68:05 min • Island • July 26, 2013
John Preston reviews
AlunaGeorge have already achieved an incredible amount in a very short space of a time. It’s less than a year since their first official single, the haunting and sonically ever shifting ‘Your Drums, Your Love’. London based Aluna Francis (vocals) and George Reid (production) have already created a ‘sound’ that is instantly identifiable. In that respect they are more on a par with the R ‘n’ B super producers of the late nineties/early noughties, who were less successful with their own projects (see in particular the early solo albums of Timbaland and Pharrell Williams with N.E.R.D.) but had a sound that was undeniably theirs and hugely desirable to other artists mainly because it sold by the cart-load – and it also provided some cool when it was urgently required (Britney, Justin and any other Mouseketeer I may have missed out). It’s the other way around with AlunaGeorge, and their success is with their own band rather than work with other artists, at least for now. Unsurprisingly the remix requests already appear to be coming in thick and fast (see their work with US hipster idols Dirty Projectors on ‘The Socialites’).
The AlunaGeorge sound is maybe best described as fluid and ‘watery’ (this is exemplified on tracks like ‘Diver’ – and even lyrically “I’ve been treading water for your love” on ‘Your Drums, Your Love’). Adjectives like shimmering and skimming immediately come to mind and this is combined with a harder, more disjointed sound of the pitched cut ups of Francis’ voice or an isolated synth line with the genre firmly established as R ’n’ B and highly polished, late nineties British two-step and garage. In addition to this, with the most successful example being the fantastically snarling ‘Attracting Flies’, there are out-and-out pop songs where Aluna sounds like an urban Lily Allen (Allen not actually being urban, but don’t tell her that). Aluna Francis’ voice is what’s best described as youthful. She can at times bring to mind a slinky Aaliyah, in particular on the excellent slowie ‘Friends To Lovers’, which is the most mid-’90s indebted American R ‘n’ B track here ( I won’t mention the Montell Jordan cover version of ‘This is How We Do It’ – quality control alert!). But on the poppier tracks it’s high pitched and pushy. It’s not a live voice necessarily but it’s a very engaging and charismatic studio one.
Tracks like ‘Diver’, one of the half dozen songs heard prior to the album’s release, uses the cut up, sped up and disconcerting vocal effects to create an additional hook and mood (their best tracks are all about creating a mood) that is equal to the strong melodies already contained within the song. This is undoubtedly their strength but is also where Body Music on occasion sags with the misuse of this formula. If the song-writing fails, as it does on occasion, then it seems the more manic and overwhelming these effects become as if to make up for, or distract from, the lack of a conventional tune. A case in point being the whizzing, stutter splutter of ‘Best Be Believing’, which struggles in vain to locate a noticeable chorus and the lethargic but intermittently hyper title track. ‘You Know You Like It’, the oldest song here, pumps and throttles away for 4 minutes, however, and is an astounding track that production wise you would have been pushed to find in the UK even 5 years ago. This is changing now of course with the likes of Rudimental and Disclosure (complete with a high profile feature from AlunaGeorge) also releasing high quality but uneven, bass and garage debut albums this year, but they can’t yet compete with AlunaGeorge’s sonic niche.
There’s no doubt that half of this album is brilliant and it’s most certainly the first half. The concern for AlunaGeorge will be where to go now with their sound. The weaker tracks here are the newer ones, and if like me you’re listening to the deluxe version of Body Music, which has 19 songs, no remixes, you will familiar be with the concept of repetition of a successful formula to the point where you’ve nodded off. There is talent here and originality, not easy things to come by at any period in contemporary music, regardless of what some may tell you. If AlunaGeorge can continue to make music that keeps them interested, music they would listen to, then this is a duo could become one of the most influential and important acts the UK R ’n’ B scene has experienced for a long time, in the meantime this will do nicely.