Gorgeously Arranged, Lavish Soul Sounds From Ren Harvieu
If a ton of money didn’t go into the production of chanteuse Ren Harvieu‘s new album Revel in the Drama – streaming at Bandcamp – producer and Magic Numbers frontman Romeo Stodart deserves some kind of award. The arrangements are lavish but organic, with layers of keys, guitar, strings, backing vocals and Harvieu’s uncluttered, sometimes ripely sensual vocals. The music draws on decades of soul, from pre-Motown sounds through the 90s.
The opening track, Strange Thing is a lushy produced, harder-rocking take on jazzy early 70s Stylistics soul. Teenage Mascara is a weird, trippy mashup of Lynchian pop and soul from a decade before, with hints of hip-hop and Hawaiian music, backing choir and theremin! Then Harvieu shoots for early 90s Sade ambience, but with more organic production and dub tinges, in This Is How You Make Me Feel.
She goes back to early 70s ambience for the slow boudoir soul ballad Curves Swerves: again, the piano and guitar are more prominent than the orchestration and backing vocals. Smoky organ and pounding drums propel the towering Vegas noir ballad Cruel Disguise, the album’s most arresting track. After that, Harvieu brings it down with Yes Please, a mashup of 90s trip-hop and starry psychedelic soul.
Spirit Me Away is an unexpected detour into gothic rock, complete with neoromantic piano, cello and a bell tolling in the distance. Both Harvieu and the band shift between fullscale art-rock angst and lustrous, nocturnal soul in This Is Our Love. The country-tinged You Don’t Know Me gets a deliciously shivery string intro and Harvieu’s biggest vocal crescendo here.
“As soon as I stop making bad decisions, oh world, watch out!” Harvieu announces in the catchy Tomorrow’s Girl Today, awash in contrasts between celestial keys, quietly glimmering guitar and piano. Harvieu winds up the album with its most distinctly nocturnal numbers, the spare Little Raven and the unabashedly Romantic, crescendoing My Body She Is Alive: “Here is your life” is Harvieu’s closing, angst-ridden mantra. It’s a clinic in tasteful, imaginative orchestration and catchy tunesmithing.