KYLIE AULDIST: ‘This Is What Happiness Looks Like’ (Soul Bank Music)

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Originally from Hay, an unassuming small country town in New South Wales, Australia, Kylie Auldist moved to the bright, big city lights of Melbourne where she eventually established herself as one of her country’s premier R&B singers. She’s no stranger to UK soul music enthusiasts, of course, who should be familiar with the velvet-voiced chanteuse via her work with fellow Antipodeans, The Bamboos, as well as her four previous solo albums; three for the Brighton-based Tru Thoughts label and one, her last, for Freestyle Records. The wider public will probably know Auldist as the featured vocalist on ‘This Girl,’ a worldwide dance hit in 2016 for Kungs Vs Cookin’ On 3 Burners. For this, her latest project, Auldist has moved to a new UK-based label, Soul Bank Music, and dramatically altered her sound; moving from the more traditional organic funky-soul vibe of her previous work to an early ’80s-inspired electro-soul groove. It’s a radical transformation, certainly, but one that has arguably resulted in the defining work of her career.

By vividly evoking the 80s, on the surface, the slickly produced ‘This Is What Happiness Looks Like’ is intended, perhaps, as a nostalgic nod to the decade that spawned the synth-led boogie style, but ultimately, it sounds contemporary rather than dated; more cutting-edge than jaded pastiche. The album doesn’t try too hard to disguise its numerous retro influences; the pulsating ‘Stay In Front’ channels Quincy Jones’ early ’80s productions, while the rousing ‘Is It Fun’ and ‘Just Show Me’ with their glistening keyboard shimmers have echoes of Millie Scott’s ‘Automatic.’ ‘Flow,’ with its blend of 808 drum machine, staccato guitar and shiny synth lines, comes across like something Loose Ends might have done with Philly producer Nick Martinelli back in the day and the closing track ‘Fly’ is built on a tightly sequenced drum and bass pattern that evokes New York techno-funk specialists, The System.

But the album is bigger than the sum of its influences and comes across as so much more than a homage to a bygone era; it shows how consummately Kylie Auldist (along with her co-writer, Warren Hunter) has used the language of ’80s synth-funk to create a nine-track album that is an heartfelt expression of 21st century soulfulness. As the album is deeply engaging from start to finish, it seems a tad churlish to single out highlights, but the tone-setting opening cut, ‘Everythink,’ epitomises Auldist’s heavenly marriage of soul and sound technology. The only gripe I have (mind you, it’s a tongue-in-cheek one) is with the album’s title: she should have called it ‘This Is What Happiness SOUNDS Like.’  Soul album of the year? You bet!

(CW) 4/5

Read SJF’s 2020 interview with Kylie Auldist here: