First Listen: D’Angelo Soothes Within Chaos On Stunning ‘Black Messiah’ Album

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D'AngeloA key factor of D’Angelo’s greatness lies in the astral otherness of his voice. His concerts are one of the few reminders that it’s not disembodied. It’s soothing, but it’s also an all-encompassing connector. Through him, the time, regional and sonic barriers that separates the Princes, the Sly & The Family Stones, the Funkadelics and the tribal sounds of the motherland vanishes. D’Angelo then uses that blend to reach these insane, beyond-the-flesh peaks, whether sinful or God-fearing, and manages to condense those out-of-body experiences into albums. On Black Messiah, D’Angelo’s crossing is temporal.

Black Messiah is late but fits right into social context. 2014—one of the bitterest years in recent Black American history— came to a head with Million March NY, in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. D’ Angelo happened to release his most political album just one day after the national protest.  “1000 Deaths” — the album’s second track after the delightful “Ain’t That Easy” — is blatant with its militarism. Percussion and guitar chucks threaten to suffocate as D’Angelo gasps for life, drawing from Sly & The Family Stone’s There’s A Riot Goin’ On-era disillusionment. Out from under it rises, rises the dulcet guitars of “The Charade.” The tragedy here is how the psychedelia is done from a sober lens — it’s so mournful that the Vanguard is beside itself: “All we wanted was a chance to talk/ ‘Stead we only got outlined in chalk.” “Till It’s Done (Tutu)” reminds us that even mother nature is collapsing on itself: “Acid rain dripping on our trees and in our hair.”

But love is the province of the strong here. “Sugah Daddy,” the first track heard off Black Messiah, charms in its classicist sweetness. It’s only an entry point, though—the red hues get much deeper. Beautiful acoustics adorn the instantly memorable “Really Love,” a record that’s as hot with its lust as it is clear with its call for deeper passions. Jazzy number “Betray My Heart” also delights.

“The Door” serves as the one breather to the otherwise wholly immersive Black Messiah. There’s a lot mixed into D’Angelo’s latest opus, but like “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” was for Voodoo, album closer “Another Love” will be the cause for countless maternity ward trips and perhaps the quickest reference point for the next couple of years. Aphrodite reigns in these clouds as crashing cymbals, sitar-like strings buoy D’Angelo into new ethereal places. It’s atmospheric. It’s also enticing not because of D’Angelo’s cooing — and, boy, is he conjuring something fierce with his cooing. There’s a slight clairvoyance the underscores it, tying this album as “Brothers Gonna Work It Out”’s Aquarian counterpart rather than Apocalypse Now. And then you press replay.

After the bedroom intimacy of Brown Sugar, D’Angelo uses his brand of sensuality for spatial transcendence in Voodoo — peaking spiritually and erotically before taking it all home to Africa in the closer. The perpetually almost-finished Black Messiah features tracks that have been floating around in some form for the past ten years: “1000 Deaths” was shortly available as a leak in 2010, Questlove’s leak of “Really Love” in 2007 fractured his relationship with D’Angelo and “The Charade” was performed at Jay Z‘s Made in America festival two years ago. While Voodoo shines in its mellifluousness, Black Messiah resonates with its potency. The abyss of the prior 14 years is made even more apparent by the life breathed into these 12 tracks.

 

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