Over the last half-decade, Imaad Shah has rapidly graduated through the stages of refining his craft, style and importance, largely in the public eye. In film, work in niche low-budget affairs has given way to roles in grand opuses by Q and Mira Nair. Meanwhile, in music, his forays into standard-fare rock and roll with The Pulp Society have been replaced by his integral contributions as one half of the wildly successful funk/swing duo Madboy/Mink. From playing back-to-back weekday nights at Blue Frog to launching Gucci collections and getting his own GQ features, he’s come a long way.
Although his moniker existed long before he met Mink, the only evidence of his solo activity was a live DJ set and a handful of tracks uncorrelated by either purpose or aesthetic. On his debut solo EP Boy, elements that were absent from his previous solo work (but focal in his contributions to Madboy/Mink) all fall in place rather predictably. But how deep his own personal relationship with the funk goes is wonderful to behold.
Although there are only 15 minutes of music on this release, he manages to cram in an astounding amount of ideas, influences and themes without being overbearing, pretentious, derivative, or worst of all, contrived. Several typical funk motifs — skeletal rhythm guitars, pulsating synths, keytar solos with whimsical vibratos, unclear chorused vocals, to name a few — appear constantly throughout the runtime of this project. Although the use of these classic ‘eighties’ sounds flirts any record dangerously close to run-of-the-mill vapourwave and deep-Tumblr aestheticism (all due respect to Kavinsky and Maethelvin) it’s these very elements that prove refreshing when Madboy uses them to furbish his own take on retro-futurism.
On opening tracks Pressure and Naked Soul, two tracks that are structurally similar but differ greatly in theme and mood, he finds a kick-snare march and locks right into it for good. On Pressure, he adorns the beat with a loud driving synth full of Gesaffelstein grain. Wet guitar and keys battle for supremacy between faint repeating samples of Apollo 13’s infamous distress call. On Naked Soul, he uses the same synth, muted at first, pulsating now, as he croons the refrain “they see your soul” interpolated over the tune of Sly and the Family Stone’s A Family Affair.
The second half, set apart from the first by a pleasant break of rain and chirping birds, is a far jollier affair. On Jellyfish, kicks arrive with a lovely splash, guitars take on a beautiful Pat Metheny tone, and the coherent lyrics and singing approach the Plastic Beach school of surrealism. If Madboy/Mink’s 2014 P-Funk ode Funkenstein is anything to go by, this title is more likely a nod to a spiritual influence than a coincidence.
Until the final track, there’s plenty on display in terms of ideas, musical structures and themes, but little in terms of personality. On closer On Your Mind, the only conventionally danceable track, he happily overcompensates. Slick rhythm guitar work, Bootsy-esque bass grooves, and soft vocal harmonies all find room to shine over a mechanical beat — vaguely reminiscent of that of Annie Christian, the penultimate track off the late great Prince’s incomparable 4th record, Controversy.
While Madboy insists it was only due to the persistent persuasion of family and friends that he decided to release this burst of music, it’s clear that his reluctance was not due to the lack of quality or polish but rather for the absence of an overarching theme. Seemingly inspired by the cover-art of early Pretty Lights EPs and Arthur C. Clarke paperbacks, the artwork from longtime collaborator Nikhil Kaul aka Frame/Frame is apt accompaniment for the first half of the EP. It is on that first half where Madboy attempts an ambitious electronic krautrock revival, with themes of space, rain and love taking the full weight. Having tried his hand at charting unfamiliar territory, the B-Side finds him easing back into the funk comfort that comes so naturally to him, and that he continues to enjoy in Madboy/Mink.
While it may be unreasonable to read too much into the themes and ideas of an EP whose existence itself was unlikely, Boy serves as a vehicle for Madboy to test-drive his carefully refined sound in two different directions at once. No matter which (or both) of these styles he chooses to further explore on future long-play releases, Boy delivers sufficient punch and promise to safely assume it will be worth looking forward to.
You can listen to Boy on Madboy’s SoundCloud page.