Stubborn Heart - Stubborn Heart

by Charly Richardson Rating:8 Release Date:2012-11-05

Electronic music in the UK seems to be in pretty good shape at the moment. James Blake, SBTRKT, Jessie Ware and others have been trail-blazing a post-dubstep brand of electronica topped with bitter-sweet soul-inflected vocals. And now Stubborn Heart have stepped into the ring, offering this eponymous debut which, although not initially as approachable as those bigger names, is just as intriguing.

Stubborn Heart, aka Luca Santucci and Ben Fitzgerald, are certainly an appropriately titled duo, for the subject matter is incessant heartbreak, and all 10 tracks ooze angst and melancholy. Despite his emotional honesty, the lyrics of singer Luca Santucci can be functional and at times borderline banal: "Now don't get angry, I'm not trying to be rude/ Are you hungry? I was about to grab some food" ('Two Times A Maybe').

However, there are moments, such as some nice alliteration in 'Head On', which suggest a more rounded wordsmith, and his voice is strong, delivered in a mournful half-whisper. The tone and timbre of his voice is a bit like Chris Martin, except Santucci has real soul and is significantly less whiney and irritating. Be warned, though - if you listen to the whole album in one sitting you might start feeling like a dreary, stroppy teenager once again.

But that's what makes this album so interesting. Unlike some of their more mainstream peers, Stubborn Heart don't simply shove snippets of pop vocals on top of fidgety electronics and watch the money roll in. The vocals are much more prominent and integral yet remain subtle and tasteful. And Ben Fitzgerald perfectly complements them with a warm soundworld constructed out of echoing snares, crisp, robotic hi-hats, and luscious synth textures. And again, it's subtle and tasteful. There are no huge drops here; this is definitely one for the blissed-out, after-club chill rather than the dancefloor grind.

There's obviously an array of influences at work here. 'Two Times a Maybe' is a large nod to dubstep. 'Better Than This' utilises retro-80s sci-fi synths . 'Need Someone' is SBTRKT-esque electronica. And there's even an obscure soul cover ('It's Not That Easy'). But it is the subtler, ever-present influence of trip-hop which is really interesting.

'Interpol' could almost be a 21st century Portishead track, and down-tempo, pensive melancholy is prevalent throughout. This means Stubborn Heart will never make mainstream ripples. But it can and will find a unique and justified niche in the UK's over-saturated electronica market. Indeed, it proves that the scene is innovating and evolving incessantly.

Stubborn Heart are fresh and exciting; indeed they only released their first single last year and this album is the first thing to have plucked them from relative obscurity. But then, that's exactly what absorbing and provocative debuts are supposed to do, and Stubborn Heart deserves the attention.

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