Undun is a lush, beautiful, goddamn perfect album. Don't be fooled by reviews to the contrary (I'm looking at you Pitchfork!) because The Roots offer a wonderful, low-key, groove-heavy, charming and almost CONSTANTLY ENJOYABLE album. Considering that the band also holds down a day job as Jimmy Fallon's Late Night house band, the achievement of Undun is even more remarkable. And frankly, this album is probably the most exciting thing to happen in media this time of year short of the Chris Paul trade situation(s) and, dare I evoke the name, Timothy Richard Tebow. The fact is, Undun opens with a polite, warming swell and ends on notes that are downright classical. The content in between is amazingly poetic, overflowing with harmonies, delighting loops, and some rhymes that are both socially responsible and politically driven, and fucking killer.
The wistful "Sleep" kicks off the album on a proper, emotional note. Addressing what it means to be awake and alive. And Big K.R.I.T.'s turn on the mic in "Make My" is a treatise on what being rich really means, and that slippery slope that it involves. But "The Other Side" and "Stomp" have a special place for me, both driving, drum-powered pieces of pure excellence. I'm reluctant to even say it, but the album has a couple misses, "Lighthouse" is a little too dissonant, with hollow beats backing it, as if The Roots wanted to pull out all the stops on this track, but all the stops, well, they just don't work together. Sometimes harmony means recognizing that some parts must not be involved. And, I know that I'm railing here, but the chorus feels like something Friendly Fires might utilize on one of their weaker pop-dance fusion pieces. It's not terrible, but it's definitely skip-able. The rest of the album, however, is not.
The beautiful, music-box-esque, "I Remember" brings the album back to form and really re-centers Undun before we reach the final five tracks. "Tip the Scale" has a perfect blend of soul and rap. It's all slow-burning, pristine groove. And it has a social conscious. Without being heavy-handed. That's a crowning achievement right there. And hey, indie-kids, there's a Sufjan track on here and it's beautiful and classically Stevens. "Redford (For Yi-Yi & Pappou)" creates a truly elegant lull following the album's central hip-hop peaks. It's a brief experience, but a hauntingly beautiful one. And the three movements that follow, each a progressive breakdown from the track previous, capture the album's name well. Undun isn't just about the emotion and the social conscious in the songs with lyrics, it's also about the decay of the album, turning from kind of beautiful sound into something knock-down, drag-out chaotic. Undun is one of the best albums of this year. Even with a couple of "meh" tracks, the bulk of it is so emotionally and intellectually affecting that choosing not to give it a listen is a sin. Don't make baby Jesus cry. Listen to it below, and then get a copy. It's great music for just about any situation.
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