Owusu & Hannibal

Living With...

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To judge strictly from the album artwork, living with Philip Owusu and Robin Hannibal (who, if you want to get technical, actually live across the street from one another, in Copenhagen's poly-ethnic Nørrebro neighborhood) would involve a lot of lounging around, eating spaghetti in front of the TV in an apartment cluttered with dirty clothes, blank CDs, musical instruments, and greasy pizza boxes. The music on Living With... isn't anywhere near that slovenly -- in fact, it's quite meticulous; artfully arranged and layered with crisp, inventive production -- but it would be ideally suited to such a laid-back, lazily indulgent lifestyle. The tempo rarely rises above a genial amble as electronically tweaked R&B grooves, twitchy but languorous, stretch on into the five- to six-minute range, and even those that don't seem like they should (indeed, the album feels longer than its relatively concise one-hour length). It's good stuff, inspired even, as urban-inflected downtempo music goes -- certainly several notches hipper than your average mass-market chillout release -- but the first half of the album, in particular, tends to drag on one's attention, in spite of unconventional production touches, Hannibal's capable neo-soul vocal stylings (he recalls a less strained Jamie Lidell), and intriguingly oblique lyrics if you can be bothered to pay attention (an exception, and a highlight, is the would-be baby-making slow jam "A Million Babies," with the admission "I'm really too drunk tonight to try"). Half an hour in, however, Owusu & Hannibal reveal that they've got more up their sleeves than a somewhat tepid 21st century updating of quiet storm's relentless vibe: "What It's About," an abrupt about-face from nearly everything else on the album, is a practically perfect, if decidedly eccentric, pop song, strikingly reminiscent of soulful sophisti-pop greats Scritti Politti. Consisting of very little other than doubled falsetto vocals, luscious backing "oohs," and a syncopated, Bo Diddley-esque drumbeat, with some occasional electronic embellishments (those 808 cowbells), it has the infectious simplicity and flirtatious nonchalance of a naughty schoolyard ditty, with surreal, hilariously confused pubescent sex fantasy lyrics to match. Laid-back but utterly funky, it's an unexpected standout that isn't really followed up on anywhere else on the disc, although the lovely, lilting "Watch" (which seems to be about either voyeurism or watching TV on the couch, or both) is nearly as appealing in its way (and features a quirky, FutureSex/LoveSounds-styled extended coda). Otherwise, the album's second half does have more of interest to offer than the first, including the digital electro grooves of "Upstairs Downstairs" and "Another Mile" and a touching cover of the Beach Boys classic "Caroline No."

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 1:24
2 4:34
3 5:29
4 5:17
5 1:52
6 3:17
7 6:19
8 3:47
9 5:47
10 6:09
11 4:47
12 3:29
13 2:05
14 4:09
15 1:43
blue highlight denotes track pick