Amel Larrieux - Ice Cream Everyday

Amel Larrieux
Amel Larrieux Ice Cream Everyday.jpg
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The challenge with creating unconventional songs that stray from the traditional pop song structure is finding a way to make it all musically hang together and not make it sound like a self-indulgent artsy mess only understood by high level jazz musicians and hipsters (who, of course, get everything “deep”). It’s the struggle of a lot of electronic music, progressive soul, and scores of nu-jazz, and only the best musicians who are the most aware of the importance of audience accessibility, of melody, of smartly placed harmony, survive being acclaimed beyond that which could fill a Manhattan café. It’s a struggle that the Grammy-nominated Amel Larrieux makes look easy on the forward-thinking, new age soul of Ice Cream Everyday, what is perhaps her greatest artistic achievement since her debut solo album, Infinite Possibilities, if not better. Yes, better.

The challenge with creating unconventional songs that stray from the traditional pop song structure is finding a way to make it all musically hang together and not make it sound like a self-indulgent artsy mess only understood by high level jazz musicians and hipsters (who, of course, get everything “deep”). It’s the struggle of a lot of electronic music, progressive soul, and scores of nu-jazz, and only the best musicians who are the most aware of the importance of audience accessibility, of melody, of smartly placed harmony, survive being acclaimed beyond that which could fill a Manhattan café. It’s a struggle that the Grammy-nominated Amel Larrieux makes look easy on the forward-thinking, new age soul of Ice Cream Everyday, what is perhaps her greatest artistic achievement since her debut solo album, Infinite Possibilities, if not better. Yes, better. This liberated from all-the-rules progressive soul confection is just that good.

This is the fifth solo album since Amel Larrieux’s famed days as the voice of 1997’s Groove Theory, both the self-titled album and the duo featuring actor/model/producer Bryce Wilson. Leaving the near mythical group after three bonafide hits and only one album that is always mentioned with an asthmatic’s breathlessness, Amel Larrieux has since had three high-water marks in music as a soloist. Her first was the flawless Infinite Possibilities with Larrieux’s only Top 40 R&B solo hit, “Get Up,” a year 2000 album chockfull of brilliance like “Sweet Misery,” “Searching for My Soul,” and the edible bouquet ballad, “Make Me Whole.” The second was her 2003 duet with Glenn Lewis on the Grammy-nominated cover of the Donny Hathaway/Roberta Flack duet, “Where is the Love,” featured on Stanley Clarke’s 1, 2 to the Bass. The last was her undeniable 2006 release, Morning, with the utterly sublime radio single, “Weary,” which despite high rotation in key markets, failed to break the R&B Hot 100.

Still, Infinite Possibilities stands out among them all. With nothing else like it in soul music at the time, Infinite Possibilities was everything the title said, challenging every convention of what a smooth soul or R&B album was supposed to be, incorporating every genre and winning at every turn. Of course, the label wasn’t looking for artistic challenges but commercial ones and a frustrated Larrieux left to launch her own label, Blisslife, with her husband after two storied but stifling experiences with the major labels. Since, Larrieux has kept a devoted following with each indie release, equipped with stans who will stab you with an ice pick if you dare criticize the three sometimes uneven independent albums leading up to this sixteen track project that makes everything before it feel like school. Always an AP student, with Ice Cream Everyday, Amel Larrieux has now graduated magna cum laude.

Ice Cream Everyday does feel like having ice cream everyday. The Blisslife Records release is rich and creamy and, at times, sticky sweet in its take on love and relationships. Without question, it conquers the vexing Larrieux problem of occasionally being too meandering and ponderous at times in her previous material, projects that could sometimes be so blissful they put you right to sleep (yes, Bravebird, I’m looking at you). In contrast, there’s nothing dull or routine about the always moving, shifting, doing eclectic compositions that people Ice Cream Everyday. From the Prince bassline of “I Do Take” to the throbbing hip hop bump of “You Don’t See” or the Teena Marie piano balladry of “Don’t Let Me Down,” Larrieux keeps listeners on their toes. No two songs are alike and their inspired references leave only a feather light impression, ensuring each original composition is all indelibly Larrieux, both Amel and her producer husband, Laru.

With six years since 2007’s Lovely Standards, the Larrieuxs’ inconsistent standards album, which did mightily struggle with its deconstructive efforts, Ice Cream Everyday only suffers one head-scratching moment in “Trapped Being Human,” which traps listeners in a sonic black hole of distorted and disturbing effects. The rest of this elastic whirlpool of moods and sounds bends genres and defies expectations, sometimes teetering toward the abyss in their freedoms, like the Middle Eastern tinged “Soon,” but rarely failing to be lovely to the ear. As demonstrated by the radical soul pop of “Have You” and the electrosoul rock of “A Million Sapphires,” Larrieux knows how to make nonconformity sound beautiful, but more importantly still accessible to listeners for whom the familiar feels like home.  

Heavenly bodies like the Spanish guitar-driven tribal house of “Danger” and its stripped down, string-laden ballads, “Danger 2” and “I Do,” alone make the album worth your lunch money. Rarely has this new high priestess of electrosoul sung so hauntingly and knowingly, rising into some of the lushest self-harmonies on wax and making these secular cuts almost sacred. Cannily, she switches gears so completely from the meditative to the funky on “Orange Glow” and the neo-soul throwback groove of “Afraid,” demonstrating her versatility in a variety of sonic playscapes.  This is Amel Larrieux showing she is the complete package.

When so many artists grow stale and expected, on her 16th year in the business and on the sixth album of her singer-songwriter career, Amel Larrieux is in her prime. On such playful musical pastiches as “Ur the Shhh,” Laru Larrieux has also finally come into his own as a producer, keeping a lot of loose musical idea threads wound just tight enough to keep everything joyous and compelling but open enough for Amel to play to her heart’s content. Both should be proud of delivering the only Ice Cream Everyday destined not to give you a tummy ache. Highly recommended.

By L. Michael Gipson

 
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