Ladi6 – Automatic
Automatic is the latest effort from enigmatic Kiwi singer Ladi6 (Karoline Tamati), her third album, following on from 2008’s Time Is Not Much, and the 2010 follow up The Liberation Of... It broadly follows the same template as the preceding albums, that of smooth downtempo electronic edged beats, with Ladi laying her dulcet tones on top. The production is split between her partner and bandmate Parks, and Detroit based producer Wajeed, and it’s a cohesive effort, flowing as if a mix-tape. It’s a simple formula, but on the whole it’s effective.
Ladi kicked off her career as part of seminal femcee outfit Sheelahroc, alongside her cousins Tyra Hammond (Opensouls) and Sarah Tamaira, whose track ‘If I Gave You The Mic’ was a massive hit, thanks mostly to Ladi’s killer hook on the tune. From there she popped up on several tunes, including some stellar turns with CHCH live D’n’B champs Shapeshifter, 50hz‘s classic ‘Seek No More‘ her cousin Scribe‘s ‘So Nice’ the follow up to his smash ‘Not Many,’ and a star turn in Fat Freddy’s Drop classic ‘Roady,’ which also featured the lead vocals of yet another cousin Dallas Tamaira. Through this period she had also formed a new outfit/supergroup Verse Two, which formed the basis of her current touring band, with Parks and Julian Dyne in common, alongside Jojo (Mark Vanilau), Matipu Turua and Scribe. They released a string of successful singles, and took home a coveted bNet award for Most Promising New Act. She continued to tour under her own name as well as with Verse Two, and eventually her debut as album as Ladi6 was released to much acclaim in 2008. Her follow up, The Liberation Of.. dropped in 2010, and spawned hit singles ‘Like Water,’ ‘Jazmine D.L.’ and ‘Bang Bang.’ Like it’s predecessor it was also critically lauded, and was nominated for Album of the Year at the New Zealand Music Awards, as well as picking up the Taite Music Prize.
All of which brings us to this release, Automatic. Loaded to the brim with layered synths, tough boombap beats and meaty basslines it sits comfortably in it’s mellow Soul/Beats pocket, both to it’s detriment and advantage. On the downside it makes the overall listen a bit predictable and samey, but on the flip side, the songs are generally very strong, and it does flow effortlessly. Whilst I would have appreciated a touch more variation in mood or tempo, it does what it does extremely well. This is not to say there aren’t subtle variations, with ‘Diamonds’ uptempo Go-Go feel, but a smooth D’n’B roller or even a Reggae number like her classic single ‘Walk Right Up‘ would have been a nice touch and added to it’s charms, hell even a House number could have worked. She’s also resisted the temptation to do a Retro Soul number ala Aaradhna, which may have added to it’s broader commercial attractiveness, but would have probably taken away from the whole. It’s best point of reference would probably be Hiatus Kaiyote minus a bit of the madness, and if she could do half as well as those guys in the States she’d be on a winner.
My picks from the album would be the lead in singles ‘Shine On’ and ‘Ikarus,’ the aforementioned uptempo groover ‘Daimonds,’ and the stellar closer ‘Hold Tight.’ The guest spots are tasty too, with Tyra and Scribe popping up, as well as Invincible, adding a touch of colour to the proceedings. I was less enamoured with ‘People Talking’ a “fuck the haters” type anthem, it seems a bit overloaded with competing tones, both musically and attitudes, but it’s still a solid tune.
This is not an album that attacks you with it’s charms, more, if you ask nicely, will almost begrudgingly let you in. It took a few listens to penetrate the surface, eventually bringing me around one blunted afternoon, smoothly soundtracking a urban adventure. It makes for ideal headphone music, with all the production flourishes shining brighter with the closer inspection. Whether it’ll garner her many more fans remains to be seen, but for her existing fans, it’s another dose of Ladi6 goodness, likely meeting all of their expectations. Personally I’m keen to check out any upcoming remixes, to switch up the context and make those effortless hooks take on new life.