Private Agenda have put together an extremely well thought-out collection of low-key, down-tempo, sophisticated grooves, that marry underground sensibilities with a more commercial pop sense: a tough nut to crack but one which the duo have undertaken with relish. All the tracks on A Mannequin burn brightly with a deep-rooted musical intelligence that veers away from the tired, cliché-ridden view of vocal cuts: this is a cannily constructed, updated version of the classic tropes as heard on those timeless Zero 7 and Massive Attack tunes, for example – adult vibes for those seeking a little twist to their mainstream pleasures. It’s a tricky field to operate in, full of unforeseen mishaps and missteps, but the guys clearly have the smarts to play the field securely – these are cuts that will work in a myriad of settings. There’s a warmth and a clarity to the production that speaks of countless hours behind the desk, but crucially there’s not so much sheen that the soul of the music gets lost – it sparkles but doesn’t shine so hard that everything elides into one.
You can pick highlights pretty much at random: Gemini’s dialled-down boom-bap swims in delightful waters – introspective, poised, early morning feels: a genuine swoon of a track – featherlight but packing a pillowed punch, a really clever song rounded off with a side helping of chiming guitar parts. A winner.
Splendour leaps into dance-floor mode: pristine pop sculptured equally for radio play – there’s an FM sheen going on. It`s a five-minute essay on how to create grown-up sounds that hold the attention, underpinning a softly manicured pop excursion – neatly done guys!
Automation comes on like Larry Heard getting busy with Billie Ray Martin – again there’s a melancholic undertow that anchors the mood – a recognition that every dance moves to both highs and lows, much like life itself. This is multi-faceted music-making, engaging the senses, wrapping the ears in pleasurable patterns, while ticking the emotional boxes too. A quiet storm of an album.
By the time Substance spins you out you’re more than convinced – Private Agenda have created, crafted a vision, a world of their own design, and it is really rather wonderful. A Mannequin is a slow burn and all the better for it: people will be digging this one out for many a moon to come.
Private Agenda`s A Mannequin will be released by Lo Recordings on April 29th.