It takes a lot of gusto for a new artist to bet it all on one single, released a year before an actual album is due. In the case of Mapei, “Don’t Wait,” the single in question, was actually quite gorgeous, landing the American-born Swede on the radar of everyone from niche music mags to Vogue.com. It is an earnest treatise on friendship set to the sway of steady fingersnaps and the warm patter of Brazilian atabaque hand drums. At the bridge, a tender and sing-songy rap gives the song new charm, complemented by a brilliant, soaring minor-key hook.
An album full of graceful and contemporary soul ballads like “Don’t Wait” would be a safe haven from the overblown drama of mainstream pop, but unfortunately most of Mapei’s debut falls flat, with tracks that are either overstuffed with charisma or totally lacking. Like its title, Hey Hey, the album is nondescript and almost schizophrenic — it never settles on one idea. Tinkling soukous guitar ostinatos rub up against big-voiced soul, rhythmic Lauryn Hill-inspired mantras and poppy post-punk reminiscent of Santigold. The mood is overwhelmingly feel-good —atmospheric, endorphin-suffused Florence Welch or Ellie Goulding-type feel-good — and some might appreciate the diversity of sounds, but Hey Hey feels too meandering and rootless, like there were too many hands in the pot. The only song that nears the focus of “Don’t Wait” is “Things You Know Nothing About.” A Theremin melody unlocks a pulsing, funky Justice production, and Mapei bellows soulfully on top. It mixes the unique bass-led production style of Justice, Mapei’s long-time collaborators, with the unhinged personality of diva house to brilliant effect. Isn’t that what friends are for?