Music

Hollie Cook Returns with More Dreamy Reggae Rhythms on 'Vessel of Love'

Publicity photo via Bandcamp

Dreamy and polished, Hollie Cook makes her trademark brand of tropical pop once more, and does it better than ever.

Vessel of Love
Hollie Cook

Merge

26 Jan 2018

Back three years after her twilit sophomore solo album Twice, Hollie Cook returns with more dreamy reggae rhythms on Vessel of Love. Cook's breezy voice soothes on backdrops of steady brass and lush synths, making for a true tropical retreat. Within her varied career - Cook joined British punk group the Slits when they reformed in 2010 - Vessel of Love offers another side of the versatile artist, one marked by polished pop sophistication. Without it, Vessel of Love still holds up as a luxurious listen that stays largely in one musical place - but makes you glad to be there.

Opening track "Angel Fire" bubbles up from the depths and blossoms quickly into the album's most memorable track, horns ablaze and percussion airy as Cook's voice wafts upward in a sweet, sensual haze. Dramatic "Stay Alive" comes next, a brief and lovelorn squall that lets Cook display her emotional range. For most of the rest of the album, positivity reigns, shining through in a spectrum of colors on cut after cut.

Joining Cook as producer for this go-round is Martin Glover, best known as original Killing Joke bassist Youth. His experience is crucial to elevating Cook's music, replacing the darker aesthetic of albums past with fuller and brighter elements. Every touch enhances; the long twang at the beginning of "Survive" adds a devil-may-care edge to a sparkling single, while the scattered electronics leading into "Lunar Addiction" lend an otherworldly dimension to the mix. Glover's attention to detail is masterfully thorough, and it's exactly what Cook's ethereal vocal style needs, shape after shape for her to take as she pours her voice forward.

That isn't to say that she needs hand-holding; Cook's experience speaks for itself, and when she sings on any given track, in any given genre, she has full control over her voice as it follows the contours of the melody. Between Glover's masterful hand and Cook's signature tropical sounds, it would not have been hard to phone in the vocals to some extent and for Vessel of Love to become an easy listening album. Cook, though, has far too much skill to squander in that way. As relaxed as Vessel of Love is at times, it also stays interesting, a line Cook always walks successfully on her solo albums.

Admittedly, it does make for good, beachy background music, and actively listening to it all in one sitting isn't the most engrossing time. Still, each cut has something special to call its own; an extra bump of percussion drives "Ghostly Fading" forward, and "Freefalling" is as light as its name would suggest. The distant electric shrieks of "Turn It Around" keep the slower track from dragging and the vulnerable title track radiates the love it names.

All in all, the songwriting and production of Vessel of Love far surpasses any expectations that might spring to mind from the Buffett-esque label "tropical pop". That should be no surprise to anyone who has been following Hollie Cook's career, of course, but it's always exciting to hear continued growth, and that's exactly what Cook gives with each new release.

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