God save the queen. In addition to Shakespeare, fish and chips, and IPAs, her majesty’s United Kingdom has also graced modern music fans with a panoply of uber-talented multi-instrumentalists. Kwes. (real name Kwesi Sey) is just the latest in the assembly line of much-hyped artists from the UK’s multi-faceted music scene, but perhaps unfairly, doesn’t quite live up to expectations on his debut full length.
Kwes.’s debut, ilp., leaps open with bang; sinister sound effects, fancy flourishes, and an inkling of melody. His storytelling is specific, his singing swathed in reverb. His sound clearly expanding from earlier efforts, but despite a waltzy vocal line, the song’s melody seems timid, the tune languid, and marks an auspicious start.
This being Kwes., there’s still plenty of arrows in the quiver, and his aim is more sound on the album’s second and third tracks. “36” is a piano-driven production, featuring clean percussion and velvety vocals. “Rollerblades” is a glitchy, sashaying story about a childhood love. It’s a welcome touch of introspection amid some top-notch production, though the storytelling lacks the nuance of some of his electro-soul contemporaries.
“Cablecar” follows, an eight-minute ride that divides the album, and may ultimately divide fans. Kwes. folds in dark electronics, plainly spoken lyrics, and murky atmospheric production, breaking down traditional song structures. But destruction is usually only beneficial if something is built from its wreckage, and apart from an interesting journey, it feels too long a detour.
The songs that follow all display Kwes.’s trademark production, but he’s burying beautiful beats behind layers of dissonance and distractions. The hook halfway through “Hive” should be a stately centerpiece, but it swirls down the drain too quickly. Perhaps intentionally obfuscating a pop-friendly sound to prevent any pigeonholing, Kwes. asks for the listener’s trust as he pushes away part of what makes him great.
All of this would be well and good if it felt fully formed. The album concludes with a re-work of “Bashful”, a standout single from his 2011 EP, Meantime. Its inclusion indicates he may not be quite ready to abandon the ear-friendly melodicism that made him an in-demand producer and oft-sought collaborator. It reminds the listener what he’s capable of, if he were so inclined.
Fair or not, comparisons with his contemporaries are inevitable. And unfortunately, Kwes.’s ilp. doesn’t match up to the soulfulness of James Blake, the verve of King Krule, or even the multi-faceted nuance of Ghostpoet. Kwes. is certainly a unique voice, one worth monitoring as he grows. But this is a reminder that growth isn’t always graceful.
2.5 out of 5
You can buy ilp on Amazon.