The Guardian called her a “new genre” and “Gospedelia” rolls nicely off the tongue and she certainly has a sound of her own – but this isn’t it. She cites her influences as Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Nina Simone and gospel but I don’t hear her talking much about psychedelia. Instead I wonder how a reviewer could not even mention anything about African roots in her music? It’s there amongst everything else, that’s all.
Laura Mvula grew up in Birmingham and was completely unknown until the release of this, her debut album, Sing To The Moon. Shortlisted for the Mercury Music Prize critics award (incidentally won by Tom Odell who was famously awarded 0/10 in the NME review of his debut album – something to be proud of I would say). But it’s not like that for Laura Mvula, as she has been universally acclaimed. It’s the blend of styles that makes her unique.
Heavy harmonies start the album on Like The Morning Dew, although for a girl from Birmingham she pronounces ‘dew’ American style – or is that how people say it these days? The sparse verse has that African feel I was talking about, but there’s also that Bon Iver/Fleet Foxes sound. This collision of styles is what makes her interesting. The instrumentation and production makes me realise that this is a collaboration not a solo record, Steve Brown’s sonic ideas swamp the record and her.
Strings introduce Make Me Lovely, a keyboard tinkering in the background. It’s such an odd sound on this song, is it jazz, is it pop, is it indie? The credits tell me it’s real instruments and yet this record is so clean, somehow they have managed to make warm instruments sound like cold samples. It’s also one of those cleverly programmed albums, at times you can tell as the fingers do what a drummer wouldn’t, and that may be the modern way, but I miss the human feel in these kind of records, they date more quickly than when the people are involved.
Green Garden’s has hand claps and a toy gamelan rhythm with layers of processed harmonies. The vocal suggests it could be a Nina Simone song, but mixed with this processed sound, its soul is lobotomized. It has that M People “I’m going to be a car advert very soon” sound about it – too much perfection, too much knowledge about recording. The talk is of a fantastic career ahead of her, a star is born, but you can see why she didn’t win the prize, it’s not quite there. I’ve listened to this album 5 times now and the more I listen the more I crave a broken string. The frustrating thing is that she has it, she breaks and cracks, she emotes. Can’t Live With The World and Is There Anybody Out There?, could be Prefab Sprout backing tracks with a different vocalist. The programmed drums under all the multi layered harmonies detracts rather than enhances her – it makes Sting sound like The Ramones. The strings play interesting patterns and the ideas are great, but the sheen of the record makes it more like a subtle sonic showroom display at the forefront, rather than the expression of a talented artist.
I imagine she’d be great live, with the cracks and the uncertainty of the stage. (In fact I have had a mail that says she is out of this world). I long for that in this record and it isn’t there. In the meantime songs follow each other deeper into the album. She, was the first track from her 2012 EP and again she delivers something meaningful overshadowed by expertise. One of the best tracks on the record is the title track Sing To The Moon, but all the production is so samey that even when the music takes interesting turns and has beautiful strings, it washes away her lyrical pleas. The next song Flying Without You should’ve been left off the record, especially coming after the title track, but it get’s hard to tell the great songs from average ones because the sound has become too important. There’s way too much harp and BMW owners on this record, I’m waiting for the Mike Sammes singers to appear! And I mean the version that appeared on the Val Doonican show and not I Am The Walrus! There are also some home demos that show that she is partly responsible for the smoothness, but not totally – it’s just way too smooth for me, but maybe not for people who live in Surrey with a German car and have little time for music research.
This is one of the first times I have liked something – that I can’t like! It’s not her and the record is full to the brim of clever musicality and interesting arrangements. It’s a blandness that pervades the songs and a soul sucking linear studio dazzle that Laura Mvula doesn’t need to be that star she was born to be in the future.