From Emeli Sande’s Heaven to Lana Del Rey’s Born To Die, several of 2012’s biggest breakthrough female artists have flirted with the timeless trip-hop sounds of Massive Attack, Portishead and Tricky. But with From the Roots Up, 21-year-old French-born chanteuse Delilah is perhaps the first to commit to an entire album of such dark soulful electronica.
Co-written with a rather random selection of collaborators, including former Razorlight drummer Andy Burrows, forgotten BRIT Award winner Finley Quaye and man-of-the-moment Plan B, Delilah’s full-length debut revels in the same kind of nocturnal and claustrophobic atmosphere that defined the Bristol scene in the mid-90s.
But amongst the hypnotic array of backwards loops and sparse break-beats, it’s Delilah’s astonishing voice that commands the most attention. From the soaring multi-octave display on the brave a cappella rendition of Minnie Riperton’s “Inside My Love” to the smouldering femme fatale vibes on the Gregorian chant-led dub-pop of “I Can Feel You,” she is never less than utterly compelling.
Avoiding the showboating histrionics that most talent show contestants would succumb to in possession of such a versatile range, her composure and restraint is indicative of such an understated record. “Go,” her breath-taking interpretation of Chaka Khan’s “Ain’t Nobody” features little more than her whispering seductive tones and a woozy liquid synth bass-line but is still far more captivating than anything LL Cool J, Liberty X or the mountain of other acts to have tackled the 80s funk classic have achieved.
Elsewhere, “Insecure” is an equally elegant number which recalls the haunting piano balladry of Alanis Morissette’s “Uninvited,” “Breathe” is a lush contemporary lounge-pop affair underpinned by sweeping Bacharach-esque strings, while “Shades Of Grey” echoes the ambient output of early Bjork before effortlessly seguing into a quietly triumphant chorus.
That’s not to say there aren’t a few big pop moments. The cinematic “Love You So” is arguably the best James Bond theme that never was, “So Irate” is a playful acoustic house anthem perfect for gracing Balearic shores come sunrise, while the Plan B-penned “Only You” couldn’t be further removed from the hard-hitting hip-hop of his recent iLL Manors thanks to its surprisingly romantic Afrobeat vibes.
Delilah may be just a little too sophisticated to achieve the chart-topping success she deserves, but From The Roots Up is still a remarkably charismatic first offering which suggests the trip-hop revival has found its leading lady.
ALBUM RATING: 4.5 stars (out of five)