Reviews

Loraine James
Reflection

(Hyperdub)

7/10

On Reflection, Loraine James lightly sands down the abrasive edges of her debut for an altogether softer finish. It’s an inward-facing record that builds a warming shelter up around itself. This isn’t to say its mood is static, or its approach one-note – both James’ penchant for angular rhythms and the album’s flirtations with harsher genres such as UK drill thankfully keep things interesting – but more a recognition of the cohesive ecosystem of the album. The developments can be traced across numerous self-released projects since the release of For You and I in 2019, but here they come together as a slightly more refined project.

There’s an overarching sense of the present evoked across the record; a present in stasis, for reasons we are all too familiar with now. Be it her recurring murmured vocals, the warmly rounded low-end or the ethereal synth work, the overall tonal palette of the record speaks to the more human aspects of isolation; a tired yearning and perhaps an in-built desire to use what little control we have to find some form of comfort and peace within the situation.

Though there is certainly an auteurist approach here, other voices feature across over half of the tracklisting, and the various denizens of the project bring welcome variation to proceedings. The glinting melodics and tuned bass kicks of ‘Black Ting’ are well-matched with frequent collaborator Le3 bLACK’s sharp bars. It’s a crystalline take on UK drill that’s unmistakably coloured with James’ sonic eccentricities, the highlight of which is the playfully cut vocal samples that stud the latter half of the track.

Elsewhere, Xzavier Stone appears on the opening track ‘Built to Last’; a seductively twisted R&B jam, their vocals lightly mangled as the slinky bass pushes through the mix bullishly. The closing track, ‘We’re Building Something New’, featuring Iceboy Violet, ends the album on a distinctly poignant note, a unique voice musing on the Black British experience, highlighting the need for major improvements in Black history education, and dedicating the track to the victims of police violence. It’s a thought-provoking and intriguingly open-ended finale to the record that cuts out abruptly. As the last track on a decidedly introspective record, it stands as a potent reminder on the inescapable conjoining of the personal and the political.

James’ own spoken and sung vocal takes appear throughout Reflection with varying degrees of success – a less focal performer than many of the guests, the low-key nature of her vocals can at times veer towards the unremarkable. Despite this, when viewing the record as a whole, these vocal additions play a large part in developing the tone of the project. Highlight ‘Simple Things’ is perhaps the most effective example, melding James’ murmured voice with agitated percussive experimentation to make for an engaging contrast of low and high energy. Conversely, the title track begins initially as a less energetic affair, with James passively ruminating on the social exile of lockdown life, but despite the gorgeous glass-like chimes and tranquil atmospherics, the track meanders slightly before eventually building to a buzzing, percussive conclusion.

Arguably, the production is what shines brightest throughout. Many of the most intriguing tracks highlight James’ deft hand at rhythmic contortion, and the frustrated, jagged drum programming and indecisive fluorescent synth stabs of ‘Let’s Go’ say as much as any of the vocal musings across the record. The conclusion of the title track evokes a more lasting emotional response than the relatively on-the-nose vocals, a potentially dating element, a bio-product clear across much of the last year’s music.

This isn’t some grand narrative opus, more an effective snapshot, a collection of tracks that coexist beneath a shared mood. While guilty of occasionally fading toward the background, the record rewards repeat listens. Its cohesiveness becomes unmistakably clear, and the subtle nuances of the production reminds us yet again that James is one of the more inventive producers in the UK right now. This extends to her fluid approach to genre – an unrestrained adaptability that may not always pay off but certainly leads to endlessly intriguing results, which is undeniably a trait shared across all of the most important electronic musicians. Perhaps that’s why the mixture of warm reassurance, quiet inventiveness and assured defiance on display here ultimately results in a charming and timely listen.

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