Words About Music
British singer/producer Kwes. hasn’t been in the business of making music for too long, which is obvious considering the fact that the oddly titled “ilp.” is his debut album. “Ilp.” is a highly experimental R&B/pop record that doesn’t stray too far from the style that James Blake set out to create and simultaneously master. Wobbly bass synths, minimalistic percussion, unorthodox song structure, and beautiful vocals all set this album up for a fascinating sound, that uses a lot of Mr. Blake’s ideas and brings them into more ambient territories. There’s rarely a distinct rhythm and the songs change so much within the songs that you can practically feel the ideas bouncing off the wall, but it’s still incredibly coherent and not experimental in a way that can be unrewarding or indulgent.
Kwes., whoever he is, is very obviously inspired by the golden age of hip hop, acid house, the ambient stylings of people like Aphex Twin, UK garage, and R&B of nearly every decade. Dilla and Nujabes influences also manage to make their way into this expansive release, but this album feels less like a tribute to those artists and styles and more like a continuation in the evolution of musical ideals. In a word, “ilp.” is beautiful. Kwes.’s vocals are soft and not at all too overbearing, yet they still take the forefront in a way that’s not too flashy.
“Freepop” is the name of the game that Kwes. plays, and that genre title makes complete sense upon hearing the contents of this record. The lyrics are singsongy in a way that could fit perfectly in a traditional pop song, but Kwes. isn’t bound by the usual laws of pop music, hence the label. Although, one can’t help but see just how prominent the James Blake similarities are. Even Kwes.’s voice sounds quite a bit like James, which definitely detracts the credibility of this album for me. There’s nothing wrong with playing music that sounds like someone else. In fact, it’s inevitable. But when you sound this much like another person, it can make the music a bit hard to enjoy.
Fortunately, Kwes. is capable of making this album interesting through the use of beautiful, soundscape-like instrumentals that make up about 80% of what makes this album so good. Say what you will about the similarities to other artists (as I already have), “ilp.” is nothing if not a completely beautiful record. It’s been produced incredibly well. It’s psychedelic shoegaze ambient R&B trip hop for the soul, and for the most part it’s pretty brilliant. Some of the lyrics feel a little bit tired and not every vocal delivery is perfect (some of these songs feel like experimental Chris Martin solo tracks at points) but for the most part “ilp.” is a solid debut at the beginning of a promising career. And in the days of everyone with a computer releasing debut albums on shoestring budgets, that’s hard to come by.
GRADE – 7.9
FAVORITE TRACKS – 36, Rollerblades, Cablecar, Flowers, Hives, Parakeet, B_shf_l