Album of the Week: Black Pumas - Chronicles of a Diamond | 2023 Week 43
Acclaimed psychedelic soul duo go bigger and more experimental on highly anticipated sophomore LP
Terms like “genre-fusing/bending/non-conforming” get thrown around more and more these days, and while they may seem like a bit of a cop out, there’s a reason for their use with a lot of modern music refusing to be easily pigeonholed and an amalgamation of sounds often not being an accurate representation the style in question.
Black Pumas once again fit into this broad term with their awesome second album, Chronicles of a Diamond, as they broad “psychedelic soul” tag really only begins to scratch the surface, and with hip hop arguably being a bigger influence, alongside elements of blues, jazz, funk and rock & roll, all filtered through a soulful lens.
The project of Austin-based guitarist / producer Adrian Quesada and singer-songwriter Eric Burton, Black Pumas broke through in 2019 with their acclaimed self-titled debut album, and four years later they’re here to show that was no fluke, with a follow-up that expands on the sounds and experiments with arrangements enough to be a worth successor without pushing the boat out too far.
With Burton joining in on the music creation a bit more with Quesada this time around, the productions got a little weirder but Eric always stepped up to the challenge, showcasing his range as an entrancing soul vocalist, ranging from stunning soprano style deliveries to storytelling spoken word passages. When it comes to his lyrical content, Chronicles of a Diamond is packed enough “darling”, “baby” etc to make even the most hopeless romantic become sceptical, however when the vocals are delivered as amazingly as Burton does, it’s a non-issue.
More Than a Love Song is the perfect opening cut for the album, arguably representing the sound of the album in one song best with its hip hop style drums, tender guitar strums, groove laden rhythm section and Burton’s raw, soulful vocals packed with emotion. Ice Cream (Pay Phone) continues this theme, mellowing things out slightly and taking them in more of an indie-rock influenced direction with distorted guitars leading the way.
Personal favourite cut on the album Mrs. Postman is the most hip hop cut on the record, pairing boom bap style drums with an absolutely addictive piano sample and walking bassline. Title cut Chronicles of a Diamond rounds out the album's opening pair of “similar-yet-distinct” tracks, once again bringing boom bap drums and pianos, before the arrangement gives way to a more traditional soul style. The title track also brings some of the record’s most self-aware, fourth-wall breaking moments, as Burton’s lyrics refer to his heart going “boom bap”, as well as another revelation during the track’s dying seconds. Mrs. Postman ends with an old school 60s style extended fade out, which caught my ears as an interesting artistic choice as the opening cut also had a quick fade out, while track 2 did not. When the title track started fading out with still nearly 30 seconds left I wondered what was to come next - and what comes next is Burton singing “until the soul is faded”, with the music fading back in and playing out to a piano outro - tasty stuff.
Tender acoustic guitar blues ballad Angel breaks up the album nicely as it slowly builds to an epic choral conclusion, before the latin-rhythm influenced, 80s-synth driven, reverb drenched & playful Hello. The funkiest moment on the record is up next in the form of Sauvignon bringing the Stevie Wonder vibes, before Tomorrow brings the tempo back down with its hip hop soul sounds. The psychedelic-proggy rock vibes get turned up on penultimate cut Gemini Sun with its relentless march of a rhythm section and synths before giving way to melodic choruses. Album closer Rock and Roll offers an interesting take on the title’s style, with a claustrophobic three chord composition accompanying Burton’s spoken-word style vocals about just what is rock and roll.
While it’s hard to say if Chronicles of a Diamond will have the same impact as their self-titled debut four years ago, Black Pumas have definitely delivered a worthy successor that shows they’re not afraid to experiment a bit while retaining the sound that we first fell in love with… darlin’.
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