Review | On ‘SOS,’ SZA unpacks her most complicated emotions in so many words


In a SZA music, the catharsis is within the phrase depend. Her music stands proudly within the conjoined traditions of rap and R&B, permitting her to fill each verse and hook with a surplus of melodized syllables — which could be mandatory contemplating how a lot she has weighing on her coronary heart.

It’s been 5 lengthy years for the reason that St. Louis-born singer dropped her multiplatinum debut, “Ctrl,” and her emotive new follow-up album, “SOS,” feels each broader and fuller by design. On one particularly prolix ballad, “Blind,” she lets her lyrics fly quick and livid, solely half-apologizing for being “raunchy like Bob Saget” earlier than outlining how poisonous romances erode self-worth. “It’s so embarrassing,” she sings throughout the chorus, slowing right down to linger on the sensation, however simply barely.

Would this diploma of oversharing even be attainable if she weren’t standing on the intersection of singing and rapping? And was it ever an intersection within the first place? For years, the widespread success of SZA’s many friends (Drake, Doja Cat, Frank Ocean, extra) and forebears (Lauryn Hill, Nelly, Missy Elliott, much more) has requested us to ponder the distinction between singers who rap and rappers who sing — a tidy little binary that’s proved to be largely, if not solely, superficial. The human voice is a robust factor. It bends musical traditions. Over time, these bent traditions would possibly even kind new ones.

If there is something price noticing about SZA’s rap-singing/sing-rapping, it could be that as an alternative of counting on melisma — a tactic you hear most frequently in R&B every time a single syllable will get taken for a experience throughout numerous notes — she prefers to let her phrases pile up, obeying their contours, coloring them in with whichever pitches and timbres the music calls for.

Which is all to say that SZA isn’t hybridizing two separate types a lot as maximizing their cumulative expressive potential — one thing you may hear greatest on “SOS” throughout “Used,” the place she tries to quantify her grief via intricate inside rhymes. “My sanity’s at a 6.7,” she declares, chasing a melody up and down the size of her voice. “Handing out poinsettias to my useless homies’ moms, praying they really feel higher.”

She sounds each bit as knowledgeable on “Seek and Destroy,” hoping to wipe her slate clear when she sings, “Now that I’ve ruined all the things, I’m so f—ing free.” Don’t miss how the primary 4 phrases in that phrase arc downward, as if she’s dumping her baggage out the window and watching it go splat on the sidewalk.

But for all her dazzling wordiness, there’s a sluggish midtempo really feel that permeates this album’s 23-song observe listing. May or not it’s a purposeful evocation of the emotional fatigue that SZA so usually sings about? That may clarify why the cuts on “SOS” that really feel the slowest really feel the most effective, particularly “Good Days,” a music with a moist, luxurious beat over which SZA discourages herself — and her era — from “chasing fountains of youth,” focusing as an alternative on residing “within the current, now.” Phrases to dwell by.

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