Jade-Brown Box

In a continuing motif of simple beauty mixed with subtle subtext, ‘Brown Box’ finds the multi-talented Jade confronting her carnal nature with spiritual weapons.

An interesting audiovisual, and if it wasn’t for that above snippet, this would have just been a really funky audio with a trippy video. Instead, it ends up being a weirdly engrossing experience. Worth noting for ‘underground soul’ fans: this isn’t the Jade who released the likeable It’s My Heart, Cookie EP a few years back.

The track is a great combination of R&B, reggae and pop, combining a sultry vocal style with a production of mellow verses and a fun, bouncy hook. The verses are little more than the occasional tribal drum hit, gentle guitar and a touch of synth, before the bridge draws those guitar plucks closer to scale them fully into the foreground for the hook, which packs in several funk elements for a positive, upbeat anchor point. It’s a very easy piece to listen to, and should certainly work its way into several summer playlists.

The contrast of hook and verse extends into the very divided video, which juxtaposes dark, seedy and temptation-driven scenes with natural, less-overly sexual scenes, and though admittedly the ending confuses the hell out of me, it works well enough with the audio, and at least merits a rewatch to figure it all out.

Mayer Hawthorne-Her Favorite Song (Large Professor Remix)

mayer hawthorne jessie ware
Large Pro slides through with an unexpected official remix of Mayer’s excellent lead single, taken of course from the Where Does This Door Go album, due out on 16th July.

The Professor takes the track in a slightly darker, edgier direction, away from its pop origins and into a moodier area. Stripping out the funky production of the original, the remix opens with a piercing guitar riff that sets the grittier attitude of this track off well, before chunky, thudding percussion enters the fray to really dominate the soundscape. Around that drumline are hints of additional melodies, from soft guitar to easygoing synths, but it’s really one that moves forward on the back of that percussion, and though it becomes a tad repetitive, it does end up being a rather hypnotising listen. Pro even comes through with a verse to switch the momentum of the track slightly, and the heavy percussion certainly lends itself well to Large Professor’s cadence, adding a final dash of hip-hop into a remix that seems to span across several genres. It won’t replace the original, but a nice complement to it.

Drake-The Motion ft. Sampha (of SBTRKT)

drake the motion
Sidenote: there were 4 Drake releases yesterday, but I’m only posting 3 as the 4th was terrible.

If Jodeci Freestyle appeals slightly more to the guys, this one will most definitely reel his extensive female fanbase back in, with Drake making a rather rare return to his singing style throughout.

The hook features Drake’s once-trademark drifty vocals, and it’s actually quite refreshing to hear them again; his attempts at being seen as a rapper first and foremost have almost hidden this side of his work, despite it being a facet which actually makes his mainstream work slightly more bearable. The verses offer a hybrid rap-singing delivery, and it’s one that works well to add depth to the stripped-back, barely-there production in the first verse, whilst his slightly alteration in flow for the second takes advantage of the increased percussive element. Sampha’s backing vocals make for a nice alternative layer, with their natural melancholy enhancing the more spaced-out elements in the production. Probably not one with a massive shelf-life as it gets a little boring, but a good addition to those chillout playlists.

Daley-Songs That Remind Me Of You (Video)

The hugely talented upcomer is back, this being the first single from his as-yet untitled EP. Undoubtedly, his popularity has shot through the roof since his Jessie J collaboration was released last year, and it’s nice to have him back releasing soul/R&B jams once again.

Daley’s songwriting abilities often go a little overlooked due to the excellence of his vocals, and this is another example of his perfect marriage between those two facets. The lyricism is introspective and mournful (and for many, relatable I’m sure), whilst his controlled yet emotional vocals not only enhance the sad, sombre vibe of the track, but even blend with the atmospheric production to add a rather sultry layer that’ll make this listenable for those who don’t necessarily commit themselves lyrically. It’s generally a very mellow, relaxed piece with a mature feel, and hence it’s a nice forward step for the young talent.

The video is a great fit for the moody track, filmed entirely with a black and red colour palette, with the former adding a bleak sense of minimalism, and the latter providing a sharp, emotional trigger. Movement is conservative throughout, working with the track’s slow, winding nature, and generally it’s a good visual that enhances the vibe of the audio well. Head to Daley’s place to get the new EP delivered to your inbox on its release.

