This is Kwes’ first solo release since crossing over from Young Turks to Warp at the end of last year. I’m struggling to wrap my head around why they wanted him. Okay, so for a guy still in his mid-twenties, he keeps some pretty impressive company. Production work for Damon Albarn and Speech Debelle, official remixes for The xx, The Invisible, and the Portico Quartet, and a genuinely decent couple of mixtapes with Micachu, including original guest vocals from the likes of Ghostpoet and Dels. There’s even an endorsement from Matthew Herbert to the guy’s name.
But Kwes’ first solo outing, the No Need to Run EP, was both extremely meager, clocking in at only just over 10 minutes, and emphatically bland. “In and Out UK” was the only track worth returning to for a second listen. On Meantime, we get to hear Kwes’ vocals for the first time — quiet, subdued, sincere, yet somehow never quite soulful — but the effect is similarly underwhelming. Think SBTRKT, only wetter.
It’s not even the wetness that’s the problem, actually; Meantime is clearly meant to sound coy and withdrawn. “A countenance accountable for the lack of metal in my bones/ I’m bashful, I’m bashful,” Kwes sings over and over again on the EP’s lead single. And there is something endearing about it. But I honestly don’t know what Matthew Herbert is referring to when he talks about Kwes’ “really unusual, experimental approach.” Because to me, the ‘experimentation’ here sounds totally anodyne. I’m struggling to locate the interest. Sure, there’s a few clicks, bleeps, and whistles throughout, the odd smattering of ‘found sound’ (that scraping sound throughout “Honey”), along with plenty of James Blake-y organ, but there’s a big difference between the adoption of a notionally ‘experimental,’ post-dubstep vernacular and a genuine forward logic.
None of this would be a problem if the songs weren’t so weak. Not everything needs to push boundaries. But this is ‘experimental pop,’ then, that doesn’t cut it in either camp. The lyrics here are trite and the melodies saccharine. Perhaps there’s better to come — the mixtapes in particular suggest that there might be — but on this evidence, at least, I’m not convinced Kwes warrants his spot yet on the estimable Warp roster.