Alternative R&B has long been one of my favourite musical sub-genres, but, as time has gone on, and more experimental concepts of sound become prominent within genres stereotypically found on the car radio, it has evolved into a form of music I find quite difficult to describe.
After the release of The Weekend's 'House of Balloons' and Frank Ocean's 'Channel Orange' I was enthralled. This was the alternative R&B I was searching for, but, as both artists and albums have hit peak popularity, and more abstract forms of music increasingly gather more attention, it just doesn't sit right anymore. This isn't a dig at Abel or Frank, whom both I still love as artists, it's more of an observation of the cleanliness - the structure - that has led to both of these artists entering the realms of pop.
Now I look to artists like Ian Isiah and Ot To, Not To to satisfy my experimental needs.
The latter (now a duo after contributions from Noah on the final track of the new record, after it began its life while Ian was homeless in Richmond, Virginia) have previously released on Nicolas Jaar's Other People label back in 2016, followed by a double LP, 'These Movements I & II', on London imprint ACR.
Their latest effort, 'It Loved To Happen', is experimental R&B in its truest sense. Releasing on February 15th on New Info, it has stayed true to its alternative song structure - an "effort to subvert tropes in pop R&B, whether those be the stereotypical, sterile cleanliness of radio R&B or the safe themes and song structures" - as they say.
The record opens with 'It loved', a mournful, mumbled, heartfelt sequence. It's as if Ian Murgerwa is exhausted from the essence of being, however, this isn't lazy work. It's complex, intimate and personal.
This is a sparse record, yet it packs a mighty punch. Every emotion is played out to its fullest. On 'New York City’, we are met with cinematic suspense, almost too much to bear, before Mugerwa's emotionally shaken voice opens the window.
'Blanc WAV' and 'Apaixonado' are real highlights. The initial track features wooden instruments, playful plucking of strings, chanting and sublime orchestral arrangement that makes for a truly engrossing experience. It feels angry, or at least defiant, in comparison to Apaixonado. On, the latter, it doesn't quite feel like giving up, buts it's close. Like an old wooden ship on the brink of damage limitation - its captain, still and silent, in the wake of destruction.
On ‘It Loved To Happen’, Ot To, Not To continue to creatively and quietly implement a most intimate form of self reflection. The song writing is plain and gentle, and when combined with elements of folk, contemporary classical and recordings of winds howling, crashing oceans and chirruping birds, it makes for one of the most spellbinding records you're likely to listen to all year.
Words: Andrew Moore
- - -
Join us on Vero, as we get under the skin of global cultural happenings. Follow Clash Magazine as we skip merrily between clubs, concerts, interviews and photo shoots. Get backstage sneak peeks and a true view into our world as the fun and games unfold.