DivaGeek - He Said, She Said (2012)

DivaGeek
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It becomes nearly impossible to count the ways we love UK singer/songwriter Vula Malinga and multi-instrumentalist Ben Jones. The duo that forms the electronic soul and dance outfit better known as DivaGeek delivers a debut that makes us stand-up and take notice. This is what we thought J*Davey would sound like, but didn’t. Fluid, dynamic vocals; strong, original melodies; and, a cacophony of brash, clashing techno-funk sounds that are completely in line with today’s contemporary rhythm and pop scene, only better…much, much better, personify He Said, She Said. It’s only 1:52 seconds but the freshest cover of Michael Jackson’s “Can’t Help It” made to-date will tell you everything you want to know about why DivaGeek is the Batman and Robin of the moment. And, if managing to make an overdone MJ sung feel brand new doesn’t commit you to team DivaGeek, their total reimagining of Hall & Oates “I Can’t Go For That” should definitely seal the deal.

It becomes nearly impossible to count the ways we love UK singer/songwriter Vula Malinga and multi-instrumentalist Ben Jones. The duo that forms the electronic soul and dance outfit better known as DivaGeek delivers a debut that makes us stand-up and take notice. This is what we thought J*Davey would sound like, but didn’t. Fluid, dynamic vocals; strong, original melodies; and, a cacophony of brash, clashing techno-funk sounds that are completely in line with today’s contemporary rhythm and pop scene, only better…much, much better, personify He Said, She Said. It’s only 1:52 seconds but the freshest cover of Michael Jackson’s “Can’t Help It” made to-date will tell you everything you want to know about why DivaGeek is the Batman and Robin of the moment. And, if managing to make an overdone MJ sung feel brand new doesn’t commit you to team DivaGeek, their total reimagining of Hall & Oates “I Can’t Go For That” should definitely seal the deal.

Vula Malinga, as a solo talent, has been on our radar for the last four years. The standout star of producer Danny Foster’s dance compilation Love to Groove Vol. 1 with such jams as “Butterflies” and “Love of a Lifetime,” Vula’s 2008 debut EP, If U Want It, was one of the under-exposed ditties that rolled out of the UK during a year dominated by better promoted UK jazz and soul belters. Produced by Ben Jones on their first collaboration, Vula was under her own moniker then, yielding the underground dance hit, “If U Want It,” intricate fair like “Turn The Clock Back” and a more traditional R&B ballad in “Fallen/Want Your Love.” Then there was nothing. Malinga and Jones’s notable absence from the British recording scene since “If U Want It” has been more than justified by this high voltage follow-up sophomore project demonstrating a full-figured, interracial, intergenerational hipster squad whose music is as cool and entertaining as their voluptuous power nerd image.

No husky voiced chanteuse, Malinga’s deceptively skilled voice is a light and agile instrument made perfect for dance and radio pop. She has just enough vocal gravitas to pull off some funk and the passionate emotional endings that sign-off many of DivaGeek’s signature moments on He Said, She Said, like “Sunday.” She’s also one of those rare talents whose voice sounds fuller bodied and emotionally impactful live, though she’s no punk in the studio. It’s the versatility of her voice that takes full advantage of this set’s most compelling melodies and gives movement to Jones’s multi-layered, techno-orgasmic soundscapes on uptempo tour de forces like “Money,” “He Said, She Said” and “Oh La La.” More than a hook rider, Malinga also proves able to handle verses with equal aplomb on some straight-ahead, synth-driven keyboard funk on “Mr. Happy,” a syncopated head-bobber whose smartly incorporated minimalist breaks make it a keeper. She similarly shines on the more bass heavy, hand-clapping funk of “Go Hard,” a slow-walked anthem that never feels forced.   

Before we get too far ahead, let’s go back and spend a minute on the epic “Money,” a panoramic party jam worth the likes of Shelia E or Morris Day and The Time at their pop life heights. With its infectious hook and brilliant transitions, if ever there was a summer radio hit waiting to happen, “Money” is it. If radio was worth two cents this would be blazing your car stereo up all summer long. Make it happen.

The hits-in-the-making aside, there are electronically dense songs that are complex for no apparent reason, songs whose journey doesn’t really lead anywhere, like with the “Mr. Gingerman Intro” and the promising but stalled “Can’t Take The Heat.” These sliver songs (they both clock in at just under two minutes, but aren’t marked as interludes) seem intended to showcase Ben Jones’s intricate production and instrumentation work more than tell a worthwhile story. Generally the marriage is well balanced between Vula’s vocals and Ben’s eclectic grooves, as with the spectral “A Lil Longer,” but this album works best when it isn’t trying so hard to be edgy and makes their catchy melodies the star more than either artist. All in all, He Said, She Said is one of the standouts of the year and a must for anyone who ever wondered if experimental electronic soul could ever be more accessible and motorcycle ride of fun. Highly recommended. 

By L. Michael Gipson

 
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