Widely tipped for success on the back of his 2010 EP, No Need to Run, Kwes. has taken his time with his debut album. But as that title suggested, the creative process is a marathon, not a sprint. Why rush what’s really important? The young London producer has hardly been idle in the interim: He’s released a second EP; visited the Democratic Republic of Congo to record with Damon Albarn, Actress and others; collaborated with Bobby Womack; reworked a Puccini aria; and remixed the diverse likes of Chiddy Bang, The Invisible and Lianne La Havas. But now, ilp.
It’s a hugely alluring set of experimental free pop, which shows its author is as sympathetic to Robert Wyatt’s divinely cracked songcraft, Stevie Wonder’s cosmic soul and the tripped-out house of Oneohtrix Point Never as he is to Frank Ocean’s downer R&B or James Blake’s forlorn electronica. But while there’s no denying a similarity to the latter in the watery “Flower,” Kwes.’s expression is less restricted than Blake’s, his songs both more abstract and playful.
Take “Purplehands” — which opens with a soft-focus cacophony of electronic noise and treated piano/Wurlitzer — or the sweetly whacked-out “Cablecar,” featuring a conversation between a child and his parents that Kwes. recorded on the cable car that crosses the Thames near his studio. Vaporous synths reflect the frustration and exhaustion brought on by an inspiration fail in “Broke,” while tension is tweaked via the swarming synth motifs and hyperactive vocal multi-tracking of “Chagall” and “Parakeet” respectively.
“B_shf_l”, though, is the pop calm after the storm. A reworking of “Bashful” from Kwes.’s “Meantime” EP — and surely the only love song to feature the phrase “flying palindrome” — it’s the understatedly euphoric finale. “Getting over myself, looking forwards/ Will do my utmost to impress you,” Kwes. croons. On that count, ilp‘s mission is unarguably accomplished.