Every now and then, a musician emerges who has the ability to create a fusion of diverse sounds with a fresh and original twist. Such is the case with producer turned solo-artist Kwes in his debut album “ilp.”
The British Kwes first hit the scene producing tracks for bands like the xx and British rapper DELS. This attracted the attention of Damon Albarn – of Blur and Gorillaz fame – who hired Kwes to produce “Kinshasha One-Two” (2011), a collaborative album featuring many musicians from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This partnership between Kwes and Albarn continued as both musicians worked on Bobby Womack’s newest and rather well received record, “The Bravest Man in the Universe” (2012). Most recently, Kwes produced the track “Who I Am” on Pusha-T’s “My Name Is My Name” (2013).
Despite this background, Kwes has set out to show that he is more than just a producer. His solo album showcases his talent for creating sonic landscapes and crafting lyrics. Kwes’ melodies are oftentimes deceptively simple, drawing listeners in almost hypnotically – and it’s easy to discover even more intricacies with every play.
No single element of Kwes’ music outweighs the other. He establishes multi-layered rhythms by juxtaposing various melodies over a deep bass line or a simple drum pattern, and then adds his own soulful voice to the tracks. Though he isn’t the best of singers, Kwes’ lyrics give the songs an extra element of emotion – most of the tracks deal with romance and love.
The very core of “ilp.” is dedicated to the love Kwes’ grandparents shared. As a dedicatory line at the end of one of the lead singles “36,” Kwes repeats the phrase “I love you both.” This same warmth permeates through all of the tracks on his album.
It’s hard to describe exactly what sort of music Kwes makes. His sound bears some resemblance to the work of Canadian R&B musician The Weeknd (minus the sexual predator persona), as well as the minimalistic electronic stylings of James Blake (but with fewer stripped-down beats). Yet, Kwes also incorporates elements from both traditional pop and lo-fi styles. In fact, Kwes is at his best when he deconstructs typical pop elements and puts his own spin on the music – as he does on the two strongest songs on the album, “B_shf_l” (a.k.a. Bashful) and “36.”
These tracks – along with the also strong “Rollerblades” and the sprawling, lengthy “Cablecar” – take elements from more experimental forms of music and combine them in a way that is both accessible and appealing, while still maintaining their uniqueness.
In Kwes’ case, his unique perspective on music might possibly emerge from his chromesthesia, a specific form of synesthesia that causes people to see varying colors emerge from musical notes. In an interview with Red Bull Music, Kwes hinted that his chromesthesia was a major reason why he loves music and his past album art on previous EPs has been influenced by the colors he associates with different notes.
Nevertheless, not everything in Kwes’ debut album is so well produced. Shorter songs towards the end of “ilp.,” such as “Parakeet” and “Chagall,” seem to be set too far adrift in their own spacey directions, making them feel disjointed from the rest of the album. This detracts from the overall quality of the record and keeps “ilp.” from being truly great. Yet, the stronger tracks are enough to provide a grounded debut for the 25-year-old understated British producer, who is clearly ready to take on the world with his new and innovative work.