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D’Angelo and the Vanguard — Black Messiah


D’ANGELO‘s latest, BLACK MESSIAH, released tail end of ’14 (another early entry for my Fuck I Missed This For My 2014 Year End List list), is amazing. Accolades abound for this 12-song cycle, this amalgamation of seemingly all post-soul guitar-bass-drums African-American music; this organic, transportive explosion—one would hope (in hindsight)—of Black music forward momentum. All accolades are deserved, all comparisons fit. This is a record to be reckoned with.

D’Angelo, 15 years on from VOODOO‘s fantastic funky forward-looking throwback, a generation-plus on from that last album, is back and on fire with Black Messiah. Much is being made about the timing and the statement on current African-American life that this album reps, and while I do hear such sentiment I feel that the biggest statement made by this record is the question it forces us the listener to ponder:

Why aren’t more artists mining the insanely rich sounds of soul and funk, and the opportunities for experimentation that they offer?

For this reason alone D’Angelo’s new album should be a cause for African-Americans (and people of all other ethnicities) to rejoice. But especially those American persons of African descent, for this music is as pure and loving a musical celebration of a musical lineage as there can be. Hopefully this album is a call to arms for a whole culture of music that has, in most meaningful ways, faded into the background.

I can’t recall the last album that was so deeply steeped in the history of recent Black music and did such an amazing job of celebrating it. If you are familiar with SLY & THE FAMILY STONE, AL GREEN, FUNKADELIC, PRINCE, OUTKAST, and new jack swing, then all you have to do is listen and you will hear it all seeping from this album. Identifiable, yes, but part of the foggy and strangely filtered whole that D’Angelo has so artfully woven together as Black Messiah. The experience is a heavily rhythmic one, tied together loosely as if in an R&B dream, the looseness and grooviness of the proceedings recalling THERE’S A RIOT GOIN’ ON for sure, but also to these ears the meandering, broad-spectrum-encompassing, un-psychedelic haze of EXILE ON MAIN ST., as well as the spiritually vibrating jazzy freeness of ASTRAL WEEKS. Some of my favorite records right there, those three. And Black Messiah is joining them. I’ll be playing this record years from now.

I knew D’Angelo was an incredible singer and songwriter, but I am beyond pleasantly surprised to get in touch with the odd and intoxicating sounds that he has drawn together in the construction of this new, wild R&B quilt. Check out the deep bassy undulations of “1000 Deaths,” the grinding churn and grimy bass sounds, the distorted vocals. Industrial funk? If the words weren’t being applied to D’Angelo’s music, I’m sure that I would be reaching for the vomit bag. But D’Angelo does what he wants. And he pulls it off brilliantly. “Ain’t That Easy” boasts that easy swagger that D’Angelo is well known for. Bass bouncing, perfectly distorted. Multi-tracked vocals coming at you every which way, the gospel continuum in 2015, stunningly executed.

“Really Love” commences full of melodramatic strings and a gorgeous guitar passage that fluidly eases its way into a perfectly laid-back beat circled and circled and circled by classical guitar and yet more strings, and the sweet nectar that is D’Angelo’s voice. Alien-sounding synths and guitar stagger and stutter right on into what may be my favorite track on the album, “Prayer.” Like some twisted up PRINCE anti-sermon, preached out onto a dazed sea of humanity breathing in an air thick with psychedelia. This funk is un-stuck. Molasses funk. I am addicted to this song right now. So weird. So potent. And there are so many other wonderfully unique sounds and moments throughout this record . . .

Join me. Get addicted to these 12 songs like I have been for the entirety of 2015. QUESTLOVE and PINO PALLADINO must be saluted for whatever hand they had here in creating the copious wobbling rhythms of Black Messiah. Released by RCA. Fuck RCA. Long live D’Angelo.

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