Do the Brits Make Better Music than the Yankees?
Every time I go looking for soul-stirring music, comfort music, make love to your best friend music, somehow I get pointed to the Brits. Sam Smith’s first album–with the Black woman living inside of him–instantly rebounded me from a particularly depressive state. I’ve discovered British soul music the way Christopher Columbus “discovered” America. It’s always been there, but I just didn’t know about it.
Rationale got me through my first year of grad school. I didn’t even know that I had already fallen in love with his music a whole six years before, when he’d released “Zambezi” as Tinashe. His entire first album (self-titled), plus recently discovered EPs (Vessels and High Hopes), are everything you need to confront your deepest emotions, on a long drive, dancing with your partner, talking with your best friend.
Thanks to a re-watching of Being Mary Jane, I discovered Låpsley’s “Falling Short”, which just felt like buttery salve and levitation music at the same time. I danced. Oh how I danced, like a butterfly twirling into a wanna-be ballet-dancer. It was also BMJ that introduced us to Emeli Sandé. I mean she is just the organic golden raisin in whipped cream on top of everything. I mean everything that she does, especially “Sweet Architect”, is just god-like. Then there’s SOHN’s “Signal”. Just the way these guys use instruments does not feel American.
And the way their writers write about their music…one writer described “Falling Short” like this: “Lapsley’s soprano voice emerges out of piano chords.” Rationale is described as having “tapped into the glories of road-trippin,’ the soul-shattering complexity of mourning, the ecstasy of a meaningful romp, and the satisfying feeling of waking up next to your partner the next morning.“ Call me living under a rock, but I’ve never read such poetic reviews about American artists. It may also be that I’ve never been so stirred by an artist that I went searching for descriptive reviews of their music, looking to see if anyone else was transposed to another galaxy by a simple, genius composition of melody, crooning, chords and poetry.
Is it because there are fewer instances of random violence? Fewer lynchings? No Kardashians? Are they less drugged? I’m really curious to know why the British artists I’ve discovered seem to be more comfortable being vulnerable, emotionally honest and just stunningly musical.
Generally, popular music in the US feels more commercial these days than soulful. Which I guess is why when we get a taste of British soul music on these shores, we totally lop it up. In retrospect, Lemonade was pretty honest, but I didn’t know at the time that the artist was giving us the truth about her life. Till now though, I don’t feel like Beyoncé was giving me everything she felt in her soul. When I listen to Låpsley’s “Falling Short” and anything by Rationale or Sam Smith, I feel like there are no barriers between me and the artist, like they are completely open. Like their heart is unfolded into the music.
Also “Oceans”, by Hillsong gave me some soul-open honesty. It’s definitely up there with the Brits.
It could just be that the British are more supportive of soul-salve music than the Americans, and that’s why these artists get more visibility. But again, what does that say about the Queen’s land?
I’m looking for more Black British artists, because I know they must be out there, and I just haven’t discovered them yet. I recently heard about Michael Kiwanuka, so I’ll be listening to more of his music. Like the other Black British artists I’ve discovered, he has immediate roots in the Continent (Uganda). Rationale is from Zimbabwe and Emeli from Zambia. Southern Africa #winning. I have to remember my Naija artists, for which only Aṣa and Sadé come to mind. FromAṣa’s first album, “Bibanke” definitely does things to the soul, but again…Europe…and these are both from ages ago. The artists above are making mind-blowing music now.
When it comes to music, I don’t discriminate. It’s just your emotional availability, your alacrity with soul-salving honesty that I fall in love with. These artists are compelling me to take my musical searches much more seriously, by following British indie blogs…seriously.
I’ve also discovered a Gqom goldmine. Maybe I’ll write about that soon.
Here’s my “Like Rationale” playlist on Tidal (they’re not paying me, I’m just being god-like).
If you’ve always known that British music was better, please drop some titles I should try out down below. Also if there are American artists who do it like the Brits, please send them my way.