Georgia – Georgia – Album review

John Preston

South London based music obsessive with strong opinions about most things. Doubts Madonna has another good record in her but would love more than anything to be proved wrong.
John Preston

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Georgia is the kind of artist that, even at the relatively young age of 24, it’s apparent will be involved with making music in some guise for at least the next two decades if not the rest of her life. It’s impossible to create a work like this with such vision and imagination, as she has done here, and for it not be a reflection of her deep understanding and essential need to express herself through music. And this is Georgia’s sole creation – following two years in her West London bolt-hole she wrote, produced and played every one of the tracks that you hear on this, her eponymous debut.

If a genre had to be assigned to Georgia Barnes’ music, it would be urban electronic but with a pop sensibility that flares up intermittently. The laziest reference would be Katy B – they share a vocal similarity and direct experience and understanding of London’s underground club scene. But where Katy B favours broader melodies and an overriding vocal house and garage mini-diva style, Barnes is essentially an experimentalist who has taken inspiration from some of the best: Mark Bell’s work with Bjork, Prince’s Parade album, David Sylvian and MIA.

But these influences are for the discerning ear only as Barnes has incorporated them around sounds, melodies and rhythms that reference grime, R&B, drum and bass, and dream-pop whilst remaining utterly contemporary – this is no exercise in nostalgic re-enactment.

Chants from a mosque’s call to prayer are looped and stuttered on top of an R&B beat that can be placed somewhere around Destiny’s Child’s 1999 album The Writing’s on the Wall. Abrasive but accessible, Georgia starts off tricky but captivating on ‘Kombine’. Whilst ‘Be Ache’ pits Art of Noise ‘Moments of Love’ synth collages against sinewy, muscular hip-hop beats, ‘Nothing Solutions’ is ‘Georgia’s’ first unlikely big pop moment seeing that its ominous mood is further perpetuated by Planningtorock type vocal effects.

‘Hold It’ demonstrates Barnes’ ability to play with and construct textures where less able musicians would be left with muddle and excess. Built around a repeated and spiralling manic rave riff that refuses to stay consigned to its corner, springing out of the cavernous space like a jack-in-the-box, whilst Barnes’ vocals emphasise an unresolved dilemma: ‘Just hold on – it’s melting.’

Eighties New Romantics Japan’s ‘Ghosts’ was one of the strangest and most beautiful records to become a hit during the era and on ‘You’ Barnes conjures up similar sounds with an eerie theremin-sounding wobble for company.

Following its twinkling false start, ‘Move Systems’ with its pummelling, pounding synths (Barnes played drums previously in Kate Tempest’s band) is the album’s most defiant and confrontational moment. It’s here that Barnes takes the role of urban warrior and bad girl – it’s a solid pop song that MIA would be proud of and which by all accounts should be as massive as its message, ‘I went to meet Sheila, she was a dealer, and we stood there gasping at the dreams that we shared … the system always lies about who we are.’

It is on the one true ballad , ‘Heart Wrecking Animals’, that Barnes’ skills are all sharply concentrated into a single track. Her songwriting here is more traditional and is of such a high standard that if it were covered in a more ‘straight’ style it could be huge, but Barnes isn’t interested in straight and thank goodness for it. It has an ambient, glistening fairytale atmosphere but with occasional hard edges that reflect the conflict of the situation ‘you were holding me like an animal, it was never really there from the start’. The music-box outro alone has more melodic precision than other artists entire first records.

Georgia is a bold and fascinating record and one that makes for a compelling introduction to this talented artist’s diverse but single-minded sonic adventures – make sure you listen.

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