The second EP from London producer Murlo is competent but bland. It feels like a document from dance music’s recent past, proof enough that the post-club sound is becoming stale.
There is something decidedly untimely about Murlo’s Club Coil. There’s its dystopian, digitally rendered urban landscape of an album cover; its collection of sleek, “post-club” tunes; its obligatory features from a smoky vocalist. These are all elements of dance music that might’ve been rather au courant, if not forward looking, five years ago. The second EP from the London producer/DJ Murlo (aka Chris Pell) sounds and feels like a document from an era of dance music that’s come to a close.
Pell was one of a crop of DJs that emerged earlier in the decade when slippery, amorphous electronic music was coming into prominence. What made the music of Pell and DJs in his peer group (Kingdom, L-Vis 1990) arresting at the time was how it offered a peek into a future of pop that was cybertronic, gaudy, ambitious, and in-your-face. In some respects, that sound did successfully seep into pop music: Kingdom’s collaborations with mainstream artists like SZA and Syd show that this style of music has been influential. But there are limits to what one can do with a toolbox of frigid synths, dark atmospheres, and disconcerting drums. Club Coil is proof enough that the post-club sound is becoming stale, in need of a dose of inspiration.
On Club Coil, Murlo reveals how shallow the standard formula for this particular kind of dance music is. He works at the intersection of many genres—making a fusion restaurant’s equivalent of dance music—by sprinkling bits of grime, dancehall, soca, and UK funky into his productions. In practice, this often equals shuffling synths and booming bass and plenty of snapping kickdrums. His songs are all neat and tightly organized—but they’re exceedingly bland, or at the very least inoffensive. Take, for example, the opening track “Coil.” On its surface the song is extremely competent: it bears a legible arc, its synth and bass sounds are crisp and well designed, and it has little moments of fright and simulated emotion that come from burping horns and thick drum rolls. But you’d be hard pressed to say any one part of the song was affecting—it’s too safe to elicit any feeling other than mild head nodding.
And this feeling of middle-of-the-road production is especially evident in the vocal collaborations with Gemma Dunleavy. Like Murlo, Dunleavy’s style lacks its own identity. Rather, both Murlo’s production and Dunleavy’s singing can feel like an assemblage of recognizable parts borrowed from other artists. Even if done well, it doesn’t necessarily make for an interesting listening experience.
For example, “I Need”—the strongest of their two collaborations—contains a mix of chiptune sounds, precise percussion, and interesting vocal effects, offering a sense that the song is glossy and thoughtful. But Dunleavy’s singing, while pleasing, is hardly moving; it never goes beyond or below expectation. “I Need” is a highlight of the EP, but it unfortunately illustrates what makes Club Coil such an inessential record. Murlo and Dunleavy are contended to play it safe—her vocals are just brassy enough to make for a diluted impression of singers like Dawn Richard or Kelela, while his production is just clean enough to be a passable approximation of Kingdom’s frigid dance songs or AlunaGeorge’s pop house. While it is maybe too much to expect any one artist to reinvent the wheel they’ve been given, Club Coil sounds so much like a plethora of other things that it comes over like the album equivalent of paint-by-numbers.