Georgia is the eponymous debut album by multi-instrumentalist, producer and songwriter Georgia Barnes. Born and raised in north west London, the last few years have seen Georgia steadily establish herself as an important fixture in the city’s most singular and imaginative artistic circles, before emerging as an irresistible creative force in her own right with last year’s Come In EP.
Raised in a deeply musical household, Georgia first began to play the drums as a child before gradually progressing into a musician of prodigious ability and range by the time she reached her late teens. Combining music study at London’s SOAS with a stint working on the counter at Rough Trade, Georgia quickly made a lot of very natural musical connections – being invited to play with DIY innovators such as Kwes and Kate Tempest among others.
Anyone lucky enough to have witnessed her formidable and charismatic performances with the aforementioned artists, however, will have known that here was an artist bound for bigger things of her own and, sure enough, Barnes gradually began to step out from behind the drums (at least someone else’s drums) around the beginning of 2013.
Written, performed and produced by Barnes in its entirety and recorded in her own home-studio, Georgia is the product of two years of obsessive work then, but also a young lifetime of voracious music listening. A bold, boundless 21st century amalgam, it is an opening statement that marks her out as an immaculate curator, distinctive songwriter of real spirit and self-taught producer of soulful, progressive and highly-defined electronic pop.
Talking to Barnes is to immediately unearth an almost bottomlessly deep well of knowledge and enthusiasm and as such Georgia’s influences are united more in ethos than aesthetic, with the fiercely independent, pioneering spirit of artists such as Missy Elliot, MIA and Karin Dreijer Andersson all evident in the record’s twelve genre-busting, confrontational and globally minded tracks. Listening to the record, it almost feels like Barnes is trying to directly communicate the sense of wonder and possibility she encounters upon her own personal listening journey.
Take “Kombine”, for instance, a song influenced by some unidentifiable Pakistan Kawalli music that Barnes first heard piping out of a taxi driver’s stereo late one night. Asking what it was, Barnes was told by the driver that he did not know but that he’d be happy to give her the tape. Getting it home, she listened to it for hours, playing around with it in her imagination, before setting out to create a modern equivalent – eventually conjuring the kind of beat that Timbaland used to make into international mega-hits. It’s a song that feels hot, a little delirious, a little drunk maybe, like driving home in the middle of the summer through a sweltering city and suddenly being struck by something thrillingly new.
All credit to that kind taxi driver for giving Barnes the mixtape, for we are all richer for it, but if Barnes were to credit everything from which she took influence for Georgia the LP would need a booklet roughly the size of a minor classic work of literature.
Lead single “Move Systems”, for instance, takes its cue from KRS-One’s Boogie Down Productions and their pioneering fusion of dancehall and hip-hop but also Balinese Gamalan drums and Riot Grrl, whilst beautiful ballad “Heart Wrecking Animals” was inspired by the spacious ambience and sporadic bursts of colourful chaos of an Oneohtrix Point Never concert Barnes attended. Again, she got home, went straight to the studio and applied the thing that had just inspired her so much to an idea of her own, taking the abstract emotion of Lopatin’s moving production work and applying it to a rawly lyrical love song.
Elsewhere, elements of the glacial yet hyper-melodic tone of early 00’s grime, sweltering, mid-summer west London dub and ragga, the sophisticated pop of The Blue Nile, first wave post-punk agitation and the high-concept, illuminated sound-design work of contemporary artists such as The Knife and Hudson Mohawke also run through Georgia, a record that reveals new layers of intrigue and ingenuity with every listen.
Only a music fan of such intelligence and genuine affection, not to mention a musician of such talent, could pull such a dizzying array of reference points into something so coherent and focused and, of course, at the centre of all of this is the character of Barnes herself – a warm, compelling, malleable voice as believable a sensual soul-bearer as she is raucous provocateur and a very necessary new pop star for 2015.