“When I met George, I thought: I’ll have this one!”
– Aluna Francis
“It’s a very self-sufficient thing, the two of us.”
– George Reid
Think of all the things that need to line up for two people to truly connect. Think of the many little barriers that can stop a prospective relationship from developing beyond an initial idea in a single person’s head. Or the ways an established relationship can so easily fall apart.
A number of tracks on Body Music — the debut full-length by London duo AlunaGeorge — deal with these issues in one way or another. Body Music is populated with songs about relationships (or hoped-for relationships) in various states of discomposure and misconnect. Some examples: our young female narrator pines in perpetuity for a guy who either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care (“Your Drums, Your Love”); our narrator considers making the jump from a friendship to a romance, and runs through the affiliated doubts and pitfalls in her mind (“Friends To Lovers”); a young woman is suspicious that her boyfriend is cheating, but wants to give him the benefit of the doubt (“Just A Touch”); a young woman knows that her boyfriend is cheating and calls him out on it in a fist-pumpingly catchy chorus (“Attracting Flies”).
As is the case in romantic relations, it must also be quite difficult to forge an artistic partnership in which both members feel comfortable, self-assured, and evenly matched. Aluna Francis — the singing half of AlunaGeorge — has occasionally implied as much in interviews. Her main criterion when considering a collaboration is whether or not she gets along with her potential collaborator, and she has hinted at unhappy musical liaisons in her past. In producer George Reid, she seems to have found an ideal artistic mate, someone she is comfortable spending hours with each day, coming up with ideas, writing songs, and recording (or, as is the case this summer and fall, touring). At first glance, the name AlunaGeorge might seem a touch uninventive. But perhaps we can take the simple union of their first names as a signal of Ms. Francis and Mr. Reid’s mutual esteem for one another; as an indication that their musical partnership is, or aspires to be, that traditional social paragon: a well-balanced, mature, healthy relationship.
The single “Your Drums, Your Love” and its brilliant accompanying visuals make the parallel between musical and romantic collaboration explicit. The video is set amid the bare sheen of a contemporary art gallery, as Francis and Reid stroll through the brightly lit and pristine white space, circulating among an assortment of robot-dancing art-goers. The two gaze half-interestedly at the work around them, repeatedly sizing each other up but never connecting. Francis sings: “I’ve been treading water for your love/ Whether I sink or swim, it’s you I’m thinking of/ I’ve been treading water for your love/ As my light grows dim, maybe I’m not strong enough, oh/ Your drums.”
On record, of course, Francis is more than a match for Reid’s deep, slightly off-kilter beats. She doesn’t have a huge voice, but she holds our attention with a limber delivery, quirky timbre, and unusual phrasings. On the production end, Reid employs a range of sounds, from clunky, coarse electronic bursts and buzzes to smoother pillowing tones. At times, his music hints at a retro-futurism similar to what we heard on Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories earlier this year; at others, it brings to mind the brash maximalism of his contemporaries Rustie and Hudson Mohawke. The interplay of Reid’s eclectic, adventurous production and Francis’s classic pop songwriting and R&B-infused vocals is at the heart of AlunaGeorge’s sound.
It is a sound the duo has built a steady buzz around over the past two years, based on a relatively small handful of tracks. Their first video for “You Know You Like It” went online in the summer of 2011 and attracted a lot of eyes. In the spring of the following year, they released the three-song You Know You Like It EP with the revered label Tri Angle — an unlikely association on the face of it, but clearly a smart move for both parties. At the end of last year, Francis and Reid received two major accolades in their native UK, and at the beginning of 2013, they hit #2 on the UK singles chart with “White Noise,” their collaboration with Disclosure from that duo’s debut album, Settle.
All of which finally begs the question: Is Body Music another confident step forward in what feels like AlunaGeorge’s inevitable march to stardom?
The short answer is “yes.” Most of the songs the band built their reputation on are reprised here, and, unsurprisingly, they sound as good as ever. Meanwhile, the album tracks — the ones that we have not heard until now — hold their own nicely. The first song, “Outlines,” opens the record in a similar way to “Thinkin Bout You” from channel ORANGE; like that Frank Ocean standout, “Outlines” is an understated tune that coaxes you in rather than jumps out to get you. The eponymous “Body Music” is another highlight; it moves along slinkily and slowly, until opening up into a show-stopping, ethereal chorus that offers one of the record’s most memorable melodies. And on tracks like “Lost & Found” and “Best Be Believing,” AlunaGeorge deliver fun slices of dizzying, danceable pop.
At its core, all of AlunaGeorge’s music is pop. This record has a big, shiny surface, and most of its songs feature outsize, punchy choruses that will leave many listeners feeling pleasantly drunk and others probably feeling a bit bruised. But Body Music is never simply dumb fun — George Reid’s production rewards close listening with its garden of oddball sounds, and lyrically, Francis delivers a fair share of solid lines. AlunaGeorge have built a happy marriage out of the slick and the smart, and with Body Music, they just might manage the trick of making everyone else — from old fans to new ones; from critics to their record labels — happy too.