Imagine if you dropped an eclectic package like Travelling Like the Light (2009 / 2010) at the start of the RedOne produced, post-Noughties EDM era.
The record was chock full of tunes that, musically, were almost nostalgic in the sense of their abilities; “Shark In the Water” remains one of the best pop songs of the decade thus far. Outside of a few critical claps of approval and minor hits, the album didn’t “perform” to the expectations of Brown’s major label (then Island). V V Brown got another go with her second LP Lollipops & Politics. The LP met the cruel fate of being shelved and Brown realized that a larger label wouldn’t allow her to create the way she needed to.
Emboldened, she founded her own imprint (YOY Records) and presented Samson and Delilah in the place of Lollipops & Politics this year. In doubt that this is a pop artist doing what the best in that genre do? Listen to the LP’s first two singles: “Samson” and “The Apple”. The former is a hypnotic hymn, the latter features the rumbling-goddess archetype of Brown thundering over the kinetic backdrop; “The Apple” is the most linear (read: immediately accessible) of the two singles.
All of this is to say that V V Brown let go of her (commercial) inhibitions and let herself create. Now, that doesn’t mean, especially given its sound sprawl upon first listen, that the record is an indulgent proceeding. Samson and Delilah reverberates as art that is keen, but free and engages the listener.
The record’s narrative, a popular Biblical tale, has been recast before; like many tales, it is an allegory for something else. Brown draws her eye on the totems of isolation, solace, obsession and (of course) betrayal in the face of love. What makes the recording stunning is that it tells its story, at different intervals, through its lyrics (all written by Brown), arrangements and Brown’s voice. No one element is valued over the other, which can be exhilarating or irritating; both adjectives depend on what the listener requires or is willing to give.
Brown’s voice speaks volumes as it scales angelic highs (“Substitute For Love”), dulcet lows (“The Apple”) and almost unearthly tones (“Looking For Love”). The glacial, electronic production provides the ideal stage for Brown’s moody ruminations to soar unabated. When her lyrics step into the spotlight, they’re bruising: “In the middle of the night I see you go, we have grown apart into lonely souls“.
“The Apple” (Selection from the ‘Samson and Delilah’ Short Film)
Directed By: V V Brown
Throughout all of this, Brown’s defiance emerges tall and strong; this is pop in all its dramatic, transformative glory. In other words, it isn’t mere hype, Samson and Delilah is the only “artpop” in 2013. Unlike her fellow avant-garde auteurs, Janelle Monáe, Solange and Dawn Richard, whose musical bending is rooted in rhythm and blues, Brown is creating in the pop style known for its racial homogeneity.
Samson and Delilah isn’t for everyone, nor is it a promise of what her next record will be; it is an album that will thrill those open enough to receive it. For V V Brown, her victory of pushing back against popular music and its rules in this decade can be heard in lyrics of “Samson”: “What you waiting for? What you waiting for? What you waiting for? Get up and rise!”
[Editor’s Note: Standard version of Samson and Delilah reviewed; deluxe (digital) version features several additional tracks and the short film ‘Samson and Delilah’. Album available in all retailers; for current V V Brown news, visit her official site.-QH]