Another week, another album from Awful. The loose, messy Atlanta collective appear to have replaced sleeping with chaining themselves to laptops, and the last few months have seen the label produce more beats than chucking out time at Romford ‘Spoons. In a musical landscape dreary with glisteningly polished turds, this is a blessing. As with most of the labels output, Rose, the new long player from Awful’s first lady of soul, has a way-beyond-fair quota of stripped, fat free genius. Inevitably this coexists with a few dashed off moments that probably could have done with a week or two’s extra thought, but fuck it; better chicly under dressed than done up like a dogs dinner.
Rose is at heart an RnB album, albeit one that treats the genre as a sinuous, pliable canvas. From the languid Fruit, where house piano stabs at slow jam pace and snare drums crack under Abra’s yearn, to the Casio soundbank disco love of Roses XOXO, the album poses and answers a question: what happens when an artist steeped in hip hop makes a record where the rough edges are left in? Where the beats are made in late night living rooms rather than million dollar studios? Where the autotune is given a break and the cracked notes stay? The results are both reassuringly old skool and intriguingly forward facing; old skool in how the lack of autotune allows some refreshing grit to enter Abra’s soulful delivery, and also in her tendency towards throwback sound palettes (Shot in particular sounds like it’s made on stalwart 90s drum machine the Roland R-70). The modernity is most apparent in her embrace of low end throb, with sub frequencies, somewhere between menacing and sexy, sliding round the brittle kick drums like oil on glass. It’s worth noting that Abra has produced the entire album as well as showcasing her remarkable voice- in a balanced world this in itself would see her picking up the kind of praise heaped on FKA Twigs. But Awful are resolutely indie, the mainstream media is resolutely conservative, and we don’t live in a balanced world.
There are moments that flag a touch – tracks U Kno and No Chill end up sounding like weaker clones of the albums high points, but considering Abra has already a put out a six track EP, and four singles since last December, with none of the material repeated on Rose, it’s fairly certain that she’s not short of ideas, and this is more a by-product of the rapidity with which she bangs out material...
I’d hate to see the album filed under ‘Alt RnB’, although I suspect it might be. When I think of Alt RnB I think of people who never dance making music for people who can’t dance, and this isn’t a record for either. Instead Rose is what RnB should be- inventive, sensual, danceable and heavy with soul. It’s got the intimacy and immediacy of a punch or a kiss, and deserves the impact of both. It’s not perfect, maybe, but then neither is life. Recommended.