Note: NPR’s First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.
U.K. singer-songwriter Laura Mvula first broke through in 2013 with a full-length debut, Sing To The Moon, and a fully formed sound that bridged eras and genres with the aid of bright, elastic pop production. Ping-ponging from springy dance-pop anthems to sullenly introspective ballads, Mvula set the bar extremely high for the career to come.
For her second album, The Dreaming Room, Mvula tugs at the boundaries of her sound while letting a few more of her own life’s details into the mix. She even includes “Nan,” a short, pleasantry-filled recording of a conversation with her mother that hints at (without overtly spelling out) some of the most powerful forces at work in Mvula’s life — most notably a collision of cultures that can’t help but feel freighted with a sense of distance. The Dreaming Room opens with a similarly brief statement of purpose that bears a telling title: “Who I Am.”
Who Laura Mvula is, of course, is an artist versatile enough to preside over both the funky affirmations of “Overcome” (featuring a guest appearance by Nile Rodgers) and the heavily layered, brooding, six-minute slow-build of “Show Me Love.” Tellingly, both of those very different songs land at more or less the same hallowed spot: hard-won confidence, with an eye on transcendence.