Kelela - The High

Kelela was one of the standout contributors to Solange’s phenomenal Saint Heron compilation of last year, and though her name has popped up intermittently during my various travels across the internet, it was that album that really brought her to my attention.

Her Cut 4 Me album is another of last year’s strong releases, featuring a great mix of dark, atmospheric production and diverse vocals, and certainly presented Kelela as an upcoming talent to be watched. This latest release, not announced for any particular project, is a good addition to her growing catalogue, and again paints the singer in a very favourable light. The production is supremely moody, built up on a brooding bassline that plods through the track with power and intent, whilst the supporting cast of gentle synths just about hang in there, buzzing around the driving bass but never dragging it into any other direction. It’s a good backdrop too, as it allows for plenty of flexibility on the vocal layer, as Kelela primarily offers a gentle delivery, blending well with the sombre production, but intersperses that with both higher-pitched blasts and soft harmonising.

The whole lot combines into a very replayable piece of R&B/soul, and one that’s certainly in a style that encapsulates this rising “alternative R&B” movement.

Pandr Eyez - Heartbreaker

pandr eyez
Technically, this is a Mariah Carey remix/cover, but the first time I heard this, that didn’t occur to me at all. Call me stupid if you like, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s more of a testament to the original spin that Translatlantic duo Pandr Eyez have put on the old school classic.

Every element of the bubbly original is thrown out (besides the lyrics, of course) in favour of a spaced-out, mellow style that gives the track a dark wintery vibe, and hence opens it up to a whole new audience. That’s courtesy of luxuriously airy synths, winding through the track at will and intertwining effortlessly with the smooth vocals on offer, whilst the occasional flashes of background vocals and additional melodies pads out the soundscape rather well. The vocals deserve plenty of credit for showing versatility throughout- with a sombre production of this ilk, a consistent delivery would end up nullifying any attractiveness the track’s modernism has by boring everyone to death, and hence the mixture of subtle and not-so-subtle delivery changes is a wise play here.

Worth a go for sure, and look out for more from the upcoming duo. Their Present EP lands on 4th February.

Jhene Aiko-Bed Peace ft. Childish Gambino (Video)

Having enjoyed this song on its release, it’s good to see Jhene give the fun single a further push with this easygoing, simple visual that pays homage to John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s ‘Bed Ins For Peace’.

A gentle, relaxing track of this nature doesn’t need too much complexity to be fully utilised visually, and they’ve got it just right here with a laidback video but with enough subtly happening to keep your interest. The parallels with the Lennon/Ono events are pretty clear, with the inclusion of not only the “media”, but also the little slogans above their heads on the hotel window- it’s a fun throwback concept, but clearly done in a more modern way that doesn’t make it feel overly outdated. The mostly-white colour palette throughout adds further calm to each scene, whilst also enhancing the more ‘innocent’ aspects of the song and much like the production, almost hiding some of Jhene’s more risque lyrical sections.

There are some neat touches and subtleties with the duo’s body language and expressions, with Gambino remaining almost completely serious throughout, whilst Jhene is much more animated and friendly, clearly giving her the video’s focus and a sense of power in the relationship. The occasional shared glances and light-hearted moments make for quite fun watching too- look out for Gambino miming Jhene’s vocals at around 4:20. Worth a watch and obviously worth a listen (I have developed an unhealthy fixation with her voice).

Snoh Aalegra-The Fall

I heard this for the first time about a month ago, but didn’t really pay proper attention. Having recognised I didn’t seem to dislike it, I still downloaded it but added it to my mountainous backlog- I happened to make a dent in said backlog this weekend, and rediscovered this frankly brilliant piece from a wonderful upcoming talent.

Snoh is currently under the tutelage of the legendary No ID (and assumedly, the Cocaine 80s team), and this first release as part of that relationship is one that really does warrant attention. The production is beautifully structured, opting for a subtle progression between the verse and bridge, before making a rousing, comparatively energetic leap up to the thoroughly addictive hook. The track’s melodies are a sombre combination of lonely guitar plucks and atmospheric synths, which provide the backdrop for Snoh’s haunting yet powerful voice- her performance very quickly wrestles control of the track, keeping things relatively introverted for the verses before matching the hook’s thunderous percussion with a suitably rousing set of vocals. She looks great (comparisons to Eva Mendes aren’t far off the mark), she sounds fantastic and is backed by one of music’s most versatile and talented producers: Snoh Aalegra is most definitely one-to-watch.

