The sound of heaven-sent strings brings GoldLink’s “Palm Trees” to a close. An eloquent ending, ideal for a song that’s sonically three minutes in paradise.
Galimatias & Joppe provide the production, yet, the additional arrangement is from April George, a multi-instrumentalist who sings with a voice full of old soul. As a background vocalist, the born-and-bred DMV native appears on three of 11 ("Zipporah," "Dark Skin Women," and "New Black") records from Link’s 2015 sophomore mixtape, And After That, We Didn’t Talk. She reprised the role and sprinkled magic throughout his acclaimed RCA debut, At What Cost, providing vocals on "Have You Seen That Girl?," "The Parable of the Rich Man" (on which she's officially listed as a featured guest), and "Kokamoe Freestyle," as well as arranging two vocal ensembles that appear on a combined four tracks.
To know GoldLink is to be familiar with George, if not by name then by voice. Seen or unseen, known or unknown, she contributes textures of beauty where it’s needed.
One of their standout collaborations, 2016's "Rough Soul,” isn't attached to any project, but emitting from the loose effort's synth chords is a summertime sweetness, like a June afternoon in Pasadena. What April brings to the song's hook is heartwarming despite demanding a former flame to never call again. The soft background coos become a gorgeous rejection sung with affection.
In a case similar to Brent Faiyaz’s superb chorus on GoldLink's 2× Platinum single “Crew,” there’s a natural allure about April that makes listeners ask, Is there more? What does it sound like when the costar stands front and center?
When April George stands, it’s not alone. Since 2014, the songstress has been the vocal half of April + Vista with fellow DMV native, producer Matthew Thompson. Together the duo has created two albums and one EP that encapsulate a melting pot of soul, alternative, electronic, and R&B music. Their commitment isn’t to one genre, but the molding of influences until they are reimagined. Think transformation, creation, and combination—musical alchemy.
In a 2017 interview with Jane Shin for Okayplayer, George explained why they consider their genre to be "Stresswave": “We came up with Stresswave because we were going through a tumultuous time period, and it’s also a playful way to say that this music came out of a form of struggle.”
Ironically, stress is the last thing that comes to mind during the 18-minute duration of their latest album, You Are Here. Released on August 24, the eight-track offering is serene as the toothless smile of a newborn. This is mood music centered in the lush landscape of silent meditation.
George’s voice is rich with vibrant character. Each melody, harmony, ad-lib, and note is done soulfully. She comes from a class of soul singers, both new and old, who understand the voice to be an extended instrument. For example, the first two verses of “Own2” are tranquil. She approaches the song with an easiness, matching the spirit of aquatic synths, tender strings, and nimble percussion. It creates a cloud of calm that overtakes the listener, like being submerged in a bed of pillows stuffed with feathers.
When George's voice goes high coming into the third verse and Thompson's drums become more robust to match her energy, it's a brief but effective (and explosive) change that shows how their song structure doesn't follow a default template. Sounds arrive, vanish, and warp with an unconfined looseness.
“Own2” has a beautiful sonic palette, but the lyrics are ear-catching due to their ambiguous edge. “Give me blood, give me strength, give me power,” she sings. After a handful of plays, I’m still uncertain if the song’s theme is a message of liberation from a former lover, a declaration about their pursuit of unwavering passion to independently win in the music industry, or a combination of both. It’s the joy of George’s poetic musing.
On a project that’s about the length of a commercial-free sitcom, George doesn’t say more than what’s necessary. “Fo’Sho” doesn’t even have a hook; it’s a dose of unapologetic realism that drives home the fact that takers will take, and winners should beware the vultures.
Throughout You Are Here, visions of Erykah Badu come to mind. On the song “FOMO,” for various moments, George sounds as if she caught the ghost of Baduizm. It’s refreshing to still hear Badu’s influence in the ripples of an ocean still discovering its vastness. Stylistically, Matthew Thompson’s production is embedded with lessons from musical heroes, but none stand out more than Flying Lotus; especially his outstanding 2012 album Until the Quiet Comes album.
Thompson takes an ambient, minimalist approach with a wide eye for details. How his chords progress, the swirling textures, and his use of space means every component provides a sound that’s sonic candy. Since my first listen, I can’t help but think of April + Vista as the closest full-length incarnation of Badu and Lotus’ collaboration, “See Thru to U.”
You Are Here is an album filled with beauty. What it lacks in length, the project makes up with layers of music to sink within, carrying the compelling quality of a rainbow's array of colors.
April George and Matthew Thompson are part of a music scene sprouting from the DMV that has all the talent to impress the world. There is a movement that's ready to stampede the rest of the country; GoldLink's At What Cost was just the beginning.
April + Vista are two creatives existing both in the background and the forefront, providing serenity born from stress. If pressure turns coals into diamonds, few will be shining brighter when the music industry finally wakes up and notice the best-kept secret they’ve been missing.
By Yoh, aka Yoh+Zisook aka @Yoh31
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