Blue Tofu (Dubious Recordings)
The pairing of Tim Story and Andrea Mathews couldn't be more unlikely.
He's an internationally known, Grammy-nominated avant garde composer who works in rarefied circles with German chamber electronic chamber music innovators such as Dieter Moebius and Klaus Schulze. She was a teenager when they first recorded together 12 years ago and has never sung in cover bands or followed the typical bar/nightclub path to vocal acclaim.
And it's impossible to imagine that it could work much better. Mathews' sultry vocals and intense, evocative, and intelligent lyrics are perfect companions for the brilliant soundscapes Story creates. More impressively, "Our Room" creates its own gauzy head space, enveloping listeners in a sensual world that exists in its own time and place.
Story builds a complex, warm bed of sound with his arrangements that can veer from a noir-like darkness — the sexy, slightly spooky "Hunger Tango" — to an almost pop-like lightness that still maintains its depth — "Letter From Lockdown." If you're looking for stylistic milestones, think Pink Floyd and Sade, jamming in a jazz club, but know too that Blue Tofu is mostly unclassifiable by the usual labels. It is whatever you want it to be and this is way deeper than Sade and far less pompous than Floyd.
Mathews is an exceptional lyricist who bravely explores lust, betrayal, obsession, and the bottomless complexities of relationships without ever resorting to cliche or flinching from where the emotions take her. Her voice is beautiful, unmarred by a need to over-emote or launch into talent-show gymnastics.
Best of all, this is local music. Story has lived in the Maumee area all his life and Mathews, the daughter of Toledo car dealer Tim Mathews, lives in Huron, Ohio, and teaches Latin and ballroom dance in Sandusky.
Look for a feature on Blue Tofu on Sunday's Arts page. If you're interested in learning more about Blue Tofu, go to bluetofu.com.
— ROD LOCKWOOD
Beyonce (Columbia Records/Parkwood Entertainment)
Beyonce is a beast.
Her fifth self-titled album, released in surprise form late last week, is a collection of songs that highlight Beyonce's evolution as a woman and artist. It's her strongest and most cohesive album to date.
What's most appealing about "Beyonce" is that it shows — in the sound and method of release — how she isn't conforming to mainstream and commercial standards: The songs, while some will find success as singles, play like a unified assembly, instead of a loose body of work (that's a hit at the slew of contemporary pop singers who are singles artists). On the gloomy "Haunted," Beyonce even hints at the album's future success (or lack thereof): "This probably won't sell," she says. "I don't trust these record labels, I'm torn."
The album marks a powerful time for Beyonce. While her competitors include acts such as Katy Perry, Rihanna, and Lady Gaga — singers who consistently release chart-topping songs — Beyonce jumps back in front of the pack with an album that is both commercially appealing and artistically enticing.
She kicks off the 14-track set in a supreme way with the Sia-penned "Pretty Hurts," a mellow R&B number about the sickness behind attempting perfection. It's matched with a beautiful video — as are the other songs — and features lyrics like, "It's the soul that needs surgery." That's followed with the Jay Z-assisted "Drunk in Love," a strikingly thumping, sexually charged jam that's irresistible. And sexuality is a large part of Beyonce's album.
On the old school-flavored "Blow," one of the disc's best tracks, Beyonce sings proudly of hitting the sheets with her lover, and on "Rocket," co-written with Justin Timberlake, she provides a Quiet Storm-anthem, where she sings softly: "Punish me, punish me please." On the falsetto-heavy "No Angel," Beyonce declares she's a freak.
The songs on "Beyonce" often double up in sound like two tracks combined, in the vein of Timberlake's work, though most of Beyonce's songs aren't as long. "***Flawless" interpolates parts of the previously released "Bow Down/I Been On" and is full of swag, much like the beat-heavy "Partition."
Beyonce, a mostly guarded celebrity, has become more open over the years, and that's especially the case with songs like the self-explanatory "Jealous" and "Heaven," a soft and slow song about a loved one's death that could refer to her miscarriages.
"Blue," which includes the voice of her daughter Blue Ivy, closes the album and features Beyonce's beautiful tone and pitch. And that's just it — "Beyonce" is pitch perfect.
— MESFIN FEKADU