Released: September 2020 Label: Touching Bass
'While You Were Sleeping...' presents a retrospective account of a project that has had a few months to marinate. This week sees us returning to a superb release from September 2020 - Demae's - Life Works Out... Usually.
In September of last year, London based Soul singer, songwriter and producer Demae released her kaleidoscopic debut album ‘Life Works Out...Usually’ on Touching Bass records, and it still feels as new as ever. Compiled of 8 songs, it has a relatively short listening time of just 24 minutes - but I assure you these will be some of the best musical minutes of your life.
If I were to describe the album in one word it would be ‘wealthy.’ Looking upon the cover shot by Nwaka Okparaeke you are given insight into just how grand and multi coloured this project really is. The layered and at times clunky production courtesy of Eun, 10.4 ROG & Wu-Lu (to name a few) marries perfectly with Demae’s experimental vocals and emblematic lyrical content. The project is nothing short of amazing and I’m defo a fangirl.
It spawned 3 singles - 'Stuck in a Daze', featuring Ego Ella May dropped at the end of July, shortly followed by 'Use It' and 'Seasons Change' and both the latter were performed on COLORS. When consumed as an entire project, it presents themes of growing into adulthood, like navigation, confidence and embracing life.
'People are Weird' is the album’s opener and narrates the ways in which social media hinders our self perception and real life interactions. Through her frank and situational lyricism, Demae depicts herself as being in the throes of the online world, grasping how to garner attention amidst the pressures that image based media puts on our self esteem.
"They conquer & they divide
We’re living in our denial (believe it or not)
Going down our own spiral”
Akin to Neo Soul pioneers like Jill Scott & London natives Floetry, Demae holistically depicts our 21st Century reality, asserting herself through her story telling. Production by Eun pulls us further into the honest yet dizzying world she has created. Beginning with light and almost Disney-esque keys, the chord progression creates a push/pull type effect mirroring the track's subject matter. The rich bass line is rooted in Neo Soul while the vocals and their arrangement show off Demae’s signature bold experimentation. From the hazy, reverb heavy sections to the opinionated backing vocals and final descending note, we are drawn into a space which contrasts the dissociative abyss of social media with safety, colour and grounding.
Second track ‘Basic Love’ is wrapped up in 70’s sentiments. The vocal melody and bass line are reminiscent of a slowed ‘Strawberry Letter 23’ with hints of The Isley Brothers. It details the extent to which Demae is willing to go in order to profess her love to a significant other.
"I would climb a mountain for you
Swim through the deepest, darkest ocean won’t do
Just to prove
All this love I carry for you”
The above lyrics really convey the drama and devotion of Motown and 70’s music. The kind of love she sings of is warm, like a slow burning candle and yet possesses a lightheartedness. It strikes the perfect balance between mature romance and sweetness - something like a cute satin dress as opposed to an ‘open-silk-shirts-drowning-in sexual-tension’ type of ballad.
We then arrive at a dynamic shortcut - ‘Help Me Live’ another very Demae composition, which acts as a segway between ‘Basic Love’ and lead single ‘Stuck in a Daze’. This 48 second transitory track is sensual and will make you want to close your eyes and slip into a light drenched environment.
‘Stuck in a Daze’ continues the theme of haziness our ears visited on the opening track and continues the warmth from the preceding composition. Feature singer Ego Ella May’s voice blends seamlessly with Demae’s to produce a slinky 3 minute Jazz track. The lyrics speak of needing to be ‘saved’ which we would typically associate with a lover. However, I interpreted this ‘saviour’ to be Sun, elevating Demae from her trance-like state. Much like the Sun’s orbit and phases throughout the sky, every chord grows in vibrancy as the track progresses, and holds an instantaneous healing energy waking the listener out of bewilderment. It makes me wonder whether the execution of this track did the same for Demae and continues to ground her in the present.
Having been conceptually and sonically energised, we move onto the themes of life lessons and confidence presented in experimental track ‘Ford’ - a nod to adulthood. It conveys the sense of freedom and autonomy in buying a car. Amidst these ideas, is the matriarchal insight of Demae’s grandmother who states -
"Use what you have"
She has now come to terms with the elder’s proverbial wisdom and in this case Demae’s Grandmother really creates the album’s foundation in my opinion, and further unravels in the latter tracklisting. Lyrically, Demae delivers her words with a rap style cadence paired with a catchy hook, drunken style drumming and overall production that evokes 90’s boom bap.
Easily the most audibly stimulating and the source of the project's vibrancy is track 6 and second single ‘Use It’. It boasts animated production littered with a chugging bass line with jarring sound effects, like phone notifications and games console noises. Demae sings in an unplaceable yet infectious time signature about utilising the power and beauty that exists within - a fitting follow up from her grandmother’s advice on ‘Ford’. One of the beautiful qualities to this song is that absolute confidence Demae expresses in her delivery. Key lyrical moments like -
"Should you choose to see the true beauty in you,
You would see a true flower blossoms too”
"Use it, never abuse the mind you came with”
relay how Demae is now manifesting the matriarchal wisdom that exists within her DNA and is able to ascertain her own proverbial language, which is something both special and profound. Even the keys after the lyric “Come on and shine your light” provide auditory imagery of twinkling stars, personifying self belief.
Harnessing one’s personal power becomes all the more apparent on Gospel inspired penultimate track, ‘Let Go’. Featuring and co-produced by Joe Armon-Jones and Wu-Lu it presents chorally arranged vocals that go in tandem with heavily church influenced Piano. I think it's a clever positioning to have a more testimonial style track just before the beautiful deliverance on the closing track and final single, ‘Seasons Change’.
‘Seasons Change’ marks Demae’s departure from one period and entrance into the next. We experience an etheric arrangement of gentle whooshing effects, vocal harmonies and the transcendental essence of a Kora. All these elements invoke a cerebral experience of time travel, in which both Demae and listeners move weightlessly through life's various phases. The change to chirping birds alludes to the dawn of a new day, a new season, tranquil and untroubled. I would say that this track expresses clarity and Demae’s oneness with life best symbolised in a full circle moment where the closing line (from a self-written poem) 'Life works out... Usually' fully consecrates the album.
This debut is packed with sunshine, colour and spirit. Its messages of seeing the beauty life has to offer and not becoming disillusioned are poignant and delivered over character filled production and soaring vocals. The matriarchal wisdom is fiercely present all over the album and honestly feels like a voice or home away from home. In a time where we are all experiencing levels of estrangement and impermanence, this album is sure to ground you. Demae harnesses her Leo energy excellently and it is possibly the most confident feat in her career to date.