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Album Of The Week

The Blood Of Songs: Jamire Williams’ But Only After You Have Suffered
Kashif Sharma-Patel , December 9th, 2021 09:27

Having previously collaborated with Solange, Jeff Parker, and Blood Orange, drummer-composer Jamire Williams steps to the fore with a searing solo album of soulful poetics

Jamire Williams photo by Asia Nicole Williams

Awash in spiritualist yearns and soulful poetics, Jamire Williams’ new album But Only After You Have Suffered is an exercise in introspection and yet outward-looking in its influences. Williams provides a space, physical and sonic, in which an array of musicians and artists congregate to fashion a singular work densely enmeshed in a multitude of musical forms, from hip hop, RnB and art-pop through to jazz and electronic minimalism. This is facilitated through Williams’ musicianship, providing a range of instrumentation from drums through to synthesizers, sequencers and mellotrons. In doing so he creates a holistic piece of music that is broken up with different collaborators and samples. The second track ‘Bow’, which features the haunting vocals of Corey King, both contrasts and flows eruditely into ‘Ugly’, a grimier track underlaid with grainy hip hop beats and bars from MC Mic Holden. Fat Tony and Zeroh also feature in ‘Safe Travels’, where political militancy takes a detour from rougher road rap into a slicker contemporary style, all the while staying true to a particular sound Williams has developed. The interludes, ‘Take Time Look Up (Jawwaad Speaks)’ and ‘C’est Un Mot’, as well as introducing changes in tone actually lend themselves to developing a cohesive atmosphere, one weighted down with existential angst and righteous fortitude.

‘When It Gets Dark’ is a contemplative, mournful track, one that provides space in its stripped-back instrumentation. Yet in its layered approach, augmented by Kenneth Whalum’s lingering vocal lines, the abstraction on show takes on a different character. There is a feeling of coming-together, both in terms of element and personality. From this, we can think about composition as an arrangement of moving pieces that both emerge from and produce a conjuncture on social and aesthetic terms. ‘No One Knows’, which immediately precedes it, turns a euphoric sample into a darker light, continually looping the track’s title to wandering piano lines and the increased pulsing of a synth. In this is something like composition as a choreography, arranging a select-few elements with constraint and vision.

While spiritualism underpins much of the framing of the album, poetics may be one way to understand its cohesive diversity. If poetics is conceived of as a practice of constraint then we can situate the multiple elements of the album in that light. From the alluring bass clarinet in ‘And Then The Anointing Fell’, the choral vocals of Lisa E. Harris in ‘Pause in his Presence’ as well as Sam Gendel’s winding, subterranean saxophone strains, through to the lingering lead guitar lines in ‘For the Youth’, and the finessed bursts from the rappers; all highlight the attention to virtuosity within Williams’ compositional practice through their sparsity, rather than in spite of it. Constraint is virtuous in this formulation. But that isn’t to say constraint is a stand-in for self-repression. In fact, what it enables is force directed with acuity and thought. One thing that Williams seems to be involved in, either consciously or intuitively, is the question of vibe. While a relatively recognisable and coherent atmosphere is heard through careful production, straddled between the electronic and acoustic, with short tracks suited to playlist culture, Williams evades the cynicism that reduces Black alternative music to commercial genericism.

At first glance you would be forgiven for assuming that But Only After You Have Suffered may suffer from the trap of postmodern pastiche, with its nods to jazz, hip hop, RnB and minimalism. Williams finds himself at the crossroads, stylistically and materially, between experimental elements of Black music and mainstream art-pop variants. This is not least due to his artistic involvement with stalwarts such as Solange, Blood Orange, and Moses Sumney, all artists that would bear comparison to this album in their synthesis of forms and paradigmatic artistry. Yet we could look at this from a different vantage, namely the work of more underground Black artists. This would include people such as L’Rain, Klein, and Coby Sey to mention a few. These artists constitute a reemergent interest in the song-form, one situated in various experimental subcultures incorporating post-punk, noise, and sound art.

While Williams cannot be positioned exactly in this set, it does shed some interesting light. At the nexus of the undercurrent and dominant lies a question between narrative and fragmentation. The reinvigorated song-form takes into account the fragments of contemporary music to reshape the album-form as a narrative, but one that is self-consciously multiple and non-linear. In one sense this is a function of a politicised self-hood that resists generic forms of expression in favour of those authentic to social life, while in another sense this is merely another iteration of the continuum of Black music, of which Williams ably typifies.

At thirty-two minutes runtime, But Only After You Have Suffered, could be said to be something of an interlude: as accompaniment on a bus ride, a walk to the cafe, a short lunch break, those moments before bed. We are invited to listen and listen again, to loop back and take time to pick up every thoughtful detail: “It’s a whole work,” Jamire explains in the press release. “It flows seamlessly, and it’s meant to keep playing until you really understand all the messages, prayers, and cries.” One way to think about the wholeness is not that it reflects a unified artistic statement, but rather a literal snapshot of the creative practice. So instead of being just an accompaniment to a daily occurrence, it actually functions as the emanation of the occurrence itself. This would be the difference between the autobiographical, as being about the narrative of one’s life, and the autographical, as being the very utterances that mark the practice of life itself. If constraint is both virtuous and virtuosic, then poetic utterance provides the musical device for song to bleed back through; Jamire Williams’ offerings are conjurations setting light on this very place.