The nu-soul universe can seem dense at times, packed with talented starlets who often shine for the briefest spell. Standing out takes extra energy and individuality, a spark of distinction. The signs are that London based singer, songwriter and keyboardist MADELEINE has such chemistry and an astute creativity that warrants continued attention. Her debut solo EP ‘Colour Me’ out last year, drew from her jazz roots and conjured elegant contemporary r & b sketches, but the follow up ‘Sun Daughter’, available now via Bridge the Gap, presents as a more intense and complex statement.
It’s a self-assured and naturally progressive collection with Madeleine taking the production wheel with a clear focus of what she wanted and how to achieve it. The atmosphere maybe darker and futuristic, a confluence of synths and keyboards, deft beats, funk grooves and luscious vocal liquidity but it’s also aligned with a quirky leftfield Brainfeeder future-soul sensibility. She cites Salami Rose Joe Louis as an influence on this new work which you can hear in the free-range invention of the ‘Sun Daughter‘ songs. That doesn’t mean that this time Madeleine has played down her own song writing strengths, they are very much still at the heart of her work, pulsing with a renewed verve in line with Esperanza Spalding’s vibrant early recordings.
Madeleine’s deftly negotiated balance between innovation and convention is best heard on the more expansively electronic tracks on the new EP. Hold Her may start on the smooth glide of synth vamps, Jack Robson’s agile drum skitters and a classic burbling bass line but Madeleine soon elevates the song to a shimmering, kaleidoscopic place. Beyond the blissful poppy hook, the song unravels in a dreamy swirl of layered keys and intricately collaged vocal loops. The sultry beauty continues on the tumbling dubstep of Love Like You, that nods to the richly thick productions of James Blake without becoming too distracted. That’s because Madeleine has her own stories to tell here, voiced in her own succulent style, laced with personality (check the distant piano and recorded phone message) and framed with distinct lyrical invention. The repeated line ‘Your eyes hold me/Your eyes haunt me’ just shivers with tension.
These heady compositional developments don’t mean that Madeleine has abandoned her deep connection with the UK nu-jazz sound. This relationship perhaps shows most openly on the lilting, live sound of See Me Too, all ringing Rhodes and delicate interplay plus Alex Blake’s subtle guitar blending with Madeleine’s effortless melodic spirals. However it’s the pivotal In My Garden that clearly underlines the step change that ‘Sun Daughter’ represents. A track that evolved from working up a song idea with her go-to sticks person Jack Robson, this sumptuous number openly blooms. From the close conversation between acoustic piano and restrained drums, it arcs from gentle simplicity to a place where the emotions are less predictable. Midway, the orchestral waves of keys, synths, vocal phrases and sweeping percussion seem loose and almost uncontrolled, anchored by Madeleine’s nimble trades between voice and piano. As the coda hints of sound fragments curling up with each-other you feel that something is being defined here.
The song also adds to the narrative that threads through the recording. This is no hastily assembled song selection but a carefully constructed whole, coherently spread with intriguing musical intros and interludes. On ‘Sun Daughter’ Madeleine also seems more focused on making her words integral to the music. Sure she is writing about relationships although intriguingly from different perspectives and often turning the lens onto the inner connection with herself. There’s a poetic feel and flare at work plus plenty of metaphysical imagery which might not suit everyone, but what can’t be discounted is the honesty that underpins Madeleine’s latest work.
That openness is perhaps most exposed on the EP’s conclusion waited too long to flower. A tender torch ballad, set nostalgically within a hint of radio crackle, the stripped back and poignant piano/ vocal arrangement brings the aching timbre of Madeleine’s exceptional voice to the fore. As the ‘she gave all for him’ harmonies bring closure there is still a feel that this story will continue. There’s much more to come from Madeleine as a solo artist and this impressive EP more than keeps up the momentum.
Get your ‘Sun Daughter’ EP by Madeleine HERE