Yuna-Someone Who Can

Yuna’s self-titled debut album was an excellent piece of music, combining laidback soul sounds with rousing pop numbers, all held together with her wonderful vocal set.

This effort is taken from her upcoming Nocturnal album, set for release on 29th October, and again demonstrates those addictive, near-hypnotising vocal qualities, with a gentle, mostly mellow performance that actually ends up softening some of the harsher, more rebellious elements of her lyrics. When read on paper, her writing is much more aggressive and ‘jilted’ than much of her back catalogue, making for a nice touch of progression and diversity, and it’s a credit to her inherently relaxing voice that those frustrations can easily go quite unnoticed on first listen.

The production is helmed by the masterful Chad Hugo, who serves up a production that straddles the line between uptempo and chillout very skilfully, pairing a warm, reflective melody (that’s very similar to the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind theme) with a high-speed yet light percussion line for a good blend of styles that comes off as nimble yet delicate. Worth a go, and look out for more from Yuna soon.

Martina Topley-Bird-Crystalised (Cover) ft. Mark Lanegan & Warpaint

The original has probably been out of our collective memory for quite some time now, and not only is this a nice reminder of its qualities, but it’s also a fantastic cover that warrants just as much attention.

The track is taken in a rough-edged direction, contrasting the smooth, rounded sounds of the laidback original with a crisp percussion line and a more diverse vocal output. Mark Lanegan opens up with low, bassy vocals that aren’t hugely dissimilar to Oliver of The xx’s own dulcet qualities, but carry a less-refined, grittier quality that makes them wholly endearing in their own right, and almost bring a more “grown-up” feel to proceedings. Martina joins in with her own brand of higher-pitched yet gentle vocals, offering a strong contrast to both the original and Mark’s raspy output, without diminishing the relaxing quality that made the original track so addictive. She’s generally regarded as one of the most well-rounded vocalists in almost any genre, and her performance here is about as close to a perfect delivery as you could hope for, whilst the same can certainly be said for the opposing vocals of Mark Lanegan, who admittedly I’d never heard before.

An excellent cover accompanied by a part-animated video that doesn’t get too frenetic, and instead captures the sombre, nighttime vibe of the track well whilst adding just enough colour and activity. You can grab this cover now on vinyl, or 7th October digitally.

Daley-Look Up

Following Daley’s progress has been nothing but a pleasure over the last few years. From upcoming, unknown soul singer full of potential to the well-rounded, widely-lauded performer he is today, it’s been a rise that’s completely earned and has led to the forthcoming release of his debut album, Days and Nights.

Those you work with tend to be a pretty good indicator of both your status, and your peers’ faith in your ability. So, having Pharrell produce and co-write this song is about as good a representation of Daley’s situation as you could hope for- Pharrell’s coming off a genuinely spectacular summer, having been involved in its two biggest hits amongst other things, and choosing now to come together with Daley is a great co-sign.

The product doesn’t disappoint either. Pharrell serves up a cool, easygoing production, comprised of gentle synths, touches of guitar, and a mellow percussion that moves the track along nicely, without breaking the smooth bubble its built within. That’s left to Daley’s ever-excellent vocals, which remain mostly relaxed through the verses, but build toward a comparatively intense hook that breaches the confines of the velvety production in short bursts, adding a few good flashes of emotion. Generally, it’s a supremely easygoing affair that will certainly find a home in many bedroom encounters (admit it) this winter. Join the party and grab this on iTunes now.

The Internet-Feel Good (Full Album Stream)

There are some big acts that have released/are releasing albums in September, but my anticipation for any of them pales in comparison to the interest I have in this particularly project. Their last album was excellent, and the previews we’ve had from this, particularly the hugely-acclaimed Dontcha, have suggested that’s only going to evolve and get better with their sophomore LP.

13 tracks make up the project, one which promises to be a little livelier and more instrument-driven than their synthy, atmospheric layering found in their debut album. Of course, it’ll still all be tied together with a chillout sensibility, and it’s that combination which could make this essential listening this winter, and probably again in the summer.

