[Warp Records; 05/01/2012]
Kwes is the smoothest awkward person you ever listened to.
It took four years for British artist Kwes to put out his second EP, bashful., a consummate series of songs. He was probably being something of a perfectionist, but he was also working on other people’s projects. At just 25, he’s produced tracks for Ghostpoet, Speech Debelle, Micachu and DELS, and has collaborated with Gorillaz founder Damon Albarn. Listening to bashful.’s confident yet sensitive free-form pop, you get a sense of why he is just so sought-after as a producer. Warm and low-key, yet confident, the songs are as open emotionally as they are musically. You make the effort to lean into the speakers to catch his delicate vocals, because there’s something special there.
Kwes calls his style “free pop,” an appropriately vague term for songs that slip easily from one genre to the next, and yet sound like none of them, from soul to R&B to electro-pop to lo-fi.
The EP starts out with “Klee,” an instrumental track that leans closer to his prior EP. The title might be a reference to Kwes’ synaesthetic condition, where he sees colors as sounds and vice versa, leaving the track’s washes of atmospheric sound like a digital rainbow. In contrast to No Need To Run, the feel is less dance-oriented and has a more kitchen sink approach.
The three songs with lyrics give us a window into a person who likes to sip lemon and ginger, and says things like worthwhile love is a handful, as on “Igoyh.” And while lyrics on “Bashful” make up an internal monologue of self-consciousness, Looking over feeling awkward/I’m thinking time is falling through, he’s winking at us, because the song’s production bursts with charisma.
“Honey” is a riot of quirky percussion, from glockenspiel to the drizzle of rain to what sounds like a cup of cutlery being shaken, while leaning in a more R&B direction melodically.
The album closes with “Igoyh,” which takes things in a more serious direction. Kwes promises fidelity over the clatter of a manual typewriter. And with acoustic piano, glockenspiel, electric bass, organ and his falsetto-reaching soul delivery, Kwes drives the point home with a pop orchestra behind him.