PARTYNEXTDOOR-Over Here ft. Drake

partynextdoor
The first of four releases from Drake last night, along with the announcement that his Nothing Was The Same album is due for a 17th September release. Roughly translated, that’s far enough away to let Jay-Z take the summer. Also revealed was the OVO Sound label imprint, with an accompanying website, a label which PND is a part of- his debut mixtape is due out on 1st July, and this latest release should amp up that buzz considerably.

It’s another solid R&B release from PARTYNEXTDOOR, with a likeable production that contrasts atmospheric synths with tribal-style percussion for a mellow sound with a little liveliness thanks to those drums. There’s almost something ‘island’ about certain elements of the beat, and when combined with those sombre synths, it creates a nighttime beach vibe that’s easy to enjoy. PND’s vocals are again heavily Autotuned though not distractingly so, with their sharp, digitised nature not taking too much away from his synergy with that backdrop, whilst Drake’s verse is a welcome break from PND’s computerised crooning. A relatively easygoing R&B jam that Drake fans should enjoy.

Juicy J-One of Those Nights ft. The Weeknd (Video)

On the audio’s release, it was apparent that it was mostly a Weeknd track with a little Juicy J thrown in. Juicy’s only contribution is a verse around halfway through the track, and a couple of adlibs, with the rest of audio completely built around The Weeknd’s soft vocals and the dark, moody production; a good thing, believe me.

The video represents that odd dynamic quite clearly too. It’s almost entirely focused around The Weeknd looking rather depressed and moody; whilst his emotionless expression certainly fits the sombre vibe of the track, it moves away from ‘cool disassociation’ to ‘grumpy teenager’ before too long, and hence it becomes a little cringeworthy. With that said, his brief moment of animated activity is a rather unnerving and surprising turn, offering a wide smile when faced with a loaded gun, which again enhances the rather depressive vibe of the video. Juicy’s visual contributions are drinking and hitting on a barmaid, before shooting a man (the robber) in the back of the head; clearly breaking the stereotypes of hip-hop with that one. Nonetheless, a fitting clip to a solid audio.

Xander the Great-Caves and Clouds EP

xander the great
If this project had dropped in the winter, I can guarantee it would have completely dominated my listening for that season. With that said, it’s still a fantastic addition to any chillout playlists you’ve got going on this season, and is a must-listen for the R&B heads.

The submission suggested this dealt with ‘personal isolation, nostalgia and heartbreak‘, and ‘has a little Weeknd/Drake vibe but with a UK twist‘. Both are accurate, particularly the latter-there’s a sense of that dark, moody R&B The Weeknd helped to popularise, with the EP capturing a similar atmospheric essence. What distinguishes this project from that style is the sheer intensity of Xander’s vocals; even on the more laidback efforts, his performances pack in heaps of emotion that add power and grandeur to each track, whilst remaining versatile enough to adjust to the chosen theme from the above list and the varying productions. That beat work is strong throughout, packing together mellow productions alongside those with a little more vibrancy, and tying them together with a relative darkness that creates the “night R&B” vibe, forming the root of the Weeknd comparisons. Having also had a hand in the production, it’s clear we’re looking at a very good all-round talent, and be sure to watch out for this upcomer in the future.

Michael Francis-Nona's Reservoir

MTV2 premiered the video on their Artist To Watch segment, with the track taken from his Cold Heart Chronicles album due out this summer, and it’s a fantastic slice of laidback R&B/pop from the talented upcomer that should get the buzz right up for that LP.

The production is wintery and atmospheric, with airy synths sat alongside distorted percussion and occasional hits of livelier melodies in a deep, well-layered production. There aren’t any sharp turns or unexpected highs; instead, it’s a gradual, progressive production that moves organically into any high spots, and gently away from them. It’s that consistency which gives Michael flexibility with his own performance and he shows off plenty of variety, opening with a delicate mellowness that relatively smoothly evolves into an empassioned, powerful set of vocals.

