Swahili Blonde’s album, And Only the Melody Was Real, is held together through a unifying tone; a feeling; a sense of mystery. The overall effect of the music is strangely serene and sometimes sombre, unusual from an artist whose sound is best described as Kraftwerk-esque electro with a dash of afro-beat.
This feeling of mystery is partly created through Nicole Turley’s minimal vocals. Her elusive, unembellished voice drifts through the record, offsetting the (almost) excitable instrumentals. She only sings what is necessary. Her spare song-writing style is condensed, but intriguing; lyrics, such as “I had a dream that we are never what we seemed” from ‘The Diamond Room’, feels to both reach the very heart of the matter, yet simultaneously only hinting at it.
Turley wrote And Only the Melody Was Real in the aftermath of a break-up. While a deeply personal sense of loss is very present in this album, feelings of recovery and hope also ripple to the surface. ‘Her Name is Hope’, a song tricky to nail down to a specific mood or tone, is the closest this album dares to gets to unfettered joyfulness. Despite this, many of the songs wouldn’t feel out of place on a dancefloor, thanks to their pacey tempos.
Unusually, the rhythm stays relatively regular across the album – but this isn’t to say it’s dull. The energy of Swahili Blonde’s music leaps from the unexpected and playful choices of melody. These might leave the listener perplexed, but crucially also engages them without letting them go. In combination, Turley’s vocals dance with the synths in a way that melts together with surprising gracefulness, especially given the hectic combinations of chords.
One things that is certain is that Swahili Blonde are a band with an impressive ability to name check. Over the years, its revolving line-up has included Red Hot Chili Peppers’ John Frusciante, Duran Duran’s John Taylor and Stella Mozgawa of Warpaint. Nicola Turley is at the centre of this game of musical chairs; she writes, sings and provides much of the instrumentation for this album.
This isn’t a meaty record. With its eight songs adding up to a slight running time of half an hour, it can leave its listener feeling in need of a little more sustenance. This album might be bite-size, but it is an elegant delight that leaves the listener hungry for more.