Laura Mvula – The Dreaming Room Review

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Being compared to the likes of Nina Simone together with being classed as “the next Adele”, amongst several award nominations and triumphs, Laura Mvula’s successes came bounding like a peppy retriever playing fetch. And despite an apparent reminiscence of Back to Black in her debut Sing to the Moon, she parades a distinctive retro/pop/soul fusion unlike your typical BRIT nominee. This powerful exclusivity is once again explored in the glistening debut’s successor, A Dreaming Room.
The album has a great degree of vibrancy that can either be comforting or disconcerting. The fluorescent toe-tapper Phenomenal Woman feels like a friendly hug, with up-beat and emboldening lyrics paired with cheery vocals. With such a seventies feel, you can imagine the backing singers jiving behind their mics to this on a past episode of Top of the Pops, and is a masterful finish to the album. Rival this to Bread: the merging of an off-centre drum machine and an odd rattling hook, alongside Mvula’s signature echoic harmonies acting as a weak attempt to gloss over the weirdness. These juxtapositions come to a dramatic climax in Kiss My Feet; the listeners are jerked to and from a Disney-like waltz and overpowering electronica. Lyrically the song is incoherent too – the opening lines state Mvula feels “lost and found at the same damn time” – so the whole track creates a swirling sense of confusion, for both the artist and the listener; I can’t decide yet whether its messy or pure genius. The longest track – Show Me Love – is the greatest advertisement of the London Symphony Orchestra’s impact on the album (apart from the pointless 46-second addition of Renaissance Moon). To some extent, the undulating flow of the harmonic strings steal the limelight from Mvula during this number, as she repeatedly sings the same words over and over again, almost as if it has been improvised. The tracklist is ultimately a blend of vitalising surges of pop and a hymn-like notions, extended by the LSO’s tender compositions.
A Dreaming Room’s strongest asset is how beautifully personal it is. The track Nan is not a song at all, but a phone conversation between Mvula and her grandmother. This addition is especially touching – it’s impossible not to wear a smile whilst listening to it. The song People is sung with intense passion, as she and Wretch-32 explicitly discuss the treatment of black people. Not only does this song demonstrate how much of an influential figure Mvula is, but also establishes how she is both modern and unique. It’s fairly common nowadays to include a rap section in the final verse of a track, but instead of recycled lyrics bellowing over a recycled beat, the rap portion in People is layered with distorted swells of Mvula’s soft harmonies brawling with the force of Wretch-32’s from-the-heart lyricism. It’s both a fantastic song and a hugely efficacious symbol, as two vastly different musical powerhouses join to push for change.
Weird but in the best of ways, Laura Mvula has produced an album that certainly lives up to expectations. Each track is a wonderful display of vocals that deserve to be flaunted at any given opportunity, and, although some tracks are less structurally successful than others, it’s clear that Mvula has put her heart and soul into every track, and for that, she can be forgiven for the long three- year hiatus.
Laura Mvula – A Dreaming Room: 7/10

Eleanor Chivers

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