Retro Modern “Modern” Pick: Omar Lye-Fook’s Love in Beats (album)
Introduction: Omar Lye-Fook is a British singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist whose career is entering its third decade.
Described by All Music Guide as “the father of British neo-soul,” Lye-Fook refined his abilities as a young man ― notably at the London-based Guildhall School of Music ― before releasing his debut album There’s Nothing Like This in 1990 on Kongo Dance. The album was buoyed by the hit of the same name.
Seven albums followed after There’s Nothing Like This, culminating with this year’s release, Love in Beats. Known for his distinctive vocal style and heady take on soul music, Lye-Fook has amassed a strong following around the globe.
Synopsis: When Lye-Fook was last on the scene, it was with his seventh album, The Man (2013, Shanachie). Like his previous sets, The Man operated as an ambitious canvas for Lye-Fook to reconstruct soul music, a hallmark of his discography. Looking at the recent travails of modern R&B ― on either side of the Atlantic― in linking between its archetypal past and contemporary present, Lye-Fook had been ahead of the curve in bridging that gap.
With Love in Beats (2017, Freestyle), his eighth LP overall, the artist moves further into the future of R&B without forsaking its past. Lye-Fook co-pilots the record, production wise, with his brother Roland Lye-Fook (a.k.a the Scratch Professor); the record tallies up to 12 tracks that explore almost four decades of black music, from the British and American perspectives.
There is steam-pressed funk (“Insatiable”) grooving alongside classic-to-neo-disco (“Vicky’s Tune”); hip-hop rhythms collide with vintage soul samples (“Gave My Heart,” “Feed My Mind”) but leave room for a bit of post-modern fusion (“Doobie Doobie Do”).
Love in Beats allows all of these various transmutations of rhythm and blues to coexist in one space, often coalescing into one mesmerizing whole for the listener to get lost in during the album’s running time. As his brother’s presence demonstrates here, Lye-Fook is an artist open to collaboration, and this album is no exception. Additional guests lined up include (but aren’t limited to) Robert Glasper, Leon Ware, and Natalie Stewart (The Floacist). However, in the end, it’s Lye-Fook himself who anchors the record with his lyrics, arrangements, and voice ― the latter vibrates with passion in every note he sings. The aforementioned guests orbit the singer, garnishing his aural presence to heighten his flavor, not suppress or usurp it.
Love in Beats is another solid effort from Lye-Fook, affirming his position as one of the U.K.’s finest exports to espouse the sensuality and heart of R&B music.