by JEAN-LUC MARSH
Quadron never cared much for flashiness. The Danish electronic soul duo comprising of singer Coco Maja Hastrup Karshøj and producer Robin Hannibal emerged with little fanfare four years ago, dropped their exquisite self-titled debut, and retreated just as quietly as they came. In the interim period between albums, each half of Quadron delved into different side projects. Coco collaborated with Tyler, The Creator on his latest album, Wolf, and also lent her vocal talents on a track for the latest film adaptation of The Great Gatsby. Hannibal pursued another neo-soul project via Rhye, releasing the satin-smooth Woman earlier this year. Now, four years after their debut, Quadron has reunited to produce Avalanche, a sophomore effort that follows in the high-quality footsteps of its predecessor.
The build-up in anticipation of Avalanche came in the form of pre-release single, “Hey Love.” A bright pop ditty with soul, “Hey Love” is a simple pleasure with the flavor of summer and a push for mainstream success. Hannibal takes a back seat in order to let guest producer Fraser T Smith (the man behind works by Adele and Florence + the Machine) guide the track into a more expansive direction complete with percussion and pounding of the ivories. Yet it is Coco’s voice, equal parts Jessie Ware and Lauryn Hill, which rises above instrumentation, providing a passionate direction through warm, optimistic territory rather than being passively carried along in the melody.
Album opener “LFT” (an acronym for “looking for trouble”) is indicative of what is to be found on Avalanche. The hallmarks of Hannibal’s production: strings, handclaps, and gentle synthesizers; are all present. They blend into a beautiful, yet unobtrusive backdrop onto which Coco croons soulfully. “Favorite Star” throws stronger drums and brass into the mix, expanding when needed into a sophisticated parade of horns and backing vocals, and contracting at crucial moments in order to let Coco shine over a stripped percussive line. In tandem with “Hey Love,” these tracks compose a charming opening triad that illustrates Quadron’s effortless mastery in a subgenre they pioneered.
Coco channels Adele on fourth track “Crush,” affecting a smokier tone over the sparsest instrumentation yet, questioning the validity of an infatuation through a chorus of “How soon will I get to know / If dreaming of you is wasting my time?” Traces of bossa nova tinge slow-jam “Neverland” with an erudite air as it glides by like a summer breeze. Seventh track “It’s Gonna Get You” is a direct descendant on Hannibal’s work on Woman, adapting the nouvelle-disco funk found on several tracks to a quicker tempo and Coco’s more animated vocals.
The only weak point on the album arrives with Kendrick Lamar’s verse during “Better Off.” Coco’s breathless vocals, delivered in a slow, rolling cadence, contrast notably against Lamar’s spitfire lyrics. Where she stays on tempo, he accelerates, disregarding the rhythm in favor of a steady flow. His lyricism is admirable but misplaced. The result is a rushed feeling and the destruction of the soothing ambience that Coco and Hannibal constructed so carefully up to that point.
One of the better releases of this year also happens to be one of its best kept secrets. Avalanche proves that an album does not require the media blitz surrounding other releases to garner attention in this day and age. What Avalanche may lack in immediacy, it makes up for with the gloss and professionalism that coats each of its songs like a gossamer gown. The quality of Hannibal’s handiwork and the sheer passion of Coco’s vocals speak for themselves. Each is already a force to be reckoned with alone, but together as Quadron, the duo demonstrate that superior quality can triumph over excessive publicity. [B+]
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