[6 May 2008]
Retro jazz, soul, and funk sounds have slowly, yet steadily, increased as means for inspiration in recent music. With producers J Dilla and Pete Rock incorporating some of these ‘70s inspired musical elements into early hip hop, other artists such as D’Angelo, Lauryn Hill, and Eryka Badu have been building upon soul influences as well. This style was coined as “neo-soul” and the result is one utilizing crisp beats, alluring melodies, and an important evocation of love, the spirit, and harmony. It’s this style that newcomer Eric Lau articulates on his debut album New Terriotories. Each track has a quiet, yet unmistakably sensual energy and showcases a new emerging soul artist, and, even more so, a skilled creator with a very long career ahead.
The album’s title New Territories is a dualistic representation for Lau’s background, music, and inspiration. New Territories is literally the name for an area in Hong Kong that is tranquil and undisturbed. Hosting mountains, villages, and lakes, it is set apart from the jarring and busy concrete jungle lifestyle that most associate Hong Kong with, and it’s this serenity that Eric Lau calls home. His family and their local background radiated elements of natural elegance and ease, thereby evolving into a significant imprint for Lau’s music. With a welcoming ambiance, the album as a whole gives off sensations of balance and harmony that draw from his background, yet also reflect in his collaborations. Lau gives credit to the second meaning behind the title, one having to do with new artists and new opportunities. All the artists on the album, including Lau himself, are very new to the industry, and, as a team, they are solely focused with supporting one another and creating beautiful music.
There is power in the phrase “strength in numbers” to further describe this album because each element and artist layered together produces a refined cohesion. In a recent Giles Peterson BBC interview, Lau speaks about how his goals are to produce complete songs as opposed to just simply making beats. To create the full arrangement, he brings an array of trustworthy new talent for support. With a handful of powerful voices, including but not limited Rahel, Sarina Leah, and Tawiah, the lyrical line could very easily overpower. But this style of music is about harmony. The voices serve to accentuate and compliment because with true ensembles individual components work best when supporting the surrounding musicians. “Right Side” is an excellent track that gives a soul artist’s interpretation of staccato, and illuminates how each layer goes hand in hand with the others. The brief beats are quick and pulsating, and what is tight underneath is celebrated on top with heavy yet brief inflections through the vocals.
New Territories is a consistent album, and although it doesn’t step too far outside its own box, the quality and formation is fulfilling. With any R&B or nu-soul album, it will obviously have a slower momentum, yet it still feels like Lau is really enjoying each and every beat. Nothing is ever rushed, and each line completed thoroughly. The energy may be taken down a few levels, but is still intriguing and always seductive. Furthermore, it’s apparent that the love between the artists and the love for Lau’s vision is reflected through the music. Every part fits together concisely and Eric Lau proves to be a perceptive maestro who not only highlights new talent but showcases his gift for fine-tuning and producing.