London producer/singer Kwes has a clearly defined extra-musical aesthetic, choosing to print his name and song titles in all lowercase letters, punctuating each with a period. In this small, throwaway gesture, he presents a simultaneously diminutive and firm presence, maintaining an identity and sense of order without doing so obtrusively or obnoxiously. It’s just window dressing, of course, but it also offers a more direct glance inside that window at the artist himself, a charming, soft-spoken crooner whose romantic sensibility gracefully collides with his accessibly off-kilter song style.
Kwes, born Kwesi Say, has a fairly short catalog as a featured performer, though he’s far from a novice. Production and remix gigs for The xx, Speech Debelle and Damon Albarn are some of the notable bullet points on his résumé, in addition to a collaboration with Micachu called Kwesachu. Meantime, his first EP for Warp Records, is just a small taste of his gently romantic, yet sonically innovative identity, but the man makes a damn fine first impression. The small sampling of material on hand presents a warm, yet brightly flickering glimmer of an artist with a lot of tricks up his sleeve, but enough tact not to let everyone in on his secrets in the first act.
Those tricks are quite good — Kwes’ warm baritone, a humble and comforting device, is used to entrancing effect among warm washes of synth on “Bashful,” a track that lives up to its name through his soft delivery more than its repeated hook, “I’m so bashful.” As much as Kwes’ songs are based in texture and mood, however, he’s an excellent songwriter, and with a song like “Honey,” he comes across like an electronic protégé of Jon Brion, thanks to the lush layers of sound and clever chord changes.
The EP’s closing track, “lgoyh,” is the real stunner, stretching typewriter-tapping percussion, glockenspiel, strings, buzzing synth bass and piano across seven minutes of breathtaking melody and more comforting reassurances (“Don’t waste too many tears/ On those energies/ You have too many years ahead of you“). It’s a consistent ascent up to this breathtaking climax, although the first track is a fairly unremarkable ambient piece, and a lovely peek into Kwes’ uniquely inviting electronic pop. He makes the listener comfortable, enough that, even if the 17 minutes goes by a bit too fast, one could very easily clear out a little more time for a visit.
Video: Kwes – “Bashful”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.