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Shapes & Colors Guia Cortassa , January 24th, 2023 09:53

Oakland duo evoke the colourful world of radical Italian designer Ettore Sottsass, finds Guia Cortassa

In an ocean of intimate musings on loneliness and confinement, Abracadabra really stand out. Everything in their sophomore album Shapes & Colors is pretty unique, starting with the backstory.

When COVID hit, Hannah Skelton had to leave her hairdresser's salon in San Francisco to become a backyard mobile hairdresser. This way, she had to listen to her clients complain about the hardships of the lockdown while living in mansions with pools and huge spaces, not understanding their privilege.

This circumstance made her and Chris Niles, the other half of the duo, consider how broken and dysfunctional our society is, but also that maybe not everything's lost in the mess we're in. So, they retreated into their working space in the industrial Jingletown neighbourhood in Oakland and decided to soundtrack this buoyant demise. And make it an 80s-informed block party.

Skelton and Niles first met when asked by Jason Kick – who would eventually co-produce their albums – to pair up and play the whole of the Eurythmics’ debut, In The Garden, for a Halloween party, setting from the very beginning the mood and tone of Abracadabra's later soundscape, born from Niles' beats and Skelton's lyrics.

You could describe the sound of Abracadabra as "Memphis style," where Memphis wouldn't be the world capital of blues but the influential design group led by Ettore Sottsass. In the 1980s, Memphis subverted all the rules of interior design. Abracadabra's tracks, like Memphis products' clashing colours and haphazard arrangements, incorporate various influences from many genres, mixed and used in an unconventional way, giving what appear to be playful and colourful easy songs a deeper meaning to be discovered.

With the help of a slew of musicians who add a kaleidoscope of voices to the synth-based pieces, as well as drums, a marimba, congas, bongos, and tri-tone samba whistles, the duo creates a set of tunes that travel from afro-beat to Caribbean rhythms, never leaving the groove. Psychedelic moments, like ‘Swim’, are next to Talking Heads-ish tracks like ‘In a Photo’ and space-jazzy moments, like ‘Inyo County’. The spirit goes up and down to allow a breather among the dancing parade, climaxing with the elephant trumpet of ‘At the Zoo’ and never letting the mood drop. All in all, Abracadabra's space and colours are a mind-expanding experience, well worth the backwards time travel.