Megan Livingston: Black Beckee
You may not even know you needed something like this in your life. Take the pure sex vibe of Tricky's Maxinquaye and inner-space excursions of Massive Attack's Mezzanine, only sculpt that head space out of a soulful swirl of space-age beats mad-blunted enough to make Madlib ask if he could have a hit of that. Over the top, Megan Livingston delivers the sort of pure soul quiver that could melt a straight-ahead jazz ballad, but is house-diva nimble and R&B supple. Best of all, that voice sings lyrics that dabble in relationship talk and positive force. Smart bedroom music: you'd think this wouldn't feel like such a breath of fresh air, but when radio prefers trunk-rattling booty quake and "Take you like Twilight, I'll touch your neck/ You don't have to say anything, I'll get you wet" counts as seduction, the competition isn't that stiff.
This level of seductive sounds and lyrical intelligence isn't a surprise given the players involved. Livingston is also known as Hazel Black, the New Jersey-based golden pipes in the Tao of Slick, the trio of DJ/producer Thur Deephrey and producer/MC Labtekwon, who both contribute compositions to Beckee (which appears on Lab's label). Producer Max Mineblo keeps the entire album lithe and supple, moving from last-call romance tapestries such as "I Am the One" to percolating hip-house on "Amentet."
The album belongs entirely to writer/arranger Livingston, though, and she has a curveball gift for smoothing out the distracting edge of an awkward beat sequence with the one-two caress of her beguiling voice and words. The mid-tempo "Best Friend" takes shape around a squishy beat and a bubbling daydream orbit of a keyboard/synth loop, which Livingston transforms into a summery embrace with her inviting, "It don't matter how you try you won't shake the love bye-bye no, no, no/ you can say let's take it slow but we all know green means go." Elsewhere, Livingston uses a lurching loop of bass, brushed cymbals, and snare to tighten the tension in "The Comrade." And in "Let's Go," Livingston marries an ethereal mix of strings to a percussive stumble to create a woozy dream of a perfect date: "Let's got to the movies/ I don't care if we miss the show." Imagine if Joanna Newsom was capable of doing R&B--yeah, I said it--and you might be getting close.