Product DetailsIndependent avant r’n’b artist Dawn Richard released an incredible EP last year, “Armor On”, which was actually an album, and has now released her first album which should have been an EP. With 16 tracks and over an hour’s playing time something has been lost along the way after the excitement of “Armor On” and her intriguing and original way of subverting the r’n’b genre, given its tired and wayward state following the golden years of the mid nineties. That’s not to say this a bad record, far from it, it’s just that I was expecting so much; “Goldenheart” makes a very good try but in the final analysis falls a little short of the mark.

The first third of Dawn Richard’s debut is the part I have the most trouble with, which is surprising considering it’s almost the most experimental segment, sonically at least. Richard and her producers have a default setting musically; a totally electronic, somewhat ambient, sometimes new-agey, beat-heavy soundscape with recurring (6 tracks) rapid hand claps panning from one side to the other, glassy and chiming sound effects, layered synths and multi-tracked harmonies. It’s a cold, crowded mix but ultimately (weirdly) thin and soulless with the disconcerting end result of certain songs sounding as though the backing track used could be interchangeable and almost irrelevant, such is the similarity between them. It feels as though tracks such as “Gleaux” (pronounced Glow) and “Riot” have been made precisely to demonstrate to Richard’s musical persona and aesthetic but instead end up sounding unfinished and experimental for the sake of it.

Pretty Wicked Things”, the sixth track, will make you sit up. Richard fans will already know this track as it was the first single from “Goldenheart” and from the eerie, desolate opening through to the unexpected collision of gentle trance pads, vocal effects exploding and a hefty dubstep drop, she has managed to produce a song with real tension and originality sounding nothing like Calvin Harris, Guetta, Skrillex or any of the other big name producers all of whom have gone from the dance genre to that of r’n’b, for better or worse. It’s an impressive achievement and an example of how I expected this album to sound; vocally Richards is a world apart from her contemporaries.

Warfaire” marks a change in mood musically and the second half of “Goldenheart” is a far stronger and more engaging, warm listen. “Warfaire” is a ballad that has one of the strongest melodies that we’ve heard thus far, it is simple both musically and vocally, impassioned and, (an overused word, but it’s appropriate here) ‘real’.  I believed the sentiment based on Richard’s brilliant, affecting performance. And, this is the surprising thing, the tracks that ditch the glitch and the complicated time signatures and honour the more traditional r’n’b/soul blueprint are without question the most cohesive and effective. Punning power ballad “Break of Dawn” sounds like a Diane Warren song that Beyonce would be happy to take to number 1 and, along with the one-off 3 minute electro pop perfection of “In Your Eyes”, is the best song here.  “Tug of War” is a persistent, soulful mid-tempo roller and could have featured on Electribe 101’s 1990 album “Electribal Memories” and current single, again mid-tempo, “86” is more than a little indebted sonically to Prince’s “Little Red Corvette” but is very much its own odd, unclassifiable creation that expands in power with each listen. The most audacious song though is the title track, Richard’s sumptuous harmonies echoing over Debussy’s ‘Clair de Lune’, it’s straightforward and maybe a little stand-offish but you have to admire her nerve for even attempting it.

All in all “Goldenheart” is clearly a  labour of love which could have been an exceptional debut but ends up being a very good one, due mainly to its unwieldy track listing and running time and a pandering to a style which may not be the one that best suits Dawn Richard’s undeniable talent. This album is apparently the first album of three and I very much look forward to the next instalment from this curious, ambitious and intelligent artist.

Product DetailsOne half of eccentric hip-hop due OutKast, this is Big Boi’s second solo album (Andre 3000 has yet to release his debut) following the acclaimed, sturdy and bombastic ‘Sir Ludicrous Left Foot’ from 2 years ago. “Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumours” main selling point is that, unlike his debut, Big Boi has, this time round, chosen high profile but still relatively underground indie stars to work with and less dependence on his contemporaries within the hip-hop or rap genre. This is not necessarily a surprise as his dream collaborator is Kate Bush, something he has spoken about many times and his adoration and knowledge of Bush’s work is that of a committed fan boy.

“Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumours” is in fact a very broad record, it has massive pop choruses (see in particular the joyous New Edition-indebted, and featuring Kelly Rowland vocal, “Mama Told Me”) and is commercial in a way that the two most predominant guests here, terminally hip Little Dragon and Portishead-lite, US trip-hoppers Phantogram, within the confines of their own work are not. It continues to confirm that Big Boi’s tastes are wide and his love of music generally is far reaching and passionate but there is a compromise sonically here; instead of a union of creative talent on some of these overly crowded tracks there seems to be a disconnect.

Phantogram and Little Dragon generously get 3 songs each and their tracks also featured rappers such as Killer Mike and Lana Del Rey favourite and rap’s next Superstar, ASAP Rocky. On the plus side “Objectum Sexuality” establishes an insistent and funky groove, a silly rap (‘we’re playing doctor but with no stethoscope, just heels and knockers’) and Phantogram delivering one of the strongest and most charismatic choruses here and the short, punching “Higher Res” featuring Little Dragon (only available on the Deluxe version kids!) is one of the few excitingly and genuinely experimental tracks here, vocals and beats continually slipping in and out of view, and hints at what could have been. “CPU” (Phantogram again) is a mess and in respect to the new, mainstream electronic ‘genre’, which this incorporates (EDM), already sounds dated and the overloaded, albeit satisfyingly thick and nasty sounding. “Thom Pettie” leaves Little Dragon sounding completely uninvolved and un-catered for.

Shoes for Running” features Wavves (I’ve never heard of them but they sound like Green Day to these ears which, in itself, is problematic) and is the musical equivalent of a scrappy kids cartoon and not just because it features children singing on the final chorus; it isn’t good by any stretch of the imagination. Some of the best stuff here features Big Boi and his male contemporaries only.  “In the A” is superb, brassy and scorching and “Raspberries” is a woozy, filthy and funny delight. Big Boi’s own performance throughout is top notch and the only consistent element here, he is charismatic and smart and can dominate his own material with no the need for the many helping hands he insists on this time around.

This album reminds me of one those albums by DJ’s or dance acts that were particularly prominent in the mid-nineties that had many high profile ‘featuring’ tracks but failed to deliver any genuine and successful merging of the talents involved. There are touches of EDM here and there (but nothing too heavy-handed), trip-hop, Prince-influenced funk (touching ballad “Descending” sounds like a “Purple Rain” cast off) and of course hip-hop and R’n’B; it’s a surprisingly easy listen and at times a thoroughly entertaining one but it is rarely essential or forward looking in the way that on paper and based on past evidence suggests it might have been. Imagining she actually does get to hear this, I wouldn’t get my hopes too high for that Kate Bush collaboration happening any time soon.