When I first heard A Love Surreal on NPR’s First Listen a few weeks back, it was like doing a double-take. As the insane funkiness of the first real track on it, “West Side Girl,” floated into my earspace it was one of the moments where you’re like “Wait… this is happening.” It’s unbelievably futuristic funk; a heady blend of old school-educated R&B knowledge (George Clinton/Parliament) but informed by his neo-soul contemporaries (Erykah/Frank/D’Angelo/Dam-Funk). The production is wild – when soul and R&B artists know how to screw with a drum machine or beat-maker, it always sends chills down my spinal cord. The last time I was really thrown like this by a new piece of soul was probably when I heard Raphael Saadiq’s Instant Vintage. They’re certainly cousins in the field.
But what’s so exciting about Bilal is that he’s ours. He’s Philly all the way! Him and Jill Scott and Jazmine Sullivan make our city so much richer. And even though we didn’t even really place on this Top 10 Liveable Cities list, we sure have some reasons to be in love with fair Philly.
Here’s a proper paragraph from the review:
“Recorded in live, spontaneous-sounding takes, A Love Surreal is a long, liquid suite, shifting through long instrumental sections during which Bilal is doing nothing but crooning wordlessly, doubling and tripling his voice into freely rippling layers. That doesn’t mean it’s boring or static. The mix is filled with tiny surprising sounds– a high, pulsing keyboard whines in your head on “Winning Hand”; dusty, boxy drum programming throughout that recalls the napkin-doodle electronics taking up the back half of Shuggie Otis’ Inspiration Information. There are guitars everywhere– acoustic and sun-dappled on “Lost for Now”, electric and bluesy on “Astray”, stabbing Steve Cropper leads on “Winning Hand”. On “West Side Girl”, they clump together like wet tissues while Bilal multitracks his voice into dizzying layers around them: His harmonized vocals stack behind the verses, and the foreground is flooded with breathing, moaning, muttering, exclaiming, and whispering. He seems to gravitate naturally to smaller-scale, more granular moments like these, which make A Love Surreal mandatory headphone listening.”
As I bob my head to “Climbing” at Chapterhouse on S 9th Street, it’s calling out to me and saying ‘Stay here, it’s funky (and sexy).’ Yes, there’s no doubt that this record’s baby-making friendly. Let it spin as you lay down and sensual times will undoubtedly ensue. Sometimes a little bit of a sexy phone conversation, a command to ‘take off your clothes’ or the image of a joint smoked in the backseat of a car on a summer night’s enough to get you through a dreary almost-spring day.