D’Angelo and The Vanguard – Black Messiah (2014)

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Note: I’m not putting song links in this review. Just listen to the album from start to finish here!

Up until this album came out, I haven’t sat down and listened to an album from front to back for a long time. A friend of mine, who is a much bigger D’Angelo fan from back in the Brown Sugar days, decided that on album launch day, to have a little listening party in honor of the 14 year in the making, second coming of D’Angelo. Needless to say, after listening to album over and over on repeat after finishing it, that we were both impressed. I myself, before the release of this album, was ready to put the equally excellent in it’s own right, Run The Jewels 2, down as my album of 2014. That changed the moment after I finishing listening to this album. No album has lodged it’s way into my subconscious the way this one has. And what makes this even more surprising is that before this album, I was not a devout follower of D’Angelo. That changed with this album.

All that being said, I feel that puts me in a pretty unique position to share my thoughts on this album. While I was familiar with some of his classic tracks like Brown Sugar and Untitled, I was never completely enamoured with D up until this album came out. What this means is that I had no preconceived notion of how this album was going to sound before it came out. In my head, I thought it was going to be an exceptionally solid piece of neo-soul. What I got instead, was a modern day classic soul record with a foot in the past and it’s heart and head in the future.

Needless to say, this is my favorite record of 2014. Period.

And despite all this gushing for the record I’ve done in the first two paragraphs, the first three tracks, upon first listen, didn’t lead me to believe that I would fall in love with this album. Ain’t That Easy, 1000 Deaths, and The Charade start the album on an uneasy foot. Ain’t That Easy, starts the album with harder, rockier edge, than I was expecting. The meter for the song seems to swing back and forth and would probably make any metronome explode if tried to stay in time with the song. 1000 Deaths continues that rocky edge, with distorted vocals from D’Angelo as the instruments all seem to mash together as if they were all in some sort of crowded mosh-pit, and yet somehow it works. Things soften up a little bit with The Charade but it still has a very uncomfortable edge to it, as D’Angelo’s singing almost seems to clash with the dreamy guitar, backing vocals, and slowed down, surf rock-style drums. Time, thankfully has been very kind to these opening moments as they have become favorites of mine on this album. All three of these songs stand in contrast to everything I knew about D’Angelo (the little I did) and they have a acquired flavor that has only grown on me with time.

In more straightforward soul territory, tracks like Sugar Daddy and Back To The Future part 1 & 2 fit the bill perfectly, with the former’s use of slinky piano and skitter-y percussion and latter’s neck-cracking goodness. Other highlights include the laid-back, just playing around on my front porch, easygoingness of The Door, the dreaminess of Til It’s Done, and the amazing, feel good swing of Betray My Heart. Honestly, there really isn’t a sore point on the album at all. Prayer may feel like a small misstep, but I think it’s more of a preference than it being an outright bad song (listen to it yourself and tell me what you think).

Even with just the previously mentioned songs, I would tell you that this album is phenomenal. However, I left off my two favorites: Really Love and Another Life. These two songs elevate what is already a great album into another stratosphere! Another Life is simply, one of the most beautiful songs I’ve heard in my life. The type of song that you can say, “This is music I’ve been waiting to hear all my life, I didn’t even know it!” kind of stuff. The other, Really Love, is absolutely enchanting in it’s arrangements. I could gush endlessly until I tied my brain up in knots but you seriously need to listen to these songs yourself.

In this day and age, when mainstream music seems to be at all-time low, Black Messiah comes as a bright beacon of hope. An album with 14 years of hype could easily get lost in own expectations ( *cough* Guns N’ Roses). D’Angelo really went above and beyond with this one. He could’ve easily just made another Voodoo sounding record and called it day. Instead, he made an album that proved that he can experiment and not lose what make him who he is. I seriously don’t know what else to say about this album other than I’m just completely in love with it! Hands down the best album of last year for me. Here’s hoping that the we don’t have to wait another 14 years for a new album from him.

5 out of 5 (if you couldn’t tell already)

Tracklist

1) Ain’t That Easy

2) 1000 Deaths

3) The Charade

4) Sugar Daddy

5) Really Love

6) Back To The Future Pt. 1

7) Til It’s Done (Tutu)

8) Prayer

9) Betray My Heart

10) The Door

11) Back To The Future Pt. 2

12) Another Life

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