inc. no world

[4AD; 2013]

Styles: ascetic R&B
Others: the idea of Prince, A.R. Kane

Influence is inevitable. I needn’t repeat well-read aphorisms, invoke alt lit, or otherwise reveal key phenotypes re: my demographic, college major, or plausible grad school contingencies to demonstrate as much. It’d be redundant, anyway. You think of things to make things, and maybe somebody’ll think it’s new: that’s just how it works. A universal truth long suppressed by centuries of unchecked Romanticism is finally becoming the stuff of creative — and critical — intuition.

The general response to L.A. duo inc., thus far, well illustrates this point. If legendary (control) freak Prince has a Google alert set to his name + “music,” he’s probably streamed at least some of the 3 EP by now: a moratorium on mentioning this band without him appears to have accompanied its 2011 release. Lately, the comparison has come to feel a bit cheap: a couple of inc.’s principal techniques carry notes of the Purple One’s eau de parfums, but there’s not a single song in his boundless repertoire that bears clear paternity of any by inc. You’d be hard pressed, in truth, to find such a clear predecessor for any song on no world, unlike the vast majority of inc.’s peers — though many faulty analogies have been attempted since the debut album’s late-February release.

There’s no conspiracy at work here, beyond the half-witting one of conventional wisdom. no world is fascinating most of all as music, but also as inadvertent exposé of the wide divide between the expertise of modern music critics and the influences of modern musicians. From Autre Ne Veut to James Blake, it’s clear that much of recent years’ most compelling music bears some fundamental debt to R&B, primarily though not exclusively in its 1990s, post-hip-hop permutations. And it’s only now — as the former domains of “indie rock” and R&B have been ably merged — that that decade’s rockist bent, critically speaking, appears blatant and embarrassing. (Add a facile affinity for electronic music and this is true of yesterdecade, too, even if everyone eventually came around on Missy and Voodoo). By no means do I intend to spare myself here: in order to make certain statements in this review with confidence, I had to re-listen to the entire discographies of Prince, D’Angelo, and Al Green; and, sadder yet, I had to make first-time laps around the corpora and curriculum vitae of Sade, Maxwell, Badu, Vandross, Timbaland, et al.

One of those statements: no world is unique. Daniel Aged’s masterful basslines sound like the work of someone who once earned his bread touring with George Clinton’s horn section, sure; and one can understand much of Andrew Aged’s melodic sensibility in hearing him describe, in worshipful detail, D’Angelo demos of old. But across these 40 minutes, the brothers Aged have achieved the rare feat of making music that is clearly reverent (and worthy) of a rich tradition, while managing to elude sounding quite like any of it.

While the 3 EP was a relatively straightforward realization of new jack swing’s forgotten potential, no world is harder to pinpoint. In the abstract, it’s something of an inside-out reinvention of R&B, pared down to meditative austerity. The ornamentation is subtle and spare: Andrew’s guitar on “black wings” and “desert rose (war prayer)” speaks to the Ageds’ prepubescent obsession with classic-era Smashing Pumpkins; the percussion that frames the improbably gorgeous chord progression of “5 days” is like a drum & bass breakbeat waiting to cut loose (it never does, except live); “angel” recalls the piercing synth tone of Ginuwine’s “Only When ur Lonely,” albeit weighted by the gravity of Andrew’s vividest poetry; and the pacific closer “nariah’s song” sounds like Gil Scott-Heron cozying up with an old Fender Rhodes for Winter in America. Being genre-omnivorous and -agnostic has become a prerequisite for making (even ostensibly) novel music, but very few can negotiate such multifarious influences so well that they practically disappear.

Like the purest bodies of water, no world feels transparent — the arrangements are never dense enough to obscure any one element from the listener — but nevertheless submersive, a dialectic effect of Daniel’s savant production. Compelling though not surprising is his and Andrew’s avowed love for Terrence Malick: if we are to think in terms of mise en scène, the diegesis of no world is not like that of Sade or even Maxwell at their barest, but something more filmic and less literal than R&B’s typical arrangements or lyric sheets.

It’s perhaps most instructive to think of inc.’s pedigree in terms of kindred spirits: the closest I’ve found being the 80s London act A.R. Kane. Like inc., they were a duo who signed to 4AD and made music that bore some superficial similarity to trends of the day — the “dream pop” of their countrymen, mostly — but were informed by a completely different set of inputs. So as A.R. Kane prefigured much of what Britain would be doing in the next decade (shoegaze, trip-hop, acid house) while supposedly listening to little else than Miles Davis and The Velvet Underground, inc. have made their manifesto by distilling a formative love for live church gospel, first and second wave R&B, and Native American ritual song. Peers love them (Robin Guthrie for Kane; for inc., everyone from Skream to Arca to Zomby), but the press either ignores what they’re doing or tries to contextualize them among unrelated contemporaries.

To wit, if a portmanteau as distasteful as “PBR&B” is a real thing, it has nothing to do with no world. If the album can be considered R&B proper, it’s one of the most consistent and fulfilling longplayers the genre has yet birthed. If you know R&B, you’ll know there’s no other R&B on earth that behaves or sounds like inc. do right now. Which is just the point: no world is a sum of influences, as any art is, but these two have become too adept at sublimating theirs to be understood via any one genre, artist analogy, or trend. They say no world is a feeling, and for now, that’s as close as we’re likely to get.

Links: inc. - 4AD

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