Exemplary R&B from the much-vaunted songwriter...

In music industry terms a hiatus is considered cause for panic, personally, I do not share the same view and from what I can tell neither does Ella Mai. Back and just as soulful as ever she’s graced our ears with ‘Heart On My Sleeve’ the follow up to her eponymous breakout debut, a release that skyrocketed her to international acclaim and platinum status.

Across 15 tracks and three precise features with Roddy Ricch, Latto and Lucky Daye she navigates the affairs of the heart; through tumultuous experiences and euphoric connections, it becomes clear that she’s invested several incredibly personal parts of her psyche into the project, depicting her life in real-time. ‘Not Another Love Song’ is definitely some of the best R&B we’ve heard so far in 2022, Mai’s almost scratchy vocals push against a rotating beat contrasted by a narration that delves into the ways people take from those who want to give. On ‘Didn’t Say’ Latto’s verse comes as the perfect accompaniment to Mai’s voice, bringing a kind of West Coast vibe to the British singer.

‘Break My Heart’ harbours deep bass and lilting vocals that alongside ‘Pieces’ are as close to the classic Ella Mai sound as two songs can be. She carries through to more bouncy energy on ‘Fallen Angel’ that finishes out with a choral ensemble, a great prelude to ‘How’ that definitely brings a summer vibe to the arc of this project. What is spectacular about Ella Mai’s style is how well it melds with the features on the album, each of these artists brings a unique tone that develops a new side of her musical persona and keeps the album from merging together too much.

‘DFMU’ puts forward a medley of heart-wrenching vocals that next to ‘Hide’ are the most emotionally striking parts of the album, the piano accompaniment makes for a chill-inducing effect. ‘Power of A Woman’ is my personal favourite because of its lightness, it shows a side of her character that is all self-assurance. She finishes strong on ‘Sink or Swim’ channelling some Jhene Aiko-Esque influences.

Admittedly the aural range she executes on the project isn’t massive but it does prove to make a cohesive second album and what she does present shows an incredibly polished sound that doesn’t disappoint after such a monumental first album.

8/10

Words: Naima Sutton

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