Mourning [A] BLKstar's 'The Cycle' Is Secular Gospel for Healing a Damaged Nation

Photo: Courtesy of Don Giovanni Records via Bandcamp

Mourning [A] BLKstar's The Cycle is necessary, secular gospel for the healing of a truly damaged nation. Their music somehow sounds like salvation.

The Cycle
Mourning [A] BLKstar

Don Giovanni

15 May 2020

The last few years have seen a resurgence of interest in reissues of deep, spiritual jazz recordings from late the 1960s and early 1970s, allowing many to hear forgotten gems such as Khan Jamal's Creative Arts Ensemble, the World's Experience Orchestra, or the gorgeous-beyond-words first LP from South Africa's Batsumi. Alice Coltrane's entire output has undergone a much-deserved re-appraisal as has the Impulse-era catalogue of spiritual jazz godfather Pharaoh Sanders. Alongside all of this has been the contemporary Afrofuturism of Nicole Mitchell, Hieroglyphic Being, and powerful examples of Black classical music's forward push thanks to Matana Roberts, or the International Anthem label.

Irreversible Entanglements, an ensemble where free jazz anger meets the poetry of Camae Ayewa, aka Moor Mother, was co-released by International Anthem and Don Giovanni, a punk label out of New Jersey that has also released Moor Mother's solo efforts as well as The Cycle, the latest from Mourning [A] BLKstar, an Ohio-based collective boasting three lead singers, horns, and insistent, portending grooves, They feel naturally connected to all of the above, while not sounding like any of them. In other words, there's no way not to recognize this band's roots; it's also impossible to hear them as anything other than starkly original. And for anyone who's kept up with them since their debut, the mood has gotten noticeably darker, something The Cycle makes clear. As it turns out, early versions of this LP's songs were sketched out and played on stage even as they toured to promote last year's The Reckoning.

Yet, this album's spring 2020 release exposes music that can't help but seem like a reaction to the current moment. It demands an end to systemic racism and its representative monuments, alongside the inequalities brought to center stage by COVID-19, render this country once and for all as a nation forced to finally take a look at the rotten stench of economic and racial apartheid. Part of The Cycle's in-the-moment feel also comes from the fact that this is largely a live-to-tape record, capturing the buzz and hum of their Cleveland, Ohio studio and using that undercurrent to fantastic, vibrating effect.

"The Wants", with lyrics at once expressing bafflement at the economic predicament many are faced with and a determination to cut through it, rides a mid-tempo distorted pulse, horn lines sensuously responding to repeated vocal phrases. "Devil Get Behind Me" opens with an excerpt from the former chairman of the Black Panther Party's Illinois chapter Fred Hampton, who keenly observes racism as necessary to capitalism. Once the song proper hits, with stuttered, dragged beats, all three singers harmonize over the line, "fear ain't my name".

Later, Cleveland Jazz Orchestra-affiliated Theresa May's trumpet finds peace in her horn's middle register. The horns on this record are consistently languorous, wafting over the album's often slow tempos like cigar smoke in a dark basement bar. They cup Kyle Kidd's soaring pleas on "So Young So", and they punch vibrant, staccato holes through "Hard's" density.

While The Cycle is a double LP of trudging rhythms and broken promises, it does offer tentative hope. That so much of this album is based on harmony, not only from the vocalists and horns, but on a fragile collective harmony we might not yet have extinguished as a nation, allows Mourning [A] BLKstar's music to sound like salvation. Just check out Kidd's performance on "Be", as they sail over the following words: "So light up and grow, and remember everything that you know." The Cycle is necessary, secular gospel for the healing of a truly damaged nation.






The 10 Best Experimental Albums of 2015

Music of all kinds are tending toward a consciously experimental direction. Maybe we’re finally getting through to them.


John Lewis, C.T. Vivian, and Their Fellow Freedom Riders Are Celebrated in 'Breach of Peace'

John Lewis and C.T. Vivian were titans of the Civil Rights struggle, but they are far from alone in fighting for change. Eric Etheridge's masterful then-and-now project, Breach of Peace, tells the stories of many of the Freedom Riders.


Unwed Sailor's Johnathon Ford Discusses Their New Album and 20 Years of Music

Johnathon Ford has overseen Unwed Sailor for more than 20 years. The veteran musician shows no sign of letting up with the latest opus, Look Alive.

Jedd Beaudoin

Jazz Trombonist Nick Finzer Creates a 'Cast of Characters'

Jazz trombonist Nick Finzer shines with his compositions on this mainstream jazz sextet release, Cast of Characters.


Datura4 Travel Blues-Rock Roads on 'West Coast Highway Cosmic'

Australian rockers Datura4 take inspiration from the never-ending coastal landscape of their home country to deliver a well-grounded album between blues, hard rock, and psychedelia.


Murder Is Most Factorial in 'Eighth Detective'

Mathematician Alex Pavesi's debut novel, The Eighth Detective, posits mathematical rules defining 'detective fiction'.


Eyedress Sets Emotions Against Shoegaze Backdrops on 'Let's Skip to the Wedding'

Eyedress' Let's Skip to the Wedding is a jaggedly dreamy assemblage of sounds that's both temporally compact and imaginatively expansive, all wrapped in vintage shoegaze ephemera.


Of Purges and Prescience: On David France's LGBTQ Documentary, 'Welcome to Chechnya'

The ongoing persecution of LGBTQ individuals in Chechnya, or anywhere in the world, should come as no surprise, or "amazement". It's a motif undergirding the history of civil society that certain people will always be identified for extermination.


Padma Lakshmi's 'Taste the Nation' Questions What, Exactly, Is American Food

Can food alone undo centuries of anti-immigrant policies that are ingrained in the fabric of the American nation? Padma Lakshmi's Taste the Nation certainly tries.


Performing Race in James Whale's 'Show Boat'

There's a song performed in James Whale's musical, Show Boat, wherein race is revealed as a set of variegated and contradictory performances, signals to others, a manner of being seen and a manner of remaining hidden, and it isn't "Old Man River".


The Greyboy Allstars Rise Up to Help America Come Together with 'Como De Allstars'

If America could come together as one nation under a groove, Karl Denson & the Greyboy Allstars would be leading candidates of musical unity with their funky new album, Como De Allstars.


The Beatles' 'Help!' Redefined How Personal Popular Music Could Be 55 Years Ago

Help! is the record on which the Beatles really started to investigate just how much they could get away with. The album was released 55 years ago this week, and it's the kick-off to our new "All Things Reconsidered" series.


Porridge Radio's Mercury Prize-Nominated 'Every Bad' Is a Wonderful Epistemological Nightmare

With Every Bad, Porridge Radio seduce us with the vulnerability and existential confusion of Dana Margolin's deathly beautiful lyricism interweaved with alluring pop melodies.


​​Beyoncé's 'Black Is King' Builds Identity From Afrofuturism

Beyoncé's Black Is King's reliance on Afrofuturism recuperates the film from Disney's clutches while reclaiming Black excellence.

Reading Pandemics

Colonial Pandemics and Indigenous Futurism in Louise Erdrich and Gerald Vizenor

From a non-Native perspective, COVID-19 may be experienced as an unexpected and unprecedented catastrophe. Yet from a Native perspective, this current catastrophe links to a longer history that is synonymous with European colonization.


John Fullbright Salutes Leon Russell with "If the Shoe Fits" (premiere + interview)

John Fullbright and other Tulsa musicians decamped to Leon Russell's defunct studio for a four-day session that's a tribute to Dwight Twilley, Hoyt Axton, the Gap Band and more. Hear Fullbright's take on Russell's "If The Shoe Fits".

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.