So far, 2012 has been a great year for music. We are a third of the way in and already we have had the Robert Glasper Experiment's soon-to-be-classic Black Radio, Gregory Porter's jazz/soul masterpiece Be Good, Quantic & Alice Russell's excellent Latin-infused Look Around The Corner, and Hawthorne Headhunter's progressive fusion of hip-hop and soul on Myriad Of Now. One thing all those albums share in common is a clear objective to be different, to stand out from the crowd and bring something new to the table. Now we here at SoulBounce are all for pushing the envelope, but it's not a necessity when it comes to creating great music. Just ask DivaGeek, aka Vula Malinga and Ben Jones.
Now I'm not saying that DivaGeek's debut album, He Said, She Said, isn't original. Neither am I saying that it sounds like all the other run-of-the-mill, cookie-cutter R&B/soul that abounds at the moment. On the contrary, they have delivered a fun, fresh album that combines elements of R&B, soul, and funk, with a hefty dose of pop all wrapped up in a package that doesn't take itself to seriously. Take the album's opener "Mr. Gingerman's Intro" (a reference to Ben's hair color) or the track "Money" and its "£900" interlude for instance. Rather than bemoaning the fact that "money is the root of all evil" or singing about "cash, cars and hoes," DivaGeek deliver a tongue-in-cheek ode to fast cars, big houses, and designer clothes, set to a thumping electro-soul beat. In a similar vein, "Mr. Happy" talks of love for that special someone while referencing various characters from the children's Mr. Men series, but rather than sound corny or gimmicky it comes off as fun and more importantly, genuine.
We have already heard the album's title track, and the bouncy R&B of "Oh La Laa!," but that is just the tip of the iceberg. One of my favorite cuts is "Can't Take The Heat," the perfect marriage of Vula's vocals and Ben's clean, polished production style, my only complaint being that at less that two minutes in length, it's over way too quickly. Similarly, their take on Michael Jackson's often-covered "I Can't Help It" shimmers, with Vula's gorgeous voice and Ben's sympathetic reading of the original track delivering another highlight, albeit a short one clocking in again at less than two minutes. "A Lil' Longer" recalls classic mid-tempo late-'90s/early-'00s R&B and again illustrates the interplay between vocals, songwriting, and production present on the album, a feat that I should think is certainly helped by the fact Vula and Ben are not only a musical duo, but a romantic one, too.
There are certainly no low points on He Said, She Said, but if I had to pick a high point it would have to be their stunning cover of the Hall & Oates classic, "I Can't Go For That." Vula and Ben have taken one of the most recognizable songs from the '80s, and a favorite amongst Hall & Oates fans, and given it a sweet, sexy, and soulful makeover. They retain just enough of the original to make it sound familiar, but with an updated arrangement, slowed-down vocals, and a modern twist to the instrumentation. It's pretty much a "How To" guide for remakes. It pays respect to the original while standing firmly on its own two feet as a song they can rightly call their own.
After years in the business as respected session musicians, Vula and Ben have finally had a chance to make the music they want to make, on their own terms. Let's hope they continue to do so for many years ahead with He Said, She Said as the first of many albums to come.