Nearly two years after his debut Champagne Sounds dropped, Brooklyn-based producer Obey City returns with Merlot Sounds, a sexy collection of vintage vibes and stunning collaborations. Like the wine the EP draws its’ namesake from, Obey City’s Merlot Sounds has a rich body and velvety depth that grows stronger as it progresses.
“With Grace We Go” gives the listener a sampling of what’s to come on the EP, playing up the retro sound with scintillating bursts of synths to offset the mellow hand drum percussion and coolly atmospheric vocals that breeze over the instrumentals. Obey City works to emphasize the soulful, glossy sounds of late 80s and 90s R&B throughout the EP, playing with classic synthesizer sounds like those of the Roland JV-1080. The dulcet tones of these multi-faceted synths resonate when paired with silky vocalists, as heard on “Waterbed,” which serves as the lead single from Merlot Sounds. Vocalist Anthony Flammia croons like a modern-day Brian McKnight, as a robust electric guitar melody and cascading bongo drums on this mood-setting jam amplify his quietly powerful tenor. “Chante” offers the same sentiment, enlisting 1OAK’s honeyed vocals as Eric Arc Elliot (of Flatbush Zombies) anchors the dreamy soundscape with ever-so-slightly gritty baritone verses.
As part of the LuckyMe family, it appears evident that Obey City’s been paying attention to his labelmates. “Cloud Lust,” with it’s high-end vocals and squidgy synths, is reminiscent of co-founder Hudson Mohawke’s 2014 release, “Brainwave,” but with a tinge of 90s seduction. Similarly, “The Motion Blurs” brings to mind older standards, such as Rustie’s “All Nite” and HudMo’s “All Your Love,” thanks to it’s maximalist sound design and unapologetically wobbling bass that counterbalances elegant, simplistic vocal samples.
However, it’s the last song on the EP that truly shines. In “Airy,” Kelela’s voice blooms like a jasmine flower, delicately lingering between hazy sweetness and quiet sensuality. The echoing synth melody bolsters the fluctuating instrumentation that serves as a pedestal for Kelela’s expressive melody. Compiling all the elements from the past five tracks, “Airy” sets itself apart as a modern R&B classic, blending old and new in a magnificent composition.
As a producer, it’s evident that Obey City can not only stand his ground with his labelmates, but excel in new and insightful ways with a staying power that’s rare to find. His detailed ear for sound challenges the structure of musical genres as he rolls up the past, present, and future into a sound that is all his own. Merlot Sounds serves as a turning point for Obey City, as he showcases his artistry in a more nuanced way than ever before.
Words: Staley Sharples