Nearly 15 years after her musical debut alongside Vlooper, visionary Alaclair Ensemble producer Modlee offers us Soul Urge, her first full-length album – which showcases her talent, ambition, and inner strength.
The Québec City-based R&B singer has once again tapped her producing partner in crime for this project, launched in April 2022 on the well-known Disques 7 ième Ciel imprint. At the helm of each composition, Vlooper has nonetheless taken a step back compared to the writer and singer’s previous EPs and mixtapes.
“Vlooper has been making music for 20 years now,” says Modlee. “He’s the one who saw my potential and understood my voice. He has tons of ideas, and we’ve always worked collaboratively. But for this album, I took control of the artistic direction and what I wanted to put forward as my musical essence. I played with my voice and intonations the way I wanted to,” she explains. “I embrace myself in my imperfections, in my discovery… in the power of what I have to represent.”
Born in Montréal, Modlee spent her formative years shuttling between Québec, the U.S., and Jamaica, her father’s home land. It’s that journey, partly, that she wished to “represent” on her first LP, an incredibly rich offering with layers of bewitching R&B, cosmic funk hues, smoky soul, and thrilling hip-hop beats. All in all, it’s quite far from the more spontaneous sonic signature of Digital Flower or Analog Love, Modlee’s first projects, released at the turn of the 2010s. “Back then, I was really into sounds and the repetitive aspect of music,” she says. “I used my voice as an instrument, as a layer of atmosphere. I still have that exploratory side in me, but it’s more fine-tuned and thought-through.”
The name of the album evokes the will to take flight. “Soul Urge is a notion that comes from astrology and numerology,” says Modlee. “It means the desire of the soul, that is your inner purpose, your deepest aspiration. The album brings out desires that I’ve been hiding for too long. The pandemic gave us a lot of time to think, and time to kill. It was a mega-wake-up call for me. I lived through personal issues that turned out to be awakenings. I finally had time to make music. I no longer had any excuse not to do it.”
Awakenings are an important theme on Soul Urge. Far from the canon of modern R&B, the lyrics of which often revolve around “love and relationships,” the songs on this album have a more philosophical side, rooted in Modlee’s desire for human and spiritual evolution.
The opener, “Birds,” sets the tone right after a short intro titled “Mornin’,” and the song title is significant to the concept of being re-born: “‘Birds’ is a very important song, where I talk to myself,” says Modlee. “It’s rooted in a depressing moment, where I had to recognize the darkness inside me. I had to learn to admit, and tell myself, that I wasn’t feeling good. It was a period where I slept a lot, but was constantly exhausted. Nothing made me smile. I felt guilty of never being enough. I had to learn to recognize this darkness… the time had come to move on.”
At the other end of the album, “Rise” examines a complicated relationship that Modlee obstinately tried to maintain with a member of her family. But at a certain point, she had to choose herself above them, and burn that bridge. “It’s hard to accept when you’re trying to save someone, but realize it’s not your place to do it,” she says. “The relationship changes, it dulls, and you have to let it go. In hindsight, it’s a very decisive experience. I learned a lot about myself.”
“Rise,” in a way, embodies the very mission of Soul Urge: winding oneself up to achieve self-realization on a human and artistic level. Hence the idea of teaming up with a renowned label, Disques 7 ième Ciel, for this album, rather than relying on self-production, and a more discreet release on digital platforms. Modlee, it’s worth remembering, marked the label’s almost 20-year-old history – it was founded in 2003 – as the first woman signed to its roster.
“Initially, I was making this album with a single goal: making the best possible music,” says Modlee. “But once we started realizing where the finished product was heading, we felt it would be appropriate to give it a little more love by releasing it more professionally. We wanted to share the dose.”
Modlee’s inner journey is as radiant as it is important.