Although she s been associated with the development of the new UK house and funky sound, Cooly G's productions have always existed in their own hinterland. Her music is full of stripped down, tribal post-garage beats graced by dubtracted vocals, incomplete seductions and glimpsed vexations, uttered over empty spaces and lush washes. 'Narst' / Love Dub , her 2009 debut 12 , was single of the week in The Guardian, she was featured as One To Watch in The Independent, and was snapped up for remixes by the majors, including Kesha s number one Tik Tok , plus Zero 7, VV Brown and Speech Debelle among others. 2010 found her releasing a second single for Hyperdub, following which she was asked by the Tate Gallery to make some music to accompany Chris Ofilli's retrospective exhibition. On Playin Me she displays the full spectrum of her sound, plummeting from her sometimes melancholy, sometimes romantic songs through to her more menacing, trackier style. Recorded without any frills in her home studio, the album simultaneously recalls a legacy of black British music, filtering the female pressure and reggae lilt of lovers rock s kitchen sink dramas, the sweet seduction of 80s-flavoured Quiet Storm soul, through to sour, bitter-sweet synths, and the polyrhythmic dub decay of early jungle and tough tribal drums. He Said I said' sets the tone in dramatic fashion with some guitar licks borrowed from a Spaghetti Western before the smouldering lyrics grace the tracks. What The World Needs Now is a dreamy, uplifting stepper with big summery strings. Come Into My Room is romantic and piano-led, with smooth Arp strings, breaking into twinkling 808 cowbells and teasing with rushing drum patterns midway through. Good Times pleads over cold droplets and shivering synths while, by contrast, Sunshine is a mid-summer skank. The more ambient refrain of Trying sounds like an intro to a classic Jungle track whose sub bass undertow never resolves in a drop. By the time we get to 'Playin Me', the romance has started turning a bit sour, and rage amps up through an in your face bass riff, that bulldozes through swirling strings and tough kick drums. The biggest surprise of the record is Cooly s cover of Coldplay s Trouble , making it shiver and bounce with a strange clockwork rhythm and epic techno strings. It s a talented and brave producer that can make a Coldplay song sound fresh and the song sits naturally in the album s flow. What Airtime starts the album s slide towards instrumentals, with hard drum track echoes and stormy mood. It s Serious' featuring Baltimore house legend Karizma is a masterclass in sustaining dark, heads down energy whilst filling a track with twists and turns and rhythmic trapdoors. Is it Gone is wonkier still, spinning together dubbed vocals and drums into weird collisions recalling prime period Metalheadz of Rufige Kru and Source Direct. She concludes the album on the more colourful and heady Up In My Head , combining her stop start rhythms with intoxicated vocals. Cooly G has produced a first album that sits next to other recent Hyperdub debuts by Laurel Halo, Dean Blunt & Inga Copeland and DVA as records with original and single-minded perspectives that manage to straddle pop and experimentation perfectly.
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.
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