Too many years ago to calculate, I got sent a demo, or possibly a proper EP, by a band called Sexypop. They were French. Or Belgian. Sounded a bit like Soulwax. Weren’t terrible. But, as your own recollection of said band accurately indicates, they never made it. So I’ve not thought of the words “sexy pop” for some time – especially not with the dead-eyed hip-thrust of the ubiquitous, supposed-to-be-seductive singers clogging the mainstream’s veins.
But listening to Pandr Eyez, aka London-based pair Ferren Gipson (vocals) and Tom Lloyd (production), that’s exactly what comes to mind. Sure, the music is rooted in R&B, in hip-hop, in glass-breaking balladry and bass-shaking boom-bap. But the overarching vibe is, definitely, “sexy pop”. This is music to make out to one moment, tear someone’s smalls off to the next, and then trade sheepish smiles over come the simmer-down climax.
“We don’t mind the ‘pop’ label at all,” Lloyd tells me. “There have been hang-ups about it for some bands, certainly, because pop has been associated with being corny. But it’s not so, not anymore.”
The group’s multifaceted new EP, ‘Present’, is being issued as a free download in early February, and is previewed by a(n equally free to download) cover of Mariah Carey’s ‘Heartbreaker’. Coming after the highly original ‘Eyes On You’ EP of 2011 and 2012’s Double Denim-released ‘Physical Education’ single, why front this fresh campaign with a song that’s not your own?
Says Lloyd: “We knew that we wanted to do a cover, and we tossed around a lot of ideas. We can’t really remember how ‘Heartbreaker’ came to stick as the decision, but once we honed in on the sound for it, we were really happy with it. As a little kid, Ferren loved to sing Mariah songs, so it seems a good fit.”
True enough – and Pandr Eyez’s version of Carey’s 1999 UK top five hit retains enough of this pair’s identity to come across as both an introduction to the band for absolute beginners, attracted by the Carey connection, and a consolidation of their previously expressed strengths for those with a better knowledge of their catalogue to date.
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Pandr Eyez, ‘Heartbreaker’ (download)
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But ‘Heartbreaker’ is far from a strict tone-setter for its parent EP, a five-track set which bumps fiercely on the fizzing ‘Brr’, grooves with singular style on ‘Don’t Hurt ‘Em’, and heads for the torch-song stratosphere with ‘Emotional’. That no one song is a true continuation of the next, in the sense of arrangements sharing distinct qualities, is a bold statement from a band still finding its audience. But it’s a move to be applauded, and Lloyd sees the five tracks as being connected in spirit, as being friends.
“Most of our songs are different from each other, but we think they relate well to at least one other track we’ve done,” says Lloyd. “We work with this idea of songs being ‘friends’. For example, we would say that ‘Emotional’ and ‘Again And Again’, from the Double Denim single, are friends.
“We aren’t actively saying: no repeats. But in trying to always push ourselves to experiment, we’re constantly moving through styles and carrying through the bits we like. We have to make tracks we can truly stand by.”
Lloyd’s list of production influences goes some way to explaining his preference for remaining an artist in motion, never resting on just one style: Marley Marl, El-P, RZA, Kanye West, Diplo, Kraftwerk, Giorgio Moroder. “The list could go on,” he says. “I’m always hearing elements in new tracks that I like, but truthfully I’ve never been tied to any one producer’s sound.”
American vocalist Gipson, compared to Beyoncé by Fader, cites a couple of inspirations: “Sade, Teena Marie and Aaliyah are a few,” she says, “but I’m a little precious about listing such things. I don’t know why. It can depend on the kind of song I’m writing – I might suddenly be influenced by someone like Minnie Riperton for a track, when I’d never been before.”
What’s always present in Pandr Eyez’s songs, though, is the complete connection between Gipson and Lloyd. This isn’t a production project with a singer sweeping in, nor a solo career set to one guy’s beats. It’s a proper band, writing material in unison. And it’s been that way since the pair came together while studying at SOAS, University of London, in 2009/10.
“The details are murky,” says Lloyd, “but somewhere in there we found out we both made music, and had similar tastes, so we decided to make some music without either of us even hearing what the other could do. We’d sit up, playing YouTube videos back and forth, all night – stuff like golden age hip-hop, pop, garage, southern US hip-hop, dubstep… all sorts.”
And so far, so good. Each release resonates as an evident advancement, and the future for the pair would seem theirs for the taking based on the quality of ‘Present’ (take that title however you want: indicating the here and now of its makers, or referring to its free-for-you gifting). As they’re releasing the EP themselves, DIY-style, there’s plenty of graft to come for Pandr Eyez, but they’re sure of meeting these challenges.
“It’s hard work,” says Lloyd, of going alone right now, without a label, “and it’s not for everyone. You need a vision. You need a plan. You need an end goal. You need a steady supply of wine.”
We can all drink to that, you sexy-poppers, you.
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What: Can we just stick with “sexy pop”? No? Well, hip-hop and R&B given fresh sneakers and a slinky groove, then. Sorta sexy.
Get 3 Songs: ‘Eyes On You’ (video above), ‘Heartbreaker’, ‘Again And Again’… and download ‘Present’ on February 4th. Keep an eye on SoundCloud.
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Words: Mike Diver