Following their collaboration on Ft. (2016), HiFi Sean – aka Sean Dickson of The Soup Dragons/The High Fidelity – and the singer David McAlmont, best known for the massive 90s hit ‘Yes’, have teamed up for a full-length album of trip-hop influenced soul with huge cinematic ambition.
From the off there’s a pool of influences playing to each of their strengths: the bassy judder of the opening track swirls into John Barry-esque strings, with McAlmont’s Shirley Bassey range feeling consciously sixties glam, like Massive Attack scoring a Bond theme. His vocal still has the arresting power that it did on those 90s hits, from the wistful ingénue in the back of a limo on ‘Transatlantic’ to growly NPG-era Prince sex-funk on ‘Hurricanes’. When the album shifts to a darker subject matter in the second half, exploring the Black Lives Matter movement and the reasons that make it necessary, his pained restraint gives an emotional weight – ‘there are reasons we don’t sleep, you know’ he sings with a weary heaviness.
Dickson as a producer makes some great moves here: self-consciously retro rave on ‘Real Thoughts In Real Time’, the dubby 909 stomp of ‘Diamond Dust’, the utopian optimism of the percussive ‘All In The World’ hitting those big, swaggering, Oakenfold-at-a-festival notes. It’s all got a bit of the cinema about it: climactic string sections with a big Bollywood influence pair with McAlmont’s maximalism for a swooning melodrama, like the heroine in a Nicolas Roeg movie riding around noir San Francisco with a rueful regret for misspent youth. It all has an elliptical, glamorous sadness, evoking Patricia Arquette in Lost Highway or Lauren Bacall in The Big Sleep; weary of a world that constantly fails to live up to expectations.
It’s an album with ambition, high-definition emotions and big-screen beats. With a love for the past without being backward looking, the musicians here understand how best to realise the other’s skills. It’s easy to see why they’ve chosen to work together, and the intangible magic that makes these kinds of collaborations memorable.
Happy Ending is out now on Plastique Recordings