Photo by Chris Keller
Night Beats releases final album single “Blue” ahead of forthcoming new album Rajan
Out July 14 on Suicide Squeeze / Fuzz Club
A slow burn, low-end sonic rephrasing of an R&B ballad. Intoxicating by its simplicity, these 6 and a half minutes of low riding, Outkast inspired psychedelic country and western sounds, drop the infectious beat. Touches of Golden Age funk and Sonny Orzuna inspired Chicano soul, “Blue” paints a different picture with Night Beats’ own touch.
As Night Beats, Texas-born, LA-based artist Danny Lee Blackwell creates music like one might assemble a puzzle. The Western psychedelic auteur builds his work from one moment, an initial spark, that must fit a certain criteria: it must give him goosebumps. If that sensation arrives, Blackwell will pursue the idea relentlessly until he has a new song; if not, he moves onto the next moment, constantly looking for the perfect molecule of a song. On Rajan, Blackwell creates a career-defining album that reveals much about Danny Lee Blackwell’s artistic philosophy while keeping that ever crucial air of mystery intact.
Today, Night Beats shared final album single “Blue,” which Blackwell says, “I struggle describing my process because most of it is just doing, or not doing. For “Blue” it came together when I added the bassline and west coast whistle sound, I wanted it to ride, and it took me along. Finding the words is a process of surrender, sometimes desperation, bliss or fear. I become the song, to tell it. I’ve lost and found my mind through gospel music, Ethiopiques, Lauren Hill, Patsy Cline and Tony Allen drumming. I only know what works for me, and let rhythm and harmony be my guide.”
Prior to the release of “Blue,” Night Beats released a video for single “Nightmare,” which Blackwell describes, “I wanted to hear sounds and cries of unconditional, blind love. I wanted swirling, fitful guitars, speaking in tongues, thrashing around in a chest trying to break free. A call and response to the blood curdling voice of a lost soul, ringing out, pleading for understanding. Rajan is laced with distant, layered choral groups, exploring pathways paved by Isley Brothers, David Ruffin, Grace Slick and other psychedelic soul pioneers of the time. I wanted to hear the sounds of service to the ones you love, even being blinded by it. This song creates a circle, if you’re listening. A cascading roadmap through a nightmare. Thunder and lightning, flashing neon blue lights, rhetorical puzzles.”
And the gospel psychedelic song “Thank You” directed by Vanessa Pla. Blackwell explains, “Vanessa has a profound understanding of the creative process and has helped me to transform my concept into a meaningful work of art.” He continues, “In the video, the 12 masked figures symbolize the limitations of our innermost desires and struggles, as the story follows an alchemical journey of transformation.Vanessa’s vision for the video was to highlight the power of transformation as an alchemical process, which reinforces the significance of the simple gesture of saying “Thank You.” This concept challenged me as an artist to explore deeper meanings and to convey them through simple ideas. Through our collaboration, we were able to create a compelling visual story that captures the essence of transformation and gratitude.”
Night Beats also released a video for album opener “Hot Ghee,” which he says, “blending the elements of rare underground Anatolian deep funk with R&B and soul, with a sample-oriented mindset can be compared to the sound of hot ghee sizzling on a pan. Just like how the ghee melts and blends with the other ingredients, the fusion of these different music genres creates a unique and harmonious sound that melds in mysterious oneness. And just like how the sound of sizzling ghee adds a depth of flavor to the dish, the layered and sample-based approach to the creation adds different dimensions to the music that allows the listener’s imagination to run free. Ghee is also seen as an offering at the beginning of ceremonies, making this opening track of Rajan.”
Album opener “Hot Ghee” not only sets the stage for where the album will head, but establishes Rajan as a scalding-hot take on the intersection of psych-rock, jazz, blues, soul, hip-hop, and more. It’s a wildly diverse and thrilling album, yet remains remarkably cohesive in Blackwell’s deft hands. “Hot Ghee” is built around sultry guitar chords, layers of interacting vocals, swinging drums, a small army of tambourines, and subtle piano runs that gives the song a melodic edge.
“Hot Ghee,” and all of Rajan, is such a special record because it simultaneously showcases Danny Lee’s chops as a world class songwriter, while showcasing the types of music he loves as a fan. Blackwell is one of our most impressive musicians, but he’s also an obsessive listener. Take “Hot Ghee’s” bridge, which moves the song from burnt-edge funk to Sgt. Pepper era Beatles. It’s an unpredictable move, but one that works to perfection thanks to Blackwell’s execution.
Rajan began just like every other Night Beats album. Shortly after releasing the fuzzed-out pop epic Outlaw R&B, Blackwell began itching to create new music. Writing isn’t a process that Blackwell has to sit down and engage with. As Night Beats, it’s something he’s always doing, and the only differentiation between periods of creation is what makes it on certain records and what falls victim to the cutting room.
“Whenever my writing gets to a point where songs begin to take shape, it begins to feel like a faucet,” Blackwell explains. “As soon as Outlaw R&B was finished, I began writing and very quickly fell in love with a few ideas that encapsulated the feeling of Rajan. I think writing is a constant cycle in that it never really begins or ends, but there are definitive points where the writing is leading somewhere.” On this new project, Blackwell felt very early on that this album would be dedicated to his mother. Though thematically it doesn’t always reflect this tribute, the whole project is infused by this familial tie.
“This isn’t a concept album, because every album has a concept. That term never made sense to me. But if it’s about one thing, it’s about this pursuit of freedom that was instilled in me by my mother,” Blackwell says. “In the arts, I’m very lucky in that I have 100% control over what I want to say, and how I do it,” he explains. That means some songs toy with Anatolian funk and Western-tinged R&B. Other songs, like “Nightmare” mess around with 70s Brazilian psychedelia. There are also elements of Chicano soul, rock steady love songs, Lee “Scratch” Perry-inspired dub; essentially, in the world of Night Beats, nothing is off limits. “Rajan is just one of six examples of me doing exactly what I want, and not caring about whether it’s checked out or not. I’m a journeyperson. I want to make things for the sake of making them.
Night Beats’ new album Rajan is an ode to great music. Danny Lee Blackwell enters the canonical halls of music past and confidently inserts his voice into the conversation. It’s an album both indebted to its influences and wildly innovative in its originality. Above all, it finds Night Beats pursuing every whim imaginable. “I’m here to explore. I think exploration is the underlying reason in a way, of why we do the things we do,” Blackwell explains. “I feel lucky. What can I say? I feel blessed.”
PRAISE FOR RAJAN
“very subtle and faint touches of Texas twang in the vocals and guitar which flow beautifully within the overall California psych bop style. It’s a straight up jam”
– Austin Town Hall
“The direction the lead single “Hot Ghee” takes is an upbeat one, pairing his familiar psych-rock foundation with Anatolian deep-funk and an aggressive hip-hop drum beat”
“elusively compelling….a sizzling mixture of everything from psych-rock and jazz/blues to soul and hip-hop”
– Grimy Goods
“Nuanced desert soul masterpiece”
– Passion of the Weiss