Nico and Vinz, with Black Star Elephant, have crafted a pure and primal debut album that rejoices in their chosen path and applauds others’ individuality.
The reach of the singer and songwriter duo—Nico Sereba and Vincent Dery—from Oslo, Norway, had already expanded across several continents when their single “Am I Wrong” hit the airwaves last year. Star Elephant is a continuation of that universal theme of personal exploration.
The album’s ebullience shines through 21 tracks (including brief interludes) of personal stories brought to life through a freshly cut and bright global sound.
Their concept album may be recognized by some as a Graceland for the 21st century—or at least for 2014. It’s more danceable and less subtle than Paul Simon’s album, but its social message of humanity in peril juxtaposed with the beauty of true love quietly mirrors that effort.
On Black Star, African melodies intersect with brass-band accents that cross over to dance beats, drawing a new path in world music. Thumping pop and dance beats remind listeners to find their center, even if it means going against the grain.
Nico and Vinz also made the wise decision to expose all of nature’s imperfections on Black Star. Soothing chants, and sounds such as distant rain or birdsong bring a universality through its sheer honesty. “Thought I Knew” closes out with more conventional music, yet dramatic and gorgeous orchestral points, and the chorus chant of the lovely “My Melody” is symbiotic with funky deep bass.
The myriad influences on Black Star never cry out for space. Nico and Vinz have discovered a neat and trim formula for their songs, but one that’s never constrained to it. The homey, acoustic love song “Last Time” is gently laced together, and the positive message of “Know What I’m Not,” reminds listeners that a personal journey, if not hard-fought, will be meaningless. Similarly, on “Miracles,” the line “You’ll bring home the trophy if you walk it all the way” might land flat in others’ hands, but Nico and Vinz manage to deftly slip it in, avoiding the dangers of having a PSA for a song.
“Homeless” is one of many on Black Star about working life and its chronic struggles, while “In Your Arms” attempts to tackle world injustice. The question “What is high if you don’t know low?” on “Another Day” blends urban rap and dance beats to animate mini-vignettes of children growing up with a TV for a parent.
Nico and Vinz, with their inspirational debut, have skillfully walked the line between being grateful for what you have while still celebrating life’s deficiencies.
Black Star Elephant was released Oct. 14 on Warner Bros.
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