Laura Mvula has seen her world transform in double-time around her. A scant year ago she was trembling through part-time jobs and casual writing sessions – sessions which would sow the seed of her soon-to-be flourishing musical career.
BRIT and BBC Sound Of 2013 nominations followed a spray of lauded singles, piquing the interests of Jessie Ware, Paloma Faith and a multitude o fUK tastemakers. Her refreshing blend of classic soul, neo-jazz and electro-indie has injected an alluring energy into the world of chart music, with her debut EP succeeding as a triumph of musical prowess over gimmick or superficial gloss.
Her much-anticipated first LP, Sing To The Moon, is the result of a year’s hard graft and a lifetime of bustling aural ideas – the Birmingham Conservatoire graduate has never been far from sonic realms, immersing herself in anything musical she comes across, be it community choirs, traditional Zulu groups or Erykah Badu cover bands. She draws inspiration from all around her for the musical aspects of her work, although the subject matter on the record is introspective and deeply personal, dealing with family, love and loss. Mvula has a wealth of diverse influences, ranging from Louis Armstrong to Thrice, from Michael Kiwanuka to Eric Whitacre. As a result, Sing To The Moon is an album that will appeal to a vast swathe of people either welcoming the surface-level pop charm, or the sharp, subterranean levels that act as foundations for such awesome noises; or equally as likely, both.
‘Like The Morning Dew’ opens the record with throngs of bewitching voices and blissfully unaware chimes. Mvula governs the music, all instruments following her voice willingly, as it either cracks with delicate tremor or rockets with stratospheric clout. This pastoral cut, alongside ‘She’ and ‘GreenGarden’ has already made waves as a single before the record’s release. ‘She’ fractures silence with a storm of hushed peals and breathy vocals; ‘GreenGarden’ is a sparkling, jazz-flecked cut with offbeat handclaps and vocoder-laced backing vox. It’s oddly ominous, with brisk rhythms and a strange tension that you just can’t put your finger on.
The new tracks are equally brilliant: ‘Make Me Lovely’ has ‘Don’t Want To Miss A Thing’ strings, sublime brass and bristles of harp; there are tinges of ‘60s soul within the staccato stabs of contemporary orchestral music. ‘I Don’t Know What The Weather Will Be’ is led by a snare march and harpsichord keys, though – as always on the record – Mvula is the true focus. Her voice is just stunning, with a phenomenal range and a silken timbre, which is endlessly captivating for any melody. ‘Diamonds’ is a careful, sprawling R’n’B ballad with minimalist moments; it’s maybe not the most befitting end to such an emotional, epic album full of intensive intimacy and marvels of the natural world, but in its sombre frailty, there’s still beauty.
Absorbing such an array of sounds throughout her life has bolstered Mvula’s own intrinsic talent, giving her a sweeping knowledge and the technical capability to carve a record that is as purely radio-friendly as it is worthy of academic study. Some will appreciate the record for the bursts of soul-infused pop, others will take time to grasp the tiny details and appreciate the deeper layers of Sing To The Moon – whichever angle you choose to view this album from, you can be assured that it’s a magnificent anthology of tranquil, touching and often poignant songs that act as hymns for a modern era.