It’s throwback Thursday… or Saturday… either way, it’s definitely the right idea to pump up your speakers, pour yourself a drink and chuck on George Benson‘s cover of ‘This Masquerade‘. You will be transported back to 1976 with the sexy, slowed-down vibe and Benson’s smooth soprano voice. Benson was not well known for his vocals, but ‘This Masquerade’ was an early occurrence of that sultry voice – and what better way to showcase it but by operating in unison with the muted tones of the jazz guitar melody. The song then eventually settles into a slow, funky groove with Al Green-esque ballad style vocals lamenting about some unrequited love. It is not hard to see how ‘This Masquerade’ catapulted Benson and his 1976 album Breezin‘ into the stratosphere of the easy listening / R&B pop charts of the 1970s. It also set the mark for many more vocal/guitar hit releases from Benson, such as ‘Give Me The Night‘ and ‘Turn Your Love Around‘.
There’s something special about Benson’s style on this song. Arguably, it’s ‘easy’ for easy listening / ballad R&B songs to blend together (think Billy Ocean…) and it often becomes impossible to separate individuality from the heavily-populated library of overly cheesy, generic “soul” ballad music. But here lies an exception. So much soul is invested into the construction of the melody and harmony that it is difficult not to want to get up and dance around to George Benson. So disregard your innate aversion to cheesy 70s ballads and give ‘This Masquerade’ a listen…
Check out this great review of new material from B.Slade and Michael Leon from thepublicblogger.
You won’t regret listening to this track…
January 14 marked the release of Detroit producer Apollo Brown‘s take on Planet Asia‘s 2013 album Abrasions. The reimagined Abrasions: Stitched Up is a stripped back, soul-infused revamp of the original track listing, with slow beats and a smooth 90s nostalgia-clouded sound.
The Mello Music Group artist’s production on Stitched Up has invited comparisons between itself and the original Gensu Dean-produced tracks, which has sparked a few controversial reviews questioning whether the album was just a regurgitation of a bygone era’s sound. One journalist commented that ‘Abrasions: Stitched Up and the original Abrasions begin to swirl together in a self-referential ‘90s haze, the way much Golden Era evangelist rap created in the 21st century does’. Arguably Apollo’s production borrows much from the style of his predecessors, utilising short, repetitive soul samples as the basis for the lyrical placement in the song. I fail to see how this should come as a surprise however, seeing as Apollo’s, and indeed Mello Music Group’s ethic as a whole revolves around recreating and reimagining that Golden era sound.
Standout track – Reflections ft Rogue Venom
As a whole Abrasions: Stitched Up may not be breaking hip hop grounds, but it mustn’t just be discredited as another generic replica of over-used obscure soul loops and 90s conscious rap revival. Apollo adds a new side to Planet Asia’s vocals, and an exciting re-arrangement of Gensu Dean’s classic work.
You can stream and/or purchase Abrasions: Stitched Up here.
October 1 marked the release of the latest stylings from Germany native Joe Kay, who operates under the pseudonym IAMNOBODI. This entirely instrumental album, which is aptly titled Elevated, is a satisfying mix of funk, soul and loungy beats. I must admit, I had my doubts about this album, but after listening I was completely floored.
Often instrumental beats mixtapes have the potential to go one of two ways, as the challenge lies in keeping the song progressive without the aid of vocal melodies, but also without overdoing the amount of instrumental or rhythmical ideas present. This challenge is overcome and executed perfectly on Elevated – sparse, unassuming rhythms slowly build and coalesce with smooth, spacey sounding synth lines and perfectly-timed handclaps and soulful samples to create a forward-moving and sonically interesting experience.
Each song feels like a song in its own right – the narrative of each track is hidden in the details, and the subtle intricacies of the atmospheric sounds and vocal samples are knitted together to create a seamless progression. But it doesn’t end there – just as you get into the groove of the song, Kay turns the rhythm upside down and inside out and removes a beat. Good quality instrumental beat-based music that keeps the ear guessing is hard to come by in a world where every man and his dog “makes beats”, but IAMNOBODI is definitely one to watch.
Highlights off Elevated include Do What You Love, Heaven’s Gate and Maputo Dance. 4/5 stars.
Elevated is out now on Soulection and available for streaming, download and purchase here.
Canadian soul/rhythm and blues producer Slakah The Beatchild is making us wait a little longer for the long-awaited Soul Movement vol. 2, which is now due to be released in January 2014. Thankfully the good man has released five tantalising bonus tracks available for free download off the beatchild bandcamp page, which you can find here.
This is an exciting taster – all five tracks showcase Beatchild’s extraordinary ability to blend elements of different genres seamlessly, whilst still maintaining a signature sound as a producer. Take I Surrender, for example – this sweet, soulful ballad sails over sparkly acoustic guitar and silky vocal harmonies. His sound is reminiscent of neo-soul legends such as Dwele and Bilal, but there is an unequivocal folk/ballad softness to counteract the RnB flavour. Getting In The Way is by far the most distinctive RnB track, with its 808 drums and and funky fretless bass. With a smooth, sexy groove and lots of dominant seventh chords (responsible for that sexy tension), Afrocentric ad lib vocal improvisations coalesce to produce a very Dwele-esque track.
I was really impressed by what I heard in these five bonus tracks. RnB producers are a dime a dozen these days, but artists that can create and maintain a unique sound are few and far between and I think Slakah The Beatchild falls neatly into this category. My only criticism is that the vocals on these five tracks sound very similar, with the focus being directly on high-end harmonies (especially on Plunderland), to the point that the lower register harmonies tend to be neglected. Soul Movement vol. 2 is released January 6 2014 but you can preorder your signed 12″ copy of the album here.