The Invisible - Patience (Ninja Tune)

The Invisible – Patience (Ninja Tune)

In Britain, we do soul differently. America gave the world full-throated belters like Whitney and Mariah; we gave the world the grace of Sade. America gave us new jack swing and Timbaland’s stuttering beats; we gave the world trip-hop and Soul II Soul’s urban jazz. Our home-grown attempts at soul succeed the more idiosyncratic they are, and on third album Patience, The Invisible’s ambitious grooves and array of guest stars shows why it’s better to draw a unique route than follow down somebody else’s.

Those guest stars are the drawing point for those unfamiliar with the trio already: some of the most acclaimed names in broadsheet-friendly pop, such as Jessie Ware, Anna Calvi and Rosie Lowe. A roster of acts that skews towards the Jools Holland-approved edge of tasteful, Patience is almost self-conscious in its sense of refinement. But for a band that favours experimental nuances – a band whose members come, clearly, from a jazz background – it never tips into self-indulgence or wilful difficultness. Patience is a balanced listen – there’s a directness to the song-writing, but an ambition to the production that elevates it above the middling electro-soul of peers like Hot Chip.

It would be churlish to not mention just how great the production on Patience actually is. It sounds truly fantastic – spacious, warm and intricate, with a looseness that makes its digital sheen feel animatedly human. The basslines are irresistibly lithe, a mix of Prince and James Brown, while the drums shuffle with effortless precision. The synths are murky and muscular, while singer Dave Okumu’s subtle performance weaves around their precise funk. Jessie Ware’s presence on opening track ‘So Well’ makes her an obvious comparison point, but where her music is elegant, The Invisible are visceral: the influence of AR Kane’s Balearic eccentricity looms just as heavily.

Of course, none of this would matter if the song-writing wasn’t there. But even with its sense of restraint, Patience is essentially a modern r&b album in disguise, its hooks sublimated by production flourishes. ‘Love Me Again’ masks a standard pop song in stop-start rhythms, angular guitar riffs and Anna Calvi’s contrasting purrs, while ‘So Well’ sees Jessie Ware bring drama to a candlelit break-up, her recognisably direct lyrics strengthened by a doomy synth chord. The Rosie Lowe feature ‘Different’ might be the most undeniable song The Invisible have ever written, with its infectious undulating cowbell groove. But The Invisible fail to let any guests outshine them: ‘Memories,’ a reflective fusion of New Order bass melodicism and Massive Attack’s cinematic sensitivity, is tailor-made for last dances and end credits, the album’s best moment.

If it’s the sense of finesse that makes Patience excel, it’s also the reason listeners might struggle with its elliptical shapes. It’s a clever album that moves in many directions at once, but it can feel hard to get a sense of exactly where it’s going. The refinement that gives it a distinct classiness is what can make it feel a little muso, even a little anonymous. But as it fights against its own tastefulness, flexing ideas and sounds and hooks together to make something original, Patience can feel unpredictable and thrilling. The Invisible might be self-aware – this does basically come with a sticker saying ‘Mercury-nominated’ – but no accident of design could produce something so fulfilling.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.