Their burgeoning status has given rise to a few noteworthy appearances- their recent work on Mac Miller’s tour has been repaid with a Mac feature, whilst Jesse Boykins III reprises his connection with Matt Martians (see The Jet Age of Tomorrow’s most recent album), and the wonderfully gifted Yuna lends her vocals to proceedings. Adding to that is Tay Walker, a previous collaborator, rounding off what is a small but promising batch of features, all of which make plenty of theoretical sense. It’s all about Syd and Matt though, and I’m sure they’ll deliver once again- find out here with the stream, and be sure to buy the album on Tuesday.

The Internet-Dontcha (Video)

This just became my new favourite song. Expect a biased review.

When reviewing their release last week, I mentioned that their new material is expected to be closer to their live performances than their previous work, and hence fans may require adjustment. Whilst that holds true, this track lands in a perfect medium between their atmospheric sound on Purple Naked Ladies and the livelier sound they’re now going for, and requires no adjustment to appreciate. The production combines gentle melodies and easygoing percussion for a smooth sound that simply oozes cool from start to finish, whilst also adding a little funk courtesy of the bouncy bass and crisp lead guitar on the hook. Syd’s vocals are excellent again, moving from a delicate yet emotional delivery in the verses through to an incredibly catchy and mellow chorus that’ll rattle around your brain for weeks.

The video is an easygoing one, featuring the band performing the track in minimal surroundings, filtered through a monchrome style, and making for an uncomplicated accompaniment to the track. Look out for a Chad Hugo cameo- not out of context either, as he’s contributed to the production on the new LP. If you’re of eclectic tastes, it’s the type of track you’ll constantly go back to as safe, fallback listening in a few months when you’re not sure what to listen to- until then, it’s a fantastically smooth jam that I’ll play to death, and has hugely upped expectations for Feel Good.

The Internet-Partners In Crime Part Two

the internet
The duo have announced their Feel Good album will land on 24th September, and if it’s anywhere near as good as Purple Naked Ladies (and its bonus tracks EP), it’ll be a thoroughly excellent project. They’ve mentioned that the new album will be more representative of their live performances, and hence I’d expect it to be a little less synthy and atmospheric, and a touch sharper and more upbeat- not bad changes at all, and a sideways move that should still allow their inherent mellow qualities to shine through.

The original Partners In Crime remains one of my absolute favourites from their back catalogue, and its sequel is a clear representation of that stylistic switch. They’ve retained some small vocal portions from the original, creating a nice bridge between the two parts, whilst backing it with crisp, lively percussion and a jazzy set of melodies that both enhance the upbeat qualities and add in more relaxing elements. It’s a good backdrop, and one that both contrasts and works with Syd’s wonderfully smooth vocals to good effect. Truthfully, if you’re a fan of the original, it’ll take a lot of getting used to as all of the synth-driven night pop elements of the first part have been thrown out for this multi-instrument effort- if you can take it independently of part one though, it’s musically superb. Looking forward to more from the new LP.

The Foreign Exchange-Call It Home/Pity

New material from this duo will always make my day. They drop the Love In Flying Colors album on 24th September, and this lead single, with it’s non-album B-side, make for a great start.

Call It Home is a smooth slice of R&B/soul, opening in a delicate manner that combines Nicolay’s airy, gentle synths with soft piano touches to good effect. The track bursts into life by throwing a quick yet relatively understated percussion line underneath the aforementioned melodic elements, along with a sharper synth line that adds a lively electronic edge. Phonte’s vocals are wonderfully mellow throughout, playing off the relaxed elements well whilst tempering the more upbeat pieces of the production, rounding off the track nicely.

Pity, the B-side, is a much more consistently laidback affair. The backdrop contains very little percussion for the first two-thirds, meandering along at an easy pace via synths that create a night time vibe, but with a cold, atmospheric edge- compared to the above track, it’s much more structured and less dynamic, and hence it allows Phonte’s vocal and lyrical work to be spotlighted a little more, which is wise given its rather emotional nature. TFE have a habit of making music that suits winter excellently, and with those cold months drawing near, these two fit the bill brilliantly. That album can’t come soon enough.

