From the left-field blues that Shara Nelson crooned for Massive Attack to the thumping turbo-sex rhythms that Timbaland's plastered behind Tweet and Missy, modern soul vocals and minimal electronic beats have been fitfully flirting with each other since Prince first asked for some extra time in your kiss. Since the mid-'90s, U.K. trio Spacek has cultivated its own hybrid take on that courtship, and its second album, Vintage Hi-Tech, bears wonderfully strange fruit.
Although vocalist Steve Spacek's falsetto mumble has earned his group the less-than-flattering media tag as the "Radiohead of soul," his uncertain style is actually more a blend of Nina Simone, James Taylor, and Cream vocalist Jack Bruce. On Vintage, you can almost visualize his voice twining amongst the thumping kick drums, spitting static noise snares and light keyboard chords of the group's song-schemes. But the album's strongest point goes beyond that simple mélange -- it's that these spare sonics evoke a remarkable diversity of emotions. "It's Not Gonna Happen" runs guitar plucks that almost mock Spacek's yearning-lover lyrics, while the chiming vibraphones positively warm his straightahead R&B-isms in "Light Up My Life." They each reach beyond into the primordial, as Spacek improvises phonetics over the dust-mote beats of "I Know," and digitally stretched baby-cries dapple the buzzing beats of "Amazing."
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As a soul album, Vintage Hi-Tech sees Spacek put aside the passive voice of the maxim "less is more." The group has shown instead that you don't need a whole dinner table to create sexy, memorable R&B -- just the trimmings of good ideas and a place to grow them.