Reviewed by Jay Trachtenberg, Fri., July 30, 2004
Joseph MalikAquarius Songs (Compost) One doesn't generally look to Scotland for soul singers, but consider Joseph Malik an exception. The Edinburgh-based DJ/producer has a high, sweet falsetto reminiscent of Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield. A veteran of the European underground scene, Malik sifts his music through the vibrant meshings of DJ culture; nu-jazz, hip-hop, electronica, house beats, funk, flamenco, dub, electric Miles, and Afro-beat are all evident in his sound, the latter genre no doubt reflective of his Nigerian ancestry. The way it all comes together is enticing to say the least. Malik once again teams up with his longtime collaborator, producer David Donnelly, on this follow-up to 2002's critically acclaimed Diverse. This project has more of a club vibe with its hypnotic, looping beats and textural sound layerings pulsating throughout, but Aquarius Songs goes deeper than that. There's a heavy strain of social consciousness here, and when that message is carried with the sweetness of a neo-soul ballad like "Casualties of War," it makes for a deeply affecting experience. In addition to the obvious Mayfield and Gaye parallels, Malik also calls to mind the dulcet, sensual tones of contemporary Van Hunt, especially on the title track. In contrast to the high sheen around it are the dark, earthy, and haunting flamenco flourishes of "Diablo." The album ends on a sobering note with Malik in live performance, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar. "Race Relations" recalls Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" in its bare-bones sound and the way it closes the album with a cry for social justice.