New album spotlight: Dawn Richard’s Blackheart, a wild and experimental ride

I was not prepared for the new Dawn Richards record “Blackheart.” The album is described by Dawn herself as darker, experimental and “too risky” for mainstream labels. “Blackheart” dropped yesterday and I’ve been listening to it all night trying to gage a feel for it. I was intrigued by the simplistic and stunning cover art, but then was immediately drawn in by the second track “Calypso.” It’s a work of her own, for sure, and something I was not expecting. Dawn has been flying under my radar for years, and I was never aware that she had recorded another record titled “Goldenheart” which begins the Heart trilogy.

Admittedly, part of this came from my disgruntlement that Dawn was the driving force in the end of Danity Kane. She takes full responsibility for punching Aubrey O’Day in a Breakfast Club interview this morning. “There is no excuse for my behavior…but everybody gets pushed to a limit,” she explained. “When something is poison, and you go into the studio and people are literally going behind your back and lying to you and taking your vocals and doing things that are shady, that’s foul.”

“They told me we had the studio the next day, and they went in the day before,” she offered as the reason for the assault. “I walked in on them doing it, and I tried to confront them…I blacked out…I couldn’t believe it. It’s my fault, their fault, everybody.”

It’s a dodgy excuse, but I was willing to overlook it when listening to the album. The album is a non-stop tour de force in EDM sounds, Bjork-like vocals and a soundscape of beautiful textures. It’s clever, and self-assured and more than I could have ever imagined Dawn was capable of based on the picture that has been painted of her over the last year. “I thought  lost it all,” she begins on the intro “Noir.” It’s a bold and vulnerable statement to start the album with, but also one of the last clear statements heard on “Blackheart.” The album is full of noises; Richard’s voice gets lost at times in the production and becomes an instrument multiple times. It is at times FKA Twigs, and other times Bjork but it is absolutely not unoriginal. It’s unique.

The best track, in my opinion, is “Billie Jean” a response to Michael Jackson’s song from the groupie’s perspective. It’s vulgar at times, and extremely dark. The album was clearly not made with the intention of getting sales, but it was made with a clear artistic vision. Dawn is not without her pride though. Multiple times on her Breakfast Club interview she referenced the views her videos are racking up and how well her brand is doing. “I want to talk about this because it’s rare for a black woman to have such a good brand,” she shared. The Dawn who appeared on the Breakfast Club was classy, confident and cool. Quite the difference from the basket case Aubrey and Shannon Bex made her out to be in their statements of Dawn’s rage.

I really respect and admire the level of artistry Dawn put into this album. She could have easily retreated from the public eye and scrapped any plans for an album for a full year after the end of DK3. But she’s come out in a very defining way. The album, for the record, is getting glowing reviews. Pitchfork is calling it the best album of her career and it’s going to be exciting to see how this wave of acclaim will ride her career.

The album is available to stream on Spotify and for sale on iTunes. I recommend listening on Spotify first and going into it with an open mind. I was definitely surprised and I feel like it will take multiple times for me to fully appreciate the work she has completed. It’s layered, for sure and not something that I can immediately soak in. But I really enjoy “Blackheart” and it’s nice to see Dawn come out swinging after such a tumultuous 2014.

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