The UK artist proves that music about anxiety and struggle can still be beautiful.
"The power of entering into the political debate," reads the text accompanying Too Much, Dennis McFarlane's third album as Dego. "Don't take the rhetoric of the campaigns to heart, focus on the real-world actions over time. Lobbyists and the direction of NGOs everywhere are highlighting the danger of placing Industry over people." Does this mean one of UK club music's smoothest artists has turned to anger or upheaval to process all that's going on in the world right now? Far from it. Aside from being an extremely accomplished collection of soul, R&B, broken beat, boogie, house and jazz, Too Much shows that even the uneasiest feelings about the state of things can be transformed into beauty.
McFarlane has always been an enthusiastic collaborator, and Too Much features seven vocalists, all of whom are women, who help him process what's going on. These songs range from quotidian concerns about having a shit day and wanting to be alone, through to challenges to capitalism and calls for revolution. Interestingly, McFarlane places six vocal cuts in the album's first half and just one in the second, giving the second half more space for luxurious instrumentals.
Plenty of the record's best qualities are in "A Strong Move For Truth," the opener. "The first time I began to question my reality was just then," sings Nadine Charles over a timeless, aching soul arrangement with thick humidity in its instrumentation. "I Don't Wanna Know," which features Obenewa's vocals and buttery guitar licks, and "Too Much," where Sharlene Hector sings and a chunky drum machine leads the groove, are the other vocal highlights. "Happiness is not a result of owning something," Hector assures us.
If it wasn't bloody obvious from Too Much's first half that McFarlane is a supremely experienced and skilled producer, with iconic credits like 4hero, Reinforced Records and CoOp on his CV, the second half screams it. There's one of those classic tricky grooves that defined the broken-beat days on "You Are Virgo," with every strike of hand percussion and each depression of a key given ample space to shine in the mix. McFarlane knows how to create tension and loveliness simultaneously, which "Just Leave It" shows through the blossoming of its instruments as a payoff. He really gets comfortable on the closer, "My Standards Are (Not) Too High." Across eight and a half minutes, he plays with gentle, jazz-flecked drums, piano and bass before the track flips into an energetic higher gear.
Not everything is worth quite this much attention. The album sometimes slips into a boilerplate type of smoothness, where it'd be difficult to distinguish tracks like "A Where Pringle Deh" or "Unknown Faults" from the countless others produced in this style over the past several decades. But plenty others distinguish themselves. In responding to the world in 2019, McFarlane has connected subtle commentary and aspirational messages to the broad musical church he's been building for decades. It works.
Tue / 10 Sep 2019
01. A Strong Move For Truth feat. Nadine Charles
02. Good Morning feat. Samii
03. Remini Dream feat. Ivana Santilli
04. I Don't Wanna Know feat. Obenewa
05. Unknown Faults
06. Life Can Be Unreal feat. Sarina Leah
07. Too Much feat. Sharlene Hector
08. You Are Virgo
09. Come Of Age
10. Just Leave It feat. Lady Alma
11. Numero 15
12. Ogawa Okasan Said Just Play
13. A Where Pringle Deh
14. My Standards Are (Not) Too High