The stylistic son of Sly Stone, Bootsy Collins and Maxwell, rising funkster Uly (née Rafino Murphy) invokes the progressive soul music of ’70s fusion hipsters and their ’90s neo-soul pups. His vintage vision includes Soft guitar licks, soulful trumpets, blaring bass lines, drums that hit dry and hard, and a falsetto that would make D’Angelo’s heart pound. These velvety tunes, for all their nostalgic production goodness, feel like placing a grainy, desaturated Instagram filter in his field of vision.
The Dublin-based Irish-Filipino singer and multi-instrumentalist has recently made an impression thanks to placements in the popular television adaptations of two Sally Rooney novels, Normal people and conversations with a friends. Additional attention follows his work in the alternative jazz trio INNRSPACE, close collaborations with rapper Nealo, and a string of short-form solo releases, including the 2020 EP. If you were a day, you would be Sunday (songs to go walking), in addition to a lot of singles and loose. The title of his latest release, 1822.demonstrations, suggests something half-assed, like a bunch of unwanted WAV files sitting on your desktop. But at 12 tracks, this is Uly’s longest and most comprehensive project yet – a fuller take on his R&B alchemy.
The project begins with an immersion in Uly’s kaleidoscopic universe, showcasing his eclectic sensibility. “King Smooch Returns (pt. I-III)” chronicles the smooth return of a lover to an old part of town a decade after his disappearance. The song is divided into three consecutive arrangements, each distinct: first, there’s an explosion of raunchy funk, then a head-shaking beat, and finally a dark slice of lounge jazz distinguished by Uly’s soft trumpet, which has the elegant aura of French new wave cinema. Mostly, 1822.demonstrations it is tender and romantic. “Cold Mountain Air” is a dimly lit, heady ballad. Uly’s voice is warm and conversational, as if she’s having pillow talk under the glow of the lava lamps; a massive guitar solo towards the end of the track sends you skyward, calling to mind Prince’s “Shhhh” in particular. Uly is no retro revivalist, though: “tryin'” contorts the vocals and piano loop into a hip-hop instrumental that would appeal to the quirky leanings of New York rapper MIKE.
The music has a psychotropic streak that complements Uly’s existential inquiries. “Lately I’ve been thinking about the stars / And how I’ll never reach them”, he repeats himself in “White Dog”. The single “Emperor’s new groove (for klara)” reinterprets the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro Clara and the sun, with Uly taking the perspective of a sentient android trying to understand human conceptions of compassion and love. “Just a minute, I can feel something surging through my body,” she sings, the wonderful sensation of new and ineffable emotions swirling in his delicate voice like a spider’s web. Then there’s “Slow Waltz On The Moon,” a duet with singer Chi Chi. It depicts two astronaut lovers trapped in the vacuum of space, knowing that being physically intimate would mean their death. With its soothing melodies, sweeping piano chords and distant electric guitar, you can almost imagine the pair gazing into each other’s eyes through the visors of their pressurized helmets, slowly spinning hand in hand in great circles in the lunar hemisphere.
The connection between 1822.demonstrationsThe impressionistic psych instrumentation and sci-fi lyrics is a striking departure from the archetypal theme you find in soul music. Here, Uly is synthesizing his broad stylistic influences into one cohesive vision. 1822.demonstrations is an elegant and cosmic collection that closes the first phase of his solo career. Anyone looking for old spirits, especially ones dedicated to bygone eras of funk and soul, can follow him. Uly may be a child of the best traditions, but he’s also recording his own corner.