Future SoulsThe third album by LA-based female duo Uh Huh Her is meant to be their concession to dance music, not that you couldn’t play their previous material in a club but “Future Souls is intended to take you further into the realm of abandoned dance floor hedonism. Camila Grey and Leisha Hailey should be congratulated for showing restraint and not making the EDM-polluted monstrosity that this could have been.  It doesn’t chase trends and there are no David Guetta or will.i.am attempts at shoehorning six different sub genres into a four minute track. But then Uh Huh Her haven’t really made a dance record here at all. This album is in fact more of a continuation of their elegant, electro-pop sound but with considerably more electronics and fewer guitars. Whether it has reinforced and strengthened their position in a very crowded and ambitious arena will be mainly dependent on their songwriting skills and ability to establish a more defined personality -- something they have struggled with before.

An interesting reference point here is girl group All Saints, produced by William Orbit; very occasionally the quality comes closer to Orbit’s definitive work with Madonna on “Ray of Light”. It has a late 90’s naiveté both vocally and sonically, which can sound undernourished but can also shine and warm through with harmonies that can swell up unexpectedly, from an intro for example. And there are some good songs here too. Album opener “Innocence”, for example, creates a steady impression and beneath a lightly bouncing acid house synth motif the melodies morph into something smooth but sticky; it’s a surprise when it finally clicks. “Bullet” has a nicely thought out structure and nagging chorus and “Time” sounds a bit like a highly-polished Wendy and Lisa.

For a dance album it’s maybe surprising that the two best songs on “Future Souls” are the most introverted and intimate. “Strange Design” is both nurturing and arms-length, slowly spinning and calm with an obvious deb to the spooked and lush ballads of “Supernature”- era Goldfrapp. “Interconnect” is satisfyingly bolshy, with a cool and confident vocal but it’s still as considered and graceful as anything you would come to expect from the duo’s best material. And that is what reinforces the frustrations experienced elsewhere within the ten tracks found here. The evidence that the band can push themselves to make something memorable and compelling is often undermined by pleasant by completely disposable filler such as the auto tuned cliché of “It’s Chemical” and the thinness of “Nuthin Without Your Love” could be any one of an army of faceless electronics acts.

Uh Huh Her have a sizeable cult following that is undeniably linked to Leisha Hailey’s performance as Alice Pieszecki in the garish but often riveting series, The L Word. Hailey was the only out lesbian playing a lesbian in a show about lesbians. Her character was charismatic and spiky and in many ways the show’s moral compass -- if only some of that character’s utter self-possession could be transposed to the duo’s musical ventures.  Au Revour Simone, Chvrches and School of Seven Bells should be Uh Huh Her’s synth sisters in crime but where those female lead, synth-preoccupied groups each have an identifiable sound, UHH still suffer from a stranded sense of identity. This could be avoided if, instead of relying on self-production, the women allowed themselves to be guided and pushed by another studio professional. Although “Future Souls” is competent enough, let’s hope that the next album is the one that fully reveals the duo’s idiosyncrasies and tics in ways which are still only hinted at here.

Samson & DelilahVV Brown’s second album opens with two songs that share Madonna titles but aren’t cover versions. “Substitute for Love” and   “Nothing Really Matters” were two of the singles taken from the ultimate Madonna make-over album and mid-career return to form, 1998’s “Ray of Light”. Unhappy with the r’n’b follow up to “Bedtime Stories” (an r’n’b influenced collection itself), Madonna scrapped the entire sessions and hired electrohead, Brit, William Orbit, started calling herself Veronica Electronica and the rest is pop cultural history. Albeit on an entirely different scale, VV Brown has followed Madonna’s lead. About to release her follow up to the successful but underwhelming “Travelling at the Speed of Light” debut, Brown decided the hip hop and r’n’b-dominated follow up, a departure indeed from the nostalgic pop doo-wop of her debut, was not authentic and she walked away from the project and the album was never released.  Two years on and as many career changes later she has returned with eleven angry, desolate and soulful songs set against a unsettling, uncompromising soundtrack and it is a startling reinvention indeed.

Samson & Delilah is released on VV Brown’s own YOY record label so it can assumed that this is what she wants to sound like now with little or no interference from outside parties, and that is remarkable. The aforementioned “Substitute For Love” opens in much the same way as the Madonna track opens “Ray of Light”, gently twinkling notes and ambient synths introduce Brown’s incredible voice which is now several tones lower; a contralto to rival Grace Jones and she sounds magnificent throughout. A dominant all-electronic backing that is somewhere between The Knife circa “Silent Shout” and Massive Attack at their most austere ( think “Sly”) with a mound of sticky dubstep coating the astounding, warrior-like, “Igneous”. It isn’t easy listening and the mood is pitch-black; a couple of songs like the title track can struggle to stand out when the melody is forsaken for a mood but these are minor niggles.

“The Apple”, by some distance the most instant and accessible track here, sounds amazing. Its rolling, funking electro pop assertiveness is magical and Brown has huge fun with the relentless put-downs that lyrically dominate: ‘Don’t testify me, don’t bring me down, don’t hold me captive, you’re not the apple of my eye you see’.  “Nothing Really Matter” is a swirling, sombre and sharp-edged synth  monster which would have sounded at home on Adult’s last album, VV Brown never before having hinted at this unlikely and inspired direction.

“Faith”, track eight of eleven, finally allows a chink of light to spill through and is more lifting sonically and melodically than anything preceding it.  A duet with an uncredited male, it quietly references George Michael and with its theme of rebirth (‘I shake it off as I fall down to the ground, I belly flop into a swimming pool of sound, so you got to have faith’ ) and hope and a melody that will stick for days, it’s one of the strongest and most soulful songs here. “Ghosts”, in which Brown’s vocals spectacularly morph into 80’s singer songwriter Joan Armatrading, continues with similar themes and benefits from some simple but brilliantly constructed vocal effects over a droning organ and tight drum machines.

The album ends with two tracks which bring to mind a singer/songwriter who is now an almost-cliched reference point for artists and music fans alike. I’m loath to point out the similarities in the songwriting between that of the haunting “Knife” and Kate Bush’s “This Woman’s Work” and the foggy, suffocating album closer “Beginning”, which sounds like a lost track from Bush’s “Ninth Wave” concept album which formed the second part of ‘Hounds of Love’. These aren’t parodies though, as is often the case, they are very well crafted compositions from an artist who may or may not be familiar with Bush’s work (I suspect the former) and  to draw such genuine comparisons is a compliment indeed.

“Samson & Delilah” never goes too far, gets too crazy or attention-seeking. The measured and meticulous tone and pacing of this album is a very large part of its success. VV Brown will have her work cut out for her when it comes to the initial promotion of this admittedly difficult album (for such a visual artist she has made the odd decision to hardly feature in the videos for the first two singles) and many will not make the connection between the Marks and Spencer model and former pop star and Brown’s current, definitive form. Twelve months down the line though, and many people will have hopefully been exposed to this album while having no idea who the artist is and it will become so something of a word-of-mouth slow burner. By any standards, this is a heartfelt and bold collection and a testament to VV Brown’s self belief.