It would have been easy to miss Sacrifice the first time round. Rhythm Section dropped Australian duo Silent Jay & Jace XL’s mini album during the festive period, via a limited 300 copy cassette run that they boldly declared was the “best R&B mixtape of 2016 before the end of 2015’. Those observant enough to order a copy were treated to seven glorious pieces of classic sounding R&B and, buoyed by the cassette’s great reception, a vinyl run is now upon us.
Silent Jay’s neo soul production is reminiscent of Nicolay’s work for The Foreign Exchange, his project with Little Brother rapper Phonte. The beat of the title track sounds like it could be taken from their 2004 album Connected, and it is not coincidental that both Nicolay and Silent Jay are multi-instrumentalists as well as producers. Another clear influence is the work of Drake’s right-hand man Noah ’40’ Shebib, who has popularised the subaquatic, muted kick drums that are present on ‘Just Waking Up’ and ‘Vibrate’.
As with all the best R&B, the topic of love is never far from the subject matter. The title track is a love letter of the highest order, and the following track ‘Rockabye’ is an ode to the joys of a relationship. While the subject matter stays constant, there is also an impressive contrast in styles between the relentless optimism shown in the “I hope I see you” refrain of ‘Brisvegas’, and the dark yearning of ‘Everybody’, which channels some of the haunting voyeurism of The Weeknd’s early mixtape work with its “I know everybody here wants you” line.
Even with good production and songwriting, R&B will always fall flat without a strong vocal performance, but both manages to find a beautiful range throughout the tape, justifying their roles as backing singers for Hiatus Kaiyote. ‘Everybody’ – a cover of a Jeff Buckley classic – displays Jace’s ability to hit long notes, and in closer ‘Vibrate’ he even strings together a quietly competent rap during the breakdown before breaking back into the chorus halfway through a line. With their combination of good subject matter, production and style, it’s interesting to see where the duo go from here in the US-dominated climate of R&B. Sacrifice shows they certainly have the talent to make an impact.
Sacrifice is out now on vinyl, available on the Rhythm Section Bandcamp, where you can also stream all seven tracks. Catch Silent Jay & Jace XL live at Bussey Building on Monday, playing alongside Swooping Duck (aka Hiatus Kaiyote live jamming).