A glance at Georgia Anne Muldrow’s discography reveals an impressively extensive and diverse body of work. Since her 2006 debut Olesi, she has proven herself as a highly capable singer, rapper and producer, with output ranging from the dense, abstract neo-soul of Umsindo (2009) to the kinetic, Madlib-produced Seeds (2012). Many of her works have been highly conscious, dealing with issues both political and spiritual – while embracing worldwide musical influences to create a unique sound and approach to soul and funk.
Many of her previous albums have been co-produced by her husband and fellow musician Dudley Perkins (AKA Declaime) and Overload sees their collaborative partnership continue – with an appearance on perhaps its most lighthearted moment, “These Are the Things I Really Like About You”. Over playful, kitschy jazz instrumentation, Perkins and Muldrow sing to each other about… well, the things they really like about each other. It’s the kind of move that can come off as cheesy, but on the contrary, it’s actually quite endearing listening to them sing lovingly to each other and it’s very much at the heart of a record that deals at least partly with a message of love and togetherness.
While Muldrow’s previous records have found home on various labels including Stones Throw and SomeOthaShip Connect (a label which she formed with Perkins), Overload marks her debut for LA’s notorious Brainfeeder, a label founded by Stephen Ellison AKA Flying Lotus. Ellison is actually credited as executive producer (as well as Perkins and Aloe Blacc) and the futuristic, psychedelic neo-soul vibe certainly seeps through on some of these songs. On the whole though, the arrangements are typically varied, thanks to the number of collaborators and producers present – from dreamy and sparse, borderline ambient, to purple, gospel-soaked neo-soul.
Rising up out of the Afro-soul rhythms of minute-long opener “I.O.T.A”, is “Play It Up”, which makes for a tense, dangerous sounding introduction. With a trap-influenced beat and an almost amelodic three-note loop, it evokes something akin to acid soul. Muldrow sings words of undying devotion and belief in someone, towards a figure that seems larger than life.
Title track and lead single “Overload” is somewhat of a flip side to “Play It Up”, with its smooth and melodic instrumentation dotted with blippy keyboard runs and staccato bass. Though with a similar lyrical sentiment to the previous song, the lyrics here feel more comfortably placed, conveying a sense of excitement. Her vocals also laced with delay, giving it a psychedelic slant.
Much of Muldrow’s previous work to this point has contained consciously political themes. And while these are less present on Overload, “Blam” comes through with the most overt display of these themes. In reaction to years of violence and police brutality towards her race, the song is a call-to-arms to rise up and defend themselves by whatever means necessary, recalling Malcolm X’s message dating back to the Civil Rights Movement. The sentiment is matched by an appropriately tense, busy hip-hop backing, closing out with the mantra of “before I’ll be a slave, I’ll be buried in my grave.”
The following “Williehook” skit uses heavily reverbed rhythms and vocals to represent the repetitive mundane of the everyday – washed out and blankly going through life, before “Aerosol” snaps out of that state. Like the feeling of suddenly being present, Muldrow lists off a stream-of-consciousness verse over an arrangement that feels fluid – evoking an intense clarity and focus.
“Vital Transformation” has more jazzy undertones – with a bright, string-kissed intro, though the rest of the song appears more muted in comparison. Muldrow here touches on the difficult state of our world and humanity’s growing emotional detachment from one another, “feeling more cosy on the internet.” Gentle Rhodes keyboards are juxtaposed with skittering hi-hats, like the foreground noise of a busy world. The confusingly titled “Conmigo (Reprise)” has even more of a jazz feel, with a percussion-less instrumentation filled out by pianos, double bass and vibraphone. The whole thing feels somehow uncanny, hazy but lucid at the same time.
Perhaps the record’s most richly soulful moment comes in the form of “You Can Always Count On Me”. A cover of The Gap Band’s 1979 song, it makes for more than a worthy update to a song whose message is just as relevant now, if not more so, than it was at the time. Deeply melancholic but reassuringly dripping with soul, Shana Jenson Muldrow’s passionate, gospel-tinged vocals create a fiery call-and-response to close it out.
Elsewhere, “Canadian Hillbilly” has a kind of narcotic haze to it – Georgia sings, “never let your love turn down,” almost as if sedated by this love, over cloudy, ethereal synth pads and minimal percussion. And the record draws to a close with “Bobbie’s Dittie”, which appears to signify a triumph of emotional liberation. The song confidently switches from a soul jazz strut to busy, percussion-heavy double time Afrobeat – unpredictable in its stop-start rhythm, making for a somewhat unusual but ultimately satisfying end to the record. And what’s left in the end is the short and sweet epilogue of “Ciao”.
On the whole, there’s a lot to like about Overload. It’s an impressively diverse and eclectic effort that’s both instrumentally rich and restrained. Though the songs cover a range of different styles and sounds, none of it feels out of place as they coalesce into a colourful, multifaceted message of love, togetherness and a reflection of our trying times – especially for the African-American race. It may not be as sprawling or ambitious as some of her previous records, but ultimately it is a worthwhile showcase of her talents and a solid introduction to her sound as her debut for the new label.
Overload is released Friday 26th October via Brainfeeder.