Cooly G – Playin’ Me
There’s an interesting trend in the outlying elements of the dubstep fringe, exemplified by the likes of Darkstar and Hyetal, wherein an artist that has stamped their distinct signature sound onto the scene – usually through a string of increasingly confident and cohesive singles – then goes and drops an expectation defying debut album that leaves everyone reeling in awe and disbelief. It’s a bold move, if a little startling, and demonstrates an exceptionally forward thinking approach to their craft, as well as having the bonus effect of making the wider music community sit up and pay attention.
Whilst Darkstar gave us the theatrical pop-melancholia of North and Hyetal offered the rumbling, Carpenter-esqe synth odyssey Broadcast, Cooly G has produced a largely undefinable album comprised of everything from smoky soul to swung dub-house, rugged techno and jazz flecked R&B, which is far too clunky a combination to accurately define and constitutes quite a jump for someone who has made UK Funk for much of her career to date.
If that convoluted description sounds tantalising and alluring that’s because it is – Playin Me is a good 13 tracks worth of shifting, genre defying music, presented in a way that is dizzyingly psychedelic in places and touchingly emotional in others. It’s an album of consistent highlights spanning a myriad of influences and styles; at the risk of jumping the gun a bit I’d say that this is going to be a contender for album of the year on many best of 2012 lists despite us only being a little over halfway through. This isn’t because the rest of the year is going to be devoid of other contenders, but for the life of me I can’t think of any other albums since Portishead’s Third that have surprised and entranced me quite as this did. Whilst the comparison figures in terms of the rarity of finding a distinct female voice coupled with such unflinchingly forward thinking production, what makes this album all the more remarkable is that Cooly G is the sole vocalist, songwriter and producer on nearly every track.
It’s pretty hard to pick any standouts so I’ll just go with the ones that I can actually describe without resorting to made up words. “What This World Needs Now” is a stone cold classic, sounding like a revisionist version of an old Kode 9 dub brought bang up to date with slinky percussion and understated vocals. “Come into my Room” is reminiscent of an early Goldie intro without the ensuing cacophony of drums to disturb the atmospheric tranquillity, giving you just enough to keep you satisfied whilst still leaving you hungry for more. Title track “Playin’ Me” is a deceptive banger, building hypnotic layers around a repeated vocal hook before big stabs and rolling drums come out of nowhere snap you sharply back into focus.
Finally the last three tracks eschew the vocal focus of the rest of the album, focussing instead on brukked-out rhythms to shake off the comparative entropy of the material that preceded them. The only major weakness on the album is the Coldplay cover “Trouble”, which for my money is better than the original but seems at odds with the otherworldliness of the rest of the tracks. This aside you’d be hard pressed to find a more remarkable and immersive release of its kind this year.