Justin Barney: From the music desk at 88Nine Radio Milwaukee I’m Justin Barney with Marcus Doucette and this is 5 Songs We Can’t Stop Listening To.
MOURNING [A] BLKSTAR, Garner Poems (Electric Cowbell): ****
Cleveland’s self-described “DIY Afrofuturist soul” collective pay powerful tribute to Eric Garner and Tamir Rice with this dark but consequential 10-song suite, composed by keyboardist/producer RA Washington and LaToya Kent, with gospel-fed vocals (from Kent, James Longs and Kyle Kidd) recalling Curtis Mayfield protests. That’s entirely appropriate. “Anti Anthem” punches out rallying cries (“Power to the living”) over a magnetic funk groove, but “Emancipation,” “Bullet” and the title track haunt with washes of synths, horns, harmonica, percussion and words (“I can’t breathe”), while the jazz-meets-hip-hop “our mecca” mantra of “Harlem River” evokes Langston Hughes and renaissance lost. Listen. mourningablkstar.com
Creating songs of both eulogy and revolution, the expansion of 21st century black consciousness is felt in waves through Ohio's Mourning [A] BLKstar. A force that has deep conviction, purpose, and weight, songs are voiced through a lens of chopped up drum grooves, stark melodies, washed-out synth tones, and historic sample pulls.
This remarkable combo from Cleveland only formed at the start of 2016, but they’ve grabbed my attention with a flurry of recordings since then. Led by producer RA Washington, Mourning [A] BLKstar features a trio of dynamic singers—James Longs, LaToya Kent, and Kyle Kidd—and an indeterminate number of musicians. The ensemble traffics in a gritty strain of DIY Afrofuturist soul music, balancing hip-hop production techniques with lo-fi experimentation that bathes sultry grooves in darkness, either in scratchy samples or washed-out synth tones.
In February the group released The Possible through its Bandcamp site. The album contains a series of murky but seductive ballads dominated by themes of distrust—one narrative after another details a desire for human connection despite having been burned. When in the roiling mid-tempo jam “Nova” Kidd recounts the betrayal he's experienced, his refrain, “So fuck you,” seems like the only logical expression of his feelings. More recently the group released BLK Muzak (Glue Moon), which reaches a new apotheosis in its vocal interplay, summoning the spirit of vintage Sly & the Family Stone and Curtis Mayfield while still bearing traces of Cleveland’s rich punk legacy. The result is that in Mourning [A] BLKstar’s best material, such as the harrowingly lean “Flicker,” there’s something both comforting and unsettling. v