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Songbook Will Salmon , August 11th, 2020 08:01

Otta's latest EP offers a playful disregard for genre boundaries, but its her soaring vocals that hang the record together, finds Will Salmon

An intense loneliness flutters around the edges of otta’s second EP. While her friend and mentor, Warp Record’s Kwes, is once again involved, Songbook is self-produced and feels like the product of her own singular and quietly eccentric vision.

‘Never See’ opens the record on a shuffling electro beat, her rapid fire vocals offering consolation to a friend: "There’s somebody out there who won’t think twice to answer a call, answer the phone to you." It’s a bit of a misdirect; one of the more pop moments on the record and because lyrically this EP is mostly concerned with living inside these feelings of isolation.

Songbook was presumably recorded before lockdown, but it couldn't have come out at a more appropriate time. It's hard not to listen to these eight songs and think that a good chunk of them are reflecting on the shit we’re collectively going through right now. "I'll get existential with friends/ I should save it until I'm back home again" from ‘Hope Extension’ feels like the sigh after the Zoom chat has ended and you're left sitting alone on your living room floor, just desperately missing your family. "Still alone" is a recurrent phrase throughout; an unwanted thought creeping in at 4 AM.

While this is nominally an R&B record, Songbook shows a playful disregard for the formalities of genre. Tones and tempos frequently shift within the same song. Take ‘I'll Always Be The Man’, a miniature symphony where otta frets over an underachieving lover against a string-led backing, before the music shifts gear into trip hop then finally ends on an almost a capella ballad. It does all of this in a little over three minutes. Elsewhere, ‘Suihku’ is an eerie instrumental that sounds like Vanishing Twin dicking around with a squeaky door, while ‘Just Like The Rain’ is a straight up cut of modern funk, and a surprisingly triumphant climax to the EP.

The one consistent element throughout is otta’s remarkable, soulful vocals. There are echoes of Jorja Smith and fellow BRIT school alum Amy Winehouse, which contrast fascinatingly with the junk shop eclecticism of the music itself. Here, you sense, is a potential future star, someone with a foot firmly planted in both the mainstream and the underground. And she's only just getting started.