Last month, the US Top Dawg Entertainment-signed singer SZA finally released her debut album CTRL after a number of years languishing in the background of the industry. The SZA story looked like it was going to be one of those lost causes, a huge talent swallowed by the machinations of the industry A&R game. Not so, CTRL is one of this year’s best and SZA has already been building on that success with performances on late night TV like Fallon last week when she appeared with Travis Scott to sing album highlight ‘Love Galore’ and showcased a voice and poise that wasn’t evident in her a few years ago. Time taken is sometimes a good thing.
SZA is the special guest on Bryson Tiller’s European tour dates later this year which kicks off October 17 in Marseille, France and hits 23 cities and 13 countries before concluding in Dublin on November 30th at the 3Arena.
SZA’s CTRL is one of the albums of the year so far but would you consider going to Tiller’s gig to see the support alone? Tickets are on sale Friday from Ticketmaster at €44 + fees and presale begins Wednesday.
It’s a testament to Maggie Rogers’ songwriting that I considered three of the four songs from her debut EP for this. ‘On + Off’ is the one I keep coming back to though. At her debut gig in London earlier this year, the crowd sang the chorus to this track prompting a flabbergasted Rogers to lose her momentum and train of thought. It was a cute moment but it was rooted in recognition of the song being a cracker that resonated more than she expected.
Stormzy – ‘Cold’
Grime 2017 belongs to Stormzy. ‘Cold’ is a standout on Gang Signs & Prayers and it’s the stabbing sinogrime beat and Stormzy’s energy that keeps this on repeat. It has grime’s first wave sound exemplified by Roll Deep in its DNA.
Aldous Harding – ‘Horizon’
The most intense song of 2017 so far? The New Zealand artist’s debut was heralded by this sustained note torch song and its live performances only heightened its inherent drama.
Overcoats – ‘Leave The Light On’
It’s an absolute pleasure to hear the progress of Hana Elion and JJ Mitchell’s music as Overcoats. Two years ago, the New Yorkers spent the summer in Ireland and made a dent on the scene with their minimal harmonic-lead songs. Now with an Autre Ne Veut-produced album due on Arts & Crafts out, the duo have bolstered that folk harmony synergy with some technicolour magic. ‘Leave A Light On’ is indicative of the urgency they have brought to their craft.
SZA -‘Drew Barrymore’
A surprise, long overdue release from SZA, who spent years shining through guest features and once-off releases, and comes up trumps with CTRL, an album of conflicted lust, intimacy, self-worth and self-esteem issues. ‘Drew Barrymore’ is an easy in to the album as a whole, with SZA confronted with her ex-partner’s new girl and sees her insecurities and flaws back at her – ‘I’m sorry I’m not more attractive / I’m sorry I’m not more ladylike / I’m sorry I don’t shave my legs at night.” The chorus is both empowering and insecure at the same time.
Dermot Kennedy – ‘Glory’
One of those songs which stops you in your tracks. Irishman Kennedy’s ‘Glory’ grows from a dark folk tone, from a hush to a howl as the track grows in stature and sound, subtly bringing in electronic-tinged touches and vocal effects as the song builds to the chorus and crescendo with production alchemy. A headturner.
The xx – ‘Dangerous’
A highlight from the xx’s third album, that also works well while DJing. ‘Dangerous’ is I See You‘s opening track and embraces the textured sampled approach that Jamie xx utilised on solo album In Colour. ‘Dangerous’ arrives with sampled horns, percussive beats and an immediacy that ushers the xx mk III.
Vince Staples – ‘Yeah Right’
‘Yeah Right’, from Staples second album Big Fish Theory encapsulates how different this album is and how much of a sonic weapon Staples has deployed throughout. Producer Sophie’s clattering fizzling metallic production is like a vehicular juggernaut with some distorted bass tones, Kilo Kish provides otherworldy vocals and Kendrick Lamar kills the whole thing in a verse.
Run The Jewels – ‘Call Ticketron’
The sickest beat on RTJ3. ‘Call Ticketron’ is a 21st century take on ‘It Takes Two,’ a thrill ride with El-P and Killer Mike.
Daphni – ‘Tin’
‘Tin’ is a euphoric reminder from Daphni’s upcoming Fabriclive mix of how good Dan Snaith aka Caribou is at creating warm and resonating dance music.
SZA’s been all too quiet this year after last year’s glut of features on Isaiah Rashad’s TDE EP (he’s been quiet too) and the stonking single Julia. Not to mention one of my favourite tracks of last year, ‘Child’s Play‘ with Chance The Rapper.
She’s only posted about 5 times on Facebook this year too (though her Twitter game is strong). Anyhow, there is a new SZA-featuring track from D.R.A.M, an extended and reworked version of the track on the excellent Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment album. It’s nice to hear those tones again. A debut SZA album is forthcoming. Sigh.
The Nialler9 TXFM show airs every Thursday night at 10pm for two hours. You can listen on FM, online, the TXFM app or if you missed it, on the listen back function on the site. Here’s last night’s show…
The Nialler9 TXFM show airs every Thursday night at 10pm for two hours. You can listen on FM, online, the TXFM app or if you missed it, on the listen back function on the site. Here is last night’s show, a best of 2014.5.
Since signing to Top Dawg Entertainment, St Louis/New Jersey singer SZA’s own output has taken a backseat to contributions to other TDE artists – most recently on Isaiah Rashad’sCilvia Demo mixtape and Schoolboy Q’s Oxymoron album.
But she’s back later in April with the Z EP and the first track ‘Babylon’, stays close to S EP’s M.O. of slow and swirling ambient R&B. The track was produced by DJ Dahi who was responsible for Drake’s ‘Worst Behaviour’ and Kendrick’s ‘Money Trees’.
I don’t know what happened in the last four months with SZA ever since the St Louis/New Jersey-based musician released the S EP. That EP was a good introduction to a singer’s slowed swaggy R&B vibe.
On new track ‘Julia’, SZA sounds like a pop star. One in the vein of Solange’s recent collaborations with Dev Hynes with a distinct ’80s slant (the track is tagged ‘80s‘ on Soundcloud too. This is an exciting development. It’ll appear on her Z EP coming later in the year.
Update: SZA’s signed to Top Dawg Entertainment according to the video below:
Kicking your EP with a sample from one of the best songs ever – Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Everywhere’ is one way to get people on board. St Louis-born / New Jersey-based singer and Wu-Tang obsessive Solana Rowe aka SZA’s new EP just called S should slot in to the tastes of those of you who dig cloud rap and The Weeknd-style R&B. SZA is soulful rather than sleazy and prone to the odd eccentric line (“I apologise for waiting to tell you for so long that I am not human, I am made of bacon” – ‘Aftermath’) and employs the use of samples from Rosemary’s Baby and an Eartha Kitt documentary. Production is by Zodiac, Felix Snow, WNDRBRD and Patrick Lukens among others. The EP is a free download via Soundcloud DLs. Dig this:
Fact. Aftermath, a song from the St. Louis’ singer’s new EP starts with the line “I apologise for waiting to tell you for so long that I am not human, I am made of bacon.” Despite that odd sizzling nugget, SZA’s soulful alluring songs reel you in with warm swelling R&B sounds.