You hear a track like this and you expect a simple bedroom scene, or some crooning in a night scene. Credit then to Michael, who puts together a significantly more intricate video, but without losing the essence of the audio. The cold, snowy landscape fits the atmospheric audio superbly, whilst the internal and external conflict experienced by all characters involved is conveyed well throughout to keep you fully engrossed in the clip. Very strong introduction for Francis, and you can get the track here.

Novel-To The Limit (Video)

Another release from Novel’s thoroughly excellent Under Water, Overwhelmed EP, and it’s not right to call this a standout track- the entire EP is outstanding, and doing so would be an injustice to it.

With that said, it still remains a standout track in the context of the entire R&B game this year. A smooth, mellow effort with a little hint of liveliness, it’s one that lands in that middle ground between midtempo and slow jam, an area that’s incredibly difficult to hit and even harder to perfect. Novel manages it here, backed by gentle, atmospheric synths in the verses and a hint of piano the hook; both come supported by a sharp, piercing percussion that adds energy and intensity. It’s a rather uncomplicated production and it’s supremely effective, making for a distinct step away from the multi-layered, occasionally over-produced nature of the dark R&B/night pop sounds doing the rounds right now. Of course, Novel’s vocals are excellent throughout, demonstrating great restraint as he curbs his emotional instincts to deliver a sultry, relaxed performance that slides into the production with ease, and combines with it for a strong all-rounder.

The video is a good fit, coming with a monochrome filter that keeps the relaxed vibe going, removing any distractions from bright colour flashes. The body language throughout is equally easygoing, and again maintains the audio’s mellow qualities. An easy watch and a very easy listen, be sure to check out the EP now.

Vanessa Elisha-Don't Go (Free EP)

vanessa elisha
The current crop of R&B upcomers are really revitalising what has become a stale genre, and Vanessa Elisha has just added herself to that talent list. On recieving the submission, I judged her wrongly; seeing a good-looking singer, I expected her to be another act who’s thin on quality and big on image. I’m glad to be wrong, because this could be a breakout release.

With sombre, atmospheric productions reminiscent of The Weeknd’s early work, the EP is a well-rounded listening experience. The sultry Till Never moves between mellow verses and an intense hook, Home To Me and Waiting have more laidback, introspective approaches, Don’t Go opts for a minimal, vocal-spotlighting production, and Blur closes the EP off in relatively upbeat fashion. It’s this sonic coherence that makes a project actually feel like an EP/album rather than a collection, and Vanessa herself delivers by taking what are ultimately productions of a similar ilk, and twisting them into varying emotional pathways. Many newcomers (wrongly) opt to showcase their vocals rather than create balanced music, and Vanessa instead works with each production’s natural mood to create rounded soundscapes- credit to Elisha for demonstrating that skill and maturity. A must grab for any R&B fan; download here and stream below.

Mac Miller-Objects In The Mirror ft. The Internet

I’ve never had anything against Mac’s music at all, but equally I’ve not been fully coerced into launching properly into his work. With that said, his upcoming Watching Movies With the Sound Off album is shaping up to be excellent. Due for release on 18th June (with Kanye and J. Cole, of course), features and producers are set to include Jay Electronica (yep, he’s alive), Earl Sweatshirt, Pharrell, Flying Lotus, ScHoolboy Q, Action Bronson and more. It’s a great lineup, and time will tell if Mac holds his own in such company.

The album’s tracklisting doesn’t have Odd Future’s The Internet featuring on this track, but here they hook up with Mac for a first listen to the Pharrell-produced number from the LP. My lack of exposure to Mac also means his live work is a mystery to me, and here he’ll definitely win some fans with a solid performance; he steps between singing and rapping with a vocal delivery that smoothly hovers the two, and commits either way in small segments and where required. It’s a show of versatility that works for him- he’s not a natural singer and hence isn’t vocally perfect at all, but his imperfections add to what is a raw, committed performance, and the slick instrumentation from Matt Martians and co. not only helps set the mellow vibe, but also fills any gaps in Mac’s vocal work with smooth, relaxing production. I’m very much into this; more of this quality, and there may be a dark horse in the race for the best album on 18th June.

