- Soul and broken beat with a minimalist spin.
- Over the past 20 years, Steve Spacek has at once been eclectic and consistent. Gifted with an arresting vocal range and a knack for rough-edged contemporary soul, he has skipped across projects with the air of someone pursuing interesting work above all else. What binds together an album like 2015's Modern Streets (as Beat Spacek) and the classic neo-soul of Vintage Hi·Tech from his old band, Spacek, is the force of his identity as a singer.
His musical style has always been fluid, making his footwork-like 2016 single "If U Wan 2 Find Me" sit comfortably alongside his many collaborations with Mark Pritchard or a cut from his Black Pocket project (released on Exit Records, the label run by his brother, dBridge). More recently, Spacek's search for fresh ideas has manifested in his exploration of iOS-based music production, represented on a trilogy of singles for Eglo Records. The London label, rooted in soul with a futurist bent, feels like the perfect home for Spacek's latest LP, Natural Sci-Fi.
The music here defies placement on a timeline (some of it dates back to 2005, the year he released his last solo LP as Steve Spacek, Space Shift). It hovers easily between eras and styles, as has always been Spacek's way. There are some familiar sounds, like the title track's squelchy boogie, which captures the neon-lit allure of Dâm-Funk's early outings. The beat is strikingly minimal—just a woody kick and some finger clicks embellished with subs and light synth flourishes. You might notice that Spacek seems to sing close to the mic. Whether it's a clever mixing trick or a byproduct of the process, it complements the tenderness of his delivery and the track's heavy-hearted lyricism.
The LP's themes progress smoothly from matters of the heart to a more outward focus. On "Well Well," Spacek bemoans an unnamed status quo (possibly musical, political or personal). "Take Ova" brings in the US rapper Oddisee for weighty verses on personal freedom. "Carnival Night""s fizzy blast of broken beat aside, the plastic harpsichord trills of "Shout" may be the track that catches the ears most. The lyrics border on banal: "Make a joyful feeling from pain / Sleep for hours in the rain / And then come back and do it again / Make the loudest sound you possibly can make." That (and the naive beat) may sound like a misfire, but Spacek's natural charisma gets it over the line.
Natural Sci-Fi seems to lean less on the rich, sample-focused beats of, say, Space Shift in favour of raw, snappy arrangements. It has all the qualities of a perfect Steve Spacek record: bold and singular in its execution, spanning a range of moods and held together by the conviction of his musical persona. Just look to his duet with Natalie Slade on the smoky, sublime closer, "Plain Site." It's as dreamy as it is crooked, completely grounded in its wandering bassline but floating high on the chemistry between the singers and the loping keys around them.
01. Natural Sci-Fi
02. Deep Inside
03. Well Well
04. Take Ova feat. Oddisee
05. Carnival Nights
07. Things Outa My Head
08. Plain Site feat. Natalie Slade