Monday, 18 January 2021

KeiyaA ‎– Forever, Ya Girl (2020)

Genre: Hip Hop, Jazz, Funk / Soul
Format: CD, Cass., FLAC
Label: Keiya

01.   I Thot There Was One Wound In This House, There's Two
02.   Way Eye
03.   Rectifiya
04.   Hvnli
05.   Hvnli (reprise)
06.   Do Yourself A Favor
07.   A Mile, A Way
08.   I Want My Things!
09.   Change The Story (interlude)
10.   Every Nigga Is A Star
11.   I! Gets! Weary!
12.   Negus Poem 1 & 2
13.   Forreal???
14.   F.w.u.
15.   Nu World Burdens
16.   Keep It Real

Written, Produced by keiyaA

Ever since an artist once known as Lonny Breaux decided to defy his label Def Jam and deliver his debut, Nostalgia, Ultra, straight to the internet, the textures of popular R&B have become increasingly homegrown. Whether it’s the lithe heartbreak workout of LE1F affiliate Rahel’s 2015 album Alkali or the collaborations of singer Alexandria and producer Ethereal, there’s been a bounty of music for those who crave soulful vocals over beats from somewhere underground.

On her debut album Forever, Ya Girl, the Chicago-bred, New York-based singer/producer/multi-instrumentalist KeiyaA merges Earl Sweatshirt-ish grime and the grit of deconstructed club with hints of psych and funk. It’s easier to find a singular sound when you’re working on your own, which KeiyaA did almost entirely—she poses for Instagram portraits cradling a microKORG synthesizer—with occasional production assists from rapper MIKE under his DJ Blackpower moniker. It’s even more natural to work mostly alone when your lyrics are laments on loneliness.

“Who is supposed to ride or die for me if not I?” she asks on “Negus Poem 1 & 2,” but not with a de rigeur sense of self-empowerment. It’s one of the many inquiries into the disquiet of being alone that KeiyaA proliferates through discordant synth lines and disembodied voices. She uses that POV to turn the music of others on its head, too. “Forreal???” opens with, “Before I put this pussy on your sideburns/I need to check in with my heart and mind,” a reference to Nicki Minaj’s verse from the Young Money bubblegum bedroom cut “Bed Rock” that turns shock-baiting coquettery—Nicki follows her sideburn remark with, “He say I’m bad, he probably right”—into a self-affirming mantra of protection. When KeiyaA covers Prince’s funky kiss-off “Do Yourself a Favor,” she quiets it to the volume of an internal monologue by someone still enmeshed in a painful end.

On one of the album’s highlights, “Hvnli,” KeyiaA sings, “Gone for so long, I prefer to spend time alone with my pain/Gone for so long, I can barely recall, the last my phone rang.” Its stinging specificity is only part of what makes it so special. She builds on that hurt and longing by speeding up synths in places, repeating the lyrics in plainspeak with alternating intentionality, hanging on to the lines, “I can barely afford to eat/But my love is heavenly,” as a reminder of what soothes. It’s an embodied sound, imbued with the knowledge of what it’s like to fuck up and be fucked up and live to sort through the psychic trash of both things being true. This resolute realness, the album’s plurality of wanting—whether privacy (“I! Gits! Weary!”) or pineapple-pear juice (“I Want My Things!”)—can only happen outside the major label gaze.

KeiyaA seems to be telling the listener that, too, in her use of samples from a TV commercial for the 1986 compilation Hey Love… (The Classic Sounds of Sexy Soul). In the ad, three men and three women sit on separate couches, bored at a small house party, until the host puts on a new album he’s just received in the mail. Pairs form and begin a stilted slow dance to songs like “Betcha by Golly, Wow” by the Stylistics and “Yes, I’m Ready” by Barbara Mason. Before the 800 number fills the screen, one of the partiers says, “Fantastic album, man. Let me borrow it.” The host replies, “No, my brother, you’ve got to buy your own.” When KeiyaA samples their dialogue at the end of “Way Eye,” leading into “Rectifiya,” it’s not just a reference to some of her genre forebears, but a truth about working in your own creative ecosystem: The sound on Forever, Ya Girl belongs to her.
Claire Lobenfeld / Pitchfork

Yazoo ‎– You And Me Both (1983)

Style: Synth-pop
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Mute, RCA Victor

A1.   Nobody's Diary
A2.   Softly Over
A3.   Sweet Thing
A4.   Mr Blue
A5.   Good Times
B1.   Walk Away From Love
B2.   Ode To Boy
B3.   Unmarked
B4.   Anyone
B5.   Happy People
B6.   And On

Producer – E. C. Radcliffe, Yazoo
Written-By – Alison Moyet, Vince Clarke 

Even though it was released in the middle of summer (1983), Yazoo's "You and Me Both" (Mute Records, STUMM 12) makes me think of winter. This was their second and final album - the end of the line for Vince Clarke and Alison Moyet. The collaboration between Vince and Alison had fallen apart, with much of the recording done with each member having separate solo time in London's legendary Blackwing Studios. One might say the album was recorded after the breakup.

Even the album artwork, which portrays two Dalmatian dogs fighting, conveys much of what was transpiring between Vince and Alison. The album artwork was produced by 23 Envelope (a.k.a. Vaughan Oliver and Nigel Grierson - the in house graphic design team of 4AD Records at the time). The story goes that Alison visited Nigel to look at some of his photos and select something that could be incorporated into the artwork and packaging. When she saw the photo of the two dogs fighting, she stated "we'll have that" and the artwork was created from there.

What do I like about this album? Above all, I think it's the simplicity of these well-written and produced synth-pop gems. They capture the mood, novelty and excitement of the early 80's where the sound was so fresh and crisp and analog synthesizers (e.g., Fairlight) were prevalent. These were the awesome sounding synths that had booming bass and could fill a room. Programming them required skill, creativity and lots of patience. Alison's vocals are as outstanding, soulful and emotional as ever. Musically, this is Vince Clarke, only two years after departing from Depeche Mode and 2 years before forming Erasure with Andy Bell.

The songwriting on "You and Me Both" is equally split between Vince and Alison - six songs written by Alison, six by Vince (if you include "State Farm"). The only official single from Mute Records was "Nobody's Diary" with b-side "State Farm" (a song that is NOT included on the original UK album). In the U.S., however, it was album track "Walk Away From Love" and "State Farm" that received quite a bit of radio play at the time.

Back to winter ... it's songs like "Softly Over", "Mr. Blue" and "Anyone" that seem cold and chilling. They are a perfect soundtrack for driving around in your car on a frigid, snowy day. These certainly aren't the Yazoo songs that got us out on the dancefloor, but there's something special and sentimental about them. "Nobody's Diary" is beautiful, upbeat and conveys so much emotion. Songs like "Sweet Thing", "Good Times" and "State Farm" were dancy and were representative of where Vince was eventually heading with Erasure and the "Wonderland" (1985) album. I could almost imagine "Good Times" sung by Erasure's Andy Bell, fitting in perfectly on "Wonderland". In short, "You and Me Both" is a lot of ups and downs - upbeat followed by somber, rinse and repeat - but it works incredibly well and conveys a broad variety of style, tempo and atmosphere.
Tom H. / SoundThread