Masspike Miles-Flatline ft. Wiz Khalifa (Video)

As each week goes by, an upcoming R&B artists reminds me that they still exists, and those individual pieces are really coming together to recover that scene. Masspike’s one that I enjoy but often don’t credit enough, and here’s a good opportunity to do so.

Admittedly, this production caught my ear as it also backs Lloyd Banks’ Live It Up, one of the highlights from his V6: The Gift mixtape (which I’ve been listening to relentlessly recently), though it originally belongs to Miles. Hence, though it may be the wrong way around in terms of actual chronology, this release provides a fresh take on that excellent production, with Miles delivering well. Masspike’s vocals are passionate but delivering in a stop-start manner that allows the thumping production room to breathe and shine, with its bassy nature working against Miles’ shrill voice well, though Wiz’s approach is arguably a little too laidback, and hence he gets thoroughly swallowed within the beat’s intensity.

The clip is simple enough, giving Miles some valuable face time, and most importantly capitalising on the production’s energy with rapid scene shifts, busy, high activity scenes and rightfully making no attempt at telling a story. It’s an easy watch that definitely amps up the audio’s intensity, and you can grab it on Masspike’s Skky Miles 2 project now. Don’t miss out on that Banks version above either.

Mike Posner-IDGAF ft. Pharrell

posner pharrell
An unexpected one that landed this weekend. Not necessarily because of the acts involved, but you’d expect a track of this nature to be held back as a lead single rather than a leak; high praise indeed, but deserved.

The production is that classic Neptunes style, harking back to some of the beats they laced several R&B and hip-hop acts with, as bubbly percussion combines with energetic electronic melodies to create a soundscape of positivity, though with an intense, driving edge. Posner’s vocals have renown adaptability, and here he switches through several styles to make the most of this addictive production: an attitudinal, rap-influenced style makes up most of the verses and pre-hook bridge, with his fun bounce being swapped out for a gentle touch of vocals for the hook, offering a nice cool down period from the lively verses. Pharrell comes through with adlibs and backing vocals where required, whilst also contributing an enjoyable verse of his own as the closer, with his blunt delivery contrasting Posner’s various harmonic styles and once again, demonstrating the versatility of this mainstream-friendly beat. A good slice of mainstream pop/R&B; Posner needs to back this track as it could undoubtedly be a big single for him, particularly with the summer coming up and Pharrell’s stock being incredibly high right now.

The-Dream-IV Play (Full Album Stream)

the-dream-iv-play
The releases to date have been slightly hit and miss, but they seem to have found a pretty solid mainstream audience, which should stand The-Dream in good stead ahead of this LP’s release in a week’s time on 28th May.

In a rather confident move, he’s allowed the full project to be streamed today, which should help many fans make their purchase decisions ahead of time. The on-again-off-again Beyonce feature has seemingly made the cut, so apparently those sample issues were overcome; good news for many listeners I’m sure, and it’ll be interesting listening to have what should be a complementary set of vocals working alongside one another. I’m a big champion of Dream’s back catalogue (particularly his outstanding debut album), and despite my mixed opinions on the pre-releases singles, I hold hope that this will be another strong addition to his collection. Stream at his Vevo home below.

The-Dream-IV Play (Full Album Stream)

Novel-Pretty Scars (Video)

Late pass. Novel’s Under Water, Overwhelmed EP completely slipped under my radar, but having spent the last few days listening to it almost exclusively, I’ve got no qualms about calling it one of the most consistent R&B projects I’ve heard in months. Across the 6 tracks, Novel seamlessly switches through various styles, applying his strong songwriting ability to a series of good productions, with the latter a notable milestone: his previous works are patchy in terms of quality beat selection, and having Justin Kahler almost exclusively produce this EP has resulted in a consistency that may finally elevate him into the conversation when discussing the cream of today’s R&B crop.

This track can be considered the highlight of the EP, a smooth effort that blends together various styles crisply. Whether it’s Novel’s mixture of singing and rapping, or a production that moves between chillout R&B for the verses and a more upbeat nature on the hook, it’s one that seems to cover off almost all areas in terms of creating a replayable, addictive R&B track. The lyricism combines introspection and positivity, designed to praise his partner in the face of her insecurities, and that’s clearly represented in the video, with the leading lady swinging wildly between carefree happiness and downright depression, giving those lyrics support to ensure they don’t get lost within the mesmerising production. Great track from a very enjoyable EP; stream the EP here, and get it on iTunes afterwards.

