Upon watching Avicii’s performance at Ultra 2013, the young EDM audience did not know what to make of it, as he fused organic instrumentation and live vocalists into his set. While many were scratching their heads at the spectacle, the words that came out of this critic’s mouth were, “Holy shit, that’s Aloe Blacc!”. (And now, those who dismissed it are surely backpedaling, but that’s another story).
Aloe was still a relative unknown to the much of the world, at that time. Many knew his voice from the theme song to How To Make It In America, “I Need A Dollar”. But hip-hop heads have a long, storied history with Aloe, that dates back to a group called Emanon, with Blu’s Below The Heavens producer, Exile. While Emanon made little noise next to their more popular peers, it wouldn’t stop Aloe from reinventing himself, by signing with Peanut Butter Wolf’s Stones Throw Records in 2006.
We picked up on his talent that year on his solo debut, Shine Through, a diverse record which found him showing off a multitude of different styles. In retrospect, it seemed almost as if he was trying to see which shoe fit the best. It didn’t come off as gimmicky, but more so like a cultured gentleman with a wide palette of styles. It’s follow-up, Good Things, was an even stronger album, which found a more focused Aloe Blacc, who designed an incredible LP of classically-trained, contemporary soul music.
So with Lift Your Spirit, his first album on a major label, Interscope to be exact, Aloe finds himself as the voice of one of the biggest songs in the world, Avicii’s “Wake Me Up”, which also is included here in a more pared down, acoustic version. It’s produced by longtime Self Scientific producer, DJ Khalil, who produces the majority of Lift Your Spirit, traded from the last album’s incredible work of Truth+Soul.
Khalil’s sound will undoubtedly take Aloe Blacc to greener pastures, as we are already seeing with anthemic “I’m The Man”, and there are more radio-friendly undertones to the production this go round. “Here Today” and “Wanna Be With You”, for instance, kind of meet at the crossroads of both the country twang of “Wake Me Up” and the blue-collar stomp of “I’m The Man”, and might strike a chord with the “rise-up from the dredges, uplifting sports arena anthem” crowd.
That’s not to say that Aloe has resigned to making songs that you might see in GMC truck commercials, as he still keeps his soulful sound in tact. Songs like “Soldier In The City” and “Love Is The Answer” are classic Aloe, meshing his brand 70′s swagger with hints of socio-political commentary. Most of the album goes in this direction, which is a good thing, no pun intended.
However while Khalil’s more polished production will undoubtedly push Aloe into Grammy territory next year, it does lack the rawness of Truth&Soul’s sound that was found on Good Things. Nevertheless, Aloe seems to largely work with one producer per project, and whether you are feeling his previous project more than this one, he’ll probably win you back with the next. Consider this, he’s still got an unreleased Emanon reunion album with Exile, Bird’s Eye View, and an unreleased children’s album in the vaults.
If Lift Your Spirit is not as solid as its predecessor, Aloe has little to fear, as this album will probably be heard and purchased by ten times the amount of people than his last two records combined. Monetary successes aside, the takeaway here is that Aloe is still making honest, profanity-free, music with integrity, and that’s a lot better that most of everything else on the pop charts.
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