Marques Toliver is living the dream. In a world where most people struggle to make one lifelong target come true, he's capably frolicking with many: he's a magazine editor (for Love Is The Law), a model, a producer and a burgeoning soul legend. His weapon of choice is the violin – not your typical soul instrument – though he is an exceedingly talented mult-instrumentalist as well. His origin story is riddled with luck; Kyp Malone (of TV On The Radio) stumbled upon him busking in Brooklyn, and not long later his musical world exploded, with everyone as far as Adele gushing praises. Now based in London, the native Floridian is set to deliver his much-anticipated debut LP, Land Of CanAan on May 14th.
Last year's single 'Magic Look' is an R&B-tinged effort, slathered in smooth bass licks and Toliver's golden voice - the way he manipulates his voice into luscious lows and frail falsettos is stunning, his command over his vocal chords is masterful and effortless. The track itself is peppered with violin puncture wounds and classic 90s hip-hop percussion. Acoustic guitar-led number 'Weather Man' recalls BBCs Sound Of 2012 winner, Michael Kiwanuka - their voices are pretty dissimilar (other than that iconic soulful twang), but the strummed soul-folk bears a strong resemblance. However, Toliver employs an array of jazzy brass which distance him from Kiwanuka - he may be in the UK now, but he can't escape those American roots.
Explaining the basis of his record, Toliver states: "It's inspired by 'My Bondage My Freedom' the autobiography of black abolitionist Frederick Douglass, The Curse of Ham, and the music of now. I read Frederick Douglass' book in school, and there was a line in there about the slaves singing, 'oh Canaan, sweet Canaan, I am bound to the land of Canaan.'" While the inspirations for Land Of CanAan are steeped in religion and the horrors of slavery, the music doesn't seem to be about tackling these issues - it's not a record of confrontation, or discussing deep social issues, or of protest; it's about faith in life and love, it's about the freedom of happiness. Perhaps that's a misinterpretation, as previous tracks 'White Sails' and 'Charter Magic' do indeed seem to have deeper subtexts, but regardless, there's a clear message of love throughout.
'Control' is chamber-soul. Adorned with sunlit piano and cinematic 60s strings, the cut rekindles memories of classic soul artists like Stevie Wonder or Al Green - Toliver and the backing singers even reimagine phrases from 'Ain't No Mountain High Enough', if the aged feel wasn't strong enough. 'Try Your Best' opens like a rabble-rousing ditty from a Disney film. Twinkling glocks and shimmering violins meld behind Toliver's delicate tones: "The sun is shining light in wonderland." 'Stay' highlights his prowess as a violinist, with Romantic (as in the musical era) refrains acting as a focal point - it's one of the only moments on the record where his voice isn't hogging the entire spotlight.
By the second or third track, you'll have completely forgotten that this is a debut album. There's nary a misstep, much less a weak link. Soul is very much a genre back in the forefront of the public eye, with Adele, Kiwanuka, parts of Frank Ocean and a slew of other up-and-comers all heralding its comeback. Toliver joins the ranks of neo-soul acts bringing back the genre with a vengeance - his unique twist on the style is very welcomed, and ensures that he's creating wonderful, engrossing sounds that get people hooked from the first few bars. Land Of CanAan is essentially flawless, already a real contender for one of the year's greatest releases, and it couldn't be a more perfect introduction to his musical career.