Room 25 (Independent)
Wow, this is something special. I am sorry I wasted the chance to discover Noname’s debut mixtape two years ago but this full album is even better.
Alternating between – but as often as not throwing together – funk, jazz and soul, this has a liquid feel that curves and curls and flows around you. You are moving but you don’t feel it, or at least not as something separate from your own rhythm because you really do merge with what you’re hearing.
One exception to that general rule is the fabulous groove of Blaxploitation. In keeping with its origins it has pops, jolts and shakes that might throw your shoulder out one beat, your knee out the next and your elbow and hip simultaneously, but the links are smooth and the momentum is irresistible.
So much so that its influence hangs over the track immediately following, Prayer Song (2), which is more Chick Corea than Sly Stone, more in the back of the brain than in the pocket, but carries itself with the confidence of a dancefloor call.
Room 25’s sound is organic rather than electronic. Drums have a touch of sharpness to them and the feel of a human rather than a fractal, their role supportive rather than triggering in the main, with even the crisp prominence in Part Of Me serving to lead you to her and the high, pretty backing male voices.
Basslines ebb and flow (and, in Don’t Forget About Me, casually strut) and guitars are as comfortable in a kind of ambient wash as they are in the exploratory angles, or mixing both in With You. The keys are often subliminal, though the swirling organ in Regal, is hypnotic, and then, in the final track, No Name, they play out melodically gentle.
The sound is usually coming with a modest impact too, and when it does stand out it feels like a comment not a question: an addition for the moment, rather than an intrusion. No Name again is the best example as strings join in during a surge of ‘70s soul, but Window deploys strings more in the manner of a ‘50s film soundtrack even when high-on-the-chest bass nudges into something that might have appeared on one of those hippie vocal group albums of the late psychedelic age
Ricocheting from the personal to the social to the political, it can be slyly funny and frank – you will know all the capabilities of her body and its constituent parts well before album’s end - but also unflinching in the harder observations. Noname (real name, Fatimah Warner) is no pushover, but feels no need to breastbeat either, her confidence in her place in the world putting her, and us, at ease.
Men are toyed with, though not dismissively; more with an amused knowledge of their place in the world. And there’s always the sex. On her terms. The Afro-American experience is contextualised and emphasised, yet there’s little even a Herald Sun cartoonist could find to be scared of in this black experience and maybe they’ll be at the shows later this month at The Forum in Melbourne, Metro Theatre in Sydney, and the Listen Out Festival.
Noname’s tone is almost languid, her preference for whisper over scream, but she has a whip sharp alternative delivery, words skipping free like dancing feet, and you can almost imagine the spark in her eye. Guests voices can match her but there’s no attempt to overplay: we all know who has an easy hand on the controls.
Room 25 offers the contradictory – in the best way - feeling that it is as fresh as unboxed sneakers and yet as comfortable as your battered old favourites. A winner.