@@@ Nao: And Then Life Was Beautiful (Little Tokyo/Sony, 2021) The opening track of the album and both listens are from this week’s All Music notable release email. Nao’s voice is unique, with not a lot of lower frequencies and she’s got a swirling, slighlty trippy arrangement going here. It’s a pretty cliche vocal hook — and then life was beautiful. Lots and lots of vocal tracks here and a stuffed mix. If you listen to the lyrics it’s almost a self hep video. “Take a second to breathe it out, and then life was beautiful” — that’s the vocal hook. I listened bottom to top here and I definitely feel more here than from Esperanza Spaulding’s vocalizing but I would acknowledge that I get annoyed with super detailed or over singing. I find the backing vocals clutter-y and clouds out the high quality arrangements here.
@@@ Esperanza Spaulding: Formwela 7 (Concord, 2021) My generic feeling about Ms. Spaulding is that she’s technically brilliant and short on my soul and a bit too proggy and highbrow for my taste. This track is no exception as she sings over a sparse piano and the lyrics are kinda nerdy. When the band comes in it’s accompanied by a large percussive sound that sounds a bunch like an old spring reverb. She is definitely working this tune dynamically as she puts out a lot of energy at its peak and builds it from that small piano part with almost whispered vocals. ‘Hearing is a labor like reading, hearing is a labor like keeping still, hearing is a labor like seeing, seeing for real.” That’s essentially the chorus of the track. Ultimately I judge music by if and how it makes me feel, and I’m a bit surprised by how little I feel when I hear Spaulding perform. It’s too precious and a bit bloodless for my taste.