Laura Mvula, King | Martyrs' | Rock, Pop, Etc, Fall Arts | Chicago Reader

Laura Mvula, King Recommended Early Warnings (Music) Sold Out (Music) Soundboard Image

When: Fri., Sept. 13, 8 p.m. 2013

It took me a few listens to get my head around Sing to the Moon (Columbia), the arresting debut by UK singer-songwriter Laura Mvula. Her inviting music is flush with overdubbed vocal harmonies, glittering strings and brass, and gorgeous, slow-moving melodies, but Mvula (who studied at the Birmingham Conservatoire) ditches conventional verse-chorus-verse structures as she merges elements of soul, pop, and gospel with a touch of 50s Broadway musicals—it’s a waste of energy to try to decide where this record should be filed. She surrounds her full-bodied, pitch-perfect singing with swooping choruses of multitracked backing vocals: on the single “Green Garden,” she applies electronic effects to make them sound almost like a synthesizer, and on “Like the Morning Dew” they become a swarming, textured symphony. The instrumentation isn’t what you might expect of soul or pop either: “Flying Without You” has a bona fide trombone solo that cuts through like a hot guitar lick, and varying combinations of piano, harp, celeste, and glockenspiel often dominate the sound. Mvula’s songs deal primarily with the elusiveness and ephemerality of love (“Like the morning dew / That goes away early”), and in “That’s Alright” she sings about refusing to compromise herself to win someone’s adoration. It’s not a perfect album—the dense arrangements and convoluted structures sometimes drag the songs down—but Mvula is clearly a staggering talent. —Peter Margasak King opens.

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