Just what exactly is R&B, anyway? As my personal musical tastes have developed over the last 10 years or so, I’ve gone from despising it to developing a begrudging curiosity in it. I’ve gone from appreciating it on its own terms to ultimately reaching a point at which I’ve had more than one alcohol induced disagreement about what exactly constitutes it as a sound. And I would still, in all honesty, be hard pressed to give you any really meaningful definition.
Portformat, a German based, Senegal born electronic music producer, seems to be someone who knows. On Entropy, his second full-length for Tokyo Dawn Records, he establishes R&B as a back bone that props up an album full of bass heavy, juddering funk and at times pretty adventurous beat making. Just to be clear, though it courses all the way through it, this isn’t just straight forward R&B. There’s more than a whiff of off-kilter Brainfeeder/Flying Lotus influence here throughout, while tracks like “Move On Up” try on re-jigged designs of George Clinton’s old multi-coloured headdresses and find that they fit pretty comfortably.
R&B’s intrinsically close relationship with hip-hop is also a defining musical theme of the album, not only evidenced by the way that rappers brush up against the myriad, predominantly female singers that dominate the extensive guest list, but also just the overall sound. It’s a heady concoction of the two in which the two separate influences are extremely difficult to pick apart, so skilfully have they been woven together. Even the tracks that stray the closest to traditional R&B feel pleasantly warped, stretched and affected–heavier than usual on the low-end. In this way the album slots rather well against the modern trend towards deconstructed R&B peddled by the likes of AlunaGeorge and, to a far lesser extent, The Weeknd.
As good as that sounds, though, the album isn’t flawless. At 18 tracks and an hour in length, it does start to feel a little excessive at times. This isn’t aided by the amount of guest vocalists. There are a few too many singers here whose styles are too similar to each other to really stand out over the course of the LP, and too few of them seem to make an effort to distinguish themselves–though some of them undeniably do. The raps of DistantStarr and Tokyo Dawn label-mate Stan Smith inject some much needed swag, while singers Alex Rita Bramson, Gianna Charles and Madlib collaborator Georgia Anne Muldrow all admirably stamp their identities on to which ever whacked out backdrop Portformat has provided for them.
In addition to the occasional vocalist issues, though the production on the album is largely excellent, there are a couple of missteps there too, namely the slightly humdrum instrumental dubstep excursion of “Dubtimistic” and the ill-fitting though harmless funky house detour “Where Do I Belong?”. Ultimately though, these are just that: minor missteps, stumbles that barely hinder the confident stride that the rest of the albums hazy soundscapes slip comfortably into. You get the sense that with a more reigned in group of collaborators, this guy could really start to carve a niche: as is, he’s already partway there, having here presented the makings of an impressively hard to define aesthetic.