Wednesday, September 23, 2009

September 23: Esthero, "Wikked Lil' Grrrls"

Artist: Esthero
Album: Wikked Lil' Grrrls
Year: 2005
Label: Reprise

It is both disheartening and tragic that in our modern times, true musical talent has clearly taken a "back seat" to marketability when it comes to musical exposure. Artists who simply follow the current trend and make one "hit" song are given all of the publicity, while artists who actually work at their craft and make complete albums are overall left on the sidelines. Thankfully, most of this latter group continue to make their amazing songs, and they provide the saving grace for those who are ready to give up on "new" music. Standing high atop this group of performers dedicated to musical integrity is one of the most stunning musical chameleons that the world has ever heard, Esthero. While she many not be as widely known to the general public, within the world of music, there is no doubt of her greatness, as she has worked with many of the biggest stars, on their recordings, as well as her own. Among a host of many clear supports of this statement, one needs look no further than the fact that hip hop masters, Refection Eternal, name-check her on their stellar debut album. Possessing one of the most powerful voices of her generation, Esthero clearly knows and understands her roots and influences, and it is one of the key aspects that makes her music so fantastic. While her debut album remains one of the most sultry and sensuous recordings ever, Esthero reveals her entire personality and soul on her sensational followup, 2005's Wikked Lil' Grrrls.

On her first album, Breath From Another, Esthero stayed largely within the confines of the "trip hop" sound, and while there is not a bad song on that record, it is clear that she was being artistically restricted to some extent. From dance club anthems to beautifully poetic interludes, Wikked Lil' Grrrls provides the full picture of everything that Esthero is capable of artistically, and the diverse nature of the songs is truly unparalleled in comparison. The albums' lead track and single, "We R In Need Of A Musical ReVoLuTIoN" is one of the most scathing, scorching, yet absolutely brilliant songs to be released in years and Esthero makes it clear that nobody is safe from her pen. A bulk of the song is an indictment of the repetitive, substandard talent that continues to permeate popular music, as she rants, "...I'm so sick and tired of the shit on the radio and MTV, they only play the same thing..." Truly a rallying cry for a return to the fundamentals of what made music great (read as: talent), the song is amazingly catchy, and Esthero makes it clear that on this album, nothing is off limits. In what can only be seen as a blistering slam on R. Kelly, Esthero questions, "...tell me why a grown man can rape a little girl but we still hear his shit on the radio, a grown-ass man can videotape a little girl but we still see his mug up on our video screens..." Such brutal honesty, presented in such a musically fantastic manner is a true rarity anywhere in music history, and it is one of the key aspects that makes Wikked Lil' Grrrls so stunning.

While Esthero delivers brilliant performances on every single song on the album one simply cannot ignore the list of top notch musicians who also appear on the record. In what is one of the furthest musical departures from her debut, Esthero enlists the piano playing of Sean Lennon for the swinging, amazingly catching song, "Everyday Is A Holiday (With You)." Combining soft, muted horns, jazzy drumming, and Lennon's fantastic hook, the song is one of the most wonderfully original compositions of the decade. Standing in stark contrast in everything from mood, to style, Goodie Mob and Gnarls Barkley album, Cee-Lo Green joins Esthero for the somber, yet absolutely gorgeous, "Gone." The manner in which the two singers voices blend together is truly stunning, and the simple orchestration of light, programmed drums with a bit of mellow guitar helps to create an absolutely mesmerizing mood. Truth be told, after experiencing the track, one is left to hope that the duo find more studio time together as the collaboration is truly magical. One final collaboration of note on Wikked Lil' Grrrls in many ways presents the third side of Esthero's personality. Undoubtedly one of the most unsubtle, yet sexiest lyrics every penned, Shakari Nyte joins Esthero for the wild, "If Tha Mood." Perfecting what seems to be her mission to have a song work just as well in the club as it does in the bedroom, there are very few songs that even remotely compare anywhere in music history. Never backing away from any style or approach, Esthero picks the perfect partners for the handful of tracks which feature guests, and they each help to punctuate a different side of her boundless musical exploration.

Even with the fantastic collaborators on the album, there is no doubt at any point that the entire effort is anyone's aside from Esthero's. Her strong, limitless voice shines on every single song, and her songwriting has clearly matured over the years since her first release. The songs are far more focused, and it is equally obvious that she has more confidence in her vocal abilities. Songs like "Thank Heaven 4 You" and "Dragonfly's Outro" are reminiscent of the trip-hop mood of her first record, yet in every aspect, it is lightyears ahead of anything on that album. Wikked Lil' Grrrls also features Esthero truly giving herself to the jazz style, as she evokes the spirit of the greatest singers of that style on the soulful, then swinging song, "Melancholy Melody." In many ways, the musical diversity that Esthero is clearly perusing throughout Wikked Lil' Grrrls can be summed up by the albums' title track. The song is an extraordinary fusion of swing, hip hop, and a sound that can really only be classified as ragtime. Lyrically, the song is almost like watching someone have a personality crisis, yet it works brilliantly, and the song is truly amazing. The amount that Esthero has grown can also be seen in the fact that, a few times on the album, she leaves the music behind and presents her lyrics in a spoken word style. For any singer, such a diversion is a truly rare, and more to the point, brave endeavor, yet the style and sentiment found on "Dragonfly's Intro" are just as moving and fantastic as anything else on the album. Backing down from nothing, the range in musical styles and sounds that Esthero presents on Wikked Lil' Grrrls is truly unparalleled and her unrivaled voice makes her shine high above her peers.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of today's music scene is the fact that a majority of people find nothing wrong with the stale, uninspired performances that dominate the musical landscape. Thanks to institutions like EmpTV and iTunes making it no longer necessary for an artist to make a complete album, music has taken a downward spiral to a dark place where creativity and raw talent go to die. Standing as a beacon of hope and light in this era of false musical prophets, Esthero clearly sees no musical territory as off limits, and her songs never fail to be moving and original. With a voice that easily stands with the greatest in history, she is able to effortlessly dominate every style which she presents. From swing to soul to dance club anthems, Esthero is truly a unique talent and her deep and clear love for what she does comes through in every song. Taking seven long years after her trip-hop based debut, Esthero clearly throws off any shackles of that album and presented a follow-up that stands as one of the most diverse and fearless albums the world has ever heard. Calling out the media for their questionable morals, as well as turning the pen on herself and revealing some of the most raw and honest introspection in decades, one can only stand in awe as the pen of Esthero is one of the few things that may be as powerful as her voice. Easily one of the most phenomenal and original albums of her generation, Esthero's second record, 2005's Wikked Lil' Grrrls is magnificent in its diversity, and by far one of the most breathtaking musical efforts in history.

Standout tracks: "We R In Need Of A Musical ReVoLuTIoN," "Everyday Is A Holiday (With You)," and "Gone."

No comments: