Friday, August 16, 2013

back-to-the-future R&B

"In the most direct way, we're trying to be post-Timbaland," says Kelela Mizanekristos, one of several new female artists operating in the realm of what could be termed experimental R&B. "We're taking that sound and pushing it. I remember the day I first heard what Timbaland and Aaliyah did -
– that intersection of her pretty voice and his weird, resonant production. I remember where I was and what I was doing. It was a major situation. We're trying to continue that legacy." -- from Paul Lester's Guardian article "Beyond Timbaland: the future stars of experimental R&B"

So if the last thing Timbo did of even half-note was this -

and of actual full-note was this, from 2002,

Is that effectively an argument that R&B has been more or less static for a decade?

It wouldn't take a lot to convince me. Jaw-drop moments, prior to the big Euroclub whiteout of last three years (which has been jawdropping more for the early-90s-Ibiza-LoveParade flashback factor) would for me comprise  "Umbrella", "Single Ladies" and...  nah, not even The-Dream albums really, which struck me as a baroque-ification of already established production and vocal arrangement traits.

Well, there's been the dubstep-meets-R&B tunes...  like that nasty but desolately weird Chris Br**n tune "Look At Me Now". Odious but undeniable jarring on the radio.

But back to that other 'orrible little man, Mr T....

So really what Kelela is talking about in terms of "restarting the future" is that period when T used Aaliyah as "a probe" (as he put it):


1998 and 1996

That's the high point that they are trying to be "post", to be build from.  The late Nineties. Chiming again with Jaron Lanier's (in)famous challenge "find me some music from the late 2000s that's distinguishable from the music of the late 90s"

What does it sound like, though, this future-R&B, this R&B restarted, the pause button released?

"Enemy" by Kelela, is pretty good -  a song draped over a grimestrumental from 2003-4 or an early track by Plasticman.  Gets a bit more adventurous, like screwed-footwork, further in.  But there doesn't seem to be much relation between the vocal and the beat.   (Whereas with something overtly retro-nuevo, e.g. "Blurred Lines", the vocals weave through rhythm, form a funky warp 'n' weft that breathes. [Or perhaps pants is the operative word in this case]. As such an anachronism, yes).

Most of the other candidates are bit cloud-y for my tastes. Taking the name Kid A is a bit of a give away. I was about to write like "Shek'spere if he recorded for Morr Music" but then saw the Guardian's own description, "Ciara if she had been on the 4AD label in 1985"

1 comment:

  1. Funny thing being: That I remember back in the late '90s there being a little critical debate over this sort of thing -- re, the state of hiphop. There'd been that sudden bumper crop of "indie" acts who grounded themselves in mid-oldskool "basic elements": Jurassic 5, People Under the Stairs, Rasco, et al., plus all the turntablist stuff which was quite prevalent for a brief while.

    And I recall a critic or two arguing at the time that it all epitomized a reversal of the usual "alternative" criteria, in that the indie hiphop scene was mired in revivalism and was thus aesthetically "conservative." Whereas what was then going on with the mainstream end of the spectrum (citing Busta, Missy and Aaliyah as backed by Timbaland, et al) made the pop side of things the domain where all the experimentation, innovation, and formula-flipping were taking place. Or so the argument went.

    Of course, that was then. Five years later lots of things had changed and nobody was having that discussion anymore, because it'd all been rendered pointless/inapplicable.