Sound & Color

My upbringing forced me to listen to much more music than most. But over this past year I decided to dive deeper into the world of music. I went from listening to two or three albums a month to two or three a week. The increase in volume (both kinds) forced me to leave my hip-hop and R&B bubble and try some new sounds and styles.

Stepping out of my comfort zone led me to Alabama Shakes’ new album Sound & Color. I knew nothing of Alabama Shakes prior to the news of their Grammy nomination for Album of the Year, and I still didn’t give them a listen until Steve forced me. I will say that I am thankful for his suggestion, because Sound & Color is now my favorite album of 2015 and deserves the Grammy. I love Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly and Taylor Swift's 1989, but there is something unusual yet organic about Sound & Color that neither of the other albums embody.

Like Kendrick’s To Pimp a Butterfly, this sophomore album doesn’t follow the same style as their debut album, but takes on an identity of its own. In an interview with Rolling Stone, guitarist Heath Fogg claimed they “just wanted to be free and explore and not worry what this record would be in the public's eye." That free exploration created all of the originality and genuine expression that is Sound & Color.

Well I lied, I remember hearing the song “Sound & Color” in the iPad Pro commercial. But when I heard it for the first time on the album, I was hooked. The drawn out keys in the beginning put me into a vacuum. But when the hi-hat and scratchy snare comes in, no exaggeration, I almost broke into tears. It brought me back down to earth. And when Brittany Howard sings, “A new world hangs, outside the window,” I couldn’t hold the tears back. I now knew where my music exploration had taken me. The next 12 songs took me on an amazing rollercoaster of emotion.

Alabama Shakes is completely different than anything I have ever heard. The mix of soul, punk rock, classic rock and electronic music is unprecedented. The band takes you into many different realms. “Dunes” feels like it belongs at Woodstock ’69, while “Guess Who” takes you to Motown and “The Greatest” forces you to twist and shout. There is so much soul in Ms. Howard’s voice that it transcends generational and genre boundaries. Its perfect companionship with Fogg, bassist Zac Cockrell, keyboard player Ben Tanner and drummer Steve Johnson makes it divine.

“Gimme All Your Love” is a perfect example of this harmony. It is filled with so much raw emotion and passion that it made me cringe, and the live performance on SNL only made it worse. Actually seeing Ms. Howard bellow the words “give me all your love” took me back to when I’d watch my aunt sing in the church choir. The performance demonstrates the band’s ability to break off into a jam session that feels so personal that you forget they’re playing for millions. (And it doesn’t hurt that Ms. Howard has a badass tattoo of the state of Alabama with a heart on Athens, Ala., the hometown of the band.)

Sound & Color will always have a place in my heart. I maximized my utility function by listening to the album (joke for my econ majors). But honestly, the matchless sound and style of this band was a perfect award for challenging my musical taste buds. I would like to say my musical palate has become more sophisticated after listening to this album, and I’m now aware of the many different universes you can travel to when you just press play and try something new.

Nat J IVComment