marques toliver’s ‘land of canaan’ is straight up one of the best r&b records of recent years. stream it here! #soundcheck

May 17, 2013

R&B and soul took a dark turn when synths got good enough to almost realistically replicate the sound of a full orchestra in the late 80’s. A sound more or less defined by raw human emotion and lush (AKA expensive) arrangements traded a big chunk of it’s human element in exchange for “sure that sounds enough like a violin and just saved us a few hundred bucks in session fees!” So it’s encouraging to see the triumphant return of the orchestra in R&B. The latest in this renaissance is the gratuitously talented Marques Toliver.

A classical violinist by training, his music combines R&B feel and production with classical flourishes and texture. Think Stevie Wonder as arranged by Gustav Mahler. Though the record is built out of old pieces, they’re combined in a way that feels stunningly new. There’s the Parisian soul of “Stay,” the Prince-by-way-of-Of-Montreal of “Control,” and the Andrew Bird meets Cody ChesnuTT of “Try Your Best.” Not to mention the beautiful instrumental “Repetition” which fits Phillip Glass minimalism with something reminiscent of Aaron Copland’s atonal experiments. It’s clear that Marques Toliver isn’t just a talented musician, but a music fan pulling from just about as wide a set of influences as possible.

Land of CanAan is one of the best R&B records I’ve heard in years. Smart, heartfelt, and genre expanding. Fans of Lianne La Havas and Janelle Monae will find a lot to love here. But really fans of anyone will find a lot to like here. Odds are good Marques Toliver is a fan of them too.

– Words by Nathan Leigh