Released: Monday 16 July 2012
Not only is Brixtonite Cooly G (aka Merrisa Campbell) a talented producer and DJ, she also sings and is a semi professional footballer. We've had glimpses of her craft on a couple of Hyperdub releases, such as the brilliantly sparse 'Weekend Fly' which appeared on the superb 2009 compilation 5, and more recently doing a 'revoice' of a King Midas Sound track on last year's remix album Without You. She has released a couple of singles and done remixes for big names, but now offers a full debut album.
As you would expect from a Hyperdub release, Playin' Me is a collection of forward-thinking, leftfield electronica. Cooly G says her music has a "deep house tribal dubstep vibe", and that's pretty much bang on. She creates a soundword full of sweeping, echoing synths and scatty, house and UK funky inflected drums. Her minimalism and liberal use of reverb and echo gives a nod towards the influence of dubstep. But dubstep this is not, so don't waste your time waiting for crude, epic drops. In fact, Cooly G is one of a number of producers helping UK dance music evolve at a breath-taking pace. And despite being very 2012, there are well utilised hints of old-skool rave and garage nostalgia placed carefully throughout Playin' Me.
What is possibly most unique and intriguing about Cooly G is the fact that she sings on most tracks. Her purring voice is subdued but warm on 'He Said I Said'; sexy and seductive on 'Come into My Room'; and chopped and skewed on 'Trying'. Unfortunately, her voice tends to sound like it's been recorded in her bathroom, and although this might be a self-conscious decision to be lo-fi, it's more likely evidence of DIY bedroom production.
At times Playin' Me feels like a sketchbook rather than a neatly framed masterpiece. There are definitely a few clangers: 'Sunshine' is no way near as bright or exciting as the title might suggest; 'Playin' Me' is somewhat grating and 'Is It Gone' is bland and minimalistic. And then there's her cover of Coldplay's 'Trouble', which is probably best left unmentioned. Let's just say that despite some nice sub-bass kicking in in halfway through, overall you get the feeling that you can disguise and polish a turd all you want; it's still a turd at the end of the day.
Yet there is much which draws the listener in, especially the warm, melancholy mid-range textures she carefully crafts on tracks like 'Trying', 'Landscapes' and 'Come into My Room'. This is nicely complemented by rumbling sub-bass, but often the beats feel a bit functional and stunted (although Baltimore house legend Karizma helps 'It's Serious' sound a little more convincing). The introspective, largely beat-free 'Good Times' is simply stunning; and I wish it had been turned into more than an interlude.
All in all, Playin' Me is a brave and futuristic debut which has moments of great intrigue. Its lo-fi production doesn't always work, but Cooly G can be sure that few other people are pushing boundaries like her. And when genres are explored and developed quality control cannot always be guaranteed. Yet this album stands confidently as proof - as if we needed any - that Hyperdub are on the cutting edge of electronic music.