If you live in a major city, chances are you constantly have something in your ears, whether it be earbuds blaring the soundtrack to your day; the noises of people on the street, cars, construction; music softly playing in the grocery store. There is a never-ending list of sounds heard throughout one’s day. That is why the music of new artists FKA Twigs, Inc., The-Drum, Saa, and Rhye all shimmer in a soft and twinkling spotlight. The art of finding the space in between beats and blips is integral to their music as it allows a calm for the listener whilst allowing focus on what is heard, the glowing vocals of FKA Twigs and Rhye, or fascinating production of The-Drum and Saa.
The negative space, the silence stitched into each song by these artists, is a sound many people unknowingly yearn for in their lives. It’s a reminder to breathe along with the song. The artists discussed here all fit within an abstract sense of NeoSoul and R&B; think of acts like Sade and D’Angelo as inspirations. This lyrical and vocal relationship is tied to the innovative and spacey sounds of Trip-Hop and Electronic Jazz. The-Drum, a production team without vocals, remain within the category due to the rhythmic sense of their latest album Contact, and the brilliant use of sounds leaving a listener never missing a vocal narrative. FKA Twigs recently released the track “Water Me” to much acclaim, through the acclaimed label YoungTurks, the same as the XX. Her soft and compelling vocals tell the melancholic story of wanting more from a romantic relationship. She emotes while a few layers of sounds wash back and forth over her like waves on the sand, leaving room to really appreciate the smooth vocals left in the sunlight between each crash of sound onto the shore. Her two EPs, EP and EP2, have a similar arrangement of spacey, soothing and melancholic songs. The influences of soft R&B vocalists like Janet Jackson come to mind, as well as productions similar to Massive Attack and other Trip-Hop artists from the same time period.
Rhye and Inc. are both finding acclaim in their respected collaborations, both as duos. Their songs take note of the soft Nineties of Sade and other R&B stars of the time but also take a turn into darker and less traditional sounds. Both duos are full of romanticism and the types of personalities to ‘make love’, not just have sex. Whispered and breathless vocals of love and infatuation emoted over slightly organic and well chosen instrumentation that never feels crowded. The vocals remain in the spotlight. Rhye especially offers some unique and glowing vocals that leave the production a shy helping hand in the background.
The production work of these artists refers to real instruments as well as digital. The works of James Blake, Nicolas Jaar, Electric Wire Hustle and Flying Lotus all relate to these new sounds that blend authentic instrumentation and digital touches and beats into a new world. The relations to Electronic Jazz, House, Trip Hop, and Pop music can be heard within their tracks in ways that relate to FKA Twigs, The-Drum, or Inc. The artists and producers know when to leave that space, the silence and trickling soft sounds with true instruments, typically percussion, mixed in to move the song along. By no means is a genre being born, as all of these artists take from different styles and have different motivations, but they all have a gift to know what not to say and what not to hear. They use the minimal for great effect, finding the beauty in the negative space versus filling those voids with further layers of music. These artists use what is essential and do not push things any further because their talents as vocalists and producers shines without more musical tricks and sounds and leave the listener with a sense of peace and freedom to enjoy the audio beauty provided by each song.