Welcome back, Mr. Holland. We've missed you.
For those of you not up on your Wachowski mythology, let me make things a tad more blatant: in the world of British funk and soul, the buzz surrounding Will “Quantic” Holland has grown to anagrammatic proportions over the last few years. Here is a guy who plays almost anything he can get his hands on with an infectious right-on simplicity, yet who cannot really read or write music and who recorded and produced his solo albums in his bedroom. Who, if memory serves, got his sister to play her flute contribution to his second LP over her mobile phone (and made it sound great.) Who melded jazz, trip-hop, and funk beautifully on his mesmeric debut, The 5th Exotic, that contained the telepathic perfection of “Life in the Rain”, and whose follow-up Apricot Morning ventured in a partying rainbow through housey deep funk, African chants, stoned saxophone ripples, and a modern dancefloor take on ‘50s percussion vibes. Who spearheads live-recording funk colossi Quantic Soul Orchestra and is half of folk-pop-funk-soul brothers the Limp Twins, and who will be helming a second outing by both of them later this year. Who put out the lovely joint single, “Sweetsmoke”, with notorious/beloved piemeister mr scruff (big up Stockport!). Who, in his remix of Roy Hargrove’s “Forget Regret”, is responsible for one of my Favourite Things Ever, and consequently the object of some adulation on my part. Who is 23, and therefore obviously in need of a good whipping for being nauseatingly precocious.
Yes, I know Beyonce is also only 23, and I’ll get round to spanking her at the first opportunity. Right now, though, I’m going to contribute to Holland’s prescribed (critical) persecution myself, because Mishaps Happening is clearly not up to scratch, if by no means a failure of Matrix: Revolutions proportions. In an admittedly foreseeable turn of events, Holland has headed back into ‘60s/‘70s and world music vibes, awash with African and Latin American colours, voices and relaxed yet righteous attitude. Bar the few inevitable surprises, this means that overall the disc has a much more seamless, natural feel to it than the bright and chunky punch of its predecessors. Fear not; drums, bass, and percussion are still fresh and fun, but they are no longer as emphasised and tend to blend in organically rather than the feet-hijacking, air-bass-riff inducing direct chirpiness of yore. The drums on the seven-minute titular opener don’t really kick in until around the four-minute mark, and while the track is pleasant at worst, it outlines the album’s general dilemmas rather well: a bit too long if not quite sprawling, enjoyable rather than joyously attention-grabbing, slightly monotonous in parts.
For the first time, there is the worrying sensation that, whilst Holland always plays, produces and collages with effortless talent and taste, he’s coming up a little short of inspired, memorable directions for his honed ingredients. Tracks like “Trees and Seas” or “Angels and Albatrosses” aren’t bad, they’re just as unarresting as their titles. Bland music from Quantic? Ouch.
Much like his hip-hop collaboration with Bristol’s Aspects on Apricot Morning, the track featuring an MC named Trinidad (three guesses as to his port of origin) in French is OK but not more. The violins on “Prelude to Happening” glide and mesh soothingly, yet neither pierce nor enrapture. Even gloriously named funk legend Spanky Wilson and Brit soul diva Alice Russell fail to set their four fine appearances on fire—the notable exception being the crisp reggae funk farewell of closer “So Long”. Only the hypnotic afro-funk wallow of “Furthest Moment” and the wind-up military band firepower of his first drum ‘n’ bass tune, “Perception”, emerge glossy and bouncing. Oh, and the cover is ugly, strange and vaguely maritime. Why?
This remains a good collection of grooves to let marinate on a summer evening, but the spark and intensity of earlier are mostly absent. Mr. Holland, you are only human. So spread yourself less thinly in the future, and in the words of Ms Jones, take off your cool. We want more of those catchy hooks, those dynamite drum breaks, that finger-snapping bass and that sense of unashamed fun. Preferably soon enough to replace “Forget Regret” before my neighbours finally lose their cool and kill me for having it on endless repeat. Please.