One of the music industry’s most obvious masters at the game of making connections, Swedish R&B singer Snoh Aalegra has been steadily growing her profile for years, delivering standout features with artists like dvsn, Giveon and Alicia Keys and finally being signed to Roc Nation just last year – not to mention being praised extensively by the likes of Prince and Drake. As a result, her biggest album yet is stacked with a roster of all-stars, including legends like No ID and Pharrell as well as modern-day trailblazers like PJ Morton, Terrace Martin and Tyler, the Creator. Aalegra runs through a variety of wispy and restrained soul tracks about fleeting romance, opting for something closer to putting the listener in a trance than breaking through with a big and memorable chorus. A couple obvious standouts would certainly have been nice, but it’s just as much of an experience to sink into Aalegra’s smooth and sensual old-school R&B stylings that have been sorely missed in the mainstream as of late.
While Aalegra’s straightforward, calm and understated vocal approach often works in her favour while telling these emotional and confessional stories, at times it feels as though she’s holding back with the incredible vocal prowess that she displays on some of her features. The album’s opening, “INDECISIVE,” packs all of her most impressive vocal moments into a pitched-up intro, breezing through some superhuman vocal runs with ease before the beat drops into some knocking, old-school percussion and fizzy stadium-sized synths reminiscent of early Kanye. The track comes equipped with two beat switches, signalling to listeners early on not to expect much in the form of traditional song structure – the project feels more like a vocal diary for Aalegra to chronicle her struggles and exorcise her demons. The final part of the song stands out for its great harmonies, as Aalegra reckons with a fracturing relationship. No ID’s classic touch is felt on “LOST YOU,” Aalegra coming across like a modern-day Sade as a murmuring bassline, boom-bap beat and spectral, creeping synths paint a starry-eyed space for her mid-range pining over a former partner, somehow wringing maximum drama and real emotion out of a rather restrained vocal performance – for some reason, her desensitized and downtrodden approach feels incredibly real. In any case, there’s no producer more instantly recognizable than Pharrell, who introduces “IN YOUR EYES” with his signature 4-count and ad-libs. The giddy energy he infuses makes this one of the best tracks, not to mention Aalegra delivering one of the most memorable hooks on the project. “JUST LIKE THAT” continues the incredibly strong opening run with a mesmerizing and watery synth hook, the song itself lyrically simple as Aalegra sings about surrendering to the power of love, once again coming across as highly genuine – she sounds absolutely transfixed by a higher power, losing all functions but the blissful coo of her vocals.
None other than Tyler, the Creator makes his first of two feature appearances on the track “NEON PEACH,” contributing his own production to the mix and fitting in nicely with his penchant for twinkling synths and a decidedly 80s-influenced style. Honestly, the complexity that Tyler brings to his work and his growled verses almost seem a little incongruous, certainly shaking the listener from the hypnotic state that the rest of the album provides, but hearing the two trade brief verses as Tyler attempts to lure Aalegra over is as good of a moment of levity as we could have expected. “WE DON’T HAVE TO TALK ABOUT IT” sees Aalegra taking on something that closely resembles a 90s R&B power ballad, the whole track coming equipped with a muted, vintage filter that Aalegra cuts through with some of her most deeply soulful melodies and heartfelt emotion. Most of the project sees her attempting to play it cool and not let her feelings show, but being deeply affected behind the scenes, and this is the pinnacle of the theme as she continuously shies away from having the deep conversations at the end of a relationship. “TANGERINE DREAM” finds Aalegra using a more conversational flow as she tells the story of bumping into an ex on a plane, falling into a dreamscape of a chorus as she is overcome with what could have been.
Aalegra breaks her title track up into two near the album’s midpoint. The brief interlude “TEMPORARY HIGHS” sounds appropriately woozy, Aalegra drifting through the purgatory of singlehood and crooning some echoing vocal runs before things drop into “VIOLET SKIES.” The track comes with a simple and beautiful melody that sounds like some sort of nursery rhyme, Aalegra following along with the melody of the toy-piano plinks of a synth hook behind her while she envisions the perfect, unreachable sunset of romantic bliss. Tyler, the Creator returns on “IN THE MOMENT,” another one of the more experimental tracks here that genuinely coasts on some kind of big band oom-pah rhythm translated over into the twinkling palates of Aalegra’s distinctive world, Tyler mostly singing and even trying out a passionate falsetto as the two argue back and forth and blame each other.
The project saves all of its more questionable moments for the very end, but the project as a whole is still a unique and recommended listening experience for any music fan. While a great singer in his own right, James Fauntleroy’s appearance on “ON MY MIND” isn’t quite as complimentary as her link-ups with Mr. Baudelaire, Fauntleroy’s sharper tone serving in contrast to the perfectly smooth canvas that Aalegra paints. Truly, the album is hypnotic enough that anyone else intruding on Aalegra’s vision is an initial shock. “TASTE” is just about the only moment here that feels like it could have been by another artist, Aalegra curiously adopting some unnecessary Auto-tune and a more repetitive, marketable modern R&B sound than before in the chorus. “EVERYTHING” is the exact opposite, the longest track here providing an opportunity for Aalegra to run wild and get as self-indulgent as possible with her many vocal runs melting into each other – the only moment here where she overdoes it a little. Things once again close strong with the year-old single “DYING 4 YOUR LOVE,” a fantastic middle ground between Aalegra’s nebulous style and more modern trends, and outro “SAVE YOURSELF,” a final, forlorn stamp on the proceedings.
Snoh Aalegra is peaking at the perfect time and making herself one to watch going forward in the world of R&B. Her style is a completely distinctive mix of the old and the new, and being able to hold my attention throughout despite the lack of many obvious hooks is impressive. With her connections, she should only continue to rise.
Favourite Tracks: IN YOUR EYES, JUST LIKE THAT, TANGERINE DREAM, WE DON’T HAVE TO TALK ABOUT IT, DYING 4 YOUR LOVE
Least Favourite Track: TASTE