John Legend-Love In The Future (Full Album Stream)

A fortnight ago, the music scene was ablaze with hype (mostly thanks to Kendrick’s Control verse), so it’s disappointing that the last week has been completely barren in comparison. That lull is over, and in a big way today.

John Legend’s latest LP is due out on 3rd September, and an expectant soul crowd awaits what will surely be another great addition to his already-strong back catalogue. John’s unquestionable vocal gifts make him such a versatile performer, and an underrated one at that, which should bode well for an album that’s seen singles of rather differing styles released ahead of the full project’s arrival- he’s known more for his slower, soulful ballads but we’ve had midtempo and uptempo tracks from him both recently and in the past, and let’s hope that same level of diversity is present here. Stream below, and pre-order the thing if you’re a fan.

Daley-Songs That Remind Me of You EP

The talented Mancunian dropped off a video of the same name a short while back, and now returns with this 3-track EP, featuring the title track and two brand new efforts to accompany it.

With his Days and Nights album hopefully on its way soon, it’s great to get some new material from Daley to keep that buzz going and satiate the fans until that gets a firm release date. He is, of course, one of our nation’s finest upcoming talents, seamlessly working across soul, pop and R&B confines as and when he chooses, and with plenty of mainstream exposure under his belt across the last 12 months, this free EP will hopefully add to his growing reputation and establishment within the UK music scene. He’s got plenty of admirers internationally too, with Maxwell publicly praising his work (likely down to his sublime Pretty Wings cover), and it’s surely only a matter of time before Daley becomes one of soul’s leading lights.

I got massively carried away there. Stream and download available in the accompanying widget.

Jesse Boykins III-P.O.P. (Purpose or People) EP

Longtime OTU favourite Jesse Boykins III returns to the spotlight with his latest EP release, an extensive 13-track project that packs in a variety of covers, remixes and original material.

It’s a mixture of new and old material, and whilst long term fans will see 1 or 2 familiar tracks amongst the list, it’s mostly fresh work that has plenty of potential. Artists covered include Coldplay, Lana Del Rey, Drake and Chris Brown, and should provide a nice platform for JB3′s superb vocals to flourish in different sound environments; whilst he’s primarily praised for his more laidback work, there are some tracks on here that will undoubtedly require a heavier, more emotional approach, and I fully expect the talented upcomer to prove his worth once more. Stream only for now, but fear not as a download is due to follow soon, and will come packaged ‘with unheard goodies’. Improve your evening and check that stream out now.

For a little accompanying reading, check out his interview with RBMA here, where he speaks on both this EP and his upcoming solo LP.

Mayer Hawthorne-Where Does This Door Go (Full Album Stream)

There’s only a week to go until Mayer’s album lands, and the good chaps over at NPR have grabbed an early stream of the LP for listeners to enjoy. The previously-released Her Favorite Song has proven a strong, enduring single, and certainly offer hope ahead of this album’s release.

It feels as though it’s Mayer’s time for mainstream success, and appearances from Kendrick Lamar and Pharrell on this project will certainly help that cause. He’s vocally gifted and lyrically talented, and the only unpredictable variable is his choice of productions- signs suggest he’s not rooting completely in the vintage stylings of his back catalogue, and is rather infusing that with a more modern soul approach for the best of both worlds. All assumptions in truth, and only a listen of the album below will provide answers. Be sure to support next week.

Mayer Hawthorne-Where Does This Door Go (Stream)

Janelle Monae-Dance Apocalypse (Video)

Janelle Monae goes classic popstar for her latest video, the second single from The Electric Lady, due for a 10th September release.

With her incredibly versatile vocal abilities and fantastic stage presence, Janelle’s pretty much got free reign with the style of music she puts out. Her dependable level of performance and infectious energy add the consistency to bind the diversity of her work together, and that variety is on show once again- whilst Q.U.E.E.N. came on a more soul-funk tip, this one seems to throw back to the sounds of the 60s (and even earlier), with bouncy yet light guitars, fast-paced percussion and backing vocals that add a ton of melody to proceedings. Janelle’s vocals are upbeat, positive and high-tempo, keeping pace with that rapid drum line well, whilst having plenty of catchy rhythmic sections to get listeners singing along. It’s an addictive, energetic ride that you’ll find rather easy to replay.

