Album Review: Tsar B – To the Stars

by | Nov 2, 2023 | Album Reviews, Blog

In to the stars, Tsar B—also known as Justine Bourgeus—plunges into disparate influences and emotions, tethered cohesively by her penchant for theatricality and complexity. The album presents a cacophonous symphony of genres, incorporating elements of classical music, pop, gabber, and even opera. Yet, what might initially appear incongruous juxtapositions serve as the album’s architectural fulcrums. While eclectic in its ambitions, to the stars resonates as a harmonious constellation in which each track functions as an individual star—bright but part of an encompassing universe. This universe comes to Romania on Friday, November 3, as Tsar B returns to Control Club.

The Belgian artist, musician, producer, and visual polymath crafts an intellectually expansive and viscerally compelling oeuvre with an exploratory impulse underpinning the album. The record ultimately grapples with Bourgeus’ existential restlessness, juxtaposing interstellar metaphor against earthly human experiences. Through this cosmic lens, she navigates themes of sorrow, isolation, romanticism, and euphoria. The thematic concept of astral wanderlust may serve as an overt nod to the extraterrestrial and as a metaphor for exploring uncharted emotional terrain. Tracks such as moonman, inspired by Belgian cosmonaut Dirk Frimout’s anecdotes, evoke the physicality of a space launch while resonating on an emotive level.

The album commences with the audacious amara terra mia, wherein Bourgeus interprets an Italian tradition with zealous dedication. This is succeeded by tracks like the sensuous Massive Attack-influenced underwaterauwtch, the album’s lead single, is a locus of emotional volatility. It progresses from conventional electro-pop into an expansive sonic narrative, emblematic of Bourgeus’ self-professed impulsivity in romantic pursuits.

Bourgeus also embarks on collaborations, including with Afrosoul artist Reinel Bakole on trophy. The track is a meandering exploration of tonality, and Bakole’s spoken word verses imbue it with an undercurrent of tension. In another detour, interlude is an eloquent baroque rework of its predecessor, gonna hold you in my arms. It’s a significant insertion, an ode to her formative influence—classical music—inflected with autobiographical elements. The classical sound also shines through on album closer, august, where Bourgeus’ violin takes center stage.

This aesthetic and emotional syncretism allows to the stars to avoid sounding disjointed. It’s a harmonious constellation of musical stars, each shining bright but part of a larger, enveloping universe. This is not just an album but an ontological encounter that warrants not just a cursory listen but a deep, introspective engagement. Credit for this cohesion lies with Bourgeus’ proclivity for theatricality, which is the project’s gravitational center. Lovers of understatement may find themselves disoriented, but for those amenable to an intense aural landscape, the album delivers a captivating narrative.

Yet, Bourgeus does not merely seek to confound or impress; she seeks a passionate connection with the listener. By pulling disparate threads of musical influence into a unified narrative framework, she achieves an aesthetic syncretism that, rather than appearing eclectic for its own sake, mirrors the complexities and contradictions inherent in human emotional experience.

For lovers of musical diversity, intellectual rigor, and raw emotional intensity, to the stars is an album that offers a rare combination of breadth and depth. Bourgeus has undertaken a formative evolution, departing from her earlier works to present an album that resonates with greater thematic profundity and musical intricacy. For those who engage with music not just as background noise but as an ontological encounter, to the stars is worth a deep, reflective engagement.

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