The Weeknd-Kiss Land

The title of his upcoming album (and a track here) is still completely ridiculous, but despite it sounding like a theme park for teenagers, the musical output makes up for that stupidity and has The Weeknd back on strong form after some patchy releases in the last 18 months.

The first half boasts a good blend of atmosphere and energy, and whilst the beat will undoubtedly draw many comparisons with works from House of Balloons (such as Loft Music), it pushes slightly away from the smooth vibe of that project and into a more disorienting style. That comes courtesy of a collection of sharp melodies and screams (yep) that create a sense of psychedelia, whilst the prominent and bassy percussion adds an intensity and drive that wouldn’t have fit on the aforementioned mixtape, and instead shows growth in his beat selection. The second part slows things down, similar to the transitions on his previous two-part tracks, and though it retains some of the same melodies there’s more emphasis on the atmospheric aspect. The addition of constant backing vocals create a rather haunting aura, whilst the synth and percussion work intertwines to make the soundscape slightly darker, and they help to add moody layers into an otherwise intense, vibrant production.

Vocally, the first segment has The Weeknd on a much more positive style, with his lyricism focused around ladies of interest and of course his self-assurance, with the verses delivered in a near-rap that slowly morphs into all-out harmonies in the hook, a section in which he gives rightful room to the production to lead. The second half’s more subdued production allows his vocal work to be spotlighted, and hence his output is both more emotive and lyrically aggressive, with a more negative, isolated outlook in certain segments. Both good tracks, and signs that his official debut album can’t be too far away.

I should apologise for the poor formatting here. Reviewing two songs in one is not easy.

Elijah Blake-X.O.X. ft. Common (Video)

The audio’s release caught my attention for the rare Common feature, but one play made it difficult to ignore the talent Elijah possesses. It’s a guest spot that was guaranteed to turn heads, but unlike many others, he does a great job in keeping up his end of the deal.

The production is a smooth blend between upbeat R&B and a more mellow soul style, with the middle ground it lands in being incredibly rare in terms of sheer versatility. The combination of sharp string plucks and bassy yet warm percussion sets those verses off at a good pace, whilst the introduction of more dramatic string work in the chorus adds a welcome step up in intensity and atmosphere to pad that hook out. Elijah’s vocals are unerringly consistent throughout, with his empassioned deliveries displaying influences from early Trey Songz, a little Maxwell and plenty more; he’s clearly a gifted upcomer, and it’s a performance that will surely gain favour with many.

The key feature of the video is the mixture of dark lighting and misty scenes, presenting a reflective, sombre tone that projects the lyricism outward; it’s smart, as in amongst the strong production and good vocals, the lyrical impact gets lost. A strong single for one of R&B’s newest stars-add this to other young upcomers such as Austin Paul and Steven A. Clark, and there’s every chance that this new breed could lift R&B out of its current malaise. Grab the track on the Bijoux 22 EP now.

PARTYNEXTDOOR-Wus Good / Curious

partynextdoor
The power of good headphones/speakers. I gave this a quick listen through my laptop speakers earlier, only to dismiss it as a cheap Future knock-off, and nothing I’d likely give much time in the future. It’s since returned to my ears via a shuffle, this time with headphones on, and it’s being repeated as you read this.

So, PARTYNEXTDOOR is part of Drake’s October’s Very Own imprint, a connection announced a short while back. Whilst I wasn’t into his previous release, this is one that should command more attention, and at the heart of it is a slow, nighttime production that’s right out of the OVO playbook. The self-produced effort is made up of pillowy bass and several interlocking layers of gentle melodies, each helping create a layer of depth that adds a ton of atmosphere to the backdrop, and allowing PND to get away with things a little on the vocals. An odd choice of terms, but it’s a heavily Autotuned performance that would otherwise grate on me, but the cooling nature of the production completely tempers its sharp edges, and hence it’s far more listenable than most Autotuned R&B, and yes, significantly better than Future’s pointless drawl. Progression from the newcomer, and hopefully it continues.

