- A lovely back-to-mine album from a blossoming South London jazz scene.
- Categorising music by mood feels like narc work in the Spotify era. Landing on a popular playlist is one of the only ways to hack the streaming system for a few pennies—but surely no one dreams of being the poster child for "chill beats"? Still, mood music does exist and we can't pretend we don't enjoy it. There's always space on the shelf for a proper back-to-mine album—the kind of thing you can stick on with confidence when you roll in from a big night out with your friends, your new S.O., or whoever. South London's Hector Plimmer has made exactly that with his second full-length, a heady late-night-tale that marks a major leap forward from his 2017 debut.
Plimmer loosely orbits the jazz scene that's bubbled up in South London in recent years. On Next To Nothing, star turns come from singers Ego Ella May and Alexa Harley, who add their smoky voices across four songs, and Theo Parrish collaborator Andrew Ashong. The vibe is sincere, occasionally earnest—in a live setting, Plimmer comes off as cheerful and self-effacing, while Ashong performs wearing toe shoes. On record, though, they create something unexpectedly otherworldly. "Sonnet 17" is a sensual interpretation of a Pablo Neruda poem, invoking heady sensations, fragrant flowers and the loss of bodily integrity that comes with mad love: "Since I must go on, give me you / Everything you got, I want too." On the bittersweet "Joyfulness," Harley's vocal is layered into a thick soulful laminate, multiple takes melting together like candle wax. One of two Ashong contributions is the most ambitious of the lot, channelling the meticulous flair of André 3000 or Frank Ocean on "Somebody Else," which rides on sumptuous stacks of guitar, Rhodes organ and ticking hi-hats, Southern style.
Plimmer clearly gets results from his vocal collaborations. So it's odd that the trip-hoppy "Circle" is left as an empty beat, with warped strings crashing into waves of white noise in the style of early Weeknd (or even his favourite influence-slash-source material, Portishead). But the instrumental tracks allow the drummer to stretch himself in different ways as a performer and programmer, his broken beats feeling slinky and soft in the tradition of someone like Dego (who he's played with previously) or Mark de Clive-Lowe. "Step" is a beauty, building towards its drop over several leisurely minutes as lush strings quiver expectantly, not unlike the off-kilter orchestration you'd find on a Leon Vynehall record. Rave culture is implied, figured as a hazy memory. On "Still Here," Plimmer cuts breakbeats into discrete chunks and lets them scud across the mix like pebbles on a pond's surface. Sometimes it doesn't quite work. The same track's acidic squiggles bring queasy memories of psytrance (the jury's out on that genre's recent dance floor comeback) and tracks occasionally feel noodly when they could be streamlined, like the meandering jam of "Communication Control," which closes the album.
Had it come out 20 years ago, Next To Nothing might have been labelled a "coffee table" record. That classification was meant as a diss, obviously, but plenty of brilliant records got tarred with the same brush. (And what's wrong with coffee tables, anyway? Playing music for friends in your living room is a fundamentally enjoyable thing to do, and it's pretentious to argue otherwise.) Split between engaging instrumentals and evocative songwriting, Next To Nothing comes together as one of those records you could keep pulling out for years—when the time is just right.
01. Next To Nothing feat. Emma-Jean Thackray and Ego Ella May
02. Sonnet 17 feat. Ego Ella May
03. Still Here
04. Somebody Else feat. Andrew Ashong
06. Stack feat. Pie Eye Collective
07. Before The Sun feat. Ego Ella May
09. Joyfulness feat. Alexa Harley
11. 2 Minute Switch feat. Pie Eye Collective
12. Wall Street feat. Andrew Ashong
13. Communication Control