Lost & Found
In 2016, Walsall teenager Jorja Smith emerged with Blue Lights, a Dizzee Rascal-sampling lullaby narrating black British youth’s fear of the police. This impressive debut led to co-signs from Drake, Stormzy, and Kendrick Lamar, not to mention the 2018 Brits critics’ choice award. The 20-year-old’s first album finds her standing on her own two feet. A gentle record of lithe, accomplished slow jams, it toys with a myriad of genres: while delicate R&B is the most obvious reference, there’s a UK dance nod too – not in the literal way of On My Mind, her 2017 garage collaboration with Preditah, but that distinctly polished percussive sound is evident throughout, in the slinkiness of February 3rd and the humid undercurrent of The One. The social commentary is limited to Blue Lights and the soft rap of freestyle Lifeboats (“Why do we watch them drown / We’re too selfish in the lifeboats”), but the album’s appeal lies especially in Smith’s silken accounts of despondent romances – soaring, hopeless ballads about adolescent crushes. Ebbing and flowing with daydreams and a glossy but gritty pulse, Lost & Found is quietly, confidently remarkable. Tara Joshi voice feather-light.
It’s a wise move for songs well suited to an era of heavy, tell-all memoir. Opener Come on Then belies its pugnacious title with the revelation that “every night I’m crying”, while Family Man, a dramaladen piano ballad, addresses her marriage breakup and her guilt at taking time to tour and write, a worry also addressed on Three, written from the point of view of a confused child. The hardest hit, though, is Everything to Feel Something, self-loathing sublimated into a sweetly ethereal numbness. There are nagging hooks among all the airy confection and revelations, too, yet the relentless inward focus gets exhausting over 14 tracks that should have probably been 11. The closer, Cake, lets a little light in, urging listeners to both have and eat, to grab a bit of “that patriarchy pie”. It’s good to see Allen coming back for seconds. Emily Mackay
Mourning Song, by contrast, finds Wise, a classically trained singer, grieving a relationship, using vocal manipulation techniques to “sound like the demon”; imagine Perfume Genius remixed by Arca. After his breakout 2016 EP blisters, made with Björk’s collaborator the Haxan Cloak, Soil has contributions from sound-makers as diverse as Katie Gately, digital hip-hop hand Clams Casino, and even Paul Epworth (Adele), taking Wise’s vision into glorious sonic HD. Kitty Empire