DIY producer Joe Flory has drawn back the curtain on his latest project, Amateur Best, with debut record No Thrills. The Londoner released a major label effort a few years prior, under his Primary 1 alter-ego, but the project was quickly scrapped due to musical differences between artist and label soon after the release of last record, Other People. This time around, he’s rejuvenated, partnered with indie label Double Denim, and set to bring his luscious electronica and pristine voice back into the limelight.
It’s a kind of elaborate bedroom-pop, with dramatic bursts of synth elegance and gallons of fluid hooks, but still a very much unique, maybe even isolated, sound. His glassy voice plays a major role in the music, not just as an instrument, but often as a focal point for all the synth mastery and winding pads to scuttle back to, almost as if his singing is a beacon in the darkness.
‘Ready For The Good Life’ opens the record. Deep bass wubs, handclaps and shimmering keys (provided by Chilly Gonzales) lead you through an exploration into rich harmonic territory, with velvet layers of vocals or synths or piano all vying for attention during the cut. It’s much more radio-friendly than some of the record – following track ‘Too Much’ is home to a very squeaky saxophone, for example – but it’s still pretty unlikely you’ll hear Grimmy spinning anything by Flory, at least for now. ‘Be Happy’ is a slab of Disney-sweet strings and glimmering globules of dulcet glock. It almost resembles Australian sample wizard Pogo in the repetition of hooks and use of synth, though it’s also nothing like Pogo if you take Flory’s soaring voice into account, which he deftly exercises throughout the track.
Amateur Best is a much more confident guise for Flory. Where he may have sounded restrained or reluctant as Primary 1, he now lets the music flow incredibly naturally, and it’s much less self-conscious – it’s clear that he not only sounds confident in what he’s doing, he is confident. He’s got a passion in his voice throughout every track, conveying a deep-rooted emotion, a sense of feeling that leaves a lasting impression on you. It’s a harrowing LP during its more melancholy moments, but during times of hope or joy, Flory has the ability to instantly uplift.
‘Pleased’ hints, pretty overtly, at neo-R’n'B. There are funky synth blips and futuristic bass womps that lie beneath a swarm of vocal harmonies; occasionally piano riffs or buzzsaw pads saunter in, adding another dimension to the already richly textured track. ‘Villas’ is an infectious gem, with dark duelling vocals spiralling between monoliths of sturdy beats and effects-laden synths. It buzzes and glistens, it’s choppy and smooth – the song crackles with opposing ideas that weld together sublimely. Sometimes there are slivers of curveball noise – the goofy bassline in ‘The Wave’ and the tannoy signal in the title track. These moments of musical silliness (whether intended or not) are more endearing than anything else – clearly Flory doesn’t let the music engorge itself with seriousness and stony-faced stoicisms – and it shows that he’s enjoying his time making music on his new label.
The record is an amazing first stride for Amateur Best, one that’s both full of pop sensibilities and avant-garde experimenting. Flory expertly blends the pop-tinged craft of Primary 1 with some fresh ideas, allowing an accessible sound to brew. Though he dabbles in some interesting instrumentation and harmonic structures, it’s not a kind of experiment that is designed to alienate the listener. It’s still a remarkably easy record to pick up and appreciate, whether you’re a fan of chart hits or hidden classics.