Get to Know Elmiene: the UK Singer, Songwriter, & Instrumentalist Transcending Sonic Spaces with Acoustic Soul
Evan Dale // July 27, 2023
There are voices that feel familiar, even when you’re tuning in for the first time. They’re steeped in a vast vulnerability that at first feels impossibly crystalline, but then opens itself up as something already entrenched in our own consciousness. Such a voice beams with emotionality that connects to a point in our own emotional spectrum, better tuned to navigate, decipher the things that make us feel up, down, and everywhere in between than even our own internal monologues. Oxford born and raised Elmiene carries just such a rare sonic silkiness, married with a relatable touch that makes him a force of timelessness and familiarity in the realm of the UK’s ever-evolving Neo-Soul sphere.
There’s a pretty good chance you’ve heard him before. The soaring falsettos that float overtop the mostly acoustic backdrops of March release, and debut EP, EL-MEAN have already reached audiences far and wide. And for good reason.
His signature cut of an emotionally entrenched Rhythm & Blues angle is able to transcend the oft weighty depths of the sonic space in favor of something altogether more airy and digestible, at times even pop-adjacent. Just take the EP’s closing number, Guess We’re Leaving, and feel how the bubbly, self-realized layers of vocal padding make for a soft landing for anyone listening, whether veteran fans of Neo-Soul or first-timers. And yet, even in the course of the same track, his compositional breadth eases into a slower, more emotionally anchored and vocally reliant breakdown that feels reminiscent of Brent Faiyaz’s heading of bleeding, almost-bare vocal runs that ask of its listener, vulnerability, too.
EL-MEAN at large plays a lot in that space, where a listener has to be engaged with the music at all of its depths in order to experience the lofty emotionality of it all. Elmiene’s compositional layering is largely to thank, and his music - the singles, the debut project, all of it since he first made his way onto the scene with 2021 single, Golden - is an exhibition of his knack at weaving so many textural layers into his sound.
It’s the reason why Golden was tapped to spearhead Virgil Abloh’s posthumous final show in Miami, where the then-20-year-old Elmiene’s debut single - not even then yet released - captured the weighty emotion and timeless beauty of everyone in attendance. Since that point, he’s been finishing university and working towards the release of EL-MEAN, while grappling with the early exposure and lofty expectations that Golden brought into frame. And now, through it all, and with breezy individuality - and some comparable artists in his orbit - he’s taking the next steps.
The Brent Faiyaz comparisons come easy. And by all measures, that’s a near—impossible sonic relation to boast for any artist these days. His voice tinders with the same organically wide-ranging seamlessness, imperfectly docile at times of emotional mellow, and explosively emotive when speaking - singing - on the subject matters that require such extents. His register at large, also just bleeds with something indescribably reminiscent of Faiyaz.
But it’s in his production, too, where Brent Faiyaz - in particular his debut album, Sonder Son - comes to mind. Acoustic backdrops set the emotional tones for most of his tracks, and largely for EL-MEAN from top to bottom, lending more analogue organics to his space. His debut EP’s opening cut, Before I Take A While exists as a dynamic thoroughfare of his many uniquely Elmiene signatures - the delicate vocals, the thought-provoking poeticism, the acoustically-ridden beat, and the resulting emotional relatability that emerges from them alchemized into gentle balance - where everything a listener needs to know about his emerging sound, is on transparent display.
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And yet, there’s even more to Elmiene than world-class vocal prowess, acute songwriting, instrumental dynamism, and comparisons to one of the most important R&B forces in the game today. From the moment the next track, Why (Spare Me Tears) opens with a vocal arrangement reminiscent of early Motown quartets, he’s pushing his own boundaries, both back in time, and into new experimental spaces. The song is already one of his most streamed, and its timelessness - spanning eras and epochs of Soul lineage - has a lot to do with that.
It’s perhaps in the brash sonic shifts from track-to-track, all still tethered to his core organic relatability and emotional depth, that makes not only his debut project, but his future at large, so exciting and impossible to predict. An emotionally entrenched ballad like Endless No Mores shines a light on the most passionate depths of his ability to evoke with his music, and yet still feels exciting through another Brent Faiyaz reminiscent breakdown halfway through. A track like Choose You allows wallows in an indefinable folksiness that speaks to the genius of his instrumental-lyrical crossroads. It’s a poetically deep, musically poignant ballad that transcends the very idea that Elmiene belongs to any preconceived notion of genre at all.
It’s that mystery, that effortless delicacy with which he navigates the ever-expanding extents of his range in new, and seemingly easy directions, that makes the UK singer, songwriter, and instrumentalist not simply an artist to watch, but one whose music, now in this moment, should be known by anyone who treks through Neo-Soul, R&B, folk-acoustic, and beyond.