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AlunaGeorge’s Hit-or-Miss ‘Body Music’ Proves That Killer Alt-R&B Singles Don’t Always Add Up to a Killer Album

Alunageorge at Emporio Armani Summer Garden Live / Photo by David M. Benett/Getty Images Entertainment
SPIN Rating: 6 of 10
Release Date: July 30, 2013
Label: Island

Body Music, the full-length debut from British duo AlunaGeorge, could have made an excellent EP. The math is there, all right. Set aside the three 2012 electro-R&B numbers — “You Know You Like It,” “Your Drums, Your Love,” and “Just a Touch” — that first caught everyone’s attention. Keep the shimmering synth-pop of advance single “Attracting Flies,” as well as the best new material here, including lovely ballad “Outlines” and the boogie-funk-lite showcase “Kaleidoscope Love.” Throw in the trap-inflected U.K. garage cut “Lost & Found” for sonic variety. Then cut the rest.

But don’t fault Aluna Francis and George Reid for stretching their talent for incandescent pop singles to the point of tedium. Unlike, say, Aaliyah — who employed Timbaland, Missy Elliott, Rodney Jerkins, Jermaine Dupri, and a phalanx of like-minded sharpshooters to help compose her masterwork, One in a Million — here it’s just two young would-be stars banging out tracks. They might not literally be cloistered around a microphone stand, a laptop, and a sampling keyboard in a tiny London flat, but they often sound like it.

They’re looking to sound much bigger, of course. “He’s a superstar, but he’s unknown,” sings Francis, in apparent tribute to her partner. She and Reid may claim that they aren’t a couple, but she uses him as a foil for erotic tension: Another song is called “Friends to Lovers.” On “Outlines,” she’s got a more kittenish lilt: “Is this paper all I’ve got / All I’ve got to keep you with me / Keep you from fading away?” It’s a thrilling performance, despite the singer’s tendency to cram too many ideas into her stanzas. Francis’ mind works overtime, and when she sings, “You’re a car crash waiting to happen / I’m putting on the brakes just to save myself” on the chorus to “Bad Idea,” she threatens to stanch the melody’s flow. But she has a fanciful way with words: It’s hard to imagine Missy Elliott writing, “Nothing else makes me weightless like your light-reflecting gaze.”

Reid, meanwhile, deserves credit for “You Know You Like It” and its fusion of ’90s New Jill Swing with post-millennial beats and blips. Other glitch producers — such as the Clonious, Flying Lotus, and Hudson Mohawke (another talented upstart who works best in 20-minute EP bursts) — attempt a similar kind of futuristic soul, but their results often drift toward moody downtempo. Whereas that track is AlunaGeorge at their best, with a buoyancy reminiscent of SWV, mostly due to Francis’ flirtatious taunt, though Reid’s arrangement keeps her afloat for a delightful few minutes of candy-coated funk.

But over the course of Body Music‘s 48 minutes (as well as a bonus track, the straight-faced and effective interpretation of Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It”), Reid’s incessant use of double-tracked voices, eight-bit flurries, and chirpy chipmunk glissando devolves into a grab-bag of annoying tics. The fleet-footed garage of “Lost & Found” and the metronomic percussion of “Outlines” are oases among the carbon copies (“Best Be Believing,” “Bad Idea,” and “Driver”). Perhaps it’s just as well that AlunaGeorge haven’t built a channel ORANGE-sized colossus here, though. They’re a singles band, not alternative-R&B conceptualists.