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When Timothy Bloom dropped the video for his song “’Til the End of Time” back in 2011, the resultant shockwaves (and the reasons behind them) may not have been felt by pop/mainstream music aficionados, but for old-school R&B fans and a lot of African Americans starved for affirming visual representation (overlapping but not synonymous demographics, obviously) it was a galvanizing clip. The song itself, a classic “pledge my love forever” duet with the gifted V. Bozeman, has an Otis Redding/Percy Sledge feel to it without merely being imitative or derivative. And like most of Bloom’s music, it reminds the listener of the foundational role of “the blues” in rhythm & blues.
Tastefully shot in B&W, the clip has the two artists singing to one another in the nude, their bodies placed just so for strategic mutual coverage. What makes the video so powerful is the sight of two dark-skinned African Americans depicted with eroticism and simmering sensuality that never strays into vulgarity. With her dark skin and close-cropped natural hair, Bozeman represents a slice of womanhood that is almost never the object of romantic desire in contemporary American culture. That Bloom collaborated with her on both the song and video tips you off to the potent, substantive politics in his old-school aesthetic.
What the singer-songwriter’s fantastic debut album (released in early 2014) makes clear is that this aesthetic is multidimensional, spanning genres and styles. Opening track “Interlude,” a tip of the hat to his strong rock influences, foreshadows the genre-bending to come with its vaguely Radiohead feel. An insistent piano drives the cut. Bloom’s earnest vocals arch into a falsetto and spacey effects dart around him until the whole thing artfully drawls to a close. Then you’re slammed into “Stand in the Way (of My Love),” with its taut marching-band arrangement—hard drums and a backing choir, whose singing of the chorus is a protest-march chant of “Nothing’s gonna stand in the way of my love . . .” A battle-worn lover’s defiance fuels the whole thing, an unwavering shouting down of any and all forces that might thwart his embattled love.
As the record moves forward, it becomes less and less bound to category, not just from song to song, but within songs. There’s something of both The Beatles’ and The Beach Boys’ exquisite experimentalism in play here, even a touch of Fleetwood Mac. Only Bloom doesn’t grab you by the back of the neck and smash your face into his influences in a look-at-me/note-my-cool-references showiness. His deployment and manipulation of detail, his fondness for left-of-center placement of gut-bucket blues guitar riffs, creamy doo-wop backing vocals, girl-group hand-claps, searing piano lines placed front and center, jangly indie rock guitar strumming, multitracked backing vocals that have his falsetto winding sexily through—it’s all carefully assembled for maximum aesthetic and emotional effect, coalescing into a work that is unapologetically hard to pin down.
In that regard he evokes Prince at his very best. The similarities with and influences of the Purple One are all over the album, but are most obvious on the sex-drenched back-to-back tracks “The Morning After” and “Rivers Run Deep.” The former is a too-brief bit of foreplay whose chugging beats and airy multitracked vocals lead right into the smoldering boudoir ballad of the latter, whose musical bed sounds eerily like the Revolution when they were Prince’s ace in the pocket. Both tracks recall Prince circa his most glorious, fecund streak (Controversy, Dirty Mind, 1999) and mark one of the album’s high points. Like Prince, Bloom is a formalist who colors outside the lines. He’s a studied musician, someone who has clearly spent a lot of time in research/practice mode, soaking up the fundamentals in order to launch himself into the realm of unbridled artistry.
Bloom’s music is rooted in pre-hip-hop soul, pop, and rock, in pre-hip-hop blackness and black imagination. It is so deeply rooted in pre-hip-hop aesthetics, ideals, and experimentation that it is post-hip-hop, which is part of why it is so thrilling. That’s not to bash hip-hop, but to make note of the fact that when music industry dictates castrated the far-reaching possibilities of hip-hop culture, the blade swung around to gut popular notions of who and what a black artist is or does. Bloom is a ghost from the future, retooling the past to invigorate the present.
NOTE: The album Timothy Bloom was just re-launched in a “deluxe” version that adds some new tracks to the album we’ve been obsessing over (and Ernest Hardy wrote about). You can get the deluxe version on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon & GooglePlay. We also recommend Timothy’s debut EP, which includes “Til The End Of Time” and 3 live tracks that strip Bloom’s sound down to a gloriously raw, rocked-out funk that should get Prince fans waiting in line when Timothy comes to town.