‘Balancing compositional complexity with listener connectivity, it dazzles at every turn.’
Delivering her second album 7 years after her first, Sarah Williams White has just returned with her 11 track, self-produced release ‘Unfathomable’. With the emphasis being on “escaping the mundane and enticing us to connect with our natural planet via the eyes of a new mother” Sarah’s set herself a big target. One that perhaps comes with additional pressure since her other releases have received high praise from key tastemakers. But that’s exactly what we get. From galactic opener ‘Nebula’ to the empowering, electronic closer ‘Exit Lyra’, each track is one that carries us with ease on its own, and at times complicated sonic journey. However, for me there’s just something about Track 2 ‘Oh!’ that always has me returning to it.
Throwing us in at the deep end when it comes to Sarah Williams White’s knack for clashing rhythms, motifs, and influences, the introduction of Oh! takes us away from the otherworldly conclusion of opener Nebula and into another musical dimension. Carrying a swung jazz quality, drum patterns filled with syncopation and delicacy instantly cause your foot to tap while the descending vocals are ones of understated promise. Listen soft, and it’s a beautiful sound, but listen hard and you’ll experience the embryo of a funk bass line and the immense joy of being rhythmically caught off guard. Oh! What a beginning.
Solidifying the sonic direction of the track, with the vocals emerging we are treated to the first of many cleverly crafted and symbolic references contained in the lyricism. Delivering the line ‘Broke my iPhone today, never felt more connected’ there is a real sense of immediate, and perhaps ironic relatability. One that rings all too true. Meanwhile, that distant bass line brings forward its intricacy and bouncing busy-ness resulting in a groove that balances compositional complexity with listener connectivity.
Enhancing this further, on arriving at the chorus a myriad of instrumental, percussive and vocal lines spring into life like the blossom of that same season. Blending seamlessly counter melodic synths sparkle like stars in the sky while sub-bass provides musical grounding and hand claps bring cross-rhythmical energy. Together, the resulting sonics leave you with no option but to drown in their intoxicating beauty. Equally, in restating the opening lyrical content in this new context you experience a catharsis too.
Returning to the groove-driven side of the track, approaching the mid point Sarah showcases further connections between every element. Although it may be more subtle in some places than others, it is still there. Take the understated pairing of lyrical phrase ‘…from another planet’ with evolving, melody enhancing, space-like synths for example. The spell casting-esque spread chord after the word ‘magic’ as another. However, what makes the most impact here is the appropriate naturalness to how everything occurs. So natural in fact that when we leap back into the chorus, the combination of extended repetitions and the freeing intent of Sarah’s sublime vocals propels you to a place of weightlessness and elation.
Having just sent us mentally skyward, rather than a progression of this thematic approach occurring we instead find ourselves back down on terra firma. The lush textures stripped back, it’s a near antithesis to what we have been experiencing, but an atmosphere that is just as absorbing. There is, via a true embracement of interlocking motifs, an opportunity to fully appreciate how the hand claps work against the main percussive centre and fragmented injections of bass. Add to this the more carefree, detached setting of the title lyricism and Sarah’s knack for sounding completely ‘Sarah Williams White’ is wonderfully emphasised.
Ensuring that we left in no doubt of this being the case, on exiting this sparser sound a surge of sparkly synths propel us back into orbit. Dazzling us every millisecond, this climatic transition is one that delivers everything that you could want it to. There’s a grittiness to the ever-present bass, there’s expansive, expressive vocals, and there’s collisions of decisive and experimental textures. But above all else, there’s an overwhelming sonic display of the seamless way Sarah fuses together her musical influences. In fact, maybe that’s exactly why I keep being drawn back to it…
Oh! features on Sarah Williams White’s new album ‘Unfathomable’ which is out everywhere now.