Back in 2013, Laura Mvula debuted on a high note with Sing to the Moon, an eclectic collection of songs referencing genres from jazz and folk to soul and pop, all built around her own raw vocals and distinct experimental tangent that gave each song a unique spark. Now that she’s reached her sophomore album, her direction has changed in a big way; The Dreaming Room feels very much like a Mvula album, but stands as a beast all of its own at the same time. Rather than resting on her laurels, she’s pushed her sound to the limit and created something spectacular.
The Dreaming Room’s production is dominated by a mixture of unnatural reverb and electronics mixed with authentic live instruments; a fusion of the two opposing elements in a solidly ethereal style that gives the album a glittering façade regardless of the style of each song. Perhaps the best example of her mixing of genres and focused style is Overcome, the lead single backed by the legendary Nile Rodgers; his amazingly funky guitars can be heard throughout the track, but keep it from heading into disco territory with a grand swirl of strings, a healthy dose of reverb and the assistance of an angelic choir of vocals behind Mvula’s own commanding voice. It’s very much a dance track, but one that feels ethereal and natural rather than forced and formulaic. It’s a style revisited on Phenomenal Woman, which keeps the funk atmosphere despite Rodgers’ absence, toning the grandeur down but keeping it in line all the same.
Elsewhere on Lucky Man, the style shifts to a much more minimal alternative pop style, with the reverb dropping to a lower intensity as Mvula unleashes above a simple arrangement of horns and percussion, with the song only really letting loose in its last minute as a heavenly chorus of vocals replaces all instrumentation, taking the song in an entirely different direction that manages to still feel natural. Ballads like Show Me Love make use of similar elements as well, with this song in particular utilising the chorus of vocals and an arrangement of horns alongside strings for an authentic moment of heartbreak that feels warm and authentic. For whatever mood a song tries to capture across the album, the overarching style is melded to fit the emotions and mood perfectly; it’s a stunning collection with grand production values, and even when she hasn’t got the likes of Nile Rodgers on board and is simply working with producer Troy Miller, she creates stellar music that cuts straight to the heart every time.
For an album to feel as eclectic as The Dreaming Room does while remaining coherent and complete is a real achievement. It shows a true refining of Mvula’s musical talents and chosen style, creating a package that surpasses her debut and takes her work to another level. Whether she’s aiming for the dancefloor on Overcome or taking on the artistic side with Angel, every moment feels like a necessary part of the album’s journey, and it’s a truly rewarding experience. The Dreaming Room is truly a defining moment for Laura Mvula.