Review Summary: An album with great potential that is dumbed almost completely down with a lack of direction and...skits.
I may be making an assumption here, but I think that most people can feel a powerful connection to traditional African chant music whenever they hear it. And why not" I believe that the sound of a chanting choir, starting off quiet and soft, and building up to a mighty conclusion using mainly their voices and deep drums lights a spark in every man. This kind of music has certainly found its place in pop culture: the soundtrack to the 1992 film The Power of One
, the theme to the video game Civilization III
, just to name a couple. Therefore, I would suppose that it was only a matter of time before it made its grandiose debut into the mainstream pop music scene. Well, now it has, having been brought to us by the duo Nico and Vinz.
Nicolay Sereba and Vincent Dery are both certainly of African descent, but they actually hail from Norway. Nevertheless, it is more than evident that they hold a deep respect and reverence for their traditional culture and music. If anything is made evident by their music, that is. Nico and Vinz first started out in 2011, producing a fusion of hip-hop, reggae, soul, and pop under the name “Envy.” After making a big splash in their home country, they broke through to international success with the wildly popular track “Am I Wrong,” which I bet you’ve probably heard on the air waves within the past year. This single was followed by their full length LP Black Star Elephant
. Unfortunately, while the influence of traditional African music still permeates throughout the record, Nico and Vinz’s Black Star Elephant
seems dumbed down an excessive amount. While this album had incredible potential as a genre hopping combination of pop and traditional African music, its mellow, dumbed down songs and lack of cohesion and direction make it quite a bland experience.
Nico and Vinz deserve at least this much credit: “Am I Wrong” is a pretty solid song. The song builds around soaring tenor voices and pounding deep drums. As it progresses, backing choir vocals are added to further the influence of traditional African chanting. I could sit and talk about how much I enjoy this song, but it’s important to remember that there is music that comes after to this. Over 50 minutes of music
. Not only is this album simply too long, but it seems as though the duo from Norway just couldn’t find the inspiration to make a good record all the way through. The themes running through this album are messages of inspiration, love, family, stepping out, and clinging on to those whom you love. It’s incredibly cliché. The musical aspect of this album loses its direction very quickly. Immediately after “Am I Wrong” comes “Last Time,” a somewhat sensual track with heavy EDM influences. Kind of like the rest of pop music for the last five or more years.
Maybe the worst part of Black Star Elephant
is…wait for it…the in between track skits. I understand that most people criticize skits: “Please, someone pass a law against between-song sketches” (Allmusic.com). Many see them as a dumb additions to an album (I personally enjoy them, but this isn’t about me). Well, there have never been more pointless sketches than those that appear on Black Star Elephant
. Most of the skits sound stupid. Stupid. Now, I have no doubt that these skits were inserted with the intentions of utmost sincerity. This isn’t Ween or They Might Be Giants, after all. But the skits come across as so ridiculous against the sincere (but cliché) themes of the albums that they would sound right at home on a They Might Be Giants record. This album could be so much better (and shorter) without most of those skits.
Not to say there isn’t the occasional redeemable moment. As aforementioned, “Am I Wrong” is the obvious highlight of the record, but when listening to the second half of the record, one can catch himself enjoying himself. Tracks like “People,” “Imagine,” “In Your Arms,” and “Homeless” aren’t bad at all. It’s really relieving, actually, like an oasis in a desert. Nevertheless, while these tracks are good, they’re little more than that. Even the song “Homeless,” which, as some might have guessed, borrows a bit of melody from Paul Simon’s classic, just doesn’t match up to expectations.
All in all, while harboring enormous potential, Black Star Elephant
is very disappointing. While some parts of the album are decent, they are dragged down by the parts that are simply awful. Nico and Vinz still have the potential to make a great album, but this is most certainly not it.