Three years after first making a splash on the UK bass music underground with her anthemic “Love Dub,” Cooly G’s debut album has finally arrived on the revered Hyperdub label. While the album format has historically proven a stumbling block for many a dancefloor-focused producer, Hyperdub has made its name off of coherent artist-statement records. Playin Me is no exception to this, though neither does it reach the heights of some of the label’s classic back-catalogue.
Playin Me largely eschews the dancefloor for a more chilled-out, headphone vibe. The pulsing garage-influenced beats are still there, of course, but here they take a backseat to spacey synth pads and echoing chopped- up pianos and vocals. When I talked to her last year for Bitch magazine, Cooly G said that, “if I’m not listening to what’s new today of a house tune, I’m listening to some old school [rare groove or soul] music or reggae artists like Barrington Levy or Dennis Brown. I’m really stuck in my ways with what I grew up with.” Playin Me really brings out this marriage of the old and the new, taking a resolutely modern and decidedly digital approach to its soul and lover’s rock influences. There’s no space for analogue fetishism in Cooly G’s world.
The mood is alternately seductive and unsettling from the get-go, with the lovely opener “He Said I Said” narrating a prospective sexual encounter, but stopping at the contemplation: “sitting here across the room/thinkin’ bout what we’re gon’ do.” It’s hard to know what to make of this song, with a haunting guitar sample adding a slightly ominous overtone to the proceedings. She follows this up with the euphoric wobbling (but not dubstep wobble!) rising synths of “What This World Needs Now,” alternated with a sparse drum break. Cooly’s vocals and a ragga sample (“what the world needs now is love”) keep the song bubbling along without really drawing the attention too strongly. In a similar vein, “Landscapes” recalls the lusher moments of early drum n bass of the Goldie or LTJ Bukem oevre, all lush pads, sine bass and cooing vocals. The lyrics “welcome to my world/landscapes that I have/leave your thoughts aside/dive into my ride” are inane to be sure, but it’s hard to quibble over such things when the whole package is so slickly put together. The first half of the album flies by, a suite of interlocking songs fleshing out the Cooly G sound. “Come into my world,” she coos, and you want to.
It’s not all great, though. After the strong opening, “Trouble” covers a Coldplay song (never a good idea, that), a plodding piano dirge that not even the fantastic hiccuping beats can save. At thirteen tracks, Playin Me begins to drag towards its end, with a few de rigeur beat workouts not really adding much to the opening salvo. “It’s Serious” featuring house legend Karizma has some serious beats indeed, but the collaboration feels like a slightly pointless addition to the album better saved for a twelve inch. Nevertheless, Playin Me sees Cooly G staking a place as a fine purveyor of digital soul, immaculately produced digital soul as at home on the home stereo as on the dancefloor.