Classic soul isn’t dead. In fact, thanks to the silky smooth sounds of Bruno Mars and Anderson Paak in Silk Sonic, a whole new generation is connecting with the languid and lush tones of top-shelf R&B. But they aren’t the only ones: last year, Faye Webster released the wonderful I Know I’m Funny Haha which featured some explicitly 1970s influences in its hypnotic grooves. For those who love soul music in the modern-day, now is a wonderful time for the genre.
Add New York collective MICHELLE to the list of acts carrying on the genre’s legacy. That’s because the group’s sophomore LP, After Dinner We Talk Dreams, is 14 tracks of pure groovy bliss. By focusing exclusively on hooks, psychedelic sounds, and insatiable rhythms, MICHELLE carve out their own unique niche on their second LP.
With the sheer amount of reverb and keyboard bloops, the backing tracks on this album could have been concocted straight from Kevin Parker‘s Australian sound lab. The gated drums, the washes of tremolo, and intense focus on hypnogogic sonics are right out of Currents. But then come the Nile Rodgers chicken-scratch guitars, the intense harmonies, and call-and-response vocals that recall everything from classic disco to go-go.
But MICHELLE aren’t just regurgitating their influences. They’re building on them as well, crafting the ideal signature sound for themselves. Right now, that’s short songs (only two tracks push past three minutes, and exactly zero push up against the four-minute mark) specially designed for maximum impact. What the collective do so well is establish each song’s hook, let it do all the talking, and then duck out before anything overstays its welcome.
When it comes to lyrical topics, heartfelt love and heartbreaking loss seem to go hand in hand for the group. ‘No Signal’ takes on the delicate balance of modern technology with good old-fashioned relationship troubles. ‘Talking to Myself’ turns suffocating loneliness into a pure sugar-coated groove, complete with some goofy dog noises to close out the tune. ‘Expiration Date’ lies right in the sweet spot between indie pop, R&B, and bedroom pop, grieving a relationship that isn’t long or this world but having as much fun as possible with a flame that already has one foot on the train.
Perhaps some will find the slight runtimes fleeting, or the constant obsession with the intricacies of the human conditional trite. But I don’t know how anyone couldn’t be taken under the spell of After Dinner We Talk Dreams. When the group goes “catatonic” on ’50-50′, it’s hard not to feel like you’ve been put under yourself. But it’s a wonderfully enthralling spell, and one that never flags for the album’s relatively brief runtime.
Can I really recall the differences between ‘Syncopate’ and, say, ‘Spaced Out, Phased Out’? No, not immediately. But that just works in the album’s favour. It encourages repeat listening, daring you not to dig into each song’s earworm. MICHELLE seem to have an endless well of jams from which to cull from, and with any luck, the jams will keep coming even after After Dinner We Talk Dreams stops spinning on the turntable.
But if you have to focus in on one song, it would have to be ‘End of the World’. The line “Grab my waist / Fuck me like the end of the world” is MICHELLE at their funniest and most giddily profane. This is a song that doesn’t just promise an apocalypse, but delivers on it with a sonic explosion and a complete destruction of the song’s arrangement at its conclusion. That’s the proper dedication to a concept, and MICHELLE pull it off with ease and palpable charm.
The entirety of After Dinner We Talk Dreams plays that way. Each new song uncovers another solid groove, and it doesn’t matter whether the song is a love song or the complete opposite of a love song. Each track is dancefloor-ready, whether that’s an actual dancefloor or just an open space in your living room. There is no inappropriate place to let loose when After Dinner We Talk Dreams starts playing, and even if their ambitions are relatively small in scope, MICHELLE have effortlessly crafted one of the coolest albums of the year so far.