Z (Top Dawg Entertainment)
SZA, aka Solana Rowe, is among a handful of young singers making music that achieves eerie dissonance by placing traditional R&B vocals into electronic abstraction. The New Jersey native is signed to Kendrick Lamar’s Top Dawg label, so her debut LP arrives with high expectations.
The trick is ensuring the emphasis on texture doesn’t overwhelm the songs’ underlying emotional force, which sometimes happens on Z: intricate production casts a pleasant spell but fails to provide memorable moments.
SZA’s lyrics are impressionistic, and her melodies arrive in fits and spurts. She sings of a romance with “a type-A personality” on opener U R as if in a distant dream state, and of decapitating Barbies on Child’s Play, a nostalgic track imbued with an equally thick somnambulistic fog.
The mood gradually brightens and her voice takes on the lilt of a jazz singer, and the crystalline intimacy of The xx’s Romy Madley-Croft. Z is most satisfying when SZA veers toward the latter, as on Shattered Ring and the Marvin Gaye-sampling Sweet November.
Top track: Shattered Ring