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Review: AlunaGeorge Body Music

AlunaGeorge are a UK based duo who’ve created a lot of buzz the past two years with their mining of the sweet spot between r&b and bass genres like UK garage. After such an extended build-up, finally their debut album Body Music has dropped, and it is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a mixed bag.

British r&b has often struggled to set itself apart from its American counterpart, caught up in emulation rather than innovation. Like a lot of the current wave of indie r&b, AlunaGeorge are heavily indebted to millenial r&b of the Timbaland/Neptunes oevre, marrying the sparse beats and quirky noises to lush synth pads.

Body Music is at its strongest when it brings its bass elements to the fore. Previous single “You Know You Like It” has been given a slight brush-up but remains strong with its elastic bass and 8-bit synth bleeps. “Your Drums, Your Love” uses a pitched-down vocal hook to great effect, a nod to the chopped and screwed sound. “Attracting Flies” uses a distinctive distorted synth riff, thick electro drums and dramatic stabs to flesh out its story of a lying ex. “Lost and Found” harks back to the glory days of UK garage, with its skipping 2-step beats, deep sub-bass, and vocal cut-ups. The great Sunship mixes of girlgroup Misteeq offer themselves as a point of comparison, and it’s a flattering one for AlunaGeorge.

Too often, though, the overblown synth sounds work to overpower Aluna’s thin vocals. “Outlines,” the album’s opener is awash with reverbed pads, and lacks anything resembling a discernible melody, as does the title track. Aluna’s vocals are pretty, but frequently anodyne and uninvolving.

Furthermore, there’s the distinct feeling of padding to the album, rolling out fourteen tracks where ten would have done. There’s nothing really terrible about “Bad Idea” or “Kaleidoscope Love,” but nothing really very exciting. Sadly, early single “We are Chosen,” reminiscent of the Shanks and Bigfoot classic “Sweet Like Chocolate,” does not appear, though it would have been one of the collection’s strongest tracks.

The album ends with a reasonable cover of Montell Jordan’s 90s party classic “This Is How We Do It,” a nod to the duos 90s roots. Unfortunately, though, it highlights one of the album’s main flaws—a lack of strong songwriting. Simply chucking together a few quirky synth sounds and a hard beat doesn’t make up for a lack of melodic chops.

At their best, AlunaGeorge are practicing a kind of wonky r&b. Pillaging the best sounds of what Simon Reynolds called the “hardcore continuum”–genres like drum & bass, UK garage and dubstep—and matching them to sweet American style r&b vocals is a time-honoured English production trick, and its one that at its best still works a treat. “Body Music” is best when it is just that, music to get a body moving.  3/5

Photo by jasonr611, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.