Bad Brains, DeBarge, David Lynch, and David Cronenberg sounds like? Take a listen to The Weeknd's latest LP of artfully produced dystopian afterparty jams.

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Malibu (CD)

Anderson .Paak has been the go-to guy to feature when artists have wanted their tracks to have a certain something special. His voice is a malleable instrument than can be gravelly or velvety smooth, able to deliver fast-paced raps and pour out soul syrup in equal measure. Though his debut, Venice, drew plenty of attention and acclaim, he’s now been lifted up into the upper echelon of R&B artists working today, thanks to a series of high-profile collaborations with Dr. Dre on his comeback album, Compton, on which Anderson .Paak consistently threatened to steal the show on his six tracks. He takes that opportunity and knocks it out of the park with Malibu, a gorgeous psychedelic swirl of lush neo-soul backdrops and alternative hip-hop tracks, featuring a cadre of high-profile guest apperances (Talib Kweli, ScHoolboy Q, The Game). Gorgeous tracks like “The Birds” evoke the classic soul stylings of a Marvin Gaye or Al Green. Yet he keeps things current on the jazz-inflected hip hop of a track like “Heart Don’t Stand a Chance” or thumping banger “Come Down,” keeping in line with the likes of Flying Lotus and Kendrick Lamar. As the lines further blur between the experimental and mainstream, vintage and current within hip hop, Malibu masterfully strings these styles together for an accessible, highly listenable album that should make Anderson .Paak a deserved star in his own right.

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Yes Lawd! (CD)

On Yes Lawd!, Anderson .Paak and Knxwledge’s debut LP as NxWorries, the duo have crafted a sublime modern soul/funk record. With soaring strings, gritty vocals, and ultra cool cinematic flourishes that sound like the soundtrack to a forgotten Blaxploitation flick, the album manages to sound both super contemporary and like a bona fide classic. Despite its October release date, this is a definite summer record, essential for backyard BBQs, driving with the windows down, and sitting around the pool. .Paak himself has called the collaboration “my best work” and it’s definitely something special; let’s hope these two continue to make beautiful music together.

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Lemonade (CD)

On her bold new album, Beyonce takes on the image of the wounded lover and owns it while continuing to make heartfelt, intelligent pop music of the highest order. As her previous, self-titled album was a vibrant ode to fidelity, Lemonade represents the other side of relationships. Even the title is kind of a sick joke — it’s what Beyonce makes when life gives her shit. “You can taste the dishonesty, it’s all over your breath,” are the first words she utters on the album, over the stately piano, church organs and echoing vocals of “Pray You Catch Me.” Musically, it’s reined in from the thrilling but all-over-the-map feel of Beyonce, as the album largely consists of wrenching ballads and dark bangers — but these are Beyonce’s strong suits. And the tunes that stretch out a bit further are stunners, from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs-meets-Enya “Hold Up” to the stuttering beats and echoing, Animal Collective-esque vocals of “Sorry.” She melds that newfound interest in indie music with her grounding in soul, gospel and jazz on the album’s middle passage, particularly on tear-jerker “Sandcastles.” Lemonade allows Beyonce to be bitter, sad and laid bare, which helps makes it one of her best albums — at the very least, it’s her most honest one.

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Miss Sharon Jones! [OST] CD)

You could look at the soundtrack to the new documentary about soul front-woman Sharon Jones the same way you could look at "I'm Still Here," the exclusive single to the compilation: a chilling reminder of the incredible singer's recent fight with cancer, as well as the long and arduous road to her success. With a backing track reminiscent of Superfly-era Curtis Mayfield, Jones recounts that journey with piercing, chill-inducing directness that certifies her place with the all-time greats of R&B/soul (as if it were even a question). But ultimately, this track, along with the rest of the album, is a celebration of Jones' talent, perseverance, and the power of the soulful expression of oneself. Collected here are some of Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings' hottest singles, and best loved tracks from the band's full-length albums.

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Changes (CD)

Soul master Charles Bradley’s third album for Daptone is a knockout. Beginning with a genuine interlude of “God Bless America,” the album positions Bradley as someone who has gone though career and personal difficulty and come out on top, sounding upbeat and grateful to be alive and working. On “Good to Be Back Home,” Bradley flips things to explore the dual nature of home and what that means, singing of being back in the land where he was born, “sometimes it hurt so bad, sometimes, so good,” before unleashing a howl that better expresses the notion than any words could. That passion runs through the heartfelt and extremely affecting love songs like “Nobody But You.” Throughout, the Menahan Street Band’s expertly played and recorded horns and jazz grooves deliver the ideal backdrop, while there’s some experimentation beyond classic soul on tracks like “Ain’t Gonna Give It Up,” its moog and bass-drum-heavy groove reminiscent of krautrockers like Can. And if you don’t get goosebumps during Bradley’s cover of Black Sabbath ballad “Changes,” check your pulse. A playful flexibility within the carefully cultivated classic soul sound Bradley and many Daptone artists work within proves to be incredibly fruitful here. It’s Bradley’s best release yet from his second wind, as Bradley remains an expert at getting to the heart of soul music.

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Invite The Light (CD)

For modern funk musician Dam-Funk, the P-Funk George Clinton perfected with Funkadelic and Parliament never went away. Having cut his teeth recently as the touring keyboard player for Todd Rundgren and recording various collaborative projects, including 7 Days of Funk with Snoop Dogg, the Pasadena native has finally come out with his long-awaited second solo album. Invite The Light is an entire sample of wavetable sounds and cartoony, spacey beats that blend in purple hazed holy matrimony. But Dam-Funk doesn't just excavate old sounds and give them a new coat of paint. He reforms and reconfigures funk for the 21st century with splashes of new age sheen over quiet, smooth vocals. Featuring appearances from Q-Tip, Flea, Ariel Pink, and Junie Morrison, Dam-Funk's Invite The Light is what will keep booties popping high into space.

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