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Georgia Anne Muldrow - Overload Music Album Reviews

The restless avant-garde soul singer is still reinventing rhythm and blues for the future, now more than ever on the most pop-focused album of her prolific career.

Picture Georgia Anne Muldrow as a cosmic traveler tinkering with the limits of humanity’s musical norms. You’re dealing with an artist who has deeply studied both the Book of Sun Ra and Baduizm. Her interpretation has spawned one of the most daring catalogs to hit this planet—a vast, urbane suite that draws from historic spirituals, the R&B avant-garde, Afrofuturism, Madlib beats, and the soul of Roberta Flack. The epic scope of Muldrow’s body of work forms the funkiest of odysseys.

Overload is the singer’s 17th album since 2006. With an affinity for warping classic sounds into new forms, Muldrow looked well-placed at the turn of the decade as a group of emerging artists (Miguel, the Weeknd, Frank Ocean) created daring new music that attacked soul’s old boundaries. But the California virtuoso was too different—too out there—to insert herself even into this pack of renegade stars. There are few R&B norms that Muldrow hasn’t looked to contort. Her penance for the approach has been near-zero mainstream reward.

On Overload, Muldrow is in her most pop-focused space ever. The songs are tighter and the melodies are chirpier. It’s a release that refuses to pander to any identifiable trends, using sophisticated cosmic synths, rumbling basslines, and cutting lyrics. Look at this as Muldrow’s second debut—the record that future crate-diggers who have mined this undervalued-in-her-own-time star will recommend to friends first, before they work their way through her weird and wonderful catalog. It also might be her best album yet.

Her first record with Brainfeeder, and featuring Flying Lotus as an executive producer, we get the kind of limitless musical eccentricities that made Los Angeles a beat music mélange. Muldrow’s eclectic tinkerings will play well to fans of label star Thundercat—“Bobbie’s Dittie,” in particular, is cast in the same modern speed-jazz style. But even with Brainfeeder’s backing, Muldrow collaborations roster features some surprise draft picks. There’s Mike & Keys, aka the Futuristiks, whose client list includes G-Eazy, Nipsey Hussle, and Dom Kennedy. The pair helm four tracks here, offering Muldrow fresh looks that fit comfortably.

Take the title track, a loving portrait of a sturdy relationship that’s been built over time. The Futuristiks serve up rat-tat-tat drums, very little bass, and keyboard riffs that flutter like butterflies in the stomach. “I’m on overload and overdrive/I’m overwhelmed,” Muldrow sings sweetly, presumably to husband and long-time collaborator Dudley Perkins. There have been a million songs that cover similar subject matter, but “Overload” boasts a giddy happiness not always found in songs about long-term bonds.

Even as she tests new sonic realms, Overload is defined by one of Muldrow’s long-term remits: immersing herself in as many forms of Black expression as possible. “I.O.T.A. (Instrument Of The Ancestors)” features traditional African vibration delivered with spacey synths and pulsing drum machines. Leave it to celestial star to interpret human history so creatively. “Williehook (Skit)” has some of the same upbeat pop motions as Prince’s “I Could Never Take The Place of Your Man,” so it’s disappointing that it only exists here in a 55-second form. Elsewhere, “These Are The Things I Really Like About You” evokes enough flavors of old New Orleans Dixie music and big band swing to give André 3000 a rush of blood to the head. Perkins adds a suitably wonky verse, admiring the inner spirit of “the coolest dame” and granny sweaters.

It’s not all peace and love. “Blam” preaches self-defense as Muldrow, preparing for what she calls an “ancient war,” arms herself to repel all threats against her family. “Before I’ll be a slave, I’ll be buried in my grave,” she repeats over the song’s back end, evoking the defiance of generations of iron-willed revolutionaries. It’s a reminder that Muldrow’s most potent weapon has always been her pen. On Overload, the pop song structures, coupled with the economic, purposeful instrumentation, yields her most concise and moving set to date. A dozen restless years into her recording careers and Muldrow is still reinventing rhythm and blues for the future.

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