The word elegance is one that's becoming increasingly close to being forgotten, an idea condemned to a bygone age, one in which it's applied only to Sophia Lauren, Audrey Hepburn or Cary Grant. And yet as antiquated - and ephemeral - as it's become, it's comfortably the most appropriate adjective by which to describe Adam Bainbridge's second album.
Following on from 2012's 'World, You Need A Change Of Mind', Bainbridge has opted this time to bring in a group of collaborators - amongst them former Blood Orange Dev Hynes, Robyn and hip-hop artist/producer Kelela - a shock to the creative process which he's described as "Liberating". Cynics might point to this decision as also bringing about a rounding out of vocal duties away from his less than spiritual pipes, but his music is full of space and understatement, meaning that the words are often events that come in and out of focus along the way, more incidental than dynamic.
As well as being a team effort - veteran sound engineer Jimmy Douglass was also part of the jigsaw - 'Otherness' is also similarly indebted to it's predecessor in terms of influences, mostly culled from late 80s and early 90s R&B. The difference this time is that Bainbridge, whether consciously or otherwise, has made a definitively soul record. By this we don't mean soul in the sense of the honk of Sam Smith and the rest of the vanilla flavoured post-Winehouse clones, but more in it's values; an ethos that's similar but not of the same mould as The Blue Nile's absurdly resonant second album 'Hats'.
If on 'World...' he sounded a little detached from it all, 'Otherness' finds him greatly present and immersed in the job of unravelling the various strands of 20th century contemporary black music. This hand holding ensures opener 'World Restart' is the aural equivalent of a sun filled afternoon in the park, jazzy brass and co-mingling harmonies dappling a lyrical exploration of not holding back on new beginnings. This sense of peace without resignation extends throughout, from the finger pops and ethereal house of 'I'll Be Back' to 'For The Young''s exquisite recipe consisting of a random sample, child-like guitar loop and delicately programmed melodies.
Alone, this could've been music easily overwhelmed, but the extra bodies are full of strength and conviction. Swedish singer Robyn applies a lightness of touch here to 'Who Do You Love' that temporarily draws attention away from it's question, which seems to be aimed not outward but at the subject's conscience. Part big 20th century pop, part hymn, it's also a song that's in several places at once, shifting before the listener's ears effortlessly. At the other end of the scale is Kelela's libidinous grasp on 'With You', where singer and producer strip things back to a trilling/skronking sax, and lo-fi, raw slapped bass. Like The Weeknd, but without the drugs and desolation, its tone encapsulates the juxtaposition between romance and lust in words and notes, not sex as a project, but an overpowering moral darkness eating away at rationality.
In each of its nuanced chapters, 'Otherness' reveals itself a little more. Sometimes pristine, occasionally odd, continuously sublime, Adam Bainbridge has opened up himself to new possibilities but still created a languid, cohesive body of work. We might even describe it as elegant. If anyone even knew what that meant these days.
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