Let’s not beat around the bush: if you’re a singer, no matter how good your production is, your vocals are the most important bit.
I report to you live from the only corner of my garden that gets sunlight. It’s been six months since the release of ‘Sangria’, a silky-smooth single from Easy Life, featuring South London poet, singer, and secret emo – Arlo Parks. I liked the track well enough when it debuted, but in quarantine, ‘Sangria’ hits different. Probably because it’s about codependency, and I am a lonely, lonely boy. More on that to come.
If you want the ins and outs of Easy Life, read Bryony’s article, then come straight back because I have to tell you all about Arlo Parks. For those of you who didn’t click the link, here’s a quick note on the importance of vocals. Give it a read while we wait for the others to rejoin us:
In today’s musical canon, there are very few hard-and-fast rules. You can make an album out of a washing machine if you want, but let’s not beat around the bush: if you are a singer, no matter how good your production is, your vocals are always the most important bit. Not your post-production vocals either, it’s never the autotune that clinches it for me, it’s the take in the vocal booth – the delivery, essentially.
What makes for really good delivery? I’ll tell you – it’s not vibrato or even whistle tones. When a song has great vocal delivery, for me, it’s because the singer has fucking nailed their emotional interpretation of the lyrics. Take ‘Gimme All Your Love’ by Alabama Shakes – the chorus goes, as you’d expect, “give me all your love”, but the meaning of the words is entirely in the delivery. The frustrated, howling angst; the guttural, demanding wails, that’s Brittany Howard screaming into the void, and commanding it to hold her. The lyrics, unremarkable in a vacuum, are pumped full of emotion, and it really makes the song!
Or, look at Outkast’s ‘Hey Ya‘! That is a SAD SONG about THE FUTILITY OF MONOGAMY, about how couples feel pressured to stay together and resent each other, about the inevitable death of love. At least, the lyrics are sad. The tension between the up-beat, bombastic delivery and gloomy lyrics creates delicious irony, it gives the song so much more depth, it critiques inauthenticity in a modern social context. It’s a damn good bit of art.
So, bearing in mind how much I care about delivery this should come as weighty news: Arlo Parks’ vocals on ‘Sangria’ are categorically perfect. I genuinely don’t think I’ve felt the presence of a vocalist as vividly as I feel hers. One minute and fifty-four seconds into the track, it truly sounds like Parks’ voice is walking into the room through some big mahogany doors. She takes the second chorus:
I fuckin hate it when you leave
Cuz you’ve got something that I need
And I’m not zen enough to do this each week.
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We’ve already heard this hook once, and frontman Murray Matravers is by no means slacking on this track. But. The first chorus is very much shared limelight – Sam Hewitt provides tasty bass licks which hold my attention, Jordan Birtles seems to play about three different keyboards, Matravers keeps tightly in time with everyone. It’s stunning, and an excellent example of how well this band moves as a unit. What separates Arlo’s hook is the sense of commanding I get from her vocals. The tempo does not change, yet she takes her time with each line, and the band adjusts around her. This new slowness and power make me want to serve Ms Parks, I want to bring her a sandwich and let her eat it off my back. What is this something that you need? Do I really have it? Either way, her hook is enchanting and is the probably the closest any audio has come to resembling melted butter. There are also wind chimes, which is a big win.
Here’s a lockdown version of Sangria, keep an eye on Hewitt (bottom right) just ’cause he looks so cute the whole time:
I won’t front: I’m locked up, I miss my partner, and this song is killing me. I wish I even had the opportunity to “hate it when you leave” – I’ve spent the last two months in this patch of sunlight, alone.
My pain is only worsened by the verses, in which lines like “photographing our lifestyle” have come to mean “taking selfies in the bath”, while other lines, such as “Different day, same story” have become all too relevant. Lucky the song is good enough for me to still listen to it all the time. I love the opening beat, the pace is deliberately hip-shaking, Matravers employs his signature Leicester soft-boy vocals, which we at CUB Magazine would call ‘laid back’, or ‘chill’, despite Easy Life’s fans apparently deciding that every song is worth moshing to anyway.
The pre-chorus picks up the pace, leaning further towards the ‘rap’ side of Easy Life’s diverse spectrum. It’s closer to rap than anything Rex or Declan have done, yet just as indie (with some RnB mixed in). This energy continues into Matravers’ second verse, his flow is choppy (if a little repetitive) and bursting with tongue in cheek humour – “here’s the link to my SoundCloud”. I’ll always back Easy Life’s lyricism, Matravers oscillating between irony and sincerity, between “passing out in your kitchen” and “eating all of my soul food”. It’s prosaic, which isn’t to everyone’s taste, but, pour moi? Délicieux.
After the second hook, (courtesy of Arlo), the song then pretends to end – but no! More wind chimes! And a sprawling, introspective verse from Parks which paints poetic vignettes of a distant relationship. She sings of marigolds and wine, sounding more like John Keats than Earl Sweatshirt (Parks cites Earl as an influence, to which I say, “damn right, Arlo!”). Frankly, the verse is cut off all too quickly by a final chorus and outro. While the last chorus does have gorgeous harmonies, I feel like we were whisked away just before the best bit. For a second, Parks was that vulnerable lyricist we’re all looking for, and I would like nothing more than another four lines. Though, perhaps my eyes are bigger than my belly. Parks’ brevity certainly contributes to the mystique which surrounds her. She’s certainly one to watch, and bring sandwiches to.
From my grassy little sanctuary, light sniffles can be heard. The song has lost all meaning in the lockdown. Gone, for now, are the days of codependency – gone are the long goodbyes I used to share with my partner. Nobody is leaving and nobody is coming to stay, not even for “just a little while” and so there’s nothing to hate. Except for the fact that our principal here at QMUL, Colin Bailey is refusing to use the furlough scheme to pay student-staff during the crisis while still paying himself £275K a year.
But, despite that. And the virus. And everything else. Despite how crap everything is today, it is spring. The sun is coming back. I don’t know if it’s just me, but some songs are simply useless without sunlight. Such songs, when played in direct sunlight, leap into joyous action and dance away through the sticky afternoon haze. Listen to ‘Sangria’ below, as well as a handful of hand-picked tracks in the same sunny vein as Easy Life and Arlo Parks.