Following the success of her debut EP, ‘Time’, released on DJ Mustard’s 10 Summers imprint, Ella Mai – London’s very own R&B killer – is back with another one: ‘Change’. Where ‘Time’ explored the mental phases symptomatic of a particular break-up (denial through to acceptance), ‘Change’ takes the next logical step: an exhibition of the mental phases conjured up by a burgeoning relationship, namely – hesitation through to dedication.
Mai and sole-producer Mustard, take us on a buoyant little journey packed with soaring vocals and gushy monologues, demonstrating that heartbreak is not her only currency.
In line with the project’s more joyful content, the duo decide to dunk Mai’s new EP in a bit of ‘90’s R&B nostalgia – a delightfully subtle touch that marries well with Mustard’s minimalistic framework. ‘Down’, for example, the EP’s opening gambit, takes inspiration from Brandy’s 1994 hit ‘I Wanna Be Down’, but exists solely on Mai’s terms. An airy piano riff and the notion of a mutual desire to be in it for the long-haul are lifted from Brandy’s track – the rest, however, is Mai’s personal extrapolation. Boom bap production is traded in for Mustard’s thudding bass and rigid claps, while Mai lends the track her unique brand of poignancy: ‘I’m tryna show you but don’t know how’. This particular throwback, then, is more conceptual than it is sonic, but this is all part of the subtlety.
Similar nuanced nods to ‘90’s R&B can be found throughout the EP. On ‘Who Knew’ and the EP’s leading single, ‘10,000 Hours’, harmonised hooks and frenetic analogue synths help wind the clock back – the former harking back to the days when girl groups like TLC reigned supreme (note to industry: we need another TLC), the latter mimicking more traditional R&B instrumentation. The throwbacks get even zanier, however. On the EP’s standout track, ‘Lay Up’, Mustard brings some lo-fi keys and muted slap bass to the table, paving the way for Mai’s constantly modulating vocal performance.
Speaking of DJ Mustard, this EP certainly marks his most balanced stint behind the boards since YG’s ‘My Krazy Life’. Unlike ‘Time’, there is a central theme that runs throughout Mustard’s production on ‘Change’ (namely: ‘90’s R&B). What’s more, the production mirrors perfectly the EP’s conceptual structure laid out by Mai; at first, the soundscapes are minimal and withdrawn, however, as the project unfurls, more complex layers and melodies compliment the development of Mai’s feelings. The ratchetness is used sparingly as well!
Arguably the most impressive feature of Mai’s body of work so far, however, is its unique chronology. That is to say, if we were to listen to ‘Time’ and ‘Change’ consecutively, we would have an exact sonic timeline of a young woman’s love life. In this manner, we develop an attachment to our protagonist – the agony and the ecstasy is shared; we are not merely tuning in to a sequence of Mustard bangers. This is a rather interesting concept, but, admittedly, one that may be difficult to maintain. Mai has demonstrated that she has this format on lock for her EPs – the real test, however, would be to carry it through for a whole album.
Ella Mai will be performing live at the Hoxton Bar on 19th of December 2016, tickets are on sale now. You can stream or download ‘Change’ now.