Portishead Producer Resurfaces Behind New Diva
Though he's credited simply as "Fuzzface," the man responsible for both producing and creating the music on Stephanie McKay's striking solo debut, McKay, is Portishead co-founder Geoff Barrow.
While he's been out of the spotlight for the six years since the Bristol trip-hop pioneers released Portishead (Go Beat, 1997), the follow-up to their classic debut, Dummy (Go Beat, 1994), it's clear that Barrow has continued to perfect the cinematic, found-sound style that marked Portishead's two albums.
In Stephanie McKay, however, Barrow has found a voice and personality more upbeat than his original muse, Beth Gibbons. McKay, inspired by such luminaries as Minnie Riperton and Nina Simone, has a deceptively powerful voice. She manages both the uptempo, almost danceable "Thinking of You" and more contemplative ballads like the gospel-tinged "How Long."
McKay, formerly of Brooklyn Funk Essentials, is an accomplished singer and songwriter, with more pulse than Jill Scott and less bling than Mary J. Her reflective lyrics detail the ins and outs of a young woman's life in the city.
And, luckily for her, Barrow, the mastermind behind Portishead's unmistakable, unshakable compositions, has resurfaced to man the decks.
After the release of their last studio album, the mysterious, notoriously media-shy duo's presence on the trip-hop scene they helped birth has been sporadic. They've issued a live recording, Roseland NYC (Go Beat, 1998), and, late last year, singer Beth Gibbons quietly dropped her solo project, the mostly acoustic Out of Season (Go Beat, 2002).
Out of Season, which Barrow was not involved with, received a mixed critical response, and its stripped-down production disappointed those looking for a return to the gritty, hip-hop influenced beats and piercingly looped pianos, strings and horns.
As Fuzzface on McKay (Go Beat, 2003), Barrow has returned with a varied plate. Some of the beats are tightly coiled and reflect a Portishead-like immediacy. Others are looser, soulful, as if he's channeling Dr. Dre or DJ Premier. The album is currently only available as an import.
For fans of Portishead's sound, as well those looking for a darkly head-nodding take on neo-soul, McKay is the perfect late-summer soundtrack. For more info check out McKay's site. Jesse Zeifman [Tuesday, July 29, 2003]