by Alex Lucas
It’s a brand new year, which means brand new music! This month we review SZA, SOS, a new release from December and we also take you back to the 90s with Air, Moon Safari. Find us on Spotify to listen along and tell us what you think!
SZA – SOS
December didn’t disappoint, an honourable mention goes to US punk outfit Special Interest dropping the emphatic Endure. Along with another project packed with amazing songs: Little Simz’ NO THANK YOU. Simz once again showed why she’s the best rapper in the UK, striking while the iron was hot, her latest release is only heightening her reputation. Both of these records are deserving of anyone’s attention.
However, December’s best was SZA’s SOS, coming five years after her magnificent 2017 album Ctrl. Ctrl elevated SZA to a level not many artists have been in off the release of just one studio album and it has just gone triple platinum. Until the 9th of December, SZA was dropping occasional singles and appearing sporadically as a featured artist, most notably on the Black Panther soundtrack and also on the soundtrack to the summer of 2021, Doja Cat’s ‘Kiss Me More’. So the release of SOS came like an answered prayer, it is absolutely magical.
An LP comprising of 23 tracks which show SZA at her very best. SZA sticks to her strengths for the first leg with melodious beats on cuts like ‘Seek & Destroy’, but as we transition to the middle of the album, we hit the powerful ‘Nobody Gets Me’, a spellbinding acoustic track emphasising why SZA has been so well regarded, her vocal performance is stunning (as it is throughout the record). We then move towards some punchier tracks to finish, closing with ‘Forgiveless’ with a posthumous feature from ODB. The constant through these songs is a melancholic beauty only SZA can convey.
A meticulously constructed album, it has a perfect arc and every song here is brilliant in its own right. SZA engages the listener for the entire run time through immaculate vocals, mellow beats and captivating lyrical content. It was definitely five years well spent.
Air – Moon Safari
It’s a quarter of a century since French electronic duo Air released their stunning debut album ‘Moon Safari’. The late 1980s and early 1990s saw downtempo music really take off, through mainly Bristolian trip-hop groups such as Massive Attack and Portishead releasing atmospheric records with slower beats, differing slightly from the ambient music which Brian Eno had helped to popularise just a few years prior. By the late 1990s, downtempo music was consistently appearing in the charts and has continued to inform so much of what has come since and Air played a fundamental part in that.
Moon Safari’s release in January of 1998 entered the world of music like a sea breeze, the track list packed with glistening, ethereal songs. Contrasting with some of the relatively darker downtempo music of the day, Moon Safari along with ‘Big Calm’ by Moorcheeba offered a lighter, exquisite sound. Admittedly, some of the production on this LP is very much of its time, however, that doesn’t detract from the excellent songwriting throughout; the electronic yet catchy ’Kelly Watch the Stars’ being perhaps the best example of this. Cuts such as ‘La femme d’argent’ and ‘Ce matin-là’ are vivid instrumental tracks suffusing the record. The record’s gorgeous aura is exemplified by singer-songwriter Beth Hirsch, appearing on ‘All I Need’ along with ‘You Make it Easy’, her vocal performances beautifully complementing the instrumentals.
‘Moon Safari’ was a record which helped to evolve electronic and downtempo music moving into the early 2000s, its chill-out sound found its way onto many of the records of the following years, most notably through artists such as Zero 7. Above all, this is a really pleasurable album that’s well worth a listen.