Aaron Taylor Flies Near the Sun and Lives to Sing the Tale with Shining Debut, 'ICARUS'
Evan Dale // Sep 27, 2020
It’s the impeccable stitching that details the majesty in Aaron Taylor’s unique brand of Neo-Soul. Rather soul in its most timeless identity, that from the UK veteran is meticulously composed with organic instrumentation, romantic poetic discourse, and vibrant emotion. In so many ways, Aaron Taylor is a mirror reflecting the genius, the timelessness of soul’s past: a string of eras that built the pillars for he and his artistic kin to stand on in a modern scene that knows a musical strength rooted in analogue composition and raw emotional exploration. In so many others, Aaron Taylor transcends the then and the now with a knack for the experimental. Even when weighed against prior moments in his own career, the now feels different, albeit necessarily built on a firm yet fluid foundation of creative risks taken for nearly a half-decade. In so many ways, calling ICARUS his debut album may at first pass, feel overdue. But once one listens to his canon at large, ICARUS blooms as a culminative, penultimate bookmark of Aaron Taylor’s long fought advance towards a sound refined, reminiscent, and yet so truly of his own making. It’s a debut album that not only, finally, delivers at length what Aaron Taylor has never failed to deliver with relative shorts – 2016’s Still Life, 2016’s Better Days, 2018’s The Long Way Home – it’s also a thesis study on what his own lane of instrumentally embedded Neo-Soul has meant and continues to mean for music at large. A sound like Aaron Taylor’s – a sound so heavily nuanced by so many delicate skillsets – piano, a barrage of further instrumentation, composition, production, vocals, lyricism – all rolled into one unique package, takes time and growth.
After The Long Way Home and towards the release of ICARUS, Aaron Taylor put the nuanced range of his aesthetic to the ringer. Alongside soul royalty, Lalah Hathaway came Don’t Leave Me Alone, as minimalist in its overarching textural nature as it is maximalist in its successful emotion. With Benny Sings came Shooting Star, a mellow, funk-driven jam flowing from the understated and introspective to bouts of explosive choral progressions begging for the dance floor. And from he and himself came Be My Muse, beautifully serene and timelessly disco influenced; then Flowers, socially pillared, poetically positivist. Together, they bookend on two shelves – by two axes – the stark, practiced, honed edges of his musicality. Equal parts romantically focused and socially driven; timelessly soul and experimentally modern, Aaron Taylor utilizes ICARUS’s additional seven inclusions to explore it all at even greater depth.
Amalgamate, ICARUS emerges an exploration of love through a wide Aaron Taylor lens. An unapologetic romantic if ever there were one, he bleeds of romance, sensuality, and unending emotion. And for that, it’s a classic of the soulful cloth. But beyond it, ICARUS is both timely in its delivering attempts at understanding not only a loved one, but simply a fellow human (see the visuals for Flowers); vulnerable as a personal beckoning of overcoming from Taylor’s own wings having presumptuously been torched from under him when he least expected it. For that – the emotional rollercoaster of highs and lows, love and lust, relationships of all kinds, silk even during a melancholy fall from grace – ICARUS is a bold tale of vulnerability and a brazen love to his craft and to that which drives emotion into it.
Whomever it may be, that muse of Aaron Taylor’s is more responsible for the continued evolution of Neo-Soul than many artists are today, because by no measure is there an artist who more fervently infuses raw emotion into their music; and few if any who can even equal the emotive explosion that is ICARUS.
“All I hope for is that there’ll be at least one song that makes you smile, nod your head, do a stank face, shed a tear, not give up, chase your dreams and FLY.”
Such high hopes rarely fall under the banner of minimal expectation, casually belaying desires for one track to inject so much meaning and emotional fluidity into a listener’s lives. And yet, ICARUS as a whole exceeds Aaron Taylor’s dreams. The project at large, for 35 minutes, transports listeners to a space of uplifting, funk-fused soul where anything mid-flight feels possible.
Even when broken apart into individual trackwork, the particularities of ICARUS still birth creative flight. Predominantly in its second half, where beginning with The Ritual and ending with the album’s titular closing track, ICARUS comprises only new deliveries, each moment deserves more of the deeper inspection and multiple listens offered towards its leading singles.
Overtop a baby-maker bassline that would make Motown proud, The Ritual blossoms as an exploration of the timelessness in Soul stacked sensuality. Though middling as an interlude, the subtle 70’s explosion that is Drowning in Your Love merits not only a thorough listen, but perhaps a full-length reprise as a vibrantly unique single down the line (just wishful thinking). What Do You Do is the positivist anthem the world needs in these uncertain times, and Aaron Taylor, the high hopes, happy-go-lucky King of Neo-Soul born brightness. With Hey Baby, Taylor again returns the sensually fluid, merged with an affinity for anthemic choral progression and silky instrumental riffs. Juxtaposing, Wanna Be Close subsists as a wholesome, love-fueled answer to the lust. And Icarus itself, the ballading stamp on a masterful Neo-Soul album that transcends era, epoch, and emotional evocation.
With ICARUS, a refined, inventive, and keystone moment for Neo-Soul, Aaron Taylor has flown near to the sun and lived to sing the tale, wings intact.