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R&B Roundtable: January 2021

Jazmine Sullivan - Heaux Tales

Jazmine Sullivan has been quietly establishing herself as one of R&B’s greatest singer for some time now. On Heaux Tales, her follow-up to 2015’s Reality Show, she uses her one-of-a-kind voice to explore female sexuality, and the role it plays in a woman’s life. She talks about both the strength (“On It”) and the weakness (“Put It Down”) sex portrays, the way sex can lead to a relationship’s downfall (“Lost One”), and how it all can have a profound effect on a woman’s sense of self-worth (“Girl Like Me”). While this may be Jazmine’s most vulnerable music yet, her voice is as strong and precise as ever. Songs like “Pick Up Your Feelings” is a great reminder that the R&B divas of the world still have a rightful place in music today.


Mac Ayres - Magic 8ball

Ever since his song “Easy” went viral in 2017, Mac Ayres has garnered a cult following for his lo-fi take on neo-soul. On his new EP, Magic 8ball, he is in peak form, whirling modern sounds and textures around his Stevie Wonder-inspired songs. He borrows from hip-hop (“Nothing Else”), funk (“Where U Goin’ Tonight?”), and singer-songwriter genres (“Sometimes”) to create something that is both all his own and steeped in tradition. His voice, though smooth and capable, is rarely placed center-stage, but is rather treated like another layer in the music, blending seamlessly into the consistently compelling production of this project.


Arlo Parks - Collapsed in Sunbeams

The cohesive sound of Arlo Parks' debut album, Collapsed in Sunbeams, is a stark contrast to the kaleidoscope of stories and ideas the project covers. Over a bed of production that is somewhere between neo-soul and bedroom pop, Arlo sings about watching a friend slip into depression ("Black Dog"), the struggles of queer love ("Green Eyes"), a couple who can't seem to communicate ("Caroline"), and much more. Yet, despite these heavy topics, Collapsed in Sunbeams is relentlessly optimistic. Both Arlo's detailed lyrics and calm voice depict her not as a vulnerable confessor, but as an omniscient storyteller. Although the stories on songs like "Hurt" are sad, her voice remains buoyant because she already knows it "won't hurt so much forever".


MonoNeon - Banana Peel on Capitol Hill

MonoNeon made a name for himself as one of the last bass players Prince used before passing away. On his new project, Banana Peel on Capitol Hill, Prince’s brand of nuanced, in-your-face funk can be heard throughout. The title is an apt one, adding a sense of slapstick fun to discussions about political turmoil. He sets the tone quickly on “Spider-Mane Was on Crack One Day”, a goofy yet deadly-serious meditation on trusting people who will only let you down. On the title track, “Slipping on a Banana Peel (On Capitol Hill)”, he chants “And yesterday the world was buried alive” before lamenting, “them people on Capitol Hill bringing us bad news/ we sit at home, panicked don’t know what to do” (Somehow, this track was released two days before the Capitol riots on January 6th). Banana Peel on Capitol Hill is unabashed protest music. However, rather than sitting and contemplating, this project wants you to laugh and bounce as you fight the system.


Alycia Bella - Muse

The opening line on Alycia Bella’s new album is “It feel like being lost in the right direction”. Fittingly, the music on this impressive debut is both impressionistic and totally focused. After making a name for herself as a songwriter for people like Justin Timberlake and The-Dream, Alycia Bella has finally arrived as her own artist with Muse. The album is a meditation on love and all its forms. On “Dark Art”, for example, she contemplates the ups and downs of trying to love yourself (“I don’t wanna fight with myself, not tonight/ ‘Cause I’ll just lose”). The songs on this project burn so slow, the potency of their lyrics might not register as you first vibe out to it. On “Seasons”, a song about a couple weathering whatever comes their way, she coos, “Just like the sun, you rose from nowhere/and melt me into two”. On “Mississippi Gun Rights”, she looks back on a love gone wrong with rose-colored glasses (“Holographic pink, memories of you/ Deep in evergreen, touch is icy blue”). For a debut album, Muse is clear, confident, and cohesive, offering us hopefully just a taste of what’s to come for Alycia Bella’s future.

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