Tuesday, July 3rd, 2018

NAO – Another Lifetime

And in another lifetime, she would have won Sound Of 2016 instead of J*ck G*rr*tt…


Pedro João Santos:Sort of like coming of age again” is how wonky-funk inventor Nao defines the basis of her TBA second album: her very own Saturn return. It’s somewhat of a conceptual leap for someone whose debut — 2016’s fantastic For All We Know — was unceremoniously informed by a Technicolor palette of pure joy and youth, awash in dexterous yet mood-invariable electronic R&B; one that also subsumed its few strokes of melancholia and disaffection. These intimations are carried over to “Another Lifetime,” a muted neo-soul record that approximates anguish, never despondency, arriving someplace else. A miraculously potent song, it documents a terminal passion leading into nascent compassion. She offers a resolution, while merely suggesting the tortuous ponderation — those remote instances of optimism are belied by Nao’s raw vocal force carrying the chorus, transpiring a conflict between severity and unhinged vulnerability. This is the sort of controlled pathos enabled by a new variation on producer Stint’s chorus formula, placing expressive breaks between words for dramatic emphasis. It allowed for “Weight in Gold“‘s cosmic, passionate rushes and “Girlfriend“‘s waves of anxiety blossoming into relational hope. But it’s repurposed with finesse — it’s not overtly resemblant of either and conjures interesting parallels with Nao’s previous work: the dramatic urgency at its core proves continuously transformative and regenerative.

Iain Mew: After the initial sweeping entrance, it turns out surprisingly uneventful outside of the textures of NAO’s vocals. She sounds more enthralling than ever, though, and on a song with a message taking patience to the extreme the way it stretches out into emptiness serves it well.

Will Adams: Pairing NAO’s feathery timbre with molasses-thick R&B has all but become formula at this point, but it’s still got a few singles to coast on that before the returns begin to diminish.

Stephen Eisermann: A delicious vocal by NAO, her disappointment in herself over not being satisfied with a perfect relationship is palpable and heartbreaking. The verses are so bare bones that they nearly feel underproduced, but that booming chorus more than makes up for it. 

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Has all the trappings of a devastating piece of R&B emotional warfare — the understated drums, the start-stop synths, a typically skilled vocal performance from NAO — but nothing seems to click. It’s a series of well-executed moments in search of a song.

Jonathan Bogart: So much R&B sounds like this now: the slowly-lurching skeleton of a song, invested with as much passion and drama as a brilliant singer and inventive producer can fit into it, but without any meat on its bones. In the era of mood-centric playlists, I suppose it’s a feature not a bug when a song is one-note; but I always want them to be little self-sustaining universes.

Tim de Reuse: Pure auditory pleasure: the climbing vocals bloom in huge autotune clusters, given plenty of space by the empty skeleton of an instrumental they live in. It’s a good trick, even if it’s the only trick it’s got.

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