Has there been a better year for R&B lately than 2016? Between Frank Ocean, Solange and Blood Orange releasing their best works yet we’ve had new artists like Jamila Woods and Anderson. Paak emerge on the scene. It seems like the genre has also reached a new level of cultural importance as of late also, as the artists making music in its confines have been sparking conversations that resonate to every aspect of our lives.
One of genres newest acts, Agency, understands this well on their debut EP Politikarma; a collection of tracks that speaks on a number of topics that are on their mind. From police violence to college debt Agency fills this EP with a lot of big concepts and for the most part they succeed in saying something insightful.
Opener ‘Evaporate’ sets the mood well with Agency jumping between personal doubts (“I don’t think one way or the other, I don’t even know what to think”) to more painful personal admissions (“my fathers gone, just reminisce now”) before hopping into the first verses. This mirrors the rest of the EP as tracks move between thoughts, finding epiphanies between the questions.
‘New Americana’ and ‘Rejoice’ work, as ‘Evaporate’ does, with moments that question our society (“it’s all fucking nonsense unless it’s on Facebook”) mixed with more thoughtful introspection (“Not everything I feel can be put into words”). It’s a system that works well for Agency and lends itself well to the messages they are trying to reach listeners with.
There are more succinct song too like ‘My Life’ and ‘Fall Down Slowly’ which offer up discussions of black lives and police violence with the later ending on a powerful news report on the death of Chicago teen Paul O’Neal. Where the previous tracks have been fruitful in their mixing of concepts, these tracks offer a better insight into the artist themselves as Agency is finally given room to put themselves out there.
Unfortunately though where Agency seems ready to set themselves apart from the crowd with their lyrics, the production hits all the usual notes of a modern R&B album. Jazzy pianos and handclaps abound on Politikarama as well as reverbed vocals, which do more harm than good. Only ‘Fall Down Slowly’ offers up anything unique as its trap music beat is mixed with a flute to great effect. Other than that though the sound of Politkarama is about as standard as it comes.
It’s a shame because Agency themselves seem so ready to explore some new areas of the genre. On Politikarama’s best moments like ‘Fall Down Slowly’ and ‘Evaporate’ you can hear Agency operating on another level compared to the sound they’re surrounding themselves with. Hopefully as they grow so does their sound, because one could see Agency being listed among the genre’s greats soon.
Politikarama is out now via Anticodon Records.