Record Label: Blackest Ever Black
Blackest Ever Black presents Sleep Heavy, the debut album of broken-hearted, downtempo R&B/street-soul and supremely atmospheric, introspective electronics from Jabu: a trio comprised of vocalist/lyricists Alex Rendall and Jasmine Butt, and producer Amos Childs. The group was born out of Bristol's Young Echo collective: an ecosystem unto itself which has birthed and nurtured a number of other notable soundsystem-rooted projects and artists to date, including Kahn & Neek, Sam Kidel, Ishan Sound, Ossia, Asda, Chester Giles, and Killing Sound (Childs with Kidel and Vessel).
Jabu's previous 7" singles, though arresting, barely hinted at the level of accomplishment and emotional heft that Sleep Heavy delivers. It's a future Bristol classic with a universal resonance, with songs that are highly personal but deeply relatable, and a tripped-out, time-dissolving sound design that both haunts and consoles. It is, first and foremost, a meditation on grief, loss, making sense of separation, and death; but it also looks forward to what might come after the aftermath: healing, acceptance, the chance to begin again. Childs is one of the most gifted producers of his generation and his work here, grounded in hip-hop but floating free, is a thing of sustained wonder: crepuscular, melancholic, subtly psychedelic, and heavily dubwise, but always concise and purposeful.
Stitched together from deep-dug and beautifully repurposed samples, it draws on influences from US R&B to Japanese art-pop minimalism -- Mariah to Mariah Carey, if you will -- and a rich seam of underground UK soul, boogie, DIY/post-punk, library music, and lovers rock. There is also of course a distant connection to the Bristol blues of Smith & Mighty and the sultry urban gothic of Protection-era Massive Attack (1994), but Jabu's orchestration of womb-like ambiences, cold synth tones, and brittle beats feel entirely sui generis.
They provide the perfect setting for Rendall's wounded, imploring and carefully weighted vocals, which are no less extraordinary: nodding to giants like Teddy Pendergrass and The Temptations in terms of phrasing and front-and-center vulnerability, with something of The Associates' Billy MacKenzie in there too; defeated but defiant. Meanwhile, Jas's heavenly interventions, sometimes leading but more often parsed and layered into tremulous, gossamer abstraction, draw a line between the Catholic choral harmonies of her childhood and the ethereal, oceanic sweep of Cocteau Twins. By its end, Sleep Heavy's world-weariness is intact and scarcely diminished, but some light has been admitted, and is visible from the sea-floor.