The-Dream-High Art ft. Jay-Z

high art
Whilst the Beyonce feature originally slated for this album has been dropped due to sample clearance issues, Mr. Carter’s appearance remains intact and is delivered as the latest offering from The-Dream’s IV Play album, set to arrive on 28th May.

Thus far, none of his pre-album releases have provided much to be excited about, and thankfully this effort is a cut above what he’s offered so far. The production has a hip-hop feel to it, combining strong slow-paced percussion with melodies from across the board, and whether its the Asian-influenced elements or the Future adlib samples (I think?), there’s a lot of dynamism and activity on that top layer. It creates much more depth and quality in comparison to the previous releases and suits both artists well, with Dream alternating between a rap delivery and regular singing for the verse and hook respectively, and whilst Jay’s verse isn’t exactly a classic, it’s a fun contribution on a production that suits his cadence extremely well. Better signs from The-Dream ahead of that impending release date.

Theophilus London-Rio ft. The Menahan Street Band (Video)

There’s been plenty of talk about ‘summer music’ on here in recent weeks, but I’m not sure anything comes close to this for that all-round sunny beach vibe.

The ever-stylish London has three overlapping segments to the video, each well costumed of course, and they combine for an enjoyable watch. The first has him performing, rather humbly I might add, in a small venue with the few audience members sitting around the band; it’s an intimate setting that exudes a vintage vibe, and hence manages to curtail the occasionally expansive nature of the production and bring it down into a warm, friendly environment. The second is the interspersing of his interactions with the leading lady, one who clearly isn’t intended to fit into the ‘classic video girl’ mould, and instead seems like a real person. Once again, it adds a humility to the video that takes the audio into more relatable, personal territory when combined with the scenes mentioned previously. The final setting has London and the band performing in a white, dream-like landscape that adds a touch of cool and a little more atmosphere, working well with the ‘daydream factor’ the audio invariably invokes, and making for a nice contrast to the previous two scenes. It’s not a complicated clip in the slightest, but it does work the audio well, and whilst admittedly it would have been good to see more open, expansive backdrops, it would also have been a little cliche so credit to Theophilus for the direction taken. Buy it.

Atozzio-T.B.A.

atozzio
Before R&B massively fell off a cliff, Atozzio was one of those singer-songwriters that would usually get considered for R&B Fridays (remember that?) where appropriate, but didn’t quite make the cut. Since those days, he’s stepped his output up, going so far as releasing his debut album a couple of years back. He’s now gearing up for its follow-up, The Imprint II: Evolution, with this being that LP’s lead single.

Those of an R&B inclination will thoroughly enjoy this; it’s a slow jam boasting solid production, strong vocals and surprisingly enjoyable lyricism for a track of this ilk. The production’s minimal for the verses, relying mostly on atmospheric production and the occasional flash of additional melody, with the track’s clear anchor being the hook that throws in a medley of synths and sharper percussion, increasing the track’s intensity. Atozzio’s vocals move in the same fashion, with a relaxed approach for the verses highlight the lyrical introspection, versus the conclusive nature of the livelier hook, which comes accompanied by some good work on the multi-layered backing vocals. It feels like an R&B jam right out of its most recent peak (’08-’10), and hopefully Atozzio keeps this consistency up.

Janelle Monae-Q.U.E.E.N. ft. Erykah Badu (Video)

It only happens with particularly gifted acts, but when you spend a lot of time immersed in someone’s music, it’s rather easy to forget the other facets of their act, brand and personality. Allow Janelle’s new video to be a reminder of just what she can bring to the table.

Whether it’s a crisp fashion sense that lands somewhere between vintage and forward-thinking, a hugely charismatic on-screen presence through fun facial expressions and great body language, or her skills as both a choreographed dancer and a freeform rhythmic mover, Janelle’s one of the most rounded entertainers in music today. And we’ve not even touched on her impressive vocal capabilities.

