I read a lot of artist bios and they tend to all sound the same after a while. It seems like they’re all about growing up in a small, rural town and then moving to New York City or Los Angeles to make it big in the music business. While it’s nice to read about people’s dreams coming true, it can get a little boring after a while. But Amatus’ story is certainly not boring, nor is it formulaic.
Amatus grew up in the South Side of Chicago across the street from the Cabrini Green Projects in her father’s mosque, her father being an Imam (Islamic leader) and sharecropper. As if that wasn’t difficult enough, her parents divorced and she had to go spend her high school years in Philadelphia’s Germantown area. Fortunately, she was able to spend time in New York where she started hanging out at music studios when she was just 14, sitting in on sessions with Erykah Badu, Common, the Roots and many others. Eventually, she had a chance meeting with the famous bass player MeShell Ndegeocello, who lent Amatus a Triton sequencing keyboard, sparking her desire to be a musician herself.
After moving to New York and going to school, Amatus was able to support herself by making clothes for various small boutique shops as well as some of her favorite artists. Her clothing line was even picked up by Barney’s Co-op for two seasons. Unfortunately, a series of bad events followed. Her brother was killed by gun violence back in Chicago in 2007 and then two other people close to her were also killed by gun violence: her cousin in 2010 and her roommate in 2011. Following these events, Amatus decided to take music seriously, which brings us to Broken Compass, her debut EP.
Broken Compass opens with “Messin,” an uber-punchy, high energy song with monstrous beats, funky bass guitar, cool flourishes of synth and a healthy dose of electro-tinkering. Like all of the songs on the EP, it was written and produced entirely by Amatus herself. “You better be away and make a new mistake,” she sings a bit scornfully, as the song tells off an ex-lover. Her vocals are smooth and powerful enough that she could be singing soul or jazz, but the songs here all exist somewhere between smooth R&B, shiny synth pop and fierce electro-funk. If I must compare her to other singers, I’d say she’s like a cross between Corinne Bailey Rae and Donna Summer.
“I’m trying to be more than you know / I keep telling myself that the distance will not ever turn me cold,” she sings over flickering guitar during the beginning of “Coming Home.” When she hits the chorus and the beats enter the picture they’re loud enough to be considered kick ass rock ‘n’ roll, but the song overall is ultimately like a sleek number from Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, only considerably heavier.
Elsewhere, the socially conscious “Run Fast” delivers the sort of snappy beats that are currently making Haim famous. “We’re running fast to give it all away,” she sings oh-so-passionately, her vocals gliding over the manic music behind her.
One of the interesting things about the songs here is that the beats can be entirely up-tempo yet Amatus might deliver her vocals almost syrupy slow. “How I loooooovvve,” she sings during “Punk” while the beats hammer away with all the speed of a sewing machine. If you focus on her voice, it’s fairly relaxing, but if you zone in on the beats then you might find yourself feeling jumpy if not entirely anxious. But it’s precisely that contrast that makes the song so refreshing. How many songs can be soothing and invigorating at once?
The EP closes with “Cherish,” which slows things down a bit with its delicious mid-tempo beats and trip-hop flavored bass. “Cherish your love,” she sings. “I cherish this love.” The jittery percussion borders on jazz and it actually sounds like an upright bass that’s delivering the super trippy bassline that makes the song so darn seductive.
Of the many indie artists I’ve reviewed during recent months, I’d have to say that Amatus is the most impressive. Every second of this EP oozes with so much talent. I was in a state of disbelief the first time I listened to it because it was so mind-blowingly good that I couldn’t believe what I was listening to. Honestly, if a label like Atlantic signed her today and got this music out to the masses tomorrow she would soon be on the cover of magazines and performing on The Tonight Show. Here’s hoping someone at a decent label reads this, checks out her music and promptly signs her. She certainly deserves it and I can see this selling lots and lots of records and downloads.
Buy Broken Compass now: http://amatus.bandcamp.com/