The video is another fun effort from Monae, and hangs well with the uptempo vibe of the track. Monae (literally) lets her hair down and pretty much gets wild, demonstrating her inimitable on-screen magnetism with a passionate performance that makes a mockery of the relatively regular environment the vidoe is set in. She looks great, she sounds fantastic, and with this audiovisual Monae once again proves to be one of the most complete acts in music today. That album cannot come soon enough.

Mayer Hawthorne-Her Favorite Song (Video)

After recently releasing an official remix (by Large Professor, no less) of this single, Mayer continues to give it a push with the official video for the Jessie Ware-assisted original.

Aside from the unexpected deluge of canine companions, it’s a video that captures the essence of the audio cleanly and accurately. The unadulterated sleaze of the melodies fits the dim club scene well, and of course adds context to the presence of dogs in place of men, with the suggestion that the attending males are all basically just dogs anyway- not complicated and a bit of fun, which will certainly raise some smiles as they end up filling the role quite accurately. Plus, the massive dog wearing sunglasses that appears towards the end looks like a total legend.

Mayer’s stage presence is enjoyable, even if it is just in very short bursts, with the old-school microphone and supporting band keeping a link back to his vintage stylings, whilst his ‘image’ appears to have been cleaned up a tad and comes across a little slicker now-the crisp suits are still there, but gone are the glasses, and there’s a little Michael Buble about him now. Worth a watch, and a good accompaniment to an excellent audio.

Janelle Monae-Q.U.E.E.N. Remix ft. Erykah Badu and Prince

For most artists, getting Prince on a remix is not only an honour, but a massive surprise. Here however, it’s not actually that shocking, given both the funky vibe of the track and the eclectic nature of the two talented ladies involved, and instead it feels like a rather natural fit.

The production is retooled to pull back a little on the bouncy, upbeat elements and instead Prince throws in sleazy, late 80s/early 90s-style melodies for a throwback vibe that works perfectly with the original vocals. The addition of thick, chunky bass is what really anchors that retro vibe, evoking memories of the funk-inspired hip-hop beats Digital Underground often favoured, whilst the the retention of the more vintage pieces in the original production only serve to further that trip down memory lane. Sadly, there’s no vocal contribution on this potentially-unfinished version, but we can hold out hope that we’ll get a sprinkling of Prince’s unique delivery on a proper release for this remix. Nonetheless, it’s a good rework of the Janelle Monae single that doesn’t stray too far from its original charm.

-Stream removed by request

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.

Quadron-Better Off ft. Kendrick Lamar

quadron avalanche
Most collaborations are rather predictable, partly because many take place across hip-hop, but here Quadron unexpectedly bring their chillout style together with the rap smarts of Kendrick for a strong track.

Whereas their lead single was a switch in sound for Quadron, this effort is a return to their mellow roots and a track that will satisfy their longtime fans, whilst also providing the newer fans (this collab will create many, I’m sure) a glimpse into what they’re best at. The production is a laidback blend of gentle percussion, soft yet progressive synths and a couple of warm melodies that’ll probably land you on a beach holiday in mere seconds. It grows with time too, incorporating livelier, more exuberant melodies to match Coco’s considerable vocal gifts, with her initially delicate vocals bursting with vivacity as that production evolves. Her performance is typically flawless throughout, whilst Kendrick again shows he’s adapatable to almost any production type, with a watertight delivery packed into an easygoing cadence that blends well with the backdrop; he does it so effectively that his stuttered line quite cleverly breaks the entire track’s flow, and certainly commands attention. Velvety-smooth goodness from Quadron once again, and be sure to grab the Avalanche LP on 4th June.

Mayer Hawthorne-Her Favorite Song ft. Jessie Ware

mayer hawthorne jessie ware
Yes. All day yes. Two of my favourite vocalists in the business right now hook up for the first single from Hawthorne’s upcoming album, titled Where Does This Door Go and due out on 16th July, and it’s an excellent track that should get Mayer the widespread attention he’s deserved for a few years now.

