You name an album Tears in the Club, you better pack it with eye-watering moments. On that front, “Nothin,” the first tease from L.A. producer Kingdom’s solo debut, delivered. The single is a rich tapestry of tristeza, from the melancholy waves of synth down to the faded blue vocals from the Internet’s Syd the Kid, here reporting about the insecurities that have left her a workaholic, hopelessly drunk, and apart from a woman she wants in her life. “Please forgive me, this isn’t the kinda image I wanted to paint for you,” the crestfallen guest singer explains. Kingdom skews much of the album towards a sense of hopelessness, but that doesn’t mean you can’t dance to it.
Having previously worked alongside artists like Kelela and D∆WN, Kingdom spends much of Tears in the Club continuing to package nocturnal beats around contemporary R&B vocalists. Opener “What is Love” introduces Top Dawg artist SZA to the mix, her pillowy tone revealing how someone’s been sticking on her mind, even in her sleep. The producer envelopes this with keyboards, glacially-paced trap snares, and more. Najee Daniels’ performance on “Each & Every Day” is more incidental, a hook that gets manipulated, pitch-shifted, and ultimately lost beneath a foggy patch of electronics.
Much better is “Breathless,” which features a fittingly half-whispered performance from New York’s Shacar. His mildly AutoTuned lyrics duck-and-weaves through ancient Psalms, the Stigmata-like pain of “constantly grinding,” and trying to sort out the specifics of a relationship (“wanted you as a friend, and now I’m crossing in between”).
Despite the solid guest spots, Kingdom is wise to own the spotlight a few times on his first full-length, which follows a handful of EPs. The instrumental title track is a dark, pensive and foreboding club number, it’s mean-hitting percussion a vicious backing to the demonic, low-spectrum piano noise. Oddly, the sinisterly-titled “Haunted Gate” is much more inviting, it’s slow-drip digi-bells coming across something like a mix of Mike Oldfield’s Exorcist theme and the score to Donkey Kong Country’s underwater level. The back half of Tears in the Club drags, though, with the bitter chill minimalism of “Into the Fold” slowly collapsing within itself, and the dreary, undulated wash of crowd noise on “Timex” sticking around for seemingly much longer than that 2:55 track time could allow.
A saving grace comes via “Down 4 Whatever,” which bumps the energy up with house-apropos hi-hats and more vocals from SZA. Despite Kingdom’s soundscaping, the narrator is looking to ditch the club with someone she’s been longing for (“If you want, we can leave/I can be responsible for you”); things are a little more complicated since there’s a third person in the picture. “I’m still here if you’re needin’ that,” she offers, while adding a determined “better let me know.” The constant hammering of the latter line adds a desperation that belays SZA’s otherwise chipper delivery. Despite the arrangement’s major key, it doesn’t sound like the song leads to a happy ending.
Save for the bounce of a last-minute, if inessential, remix of “Nothin,” it’s all over but the crying.
– review by Gregory Adams