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Darkthrone - A Blaze in the Northern Sky Music Album Reviews

Each Sunday, Pitchfork takes an in-depth look at a significant album from the past, and any record not in our archives is eligible. Today, we revisit a tense, beautiful, lo-fi landmark from the second wave of black metal.
In the fall of 1971, a child is born in a remote village in Norway. He will one day rechristen himself Fenriz, after the Earth-swallowing wolf, Fenrir, who appears in Norse mythology and the Satanic Bible. But for now, he is Gylve Nagell, being raised by his grandmother, spending inordinate amounts of time alone. The pivotal moments of his childhood occur while listening to records, music introduced to him by an eccentric uncle named Stein. Pink Floyd catches his ear; a few songs by the Doors hold his attention; but it’s the English progressive rock band Uriah Heep that blows his mind. He’s entranced by the heavy organ sound, the cryptic lyrics, and the mysterious men with long hair who appear on the album’s cover. He cherishes the triple-fold LP like an heirloom from…

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Jidenna - 85 to Africa Music Album Reviews

On his latest, Jidenna invokes a metaphorical highway to Africa, uniting the sounds of the sprawling diaspora. The music ranges from booming contemporary hip-hop to feather-light afropop and highlife.

On a recent episode of The Breakfast Club, Jidenna shared a physics-lesson-cum-aphorism his late father often repeated: “You can’t inflate a balloon from inside the balloon. You must inflate it from outside,” he said, in what can be presumed to be an impression of his father’s Nigerian accent. “So the diaspora must take money from outside and put it in. And the continent must take money from inside and put it out.” It’s a sentiment likely familiar to the children of many African immigrants, an optimistic, globally minded philosophy with clear goals but no obvious plan of action. Jidenna’s 85 to Africa, named for the interstate highway that runs through the southeastern U.S., is an attempt to make good on that philosophy.

The promise of a metaphorical highway to Africa, solidifying the connections of centuries of sprawling diaspora, is a useful framework for an album; it’s the highway Drake cruised for much of More Life, as did GoldLink on Diaspora, Beyoncé on the Lion King bonus album The Gift, and Burna Boy throughout his career-spanning blend of afropop, dancehall, and hip-hop. You can imagine Jidenna’s highway system including stops in Jamaica and Trinidad, where dancehall and soca mingle with the U.S. and West Africa. Jidenna’s own diasporic project was evident on 2017’s The Chief, the dense debut album that followed hit singles “Classic Man” and “Yoga,” and which sprinkled in references to his Nigerian heritage. As he’s pared down his style—the bespoke, Antebellum-recalling suits have been replaced with a crisp uniform of a T-shirt tucked into a structured high-waisted trouser, and his box-dyed finger curl grown out and braided—so has his musical style been hemmed in, stripped to the modes in which he’s most effective.

The first half of the album, presumably the domain of the I-85, features Jidenna’s take on contemporary hip-hop. “Worth the Weight,” which closes with an evocative vocal sample from Seun Kuti, son of Fela and musician in his own right, expresses a vision of a united black people. The production by DJ Dahi and Nana Kwabena, the Wondaland affiliate who handles most of the sounds on the album, is cinematic and expansive, with horns, manipulated vocals, and booming drums. Unfortunately, here and elsewhere, Jidenna’s hardy, awkward rapping—“Po-po spun the wheel on misfortune, but I ain’t play that/They come round and pat-pat-pat us down but I ain’t Sajak”—doesn't quite live up to the bigness of his ideas.

Among 85 to Africa’s most endearing qualities is its cultural references, unexplained and presented as universally understood. “Babouche,” featuring GoldLink, is a jaunty ode to the swaggy slipper common in West Africa. (The song, inexplicably, has some #MeToo commentary thrown in. “You can tell a lot from appearance/You can really spot what you fearin’/I heard Morgan Freeman got a hearing/See, I never trusted that earring,” he raps.) “Sou Sou,” maybe the album’s horniest song, uses a small-group lending mechanism common in the Caribbean and throughout Africa as a conceptual starting point.

Things improve on the second half of the album, when, to follow his metaphor, Jidenna arrives in Africa. The melodies and breezy rhythms of songs like “Zodi” and “Vaporiza” are a welcome shift from his barrel-chested rapping. On “Zodi,” featuring Mr. Eazi, he simultaneously charms and razzes an astrology-minded woman, who is the type to “text the stars and crystal ball emojis.” The subject of “Sufi Woman” might be that same person, except this time she’s reading him 13th-century poetry as he luxuriates; a surprising beat, constructed out of Spanish guitar and afropop rhythms by Nana Kwabena, hovers above like a cloudless sky.

“Vaporiza” might be the album’s high point, an easy, tender love song with high-life rhythms and Ethiopian horns: “Vaporiza/I’m breathin’ easy when I’m with you,” goes the affectionate hook. In spirit, it shares a lot with one of the summer’s most ubiquitous, and unlikeliest, hits: “Fall,” a velvety love song recorded in 2017 by the Nigerian pop star Davido, suddenly broke through this year and became inescapable. The same happened with “Drogba (Joanna),” a jaunty afrowave track originally released by the Ivorian-British artist Afro B in early 2018. It feels necessary to celebrate the visibility of these songs, propelled into the mainstream without the rubric of any A-list affiliation. It would be unwise to extrapolate too much from such anomalies, but it’s hard not to feel that Jidenna’s right about something.

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