In the Stars

Exclaim! - - REVIEWS - ANNA AL­GER



Loom­ing over NAO’s sec­ond al­bum is Saturn’s re­turn, an as­tro­log­i­cal phe­nom­e­non oc­cur­ring in one’s late 20s, when a mon­u­men­tal shift oc­curs. On Saturn, the Lon­don-based singer-song­writer delves into the dif­fi­culty and ec­stasy of re­assert­ing one’s iden­tity, push­ing her sound into new realms. “Make It Out Alive,” a moody, beat-driven duet with SiR, ap­pears to set the tone of the al­bum, but don’t be fooled — this is just one side of the eclec­tic vi­sion NAO brings forth. Dreamy pro­duc­tion abounds on Saturn, heard on “If You Ever,” a rhyth­mic, earnest in­vi­ta­tion to a lost love. Strings and harp in­flec­tions el­e­vate the track, which re­lies on the gen­uine feel­ing and sweet tone of NAO’s voice. She uses in­ter­ludes on the al­bum, mir­ror­ing a tech­nique used on her de­but, For All We Know — in this in­stance, the con­cept of Saturn’s re­turn is ex­plained amidst ra­dio feed­back and oth­er­worldly sounds.

“Drive and Dis­con­nect” is Afrobeat­in­flu­enced with a dark edge, while “Cu­rios­ity” sat­is­fies as a cer­ti­fied slow jam. Tran­scend­ing this world, “Yel­low of the Sun” blends funk and es­capism, as she imag­ines a Thelma & Louise- in­flu­enced vi­sion: “Let’s drive right off this canyon, into par­adise.” NAO weaves to­gether both in­ti­mate and fic­tion­al­ized ac­counts of her roller­coaster of a Saturn re­turn on her sec­ond al­bum, invit­ing lis­ten­ers into the re­cent events of her life while chart­ing new ter­ri­tory — her “wonky funk” moniker is nod­ded to, but this col­lec­tion eclipses it. Drama is soft­ened by sin­cer­ity on the record, as NAO finds bal­ance in the wake of chaos. (Lit­tle Tokyo Record­ings)

How did the process of reeval­u­at­ing your life im­pact the writ­ing of Saturn?

For All We Know is kind of like, my early 20s, my mid-20s, and now, this is like late 20s. I’m be­com­ing a woman, and all those ex­pe­ri­ences im­pacted the writ­ing so much, and also it im­pacted me from a cre­ative point of view.

Did you feel like you had to hon­our “wonky funk” on this record?

I ab­so­lutely want to hon­our it, ’cause I feel like that’s rec­og­niz­able. When peo­ple hear that wonky funk sound, they know it’s me, you know what I mean? They know, “Oh, that’s a NAO thing!” So I don’t wanna lose that, be­cause it’s a re­ally unique thing to be able to have. But as far as honour­ing it, and do­ing tunes like “Gabriel,” and even “An­other Life­time” has chord pitches like “Bad Blood,” and [you can] still see like, “Oh yeah, she’s still try­ing out some dif­fer­ent stuff.” I wouldn’t call this al­bum wonky funk at all. I don’t know what it is.

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