There’s much talk of The New Boring, the supposed prevalence of a staid, pleasant, young fogeyish tendency in new music - the success of your Michael Kiwanukas, Adeles and Ben Howards being its most obvious symptom.
You could slot the subtle, tasteful music of Birmingham songwriter Laura Mvula neatly into this tide of tedium. My parents always told me, though, that only boring people get bored, and if you invest a little patient listening in these sophisticated songs, they reveal a nature that is anything but ordinary.
Though she worked on her debut album ‘Sing To The Moon’ with Tom Elmhirst, a Grammy-award winner who has also worked with Amy Winehouse, Lily Allen and the aforementioned Adele, Mvula defies cookie-cutter categories. The songs betray her Birmingham Conservatoire classical training in deft and unexpected structural left turns and unusual arrangements that romp through many more genres than just soul or pop. There’s an imaginative ambition to songs such as ‘Like The Morning Dew’ with its psych-folk tinged meanderings among rolls of martial drums that bring to mind Joanna Newsom rather than, say, Emeli Sande.
‘She’ deploys a favourite trick, a sudden swell of closely chorused backing vocals (courtesy of a band that includes both her brother and sister) before galloping away with increasingly aggressive drums. It’s the shape of these songs rather than melody or emotion that commands the attention in a quiet way, and they do so best when at their most adventurous, as with the practically proggy ‘Is There Anybody Out There’, played for the first time live tonight, but less so on the more run-of-the-mill love soul of ‘Let Me Fall’. ‘Father, Father’, played with simple intensity, has a medieval folk feel live, and recalls the emotional purity of classic, jazzy singer-songwriters like Joni Mitchell or Laura Nyro, while the brass-tinged bebop lark of closer ‘Alright’ indulges a more playful side.
If the post-Winehouse kittenish of Mvula’s voice can sometimes irk with its quirkiness, it never feels like she’s the primary focus here; as she puts it, “This is really about celebrating music I’ve grown up with playing in my family, and it’s really a communal celebration, not just about me. “For once it doesn’t sound like false modesty. Boring is as boring does after all, and Mvula is quietly doing more than enough to deserve your attention.
Like The Morning Dew
Let Me Fall
What The Weather
Is There Anybody Out There?
Sing To The Moon
Flying Without You