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Night Beats scans neatly into the desert soul subgenre you’re familiar with if you donate to NPR. Other bands do it more famously, like Khruangbin and Black Pumas, but Texas-born, LA-based, Danny Lee Blackwell, does it better. Beneath the surface are references to a number of different subgenres. Lee Blackwell cites Antonolian funk and 70s soul as particularly influential. On his new single, “Thank You,” Blackwell’s brilliance lies in his ability to construct a track like invisible stitchwork. You know the seams are there, you just can’t see them.
Earlier records like 2021’s Outlaw R&B showcased Blackwell’s songwriting chops in the form of power pop somewhere between T. Rex and Ty Segall. “Thank You,” from the forthcoming Rajan, is equally psychedelic but more nuanced. Blistering guitars are traded out for chords that buzz by your ear like a bee saying hello, but the melody is less important than the percussive accents that give the track its soldered edge.
There’s a crucially placed tambourine that’s present during the entire song, and by the track’s conclusion sweet ol’ Bobby Dylan will be begging Blackwell to play him a song. F*ck that old Mr. Tambourine Man. We got a new sheriff, baby.
There are also subtle, vague hints at a wraith-like choir, but the thing about wraiths is that they’re sensed more than felt. Blackwell knows that, and everything about “Thank You” is gestured at but rarely explained. This isn’t spoonfed pop made to feel retro through a soul lens, but a genuine exploration of funk’s origins and derivations. It’s deeply referential for the heads and Rosetta stoned for those new to the fun. Blackwell plays historian, lecturer, and eager student all at once.