The sophomore album by Slow Dancer, In a Mood, is slightly out of time. Slow Dancer, the name taken up by Australian social worker and singer/songwriter Simon Okely, could easily be lumped in with a smattering of late 2000s and early 2010s musical sub-genres. Being a handsome, affable white dude on an independent label, Okely obviously invites the “indie” label. The light brushstrokes of jazz and R&B locates In a Mood (as well as Slow Dancer’s 2014 debut, Surrender) in the constellation that is alternative/indie R&B, particularly variants like “ethereal R&B” and perhaps even the more comical “PBR&B”. Okley’s take on R&B’s stylistics is informed by his singer/songwriter disposition, rather than the echoey electronics and spacey demeanor of groups like Beacon. This but one of the many ways that, despite its obvious kinship to the genre tends that surround it, In a Mood—and the Slow Dancer project as a whole – distinguishes itself from its contemporaries.
In hearing the catchy and oh-so-slick chorus of “Don’t Believe”, the lead single off of In a Mood, a more obvious sonic descendant suggests itself. Okeley’s closest sonic companion is not the swath of Brooklyn-based bands tinkering with R&B, but rather John Mayer, specifically the John Mayer of Continuum. The composite elements align nicely: the smooth but not-too-glossy production, a chilled-out vibe, and some well-placed jazzy guitar. “Don’t Believe” might even be called “Slow Dancer in a Burning Room.”
This is no knock against Okeley—far from it—even though Mayer’s fall from grace following 2009’s Battle Studies due to several off-hand racist and sexist remarks has resulted in his name’s becoming a negative connotation. While Mayer’s abandoning of Continuum‘s jazzy songwriter blues in favor of Laurel Canyon country on records like Born & Raised and Paradise Valley is better than most give it credit for, the Continuum style represents Mayer’s strongest work, and an aesthetic that clearly exhibits potential for greater exploration. Mayer’s newest record, The Search for Everything, does call back to Continuum somewhat, but In a Mood one-ups Mayer at that game. Tuneful and atmospheric, Slow Dancer’s second record capitalizes on a style that still affords songwriters some exploration.
In a Mood hovers largely in the slow-to-mid-tempo range, with the exception of the more upbeat number “Bitter”, whose Fleetwood Mac-indebted chorus weaves together clean electric guitar, acoustic guitar, and piano plinks to memorable effect. A consequence of this slow smolder is that Okely runs the risk of committing a key mistake of his “alt-R&B” colleagues. In his review of Ejecta’s Dominae for PopMatters, Gary Suarez writes,
The rise of alternative / indie / whatever-the-hell-you-want-to-call-it R&B frequently borders on farce, with its growing crop of mostly white artists regularly finding astounding new ways to desexualize an urban genre known for its libidinous content… these artsy eunuchs seem perfectly content with lust being reduced to a nuisance akin to post-nasal drip.
Throughout its concise running time, In a Mood maintains its velvety production quality and moderate tempo. At times the music doesn’t feel exactly like what WFUV said of Slow Dancer’s music: “This is old-school, baby-making stuff.” The instrumentation on In a Mood, all performed by the talented Okely himself, is quite sharp—the bass playing in particular stands out—but it often lapses into, to amend WFUV’s phrase, “vanilla baby-making stuff”. The frequent placidity of In a Mood results in a monochromatic emotionality from the music. The dusky title track and the sultry “I’ve Been Thinking” close out the album nicely, but even the appealing features of both tracks—the oily bassline on the former, the spacious reverb on the latter—feel repetitive of the eight preceding songs.
That In the Mood‘s aesthetic gets stretched thin, however, doesn’t mean that it’s untenable. The album’s numerous high points make it worth more than a few spins: the effervescent chorus of “Bitter”, the sleek guitar on “Don’t Believe”, and the guitar/piano interplay on “I Was Often” evince Okely’s multi-instrumental skill. On its sophomore LP, Slow Dancer lingers too long in one mood, but it’s an undeniably inviting mood.
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