The British singer's latest album, her first in five years, adds yet another layer to her already-rich tapestry of sound

By Marcus J. Moore
July 01, 2021 at 11:00 AM EDT
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Laura Mvula
Credit: Atlantic Records

Laura Mvula emerged nine years ago as a stately presence in R&B. A captivating singer with a vast octave range and confessional lyrics, she ascended the ranks via word-of-mouth praise. Her debut, Sing to the Moon, earned acclaim and a Mercury Prize nomination for its atmospheric blend of soul, pop, and gospel. Three years later, on her sophomore album The Dreaming Room, she further delved into tales of lovelorn angst and Black empowerment; she also worked with the London Symphony Orchestra, whose majestic swell of strings and percussion bolstered what was becoming her signature sound: powerful vocals with big arrangements more suited for concert halls than nightclubs. Critics likened her to Nina Simone, whose virtuosity confounded an industry that couldn't quite place her aesthetic. It's been equally tough to classify Mvula, but that's not a knock on her artistry; her music calls for deep concentration. That you can't funnel it into some neat little box is a plus.

For Pink Noise, Mvula's third studio LP and first in five years, the British-born singer shifts her tone again, opting for synth-driven pop and R&B that recalls the likes of Billy Ocean, Phil Collins, and Wham! Musically, it emulates an era when songs centered hard drums and bright electronics, and even the saddest topics were hidden beneath upbeat, dance-oriented grooves. After years of sharing personal trauma over spacious arrangements, it seems Mvula — now armed with a hightop fade hairstyle and pink keytar — is ready to shed the melancholy and two-step a little. On previous albums, she used her voice to convey intense emotions, sliding it up and down the scale, pulling back to let the music breathe. Here, physical movement is the creative expression. Pink Noise is a booming record with loud drums and thumping bass you can feel in your chest. It's meant to be a spiritual release, for shaking off the pain and anxiety of life's struggles. 

Mvula does just that on "Church Girl," appearing to address getting dropped from her label in 2017. "I thought I was an important artist," she recently told the Evening Standard. "I'd tried to be the most palatable version of Laura that I could be, and played this game with real class and elegance, so to be let go in that way, I just felt, 'Hold on a second!' The least I could have had was a real conversation." With "Church Girl," she lets go of the narrative (Mvula is now signed to Atlantic) by acknowledging that God is in control: "Who do you think you are?/You don't write the story baby/Wanna be some kind of superstar/It's just a game of let it be." Mvula can only be true to herself and let the universe dictate the rest. On "Safe Passage," for instance, she details liberty through a lens of disbelief. "Never imagined I would ever be free from your story," she sings piercingly. "Staring in the face of it, I finally see I'm everything I need." She doubles down on this notion on "Golden Ashes" later in the LP: "Don't wait for me to die, you'll be waiting a long time." Pink Noise revels in the freedom of moving beyond stress for something peaceful, adding yet another layer to Mvula's already-rich tapestry of sound. A-

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