The best way I’d describe U.K. neo-soul producer Eric Lau‘s sound would be “It brings to mind the minimalist production wizardry of Dilla, but without any recognizable samples and perhaps with a taste for crumpets instead of donuts.”
The thick beats that encompass Lau’s solid new full-length One of Many are so delectable I often feel like spitting verses over several of them– particularly during “Everytime,” the album’s first single, and “Where to Go Now”–and I don’t even rap at all. I have no freestyling skills whatsoever. I’m Hill Harper in the “Shabooyah (Roll Call)” scene in Get on the Bus.
Meanwhile, production-wise, Lau is the completely chill “My mind is free/We need more love and unity” guy in the “Shabooyah” scene. One of Many is perfect as summertime neo-soul and full of mellow yet urgent head-nodders from Lau (and frequent collaborators like British vocalists Rahel, who graces “Everytime,” and Tawiah, who graces “Where to Go Now”) that will add extra sizzle to your barbecue or help quell any bad vibes from the hectic and paranoid airport as it attempts to work your last nerve during that summer trip away from home.
My first exposure to Lau actually wasn’t his previous album New Territories or Guilty Simpson‘s Mission EP, which Lau produced last year. I was first exposed to Lau through mixes like his terrific contribution to the Put Me on It blog’s “Last Night on Earth” series of mixes, which features Curtis Mayfield’s anthemic “We the People Who Are Darker Than Blue,” a tune that, according to Lau in his “Last Night on Earth” liner notes, “was the first song I heard in my life that was inclusive of ‘Yellow’ people and it really touched me. I was like, wait, he’s actually talking to me too!” The inclusive spirit of “We the People Who Are Darker Than Blue” permeates through One of Many, from its recurring theme of interconnectedness among people to “Rise Up,” guest artists Oddisee and Olivier St. Louis’ rousing anthem for any grassroots movement, whether it’s Occupy or present demonstrations like the protests in Brazil against government corruption. One of the soundbites “Rise Up” opens with is a news clip of an Occupy protester decrying how Wall Street is Robin Hood in reverse. The Occupy clip is a reminder that not everything about One of Many is mellow. Lau has a lot on his mind, from the inequality that’s sparked moments like the 2011 London riots and Occupy to the self-hatred that many women of color grapple with about their own looks, the subject of “Lily of the Desert,” guest vocalist Georgia Anne Muldrow’s “Wear Your Natural, Baby”-esque statement. Luckily, the messages don’t get too preachy and overbearing. Like the crumpets of Lau’s homeland, One of Many is low in fat yet utterly fulfilling.
One of Many is out now from Kilawatt Music