Collaborative efforts from Black Thought over the last year have been nothing short of incredible. Working with Danger Mouse on the rousing, stunning Cheat Codes was a hook for many. Now taking cinematic soul group El Michels Affair into the studio and out to the half-hour on show, Black Thought makes it two for two in just as many years. Glorious Game is as its title would expect. Teamwork appears to be the great underlining quality for Black Thought, the loop hooks and consistency of them as a foundation for inspired works beyond that a crucial part of Glorious Game. It was a key bit of Cheat Codes too, but the pair of collaborative Black Thought records are far from similar.
Fiery and personable in equal measure, the relaxed tones of the title track and the guitar work underneath are quite the pairing. Kirby’s additional vocals here are nicely paired with that El Michels Affair work, the soothing tones and swaying emotions are particularly credible. Everyone here is set on figuring out if these are, truly, the glory days. Whether they are or not is unknowable. Only the best days can confirm themselves as such long after they pass. Glorious Game feels knowing and responsible with its big ideas and its approach to understanding them. There is a brevity to Glorious Game that gives it that immediate replay value, a half-hour experience that is so assured in its placement and meaning that each track rattles off with an enviable, welcoming perspective.
El Michels Affair and Black Thought are totally in sync with one another. Where a break is needed for the lyrical assertions and powerful imagery they provide, instrumentals pick up the pace. Protocol is the perfect example of that. Son Little makes for quite the addition there. Balance is struck and maintained well throughout Glorious Game. Abstract momentum is a constant draw for those early tracks, a shift toward standard hip-hop vocalisations and backing vocals are found on The Weather and suitably mark the midpoint. In That Girl and the brief opening instrumentals comes a chamber-like charm, a brief flirtation with that ambient jazz styling gives credence to Alone. Those repetitions of “you are not alone” are as comforting as they are chilling. There is a sense of fear to them.
Whatever tone Glorious Game hopes to take, and it is one that is usually uplifting and meditative, it provides a successful and interesting collaboration between El Michels Affair and Black Thought. Human connection has been torn, as Miracle notes. It is a miracle at times that Glorious Games cuts through as well as it does. Black Thought continues domination of collaborative music outputs and somehow, he and El Michels Affair make room for indie rock group Brainstory on album closer Alter Ego. Their implementation on that closing track does not detract from the tone of Glorious Game but their sound and creativity is clear. Balance is crucial to collaboration and the easy flows of Glorious Game are so well-rounded. There are moments where the boasts of vocal triumph feel separate from that of the underlying groove, flow or tone of instrumentals, but the bulk is connected and the back and forth is palpable.