Album Review: B L A C K I E — Conflating the Barbaric and the Beautiful

Imagine Your Self in a Free and Natural World finds B L A C K I E reaching an ambitious artistic high, delivering potent pieces of jazzy discord that impressively conflate the barbaric and the beautiful.

Cover Art for

Cover Art for B L A C K I E’s “Imagine Your Self in a Free and Natural World.”



B L A C K I E (Michael LaCour) is an experimental musician and rapper hailing from Houston, Texas. Up until now, his work could best be described as aural assault. His poetry, an amalgamation of social concern and abstract imagery, is mixed into a number of musical elements: free jazz, folk, harsh noise, hardcore punk, and hip hop. His third official full-length album Imagine Your Self in a Free and Natural World is his most unified and thought-provoking effort yet, a successful exploration of long-form composition.


Let it be made clear straight away that Imagine … is an arduous listening journey; it is not for the faint-of-heart-or -ear. A lone, increasingly loud and wobbly bass riff kicks off the album. Suddenly, after about a minute, an ear-piercing sax dives in, joined by crashing drums and screechy vocals. This first track, “Wings Blocking out the Sun,” is the project’s longest at 16 and a half minutes and is also perhaps its most dynamic. The piece’s frequent bursts of free jazz chaos die down to a simmer once the verses come in. B L A C K I E’s vocal approach here manages, at times, to be both whispery and shocking. His words are muttered, but the message is all the more powerful because of the restraint. Of course, his screamed delivery throughout the piece is incredibly forceful too, and thankfully it’s not too hard to make out what he is saying (for the most part). Still, I would recommend reading along with the lyrics posted to his Bandcamp: the disc is essentially one long extended poem whose lines are well worth dissecting.

B L A C K I E doesn’t seem to  have a particularly pleasant world view. He thinks our current political/economic power structure nurtures vultures, snakes, and pigs. At the end of “Forest of Ex-Lovers,” he concludes that the system can’t give him what he wants and he can’t give it what it wants. The answer, in the closing tune “Cry, Pig!,” is a recommendation for the angry to rise up against the powers-that-be. In “Wings,” he accuses conventional society of undermining his ability to love. He turns the world’s injustice into a metaphor — it is a vulture whose wings block out the sun. The LP’s impulse is toward the adolescent, the romantic, and the anarchic – with the break up of a deadening order B L A C K I E sees the possibility of a new kind of beauty.

There are many moments that could be described as beautiful in Imagine…. The most attractive section is probably the slow-building overture of undulating synths that begins “Forest of Ex-Lovers.” It’s both somber and grand, and manages to become even more striking when the theme returns — with a thunderous drum kit tossed in — toward the end of the piece. Musical mayhem morphs into a kind of magnificence, a process that I also hear earlier, about midway through “Wings.” The track’s free jazz noodling gives way to a clanking, kaleidoscopic wall of sound featuring (about six minutes) of flickering wails from B L A C K I E before the wobbly bass returns to set things back on track. This segment was released as “None Above” prior to the album’s release as something of a lead single. Standing on its own, out of the album’s context, I found the tune to be a confoundingly gorgeous composition. I couldn’t decide if it was beautifully brutal or brutally beautiful. Now I’m having trouble deciding which description fits the entire project.

I’m inclined to go with the former, because brutality is certainly Imagine…’s dominant trait. “Forest of Ex-Lovers” is primarily composed of overdriven bass lines, sharp sax spikes, and B L A C K I E’s near-neanderthalic mutters and abrupt, savage yells. The predominantly screamed closer, “Cry, Pig!,” saunters along, sharing the primitive compulsions of the previous two pieces. But it also feels somewhat celebratory – it is a chant of proud resistance. Indeed, a sense of triumph pervades the entire album, suggested by the bloody fist (of victory?) on the LP’s primal cover.


Imagine Your Self in a Free and Natural World finds B L A C K I E reaching an ambitious artistic high, delivering potent pieces of jazzy discord — along with brusque poetry that addresses social and personal issues — that impressively conflate the barbaric and the beautiful.

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