This clip combines all of the above talents in with a video that’s wrapped in good production values and great colour palettes: opening with the minimal white environment, Janelle’s movements are similarly economical before expanding into more energetic expressionism, which coincides with the injection of more chromatic vibrancy. Things get suitably leftfield when Badu enters the fray, with the track’s relative mellowing coinciding with the appearance of a poodle, lots of clocks, and Erykah looking rather dishevelled. The video ends well, with Monae’s defiant closer throwing out all of the detailing used previously and instead focusing on her lyricism and its empassioned delivery. It’s a fantastic video for a track that gets better with every listen, and that Electric Lady LP can’t come soon enough.

Austin Paul-Velvet EP

A huge talent emerging here, and one that could rapidly become a crowd favourite in the starved R&B scene. Coming from the same mould as the equally-gifted Steven A. Clark, Austin’s a talented vocalist with a penchant for smooth, atmospheric music that lands somewhere between neo-soul, modern-day R&B and electronic chillout, an ever-effective and hugely replayable mix.

Austin’s 5-track EP is a great introduction to the young singer’s work, from the futuristic, night pop aura of Felt It (Velvet) through to the softer, more introspective stylings of Loving Losing, and it’s clear within just a few listens that he’s got plenty of variety to his act. That’s all pinned together by an overarching mellow quality, one which relies more on darker moods and atmosphere than traditionally associated with laidback R&B, and hence it feels like a modern take on the neo-soul style, without sacrificing the inherent chillout and melodic nature of that genre. Notable too is the maturity of his voice, which certainly belies his tender years, and whilst it will draw comparisons with the likes of Miguel, John Legend and such, there’s a distinctness about it that should stand him in good stead going forward.

Stream the EP here, and download the tracks individually at his Soundcloud. Frankly, you’d be foolish not to give this a go: the likes of Austin and Steven are the future of R&B as far as I’m concerned, and you’d be well-advised to jump on this bandwagon early.

Alicia Keys-Fire We Make ft. Maxwell (Video)

Arguably the standout track on Alicia’s Girl on Fire album, and one of the best R&B singles within the last year (original review here). The duo’s vocals play off each other increasingly well, and there’s more of a duet vibe than this being a simple feature, a factor which extends to the video. On watching this, you realise how rare it is for both acts in a collaborative piece to interact or both play lead roles, with the guest usually relegated to a sub-plot or unrelated scene; this one shares the spotlight, and with considerable style.

Set in a vintage New Orleans (the home of original R&B), it’s a sultry clip detailing the progressive relationship between the two, seemingly an instant attraction that blossoms. Their relationship growth mirrors the increasingly harmony and synergy of their vocals on the track, whilst the old-school styling of the whole video is superb, with the hazy tinting and great outfitting being a real throwback treat. Most importantly is the lack of physical contact between the two: it might go unnoticed, but both manage to evoke powerful feelings of attraction and massive levels of sex appeal without ever actually physically interacting much. It’s an admirable facet of the video, and another that harks back to earlier times; their only sole meaningful contact comes towards the end, which makes for a nice physical and metaphorical conclusion. It’s a smart, well-thought out video that serves to somehow enhance an already-fantastic song.

Janelle Monae-Q.U.E.E.N. ft. Erykah Badu

queen
No-one in the last 5 years has made as big an impact on the soul genre as Janelle Monae. Her 2010 album, The ArchAndroid, has stood up in the intervening period as one of the best neo-soul albums in recent memory, whilst her exploits elsewhere (not least on fun.’s huge We Are Young single) have allowed her talents to be exposed to wider audiences. Monae returns with this brand new effort, featuring one of neo-soul’s pioneers, and taken from her upcoming Electric Lady album.

Immediately noticeable is the funk influence on the instrumentation, with jagged, razor-sharp guitar plucks instantly adding attitude and a fun rebelliousness to the track. Those strums are eventually backed by retro-style samples, smooth, clap-heavy percussion and more, adding plenty of character and padding out that backdrop with a positivity that’s quite infectious. Janelle and Erykah are two of the finest vocalists in the game, and the guitar work brings the best from both, with energetic, stop-start vocals that annunciate heavily to enhance the in-your-face, punchy nature of the track, whilst the brief moments where they cut loose from that mould are great demonstrations of their melodic ability. A lively track with plenty of bounce, it’s a track that should find favour with both Janelle’s fans and a wider R&B/soul audience.

