UndunAlbum | The Roots By Stewart Mason
A lyrically direct, musically complex concept album.
So it turns out that for all the snide jokes back when it was announced that The Roots would be the house band for Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, the legendary Philly crew are having the last laugh. The comfort of a day job (particularly one that provides the band with both rehearsal space and the chance to play with great musicians in a wide variety of genres) has given the band time and space to stretch out. And so rather than getting soft and lazy, The Roots are at their creative peak nearly two decades after their first release. Self-described as "An existential retelling of the short life of one Redford Stephens (1974-1999)," Undun is a full-on concept album: opening with Stephens' death, the story proceeds backwards, showing the toll that drug dealing, violence and paranoia take on a once-promising life. Although the lyrics are uncompromisingly bleak -- even the requisite party tune "Kool On" is laced with dread -- the music is often quite beautiful. The primary musical influences are bandleader Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson's recent interest in French Impressionist composers and lifelong love for old-school AM radio pop; Thompson acknowledges The Guess Who's 1969 single as the source of the album title, and the closing four-part instrumental suite expands Sufjan Stevens' piano instrumental "Redmond" into Erik Satie-inspired explorations. Though it demands to be heard in a single sitting, Undun is a concise, focused work that rewards repeated listens.
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