Known for his work with Lupe Fiasco, Georgia Anne Muldrow, Chris Dave and Oddisee, to name just a few, and his DJing in support of the likes of Erykah Badu and Questlove, British producer Eric Lau steps back into the limelight with his second album One Of Many, showcasing his skills as a songwriter as well as a producer.
His debut, 2008’s critically acclaimed New Territories, was characterised by its laid back approach to Hip-Hop and R&B production, layering soft vocals from collaborators Rahel and Sarina Leah over punctuated, weighty drum grooves and smooth basslines. One Of Many continues in the same vein and the influence of the artists he has supported and worked with in the five years since the last LP can be clearly seen.
Opener “Here,” after the sample-filled intro “Many,” featuring favoured vocalist Rahel, has a distinctive Robert Glasper feel to it, coupling a dragged-back Chris Dave-style drum beat with tripping piano chord stabs and atmospheric vocal echoes. In fact, the Glasper effect can be felt in subtle ways throughout the record. Third track, “Lily Of The Desert” featuring Georgia Anne Muldrow, for example, riffs off the same vibe as “Gonna Be Alright (F.T.B)” from Glasper’s own acclaimed Black Radio LP.
Not all of the record is blissful soul though. Tracks like “Rise Up,” which features DMV rapper Oddisee and singer Olivier St. Louis, show off Lau’s ability to produce straight boom-bap Hip-Hop beats. Oddisee’s verses are punctuated by Lau’s rattling percussion and low-end bass triplets, leaving a minimal production that allows room for the vocalists to breathe and for their lyrics to come through over the melodic productions.
The true creative highlight of the record, however, comes in Lau’s solo interludes. More often than not, interludes in contemporary urban music can be an unwelcome distraction from the content of the album, an unnecessary filler to compensate for a lack of adequate material. But on One Of Many, tracks like “The Gathering” and “One” are a welcome instrumental respite from the rest of the record, giving the listener a chance to sink into Lau’s sumptuous grooves, transitioning the musical theme from one song to the next.
The only fault of the record can be hinted at in it’s title; some of the tracks sound like they are in fact one of many, rather than providing a unique, fresh take on a soulful, R&B sound. This consistency of the record becomes both its biggest achievement and fault because it is no mean feat to create a work of music that provides the listener with a clear musical theme, but the challenge comes in providing subtle differences that hold your attention; and unfortunately this is not always the case in Lau’s work. Due to the many collaborations with Rahel and Tawiah on One Of Many, more often than not it is too easy to melt into the album and become unable to un-entangle tracks, such as “Not Alone” and “Divine,” from each other.
Ultimately, though, One Of Many is a lesson in musicianship and great production skill as Lau effortlessly melds samples together to create interesting works of standalone production that can compete with his equally pleasing songwriting skills. All of this bodes well for Eric Lau’s continuing production.