Blood by Lianne La Havas was another great surprise but from 2015. Her profile was raised significantly in America by being featured on Prince’s 2014 album Art Official Age, although she had recorded at least two albums before that. On Art Official Age the then twenty something year old’s voice is featured as a guide in Prince’s dreamworld construct.
In a way, La Havas’ music has always been about dreams and introspection. Incorporating bits of folk and indie rock, her’s was a unique addition to the alternative R&B genre. How she’s labeled depends on who you ask and on what side of the Atlantic. Her talent, looks and exotic background might have been the kind of thing that caught Prince’s attention and earned Blood a bigger promotional budget than of her work before it.
Musically, La Havas always seemed to be between two worlds, the worlds of English indie rock and American pop and R&B. The conflict made Is Your Love Big Enough one of the more interesting albums of 2012 and might be the key to why she is one of the few personalities to work with Prince and keep their own style intact.
Her second album Blood, is more focused and leans decidedly more towards R&B influenced pop. There are even times when it’s retro – as in 1960’s retro with “What You Don’t Do”and “Midnight” to a lesser extent. While those songs are anomalies, it’s tracks like “Wonderful” and “Unstoppable” that highlight the more indie pop focus of this album.
The tightness and ’80s tech pop of “Tokyo” might have got La Havas more airplay on the few stations that actually played her music, but it’s still the more introverted folk flavored songs that she will be known for. Blood, despite it’s more overall pop friendly production features some of her best shoegauzers.
“Never Get Enough” is almost spooky with it’s stripped back guitar accompaniment. The starkness continues on “Good Goodbye”, another song where La Havas’s voice is featured over any other instrument. In fact the stripped down moments like “Ghost” on this album is where La Havas is at her best. It inspired an alternate release of the album called Blood (Solo) where La Havas performs the entire set list with nothing more than an acoustic guitar backing her.
This sophisticated, calm and peaceful album never really stood a chance in the loud and obnoxious climate of the American pop music scene. While it did get close to making the American Billboard Top 50 albums, it did much better in Europe where traditional media outlets are less obsessed with genre fencing. There are even a few good dance remixes of tracks on this album floating around out there, suggesting that there was some club potential behind these pleasant flower picker songs.
To a lesser extent Blood turns up the heat with “Grow”, but it never get to the level of protest you might hear from someone like Solange. There’s beauty in the passive, even if it might be too passive for some tastes. It’s too bad because more people should have been exposed to this great album.