In July, I dedicated a couple of weeks to the hottest songs of the summer — songs I ordinarily wouldn’t hear because I never listen to the radio. Among those was V.V. Brown’s ‘Shark in the Water.’
It was my favorite of the 20 summer songs I featured, and intriguing enough that I went ahead and bought Brown’s album a few weeks later. And boy, am I glad I did.
Brown’s Travelling Like the Light is the most self-assured and dynamic debut album I’ve heard in years. She has a command of her material that allows her to jump between genres and styles without sacrificing cohesion. The result is a fun and dizzy blend of retro pop, rock and soul.
The album Travelling Like the Light most reminds me of is Lily Allen’s Alright, Still, in spirit if not exactly in sound. Allen’s debut was similarly wide-ranging and confident, and equally successful in creating a party atmosphere. Both of these records are like musical candy stores… listening to them, you’re guaranteed a sugar high.
Brown reaches back a little further than Allen for musical inspiration. Take the track ‘Crying Blood,’ with its frantic chorus straight out of a 50s pop song — it would have fit in perfectly during the high school dance scene in Grease. The jazzy ‘I Love You’ could fit easily on any number of 70s R&B records. And the ballad ‘Crazy and Amazing’ borrows its piano melody from the 30s classic ‘Heart and Soul.’
But the album as a whole is decidedly modern. Those retro flourishes are fleshed out with driving percussion and cheeky vocal performances. Brown’s English accent isn’t as discernible in song as Allen’s, but her English attitude sure is. She doesn’t just sing these songs but truly performs them, brimming with wit and sass. “You best believe I’m in love, baby!” she flirtatiously chirps before ‘L.O.V.E.,’ an ecstatic rockabilly track.
Brown, who started her career as a songwriter for other acts, either wrote or co-wrote every song on Travelling Like the Light and displays a ferocious talent for hooks. Any one of these tracks could be a single.
When I first heard ‘Shark in the Water,’ I described it as Amy Winehouse merged with No Doubt. That’s not a bad description of the whole album, though Brown goes further than Winehouse in modernizing the retro sounds of the 50s, 60s and 70s, and her propulsive choruses are catchier than anything No Doubt ever released.
2010 has been a wonderful year in music, but primarily for established acts. My top ten is filled with strong new releases by old and new favorites. V.V. Brown is my first true discovery of the year and she’s a special one.