Many electronic producers still outsource the emtional heavy lifting to familiar '90s R&B vocal samples, but London-based singer Fatima is the real deal. Her latest EP for Floating Points' and Alexander Nut's Eglo label is titled Circle, and it finds the Swedish-born artist in a more reflective, low-key mood that occasionally recalls late-era Erykah Badu, a development foreshadowed by the sprawling, Floating Points–produced "Red Light." From the technical chops and the weed haze to the soul and ace production, Circle uses a familiar template, but it's hard to argue with the conviction on display. Earlier Fatima releases, like the Mindtravellin' EP and her freakily compelling Phone Line collaboration with Funkineven, have been almost manically playful, offering maximalism born of friends goofing around in the studio, the torrent of ideas kept in bounds only by the aggregate talent in the room. Circle is more focused, as it distills Fatima's talent into inviting three-minute chunks that reward repeated close listening.
This time out, Fatima is working with a couple of tipped names from the Los Angeles scene. Sa-Ra Creative Partners does the honors on the title track, and Oh No (Madlib's younger brother) takes care of "Technology." (The 12" also includes an exclusive live version of "Redlight" performed with the Eglo Live Band, though it was not included in the promo we received.) "Circle" follows in the more restrained vein that Fatima and Floating Points established with 2011's Follow You EP; a striding vintage drum machine cloaked in the distressed tape hiss of There's a Riot Goin' On is joined by high, whistling keys and a worming bass that grows out of the grid like those black-snake fireworks. It's a familiar sound, executed with precision, but Fatima's vocals, probing cosmological time in eminently relatable terms, deepen with each listen. "Technology" cautions against the disconnection of social media over another adequate MPC groove, one that's all dusty walking bass and slapping drums. There's no doubt she's talking about smartphones with the epithet "lifeline on a string," but the results are far from preachy, trite, or audience-baiting. Throughout the EP, Fatima's vocals are present and engaged; although there's a hint of world-weariness on Circle, the intention is focused and the music never lapses into resignation. As a stand-alone release, Circle is surprisingly brief, but as a teaser for an album, it tracks just how far she's come in a short period of time.