A “creative marriage” is how Jamaican-born bowler hat-wearing Denai Moore portrays the production process of her debut album Elsewhere with prolific Scottish producer Rodaidh McDonald. Listening to the album, it’s clear to hear that it was a match made in heaven. Made exclusively between the two of them (with the exception of the drummer), Moore has complimented McDonald’s expert and experienced skill at bringing out the strong and unique personality shown in her first single “I Swore”, expanding the concept further, keeping it organic, whilst also allowing Moore to maintain control and creative freedom.
This is evident in an album with consistent themes of pain, regret, confessions, memories, escapism and relationships with a self-assured purpose for her songwriting. Like the various works of the psychedelic graphic design artist who designed the vibrant artwork for her LP, Leif Podhajsky (Tame Impala, Lykke Li, The Horrors), it’s engaging and introspective with full of super-analytic depth. Teaming up with both professionals already shows great tactical awareness and visionary capabilities.
Producer Rodaidh McDonald is a very crucial taste-maker, that is responsible for shaping contemporary sounds and emerging genres in the last decade, and aromas from his past collaborations paint the mood on Moore’s album. “Let Me Go” uses minimal rhythm guitar in a spacious forlorn environment that has become associated with a new wave of lush down-tempo indie acts that include London Grammar, Daughter, How To Dress Well and The xx, the latter three being produced by McDonald. This is matched with subtle elements of strings and vibrato punches (“Feeling“), rhythm guitar (“Piano Song“), brass (“No Light“), modern grime and warped ambient dub step shimmering ball-bouncing beats (“Detonate“, “Elsewhere“) and drum machines but ultimately the epitome is kept lightweight, melodic and soulful.
The acoustic guitar is an instrument close to Moore’s heart and is performed in a quasi-Sting’s “Shape of My Heart” strum exclusively at the beginning and end of “Flaws” in a typical quiet-loud-quiet song structure which is also used effectively on “I Swore” and illustrated visually by the direction of the video to “No Light”. The middle part of the sandwich on “Flaws” is a gospel quality brought on by the doubling of her vocals that provide a dominant backbone also on songs such as the opener “Piano Song”.
The innocence and fragility of her piano performances matched with under-shadowed soulful yet occasionally incomprehensible vocals – that sound like they are morphed like Plasticine into the sonic palette – make her appear like a female version of Sampha – another musician that her creative husband Rodaidh McDonald is mentoring – as well as containing the spirit of Bobby Womack. Although her vocals stand on their own two feet, it can be compared to the indie-soul sophistication of Lianne La Havas, the delivery of Jess Glyne minus the multi-layered top 40 nonsense, with the depth of Mirel Wagner minus the sadistic stories and the artistry of Chloe Charles minus the tribal inclinations. Admittedly, there is an echoey humming and airy voice-holding chants, which could be considered to be from the wilderness on “Piano Song” and are also reminiscent of promising musician Raury on his EP material.
The honesty of the lyrics, the troubled-soul persona and how she provokes empathy through her emotions have an Adele-like quality. Producer McDonald has worked with Adele in the past and therefore he knows how to show heartbreak musically. It’s so compelling at times that listeners consume their anguish and wish to hug them to cure their sorrows. The best examples of this are on the seemingly anti-social “I Swore“: “I don’t know what to believe in / I swore I’ve lost my way a thousand times / Swore at my father, swore at my mother“, and “Blame”: “Blame it on love, what else could it be? Causing all this misery“.
Yet at the heart of it, Denai Moore has a love of re-interpretation and allowing listeners to make their own minds up about the material. This is exemplified by her “Karma-Police”-esque video for “Blame”, which has caused a social network debate towards its narrative meaning in the vein of Radiohead’s “Just”. Is it about relationships? Is it about death? Is the car crash metaphorical or literal? The more you analyze it, the more haunting it gets. In response, Moore will reward the best interpretations of the story with a single test pressing of the single.
What’s more intriguing though is that many of the YouTube comments state that they only found the song when it was dressed up as an advertisement. Comments such as, “This just popped up as an ad on another video – instantly captured my attention. Can’t say I’ve watched a full ad, ever, before this one“, prove that the internet can be randomly rewarding some times. In a world where adverts seem like flies, this discovery should warrant a commerical handshake. Denai Moore’s album is out now via Because Music, purchase it here.
Words by Matt Hobbs
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