In the two years since pop alchemists AlunaGeorge – aka singer and lyricist Aluna Francis and producer George Reid – released their critically lauded debut album, Body Music, they’ve barely stopped. From world tours to festivals to Katy Perry support slots to collaborations (2015’s frenetic “To Ü” with Skrillex & Diplo) to chart-slaying remixes (DJ Snake’s version of “You Know You Like It”, i.e. one of the most streamed songs of all time), their world has expanded immeasurably from the tiny London studio they started working in back in 2010.
Somehow, in amongst the madness, they’ve managed to find the time to write and record a follow-up album that confidently maintains their unique sonic palette – a soulful, pop-leaning take on downtempo dance and experimental R&B – but also takes it forward into bolder territories. Lead by the dancehall-tinged, ludicrously catchy banger “I’m In Control”, featuring Jamaican rapper Popcaan, it’s an album that channels their experiences into a delicious melange of pop styles. “We were going for that holy grail of songwriting,” explains Aluna of the record. “It was an attitude of ‘let’s see what else we can do’,” adds George.
Written and recorded in focused bursts of creativity in LA, London and Henley, it’s an album that ventures outside of the normal tropes of pop songwriting and production. So “I’m In Control” is about a women taking charge of getting more than a basic sexual encounter, and seeking something that will really keep her busy intellectually, psychologically and physically by just stating what she wants. Musically too, the pair avoided the current trend for frantic EDM and slowed down the song’s original tempo, giving it a much more laid-back feel. “There’s a naivety to it where you just see what can happen,” George says of the song’s production. “If I’m having some fun making it then I’ll just run with it.” It also marks a sonic leap forward, while still retaining that AlunaGeorge sound, especially in the sleek, soulful verses. “It’s definitely a bigger sound,” says Aluna. “We have always been capable of that but it takes however long it takes to develop the ability to make a song like that. We would have loved to have done that before but we just didn’t know how to.”
Elsewhere the squelchy, deliciously undulating “In My Head” – about one of Aluna’s close friends – is a slow-burn masterpiece that steadily builds into an eerie dance behemoth complete with big synth strings (“the 50 Cent strings” as George calls them). “Full Swing”, meanwhile, is about “a woman who, in my head is maybe a sports woman, and it’s an imaginary scenario where the man in that relationship is fully supportive of that person putting all their efforts into achieving what they can achieve.”
Perhaps the album’s biggest surprise is “Mediator”, which does away with the electronics in favour of live drums, bass, guitar and a low-slung groove more akin to vintage 70s soul. “George just had this need to do a song like this and he obviously had some sort of vision for it,” laughs Aluna. “I struggled with it for a while because it’s quite uncompromising. It was one of those moments where it was really George’s baby and he’s done it so well so now I love it.” For George, as ever, it was about experimenting and keeping things fresh: “That song had a completely different production to it at first but I wanted to try something new with it.” In many ways, Mediator – about helping out a heartbroken friend you’re secretly in love with – is a microcosm for the album; bolder, more instinctively experimental, but still retaining that core songwriting brilliance to make it all work. “Me and George just love a classic song,” Aluna states. Luckily, they’ve made a whole album’s worth.