Nao’s voice shines even in its darkest moments, warm and radiant like a spark of fireflies in a mason jar. Since his 2016 album For all we know, that voice has channeled love and affection in almost all its forms: self-love, love for your parents, every step of romance, from intoxicating first contact to awkward breakups. Sometimes relationships are redefined on songs like Know‘s “In The Morning” or completely broke on “Make It Out Alive”, a single from her second album, on the astrology theme of 2018 Saturn. Either way, Nao’s ear for the mix of R&B, British garage and soul she prefers sweetens all sour grapes with the precision and power expected of an artist who grew up listening to music. both Jill Scott and Burial.
While this is by no means a dark album, Saturn presented more emotional scars from Nao than before. She was cynical without being tired, bruised but always ready to give love another chance. And then life was good, her third studio album tackles many of the same topics with keen confidence. The album was recorded after a creative drought ended with the birth of her daughter at the start of the pandemic, a process she called a “cure” in a recent interview with The independent: “I loved having something to focus on … It kindled a fire in me.” Nao’s rejuvenation further refined his focus, reaching bolder points with fewer words against a more varied sonic palette. To his favorite, Beautiful is a kaleidoscopic testimony to the pains and pleasures of modern love and the healing process they inspire.
The synthetic rhythms and vocal distortion that drove his “wonky funk” sound in the past are largely absent from Beautiful. Nao’s music has always been full-bodied and punchy, but the live arrangements dominate these songs, giving the album an explicitly organic feel. The bass drum, guitar plunks and crackle of vinyl of “Messy Love” and “Glad That You’re Gone” are reminiscent of turn-of-the-century neo-soul and hip-hop, while “Little Giants” soars. piano arrow and choirs. When synths and distortion show up, they’re pit stops, temporary reminders of what happened before. The album’s handful of producers, including longtime collaborators like LOXE and Grades and new faces like D’Mile and Sarz, cast a wider musical net and use afrobeats, chamber music and influences. gospel to create a lush and sunny atmosphere.
This strain breathes new life into Nao’s transmissions from the first lines of love. On “Good Luck”, she no longer questions dead-end relationships and isn’t afraid to transfer that energy to herself. “Glad That You’re Gone” is particularly cheeky, Nao barely being able to contain his enthusiasm at the idea of ââleaving his future ex: / You rebounded, it’s blessed, I’m celebrating. The sentiment expressed in kisses like “Gone” and the bouncing “Better Friend” is reinforced later by the closing track “Amazing Grace”, which ultimately finds solace in failure as a learning process. All of Nao’s conflicting thoughts and emotions – boredom, terror, confidence, happiness – are in conversation with each other, snapshots less isolated than photos on an ever-changing mood board.
Nao’s confidence is also evident in his voice. Her voice on “Antidote” is devious and effortless, and although Nao’s porcelain voice isn’t powerful enough to fully sell the final crescendo of “Wait”, the sharpness of her lyrics about a relationship on the rocks does. most of the work. “Tell me the truth even if it might kill me / We both know we’re just wasting time / Try to survive instead of just feeling,” she sings with a pang in her heart. Compare that to the sunny hymn “Woman”, which is musically energetic and enjoyable but lyrically anonymous; the line “I live in this magical place / It shows me that God is a woman” reads as if it had been swiped on a Hallmark map. But even when the writing is biased, Nao’s voice helps the words buzz like neon.
Throughout his career, Nao has treated uncertainty as a challenge. She faced love as a one-day-at-a-time experience, decorating it for the best while trying to save what she can for the worst. Excessive touring before the pandemic drained his creative energy, but And then life was good broadens its musical palette while deepening its emotional impact. Five years from her debut album, Nao is older, wiser, and better equipped to deal with life’s emotional traps. It’s not a complete reinvention, and there are still a few awkward turns of phrase, but Beautiful is a big step on Nao’s path to self-realization.
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