Featuring one of the year’s best pop songs but sorely lacking the invention and individuality of its predecessor.
As with most sequels, The Sound Experiment 2 fails to live up to its predecessor, though not for lack of trying. There’s been a clear increase in production budget from the far more independent feeling The Sound Experiment, and if the result of that is more music like ‘Our Love’ and ‘These Hands’ then more power to Samm Henshaw. Across its five songs there are plenty of flourishes that help give the EP its edges so as not to feel entirely rounded and safe. The leap into the chorus on ‘Our Love,’ bolstered by an infuriatingly addictive guitar riff, is enough to get the entire town of Bomont, the Footloose town, dancing, moral and religious consequences be damned. As an ode to both of Henshaw’s parents’ love and how it crosses class, racial, and social boundaries, it’s heartfelt and inspiring. As a pop song, it’s damn perfect. Its individual story and style make it something that only he could have created.
The trouble is that, as strong a soul singer and lyricist as Henshaw is, there’s a sense on The Sound Experiment 2 that both the intrepid curiosity and genre-shifting that was so evident and exciting on this EP’s predecessor, has been removed in favour of Radio 1 friendly, endearingly simplistic structures and messages. ‘These Hands’ introduces the use of synths to add some oomph to the choruses, along with a bunch of lines that barely make sense, but they do indeed sound meaningful – ‘This fate is not my destiny / So I’m shaping it with these hands.’ The song is an ode to creation, the working spirit it takes, and the sense of singular vision. Yet these earnest, entirely familiar messages are almost everywhere on The Sound Experiment 2: the chorus to ‘Chances,’ the EP’s lowpoint, proclaims, “You live and you love / You learn when you lose.” Henshaw’s song about giving second chances shows the least invention and the most adherence to formula.
That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with the simplicity that can so often be found in the mainstream, but Henshaw’s style and tastes are so much more interesting than that. His first EP called to mind BJ The Chicago Kid, one of the upcoming stars of American neo-soul, yet Henshaw’s approach was entirely distinct, with few synths and plenty of guitars and brass on tracks such as ‘Autonomy (Slave).’ There was the structural rebellion of ‘Better,’ featuring Henshaw and a piano engaged in crooning that breaks both his voice and listeners’ hearts without ever evolving beyond its elegant motifs. Suddenly we had a cool, genuine answer to Sam Smith’s overloaded, syrupy and excessively white version of soul. This EP however, as enjoyable as it is, feels like the second part of a three-step plan to go from Soundcloud success to a permanent spot on nostalgic and safe Radio 2 playlists.
The Sound Experiment 2 EP is out now via Columbia Records