Black Messiah

Stepping Out of the Comfort Zone: A Look at “Black Messiah”

The surprise return of D’Angelo was one of the biggest stories in music last year, when after over a decade of silence that allowed wild rumors to flourish, he stunned everyone with the release of Black Messiah.  The album captivated fans and critics alike, with the former finding that the result was worth the wait and the latter frantically trying to rejigger their year-end lists to find a place for its inclusion.  During this time, we did our part in sharing news items about its release, and also highlighting especially worthwhile analysis and explanations for its significance.  However, we never offered our own assessment of the album during this time, and we wanted to provide an explanation why never wrote about this record that we’ve enjoyed.

Our aim here at Rust Is Just Right is to contribute something beyond the usual echo-chamber of ideas that make up most music publications, and contribute genuine insight and any expertise we may have.  To do this, we tend to write about subjects and genres with which we have more history and experience, which explains the focus we give to both rock music and to guitar, bass, and drums.  We realize how boring it can be for readers to read variations of the same stuff over and over again, so we challenge ourselves to explore different genres and expose ourselves to different ideas.  This allows us to avoid ruts both from a writing and musical perspective, and helps contribute to our own musical education, which we then hope to impart on our readers.  It’s a beautiful cycle.

If we were to do a review then of Black Messiah, then we wanted to be able to do so from a position of some authority, with the ability to offer original insights on the record.  However, after multiple listens, it was clear that our lack of familiarity with both D’Angelo (beyond a few cursory listens over the years) and with neo-soul in general would hinder our ability to make truly engaging analysis.  There were few hooks for us to grab hold, and while we felt there were several admirable aspects to the album, it was difficult for us to make any personal connections to it with our initial listens.  That said, it was easy to see how in a live setting D’Angelo could make the songs come alive.

We enjoyed how Black Messiah experimented with various soul and funk elements, like the subtle changes in rhythm in the electric “1000 Deaths”, which inverts and plays with straight and syncopated feels.  This is an album that needs to be cranked up to truly appreciate, with special attention paid to the low end, because the bass playing on Black Messiah is truly a marvel but has the potential to be lost in the mix if no precautions are taken.  Those points represent the extent of our insight, though; the lack of a lyric sheet makes that particular analysis difficult, and it’s clear that there are significant political and social themes that run through Black Messiah that would require more rigorous assessment than what I could periodically catch by ear.

So, consider this a recommendation, but we are unable to show more of the work that led us to that conclusion.  But who knows, maybe after another few months of listening we’ll be able to offer up a more cogent assessment.  At the very least, we’ll at least have a better foundation for discussing the next D’Angelo album–but hopefully we won’t have to wait fourteen years for that.

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Catching Up On The Week (Jan. 2 Edition)

Some #longreads while you nurse that hangover…

It’s always a treat when we get to hear from Aphex Twin, so you should probably read this interview where the man himself answers questions from several famous DJs and producers in this special from Groove magazine.

The AV Club takes a look at how Pink Floyd ended up with a number one album when they released The Division Bell in 1994, based purely on the power of nostalgia.

A look at the greater context of Black Messiah, with an eye towards how those unfamiliar with the work of D’Angelo should approach it, with help from a fan.

And finally, for the more technologically inclined, here’s a look at how the different ways you physically store your digital music can affect its sound quality.  I haven’t read it yet, but for those readers who have a stronger scientific background, feel free to chime in and respond.

Catching Up On The Week (Dec. 19 Edition)

Some #longreads for your weekend as you mourn the end of the greatest television show of all-time

The music world is still buzzing about the surprise release of D’Angelo’s Black Messiah, with critics greeting it with universal acclaim.  We’re certain that you can find a multitude of thinkpieces on the album from everyone and their cousin on the web, but this analysis from Complex is probably the best you’ll find.

Just how big was that surprise release from D’Angelo?  Big enough that it pushed aside the news that Modest Mouse will finally release a follow-up to We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank as their new album Strangers to Ourselves is set to be released on March 3 of next year.  Meanwhile, keep their new single “Lampshades on Fire” playing on repeat, at least through this weekend.

This article was originally published in January, but we didn’t come across it until this week, so it’s new for us: Buzzfeed explains how the punk band Crass fooled MI6 and other intelligence agencies into thinking there was a Soviet disinformation campaign, all with a crappily-produced prank tape.

It’s the weekend–do you need any other excuse to read an analysis of Billy Joel’s ridiculous hit “We Didn’t Start the Fire”?

And finally, we like millions of others are mourning the end of The Colbert Report, though we’re hopeful that Stephen Colbert will do a terrific job of taking over The Late Show.  Like many, we were impressed by the turnout of former guests that appeared for the final sing-along, but we also were delighted to hear that as the credits rolled for a final time that Colbert had selected our personal pick for greatest song of all-time, Neutral Milk Hotel’s “Holland, 1945”, to be the musical accompaniment.  It turns out that Stephen’s selection of the song was not just a result of his good taste, but the result of a personal connection to the song that is quite touching.  Just don’t ruin the moment by clicking through the links to see what the rest of Slate had to think about music this past year.

Over the Weekend (Dec. 15 Edition)

Some fun links as you laugh at all the Best Of lists that were ruined by a surprise album release last night…

Once again, we’ve got links to a veritable bevy of lists this week for your perusal.  Pitchfork released their 100 Best Tracks list, with several RIJR favorites well-represented throughout the countdown (including multiple slots for Spoon, The War On Drugs, and Run The Jewels).  Then there’s The FADER’s 116 Best Tracks list and CMJ’s 65 Best Songs list for your oddly-numbered reviews, as well as Drowned in Sound’s 50 Favourite Albums of 2014 to help fill out the rest of your day.

As for the surprise album mentioned in the intro, D’Angelo stunned the music world last night when the long-awaited followup to Voodoo was released last night, and the early response has been an endless series of raves for Black Messiah.  It’s available on iTunes and Spotify, and a few hours ago all the tracks were uploaded to YouTube on D’Angelo’s Vevo channel.

There will be a Mad Season reunion of sorts, as Chris Cornell and Duff McKagan fill in for the deceased members of the grunge supergroup for a special performance on January 30th in Seattle.  Mike McCready and Barrett Martin will be reprising their original roles and will have the Seattle Symphony providing support on multiple songs.

And finally, just in time for the 35th anniversary of the Greatest Album of All-Time, Joe Strummer received the rare and prestigious honor of having a new species of snail named after him.  After reading up on the snail, spend some time figuring out what the best five songs on London Calling are.  The fun part is you can make an argument for just about any five tracks on the album!