XL Recordings co-founder Richard Russell presents Everything is Recorded; a collaborative project born from studio jam sessions which sees him sewing together past and present with remarkable cohesion.
After completing recording time with Ibeyi, Russell found himself spending more time in The Copper House – his west London studio – toying with sounds and rhythms. Friday night improvised jamming between friends developed into an idea, which in turn progressed into more structured recording sessions. The end result is Everything is Recorded, a 12 track record that features an inter-generational cohort of XL’s most soulful vocals, pieced together with historical samples lifted from the most sentimental corners of Russell’s memory bank.
After three short bleeps – our signifier that everything really is recorded – the record opens with American preacher T.D. Jakes exploring ideas of solitude and loneliness: “There are moments in our lives that we feel completely alone,” he says, before going deeper into our ability to feel loneliness even when we are surrounded by other people. Acting as a sampler of what to expect across the rest of the project, the voices of Everything is Recorded start to filter in: Sampha, Syd, Ibeyi, Obongjayar, Wiki, Infinite and Giggs. As the vocals drift in and out, dipping gently above and below one another, T.D. Jakes continues. As if in defiance, Richard Russell’s chorus of collaborators come together, starkly different yet united, a sign of what’s to come.
What’s key throughout Everything is Recorded is Russell’s astute knack for a groove, and for slick production with a focus on smooth percussion. Take ‘Mountains of Gold’ which is built around the swagger of Grace Jones’ ‘Nightclubbing’, or ‘Wet Looking Road’, the heaviest cut on the record in which Giggs shrugs off the need for a metronome over a grumbling bass, flicks of electric guitar and a chopped up Keith Hudson sample that shudders menacingly.
More tender moments crop up often too; R&B ballad ‘Bloodshot Red Eyes’ sees newcomer Infinite’s silky vocal resolute despite heartbreak, his soaring harmonies flying above sparse rhythms and muted electric keys. Covering the original 1978 version from Gil Scott Heron and Brian Jackson, Ibeyi perform their own velvety rendition of ‘Cane’, poignant in its stark lyrics about living as a black woman in 20s America.
Everything is Recorded is peppered with stunning vocals. The laidback groove and percussion in ‘She Said’ perfectly complements Obongjayar’s gravelly voice as he sings about loving physically, sentimentally, wholly. And Sampha, with that liquid gold tone, brings his soulful falsetto to the fore across four tracks on the record. ‘Close But Not Quite’, pearlescent in its twinkling keys that remind me of ‘Valentine’ with Jessie Ware, sees him yearning to make himself understood. Singing in dialogue with a Curtis Mayfield sample, this is a duet that transcends time.
Russell spent a great deal of time listening to 70s soul prior to beginning the project, and it shows. Soul, warmth and brightness are characteristic of the record, though there are underlying tones of subtle unease too. These moments were ignited by Russell’s own experiences, namely his battle with Guillain-Barré Syndrome and grieving the loss of long-time collaborator Gill Scott-Heron. Nothing marks this uncertainly as clearly as the T.D. Jakes sample which crops up a few times throughout the album. But as Everything is Recorded comes to a close, uncertainty is pushed into the shadows by the strength and resilience in the gospel-like chorus of harmonies in ‘Be My Friend’.
As one of the most significant people in Russell’s life, Gil Scott Heron’s impact on him, and thus this record, is immeasurable. Scott Heron used to encourage Russell to keep a diary in order to give himself an outlet, a measured way to process his thoughts. Then, shortly after his death, Russell found himself beginning to write everything down. The title Everything is Recorded can be read in all kinds of ways, but perhaps at its core it’s an idea born of this piece of advice from one friend to another.