Summer 196 continues. What is Summer 196? Its me trying to get at least one review from all 196 countries. So far, so good. We’ve done South Africa and Switzerland. This time, we have someone from Mozambique. And that someone is Chris Born
A few years ago, I worked with Black Porcelain on ‘Green’, a bedroom collection of eclectic, breezy pop songs – the kind of fuzzy feelgood music that doesn’t take itself too seriously. I use ‘bedroom’ quite literally here; it was a home studio affair plagued by barking dogs and a series of freak equipment failures that I prefer not to revisit. I do look back at this early work with great fondness but have often wondered, as any self-loathing producer would, what Black Porcelain’s compositions would sound like in the splendor of a professional studio. Fortunately for me, this album looks to be just that: A polished, well-produced pop album that gives us Black Porcelain as she deserves to be heard.
On the surface, “Invincible Summer” plays through like a greatest hits compilation with each song imparting a unique feel, in some cases even sounding like they’re from different eras or countries. Genre bouncing is a challenging proposition for any artist, but where many albums come unglued, Invincible Summer finds its bonding agent in Black Porcelain’s smooth, buttery vocals, teasing harmonies and lyrical pique. Pairing up with producer Mark Goliath pays dividends here – his arrangements are articulate, well-structured and sensitive to her playful phrasing. With his prolific session background, I’m not surprised to find the instrumentation richly layered and sweet on the ears; an ideal bed for Black Porcelain’s soulful musings to toss and turn in.
Of course I have my preferences, one or two that didn’t really do it for me, and a good number growing on me with each listen. “Hot Pink” is an immediate favorite, a clubland romp lamenting the misery of day-to-day life before leading into an opulent chorus a la “We Are Family”. The lyrics are suggestive, Minoguesque (if I may, an ugly word for something youthful and joyously seductive) with soaring disco synths and superb harmony work. I’ll admit the song lured my imagination through the doors of an exclusive gay club. If I do finally attend such an event, I’ll be very surprised if this song isn’t playing.
“Perfect Lie” follows suit with an unapologetically synth-laden, uptempo pop epic. In some ways, this track emerges truest to the album’s title. I felt privy to love-struck girl chat here; it’s cheeky, brimming with pride, and like a tip of the hat to the divas before her, makes sure to mention how long Mr. Perfect can last between his kitchen and cleaning duties. With my personal allegiances to pre-1976 blues, funk and soul, I couldn’t help feeling really guilty for loving this one!
Other notable tracks include “It’s not News” a piano-driven R&B ballad I could have sworn was released in the early nineties – a good thing when you consider the gems of that era: early Mariah, Tony! Toni! Tone!, Ms. Braxton, Boyz II Men, Mary J., SWV, Badu, Janet and so on – without question a golden era. Black Porcelain captures this sultry urban vibe beautifully and had me reminiscing right away. “Time for Heartbreak” also rises from the pack, for completely different reasons – a lilting, brassy jazz number with classic double bass and piano performances. The velvety, luxurious features of her voice seem more prominent here, a fitting performance with all the accoutrements of a great jazz standard.
Beyond these personal favorites, the album is full of unexpected delights. She confidently interprets a number of pop angles – Ragga, dub-step, rock and hip-hop all feature in some form. Invincible Summer’s variety lends a worldly feel to the album, reinforced by Black Porcelain’s uncanny ability to veil any obvious accent – I really like this feature of her work; it’s receptive, free from the restrictions of any niche market, and hard to place geographically. I’m sure she’ll appreciate my use of “international mystique” here.
Invincible Summer shows Black Porcelain exploring her options; while it is undoubtedly ambitious in scope, the album shines brightest when she focuses on two of her many fronts: First, her sun-drenched mega-pop sound (“Perfect Lie”, “Scandalize March”, “Hot Pink”) and second her more vintage-voiced jazz/neo-soul vibe (“Time for Heartache”, “Johnny” and “Today is the Day”). At times Lauryn Hill, at times Nina Simone, and at times Kylie Minogue, Invincible Summer is the release of a confident, versatile singer. Black Porcelain has delivered a rich, creative pop album that is implicitly feminine, fun & seductive, occasionally romantic, and filled with all the ooohs, aaaahs and laaaaas you could possibly need for a drop-top cruise with the femfam.
Overall, an impressive radio friendly debut that will appeal to anyone with an itch for unadulterated summer pop. I can see young listeners devouring this as they navigate puberty, Generation Y-ers appreciating the clever 90’s references and a more mature audience enjoying it for her voice’s vintage appeal. For me, it’s been the perfect guilty pleasure for my aging taste, and while it is a massive first step in her promising career, I have no doubt her best is yet to come.
– Chris Born (Maputo Mozambique)
Chris lives in Maputo with his wife and many pets. As you can see, he enjoys sipping on espresso on idyllic beaches. I can’t say I’m mad at that AT ALL