After a string of unbelievable features, we were ecstatic to hear what was next from Jorja Smith and she really didn’t disappoint. Rather than make a predictable vocal-pop record, Smith mixes R&B with a range of production new and old to make a record that is truly one of a kind. As a new kind of art-house Amy Winehouse, she delivers great cutting commentary, a devastating vocal and the music to make it all memorable.
Through a heavy filtered cloud, the album’s R&B soul comes to the surface on “Lost & Found” where a mix of nostalgic pop energy and modern production makes for something warm. Though there’s a very familiar core to this track, Smith’s welcoming energy and delivery sell it as something with character. “Teenage Fantasy” pulls into a much more personal yet dream feeling, where Smith hypnotizes listeners while simultaneously shattering their preconceived hopes to offer them reality. The powerhouse vocals help her message of wanting what you don’t need hit hard and let you know how serious she is.
With a subdued groove, “Where Did I Go” slowly creeps in to hit listeners with a pensive track that quickly opens into dance energy. As Smith’s harmonies grow larger and larger, the track becomes intoxicating in its lush momentum and spirit. “February 3rd” drips out with a trippy and deep production, and one that you’ll really need to relax to appreciate. Given it is meditating on its core groove rather than shifting feels all the time, it requires a little more patience to totally grow on you.
With blaring horns and heavy bass, “On Your Own” takes a typical pop song and really twists it in a lot of interesting directions. Though it is still a little predictable, the energy that comes from Smith’s massive chorus vocals is too impactful to ignore. “The One” brings a smoky and tragic production to its early parts, making its Latin hooks feel all the more surprising and invigorating when they finally kick in. Smith’s mix and the tracks echo-laden production makes for something personal but epic in its scale.
Ominous samples and mysterious vocal tones make “Wandering Romance” oddly creepy and its dissonant harmonies all the more worrisome. Smith really goes for the jugular on her direct lyrics this time around, as she uses her harmonies here to create contrasting group dynamics and strange call and response moments with her arrangements. Blending tones of Kate Nash, Amy Winehouse, vintage pop and modern hip hop, “Blue Lights” is a truly unique sounding song that feels honest and strong. Along with its boisterous performances, the whole sound behind it anchors the emotional moments of the song.
Rain drips behind Smith, as she goes into spoken-word bliss on “Lifeboats (Freestyle)” as she critiques the privileged turning blind eyes to others. Using her unusual syncopation and delivery, Smith makes a biting critique with a memorable performance here. Over shimmering guitar and a smacking percussive sound from the same guitar, there’s a lovely intimate feeling to “Goodbyes.” Smith uses this to really create a dynamic range in the track to make her highest vocal peaks real hit you deep.
“Tomorrow” subverts expectations as its simple piano ballad expands again and again into a massive gospel sound. As the beats kick in the song snowballs even faster to hit a furious peak full of ecstatic vocals and even larger productions with her band. Smith’s amazing performance does a lot to carry “Don’t Watch Me Cry” given how stripped down and straightforward it is in the overall scheme of the album. With all the complexity and intricacies she brings to her voice even before the harmonies come in, Smith asserts herself as a vocal heavyweight to watch out for.
Words by Owen Maxwell