Audio

SZA – Sobriety

Following a string of EP releases, SZA, the sole female hailing out of the TDE collective, is prepping for her debut album A. The first taste of it has been released in the form of ‘Sobriety,’ a dazzling track featuring simmering production that cascades throughout, and features a stellar bass line from Thundercat. SZA details the difficulties she endures with her current life, attempting to stay sober during it all, failing over the shortcomings of love. Where she shines most though is in her voice, luscious and sinful, her ability to bounce from cadence to decadent cadence gives the track a smooth, unwavering feel. Her surreal lyrics, starting with the opening lines “I had a dream last night you gave me a ring, with a fucking castle on it” gives the track a bittersweet vibe, chilling to the sounds of lost love as SZA attempts to cope with it. Her constant reassurance in the chorus, “I’ma be right anyway, better than you, better than her,” brings a resoundingly somber effect to the track, filled with regret, unable to move on, thus accounting for it by making boisterous claims to boost one’s ever-deflating ego. ‘Sobriety’ is a cool track that surfaces internal struggles, matching them with silky-soft, dream-like lullabies.

SZA – Julia

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There is a lot to say about SZA; she is sort of R&B in a way that The Weeknd is R&B. I have previously referred to her as female version of Tom Krell, that still holds when considering her earlier releases, like the beautiful “Country” which builds on a clear yet subtle Empire Of The Sun sample. “Ice.Moon” was a track that certainly got my attention and after that there was no doubt of what a wonderful gifted musician she is. Her second EP S, released earlier this year, further substantiated this impression. The EP included the brilliant “Aftermath”, which sound and production wise could’ve easily fitted on Miguel’s Kaleidoscope Dreams, and the first version of “Castles” that contained a sample from Fleetwood Mac’s “Everywhere”. The track was later unfortunately taken down, almost certainly due to legal concerns. No matter, a new version is up now and it’s almost equally good. Up to that point, everything she’s done seemed effortless, filled with quirky creativity yet very much rooted in pop.

Yesterday it was announced that SZA signed to TDE (Top Dawg Entertainment), home of Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q and Jay Rock to name a few. So we don’t have to worry, she’s in good company. In addition to the announcement, a new Felix Snow and Dave Free produced track was premiered titled “Julia”. It is by far her most pop oriented to date, working almost like an 80’s R&B-pop (think Janet Jackson and you’re not far off), and even though it’s a bit less effortless and experimental, it’s just as good as anything she’s released beforehand (and as usual, the album cover is strikingly beautiful).

“Julia” is expected to be a part of her next EP titled Z.

Twigs – How’s That

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The mysterious UK singer Twigs occupy some strange middle ground between minimalistic techno and arty rhythm & blues. Hearing her latest single “How’s That’s” rattling industrial music in isolation, you would never guess it’s anything even remotely close to R&B, but Twigs softly restrained vocals create an overwhelmingly beautiful contrast, carrying the track into an unnervingly soulful state.

Twigs released her four-track debut EP last year with praise, but with “How’s That” she has expanded on her sound into bold creative textures, not unlike an ingenious morph of Aphex Twin and Jessie Ware. Creative, yet approachable – the sort of thing I carry close to my heart.

Moko – Freeze

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It’s quite probable that Massive Attack’s Blue Lines is one of my favorite albums of all time. I grew up with it, worn out the LP version, bought the CD version, scratched it repeatedly and is left today with a digitalized mp3 version on three separate drives. If not all of the sudden all the hard drives of the world simultaneously crashes – I should be fine. But what attracted me to Blue Lines in the first place was the roughly edged production with the cut-up mish mash of samples. It didn’t sound polished or processed like Protection or Portishead’s Dummy. It felt raw and alive. Not that surprisingly, it feels as fresh today as it did 20 years ago.

It seems that I’m not alone on this since a big chunk of the thrilling part of contemporary female R&B singers are very much inspired by its sound. We have Emeli Sandé, Jessie Ware, Sky Ferreira and more recently SZA and George Maple, who all in some ways owes a bit to Blue Lines, or at least to those artists who were inspired by it at the time. But this is the first track I’ve heard that is so obviously rooted in its aesthetic.

Londoner’s Moko has fully embraced the melancholic sentiment of “Unfinished Sympathy”; with a backbone of fully orchestrated synth-lines over sampled break-beats, “Freeze” is a delightful piece of progressive R&B (not calling it trip hop in 2013). Just like SZA, Moko pushed the boundaries of contemporary R&B with more than a little help from the past.

SZA – Ice.Moon

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SZA’s beautiful ”Country” blew me away the first time I had the privilege of hearing it. The initial excitement of hearing a beautiful female vocal over the subtle but clearly audible Empire Of The Sun sample was a rewarding experience. The song became over time the clear stand-out of her debut EP See SZA Run. It was also a proof of her genre-bending ambitions. Her soulful vocals probably puts her in some kind of alternative R&B context, but the chilling electronic ambiance in the production proofs that her aspirations goes far beyond that.

SZA – Country

Her latest single “Ice.Moon” is more polished then anything on her debut and could easily be regarded as electro-pop. Not that far from Purity Ring’s bleeping synth obscurities. Compared to her previous work, “Ice.Moon” builds more on a traditional verse-chorus template, introducing a beautiful refrain that marries perfectly with the playful keyboard experimentation and the deep driving bass-line. I would argue that SZA’s debut EP is a bit overlooked but “Ice.Moon” should put her on the map as one of the most exciting female R&B/Alternative Pop singers at the moment.

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