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Bilal quietly released Airtight's Revenge on avant-pop label Plug Research in 2010, and though it went relatively under the radar, it remains one of the best R&B albums of the decade thus far. Featuring a number of tracks with asymmetrical arrangements and whirlwind rhythms, the music is as tumultuous and impassioned as the singing and lyrics, which deal with adult-slanted relationship drama, politics, and deep introspection.
The singer recently dropped his follow-up to Airtight's Revenge, A Love Surreal, on eOne. Both longer and more luxurious than its predecessor, Bilal's latest leans on slower tracks with mistier, rose-colored sounds and softer instrumentation. But it is similarly complex, approaching seemingly conventional R&B tracks from unusual angles. Take album opener "West Side Girl": Shafiq Husayn's burbling keyboards and limping percussion anchor a feathery keyboard pattern, while Bilal's singing blurts forth in snatches of miraculously congruent melodies. Channeling Prince, Bilal casually flips lascivious epigrams like "You ain't gotta talk a lick/Body talk a lot of shit" in between mostly empty come-ons. It's a weird piece of R&B from an artist who's consistently challenging the genre's language. The rest of A Love Surreal unfolds in similarly knotty fashion, and after a few listens, it's opening up. I haven't absorbed it fully yet, but I can envision it making sense in time.