Lexx` debut long-player, Cosmic Shift, lands today. Awhile in gestation, a lot of people have been waiting. And perhaps a lot of people will be surprised. After giving the record a quick first listen I emailed Lexx,
“Less Balearic….More 2020 R&B.”
The music seeming to slot into a looming Street Soul revival – prompted by Be With Record`s reissue of Bo`vel `s Check 4 U, and in evidence on Ruf Dug`s recent The Committee E.P.
Having said that, over the last couple of days I went back and listened to all of Lexx` previous productions, and remixes (yep, I have them all), and to my ears at least his sound has not changed that dramatically. I mean there`s no House here. No Dub Disco. Tempos are lower, and any idea of a 4 / 4 kick removed. But the bottom end heft – belying Lexx` love of Reggae and Dub – remains. Guitars come in wash and overdub. Stoned Psychedelic solos. Eno & Lanois Apollo-esque Country slide. Keys and vibes in glissando. Overall, it`s still this kind of Technological Soul – but more so – because of the vocalists.
Jonny Spencer, on Deep Blue, provides a classic Yacht Rock update. Think AM & Shawn Lee`s City Boy. But warmer, fuzzier. The ethereal sighs, gentle conga, and Space Age wah-wah of Waves could be Nite Jewel doing Sade. The fragile but defiant voice of Ella Thompson, recalling the beautiful highs of Nautic`s Laura Groves. Eye 1-2 is a Summer sojourn. A Tropic of Jazz inflections, and Detroit pads. Singer, Asé, a Billie Holiday, by way of Erykah Badu. On Too Hot Lexx` long-term collaborator, Woolfy, searches for some safe shade in a dread Californian heat wave, to a Compass Point-esque skank. Fellow Californian Harriet Brown flows like Andre 3000, persuading his baby to taking off his / her cool, on Hot Weather. Machine rhythms percolating like Mtume`s Linn LM-1. Universal Prayer too comes with West Coast harmonies, but set to a Nyahbinghi rattle. Connected Lost has Helicon sirens singing beneath a cloudless azure sky. Vibrate is a cooling breeze of Brazilian cuica, groovy syncopation, and Lexx` own Rap-informed poetry.
In my opinion Cosmic Shift is a real achievement, primarily because it`s a collection of proper songs. It`s not a handful of dance floor hits plucked, or reworked, from Lexx` past, linked together by instrumental / Ambient doodles. By being grounded in song the album truly has the potential to connect with, and crossover to, a much wider audience. Young folks into Blood Orange, Washed Out, and Rhye, and a hundred other happening acts that I’m too old to know the names of, should be checking Cosmic Shift out.
How long did the album take to put together?
I had in mind to make an album for quite a while. In 2015 I started with the first demos. After previously doing mainly remixes, I first had to find out which direction I wanted to take and find a voice of my own. I tried to fuse the key elements of the music I love and have been listening to for the past 30 plus years.
Does what you’re listening to influence the music you make?
That’s somehow inevitable .
The album may surprise a few people. After a quick first listen to the album, I emailed you and said “Less Balearic, more 2020 RnB” Was it a conscious decision to move away from the sound you’ve been associated with? If so, why?
It was a conscious decision to move away from purely instrumental music. I definitely wanted to work with vocalists and do proper songs. It didn’t feel like moving away from something, rather getting closer to the core.
Does the album represent a move back towards your roots in RnB and Rap?
I don’t think so. Maybe I do embrace my musical roots a bit more these days but it doesn’t feel like moving backwards.
How did you find the vocalists? Can you tell me more about them?
I first heard Ella Thompson on the GL tune What Happened To Us? which I listened to a lot at home. My second encounter with her was when I remixed Venus II’s I Want U 4 Myself. While working on the mix I fell in love with her voice but didn’t make the connection at first. Once I realized, I wrote to her and asked if she wanted to be part of my album.
To ask my buddy Woolfy to sing on one of the tunes was a no-brainer. We’ve been in the studio together before and I love his energy. He’s fun.
When I imagined a voice for what became Deep Blue, Jonny Spencer came to mind. I was into Chicken Lips` White Dwarf and I thought his voice would match perfectly. Deep Blue was the last song on the album to be completed but I knew that I wanted it to be the opener.
Paul Byrne contacted Harriet Brown for our collaboration Hot Weather. I’m not sure how it came about exactly. I think a Daniel T, song with Harriet on it, caught Paul’s attention.
Asé is an up-and-coming singer from Zurich. She’s a friend, and has worked previously with Kevin (Gabriel Wettstein), who played some bits on various tunes on the LP. It was lovely to work with her. She’s a special one.
How did the collaborations work? Did you provide both music and lyrics?
I knew the feel I was looking for and had some ideas concerning the themes. At the same time I wanted to give the singers enough space to express themselves. I didn’t provide the lyrics but made suggestions and gave input, on all of the songs except Hot Weather. I wrote a verse for Too Hot with slightly more conscious lyrics but Woolfy wasn’t having it. Haha.
Were the interactions digital or physical?
Woolfy and Harriet both recorded in L.A. Ella in Melbourne and Jonny in Spain. The sessions with Asé were here in Zürich, in the same space I recorded my own vocals.
Equanimity is slow stoned Psyche, close to the sound of Khruangbin. I can also hear similarities on the album with acts like Nite Jewel, and Nautic, Bo`vel, and Sugar Records` Winsome. Would any of these artists have been influences?
With for Equanimity, was aiming to create a feeling of relief and being at peace with myself. To me it has a slight Ry Cooder Paris, Texas vibe with a Jazz twist. If any of the people you mention have been an influence, it wasn’t intentionally. I would call Look How Long-era Loose Ends an influence, Sly & Robbie’s 80’s productions, Sade, between 88 to 92, Paul “Groucho“ Smykle`s mixes, but also more current artists like The Internet or Frank Ocean.
The album is a big achievement, with proper songs, and the chance to crossover to both Indie and Jazz audience. The track Vibrate had me thinking the London Jazz thing, Andrew Ashong, 22a, On The Corner, Black Focus, etc. Have you been taking in any of this music? Does Gilles Peterson have a copy of the album?
Thank you. Vibrate is somewhat inspired by Roy Ayers, who I was listening to again a lot last Summer. It started as a fifteen minute jam after a long day of recording with Guitarist Roger Szedalik. I took it from there and edited and arranged it into a song.
I definitely follow some of the new acts that have emerged out of London in recent years. If you’re into current music, it’s hard to ignore what’s going on. No, Gilles hasn’t got it yet but I’ll definitely send him a copy of the vinyl!
You can order a copy of Lexx` Cosmic Shift directly from Phantom Island.
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