THE CHILD OF LOV

 

There's something about Cole Williams's voice that conjures pictures in the mind. Not only through the intense and compelling vocals of his recordings, either: just talking to him on the phone, his voice has gravitas and draws you in to what he's talking about, into his private world. Everything he says is measured and considered, hesitant even, with a sense of weight of meaning behind it and a sense that there's a whole lot more left unsaid, but it's that voice that gets you. There's a catch to it, a rugged rasp weathered beyond his years, that shows that his singing style – rich in the cadences of funk, blues and soul – is no mere affectation. Not that you'd ever think it was, mind, once you've given his songs more than a cursory listen. Spend any time with them, and it's abundantly clear that Cole – or if you prefer, The Child Of Lov – is a true modern soul man.


A lot has been made already of his reluctance to share much information about his background, and it's certainly true that he's been cautious with what he says, to the point of not even publicly letting slip any name but The Child Of Lov until now. But as you speak to him, as you get a sense of how he communicates, it becomes abundantly clear that this is no egotistical quirk, and no inverted publicity-seeking strategy, but purely an expression of a real personality and creative methodology. It's not that Cole doesn't want you to know about his life, it's just that he has spent so long so intensely immersed in his own creative processes, making music that no other human ears ever heard, that this is his way of dealing with the shock of having it so suddenly exposed to the world. “I need,” he says “to step out of that world a little at a time. It's exciting, it's crazy, but it's going to take time to get used to.”


This much we know: Cole has lived in London, Paris and Amsterdam where he’s currently based. He has, for various reasons, spent a good deal of time alone with music. His first inspirations were his mother's Stevie Wonder albums – “there was Simon & Garfunkel, there was Beatles, but it was the Stevie Wonder CD, that's where I really felt a connection.” By the age of 13 he was listening to hip hop and neo-soul, and began to try and make his own beats on his computer, and initially to rap “because I was embarrassed about my singing voice”. At 14, he began to teach himself guitar and piano, and became obsessed with the off-kilter hip hop beats of J Dilla (“but really the stuff he did with singers, with Janet Jackson and on D'Angelo's 'Voodoo' record”) and especially Madlib, the master of the thickly-layered psychedelic groove. Inspired by the combination of unorthodox musicality with hip hop attitude, as he picked out his own melodies and slowly developed his instrumental skills “it all came together.”


From then on, the development was steady. “Whenever there was nobody in the house,” Cole would sing and play into his computer, studying intently how parts could be layered to build the rich textures of his heroes' tracks. Nobody ever knew what he was doing, “not even the people closest to me”, for a long time. Eventually, though, slowly and gradually he began to let a few friends hear tracks – and via a tip off to check out his Myspace page, was discovered by Trey Reames, the man who had been responsible for the formation of Gnarls Barkley, who immediately tracked him down and offered to manage him.


It was one of those rare moments of alchemy that change everything. “Trey is a really social guy,” says Cole, with typical understatement. In fact, Trey is a dynamo, a ball of dynamic southern hip hop braggadocio and go-getter attitude, but also a musical mastermind with a natural sense of connectivity and creativity. A man who knows how to get people to say yes to things, it was he who facilitated the mind-blowing collaborations with Damon Albarn, DOOM (himself a regular collaborator with Madlib and the late J Dilla) and Erykah Badu / Flying Lotus bassist Thundercat. But just as importantly, the Albany, Georgia-born Trey provided Cole a connection to his southern artistic roots and the hip hop culture he had absorbed from a distance, and to the wider world. Soon the two became a powerful unit: the reclusive, philosophical Cole and the extroverted people person Trey played off each others' strengths to develop a battle plan to take Cole's music out into the world.


So here we are: from those years' worth of self-disciplined musical study and practice recordings, then a period of adjusting to their exposure to the world, have come the tracks that became The Child Of Lov album. They're layered with all the intensity and dedication that Cole has put into his listening and learning, and with his passion for the influences. Check out 'Give Me' – the peculiar stutter of his abstract hip hop heroes Madlib and Dilla is there, but so is his first inspiration Stevie Wonder as well as brilliantly discordant hints of Prince and even Tom Waits in full junkyard prophet mode. Listen to the powerfully defiant 'Fly' and wonder that the powerful, gospel-infused voice is that of a young man, and not a soul veteran beaten but unbowed by life's tribulations. Soak up the mournful opener 'Call me Up' – the sort of track you'd always hoped Sly Stone might pull himself together and make one day.


And following these tracks out into the world is Cole, carefully shielding himself as he squints in the light and prepares for whatever is coming next. There's a lot more to know about Cole, clearly – his talent and character are not those of a mere isolated bedroom geek, that's for sure – and he's not hiding anything out of shyness, fragility of character or deliberate obfuscation. He's currently working out how to perform his songs live, after all, so we'll certainly be seeing more of him, and he says himself “I'm sure I may say more in future – I just want to take this all one step at a time.” All of this will surely be exciting, as the revelation of a major talent always is, but for now, for once, the cliché about letting the music do the talking holds true: there is so much to hear and understand in this debut album and in the depths of that voice, that it is all the introduction to this talent that you really need.