D’Angelo’s ‘Black Messiah’ Is Finally Here & It’s Everything We’d Hoped

Okayplayer's Top 14 Albums Of 2014

1. “Ain’t That Easy.”

Comes in with an echoey ping-pong-crack snare, like a ball bouncing off the table and being exploded by a gunshot. The underlying funkadelic blues groove is a recognizable progression from Voodoo’s anthemic “Chicken Grease,” but has a harder, darker edge–both in the beat itself and the rock guitar lick–for D’s falsetto to ricochet off. The frenetic six-string work (which according to Questo is all D) directly channels the spirit of the brilliant Eddie Hazel.

2. “1000 Deaths.”

Commences with the sample we heard on the ‘Black Messiah’ teaser; a preacher describing a Christ “with hair like lamb’s wool…a black revolutionary Messiah.” The track is a Frankenstein’s monster incorporating stuttery Dilla kick so tough that it is almost metalcore right on top of a constant Black Sabbath bass thrum.  It’s all held together by bomb squad-ish black noize sonics; a tribute to engineer and long-time friend Russ Elevado, brilliantly using the dissonant elements create a whole greater than the individual tracks. The mix and the subtle use of sonics and noise in the system to tie everything together is rendered even more astonishing by the revelation that this album is all-analogue, record to 2-inch tape; no plug-ins, no digital anything.

3. “The Charade.”

“The Charade” came to life with a spacey guitar intro — the ghost of Eddie Hazel again, but this time lost in “Diamonds + Pearls” type dreamscape — made even spacier by touches of backwards masking. But D’s unmistakable falsetto resolves the psychedelia into a sad soulful groove, while the claps in the beat recalls a church service or a ’60s boogaloo track.

4. “Sugah Daddy.”

The first impression of this track (which premiered in recorded form in the wee hours of Sunday morning–listen here and read more description) is a Harlem Globetrotter-esque hand-jive beat ala “Sweet Georgia Brown,” strutting (at time hilariously) as the funkiest shit you’ve ever heard with touches of Roy Hargrove‘s horn wizardry interjected throughout.

5. “Really Love.”

String adagios with tape noise and barely audible voices (speaking Portuguese? No, Spanish) open “Really Love,” the album’s halftime lullaby. Spanish guitar comes in and we are officially in Desperado country, but the strings resolve into a pizzicato groove with that post-Dilla slow banging clap-on/clap-off beat. It’s unclear how these parts will gel until D’s voice says “When you call my name…”  and the emotion brings all the parts together with the walking bass line, kinda like J Dilla x The Roots’ “Dynamite” in slow(er) motion, evoking a more wistful mood and capping off Side A with a bubbly improvisation.

 

At the break between ‘Side A’ and ‘Side B’, George announces that “contrary to some reports, ‘Sugah Daddy’ is not the single, ‘Really Love’ is the official single and it’s being released to radio tomorrow [Monday] morning.” Side B is truly the b-sides. Where the first half of the album is essentially all singles, the flip is made up of deeper and more abstract album cuts. In general on the second half of the album the pointed and powerful lyrics give way to more instrumental grooves, improvisations and workouts in the jam-band inflected style we’ve seen on Brothers In Arms and D’s other live shows since 2012.

 

6. “Back In The Future (Part I).”

“Back In The Future” reestablishes that D’s signature is falsetto croon and walking bass, continuing the cosmic feel that’s permeated throughout the record thus far and features more lilting string arrangements. We fade on strings to make way for:

7. “Till It’s Done (Tutu).”

Big Questlove drums and psych guitar with talking-through-a-fan warble. Or is it D imitating guitar with a Rhodes, as he’s known to do? With Kendra Foster on dirge-like vocals, the song ends on a strangely open-ended phrase.

8. “Prayer.”

A weird and haunted, but still somehow goofy synth-scape with drunken drums. Very Prince, ala Sign O The Times or “Annie Christian.” The end of the track peaks with what is easily D’s illest guitar freakout yet: something like Hazel’s “Frantic Moment” meets “Let’s Go Crazy.”

9. “Betray My Heart.”

Opens with the sound of a temple chime or gong and a tinny guitar groove, underpinned by clockwork rimshots and Hargrove’s horns talking wah-wah to the Rhodes. Most of the song is a wordless conversation, ending on D’s equally wordless croon.

10. “The Door.”

 Slow-knocking beat and whistle at it’s base. The guitar work is so Dixieland it’s almost Leon Redbone, almost Doobie Brothers even, except funky as fuck.

11. “Back In The Future (Part 2).”

Part 2 fades up right where Part 1 left us, but quickly gives the drummer some (more), while D quietly catches the spirit in the background.

12 “Another Life.”

Hi-hat sizzle announces the album’s pleading closer before giving way to a huge piano vamp. Sitar licks bring the vibe of Smokey Robinson or Shondells; pure doo-wop. D’s voice here recalls Ecstasy-era Junie Morrison, and it feels almost as if the full history of black music is contained within what some critics have described as a narrow range. The drums gets drunker while the changes on the piano fill get bigger and louder, taking us higher and higher…until it’s over. – Eddie STATS

Black Messiah Tracklisting :

1. “Ain’t That Easy”
2. “1000 Deaths”
3. “The Charade”
4. “Sugah Daddy”
5. “Really Love”
6. “Back In The Future (Part I)
7. “Till It’s Done (Tutu)”
8. “Prayer”
9. “Betray My Heart”
10. “The Door”
11. “Back In The Future (Part 2)
12. “Another Life”

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