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Saturday October 25th 2014

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Ears & Fingers 12/19/13

R. Kelly-Black Panties
Our society is obsessed with sex. Everywhere we turn, everywhere we look, anything we watch, our minds are berated by sex and sexuality. There is very little mystery left and, in the (loose) words of Dave Chappelle, if sex was a stock, it would be plummeting because the market is flooded.

R. Kelly is certainly no stranger to the subject of sexuality. The majority of his hits involve some sort of mildly indirect or feverishly direct references, so when I sat down to listen to an album titled “Black Panties,” I expected at the very least to hear a lot of innuendo.

The innuendo is certainly there. But the majority of this album is explicitly blatant and in your face about the sexual prowess and desires of one of the most recognizable faces in the R&B game. To be perfectly honest, I did a lot of blushing while listening to this album, and I had to use Urban Dictionary a couple of times.

One has to hand it to R. Kelly. On his 13th studio album, he still keeps his listeners on their toes and doesn’t allow us to know where he’s going next aurally. The past four years have seen two other albums from Kelly, both in the vein of classic soul. Now, he decides to turn those on their ears by churning out an album of bump-n-grind R&B club bangers. To give us a good idea of what was to come, Kelly dropped the single “Cookie” a couple of months ago, which turns out to be the archetypal song for the context of this album. The absolute high point is the song “Throw This Money on You,” a dark and mysterious slow jam with tasteful auto tune. 2013 has seen me cave a little bit on my hardline stance toward auto tune; it can sound good in the right setting.

Musically speaking, this is one of the most coherent albums as a total work that I’ve heard from the guy. “Black Panties” is an album that plays like a total piece of art from beginning to end. There aren’t any stand out singles or career changing songs, it’s just a complete thought on tape.

All in all, R. Kelly is aging, and he may be making slight attempts to keep himself relevant or in the limelight. However, following up two remotely classy throwback albums with a raunchy escapade comes off as a little desperate. If you’re already an R. Kelly fan, this is probably worth your time. Otherwise, listen to most anything from his back catalog before picking up this new long player. “Black Panties” is out now via RCA Records.

If You Haven’t Heard: Toddlers
Every year comes complete with a list of sleeper artists who fly under the radar, very deserving of attention, but getting lost in the growing list of budding musicians inhabiting the world. Toddlers joined this list in 2013, but are deserving of much more attention than they have received. The band released “Toddlers,” their debut LP right around Halloween. It’s an album replete with glorious Americana noir pop and a dry delivery, reminiscent of one of the ‘90s most underrated bands, Crash Test Dummies. Very little is known about this band, aside from the fact that they call Carrboro, N.C. home and they have a vague blog. Hopefully this will change in the coming year, as Toddlers is definitely a name you should know. Pay what you want for their self-titled LP at tdlrs.bandcamp.com.