opinion byJEAN-LUC MARSH
With SZA, ambience is everything. Her soundscapes often skew towards the mellifluous and enticing, doused in layers of honey and inching forward with a leisurely sweetness. This polished exterior spans throughout Z, making for a smooth descent into SZA’s unhurried universe. It helps that her voice is the equivalent of a chloroform-soaked doily, capable of lulling even the stubborn insomniac into a drowsy daze.
Even the guest appearances are subdued, with Chance the Rapper’s lysergic hysteria tamed to a gravelly cadence on “Child’s Play,” and Kendrick Lamar’s usually unnerving voice blending particularly well with the backdrop on “Babylon.” However, it is Isaiah Rashad’s turn on EP highlight “Warm Winds,” that melts most seamlessly into the mild mixture. The prayer said in tandem at the song’s midpoint, and subsequent harmonization, are so smooth that it becomes easy to forget about Rashad’s presence. SZA takes the reigns gently, beckoning to venture deeper still while muttering something about flowers and space rides, over a rhythm evoking exactly what the song’s title lays claim to.
“Sweet November” sticks out among the rest of the material for less positive reasons. SZA’s take on jazz with an R&B twist strays from the tone of the remainder of the EP, which seems more focused on a foggy, hip-hop inflected goal. In addition, her strident outbursts commit the cardinal sin of disrupting the trance that the previous seven tracks constructed.
Throughout Z, SZA demonstrates that “glitter trap,” the self-coined moniker for her music, is most fitting. Her vox serves as a glowing lure leading to a languid world built on reverb. The main downfall of Z is a lack of strong lyricism. In the rare moments that the murk clears or the light becomes too bright, what lies behind is less graceful than what it seemed. The remedy is simple though. Some more thoughtful strokes of the pen and SZA won’t have to resort to glitter or traps. B-