Black Girls Continue Their Psych-Funk Reign of RVA with ‘Claire Sinclaire’
Two bass hits. Kick drum. Snare. Again. Hi-hats slot themselves in between. REPEAT! Richmond, Virginia’s Black Girls have never been a subtle band and not yet half a dozen seconds into their second album, Claire Sinclaire, they’ve established what your next 35 minutes are going to be about. Funk and soul had always been an influence, but now it’s a mandate. There’s swagger and energy, a groove that pretends to accidentally bump into you then grinds into your hips. You’re not sure if you want to join, but you probably will. Singer Drew Gilham slides in with a whisper. He exhales the next line, doesn’t even sing it. Coos to you next. Guitars descend and suddenly it’s no longer a suggestion, “You’ve got to get your hands up..if I survive, I will supply!”
“On the First Night” suggests Black Girls is narrowing its focus to the soul funk inflections that made their last album, 2011’s Hell Dragon such a danceable affair, and to a certain extent that’s true. “Soul Tornado” is propelled with spiked jazz chords and a disco beat, “Waltz” kicks its feet up again drapes of piano and a Stax-esque hi-hat and cymbal ride, and “Del Mar” would be a disco ballad if not for the fuzzed out guitar lines. The touches share a common theme but the album’s most fun when they stretch themselves out of that box.
“Bangin’ LA” grinds, but not the kind the band typically deals in. This is more of a slow motion jackhammer dismantling a lawn mower as a tiny war elephant looks on (and that ripping sax solo is the sound of said war elephant fighting said lawn mower as a nearby bonfire is fed a crate of worn-out Sticky Fingers records). First single “Buyin’ Time” nestles surf-rock guitars next to jaunty indie pop and buckets of reverb (while not my favorite piece of work here here, it seems directly targeted to indie-blogs who eat up anything described by the words surf and pop and slathered in reverb), and “Waltz” has a literal countdown to the solo while the coda to “Sometimes” allows the shimmying psych-soul nugget to soar away on guitar-solo wings.
And then there’s “Lover”, a staple of their live set for some time and a perfect distillation of the funk, soul, and psychedelics that Black Girls likes to call snuff rock. As pop songcraft it’s as effortless as it is masterful. The kind of song that walks up to you to hold your hand but cops a feel instead. Guitars wah, the beat struts, a trumpet circles in from above, all grinding to a halt for the chorus. Sung slightly differently every time, yet always pitched with an indelible mix of resentment, determination, lament, and wistful hope, “If I was your lover/You should know/I’d treat you better”.
As sophmore albums go, it’s hard to do better than Claire Sinclaire does here. The record shows a further refinement of their sound while branching out enough to bring in new fans. It’s weird but accessible, danceable but complex. It’s an exciting next step for a band that seems to be getting better and better.