FACT Rated is our series digging into the sounds and stories of the most vital breaking artists around right now. This week Claire Lobenfeld talks to Blackest Ever Black trio Jabu about their dark, loss-laden project Sleep Heavy.
From: Bristol, England
Must-Hear: Sleep Heavy (Blackest Ever Black)
For Fans Of: How To Dress Well, Cocteau Twins
One of the most intriguing projects from Blackest Ever Black this year comes from electronic R&B trio Jabu. Emerging from notorious Bristol collective Young Echo (Kahn & Neek, Sam Kidel), vocalist and lyricist Alex Rendell and producer Amos Childs have been working on music, in some form, for the past five years; Childs, for example, records with Sam Barratt (aka Neek) as O$VMV$M.
This year, the group became a trio, adding vocalist Jasmine Butt and released their debut full-length Sleep Heavy, a meditative swirl of boogie, atmospheric synths and samples and the babymaking vocal textures of R&B icons like Teddy Pendergrass. But the three artists are not just flirting with trends – they’re using lifelong reference points and their own experience of loss to make some of the most personal music coming out of the underground.
That kind of intimacy comes from lengthy friendships. Rendell and Childs have been making music together since they were teens – “a lot of bad hip-hop tracks,” Child says – and reconnected when forming Young Echo. Similarly, Rendell and Butt also met as teenagers and found each other again when she was recording vocals for Kahn’s ‘Altar’.
Bringing her into the group was very natural: “Amos and I were working on a record [together], and Alex and I were recording tracks separately. I was round at his house singing quite a lot,” she says. “Amos asked me to some backing on one track and then it just felt really right. It all fell into place – the harmonies. As soon as we heard it back, we realized there’s something really nice about the way Alex and I sound together.”
Intentionally or not, happenstance is one of the album’s most vivid themes. Rendell notes that standout track ‘Get To You’ has a billowing breakdown that come about as a happy accident. “That whole loop was basically just Ableton crashing,” he says. “Amos had the session up and we were recording the actual song and, for some reason, his laptop just glitched out and started making this really weird version of the beat and I said to them, ‘This sounds amazing, you have to record it.’ He brought
Audacity up and quickly recorded a 30 second loop of it.” It’s also one of the tracks that most prominently displays Rendell’s ability to channel the vocal timbres and blue-eyed soul of someone like Babyface collaborator Jon B, a perfect foil to Butt’s higher range and Catholic choir upbringing.
Childs’s production traipses across multiple genres, blending moods to create something akin to early Massive Attack or a dubbier, more soulful take on Cocteau Twins’ melancholy dream pop. Its old-school tones come from a bevy of samples sourced from the record collection of another of the trio’s friends, DJ and producer Andy Payback. Childs used these sounds to sculpt the album’s distinctive percussion. “I can’t splash out and buy all of my favorite vintage drum machines,” he says. “There were just some really nice old boogie records with really nice drum machine breaks which was amazing to find.”
But embedded within the unique atmosphere of Sleep Heavy are lyrics about the spectrum of loss. While the group is eager to talk about their musical connections, they note that it was easier to make this kind of album as a unit because of the comfort that comes from familiarity. Despite being introverts, however, they are hopeful that listeners will connect with the themes, whether it’s losing love or family or something else, and find solace if they need it.
“A lot of it is about losing people,” Rendell says. “As cheesy as it sounds, I would hope that if someone was going through something like that, that they could kind of like listen to it and take some hope that things will get better.”
Childs adds: “It’s all about what happens when those things are missing in one way or another, whether someone’s passed or relationships get messed up or whatever. Stay close to the people close to you that love you. Try to keep that in mind, regardless of how messed up life makes things get. That’s really what the album’s about.
Claire Lobenfeld is on Twitter.