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Mourning [A] Blkstar
Reckoning Joseph Burnett , June 3rd, 2019 09:13

Reckoning by Cleveland collective Mourning [A] Blkstar is an emotionally overwhelming experience for Joseph Burnett

I’m not entirely sure what it is that defines a collective as opposed to a band (is it the number of members? The writing and recording process?) but somehow Cleveland group Mourning [A] Blkstar epitomise the idea. They already showed their potential and vision on last year’s The Garner Poems album, but with Reckoning they’ve honed and harnessed the qualities of their previous record and unleashed a powerful and scathing state of the American nation, crystallising the experience of African Americans across the country into a heady and direct cocktail of soul, jazz, and funk.

It’s an often emotionally overwhelming experience. “There’s a war going on/and our skin is the price” goes one line on opener ‘Anti Anthem’, whilst ‘At the Wall’ features such blunt declarations as “This country ain’t fair” and “It’s like a brick wall/fenced in by a gun”. In a country where black lives continue to matter less than white ones and racist nationalism appears to be on the rise alongside Donald Trump’s popularity, these lyrics represent a cry of anger and despair, a call to arms that sounds as weary as it does defiant.

These powerful words are driven by a mixture of styles that is perfectly executed. ‘Anti Anthem’ is driven by a hypnotic backbeat, swooping strings and sinewy guitar flourishes. One immediately thinks of soul greats such as Sam Cooke and Otis Redding, which is no small praise. A background haze of vinyl crackle underscores the jerky post-funk of ‘Harlem River Drive OG’ as singer Kyle Kidd bemoans the transformation of poor neighbourhoods and the decimation of communities by gentrification. All three singers in Mourning [A] Blkstar possess amazing voices, but Latoya Kent is potentially the standout, whether playing it smoky and sensuous or blasting out: she demonstrates both on one highlight ‘Blk Musak’ as she cries “Say my name! Say it!”

Whatever the style Mourning [A] Blkstar approach, it’s to their credit that Reckoning’s flow never slackens. The pace is seamless and allows one to focus on the message. Kent again shines on the heavy jazz-funk of ‘Gang Desire’, which takes pointed pot-shots at colonialism and its modern-day beneficiaries, while its follow-up ‘Harms’ burns with anthemic disco-soul majesty. The band’s more tender side emerges on the romantic ‘Hold Me’, dominated by ecstatic horns, and on the slow ballad that is‘Situations’. Across the album, each element, musical flourish, and vocal choice is applied perfectly, with no bum notes. Kudos to the people behind the console: Reckoning packs the punch it does because its clear, organic production reflects and amplifies the lyrics so well, whether they’re raging against the machine or declaring romantic love.

Reckoning is a searing, unflinching cri de coeur that lays bare America’s injustices better and more clearly than has been achieved in a long time. It’s also a beautiful, elegiac album that melds genre and style with elegance and poise and just gets better and better with each listen.

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