Miguel-How Many Drinks? Remix ft. Kendrick Lamar (Video)

Miguel has become one of a handful of R&B artists keeping the genre mainstream without turning too ‘pop’, and with Kendrick being a mirror of that for hip-hop, this is a poetic coming together.

With that said, this isn’t a track I’ve immediately taken to. As ever, Miguel’s vocals aren’t lacking at all, but it feels stuck somewhere between a Maxwell slow jam and a chart-friendly R&B number, and hence it gets lost at times in terms of its intended purpose. The verses are full of bedroom music crooning, accompanied by a gentle production that rightfully opts to support rather than match Miguel’s vocals, but the hook instead seems to take a few steps back to opt for a catchy vibe, rather than building on the progressive verses. Kendrick’s contribution generally retains the track’s momentum, and though his sharp tones do occasionally sound out of place on the mellow backdrop, his lyricism is contextual enough to work through it. It’s not a bad song by any means, and though I’m sure it’ll continue to improve with time, it’s not one that I’m itching to give another spin.

The video’s minimalism is a good stylistic choice, enhancing the simple production, organics of Miguel’s voice, and the sultry vibe of the lyricism. I’m particularly keen on the fact Miguel doesn’t feel the need to constantly have his face on camera, and is rather more focused on creating the right environment to visualise his works. A good video for an audio that many mainstream heads will appreciate.

Emanny - Miss Me ft. Joe Budden (SLV)

Emanny
Emanny returns just in time for the summer with this new song from his upcoming project Songs About HER 2. Enlisting fellow SLV member Joe Budden, these two once again collaborate to make a great summertime R&B track that has some very slick production.

Miss Me takes very subtle elements from Drake’s Miss Me track from his début LP, but that’s where the similarities end with Emanny making this track very much his own. Joe Budden provides a verse where Joe addresses some of the turmoil we saw from his stint on reality show Love & Hip Hop involving ex flame Tahiry, which adds some great depth to an already very well structured track.

No release date for Songs About HER 2 just yet, but I expect it to be just as well received as Emanny’s previous project. You can listen to and download Miss Me below.

Drake-Girls Love Beyonce ft. James Fauntleroy

drake beyonce
If the earlier release had under-21s (and over-21s, let’s be honest) stroking their Drake poster, this one might provoke a slightly more pronounced reaction. I’ll stop there as I know there are folks under 18 that’ll be reading this, but the rest of you know where I was going with that.

Drake’s penchant for old-school R&B is no secret, with several odes and references to the genre across his career, and here he (sort of) remakes Say My Name, with the aid of the ever-excellent James Fauntleroy. Of course, it’s not exactly meant to replace the original, but instead comes across as a bit of fun and a semi-return to the R&B style that won many over back in ’09, though his hybrid rap-singing delivery in the verses does mark a return to monotony-the moments that he leans more toward one side than the other are his vocal highlights here. Fauntleroy does a nice job reinterpreting the iconic hook, staying true to the original and adding a soulful twist, whilst the sultry, minimal production works to further rework the track into something that closer resembles a slow jam than the angsty, attitudinal R&B vibe of the Destiny’s Child piece. It’ll get a couple of plays for novelty, but it’s nothing that’s going to hang around for too long.

Frank Ocean-Lost (Video)

Almost exactly 9 months after Channel Orange‘s release, we get only the second visual treat (technically, as the Thinking About You video got pulled) from the album.

Certainly one of the more upbeat tracks on the LP, it also found favour as one of my favourites, hanging in my playlists to this very day. The video plays on the track’s inherent positivity whilst adding a layer of reflectiveness and insight, with the double vision style representing the dichotomy of Frank’s day-to-day life: being Frank Ocean, and being himself. Generally speaking, one frame appears to show music-related scenes whilst the other focuses on landscapes, travels and his personality, with the two occasionally coming together in what are either arbitrary moments of clarity or meaningful instances of heightened emotion. In all cases, the clips are generally coated in a summer vibe that works well with the warmth of the production and the relative fun of the lyricism, whilst the grainy filter style makes the footage seem that little more personal, adding a sense of intimacy to proceedings.

An enjoyable visual accompaniment to an excellent song, here’s to hoping there’s more new Frank Ocean coming soon.