Last autumn, anyone who went to see SBTRKT might have been surprised to see an artist like Denai Moore support him. Her songs hover frequently around the mid-tempo range and they barely reach hands-in-the-air levels of euphoria. However, her performances received rave reviews from those who arrived early.
Since then, the anticipation for a full-length LP has grown. As it happens, there’s a lot of people flying the flag for Moore. Elsewhere is made with the assistance of Rodaidh McDonald (who boasts an impressive CV with production credits for The xx, Savages and How To Dress Well) and Ben Drew – aka Plan B. Given all the buzz that has surrounded her in recent months, an easy gateway to success beckons, surely?
Not quite. A lot of the time, Elsewhere is robust and precise – the production is tremendously slick – but also a little too familiar. More problematic is the fact that it seems to be constantly devoted to the same textures, tones and tempos throughout, which makes for a listening experience that isn’t as dynamic and enjoyable as it could be. Even scrutinising it on repeat listens doesn’t uncover much in the way of hidden joys – instead, it has a tendency to just drift on by without leaving a mark. The acoustic-led Flaws should be an emotional centrepiece, but the stale arrangement does it no favours at all. It needs an auxiliary component – more prominent and sweeping strings, synth magic, something – to breathe life into it.
Thankfully, on the plus side there is the intensity and power of Moore’s vocals. From the opening track, Piano Song, it’s clear that she has an abundance of talent. Her harmonies are utterly compelling. Nearly all of the 12 tracks detail relationships that have taken a turn for the worse, and she does a very sound job of conveying pain and trauma without feeling the need to go over the top; Detonate in particular is a classy piece of songwriting.
She manages to drop her most affective work during the second half of the album. Slowly but surely, there are some additions to the formula that work well; for example, the snare explosions in Feeling are giant and powerful and provide a tonne of atmosphere. But her very best is saved until near the end – the epic one-two punch of No Light and Let Me Go merely provides tasters of how gargantuan she can go, if allowed to. They’re so good that the concluding number, Last Time, comes across as bland by comparison. It’s easy to get the sense that Moore has more moments like that at her disposal, yet they are frustratingly few and far between here.
As debuts go, there are flashes of brilliance, but Elsewhere is not consistently excellent. Yet Denai Moore clearly has the ability to make an outstanding pop album that can cover all kinds of musical ground. With a bit more inventiveness and fresh ideas, she could still potentially be a star.