Friday, March 1, 2013

Bilal: A Love Surreal

So I know I've spent a lot of time recently talking about the food my kids have been dropping on the floor, and I promise to stop.  Tomorrow.  Because today I found a baby plate and a petrified peanut butter and jelly sandwich IN MY CLOSET.  Obviously, I need to start wearing the "good" shirts more often since I don't even remember the last time I opened the damn thing.  To make matters even worse, I only found the sandwich because the baby wandered in there, grabbed it, and then tried to eat it.  At least it wasn't turkey?

Anyway, believe it or not, finding lunch in the closet is not the only thing I've done today.  I've also listened to this new album by singer Bilal (full name: Bilal Sayeed Oliver), whose Wikipedia page informs me that his work spans genres, and that he's also done lots and lots of collaborations.  Other than that, I found an interview with him over on Black Enterprise where he talks about his investment strategy (no, really).  And... yeah, I'm done.

So.  Let's talk about the tunes.  Although this album has both an "Intro" and an "Outro", the first track I really noticed was "Climbing", a song composed of an abstract blend of gently rolling drums and dripping plucks of guitar, plus Bilal's wandering falsetto ("When I went to the bathroom stall/She followed, she followed/She said I don't wanna waste no time/Let's do this, let's do this").  Later on, "Astray" begins with a harder-edged soul intro, complete with tambourine and a few licks out of a rock 'n' roll guitar before it settles into the same wandering, falsetto-drenched formlessness that the majority of the tracks on this album share ("Feeling chills in the summer time/Hot then cold/Something happens to the weather/When you're gone").  Then, of course, there's "Butterfly", which features the soft jumbled notes of jazz pianist Robert Glasper under electronic tweets and ripples that rise and fall in lazy waves around Bilal's vocals ("Butterfly/The struggle makes you beautiful").

I'm guessing you can already sense my lack of enthusiasm about this record, which is not just a product of the fact that it's Friday and my brain feels like Jell-O.  It's mostly a product of the vibe of the album itself, which while clearly neo-soul oriented is also overwhelmingly spacey.  The best way I can describe it is that the sound never really invites the listener in, never creates a comfortable place from which to watch the show.  Furthermore, the songs are often formless and wandering and Bilal's lyrics have a tendency to come across as impromptu musings rather than containing a pre-determined point.  Which isn't to say it's BAD - I don't think it is - it's just a "difficult" listen, as the Rhapsody reviewer notes.  Or in other words, when everything comes together, this record is a picture of effortless funk.  When it doesn't, it's an abstraction of self-indulgence. 


  1. Oh yeah, I meant to tell you about that this morning....