Reviews: Nao, For All We Know; Jeremih, Late Nights: Europe

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Nao, For All We Know

I haven’t been impressed by the mass import of female R&B artists over wonky (but not too wonky) backdrops from the UK. The effect is supposed to combine sweeter vocals with, call them industrial soundscapes, but most of the time, it often feels like it’s a pose. The darkness is too clean and the movement’s too lurchy (the spacing of the hook on “Girlfriend” leaves something to be desired). Nao’s less insufferable because she’s not so concerned with shoving sexual overtones down your throat, because she can sing a hook every now and then (i.e. “Do You Want Me”) and because her producers can add some nice color. Examples: the distorted sample adding an additional hook on “Fool to Love”; the faraway piano plinks on “Blue Wine"; the staccato anger in “Trophy” (“If you think that I’m a trophy/ You’d better change your mind”) while A.K. Paul’s distorted guitars and hiccupped vocal intrusion distinguishes the song from the rest of the album. And while I wasn't nearly won over by the loud howl of "Bad Blood," I confess awe when Nao does the vocal acrobatics at the end of the bridge, "Don't tell me I'm coo-coo..." But the songwriting can’t sustain interest over the album’s 14 tracks (plus 4 interludes), as opposed to a more succinct 10-12, even though she nabs two highlights that were available on her previous EPs ("Adore You," which features some pointillist synths in the choruses from So Good, and "Inhale Exhale" which features her harmonizing with the bass-line from February 15). As it stands, it’s a moderate success following her appearance on Disclosure’s Caracal and Samsung commercials. [Marshall Gu] B

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Jeremih, Late Nights: Europe

Coming off of the artistic success of last year’s Late Nights: The Album and its striking standout “Oui”, Late Nights: Europe constantly treads a fine line between “proud victory lap” and “passable B-side collection”. It has its fair share of embarrassing lyrics (scatology and sexuality are never a good mix, especially when it’s phrased as confusingly as “we in the bathroom and she always with the shits”), but the beats are well-devised, and the mixtape shines when Jeremih and his collaborators bring out the best in each other—which happens on virtually every collaboration here. Most of the strongest tracks are toward the middle (the three-song stretch from “London” to “Stockholm” is great R&B through and through), but “Dubai” also deserves a mention, its carefree atmosphere creating the feel of a posse track despite only having two guest features. This can’t hold a candle to Late Nights: The Album (was anyone expecting it to?), but it’s one of the better mixtapes released this year. [Luke Fowler] B