Days & Nights

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A striking Hi Records-style ballad, a lead vocal on Gorillaz' Top 40 U.K. single "Doncamatic," a long-list nomination for BBC's Sound of 2011 poll, and a variety of prelude releases led to Daley's proper debut album. A few years in the making, Days & Nights smartly includes "Alone Together," a Grammy-worthy 2012 duet with Marsha Ambrosius that didn't light up mainstream urban stations but reached number five on Billboard's Adult R&B Songs chart. That Canei Finch-produced song, as well as the preceding material, implied that this soul-inspired red-headed native of Manchester, England -- who has no other apparent likeness to Simply Red's Mick Hucknall -- could go down any number of stylistic paths. Days & Nights does just that. It courses through many moods and modes, yet it's impressively unified. On opener "Time Travel," a typically sleek and shadowy production from Illangelo, Daley instantly lures with his delicate touch and casual delivery that nonetheless makes a direct and deep emotional connection. He then slips into "Look Up," where Pharrell Williams whips up some elegant neo-Philly soul that allows him to display a falsetto that isn't just impressive but also affecting. Daley remains in service to the song, neither winks nor pulls it out as an act of trickery. With its beaming melodies and impeccably layered, all-Daley background vocals, "Pass It On," another Finch production, could fool listeners as an update of a joyous 1985 R&B single. A trio of songs made with reluctant Brit-pop guitar god turned accomplished producer Bernard Butler (Duffy, Findlay Brown, James Morrison) adds more dimensions. The cathartic "Broken" unfolds into a hurtling, grand sound that Daley masterfully navigates, while "She Fades" is a pulsing, strings-cloaked ballad that aches. The last of the three, the title track, ends the album in graceful, heartbroken, dreamily optimistic fashion with subtle nods to early hip-hop and electro. Brilliantly put together, this must be one of 2014's best debuts.

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