Willow Beats may not defy genres but they certainly use them as decoys. With references to alchemy, the primal elements and soundscapes rich with ocean and forest sounds, you’d be forgiven for calling them New Age, until the breaks, heavy vocal modulation and glitchy vocals reveal that they’re closer to Portishead than Enya.
Willow Beats is a Melbourne-based uncle/niece duo Narayana Johnson and Kalyani Mumtaz, whose Alchemy EP caught the attention of the wider music community and fans with its Flume-influenced production and unique vocals. Their new six-track EP, water, is almost a concept album in the way its tracks evoke the feeling of water in all its forms.
Indie hit single “Merewif” is evocative of being submerged fully, having caught eyes with a video depicting a water goddess communing with her disciples. Heavy synth beats, vocal samples that cover low and high ranges simultaneously and heavy breaks turn what seems like a bargain bin New Age piece on paper into something memorable and darkly attractive.
“Chess” is water’s longest and most striking track and a masterful summary of Willow Beats’ sound with striking breaks, rich production and vocal gymnastics from Mumtaz. A more restrained vocal performance comes from Johnson, whose vocals sell the quiet, plinking sadness of “Ocean and Sky”, which laments lost youth but remains thankful for what’s left.
“Guardian” and “Ramayana” are both drip-drop filled beats and trippy vocals with Ramayana introducing some Indian influence. The only odd one out in this set is “Airships”, with harsher sounds and less of a connection to the EP’s aquatic theme, though this may be a trend as the unusual “Cog Goblin” played that role in Willow Beats’ previous Alchemy EP.
Like any concept piece water can come off as pretentious or too aware, and the New Age and spiritual elements can seem affected as if to separate it from the growing Australian trip hop scene. However both in their presentation and their past work Willow Beats seem to be able to walk the walk as well as they talk the talk.
water is a solid buy for anyone who likes the genre or who is curious about it, but not for anyone thinking the band is a tranquil, New Age outfit. Their glitchy vocals, breaks and synth-heavy production might not be ideal for meditation but for a mellow afternoon they’re hard to beat.