Understated Classics #33: Embrya by Maxwell

I give the impression of planning these posts but to be honest I came across an article about Maxwell a few weeks ago and fondly remembered my cassette copy of this album. The joy of Spotify is that it’s easy to dig up old favourites. The recent warm weather makes for a good opportunity to enjoy the sultry embrace of “Embrya” once more.

“Gestation: Mythos” burbles along for two and a half minutes, overlaying spoken word samples, string phrases and weird underwater noises, before the bass line of “Everwanting: To Want You To Want” brings things to life. Over a sinuous and aquatic background, Maxwell delivers a smooth and soulful vocal. As you might guess from the title, it’s definitely one for your late nights and warm evenings playlist. I love the way that the song takes its time: it knows where it needs to go, it knows how to get there, and damned if it isn’t going to enjoy itself on the way.

In fact, that sums up most of this wonderful languid album. “I’m You: You Are Me And We Are You” throws Spanish lyrics in to the mix too, also shuffling along on a downtempo beat. The mixture of dub and R&B feels so natural I’m surprised that it’s not proved to be more popular. Perhaps it’s so relaxing that it doesn’t urge you out to the store to buy it, certainly “Luxury:Cococure” received a lot of airplay (you main even find the main riff to sound familiar) but this album was a flop. At least back in 1998 when selling only a million copies was considered a flop. It’s a shame because “Matrimony: Maybe You” was a minor radio hit and should have been the soundtrack to many a first dance.

One of my favourites is “Drowndeep:Hula” because it steps back from the groove and the attempts at producing singles. Instead we get a sweet and intimate song that’s built up from a slow beat. I’m tempted to say it sounds like Lover’s Rock. It also has a wonderful instrumental arrangement and I’d like to hear a fully instrumental version of this one day. Tellingly, it’s a co-write with Stuart Matthewman who is famous with his work with Sade.

“Arroz con pollo” is a short brassy instrumental that feels a bit like intermission music, albeit funky intermission music. It sets up a rather strange second half of the record. “Know These Things: Shouldn’t You” has a really strange air of condemnation and mystery, which feels out of place on an album that’s been focussed almost entirely on the sheets so far. Still the variety is welcome and the string arrangement is killer.

“Submerge: Til We Become the Sun” and “Gravity: Pushing to Pull” keep up the groove, “Embrya” is a pretty consistent album in that regard, one that you can allow to flow over you. Like other albums in my understated classics series (this one, and this one) this is a collection of songs that will lull you to sleep in a good way.

The album closes with the title track which reverses the opening one, so you can put the whole thing on repeat all and listen to it go round and round all night.

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· Understated Classics, Maxwell, Music, Sixteen, Pop

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