Amatus - Broken Compass
Release Date: March 3, 2014
Record Label: Independent
“Coming Home,” the first track on the new EP by aspiring female soul pop artist Amatus, is one of the most promising lead-off tracks I’ve heard in quite awhile. Built over a sparse bed of fractious staccato guitar notes and distant backing vocals, “Coming Home” is at once mysterious and majestic. When Amatus joins the mix, singing quietly at first and then letting loose with a soulful crescendo on the tribal-drum-abetted chorus, the musical mix only becomes more unsettling. It’s like a cut that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the first part of Justin Timberlake’s 20/20 Experience, or on that self-titled album that Beyonce released in December, and it’s an excellent way for this EP – called Broken Compass – to begin.
While “Coming Home” is certainly the most striking track on Broken Compass, there are still plenty of other things to enjoy here. Amatus doesn’t have the best voice: she’s lacking the power, passion, and charisma of the artists to whom she compares herself, from Janelle Monae to Grimes. Luckily, though, this young Brooklyn-based artist knows mostly how to make up for her shortcomings, building musical palettes that are always interesting and always do a lot of work right from the start to catch listeners’ attention.
“Coming Home” is a master class of this kind of magnetism, as is “Run Fast,” which begins with echoing electric guitar parts and serene vocal lines before bursting into a beat-driven rave up. The song is actually a good deal more enjoyable on its verses, before the heavy, hip-hop beats blast through the proceedings for the chorus. Chiming keys, ringing synths, and Amatus’ calm delivery turn the verses of “Run Fast” into eyes of the storm amongst the busier, more pop-based chorus segments. Both pieces of the puzzle work, and the rhythmic spoken word refrain that drives the transitions between them creates an experimental and unpredictable vibe to the song that recalls Tame Impala’s last record. Of course, just because both parts of the song work independently of one another doesn’t necessarily mean that they mesh together; they don’t, actually, and “Run Fast” ends up feeling a bit like two very different songs that were glued together because of this fact. That very well may have been the goal, though, and while Amatus doesn’t yet have the musical experience to pull of such disparate ambition, there’s a certain charm to knowing that she at least wants to try.
Similarly formless tunes like “Punk,” which blends keyboard and drum loops into a wash of lead and back-up vocals, are less successful and show more obviously that Amatus has a lot of room to grow before she’ll be able to pull of Janelle Monae-type maximalism. With that said, though, there’s a lot of promise evident on Broken Compass, and even if Amatus overfills most of these songs with more sonic flourishes than they need – the desire to attach big, booming beats to everything is at once the album’s biggest strength and greatest liability – that doesn’t mean that she can’t learn to tone things down a bit to better suit her own personal talents. Here's hoping she figures out the right balance on the next record, because she certainly has the chops to be something special.