For All We Know
Nao’s second EP came out last year and earned Pitchfork’s Best New Music badge on the strength of tracks like the thumping, swaggery Inhale Exhale (a version of which appears on For All We Know). Its mix of old-school funk and soul with new school electronic sounds cemented the East London neo-soul singer’s status as a Next Big Thing. For All We Know builds on that, but not as strongly as we’d hoped.
While Nao’s embrace of modern electronic technologies makes FKA Twigs one of her closest peers, she uses those technologies to serve established forms – late 90s/early 00s R&B and pop-soul – instead of pushing boundaries. Without a clear aesthetic, her debut full-length feels more committed to its truly fantastic singles, like the electrifying kiss-off Fool To Love, than any sonic cohesion. A few scattered voice memos attempt to provide natural flow but don’t really add much.
Regardless, Nao’s spectacular, nuanced voice is enough of a draw. Her stutter-and-run, drawn-out “cuckoo” on the woozy Bad Blood is one of those moments you wait for every time you hear the song, and her airy, delicate performance within Blue Wine’s cloudy ambience is breath-taking. It just barely makes up for producer A.K. Paul’s feature track, Trophy, which runs low on dynamics. Girlfriend, though, stands above the rest, connecting sultry, minimal soul verses with an explosive, booming synth-heavy chorus.
For All We Know could make a stronger statement, but that doesn’t change the fact that Nao’s voice is one of the most exciting – and fun to listen to – in modern R&B.
Top track: Girlfriend