Plush R&B that draws from classic jazz as much as it does from contemporary pop
Can’t get enough of this year’s instant soft-soul classic, Rhye’s Woman? Before there was Rhye, there was the 2009 debut of Quadron, the similarly sultry Danish duo of singer Coco O and multi-instrumentalist Robin Hannibal, the latter also half of Rhye. Having charmed Jay-Z, Coco O recently appeared on the Great Gasby soundtrack, and now the cognoscenti-approved pair returns with their major-label debut. Avalanche offers more of what makes Woman so sublime — plush R&B that draws from classic jazz as much as it does from contemporary pop — but with Coco’s feistier, more diverse delivery.
Like Rhye’s Mike Milosh, Coco sounds as if she spent her tender years wailing along to nothing but Mary J. Blige, Erykah Badu and Billie Holiday. And like Milosh, she’s not purely imitative: A growly throatiness, combined with far more idiomatic phrasing than most ESL vocalists can usually pull off, adds subtle twists that set Coco apart from less distinctive students. And her lyrics are similarly uncommon, full of playful quirks: “If for one day I could be any bug/ I’d let him kill me for a taste of his blood,” she sings of the man she’s love-stalking in “Crush.”
Hannibal, as her producer cohort, once again proves himself a superlative studio rat. Producing, arranging, engineering and also playing all the instruments he hasn’t shrewdly assigned elsewhere, Hannibal creates some of the loveliest textures to grace R&B this millennium. Like ’70s Stevie Wonder, he combines technology with a broad palate of real strings, horns, woodwinds, guitars, and percussion. Alternating synthetic rhythm sections with live bass and drums but generally favoring acoustic instrumentation over electronics, he switches the combinations subtly while staying closer to chamber music than grandiose orchestrations. Always he supports rather than obscures Coco, and although each hold their own, their collaboration on swelling, rainbow-hued cuts like “LFT” and “Neverland” is sweetly symbiotic. This Avalanche feels like one long leisurely embrace.