Dawn Richard – Blackheart
Last time out she cooed through pearled curtains of sound, presaging the rhythm ‘n’ bask ethos epitomized by Jhene Aiko and Tinashe by at least a year of it not two. Imperfectly sequenced and phloomfy, Goldenheart plays better with tracks programmed randomly (try “’86” again). On Blackheart she writes songs that are commensurate with the astounding production. I don’t have many complaints; every song has a detail to savor, from the processed guitars on “Adderall/Sold” to the submarine whooshes in “Castles.” The whole album really. Its opening track conceives of calypso as a genre kneading melodies out of sampled bubble effects and distorted multitracked vocals run over a bicycle chain. The referents get weirder: the cooed flute-like harmonies on “Titan” recall Peter Gabriel’s “Gethsemane”. “I’ve got a confession now/I’ll see you in my head,” she sings, voice snapped in shards of broken syllables beneath synth shimmers on the centerpiece “Projection.” A woodwind interlude conjuring what this private space might sound like has the wind-moving-across-the-grass stillness of a similar moment in Prince’s 1986 outtake “Power Fantastic.” As with much modern music Michael Jackson is a thing, a ghost exorcised by ghostly effects. “Adderall Sold” anesthetizes “Morphine” to salute a woman who sleeps till noon and lives “like she’s dyin’ soon”; the woman in “Billie Jean” uses rap cadences to exalt in being a sex dream. And the chorus uses a string section.
Young ‘uns will study Noisecastle III’s productions and mixing board manipulations for years. Turning and turning endlessly on itself, Blackheart is the album I’ve wanted Dawn Richard since 2012’s Armor On. When she sings, “I love you/But I love me more” on “Choices,” it’s a threat fulfilled; when she goes into chart-anxious full-on belt mode on “Phoenix,” easily the most conventional moment, it’s as thrilling as it must have been for an A&R man to hear “Sledgehammer” in April 1986.