After several years of anticipation waxing, if subsequently waning some of the time, polymathic Lewisham producer Kwes. now has a suitably deferentially titled début full-length, ilp., to his name. (That its song titles are all written in exclusively lowercase corroborates this outwardly meek impression.) And if such a revelation may well have you rubbing ears in disbelief, then the album itself might just impose a similar impact upon you as with time, it quietly reveals itself to be one of the more revitalising British releases of recent years.
Primarily composed of previously unheard material, ilp. rigidly builds upon the relative successes of Kwesi Sey’s first release on Warp Records, with that being 2012 four-track Meantime. Incidentally, album denouement b_shf_l is a superficially slight, if thoroughly rewarding rethink of the EP’s lone single, Bashful, but that it should have been repositioned toward the very end of this longer player proves indicative of Sey’s progress in itself. Its beats deepened and bleeps reconfigured to devastating impact, this is no longer the sound of a reticent bedroom worker – one whose past credits albeit range from Bobby Womack to Eliza Doolittle; Sunless ’97 to Speech Debelle – but instead the arrival of one of pop’s unlikeliest of lads at last coming good.
Flutters of impressionistic piano and sonorous house undertones further decorate the piece – unanticipatedly one of several pièces de résistance here ordered – as this particularly impressive redux quite emphatically evinces the conviction Kwesi may now apply to his craft. Vocally, he’s yet to lay claim to the indestructible self-confidence few can these days expect of him, his prominent bass lines shadowing inhibited lyrics of “a countenance accountable for the lack of mettle in my bones.” Although as he vocalises aspirations to “maybe make some money, buy a cream Skoda” – what was once an ambiguous lyric frequently mistaken, perhaps by design, for ‘cream soda’, it now fizzles with real clarity – it sounds as if Sey’s bones have since been reinforced with the most robust of metal. Whether or not this be due to his extracurricular endeavours we may never know, but his artistic development is plain for all to hear.
Take the record’s lead single, 36, for instance: here, we hear the insouciant keys of, say, an Eliza doozy underpinned by the wompy bass to have held together the majority of Young Turks’ catalogue, its auteur rustling up a meaty potpourri of contemporary tropes – some of which Kwesi first cultivated, of course – to make for a compelling recipe that sounds neither contrived, nor confined to any one context. That is to say that 36 would flourish in scenes of lonesome solitude as much as it might thrive in refined nightspots nationwide. Harking back to days of languid inaction and suburban inertia, Sey tells of “lookin’ for something else to do” and in doing so, articulates the thoughts and feelings of Generations Y and Z alike with humble solicitude. How many may hear what is, to all intents and purposes, a somewhat niche berceuse of sorts we’re unable to account for, although in Kwesi’s telling of optimism in close proximity, he could doubtless allay many a quarterlife crisis with this one alone. “Ooh, she loves you so” he croons irreproachably, as though an exurban love doctor, as Kwesi combines empathetic lyrics delivered in a subdued shush with expansive flushes of instrumental splendour. And, if musically he’s been operating on such a scale for some while, only now does it seem as though his other talents have caught up with his compositional eminence.
There are instances of the exclusively musical – the skittish, sci-fi instrumental hip hopping of hives, or the vagrant nebulosity of an amorphous chagall – and although they’ve been that bit more carefully conceived when set against past counterparts, they lack the resolute direction of their better rounded surroundings. Porcelaneous delicate flower, during which Sey’s vocal is perhaps at its most stark, hears him soothe: “You’re so beautiful, and I don’t want to destroy you with my desire.” Against reverberating handclaps and background bass, it’s a charm offensive complimentary enough to make even the most brazen sunflower turn to the shade in bashful mortification. “I want to see you through” Kwesi continues, his affectionate sentiment again reflecting his philanthropic interventions in the musical endeavours of others, before he disappears down some rather more vanguardist avenues.
ilp. is to be released via Warp of course, and whether intentional or inadvertent, it momentarily sounds as though the Machiavellian impulses of Autechre, etcetera may have played into Sey’s thinking. A solitary listen to the oddly claustrophobic, and quite incongruous parakeet dispels even the merest notion of Kwesi ever intending to produce an out-and-out ‘pop record’, no matter how many he may yet have within him. Certainly both rollerblades, with its chart-friendly rhetoric of serendipitously meeting again somewhere or other inside the box marked “eternity”, and the humid R&B veneer in which cablecar is so unmistakably coated contribute to the intuition that there’s plenty more where this came from. And not only that, but given such evident creative evolution, a slew of somewhat more commercially viable records surely wouldn’t be beyond the realms of Sey’s capability.
It’s just that, and thoroughly admirable this is too, he simultaneously demonstrates a disdain for the conventionality with which popular music is currently awash. The way in which cablecar drifts into and out of focus like a funicular entering and exiting hazardous blizzard, and momentarily breaks itself down into a phantasmagorical spoken word segment (“It’s very quiet” remarks a heavily processed, almost dehumanised voice, before Kwesi quips: “Oh, is that what you mean?”) is proof enough that Sey has little inclination to conform to the rhythmic, rigorously aesthetic bearing contemporary pop tends to project. There is only a negligible attention paid to the flow of the piece after all, but in the same way that a stream of consciousness may be radically transmogrified in form as it meanders along through the lobes and out from whichever creative fount it’s allowed to ooze, its oneirism is as much a quality as its fierce capriciousness. And although it might sound an inapposite adjective when set beside Kwesi’s docile vocal, there’s sporadic snarl and latent distortion to ilp.
It’s thus that it begins, and with purplehands. A choir of mangled machinery seemingly interpreting MJ’s Thriller intro soon subsides, giving way to an ambient soundscape pacific as Blackheath’s Folly Pond. “Walking in the park, chucking bread to swans/ Hearin’ ’em honk” Sey begins, embracive but never condemning of the quiet incertitudes to face the youth of today. We live in an age in which, aside from socioeconomic strife and so forth, we’re struggling to get to grips even with our very own identities. And, having been force-fed unstable government statistics on youth unemployment and purpose, we only too often feel compelled to work and think flat-out until, totally overwrought, we overthink everything. (As Kwesi states of himself on b_shf_l, “I’m overthinkin’/ Time is fallin’ through”.) Thus to hear as inspiratory a character as Sey recounting a tranquil tale of “lovin’ one another, whilst we pull the berries from the trees” is, in itself, a strangely pioneering statement. It’s perhaps not quite the sort for which Warp have long since been renowned, but its impact is no less potent. The same can be said of purplehands, and so too ilp. For just as we’re becoming increasingly susceptible to forgetting that “red and blue makes purple” – when push comes to shove, Google is the omniscient safety net of knowledge anyway. Right..? – we’ve seemingly disremembered how best to add both vibrancy and vivacity to life. Meaning that this from Kwes. appears to have arrived at the most opportune of times, after all.
Released: October 14th, 2013 [Warp]