1. Aaliyah – Enough Said (Feat. Drake)
Naysayers can get as preachy and apoplectic as they like, but we’d suggest that the emergence of a new Aaliyah song is a cause solely for celebration. Whilst there are valid concerns that this posthumously released material could easily enter trainwreck territory (if say Guetta or RedOne is allowed anywhere near it), it seems pretty clear that Drake‘s lefthand man Noah “40” Shebib is one of a very small handful of producers whose musical nous can be confidently trusted to do the project justice. Indeed, it’s in large part his gentle, slinky take on things that has reinvigorated the kind of R&B that was so prevalent at the peak of Aaliyah’s far-too-brief career. In a landscape of often overblown studio ideas, this track stands out as a beautiful, understated and surprisingly emotional piece of bliss. With mutterings that Timbaland and Missy may also be on board as the album progresses, exciting times lie ahead. [N.B. As an added and clearly amazing bonus Drake namechecks our favourite football loon Mario Balotelli in his verse]
2. Elle Varner – Refill
Also offering up some irresistible R&B vibes is talented newcomer Elle Varner, albeit vibes with a very different energy to our dearly beloved Aaliyah. Varner’s approach is one that draws more influence from the neo-soul movement, with Jill Scott and Erykah Badu coming through strongly both in her freeform vocal delivery and the jazzy production techniques that envelope it. ‘Perfectly Imperfect’, Varner’s debut LP, was released on Monday and is an incredibly accomplished piece of work with a number of highlights, our choice cut being ‘Refill’ (although ‘Stop The Clock’ is a very close runner up). This is partly due to the excellent performance by Varner herself, but equally due to the peculiar instrumental that asserts itself just as strongly. We never thought we’d be imagining Rednex, The Levellers or perhaps The Wurzels whilst grinding to a sensual jam, but the country fiddle that plays throughout ‘Refill’ conjures up such thoughts. A hybrid that sounds terrible and ridiculous in theory, but in fact may serve as the litmus paper for a hot new movement of country-infused R&B. We would however avoid the remix – Wale sounds pretty good, but the fiddle is one instrument that DEFINITELY never needed to make friends with T-Pain.
3. Breach – You Won’t Find Love Again
Continuing the smooth feelings contained within this post thus far, we move onto Breach, who may be known better to you as soulful house stalwart Ben Westbeech. Breach is the moniker that Westbeech generally adopts for his bassier and more urban productions, most notably on the panpipe-infused UK funky smasher ‘Fatherless‘. Accordingly we were expecting something similarly placed at the moodier end of the spectrum on new single ‘You Won’t Find Love Again’, first showcased (like oh so many exclusives these days) in a set live from the Boiler Room. The song actually straddles the divide between both aliases pretty equally – housey in tempo and vocal, but more urban in regards to it’s levels of bass and how that bass skips around in a garagey manner. It’s a deceptively simple track, but owing to it’s perfectly balanced elements and killer flourishes, one that has become deeply entrenched into our hearts, minds and souls.
4. Capital Cities – One Minute More
Capital Cities are a band we’ve been following for about a year now, having grabbed our attention with their fun beardy approach to DIY electropop, excellent saxophone-heavy single ‘Safe and Sound‘ and with a cover of Madonna‘s ‘Holiday‘ that is arguably an improvement on the original. Evidently though, we were not paying quite enough attention as we should’ve been as another of their singles ‘One Minute More’, released in April last year, passed us by completely. The payoff of this is effectively being gifted with a new single and hearing it with completely fresh ears. It’s exactly what we’ve come to expect from the boys – soaring melodies, gleeful synth-laden production and a sprinkling of disco all combined with great hooks to create a song that keeps on giving with repeated listens. Capital Cities reputation has been steadily building, predominantly stateside, but if the quality control stays this high we could definitely see a breakthrough happening next year.
5. Gemma Hayes – Waiting For You
Finishing this round up off on the gentle note upon which it began is Gemma Hayes, a woman who has been a cornerstone of our musical collection for the last ten years. Hayes’ 2002 album ‘Night On My Side’ earned a Mercury nomination alongside our teenage adoration and her career since has been accomplished, steady and pleasantly modest. Pleasantly modest, we say, because Hayes’ luscious indie pop is often perceptibly intimate, a feeling cemented by being ‘in the know’ about the three albums that have been put out since her debut with little fanfare but joyful appreciation from those committed to her. Hayes’ latest effort ‘Let It Break’ is perhaps her most consistent release to date, with just the right balance of melodic, driving indie and more restrained folky affairs. Of the latter, we’re head over heels in love with ‘Waiting For You’, a heartwarming love song, gently strummed, complemented by banjo and sung in the beautiful hushed tones that Hayes excels at. A truly lovely song, in every sense of the word.