I woke up this morning thinking of rain. No, not the kind that makes staying indoors more fun than laying in the grass underneath the warmth of suns and nimbus clouds. I mean, the sort of rain that rhymes with gloom, lethargy, and spiritual indifference. I even started thinking about selling all my valuables to pay for bills dated back to when I had a New Jersey shipping address. And then a friend sent me a text message telling me to listen to The Verdict, and being into the first 32 seconds of “Turn The Lights Out,” I began to walk on sunshine, my oxygen no longer toxic for my lungs and my world smell like fresh jasmine, sitting on your parents’ bed on Mother’s Day. I am literally madly in love with this record. It only takes me about 25 seconds to discern whether I will fall in love – with music, art, people via conversation + other miscellaneous situations, et al. Ms. Bunn, hailing from Decatur, Georgia – 21-years old and armed with a soul on fire – self-produced and released Verdict back in December of 2009 at the age of 17, around the same time when ears weren’t entirely receptacle to anything outside the parameters of #hashtag rap, YMCMB singles and Wayne rhyme schemes, post-Soulja Boy southern rap, and too many T-Pain features. Way ahead of her time, the Georgia Peach composer developed the eclectic, experimental and nu-jazz aesthetic that we all now crave and live vicariously through bands like The Internet, Phony Ppl, JMSN, Autre Ne Veut, all of whom have taken a chapter or two from the Good Books of Motown. Artists like Maxwell, Sade, D’Angelo, even Sweetback (Sade’s band), all have track records (no pun intended) from taking the industry by storm in creating music that challenged the way listeners of color experienced melancholy and dark emotions in music. From real instrumentation, especially in utilizing the voice as a major component in extracting powerful strains of sounds from polyrhythmic percussion and cadence, as well as incorporate careful music composing that is character to jazz ensemble performance, Bunn reigns supreme in the contemporary RnB/Soul/Hip-Hop world as one of the last female artists to dedicate their entire careers to composing music with a consistent and classical aesthetic, something we haven’t seen attempted since the summer of 2001 when the soulful, Harlem native 19-year old girl with the micro braids we would all learn to know and love as Alicia Keys dropped Songs In A Minor, a record that the world would cherish for eras after her time.
While I usually write incredibly lengthy album reviews for records I find worth while, I wanted to do something different for Gwen. Not only will she be one of the first female artists I feature on my blog, her music is probably the only one I could listen to briefly to decide whether I even wanted to write a review for it. So, here goes the most ironic/iconic post in Black Congolese history:
On Gwen Bunn’s “Turn The Lights Off,”
by black congo
From the moment that the clean, steel-string guitars preface the syncopated brilliance of Bunn’s airy vocals, commanding ears to be patient with a message more important than anything you can imagine, the track crystalizes into a life form of its own and assails listeners into a strawberry field of honest love and human expression. The 17-year old singer-songwriter definitely has some Baduizm in her DNA, probably spent a few summers in Hitsville, USA visiting her uncle at his studio, and was the girl in the skit at the end of “Lost Ones” who shut down the conversation about the definition of love. From the amber sweet harmonies, feather light melodies, perfect key change techniques, and refreshing motifs on love, passion, dedication and motivation, as well as the multiple double entendres (I won’t spoil them for those who haven’t listened to the track thoroughly as I have), what we we have here is a track built on the spokes of timeless wonder and sound that deserves a passenger seat right next to Quincy Jones himself.
Classic, addictive, real, transcending, non-conforming, bold, brave and unapologetic, fierce and persistent, “Turn the Lights Out” reminds me of what pure love feels like. Like: the feeling of when you see your parents dance together for the first time, barefoot and young minded in the carpeted living room, curtains tied back and windows cracked to let the fresh summer evening breeze swim inside your home to wash over the surface of hot and sticky skin perspiring from Memorial Day heatwave, record player spinning a 12″ original pressed “Outstanding” vinyl, your father getting carried away from his signature 2-step that your mother would talk about with you in stories in childhood that made her knees weak, and forget to lower the heat on the BBQ grill, leading everyone to gut-rippling laughter, knowing good and well nothing so small could impact the connection shared anywhere prior to this moment.
Yes, this is exactly what I admire about young black artists like Bunn – that she understands the grave significance of the need for active connectivity at the crossroads of emotion and experience, layering them together on a beaten path that will guide listeners to independently constructed conclusions about themselves and their relationships with counterparts and larger environment. How is is this accomplished? With the sublime handling of post-modern songwriting and production.
Overall, my concluding thoughts on this track are: “ingenious.” Simply brilliant. You really can’t spend too much time talking about an artist this amazing for so long or else you’ll begin to notice how powerfully inciting their work really has on your objective thoughts, on anything really. It’s funny that publications and news outlets have written countless pieces on Bunn, but preface all of their accolades on her career with how random her emergence in the music industry as a famed creative was lent most, if not all, to her work spent producing Oxymoron‘s first single release, “Collard Greens,” but neglected to speak of her own music making. Black female singer-songwriters literally get no love from the mainstream, unless they fit the iron casted mold of the overly sexualized, easily manipulated, emotionally irrational musician, all set to play to role of the tragic character who falls victim and dies from her vices. Need help remembering some of these people? Amy Winehouse, Lena Horne, Billy Holliday, Nina Simone – the list goes on. I have no doubt in mind that Gwen will live to supersede all pre-set expectations of her ability to shift industry from its obsession with drone tunes/trapped music that artists are currently warped inside of at the moment. She probably will go above and beyond the careers of our parents’ most adorned musicians. Who knows? Keep listening.
In conclusion, you go girl. You own that mind of yours and keep making us unapologetic creative black girls proud of what we do and who we are. Gwen Bunn for President of the Universe 2016.
To listen to the rest of Gwen’s records and releases, visit www.melodydungeon.bandcamp.com, or feel free to stream The Verdict below in the music player. Make sure to follow her on Twitter and be on the look out for her billboard ad in Times Square I will probably volunteer to shoot if she lets me.
As always, support your neighbors, build with your community, enjoy, and repeat.