Blue-eyed R&B in 2013

If one hasn’t noticed, R&B as we have known it is somewhat of a dying art. Yes, the soul stirrers of the ‘60s and ‘70s met opposition with the rise of new jack swing in the early ‘90s. And a subsequent battle emerged when hip-hop/soul met the pop-influenced sounds of the late ‘90s.  Today, in 2013, R&B faces another turning point as pop/dance influences and stronger hip-hop sounds are becoming the mainstay.

So Indie artists are resorting to other avenues for that familiar feeling, forging a sound of yesteryear, but for today.  Following are albums by two of those artists—one underrated (British-born Jamie Lidell), the other just beginning (L.A. band Inc.)—who are borrowing something old to produce something new.

Title: Jamie Lidell

Artist: Jamie Lidell

Label: Warp Records

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: February 19, 2013



Justin Timberlake literally took the rhythmic/pop/blue-eyed hop world by storm with the announcement of his follow up to FutureSex/LoveSounds. Timberlake’s pushing forward with an essence of the past was refreshing, innovative. People expect a similar nuance with The 20/20 Experience (released by Timberlake on March 19). And I’m telling you: don’t.

If you want to revisit that funkdafied reckoning in present day, look no further than Jamie Lidell’s newest self-titled LP.  Lidell has ridden the undercurrent of soul for a while now. His experimental soul/funk fusions erupt from a place of authenticity. And his current compilation of art makes Timberlake’s opus look like a pop mess that just happened to go right.

Lidell inks ‘80s cool with the Midas touch. From Prince’s feminine masculinity to Cameo’s bodacious crotch cups, it’s the perfect combination of flash and pizzazz. “I’m Selfish” explodes like a synth fireworks display. “Big Love” fills big shoes as it feels every bit like an episode of Soul Train circa 1989. Lidell shows his stretch with “What a Shame,” which pairs a rock ‘n’ roll edge with his signature funk.

He conjures P-Funk sensibilities on “Why Ya Why” and softens things on “Don’t You Love Me,” the closest thing to a ballad on the complete jam session. No quiet storm schmoozing, just fierce flat out funk combustion.


Title: No World

Artist: Inc.

Label: 4ad Records

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date:  February 19, 2013



Indie’s fascination with 1990s R&B, particularly circa 1996-99, has spawned an array of talented upstarts. One of those throwback ensembles is the LA-bred duo Inc. The brotherly outfit made waves with their sleek new-jacked single “Millionaires” and a 3-track EP.  With No World, they pack Darkchild/Timbaland stutter step noise with lush, angelic (if not airy) vocals.

Most of the album follows the same lead: breezy almost jazz-influenced instrumentals insulate the soft lead vocals. It’s a formula that equates something different on each track, demanding high replay time. Paired with the ice cold production are warm, genuine lyrics of love and devotion.

The album opens with the first single, “The Place,” a sexy serenade inked with looped bells and whistles. “Lifetime” is a love song disguised as a tripped-out venture. And standout track “Angel,” quipped with “One In a Million” undertones, grooves with ease.

Inc. and Jamie Lidell are forerunners in a new age of rhythm & blues from truly unexpected sources. I’m enjoying the new trail being blazed by these groups and hope to see more artists take risks.

Reviewed by Lorin Williams