It’s been about two years since I chatted with the talented Bilal about his 2013 LP A Love Surreal. This time around I have the honor of reviewing his 4th album, In Another Life, released just yesterday.
This cool down-to-earth guy never gives us anything less than deep, creative art in his music. Partnering up with the masterful producer Adrian Younge, we’ve been gifted a project that has very organic inner workings. With vivid lyrical content and instrumentation, let the love story begin.
Kicking it off with “Sirens II,” he takes us into the water with the Greek mythological muses of the underworld. Bilal sings, “Can you hear them calling out from the sea so beautiful / …Sirens have come to take you away.” It’s obvious that Adrian drew inspiration for this beat from Jay-Z and Timbaland’s “Picasso Baby.” Bilal’s soothing voice comes in and joins the bass guitar that vibrates deep into your gut.
From the sea to the stars, Bilal makes a smooth transition into the song “Star Now.” With transient Sci-Fi sounding rhythms under his voice, he sings about his lover glowing after they engage in intimacy. In this piece we can picture her ascending to the unknown as he depicts a love that is out of this world. Within the cadency of the music we can hear a pulse that emulates the sound of a heartbeat, like a human coming to life.
Then the album takes a turn to an upbeat tempo that sounds thematic to the springtime. “Open Up The Door” is about rebirth and endurance in a relationship. We can all relate to the changing of the seasons in weather and in matters of the heart. Bilal sings about them being “sharp as steel and strong willed,” then says, “But when it rains, we grow.” The leap of love is always a risk and sometimes the seed planted is a dud. On the journey of passion one may incur hardship, but when the will is strong one can prevail. This groove has a message that’s basically saying: water under the bridge just makes the bridge useful.
“Relax yourself girl please settle down” because Bilal really doesn’t care. This tune, “I Really Don’t Care” reminds me a little bit of Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack’s “Where Is The Love.” It’s a song whose title is paradoxical to the message. Usually when the phrase “I really don’t care” is heard, one would think that a person is being negatively nonchalant. In this case, Bilal is referring to not caring about who opposes them or where they have love, as long as they share it together. He is completely satisfied loving his partner into the next life.
Up next is “Pleasure Toy” featuring Big K.R.I.T. Throughout this project one may be able to pinpoint a few influenced sounds. On this record I get a hint of the ‘80s classic, “I’m Curious” by Midnight Star. I also get a hint of Prince-inspired crooning. The title of this song speaks for itself: Bilal is completely cool with being accessible to his woman as a pleasure toy. Big K.R.I.T. adds in a refreshing rap verse that adds in more flavor to this sexy number. This upbeat tune could rock a lady from the dancefloor to the sheets.
"Satellites" brings back the boom-bap classic hip hop drum sound, fusing it with jazz, R&B, and pop. Immediate head bopping is in effect when this joint drops as we look at the world from a Satellite with Bilal. This track really makes you feel like you’re hovering above the earth, watching its demise. There’s a sense of regret and dismay coming from Bilal, who seems to be caught between time as he compares the then and now. One of the fun parts about this album is how we can pinpoint just about every instrument used within the production. I’m loving how the drums and the organ breathe life into the beat here.
When Bilal and I spoke in 2013, he told me he doesn’t like to be categorized into one genre and he makes music for all people. “Lunatic” takes us into a buoyant rock-soul flavor as he scream-sings to represent a psychotic character. Within this tribal sounding beat we can definitely hear the crazy side of him. Bilal becomes a party crashing lunatic, busting guns. The message can be understood that the creator of conflict and confusion could not fathom the true extent of their destructive ways. The phrase “Medicine Man,” used in the hook of the song, in African and Native American culture refers to one who practices voodoo or is a witch doctor. Medicine Men lead people to believe they have god-like power. The notion this song touches on is still within the album theme of traveling, this one takes us into the dimensions of the spiritual world.
“Money Over Love” featuring Kendrick Lamar starts off bluesy, as Bilal repeatedly sings “never again.” Bilal and Adrian takes us to a very racy, fast-life ‘70s themed production. He sings, “The best things in life ain’t free,” contrary to the old cliché. We have now traveled into the heartbreak hotel as both Bilal and Kendrick pledge to keep their hearts and money to themselves. The best punchline on this joint is, “I’ll rock that box on credit.” Ha!
Easing in like an angelic lullaby, "Love Child" has a play on words and meaning. To be a love child one would have to have been born of parents who weren’t or aren’t married. What’s interesting is the beat contains similarities to Sade’s “Sweetest Taboo,” and having a child out of wedlock could be considered a taboo in society. The linear alignment this song has with Sade’s classic establishes a stirring idea of love. One thing is true, falling in love is possibly the only thing in life no one can control, it just happens. What’s impressive about Bilal is his vocal range. He can go from singing a falsetto note to a boisterous deep bass sound in no time.
Oh to be bare. How many people are so free that they can show the world their rawness? How many people can even find the trust and comfort to do that with just one person? Not many. “Holding It Back” gives the feeling of floating hand-in-hand through space with a love, but at the same time makes you want to sit under a tree by the lake on top of a bed of flowers. Bilal and New Zealand native Kimbra’s sound is so sweet together in this wonderfully jazzy tune. It invokes the emotion of when a person first feels butterflies for their lover and gazes into their eyes. In romantic commitments, each couple has their own rhythm and this song sounds like it was birthed from the most genuinely felt kind.
“Spiraling” presents the thrill of shooting down a big slide, having fun while you’re descending, until you start slowing down as the ride comes to an end. Sometimes in relationships, there are no second glides on the slide. What’s lovely about the production of this piece is that it makes you feel like you are really spiraling, especially in the beginning. There’s a mad science to beat-making that Younge has down cold.
As we come to the end of this love story In Another Life, we can hear sorrow-filled vocals as Bilal mourns the end of this relationship. “Bury Me Next To You” invites us into the emotional woes that come along with a breakup. Younge overflows our ears with somber sounds that reflect the concept of something coming to an end. To love someone so intensely that you know that you’d want to spend death with them is powerful. The theme of this song conveys the idea that, as a couple or not, he would die with his beloved and stay with her for eternity.
For Bilal's latest music, news, and tour dates, check out his Zumic artist page.