Thursday, December 15, 2016

Best Albums of 2016 - Number 6

sea of noise

St. Paul and The Broken Bones are a live band. That can't be argued with. I've seen them twice already. The first time, I drove 4 hours to see them -my first time alone at a concert - in Orlando and was completely blown away. I already have tickets to make that exact 4 hour drive to see them again in March and this time, I'm probably even more excited, because now I know what I'm going to experience. And maybe this is why I would place their albums so high on any list. Maybe, every time I hear their music, I'm transported to that religious experience. I know that's at least part of it. But also, Sea of Noise is a demonstration that they are growing. They are reaching beyond any idea of them being just a soul revival, a fucking amazing one, and trying to not only expand their sound, but their content. Their concept. Their point of view. Their new album brings a new sense of timeliness, funk, exploration and confidence that only gets better with more listens.

Anchored by 3 short interludes called "Crumbling Light Posts" the album brings to mind the 70s more than the previous effort, which was much more anchored in 60s southern soul. This is more high concept, exploratory and socially conscious. It's a bit of soul searching, basically. But it never gets heavy handed because first and foremost is the soul. After that short intro, we get right to it with the funky "Flow With It (You Got Me Feelin Like)." Right off, what I noticed here was Paul's more restrained performance. The bombast is there, and you can feel it about to burst (and it does), but he's adding texture and expanding his range. That range continues to expand in the deep disco of "Midnight on Earth," with a chorus that is somehow equal parts Bee Gees and Al Green. And right along with Paul's expanding range, the band is exploring different corners of the funk.

In addition to the funk, there is also a choir and string section on a few songs, as well as more overtly gospel influenced songs that give this an interesting dynamic range. It's all elements that have existed in soul and R&B from the beginning in varied measures, but the way this album flows feels very much alive and of the moment. Maybe it's the context of a song like "I'll Be Your Woman," at a time when gender conceptions are finally being challenged in our culture. It's a soul ballad which lyrically echoes Prince's "If I Was Your Girlfriend" but somehow takes it to another level by completely embracing fluid gender roles with lines about being rescued by his female lover and then flat out saying "let me lie in your strong arms" and "I'll be your woman." And there's "All I Ever Wonder" which is all about questioning the state of the world. It's not so much political as it is just socially aware and heartfelt.

If I had to choose one song to represent the range this album goes through, it would have to be "Sanctify." Some of the funkiest organ I've ever heard somehow leads to the one of the lushest most inspiringly orchestrated crescendos I've heard in a long time. What happens in between is religious, sexual and chill inducing. I am really looking forward to seeing them play this live.

Every time I listen to St. Paul and The Broken Bones, I get a little lost in it. And while this album brings some of the real world into that with lyrics like "That’s my daddy with a gun shooting someone else’s son. Is it over yet? A bullet with intent for the color of his savior and he can’t forget. What do we do when the fight goes out? I just want to know can we find love in a black hole?" from "Brain Matter," it's still comforting to be in a musical space that reassures the way soul always has. They are not retro or a throwback - they are timeless. They put the music first and their knowledge of the history of the form is as evident as their talent. My excitement for this band has not decreased one bit since first listening to them a couple of years ago and I'm looking forward to continue to be excited with every phase of what they do. 

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