Low-key Likes: revitalizing R&B

by Louis Chavey (’22) | March 29, 2021

Welcome back to Low-Key Likes, a digestible music column featuring a relatively unknown song, artist, and album along with some needed context, a short description, and lastly, what makes them each worth a listen, respectively. With spring just beginning, we will look at some mellow R&B songs to lift spirits out of the cold depths of winter with the song “Whisper My Name” by Adeline, the artist Joyce Wrice, and the eponymous album Lianne La Havas.

“Whisper My Name” was a single released earlier this year by Adeline. Combining elements of soul, funk, and R&B with light and airy vocal lines, Adeline is reminiscent of Solange, albeit with a bit more emphasis on the funk aspect. Instrumentally, “Whisper My Name” finds its elegance in simplicity: a simple backbeat with a few embellished extra kicks and cymbal crashes back the song, descending guitar lines act as a countermelody to the main vocal melody, and a sliding funk bassline anchors the groove. All of this simplicity, however, does not take away from Adeline’s soaring vocal lines; in fact, they counterbalance the vocals’ complexity. Frequently reaching her upper register with a rich vibrato, Adeline gracefully croons about a lover’s presence, asking them to “whisper [her] name.” While not mind-boggling, her verses are filled with cheeky metaphors and similes, providing just enough substance to enrich her sweeping melodies that much more.

Joyce Wrice is an LA-based R&B artist who just released her debut album Overgrown. Wrice is a throwback to the late 1990s and early 2000s era of R&B with her flamboyant, defiant vocal lines and lyrics. Two of her singles—“So So Sick” and “On One”—from Overgrown exemplify Wrice’s own spin on this era of R&B. “On One” is a bright, West Coast inspired take on the classic duet between a rapper and R&B singer, with a charming Freddie Gibbs filling in the role of the former. “So So Sick” is a powerful statement of independence wrapped in a slick hook and captivating refrains. Not devoid of substance, Wrice can be introspective on slower tracks, opening up about her own personal growth with commendable candor; in a delicate balancing act, she strikes a sentimental tone without devolving into maudlin unrelatability.

UK-based soul artist Lianne La Havas released her self-titled album in the Summer of 2020 to worldwide critical acclaim. Like many other UK artists, her popularity in America seemed to lag behind that of audiences in the UK. There is an inescapably breezy and easy-going air to this project, almost like a crisp, sunny day. Although heartbreak certainly darkens the mood, it is akin to some clouds blocking out the sun or the wind picking up: La Havas remains hopeful that the sun will come back out. With minimalist live instrumentation as stripped down and intimate as her own lyrics, Lianne La Havas is brimming with heart, whether that be giddy infatuation, desolate heartbreak, or any combination of the two. Her lighter, catchier songs like “Read My Mind” and “Can’t Fight” encapsulate love at first sight with airy vocals and strumming guitar lines that can almost sing for themselves, while more somber, introspective ballads like “Courage” and “Paper Thin” see a more grounded, weathered version of La Havas; against a more deliberate and heavier instrumental backdrop, she ends and examines the now-broken relationship at the core of this album. The most poignant records, such as “Bittersweet,” “Please Don’t Make Me Cry,” and the Radiohead cover “Weird Fishes,” connect the two polar ends of the spectrum. La Havas’s unfaltering vibrato erupts into crescendos of heartache and hope that feel wholly authentic, not just played up in the hopes of a chart-topping hit; the record lives up to its eponymous name as a uniquely genuine statement of purpose. While Lianne La Havas certainly has some subtle tonal shifts, its ethereal yet earthy atmosphere is a great transition to spring.

Categories: Entertainment

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