Thursday, September 7th, 2017

James Hype ft. Kelli-Leigh – More Than Friends

Well, what is it gonna be?


[Video][Website]
[5.38]

Crystal Leww: Kelli-Leigh is one of my favorite house vocalists, and “More Than Friends” is such a great showcase. This pulses and thumps with equal parts pleading and drama, and her vocal feels timeless and referential all in one. One of my favorite moments is the way that she sings “heartbreaking” (twice!); it reminds me so much of the way that Martha Wash would have sung it in the 80s. Shoutout to James Hype’s production work here, too; I especially appreciate how the vocals never get buried under the mix, a problem that even great pop-house tracks run into. 
[8]

Alfred Soto: The source material is En Vogue’s “Don’t Let Go,” still almighty twenty years after its release. I have no problem with house piano pumping up the pre-chorus. I’ve no problem with anyone having a go at it — tear down statues in the park and all that. But the other effects are so pro forma that I’m surprised Biebs didn’t drop in for patly sung passive aggression in exchange for songwriting credit.
[2]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: A song like this is practically begging to be called superfluous. To its credit, though, the “I won’t be satisfied till we’re taking those vows” line has a vibrant energy to it now that it’s replanted in a song with a higher BPM. I suppose the short runtime is a display of wise prudence, but it also just makes it easier to forget what I had just heard. I’d say that’s a pretty bad problem to have when your song is already a quasi-cover.
[3]

Thomas Inskeep: Kelli-Leigh Henry-Davila has sung on a shit-ton of UK house pop hits, including #1s for Duke Dumont and Secondcity back in 2014. I wonder if this clever-but-not-too reworking of En Vogue’s “Don’t Let Go (Love)” might join them as chart-toppers, because this is a damned smart record. James Hype (great name!) does just enough to strip the chassis from En Vogue’s classic and rewire it as a hot-to-trot dancefloor jam that works just as well on the radio or streaming, and wisely brings in big-lunged Kelli-Leigh to handle the vocals, ensuring they stand up to his big four-on-the-floor beats and house pianos. And it’s all done in 2:21!
[7]

Claire Biddles: Liberal use of rave piano and “Don’t Let Go” both rank in my top 10 pop things ever, but combining the two seems… unnecessary? 
[5]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Kelli-Leigh’s vocal mimicry makes for a fascinating career, as much of her value appears to come in the shape of duplicating that which has already occurred (here, En Vogue’s Organized Noize produced “Don’t Let Go”) to avoid… sample clearance? Redoing it to the tempos of the intended dance grooves? It’s a bit of a mystery. James Hype here curiously put some effect on her to give her a vibrato distortion that while I’m sure doesn’t affect the record over speakers, in headphones makes her sound like a cassette approaching its end of days (and not in a good way). The track itself is about as run-of-the-mill as it comes and while her ability to mimic the classics is second to none, it rings hollow when everything about the record feels like crass cashing in on obvious methods to win.
[3]

Jessica Doyle: In 2006 or so I saw Dawn Robinson performing solo; she had stuff to promote (although I think the then-significant other she was promoting with has since been banished to the ether) but most of her set list was En Vogue hits with a trio of anonymous-to-me backup singers. By standard calculations that was the cynical, valueless retread and “More Than Friends” has the benefit of time and additional imagination. But those benefits add up to so little that, as happy as I am to see Kelli-Leigh get a proper credit, I think I got the better end of the deal.
[3]

Nortey Dowuona: Funky bassline, light sprinkling of piano, bouncy bass drums and Kelli-Leigh sings her heart out as the song swings dizzyingly around her.
[8]

Scott Mildenhall: It was only a matter of time before this one got its perfunctory reanimation along with the rest of the Kisstory playlist, but it’s also one lyric that is hard to divorce from its original setting. “Don’t Let Go” is supremely dramatic. It offers lines like “if I could wear your clothes, I’d pretend I was you, and lose control,” and gives them the space to sink in. “More Than Friends” makes the same line, along with all others but “hold me tight and don’t let go,” inconsequential. Full credit to Kelli-Leigh — literally! — for trying to inject some life into it, but while it thinks it’s perky, it comes over flat.
[5]

Tara Hillegeist: Kelli-Leigh’s voice, always rich and full of real life no matter how much a producer might try to chew it up and obscure it, feels warm and comfortable here. Hype’s sleek, simple bounce gives her plenty of room to build a plea upon it, kicking in with gently insistent pitch shifts and doubling: an emphasis that uplifts instead of overrides. I couldn’t tell you who built the melody around who on this song, it’s as much hers as his; I couldn’t imagine a more enjoyable structural metaphor to underpin a song about taking a partnership to a more intimate level than that, either. The end result’s a burbling ode to the potentially deep sincerity of a simple physical connection that’s heady without being demanding. When you find a real good singer, letting her work with you as an equal collaborator on a track pays off; who knew? 
[8]

Katherine St Asaph: Going from pumped-up Whitney and Toni covers to a pumped-up En Vogue cover isn’t quite a career coup, but it isn’t nothing. Neither are those old songs.
[7]

Ashley John: James Hype and Kelli-Leigh inject an urgency that the original song by En Vogue created the framework for. The speed and thumping beats exaggerate the desperate plea of the lyrics, which oscillate between enforcing an ultimatum and showing vulnerability. Dancing to the line “if I could wear your clothes I’d pretend I was you/and lose control,” should be distressing, but I can’t think about it long enough in the space between beats. 
[5]

Katie Gill: Eventually talented female vocalists will break their bonds and overthrow the boring one trick pony EDM men that the music industry seems to continually shackle them to. Unfortunately, with “More Than Friends,” that time has not come yet. Which is a damn shame as Kelli-Leigh’s slightly soul, pseudo Whitney era vocals are easily the most interesting part of the song.
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