Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood imprint presents Songs of an Unknown Tongue, the fourth studio album from Zara McFarlane. A prominent member of Britain’s burgeoning jazz scene, McFarlane’s latest record explores her Jamaican heritage via a futuristic sonic range co-produced with South London artists Kwake Bass and Wu-lu.
Vinyl LP £17.99 BWOOD209LP
LP on Brownswood.
CD £12.49 BWOOD209CD
CD on Brownswood.
‘Songs of an Unknown Tongue’ is dripping wet. Every track on the album is fluid and dynamic, given form by Zara McFarlane’s voice. The horns are wet, the bass is wet, even the drums sound wet. It makes for an album that is compelling in how slippy it is, how it eludes simple categorisation. The songs occasionally threaten a conventional song structure, but more often end up sound like a curious mix of the contemporary pop explorations of the likes of FKA Twigs and Arca mashed up with the slightly more shiny end of the London jazz scene McFarlane is a part of. I’m thinking in particular of Joe Armon-Jones and Emma-Jean Thackray.
The wettest song is probably 'My Story'. It features drums which sound like they’re being played in a stream, a stream that the bass lines are effortlessly floating along. After a two minute introduction the song cuts out everything apart from drums and vocals, before building up with multi-tracked vocals. ‘Broken Water’ is also wet, wet in how McFarlane sings a duet with herself, with melodies and harmonies all in tension with each other. Eventually she loops a chopped up sample of herself singing the song title, turning the track into a slow and simmering drum ‘n’ bass tune.
The album occasionally strikes a triumphant note, the dub inspired ‘Roots of Freedom’ has horns mirroring vocals and horns piling on top of each other in a reverby miasma. It hints at a piercing trumpet solo to bring everything home but doesn’t make good on it. A ridiculous criticism perhaps, but sometimes you just know what you need from a song.
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