Friday, August 5th, 2011

Emeli Sandé – Heaven

Scottish guest vocalist gets her own single…


Iain Mew: I was rather surprised to find out, between Tinie Tempah, Magnetic Man and Wiley, just how many songs I’d already heard Emeli on. It’s a tribute to how well she filled each distinct role needed on those that I never really thought about it. With centre stage finally hers to command, she belts out “Heaven” in style, refusing to allow it to slink into the background even during its brooding verses, and making the final chorus truly spectacular as she rises above a cloudburst of strings. The way that the same beat suddenly begins to sound several times as urgent at that point is quite the neat trick too.

Jer Fairall: Massive Attack’s “Unfinished Sympathy” meets up with Neneh Cherry’s Homebrew to remind us of all that was awesome about the early 90s.  This girl’s vocals feel a bit more generic, to me, than either of the aforementioned, but with a loop that sinuous it’s pretty difficult to notice or care.

Jonathan Bogart: Play the Amen break enough times, you just might get to heaven.

Ian Mathers: Man, it’s not until I hear that beat again that I realize just how much I’ve missed it. That it’s essentially tacked on to an otherwise straightforward (if well-executed) ballad just sweetens its impact, mainly by making the whole thing remind me a bit of early Massive Attack. There are much worse things to be reminded of.

Brad Shoup: Putting the Amen break at the start gives the impression that one’s come upon this song in medias remix. Takes a little getting used to, but with it a towering piano ballad becomes an aching, nervous mushroom cloud of a song. Her vocal is massive, but I particularly love her treatment of “then I’m gone,” as if she’s pulled on a shadow, set to vanish. As for “oh heaven,” it retains its poignancy whether it’s functioning as address or exclamation.

Edward Okulicz: It’s 1997. Olive’s “You’re Not Alone” is the last hurrah of a particular kind of dance music, but is an enormous smash and life is great. Give or take Sugababes’ underrated “Run For Cover,” it seemed like the charts didn’t get much more of this sort of dance-influenced and very British soul-pop. Finally, in 2011, someone has picked up that ball and run with it, and how! Sandé belts this out as if her life depended on it, and the grandeur of her vocal performance means touches like a choir, which could have been grossly overdoing it, sound just perfect. Keisha Buchanan is probably crying into her pillow this isn’t her debut single, and this wouldn’t shame Shara Nelson either. 

Katherine St Asaph: You can’t be Shara Nelson and be Sara Jay Hawley and use a glottal stop every five notes. It doesn’t work that way. You also can’t have both a crickety version of the Amen break and a gospel choir, or a brass sample this faded in any context, or expect people not to think of “Stronger” on your chorus (“then I’m gone” / “here I go”) but set yourself up as the opposite. Any two of these elements could make a fantastic song, but the more you add, the more they reduce each other.

Michaela Drapes: Over-thought and over-done, this track has some amazing moments somewhere around the time Sandé takes us to church, but hardly any of it can be heard over that unforgivably awful and hollow — not to mention poorly-mixed — break beat. (Imagine my shock to learn Mike Spencer was behind this travesty!) She deserves better with a voice like that; here’s hoping she gets it.

21 Responses to “Emeli Sandé – Heaven”

  1. Damn, were we listening to the same song, y’all? I mean, the mix on this is so very bad that I didn’t realize that clatter was the Amen break, and now that I know that (I mean seriously, how can you mess that up; it’s kind of untouchably perfect and all), I dislike this even more. Like [2] territory.

  2. Dunno. I thought it was mixed fine. I’ve heard it on headphones, over car speakers, and played through a laptop.

  3. The mixing isn’t the problem, it’s the anonymity. OK, so I can listen to a worse voice than Shara Nelson (whose isn’t), a less sultry voice than Sara Jay? We’re in sub-Nicolette territory here.

  4. Now I’m paranoid that I’ve got some sort of frequency range hearing loss. Seriously. All I could hear was the racket of the break and literally nothing else. It was distracting as all hell.

  5. To be fair, I’m the least picky person about mixing ever, so there’s that.

  6. Interesting. I think she’s way more present than, say, your classic house vocalist. Oh well.

  7. Dunno, perhaps I am getting at the fact that her voice *is* pretty bland; I didn’t do much for me, but, you know, I have a thing for voices with an excess of character.

  8. May that one could say so about all of us.

  9. So much great pop music is about being 15, and this reminds me so much of my favourite kind of music when I was 15, so that explains my [10].

  10. Good point; I do remember when everything sounded like this. I didn’t like it then much, either, but tolerated it. But my issue here is that this is just … isn’t good. It wants to be good. You know, like this:

  11. I’m genuinely unsure if the Grooverider track is supposed to be an example of a good song, or an example of an aspirational song, but in the interest of… uh, diverging interests, here’s a remix of “Heaven” that loses the break and ups the choir quotient.

    And I will try to pay more attention to mixing, although with some of these tracks the audio quality isn’t all there.

  12. Oh, sorry for the confusion. I wrote that in a pre-late-dinner post-blurb-binge-writing-session fog. Grooverider = good. Hear how all the pieces … work together, evenly?

    Here’s the thing about audio fidelity with leaks and online tracks — you kind of have to train your ear (generally by listening to things NOT on a computer) to listen for what’s not there, or listen to the track dimensionally — that is to say, listen to the way the layers fit together and how they function on their own. So, say, in the case of “Heaven”, though I know that a break beat rides the top of a track and drags the rest along behind (one of the tenets of drum’n’bass, right?), generally, this is a bad example of how to do that! You can’t just take a track with no rhythm section layers and then bolt the Amen Break on top, artlessly, the echo-y clatter all but drowning out Sante’s rather lovely catechism lesson.

    I like that remix, btw! It’s not perfect, mind you, but I like that I can actually hear what’s going on now. I have no doubt that remixers will have a field day with this track, actually, and take it some more interesting places than the original.

  13. “So, say, in the case of “Heaven”, though I know that a break beat rides the top of a track and drags the rest along behind (one of the tenets of drum’n’bass, right?), generally, this is a bad example of how to do that! You can’t just take a track with no rhythm section layers and then bolt the Amen Break on top, artlessly, the echo-y clatter all but drowning out Sante’s rather lovely catechism lesson.”

    But… what if someone likes this effect? Because I don’t hear it in this song (although, like Katherine, I am not always picky about mixing), I can definitely hear everything clearly through or underneath the break, but the description here sounds FANTASTIC.

    I just listened to “Heaven” again to make sure that I’m not crazy, and, nope… still sounds fine to me. I probably should have kicked out a [9].


  15. I guess what I’m getting at is that the two production modes seem incongruous on “Heaven” don’t work together for me. To my ears d’n’b should be minimally lush, not sprawly and messy and all over the map. The breakbeat is a counterpoint to what should be an otherwise restrained mode of production.

    And yes, I realize that they’re trying to do something new and interesting here, but I’m afraid I just don’t like it.

  16. Touché.

  17. (xpost, meant for Brad)

  18. And Michaela, yours is a very good, fair point… but now I just want someone to make the song you described, or remix this one so that the contrast/conflict is much more extreme.

    I’m sorry, I know I’m a bad person.

  19. Oh, no you’re not. I promise, I’m not some delicate flower with fragile sensibilities! Really!

    And yes, I would certainly like to see some really talented producer have a hand a remixing this into something more successful!

  20. No, I’m a bad person because I like horrible things. This is quite a nice song and I like it (and I like the version without the break, even), but I really want to hear, like, a V/VM version of it now, or something.

  21. Oh, okay!