Nao: And Then Life Was Beautiful
Heavenly. Immersive. Nao's voice is angelic in a way that we've sorely lacked in the last decade or so. A sound that reaches for the soul and opens it up to divinity, to the heaven we all know exists in some way (a paradise, oasis, brilliant goodness we know is there at the edges of our consciousness but can't readily touch). Housing that ethereal tone is music that's light, lovely.
In composition, And Then Life Was Beautiful does hold strong to neo-soul conventions, half-steps and twining guitar wrapped around various beat drums and intricate melodies ("And Then Life Was Beautiful"). The syncopated snare-pop of island rhythms and the twining heartache of R&B ("Antidote"). However, the album is overwhelmingly mystical in convention. Relying more on synth and the illusion of stringed bode instruments (harps and violins) to elevate the sound to something in the stars.
The vocal layering is extravagant, but not in a way that ostracizes the listener. It has the same lush warmth of Brandy's B7 or D'angelo's Voodoo. Tracks like "Woman" (featuring the rich earthiness of fellow Brit Lianne La Havas), "Better Friend" and title track "And Then Life Was Beautiful" elevate the lyrics. There is air in the notes, room for Nao's soprano to float, soar, stretch and dive. However, the harmonies are densely packed. It's easy to get entangled in the thickness of the sound. Feel engorged on the fatiness of the sound because there's just so much, and at it all carries weight.
And Then Life Was Beautiful paints a world in vivid hues, all oranges and yellows. Robust layers of sound and enviable vocals from a woman who's established herself as one of the most unique, intriguing voices in R&B.