FOR ALL WE KNOW
Little Tokyo Recordings
British singer-songwriter and producer Nao, 31, was one of the fresh names who wrote and sang on electronic music stars Disclosure's Caracal album last year.
With the release of her debut album, For All We Know, she comes into her own with a solid body of work in a distinctive style that she has christened "wonky funk". It is a dynamic sound, one that takes as much inspiration from the stylised funk of the late Prince as it does from R&B/pop trailblazers such as Janet Jackson, while updating it with modern electropop production from the likes of cutting-edge producer Grades.
Nominated for BBC's BBC Sound Of 2016 music prize, Nao, whose full name is Neo Jessica Joshua, crafts bold and dreamy, destined-for-the-dance-floor tunes from life's vagaries.
Early lead single Bad Blood is delectable, synthesised waltz, as far removed as it gets from the Taylor Swift song of the same name.
"Don't tell me I'm coo-coo," she snaps at an erstwhile confidant as her vocal range dances high and low over the stop-start tempo, bass drops and magnetising beats.
The build-up on We Don't Give A starts slow before she asserts herself with a swagger: "We all got jungle fever, yeah."
Her sensuality comes to the fore on Feels Like (Perfume). "And you should know I'm good fruit/And I won't leave you thirsty/Everything's about you/I will put you first," she coos to a lover. The production switches between glitchy beats and jazzy arrangements and ends on a satisfying high when live drums kick in during the finale.
"I tried to leave him signs, give him warning/Are they hard to recognise?" she ruminates on a love gone cold in the bittersweet, moody and ethereal electropop number In The Morning. Like many of the other tracks here, the song is deliciously layered, the synthesizers and multiple vocals weaving together into a pleasing texture.
Nao has a knack for layering different talents into winning collaborations too. She trades lines with future-forward British electronic singer/producer A.K. Paul on Trophy, who also adds a grimy and unrelenting groove to the tune.
On Adore You, American atmospheric R&B duo Abhi Raju and Dijon Duenas bring a cool, steely layer to an impassioned jam.
Despite these contributions, it is Nao's musically courageous spirit that distinguishes this 18-track album, an impressive work that proves her early EP and singles were no momentary success.
Bittersweet songs of Lucy Dacus and her peers
In an age of fast fingers and surf-and-turf, it is easy to listen to a song you have never heard of, but it is equally easy to skip the track if it does not capture your attention.
That is why it is remarkable for any artist to break out these days, let alone have a hit.
It says tremendously about the munificent gifts of two 20-year-old songsmiths - Julien Baker from Memphis, Tennessee, and now, Lucy Dacus, from Richmond, Virginia - who have made an impression on critics and fans.
Earlier this year, I reviewed Baker's debut Sprained Ankle, praising her bell-clear voice and candour about her depression, faith and substance abuse. And now, a chance review I read online has led me to Lucy Dacus, who is touring with Baker this year.