There’s something immediately, hauntingly arresting about the scratchy, low-fi guitar strumming on this that I was sold even before Wright’s broken, beautiful vocal comes in. Then the beat drops, the melody surges, and I’m melting.
Earlier this month Dawn Richards teamed up with multi-instrumentalist, producer, and composer Spencer Zahn on Pigments: an extraordinarily good album that explores themes including “the power of self-expression through living art, through motion”. A hypnotic mix of classical, jazz, soul and electronica, it flits between being deeply meditative and intensely rousing, often within a single song, before segueing seamlessly into the next . A truly impressive body of work.
Here’s one that completely passed me by, from all the way back in January. In a week in which pretty much everyone is – quite rightly – singing the praises of Gabriels’ incredible new album, I’m listening to an album which is similarly built around another extraordinary vocal performance, but that flew mostly under the radar, at least of many of the main music reviewers. The album, The Alien Coast, is unclassifiable in parts, but is at its most satisfying when it settles into its soul-forward groove, a la the stunning Minotaur.
London based 8-piece band Kokoroko released their debut album Could We Be More via Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood Recordings last week; an LP that deftly moves through afrobeat, highlife, soul, and funk across tracks, taking inspiration from a plethora of influences from within the West-African and Caribbean communities that the band grew up listening to. As with many of the tracks, Ewà Inú’s infectious energy is due to both its semi-improvised genesis and the passion of the players involved.
A member of Cleveland’s multi-generational Mourning [A] BLKstar collective, Kyle Kidd’s debut solo album Soothsayer is a deeply moving, highly personal exploration of many of the themes that have defined their life so far, including blackness, gender nonconformity, American history, community and more. Their vocal performance throughout is extraordinary: you can hear that this is not just sung, but deeply felt by the artist. Scars Alight – which explores the damage done by Kidd not feeling as if they were not truly accepted for who they are – is a highlight, but this need to be listened to in its entirety to be properly appreciated.
New York-based Zenizen’s new album P.O.C Proof Of Concept came out last week, and it is a hidden gem if ever there was one. Sitting somewhere between r&b, soul and experimental, it is at times hard hitting and immediate, others meditative, with warm chords and soothing melodies leading the way, as is the case on Drought. This track in particular actually came out back in April, but it’s currently sitting at eleven plays on YouTube, (eleven!), so like me, there’s a fair chance you missed it.
Beanna is the latest album from soul and jazz beat pioneer mejiwahn: genres I know next to nothing about, so I won’t try and delve too deep into the backstory. If you’re interested in the history, The Quietus’s review is comprehensive. What I can say though is that’s it completely beguiling, effortlessly chill and just about as perfect a soundtrack to a lazy summer evening as one could hope for.
Lady Wray released her long-awaited album Piece Of Me last week, and thankfully it’s a banger, the only drawback being that if you’ve kept up with the run of singles over the last couple of years, you’ve already heard half of it, including a lot of the best tracks. There’s still some previously unreleased gold in there though like opener I Do, and if you’re completely new to her music you’re in for an intensely soulful treat.
“My goal is always to help and to heal people with singing” says Lady Wray of her latest single, Thank You. “Part of that is to try and bring back real music, real singing, so people can feel something again.” Worked on me! Thank You is without question her most powerful, moving single since Piece Of Me.
The only thing that slightly bothers me about this is that Thank You is already the fifth single to be released from her new album Piece Of Me due out in January. It’s kinda sad that the way the industry is currently beholden to Spotify et al., we will have been exposed to nearly half the album before it lands. Albums are a sacred format – at least to me – and I’d much rather listen to one in its entirety not knowing what’s coming next, rather than already being overly familiar with it. Sufjan’s Beginners Mind suffered from exactly this problem earlier this year: six singles had been released ahead of the album – pretty much all the strongest records on there – which led to a slightly underwhelming album release day.
But then that’s just me. I expect lots of people will just enjoy this without fretting about it so much.
Gabriels’ Jacob Lusk has never sounded better than on Stranger, one of the four tracks on the LA-based soul group’s second EP Bloodline, which ebbs and flows between sombre reflection and full-on, string-led, orchestral bombast. An extremely assured next step on an increasingly impressive path: widespread recognition is surely on the horizon.