The old saying “coming together is a beginning; staying together is progress; working together is success” would serve as an appropriate axiom for the new album from London-based producer, Swindle. His second album, No More Normal is an album about joining together. About finding the common bonds and the shared experiences that connect people, and uncovering the shared musical affinities that can be fostered to create powerful and lasting music.
Swindle has always been an artist that can find the connective tissues between genres, but here he also twists the connective fibers between people to create something strong and enduring. Taking hip-hop, jazz, grime, soul, and R&B he adeptly brings in a myriad of special guests who help him to suture together the common musical threads within disparate genres to create something genuinely unique.
“What We Do” opens the album with a powerful, spoken word proclamation from Rider Shafique about the importance of music as escape (“I can relate to your struggle / I overstand the hustle / But it’s the music that moves”). Over graceful, cinematic strings it could be the ending to an audiobook, until the beat drops and P Money picks up the baton and runs with it to produce a characteristically fluid rap with D Double E and Daley pitching in. Featuring whirring, mechanical samples, “Get Paid” brings in some rolling R&B bass with jazz trumpet on a track that is over far too soon.
“Drill Work” shows off all of Swindle’s production skills as he layers synths, strings, and brass and watches them tumble into the darkness. It’s a thrilling mix of old school grime but given a filmic twist as cinematic horns and strings fashion a real sense of drama. Special guest Ghetts drops powerful truth bombs about the pervading threat of violence that often stalks the streets where he grew up in East London. “Run Up” weaves in slinky R&B guitar around gliding strings and a thudding beat before making making room for a elongated jazz sax solo.
On “Coming Home” Swindle calls on the talents of fellow London-born poet and rapper Kojey Radical. Opening with blasts of brass from Manchester’s Riot Jazz brass band the song soon locks into a swaggering groove with Radical’s tongue in cheek, ebullient vocals wrapped around a seriously smooth, liquid bassline. Throughout the song Radical switches between a deep flow and Anderson.Paak-esque soulful vocals, showing in four minutes why he’s one of the most consistently compelling MCs around. As the song drifts into its jazzy final section replete with gliding guitar figure and spoken word outro, Radical impresses the importance of not getting caught up with what’s not important (“I cant keep chasing a moment that’s already gone”), all while remembering where you’re from.
“Reach the Stars” is a soothing R&B song with British-Ghanaian singer Andrew Ashong’s ultra smooth soulful voice adding a bit of love to the mix. Swindle takes the song to somewhere ultra-funky with squelching bass and a superb keyboard solo that sounds like it could untether itself at any moment and float off into the ether. On “Knowledge” Eva Lazarus evokes the spirit of early Neneh Cherry in her pointed delivery before Kiko Burn adds one of the catchiest choruses on the album.
On “California” Swindle adds a little sunny P-funk as Etta Bond wistfully details the reasons why she would like to move to California. It also sees Kojey Radical return to drop a few lines before leaving the door open for a stunning Latin American trumpet solo.
Eva Lazarus returns on “Talk a Lot” this time in late night soul singer mode over popping, funk bass, and plinking strings. It ends with a simply stunning jazz guitar solo. Closer, “Grateful”, ends the album on an emotional note as Radical and the returning Rider Shafique illustrate their gratitude for what they’ve achieved and recognize the role of others in their success. It’s a poignant moment as Shafique concludes with “Hopefully this message inspires future generations to write their own futures / Cause there’s no more normal.”
Swindle and his carefully curated mix of guests manage to craft a joyous fusion of sound instilled with pertinent life lessons on No More Normal. It’s a celebration of the connections that make our lives richer but also one that shows a unique musical talent at the very top of his game.