First, it was Syd’s album—sensual and nostalgic, Finis like the sweetest cotton candy flowing into your headphones. Next was Sampha—emotional and enthralling, Process is like being washed over by the most refreshing rainfall. Two R&B albums, released on the same day, but both touched different parts of my naked soul.
I thought it was all the R&B I needed for the month of February—to be frank, all the R&B I needed this year—but stumbling upon Sonder’s Into changed my entire mindset. It was their yellow font that grabbed my eye while browsing through Apple Music’s new releases—simple but bold. The dark, black photograph only helped the text jump out, like fireworks exploding in a cloudless night sky.
Pressing play on “Too Fast” was an action taken out of curiosity, but the vocalist had my attention in seconds. There was sorrow wrapped around the words, a tone that’s both soothing and melancholy. The production builds around that voice―soft strings, vocal samples, elegant snaps and striking drums. Halfway through, the song slows down, moving slower than Neo dodging bullets in The Matrix, but within the slowed tempo is where the music is the most grabbing; where the magic happens.
Instruments are added, the vocal track is given a touch of power, and by the last second I was ready to hit rewind, but the transition into the slow groove that is “Baldwin Park” was so smooth I was lost―the live drums and floating vocals dancing in the background were irresistible.
I was stuck between returning to the previous track and pressing forward into the unknown. Sonder put me under a spell, enchanted by the voice and the instrumentation. I had to know more. I had to hear more.
Brent Faiyaz is the vocalist, a Baltimore-born singer that isn’t faceless but is shrouded in mystery. He recently appeared singing a stellar hook on GoldLink’s latest single, “Crew.” Noise was made when he released the short, but impressive A.M. ParadoxEP. “Lovely,” the EP’s first song, is produced by Sonder—a combination that also includes Atu and Dpat, two promising producers who are part of the Soulection collective. When Brent, Atu and Dpat come together under the Sonder umbrella, it is a treat to lovers of R&B who desire a piece of the past but are still centered in the present.
Last year, Canadian duo Daniel Daley and Nineteen85 found success weaving the old with the new as DVSN, and after running through Into, Sonder’s debut album, I foresee similar success. There’s no Auto-Tune stealing the naturalness from his voice, the production isn’t drenched in lean and trap patterns, and even the subject matter is more intimate and in touch with emotions than proclaiming heartlessness. Sonder is for the lovers, not the savages.
NPR recently wrote that the song “Searchin” is more “Ginuwine than Bryson Tiller,” an accurate description of where their influence is rooted. There’s also a reference to the drum patterns being reminiscent of Timbo, which will truly take listeners back to the days when Aaliyah was our Princess, Bush was our President, and Prince was our immortal. “Searchin” does an excellent job showcasing a vocalist with range, producers with vision, and how this trifecta is able to bring out the slow, sultry and seductive R&B that could conquer quiet storm radio and bedrooms worldwide.
Atu and Dpat are well-known producers who specialize in R&B, using an approach to production that not only creates an environment for the vocals to stand out but also allows the music to remain at the forefront as Brent’s voice fades into the back. There are times when Brent simply allows strings to speak, keys to dance, chords to shimmy, and drums to bounce. He may be the only vocalist, but the group dynamic is prevalent on all seven songs.
“Feel” takes me back to before The Weeknd was a pop star, with vibes from a house once filled with balloons. “Lovely” is an ode to a stripper—the lyrics ache with infatuation, a song that has all the riveting emotions Drake couldn’t muster on “Diamonds Dancing.” On a Spotify playlist, it would fit perfectly between 6LACK and PARTYNEXTDOOR, but with a wider vocal range. My favorite might be “Sirens”—it’s a little more stripped-down, but gives Brent room to exhibit his captivating way of singing. When the beat switches it’s heavy, the drums are like meteors falling to the ground; the perfect explosion to match his singing against some unknown adversary. This is one record where the songwriting shines—fine storytelling.
All good things happen in threes: Pokémon games, ménage à trois, Migos, and now the excellent February R&B trio of Sampha, Syd, and Sonder. I know everyone expected SZA to complete the “S” trifecta, but Sonder is here to fill the void until she’s ready to give us Ctrl. What I like about Fin, Process, and Intro is how each act tackles familiar subjects with unique perspectives, distinct voices, and enthralling songwriting. All the attention, praise, and applause for all three is well-deserved.
2017 may be off to a slow start in rap, but R&B isn’t slacking. There’s plenty of smooth ear candy to go around.
By Yoh, aka Yohvolution aka@Yoh31.
Photo Credit: Instagram