Having entered 2013 on a surging tide of momentum and ever-growing hype, AlunaGeorge – the London-based R&B sandwich surnamed Francis and Reid respectively – are now finally coming to ground with their full-length debut Body Music.
They’ve timed their descent into festival season perfectly, characteristic of a carefully orchestrated gestation period. Dropping singles and EPs on an almost quarterly-basis for the last two years, they’ve given themselves time for their self-consciously 90s influenced – but distinctively forward-thinking – fusion of pop, garage and R&B to coalesce, suggesting a band with a clear sense of their identity and a desire to get things right. Armed with their music and lessons learned from having their fingers burned in their past, the hype is earned. Now all the pressure is on the final delivery.
Before tucking into the album though, such preparations appear already to have missed a crucial step; the initial presentation of the tracklist setting alarm bells ringing. Stacking their three preceding singles and calling-cards (‘You Know You Like It’, ’Attracting Flies’, ’Your Drums, Your Love’) back-to-back in the first four tracks is certainly no cardinal sin, but it reeks of the kind of top-loading that at the very least indicates pacing issues, and all-too-often demarcates a dearth of quality elsewhere.
On digestion however, a strange paradox occurs. Whilst these initial fears somewhat prove to be the case – and undeniably the summits of those three peaks are never quite reached again – the quality of those tracks is so high that the slightly lesser nature of the remainder is alleviated, scaling the heights if not reaching them.
‘You Know You Like It’ is sublime, its bass throbs, cymbal snaps and vocals coos still sounding as fresh as they did when it first dropped in 2011 – even if the re-release video encapsulates the kind of cliché, CBBCified “urban” aesthetic that appropriately ‘drives you insane’. ‘Attracting Flies’ fizzes and pops magnificently, the underlying clinking percussion that kicks in from the first pre-chorus operating as the secret ingredient that ensures the track continues to worm its way deep inside your brain long after its run-time is through. On top of that are Aluna’s satisfyingly snarky ripostes to the poser with the titular behavioural characteristic, a delicious lyrical contrast to the dominant romantic themes of the record.
The final salvo of the opening triumvirate, ‘Your Drums, Your Love’ is the crowning achievement though. Packed with all kinds of woozy bliss – from the pitch-shifted intro that recurs at key junctures, the verses melding old-school Theme Hospital-esque synth-lines with contemporary break-beats, and a perfectly structured build into a timelessly captivating chorus – it’s good enough to be consider one of the songs of this year as well as last.
Outside of the ubiquitous singles though Body Music makes you work a bit harder for your thrills. Opener ‘Outlines’ is gorgeous – a down-tempo, beautifully delivered rumination on love and loss. The heart-broken chorus “I can’t help but chasing these outlines of you” is a particular highlight, capturing the fear that time doesn’t always heal all wounds, that sense of heavy absence compounded by sounds, stories and symbols: the last semblance of a life or love formerly known. But perhaps for that very reason it feels a slightly strange choice of opener. Love is a dominant thematic concern of the album, but opening with the track that possesses the lowest mood of their reflections upon it feels incongruous, particularly when the positively bubbling, alert and empowered ‘You Know You Like It’ kicks in immediately after.
Elsewhere, some tracks tend towards the more serviceable than spectacular. Initially captivating touches and musical notions go astray or grow a little worn out by the close, particularly on ‘Bad Idea’ and the title-track, which both lack a certain catalytic element: a definitive tempo-change or hook.
Throughout even these low points however, Aluna’s syrupy, seductive timbre to her vocals – at their most supreme on the elegant, sophisticated ‘Best Be Believing’ – are an absolute treat, demarcating her as a real talent, confident and distinctive among the plethora of female pop-stars who’ve risen to prominence in the 2010s. Yet, despite the star-potential oozing from every pore, it is still ultimately the production that is the absolute stand-out aspect of Body Music.
Even when the album loses its way structurally or lyrically – typified by the amusingly odd excessive earnesty and inadvertent belittlement of ‘Superstar’ – Reid ensures that there will always be a Timbaland-esque intricate production idiosyncrasy or quirk round the corner. These underlying textures or beats (bubbles popping, witty melodic echoes, Nintendocore chirps) are the sonic cocktail that firmly elevate AlunaGeorge into the upper echelons of contemporary pop, keeping their sound eminently appealing, even and especially when their songs are not always as consistently refined, original or essential as the duo are more than capable of.