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Duval Timothy
Help Kashif Sharma-Patel , September 2nd, 2020 09:30

Mixing high art, downtempo electronics and a jazzy sensibility, Duval Timothy's new album drifts woozily between past, present and future, finds Kashif Sharma-Patel

Duval Timothy's Help is an immersive, relaxed window into the landscape of contemporary music. Traversing minimal jazz, soulful R&B, edges of glitch, hip-hop sampling, voice modulation and ephemeral field recordings, Help is a welcome addition to Timothy’s growing body of work and forward-thinking alternative music in general.

Opener 'Next Tomorrow' showcases this blend of electronic chill with a jazz sensibility, sounding glossy and inviting. 'Slave' introduces the motif piano chords that iterate throughout the record, taking shots at a music industry that exploits Black artists. The harmony vocals of Ibiye Camp build over the track with nods to Pharrell and Prince and their respective relationships with the music industry. 'Fall Again' is perhaps the most accomplished track on the album with gospel vocals from Lil Silva and winding guitar lines from Melanie Faye. Here in particular, we hear the work of contemporaries such as Sampha and Serpentwithfeet: soulful, indie and replete with a sense of wistfulness set against the shadow of worldly toil.

The interlude 'TDAG' (an acronym of 'Things Don't Always Get Better') points to an Afro-pessimist sentiment, while the modulation of the voice-note is reminiscent of contemporary art practices that work with the spliced edges of Black popular culture and glitch aesthetics. Tracks such as 'Like', 'Alone' and 'Still Happened' take us further into Timothy's world of electronic sampling, dubbing and acousmatic arrangement. These tracks are built out from a central jazz structure that strays out into ephemeral sound worlds and accumulated debris, as brass horns and piano lie delicately below. 'Look' situates a recording of painter Ellsworth Kelly within a sombre piano piece where car horns are heard in the background, giving a sense of urban inhabitation, the feeling of reclining in someone's apartment while music shrouds the air.

What we get from Help is something like the relationship between figuration and abstraction, to take Timothy's artistic background into account. The familiar voice and acoustic arrangement are found exposed and expanded by the ephemeral edges of electronic music composition. In some ways this is in-keeping with the diverse sounds of a resurgent London jazz scene, in others ways part of a constellation of alternative R&B artists. Yet overall there's a distinct attentiveness here to a profundity that seeks to comfort and soothe, often giving off ambient vibes. Tracks like '9', 'Ice', 'C', and 'U', are almost wholly piano solos. Form is both quite straight-forward and also very open, which is to say there's a surface level comfort and sheen which belies a worked-through, confident compositional manner.

One could even think about it in terms of poetry, where tersity generates a field of intent and meaning within constricted space. Timothy quite openly suggests this constriction is related to racism from the outset and it is within that frame that we need to understand what his minimalist earnestness is attempting. Perhaps Blood Orange's Negro Swan and Solange's When I Get Home are good points of comparison in the manner in which they build intimacy into a sprawling cultural project. Timothy's minimalist take on the sprawl means nothing here is finished. Much is left in transit, on the edge, for a future-to-come, or a present that embraces the abiding possibility of the colourful everyday.