Kwabs – Love + War Review

Kwabs is the stage name of Kwabena Adjepong from Central London. He’s already received much attention in the mainstream media of from the BBC and MTV, having a song featured on the FIFA 15 video game and becoming a Number One overnight sensation in parts of Mainland Europe. Superficial points aside, Kwabs’ moulding of the burgeoning Neo-Soul genre saw him produce a successful EP last year in collaboration with Vienna based producer SOHN. With his debut album Love + War, he’s teamed up with SOHN again as he looks to replicate his success and the acclaim he has garnered in places like Germany as one of the most promising British acts around… no pressure then.

With ‘Look Over Your Shoulder’ SOHN provides the sombre whirrs of electronica as his minimalistic approach brings out the wholesome and smooth quality of Kwabs’ baritone vocals. He also demonstrates his impressive, yet cool vocal range and variations without ever sounding like he’s made much of an effort and in this sense his vocal performance reflects off the instrumentation very effectively. This track is well instrumented and structured as it sends out that intricate, yet punchy rhythm and harmony behind the fluid foundation that is Kwabs’ vocal performance. ‘Layback’ is a more soulful and spaced out affair which features Kwabs isolated vocal reverberating and trembling in the verses and harmonising with the sweeping electronica of the chorus in a wave-like melody. Despite the power of the chorus and the detail of the verses, it still gives off the essence of a laid back and chilled track and that really is a credit to the production and to Kwabs’ effortless vocal ability from which a complex and smooth pop song has came into fruition. ‘Forgiven’ is a track of great strength and power via another immense vocal performance that runs in conjunction with a dramatic vocal instrumentation which basically drives the song with only subtle reverb and electronica being added. It’s a towering performance enhanced by a minimalist production and arrangement.

The album opens with the title track which opens as a heavy electronic affair with whirring and warping synths and flashing samples strung together by a blocky bass line before somehow falling away effortlessly and turning into a groove filled piece by the end of the verse. Again it goes on to fool you by the chorus as it slips effortlessly into a track made of heavy percussion with Kwabs vocals sailing through them. This goes on throughout what becomes a euphoric track and a heightened piece of pop music. Of course there is that hit track that shot him to the top of many of Europe’s charts and that is ‘Walk’. It is a track of consummate boldness and prominence from the apprehensive piano chords that launch the song into it’s churning and rumbling chorus which punches it’s way along as opposed to progressing peacefully. These parts drop off the face of the earth and the song is still carried on Kwabs’ vocal before launching back into the bold and uncompromising chorus. Nestled in amongst these big tracks are the simple string laden, piano ballads of ‘Perfect Ruin’ which simple and more graceful and whilst far from being the best track of the album, it offers up a more emotive quality and a sense of balance for the album. Those such as ‘Wrong or Right’ advance the notion of neo or alt-soul music in a positive light whilst those such as ‘My Own’ or ‘Make You Mine’ offer up some oddly placed moments of pop cheese and see’s Kwabs delivering Justin Timberlake-esque tracks. These are the only weaknesses of what is a more than promising debut from a genre smashing artist with one of the best vocal performances of the year. When is his next album out?

Kwabs – Love + War = 8.5/10

Owen Riddle @oriddleo1995