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.
Formed after George remixed a song by Aluna’s first band, My Toy’s Like Me, there’s always been a strange sense of happenstance and spontaneity about AlunaGeorge and their music. A handful of the songs that appeared on Body Music were written and recorded after the pair had only known each other for a month, this sense of sudden excitement and naivety filtering through into the songs themselves. Working together every day in a small studio in Ravenscourt Park in London – where they still write and record now – helped quickly fuse the duo together, which in turn resulted in that rare thing; a cohesive, fully-formed debut album that came with its own unique sonic world. From the singles “Your Drums, Your Love”, “Attracting Flies” (the latter a UK top 20 hit) and their massive collaboration with Disclosure on “White Noise”, to the softer, more tactile album tracks, Body Music not only announced the arrival of a new take on pop music at the time – one that wasn’t exactly dance, but that you wanted to dance to nevertheless – but also helped confirm their trust in their own instincts. “I’m really glad we did things the way we did for that album.”
In fact, this new idea of other people venturing into the studio with AlunaGeorge for their forthcoming album is a result of their debut’s success, and their own desire to keep things moving forward. After a short period of creative uncertainty, the success of DJ Snake’s remix – which essentially kept the original’s tempo and song structure but added different production – also re-confirmed their faith that there was a market for slightly downtempo, groove-based dance music. “Often George and I will come in the studio and writers that are with us will stand back a bit because they think we’ve got everything we need,” explains Aluna. “But they’ll step in at any point we need help.” To clarify, this isn’t a case of calling up the biggest names in pop to help cover over the cracks, but rather to cherry-pick the best people to help make the songs as good as they can be. To open up the creative process a little more.
While the core axis of AlunaGeorge remains the same – “I’m always at the head of the lyrical department and George is always at the head of the production side of things,” is how Aluna describes it – songwriters such as John Hill (Santigold, Charli XCX), Rick Nowels (Madonna, Lykke Li), Evan Bogart (Rihanna, Beyoncé) and Rock Mafia (Selena Gomez, Miley Cyrus) were keen to help out however they could. “All of these stories are my stories,” reiterates Aluna. “When I work with a lyricist they’re someone to bounce ideas off. It’s about that last 10%. It started to feel a bit like we had all these friends in music that we liked hanging out with but we haven’t shared AlunaGeorge with anyone else and at some point we were like ‘why not?’. Let’s open it up a bit more. We wanted to let people in a bit more now that we’re more confident in our sound.”. For George it was about having options: “The wonderful thing is that we had all these amazing people we could work with this time round and if we felt like X would be great fun, and work for the tune, then we’d do it. If not, there was no pressure to do that either.”
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), while the John Hill collaboration, “Temporary Magic”, is vintage AlunaGeorge, all cascading synths, chopped up vocals and a lilting central melody. “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.” It also represents one of the lyrical themes that permeates the album as a whole. “There’s an element lyrically about me trying to embrace some real confidence as a woman and applying it rather than just having it in my head as a concept,” Aluna says. “A situation happened where I really really forgot that I had any power and it scared me so much because I realised there was still a lot of work to do to really know that in a tricky moment all you have to do is stand up for yourself.” Keen to keep the songs universally accessible, most of them are observations from real scenarios. “My thing with writing by yourself is that it can become so self-indulgent, and we’re a duo not a solo act so I’ll always want those songs to have the space created for some perspective. I’m not going to get up on stage and sing these tales of woe that no one else can relate to because they’re trapped in my own perspective. That’s not what I’m about.”
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.