I first read about Kwes in Clash magazine back in 2008 when he was featured in their Ones to Watch section. They were a little premature in their prediction but they were right about this producer’s great potential. Since then he’s colllaborated with Micachu and produced tracks on “GOB” by DELS and then signed to Warp Records and releasing his “Meantime” EP in April 2012. All his work to date has straddled experimental music, pop and hip-hop and “ilp” is no different, he went as far as defining his music as “free pop” as he recently explained to Clash magazine “Free-pop really is me pigeonholing myself, before other people do,” he explains. “Pop is what gave me that education and gave me the impetus to make music. It’s literally just letting it run, just letting the music-making run. It was all very free-flowing.”

The album kicks off with one of its highlights ‘Purplehands’ it opens with a field recording of swans quacking and flaaping their wings put through reverb before a thick synth bass drone and two high frequency synth drones take over. A slow, gentle melody seems to emerge around one minute twenty seconds in then the drones fade away and the reverbrate lead vocals of Kwes enter. A synth pad moves quietly below his vocals, after about thirty seconds a simple light beat drops as does a bell like melodic sound and bass guitar that leads into the songs lean yet swelling chorus. The song bursts into life with post-rock style guitars, bass and drums around four minutes and forty five second ins, the track breaks down again briefly with Kwes singing, occasional piano and synth. Then the guitars, bass and drums surge in again creating a wave for the vocal, synth and piano to ride. Next up is the single ’36’ it begins with a distorted, murky bass guitar plays alone, then a head nodding hip-hop beat drops, swiftly followed by a piano chord progression. Things break down for a verse at one minute forty five, leaving just the drums and Kwes vocals, the piano cuts back in partway through the verse to build towards the chorus. There’s a great bell melody that kicks around three minutes and fifty seconds in. It’s a great piece of experimental pop.  

‘Cablecar’ opens with simple electric piano melody and beat with Kwes delayed vocal melody drifting over the top and a rumbling synth bass underpinning everything. Things gets more complex in the chorus with the melody rising and falling much quicker. Three minutes the track fades out and there’s just the beat and some spoken word phrases before the droning synth bass re-enters bringing with it everything else including a new glassy synth melody. At five minutes the song shakes off the droning bass and like ‘Purplehands’ is set free for its climax. ‘Hives’ combines a deep penerating bass line, fluttering percussion that’s heavy compressed, metallic percussion and and an ascending electric piano for the intro for the track. A destructive synth bass and computer melody take over before a hip-hop beat that cracks takes over, later filmic strings cut in briefly. The track sounds like an English an to Flying Lotus and like a lot of the album is incredibly cinematic. ‘Chagall’ opens with layered reverse sounds pan around the stereo field, then a deep bass guitar/synth emerges and underpins the reverse which are now joined by reverse vocals. Then everything drops out around a minute in, returns for a moment and then is replaced by a crunchy distorted reverse effect, everything returns again thus timeone by one the sound swelling and getting bigger and bigger. The album finishes with ‘B_shf_1’ a more uptempo version of ‘Bashful’ from the “Meantime” EP, at first I didn’t like this version (and still prefer the original) but after a second spin the track really grew on me.

With “ilp” Kwes has produced an album that is sonically, structured and emotional unique within the three genres he has chosen to combine. Across the length of the album he evokes a huge range of emotions from melancholy to happiness via repressed anger and it play out with an all enconpassing setting of his childhood growing up in Lewisham. In fact, the video and images that accompany Pitchfork’s stream of the album are a good starting point for the imagery that Kwes music plants in your mind. Only on ‘Hives’ does he sound like any one else and even then the sense of Englishness is very strong. Kwes has delivered an excellent debut album that lives up to the four years of on and off hype he’s experienced, can’t wait for the follow-up.