The production is a lusciously-layered piece, with funky, bassy guitars adding a vintage soul feel, whilst the accompaniment of thunderous percussion and additional samples brings a modern pop twist; the combination is wholly successful throughout the verses, and culminates in a soft hook packed with airy synths, making for a great transition point between the verses. It’s nice to hear a hook used as a cool-down section rather than the track’s high point of intensity and Jessie Ware’s vocals are perfectly suited to that duty, with her gentle delivery meshing seamlessly with the production and also contrasting Mayer’s own performance. His work is a good blend between his regular soulful style and a more punchy delivery, with the latter synergising with those bouncy guitars in the verses, whilst the former makes for a comfortable segue into the hook. He closes off with a set of additional vocals in the chorus section, adding an upbeat element to Jessie’s hook, closing off a collaboration that I expect to play to death this summer.

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

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.

John Legend-The Beginning

It’s been some time since there was even the remotest of suggestions that a John Legend album was on the way, but 5 years on and we’re getting his next album, Love In The Future, this year.

Don’t let the futuristic title fool you. This is classic John Legend, and rather than lace his fantastic vocals with synths and such, the single has John on a more stripped-back style than we’re accustomed to from him. The instrumentation is gripping from the moment you press play, throwing gentle violins in with more distinct string plucks and chunky percussion for a production that’s got trademark soul elements, exotic features and a strong R&B anchor in the drums. I’d imagine every superlative has already been used for John’s vocals, but they’re as good as you’d hope for here, soaring and passionate in the hook versus relative placidity in the verses, with both also benefitting from the sporadic and likeable inclusion of distinct backing vocals. A great way to kick off the album hype for John, and I’m sincerely looking forward to more from the LP.

KING-In The Meantime

If I settled down and listened to some non-stop KING, I already know they’d become one of my favoured acts in today’s soul scene. Unfortunately, that never seems to quite happen, but with this latest release from their upcoming album those chances are about to increase.

A soft, mellow backdrop comprised of delicate synths, bassy yet subtle percussion, and gentle flashes of additional samples and instrumentation, the production makes for an easygoing backdrop throughout the verses, with short bursts of energy pulsing in and out to enliven the hook. The vocals are, of course, beautifully relaxed throughout the verses, with the multi-layered vocals packing emotion and positivity into a relatively laidback vibe, whilst the verses offer a slight upgrade in terms of intensity and passion. It’s one of those tracks that you can’t really do justice by breaking it down as I have above; throw it on and prepare to be completely relaxed by its debonair charm.

Ryan McDermott-No Se

no se
Feast on it. the musings of my mind as the sky fallls over the heads of ballet dancers. the life opera #NoSe

With every release, Ryan’s displaying precisely why he’s a G.O.O.D. Music representative, and why he’s a vocalist with a ton of hype and potential around him right now. Though this is only a short track, designed to be an interlude on his upcoming mixtape, there’s more than enough here to satisfy his current fans and get him a few new ones. The leftfield Pepe Aguilar sample sets this off excellently, with the classical instrumentation and gentle vocal sample providing a vintage and soulful backdrop, upon which Ryan offers emotional vocals containing observational, commentatorial lyricism. That combination results in a heartfelt and meaningful performance that will surely whet the appetite ahead of that mixtape’s release, and if you’re not already familiar, get familiar.

Allen Stone-Celebrate Tonight (Video)

The latest single from Allen Stone’s self-titled album, and another one that will endear him further to those soul heads.

Whilst his music is generally positive, this effort is about as upbeat and lively as he’s been, and it’s a style that suits him. The track opens in a subdued manner, with Allen crooning over little more than intermittent percussion hits, before the gradual inclusion of more instrumentation to build to the bright, vivacious hook. The track alternates between those two styles once more, before the vocals crank upwards to inject the track with even more warm positivity, making the climax a good example of infectious, catchy vocal work. The lengthy credits section offer another track, even livelier than its predecessor, with a fast-paced instrumental backdrop supporting sharp vocal work that rides along the musical backdrop with great control and rhythm.

If a video ever deserved to be called ‘nice’, this is it. It’s a feelgood clip set in a retirement home, as Allen performs for a group of delighted old folk, with their individual expressions and actions being a heartwarming watch. He’s probably poking fun at the view some hold that soul is for ‘old people’ too, and the carefree attitude of all involved here shows how little that viewpoint matters. A purely positive audiovisual, get the album now.