With her ‘Don’t Explain’ project, the Prince-endorsed, Persian songwriter Snoh Aalegra embraced the world of Silver Screen vintage soul — think sensual femme fatales, rain-streaked streets, and the iconographic motif of the handsome yet rugged anti-hero. If there was one gripe about Aalegra’s output, it’s that her kinship with the feel and sounds from past eras distilled the emotional resonance of her voice and lyricism.
Admirably, on ‘FEELS’, Aalegra better synthesises her myriad influences and foregrounds her sensitivities. Sonically, Aalegra and her band of producers, bridge the gap between film noir, ‘70s soul and hip-hop, with enough contemporary flourishes to ingratiate herself to a broader audience.
Aalegra’s natural affinity for cinematic soul is still there, take the Vince Staples-assisted ‘Nothing Burns Like The Cold’, Aalegra bemoaning the status of an uncertain and undefined relationship, the sonics stopping and starting, chaotic scratches and a reworked Isaac Hayes sample playing out a ‘Spy Who Loved Me’ narrative. On the flipside, Aalegra convincingly plays the fool in love on ‘Fool For You’, marrying wistful chords and gospel-lite coos, delivering a romantic overture for the ages. Aalegra’s voice soars, cracks and crackles when she asserts, charting the trajectory of her seesaw journey through love, heartbreak and self-discovery. The string-laden, bluesy ‘Worse’ packs the necessary emotional heft because Aalegra never compromises the rawness of her voice, unfiltered and grainy.
Furthermore, ‘FEELS’ boasts an impressive roster of rap’s new era progenitors, and Aalegra really comes into her own in the intersection between programmed soul and hip-hop. On ‘Sometimes’, Aalegra glides over a cold breakbeat, mirroring the careening vocal interplay that Mariah Carey made her own in the ‘90s. Breakout rapper Logic injects his inimitable flow on a moody track that grapples with circumstance and destiny. The highlight of the record comes in the form of ‘Like I Used To’, Aalegra ushering in the help of native Swede rapper Timbuktu, a song that prickles with icy, atmospheric melodrama, Aalegra at her most emotionally transparent when she is in a reminiscent, retrospective mood, a theme that imprints itself all over the record.
In an age where nihilistic, indulgent and overcooked R&B rules the roster, it’s refreshing to hear a feel-good, authentically-driven record like ‘FEELS’. The production retains a lo-fi, and unpolished feel throughout, Aalegra not tempted by radio homogeneity, slowly but surely finding her own lane.
Words: Shahzaib Hussain
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