Cooly G Wait ‘Til Night

[Hyperdub; 2014]

Styles: “sensitive, lo-fi bedroom music”
Others: Kelela, FKA Twigs, Ikonika

Somewhere, a company’s sales have tanked. The reports are in, there may have been some analytical oversight over at HQ — product X is just not selling. Product X is the “new beat,” the one that’s simultaneously sleek and risky, accessible and eccentric, giving but raw, rebellious. The sheer amount of shopping options, choices — the sheer facts of fashion itself — had the unintended result of crippling consumer enthusiasm. Wait, even folks who bought “the beat” are feeling the slow burn of buyer’s remorse. They thought they bought into something futuristic, something avant-garde, or at the very least fresh! They thought…

It would definitely be a stretch, in fact a blatant fallacy, to extend this economic mini-drama metaphor to the “Hyperdub Company.” In fact, it’s straight up trivial in light of some of the label’s very own, very real macro-dramas: a 10th anniversary punctuated by two tragic deaths. Hyperdub’s importance in shaping the current vogue-status of electronic music cannot be overstated; more than any other label, they’ve fulfilled a curatorial role, serving up some of the freshest, most amazing cuts of sound-system music throughout the past decade. The label’s progression ranges from the primordial haze of original, authentic mystery (Burial); the visionary, futurist tome-making of Laurel Halo; the conceptual blueprint-drafting of Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland; to the gallery-ready sheen of Fatima Al Qadiri. Cooly G’s role in the “progression” has been limited, if not engaging and fun. Her instrumental work had edge, a journalistic fearlessness that flirted with all sorts of UK dance sub-genres; it was fiery, energized, urgent.

But while she’s a hell of a track-producer, the strength of her past works make her recent vocal work seem anemically thin. Wait ‘Til Night is her second long-player, following up a decent debut record that introduced her as a smooth vocalist. Whereas Playin’ Me was icy, subtle, and full of possibility, Cooly’s new one is a collection of tight, readymade songs that expose a shortage of ideas. In short, the album feels like something the “Hyperdub Company,” or “Hyperdub & Co.” (conceptually inaugurated here) has designed to be received well by an audience that doesn’t expect much from music. The record is relatively pleasing, sitting in a liminal space where lines are blurred between the vapid pop-song and the obtusely delivered club-downer. A downtempo atmosphere sketches out a smokey bedroom space — R&B swagger meanders through fog-like synth pads, while sweaty scenes wax and wane to Cooly’s relatively deadpan vocal delivery. Yet, the sweat is cold: the percussion design is sparsely boring, the melodies relatively basic, the vibe… detached. I can’t help but hear the “lyrical forthrightness” as bromidic and flat: “I like the way that you kiss me/ I like the way that you hold me/ I like the way that you move that/ I like the way that you do that.” I say “OK” to that, but that’s about it.

Perhaps it’s wrong to compare Wait ‘Til Night to the “visionary” pantheon represented within Hyperdub’s consistently impressive release stream. But Cooly’s own musical past is chock full of lively, rich musical visions — “Narst,” her 2009 cardinal A-side delivered a fantastic dose of UK Funky mixed with brooding grime cellos. The track still feels urgent and powerful, and given her chops, I know for a fact we should expect more from an artist so well versed in the colorful history of UK dance music. We can hear some of this urgency when Cooly lets loose in “3 of Us,” a track that roots her vocal delivery in rhythmic runs that call back to her flirtations in the rap game. “Quick Question” takes the sappy-ambient, melismatic bits of the record and focuses them into an interesting melody with synth strings blooming over a moody bass bump. It works pretty well, but these moments are bogged down by tracks like “Fuck With You,” where the lyrics are a little too eye-roll inducing, the space a little too barren, to support her balmy croon.

When situated in the aesthetic continuum of recent forward-thinking dance music, a continuum partially defined by Hyperdub itself, Wait ‘Til Night comes across as sluggish. In fact, it’s primary press-package descriptors — “sensitive,” “lo-fi,” “bedroom,” — all seem in direct conflict with the label’s primary aesthetic leanings — “progressive” “high-definition,” “club.” Fair enough, perhaps the record is designed to play on bedroom sound-systems during solitary, intimate moments. Yet, even in this setting, our modern bodies will demand new movements, new flavors to chorus our sexualities; a sultry replication of American R&B over some half-hearted instrumentals simply can’t be the designated “go-to” sound for steaminess. Recently, Kelela’s Cut 4 Me tackled a similar agenda with a nouveau-gloss that aided her cause: In the words of TMTer Nick Henderson, Kelela “hijack[ed] the pathways of the sonic neurons we have left, the cathartic embers still burning… and reroutes them through a new series of rhythmic phrases.” Conversely, Cooly’s letting those embers die out, slowly — in fact, she’s staring at the coals, cooing #basic lyrics about urban romance. To reintroduce the initial economic metaphor: Wait ‘Til Night has the consumer of culture, the purchaser of the “new beat,” confronted with the slow burn of buyer’s remorse. The album is caked in the sonics of culture, it has “the look.” But the album is full of familiar tropes dressed up in gold and leather, and the songs are wrapped in a plastic that stops our touch — turns it cold, numb from feeling the electricity of the body, of the night.

Links: Hyperdub

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