Fantastic Negrito

Please Don't Be Dead

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The Last Days of Oakland, the 2016 full-length debut album from Fantastic Negrito, was designed to be a make-or-break album and, as luck would have it, the record made the modern-day bluesman. Earning a wave of acclaim, The Last Days of Oakland wound up taking home the Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album in 2017, a welcome reversal of fortune for a singer/songwriter who struggled through his 1990s and 2000s performing under variations of his given name, Xavier Amin Dphrepaulezz. His reputation made, Fantastic Negrito proceeded to double down on his style-bending blues on Please Don't Be Dead, the 2018 sequel to his Grammy-winner. Lacking the conceptual glue that bonded The Last Days of Oakland, Please Don't Be Dead nevertheless finds Fantastic Negrito resolutely ambitious. Synthesizing art funk, twisted soul, and arena rock with his bedrock blues, he frequently seems giddy with his own audacity. Often, he's correct to be so impressed with himself: witness "Transgender Biscuits," which spins an acoustic blues guitar into a funky, futuristic protest, a song that encapsulates all of Fantastic Negrito's aspirations and charms. This blend of the past and present is tricky business, and he sometimes trips up on himself in a way he never did on The Last Days. When the guitars are cranked, Please Don't Be Dead can sound like the Black Keys at their trippiest ("The Suit That Won't Come Off"), while some of his eccentricities can seem affected. Perhaps these stumbles are the side effect of an artist dedicated to capturing all the mess of the modern world, and even if there are moments that grate or confound, there's still something invigorating about an artist who refuses to sit still.

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