By Dale Baumgartner
The modern interpretation of neo-soul has been one of the greatest musical developments of the mid-2010’s. Tempe natives Black Carl were a solid precursor to that sound, pumping out classic soul-influenced tunes that had a more modern feel in the rhythm section well before soul music made any hint of resurgence.
At first glance, a name like Black Carl gives a questionable feeling, like there has to be some kind of offensive meaning. Apparently a friend of the band referred to them as the “Pink Floyd of Hip-Hop”, resulting in the equivalent name Black Carl. Clever. The sarcasm is the stuff of a true local band with no intentions beyond making music they enjoy with their friends.
The band cited strong soul influences like Otis Redding and James Brown, but my mind immediately compared them to The Doors. From a songwriting standpoint, the bands are a world apart. Looking at the overall concept of their music, however, they have a humble, versatile instrumental section that rarely takes the lead (minus the keyboards); instead working together to showcase an immense vocal talent. Singer Emma Pew had one of those soulful voices that completely shatters your insides and makes you realize yes – you do indeed have a soul, and you need to listen to what it needs: Black Carl.
This band was too far ahead of its time, hitting their peak in 2009 with their first LP Borrowed. Being from a more glorious time when musicians were new to making a name for themselves on the internet and great bands didn’t instantly have millions of followers, Borrowed is free on Bandcamp. A collection of anthems for a long desert road trip, it is music of strength. The unpretentious video for “The Wolf” filmed on a playground speaks to their style. They weren’t try-hards across all media platforms to fit a certain vibe, their music told you everything you needed to know about them.
Black Carl seems to have dispersed in 2015, why even check them out? Their music was an important development in the genre. It’s creatively pure. They weren’t building off of any modern counterparts, making the music they felt fit their personalities best. Soul for the sake of soul. With the constant exchange of ideas in modern times, we may never again see a band with that old school feel that Black Carl was able to achieve.