There are great songs and there are hot beats and then there are tracks that just literally drip cool. ‘Melba’s Call’ establishes itself firmly in the latter category from almost the first five seconds, exploding out of speakers with a bristling challenge to electronic producers everywhere; up your game or show yourself out. Admittedly, Bok Bok’s latest endeavour isn’t something so much for your feet as your head – unless you’re a particularly deft breakdancer – but that doesn’t make it any less interesting. The kind of sonic mish-mash that everyone on Soundcloud is trying to pull off but only a few can actually manage, it establishes the Night Slugs label (forward thinking UK outfit responsible for a stack of underground hit-makers like Girl Unit, Kingdom and L-Vis 1990) as one of the more cutting edge, alongside the likes of Greco-Roman and LuckyMe. From what I understand, Bok Bok (real name Alex Sushon) actually co-founded the thing, which would make his production style all the more logical. It’s not the first time he’s worked with Kelela, who has blown up bigtime since the release of her mixtape in 2013, either. However, it’s perhaps one of the more interesting pieces the two have done together, as both writer and singer battle it out down the line on a beat that refuses to stay put.
I first heard this song by way of its futuristic video, which is definitely a great way to shake your way out complacency on a rainy afternoon. It’s since been removed, but basically hones in on a virtual Kelela flickering in and out of focus on the screen of an empty producer’s studio. It’s a scene strangely familiar to fans of 2000s-era R&B; many of those figures were obsessed with technology and often had them selves stylised as leaders of the next world. TLC, Destiny’s Child and their ilk frequently favoured a metallic sheen and silver screens and its their early signature style you can hear jacked and reimagined in Kelela’s performance. Playing a sort of call and response with herself, Kelela spends less time in her top range than on her LP, but solidifies her voice as strong enough to command attention. That’s especially important when you’re playing in a sonic terrain that doesn’t take any prisoners. Bok Bok’s production style here is best described as a rebooted take on chopping and screwing, piecing together disparate parts of other samples into a new whole and then shooting them through a stuttering machine gun. It really shouldn’t work. At certain points, it seems like Kelela is the only thing pulling it all together, so difficult is it to find the locus of the beat. That being said, it’s kind of what makes it so fascinating.
The sound samples Bok Bok use all seem to be raiding the New Jack Swing library of the last few decades; icy synths, huge, Rhythm Nation drums and that crazy slap bass. It’s the interplay of these bits – and they really are bits flying out all over the place, with Kelela’s perfectly assured narrow harmonies as she sings ‘Why you acting so cool?’ – that really excite me. What seems at first glance like a disembodied collection of parts snaps into focus as a fully formed audio skeleton with the skin grafted all over the place. Sure, it’s pretty confronting the first time you see it. But beneath it all is perhaps the most interesting ghoul you’ll meet this month.
Bok Bok – ‘Melba’s Call’ (ft. Kelela)