Texas-born, Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist Danny Lee Blackwell is the creative mastermind behind the acclaimed psych rock outfit Night Beats. And with Night Beats, Blackwell creates music like one might assemble a puzzle: He builds his work from one moment, an initial spark that for him, must fit a specific criteria — it must give him goosebumps. If he gets goosebumps, then he will purse that idea relentlessly until he has a new song; if not, he moves onto the next moment, constantly looking for the perfect molecule of a song.
Rajan, Blackwell’s fifth Night Beats album is slated for a Friday release through Suicide Squeeze/Fuzz Club. The album began much like every other Night Beats album before it: Shortly after the release of 2021’s Outlaw R&B, Blackwell had the familiar itch to create new music. Writing isn’t a process that Blackwell has to sit down and engage with, rather it’s something he’s always doing. The only differentiation between creative periods is what makes it on certain albums and what winds up falling victim to the cutting room. “Whenever my writing gets to a point where songs begin to take shape, it begins to feel like a faucet,” Blackwell explains. “As soon as Outlaw R&B was finished, I began writing and very quickly fell in love with a few ideas that encapsulated the feeling of Rajan. I think writing is a constant cycle in that it never really begins or ends, but there are definitive points where the writing is leading somewhere.”
Early on, Blackwell felt that the album would be dedicated to his mother. Although thematically, it doesn’t always reflect his tribute, the material is informed by the familial tie. “This isn’t a concept album, because every album has a concept. That term never made sense to me. But if it’s about one thing, it’s about this pursuit of freedom that was instilled in me by my mother,” Blackwell says. “In the arts, I’m very lucky in that I have 100% control over what I want to say, and how I do it,” he explains.
Fittingly, the album’s material is wildly diverse and lands somewhere between Spaghetti Western film score and psych pop opus — while being among Blackwell’s most cohesive works to date. Some of the album’s songs nod at Anataolian funk and Western tinged R&B. Others with 70s Brazilian psychedelia, Chicano soul, rock steady — and even Lee “Scratch” Perry-inspired dub. “Rajan is just one of six examples of me doing exactly what I want, and not caring about whether it’s checked out or not. I’m a journeyperson. I want to make things for the sake of making them,” Blackwell says.
While clearly indebted to its influences, Rajan is wildly innovative and finds Blackwell pursuing his wildest musical whims. “I’m here to explore. I think exploration is the underlying reason in a way, of why we do the things we do,” Blackwell explains. “I feel lucky. What can I say? I feel blessed.”
In the lead up to the album’s release later this week, I’ve written about three of its singles:
- Album opener “Hot Ghee,” which simultaneously sets the stage for what to expect sonically from the album and establishing a scalding hot take on the interaction of psych rock, jazz, blues, soul, hip-hop and more. Built around bluesy and sultry guitar lines, swinging drumming, layers of intertwined harmonies, subtle bursts of twinkling piano, “Hot Ghee” sounds like a synthesis of Altin Gün, Sgt. Pepper-era Beatles and Free Your Mind . . . And Your Ass Will Follow-era Funkadelic that’s mind-bending while displaying Blackwell’s unerring and deft craftmanship.
- “Thank You,” a soaring and groovy bit of gospel-tinged psychedelia built around Blackwell’s yearning falsetto, twinkling keys, dense layers of bluesy wah wah pedaled guitar, towering feedback, paired with a gospel backing chorus. Sonically nodding at a bit at Sly and the Family Stone’s “Thank You For Letting Me Be Myself” and Parliament Funkadelic’s “Testify,” “Thank You” expresses a sense of profound gratitude.
- “Nightmare,” a song that to my ears recalled the psych soul leanings of 70s Isley Brothers — i.e. 3+3, Go For Your Guns and The Heat is On and others built around a dense arrangement featuring blazing guitar solos paired with shuffling funk guitar, a supple and sinuous bass line paired with layers upon layers of vocals, including Blackwell’s yearning delivery — and his unerring knack for a well-placed, catchy hook. The song as Blackwell explained in press notes is essentially “a call and response to the blood curdling voice of a lost soul, ringing out, pleading for understanding.”
Rajan’s fourth and final pre-release single, “Blue” is a slow-burning Motown-meets-blue-eyed soul-meets-Quiet Storm-like jam built around a lush and trippy arrangement paired with Blackwell’s aching and ethereal falsetto intertwining with the song’s arrangement.
“Waking up on a mist-covered street corner, downtown night time cruising, Donnie and Joe Emerson mood. Everly Brothers in an underground subway, accompanied by a steady beat living in the pocket. Sunny Oruna, slow soul, hip hop and jazz, every flavor distilled into the trip,” Blackwell writes about the new single.