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Released almost a year ago, Too Free‘s debut single “ATM” instantly telegraphed a few things about the new D.C. trio: an ample awareness of dance music’s cultural reach, a sneakily sensuous balance of bass and emotion, and a cool openness that would be hard to fake.
The song wasn’t a fluke, either. The long-promised album to which it belongs, Love in High Demand, ripples with similar energy across its nine tracks, as singer and lyricist Awad Bilal explores vulnerable moments and the music seamlessly calls upon several decades’ worth of electronic sounds. Too Free don’t need a crowd, but they don’t want to be completely alone with all these grooves, either.
When the lyrics focus on someone else, Bilal brims with kindness: “Guide your eyes/ Crystallize into whatever/ Change your life/ Make your mind up whenever,” he sings on the album’s second single, “No Fun,” a mid-tempo pop number with glimmering synth arpeggios and a tense-but-satisfying baseline. He has a knack for smoothly sliding his forceful voice in and out of falsetto.
Bilal and collaborators Carson Cox (of the rock band Merchandise) and Don Godwin (a Takoma Park-based recording engineer and musician) aren’t afraid to get weird, either. The album’s midpoint track, “X2,” is a collage of overdubbed vocal tracks, clicking percussion, and psychedelic textures (think Panda Bear, serpentwithfeet, and maybe Radiohead). If anything, it’s an accessible reminder of all the ways that experimental pop and forward-thinking club music have been overlapping since the ’80s. The song that immediately follows, “The Void,” pulls off a similar feat but with a more dramatic vocal: “We live in a void together/ Sharing a name with my brother,” Bilal belts out.
Simpler pleasures also abound, from the electro-influenced “Gold” and “Elastic” at the outset of the album to the drumless ballad “Wanna Let Me Know” near the end. “Breathing Underwater” has an understated rap; “Touch Upon Touch” is essentially a luxe R&B tune. If the songs on Love in High Demand were cities, the list would have to include Miami, New York, Baltimore, Manchester, and Berlin.
As for D.C., the most obvious connection is with members of the now-on-hiatus punk band Priests. Love In High Demand is set for release on Feb. 21 through Priests’ Sister Polygon label, and singer Katie Alice Greer appears deep in the mix on “X2,” and guitarist G. L. Jaguar plays some echoey licks on “Elastic.”
The DIY vibe and the musical smarts will mean different things to different listeners, but Bilal’s vocals are where all the elements connect. “I wanna be seen by you/ I want to be noticed,” he sings on “ATM” with tender, lingering vowels. The first “wanna” and the subsequent “want to” are articulated differently, and it’s an intriguing pair of choices. One desire is primal, the other is more intellectual. Both spaces are big, and he fills both of them up.
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