inc. no world have emerged as one of the best contemporary R&B acts by distilling the genre into a sort of miasma. Their compositions are as much songs as they are spaces for the listener to step into. Their vocals rarely rise above a whisper. Their dynamics rarely rise above very, very quiet. Their lyrics are minimal expressions of the concepts that have always driven great soul music – love, romance, loss, restlessness, introspection, religious ecstasy. They’re rarely overtly sexual, never profane, and – contrary to the dominant songwriting style in R&B – never hyper-specific in terms contemporary pop culture. You won’t hear them singing about Nikes.

Their second album As Light As Light isn’t so much a refinement of the sound they established on debut No World as an expansion. No World sat pretty at 11 songs and 41 minutes, while As Light As Light sprawls to 12 over 52. But it’s not necessarily a bigger album. Conversely, it feels like their sound has been stretched; as it’s expanded, it’s become even more delicate.

Their music seems to suggest something greater than itself, a sort of miniature universe. This is impressionistic, imagistic music, evoking an inscrutable, almost ghostly sense of place. While listening, I was reminded less of other R&B groups so much as ambient artists like Gas, Loscil, Windy & Carl, or Brian Eno in how they seem to conjure little worlds out of thin air. Singer-guitarist Andrew Aged has compared their style to ambient music in how it “implies” something rather than overtly stating it. What it implies is up to your imagination.

These songs also work like ambient pieces in how gradually they evolve. “In Love” transforms into a country song so glacially I barely even noticed until the slide guitars were already wailing away. “Watch This Dream” starts out quiet enough before kicking off into a funk groove I didn’t think the band had in them. I was worried at first “Without Water” would break the album’s mood with its choppy, harsh intro, but then all manner of dreamy synths and guitars blossomed out of nowhere to fill out the holes in the texture. They can summon that vibe out of anywhere.

Aged and his multi-instrumentalist brother Daniel have done plenty of work as session musicians on the L.A. scene, and – counterintuitively to an album so gentle and understated – their obvious technical skill is a major part of what makes As Light As Light so effective. Several of the songs are graced by electric piano solos, most stunningly on road ballad “The Wheel,” and a deep, burbling organ that could have come from a Parliament or Sly Stone record shows up to grumble on “Watch This Dream.” The formidable chops we’re dealing with on this record are most obvious on closer “Hymn 2,” on which Andrew Aged lets his voice soar over spiky, jazzy piano chords of the sort Prince might have played on one of his rawest ballads.

Listeners who like a little less distance between themselves and the people singing their R&B might find As Light As Light a bit alienating. It’s a guarded album, but I don’t find this to be a flaw. Joy and sadness, love and loss are interchangeable here, and they all bleed together into the odd feeling I felt while listening, and one that lingered after I took out my headphones. It wasn’t melancholy, necessarily, but a sort of wistful awe – the kind one might feel looking out at sea and watching ships disappear into the rain. This is one of the best R&B albums of the year.

  • Inc. No World: Living EP

    In the grand scheme of things, Inc. No World’s new EP doesn’t do much other than add an ex…
  • John Coltrane: Ballads/A Love Supreme

    Does the world really need a 55th-anniversary remaster of A Love Supreme, without any extr…
  • Low Cut Connie: Private Lives

    Weiner’s comfort standing on instruments and running through crowds once overshadowed the …
  • Nasty: Menace

    Those who want a solid summation of what modern beatdown is all about, look no further. …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

Resequence: Prince: 1999

Is it as good as 1999? Hell, no. …