Nottingham born singer Nao recently released her debut album, and it is phenomenal. I didn’t expect this much quality from Nao’s debut, however, I am beyond happy to be proven wrong.

My skepticism came from my lack of affinity for Nao’s work apart from her lead single ‘Bad Blood’. While Nao’s performance on her EP February 15th was unique and passionate, I didn’t find the project that interesting.

“This may be my favorite vocal album of 2016 so far.”

However, since her EP she has improved exponentially, her songwriting has improved and the chemistry between her and GRADES has grown. From the flawless production, to heart felt vocals and intricate song writing, this may be my favourite vocal album of 2016 so far.

This 17-track album gives Nao a lot of time to express herself as an artist, and tell many different stories varying in tone and timbre. The album begins with ‘Feels like (Velvet)’ which is a haunting 36 second vocal piece constructed of a Nao-filled choir, which sounds epic yet chilling.

Perfect length to lead into the first full track ‘Get to Know Ya’, which begins with a funky guitar part, accompanied by strong bass hits and a gritty percussion. With an easily memorable hook and intelligently formed vocal harmony in parts, the song is entertaining and has a lot of replay value.

“A groove that makes you wish you were cruising down LA in a convertible car…”

The third track is for me one of the stand out tracks of the project. ‘Inhale Exhale’ is a song about Nao being unhealthily in love with someone, to the extent that when she tries to forget about the person, by the time she inhales and exhales she is back madly in love. Asides from being interesting lyrically, musically it’s awesome, with cool soulful riffs from Nao and drops similar to those seen in ‘Bad Blood’.

The fifth track ‘Happy’ is pure summer vibes, beginning with a drum break similar to the beginning of ‘The Message’ by Grandmaster Flash. In comes the 80s pad and funky synth bass accompanied by the funky guitar riff, creating a groove that makes you wish you were cruising down LA in a convertible car, rather than sitting on your living room floor writing an album review, drinking water because your big brother finished the last can of Pepsi.

“The only negative thing I can say about this track is that it didn’t come out sooner so I could rinse it out all summer.”

Nao’s choice of rhythm on the chorus and the back up synth that wraps around her vocals is everything. The only negative thing I can say about this track is that it didn’t come out sooner so I could rinse it out all summer. I also like how the song is sandwiched by two voice memo interludes of Nao writing to the groove that would later become the song closing ‘Voice Memo 162’ with “I didn’t want it to end… just end these vibes…”

This album doesn’t really have any bad songs, just stand out songs and good songs. That being said, in terms of features, I don’t feel like the guest artists add that much to this project, while I’m sure they contributed to the creative process their actual presence on the tracks often feels unneeded. That being said it will be interesting to see some Nao collaborations in the future.

“This project may rival whatever [Frank Ocean] has cooking…”

Production wise GRADES passes with flying colours. His style is unique and much like Kaytranada. I expect this project will get him a lot of attention from other artists as his production and creativity is unlike anything I’ve heard.

Nao jokingly thanked Frank Ocean in a tweet for not releasing his album in July, and showing mercy by not overshadowing her debut release. However, in quality, this project may rival whatever he has cooking, or at least fill that space in your library for now. Exceptional piece of work.

Joshua Ogunmokun

Image Courtesy of Nao via Facebook

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