A sophisticated blend of modern dance music genres.
Chris Power 2012-07-04
Having made her mark as part of the late-00s UK funky scene, vocalist and producer Cooly G (Merrisa Campbell) has since proven adept at crossing the pourous borders of modern dance music genres.
As exemplified on debut album Playin’ Me, her work is a sophisticated blend of dubby house, techno and RnB, incorporating grime, drum ’n’ bass and funk. Nowadays there’s nothing radical about such stylistic combinations, but the appeal of Campbell’s work isn’t what she’s mixing, but how she’s mixing it.
At first Playin’ Me appears to be operating on two distinct levels: narrative songs influenced by the romantic content of lover’s rock and RnB, and the plotless dramas of rave. But the dichotomy is a false one: Is It Gone, for example, is a compelling piece of instrumental post-grime techno, evoking the desolate aftermath of the relationship that’s beginning in earlier vocal tracks like Landscapes.
The collapse of a relationship is never explicitly mentioned, but the album’s title – whether accusation or realisation, or both – fills the gaps in Campbell’s impressionistic lyrics. It also explains why a ballad like Good Times, about meeting a boy at a bus stop and wanting his number, arrives loaded with an almost gothic sense of dread.
Two moods preside. First is one of expectation, as on He Said I Said where Campbell’s seductive drawl slides between Atlanta and Brixton; and the tantalising Come Into My Room, a track-long break that never drops. The mood grows uncertain with Trying, ambient bliss destabilised by turbulent pockets of bass, and darkens on the UK funky of the title track, where carnival hedonism is transplanted with a raw anxiety.
The tension only recedes on the sensual Sunshine. It’s the album’s midway point, forming a briefly calm centre around which the album’s thematic halves – a love affair coming together then falling apart – revolve. Throbbing gently with dabbed horns, fluttering snares and cicada-like hisses of hi-hat, it’s a tone poem that elegantly embodies its subject. It underlines Campbell’s ability to evoke a season, or the sorrowful arc of an entire relationship, with skill and power.