California R&B artist Giveon is just another massive benefactor of the all-powerful Drake stimulus, rising rapidly to prominence after the then-unknown was featured on a single from the 6 God’s Dark Lane Demo Tapes early last year. Now with a Grammy nomination under his belt, he has combined his first two EPs into a full-length studio album, introducing his music to an entirely new sector of people as his profile continues to grow. Mostly heralded in his early days for sounding rather similar to UK critical darling Sampha, Giveon does sound curiously British on quite a few of these tracks, but a lot of that can be allocated to the degree of gravitas in the voice of a man who worshipped at the altar of Frank Sinatra in his youth. While Giveon’s unique vocals and often surprisingly jazzy technical abilities do give many of these tracks an added degree of strength, quite a lot of this project still falls into the mundane traps of modern alt-R&B, making for a middling but promising debut.
Much of this project sees Giveon trying his hand at some passionately crooned romantic ballads, but the opening track “The Beach” sets the tone in a much different way, Giveon switching up his delivery a bit and bringing some more hip-hop flavour to both the music and the lyrics. Singing about his dangerous upbringing in Long Beach and even including some voice memos from his mother warning about areas to avoid, Giveon turns up the percussion and credits his hometown for making him who he is today with a slightly harsher and more direct vocal tone than we usually hear from him. The added degree of excitement to the track honestly works well for him, and his personality shines through much more than in his more dazed and ethereal songs later on – I would have loved to hear even one more track in this style on the project. Still, “World We Created,” the first track in his usual style, is certainly one of the better ones here. It’s clear that people are flocking to Giveon because of just how instantly identifiable his voice is, and there’s so much warmth in his delivery here, flitting up and down the scales with ease in some speedier phrases over some calm acoustics. The added instrumental bridge from a horn section and some drawn out backing harmonies really fill out the gorgeous, lush instrumental on display here. A song about forgetting your responsibilities and staying in bed with your person.
After hearing such potential, a track like “Favorite Mistake,” regressing back into the typical genre pitfalls of meandering and self-indulgent vocalizations over a sluggish tempo, becomes even more disappointing and unfortunately introduces too much of the sound of the rest of the project. One of the biggest problems I have with the genre’s biggest hitmakers is that it seems like once they stumble on a single potent musical idea, such as the surprising jazzy turn in “This Ain’t Love” as Giveon sings out the song’s title at the end of the chorus, and then almost improvises the rest, coasting on little more than vocal strength. Although “This Ain’t Love” only really does have that one ear-grabbing moment, I can’t deny the sheer power of Giveon’s falsetto as it interacts with some booming percussion underneath. This leads into the project’s two biggest hits, now both rather old but getting a huge second wind on the charts as of late. The track “Heartbreak Anniversary” is a massive grower in every sense of the word – just check out how long it took to become Giveon’s biggest hit single. Set to a truly classic-sounding somber chord progression that brings to mind something like Radiohead’s “Creep,” Giveon tackles a strangely under-represented topic as he dejectedly sings about the little pangs of sadness you feel on any particularly important day to a past relationship. Reaching some of his most impressive belts, the genuine emotion that is so devoid from a lot of today’s biggest R&B tracks is here in full force. “Like I Want You” is another track climbing the charts, the longest track here and with less indication as to why people are so drawn to it. Giveon reaches down to some wonderfully resonant baritone and bass notes, but the track sinks into the background from a melodic standpoint.
The impressive vocal acrobatics and subpar song structure continue onto the 1st EP’s closing track, “Vanish,” which FEELS like the longest track here as Giveon emotes extensively through every note and draws out a song that only really has a single lyrical observation out to full-length status. The track “Still Your Best” opens up Giveon’s 2nd EP of the project, and reveals what is essentially the darker side to “Heartbreak Anniversary,” Giveon’s lyrics getting almost uncomfortably bitter as he attempts to build up his own ego and reassure himself repeatedly that his former lover has quite clearly downgraded. The chorus is one of the stronger ones here, but hearing the typically romantic Giveon on even a slightly aggressive angle feels a little jarring.
The project’s only feature, Snoh Aalegra, appears on the track “Last Time,” a truly complementary duet between two of the genre’s biggest rising stars that features some more of Giveon’s rapid-fire runs down the scales in the chorus displaying some spellbinding technicality, something that continues onto one of the project’s strongest tracks overall, “Stuck on You.” The full extent of Giveon’s capable vocals is revealed with one of the most immediately catchy choruses here, toning down his booming sound for a smoother approach in an affecting moment of vulnerability, admitting just how caught up he is on the ex he appears to have been singing about for the past year. Things close off with the new track Giveon added onto the rerelease, “All to Me,” a strangely brief and yet still somewhat repetitive conclusion that doesn’t stand out from the pack.
As far as Drake co-signs that blew up in their own right go, I’d rank Giveon’s artistic potential somewhere much higher than the Lil Babys, Blocboy JBs and PARTYNEXTDOORs of the world – though I’m not sure if he’ll be able to reach Weeknd status just yet. Giveon certainly does possess something undeniable in his distinctive and powerful tone, he just needs to transcend past the trendy to really get it going.
Favourite Tracks: World We Created, Heartbreak Anniversary, Stuck On You, The Beach
Least Favourite Track: Vanish