Children of Zeus ‘Travel Light’ LP/CD/DIG (First Word) 4/5

As one of the UK’s most anticipated albums, ‘Travel Light’ is the long awaited full length 14-track LP by Manchester duo Children of Zeus, consisting of group members Konny Kon and Tyler Daley, who are both experienced contributors to the North West music scene over the last decade or so with this project placed on the ever consistent First Word Records. After the success of their singles and ‘The Story So Far’ (2017), an EP of previously released material compiled into one project, ‘Travel Light’ contains all new tracks of hip hop influenced contemporary soul music, and thus, it omits their now classic ‘Still Standing’, ‘Tonight’ and ‘Push On’.

The production has slightly moved away from the more sample heavy ideology of their older releases – which is a shame, as that was what for many helped garnish interest in their music; using 1970s soul and jazz grooves such as those by Billy Brooks, Grant Green and Ahmad Jamal, mixed with their modern approach to contemporary UK soul. Nonetheless, sonically, the album is still fundamentally based around soul/funk drum breaks, warm analogue synth sounds and electric piano voicings laced with Tyler’s rich soulful vocals.

The tempos are generally downtempo with ‘The Story So Far’ beginning where they mean to go on with its sparse but somewhat epic production mixed with the recollecting of memories and positive future possibilities. The slow jam-esque ‘The Heart Beat’ highlights previous emotional pain, and with its nod to lover’s rock, ‘Hard Work’ eludes to the difficulties in maintaining long-term relationships. My personal favourite is ‘Vibrations (Divine Signature)’, which at 116 BPM is the most uptempo piece of the set, with its chord structure reminiscent of Floetry’s ‘Say Yes’, another UK soul outfit, and its ‘vibe, vibrations’ vocal hook in the chorus taken from James Brown’s ‘Mind Power’ (1973) and later ‘Stakes Is High’ by De La Soul (1997) with rim shot hits and deep sub bass patterns providing a perfect example of how soul music can also have a futuristic attitude. Confusingly, the album states that the duo produced the track yet on their Bandcamp webpage is identifies London producer K15.

I’ve probably played a Children of Zeus track every week during my DJ sets over the last year or so, and thus, I’m a considerable fan, but if I have a criticism it’s the added raps in some of their songs as I would argue that they don’t enhance the tracks in any way. The production is of a very high quality, the (sung) vocal performances are impeccable and perfectly compliment the strong production values, but the raps are not of the same quality and are quite basic. Konny Kon is a brilliant producer but an average MC, and so combined with Tyler’s fluid vocals (he also raps) there is an imbalance. My hip hop background does mean I’m usually quite critical of hip hop related material and elements after being spoiled by Organized Konfusion, A Tribe Called Quest and Gang Starr and others, but the released clean version did help.

As someone who has visited, bought records and DJ’d in Manchester numerous times since the 1980s, Children of Zeus remind one of the lineage of Manchester’s deep black music culture and history, including the late night soul blues parties in Moss Side, The Gallery on Saturday nights with Soul Control sound system and the PSV Club in Hulme. Children of Zeus are essentially an extension of the Manchester street soul scene that stretches back to 52nd Street and beyond and their popularity will undoubtedly increase with the release of ‘Travel Light’, helped by an audience hungry for modern UK soul music.

Live tour continues…

Sep 22 Finsbury Park London
Oct 13 The Wardrobe Leeds
Nov 02 O2 Academy 2 Oxford
Nov 23 Band on the Wall Manchester
Nov 26 The Bodega Social Club Nottingham
Nov 27 Hare & Hounds Birmingham
Nov 28 Rough Trade Bristol
Nov 29 Ghost Notes London
And many more…

Damian Wilkes