Bilal wasn't idle during the period that separated A Love Surreal and In Another Life. Those 28 months, the shortest between-albums span of his career, involved a stack of secondary discography entries -- illuminating spots on releases by Robert Glasper, Kimbra, Otis Brown III, and Kendrick Lamar, among other artists. At some point, he was placed in the path of Adrian Younge, supreme architect and creator of vintage-modern psychedelic soul and dirty hip-hop. A scholarly producer and composer who performs most of the instrumentation heard here, Younge arrived in 2009 with the Black Dynamite score. He then recorded fine-to-exceptional full-lengths with his band Venice Dawn, Ghostface Killah, the Delfonics' William Hart, and Souls of Mischief. Casual listeners might know him through Jay-Z's "Picasso Baby," which sampled "Sirens" off Something About April. The original, an instrumental, is referenced again on In Another Life's first song, and has its star-crossed terror quality intensified through eerie touches of Fender Rhodes and Mellotron from Ali Shaheed Muhammad. It sets the tone for an album that can be viewed as both the closing installment in an Adrian Younge soul trilogy, following Something About April and Adrian Younge Presents the Delfonics, and as Bilal's most stimulating work. Aside from "Pleasure Toy," a bumping production featuring Big K.R.I.T. that evokes "Sexual Healing" revamped by post-disco R&B boss Nick Martinelli, Younge sticks to his late-'60s/early-'70s reference frame, once again crafting his backdrops with golden ears for detail and a crate-digger's mentality. Compared to the Venice Dawn and Delfonics efforts, this is a little less shadowy and more muscular. Its suspenseful and feverish qualities drop only for "Open Up the Door," a breather that conveys perseverance and contentment, and "Bury Me Next to You," which is still rather wrenching. Bilal continues to be one of the most dynamic and progressive vocalists in contemporary music. Actually, there's him, and then there's everyone else. He's a livewire, capable of instant swings from carnal elation to psychological misery, yet none of it seems manufactured. In "Lunatic," where a sinister rhythm pushes and prods, it sounds as if Prince and Bad Brains' H.R. are being exorcized from the vocalist's howling body. Within the careening stop-start "Money Over Love," which incorporates an urgent verse from Lamar, Bilal's narrative falsetto briefly recalls that of Curtis Mayfield, but Mayfield's pipes never pushed out anything like the snarling "I rock that box on credit." Fleeting likenesses notwithstanding, Bilal is a one-off, and his hip-hop soul summit with Younge, tucked inside the art of Angelbert Metoyer, is one for the ages.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Andy Kellman