R&B

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.

Catching Up On The Week (Apr. 18 Edition)

We’ve got some great #longreads for you this weekend, so try to fit these in as you enjoy Record Store Day.

Many music fans were excited for the reunion of OutKast at Coachella last weekend (this one included), but unfortunately it wasn’t the joyous celebration that we were hoping would occur.  There’s a lot to be said about the general shittiness of festivals, and Coachella specifically, but even that doesn’t account for some of the disappointment that many OutKast fans felt (personally, as a viewer watching things on my couch, I was able to enjoy it, album-plug for Future notwithstanding).  Rembert Browne at Grantland does a great job of expounding on this sentiment.  And if you’re wondering why the OutKast reunion was such a big deal in the first place, Andrea Battleground at the AVClub can help get you up to speed.

Last weekend I engaged in a scavenger hunt across Portland with some friends, and one of the items that we procured was an 8-Track of Bob Seger’s Night Moves.  It is now one of my most valued possessions.  Coincidentally enough, Steven Hyden wrote a piece this week why you shouldn’t scoff at this notion.  Behold, in all its glory:

My new most valued possession

My new most valued possession

SPIN has an excerpt from the recently released oral history of Dinosaur Jr.  You get a look at the early, early days of the band, as they toured around Massachusetts and their early ventures into New York, as well as their first tour as they opened for Sonic Youth.

Pitchfork has a couple of excellent features this week, both analyzing more the business side of music, and specifically the use and accumulation of data.  First, there was an article outlining the evolution of the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop chart, and how its current format leads to problems in tracking songs.  It raises some interesting points, but to dismiss the impact on how the specific genre has had an impact on Top 40 is a bit of a mistake, and maybe a solution that is more in line with how Billboard charts Alternative Rock may be one way to go.  The other piece looks at the history of streaming and its future, finding analogues in prior devices like the jukebox and looking at how data is processed to give a better idea for programs in dispensing recommendations.  Both are great and worth the time to read.