Brittany Howard
What Now


4.5
superb

Review

by Brendan Schroer STAFF
February 16th, 2024 | 30 replies


Release Date: 02/09/2024 | Tracklist

Review Summary: The art of intangibility

In hindsight, I can see why Brittany Howard wanted to break away from the collaborative dynamic of Alabama Shakes. After releasing two (admittedly solid) records with the blues rock revivalists, she expressed her desire to escape from the group setting and focus on a more personal, reflective style. And hot damn, did 2019’s Jaime make that abundantly clear! But how exactly did this change come about? Well… a long road trip, an impending 30th birthday, and plenty of self-reflection, that’s what. And despite exploring everything from blues to soul to psychedelia to hip-hop to gospel, Jaime was remarkably concise; the record walked a thin line between boldness and restraint, yet it pulled off both with such confidence and grace. Combine this with thoughtful lyrics that juggle societal issues and personal struggles, and you have one hell of a triumphant debut.

So… whew! That’s a lot to take in all at once. And there was certainly a lot of buzz around Jaime, with Howard’s first outing garnering hype and critical acclaim up the wazoo. Yet, following this flurry of press, she sharply decreased her output over the next four years; perhaps this could be chalked up to the dreaded p-word, as it had for so many other artists. Regardless, aside from recording a few covers and hanging out with her friend Becca Mancari (a fantastic singer-songwriter in her own right), there wasn’t much else in the way of Brittany Howard news. But finally, in the year of our lord 2024, we now have a new record to sink our teeth into. And while it’s not quite in the same style as Jaime, it was absolutely worth the long wait.

If there’s one term I could use to sum up What Now, it would be “free-spirited”. Even in its most subdued moments, the record gives off an unshakable sense of breeziness and buoyancy. That’s not to say that everything from Jaime has been abandoned, however. Much of the same genre-bending shenanigans and retro flair can still be found here, but it’s as if they’ve been filtered through primary colors rather than the debut’s black-and-white aesthetic. “Earth Sign” opens the proceedings, immediately dictating how panoramic the experience will be; a low bass drone serves as a hypnotic bed for all manner of warm piano chords and gospel-esque vocal inflections. ”It’s nearly there” is repeated at the end as a joyous mantra, and we’re treated to one of the finest openers in recent memory.

If there’s anything What Now has in spades, it’s self-assuredness. If Jaime represented Howard at her most unshackled and experimental, this outing sees her at her most refined and effortlessly cool. And that can be attributed to the album’s main asset: the soundscapes. Oh lawd, the soundscapes! What Now takes the psychedelic elements of its predecessor and takes them in a different direction, opting for a more ethereal and intangible quality. Just listen to the way “Red Flags” pits lush synth chords against busy percussion, as Howard’s exuberant vocals stack on top of each other like a one-woman choir. The vibe is profoundly spiritual, especially as the song reaches its glorious climax. On the opposite end, let’s look at a much more subdued number: the small neo-soul ditty “To Be Still”. Adopting a more spacious aura, this little tune smoothly merges light jazz chords with some of the record’s most delicate, fragile vocal harmonies. The cherry on top? Copious amounts of echo are added to the vocals, further reinforcing that breezy, trippy feel.

Through these shifts in temperament, exciting new avenues are revealed. This is especially true of the album’s second half, which houses several of its more energetic tracks; even then, I’m still using “energetic” in a relative sense. “Prove It To You” is a rousing dance track anchored by a constant thumping rhythm, so how is it still so chill and collected? “Another Day” is driven by clattering beats and anthemic vocals, so how does it still manage to sound so textured and layered? Even in the record’s most raucous moments, the spaced-out atmosphere manages to creep and give them that extra hallucinatory touch. And this leads me to the heart of what ultimately elevates What Now above Jaime: the mood and theming are so much more consistent here. This simply feels like a more complete experience, refining the debut’s eclectic approach without entirely abandoning it.

At this point, I have to ask: when do we stop calling Brittany Howard the “ex-Alabama Shakes” artist? I still see so many publications making it a point to designate her that way, and while it’s technically true, it’s also quite misleading in the present day. Howard’s solo work is so far removed from her time with the Shakes that the two are basically incomparable; her current output is a completely different beast altogether, and if Jaime didn’t already make this point clear, the followup definitely does. What Now is a wonderful slice of psych-soul that elevates its predecessor’s biggest strengths while filtering out some of the less savory bits. It’s a spacious, lush, chilled-out adventure that’ll surely secure Howard's position as one of the modern soul greats.



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user ratings (55)
3.6
great
other reviews of this album
DadKungFu STAFF (3.5)
Running right through them red flags...



Comments:Add a Comment 
Koris
Staff Reviewer
February 16th 2024


21105 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Yeah, I definitely gushed a lot on this one, lol. Seriously though, this thing is so damn good! Jaime was already excellent, but this is on another level entirely :]

bellovddd
February 16th 2024


5712 Comments


great write-up!

Koris
Staff Reviewer
February 16th 2024


21105 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Thanks man, I appreciate it!

dedex
Staff Reviewer
February 16th 2024


12775 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

great rev for a great record!!!

Dewinged
Staff Reviewer
February 16th 2024


32015 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

yeah this album is super good, nicely done master Koris.

Calc
February 16th 2024


17332 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

oo this got reviewed noice. good album

DadKungFu
Staff Reviewer
February 16th 2024


4708 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

My in-progress rev is substantially harder on this, but you hit a lot of what I did really like about it, great rev



mkmusic1995
Contributing Reviewer
February 16th 2024


1714 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Awesome review Koris! can't wait to check this out

Koris
Staff Reviewer
February 16th 2024


21105 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Much appreciated everyone! I can already tell this one will be in my rotation a lot this year

neekafat
Staff Reviewer
February 18th 2024


26052 Comments

Album Rating: 3.7

idk if this is crazy but a lot of these tracks feel a bit busy and overcooked, i feel like the hooks get lost under thorny drumbeats and the like



That being said i love the closer and “Prove it to You,” the dancier jazzier moments are really cool

Koris
Staff Reviewer
February 18th 2024


21105 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

That's fair. Personally I feel as though the minimalist and maximalist parts are really well-balanced, but Howard definitely loves her flashy, bombastic moments



And yeah, Prove It to You is starting to emerge as one of my favorites here. The way that it's so danceable and chill at the same time... chef's kiss

neekafat
Staff Reviewer
February 18th 2024


26052 Comments

Album Rating: 3.7

Yesssss such an unexpectedly good house track lol

Koris
Staff Reviewer
February 18th 2024


21105 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

^ I would like to hear more dance songs from her in general. She's really good at that approach, especially when she injects those soul and psych influences into the style

TheManMachine
February 21st 2024


299 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

"samson" hits

Pikazilla
February 21st 2024


29724 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

this was cool

AlexKzillion
February 21st 2024


17105 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

this slaps

DadKungFu
Staff Reviewer
February 21st 2024


4708 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

more dance pls [2]

Koris
Staff Reviewer
February 22nd 2024


21105 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I just wanna dance to Brittany Howard 🕺🕺🕺🎶🎶🎶

AmericanFlagAsh
February 22nd 2024


13216 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

First listen reminded me a bit of Young Father's album from last year

Hawks
February 22nd 2024


86765 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Gonna give this a shot today or tomorrow. Just saved on Bandcamp.



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