Why Manchester is the new creative epicentre of neo-soul and hip-hop
I can pinpoint the specific date that I first heard Kindness. It was 19th September 2009, and I was listening to Erol Alkan’s show on BBC 6 Music. A bubbling, arpeggiated synth line came in, followed by some incredible lo-fi vocals: “bring your own lampshade, somewhere there’s a party…” It was his take on Swinging Party, which I later learnt was a cover of a song by The Replacements. I was hooked, and desperately sought out more. Scouring the internet, I discovered a couple of other songs on Myspace: a daft video for the unbelievably funky yet infuriatingly short Gee Up, and a no wave-style live performance from the Philadelphia Institute For Advanced Study, one which included a droning cover of Cerrone’s disco classic Supernature and Robbie Williams’ baffling Rudebox. Here seemed to be an artist that could take on weirdo disco with an indie kid’s attitude, which at the time was everything that I wanted from an artist. It took a couple of years for ‘World, You Need A Change Of Mind’ to finally materialize, but the wait for patient fans was rewarded, although not in the most obvious way.
The great thing about Kindness is that he’s clever. He’s so clever that our own Ruth Saxelby declared that he should have a PhD in pop music. He’s so clever that on ‘World, You Need A Change Of Mind’ he seemed to distil the entire history of recorded music into 10 simple tracks. He’s so clever that he understands that “letting the music do the talking” is a lie; that the reason a great pop artist can take you to another dimension is the personality and the image behind it all. He knows that in order to make a brilliant album, you have to make sure that everything that surrounds it is brilliant, too. A lot of this was achieved with his music videos: the beautiful tracking-shot clip for Cyan, the hilariously self-referential, big budget remake of the original Gee Up video from 2009, a live performance with go-go group Troublefunk for That’s Alright. There was other stuff, too – that documentary about the DC go-go scene, or the fact that the Philadelphia Institute for Advanced Study isn’t necessarily a real place, or the elegant photography that adorned his album and single covers. This was all world-building, and it created an alternate universe that Kindness seemed to occupy alone, one where go-go was as big as brostep, one where pop songs like Cyan are allowed to end in a minute-long wash of Vangelis-style synths, one where people aren’t so instinctively cynical that a cover of the Eastenders theme can be accepted as an earnest love letter to the power of music rather than an ironic exercise.
Kindness – Cyan
Few albums, let alone debut albums, have hits like That’s Alright or House on them, songs which would probably be classics if they weren’t released in the hyper-evolving musical landscape of 2012, songs which are classics in Kindness’ alternate universe. Meanwhile, Cyan boasts the most gorgeous vocal line to appear on an album this year, so much more than the mere Arthur Russell imitation that many critics have reductively brushed it off as, while Gee Up hones in on a groove that so many artists spend their whole career searching for, its brief running time leaving you begging for more (Erol Alkan was the one to rectify this in the end, releasing a long edit of it that feels in the vein of the classic extended 12” mix). It was this combination of music and worldview that made Kindness one of the most exciting figures to emerge in 2012.
Kindness – That’s Alright
And that’s what matters the most – because if you were to just let the music do the talking on ‘World, You Need A Change Of Mind’ alone, it is flawed. It’s sequenced bizarrely, parts of it feel too loud, and there are songs like the limp and sexless Anyone Can Fall In Love on it. But these flaws are minor to the point of irrelevance compared to the rest of it. Kindness is clever, and he ensured that the most important thing about the album was that it was a statement of intent, one that made us interested in what he had to say. There aren’t many artists that manage to release a solid debut album that is not only full of promise, but also transcends and eludes your expectations so profoundly that it makes you wonder, already, where they’ll go in the future. It was for this reason that, even if it didn’t live up to the promise heard on 19th September 2009, ‘World, You Need A Change Of Mind’ was still one of the most vital records released this year.
Graphic design courtesy of Luke Corpe.