Born in the laughably recent year of 1996, he's already worked through an acclaimed R&B duo in Shaani Cage (rounded out by his equally prolific brother Kaleem) and launched a solo career. Last year's self-titled solo LP was more than just a promise, offering soulful guitar runs and rhythmic explosions. It was a masterful psych-rock record that demonstrated a busy young man bristling with energy.
Enter Urbana Champaign, a sophomore effort that could easily have showcased a young man losing a battle with his ambitions — it's a concept album, and one that sees him mostly abandoning his main instrument (the electric guitar only appears on the aptly titled opener "Cameo") in favour of horns, pianos and upright bass. Within seconds, though, Khan proves his decisions are based on confidence, not ego. Urbana Champaign is a collection of wildly mature compositions that perfectly balance ethereal ambient passages ("Refuge") and free-jazz freakouts ("Urbana Champaign") with sensual R&B ("Dark Chocolate") and irrefutable pop perfection ("Jubilee Act II").
There's simply nothing else out there right now that sounds quite as confident, engaging or downright thrilling as Aleem Khan's latest release. And based on his track record so far, it seems we're going to be blessed with many more projects like this down the road. Now's the time to tune in. (Slow Release)