The British group AlunaGeorge—who created its name by combining the first names of its members, George Reid and Aluna Francis—makes R&B that’s largely divorced from heavy-hitting hip-hop flavors and golden age soul revival. AlunaGeorge’s Body Music shares more with Katy B’s forays into electronic pop than with Jessie Ware’s explicitly R&B leanings (two other British artists with recent releases). In England, R&B has always had a closer relationship with electronic music than it has in the United States, and Body Music shows a group that believes firmly in all manner of synthesizers, splotches, stabs and distorted vocal samples.
But electronic doesn’t necessarily mean the kind of clubby R&B that can get on the charts in America. Here, chattering beats rarely cohere into a damn-the-torpedoes rush. AlunaGeorge prefer a stuttering lope, with brittle drums. The thin, hollow sounds bring out Francis’s high coo, swooning or swaggering.
Francis oscillates between positions of confidence—“I’m gonna have to cut you loose,” “you should’ve got me on the rebound”—and helplessness, lamenting that a slip of paper is the only thing preventing a memory from fading away. She does channel some of Jessie Ware’s themes when working over the emotionally uncertain middle-ground. In Ware’s “Wild Moments,” a lover “can be the greatest” or “the worst of all;” Francis sings about a relationship that “could be perfect” or “could be useless.” But while Ware emoted heavily on “Taking In Water,” Francis is more agnostic and less dramatic; she’s “been treading water for your love.” It’s a fairly passive, defensive action, but she sounds like she might not sink.
Body Music shows R&B continuing to expand its scope, stealing the cues of hip-hop and electronic music, which draw strength from their omnivorous appetites. Squeaks, blurps, thinner sounds—why can’t they convey the direct emotions of the traditionally thicker, more muscular R&B? Swimming in one direction may be the more decisive move, but “treading water” gives you the time to size up your surroundings.