Hablot Brown is a trio made up of Linus Lester-Hodges (vocals, songwriting) who grew up in Singapore, and twin brothers Austin Brown (production, keys, bass, guitar) and John Brown (drums, co-writing), who are from Massachusetts. They have been making funky R&B for several years now together and have just released a new EP, OPAQUE - a project full of stunning neo-soul and R&B sensibilities.
Though being a mini-project, OPAQUE contains a few hidden slaps with colorful dance production that shakes the rhythm up at various moments. "GO" opens up the album with a slow pull of building synths and a low pressured welcoming pattern of electric melodies. The steady vibrato in the intro is quickly met with a jazzy drum beat and guitar swells. The musicality in the instrumentals immediately draws you in as you're then met with Linus's buttery and blistering baritone. The lead's husky vocals bring a warmness to the entire EP that's founded within each track.
"GO", whether intended to be or not, is a template for how the excellent soul instrumentation makes the bed for the bluesy songwriting to lay in. However, not every song here completely falls into a "neo soul" or even an "R&B" box. These fellows are bending and twisting their sound throughout the project in ways that create something new and fresh.
Tracks like "HEAVEN" is wrapped with a ribbon and bow for your quaint coffee shop playlist. Echoey vocals and a tranquil vibe set the scene. The song slowly builds into a powerful outro. Lester-Hodges' poetic lyricism digs into deeper self-reflections in songs like "MINUTE", as well as "HEAVEN". The vivid lyrics paint interesting images of anxiety and questioning of one's placement in life. "The record symbolizes our tribulations while trying to see through this glass," Lester-Hodges shares with EARMILK of this latest project. "At the end of the EP, we realize that the glass is translucent and we are able to move forward.”
You can even sense in tempo that the center of the project ("MINUTE" & "HEAVEN") feels like a valley where the band slows things down, gets more introspective. The pace of the record proceeds to then pick up with the moderate speeds of "TAKE IT ALL" and "SAID AND DONE".
To wrap things up, "TAKE IT ALL" delivers bass-slapping dance music elevated for a lounge party. The music is so forceful in groove that no substantial lyrics were necessary. They elected to allow the sonics in this number to paint the picture alone. It gave this EP that needed disruption. Tastefully, it contrasts the vibe of the rest of OPAQUE whilst remaining in the Hablot Brown world they created instrumentally.
Released independently, OPAQUE displays an urban-inspired sound palette that comes across authentic and refined. Alternative R&B is in fantastic hands with this trio leading the charge.