The L.A. electro-soul duo Quadron operates under a pair of seemingly contradictory guidelines: Each of its songs must contain at least three parts (a verse and a chorus aren’t enough), but each must also be trimmed of all excess.
“We always ask each other, ‘What can you live without?’” said singer Coco O, who formed the group with producer Robin Hannibal in Copenhagen, where both musicians are from. Quadron moved to California two years ago after its self-titled 2009 debut caught on among American tastemakers, including DJs at Santa Monica’s KCRW-FM. “But at the same time, so much R&B today seems to be missing the craftsmanship of the music we love from the ‘60s and ‘70s and ‘80s.” Coco O was sipping a bright green juice-shop concoction during an interview last week in Beverly Hills, and she paused to consider her next words. “We’re looking for a long life.”
The two are on their way toward that goal with their impressive new album, “Avalanche.” Released Tuesday, it’s an elegantly rendered set that feels old-fashioned and forward-looking at the same time, with Coco O’s breathy vocals layered over digitally manipulated arrangements played in part by L.A. session pros such as guitarist Errol Cooney and bassist Thomas Drayton.
True to the duo’s Spartan ideals, the music never overwhelms your ear, even when Kendrick Lamar turns up for a guest rap verse in “Better Off.” But the songs also flash unexpected textures and take surprising detours in structure and lyrics, where Coco O ponders topics well beyond R&B’s romantic core. In “LFT,” short for “looking for trouble,” she recounts a nighttime bike ride with her girlfriends, while “Neverland” offers a deeply empathetic character study of a troubled Michael Jackson impersonator. “Ending every day in idol bed sheets,” she sings, “Cuddling the hero he will never meet.”
“They put colors together that most people wouldn’t imagine,” said Raphael Saadiq, the R&B singer and producer, who invited the group to open for him while on tour in 2011. (Quadron is to perform at Amoeba Music on Tuesday and the Masonic Lodge at Hollywood Forever Cemetery on Wednesday.) “But they make it work because they pay so much attention to the details.”
The arrangement of those details is what matters most to Hannibal, who also serves as half of another buzzed-about L.A. duo, Rhye. Speaking by phone from New York, where last week he was leading a workshop at the Red Bull Music Academy, Hannibal said he thinks of himself as a producer “in the old-school sense, meaning the person that shapes the sound rather than the person who plays it.”
On Quadron’s debut, Hannibal played most of the instruments himself “out of necessity,” he said, since musicians proficient in soul were scarce in Denmark. In L.A., however, he was able to call on players whose “level of musicianship was incredible,” allowing him to concentrate on “placing every element where it should be.”
The result shares a spacious, lived-in quality with Daft Punk’s chart-topping “Random Access Memories,” which like Quadron’s album also featured a crew of West Coast professionals. In fact, Hannibal added with a note of pride, “A lot of the studios [Daft Punk] used were the same as ours.”
In another similarity with Daft Punk’s album, “Avalanche” doesn’t reveal its charms instantly, especially compared with the more immediate pleasures of recent soul revivalists such as Adele and the late Amy Winehouse. Coco O said that more than identifying with some of those singers’ influences, think Aretha Franklin and Etta James, she’s modeled her relatively muted style after that of Sade.
But that kind of a slow bloom is no cause for worry, according to Sylvia Rhone, the longtime music industry executive whose just-launched Vested in Culture label is releasing the Quadron album in conjunction with Epic Records. “I didn’t sign something that’s going to happen overnight,” Rhone said. “I signed something that’s going to endure. This is a group that will have a career.”
Indeed, the duo was turning heads even before “Avalanche” came out, first with Hannibal’s work on Rhye’s “Woman,” then with Coco O’s appearances on the hit “Great Gatsby” soundtrack and Tyler the Creator’s album “Wolf.” This summer Quadron is also set to play festivals including London’s Lovebox and SummerStage in New York.
Coco O said she’s ready for the increased attention, although that wasn’t always the case. “In the beginning of performing, I was always a little scared that I was going to let people down — like I wasn’t exciting enough,” she said with a laugh. “And I don’t think I’m there yet. But we’re getting close.”