Playin’ Me is Cooly G’s first long player, after an extended period mixing and making singles in the UK house scene, a scene that is making a strong comeback after being squashed a bit by the inherent, unwilling globalism that comes from being a large city in Europe. It’s easy to be overtaken when a RyanAir flight costs under a hundred euros. But now London is back in dance music stronger than ever, and after releasing four singles and chipping music in for Chris Ofili’s Tate Museum retrospective, the British public is ready for a gleaming, sparkling extended bite of Cooly G.
“Landscapes” is an early highlight with creamy vocals that sail on top of the rising tronics like melting butter on a piece of aluminum foil. This track, along with “It’s Serious,” are the only tracks that feature guests — Sinbad and Karizma, respectively — and the only two tracks that were previously released, on a 12-inch vinyl single by Hyperdub last year.
It’s not a smooth transition between that and “Trying,” which has a much fuller synthetic arpeggio and, at first, a jagged rhythm. “Trouble,” the Coldplay cover, is (obviously) infinitely better than the original. It’s a melancholic bubble lullaby of regret. This is one of the few songs where the vocals are interrupted by any other part of the mix; usually they’re right on top, but in this track, little minnows of the beat keep jumping out of the lower mix and taking a bite out of Cooly’s words. It can be hard to say you’re sorry, and the track’s synthetic choking-up is a beautiful way to rue a wrong.
The album ramps up the manic as it progresses. The beat gets simultaneously more jungle and more unusual on the penultimate “Is It Gone,” by far the most raucous and anarchic track on the record. Where Cooly sounds restrained and untouchable on most of the record, the broken-up, repetitious vocals and watch-alarm tweets of “Is It Gone” chirp along, and you can envision Cooly pressing MPC pads and feeling out the rhythm organically. In closer “Up In My Head,” Cooly frees her singing voice from the Sub Zero freezer where she’s been keeping them, adding heat in the form of an appealing throatiness.
Not all the tracks are as attention-grabbing. Some, like “What Airtime,” spend too much time in the world of the phase, bringing a synth tone in and pushing it out, which might make it more appropriate as part of a larger mix in the club instead of a fully-formed album track. “Sunshine” follows the great tradition of the British dub skank, but the constant honk doesn’t exactly jibe with the smooth R&B of the lyrics. If you weren’t paying attention, it could make you think of a car alarm in the background, and it sounds like it was added in after-the-fact for some flavor in a fairly bland track. However, as a decisive statement of a not-so-newcomer’s extension of style, Playin’ Me is a worthwhile listen and a flag-in-the-sand moment for the club scene in London.