U.K. soul veteran Omar releases new album

by Jesse Bernard

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Omar press photo

Love in Beats is the much-anticipated, eighth studio album from U.K. soul veteran Omar Lye-Fook. With soulful, hip-hop-inspired production by Scratch Professor, Omar’s brother, laying the foundation for the album’s ambiance, Love in Beats is a body of work that ignores trendy musical concepts, a welcome approach in the current climate.

Homegrown R&B and soul from the Black British community has long been a powerful undercurrent of music in the U.K.—Omar’s popularity in the Eighties, when he broke onto the scene as a teenager, demonstrates that. Nevertheless, there’s a perception that at some point in time, interest dwindled as American R&B and soul gained in popularity. At a mainstream level in the U.K. such notions remain somewhat accurate, but with his latest effort, Omar has reminded people once again that if the music is treated with care, there will be an audience.

Compared to Lye-Fook’s previous album, 2013’s The Man, which relied less on electronics in its sound and concept, Love in Beats certainly sees a marrying of funk and soul inspired forms. The opening track, “Vicky’s Tune,” featuring jazz keyboardist Robert Glasper and heralded U.K. rapper Ty, is laden with synths that hint towards the future with a rhythm and brass section, igniting a funk-inspired experience. Speaking to Omar, he gave us a sense of a creative process which doesn’t follow any linear template. “[“Vicky’s Tune”] was originally made in 2003,” he says. “I had the basics and then over the years it developed. Robert was the perfect addition, as was Ty’s spoken word verse. Even though I started that on the last album, it just felt right to put it on this one.”

A noticeable pattern is that Omar’s music doesn’t rely on one. In our conversation, he expresses that much of music he makes comes from whatever he’s feeling in that particular moment, harnessing the serenity of creating a body of work autonomously, with assistance from his brother.  Scratch Professor’s production throughout provided the hip-hop inspired personality of the album. “He’s a Grammy-winning producer who has worked with some heavy hitters,” Omar says. “My thing is rare grooves. You know, funk and latin.”

Leon Ware’s appearance on “Gave My Heart/It’s So interlood,” isn’t at all surprising given Omar’s rare-groove fondness and that the two singer/songwriters are friends. As to be expected, Ware’s contribution to the track was subtle, never overbearing or out of place. Widely known for his work with Motown’s luminaries, particularly on Marvin Gaye’s 1976 album I Want You, Ware’s vocals fleet in and out, allowing Omar’s commanding melodies to softly soothe.

With streaming becoming a behemoth of a culture, the listening experience has undeniably shifted. In an environment that thrives on singles, Love In Beats is a real album and a product of patience, careful crafting and sonic precision, a masterclass not only for its ability to be so futuristic and contemporary, but also because it’s a reminder that Black British soul never left—it just decided to stop compromising. “Without wanting to sound big headed,” Omar says, “my music is timeless.” 

Love in Beats isn’t driven by a particular theme and doesn’t seek to be too self-indulgent, instead it puts musicality at the forefront. “We’re living in such a dire time, it’s about living life to the full,” Omar says. The diverse nature of the album certainly suggests the idea that through experiencing and touching different sounds, Omar himself has been able to live life to the fullest: “No one’s gonna stop us from playing,” he assures me.

Love in Beats is out this month on Freestyle Records.

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