A supremely funky excursion into the future of pop-soul, the debut album by London-based duo Twin Cities strikes a wonderful middle ground between ambitious, up-front lyricism and bold, sugar-soaked production. The team of Guynamite and Analog Jones — relative unknowns on American shores — plays big melodies with a light touch, peppering its music with enough contrapuntal flair to keep expectations confounded at nearly every turn.
Whenever it looks like Brand New World is about to sink into generics, somewhere in that bland gray area between electronica and R&B, it doesn’t, and a huge credit for that goes to the production itself, always enjoyable and occasionally brilliant. Call it the lovechild of a Dam-Funk/Jamiroquai/Hudson Mohawke ménage-a-trois, a delectable soufflé of programmed instruments that seem just right in each place they appear. But Twin Cities went a couple critical steps further, fashioning their songs to fit an array of talented singers they seem to have selected with great care. All of them make an impression, but D.Ablo probably takes the prize on the album’s deeply soulful single, “Don’t You Want Me Back”, where he skillfully pants the track’s titular phrase and then slides into a convincingly romantic baritone croon.
The record plays far more like a hand-picked assortment of previously established hits than a shaky, hopeful debut. There’s even a mid-album slump of “B-sides” (“Anticipation”, “Just to Be”) that is still truly great. And a couple of excellent curveballs round out Brand New World beautifully. The last track is unexpectedly enigmatic, with a piano-and-vocal mantra (“Time…time…time…”) that leaves the album in a state of open-endedness. Most surprising and clever of all is the title track, which sounds for all the world like a nightly news program’s opening credits, complete with those “bwam-bwam” timpanis and soaring canned violins. It seems entirely apropos in our current era of network news bombardment and the spooked feeling that hangs above our lives, like partying on the night before the stock market crashes. This may be a Brand New World, but it’s also a brave one, in which we’ve gotta learn to have a bloody good time under a vague sense of threat, and Twin Cities have channeled it spectacularly.