All too often, musical artists will throw some off-the-wall elements into their creations that don’t gel with their style, all in the name of introducing something new to their art. It’s as if an artist completed a painting, already gorgeous and complete and perfect, stood back to survey it, and then they decide to streak a garish splash of clashing color across the canvas. The musical equivalent is equally jarring to the senses. Sometimes those new elements can work out for the better; bringing in that new element can enhance the original style. But sometimes…it just doesn’t work. Be it a few clattering shakes of a tambourine, jagged synths, or a new danceable vibe, those musical bells and whistles can come off sounding forced and contrived, like an artist is trying to reinvent a wheel that already rolls along just fine the way it is.
On paper, “Breakthrough,” a track from Trwbador, a Welsh duo made up of Angharad Van Rijswijk and Owain Gwilym, that features ESSA, a London-based rapper, sounds like it would be one of those sonic messes. Since their debut in 2010, Trwbador have been combining genres that usually don’t play well together: they merge ethereal, swirling folk with the prismatic, jagged electronica and make it sound easy. Adding in another totally different element – hip-hop – to their mix sounds like a recipe for disaster, a true case of “let’s just throw everything at the wall and see what sticks.” After all, there has to be a reason that “hip-hop harp” hasn’t taken off as a sub-genre, right?
In no world, though, would you call “Breakthrough” disastrous. Hypnotic? Definitely. Beautiful? Absolutely. Absorbing, exciting, surprising, brilliant? Yes to all, no doubts about it. It’s a heady mix of elements that you’d never think to combine, and it’s absolutely gorgeous.
Spidery harps layered over throbbing bass beats open the track, and when ESSA breaks in with his melodic and perfectly tailored rap verse, it’s a match made in heaven. It’s a track that’s effortlessly introspective – Essa wonders at one point, “And I think I’m on the verge of a breakthrough / Or a meltdown, can’t certainly say. / Who knows where I’m headed?” – without sounding too sappy or sentimental. Van Rijswijk’s comforting, crystal-clear vocals open and close the track, and they’re perfect complements to the central layered harps and pulsing bass. Between all of those elements, “Breakthrough” is the kind of song you need after a long, hard day; it will bring you back to your center, soothe you, and unwind you.
If there are a few lines that sum up just why “Breakthrough” is so special, it’s these: “The sounds of the harps, sweet / Temper that with pound of a heartbeat / And my heart leaps / All the way up to sharp peaks.” That’s the song in a nutshell: equal parts emotion and musicality that are swirled together to make your blood sing.