Tuesday, January 12th, 2021

SZA – Good Days

And it looks like this will be a good day for us, too!

Michael Hong: The end of my summer was spent listening to “Hit Different” once, twice on a good day, and then looping the end of the video until something pierced the bubble it created and day had already turned to night. Here was SZA at her best and worst instincts, singing in a voice so raw, so open, so honest, but second-guessing herself, stapling it to the end of a single that paled in comparison. I loved “Good Days” before I even knew its name. “Good Days” is serene, its fluttering cushioned in its own compression. It’s just me and SZA hanging around and nothing, not even Jacob Collier, can ruin that.

Joshua Minsoo Kim: I didn’t realize when reviewing “Hit Different” that the official version of that song didn’t include the second half of its music video, which is a truncated version of “Good Days.” Separated and extended, this song now means significantly less to me: it’s no longer a cool splash of water after the mugginess of “Hit Different,” and its standalone existence makes the resplendence less invigorating. While Jacob Collier gives this a smidge of dorky acapella vibes, the bigger issue is that including any other person’s voice is unnecessary given all this talk of moving on from an ex and remaining hopeful. Still, complain as I might, SZA singing over Durutti Column-like guitars is otherworldly and exceedingly pretty.

Leah Isobel: The shimmering guitar and vocal arrangements have the gentle warmth of an ocean breeze in September — the harmonies beam through the hazy mix like a shaft of sunlight. As such, SZA’s melody ebbs and flows, less interested in landing a hook than on creating a vibe. Still, though, the line “All the while / I’ll await my armored fate with a smile” surfaces like a message in a bottle, mysterious and full of portent. Even on the good days, the bad ones swim on the horizon.

Will Adams: A gorgeous arrangement — a little heavy on the reverb, but that aqueous guitar loop is too good to deny — through which SZA drifts seamlessly. She’s optimistic, resigned, numb; with so many conflicting emotions one could be overwhelmed. But SZA holds firm; her true skill is selling hope in a time like this.

Alfred Soto: The backing vocals, guitar arpeggios, and sampled effects out of “The Boys of Summer” evoke the dreamspace corresponding to a state of mind in which you “let your edge out.” Then the colors darken. The closest SZA has come to Kehlani’s turf.

Thomas Inskeep: That finger-picked guitar sounds like it’s been sunk under 15 feet of water, and SZA’s vocals seem to get more compelling with each new single. Bits of seemingly found sounds – kids on a playground, chirping birds – somehow help everything fit together. Ctrl never grabbed me, but this definitely does.

John Pinto: We need to organize a task force that unplugs every DI’d, un-miked acoustic guitar before our nation’s producers can hit record, because the only thing marring “Good Days” is its overly prominent, totally gutless guitar arpeggio. It’s an understandable mistake in context; an acoustic guitar plugged straight into the board will have a bright and string-centric tone kinda similar to a harp, and “Good Days” invokes the divine both instrumentally and lyrically (paring the tribulations of Job down to “he lost his shit” is very funny). But more often than not, the resultant trebly haze is something SZA has to fight through rather than emerge from. And fight she does — with a scornful “You don’t care,” she shows that even carefree levitation takes a toll. Jacob Collier is relegated to some (pretty good, purposefully anonymous) vocal doubling work because sometimes you really don’t need to rewrite the circle of fifths.

Nortey Dowuona: The swirling, sandy guitar that opens this song is meant to do what all protocol nostalgia bait is supposed to do, stir up all the happy and exciting times you otherwise forgot and didn’t think should stick. That’s why SZA brings up Job — he only had agonies and anguish to focus on and fight — and why she’s saying “I await my armored fate with a smile,” cuz when she’s wrestling with her own agonies and anguish, she needs that armor of happy memories and exciting times to face the terrible ones ahead. It’s a nostalgia that often protects and binds, and it’s why we return to SZA’s music — the days behind you are bathed in light, the ones ahead are cloaked in shadow.

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: We live now in a golden era for vibes. This is not to say that the vibes are good — it seems uncontroversial to say that the vibes right now, with regard to the general situation, are pretty rancid. But the idea of the vibe, as a signifier of something meaningful about the state of a thing, has found its time. Shorn of its connotations of ’60s new age-y esotericism, the vibe has become a universal way to discuss the ineffable — ask someone what the vibe is, and they’ll know what to say. SZA understands this. Her music is about falling through your twenties, wandering through a series of strange vibes trying to find some kind of peace. Her music is vibey, too– her song structures are undergirded by clever writing and craft, but her inclination is to get spacey and relax, sprawling out over the song like a cat in a sunbeam. “Good Days” is the most perfected vibe she’s ever put on record, a shimmering shrug of a song. She makes ambivalence sound like transcendence, empty sound like heavy sound like empty. She even makes Jacob Collier seem like he’s having a chill time! What miracles a good vibe can do.

Austin Nguyen: For every graduated high school senior excited for higher education as a place of intellectual enrichment and liberating, there will be a burnt-out first-year at the end of their first quarter/semester who realizes you are not paying for an education; you are paying to suffer. Contrary to what your cheerleading counselors and teachers say, it turns out no one, especially you, has their shit together. In fact, everyone and their roommates (who aren’t actually their roommates, because yay pandemic!) seems to be on the cusp of some emotional breakdown, as if all students have some instinctive desire to stare down the cliff of sanity, wondering when they’ll fall as the stones gradually crumble beneath their feet or when the final push will be given. Now even more so because the friend group of stress keeps expanded its circle (there are the always-present causes — GPA fears, impostor syndrome, indecision — but have you ever tried learning about ontological moral skepticism while the Capitol is going into lockdown? Spoiler alert: You retain nothing). Which is just my long-winded way of projecting my internalized turmoil to say: I needed a song like this, a song that just caressed you with croons of “be gentle with yourself.” Yes, “Hit Different” ~ vibed ~ as SZA fixed and brightened the clocks off of CTRL, but “Good Days” reaches out with its reassurances and presses down right there, in the palm of your hand. It takes the clean sidewalk-skipping skies of “Pink + White” and blurs it, washing hues of blue out with the faintest tone of sepia while the birds chirp and the guitar dapples out sunlight through forest leaves. SZA wanders around the resulting patchwork, dipping in and out of shadows and gold: frustration (“Can you get the heck out?”) followed by nurturing (“Honey, rest now”), then that devastating what-if which levels all sense of self-worth (“I worry that I wasted the best of me on you, babe”), yet never hinders our ability to still find solace (“All the while, I await my armored fate with a smile”). There are some, erm, detours along the way — Jacob Collier’s idiosyncrasies, especially that last autotuned arpeggio, don’t always fit the scenery, and SZA’s live-in-the-moment-isms fall on this side of corny (not to mention how disorienting those slide-whistling synths are, which should be relocated to a Tei Shi track) — but eventually, she reaches the clearing, where hope envelops the air, warmer than ever before: “I still wanna try, still believe in good days.”

Reader average: [8.19] (10 votes)

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