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Student newspaper serving Tulane University, Uptown New Orleans

The Tulane Hullabaloo

Student newspaper serving Tulane University, Uptown New Orleans

The Tulane Hullabaloo

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Black Pumas’ sophomore album delivers on contemporary soul

Graphic by Shivani Bondada

Austin, Texas-based psychedelic soul duo Black Pumas released their anticipated sophomore album “Chronicles of a Diamond” last Friday, Oct. 27. This release comes off the heels of their successful self-titled debut album in 2019, which propelled the band from Austin clubs to the Grammy Awards stage. The album landed the Pumas at No.17 on Billboard’s Emerging Artist list 15 days after its release and even garnered the attention of the Recording Academy. The duo received a nomination for Best New Artist at the 62nd annual Grammy Awards and following the release of the album’s deluxe edition the next year, Album of the Year.

A collaboration between Texan guitarist and producer Adrian Quesada and Los Angeles vocalist Eric Burton, Black Pumas was born in 2017 when Quesada, of Grupo Fantasma fame, was looking for a vocalist for his demo instrumentals. A friend recommended Burton for the role after hearing him busk on the streets of Austin and following a phone audition to confirm chemistry, the group hit the studio. 

“That’s our happy place,” Quesada said in 2020 to Headliner Magazine. “It started out of the studio, versus some live bands that eventually go and make an album.”

The Pumas’ comfort level in the studio is evident in “Chronicles of a Diamond,” as they aimed neither to reinvent the wheel nor replicate their first album. They stuck to the Black Pumas sound, as crafted on their debut, while flexing their musical muscles a little bit, dipping into different genres.

The album opens with a playful groove in “More Than a Love Song,” punctuated by the oscillating, gritty, sweet candor of Burton’s voice, plucky strings and buzzing guitar riffs. Burton’s uplifting message of life being “more than a love song, more than a fantasy” is emphasized by echoing gospel harmonies, which establish a lively pace for the rest of the album.

“Ice Cream (Pay Phone)” follows, an upbeat love tune written by Burton years ago with a sing-songy chorus that leans more into the group’s pop side. Quesada’s gravely guitar steals the show in this song; Burton said of the pairing with his falsetto that “With that song the big distorted guitar doesn’t seem like it should work with how I’m singing, but it sounded so soulful in a way that felt just right to me.” The lyrics have a youthful air about them that are not necessarily profound, but good enough to bop along to.

Personal standouts on the album included “Angel” and “Gemini Sun.” “Angel,” a heartfelt love ballad, uses Quesada’s guitar, gospel-choir vocals and organ to accentuate the prowess of Burton’s voice, which is bound to give any listener chills. “Gemini Sun” is an evocative song dominated by fuzzed guitar and ominous sounding keys, all strung together by Burton’s delicate falsetto.

While I would not say that any one of the album’s songs have the identifiable hit gene as present in 2019’s “Colors,” “Chronicles of a Diamond” provides a solidly enjoyable listen, built on the foundations of soul, but infused with the genre-bending characteristic of contemporary music. It is apparent that through this album, the band is not trying to expand their image, but refine it and become a diamond under pressure, as expressed by the album’s title.

The group is set to hit the road at the end of 2023, beginning with four dates at Austin City Limits Live in early December. 

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