Recording information: The Garage, Pasadena; Various Studios.
The seventh studio album from the British singer/songwriter, released after five years of retirement, during which Matt Hales (aka Aqualung) focused solely on his career as a producer, 10 Futures looks to the past on its opening salvo, the evocative, loop-driven "Tape to Tape." Built around the clicks and spins of a rewinding cassette tape -- analog sounds play a large role in 10 Futures, and the ambient city soundscapes and chirping birds feel as much a part of the songs as the melodies do -- and featuring the soulful falsetto of guest vocalist Joel Compass, it's a fitting re-introduction for an artist who spent time away from the front of the house behind the mixing board, and it's also the most playful song on the album. The slow-burn follow-up, "Eggshells," is more indicative of the LP as a whole, pairing deep, trip-hop-kissed beats with emotionally charged vocals; in this case it's a deeply Auto-Tuned Hales locking horns with English soul singer Lianne La Havas. "Be Beautiful Feat. Luke Sital-Singh," "Hearts (Spinwheeloscillate) Feat. Prides," and the worldbeat-blasted, Josef Salvat-assisted "Shame on Me" flirt with Coldplay-infused Brit-pop, but much of 10 Futures sounds like the work of the man responsible for penning 2002's "Strange & Beautiful." Excessive James Blake-approved balladry aside, Hales' acumen for production is on full display here, as 10 Futures is a marvel of meticulous engineering, and while the material doesn't always live up to the sonic grandstanding, it never suffers because of it. ~ James Christopher Monger