Bilal: Levels EP

[2 February 2011]

By Zachary Houle

PopMatters Associate Music Editor

Level Up

It seems that neo-soul and jazz singer-songwriter Bilal Sayeed Oliver has been riding high for the past few years. He was nominated for a Grammy in 2009 for Best Urban/Alternative Performance for his appearance on Robert Glasper’s song “All Matter”, and was given the nod again this year in the same category for the song “Little One”. He released his third album (one being unreleased) last year, Airtight’s Revenge, which just came short of cracking the top 100 of the Billboard Hot 200. Now, he has an iTunes digital EP to offer to the masses, “Levels”, which is the third single from Airtight’s Revenge. It comes with a corresponding video that was directed by none other than super-producer Flying Lotus, making his directorial debut behind the camera. That connection is apt, because “Levels”, at least in its original incarnation, has Flying Lotus’s sonic fingerprints all over it (the single comes with the original track, an instrumental version that’s wholly unnecessary unless you want to try your hand at karaoke, and two remixes or “re-edits”, one of which is cut up by the hands of none other than, yes, Flying Lotus). “Levels” is a claustrophobic track that has the hallmarks of the collage technique found on Cosmogramma. The beats gurgle like Swiss clockwork run amok, a piano line lilts and rock guitars surge towards the end of the track with ferocious intensity. It’s a decent song, though it’s a little busy and unfocused. The real standouts are the remixes, which pare the original track right down to the bare bones. All this goes to show you that maybe Steve Ellison (a.k.a. you-know-who) and the other remixer, Sonnymoon, knew something that Bilal didn’t. On the whole, the Levels EP is an intriguing bit of glitch pop. Unfortunately, though, the opening lyric is prescient: “Yeah, I’ve heard this one before.”

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/136294-bilal-levels-single/