Review: Black Pumas, Chronicles of a Diamond
Side B rises to a bar set mile-high by the band’s golden child debut
The secret to Chronicles of a Diamond proves a novel but not unheard one: Start at side B. Four years ago, "Black Moon Rising" and "Colors," the two best tracks on Black Pumas' Grammy-nominated golden child debut, opened the eponymous franchise-maker. Last month, the Austin soul duo's much-anticipated follow-up concluded with its knockout combo: "Gemini Sun" and "Rock and Roll." In fact, the album's whole second side rises to a bar set mile-high by the band's national breakout.
Pulling an Adele from 25, singer-songwriter Eric Burton and producer/guitarist Adrian Quesada begin the Diamond flipside with their own "Hello," the titular greeting and vocal break building to a gospel crescendo you'll never see coming. "Sauvignon" then swishes back/forth between tart falsetto, throaty lower palette, and a swinging middle ground. Third rock "Tomorrow" preaches backing away from the razor's edge behind spooning percussion, a sanctified, sometimes murmuring Burton, and Quesada's hotly buzzing guitar. "Gemini Sun" then beats down a marching tempo, intonation, and sci-fi key roll into the hypnotic post-R&B of "Rock and Roll," whose tensile piano hook, synth sneeze, and guitar chank bounce back and forth as if on loop, a spellbinding, ultimately synth-wigging fever dream.
Sulfur rises off the splatter vinyl for the black alt-cover-art edition of LP No. 2. Still, side A simply tries too hard following a long layoff after such a large splash. Radio bait "Ice Cream (Pay Phone)" proves creamy enough, every last flavor of Black musical heritage swirling into an irresistible melange of flavor and tone, while the stripped intro to "Angel" glistens a Diamond high. Burton could lead an I'm a Ram: The Al Green Story biopic. No matter what he sings, your ear inebriates. On "Mrs. Postman," packaging three tunes in one – often the problem at the start here: a disconnect between singer and song – Burton nails every one. Chronicles of a Diamond, tumbling out of a black velvet pouch now.