This week's curator: Jeff Leeds, music editor-in-chief of BUZZMEDIA.
Every two weeks, titans of the mediasphere give Nerve their music recommendations. This week: Jeff Leeds, long-time music reporter for the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, and music editor-in-chief of BUZZMEDIA, which includes AbsolutePunk, Idolator, Stereogum and The LiveBuzz.
Cee Lo Green, The Lady Killer
Even at the risk of squandering one of my precious five picks on an album that (I suspect) Nerve readers know about already, I'd like to stand up for Cee Lo and his sumptuous 007-via-Curtis Mayfield spectacle. It's a thrill to hear him find new applications for one of the most supple voices in contemporary pop — instead of singing everything in his customarily constrained caw, on "I Want You," the echoing ballad "Old Fashioned," and the love-affair-as-crime-scene "Bodies," he straight-up croons. The album is filled with bold production work from Salaam Remi, Fraser T. Smith and Cee Lo himself, and the end result will leave you stirred, if not shakin'. "Fuck You" was simply the start.
Ntjam Rosie, Elle
Born in Cameroon and raised in the Netherlands, Ntjam Rosie scored a bit of attention with her omnivorous debut, Atouba. Now she's back with a narrower approach that accentuates her vocals while placing her in a refined setting that suits her beautifully. The beats here are reined in, and she exchanges the funky synths for soulful piano arrangements and jazzy shuffles. This one will keep you warm while you wait out the next ten years for a new Sade album.
Ebo Taylor, Love And Death
As fun as it has been to witness the Fela Kuti revival of the last few years (including Knitting Factory's re-issue of his catalog), there's also satisfaction in enjoying what is, not just what was. Septuagenarian Ebo Taylor is still kicking, and — in what is, amazingly, his international debut — he's delivered a sizzling highlife collection jammed with full-bodied horns and snaky, interlocking grooves. Taylor, who sings in both English and the Akan dialect, is backed by Afrobeat Academy, a German collective that includes members of funk revival outfit Poets Of Rhythm and Ghana's own Marijata. Other than Prince, who do you know who'll be this funky at seventy-four?
J.Cole, Friday Night Lights
Wild expectations have hovered over Jermaine Cole at least since 2009, when Jay-Z accorded him a verse on "A Star Is Born," and the rapper-producer's third official mixtape just raised them yet again. Friday Night Lights bursts with clever rhymes and samples so adventurous that Girl Talk fans best take note. (Courage can't be in short supply when you're rapping over Tupac Shakur or Billy Joel — for different reasons). People might say Cole doesn't yet possess the delivery or diction of Nas (to whom he has been compared, prematurely), but he has an exceptional ear for beats — as evinced by his single "Who Dat", which he co-produced — a commanding presence in the booth and on stage, and, apparently, nerves of steel. Sometimes that's enough.
Twin Shadow, Forget
George Lewis Jr.'s lustrous debut draws heavily from 80s new wave legends (Depeche Mode, New Order), but he adds just the right touch of old-school R&B. It wouldn't be fair to describe it as strictly nostalgic, but it did tempt me to rent an old John Cusack movie. With chilly, detached vocals, Lewis floats above chunky bass lines and drum-machine beats as he revisits romantic near-misses and whispers of new love. It's a wee-hours classic. He may not deserve credit for creating something wholly original, but he's built a machine that is better for its ghosts.