A few months back, I was sitting in my lounge when one of my housemates came in singing “Captured effortlessly, that’s the way it was, happened so naturally, I did not know it was love“. “Why are you singing Chaka Khan” I asked. “Who?” (She isn’t the biggest music fan). “Chaka Khan”. “Who? …No, this is Delilah“.
Well, to my dismay, she turned out to be right. This was how London singer-songwriter Delilah (real name Paloma Ayana Stoecker) announced herself to the world (if you are not counting Chase & Status’ ‘Time’ in which she features heavily). The single, ‘Go’, samples much of the lyrics to the 1983 Chaka Khan classic ‘Ain’t Nobody’; a brave gamble for an upcoming 21-year old artist. The result, however, is breathtaking, with a restructuring of the lyrics, a post-dubstep/trip-hop synth melody pulsating in the haunting background with Delilah’s sultry vocals pouring out of it. Chaka herself even referred to the reworking as “genius”. It was a surprise departure from the expected Katy B dubstep sound that most thought she would follow after her Chase & Status touring. How then could Delilah follow this gem up?
Second single ‘Love You So’ did little to disappoint. With the backing of the war-beat tribal drumming and a swirling smoky melody, it showed the diverse range that Delilah was capable of. At times, it ventures into the expected Katy B dubstep direction, but such a sound is lightweight and delicate with Delilah. Even lyrically, the song stacks up: “I’m fighting a war that I did not choose / I’m hosting the blame when my ego’s bruised” she begins, with the song’s theme of heartbreak key. Incredibly, she wrote it when she was 14.
What then of debut album From The Roots Up? Could she match two standout singles? First track ‘Never Be Another’ starts where ‘Love You So’ left off, with a technicolor collage of sounds; hand-clapping, piano-chords, electronic buzzing. It could easily get messy and confusing, but Stoecker never gets lost. ‘Breathe’ is where the album hits its best; comparisons to Emeli Sandé and Lianne La Havas don’t belong here. ‘I Can Feel You’ and ‘Insecure’ also heavily use trip-hop distorted beats; the latter adds more with jazzy piano chords and Shara Nelson vocals to boot, whilst ‘I Can Feel You’ feels Bond-esque.
Delilah is far from a one-trick pony as the hush dark tones are left behind with ‘Only You’; an upbeat Lykke Li shimmering song of newfound love with strings and all. It probably feels a bit out of place on the album, but it’s a rare moment of joy away from the slowness of the other tracks. ‘Go’ isn’t the only cover here with Delilah giving her own version of Minnie Riperton’s undeniably sexual soul classic ‘Inside My Love‘. It gives a modern twist, without losing the 1975 track’s energy, with Stoecker’s sensual vocals breezing over a dark, melodic bassline.
In reality, it’s hard to look past ‘Go’ as the standout track on the album, with no other matching it’s intensity and emotion. However, around it are 11 other soulful gems of matching incisiveness, strumming through a whole spectrum of pop, R&B and soul influences. Of course, there are a few duds in there. ’21’ is atmospheric, but somewhat gawkish and unsubtle, revealing Delilah’s young age. ‘Tabitha, Mummy and Me’ is an Alicia Keys-styled piano ballad, but doesn’t quite seem adequate. Even on the weaker tracks though, Delilah’s hypnotic vocals shoot through the songs, holding some up at times.
The real winner of the album therefore is Delilah herself; say what you will of the songs, her voice is undeniably brilliant and far more diverse and stronger than many of her pop contemporaries. I imagine when most people think of the name Delilah – particularly in a music setting – their mind goes to one of two things; either “Hey there Delilah, what’s it like it New York City?…” or, “My my my, Delilah!” (The answers of such a question would probably reveal a lot about both the music preference and age of the person asked). Delilah will be hoping she will have changed all that for good; and, with a debut album this good, she should have.