Black Pumas and Catnip…

I don’t consider myself the average listener. Casually listening to the radio was never my thing. It’s my time, I know what I want to hear. When using Spotify, I select the music and cue the queue to my desire. Those curated playlists and the scientifically algorithmic “State of Music Today” folders don’t get play. It’s not that I don’t listen to popular music, it’s I’m lost inside of my musical bubble that rarely do I know what tops the charts or is up for awards. But clearly, I’m immersed in at least one mainstream artist. And now I can’t steer clear of blurbs and dedicated articles to this weekend’s Grammy’s.

Speculating on potential Grammy nominees and winners is irrelevant. Is the committee of this six decade plus tradition still relevant? Was it ever? When an artist I do respect is nominated for an award, it makes me smile. This is great exposure, most likely positive press, and an opportunity for the masses to experience a worthwhile act.

Stereogum, the self-described world’s best music blog, recently upped an article that is intriguing but also pains me. Their Senior Editor helps his viewers to understand why an act like Black Pumas are so coveted by the Grammy’s. He’s making an “anthropological observation”. They’re digestible, do what they do well, and perform in classic genres. The ideal formula to create “catnip for TV Producers and certain kinds of yuppie authenticity fetishists”.

Ultimately, though, Black Pumas is a deeply conservative listen, a painstaking re-creation of throwback sounds. Whereas someone like Michael Kiwanuka (a nominee for Best Rock Album this year) will step these kinds of sounds into the present in surprising and rewarding ways, Black Pumas pretty much play it straight.

The discourse on the Grammy’s race dilemma is engaging, as is why the Pumas are nominated for top-tier awards. But criticism on their lack of originality is banal. Pumas are label mates with Alabama Shakes and My Morning Jacket on ATO Records, two acts that Stereo’s writer considers more adventurous than the Austin soulful duo.

Do those adventurous acts warrant repeatable listens next year and half a decade later? I recall my own previous Best of Year lists and question what I was thinking. When I randomly retrieve a Best Album list from a Stereogum or Pitchfork-like site from say 2008, that at the time had a list of novel sounds, today more often than not falls flat.

Yes, Pumas are a revival act, one masterly taking the soulful sounds of yesterday to create original songs on topics of today. The blueprint for this trusted and dusty sound the Pumas utilize works. It’s a pick me up sound, it’s one I can play no matter the company I keep, it’s a throwback theatrical production. Where many albums are mood and time of the day dependent, the Pumas concoct a timeless sound. Morning, evening, during a meal, or five years from now, I want to drop the needle on this sound.

This author’s profile pic is none other than the cover of Emergency & I, the spastic, indie darling, genre-bending 1999 album from Dismemberment Plan. An album where this D.C. act’s influences are crammed in an industrial blender and placed on high until their indescribable creation is a sonic puree. Historically, fans of this holier than thou record think that no song, album, or movement could ever create something better than Emergency & I. And it’s with that sentiment I realize Black Pumas are up against impossible odds.

Last year Pumas one upped themselves with a Deluxe Edition of their self-titled debut. This week they take it to another level as they unleash the Expanded Deluxe Edition, a collection of everything from the Deluxe Edition plus 11 additional tracks; including the hypnotic “Colors” rendition done up big by Chicago’s Hypnotic Brass Ensemble and the Pumas’ Capitol Studio A sessions. If they are a less adventurous sound it would be fitting for the me of today. I’ve already owned prioritizing bedtime over shows. Why not transition into enjoying a sound that’s engineered for the Recording Academy and the masses?

1 Response to “Black Pumas and Catnip…”

  1. March 13, 2021 at 10:05 pm

    Look dude, that was a great dismemberment album but you turned me onto the black pumas. They are fun sound and who’s to say what their value is? I think that’s up to the listener, and I think you made your point. 👍

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