Albums of the year – June 2016
It’s a rare thing to be able to describe a musician as unique. Even artists with a rare talent will borrow elements from those that have come before them.
So when Mvula arrived on the scene in 2013 with a sound that was difficult to reference, the music world had no choice but to pay attention. Her debut, Sing to the Moon, won critical acclaim and nudged her into the limelight. But although it was an album to admire, it wasn’t necessarily one to love.
Its follow up, The Dreaming Room, corrected this. Throwing away the rulebook of song structure, it got the balance between the unfamiliar and accessibility spot on. ‘Round the mountain all God’s children run’ she repeated over and over until it was permanently lodged inside our heads. It was just one example of how she transformed nursery style chants into enticing melodies.
Mvula proved she wasn’t one to be steered by her collaborators. Nile Rogers brought an element of funk to Overcome, Wretch 32 added grit to People, and the London Symphony Orchestra provided instrumentation throughout. But, remarkably, The Dreaming Room didn’t sound like anyone but Mvula herself.
Darker than her debut, Mvula openly discussed her marriage breakdown, severe panic attacks and touched upon racism. Yet the topics she addressed never felt forced or preachy, just honest. Even a short skit involving her Nan had sincerity about it, finding its way onto the track-list to help give context to the album’s finale; Phenomenon Woman. By far its most accessible song, you could almost here a sigh of relief from her management as the pulsating groove kicked in. Yet, for all its joy, it felt a little misplaced being tacked on at the end.
It’s a minor gripe. Overall, Mvula succeeded in making the one thing her peers couldn’t seem to manage; a confident album that you wanted to listen to from start to finish.
Blood Orange: Freetown Sound
Mitski: Puberty 2