Review Summary: “ Too weird to live, and too rare to die.”
I attribute my general lack of knowledge about soul and r&b to this assumption: These two genres nowadays have transformed into some sort of ground of experimentation, freedom of expression and safe haven for avant-garde unconventional thinking. I believe that, because over several years now, most of albums and artists with such genre classifications have struck me as, if not boundary pushers, impressionably unique artistes at least. Be it the most banal, obvious cases of Childish Gambino, D’Angelo, Kelela or FKA Twigs, to someone rather overlooked like Benjamin Clementine. They all seemed to have separated themselves from the generally understood characteristics of either soul or r&b in song-writing, production or instrumental execution, mostly by adding just a little more orchestral work or a little more vocal effects or a little more influences. Bottom line, it seemed as though the genres are pushing into new directions with each release, and with each release they become more and more inseparable.
So what am I ramping up to？Well, to the fact that the odd became ordinary and I now find myself getting used to the genres (or their combination) being off-the-grid and mind-bending. So much so that I probably could not point out something I’d previously call “normal” or “typical” for the genre, as well as that I am getting more and more difficult to surprise. And such unfortunate case we have here, for soil
, while undeniably magnetic and beautiful, did not surprise me.
One defining trait of this album and Josiah Wise’s entire work in general is that he can build around his arguably not exactly singing voice. He cannot pull off grandiose ranges, nor can he burn a hole in your heart with fiery vocal performance. He is acceptable, but he understands that perfectly and writes music in such a brilliantly fitting way that only his vocal highs and lows do it justice. Furthermore, Josiah’s song-writing seems shapeless at first. It appears to rely purely on his vocal effects and the atmosphere of obscurity. Any melodic components then feel more or less as a formality to keep the songs afloat. But it all makes sense.
Everything strikes with relaxed, sophisticated and self-aware calm and subtlety. Songs like “messy”, “mourning song” or “bless ur heart” all work at the most subdued, unprovocative and chilled-out tone; cuts like “whisper”, “waft” or “slow syrup” each progress and build up to something seemingly larger than life; and then tracks like “cherubim” or “seedless” are each one beat drop away from being straight up bangers.
But as stated at the beginning, the problem here is that the album is just kind of unsurprising. It isn’t off-kilter enough to be considered experimental, while simultaneously being a little too artsy and conceptually extravagant to be straightforward. Perhaps it actually is either of those things, perhaps it is neither. I couldn’t tell, even if I tried.
The album is fantastic. It’s me that is the problem.