THIS Is How You Make a Follow-Up Album
By J. Gregory
Black Bear was my introduction to Andrew Belle's work, and that album alone placed him as one of my favorite musicians working today. The thoughtful nature of his lyrics mixed with a chill atmosphere and catchy hooks was the perfect blend for my taste in music, and I loved every second of it! Four years later he releases Dive Deep, and in my opinion, this is the perfect follow-up album to Black Bear.
A lot of what I could say about this album could be held over from Black Bear, so I will not repeat them here (check out my Black Bear album review if you want). Suffice to say that Dive Deep picks up right where Black Bear left off, both thematically and musically, and moves everything forward into compelling new territory (as any good sequel should do).
Faith is a major part of AB's music, so it makes sense to start with this idea. If Black Bear was about the narrator surrendering to God's love and plan for his life, Dive Deep is about moving in that new direction. Horizon is the perfect embodiment of that idea, wherein the narrator moves in pursuit of God and a better life. Black Bear is filled with the narrator's disappointments about how his life turned out, while Dive Deep ends with the narrator expressing their desire to be proud of the life they have lived (and having taken great steps to achieve that goal). It's an album about moving on.
Speaking of moving on, AB has moved on to a slightly new sound as well. The change is not as drastic as the leap he took from The Ladder to Black Bear, but it does serve as a refreshing change of pace. Again, heavy use of synths and electronic production permeate this record, but it also has hints of the urban genre in there as well. This influence is found mostly in Dive Deep's use of percussion and drumbeats (eg Drought, Dive Deep, You), putting more emphasis on those elements of the instrumentation than just on synths like Black Bear. Also, Andrew's voice is more prevalent in this record than Black Bear, and we hear more of his range as a vocalist in these tracks (his voice could get lost behind some of the flashier synth lines in Black Bear).
There are plenty of fun little details in this album too. Chad Copelin's use of a woodwind in Black Clouds, the autotuned cries of Andrew's child in Hurt Nobody, and incredibly quirky production across the board (New York and Honey and Milk being good examples of this). I had a lot of fun listening to this album, especially when Andrew & the Blackwatch crew tried new things (like the driving hype song You or the slow jam Hurt Nobody). Their willingness to explore musical options and experiment with new ideas is a welcome addition to this record, and gives me optimism for the future of AB's music.
Ultimately, Dive Deep is a triumphant sequel album. It mines similar ideas and themes from Black Bear, but takes them new directions and to greater depths (as the title of the album would imply...). The sound is close enough to Black Bear to feel familiar, but it also branches out and experiments to create a fresh experience. This is exactly what I want from a sequel album, and I cannot wait to see what Andrew and Blackwatch does next. Keep up the great work!