Why Manchester is the new creative epicentre of neo-soul and hip-hop
Kindness’s first album ‘World, You Need A Change Of Mind’ saw Adam Bainbridge reconfigure the sounds of funk, soul, and post-disco to suit his singular vision and worldview. Made almost entirely with producer Philippe Zdar and a small studio band, ‘World…’ was a slick, polished, and sophisticated pop record that aspired to a standard of studio excellence that had otherwise been lost in the economic realities of today’s musical landscape.
On his new album ‘Otherness’, Bainbridge takes a different tack, opening his world out to a greater range of players and voices, embracing their improvisations and their human errors. Besides established artists like Kelela, Robyn, and good friend Dev Hynes, ‘Otherness’ features up-and-coming names like British soul singer Tawiah, absurdly talented session musicians like saxophonist Finn Peters (one of the true stars of the album), and behind-the-boards work by Blue May, Syd Tha Kid, and esteemed sound engineer Jimmy Douglass. By bringing in such a diverse group of supporting players, Bainbridge creates something that feels altogether more alive. On With You, you can hear Kelela’s physical presence as she draws breaths between her lines. You can feel the expression of Finn Peters’ saxophone being mediated through his body.
Musically, Bainbridge drops four-to-the-floor rhythms in favour of a slower, deeper, more meditative form of melodic R&B songwriting and production. The change in pace gives the album more breathing space, allowing Bainbridge’s unique songwriting talents to come to the fore – and ‘Otherness’ really is a unique album. As tempting as it might be to view Kindness as a nostalgic or referential project, the songs here are truly one-of-a-kind, existing in a sonic environment that no other artists are using today, and with many of its songs featuring long, wandering arrangements that forego typical verse-chorus-verse structures for something more unexpected.
This style is best exemplified by 8th Wonder, on organ-led track that cycles through verses of Bainbridge repeating a single phrase Thinking about my baby now, sax sections, a rap interlude from M.anifest, and a beautiful harp solo from Brandee Younger. Then there’s Geneva, a song which manages to remain tight and groovy despite forgoing a drumbeat entirely, and which closes with a solitary, vocoderized vocal. It’s all a lot less instant than his first album, but it’s also significantly more rewarding: artists like Kindness and Blood Orange arguably paved the way for a slew of new bands who take inspiration from mid-'80s pop and funk styles, and to follow in this style would only serve to dilute what made Kindness’s music so ahead of the curve in the first place.
Given the album’s spirit of inclusiveness, it’s also worth mentioning that much of ‘Otherness’ is given over to women and people of colour. Bainbridge himself is mixed race, and although ‘Otherness’ isn’t an overt exploration of race issues, there still seems to be a conscious decision to include voices from other cultures and heritages, whether that’s through the appearance of Ghanaian rapper M.anifest or the slightly more subtle sampling of the kora, a West African instrument, from Foday Musa Suso and Herbie Hancock’s Moon/Light on For The Young. “There’s a whole continuum of culture and music and even internalized creativity that doesn’t just come from one side of a personality or gender,” as he recently told Lisa Blanning in an extensive feature with The FADER.
All of these things contribute to making ‘Otherness’ such a fantastic album to emerge from the alternative music community this year. Bringing together excellent pop songwriting, modern production, and a distinctive artistic identity, ‘Otherness’ is the benchmark for adventurous pop music in 2014.
Female Energy released ‘Otherness’ on October 13th 2014 (buy).